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           The sun shone on the majestic haveli belonging to the richest man in town - Ranjitsingh Rathore,  owner of the hugely successful Rathore Ispat.  The massive structure struck every passer-by with its opulence and its regal aura. According to the locals, the richness of the haveli left you spellbound each time you lay eyes on it; whether once or a hundred times in a day, you were bound to be left hypnotised by the grandiose facade. People who worked there as butlers, chauffeurs et al, regaled the outsiders with stories of the royalty that resided within the diamond bedecked walls. No, not exactly diamond-bedecked, but, bling-y, for sure!
           The  three storeyed haveli stood in the centre of a huge, lush green estate, which boasted of an exotic flora flown in from all round the world, as were the  artefacts within the gilded walls. The furniture, the upholstery, even the crockery and the cutlery screamed "elegance"! And, the fabric that covered the inhabitants of this majestic abode was the richest the locals had ever seen, not to forget the baubles that adorned the women of the family. During weddings or social dos, the womenfolk would have on display an entire jewellery showroom; such was the opulence, the richness of this family - the town's pride.
          A joint family of around fifteen members inhabited the haveli. Ranjitsingh ji, his better half Shrimati Umadevi, their three sons ("Yes, three sons!" Umadevi trumpeted proudly to anyone who would listen) and two daughters-in-law. Manjitsingh ji - the younger brother of Ranjitsingh ji and his family consisting of his wife and their two children - a son and a daughter, and last but not the least, the matriarch of the family Gangadevi Rathore and her sister, Rupadevi, lived 'happily' in this place that looked like wonderland. And, not to forget, the fifty or so  employees who toiled night and day to see to it that not a single member of this royal family needed to lift a finger for a single domestic task.
            The men of the family were hardcore businessmen. Their days would begin and end with talks about furthering their sights and finding ways to fill the overflowing coffers. Ranjitsingh ji, having had a humble beginning, worked twice as hard to maintain all that he had amassed and encouraged his sons to do the same.
"Not a single child for the coming seven generations would need to work, that's the amount of wealth this family has made!" people whispered. "What luck!" they shook their heads in wonder, but their words stank of jealousy.
           And, the women of the family - well, they seemed the luckiest of the lot! All they had to do was demand  whatever it was that fancied them at any given time and they got it, just like that! After the men had left for the day, the women would get all decked up  to spend their days at some or other parties, or at times, just to laze around the house, and indulge in some gossiping. The talks would always be about someone or the other, from within the family itself. Well, that's what happens to birds living in a gilded cage. Either Umadevi would boast about what a blessed mother she had been, or about what a dutiful wife she had been to her husband staying by his side through thick and thin. And, how the younger sister-in-law hadn't been an equally blessed mother or an equally dutiful wife. Jabber, jabber, jabber, she would go on and on, and her daughters-in-law would feign interest, masking their apathy under layers of enthusiasm, and respect for their mother-in-law.
          The matriarch and her sister kept to themselves, in their rooms or the pooja room, reading the Bhagwat Geeta or other  scriptures. They had had years of experience with their juniors for knowing it was fruitless trying to teach them to stay grounded. Time , they knew, had an uncanny ability to change its colours, leaving everything in a state of complete chaos.

          It is a well known fact that  Destiny seldom blesses one with all the luck in the world. That, every stone that sparkles isn't a diamond.  And, that the outward appearances are often a mask people put on to hide secrets of all kinds. Secrets that could ruin it all in  a matter of seconds, were they to spill unexpectedly.  And, so it was about  Ranjitsingh ji, too.  There were hidden secrets just like skeletons hidden in the cupboards in the form of some gruesome deeds, which threatened to pop out anytime. But, he had been skilful at hiding the skeletons so well, he  lived smug in the belief that none in the world would ever know what he hid, and where, and how, and he would live the rest of his lavish life peacefully and happily.
"I am the most powerful man, after all! And, every soul knows it too well to mess with me!"  Rathore Sr. grinned a haughty grin each time he thought about himself.
          Humble beginnings had kept him down-to-earth for quite some time, but, power and wealth rarely lets one be there - down, on terra firma. In a matter of years, he had come to be recognised as one of the movers and shakers and that had taken away any humility he had possessed. He had quickly learnt the art of breaking rules and swatting at anything that came in his way - be it people or principles. None could prove to be a hindrance. Nothing, except destiny.
        Married to Umadevi at a young age, he had toiled to first make a name for himself before starting a family. When he had been sure that he could afford to give his offspring the very best, he had begun trying, but in vain. Alas, Ranjitsingh Rathore had failed to sire an issue! A major blow to a man (and an ego) of his stature! Visiting shrines, holding fasts, praying to any and every deity he and his wife were advised to, only left him mortified and frustrated.
     However, he firmly believed that something would definitely help him someday. He wasn't going to leave his huge wealth to charity after he was gone. He would definitely have sons, who would carry forward his name and add on to the vast property he had now made.
"Baba Vidyadhar is a godman, who has helped many a women in distress. Send your wife to him and he will free her of the curse she has had to live with all these years. But, patience and trust  is key, young man, the key to 'success'!" Ranjitsingh's advisor of many years had whispered into his ear one fine morning.
        The very next day, Umadevi had been packed off to the Baba in hope of some miracle, and lo and behold, they had been  blessed with a son! Ranjitsingh's joys knew no bounds! He rushed to the Baba and prostrated at his feet, asking his to bless him and his wife with similar boons in the future. Showering him with gold coins,  Ranjitsingh returned home  knowing fully well that he wouldn't have to worry about the future. Although, he did fail to see the turmoil in his wife's eyes. Wealth and its power do make one blind to emotions and feelings, she knew.
         Two more sons followed in the next few years and then Umadevi had begged him to stop. He relented and rejoiced in his fortune. Three sons in return of money that would take care of the Baba for the rest of his life. "Not a bad deal, eh?" he smiled at his astuteness.

        But, does all the money ever satisfy one's hunger when one knows one stands to gain a lot more? The hen who laid the golden egg couldn't satisfy her owner and got slaughtered, didn't she?
"Three sons...three sons I gave you and what did I get in return? A few piddly gold coins? You, oh Ranjitsingh, have your coffers filled to the brim now. You can manage to let go of some of it, can't you? Don't you be such a miser! I demand the right value for my blessings. Give me my share and I will leave you in peace. Or, get ready to lose the name and the fame you have so slogged for. Lose it in the blink of an eye - your wealth and your sons!"  The greedy Baba  roared and his words echoed all around the haveli, sending shivers down every spine.
         However, having learnt the rules of the game, having learnt that there were no rules if you so wished, Ranjitsingh and his brother Manjitsingh, had used their shrewdness and some newly acquired vile means and the Baba had mysteriously vanished. Vanished into thin air. And, all was well again. Peace and happiness had been restored.
         Or so they felt.

         For, ill-gotten fame and wealth and the sins one commits never let one live happily for long, did they?
       Ranjitsingh's youngest son was so fond of dogs! Oh, did I mention, the haveli and its vast property also had as its inhabitants ten very aggressive doberman pinchers and german shepherds. All roaming  the grounds around the haveli to keep it safe. Now, knowing fully well how secure the structure was, the dogs did get playful at times. They are dogs, after all. Some attention and petting can turn a lion into a lamb, and these were dogs! Especially, the german shepherds, the pampered brats of the canine unit. They loved digging and messing up  the lawns - the well-manicured lawns where parties were often held.
       And, it was during one of the weekly parties held in honour of the great Ranjitsingh, that Bosco, the german shepherd, appeared on the scene carrying a rudraksha mala, smeared with mud. Ranjitsingh's two sons had spotted it and commanded Bosco to drop it. But, the boy was in a playful mood and scooted off, expecting them to run after him. And, that is exactly what they had done!
       He took them to the exact spot he had dug it out from. A spot which was now a  pit by the mango tree, where Umadevi often sat when riddled with moments of despondency.
       A spot where Bosco had dug up the rudraksh mala, some saffron rags and a wooden slipper.
        A spot that had now attracted the family and some guests, too.
       The place was a mess. The Queen of night blossoms failed to conceal the stench that had now begun emanating.

        The two daughters-in-law sniggered, an evil look dancing in their eyes.
         The three sons stood dumbfounded as they glared at the two women.
         And Umadevi sobbed pitifully, leaving Ranjitsingh ji shocked, horror-struck and bewildered, all at once.

         Gangadevi and Rupadevi shook their heads sombrely at the scene outdoors and retreated to their quarters.
      "Time...!" they muttered under their breaths.



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