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"If you are thinking what I think you're thinking," Nirupam said slowly, looking steadily at Trishanu, "then the answer is, no..."
"This man, um, this Ranjeet Uberoi had nothing to do with..." Trishanu hesitated for a moment, briefly looking at Trishul before turning back to Nirupam, "with that plane crash?"
"No," Nirupam shook his head. "Both of you can relax, Ranjeet Uberoi was embroiled in a huge bribery attempt connected with his bid for a mega port project... involving some very high officials. The government decided to move, and he had no option but run..."
"Then why did grandfather want him investigated?" Trishanu asked.
"Well," Nirupam let out a sigh, "it was actually my idea... I had suggested it, and your grandfather agreed to let me..."
He remained quiet for a while and then began, "I grew up in your grandfather's home, along with your father and uncles. They were just a few years younger, and we got along really well, especially Prashant..." he paused to look at Trishul, "your dad and I...
"Prashant joined the company after his return, bringing with him a new enthusiasm and a fresh new vision, infusing the whole organisation with a powerful drive with his ideas and proposals - massive plans for diversification and expansion. He had an uncanny feel of things, instinctively knew where the next big opportunity lay... knew that power, infrastructure and retail would soon become the next big growth areas. And he wanted the company to be ready, be prepared to grab the oppurtunity when it came. Your grandfather, Pranav and Pranay agreed.
"Power was already a major part of the company, and he drew up new plans for expansion and consolidation, while begining work on the new infrastructure setup. Within two years he'd won three prestigious projects for the company, and successfully implimented them, building up a reputation.The new company was doing very well and he was contemplating on bidding for the megaport project. The industry was abuzz with speculations, and there were several lead articles in various trade papers and business journals, about his proposed plans, and the desirability of our company getting the project...
"And then that terrible disaster happened..." he paused, shaking his head, the painful memory still clear on his face, the emotions struggling to surface even after all those years.
"It was half a day's trip, visit the project site with his core team, have another look before the final decision... I was to go with him, be on that flight... your mom wasn't even supposed to be on that plane. We were at the airport when your grandfather's call came, 'I need you at the office, urgent, Prashant can manage on his own,' he said. And as I informed your father, your mom said she'd accompany him, 'It'll be fun, and anyway, we'll be back before Trishul gets home from school!' she said.
"I left and she boarded the plane instead...
"We were in shock," he said after a very long pause, "desperate for answers, desperate to find out how... Why... We just couldn't comprehend...
"Ranjeet Uberoi, a very unsavoury character with some very shady business dealings, had at that point of time decided to enter the country with his own newly formed infrastructure consortium, interested in the same project... and whatever little I knew about that man, about his underworld connections... well, once the DGCA's inconclusive verdict on the crash came in, I almost immediately thought of him. I mentioned it to your uncles and grandfather... they agreed... and I gathered every bit of information I could, and that's when we discovered the graft scandal... his real reason for bolting..." he paused, looking steadily at Trishul, "Ranjeet, his company or his associates weren't involved in the... um, crash."
"And the real reason was never found?" Trishanu asked the one question that still baffled the family... was still a deep scar in their collective consciousness.
Nirupam shook his head, "Your grandfather engaged experts, the best in the world... and they visited the country. There was hardly much to see or examine, and the combined wisdom of all the experts concluded that the most probable cause was a short circuit in a wire bundle that led to a spark in the faulty fuel gauge sensor, setting off the explosion..."
They sat in silence for a long while, till the housekeeper announced lunch.
"Now, may I ask a question?" Nirupam asked as they got up, "Has this man, uh, Amit, or his agents made an offer, or attempted something... um, sabotage at the plant perhaps?"
"Well, we don't really know..." answered Trishanu, with an unsure shrug, "but there was an attempt... at what, we're not sure and that's why we want to find out... find out about him..."
"The report will be with you by Tuesday afternoon!"
Trishul barely remembered his parents, had hardly known them - the only memory of them being those faded images of rushing home from school into his mother's arms... those fun-filled evenings with both parents... wild games in the garden, exciting story-telling sessions, amazing weekends and incredible vacations... cuddles and hugs... and that secure, warm feeling...
For the first time that Sunday, over lunch, Nirupam gave him an amazing account of his parents, high-school sweethearts... an insight into the person that they were - the vivacious young woman, his mother, gracious and elegant; and the young man, his father, with his vision for the future, his incredible achievements in the short span after joining the family business. Their likes, their joys... and their dreams...
His grandmother, his uncles, they never discussed much, other than simply mentioning how incredible Prashant was... and how much his parents loved him. Probably wanting to 'protect' him, save him from the painful memories... keep all sorrow out of his life. And he had lived in that protective shell, loving his parents in return - they were his parents and they loved him, and they were dead.
He didn't need anything more to know...
Trishul left for the vineyard Monday morning, determined not to allow Rachit's, um Amit's betrayal to hold him back, bog him down... affect his work or his company in any way. He was ready, and no matter what trick Amit had up his sleeves, he would face the challenge!
But... there was that disconcerting thought that had abruptly come to him once the shock and shame of his encounter with Amit had slowly worn off... a weird, niggling doubt... and it was troubling him...
He hadn't mentioned it to Trishanu, hadn't dared to share the thought - he'd be furious - but it had grown with each passing moment, and had begun to seem real... or at least, probable, once he woke up that morning. His heart suddenly refusing to accept what his eyes had seen!
He had seen the man... had spoken to him... and yes, it was the same man. And yet, the more Trishul thought about their encounter at the hotel, the more confusing things became...
He was the same... and yet, somehow, he was DIFFERENT!
Back at the seaside bungalow... at the vineyard... Rachit had seemed so gentle... well-bred and polite... yes, initially a bit restrained... a bit reticent, even shy and timid... before that magical night at the vineyard. But at the hotel, he had been so arrogant... exuding a chesty, almost disdainful confidence that had been so alien to Rachit's character...
And those eyes... especially those eyes - when Amit had looked at him - that wasn't Rachit's eyes... couldn't be his. Rachit's eyes had been so soft, so warm. But the man at the hotel - his look had been scornful, the eyes cold and contemptuous... even cruel!
Was he fooling himself? Being delusional in his utter desperation?
Well, he'd wait for Nirupam's report and then decide. Maybe, he'd even go to Dubai if necessary, but he just couldn't let this pass, he had to lay the ghost to rest!
Nirupam's report came in Tuesday, noon, and by six-thirty in the evening it was with Trishul at the vineyard, personally hand delivered by Trishanu's trusted assistant.
After dinner, Trishul sat propped in bed, reading, Dash curled by his side...
The report was lengthy, and detailed, four generation of history - a saga of intrigue and cunning, of greed and deceit... fraudulence, dishonesty and barbaric cruelty. And it read like a racy thriller!
... to be continued
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