There was nothing particularly interesting about New Shakti Tower in Andheri East, at least during the day it was as ordinary as a middle class residential premise could be in a locality bustling with commercial activity.
Thousands of people crossed the seven storey building without bothering to take a second look. Not that they were supposed to, in a city where the age old adage about time being money held particular importance, New Shakti Tower didn’t merit a second glance.
No one took notice of the building simply because it didn’t appear any different from the tens and thousands of other structures that lined the city; people of all ages, sizes and shapes came out in the mornings and heading out somewhere, presumably to their respective places of work; in the noons the building wore a deserted look, nothing unusual about that as well, and in the evenings, just before sunset, if someone would have bothered to cross-check, the same group of people who had left earlier in the day - returned.
Day in and day out, the same chain of events repeated itself, nothing unusual at all.
Except of course the fact that there were never any lights on in the building, not even after the entire batch of people re-entered their homes – that bit was odd.
In a city that never slept, the fact that there existed a tower, seemingly occupied, the residents of which were used to living in complete and utter darkness once the sun went down was anything but normal.
It wasn’t as if no one noticed this, but being situated in a commercial part of the locality, the office goers in proximity had little inclination to wonder about the oddity of New Shakti Tower.
Occasionally the passers-by did look at the building and talk about it, they sometimes wondered if it was an abandoned place, while travelling in groups in the evenings, it wasn’t rare for an individual to comment that the place looked haunted, but that was about it, their curiosity about the dark building never lasted too long. The fact that there were no reported incidents of criminal or paranormal activity in the area definitely helped, and New Shakti Tower continued being unremarkable, at least to the discernible eye.
There are some perceptions that manage to get stronger with the passage of time, with or without cause.
Take for example the popular image of an average government employee.
Mr. Narayan Bhosale looked the role alright, he was a middle aged man of medium built, everything about his salt & pepper hair, droopy moustache, the paan stained teeth, the sandals that looked like they would give away at any moment - screamed ‘government employee’, which he in fact was.
The bit that didn’t match into the popular perception was the fact that he was an extremely hard working man who had made a name for his honesty, but little else.
His co-workers and superiors despised him, and he had spent most of his career being shifted from one government department to another, a fact in which he took a certain amount of pride.
After asking too many questions in his previous posting as an inspector in the Public Works Department, he had been reassigned as an officer in the Municipality where his job involved doing little more than sending notices to people owing property taxes.
The ones at the helm probably thought that Bhosale could be contained by a mundane desk job where he had limited scope of interfering, but they had underestimated him.
Within a week of taking charge, Bhosale had managed to send out more notices than his predecessor had done in the previous year; if his job involved pushing pen, Bhosale was determined to be the best pen pusher there was.
Himself a victim of corruption, Bhosale took personal interest in identifying people who tried to misuse the system, he wasn’t powerful enough to cleanse it, he knew that well, but he was determined and annoying enough to make people who tried to override the structure squirm.
One winter morning, digging through the records, Bhosale managed to stumble upon a fact that seemed too bizarre to be correct.
It was with respect to one particular society.
What he initially thought to be an isolated case of default turned out to be anything but that, his records showed one defaulting occupant from the complex after another, and the final tally turned out to be forty two, precisely the number of flats in the building.
This had to be some kind of a mistake, Bhosale thought, it couldn’t be possible that all the flat owners had colluded to collectively dodge property tax.
He summoned for his clerk, and after patiently waiting for twenty minutes for him to show up, he decided to take matters into his own hands.
Grumbling about the state of affairs, Bhosale reached the record room and started searching for the dues of previous years.
It took up almost his entire day, since the files were neither numbered, nor kept in their designated place, but Bhosale eventually emerged with a trolley full of record books. He piled them on his desk with a thud and dived headfirst into pages and pages of previous years of records.
By the time he was done, he was convinced that he had unearthed one of the biggest scams to ever hit the country, not in terms of monetary value, but purely on the basis of the ease with which some people were taking the government for a ride.
For the last five years, not one inhabitant of New Shakti Towers had been paying property taxes.
Krishna Apte, a colleague of Bhosale’s, had been watching him for a while, thus far, silently.
“Bhosale ji, looks like you have found something very interesting. Care to share the details?” Apte asked, leaning from his desk; his curiosity spilling over the thin partition board that separated the two men.
Now, while Bhosale was a hard working honest to god man, he was aware that his kind was a rare breed, and three decades of government service had taught him to tread with caution whenever others showed interest in his work, especially when the man concerned worked at the same post as Bhosale did, and was at least twenty years younger – sufficient evidence as per Bhosale that his climb had been through less than fair means.
“N-nothing much. Just found a paper that I was looking for.” said Bhosale, for the sake of greater good, white lies were inevitable at times.
Krishna Apte wasn’t convinced, and to the extent the partition and his eyesight permitted, he attempted to take a look at the said papers, but realizing that his activities were eating into lunchtime, he left, hoping to continue with his probe later.
Bhosale sighed and sat down, wondering about his next course of action.
As per practice, he should have sent out notices, 42 of them in fact, one for each flat in the society, or, of course he could bring this anomaly to the notice of his superior.
But what good would that do?
Bhosale already knew what would happen if he pursued either of the options he had before him, sending out more than twenty notices to occupants in a single society meant approval was needed in any case, so he had little option but to discuss the matter with his superior.
A little voice inside his head that almost never spoke up chose this as an appropriate time to make an exception.
”If you keep doing whatever you have been doing, you shouldn’t expect to see different results.”
He was surprised at how bitter the voice was, but found it difficult to disagree.
“Of course you can point this out to your boss, let him praise you within the confines of his cabin and then watch him get promoted for identifying a major instance of tax default. You can go home to your wife and kids and whine about the prices you pay for your goodness, hoping to be pitied, but knowing fully well that they hate you as much as the others, if not more.”
“That’s not true”, Bhosale found himself speaking aloud; and realizing his act, looked around immediately to check if anyone had seen him, luckily everyone was away for lunch.
The voice, which was definitely not his conscience speaking, enjoyed Bhosale’s embarrassment, it sneered and went on. “Look at you, pretending to be upright and different, but so concerned with what others think of you. The truth is, you know that you are mediocre, you know that you don’t deserve the things you hope for, and in order to fulfil this self-prophecy, you keep doing things that in your own head rationalize your meaningless existence.”
“What should I do?” Bhosale murmured, looking at the silverfish laden files before him.
“What you should have done long back. Take matters into your own hands. Claim the credit you deserve. Make some name for yourself.”
“But how?” he found himself asking, but the voice didn’t reply this time.
Bhosale slouched over his desk and put his head down. Closing his eyes, he wondered about his life, what he had achieved so far.
He was an honest man with middle class values who followed the rules, but what should have been his praiseworthy qualities, had become his curse. In this day and age, his attributes were not only unappreciated, they were discouraged.
He questioned himself whether in all these years had he displayed courage in sticking to policies, or had he been a coward for not breaking the rules.
He didn’t know the answer.
But he had made up his mind.
Bhosale left his office earlier than usual that evening, and instead of Malad, he got down at the Andheri station.
It was a long walk, and when he reached the locality, he had trouble finding the building; no one seemed to know it by name, and after a number of false leads, he eventually stumbled upon New Shakti Towers almost by accident.
Now Narayan Bhosale had assumed that only the rich, famous and well connected could have gotten away with such an outrageous act, but when he saw New Shakti Tower, he was forced to admit that his theory had been flawed.
‘Absolutely ordinary’ he muttered. This was definitely not the kind of place where the rich lived.
While it wasn’t falling to pieces, there was nothing remotely new nor tower-like about New Shakti Tower. Certainly not the kind of place where you would suspect to find 42 families evading taxes.
It is the middle class salaried people who religiously paid taxes.
But there were other peculiarities he noticed.
No guard, no gate, no cars, no lights.
Seemingly no occupants.
The sun had set by then, and as he stepped inside the complex, the dusk swooped in, with only the faint lights from the streets and the sound of traffic reminding him that he was in a living, thriving city.
Bhosale hesitated for a second; when he had planned on meeting and talking to the residents, he hadn’t exactly foreseen this.
And then with the same boldness that he had lived with for all his life, he entered the building.
He fumbled to find the doorbell on the first flat on the ground floor, and when he did find it, he wasn’t exactly surprised when no sounds emanated in spite of his repeated presses.
“Koi hai?” he asked, unsure if anyone would answer him, and no one did.
He knocked on the door, and unexpectedly the door swung open.
Without much thought, Bhosale walked right in.
It wasn’t still completely dark, but his eyes took some time to adjust until he could see anything.
He made out the shape of a sofa, a table, a bookshelf; some other furniture. The flat didn’t seem unoccupied.
And then he moved his gaze upwards and froze.
What were those things on the ceiling?
There was one right next to the fan, another at the very corner of the room, and another next to a tubelight that had probably been never switched on.
Before Bhosale could react, the thing at the corner of the room climbed down like an enormous spider, dropping to the floor noiselessly.
Bhosale opened his mouth to scream, but his voice had vanished, a barely audible muffle emanated. The thought of fleeing didn’t even occur to him, he couldn’t feel any part of his body.
The thing stood up, but Bhosale already knew what it was, or at least what it resembled.
It walked up to him, barely inches away, and even in the darkness, Bhosale could make out that it looked exactly like a human being.
But not quite, there was nothing human in its smile, nothing resembling the living in its pale, grey eyes.
On an average, forty people go missing from Mumbai every day, vanishing without a trace, never to be found again.
Bhosale’s name had been added to that useless piece of statistic.
Not many bothered about his existence, and not many were troubled by him disappearing; life went on as usual in Maximum city.
But if someone were to attempt to find Bhosale, it wouldn’t be that difficult at all.
He leaves New Shakti Tower in the morning, and returns before sunset.
Maybe, just maybe, even you have met him, probably seen his face in the crowd, or walked beside him on the busy streets.
Or at least something that resembles him.
Image from here.