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Authors: Ravi Subramanian

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When they got married Radhika had no knowledge of any sport, let alone basketball. However, after seven years of being with Deepak, she had begun to understand basketball very well – thanks to the overdose of the game she had to endure. She would often go to cheer her husband in the league games. That morning she had gone to the temple to pray for the Chembur Chargers. They were pitted against the strong Bandra Bulls in the semifinals. A win against them would catapult them into the finals and a win in the finals would not only make them the Division 4 champions but also ensure a place for them in the Division 3 league – something that had eluded them for years. And Radhika knew how important it was for Deepak to see his team through to the finals.

That night Deepak and Radhika went out to celebrate their team's win. After a long beer session at the Sports bar in the Phoenix mills complex in Parel, they returned late at night. Radhika was tired and went to sleep almost immediately. Deepak was not feeling sleepy. It was probably the adrenalin of having won an important game that kept him going. He switched on the TV and started surfing the channels. It was just a matter of time before he got bored. He silently tiptoed into the bedroom because Radhika was fast asleep and he didn't want to wake her up. The laptop was on the side rack – where he had left it in the afternoon. He picked it up and walked out of the room.

He connected to the Internet and started surfing. After a few minutes of checking mails, he moved to Facebook.

Shraddha had updated her status – Occupied, Confused, Happy... everything.

He raised his eyebrows and thought for a moment but could not understand what it meant. Six people had 'liked' the comment he was finding difficult to make sense of. 'What is there to like when someone is confused? Strange are the ways of Facebook users,' he said to himself as he moved on.

Suhasini had said, 'Mixed emotions.' What was that? Below that status update there were ten guys asking questions on what or rather who was the reason for her 'mixed emotions'.

Rajesh had said, 'Enjoyed the run in the park...after a long time.'

He was genuinely amused reading those updates. Some day people would write, 'Don't know what I ate, feeling constipated today', or maybe 'third time to the loo, something is definitely wrong...or is the system cleansing itself?' he thought. If Socrates or Aristotle were alive today, they would have had tough competition to face. Facebook philosophers could have given them a run for their money, or at least made them feel inferior. No one would need the former greats!

He was pondering over a few bizarre and meaningless status updates when he suddenly remembered Savitha – his latest friend on Facebook – and clicked on her profile. Her profile picture was amazingly pretty. Flawless skin, innocent face and sharp features -she seemed to be naturally beautiful. Though he had noticed her during the party, his ego had prevented him from indulging her. He clicked on her photo albums and looked through a few of her pictures. The more he looked at them, the more she intrigued him. There was something mysterious and alluring about her and he was not able to figure out what it was. He was lost in his thoughts, admiring Savitha's pictures when suddenly a message box popped up in front of him on the screen.

'Hi!' said the message. For a moment Deepak was confused. Who was this? He carefully looked at the box and smiled. It was Savitha. Was it some kind of telepathy at work?

Instinctively he typed, 'Hi.'

'Do you recognise me?' came the next message.

'Yes, of course.' Deepak was a bit nervous

'I thought you would not know me, so I thought it better to introduce myself.'

'No, no, not required, I remember you. Have seen you so many times at work. Even met you briefly yesterday. How have you been?' The conversation began formally.

'I am doing good. Was just surfing the net. Chatting with a few friends...saw you online, so thought of dropping in and saying "hi".'

'That's so nice of you,' He couldn't think of anything better to type.

The clumsy conversation carried on for a few more minutes after which Savitha signed off.

Sunday was a different story altogether. Early morning after his cup of coffee, Deepak sat with his laptop and logged into Facebook, hoping to see Savitha online. Pretending to be responding to some office mails, he waited for a few hours not doing anything, just logging in and out of Facebook. There was no sign of Savitha. He was beginning to get restless. There was no reason to be and he knew that. But there was something about the girl that interested him and caught his fancy. What was that? Why was he waiting for her to come online? This had never happened to him earlier.

Radhika sensed that something was wrong with Deepak but brushed it off thinking it was work pressure.

Finally Savitha came online at about 3 p.m. The moment he saw her, Deepak pinged her.

'Hi.'

'Hi there,' Savitha responded after a good five minutes and followed it up with a 'sorry, my daughter was around.'

'No probs...so how are you?' Yet again Deepak found himself searching for words – a clumsy beginning of a marathon session that lasted almost four hours. After that chat session, they both knew almost all the significant things that there were to know about each other.

Deepak got to know that Savitha had worked at Standard Chartered Bank (SCB) in credit card sales and had also had a brief stint in marketing before she joined Mortgage sales at GB2. He also got to know that she was a single mother who was working very hard to take care of her daughter who studied in class three at Arya Vidya Mandir. She had been in mortgages for over two years and was looking to move out.

Savitha got to know that Deepak was a career banker, a diehard basketball fan who played Division 4 league and was the captain of the Chembur Chargers. She also got to know that he liked single malt but never drank the night before a game. This she got to know when she asked him why he was not drinking at the 'Jai Ho' party. It was on the night before the semi-final match against Bandra Bulls.

The conversation they had was interesting. It was obviously very difficult to be talking about mortgages and credit for over four hours. The conversation extended beyond that, sometimes bordering on flirting. Whether it was casual, harmless flirting or intentional, whether it was initiated by Savitha or pushed by Deepak, no one could say. But it was clearly not a conversation that a senior banker would normally have with a not-so-senior sales person on Facebook. However, Deepak was besotted with Savitha and was completely in awe of her.

Radhika passed through the room quite a few times but never suspected anything fishy. She thought he was busy with some office work and didn't disturb him. Some vegetables and groceries had to be bought and she went alone because Deepak seemed too busy to be hassled. When she returned Deepak was still on the computer chatting with Savitha.

 

 

 

17 December 2009
Fort, Mumbai

 

 

L
OCATED in a verdant part of Mumbai city, the imposing RBI building was all about brazen muscular strength and impregnable security. Starting from the Malad stone cladding to the sixty-foot high modern Corinthian columns to the flanking piers and the square-cut frontal section, everything was gigantic in size.

Ronald climbed the steps of the building to enter a large, impressive lobby. At the entrance he was received by Vardarajan, who ushered him into a waiting lift. The lift stopped on the eighteenth floor and both of them stepped out. Vardarajan didn't have to lead the way because Ronald had been there before. He had visited the governor's office many times, but it had always been planned and the agenda of the meeting was never so discreet as it was this time. This visit was unnerving, to say the least. He was there with absolutely no idea of what was in store.

They turned left into a long corridor. A musty smell took over the moment they stepped into the corridor. It smelt as if the carpet had not been cleaned or dusted for ages. But as they moved a little ahead, Ronald could see that it was cleaner and more inviting. The varnish on the wood panelling smelt fresh. Fascinating paintings adorned the walls of the long corridor. Pictures of illustrious former governors hung on the left while the right of the corridor had pictures of past presidents of the country. The framing of the pictures could have been slightly more imposing since this was the office of the Reserve Bank of India – the key and only regulatory body for governing the entire banking system in India.

At the end of the corridor was a door which opened into a large meeting room. Along with plush leather sofas, a carved antique centre table and other accessories the room had a view of the Mumbai harbour and the sea further. The water seemed calm, in stark contrast to the turmoil in Ronalds mind. Vardarajan left him alone in the room and disappeared. 'I will let the governor know that you are here,' he said before moving out.

Ronalds mind recapitulated his first visit to the RBI about a year back when he had come to meet the governor formally before taking over as the CEO of GB2. It was a very cordial meeting; the governor had welcomed him with open arms and sung praises of GB2 and almost acknowledged that no other bank was run in such a controlled manner as GB2. In those days, with banks collapsing like a deck of cards in the belligerent west, GB2 seemed to be as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar.

A lot had happened in the last one year. Many incidents transpired which highlighted the susceptibility, not only of GB2, but the entire banking system to manipulations by a few smart individuals. To a certain extent GB2 had borne the brunt of it. If the incidents of the past week were an indicator to go by, GB2 had reasons to worry. But Ronald was hoping that this meeting was called to address any issue other than that.

At that very instant the door at the far end of the room, which connected the meeting room to the governor's cabin, swung open and the governor walked in.

'Ah Mr McCain, nice to see you. Thank you for making it at such short notice.' The stern look on the governor's face belied any friendly overtures that his speech might have conveyed.

'Good morning, Mr Governor. How have you been?'

'I am fine, Mr McCain. Could have been better though.'

'I am sure.' Ronald was wondering what would come next.

'But you people keep us on our toes all the time. If it was not for the problems which keep cropping up, we would sleep easy.'

So his concerns were right! It was after all about the happenings of the last few days. This was the first time someone from the government or the regulators was talking to him about the chain of events which continued to traumatise him. And now whatever the governor was saying seemed to be confirming his worst fears.

'Mr McCain,' the governor interrupted his thoughts, 'we need to talk. Why don't you make yourself comfortable,' and he pointed towards the plush leather sofa on his right.

Ronald McCain just nodded his head and joined the governor as he sat down. They were hardly at a distance of three feet from each other but the chasm between them was beginning to grow deep. The governor spoke and Ronald McCain listened quietly.

 

 

 

23 August 2007
GB2 Head Office, Mumbai

 

 

I
T was the middle of the third week of mortgage investigation. The team had not found anything to implicate Karan and his team yet. Deepak's frustration was mounting. He desperately wanted to show Karan down. It is surprising how personal agendas and motives drive businesses rather than propriety and genuine organisational need. Deepak was trying to drive one such agenda and, in all likeliness, was about to fall flat on his face.

The customer loan files seemed to be in order. There was no oversight except a few minor glitches that could pass off as clerical mistakes. He wanted a big catch; something serious that could be attributed to Karan's supervisory failure. He hadn't got anything yet. He didn't want the entire mortgage team to laugh at him. Wasn't he the one who had created a serious issue about the month-end pileup of loan applications and the risks of such a process? A dejected and frustrated Deepak decided to go home. He needed some company and a drink. But he never drank alone. 'Only drunkards drink alone,' he would say.

But who should he call? All his friends had gone back home. Radhika too, was not in town; she had gone to visit her parents in Pune. Suddenly a smile flitted across his face. He remembered his chats with Savitha. She had also given him her phone number. It was quite surprising how in his two-month stint he had never come across Savitha in the credit shop. 'Not surprising, idiot, just unfortunate,' his inner voice said. Maybe he was too busy with the new task at hand. Or maybe she never came there but got her work done on the phone instead. He picked up his mobile and dialed her number.

'Hi Deepak, what a surprise! How come at this hour?' It was well past 9.45 p.m., a bit too late to call a single mother.

'I was driving back home, I thought I will just call you to ask if you are in a mood for a drink?'

'Why? No basketball match tomorrow?' Savitha remembered that Deepak never drank the night before a match.

'Haha...no. I was just feeling a little bored. No one's at home, so I was wondering if we could just catch up for a drink. I can come towards Bandra if it is ok with you.'

'Sure, Aakansha has also gone for a sleepover to a friend's place, so I am game.'

Things were moving a bit too fast. They had hardly known each other for a few days now and they were already heading out for a drink. It seemed more like a date. As Savitha's apartment was located bang on the main road, it was not difficult for Deepak to find the house. It was 10.30 p.m. by the time Deepak parked his car outside Savitha's residence.

Savitha was waiting for him. Dressed in a ravishing, body-hugging black skirt that ended just an inch above the knee, she looked extremely sensuous. One look at her and Deepak was smitten. He had figured out from her Facebook profile that she was about ten years younger to him. 'Gosh! Wish I was born a few years late! At least then I could have given myself an even chance of meeting her before marrying Radhika', he thought. With an age difference of ten years, there was no hope in hell that he would have met her in office, fallen in love and married her. Unless her parents believed in child marriage! He was deep in thought when Savitha got into his car and sat down next to him.

'Let's go,' she said.

He smiled. 'Looking nice.'

"Ihank you. You are being kind.'

'And you modest,' Deepak replied. She just smiled in return.

A pleasant fragrance filled his car the moment Savitha entered. He sniffed to figure out which perfume it was. When he couldn't, he sniffed harder.

'You don't like it?' asked Savitha. Probably he made it too obvious.

'What?'

"The perfume?'

'No, no, it's nice. Why?'

'You have been sniffing very hard ever since I got into the car, so I asked.' She had a naughty smile on her face.

'Oh, not at all. In fact it's really nice. I was just trying to figure out which one it is.'

'It's Carolina Herrera 212. One of my favourites,' she said with a twinkle in her eye.

'Ok, so now it's my favourite too.' He smiled back at her. He was not a natural flirt.

'Are we going to just sit in the car, or will we head somewhere?' Savitha asked. That's when Deepak realised the car was still at a standstill. Shifting the Scorpio into first gear, he drove out of Savitha's building and headed to the Hawaiian Shack on 16
th
Road in Bandra.

It was a night full of fun, excitement and drinks for the two of them. They were the last ones to leave the Hawaiian Shack and that, too, at 2.00 a.m. In fact they had to be practically thrown out of the pub, as it was well past closing time.

'So where do we go now?' asked Deepak, not in a mood to call it a night as yet.

'Wherever!' Savitha was forthcoming, too.

'Let's go to Bandstand. I have a few beers in my car. We can finish them before we head home.'

'Wow! Car mein bar!' said Savitha. She was a bit high that night. At least it seemed so. But she didn't want to go home. She liked Deepak's company.

The car stopped at Bandstand. Deepak rolled down the windows. They could feel the sea at a distance. It was pitch dark and the sea was not visible. The cool sea breeze was blowing lighdy in their direction and the waves were crashing against the shore. It made for a very romantic ambience. Deepak got down and pulled out a few more cans of beer from the boot. His favourite was Kingfisher and he always kept a few cans in the cooler in his car. Savitha, too, got out and they made their way to the seats on the Bandstand Promenade.

They sat down and started reminiscing about their life, career and family. Savitha was the more outspoken of the two. Deepak just listened. It was close to three in the morning. In any other city, it would have been a cause for concern but not in Mumbai. Mumbai was as vibrant in the night as during the day and more safe than most of the other cities. So it did not worry either Deepak or Savitha that they were sitting alone on a dark stretch in the middle of the night. Even the two beat constables who came to harass them backed off after a mere glance.

During the course of the conversation Savitha casually said, 'Too much of chaos today at work.'

'Why, what happened?' Deepak wanted to know.

'Nothing much. Gopal created a ruckus.'

'Who Gopal?'

'He is also a mortgages sales manager. My counterpart.' Savitha informed.

'Oh...yeah, I know him,' Deepak acknowledged.

'He had disbursed a five-crore loan last month. It was the largest loan across the country. It has now come back for cancellation.'

'Why?' Deepak asked curiously.

"The customer has said that he doesn't want the loan now and has asked us to cancel the disbursal cheque.'

'What? He is asking to cancel a five-crore loan? And twenty-odd days after the loan was disbursed! Why?' Deepak was astonished.

'He claims that he never wanted the loan and he was conned into taking it.'

'Bullshit!' Deepak was incredulous. 'How can anyone con you into taking a loan worth five crore? Where is that cheque now?'

'That's what he says, and now he doesn't want the loan. The cheque is still with us. It has not been handed over to the customer or the builder from whom he is buying his property. We just issued the cheque on the thirtieth of last month, at the month-end and kept it with us so the same could reflect in last month's numbers. The sales guys told the credit team that the customer would take the cheque on the second or third and had confirmed the request for issuance of the cheque. The entire legal documentation was also executed by the customer and the cheque was issued thereafter.'

'So what was the chaos about?.

'Gopal, who had sourced the loan, was arguing with Karan on the incentive for that loan. According to Gopal, he and his team had put in the required effort. He did not want to be held responsible for the cancellation and that, too, after the customer agreed to the loan disbursal. He wanted to be paid full incentive.'

'And did Karan agree?'

'No, he didn't. He said that ideally he would have paid but for such a large ticket loan, unless the customer accepted the cheque, he wouldn't agree to the release of the incentive. And incentives are huge. For this loan alone, the incentive would be around three lakh.'

'Wow! That's bigmoney,' exclaimed Deepak. 'But tell me, Savitha, does this happen very often?'

'These days it is happening a bit too often...and that, too, with loans booked in the last few days of the month.'

'Hmm...I can imagine. Gopal would have been disappointed, though.'

'Oh yes. He was arguing with Karan saying he worked on the case and got it approved in four days flat. He spoke with the lawyers and valuers and worked out the entire logistics for the case within four days. So he was adamant that he should get the credit for the loan.'

'Ok, but isn't he supposed to stay away from the valuers and lawyers? Aren't they managed by the credit folks? The sales guys are supposed to not talk to these vendors directly. Isn't that the way it is supposed to be?'

'Yes, Deepak, but practically hota nahin hai. It doesn't happen the way you are saying. If sales doesn't go and interface with these guys, no business will happen. Credit just doesn't have the sense of urgency, you see,' Savitha made her point.

'Hmm...yes. But why are we talking about mortgages and loans in a such a deadly weather! Don't we have better things to talk about?' Deepak said, flirtatiously.

'Of course!' Savitha agreed. 'No more shop talk now.'

Even as they chatted about other things, the revelation by Savitha was constantly playing at the back of Deepak's mind. Something had to be done. What Savitha had just told him had given him the ammunition against Karan. It was up to him how he used it.

By the time Deepak dropped Savitha back home, it was 4 a.m. He went upstairs to leave her till the apartment door. The intent was to kiss her goodbye. But at the last moment, better sense prevailed and he turned back from the door without kissing her. He was not too sure if it was the right thing to do or the right time. In another fifteen minutes he was back in his pad in Chembur. Sleep had deserted him. He was lost in thoughts of Savitha and what she had told him. He had just unearthed something which could turn the world upside down for Karan. Deepak was too excited about the possibility.

The next day was a holiday due to Ganesh Chaturthi and hence the late-night sleep did not impact Savitha's or Deepak's work.

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