August 30, 2003....The premonition...
The sky, grey and dull, clouds sombre, not a leaf fluttering, no chirping of birds, as though the whole world had come to a grinding halt, foretelling the story about to unfold...
A posse of policemen accompanied by the officers of the Central Bureau Of Investigation stood before “Athithi”, house #26. The siren of the police jeep was wailing, and the intensity of sound getting amplified by the minute. Hosts of media personnel stood with DSLRs and mikes, ever ready to set the camera rolling and to give the breaking news. Curious onlookers on tree branches, on rooftops and on the street jostling with each other to catch a glimpse of the fallen hero and smacking their lips at the sudden action in their own adda!
The cops had the arrest warrant ready when they knocked on the door. Amma was shell shocked at the unexpected visitors and muttered
“Look Police”... “Krishna, Krishna”...she called for divine intervention.
The officers were least bothered about expressions and reactions and with a swift wave of the warrant said
“We have come to arrest him and this is the warrant.”
Appa just followed them as if in a trance. The shutter bugs clicked nonstop to their hearts’ content, savouring each moment, covering different angles; some journos got sound bites from the officers in khaki who were only too eager to hog the limelight!
Appa sat in the vehicle dazed. He looked at amma and gestured with the hand showing as if making a call and mumbled
“call Ganesh and arrange a lawyer”
The neighbourhood was abuzz with all sorts of stories, each of them having a field day weaving tales of yarn, concocting stories and ridiculing my poor appa. A couple of good Samaritans had the courage to take amma inside and console her. Amma, brave that she was quickly composed herself and called Appa’s nephew Ganesh, who was a well known Doctor. He immediately plunged into action and arranged for a lawyer and the surety money as well as couple of witnesses. As this was being done, Amma called me and burst into sobs.
“Vishalam....Appa has been arrested and taken to jail”
A bolt from the blue hit me hard and I was dumbfounded and “Whhhaaat” was all I could say. She started narrating the sequence of events....
I pacified amma to the best of my ability as the situation first warranted that action, even as a million thoughts raced through my mind.
“Everything will be all right, calm down, I am coming there by the next flight”. I also talked to her close friend, confidant and man Friday, who was like a “chithi” to me.
“Lalitha Chithi...please take care of amma, I’ll be there as quickly as I can.”
The flight AC 107 screeched to a roaring halt at the Nedumbassery runway, rudely jolting me from my miseries, questioning mind and helplessness. The air outside was sultry and humid. I flagged a cab and reached home much to the relief of my amma. Hugging her in a tight embrace, we calmed each other. Choking with emotion, she recounted the dramatic turn of events in one single breath, gasping for air and her mouth going dry.
The CBI had arrested appa along with nine others, all former employees of CF ltd.,charging them with fraud and cheating, claiming that they had awarded contract to one particular vendor for transportation of liquefied ammonia for some benefit. They purported that these officers had intentionally approved the name of M/S XY barges and shipping co. and connived with the vendor for quid pro quo thereby cheating the company of many crores of rupees.
“what nonsense”, I exclaimed and sat stupefied, here were the police arresting a set of people for an action that had been taken jointly with the approval of the core of ministers, way back in the 1990’s! My mind raced back in time, the floodgates of memories opened up and I reminisced the golden era of CF days! Nostalgia.....and ouch...it really hurt!
April, 1, 1967.... Prologue....
Appa, an all India rank holder in the ACA examination joined CF ltd., a huge public sector undertaking as a young accounts officer, overcoming the barriers of class, reservation, minority etc.etc..It was a humungous organization with over 8000 odd employees. Set up by a visionary, this company made fertilizers and chemicals and had multiple divisions such as design, engineering works and a caprolactam plant.
December 03, 1967...A milestone...
He married amma, a Bombay bred girl on this day, that marked a lovely innings of a city girl adjusting to the life of a small nondescript town in the southern part of India. But she quickly adapted to the new lifestyle like duck to water. I was born the next year much to the joy and happiness of appa, who simply adored me. I was the apple of his eyes and he my super hero! Days turned into months and into years and we enjoyed the cocooned comforts of township life. Appa, slogged day in and day out at the office for all he was worth, burning the midnight oil during times of auditing and closing of accounts. He was dedicated, determined and faithfully carried out his duty to be worthy of the salary that he drew which was anything but princely!
Soon, the family of three had an addition and my sibling was only too happy to share the unadulterated fun and frolic of childhood days! In the same year, Appa’s congenital heart problem resurfaced and he suffered from palpitation and shortness of breath. India, in those days, was not so medically advanced to treat his rare disease and we had to look up to the United Kingdom for surgery which was a very costly option. But CF ltd. came to dad’s rescue like a knight in shining armour and supported in every possible way. The company and his bosses were guardian angels and they left no stone unturned to give him a fresh lease of life. Thus Appa escaped from the jaws of death by a proverbial hair’s breadth! Rejuvenated and energetic like never before, Appa soon resumed his duties but this time more gratefully and working harder as a payback to the company that had done so much for him. He put in longer hours of work and soon climbed the ladder of corporate success. He ethically followed the “work is worship” concept while we children made merry at home, at school and at the club.
The township was huge, spread across acres of land and had everything beautifully planned, laid out and integrated within. The magnificent gate manned by the Central Industrial Security Force was a sight to behold. The quarters, differing in size, but not in colour or shape, had colonial appearances and were homes to a mammoth 5000 employees. These bungalows had all the convenience one could ask for; free accommodation, free water and electricity, intercom facility, huge backyards with mango, jackfruit and guava trees that bore luscious fruits all year round. The gated community, a buzz word, these days was already there replete with tarred and well lit roads, parks with play things, playgrounds by the dozen, schools catering to different curriculum and boards such as SSLC and ICSE, a medical centre in a rounded building, a magnificent recreation club, guest house and the imposing factory at the centre of it all.
My alma mater, the famed CF public school following the ICSE pattern was a home away from home, a knowledge hub with dedicated teachers who taught us the rudiments of learning and a grooming centre for sports, games, arts, music and dance and each of us excelled in these disciplines. I have spent the best days of my carefree life here winning many coveted trophies and sobriquets too!
The recreation club was imperial and smashing and the English language is too dwarfed to describe this opulent heaven. It has a snooker and billiards room, a cards room, a swimming pool with different depths and a diving board, an open air stage, a fabulous badminton court where many a national level games were played, a superb tennis court of clay, ping pong tables, a video parlour and a food court. We have spent hours in the swimming pool with tadpoles for company and enjoyed the rocking music concerts of wood stock, the slapstick comedy of Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin brought alive on big screen much to the amusement of giggly gals and boisterous boys.
The medical facility extended by the hospital in the premises was a boon to all the staff and their families and it came absolutely free.CF ltd. had made our lives happy go lucky! Free accommodation, free medical facility, free recreation and free schooling; what more could we ask?
And it gave me my appa as a honest and upright officer who always walked the talk. Be it the use of utilities provided or the car facility with a driver or the gardener to tend to our lovely garden, Appa ensured that he never misused any of them and always led his humble and down to earth life. Even Amma sometimes got carried away with some of the facilities extended and at times, waited for the driver to open the door and wait on her much to Appa’s dislike. He always adhered to principles and upheld the high moral ground. His hard work paid him rich dividends and soon he was promoted as senior deputy general manager.
September 07, 1995....The core of the matter...
The nine member standing committee headed by the director of finance submitted the report to the Chairman and managing director and the core group comprising of the group of ministers. This committee was instituted to be in charge of advertisement of tenders for transport of liquefied ammonia, receipt of sealed tenders, receipt of demand drafts as surety money, background checking and verification of financial viability and other key aspects that go into the requirements to meet the criteria. Among various bidders, M/S XY barges and shipping co. who had a good track record and had successfully accomplished businesses in similar fields and financially strong was shortlisted mainly for the quote of a tender price of Rs.1400/- per metric tonne of transporting the required quantity. The committee after further rounds of meetings called the vendor for negotiations.
Standing committee (SC) : “So Mr. Aziz, what is the best price you are
Mr. Aziz, (MD of XY) : “See, after careful consideration of the capital
cost and working cost requirements, the
final rate can be Rs.1200/-per MT but not
below that as it would not be viable.
Member, SC : “what about night navigation?” We have
received a no objection from the pollution
board and the port trust for night
Mr. Aziz : “I was about to suggest that, we could add
night navigation as a bonus service without
any additional rates.”
Member, SC : “All right MR. Aziz, let us discuss and get it
across to our core group for final approval and
we will soon let you know of the outcome.”
Mr. Aziz : “Thank you, Ladies and gentlemen, I shall be
waiting eagerly for a positive response from
Mr.Aziz leaves the conference hall and the members discuss among themselves.
“Looks like it’s a fair deal, the price quoted seem to be ok but with night navigation included, the target of transportation on the required quantity can be reached, also new barges and containers have been acquired by them so safety is taken care of.”
“Anyway let us put this across to the group of ministers and get their inputs and feedback.”
The committee then submitted all the relevant documents with documents to support and the demand draft for the final nod. The core group sat and deliberated and gave the final assent in a few days time and the contract was awarded to M/S XY barges and shipping. The decision on selecting this contractor had thus gone through the diligent process of all necessary approvals and there were never any quid pro quo benefits in this.
It was business as usual and appa put in 38 years in CF ltd. , a dedicated yeoman service and demitted his office in the year 1998 as General Manager, corporate affairs. It was a sad moment for all of us, we had reaped the rich harvest of CF ltd. and the time had come to say goodbye to a life of goodness.
The shrill ringing of the telephone jerked me from my contented past, to the appalling and scandalous present. Things had gone topsy- turvy and tumultuous; the man who had honesty and integrity as his second name was now behind bars, squatting on the hard ground – what an irony! The caller was my cousin, who assured me that the witnesses and the surety money had been arranged and that he was going with the lawyer to secure the release of my dear appa. Within a couple of hours, there was relief and optimism – we saw a faint light at the end of the dark tunnel. Appa was set free albeit with strings attached. He must present himself at the court every week for signing to mark his presence, and his passport was retained by the authorities so that he could not leave the country.
Back home after the terrible ordeal to a man who knew no greed; we felt the worst nightmare was over. A stream of visitors came in like a swarm of bees, some lending a shoulder to him, a few keen to know about the conspiracy, the heroes and villains in the story. But some were as stinging as the bees with the sole purpose of rubbing salt on the wounds.
“Enna saar, did they serve you gruel in jail?” remarked this dastardly person and we were shattered beyond words. Appa took it in his stride and jokingly remarked,
“Yes Rajan, that too in aluminium bowl but I must say that the porridge was tasty!”
We all returned to our respective domains, continuing with our mundane lives and the hardship causing episode was forgotten. Appa took up teaching and became engrossed in his new avatar. However, the frequent ‘hearings’ on the case and the adjournments were grim reminders of the harsh reality. The exorbitant fees of the lawyers had drained his resources, the never ending summons and standing in the witness box had eroded him physically. A couple of his co accused could not bear the trauma and gave up, sacrificing their lives. But Appa endured them all and never faltered till the day of judgement.
May 22, 2015....Epilogue ....judgement day...
The court had a packed house with the accused and their family members waiting with bated breath and finally the hour of verdict had arrived.
The High Court judge pronounced the verdict..there was pin drop silence, only the heavy breathing of the people could be heard. He read thus:
“The charges levelled against the nine ex officers of CF ltd. who have been charged with conspiring with the vendor to cheat the company under section 27 (d) of the IPC is baseless and there is no evidence to this effect. I pronounce all of them including Mr. Aziz, not guilty of any crime or wrong doing or fraud. There has been undue haste on the part of CBI in levelling the charges on the officers who have put their heart and soul to the company. ....” and he read on. There was a collective sigh of relief, a sense of euphoria and the family members cheered at the final judgement. I could see triumph on my appa’s face, his good action before prayers had been finally answered. I saluted my hero, applauded him from the bottom of my heart and felt immensely proud to be his daughter. Justice was given to a humble soul who had no enemies, no avarice, and no malice; who was transparent, open and contented. What lay behind him paled in comparison to what was inside him and
I recalled Martin Luther King’s famous words;
“We must accept finite disappointment,
But we must never lose infinite hope.”