Story of a Divine startup: Sri Sri Siddheshwari Limited

[Story translation; original story by Rajsekhar Basu, aka Parasuram, the pictures are drawn by Parasuram and appear in the original story. The word “babu” is an honorific title for gentlemen in India]

Sri Sri Siddeshwari Limited. Shyambabu enters his office in Judas Lane.

Winter of 1920.

The clock at the Armenian Church in Calcutta struck eleven. Shyambabu clutched a leather portfolio bag and stepped into a three-story building in Judas Lane. The building was aged, looked ancient with years of layered painting with slaked lime and repeated paint jobs. The building had a dark store room in its bottom floor. It also housed a few quarters of merchant offices in the upper stories, and in the back-side of the building lived a few families. A wood-staircase stretched from the ground to the third storey of the building. The walls along the side of the staircase were marked by betel-stains, notwithstanding notices posted warning against staining the walls with betel-stained spits. Mice and cockroaches ran around freely, living as they were, in perfect non-violent cohabitation. These creatures were as fearless as stags in a deer park, caring for no one who trodded these staircases. A pungent aroma of asafoetida and open sewers wafted in the air from the numerous kitchens inside the quarters of the building. In these quarters lived Sindhi families. The occupants of the office spaces were busy with the serious businesses of life such as buying and selling, transaction of shares, debt recovery and all of it, oblivious of the trivialities of daily matters.

Shyambabu walked up to the second floor and unlocked a room. By the side of the door hung a block of wood with inscription— “Brahmachari and Brother-in-Law, General Merchants”. Shyambabu and his brother-in-law Bipin Choudhuri B.Sc., jointly owned this business. Old tables, chairs, and assorted almirahs were strewn in the room. Notebooks, piles of advertisements, an old Thackers’ directory, a copy of Companies Act of India, Articles of Corporations, and other papers were scattered on the tables. On the shelves were a few dusty bottles and empty amulets. These were proof that once upon a time, Shyambabu used to deal in patents and dream-medicines (“dream-medicines are folk medicines where people who prescribed these medicines would get the idea of these medications in their dreams from gods and goddesses they dreamt of”).

Shyambabu was about fifty, dark-complexioned, salt-and-pepper beard, his tall flowing hair reached to his nape, and he had a broad hairy chest. From an early age, he was keen on building his independent business. Despite several attempts, did not really make it big till now. His main source of living was from his job as a clerk at the EB Railway Audit office. In his country house in a village in Bengal, he had an ancient ancestral Temple of Goddess Kali. The income from that Kali Temple was meagre. In his spare time, he tried his hands at side businesses — Bipin was his assistant in these ventures. He had no child and lived with his wife and Bipin at a flat in Calcutta. He was determined that once he would make some money from his business, he would give up his job. These days, he was on a six-month leave from his office and had set up his firm Brahmachari-and-Brother-in-Law.

Shyambabu was a religious man. He followed the Hindu almanacs for his life’s decisions, and practiced Tantric rituals in his free time. He avoided eating meat if he were not hungry (in Hindu scripture, this is “vain meat”), and would rather not “drink wine just to unwind”. He’d search for where to find a babaji who can make gold, or who had a single-faced Rudraksh, or south-facing conch-shell, or who has a store of mercury dust. For the last few months, he started wearing saffron robe and had even managed to get a few “disciples” for himself. Occassionally, he would call himself — “Venerable Shyamananda Brahmachari”, and secretly hoped that he would soon be known by this name the world over.

Shyambabu entered his office. After resting for a while on a three-and a-half-legged easy-chair, he called out, “Banchha, hey Banchha!”. Banchha was his office bearer and servant who ran errands. Banchha, napping on a bar stool by the side of the office, was startled as his master called for him and rushed in. Shyambabu said, “Bring me a bottle of Ganges water and scrub the notebooks, they are very dusty!” Banchha brought him a copper bottle. Shyambabu poured a little Ganges water out of that bottle and sprinkled the water in the room. Then, after he said a prayer, he took out a vermillion coated rubber stamp and stamped the name of Goddess Durga 108 times. On his stamp he had an imprint of the word “Durga” of 12 lines, so if he were to stamp this nine times, it would make 108 imprints of “Durga” on paper. Bipin invented this labour-saving apparatus. Shyambabu named it “The Automatic Sridurgagraph” and he was trying to get a patent for it.

After completion of such daily chores, thus satisfied, Shyambabu took out a wet proof of a print, and started examining it. After a while, his friend Atalbabu rushed into the room screeching his shoes, and said, “Ah, there you go, Shyam-da! I hope you have not been waiting for me for long. I am sorry but I had a motion in the high court. Where is brother-in-law?”

Shyambabu: “Bipin has gone over to Baghbazar at Tinkori Banerjee’s house. He is coming with the final word. He is about to come here any time.”

Atalbabu had recently qualified as an Attorney; he had just joined as a junior clerk at his father’s law firm. This fair and handsome man was Bipin’s friend. He was young but was evidently quite a clever man. He asked, “So the old man has agreed? How did you get him to it?”

Shyam: “Well, Tinkoribabu is the father-in-law of Sarat — Bipin’s cousin. Sarat and I approached Tinkoribabu in his house. As you know, it was not easy to convince him. The old man is not only a skeptic, he is a miser as well. He said he was a Roybahadur* (* Roybahadur is an honorific title that the British conferred on wealthy and important citizens in India before India became independent), that he was a retired deputy magistrate, he was highly respected in Government circles. He was afraid that he was going to lose his pension if he joined our Company. I convinced him citing examples of retired officers on our board of directors. In the end, when he heard that he would get thirty two rupees for attending each meeting, he seemed a little more convinced”.

Atal: “How many shares is he going to buy?”

Shyam: “Well, as you know, he is a hard nut to crack. He asked me how would he be convinced that the Brahmachari company was not going to rip him off? What if we brothers-in-law ended up failing to run the company? What would happen to his investment? I said, well, with a vigilant man such as himself, who would dare rob the company? We would conduct all our businesses under his guidance, why would he allow us to fail? I told him that while he was only looking at the negatives, he should think of the positives as well. What a profitable business proposition we had! Even if he earned back 50 percent dividend, he would get a full return on his investment in a couple of years. After a fair amount of arguments going back and forth he said he was going to buy shares but he would only invest as much as needed for him to become a director. He was going to make up his mind today and was going to let us know his final decision, so I sent Bipin to his house today.”

Atal: “I am not sure you did the right thing by taking on board such an annoying, skeptic, man. Why did you not approach the Maharajah?”

Shyam: “In order to net the Maharajah, we need a bigger angler, not the kind of small fries like you and me. Besides, people have already ripped him off, he has hardly any money left.”

Atal: “Is that Khottah* (*Khottah is a derogatory title with which Bengalees refer to Hindi speaking people from North India) on board? When is he coming?”

Shyam: “He is of course on board, as a matter of fact, he is keen on exactly the kind of profits we are after. He should have been here by now. Anyway, I wanted to send the prospectus off to the press with your approval. I asked Tinkoribabu to attend today’s meeting but he is suffering from arthritis and cannot come.”

“Ram Ram Babusaheb”!

“Ram Ram Babusaheb!” — the newcomer was a man of middle age, dark complexion. He sported a white dhoti* (* a special single piece of cloth worn around the waist and serve for covering the lower part of the body for Indians), a black long coat, varnished shoes, and on his head was perched an ornately folded yellow coloured silk turban. He wore several rings on his fingers, in his ears he sported emerald ear-rings, and had a tilak mark on his forehead.

Shyambabu said, “Please sir, come on in — Banchha, please offer this gentleman a chair. Here sir, please meet Atalbabu, a partner of our solicitor Dutt Company. Atalbabu, here is my friend — Babu Ganderiram Batparia.”

Ganderi: “Nomoskar, I hearing your name, happy meeting you!”

Atal: “Namaskar, we are just waiting for you! When people like you are supporting us, why should we worry about the Company?”

Ganderi: “Heh heh, everything God’s wish. What can I do myself? Nothing.”

Shyam: “Yes of course. Everything is the wish of the Mother Goddess. As you can see Atal, Ganderi babu is more than just a sharp businessman. Even though he does not speak English well, he is an educated man, and he knows his scriptures rather well.”

Atal: “So indeed! Happy to meet you, Mr Ganderi! Well, how did you learn to speak Bengali so well?”

Ganderi: “I am meeting with many Bengalees. I am reading many Bengali books. Bankimchand, Rabindernath, and others.”

Bipinbabu arrived around then. He was westernized, at one time, he even tried to go to England. He wore a pair of white trousers, black coat, red necktie, and he carried a green felt hat in his hands. He had bright dark complexion, slight build, and had shaved both sides of his moustache. Shyambabu anxiously asked him what happened.

Bipin: “Tinkoribabu has agreed to become a director but he is only going to buy shares worth 2,000 rupees. He has invited the three of us, you, Atal, and me to lunch day after tomorrow. Here is his letter of intent.”

Atal: “Why is he so generous all of a sudden?”

Shyam: “I do not get it either. Possibly he wants to test his fellow directors.”

Atal: “Anyway, let’s begin. I have got copies of the articles and the memorandum. Shyam-da, can you please read out the prospectus for us?”

Shyam: “Yes, listen carefully. Please let me know if you want to change anything. So help us Goddess Durga!

“Glory to Siddhidata Ganesha!

Registered as per law of 1913

Sri Sri Siddheswari Limited

Capital — 10, 00, 000 Rupees, divided into 100, 000 shares at Rupees 10 per share. Pay Rupees Two per application. The rest of the money is payable in four equal instalments as per requirements in three months’ notice.

For the Hindus, religious practices are as important as their life. For the Hindus, nothing can be accomplished without performance of religious rituals. Some people comment that the results of religious rituals are realised in afterlife. This is however partly true. In reality, proper application of religious practices can yield benefits both in this and after life. For this reason, we’d like to issue this call to all our worthy countrimen for a great cause.

People in general may be unaware of the enormous income that famous temples in India generate. A survey has indicated that on an average, in Bengal, about 11 thousand people attend a temple every year. If we estimate that it generates per head 25 paisa, then this estimates to about 1.3 million Rupees per year for that temple. Whatever expenditure might that incur, there should be enough excess money in stock. But the general members of the public are not benefitted and as such are excluded from such financial gains.

In order to address this shortcoming, we propose to establish a joint-stock company titled, “Sri Sri Siddheswari Limited”. We shall establish a great pilgrimage for the sake of shareholder devotees, and we shall construct a big Devi temple. The work for this endeavour has been entrusted with qualified managers. There is no risk of inappropriate use of funds. Shareholders will gain unprecedented dividends, and at the same time will gain Dharma, Money, and salvation!

The following members are on our board of directors — (1) Retired Senior Deputy Magistrate Roybahadur Right Hon’ble Tinkori Bandopadhyay; (2) Famous businessman and billionnaire Mr Ganderiram Batparia (3) Partner of the famous Dutta and Company Solicitors Mr Atalbihari Dutt, M.A.B.L (4) Famous Scientist Mr B.C. Choudhuri B.Sc., A.S.S. (USA), (5) The great religious master Venerable Brahmachari Shyamananda (ex-officio).

Atalbabu objected, “When did Bipin get his new title?”

Shyam: “I think he got from America or perhaps from Kamchatka these three letters for fifty bucks.”

Bipin: “Oh well, what makes you think they offered me such degrees without verifying my educational qualifications? You need to have the right qualifications before you become a director of a firm!”

Ganderi: “Correct! “ठिक बात! भेक बिना भिक नेहि मिलता” (“you won’t get your alms if you do not have proper garbs!”). “Shyambabu, you too should wear loin cloths like yogis from now on!”

Shyam: “I am not a Naga sage that I should go naked! I am, as they say, a worshipper of Goddes Kali, and have Shakti Mantra (Mantra of power), for me the wearables should have red colour. In my home I wear saffron dress of course. But I do not wear saffron clothes in my office, as people would stare at me if I did that. After a while when people will get used to me wearing saffron, I will wear saffron to work. Anyway, let me continue …”

“… It is a great stroke of luck that Messrs Brahmachari and Brothers-in-law have agreed to obtain the managing agency for this company. They will just accept two percent commission on the profits and till such time as …”

Atalbabu said, “Why did you decide such a low rate for commission? You could have easily decided on a ten percent commission!”

Ganderi: “Not needed. Shyambabu will look after himself, he does not care about commissions!”

“… and till such time as a monthly sum of 1,000 rupees do not accrue, will receive the aforementioned sum of monthly 1,000 rupees as allowance.”

Ganderi: “You heard that, Atalbabu, didn’t you? What were you going to tutor Shyambabu?”

“… In the district of Hugli at the village of Gobindapur, the temple of Goddess Siddheswari Devi has been established for many centuries. Mrs Nistarini Devi, who owns the temple and the surrounding properties attached to the Goddess has recently received instructions in her dreams that in the aforementioned Gobindapur village, all the sacred shrines have united and all the Great Goddesses of the Hindu Pantheon now “desire” to reside in a large temple suitable for their glory! As Nistarini Devi is incapable and unable to carry out the instructions of the Goddesses, she has submitted the relevant properties of the temple in the name of the Company.”

Atal: “Come again, from where did this Nistarini Devi emerge? We thought the property belonged to you, Shyam-da?”

Shyam: “Nistarini Devi is my wife. I signed all my properties in her name. I am not interested to be involved in these worldly matters anymore.”

Ganderi: “A good bandobast! No one is going to blame you! Who knows Nistarni Devi? So what is your asking price?”

“… Afterwards, for the establishment of the pilgrimage, construction of the temple, worship services will be done by the Company and for this purpose, the Company is going to charge a nominal sum of Rupees 15, 000 to purchase the aforementioned property!”

Ganderi: “Well, well, well (“हद कर दिया श्यामबाबु!” — “Shyambabu, you hit the ceiling!”). Here is a broken old temple inside a forest, packed with rats and vermin, there’s a little patch of land, on the top of it good for nothing bamboo groves — and you are asking fifteen thousand bucks for that!”

Shyam: “Why, what’s wrong with that? All that divine instructions in the dream, communion of fifty one shrines in one place, the Devi — do these stand for nothing? As for goodwill, fifteen thousand bucks are pittance, I say!”

Ganderi: “Oh well! What will happen should a shareholder decide to file a lawsuit in the high court that all these hocus pocus about dreams are bogus, and that we have cheated the money out of them? What will happen then?”

Atal: “Yes, a worthy point to ponder. But. These are divine matters, these are not under the original side jurisdictions. There is such a thing in the law as ‘caveat emptor’, or, buyers, beware. Why haven’t they verified before purchase? Anyway, I will seek an expert opinion.”

“… Very soon, the construction of the building of the new temple will be initiated. This will also include the associated structures such as a grand auditorium for staging plays, music rooms, store rooms, an eateries where the devotees can partake the food offerred to the goddess, and every such other associated buildings as needed will be constructed. Temporarily, a guest house fit for accommodating about 10, 000 pilgrims will be constructed. The shareholders will be able to enjoy such pilgrimages and rest houses free of cost for themselves and their family members. There will be sufficient arrangement of markets, malls, theatres, cinema halls, and all other sources of entertainment as appropriate. Those pilgrims who will come here to wait for the dream-medicines or dream-instructions from Goddesses, there will be proper “scientific” arrangements for such pilgrims as well. In essence, every possible arrangement will be offered for attraction of pilgrims. His holiness Shyamanand Brahmachari himself will be in-charge of such services.

“ In addition to fees collected from the pilgrims, there will be other ways to make money. Money will be made from shops, malls, guest houses, hotels, motels, sales of divine food (“ambrosia”). Besides, there will be arrangements for by-product recovery. Fragrant oils will be made out of flowers offerred to the goddesses, and the leaves of plants will be packed in the amulets which will then be sold. The water used to wash the images of the deities will be packed in bottles. Kidskins will be made out of goats that will be sacrificed at the altar of the goddesses, and will be exported to foreign countries. The bones of the animals will be used to make buttons. Nothing will be wasted.”

Ganderi: “Are you going to sacrifice goats? I am sorry, I am not in it, by the name of Lord Rama! You delete my name from the project, please!”

Shyam: “You are not killing these animals yourself, are you? If you are still not satisfied, we might as well replace the animals with pumpkins, so we shall sacrifice pumpkins instead of goats, will that work for you?”

Atal: “But you cannot tan pumpkins, can you? That will lead to loss of our revenue! Hey mister scientist, can you think of a way to make something out of pumpkin patches?”

Bipin: “I think if you boil them with caustic potash, you may be able to make vegetable shoes. Got to do some experiments.”

Ganderi: “Do whatever you like! What do I care! I will sell my shares after a few days, anyway!”

“… Based on initial calculations, it is estimated that annually the Company will turn in a net gain of at least 12, 00, 000 Rupees, and very easily, will be able to offer 100% dividends. Allotment will begin as soon as applications for 30, 000 shares are filled in. Apply soon, else, you will miss out on this golden opportunity!”

Ganderi: “Take it from me, write down, shares worth one hudred thousand rupees are sold. I will take one hudred thousand rupees worth of shares, the rest one and fity thousand rupees worth of shares will be divided equally among Shyambabu, Bipinbabu, and and Atalbabu.”

Shyam: “Are you nuts? How will Bipin and I will get fifty thousand rupees? I am not as rich as you.”

Ganderi: “Nonsense! I will invest and you all will have all the fun? Not going to happen. Everyone has to take risks. Do you understand the deal, Shyambabu? No one is going to pay anything. Everything will be based on loans. The managing agent will be the creditor.”

Atal: “Do you not get it Shyam-da? As if we are all lending the money from the managing agents for our individual shares and then paying the money back to the Company. The Company in turn is depositing the funds to the managing agents. No one is paying a single cent from our pockets to anyone, it’s all in theory that will be deposited on paper.”

Shyam: “What happens then? What happens if the Company fails? How will we pay the others?”

Ganderi: “Why are you worried Shyambabu? At the moment, we are only going to invest Two Rupees per share, so for 250, 000 Rupees worth of shares, you are only going to pay 50, 000 Rupees now. We will sell out everything in premium, and if things go well, we will reserve more shares. This will result in plenty of gains. I have made arrangements with Chimrimal Brokers. We will play with our shares a few rounds, just change hands, raise the stakes, the market will pick up. By then, everyone will ask to buy shares, without judging the price. Listen to what Kabir has to say,

“ऐसि गति सनसारमे यो गाडर कि ठाट
एक पडा यब गाढमे सबै यात तेहि बाट ||”

“Such are the ways of this world …”

Meaning, “Such are the ways of this world, people are like flocks of sheep. If one of them gets into a rut, the rest of them also follow him there”.

Shyambabu heaved a deep sigh and said, “Goddess Brahmamayi, you only know! I am just an instrument in Thy hands, do as Thy wish! Save me!”

Ganderi: “Shyambabu, do what you may with the temple, whatever. On the top of that, I suggest that you also start a business of “Ghayi”!”

Atal: “And what is this thing “Ghayi”, Ganderi-ji?”

Ganderi: “Don’t you know Ghayi? Ghee (clarified butter) is the original stuff — made from the milk. Anything that is made of spurious stuff that look like Ghee is Ghayi. Fake Ghee, made of lard and peanut oil. Every year I invest 25, 000 rupees for making fake ghee (Ghai), and I make 24,500 rupees as net gains on it.”

Atal: “Ooh, so you killed quite a few snakes there, didn’t you!”

Ganderi: “Snake oil? Where do you get that idea? What nonsense!”

Atal: “Well, Gandar*-ji” *Gandar in Hindi means “Rhinoceros”

Ganderi: “It’s Ganderi, not Gandar”

Atal: “Oh yes, Ganderiji. Beg your pardon. Well, you are a vegetarian, and you are also a pious man, a religious person, so we hear.”

Ganderi: “Yes of course, and why not? I read the Gita and the Ramacharitamanas* every day! I also sing Bhajans for Lord Rama every day!”

(* Ramacharitamanas is a religious book on the life of Lord Rama widely read in North India)

Atal: “Uh-oh, how did you get into that business of vice?”

Ganderi: “What vice? Why will I have any vice? The business is with Kasem Ali. I live in Kolkatta, Ghai gets made in Hathras, two thousand kilometres away. Neither I see what gets made with my eyes, nor do I smell with my nose — by Hanumanji! I am just a creditor! All I do is pay money. All I am involved in is getting the interest and the benefit money. Now if I do not pay him, Kasem Ali will get his funds from some other merchant. If anyone has to bear with the vices, that should be Kasem Ali, not me. And even after all this, if there is still something to say, by Ranchhodji, I have “deposited” some good Karma too — Ekadasi, Shivratri, Ramanavami* (*these are Hindu calender based auspicious days), I fast and give alms to beggars. I have set up as many as eight rest houses for pilgrims — including one in Liluah, one in Bali, one in Sheoraphuli.”

Atal: “The pilgrimage in Sheoraphuli was built by Ashrafilal Thunthunwala, not you.”

Ganderi: “So what he has built it? But who helped him to make it? Who supervised its construction? Who hired the masons? Everything was done by me. Ashrafi is my cousin. He has done them only because I was behind all these constructions.”

Atal: “Not a bad idea at all, eh, Ashrafi invests and Ganderi reaps all the good Karma.”

Ganderi: “And why not? I have invested two hundred thousand rupees in each place. Just add them up, sum up how much I have spent. On the top of all that, add the clerical investment of five rupees each — I forgot to add those as well. If Ashrafilal has sixteen hundred thousand worth of Good Karma, mine should be around if nothing, eight hundred thousand worth!”

Atal: “What a wonderful arrangement! Even Good Karma has its own brokerage! Ganderi-ji and Shyam-da are made for each other!”

Gander: “Atal, all you have read in your life are a few English books, that’s all. What will you teach me about religion? Bengalees know nothing about religion! These guys are cheapskates, they are thirty rupee worth clerks, and make five paisa worth offerings. My clan knows how to earn money and estimate how much to earn, we also earn our Good Karma along those estimates. What did your poet Rabindernath write?

“বৈরাগ সাধন মুক্তি সো হমার নেহি”

(I am not after salvation)

I am off to the races. I am going to bet a couple hundreds on “Contree Gerill” (“Country Girl”).”

Atal: “I too am about to leave, Shyam-da. I am leaving behind a rough draft of the article with you, please check the document carefully. I quite liked the prospectus you drafted. I will edit it later. See you day after tomorrow. Bye now!”

Roybahadur Tinkoribabu’s house was at a lane in Baghbazar. His house had a drawing room by the street. In this room the owner of the house and his guests were busy in their discussions, as they were waiting for the call for lunch from inside the house. Today was Sunday. They were not rushed and it was late in the afternoon.

Tinkoribabu was sixty years old. He was slightly built and clean shaven. He had thin sharp moustache; years of tobacco smoking have imparted on his moustache a reddish hue, the colour of ripened date — the moustache flicked like the antennae of a cockroach when he spoke. He had no faith in “divine affairs”; he even thought of Shyambabu an imposter when he first met him, but later, as he realised that he could make some money out of it, he joined the Company. However, he was impressed with the appearance of Shyambabu today and was even attracted to him. Shyambabu wore a red dress, hung a saffron coloured stole over his shoulder, wore a sandal with pointed tips, made of tiger skin. He blew up his beard and hair as much as he could, and sported a large vermillion mark on his forehead.

Tinkoribabu was puffing on his tobacco. In between his puffs, he kept saying, “See Swamiji, the most important thing about business is how you keep your books. As long as your debit and credit are balanced, you have nothing to worry about your business.”

Shyambabu: “Yes sir, you said it all. This is why we want you. We may bother you from time to time, if you do not mind, we shall pick your brain about keeping our books …”

Tinkori: “Of course! Why will I be annoyed? I will check your books. Remember to conduct your meetings as often as you can. You may have to incur a little expense on account of directors’ fees. Look, I do not care about those auditors. After all, if you cannot yourself make sense of your earnings and expenses, what can you expect of a green-behind-the-ear urchin walking into your office and making sense of these things to you? All these nonsense about book-keeping nowadays I say! You know what — these are all mumbo jumbos a desperate attempt to make everything so fussy that no one should be able to make sense. If you ask me, all I care of what sense I make of these things — how much money got earned, how much got spent, how much I got saved. In those days, when I was in charge of Amragachi Subdivision — a clean shaven recent graduate came to my office as an apprentice. The kid did not understand a thing but was eager to show off — tried to catch me off the wrong foot! In the end, I wrote to Mr Coldham; I said, ‘My Master, you belong to the Royal race of the Kings and Queens, I do not mind if you crack your whip on our backs every now and then! But I will not tolerate these Indian street urchins!’ His Lordship came to my office, got hold of the chap and gave him a piece of his mind. Then he merrily slapped me on my back and said, ‘Well, Tinkoribabu, you are a long time senior officer, how can a young chap understand you?’ After that, he had me transferred to Nagaon, where I oversaw a godown of opium.
Anyway. As you see, I am a man of principles. I had a reputation of being a strict magistrate. I do not understand temple and all that crap. But you cannot swindle me a single pence, I warn you. I am giving you my hard earned money, take good care of it, else …”

Shyam: “Of course sir! All your money will be yours and yours only. Besides, they will grow over a hundred fold. Look at me. I have waged all I had — all of my fifty thousand rupees invested here. After all, I am a recluse, a sage, what use do I have of money? Whatever I will gain, I will invest in the service of the Mother Goddess. Both brothers, Bipin and Atal, have also invested fifty thousand rupees each. Ganderi has purchased shares worth one hundred thousand rupees — he is, after all, a highly calculative businessman you know — would he have invested if he were not convinced of benefit? What do you think?”

Tinkori: “Really! Now I am convinced! I say, how about consulting Mr Coldham? You won’t get a pukka sahib like him these days!”

By this time, the servant came into the room and announced that the lunch was ready. Tinkoribabu brought everyone inside the building. Shyambabu looked at the spread of food and exclaimed, “Tinkoribabu, you have made a grand arrangement! How about you? Why are you not sitting down to lunch with us?”

Tinkori: “Alas! I am suffering from arthritis. I do not eat rice. I am only allowed a couple of semolina flatbreads at the most.”

Shyam: “I will send you a “Fetkarini-Tantra” amulet for you to wear. All these fried vegetables, curries? Wow, what have you given us, cook? Isn’t this curried green jackfruit? Great! Can you please serve Ghee and ripe bananas? Now, what is that? A fish? how I like it! Atal, tuck in!”

Atal (in isolation, to himself): “If this is what we have for lunch, I will have to go and eat again at home today, oh well!”

Tinkori: “Well, Shyambabu, do you not have anything in your Mantras that can increase a person’s, er…, status in the society?”

Shyam: “Yes of course! For example Kundalini! If you can awaken the Kundalini, it can even confer great honour to those who do not deserve so. But why do you ask?”

Tinkori: “Heh heh! Nothing much really. As you know, Mr Coldham once told me that if he had a chance, he would bring it up before the Governor and would recommend to have me knighted. Well, it doesn’t look nice to remind him now and then, you see, so I was wondering if you knew some Mantra that might work. Although I do not believe in these things, but you never know …”

Shyam: “Well, now start believing in! You will have to, in the end! The scriptures cannot be false! Rest assured Tinkoribabu, I will leave no stones unturned towards it. But you need a Guru and you will need to be initiated, otherwise these things cannot be done. Then again, you cannot just have an ordinary Guru. As for expenses, I will see how cheaply I can get these things done.”

Tinkori: “Well, we shall see. Anyway, coming back to the Company, you will need a few hands in your offices, won’t you? I have a son-in-law, can you employ him? He is out of job at the moment, hasn’t studied much, and wasting my money here, and gone to the dogs with wrong company of friends. It’d do him a world of good if he were to find a job. This guy is otherwise quite a fast man, and well-behaved, I’d say.”

Shyam: “Your son-in-law? Sure enough! I will make him the head priest of the temple. We already have about fifteen applications for the position of the head priest and five of them are graduates. But the claim of your relative will be above everyone else!”

Tinkori: “One other thing. I have an old bell metal gong in my house. It’s a little cracked, but otherwise it is a pure bell metal one. Can you not use it for the temple? I won’t ask much by way of price from you, as a matter will offer a bargain for you.”

Shyam: “Of course, we shall buy it off you! Where else will we get those antiques these days?”

Ganderi’s predictions came true. Thanks to the advertisements and the efforts of the founders, all shares were sold out. People are eager to buy more shares, and the stock prices are high.

Atalbabu said, “Shyam-da, this is as good a time as any to sell off the shares. Ganderi has gained a lot. The share prices are doubled today. After a few days, no one is going to touch our shares.”

Shyam: “If you want to sell, do so. But you will still need to have some shares on your hands to be on the board of the Company as a director, isn’t it? How else can you be a director?”

Atal: “Well, you be the director! I am not interested to be a director any longer. By the grace of Goddess Siddheshwari, you have achieved your goal!”

Shyam: “We have just about started. We still have to build the temple and the housing, the markets, everything we promised. How can we leave you out?”

Atal: “What am I going to gain by staying back? It’s time for the Brother-in-Law company to take control. Our journey ends here.”

Shyam: “Where is the rush, brother? Let’s do it together. I will come to your place this evening, and will bring along Ganderi as well.”

— -

“I I I want to know!”

A year and a half has gone by. The board of directors have met in the office of Brahmachari and Brother in law. Chairman Tinkoribabu banged his fist on the table and demaned, “I-I-I want to know what happened to all the money? I cannot live in my house anymore. Everyone is after me these days — everyone is rushing me around: the coal merchant is asking for returning his twenty five thousand rupees, the brick company man is asking for his twelve thousand, the man from the printing press, the Sharper Company, Kundu and Mukherjee, and then there are others — they are threatening to take us to the court. There is no sign of the temple, and by this time all of the money lost into thin air? Where is that impostor? I get to hear that he does not attend his office at all? Where is he hiding these days?”

Atal: “Brahmachari has said that the Mother Goddess has summoned him for other errands — he is not interested in this project anymore. But he told me that he was going to attend this meeting.”

Bipin said, “Why are you so upset sir, please see this list — purchase and sale of land, brokerage from shares, preliminary expenses, making of bricks, establishment, advertisements, office-expenditure…”

Tinkori: “Shut up, you scoundrel! You are the sorcerer’s accomplice!”

Around this time, Shyambabu arrived. He asked, “What’s the matter?”

Tinkori: “Matter my foot! I demand a clarification of the accounts!”

Shyam: “Sure! Check the accounts for all you want. Better yet, why don’t you come to Gobindapur to check how the project is coming along!”

Tinkori: “Right you are! I am not interested to go to your boondocks in Gobindapur with my arthritis laden body. I am not going there — rather you return my money! The Company is doomed and the shareholders are enraged about it!”

Shyambabu folded his hands together and touched his forehead, “Everything is the wish of the Mother Goddess! Man proposes, the Mother Goddess disposes! By now, the construction of the temple should have been finished. Due to a few unprecedented events the expenditures exceeded our expectations and we are in arrears. But worry not, everything will be alright. If we can raise money in another call, we should be able to pay off our debts and proceed with the project.”

Ganderi said, “No one is going to put in money again, no one trusts you!”

Shyam: “If people do not trust us, they won’t have to. I am outta here. Let the Mother Goddess manage as She wishes. Lord Vishwanath has summoned me in Kashi (Benares), I will go there and take refuge.”

Tinkori: “So, you mean that the company is about to sink in deep waters”

Ganderi: “Twenty thousand leagues under the sea!”

Shyam: “Well Tinkoribabu, if people do not trust us anymore, we are ready to give up the managing agency. You have claim to fame, people have faith in you, they respect and trust you as well. Why don’t you run the Company as the managing director?”

Atal: “I second this! Spot on, I say!”

Tinkori: “Yes, right! I will have to shoulder all this burden of ill-will, and have to work free to go on a wild goose chase!”

Shyam: “Of course not! Why will you work for free? I propose in this meeting that Roysaheb Right honorable Sir Tinkori Banerjee be made the director of the Company on a sum of Rupees One thousand per month! Where else can we find a more able person to run the company? Besides, if we have committed mistakes, you will not be responsible for those mistakes!”

Tinkori: “Well, well, I cannot promise I will accept this! I will have to think about it!”

Atal: “Please do not think twice about it, Honorable Mister Roy! You are our greatest saviour!”

Shyam: “One more thing, Tinkoribabu. I have realised that money is the biggest impediment to Spiritual growth. I have already given up on all my earthly belongings, I only have about 1600 shares of this Company with me. I’d really like to give it up to an honest man. Please accept that as well. I do not want any premium on it at all, just pay me at par, just 3, 200 Rupees.”

Tinkori: “Yes, a likely story! You are trying to con me again!”

Shyam: “What a shame on me should I do that Tinkori Babu. You will see that you will gain a lot from it. Oh well, give me a little less, say 2, 400 rupees, or 2, 000, even 1, 000 rupees ..”

Tinkori: “Not a penny, I say!”

Shyam: “Well, see, you are a Brahmin, so am I. It is forbidden in the Scriptures to donate anything to a Brahmin by a Brahmin; otherwise, I’d have given all of this to you for free! If it pleases you, give me whatever you want to, say five hundred rupees. I have the transfer form ready with me, Bipin, can you please bring me the transfer form.”

Tinkori: “I can give you at most eighty rupees!”

Shyam: “Well, so it be! It is at a great loss to me, but as the Mother Goddess Wishes!”

Ganderi: “बाह तिनकऔरिबाबु, बहुत किफाय़त हुय़ा” (“By Jove, Tinkoribabu, this is way too much!”)

Tinkoribabu took out his wallet out of his pocket. He just had his pension paid, and out of that, he counted eight ten rupee notes and laid on the table. Shyambabu pocketed the money and said, “I have to go. I have to perform puja in my house. As you have took charge of the Company, may the Mother Goddess bless you!”

Shyambabu left the office.

Tinkoribabu wryly smiled and said, “He was a good man after all. Although he was a humbug, but he had a large heart. But now I have to shoulder the burden of the Company. I was down with Arthritis all these days, and could not pay attention to anything about the Company. Otherwise, the Company would not have been in the red. Anyway, I have to be up and about — I am a man of principles; I will bear no hanky panky from anyone, none at all!”

“Nothing at all”

Ganderi: “You do not have to take any trouble at all. Company has already sunk. You too are dismissed.”

Tinkori: “What do you mean? What about my monthly salary?”

Ganderi: “Huh huh! You too want money? Tell me from where you will get it? Tinkoribabu, you did not understand Shyambabu’s business model, did you? The Company owes Ninety Thousand Rupees in arrears. After two days, this Company will be liquidated. The Liquidator will raise the money from second call, and this is how it is going to pay for the arrears.”

Tinkori: “What the …? I am not paying another farthing”

Ganderi: “Of course you will have to! The Government will force you to pay! This is the law of the land, where will you go?”

Tinkori: “I will have to pay more money. How much?”

Atal: “You will not have to pay all by yourself. Every shareholder will have to pay another two rupees. You had two hundred shares and you have acquired 1600 more shares today. You will have to pay 3, 600 rupees on account of these 1800 shares. After the repayment of arrears, and charges of liquidation, you may get back some money.”

Tinkori: “Well, I see. How much did you all lose?”

Ganderi waved his thumb before Tinkoribabu and said, “Nothing at all. None at all. Shyambabu bought all our shares and then he sold them to you today.”

Tinkori: “Thieves all! Thieves! I am going to complain to Mr Coldham right now in England! I will see you!”

Atal: “Well, let us leave now. We do not have any shares anymore, we are no more the directors of this Company. Please get on with your job, Tinkoribabu, good luck. Come on Ganderi, let’s go.”

Tinkori: “Arghh….”

Ganderi: “In the name of Lord Rama, bye bye!”

(This story was written by Rajsekhar Basu in 1922).

Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. Also in: https://refind.com/arinbasu

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