Yudhi Raman is the pen-name of an author who is a managing director of a leading international bank in London. He was educated in India, Singapore and the UK and has also worked in New York and Mumbai. While in Mumbai, he was ranked by Business World as one of the top two deal makers in India.
His stories draw on his varied experiences and deep love for ‘boy’s adventure tales’. He started writing adventure stories for his twin sons based on his travels in Africa. His first short story, Lionhead, is the genesis for this book. When not writing, his hobbies are sailing, adventure sports and distance running. Read his interview here. Below you can read an excerpt from his novel, The Tantalus Redemption. Courtesy: Yudhi Raman.
THE TANTALUS REDEMPTION
Mumbai – Late 1980s
The boy stayed hidden in the cupboard and tried to breathe without making a sound. He could hear his mother calling for him through the sprawling government house on Altamount Road.
‘Kanna!Kanna!’ she called. The endearment floated tenderly across the verandah, echoing off the frangipani trees, but he stayed silent and peered between the doors at his father who was working through the contents of a cardboard file bound with frayed red ribbons. He wasn’t allowed in his father’s study – it routinely housed documents that were protected by the state – but he often hid himself in here to bask in the pretended companionship of men.
His contentment, however, was short-lived and disappeared when he heard the soothing tones of his mother’s call turn into a frantic scream. Doors slammed and the sound of a commotion drowning out his mother’s strenuous protests accompanied the clattering of boots down the parquetted hallway to the study.
He watched his father rise agitatedly to his feet, but the door to the study was flung open before he could even take a step. A tall broad-shouldered man, his face smouldering, stormed in, accompanied by a police officer in an inspector’s uniform.
His father’s hands reached out for the telephone,but the tall man shook his head.
‘There is no need to call the police, Mr Nair. They are already here,’ he said, tilting his head towards the police officer.
‘What is the meaning of this, Mr Magan? How dare you come to my house. Inspector, what is going
on?’ his father demanded.
‘Nair, you know what this is about,’ Magan interrupted. ‘Just sign this form and I will leave. You
cannot hold up a major defence contract on trivial grounds. The award has been approved by the cabinet itself.’
‘Magan, I am responsible for protecting the foreign exchange assets of the Republic of India. And unless I have a sworn affidavit from Scangun Corp. that there are no commission payments on the deal, I’m not signing anything,’ Nair replied.
‘Deputy Governor Sahab, you have no idea whom you are dealing with. The Inspector Sahab is here to arrest you if you don’t agree,’ Magan declared.
‘Arrest me? On what grounds, Magan? You can’t threaten a deputy governor of the Reserve Bank. I
don’t care who is involved in this transaction.’
Magan nodded at the inspector. Immediately, two men in plain clothes walked in carrying a suitcase. The child’s curiosity turned cold as they headed directly to the cupboard and yanked open the door.
There was a moment of bewildered silence as the door opened and they saw the boy in the cupboard.
‘Kanna!’ his father cried out. ‘What are you doing there?’
Nair’s voice catalysed the intruders into action and a plain clothesman reached forward to grab the child. The boy’s reflexes were too quick and he swerved sideways, escaping the man’s grasp. But he was eventually helpless against the two grown men and they prised him out of the cupboard.
‘Let him go!’ Nair rasped. His voice was low, barely above a whisper, but it had a hard, measured edge to it. The inspector nodded at the men and they released the boy who ran to his father in relief.
‘You have a fine son, Nair Sahab,’ Magan rejoined.‘You should be proud of him. If you sign these papers,he will be taken care of very well. A foreign school maybe.England or America. And then whichever you want. Harvard, Yale, Cambridge? Everything is in our power, Nair Sahab. You only need to sign these papers and one day his star may even rise higher than yours. If not for yourself, do it at least for him.’
‘He can look after himself, Magan. He doesn’t need anything from you,’ Nair said acidly, standing proudly next to the boy.
‘Finish the job then!’ Magan barked at the inspector.The two men in plain clothes hurried towards the suitcase. The first picked it up and slung it into the cupboard while the second took up position with a camera in hand, its flash and shutter primed and ready.The inspector marched towards the cupboard and a kaleidoscope of flashes appeared in rapid succession as his actions were captured on film. He reached into the cupboard and retrieved the suitcase, laying it out dramatically on the floor. He then flicked open its catches and looked at Nair.
Nair stared aghast at the open suitcase. It was layered inch for inch with hundred-dollar bills.
‘Guardian of our foreign exchange? Looks like you’ve kept some masala for yourself, Deputy Governor.There must be at least a million dollars there!’ Magan said laughing.
‘This is preposterous, Magan. You’ve just planted the suitcase there. I’ve never seen it before. It hasn’t even got my fingerprints on it,’ Nair said dismissively.
‘It’ll have your fingerprints and more when we are through with you, DG Sahab,’ Magan threatened.‘One last time, Nair. Will you sign the form?’.
The boy watched anxiously as he waited for his father’s reply.Don’t sign it, Acha, he pleaded silently, fighting the small part of himself that wished his father would simply sign the papers and make these people leave.
‘No affidavit, no signature, Magan. That is my last and final word. Now take your circus out of my study and leave,’ Nair said sternly.
The two plain clothes officers immediately leapt towards Nair and locked his arms behind his back.Two more uniformed policemen stepped forward and spun him away from his desk, trying to shackle him with handcuffs.
Nair was strong and his age disguised a well-trained physique. He used all his strength and buckled forward into a turn, pulling his arms down as hard as he could.The sudden unexpected movement jerked his arms free of the plain clothesmen, but before he could move any further, a baton smashed into his back, just below the neck, and he fell face-down onto the floor. The four policemen immediately kneed him down on his back and legs, handcuffing him as roughly as they could.
‘Fight them, Acha. Fight them. Let him go!’ the boy cried and charged at them. Magan and the inspector both jumped at the boy at once and racked him against the wall.
‘Don’t worry,kanna. They can’t do anything. They are just trying to scare us,’ Nair said, looking back at his son, trying to pacify him.
‘You had better sign it by tomorrow morning if you want to see the boy or your family again, Nair,’ Magan said, enjoying the boy’s obvious distress.
And then Nair was gone, swept up in a phalanx of khaki uniforms with the child running behind him crying ‘Acha!’. It was only after the train of cars with flashing red lights drew away that he saw his mother weeping, restrained by women officers in the drawing room.
Above him, angry cracks of lightning split the thundering clouds and the first rains of the monsoon
were hurled down on the frangipani trees. The earth steamed as the rainwater churned the hot dust and broken leaves that had gathered over the summer,releasing the musty pungency of a tropical deluge that would linger forever in his memories of that day.
The boy could barely see the body through the tears in his eyes. It was wrapped in a plain white shroud and lay unadorned on the sandalwood pyre, reposing serenely on a bed of marigolds. His sorrow was intense. He struggled even to breathe as he reached across and fastened the silvery snake-like whip-sword around the waist of the shrouded body. He then knelt before the funeral pyre and whispered the sacred prayers as he brought the burning torch towards it. His mother and
sister stood behind him and, for the last time, he saw his father as the flames roared up through the
They had rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night and his father had been barely conscious.Nair’s face had been badly bruised and there was a running gash along the ridge of his jaw line.There was barely a part of his body that was not swollen black and blue. He had fallen down the stairs at Arthur Road Jail,they said.Nair had been drifting in and out of consciousness and the doctors hadn’t had much hope. The boy had stayed there all night with his mother and sister, fighting off sleep. Just before dawn, as he finally fell asleep next to his sister, he heard his father speak to him. He jumped up to his feet, but his mother was already calling for the doctor as the beeping on the heart rate monitor stopped abruptly and turned into a paralysing monotone.
‘Life’s compass is hard, kanna, but there is always aline that’s firm and true. Find it and you will find
strength. And do not grieve,kanna. There is death in all of life and life in all of death.’
His lithe, athletic figure walked towards the panoramic glass windows and paused, its sharp angular features forming an eagle-like silhouette against the deadening sky. Far below, the Thames turned grey under the fading light and looked still, as the tidal flow reversed and lapped the bridge at the high-water mark. Pacing back towards his desk, he scanned the feeds on his Bloomberg terminal. Its screens, with incandescent amber fonts, glowed like the command panels on an aircraft.
His attention was focused on a single stock price. Magan Holdings. He typed in a quick code and a graph of its stock price appeared. It was down again today, as it had been for the last few weeks. With a few more flicks of his fingers, the two screens above him flashed up the latest news on Magan Holdings and its financials. Old man Magan looked like he was finally sinking under a mountain of debt. He had watched Magan for over twenty years, waiting for a moment of weakness in his quarry while he grew stronger himself.
‘Jurvir, are you joining us?’ Mayderhew-Pinton’s voice called from the edge of the trading floor. John
Mayderhew-Pinton was an austere septuagenarian and senior partner at Wilberforce & Rowan. He drove the culture of the firm and was the reason it still remained a successful partnership while all their competitors had been bought out by American banks. He was particularly firm on punctuality and eschewed publicity. ‘We’re heading up to the terrace now,’ he said, pushing open the giant oak doors.
W&R’s charity reception on its rooftop was one of the city’s fixtures. Taking advantage of the last of the summer’s long evenings, it celebrated W&R’s philanthropic heritage. W&R had been founded to
look after the widows and orphans of the Napoleonic and Crimean wars and had since grown to be one of the bedrocks of the City of London. Its emergence had not been without trauma. In the 1850s, it had nearly gone bankrupt because of its longstanding opposition to slavery. While other bankers in the city made fortunes from the explosion in the cotton, sugar and shipping trades of the American and West Indian colonies, W&R’s partners lived in relative penury, investing instead in the factories, railroads and mines of the emerging industrial age. The firm made its fortune eventually, backing the north in the American Civil War and the industrialization that followed in Britain and North America.
‘Coming, John!’ Jurvir replied as he put on his black tie. The terrace party was an occasion for all the
firm’s clients, partners and employees to renew acquaintances. As one of the firm’s partnership
hopefuls, Jurvir could not be late. He took one last look at his terminal as he left. Magan Holdings was literally surviving on borrowed time. One more step and he would be ready to move.
Summer withered quickly to a dull October morning. He was walking up the slope from Temple to the
Strand when he saw her again on the brow of the hill, her orchid pink overcoat swirling against the cloudy grey sky of London. Her well-cut jeans tucked into Hermes riding boots accentuated her slender figure. Her sable hair tumbled behind her shoulders, revealing a strikingly beautiful face, the delicate pale colour of a cherry blossom in moonlight. Jurvir quickened his pace, took a deep breath to steady his nerves and caught up with her. ‘Good morning! May I walk with you?’ he greeted her. She seemed startled at first, but he continued. ‘I’m Jurvir. Juri for short. We were at the terrace party, but I didn’t get a chance to say hello. I’m in the special investments group. I haven’t seen you around the office before.’
It seemed an eternity as he waited for an answer. She finally gave him a hesitant smile and drifted into step with him. ‘I’m Seline. I’ve just moved across from the Geneva office. I’m in the legal and compliance group.’ She had a soft, gentle voice, but with a distant air of melancholy. She said she was from Iran but had moved to Switzerland when she was in school.
They fell into a conversation but it was only a short walk to W&R. Despite his efforts to slow down their pace, they reached the building much sooner than Jurvir hoped.
‘Thanks for letting me walk with you,’ he said.
‘That’s okay,’ she replied, smiling. ‘It’s nice to make friends in a new city. In fact, I think I’m going to be looking after your team. So if you need to confess a rogue trade, you know where I am.’
‘Seline, I’ll need a priest, not a lawyer!’ he said with a twinkle in his eye. ‘My crimes and misdemeanours are past redemption!’
She laughed with him. ‘Saving souls is part of the job too,’ she said, shaking her head as though he were a lost cause.
As she turned and walked away, he felt like a magnet being pulled apart from another, first a wrenching split and then a slow ebb. It was as though she were leaving with the better part of him.