“WOW! The fish tastes lovely mum and the lake is so beautiful. Ducks quacking, cool breeze coming from the mountains behind the Lake, what a fantastic view from this Dhaba bench mum. Birds nesting on the fir trees, what a gorgeous place! There is a funfair with so many rides for the kids; mum can I go on and feed the fishes pleaaaaase?”
Suddenly Vivek got up, it was almost 30 years now, and he never forgot this childhood experience. It was one of the most memorable places he had ever been to in India.
He looked outside the window, it was snowing. He then looked at his mobile phone, it was 3 a.m. in Michigan. Vivek went to the US after finishing school to pursue his further studies, he was the only child and his parents relocated to the US a few years later. After getting his degree in Food Technology he started working for a company which he bought with the help of other shareholders after 10 years. He renamed it “V Company”. They used to import food products from various countries across the globe, fishes, however, were imported from a village in India. Although he never visited the place Vivek’s company had invested a lot of money in the village from where fishes were imported. They had appointed an agent in India to obtain permission from the local Government and to negotiate a contract with the villagers to enable the company’s presence in the place. The company was rapidly expanding and started their own chain of hotels in the US.
Vivek was the CEO of the company and one day he got the news that there was a shortage of fishes due to which they could not be exported from his factory in India. He couldn’t believe it as fish was one of the most important commodities of V Company in Michigan. His first thoughts after hearing the news about shortages were to fly out to the place to find out what was happening first hand but the news couldn’t have come at a worse time as he was in the middle of undergoing divorce.
He was married to Sheena and they had two kids, they got divorced after 10 years of marriage. Sheena left along with the kids, the marriage never worked out but from day 1 Vivek tried his very best until one day…
“Sheena you forgot to pick up the kids from school, where were you? You should have at least informed me I could have picked them up!” he shouted.
“I have told you several times that I had an important meeting and forgot about it. It’s just today I forgot, so big deal, every day I am on time.”
“Do you realize the seriousness of this, agreed you pick them up every day and if you couldn’t make it you should have pinged me?”
“I said I forgot, why are you creating such a scene? You just find excuses to fight with me don’t you?”
“I am trying to reason out with you Sheena, why are you taking this conversation nowhere!”
Sheena’s phone buzzed, Vivek immediately picked the phone up and saw the message “Darling today’s love making was the best when next?”
Sheena snatched the phone from his hand, Vivek was shocked before he could say anything she started, “I had an affair with him before marriage, my parents never agreed to him because he was a White American and wanted me to marry an Indian. I am sorry I have to go, I love him not you. I am taking the kids with me. They are very fond of him. Bye.” She left with the kids.
As the import of fishes had stopped and Vivek could not find another source in time, the company’s profits started to decline and the shareholders lost confidence in Vivek’s ability to take the business forward. They asked Vivek to step down. Vivek could not believe they were doing this to him after he gave his blood, sweat, and tears for the betterment of company for 20 years.
Vivek’s life was finished; he had lost his job, his wife, and kids.
He had to give up his house, car and all the savings to repay the mortgage and to give alumni to Sheena. He rented an apartment and started working in a warehouse. Life became more miserable when he found out that he had lung cancer. Ever since the financial and personal demise, Vivek often dreamt of that place. It was the only thing that could give him happiness.
He wanted to go there again because he was in his last days; the doctors said there was no hope for his lung cancer. The hustle bustle of metro life made him so busy that only after his illness he realized what was missing from his life.
He had booked the tickets and was anxiously waiting to reach there and relive the last days of his life.
Beautyland, that was the place, it was located in Kerala. It was a picnic spot with a Lake and there was a small village by its side Khushipur. Everyone living there was happy.
Khushipur was a small village with the scarce population. The village was located in the mountains and the only source of income for the villagers was “Khushi” that was the name the villagers gave to this unique and special kind of fish which was found in the Lake at Beautyland in the middle of the mountains and these fishes had lived there for ages. The fish brought a lot of happiness in the village. The people of Khushipur were very simple people and lived a simple life, they were content with the income that they received by selling the fishes to the nearby towns and villages. There was a small Dhaba nearby the lake with a few benches that was run by the villagers of Khushipur. Often families would come and use the place as a picnic spot and enjoy the surrounding beauty. Small children would play by the lake, feed the fishes and ducks while their elders would eat at the Dhaba.
Vivek was at the airport, he had taken special permission from the doctor to travel and was at the immigration counter and looked back.
“I’ve spent almost 35 years in this country, earned and lost everything here. I cannot afford to lose my life here!” He said to himself and headed towards the security. He wanted to go Khushipur; there was something about it that was calling him there “perhaps it’s my death? I am destined to die there.”
As the plane took off Vivek remembered his journey with his parents, how excited he was to come to the US and how excited he was today to leave the country. He arrived after 16 hours on the flight and had booked a taxi that would take him to Khushipur, another 6 hours he thought.
It was a long journey and due to his illness, it got a lot longer as the taxi had to take several stops as Vivek had started spitting blood. All he prayed throughout the journey was that he reaches there and sees the last glimpse. As they were approaching Khushipur in the early hours of the day Vivek felt butterflies in his stomach.
“Finally,” he sighed. He was looking outside the window and spotted the lake.
“This is it, stop stop here!”
The driver stopped and Vivek got down and paid him. The driver left and Vivek turned around and started walking towards the lake. At first, he was not sure where he was, then he saw an old man passing by and asked him “Excuse me is this Beautyland? Khushipur?”
The old man kept staring at him blindly and after a couple of minutes spoke, “Who are you and why are you here?”
“I have come here to enjoy the countryside, the fish, and the beauty.”
“What fish? Beauty?? What are you talking about?” replied the old man.
“The breathtaking landscapes, Khushi?”
“It’s all gone! You too can go away, there is nothing left here except misery. HAHA. Foolish man, the madman is here…” he was talking to empty bottles. Vivek realized that he was mad.
He observed the Dhaba was closed, benches were broken, and the lake that he had spotted from far looked like a dumping ground. There was no lake, no fish, there were hardly any people around, and the place looked deserted. He went towards the village and saw that people were roaming like nomads didn’t know what to do. There were no children, the houses were broken and the place was in shambles.
“When and how did all this happen?” he shouted.
An old woman walked towards him and laughed. “Look who is here, some idiot looking for a land that was destroyed long ago due to greed.”
“Greed?” Vivek looked puzzled, “Tell me what happened? I want to know everything.”
The old woman found a place to sit and started, “We were so happy, everything was so good. The men used to go fishing every morning, sell them in the nearby towns and villages and come back in the afternoons. All was well when one fine day the devil came along.” She stopped and started crying.
“Devil?” Vivek asked.
“Yes, a man had come here as a tourist and met Jatin our Chief of the village, he was asking him what we do here and how come it is such a popular place.”
“Well Sir, you see a natural beauty is inbuilt here and that is our biggest asset. Call it God’s gift but this place has always been like this since our forefathers lived, we grew up here and now have our own families. As we are growing slowly in population we needed more income and so we thought of making use of this beauty and converted it into a simple picnic spot. We also started a small Dhaba for the people to enjoy the local delicacies.”
“Is that what you do to earn a living?” the man enquired.
“No sir Khushi is our main source of income,” replied Jatin
“Khushi, yes so philosophical but happiness cannot feed you and your family isn’t it? In this age, people talk like this I am surprised.”
“No sir you got me wrong. Khushi is the name of our unique and special fish. That is our source of income.”
“All fish taste the same don’t they what is so unique and special about this one?” the man questioned.
“Well it is the tastiest fish ever, you can just fry it or barbeque it without any ingredients and it is still full of flavor as if you have added spices to it, that is why it is unique and special because a female fish gives hundreds of eggs at one time and their population never dies, that is why special. It is God’s gift to us; it is our delicacy that attracts maximum tourists. No fishermen ever fishes a pregnant fish, if we find them we put them back in the lake. In spite of years of fishing, we still have so many that our next 10 generations can survive just by selling these in the nearby towns and villages!”
“Wow that sound’s amazing, can I taste it?”
“Yes, of course, you can sir.”
The man was licking his fingers was full but yet he was not satisfied.
“Jatin this was the best fish I have ever eaten, I am an agent who has a lot of clientele, I deal with NRI businessman who would like to invest in India. One of them is a dealer of food and was looking to sell Indian fish abroad. You will earn a lot of profit especially because you will earn in dollars and moreover if they like your product they are ready to invest more, perhaps make this place into a city and encourage more tourism. 1000 generations will benefit, imagine a school, hospital, college for your future generation. Think big Jatin, it is the right time. Opportunities very rarely knock at one’s door and you and your village is lucky because you are investing zero amount”
Jatin paused for a moment and said, “I cannot take the decision on my own I will have to speak for everyone.”
“I understand that. This is my card, I am Sunil Chauhan, give me a call if the proposal interests you.”
In the evening Jatin gathered all the villagers and spoke to them about the proposal. The villagers had a lot of faith in Jatin since he was the only one who went to college, they knew that their children had to travel miles to go to school and college and Jatin was the only one who was determined to get a degree and took all the trouble, he would never mislead them.
Jatin contacted Sunil and went to the city to meet him. He got well looked after by Sunil and saw all the paperwork before committing. He took the papers back with him to the village to take some important people’s thumb impressions.
After the formalities were done there was no looking back. They had stopped selling their fish to other towns and villages as per the contract and sold their fish solely to this company which had a fish packaging and processing factory near the village. Money started pouring in, the villagers had seen so much money in their lives for the first time and did not know how to spend it. Tourism was still on and they refurbished the Dhaba.
The company was making a profit in millions and therefore decided to invest more in the village. Since it was a tourist attraction the company thought that it would be ideal to open a hotel. Jatin too wanted the tourists to stay there for longer periods. The company proposed via Sunil that 10% of the hotel’s profit would be given to the villagers who had never been so rich in their lives and everyone agreed to it.
Lots of trees had to be cut down and foot of one of the mountains had to be demolished to make space for the hotel. The villagers were fascinated by this grand hotel with all its modern amenities. Tourism increased as beautyland was no longer a one-day picnic spot as tourists could stay there longer in the hotel. It was a profitable venture for the company and it wanted to take it a step further with opening a bar and casino. Once again they got in touch with Sunil who called Jatin to his office for a meeting. “Jatin this is just the beginning, I mean you are educated you know everyone has to move on with time. The hotel was just the first step, imagine the number of tourists the bar and casino would attract? Khushipur would become famous in the entire State, would you not want that?”
People in Khushipur had never been so rich and with money came greed. The villagers did not object as they trusted Jatin, Sunil, and the company. This resulted in more trees being cut down to accommodate bar and casino. There were reservations by some villagers regarding bar and casino but this vanished as they started indulging in drinking and gambling.
Sunil visited the place a couple of times and was happy to see the development. He thought, “Stupid villagers don’t know what they are doing? Giving away all they are earning from the company via fishing business back to the company by drinking and gambling. Anyway, I’ve got my commission from the company so why should I care”
A few years later tourism started to decline because the natural surroundings had to be altered to accommodate the hotel, bar, and casino. Beautyland lost its reputation of a family countryside picnic spot and was now getting more tourists who would come there for their bachelor parties and night outs. It so happened that the villagers themselves became tourists in their own village and were spending their money in bar & casino. Jatin too was lured by all this and was party too. They stopped looking at the lake and started throwing rubbish in it.
As per the contract with the company, the villagers earnings were linked to the volume of fishes and as the villagers started spending more and more in drinking and gambling they needed more money so they started finishing for longer hours initially and after some months they started over fishing including the pregnant fishes not realizing the consequences of it.
Then one day this is what happened, there were NO FISHES. The villagers could not believe it and started panicking. They had no money left as they had spent everything in drinking and gambling and had no fish to supply to the company from where they would earn money. All of a sudden a riot broke and they started looting and also tried to steal money from the casino. Jatin was startled and decided to go and meet Sunil to seek his help.
“Well Jatin we are businessmen and since your village cannot provide us with no more fish your contract ends here, don’t expect anything out of me or the company. These were one of the terms and conditions of the contract I hope you had seen these before signing.”
“No sir I read the contract and nowhere was this mentioned.”
Sunil pointed at almost the end of the contract, they were written in small print which was extremely difficult to read, but was there!
Jatin sat down in dismay. He said to himself that he should have read the contract thoroughly and not just the main headings. He was overwhelmed by the welcoming and friendliness of Sunil and his staff and was so impressed by Sunil’s grand office that in the process he did not carry out due diligence before agreeing to the contract. He felt cheated; he felt that it was all his fault and he had let the village down. The sight of the village was in his eyes and he could not get over it.
He begged for Sunil’s help but was thrown out of the office by the security guards instead.
By the time Jatin returned home he saw windows of various houses were broken and smoke was emerging from the Dhaba near the lake – it was burnt down. The village was destroyed. If only I could meet the NRI and tell him what is happening, if only I could tell him why he started a bar and casino and not a school, but I guess I too was lured by the glamor. It is my fault, I am to be blamed...all my fault.
The old woman was sobbing. Vivek was sitting there and staring at the village. He asked the lady, “Where is Jatin?”
“That mad old man who you met first is Jatin.”
Vivek had tears in his eyes; he went to Jatin, who was talking with the stones,
“Hello hi hello hi.”
Vivek put his hand on his shoulder he turned back he hugged him and started crying, “I am sorry my friend I was undergoing a divorce and could not make it. I did not know that it would come down to this. I have destroyed the most beautiful place I have ever known and no wonder it kept coming in my dreams. Mother Nature has taken its revenge on me already; I lost my job, my wife, my children and now my health. I wish I would have kept sustainability as one of the pillars of my company and cared about not only how much profit we make but also how are we making a profit and how should we be making the profit? Are we doing the right thing not only for the company economically but also for the environment? I was greedy; it’s because of me this beautiful heaven has turned into hell! I am solely responsible, nature gives us so much but we never value it, we are so lured by tall buildings, metro lifestyle and trying to get as many figures as we can in our bank accounts that we forget what we are losing to gain all of these. I had fond memories of this place and I can see how I’ve ruined it. I wish I could go back in time and change things but unfortunately, I cannot. I am sorry my friend, I am sorry Mother Nature. I have killed you. I am a murderer. I am a murderer.” Saying this he collapsed.
Jatin saw the man lying dead in his arms. He looked at him for several minutes then dropped him on the floor. He went to the lake which was now a dumping ground, sat nearby and started screaming!
NOTE: This short story is nominated for the SALISMANIA.com Best Short Story Of The Year Award 2017.