The heirloom, an antique timepiece was the family’s prized possession. It had been given to their distant ancestor in recognition for gallantry by Empress Catherine the Great herself. He had been a Cossack in the royal guard. It was also a reminder of their Russian bloodline. Names like Nicholas, Peter, Ivan, Anton and Alex were often given to their newborns either as first or second names.
The revered heirloom had to be kept within the family and not sold. The four brothers had no solution for the only condition in the will. This became a real headache as they lived world’s apart managing the family’s vast foreign holdings. How to meet this condition?
Their beloved housekeeper came up with an ingenious solution.
She said, “Each of you should keep it for a year and a week before the time runs out, you should gather here in this family home for a vacation and then hand it over to next in line. This will keep you all closely connected, even your children. Consider it as a yearly family vacation.” Everyone loved the idea and it was at once agreed upon
The Cossack patriarch beamed in satisfaction from his portrait above the fireplace.
Secrets in Safe
Bunty, Goldie and Raja, aka the triad sat staring at the safe they had just unloaded from the van as if it were a cobra! They had never done anything illegal before but in this case the cause justified the means.
They were all headed back to India during summer break and by a mere fluke they had been privy to a cryptic text message on a fellow passenger’s cell phone. They had quickly noted down all the info and had decided to investigate upon landing.
Raja’s dad was a bigwig in the airline’s corporate staff. Through his aegis they acquired full data with copy of fellow passenger’s passport. Their job had been made easy by this information. The safe’s secret had to be unlocked to get to heart of the matter. Excitement tinged with fear was palpable.
Raja was tall and reedy in structure with a prominent adam’s apple but due to his dark liquid eyes, all the girls shamelessly gave him chase in the college campus. He was shy to boot.
Bunty and Goldie were the extreme opposites and were constantly riding love’s seesaw on an off and on basis. Bunty was of rugged build, fair and tall and had a wonderful voice. Hence he too was much sought after.
Goldie was the nerd of the triad and hence kept them afloat in studies singlehandedly. Goldie was hooked on workouts, if not busy solving difficult problems. He spent half of his free time tackling weights. His body was like a Greek God’s and hence cynosure of many eyes of both genders.
The passport revealed the name of the passenger to be Salim Malik. The message had come from a girl named Ameena Begum. On further research they were able to locate the whereabouts of Ameena. They had to find the alleged safe quickly to get to the bottom of this plot. Here they faced a stone wall. They went into a huddle to solve this issue.
Fortunately everyone was from Mumbai which made things much easier. They solicited aid from local police station officer (SHO) who thought if this yields some crime in the making, he would make headlines and hence helped them with all means at his disposal. With inside information from the cell phone service provider they had nailed down the exact location of the house and hence the safe. The police usually made the rounds in the riot prone areas and hence their SHO with help from his Mohamed Ali road counterpart, effected a raid on Ameena’s house.
Ameena’s father Abbas Baig was a cab driver and father of five girls. Ameena’s mother Samina Begum was deathly scared of her bully husband and did his bidding. Hence the children suffered without respite being girls. The SHO had seen the dilapidated safe hidden in a small alcove in the backroom wall covered by a dirty curtain. He told the triad that now it was up to them to retrieve, open and put back without anyone the wiser.
The trio rejected the numerous invites from local friends and relations and went into a huddle. A series of festivals were imminent and the streets would be teeming with processions and an odd blast here and there to create communal disharmony. Keeping all this in mind, they designed a harmless noisemaker as a diversion and planted it near Ameena’s house. As everyone ran out, they ran in and retrieved the safe.
Finally the SHO with expert help pried open the safe and it yielded three neat dollar bundles along with passports of Ameena, Samira and Aamna the three older girls aged 17,16 and 15 years. All had Saudi Arabia visa stamps in them. Apparently the girls were being sold to rich Saudi sheikhs. They were all shook up to confront this human trafficking by a parent. Now they wondered how Salim Malik their plane’s co-passenger fit in here. They decided to visit him.
The SHO explained the whole situation to Salim and then he told them of his own heartache. He was in love with Ameena from childhood but knew her abba (dad) was bent upon encashing all his daughters and had forbidden them from meeting. They were only able to meet near their school or the mosque at given times. They communicated via a note they left under a designated stone at a nearby park. About two years ago Salim had gone to USA on scholarship and had been saving money to buy off Ameena from her Abba. The information about safe and other details were messaged to Salim by a desperate Ameena who was scheduled to be married within the fortnight to a Saudi Sheikh along with her two younger sisters who had brokered a deal for all three of them paying handsomely to cab driver Abbas Baig, their father. Now all the pieces fell in place. The girls were under age and hence this was an illegal trade.
The SHO openly returned the safe back to Ameena’s house even as the camera’s from all news channels rolled in live action. Abbas Baig was arrested and all the girls were rescued. Ameena and Salim Malik were married by the mosque priest and rest of the girls along with their mother were whisked off to a new neighborhood under different names with relevant paper work, ration card etc… With Salim’s permission, Ameena sent money to her mother each month to meet all the expenses. No one missed cruel Abbas Baig.
Ten years later
Raja, Goldie and Bunty as preplanned inaugurated their brand new NGO called Safe Haven meant for all homeless, abused and society’s pariahs seeking care and shelter.
The couple met as planned near the park’s third bench. There was a heated argument and woman said “I’ve already given you half in advance! I will pay you rest after you complete the job. Do not call me until you’ve finished it!”
Yogi sat on the bench but for all they cared he was a piece of furniture! He looked like a washed out junkie, best ignored.
Yogi quickly taped the whole meeting on his camera. Then, after reversing his jacket, combing his hair and with a scarf round his neck, he was a changed man! After all he was a famous detective who had honed his talent for disguise into a fine art. Like a shadow he weaved in and out of gatherings with no one the wiser. He was a great success in his game.
Raj Kumar was a makeup man. He fell into this job by chance. His mother Neeta was famous movie star Ruby’s housekeeper and took him with her as the madam did not mind it. Ruby often threw away her makeup after a single application and Raj would retrieve it. He loved to draw and paint and once his mother allowed him to apply makeup on her as Ruby had asked her to be present for her birthday party. Neeta looked so stunning that Ruby noticed her makeup and asked about it. When she came to know young Raj had applied it, she asked him to do her face as an experiment. Raj enhanced Ruby’s already gorgeous looks in such a way that even her agent whistled. Raj’s career was decided. Neeta’s only stipulation was that he had to study side by side and Ruby felt the same.
Raj had lost his father in infancy and mother and son had a close relationship. Neeta’s widowed aunt took care of their house and watched Raj whenever needed. She loved young Raj as her own son. Raj fell in love with a classmate Yogita and married her as soon as they both turned twenty-one. Yogi came a year after and their family was complete.
Yogi went home and relaxed in his swanky apartment. He had several places of residence and carried many passports and aliases. They came in handy in his line of work. The only way people could contact him was via his front man, business partner Andy who had an office in the business district. Due to word of mouth and goodwill their business flourished by leaps and bounds. They had ethics and were very discreet. Andy helped whenever Yogi needed a second person. They were very close. Both were a mere twenty five in age.
The bonus from his recent job was substantial. The woman was his client’s rival who wanted to access his quotation on a prestigious contract bid. Yogi’s legwork had not only disqualified but also blacklisted her firm.
He wished his parents and aunty were alive to share his happiness. They had died in a horrific accident after performing the last rites of great aunty (Neeta’s aged aunt). A bus had lost control and swerved into their car, killing Raj and Yogita instantly. Yogi was spared as he had final exams and had stayed back with granny Neeta His most prized possessions were an ornate handcrafted cane which had a sword inside. It had been used in a blockbuster movie and had been gifted to his dad Raj by the movie director. The cactus was made of glass and was exquisite. It looked so real. His parents had bought this for Neeta who had a green thumb and loved cacti best. Neeta often told Yogi that he should be tough like a cactus- strong, resilient and a survivor. On his eighteenth birthday, she had gifted him with her glass cactus as Yogi loved it very much. Whenever he missed his loved ones, he would sit for hours in front of their family portrait together with the cane and the glass cactus by his side. He had many such blue moments. Much against her will granny Neeta had allowed Yogi to bring a puppy home as that would take the edge off his loneliness. His friend Andy often came over to spend the night with him. Time had flown and now his pup Rocky was seven years old and weighed sixty pounds and was 25” tall. Granny Neeta was pushing eighty six and wanted Yogi to get married and settle down. She kept saying she would die in peace once he had settled down with a bride of his own choice.
Yogi was playing with Rocky on the beach when a Frisbee came flying and hit him on the head. A beautiful vision came running and abjectly begged his pardon. Yogi’s moth fell open! The young lady was the spitting image of his late beautiful mom! He shook his head to clear it and promptly stuck out his hand for an intro. The beauty’s name was Ankita and she was visiting her cousins for a week. She was from Delhi.
Yogi promptly invited Ankita for dinner as a price for bopping him on the head. Reluctantly she agreed. Over dinner, much to their delight they discovered they had much in common. At close range, she had a strong resemblance to Yogita, Yogi’s mom, yet she was unalike her too. For next seven days, they met daily and became quite comfortable with one another. Yogi proposed and she accepted. She could easily transfer to a Bombay branch of her firm. Rest is history….
The just completed house was a perfectly wrought jewel box. Every single detail had been meticulously looked into. Architect Shiva Shenoy had observed all the Vaastu diktats for his dream home. It had aesthetic beauty with an inviting openness similar to those amazing floor through homes he had seen in America. He had selected very pleasing pastel colors for the walls. Any all old moldings, doors, windows, locks and details that could be salvaged from the old house had been reverently utilized giving the new home an extra élan and character. An old family portrait occupied a place of honor. It was an eco friendly green home which would keep house cool in summer, warm in winter, recycle water, and harness sunlight. A wonderful tree house atop an old banyan tree had come with the property along with the old family portrait. The housewarming ceremony was a mere week away.
An unexpected SOS call from their US settled engineer son Shivam saw them on a flight bound for America. The ceremony would be rescheduled upon return. Shiva’s office staff started making cancellation calls to all invitees.
Ailing prisoner number 8957 had been released with thirteen others in exchange for the one political prisoner. Pakistan authorities had failed to elicit any credible information from 8957 and had happily gotten rid of him. 8957 was sent to the army hospital.
Fingerprints and other tags in his old bag provided some clues and finally he was identified as Caption Karan Singh who had gone missing about a dozen years ago. Sadly his grieving family of grand parents, parents had passed on due to broken hearts. His only sister was happily married and lived in USA. She had reluctantly sold the property and had decided to also leave the family portrait after taking several photographs of it. The sale was contingent upon two conditions which had to be met. The family portrait would occupy a place of honor and the tree house would not be cut down. One friendly request was a permission to visit the property whenever she came to India. Shiva Shenoy and his wife had acceded to them. They were empty nesters with a son in USA and daughter in Dubai. They couldn’t wait to move into their new home.
Jyoti Kanwar Singh, Capt. Karan’s sister was contacted and given the happy news. Ecstatic with joy, she flew back to India the very next day. Seeing her brother’s vacant eyes and piteous condition, she was heart broken. Being a determined lady, she decided to help get him back on his feet. The doctors suggested he be taken to the old home to accelerate recovery. They left immediately.
The tree house, family portrait and other small knick knacks still kept in storage in a back shed by the Shenoy sparked some flares of recognition.
Jyoti would keep talking about all their childhood events of joy sadness truancy and the umpteen tree house parties they had enjoyed together in their
growing years. Slowly and surely Karan started regaining his strength and memory. Finally it all came back. This was like a watershed and they both
wept over the loss of their loved ones. First thing they did was to have Karan perform shraddha** ceremony for the departed at the behest of their
family priest. Now they could move forward.
She showed him photos of her husband and twin boys. Karan was delighted to know that he was an uncle. She wanted him to migrate but he wanted to stay in the house and resume service if his officer would have him. She told him the property no longer belonged to them but he refused to budge. Meanwhile she had to fly back which she did after extracting a promise of weekly phone calls and email updates from Karan.
The Shenoys returned home after a couple of months. They couldn’t wait to move into their dream home. They called the pundit for an auspicious time and day for the move. This time it would be only close family and friends. All set and fully rested, they drove to their property. They got the shock of their lives.
The house was lit and the music was playing. Gingerly they opened the door and walked in. They saw a stranger sitting comfortably as though the house belonged to him and they were the interlopers. Keeping their wits about, they greeted the man and asked to be seated. Then Karan spoke.
Karan told them that he knew that the house was no longer his but he had nowhere else to go. He had grown up here and wished to die here as well. He wanted to buy it back. The Shenoys were aghast. They told him that it was not a matter of money. They had built their dream home for which they had sweated all their lives. He could not abort their dream before full term. They would be devastated. They had come to an impasse. They decided to go home and sleep on it and return in the morning in a better frame of mind. Karan appeared nonchalant. For him there was no other option!
The Shenoy couple’s heads were in turmoil. What to do! How to skin this cat! They thought of various options but nothing appealed. Their squatter meant business. He was an army man and they had lots of respect for him and also felt sorry for him. Poor man! He’d looked so lost but “we want our home backkk” their minds wailed! They decided to speak to Jyoti, Karan’s sister. She gave them an ingenious out.
Next morning with a spring in their steps they went to see Karan. He welcomed them with tea and pastries and reiterated his offer. They told him to hear their counter offer.
They said why not share this home! We can build a small outhouse adjacent to the tree house as there was lots of acreage with the property. This way they would both have privacy and each other’s company when desired. Karan too liked the idea as he missed the old folks terribly. He agreed and they came to amicable financial settlement with everything written in black and white to avoid any future strife.
The housewarming was attended by close family members of both Shenoys and Karan Singh who had also invited comrades from his old regiment and childhood friends. Shenoy children, grandchildren and Jyoti along with her seven year old twins and husband were all in full attendance.
The faces in the family portrait beamed. It was as though old ancestors had come home. The branches and the leaves on the old tree shook happily in celebration.
Vaastu*: means the dwelling of humans & Gods. Vaastu shastra is an ancient science which helps one to get the natural benefits
freely offered by the five basic elements of the universe in which we all live. These basic elements are Akash (SKY),
Prithvi (EARTH), Paani (WATER), Agni (FIRE), and Vayu (WIND). Vastu Shastra can be applied by keeping in harmony with
these basic five elements of nature. Vaastu Shastra is an edifice science that was developed by our learned people
thousands of years ago. Its application today is purely architectural and its principles are based on becoming one with nature.
sraddha**, Sanskrit ?r?ddha, also spelled Shraddha, in Hinduism, a ceremony performed in honour of a dead ancestor. The rite is both a social and a religious responsibility enjoined on all male Hindus (with the exception of some sannyasis, or ascetics). The importance given in India to the birth of sons is to ensure that there will be a male descendant to perform the sraddha ceremony after one’s death.
The rite is performed for the deceased father, grandfather, and great-grandfather and also for the mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. It is intended to nourish, protect, and support the spirits of the dead in their pilgrimage from the lower to higher realms, preceding their reincarnation and reappearance on Earth. The rites are performed between the 11th and 31st days after death, depending on caste traditions, and at regular intervals thereafter. The first annual death anniversary is observed by a sraddha ceremony that enables the deceased (preta) to be admitted into the assembly of forefathers (pitr).