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Rachna was nineteen, visiting her uncle in London the weekend before Christmas, 1986... out shopping with her cousins. Ranjeet, twenty-five, was visiting London on business - finalise a deal with his African 'friends'. Eyes met across the crowded aisle, and hearts were lost...
Like a gallant knight in shinning armour, Ranjeet swept the starry-eyed teen off her feet, and after a brief, but intense courtship, the two were married six months later.
Rachna's family had been outraged... not simply because she had chosen to marry outside the community (which was a major issue), but also because, being reputed diamond merchants, they had heard terrible tales about Ranjeet's family... and the source of their diamonds.
But Rachna simply refused to believe any of the horrible allegations; rebellious as she rejected her family's entreaties, brushing aside all their objections and dire threats as she walked out... to marry the man of her dreams.
The diamond trade of Antwerp has long been the exclusive preserve of the Hassidic Jews and, in the post 70s era, the Palanpuri Jains. The rough stone sourced and purchased, and then processed in Israel or India, before being brought back to Antwerp and sold as sparkling gems - all by members of the same family. Both subset of human group (the Hassidic Jews and the Palanpuri Jains) fiercely close-knit, and intensely protective of the family, and the greater familial interests.
Rachna's father and a cousin were based in Antwerp, while one uncle and a cousin lived in London... two uncles managed the workshops in Surat and Mumbai... while two more were based out of Tel Aviv and New York - a truly global family! - the brothers and cousins running their diamond business in the typical Palanpuri Jain style of operation!
And marriage for a Palanpuri Jain is more than just a social obligation, and lesser still a personal choice. It is a contract like the royal marriages of yore - sealed to secure, protect and enhance the business empire... and to marry outside was nothing less than betrayal of the family!
Brussels wasn't new to Rachna, after all, it was practically next door to Antwerp, her family home, and she quickly settled down in her new home... happy beyond her dreams, still enwrapped in the mesmerising haze of first love. And then, Amit and Anit came along, and her joy knew no bounds!
She never questioned the move to Interlaken, nor Ranjeet's shifting base to Dubai... but a couple months after his grandfather's death in 1995, a set of very damaging documents quite accidentally crossed her hands - vague references to Rwanda... Liberia... Ivory Coast... and Sierra Leone... of arms and diamonds... all crouched in ambiguous language.
Numbed, she slowly recollected the things her uncles and her father had mentioned... about war and diamonds... about guns and massacres... suddenly horrified, but still disbelieving in her innocence!
After a sleepless night of cark, she asked him, in private... making subtle reference to the contents of the papers... and suddenly the fašade of the shinning armour began to crumble - initially Ranjeet was evasive, and then bluntly denied all knowledge of what she was saying... before suddenly surprising her with the accusation of prying... of working against his family behind his back... leaving Rachna stunned, incredulous, as he raged and thundered.
Perhaps she would have stayed on... tried to talk, convince him... wean him away from those terrible deeds that the documents suggested involvement in. But the outrageous conduct of her father-in-law, after breakfast that morning, was simply the last straw...
Once the two young boys had been sent away for the day, on Ranjeet's insistence, Pranlal demanded the return of the documents... renewing the charges already made by Ranjeet... threatening her with dire consequences when she remained silent.
Still in shock, Rachna was totally taken aback by the interference of her father-in-law in what was essentially a matter between husband and wife. And she was outraged - not just by his inexcusable behaviour, his brusque manner and his uncalled for comminations - but by Ranjeet's abject silence as the old man ranted and threatened.
She had once left her family, broken all ties, for him... and she could once more do it, for what she believed in!
Rachna announced her decision... to leave... Immediately.
Pranlal was furious... but Rachna stood firm - Interlaken wasn't colonial Africa, she calmly informed him, and if he, or his son, dared to stop her, or hurt her and her sons, then she'd make sure that the papers, (which were already in a safe place, she told them), reached the appropriate authorities!
Father and son remained locked in the den, deep in discussion while Rachna packed... and once the boys returned, Ranjeet emerged, making it clear that she was free to go, but his sons would remain... informing the two young boys that if they left with their mother, that was it, he would never allow them back!
Rachna was appalled by Ranjeet's crass involvement of innocent children to subjugate her... and she refused to relent.
Amit walked over to his father, stating firmly that he would remain... while Anit, confused and bewildered, stood silent, looking at his mother... before slowly walking up to her and taking her hand... making known his choice in his own silent fashion.
Rachna didn't contact her family... didn't go back home (she simply couldn't go back to them in defeat)... she went to France instead, to Paris... to her childhood friend, Aouregan.
Having been born and raised in Belgium, she was fluent in French, and she hoped to find work and settle there, away from everything she knew, away from her past.
Aouregan was supportive, and since Rachna was reluctant to stay in Paris, (or any place associated with her past), helped her get a job at the private school run by her cousin... as a teacher.
She had two options - Dinan or Cancale - both in Brittany; and she chose Cancale.
Rachna had left everything behind, had given up a lifetime of wealth and privilege... but she was never angry, never bitter - living a simple, but graceful life. And far removed from his father's wealth, and his odious influence, Anit grew up in her loving care, adoring her.
Marius arrived at the Uberoi mansion at ten and was let in by the butler.
"I saw Herr Uberoi last Monday, or was it Tuesday," he smiled after the usual exchange of courtesies and pleasantries, "and thought I'd drop in... have some exclusive..."
But before he could finish he heard the rude interruption, "Mr. Uberoi isn't visiting."
"Of course I'm aware that Herr Uberoi, senior, isn't visiting," smiled Marius turning to look at Gilberto, "I was referring to Herr Amit Uberoi..."
"Herr Uberoi is otherwise occupied," replied Gilberto, once more interrupting, "and can't entertain right now."
'I'm not looking for entertainment, my dear man,' he thought silently, and then smiled, "Well, in that case I'll leave," he said, turning as if to go, hesitating for a moment as he looked up at the butler, shaking his head regretfully, "I was so sure he'd be thrilled, would never miss the opportunity... after all, it comes from the Vienna cellar of Graf..." he paused, tut-tutting, before giving a resigned shrug, "Oh, well, if he's busy, then he's busy... and since I return to Zurich later this evening... oh, Herr Uberoi, both senior and junior, will be most disappointed!"
Through the corner of his eyes he saw Gilberto falter for a moment, as if deciding, before the man finally asked, "Have you got it with you?"
Marius turned around, horrified, "Of course not!" he exclaimed. "Thirty-seven of the finest bottles, all over a hundred years old, with the royal seal intact... and you expect me to carry them around?! I got it here, at my store, simply for Herr. Uberoi... so sure that he'd never miss the chance of adding the lot to his... oh, well, if he's busy..."
"Can't you go back and get it now?" asked Gilberto, impatient.
"My dear man," smiled Marius, the tone almost contemptuous, "you don't joggle them around. Once I have Amit's approval, I'll deliver the whole lot, right to his cellar!"
"He has to go to your store to check the lot?" asked Gilberto, alarmed.
"He always does that!" Marius replied promptly. "Goes through my cellar, checks every lot and then decides... and I, then deliver!" and before Gilberto could react or put in a word, quickly turned away, adding, "And I'm sure, he'll be outraged at having missed the opportunity!" as he headed for a door.
Gilberto may have been, according to Marius, el mafioso, but he was no fool... and he also knew about Amit's keen interest in wine... And if ever this stupid wine merchant mentioned that he had been turned away when he had come to offer the best selection, both father and son would surely be furious. Besides, the senior Uberoi had made it amply clear that no one (the household staff, or, for that matter, anyone else), was to know that it was Anit, and not Amit visiting Interlaken. He had therefore kept the young man practically locked in his room... But if he didn't allow the wine merchant to show his wares... and obviously Anit wouldn't comment on it... but the staff may wonder... and Marius may start to have his own doubts...
Well, he'd escort Anit, and keep a sharp eye on him... make sure that he didn't give the game away. He knew how scared Anit was - of his father, and brother - and he was sure he could bully him into complying!
"Okay," Gilberto quickly called out, "Amit will be at the store after lunch, I'll bring him over..."
"Oh, that's so very kind of you, mein Herr," Marius said as he turned around, sensing the doubts and incertitude in Gilberto's tone, "but how would your bringing him over to my store help anyone until he knows what to expect?"
"But you said it was old wine from the cellar of the Count..." Gilberto began to say, but Marius waved about his arms, silencing the man.
"Tell him what? That it comes from Vienna, from the Palais cellar of one of the Familien?" Marius exclaimed with horror, and indignation, "That's preposterous! An insult to Amit, his sensibilities!"
"You want to talk to him? Now?" Gilberto asked, not very sure what to think, and absolutely not liking the totally unwelcome appearance of the fat, old man... and his rare wine!
"Absolutely!" asserted Marius, "He would expect nothing else, and I couldn't think of anything less. If I can't tell him, give him even a hint of what to expect, what's the point in him coming to my store?!"
"So nice to see you again, Amit, sir," smiled Marius standing up courteously as soon as Anit was led to the tiny parlour where he'd been asked to wait.
"Um, hello Marius," mumbled Anit, visibly uncomfortable, "um, nice to see you too..."
"Well, I saw you the other day, driving down H÷heweg, and said to myself: Just the person I wanted to see!" Marius smiled, adding, "I've got a very special lot for you, sir..."
"Um, sure," Anit nodded, "I'd like to... er, see it."
And as Gilberto stepped out of the room Marius dropped his voice, "Komz a ra Brezhoneg?" he asked, switching to Breton. "Er, does the dago brute speak any Breton?"
"Ne ouzon ket," Anit replied automatically, wondering what he meant, "I don't know, I don't think so..."
Amit, like himself, was fluent in French, but didn't speak a word of Breton. And Marius used only German... so, why this sudden urge to speak the language of Brittany?!
"Me komz un tammig... I speak just a little, not fluent," Marius informed, "So, we use the tongue of Brittany..."
"N'ho komprenan ket," Anit shrugged, confused and wondering, "Um, I don't understand you..."
"You will, dear Anit," Marius smiled; and as Anit stared back in shocked surprise, quickly whispered, "The phone call you made, last Wednesday night... well, your friend is here, in Interlaken..."
Anit sat in stunned silence, staring back at Marius... incomprehending... and then abruptly blurted out, "Trishul?!"
"Paouez !" Marius hissed urgently, "Stop, take no name! He arrived here yesterday, and I'll take you to my cellar, now... and if you so wish, the two of you can leave for Zurich right away..."
Anit sat, still stupefied, his head reeling as he tried to make sense of Marius' words... his heart slamming at the thought that Trishul had guessed right, had traced him out and come all the way to Interlaken!
... to be continued
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