How I wrote it / Why I wrote it:
Loud elections, promise-spitting politicians and forthright voting are the flavour of the season. However, the real kingmakers are the bureaucrats. Khadi-clads you can change after five years or less, but those supposedly form-filling, stamp-wielding, file-pushing bureaucrats remain still as a statue, permanently frozen behind their desks. After two months of follow ups my election ID card exists only in my imagination. I will miss that one-second-in-five-years glory.
We are at a place nobody would expect us to be. I am nervous because this is my first time.
It is well over midnight, and the swirling, colorful strobe lights and their wild, psychedelic patterns reflecting on everything else in the dancing bar make my head spin. I am bored to teeth. We have chosen a table that is far from the cash counter. We are facing the two feet high stage decorated like a garish dance show set. An overhead speaker camouflages our words from the possible eavesdroppers. Two dozen odd girls with various degrees of skin and flab are dancing to the tune of a fast Bollywood track. Most of the patrons are male, too absorbed in the show to notice each other or us.
The place smells of alcohol, spicy food, cigarettes and cheap perfumes. There is plenty of booze on the table but I cannot afford to lose my nerve or senses at this moment. Once again, I reach under the table and feel for the heavy plastic packet clasped between my ankles.
Mr. Nameless from MSEB dips his salted wafers into the sauce bowl and munches thoughtfully. He shows no sigh of hurry. He doesn't have an electronic punching machine, locks and levers at his office, but I do. He doesn't have to worry about minimum 54 hours a week record, the cut throat quarterly business reviews or promotions. I do. No matter, I have no choice but to comply and sit tight. So I take a sip from my watery whiskey and look at the girls. They look as bored, as desperate and as tired as I am.
Mr. Nameless looks every inch a fat cat bureaucrat in his olive green safari suit and sports a football size pot belly. His lined face shows the signs of forty years of pen-pushing and his desk bound routine. His sharp nose, pointed chin and the habit to jerk his head this way and that way reminds me of a human-size woodpecker from cartoon films. How I wish they could be extinct.
We have finished our little dialogue within a few minutes before the drinks arrived. He knows my company's requirements in black and white. Double the three phase, 440 watt, industrial lines at our Panvel factory. Put up a few additional poles between the power station and the Thane factory with capacitors and boosters to improve the Ampere ratio and the voltage. Make sure that the stolen power is not billed to the company. Make sure that local crowd or farmers do not share, damage or disrupt the power supply. Keep the transmission lines in pick conditions specially during monsoons. Maintain the minimum transmission loss ratio. Do not give new connections to other factories without our tacit permission. Keep the coals and diesel in full supply at the nearby substation irrespective of the shortage or fluctuating market rates. Do all these without involving more paper work and more sanctions from various government agencies and khadi-clads. Do this before the construction of the new unit at the factory gets in the final stage. Give informal but accurate updates on work progress. I know this chart by heart because, as per the company policy, the trial production run date from the new unit is cast in iron.
Mr. Nameless earns a salary of Rs 21000 plus allowances but he lives in three bedroom apartment at Walkeshwar, Mumbai's A-list area. He changes his car, his interiors and his physician every two years. He was operated for appendicitis at Breach Candy recently. His 19-year old son is studying at a snob-job foreign university. His daughter owns three 1000-acre farms in Nerul and Lonawala each. Her personal investments run into crores. Our company has no details of the family's bank accounts or other assets but we can make a wild guess.
The music in the dancing bar changes to a crude kawaali number. A fresh set of girls dressed in mujra costumes arrives on the stage and start their act. I feel like chewing my tongue off but I need not worry. The change in music is a boon in disguise. Mr Nameless doesn't like the kawaali either. He shakes off his slumber and tosses his final drink down the gullet.
"I need some fresh air. Are you ready?"
I thrust a hundred into a Nepalese girl's hand, signal for the bill and pay in cash.
I lift the plastic packet from under the table and follow Mr. Nameless out of the place. The road is deserted but I keep an adroit distance between him and myself. After a hundred yard walk, he turns, looks around to assure himself and enters the dark street.
He knows this place and his routine inside out. I don't. Sweat rolls down my back as I try to catch up with him.
We face each other as Mr. Nameless lights a rolled joint. His thick glasses reflect the dancing fire of his lighter. I feel the rush in my blood stream as the intoxicating smoke hits my face. My skin crawls in crazy anticipation of a weightless, free-floating feeling. For an illusive moment, I forget the reason why are we here, whose payroll I am on, the load inside the package and the time on my wristwatch.
"Are we ready yet?" He asks.
I fight an irrational impulse and hand over the hefty plastic packet. "You can count the number of bundles inside," I say. My voice is steady and matches my normalcy level.
"You can count the bundles."
Mr. Nameless drags hard on his white roach, like a super efficient suction pump. "I trust you."
My mobile rings as I hand over the booty and I am back to reality. The call is straight from the top.
"Excuse me." I mumble and walk a safe distance away to talk.
"Where are you? Don't drop it. It'll be done through other point man," the bossman informs me without a preamble.
"I have already dropped it."
"Damn. Get it back. Get it all back." The phone is slammed down to make it count.
My heart rate goes up like a wild bull charge on Dalal Street. After a moment of confusion, I approach Mr. Nameless from MSEB.
"It's taken care of this time. I'll tell you next time," I say, half-expecting the packet back.
I can't see Mr Namelss's face but I can hear his alcohol-tainted, ganja-induced smirk. He tosses the joint on the garbage dump and watches it die a slow death.
"May be, I am the one who gets it done," he says.
"That's not possible. We're using a different channel for this."
"Look at it this way. May be I can get it undone. I know the keys and catches, nooks and corners." His laughter echoes through the dark, witness-free street.
I have no retort for that. I don't have the advantage of being a government-protected drunk dabbler either.
Mr. Nameless from MSEB stops laughing. "The sweet is for... not getting it undone, you can tell your management," he says.
He places his fat paw on my shoulder and lets it slide down. He slips a little something into my hand.
"I pay the taxes. I am covering your end too, do you get it?" He says.
It is my turn to laugh now. We part as friends, with pearly gates of bright future wide open for both of us.