On the 30th floor of a tall magnificent tower with grey exteriors that perfectly complemented the black, bold sign on top that read “Mughals & Co.”, sat Akbar and the rest of his board members, discussing their business.
At merely 30 years of age, Akbar had become one of the most well-known tycoons in the world, often addressed by the Press as a “roguishly handsome yet ruthless” Business Mogul. He had worked hard to turn his father’s silk trading business, which was initially just a household name across Mumbai, to an empire that was respected by millions across the globe. His climb to the top had been a tough one but with all that his father had taught, he had accomplished his father’s dream.
Yet as he sat here, watching the rest of them squabbling like pigeons, Akbar hoped for some sort of miracle that would bring his father back from the dead, so he could teach him a way to somehow make all his employees happy.
The loud bickers turned into hushed tones as Akbar’s hand struck the table and a loud thud resonated across the room.
“So give me the updates, one by one,” Akbar said in a clipped manner.
Mrs. Verma, a frail woman with calculative eyes, her hair tied up into a bun decided to speak.
“Sir, we all think the new silk from brand new Chinese manufacturers should be transported, rather than the current ones from Myanmar. The turnover will increase by a whole 30% without any cut down in costs of production or packaging. It is a great deal, the best there is currently.”
Akbar assessed the room. Most of the board members looked suggestively impressed or convinced by Mrs. Verma’s words, except a demure looking man, who sat at the far end of the table, his arms crossed.
“What about you, Birbal? What do you think of this?”
The man looked up from his sheets, pushing his glasses further up the bridge of his nose as he spoke.
“Sir, it seems to me that the quality of silk that we currently import from Myanmar is far better than the ones that we plan to import from China. If we increase our production rates by a mere 15%, I believe our entire turnover will be approximately 33% more than what Mrs. Verma is suggesting. ”
The only sound in the entire room was the rapid clicking of Akbar’s pen, as he sat at the head of the table, deep in thought.
“It is decided. Birbal is right. We will not shift our entire market to the Chinese vendor. It makes no sense and will result in a loss for the company.” Akbar said as he took large strides towards the door, ready to depart to his office.
“But sir…” spoke Mr. Govind, a stout man with a thick moustache, a sour expression on his face.
Akbar cut him off with a slight wave of his hand and walked out, and behind him went Birbal.
What Akbar failed to see as he walked off, was the sour expression on Mrs. Verma and Mr. Govind’s face being replaced with a sinister smile, for soon their evil plan would be in motion.
“These documents should be on my table,” Akbar told Birbal, his most trusted board member and his personal assistant. Akbar knew that the rest of the board members were displeased, some even mildly angered at the fact that a personal assistant sat with them to make the most important decisions regarding the company. However, he believed Birbal was wise, probably the wisest of them all, as it was Birbal who always came up with the best ideas for the improvement of the business.
“Sir, you have a meeting with your barber now.” Birbal softly spoke, as they approached his office.
Akbar merely nodded and entered his office, surprised to be met with a lanky man, his hair coloured distinctly blue and his neatly tailored suit, complimenting his hair.
“Good Morning Sir, please take a seat.” The man beamed as he pointed to a seat, near the window, far away from Akbar’s table.
“Who are you and where is Michael, my regular barber?” Akbar was completely baffled, as to how this man had even entered his office without being stopped.
“Oh did he not inform you? Michael is on leave. I am Sonu, Sir. Very pleased to meet you.” Replied the barber, still smiling.
Akbar was beyond annoyed, but there was no time to spare. His meeting with the investors was in an hour and quarrelling with this lousy looking man would not help the situation. So he swiftly walked to the chair, and quickly put on the apron.
“I want you to be done in 20 minutes.” He growled.
“In 20 minutes, your hair will shine like the Kohinoor diamond and you will look as dashing as ever.” The barber replied, unfazed.
He began cutting snips of Akbar’s hair and was humming. Akbar, annoyed at the noise, asked him to quiet down.
“I am sorry sir. The thing is, my father taught me everything I know, and every time he would hum this song to himself. I was merely humming it in his memory, as you see he passed away just last week.” The barber replied, with an undertone of sadness in his voice.
“I am sorry for your loss. How are you holding up?” Akbar spoke, a hint of pity and remorse in his tone.
“I am absolutely fine. Why wouldn’t I be? I get to see him every fortnight. ” the barber chirped.
“That’s simply absurd and impossible!” Akbar exclaimed.
What was this barber on about? He met his dead father every fortnight? Did he take Akbar for a fool?
“No sir, the thing is, I know of a magician, he’s quite popular. He can transport people to heaven so they meet their loved ones. That is how I meet my father, every fortnight.”
Akbar was perplexed. Every logical cell in his body was telling him that the claims of the barber had to be a lie, and yet, deep down inside his wish of seeing his father once more, to ask for his help and tell him of all that he had accomplished, made him wonder of the possibility of the barber’s words being true. He realized that there was only one way to find out.
“Where is this magician, that you speak of?” he asked the barber.
“Oh sir, he lives in the woods, you will not find him easily. But I could help you. You see he is fond of me, I always pay him a huge sum, more than the others do.”
“So you will take me to him, tonight?”
“Oh, no sir! You cannot travel the path to heaven. It is a very difficult one. It can even lead to death on the way. If you die, then what about this empire that you have built all by yourself? You must send someone that you trust deeply, to meet your father, someone wise and intelligent, so he can travel the path to heaven successfully.”
Akbar thought of it. As much as he wanted to meet his father, he knew it would be foolish to leave his empire at the hands of his board members. He knew what had to be done.
“Sir, your 20 minutes is up. I shall take my leave now.”
“No! Wait! Leave the address of where the magician lives. I will meet you there, along with the man that I bring. I shall ring you when I decide to come so leave your number as well. I am ready to pay both you and the magician, double the sum that you are generally offered, however, no word of this business should reach the Press. Have I made myself clear?”
The barber simply smiled in response as he kept a small piece of paper on the table and left the room.
The next second, Akbar called Birbal into his office to discuss their plan of action. As Akbar passionately explained, everything that the barber had told him, Birbal could not help but wonder, how this plan was flawed in all ways.
“So, I thought you could go since you are wise and I believe that you will survive. I will write a letter to my father and you must deliver it to him. Am I asking too much from you?” Akbar asked after an awkward pause, as he glanced at his assistant nervously.
Birbal disliked this plan, but the one thing he wouldn’t want was to see his employer unhappy. Although he knew that the plan was designed to see his downfall, Birbal decided to say yes.
“No sir, of course not. It is not a problem at all. I will go, however, I have a few conditions. I need a sum of 20 lakhs, for if I do not return safely, my family will manage on their own and I need a month to make all the preparations required.”
Akbar nodded and told Birbal to take the rest of the day off as well.
Before leaving, Birbal took down the address on his phone. He quickly made an important phone call and walked off, pretending to be sick, in front of the rest of the board members.
He drove his car, into a dark alley, a few blocks away from the office. A few minutes later, his friend, a top-notch builder, arrived and asked him what the plan was. Birbal told him of the barber’s evil plan and gave him the address that the barber had left, telling him to build a tunnel from the given address to a safe house in the woods, where he would stay the night and return home the next morning.
“You have one month to build a tunnel and I’ll pay you 20 lakhs. Remember to be efficient and finish this work on time.” Birbal spoke sternly.
The passing of one month was unnoticeable to Birbal and the labourers as they drowned themselves in work of building the tunnel, however for Akbar the same one month was excruciatingly painful and every day he would spend his time counting the days left, for his letter to reach his father.
Finally, the most awaited night of his life had arrived and as Akbar drove to meet the magician after picking Birbal up at his house, he could not keep the silly grin off his face. They reached the magician’s lair in no time and were welcomed by the Barber and the magician, with matching beams on their face.
“I will pay the rest only if Birbal returns safely,” Akbar told them, handing over a briefcase with only half the promised amount.
The men were surprised and saddened, as they knew there was no way that Birbal would return alive. However, they had promised other powerful people that they would get the work done so they quietly took the briefcase, kept it aside, and began working.
After 3 gruelling hours of hard work, it was ready. A huge pyre was kept in the middle.
“The first step to the ascent to heaven is lighting this pyre with this kind man, in it. It is perfectly safe, so no need to worry”, said the magician a sly smile on his face.
What this man, with colours streaked on his face, did not know, was that the tunnel to the safe house was built right below the pyre.
Taking the letter from Akbar, Birbal bid him adieu and placed himself beneath the pyre. As soon as he felt the warmth of the flames above him, he escaped out through the tunnel. It took him 15 minutes to reach the safe house where he stayed the night and as soon as he saw the sun rise, he made his way back home.
He spent a month more, at home, not going to work, as his hair grew all mangy and unruly. Finally, the day had arrived when he had to return. With the letter he had written for Akbar, pretending to be his father, he set off, eager to see the expressions on the faces of the rest of the board members, upon seeing him alive.
Back at the office, the board members were waiting for Akbar and were having a good laugh about Birbal being gone.
“It was so easy, we paid the barber so he could lie. You know how Akbar is still emotionally attached to his Father; all we had to do was play our cards right.” Mrs. Verma took a long sip of her water.
The door opened and Birbal walked in, to see multiple shocked faces.
“You? How are you here?” Mr. Govind asked, his face ashen.
“Oh, I returned from heaven.” Birbal gave them a wink and headed to Akbar’s office.
Akbar upon seeing his trusted assistant well and alive was overjoyed. He quickly walked up to him, bombarding him with questions. In response to all of them, Birbal handed him the letter. As Akbar read the letter, tears sprung to his eyes. Birbal was glad, his employer was happy.
With a smile on his face, he set to leave, but he remembered he had forgotten to say something.
“Sir, you see your father had another issue. There are no barbers in heaven, as you can see even my hair grew unruly over there. Maybe, when we go to pay the magician and the barber the remaining amount, we could make sure that the barber, Sonu, goes to heaven and gives your father a haircut. Wouldn’t want him to be in any sort of distraught you see.”
“Yes, yes of course. Let’s visit them tonight.” Akbar agreed. Looking forward to seeing shock and surprise on the faces of the magician and barber, Birbal headed to the salon as he was in desperate need of a haircut.
That night, Akbar and Birbal both left together, once again to the magician’s lair. The magician and the barber were both having a chat, laughing with glasses of wine in their hands. However, upon seeing Akbar and a very much alive Birbal, they stood there with their mouths agape, completely shell shocked.
“You! How are you alive?” The magician was first to speak, his eyes wider than ever before.
“Why wouldn’t he be?” asked Akbar, tightening his grip on the briefcase.
“No sir, I just was surprised as only the wisest ever make it back from heaven. Clearly, your man was the man for the job.” The magician nervously giggled, whilst the barber next to him, stood quiet, staring at the barber, as though he was a corpse.
“Right. Now, before I pay you, I have one last request. Sonu, I want you to go to heaven, and give my father the haircut that he longs for, possibly even shave his beard. You must leave tonight, at the earliest. I will hand the briefcase over to the magician, and upon your arrival back from heaven you can take your share from him.” Akbar addressed the men.
The barber stood, transfixed, as the colour drained from his face.
“No sir. I cannot leave today!” the barber stammered.
“You must. Or else you shall not receive the money.” Akbar said, sternly.
“But sir…” the magician began to refute, but almost immediately the barber fell to Akbar’s feet, knowing he had no way out.
“Sir! It was a ploy. A plan devised to kill Birbal! This is my brother Monu, and he is no magician. We were paid to do this, by Mrs. Verma and Mr. Govind, your two employees!” the barber cried, as he explained the entire plan to Akbar.
Akbar stood quietly, composing his thoughts but his face clearly distressed.
“Is this true?” he whispered, looking at Birbal.
“Yes sir. I knew you would be disheartened if I disagreed to the plan right at the beginning. So when I was beneath the pyre, I escaped through a tunnel and stayed at home for a month. I even wrote the letter myself. I am deeply sorry if I have hurt you in any way.” Birbal replied, his eyes soft, his voice low.
“No, I am sorry Birbal. I could not see through this whole decoy. If my father was watching me now, he would be ashamed that I let the love for him completely blind my sense of logic. I should be thanking you, for all that you have done. You have taught me an important lesson today, that if you love someone, you should let them go. Now I know my father is proud of me and I don’t have to send a man to heaven to learn that. “Akbar smiled and enveloped Birbal into a hug.
Snatching the briefcase from the two brothers, and giving them a month to repay the initial amount paid, Akbar and Birbal each went to sleep contently in their respective homes.
The next morning, Akbar fired Mrs. Verma and Mr. Govind and as they were dragged out of the office by security, they glared at Birbal, screaming profanities and promising him that they would make him pay for what he had done to them.
He simply watched and smiled at them, as he knew that he would always be a step ahead of all his enemies.
Written by Medha Somayaji for MTTN
Edited by Aakanksha Mantri for MTTN
Featured Image by Chirag Bansal for MTTN