26 March, 2011

Another Tale from the Katta

The earlier story in this series can be accessed on Tales from the Katta

The Katta 

The steam rising from the tea counter intermingled with the blue smoke  from the patron nostrils. This was the halo behind Nana who contributed to it with his own streams of vapors. Sridhar, the pan wallah, was busy making pan for some walk-in clients and his boy was serving cutting chai’s to whoever yelled for one. I was here early today but the quorum of regulars was already complete. Chhotey & Badey the drivers, HD, CD & Bol Bacchhan- the engineers, Alibaug- the hotel owner & even Don Sule – the budding politico all were here. The clean kurta indicated he had walked in just ahead of me. I am addressed as reporter in this nook which we fondly called Anna’s Katta. Nana clearly the star here seemed to be in a frisky mood as he was pulling the leg of Badey, the tiny driver over some topic When he saw me he exclaimed ‘We were waiting for you. We are discussing ethics today. But I don’t seem to be making the point clear to my man here. So let me tell you the story of T.P.Jagasia. Have I ever told you about him? He then made that particular noise in his throat which commanded instant attention of us regulars. Sridhar shouted from inside the shop, wait a minute Nana, am just finishing with the customers here, please wait for me. 

Now that he had his audience Nana majestically nodded and called to the boy for a chai. With a flourish he lit a filter less Charminar, hacked a few times to clear the throat then took a sip from the chai glass, kept it by the side , passed his fingers through the hair and stared into space. This ritual always reminded me of a temple priest getting into the act before a pooja.

"Neeyat (Ethics )... announced Nana…the tale had begun. In a mellifluous voice Nana began his account.


It was almost providence that I met T.P.Jagasia in a train. I was with the unit of that Hindi Television serial "Circus". It was the month of  November in the year 1988 ...“That serial in which Shahrukh Khan acted?” Chotu driver, a huge SRK fan asked with glee. Nana nodded with appreciation. I smiled seeing the tactic of how smoothly & deliberately he had let that one slip in. Nana certainly knew his audience and how to grab its attention.

T.P.Jagasia was christened Tarachand Phulchand Jagasia. Like the stars in his name, he had achieved stardom but it was in the dubious field of cards. T P Jagasia was the smoothest cardsharp on this side of the globe. TP Jagasia became Jaggu TP and the initials of TP got a new acronym of Teen Patti. There never was a card con that Jaggu TP had not tried and mastered. For a brief period of time he had been my neighbor. Jaggu TP was always a brief neighbor to many a person as it was safer for him to keep moving rather than be caught at one place, given the line of work. But despite all this Jaggu TP had ethics, may have been a good upbringing but this was even vouched by the very same people he fleeced at cards. They bore him absolutely no ill will. He would always leave them with a little something in hand ; Sometimes it would be a bottle of snake oil that was supposed to reduce baldness, or a piece of shilajit ( ginseng ) that was supposed to increase virility ( which he had recently acquired from a traveling Hakim...it would always be recent to indicate freshness ) , or some powder that would make one fairer. Such was the variety of knick knacks that he bestowed upon the victims, whom he had taken for the most money. This ensured a long life and diffused the immediate explosion that always comes before the realization that you have been had. Jaggu TP came into contact with Pappu Damani a shady stock broker and for that duration made his money selling preference shares of Reliance Ltd, printed in a press at Lower Parel. He was always a few steps ahead of the law and got out of that racket just before the police caught up with Damani. Jaggu TP by then had left the city and gone back to his comfort zone of cards. But he had tasted blood and wanted to perform a big con and retire. This is the true pipe dream of all con artists, said Nana who paused to gulp down the remaining chai in his glass.

Now this was the Jaggu TP that I ran into in the train. But there was a mite difference in him that he looked peeved. Despite my asking repeatedly he would not tell me the reason. The Indian railways in those days were not so strict as they are now. One could smoke and drink if one was careful. I had a half of Old monk in my pocket and a packet of masala dal. It was only after I offered to share it with Jaggu TP that he relented and opened his mouth only after three large swigs from my bottle. We sat on the flat board near the door enjoying the wind on our faces. What happened Jaggu ? I asked again.He uttered a couple of expletives in Hindi loudly into the wind, which Nana mimicked in perfect style and intonation that had the audience in splits. This being a family reading platform, I cannot state it like it was, suffice it to say it meant doing unspeakable things to mothers and sisters. “Neeyat-Ethics” has vanished from the world, Jaggu TP said looking deeply into my eyes. You remember the debenture kaand ( con ) that I had carried out in Nasik? He asked me and I nodded. It was that which gave me the idea that small towns and mofussil areas are good places where one can practice. However for this a partner was needed, what with me being a polished city dweller. I burst out laughing causing Nana to pause and raise an eyebrow. I spluttered at his choice of words for Jaggu TP... polished? Oh yes, you see his stint with Pappu Damani and trading certificates had exposed him to white collar cons. If he was ever to sit  and converse with you it would be extremely difficult to make out that he had had no formal education. Jaggu TP had a quicksilver tongue and a razor sharp brain and he blended in. Now in a mofussil area he would have been exposed. He needed someone who would not have problems with bending the law while yet being unpolished enough to be acceptable; he wanted a rough diamond.

Jaggu TP continued his tale after one more long sip from Nanas bottle and said that he was travelling through Nandurbar, Maharashtra, that he ran into Ganpat Sapkal. The police had Ganpat in a lock up for beating a person up just because he was pushed. Ganpat was a dark handsome man, well built and a head taller than Jaggu TP who was not a short man himself. He wore a dirty dhoti and a kurti which was the local costume there. I asked the sepoy on what is Ganpat’s major line of work. Work...Occupation…the sepoy snorted, that Ganpat was a "Kutta Chor", he stole dogs. Looking at Ganpat I knew that the man met with nearly all the qualifications required in my scheme. I waited in that town till he was released which happened after a couple of days and sought him out.

What is your goal in life? Again I spluttered and Nana looked at me with a half smile, now what? I told all the eyes that were upon me, that this was the exact question which the newspapers HR executive had asked me, during my joining. To this Nana sublimely commented, its a recruitment interview after all. So what,  if the job functions and trades vary, the process remains just the same, does it not? I had to agree to this logic.

So coming back to the story…Jaggu TP asked Ganpat…what is your goal in life ? Ganpat who looked at Jaggu with a faraway gleam in his eyes said that he wanted to be the number one kutta chor in India and then the world. He would even like to have a Guinesss record to his name. Numero-Uno Dog Thief. Jaggu did not know how to respond to this and told him that he was planning several medium sized cons in different cities. He had saved up a stake of Rs. Seventy Five Thousand ( Rs.75,000/-) and should Jaggu find Ganpat suitable he would make him a ten percent partner in the new venture.

The first place they moved from Nandurbar was to the Hingoli district. Jaggu TP liked the look of this place. As soon as they got out of the State  Transport bus stand it was to find that a jatra ( travelling circus ) had come to town. In the circus Jaggu TP observed that there were lots of people who moved around with enough money to spend on the stalls there. We booked ourselves into Kamala bai’s lodge and then into town to shop suitable clothes for Ganpat. This town looked good for about fifty thousand atleast Jaggu TP had identified the markets potential. Now all it required was for Ganpat to play his part.

I coached Ganpat in the fine art of the three card spot and told him how I would indicate which one is the queen. He should in a loud colloquial voice indicate that he won which would attract the locals.  As a seeming winner Ganpat would be my show pigeon. But did he do this at all ?  Ganpat wears his new threads , buys himself a kernel of corn and goes about looking at the stalls which had colourful posters like any other tourist, while I set up and ran the card game. All I could raise on that first day was four hundred & twenty rupees. The jatra had many stalls including fancy animals. Ganpat on the next day vanished while I went back to earning money for our partnership. Towards the evening when I came back it was to hear child like squeals coming from our room, so I stopped to ask Kamal Bai whether there was a baby in the house? She glared at me and said, your partner has bought a dog inside. I rushed to find Ganpat feeding a small but clean dog some milk and glucose biscuits. He had tied a coir rope around its neck and was lovingly petting it. He beamed with veritable pride. “Moti” is what I shall call him. Moti's will be a story that I shall tell my grand children, there would be at least seven of them he told me with conviction, on how their grandfather stole the dog right from under the noses of the whole Jatra and they never even came to know. I looked at him with horror and incredulity and slept restlessly thinking what to do with Ganpat. He had outlived his tenure with me.

I had a habit of scanning the local newspapers to get a dip stick idea of local happenings. It was then I ran across a large-ish ad on the front page. It was a notice offering a reward for "Sherpa - the most intelligent dog in the world" who had gone missing from the Jatra. Finders would be rewarded Rs.Five Hundred Thousand. I looked around to see whether there was anyone else looking at the ad. I quickly folded the newspaper into my pocket and quietly went into the room to find Ganpat and the dog sleeping in the same bed. He with a hand on the neck of the animal. I woke him up and told him that I wanted to purchase his dog. He opened his eyes slowly looking stupidly up at me and asked why would I want a dog in the first place? I told him that I would give him five hundred rupeesfor it. To which Ganpat dismissed me saying this is my dog and I wont sell him. When I raised the offer to Five Thousand he naturally looked surprised & asked me why? To which I repeated Five Thousand Rupees Ganpat to which he slowly shook his head;  for ten or twenty thousand never would I sell him. I don’t even know how much money that is as I never learnt how to read, write or count he said. But if you had offered me one hundred thousand rupees then I just may have with a heavy heart considered it. It was after then I negotiated hard and he finally sold me the dog for fifty thousand rupees.

After having fed the dog I walked him to the Jatra ( Fair ) & to the tent that had been indicated in the ad. I asked to speak to Mr. Dhotre the contact man and was called in. With Moti aka Sherpa on my leash I walked in. Mr. Dhotre looked at me and asked me that "What is this?" Jaggu TP paused and asked for the last sip. Wiping his mouth, I told him , Sir, this here is your Sherpa. Mr.Dhotre looked at Moti and called out "Ramu, he minds our dogs, Is Sherpa sleeping inside?" I looked puzzled to which he flipped open the flap and showed me peacefully a long box . Inside was a beautiful brown , healthy dog sleeping. "Then the ad?" I asked Mr. Dhotre. "A fake, as I have had three people walking in today with their dogs…bloody nuisance."

I went to the local newspapers office but not before selling Moti to the circus guard for fifty rupees. The ad clerk looked at me as I placed the ad in front of him. "Wasn’t this ad placed yesterday in your paper by an ugly fat man ?" He said only one part of my question was correct, that it was yesterday but the advertiser whose name he could not divulge, was definitely tall ,dark ,good looking & looked to be wearing almost new clothes.

That’s what I mean when I say “Kuttey ki Neeyat” screamed Jaggu TP at Nana. So I asked Jaggu TP but what was it that you were doing to Ganpat ? How different was your Neeyat from his? Couldn't you have made him an equal partner and offered him half of that reward for the dog? 

To which Jaggu TP answered that what Ganpat had done was done was wrong, while all my actions were in keeping with the guiding principle of every honest business enterprise  “Buy Cheap & Sell Dear”

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