فصل 03

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فصل 03

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Chapter three

Threatening shadows: Delhi, January 1987

In the following weeks, di@k began to receive anonymous, poison-pen letters. These were usually written using letters cut from the newspaper and stuck crudely onto a sheet of paper. They accused him of a variety of things, mainly of a s@xual nature.

There were about a dozen such letters. At first di@k was amused, then angry, then worried. Of course he was innocent of the accusations but even a rumour could be damaging, both to him and to the company. He had asked Indian friends for advice. They told him to ignore the letters - the city was full of jealous madmen. Many of his friends too had received such letters in the past. They would stop sooner or later.

They did indeed stop a month or so later. But he continued to feel uneasy. There was someone out there who had a grudge against him, who wanted to harm him.

More worrying was the death threat he received. Someone telephoned the factory to say that he would be dead within a week. The call was anonymous. It had been repeated three times. di@k then received an anonymous letter containing the same message.

For some time he could not think straight. It felt like a bad dream. A British consular official in Bombay had been shot in his car a few weeks earlier. But di@k wondered why any terrorist organisation would want to kill him? When he reported the death threat to the police, they did not take it very seriously. They gave him a retired police officer as a bodyguard for a time and advised him to be careful! In fact, no-one tried to kill him. Things gradually returned to normal. But it was an unnerving experience.

In the meantime, di@k kept Vish under tight control. First of all, he made sure that Vish was kept out of any business connected with the Hosur factory construction project. di@k himself took direct charge of the project, and checked every detail of the contracts. He cancelled the contract with Naveen Construction and re-negotiated a new contract with a company Vish had no connections with. And now that he knew for certain that Vish was dishonest, di@k systematically checked on Vish’s other activities. Perhaps Lennox might change his mind if there was sufficient evidence against Vish.

Once they realised that di@k was determined to investigate Vish, some of the other senior staff quietly gave him information and hints about where to look. di@k soon discovered that Vish routinely used company drivers (and company cars) and factory workers to carry out work on his own house, to run errands and to act as waiters at the many parties he gave. He remembered recognising staff at that first dinner party at the Visvanathan’s house in Kalakshetra. di@k held another stormy disciplinary meeting with Vish, at which he gave him a formal letter warning him not to exploit staff outside working hours.

di@k then looked into the procedures for disposing of office equipment, such as air-conditioners, typewriters and office furniture. As he had suspected, he found that Vish was selling these at below-market prices to his friends, who then paid the difference directly back to Vish. di@k put a stop to this.

He investigated the system of awarding maintenance contracts for the buildings and machinery. Again, Vish was arranging for these contracts to go to his friends and business associates, with a percentage payment to himself ‘under the table’.

It seemed that everywhere di@k looked there was something shady going on; that every stone he turned over had a snake under it!

Every January, the managers of Trakton s Indian factories were called to Delhi for an annual conference and their performance for the year was reviewed. As he did every year, di@k flew up from Madras to Delhi the day before the conference began. He arrived in the early evening. There was a wintry haze over Delhi, partly caused by traffic pollution and partly by the many fires on street corners. Men wrapped in blankets and shawls huddled around these fires as his car passed. On one intersection, near Claridges Hotel, a group of bedraggled, red-uniformed bandsmen waited to be hired for a wedding. A sad-looking, white horse snuffled the dust, in search of grass to eat, while its owners prayed for a bridegroom to ride it.

He was staying as usual at the Imperial Hotel, on Janpath, splendidly unchanged by modern fashions. He was welcomed there in style. A turbaned porter took hold of his bags and whisked him off to a comfortably old-fashioned, spacious, airy room on the ground floor. di@k would never understand the attraction of modern five-star hotels, when such genuine comfort was available. A few moments later the porter returned with a letter. di@k sat down and read it quickly at first, and then more slowly, trying to take it in. The letter was from Lennox.

Dear di@k,

We’re all so looking forward to seeing you here in Delhi again. Plenty of issues to discuss, as you’ll see from the enclosed agenda.

I think we’d better organise our annual appraisal interview slightly differently this year. There are some difficult issues to be dealt with, especially on the personnel management side. In view of your long association with the company, I don’t want to rush to any conclusions but clearly I have to keep the company’s best interests in mind. To keep things confidential, I think it’s better to do this outside the office. I suggest therefore, that we meet for a business breakfast at my place the morning after the conference is over. It will give us a better chance to discuss your future. You’ll be away in time to take the early afternoon flight to Madras, so no problem there.

Barbara and I look forward to seeing you for drinks this evening along with the others.

Yours, as ever,

Keith.

At seven, a company car collected him and took him off to Keith’s house, just off Aurangzeb Road opposite Claridges Hotel. Most of his colleagues had already arrived.

He felt strangely uneasy. The letter, with its combination of forced friendliness and concealed threat (‘keep things confidential’, ‘I have to keep the company’s best interests in mind’) had unnerved him. He felt insecure, even among these people he had known and worked with for years. Cameron Laidlaw from the Calcutta office joked with him about their entry into middle age. Was this a veiled suggestion that he was getting too old for his job? Jim Prentice from Bombay talked enthusiastically about the latest management systems. Was this a hint that di@k was somehow falling behind the latest trends? Frank Prendergast from Kanpur talked darkly about ‘major re-structuring’. Did this mean some senior jobs would soon be lost? And Keith himself constantly referred to the ‘generation gap’ and the need to ‘update’. Was this an indirect criticism of the more experienced staff?

By the time they sat down to dinner di@k had drunk more than was wise. By the end of the dinner he felt the floating sensation which he knew was a danger signal. He excused himself - and left, staggering slightly as he made his way to the car.

The two-day conference went well. All the factories had had an exceptionally good year and profits were soaring. But throughout the conference there were ambiguous remarks about the future and conspiratorial looks between those sitting round the table. di@k wondered what was going on below the calm surface of the meeting.

Or was it just his imagination?

The morning after the conference, di@k went for a walk in the garden around Humayun’s Tomb. Even at seven in the morning there was plenty of activity: overweight women in track suits jogging heavily in the frosty dawn light - hoping to cancel out the overeating of the coming day with a little gentle physical exercise; respectable gentlemen in woollen scarves walking their dogs; students training in the chill of the dawn. And all of this in the looming shadow of the great crumbling domes of the Mughal emperor’s mausoleum, mysterious in the misty air.

By half past eight di@k was in the dining room at South End Road. Keith’s wife Barbara had welcomed him, looking fresh and bright as usual. She was a ‘comfortable’ woman, completely devoted to making her husband happy. She spent most of her time and energy on her home and on cooking, for which she was justly famous. Everyone enjoyed Barbara’s home-made cakes, her pies, her souffles, her barbecued fish. She was not a very stimulating person to talk to, unless the subject was cooking, gardening, interior decoration or babies. But everyone liked her for her simple kindness, and for her tact. In spite of her position as the boss’s wife, she never made anyone feel small or unimportant.

After a few minutes of polite conversation with Barbara, Keith appeared. Barbara then tactfully left them alone together and went upstairs.

‘Tea or coffee?’ asked Keith politely, the perfect host. di@k wondered uneasily if this was the condemned man’s breakfast.

‘Coffee thanks. But can we get on with the interview, Keith? I’m a bit confused by your decision to hold it here.’

‘No hurry, di@k. Let’s just enjoy our breakfast first, shall we?’ And he took a large mouthful of bacon and freshly fried egg as he spoke.

di@k had no appetite for the food but he managed to chew his way silently through it. When they had finished they moved, with a last cup of coffee, into Keiths study. It was a room designed to impress visitors, with framed photographs of Keith with the President of the Republic, Keith with the Queen, Keith with the Minister of Trade and Industry. The bookshelves were lined with the latest books on management, and a state-of-the-art personal computer stood on his desk.

‘Right, di@k. Let me come to the point as quickly as possible. The company is doing well. But, to keep ahead of the competition, we have to bring in new people and make sure that we are absolutely top quality on the management side.’

‘Of course,’ di@k replied, ‘but surely last year’s results show that we’ve have been doing just that?’

‘Well, up to a point, you’re right of course,’ said Keith, with a slightly embarrassed smile, ‘but we mustn’t forget the personnel management side.’

‘What do you mean by that?’ asked di@k warily.

‘Well, the thing is, I’ve been getting rather a lot ot complaints about the way things are going in the Madras factory. Experienced local staff under-appreciated, that sort of thing. Problems with the new factory project in Hosur. Friction with the senior management, you know. People feeling they are undervalued.’

‘No. I don’t know,’ said di@k, feeling his anger rising. ‘In fact, it’s simply not true.’

‘Well, opinions obviously differ on that, as far as I can tell. I’ve also had to warn you about not doing anything to endanger the company’s position in India, if you remember,’ Keith continued. di@k had to forcibly stop himself from making an angry response.

‘What I’ve called you here to consider, di@k, is the possibility of you taking early retirement. As you know, the company makes very generous retirement arrangements for senior staff. My own feeling is that you need a change. To be absolutely frank, you haven’t taken advantage of all the management training schemes we’ve offered you either. You’ve done pretty well everywhere you’ve been for the company, but times are changing di@k - you can’t go on in the old style for ever. You can’t simply rely on your past achievements - we have to look to the future. I really do think you should give this offer your serious consideration.’ He paused for effect. ‘It might not come again.’

di@k felt the scarcely-concealed threat in those words.

‘I’ll certainly consider it,’ di@k said grimly, ‘but I can’t guarantee I’ll accept. I’ll need to talk to Sally anyway. But I just don’t understand why you should be pushing me to take retirement when the Madras results are the best of all our factories in India.’

‘Well, as your manager, you must understand that I have to look at the wider picture. I can’t really say more, di@k. I hope you understand what I’m telling you.’

It was ten before di@k left, feeling betrayed and shaken by the interview. They had wrestled verbally over everything but Keith had refused to change his position. di@k felt that Keith had not told him honestly what the problem was but the sinister reference to Keith’s earlier warning, about Vish, was worrying. He continued to go over the interview in his mind for the rest of the day - and for long after it.

Despite Keith’s assurances, di@k’s flight to Madras was delayed by the notorious winter fog in Delhi. It was past midnight when he eventually arrived in Madras. During the drive from the airport back to his home he dozed in an unpleasant half-sleep, barely noticing the stray cattle and water buffaloes wandering across the path of the car.

When he arrived home, Sally had already gone to bed. He went to his study and poured himself a large glass of whisky. There were letters for him on his desk. He tore open a large envelope, with the company logo on it, marked ‘Personal: in Confidence’. It contained details of the early retirement scheme. But this was clearly not an offer; it was an order. He had no choice. Obviously all the decisions had already been taken before his interview with Lennox. The envelope also contained the copy of a letter to Jim Mann, appointing Jim to the Madras factory to take over di@k’s job in one month’s time.

He poured himself another glass of whisky. He felt angry - at the injustice, at the hypocrisy of Keith, who had not had the courage to tell him the whole truth - and then depressed, as he thought about his own loss of self-respect, his stupidity at having trusted ‘old friends’. He felt betrayed. He had worked for Trakton for twenty-five years, had sacrificed his first wife to it and a gaping emptiness now faced him. His whole life had been built around a company that had just decided to throw him out for no good reason. There now seemed very little to live for.

It was five before he eventually dragged himself to bed. The empty bottle stood on the desk, the only witness to his agony.

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