Jan–March 2015, NEW YORK CITY
Aditya Kesavan had been asleep for hardly three hours when the blare of his cell-phone alarm woke him up. Rubbing his eyes, he pushed off the quilt and climbed out of bed, walking to the bathroom. He had slept late the previous night after spending the entire evening stocking up on food and groceries. NYC was on high alert following a blizzard warning.
He came out of the bathroom and switched on the coffee maker. His was a small but sufficient two-bedroom apartment, located close to the university campus. Aditya also owned a huge five-bedroom mansion a few miles to the north, where his wife and daughter stayed. Not too long ago, all three of them had lived there together, but one day his wife had caught him frolicking with his PHD student in the kitchen and thrown him out. Thankfully, she hadn’t made the matter public or his reputation as a tenured professor at NYU would have been in tatters. There were three cardinal sins in the academia in the US; sleeping with a student was one of them, and possibly the 8 most frowned upon. The other two were plagiarism and stealing from federal grants.
His wife had ultimately let him off the hook, but only after she got her pound of flesh. She had also made two more demands – that he walk out of the house then and there, and that their daughter continue to stay with her. Not in a position to negotiate, Aditya had agreed to both.
That morning, he was concerned about his students. Many of them would struggle to make it to class in this weather. Back in India, people would use bad weather as an excuse to take a day off. But it was different here. He glanced at the stack of papers on the table next to his bed. It was the final version of the manuscript that his publisher had sent him. He had to go over the entire pile and send his confirmation by the weekend. Sixty days to the release of his book, and he still wasn’t mentally ready. The publishers wanted to cash in on the success of his earlier book – a controversial one that explained how the Chinese economy was really a bubble, one that would burst in a year. That book had been a big hit and broken all records. Not only had Aditya become the darling of the publishing house that had published the book, his success had also won him various consulting assignments with the Federal Reserve System – the central banking system of the US. And to top it all, television channels and online media began projecting him as an expert on China’s economic policies.
His first book had changed his life. He didn’t make enough money as an academician, but his book had more than made up for that. Translated into seventeen languages globally, it had sold hundreds of thousands of copies. Looking back, Aditya just wished that he had negotiated a higher advance. But then, at that time, China was on a roll and no one was willing to publish a book which talked about the imminent failure of that country’s economy. So when a publisher finally accepted the manuscript, Aditya was relieved that at least he had found a good brand to publish his book.
Anyway, more than money, what the book had given him was recognition, and that was something you couldn’t put a price on.
Pulling off his clothes to get into the shower, Aditya stopped in front of the mirror. Despite his advancing age, he still looked great. A sculpted body, with not an inch of fat, abs that would give any Hollywood star a run for his money and on top of that, a face like a Greek god – well, he was certainly gifted, wasn’t he, he thought to himself.
Within the next fifteen minutes, he had showered and dressed. Once he was ready, he picked up his iPad, poured himself a large mug of coffee and and gulped it down. Breakfast could wait till he reached the Starbucks on campus.
On the way out, he opened the bedroom door and looked inside. The girl curled up on the bed was still asleep. He had met her last night for the first time. Someone he knew had introduced him to her at the bar. Hurriedly, he closed the door and walked out of his apartment. Once she woke up, the girl could let herself out. He didn’t worry about leaving her alone in his home. He didn’t have anything worth stealing.
As he walked down the snow-lined path to the subway station a few blocks away, he thought about his daughter. Would he ever see her again? Possibly not. His wife would never allow it. He remembered her anger; thought about that fateful evening when she’d walked in on him and his student.
Well, it had to happen, he rationalized, shaking his head. Intellect and indiscretion were the two conflicting sides to his personality. And both had to coexist without impacting each other.
Aditya Kesavan returned home to four messages on his answering machine that night.
The first one was from his publisher: Over half a million copies sold, sixteen languages around seventy-three countries in the world. And yet you’re not interested in striking when the iron is hot. Please send manuscript back. We need to go to press soon. We have announced the book to the media. Everyone is waiting. Hello. You there?
Second was from his dad: Adi, Amma is not well, da. Admitted her to the hospital today. Call when you get this message.
Since he’d just spoken to his father on his way back home, he didn’t panic when he heard the second message. His mother was stricken with early onset dementia. She had reached a stage where she didn’t remember who her husband was. ‘Amma might not even remember you,’ his father had told him on the phone.
‘Do you want me to come?’ Aditya had asked him.
‘Not now, Adi. Come when she is back home. But don’t delay it or you might lose her forever.’ Aditya could hear the tears and pain in his father’s voice.
The third message on the machine was what sounded like a crank call: This is the Officer on Special Duty from the Prime Minister’s Office in New Delhi. Please call back when you get this message. My number is…
Aditya didn’t even wait for the message to end. He pressed the button and skipped to the fourth message. These spam calls had become very common. Wonder where they got his number from?
(This extract from ‘Don’t Tell The Governor’ has been taken with permission from Harper Collins)
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