Be sure to have read our first installment here before delving into this second chapter.
Nauzer stands straight, squares his shoulders. For a moment, he is taken in by her smile. He can believe that this interview is the result of him focusing his energy, heart and mind on working hard, on helping his community; that his pursuit of profit is honourable; and his is a success story worth writing about. “Bright, rising financier goes in a few short years from managing an Irani café to pioneering trader.” What a good reputation to have.
“Mr Irani?” Says Devia, caring not about disturbing his musings. Nauzer smiles and inhales sharply. “Forgive me Ms. Patel, you’ve caught me off guard. I was not prepared for an audience with a journalist this morning. Please, follow me.”
Checking the tuck of his shirt he leads Devia towards the back of the café, past old sepia-tinted photographs, marble-topped tables and shows her a seat underneath a some modern art newly painted on the wall of the café. Sitting down, he runs his fingers casually through his pomaded hair, wondering what might happen next. Whenever anyone presses him about his investment methods he gets hot under the collar. Will she scent mischief? “Chai? Coffee? Something to eat?” He offers.
“Nothing, thank you.” Devia replies, opening her notebook and taking up her pen. She moves forward in her chair slightly and stares coldly at Nauzer. “Nice painting.” Nauzer still can’t read her, can’t tell if she’s being serious or sarcastic. He ignores the comment.
“Mr Irani, are you familiar with the expression ‘don’t judge a book by its cover?’ I think it’s pretty apt in your case, nah?”
“Oh? How do you mean?” Nauzer responds, looking around the room to see who might be able to overhear. Devia smiles. She’d expected such a response and was very much looking forward to teasing her quarry. “You seem to be doing well for yourself. The café is looking lovely and that’s a very nice watch you’re wearing.” Nauzer looks down and fidgets, pulling his sleeve over his Rado. Poising her pen she continues, “I wonder if you could tell me a little about your investing strategies? My readers and I would love to learn how someone so relatively new to investing, with little experience or training is doing so well. Are you a risktaker?”
“Well, risk is the spice of life!” Nauzer laughs, uncomfortable and edgy.
Devia stares at him without speaking for what feels like an age. “Hmm… You are either loaded with talent and can predict the markets with un-dreamed of accuracy, or you’re pulling the wool over people’s eyes.” Nauzer’s face twitches once or twice, but he tries to stay focused on her. Devia is smart and tough. “Listen, Mr Irani, you may have your community bewitched, but not me. It’s all smoke and mirrors, isn’t it?” Her eyes narrow as she speaks. “None of this is real. You see, one of the clerks at the Exchange is a very good friend of mine and he kindly shared with me what companies you’ve been investing in. So I did some basic research and must admit my confusion when I saw that all their shares have fallen, and yet, you seem to be having continued success? The numbers don’t add up, Mr Irani.”
Nauzer shifts uncomfortably while Devia continues…
“Let me tell you what I think. You’re a smart kid, enterprising, canny. You’ve got a natural flair for numbers from days spent with your nose in the Financial Express. Your first foray into the financial markets started innocently enough. You make a little money from some low-risk investments, enough to give you a taste for winning…”
Nauzer dares to interrupt, “I’m not sure…”
“You’ll get a chance to talk”. Devia continues: “Friends and family see you doing well and want a piece of the pie. So they ask you to invest for them, giving you their savings, dreaming of making money. Again, it all starts innocently and promisingly. You make good returns initially and everyone is happy. You earn their trust. But one day, you make a loss. A big one. You lose money and your mind. Because rather than coming clean, you keep going. You were too embarrassed, too ashamed to come clean. But Mr Irani, your investments aren’t good. The charts don’t lie. You’ve lost crores of rupees. A few lakhs here or there could perhaps go unnoticed, but not crores. So how do you keep raising the capital? And how is it that with such losses you’re able to afford such lavishness in your newly decorated café.” She pauses, eying him.
“I have a theory, I believe your community trust you and so despite your losses you’re able to continue getting cash, capital, fraudulently from new investors which you use to pay dividends to old ones. Your reputation and lifestyle depend on results and as far as everyone is concerned, you’re making them rich. Everyone seemingly wins. But now, you’re so deep into this pickle that you can’t stop. And faced with such big losses, you’ve started making riskier moves, like getting into business with the likes of Prashad. It’s either a very bold or a very desperate move taking money from such unsavoury characters of the Bombay underworld.”
The tips of Nauzer’s ears turn red. A faint smile crosses Devia’s face. She is ice-cool and she knows. “What was it that drove you to keep going? Fear? Greed? Shame?” She wants her confession.
Nauzer begins shaking his head. He looks like he wants to say something but then presses his lips shut. His stomach kicks him so hard that he feels sick. It was true – he had suffered a few small losses, but that was all part of being a speculator. Initially, he thought he could make it back by taking on a few swing trades hoping the higher rewards would clear the debts. No one would have to know about the losses and all would be well. But so far, nothing had worked. He’d even gambled with taking a large sum of money from well-known gangster, Prashad, hoping he’d be able to clean up with one big investment. Trying to do a carry trade is risky territory, borrowing from a loan shark for the funding, he now sees that was madness. And all the while new investors (friends and family) kept coming forward offering pieces of their life savings to him. He never made promises of lucrative returns but he felt such pressure to win for them. So he hid the losses, publicised the wins and used the fresh capital to fund the dividends he said he was making. He was stuck in a cycle of deceit. What was he to do now?
Devia continues… “You will no doubt be familiar with my reputation as a crusading journalist who wields a fiery pen against injustice. Honest and incorruptible to the very end.” She pauses, dramatically, before the words shoot from her lips:
“Pay me two crore rupees and I won’t return to my office and type out this story. Refuse, and everyone finds out what a fraud you actually are. Your life of luxury will end behind bars and your mother will truly be on her own, without her son or husband to protect her. And with Prashad out of pocket, who knows what he might do.”
That comment, above everything else, crushes him. His mother is his everything and his all. He can’t have her happiness, or indeed her life, threatened. Nauzer stands up and bows solemnly. “Ms Patel, my actions and dealings are trustworthy and above the line. I will not fall prey to bribery and corruption. Thank you for your time today.” And with that, Nauzer turns to leave.
Devia replies with practised ease: “You have until 7am tomorrow to make your decision. I’ll be in touch.”
To be continued…Read Chapter Three here.
With February comes a gladdening of spirits, lighter morning skies and discernibly louder birdsong. It is also the month to bid farewell to our winter cocoons (at least partially) and tune back into the world beyond our blankets. Allow us to ease the de-hibernation process, by sharing some of the things piquing our interest this month.
“Who wants to see some magic?” Chef Arun calls out. He flings the rolled out dough into the air, sending it soaring above the counter. It spins and twists, a graceful dancer in the air. The children watch its arc, their eyes wide with wonder, until it lands gently back in the chef's hands. The children shriek in delight.
January is a most divisive month. For some it heralds the hopeful turning over of new leaves; for others it is a month to trudge begrudgingly through towards the promise of spring. Whichever camp you find yourself in, we have plentiful diversions to share. See them as the cherry atop your already gleeful January cake, or a welcome distraction while you await winter’s end.
I AM HERE, dear reader, slovenly and slouched, staring into my drink at the end of the bar in our new restaurant in Battersea. My mind is still down and out, sifting around in the dregs of ’23 but of course it knows that I should really straighten my back, raise my chin and look squarely up into the cold new light of ’24. My drink – Choti’s Punch – clear and strong, sweet with a little salt, may help.