Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Perfect Woman. The mystery of Shivsharan Pandit

This is part 2 of the serialised story, The Perfect Woman. If you haven't read the Prologue, please do so before proceeding to read this post.

Ratnakar reminisces.

28th September 2010.
Today was busy. Busy enough to make me completely forget about the puzzling incident of the woman last night.
It has been exactly a year since business magnate Shivsharan Pandit had died under *very* suspicious circumstances. 

From being the son of a humble teacher, Shivsharan Pandit went on to establish Aurum Enterprises.  A workaholic blessed with intelligence and indefatigable genes, a demonic obsession with perfectionism and open disregard for bureaucracy and red-tapism, he had, over his brief lifetime, earned the reputation of being a formidable risk-taker. साम , दाम , दंड , भेद*- he could get his work done. And how!

Beyond his focus and ambition, he was a wonderful leader of his men. His employees swore by him. They bled for him and he cared for them. He personified their ambition and dreams. Any of the ten divisions of  Aurum Enterprises was, indisputably, the best place to work in the city. Getting in, by any means, was not easy . You had to be beyond the best. But once you made it, your life was, as the colloquial expression in Mumbai goes "ban gayi, boss!"

Today was particularly busy, because my 'employers' were doing a re-run on his death. His perpetually profit-making empire is still going strong, despite his wimpy third brother, Vibhav, running it. Shivsharan's efforts had built enough momentum and the juggernaut of Aurum looked like it would roll unhindered, for atleast another five years.

The police had yet not solved the case of his death. And the media refused to let the topic fade into oblivion. 

Let me take you back a bit, almost a year ago. 

October 2009
Shivsharan had died. Very mysteriously, in his own office. Stabbed in his navel, but with a knife that was found in his own hands. It must have been painful. A slow death, with blood all over; literally, watching his own self die. But had he really stabbed himself? If yes, then why not attempt a quick, painless and a more 'private death? Why his own office? Had someone else stabbed him? If yes, then why did he not attempt to reach out for help? His phone was found in working condition in his pocket. He was less than an arm's distance from the security alarm under his desk. Yet. He had died around 11:30 pm, and found only the next morning by the cleaning staff.

My employers (Yes, I know! It is annoying to not be able to mention the name, but I am sworn to professional secrecy) had asked me to infiltrate his operations, hoping for an exposé. Under the pretext of covering the updates of the companies' handover to the new administration, I began frequenting their head office. 

I began my work very cautiously. After offering the appropriate condolences, and making concerned inquiries about the future of the company

Over a period of several weeks, I had managed to make some friends. The canteen owner Anna (as all canteen owners are invariably called) who was the source of all unverified information (read: gossip, rumours and speculations). The media intern, Mukul, who was my appointed point of contact. Eager, very talkative, and liked by all. He was my primary source of 'offcial grapevine'. 

Some said it was a conspiracy within his family, to take over the enterprises. Some said he lost his business acumen, his drive for power when he fell madly in love, and committed suicide. Some others said it was a personal vendetta. Nobody knew anything for sure. 

I needed the company of someone swith authority. Someone with more access to Shivsharan

Mukul's boss, Meenakshi. The media head. The Iron Curtain. The Wall. She had worked with Aurum for over 12 years now, and was absolutely adept at handling the public relations. Aurum never had any bad press. Not until Shivsharan died. 

Meenakshi held the fort after Shivsharan's demise, despite the fact that she hated Vibhav with a vengeance. It was public knowledge, but Vibhav knew he had to put up with her and some others of the old guard simply because all he cared about was reaping the benefits of the wealth that he had acquired after his brother's death. He was one of those strange breed of humans, who was unable to see anything beyond the money at hand. He had no vision, except the one where the control of finances stayed with him. That he had no clue what to do with the finances, was a different story. But his brother had created a team of loyalists, who loved Aurum enterprises as their own baby. Vibhav wasn't foolish enough to slaughter the fowl that laid golden eggs.

I had to gain Meenakshi's confidence.
Which was, to say nicely, an idea that put Edison's purported platitude '99% hard work, and 1% luck' to test.

I tried making a professional impression. I am a journalist after all. Media persons, around the world, have an obligation to be nice to other media persons. 

She did not so much as give me a glance. Any attempts at normal conversation were promptly deflected. "Mukul, will you please attend to Mr. Ratnakar's queries?"

I attempted to flirt. I might, as well, have paid compliments to the office chair. Atleast, it would have swivelled joyfully under the diligence of my charm. 

3 weeks had passed with nothing new or concrete on the mystery. The same old theories kept rolling in and out of conversation. My employers asked me to withdraw. They did not see any benefit of keeping me there any longer. 

I was disappointed as much as my employers. But I could not let it show. So I kept up my cheery demeanour as I announced my last week at Aurum, declaring I hoped I had made some friends for life. And such small talk. All the while still keeping my eyes and ears open. And I continued pursuing Meenakshi for what it was worth.

"I am not new here, you know, sweetheart. You've been hanging around here for more than two weeks. The formal mourning, the initiation of the new boss, the handover announcements, the subtle launches of the new schemes. They've all been over for a while now. That's not what you are really here for, are you? If you want to learn something worthwhile, then you will need to try something better than this very daft and juvenile flirting". She confronted me point blank at the coffee vending machine on my last working day.

Did I mention she was smart? Did I mention she was called The Iron Curtain? Did I mention she hated Vibhav?

Red faced, I had mumbled something incoherent. She had looked at me with barely concealed contempt; shrugged, rolled her eyes and said, "Let's meet for lunch this Saturday". 

Saturday morning, I had received a text from an unknown number. We were to meet at one of those old, famous, yet not so posh Irani restaurants in the leafy bylanes of Fort.

The place had smelt of caramelised everything. Onions, custards, toasted bun.  It wasn't the tidiest of places. There was grime and cobwebs in the corners of the tall, colonial walls. The floor was like a chess board; the table cloths were chequered too, with menu cards inserted between them and the glass slabs covering the tables. It was bustling with foreign tourists, students, lawyers and local office-goers. Saturdays are half working days for a lot of people. They would hang around for an extended lunch. The cacophony would be perfect to drown our conversation.

Meenakshi was dressed casually. Her hair tied in a loose braid with a few flyaway strands, no make-up, a simple grey T-shirt and loose cotton pants.  Noticeably, she was wearing extra earrings on the upper parts of her ears, and I could see a tattoo on her ankle, peeking from under the hem of her pants, as she sat with one leg effortlessly stretched out, and her foot restlessly tapping. Simply put, she was no longer the Wall or the Iron Curtain.

"So. Ratnakar. You are no longer working on the Aurum premises. Neither are you working on your temporary employer's project. That means none of what we speak here is official. You've heard nothing from me. Nothing goes to print. Atleast, not yet."

"Then why do you want me to know?", I countered. 

She smiled, slightly. A sardonic smile.

"Somebody outside the company needs to know. In case, of any eventualities. You have proven yourself to be discreet and smart. I may have pretended to ignore you. But there are others in the office who observed you closely, and found you suitable enough to share whatever we know with you. This is not the result of your stupid flirting. I am not doing you any personal favours.  It is a strategy to which very few are party. So listen very, very carefully. And talk, only if you need to."

I was wrong. She was still the Iron Curtain and the Wall.

"Alright. I know when to keep my mouth shut" I accepted. "Please proceed"

Meenakshi began,
"There were whispers of a love interest. 
And a very exceptional woman. But then she had to be. If she could distract a focussed man like Pandit. No one had seen her. No one had spoken to her. But there were long intervals, when Shivsharan Pandit would go absconding from office. And this was a very blatant aberration that no-one could miss given that he was someone who lived, breathed, ate, drank and slept work. 

"Pandit's wife, Sukanya, had stormed into the office one day and created pandemonium. She is a formidable woman in her own right. Not some pretty trophy for him to flaunt. 
She handled the charities and social initiatives of his companies. 
Shivsharan remained stone-faced through the ordeal. And resumed work, as usual, when she left."

Ahh! I thought to myself. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. 
But your wife?  Keep her the closest. 

Meenakshi had continued, "I've loved Shivsharan, like an older brother. He made me who I am today. Everyone saw his money, his success. Few noticed his wisdom and sheer hard work. Nobody knows when and how he met this lady. He purchased a dilapidated vintage school property near the Hanging Gardens, rennovated it and told Sukanya that it was a training and employment centre for eunuchs. Sukanya was glad to support him his new venture and managed to find a number of Hijraas  who were willing to learn professional and technical skills that would help them live dignified lives, without begging. Within a year, The Garden of Joy was a thriving haven for them, many working in the employment of Aurum Enterprises. Others elsewhere, or attempting their own small scale ventures."

"Why this sudden sympathy for Hijraas?" I dared to interrupt.

"I am coming to that. Ridiculed by society, yet proud of their identities, the Hijraas worked hard. Soon, Sukanya, did not need to oversee the day to day operations. She moved on to other, more pressing work. 

This is when Shivsharan brought in the mysterious woman to act as the supervisor of the Garden of Joy. Her name was Maya."

Women! I am not a misogynist. Not by *any* stretch of imagination. But, even I have to admit that they can be a bit of a distraction. Besides, investigative journalism is not your everyday '9-to5' job. I could not afford emotional attachments that would one day become the proverbial Achilles' heel.

I had, of course, some flings. Nothing serious. There was a 'gentlemanly' pact within us three flatmates. Whenever one of us came home with a woman, the other two voluntarily vacated the place for the next few hours. I assure you, hard-working ambitious young men that we were, these 'occasions' were very few and far between. 

Coming back to the present day.
I am suddenly thinking of the woman from last night. A year ago, I had heard of Shivsharan Pandit's mysterious woman, Maya, from another equally mysterious woman, Meenakshi. What is it with mysterious women in this city? 

To be continued...

Footnote: साम , दाम , दंड , भेद*: the 4 means of getting something done. Saam: By mutual understanding; Daam: by paying a price for it; Dand: By violence/ meting out punishment; Bhed: by manipuation and creating rifts and differences in involved parties to creating a beneficial situation to self. 


  1. Wow!! You're good! Absolutely intriguing... Simply loved what you've done so far and can't wait to read further

  2. I think you should write more, way more frequently. You have that rare ability to make readers turn pages/scroll down.

  3. Wow.....I'm hooked on to your keep writing and sharing.

  4. Real treat for intrigue enthusiasts!
    Woman you are super talented!Keep writing!

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. This is awesome!!! Loved it....need the next one soooon

  7. Brilliant. What next? Jaldi...

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.


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