Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Other Way

"Hey! We have to invite Ms Namrata Pandey as the chief guest!" Vidya insisted when the topic came up.

"Namrata Pandey! She is so hard to get!" someone whined.

"I will figure out a way if all of you are okay with it," Vidya assured them, excited about the challenge and the hope of achieving success. She idolised Namrata for her confidence, clarity of thought and speech and professionalism. Vidya had attended some of her sessions in conferences.

The self-employed women's group was organising an annual event and was planning to inviting an icon of entrepreneurial success as the chief guest. There were several names that they could think of, but Namrata Pandey topped them all. She was on the cover of all business magazines, in TV channels and was invited as a speaker to business conferences across the country. Her education venture had started small, but had suddenly grown exponentially. Investors were lining up to fund her venture, but she seemed in no hurry to take money.

In the galaxy she ruled, with her time taken up by important agenda, what value would this insignificant organisation have? But she had also started small. Maybe they could persuade her to share her wisdom on how to scale up quickly. It was worth a try, Vidya suggested.

"You have to let us know in two days," the president of the association said firmly. Vidya nodded, glad of having got at least an excuse to approach that great lady.

"Can you drop me?" Subha asked as Vidya stepped out. "Had to send my car to pick up my daughter," she added apologetically.

"Of course! Come on," Vidya said and got into the driver's seat. Subha sat beside her in the front.

"Do you know Namrata?" Subha asked as Vidya drove out of the driveway. Vidya shook her head. "She is my friend's cousin..." Subha added.

"Oh! Wow! That is lovely. Do you think your friend can help us get an appointment?"

"Mmm... I will ask. But I don't think they are in touch anymore."

"Oh!" Vidya asked, slightly deflated.

"My friend Bindiya said Namrata had ruffled many feathers in the family... I don't like gossiping, but you may want to know that her growth story is not such an inspiration as people make it out to be."

Vidya pursed her lips, irritated at the obvious jealousy that must have been at the root of this rumour. "Really?" she asked.

"It was a small venture, if you remember?" Subha asked. Vidya nodded. "She started it with her classmate, and over time, the two fell in love with each other. But her family did not approve for the obvious reasons and he moved out. They continued to see each other on the sly..."

Vidya did not react, disgusted at the personal story being aired so easily, but curious enough to want to hear more.

"She has not married... They are a couple, but not officially... He suddenly came into some money and invested in her company. They got themselves a big house - sad that it is lying locked. Cannot even enjoy the wealth openly," Subha said shaking her head slowly. "Then trouble started. Initially the family was upset that she still continued to see him. But when they got to the bottom of it, they discovered that the money was not clean... The family is an old one in the city and has a reputation to protect. They found out that he was a conduit for the education minister. It helped Namrata both ways - she got the money as well as approvals needed to reach her solution to schools."

Vidya stared at Subha incredulously. "Surely the business magazines would have found out!" she asked, interested despite reservations.

Subha laughed. "Oh she is smart. Many of the centres she opened in other cities are languishing. But she manages to show profits."

"How do you know that?" Vidya asked suspiciously.

"Bindiya told me. But I also run a business, Vidya. If you keep your eyes and ears open, you can make out... Namrata is a smart, intelligent woman. I can tell you, she would have got to where she is now if she had taken the slow and steady route. What she says at the conferences are possibilities, not her own experience, I can vouch for that. The speed at which she has grown is unbelievable...!"

Vidya digested this silently, still sceptical and disbelieving.

"In any case, I will ask Bindiya if she can help us get an appointment."

"Thanks," Vidya replied, suspicious of Subha's intentions.

She heard from Subha in a couple of days, but for a different reason. "Check the news," Subha said cryptically and waited as Vidya switched the TV on. "Oh my god!" she exclaimed in shock and disbelief.

"Business tycoon Namrata Pandey's body found. Suspected suicide" scrolled across the screen.

"Did you read today's paper?" Subha asked.


"Did you see the news about Arvind Sahni?"

"The man who was jailed for embezzlement?" Vidya asked.

"Yes, framed, most probably. But he is the man I was telling you about, Namrata's partner. Maybe the minister has no more use of him. Maybe they crossed some line with their extravagance."

Vidya watched silently as other people from the industry, her employees and family spoke of Namrata's brilliance and business acumen. Many expressed shock at her sudden death, some suspected foul play. "Nothing will come out, take it from me. The police will close the case as suicide," Subha asserted. "I wish she had taken the traditional path instead of this ambitious growth. She really was brilliant," she added her eulogy.

Vidya felt sorry for the woman whose photos and video footage flashed. Confidence oozed from every pore of this woman who took the mike knowing what she was about to speak. She wished Namrata had had the same confidence in her business and her skills and not take the short cut to success.

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