( Continued from The Reunion Part I)
We had spent quite some time conversing, Ajay was in a mood to continue with his narration, however he noticed that I was displaying restive signs.
“It appears that you are feeling hungry, I remember it from the Regiment days, the body shifting and playing with your hands playfully!” He said with a smile.
“You caught me! Yes, let us have dinner. You can continue narrating your experience as we eat,” I told him,getting up.
We moved to the dining hall where the covered bowels were placed on the table and each were warmed by burners placed under them. The plates and the cutlery were laid out meticulously. Vijay sat in the chair facing me and at my insistence Ajai occupied the chair at the head of the table. When Ajay pressed a button fixed near him, the bowls moved and stopped in front for a while giving us ample time to fetch the contents from them. This continued until we had filled our plates with the food.
“Try the chicken, it is to your taste,” Ajai said, observing my plate.
“I am a vegetarian now, no more meat for me,” I told him.
“I too stopped eating meat for the past six years,” he said.
“Any reason?” Vijay asked.
Ajay sighed and shook his head; he remained silent for a while trying to paraphrase his sentence.
“Ever since I became rich,” he finally said in a calm voice.
“I do not understand the relationship,” Vijay said looking at him.
I smelt an interesting story and encouraged Ajai to continue with the narration which he had stopped before we moved in for dinner.
“My daily life as a Forest Conservator was interesting and to my liking. My Army background helped, I had no problem in managing people and soon started looking after the flora and fauna and even animals. The team under me undertook planting trees in large numbers in areas where water was readily available in ponds and rivers. We patrolled our area vigorously and flushed out groups who were felling trees and transporting them to saw mills,” Ajai said and paused.
“Sir, your plate is empty. Yours too Vijay,” he said, looking at us and pressed the button for the bowls to serve us.
We helped ourselves with small quantities; I knew I was overeating but could not resist the deliciously cooked vegetables and dal.
“My main problem was with the hunters who entered the forest to kill small as well as big game. Most of them were old timers who had either bribed the guards or were influential enough for the Forest Conservator to turn a blind eye,” Ajay said and got up to fetch cups which he placed in front of us, after removing the plates. From the refrigerator he removed a bowl containing Gulab Jamun, dessert plates containing ice cream cubes and kept them on the table close to us.
“Please taste these,” he said, pointing to the dessert. While Vijay helped himself, I politely refused as I had stopped eating sweets.
“I was posted as Conservator of forest here ten years back. This is one of the larger forests in the country both in land area and density of trees. You will notice that the air you are breathing is far more fresh, clean and healthy. Other features of this forest is that a major river passes through it and and the terrain is quite hilly. It took some time for me to get rid of the illegal activities which were predominant and undertaken openly. I was especially at war with the hunters and poachers,” he said and paused.
“I think we can have coffee in the drawing room,” he suggested.
“No coffee for me,” I said and got up. Vijay too shook his head and followed me to the living room.
“I clearly remember, it was Sunday, I was invited to watch a cricket match in the city,’ Ajai said as we occupied our places, “as I stepped out of the house I saw a jeep come and stop near me. My senior forest guard got down and ran towards me. I heard him in silence, went back into the house and returned with my rifle. I followed him driving my jeep behind his vehicle. We drove for an hour deep into the jungle and were stopped by a forest guard.
“Sir there is one hunting party with two men and a lady. They are chasing the deers, shooting at them indiscriminately. When I tried to stop them, they pointed their rifles at me. Their Land Rovers are parked about 200 yards from here in that direction,” the guard said and pointed ahead towards a slight opening.
“Sir there is another group of young boys who are shooting partridges. They went in that direction,” the guard said pointing his finger towards my left.
“OK, thank you. You remain here and keep watching. I will follow the deer hunters while you go and stop the boys,” I told the senior guard who had fetched up and was listening.
Ajai paused and looked at Vijay.
“You can leave Vijay whenever you want to,” he said.
“Sir, my parents are arriving early in the morning to attend the Regiment Reunion. I have to get them from the airport,” Vijay said, noticing my quizzical look.
“I will stay, finish your story, it is getting interesting,” Vijay told Ajai and smiled.
“I drove my jeep to where the Land Rovers were parked and found them empty,” Ajai continued with his narration, “getting out of the jeep I walked in the direction from where I could hear intermittent rifle fire. Moving cautiously I observed a man not very far, aiming at a young deer which was struggling to get into the thick foliage. I saw the deer drop down and heard the sound of the bullet fired. Picking up my rifle, I aimed it towards the man and started rapid fire, indiscriminately. The man ducked and vanished into the undergrowth. I got up and advanced for a clear view. I could see the three of them as they ran towards their cars. I kept on firing until I heard the loud noises of their vehicles leaving the area.
When I reached the spot the deer had fallen, I found it lying sideways with eyes closed. Sitting on my haunches I put my hand on its body and shook it. The deer opened its eyes and I could observe the pain. It tried to get up with its front legs but fell down. I noticed a gash in its thigh from which blood was trickling. Taking out the kerchief from the pocket I tied it above the wound and applied tourniquet. Leaving the deer I ran towards my jeep and returned with the first aid box,” Ajay paused, went to the kitchen and returned with the tray having three glasses filled with water. He placed the tray on the table for us to drink the water.
“The deer was lying in the same place and it appeared to me that he was waiting for me,” he said after drinking the water, “I cleaned his wound, washed it with dettol and bandaged it after covering it with antiseptic cream. I was returning to bring men to carry the deer when I heard fairly loud bleats. I turned around, and sat near the deer and asked him ‘what he wanted’. To my surprise the thick undergrowth in front of me suddenly opened up and a line of rein deer emerged from nowhere. They were all grown up and had long attractive horns. One of them started licking the injured deer lying on the ground. The deer responded by making an effort to get up, which it did in the third attempt. It limped and followed the rest through the dense foliage as they left the place. The last deer stood next to me and pointed its face towards those who were in front. It struck me that he wanted me to follow them. I was a bit apprehensive as I had not explored this area of the forest, however my intuition won and I followed them. The undergrowth through which we were moving was covering a track which opened up as we walked. Apparently the deer was searching for this track before he was shot by the hunter,
After 200 yards, the undergrowth ended and I was amazed to observe the scenic spectacle of the area in front of me. It was a narrow valley having mounds and a small hill with a stream flowing between them. The deer horde halted in front of the hill.The injured one limped towards a fairly large opening and I followed it. It lay down on the ground and closed its eyes. As I stepped in further, I found a fairly large cave, which was well lighted and ventilated as the sun’s rays and fresh air entered it through a large number of holes made in the walls.
The cave was unique in many ways; In the center of the room it had a large flat rock which apparently was the center table, the slabs of even uncut rocks placed on small boulders appeared to be beds, and shelves cut into the walls provided space for displaying items. However the rather awkward and misplaced were the heavy steel boxes, which were hugging the walls. I jerked open the lid of one box. My eyes kept staring at the contents in it for a long period of time. I moved to other boxes and was in for greater surprises. I was in Alladin’s cave! The boxes contained, diamonds, precious and semi precious stones, gold and silver coins, beautiful jewelry made from gold and embedded with cut and polished precious stones. There were fifteen boxes and each was filled with different precious items.
I sat on the bed and my mind remained blank for a considerable period. Gradually the enormity of the situation sank in and threw up many questions; Do I keep quiet? Do I inform the authorities? Do I bury the boxes? Do I keep everything with me? After mulling over the pros and cons I decided that this wealth is meant for me alone. However, the logistics issue could raise a problem. Will these animals allow me to carry the contents that were in the boxes? I decided to test it, I quickly opened the box containing gold coins and filled the coins in all my pockets.
I had my first aid box with me which I left near the injured deer, who was sleeping. In normal strides I walked on the track towards the undergrowth; the animals continued to be busy with their own chores and no one looked at me as I left them. I continued to visit the cave nearly everyday returning with the contents of the boxes in large plastic bags, until all the steel boxes were empty. The injured deer was attended by me regularly and soon his wounds healed, allowing him to move with the herd.
Are you sure you are not getting late?” Ajay looked at Vijay and asked him.
“No, please continue, I think we are approaching the end of the story,” Vijay replied.
“Yes we are. To cut the story short, I did have problems in spending the money legally, fortunately a close friend helped me in the formation of business companies through which I could channelize the money for my various ventures. Today, my portfolio is spread over various investments; I have public share companies, industries, estates, buildings, equities, stocks, shares and cash. The house I built is on private land purchased from the village folks.” He stopped and looked at Vijay,
“I hope I have been able to convey the relationship of my becoming rich and turning into a vegetarian, Vijay” he said and smiled. Vijay nodded and smiled.
He excused himself and went out of the house to tell the driver to bring the vehicle.
“I think I should also go along with Vijay,” I told Ajay.
“Sir, please stay. I want to show you something tomorrow,” Ajai told me.
Vijay left and I remained to spend the night on the soft bed in the spacious and pleasant bedroom.
We were up early in the morning and with a quick breakfast served by Ajai, we were on the road with Ajai driving the vehicle.
“Where are we headed?” I asked him.
“To the cave Sir. I am sure you will love to be with the animals for a while,” he said.
“Sure, head on! Nothing could be better,” I remarked.
The drive was quite pleasant, especially the road was smooth and tree lined on either side.
“Here we are Sir,” Ajai said, stopping the vehicle.
I followed him as he led towards a seemingly huge green wall. He entered the foliage with ease and waited for me to follow him. He had been accurate in describing the scenic beauty of the place that I now beheld, as I came out of the undergrowth.
The deer were in different forms of activities, sitting, lying, grazing and they ignored us as we passed them.
“This is the opening sir,” Ajai said entering it.
I followed him as he proceeded further into the room and nearly bumped into him when he suddenly stopped.
“Oh! What do we have here?” He exclaimed loudly.
I looked over his shoulder into the brightly lit room and my eyes stopped at the rock table in the center of the room. A fairly large cobra with its fangs open and standing comfortably on the table, was greeting us.
“Let us wait a while,” Ajai said and moved towards the nearest bed facing the cobra.
“Please sit down Sir,” he requested. I sat and Ajai followed me.
It was over 15 minutes and the cobra kept staring at us from his location. I became fidgety and moved my buttocks sideways to arrest the pain in the bones, which I was feeling, caused by the hard rock on which I sat. Apparently the cobra sensed my discomfiture and started slithering down the table. It soon left the room and disappeared in a hole in the wall.
Ajai got up and moved towards the table from which he picked up a colored shining object.
“I will be damned!” He said and handed the object to me.
“What is it?” I asked, examining it.
“It is a 100 carat pink diamond, worth $ 50 million!” Ajai exclaimed and laughed.
My hands shook and with difficulty I was able to hold on to the diamond.
“Here, take it back!” I said and thrust the diamond in his hands.
“No Sir, never. It is yours. Please keep it,” Ajai insisted.
“How can I? What will I do with it?” I pleaded.
“Please Sir, keep it. Think of it as a gift for the Reunion?” He said and put the diamond in my breast pocket.
Throughout the return journey my mind was filled with complexities arising from owning the pink diamond. If I do not resolve its disposal, my life would become one long nightmare.
The vehicle to take me to the Regiment was waiting as we arrived at Ajai’s residence. I thanked Ajai profusely for his loving and selfless hospitality.
“I will not sell the diamond, nor will I give it to anyone, I will keep it with me even after I am dead,” I told Ajai while sitting in the vehicle.
“I knew that you would,” Ajai said and bid me good bye.
I reached the Regiment two hours before the commencement of the function, which was to be held under a large tent and to be attended by all ranks. I had sufficient time to freshen up and rest for a while.
My designated Sewadar entered my room 15 minutes before the function with a mug of tea. After drinking it, I dressed up quickly and proceeded to the function venue where I was received by the Commanding Officer (CO) and the Subedar Major (SM). They escorted me to my sofa in the front row behind the Jawans who were seated in front on the carpet.
Dot on time the function began with the religious leaders reciting their respective prayers.
The CO took over and after greeting the audience and thanking them for attending the function, he read out the achievements of the Regiment over the past year and the highlights of various activities in which the unit had participated.
“Finally it is my great pleasure to invite Mr Binay Kumar, father of Ajai Kumar to say a few words,” the CO said and walked towards the guest and escorted him to the podium.
“Respected CO Sir, dear fellow parents, officers and our beloved Jawans. It is with a heavy heart that I stand before you. Ajai had a short tenure in the Army but he remembered and loved the Regiment and the Army. Yesterday on his behalf I had presented a cheque for Rs 25 crores to the GOC. Today I have the honour to present the same amount to the CO of the Regiment,” Ajay’s father said and handed over the cheque to the CO.
“Many thanks to you Sir. The Regiment forever will remain indebted to you and Ajai. For those who are unaware, a year back, after leaving our Reunion party, the vehicle in which Ajai Kumar and another valiant officer of the Regiment Col Vijai Singh were travelling, met with a disastrous accident. Both Ajai and Vijai lost their lives. May their souls rest in peace! Let us stand in silence for two minutes,” the CO said and bent his head in reverence.
I felt the shock reverberate through my body. My heart beats ebbed, blood from arteries refused to reach my brain. I felt dizzy and slumped on the floor. In the stuporous condition my arms and legs refused to move, my senses dimmed.
I did hear faint voices around me but my tongue remained stuck.
“Call the doctor immediately,” a voice said.
Time passed and I could feel some activity in my heart.
“Stand aside. Slowly stretch him on the ground,” presumably it was the doctors voice,
I felt a metal piece hopping all over my body, from my chest to my back.
“He will live, take him to the MI room immediately and have the ambulance ready to take him to the Military Hospital,” the doctor said.
I felt being lifted by firm hands and placed on a stretcher.
“Sir this has fallen down from his pocket,” a voice said.
Not from my pocket but from my hand, I had taken out the pink diamond from the pocket to reassure myself of its existence,
“Put it back in his pocket,” the doctor said
I felt a hand enter my coat side pocket and drop the pink diamond into it.
With difficulty I recollected Ajai’s words “ think of it as a gift from the Reunion!”