The phone keeps ringing shrilly through the flat. Nauzer holds his head in his hands, palms clamped over his ears.
“Beta, the phone!” He forgot his mother would still be here. He can’t have her answering in case it is Devia. He runs into the corridor to pick it up. It stops just before he can reach it. Breathless, he looks up and sees his mother in the kitchen.
“Badhu barabar che beta?” asks his mother. She’s been up a while baking biscuits. A gentle and warm clove cardamom scent fills the air. They’ve always been a comforting treat for her boy, who has seemed upset since his meeting yesterday.
Her worried eyes tug on his heart. This is it. He can come clean, tell her everything. How he’s lost everyone’s money; how many sleepless nights he’s had; how terrified he’s been. But a terror grips him. He has images of police officers coming and handcuffing him in front of his mother. He winces at the shame and a shiver runs down his spine.
He’s sure his mother can see guilt all over his face. “What’s wrong?” she asks tenderly. He can’t do it – he can’t tell her. He’ll let her down worse than he ever could have imagined and the pain of knowing that is unbearable.
Scratching his head, he forces a smile and a nod. There are a few long seconds where nothing is said. His mother, as usual, doesn’t press Nauzer. She trusts him. “Ok beta. As long as you’re ok, I’ll head down to the café. Will I see you there later?”
‘Yes – see you shortly.” Nauzer replies. “I just need to square off a few things”. And with that, Rumina pats down and removes her apron before gathering herself to leave. “Bye, beta.”
Standing alone in the flat, Nauzer can’t move. His heart is beating loudly and fast enough that he can hear it. His only thought is how foolish he has been. Totting up his losses in his head, he begins to think it’s not insurmountable, he just needs more time. But Devia could ruin everything. He can see her now – gleeful and hunched over her typewriter in the newsroom punching out venomous words about him, laughing with other reporters at having brought down another ne’er-do-well of the financial scene. Perhaps he should just do it – pay her bribe to suppress the story? But he catches himself… realises that he’d be going further and further into the darkness bribing someone to maintain his reputation. It would never stop.
A sadness dawns on him. Either way, happiness now will forever elude him. If he pays Devia off, he may never be free of her. Or the story will break, everyone will learn about what he’s done and the shame will be eternal. But with that realisation comes a moment of clarity… if his happiness and reputation are now lost, then surely his objective has entirely changed. He must focus on doing whatever he can to fix this mess for his community and his mother – regardless of personal price. Eyeing a bottle of whiskey on his drinks trolley, he feels the beginnings of an idea and he runs to his room.
Meanwhile, Rumina is in the café tending to her patrons, but thoughts of Nauzer keep coming to her. She can tell that something is disturbing her dear boy and she wants desperately to help. Recently it has felt like he is chasing a different version of himself, one she recognises less. Whatever is going on, she trusts that her son is a good man and he’ll find his way back to her.
The day passes into late afternoon, and Nauzer hasn’t yet appeared at the café. Rumina begins to worry. It’s very strange for him not to pop his head in when coming or going from the Exchange. She decides to head home and check that all is ok.
Unlocking the latch on their door Rumina calls out “beta, I’m home.” No answer. She walks towards Nauzer’s bedroom door, which is closed. She knocks. No answer. Nudging the door open, she sees something extraordinary.
On the bed there is a large old suitcase. She opens it and sees that it is full of neatly bundled and bound rupee notes on top of which is an envelope addressed to “Ami.” She hurriedly tears it open and begins to read the letter inside:
It is with a heavy heart that I write these words, knowing the pain they will cause you.
I wish I could be there with you. It is no easy task to explain all that has happened in the past few years here in a letter but I want you to know that I didn’t mean for any of this to happen. I wanted the best for you, for our community… perhaps also for myself… but in wanting this, I have failed you.
Ami, I’ve lost everything. Everyone’s money is gone. I was reckless, a risktaker and I should have known better. And now, the weight of what I’ve done is unbearable, so the lies stop here.
Last year, my luck ran out and I suffered a big loss on a bet on SBF Holdings. To begin with I wasn’t worried as I thought I could make up for any losses with new trades. But my luck didn’t change, I kept on losing… losing money which our community had entrusted to me. I didn’t tell anyone. I was too ashamed. Instead I tried to fix things by taking more money from more of our family and a loan from a bad man called Prashad. I kept my existing investors happy by paying their dividends from the new capital and I tried to make even riskier trades in the hope that I’d make a big return and cover up the mess I’d gotten into. But it was stupid. I am in more debt than ever and now a journalist named Devia Patel is threatening to publish a story telling all. I’m so ashamed, I’m so sorry, Ma.’
I hope you can believe me when I say that I wasn’t driven by greed. I just couldn’t face everyone that I’d let down and I needed to fix it. They had given me their hope and trust. But, Ma, I think I can fix what I’ve done.
Taking money from Prashad was stupid and dangerous. And while it may seem more stupid, I’ve taken one last loan from him, to fix what I’ve done. I’ve persuaded him somehow to give me a large amount. I know you will be shocked to see it. Please take the money here and distribute it to the enclosed list of people in the right amounts – it should cover everyone’s initial investment that they gave me. As for Prashad, he’ll be so angry and he’s dangerous, but I’ve taken care of him.
One night at the café, after too many whiskeys, Prashad’s tongue was loose enough to reveal too much about his activities, who he has in his pocket, who he’s stealing from, how he’s doing it. He was so proud of it, he couldn’t resist boasting.
I’ve told Devia and given her everything she needs to take him down – it’s a much bigger scoop for her than a speculator losing people’s savings. Once she starts looking into this and the police begin their investigations, chasing me will be the least of Prashad’s concerns.”
Rumina pauses from reading and looks up. Tears have pooled in her eyes and start falling down her face. She continues reading:
“I know you will think me a coward for running away and not standing to face this with you. I know we’ve always said that we could face any challenge together, but this felt too much. How could you face to look at me knowing all this? I have lost your trust and whilst you and me are no strangers to heartbreak, this loss hits deeper than any before.
I hope one day that you’ll be able to forgive me. For now, I’ve had to leave. I’m sorry. Silence is easier than confronting the truth, than facing you and the consequences of my actions. I don’t ask for your forgiveness or for you to forget, but I hope that one day you’ll find peace. For me, this is the end. I love you Ma.
Your dearest boy,
The sun is momentarily out again. Calendars are fast filling up. There’s many a thing to do and many a friend to meet. And if we may kindly add to the excitement and the plan-making, here’s our list of what we’re looking forward to in September.
While we were at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, we caught Evening Conversations, an engaging show by Sudha Bhuchar. We caught up with her after the show to talk about her journey and her views on South Asian representation on screen, which you can read below. And for those who didn’t walk down the cobbled streets of the city or stumble into an impromptu performance this year, we highly recommend it for 2024.
Each year as August dawns, the streets and rooms and corners of Edinburgh fill with music, art, laughter and song. Wander into grand halls and pokey pubs, as the morning sun rises or in the dark of night, to see creations of every kind as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. In honour of this wonderful celebration of the performing arts (and as a little treat), here’s a special edition Dishoom Loves, covering all the acts we’ve circled on our festival programme.
For anyone looking to learn or read more on Partition, this page holds a series of resources, for all ages, created by people knowledgeable and knowing about such matters. It is by no means definitive – we have simply found them to be useful, inspiring and accessible.