When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.
- Ernest Hemingway
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The small wooden photo frame placed on his desk was winning him new friends at his workplace. He has been working with this organization for a week now and was already falling in love with the work, ambience and the facilities available for employees.
This was his first job after getting discharged from hospital a month ago, where he was in coma for more than six months. When he finally woke up from his deep sleep (gained consciousness in the hospital bed), he had no idea about his identity nor did hospital staff know anything about him. He was found lying unconsciously badly wounded on road when an unknown passerby admitted him to this hospital. On humanitarian ground, the management of hospital decided to treat him without charging any fees. When he was ready for discharge, his doctor requested the management to help him find employment so that he could start his life afresh. He was later interviewed for Mr. Jayant's firm with a new name Raman Khanna; the name was decided by Hospital staff members. Mr. Jayant Parasher is one of the influential members of the management committee of this hospital and also owned a group of companies across many domains. Raman was good with his communication and managed to win Jayant's heart with his witty and logical replies during his one-to-one interview. Raman was selected to join Jayant's advertisement organization as a junior under Creative Team. He would be mentored by a senior associate for certain period during his probation.
When Raman was discharged from hospital, they gave him the only possession he was found with - a photo frame with a hand drawn painting made on canvas in his bag along with a set of clothes. He was living in the quarters arranged by the firm and after a week of joining decided to take his only belonging to office. The painting was of a jungle with greenery everywhere with a path in the middle of trees. There were also few shadowy figures behind trees. One quick glance at this painting would give you a soothing feeling but when you look closely, a new angle of mystery starts creeping in the mind of an observer. The people who came by his desk were drawn by the calm colours and by the way it was beautifully created on canvas.
He took his job very seriously and had already started working late night. Today, he was again going to be late as he was planning to finish the work assigned to him much before deadline. His supervisor was on a Skype call with the client while Raman was busy working on his desk. As he was deeply thinking on the jingle he was supposed to create, his eyes fell on the shadowy figure on the painting. Something about this figure was not right. Its black colour looked protruded and was not in level with the other components. On closer notice, he realised all the shadowy figures had similar texture inconsistency. He touched one of the shadowy figures.
Whoosh! He felt a sudden surge of being transported at a very High speed and all he could manage to see was series of blurry things when all of a sudden he was dropped on the soft dust covered path. When he tried to stand wobbly, he saw himself in the middle of a jungle with surrounding very similar to the painting on his desk. As he started walking, he realised that he was inside the painting and when he turned around; he could only see the rarely travelled path surrounded by dense green trees. He walked again with his hands stretched forward with a hope of finding a glass door taking him back to his office. After walking few metres when he failed to find the exit from this portal, he cried loudly for help but could only hear his echoes teasing him. The entire landscape looked same till his eyes could see. The landscape looked like a series of same pattern of trees, path and eerie greenery one after another. He kept walking losing track of time with a hope of escaping from this mystical territory. He kept thinking about the game God was playing with him starting with losing his memory and identity and now thrown in the place scaring the shit of out him. After lot of struggle and infighting with his mind, he had just started to accept his fate and was taking liking to the new professional life when one touch has lead him to this nightmare. He cursed himself for impulsively touching the shadowy figure on painting. The same moment his mind sudden received an alert message to check the surroundings for any shadowy figure. He continued his journey but with lesser hope of ever going back to civilization when he heard a loud roar of Lion behind him. He turned to find a huge King of Forest looking greedily at him like finding the best dish placed on a table. Without any second thought, Raman ran with all the energy he possessed with only goal of not dying in the hands of Lion. As he kept running, he heard a faint call coming from a distance. The voice taking his name sounded familiar but couldn’t place the owner of the voice. He recognized this voice to be his supervisor’s after sprinting few metres which immediately generated more energy to survive the predator following him. When he glanced back to check the distance between him and the predator, he was shocked to see that the Lion was just few feet away. He saw Lion making a big pounce towards him when a hand out of nowhere pulled him from predator’s line of sight. He opened his eyes to find himself at his desk with his supervisor looking at him with concern. Raman was relieved to find him-self safe in his office but was not sure about sharing his experience with the supervisor. He left his office trembling with fear and glancing every now and then to ensure he was not being followed by anyone.
Days passed but the fear still lingered in his mind. He ignored looking at shadowy figures from paintings but like with any human, curiosity got better of him and he repeated the same mistake again. He was again thrown in the painting and was being followed by an unknown predator when he was saved again, but this time by his colleague. He thought a lot about it and started doing some investigation about his portal travel when he touched the shadowy figure. It took him few weeks to get his first big breakthrough in this investigation when he recreated entire episode in his mind and concentrated carefully on every action he took before getting transported to the painting portal. He then realised that he would smell the powdery material coming out of shadowy figure after touching it. Now he had to find out the mystery of this powder residue used on shadowy figure. He took this powder residue on a tissue paper and took it home to do some intense research on it. He browsed through various sites on internet to find a chemical substance matching with the characteristics of powder on painting. His research was keeping him busy and in following days the intensity of investigation also increased. His investigation faced dead end but not before recognizing this powder to be a drug which would make person unconscious and person starts hallucinating after smelling this powder. Though now he knew the chemical component but his curiosity took him one step further to investigate and find the person selling drugs in painting. He quickly realised that he neither had manpower required for such investigation nor any experience in this field to continue this pursuit. Hence he decided to stop further investigation and not to talk about this with anyone.
After a year with this organization, he was promoted for his brilliant work and strong discipline displayed during this period and was out celebrating in an upscale discothèque with his colleagues. He gulped drinks and danced his heart out on the floor. He was hoping for this night to never end and enjoy for all the time he spent in hospital. After celebrating as he was dashing out of this place, he saw a familiar person with a mole on his chin standing in distance talking with few rough looking men. He wasn’t too drunk but yet could not place this familiar man with a mole. Raman was scared to approach this person and hence decided to quietly leave this place with his colleagues. When he went home, he kept thinking about this person but failed to recognize him. He was sure this familiar face was related to his previous life and this thought itself strengthened his resolve to find his identity. He again went to the same discotheque the next day to keep an eye on this familiar stranger. He searched for this person and after some time finally found him speaking with similar looking guys. He kept an eye on him and waited to follow him to know more about himself. The man with mole left the discotheque after an hour in his car and Raman decided to follow this person on his motorcycle. He kept safe distance to stay out of is sight yet managed to tail him till he got down at a shabby place. Raman followed him to the shabby place and found this person speaking with few of his associates. He recognized most of them yet did not remember their names or the nature of their association with him. He remained hidden from their site and later followed this person to his house. Once he entered, Raman made a note of this address and decided to barge into this man’s house in his absence.
Raman took half day from his office, his first form of leave since the day he joined, to barge into the house of man with mole. He managed to get in the house using the breaking lock technique he studied from internet a night before. He scanned and checked all the belongings of this house and found the name of this stranger to be Salim. He also saw one photo inside a diary where Salim was with the people from shabby place. As he was going through the face of every person in this picture, he was shocked to see himself in it. He then frantically started searching every document to find a hint about his identity. Though he got the name of few more people from the picture in random documents, he could still place how he knew them. He left Salim’s home with some answers but with equal number of questions in mind. This entire episode of breaking into Salim’s house made him restless and he desperately started to recollect for memories from the past. He knew that Salim was one of the drug peddlers and the people in the picture might be part of some gang.
He spent his next day straining his brain but failed to recollect. He was dejected by this failure and was thinking about it when he fell asleep. Then out of nowhere, a thunderbolt of memory suddenly stuck his mind and he woke up instantly with more detailed memories from his previous life. This routine of struggling throughout day and a sudden striking of memory thunderbolt at night continued for few more days with more information every night. At last he knew where he lived though he still did not remember his name. He then decided to take an emergency leave from his office the next day and visit the place and relieve every moment from the past.
He navigated his way to the place where he stayed alone for more than four years and the place he called his Home. He had to break into his own house as he did not have house keys. He went to the study table and found the diary he religiously maintained. As a started reading it, the words came into life and he could visualize every word written in it. His real name was Raghav and not Raman and was a self-proclaimed entrepreneur running an illegal business dealing with smuggling and drugs. He ran this cartel with his small yet sharp team. They were one of many gangs dealing with smuggling and drugs but what really separated them from their competitors was their innovative approach and niche customers he managed to build because of his polished approach. They were also into smuggling of valuable paintings and were one of the leading players from India in this space. It was he who came with an idea of adding shadowy figures filled with drugs in the painting while exporting painting with frames. They had also created a solution which would remove complete stain of drugs from the painting. The drug used on painting was prepared from the famous Borrachero tree also known as the ‘drunken binge’ tree. They created a substance named Scopolamine (The Devil’s Breath) which can eliminate free will and can even wipe the memory of its victims. This was helping them cement their position over others.
They made big progress and had successfully finished their biggest deal with an international client. Raghav was happy but was not satisfied with the scale of success. He also wanted to create big business opportunities in the local and Indian market. After whetting his plan carefully, he formed an alliance with an Industrialist who was none other than Mr. Jayant Parasher. Their plan was to use Scopolamine drug on the patients from hospitals owned by Jayant to get access to their bank details and robbing them without using force and leaving no trace about the robbery. They initially piloted it on few patients of one hospital. They managed to successfully rob people and share the profits of 40:60 between Raghav’s gang and Jayant’s staff. Even the first batch after pilot was successful and this alliance decided to roll this out across all their hospitals. For Raghav, the brilliance of this operation was a dependency on Raghav as only he had access to facility producing The Devil’s breath based out of Colombia. This connection was his life insurance from any coup attempt by his gang members or Jayant.
All the words written in the diary so far was making sense, but now the only puzzle which remained unsolved was how he landed in hospital. It took him some time to think hard to solve the final piece of puzzle. On the fateful day, Raghav was trying to create a new variant of the drug when he made a calculation error. He still filled the new product in the small wooden paint frame to test it thoroughly before starting its mass production. While returning from his small lab, though he carefully placed the wooden frame in his carry bag, he forgot to clean his hands properly leaving decent amount of residue in his hand. While walking towards home when he sneezed, the powder came in contact with his nose making his leg wobble immediately. This powder was stronger than any they had ever used. He met with an accident while struggling to retain his balance. The injury from accident wasn’t as lethal as compared to the effect of the heavy dose of this new drug. He was found lying injured on road by Salim when he was walking towards their lab after failing multiple times to reach Raghav on phone. He was taken to hospital and Jayant was informed about his state. As only Raghav had contact with drug facilities, they were hoping for his speedy recovery. Even when Raghav came out of coma, the doctor attending him informed Salim and Jayant about his delicate mental state. He told them to not strain Raghav and allow him to gain his memory organically as external pressure could led him to death.
The entire plot of interview, offering a job opportunity with Jayant’s firm was to keep Raghav within their sight and to be able to monitor his progress. They were happy when Raghav’s supervisor reported about his sudden zoning out while working. They were hoping this to be the improvement of his health. Even the entire celebratory party on discotheque and Salim’s presence was a plan hatched by his gang with help from Jayant. Raghav now understood that even he was following Salim, it was part of their plan and they were hoping for his recovery.
With his memory back, Raghav now decided to meet Jayant and his gang at the shabby place where he followed Salim few days ago. When they all arrived, He stood up and quietly thanked each one of them for showing compassion and loyalty towards him. He then made an announcement of retiring from the crime syndicate making Salim as his successor and also sharing the contact details of Colombian manufacturers with him. He made it very clear about his intention of continuing his life as a normal employee and was amicably handing over his business with no plan of returning to this bad yet bold world. He also thanked Jayant for all the help and assured him of keeping their alliance alive.
Raghav got up from his chair and dashed out of the shabby place after renouncing his old profession and with a hope of making a move towards corporate world as a Creative Team Professional of an Advertising agency with his new name –Raman. He moved to another city after that meeting and started working with a small advertising firm. On his first day with this new firm, Raman reached his new office before time and placed his small wooden photo frame on his desk. This painting now was more of a souvenir as he decided to still retain shadowy figures but got this painting laminated to avoid coming in its contact.