“I will keep it short, you all have consumed large helpings of souffle, therefore there is no need for me to make it sweeter,” the GOC said amidst mild laughter.
“This Regimental Reunion is remarkably unique. Not only have I had the privilege to meet my senior officers and my colleagues with whom I served but also be the honored recipient of this cheque, which was handed over to me in my office. Will Capt Ajai Kumar please stand up!” The GOC said.
All eyes turned towards the table as Ajai got up from his chair. The GOC went towards him and handed over the cheque.
“Will you be kind enough Ajai to read what is written in the cheque?” The GOC asked
A short discussion, inaudible to most, ensued between GOC and Ajai.
“OK, as Ajai is reluctant, let me read it out,” the GOC said and took the cheque from him.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the cheque is in favour of the Army Wives Welfare Association. The amount mentioned in it is Rupees twenty five crores!” He said.
There was a loud gasp followed by loud clapping and table thumping. Some even stood up, whistled and shouted. A few rushed towards Ajai to shake hands with him.
I looked at Col Vijay Singh, who sat next to me and smiled. Vijay was my adjutant and Ajai was a Company second in command during my tenure as Commanding Officer.
“We are meeting Ajai today in his house. He has invited both of us for dinner,” Vijay said.
As I had no other engagement I agreed promptly. Ajai had been a short service commissioned officer, who left the Army after completing six years of service. As I had left the Regiment, I learnt about it from a colleague after some period. I had no further communication with him.
Vijay picked me from my room after three hours and we sat in the Jonga as it took us to Ajai’s house.
The journey was never ending after we left the main road and meandered on the narrow lane covered on both sides by thick growth. The driver it appeared was familiar with the route as he deftly maneuvered the Jonga. For me it was reliving past experiences having lived in forests with the Regiment.
Suddenly the tree line ended and a fairly large open area appeared. A vast mansion with a lengthy drive lined with flowers and short trees, took my breath away. Ajai was waiting in the portico to receive us.
“Give me some time to look at your house from outside,” I told him as we got down from the Jonga.
He smiled and moved forward signalling us to follow him. The three storied building had a mixture of Greek Roman and medieval Gothic architecture tastefully structured. Though a modern architect would decry it as a waste of space and money, to me it appeared pleasing and daunting.
“Why so far out?” I asked Ajai. He smiled and kept quiet.
We entered the house, settled down in the tastefully decorated living room, Ajai left us and soon returned with a tray containing glasses filled with water.
“Where is your man Friday?” I asked.
“He is resting, Sir. He has a large family. He stays in the outhouse and in an emergency I communicate with him over the phone,” he replied.
“Sorry to be personal, but I do not see your wife and children,” I enquired.
“My wife died six months after our marriage,” he said softly.
“I am sorry ! I should have kept in touch,” I said.
“I have also learnt about it just now ! You did not mention it earlier,” Vijay told him.
“What has happened is in the past,” Ajai said and smiled.
“You did not marry again?” I asked him.
“No Sir,” he replied.
I could have asked him the reason and also how he dealt with the lonesomeness and social life, but refrained.
“Sir, are you still good with your drinks?” He asked. I smiled and nodded. He left us and soon returned with Scotch whisky for Vijay and sweet lime with soda for me.
As we had arrived early and there was no one waiting for us at home, we relaxed and sipped our drinks, unmindful of the passing evening. We discussed our Regiment days initially and soon me and Vijay updated our activities after leaving the Regiment.
“You joined the Indian Forest Service, Tell us about your experiences?” Vijay asked Ajay.
Ajai, who was enjoying his drinks, shook his head and with a smile touched Vijay’s arm.
“You are going very slow,” he said and poured the whisky into Vijai’s glass.
Vijay did not resist but diluted the drink by filling the glass with water.
“I had a wonderful time in the Indian Forest Service. Remarkable experiences, which I could never ever have imagined,” Ajay said and shook his head in slow circles,
I was tempted to ask him about his acquired wealth but refrained considering it imprudent as I was his guest today.
“Sir, you must be astonished that a person with my background has given a cheque for Rs 25 crores to AWWA and has this big mansion. I have to admit that I have much more. I have a papermill, a tea garden and residential houses. These are my permanent assets, I have large moveable assets as well,” he said and sipped his drink.
“Yes certainly I am curious in a good way. If you can tell us about it, please do so. I leave it entirely to you,” I told him.
“I will tell you Sir, I have not mentioned it to anyone so far,” he said.
“Thank you for reposing your faith in me,” I said.
“Sir, It is not only that I have faith in you, but you are a good human, you care for lives of even animals and reptiles,” he looked at me and said.
“How do you say that. I eat meat,” I said.
“Yes I too eat meat, but I do not kill a goat. Remember Sir, when your batman had caught a fairly healthy and long serpent, most of the officers wanted to cut it into pieces and barbecue it. But on your instructions your batman took it to the forest and set it free. Your action left an indelible impression on me,” he said.
Frankly, I had completely forgotten the incident, the snake was probably set free as eating its meat would have sent shivers down my spine.
(To be continued)