Teaser 284: Our Next Purchase With a New Partner and Meeting Arjuna

Kumar commanded the counter to Darshana's great relief and had heard about my guests from California. He talked briefly with Ranjit, who was waiting for us in the lobby when we returned from our excursion. “I thought I'd invite you to dinner at your restaurant,” was Ranjit's greeting to me when we all stepped in. I introduced Serena and Sofia to Ranjit and Kumar and we all sat down to supper together a half hour later, Lena and Omar and Darshana, too.

As we got to chatting about the week since we last met, Ranjit's eyes lit up when I told him the name of the corporation which owned the complex. “That company's based in Amritsar, Al,” Ranjit advised me. “I know one of the vice presidents. He's an owner, too. In fact all the officers are owners.”

“Do you know anything about the property, Ranjit?”

“That's the five-story in Center Town, isn't it?” I smiled at Omar's big grin. “They bought it some years ago at the persistence of one of the vice presidents, but that man left the company a few months after and they've really wanted to sell it ever since. They weren't happy with it.”

“Do you know how long it's been on the market?”

“More than six months, Al-Barrak.”

I engaged Omar. “They really want to unload it, Omar.”

“That makes it attractive, partner.”

“It's a big property, Al,” Ranjit commented. “Can India Ventures afford it?”

“Probably not as we are, Ranjit. I'll likely have to cover the balance personally and we'll somehow make adjustments on the partnership.” Omar frowned but we had already discussed this contingency, at least briefly. Omar knew I wouldn't cut him out.

“Maybe if you had another partner,” Ranjit offered, “you wouldn't have to cover the balance. The new partner would help cover it.”

“Well, now,” I said, stroking my unruly beard, “Serena would make an attractive partner, in more ways than one.”

“I have no interest in real estate, little boy,” Serena admonished me, to the great amusement of everyone else.

“I've been considering ways to partner with you, Ranjit. With this latest excursion, I would be honored to have you come along as a partner.” I turned to Omar. “What do you think, partner?”

“It would all be better if we kept it inside India Ventures and if Ranjit is willing to join us...”

“Well, I've heard, Omar, Ranjit picked up some cash a few months back from the sale of a little hotel in Subhanpur,” and everyone started to laugh as I added, “in fact, this very hotel.”

Between the two of us we began working out the specifics and I would always turn to Omar for his acceptance, until he finally admonished me, “Al, there's no question in my mind I'm going to end up as the minority partner in all this. Both of you are far above me in this regard. I would only ask you keep me as a partner. You know I'll do what's necessary in everything we do together. Don't cut me out. That's all.”

“Do you think he can keep up, Ranjit?”

“He'll have to!” shouted Ranjit, immediately bellowing his great guffaw and he slapped Omar on the back when Omar looked about frowning.

We called the attorney the next morning to draft up the change in the corporation, with the investment amount and percent changes in ownership to be filled out later when that became clearly known. Ranjit discreetly contacted the vice president of the corporation in Amritsar, Ram and Hadara began working (conspiring?) together, and over the next two days we inspected the last four properties, all of them also-rans. It was obvious the five-story complex in Center Town should be the next property purchase for India Ventures, Inc., now with three partners.

There wasn't any arm-twisting involved. Ram and Hadara both knew approximately the true worth of the property, which was a couple million in U.S. dollars below the asking price. Ranjit discovered through his discreet conversations with the vice president that its inflated asking price was due only to the desire of all the officers to discourage foreign ownership. Center Town in Jalandhar was a source of pride in Punjab province, so close to Nehru Garden, a popular Indian tourist destination, and much of the property in the area was being purchased by foreign interests. Since India Ventures, Inc. was now mostly owned by Indian citizens, it gave us the inside track for negotiations. It also didn't hurt our cause when some business reporter in Amritsar got word of the negotiations, and several of the more vocal and popular advocates and politicians lent their voices and support to our interest in buying it. When India Ventures, Inc. closed the sale, the price had been chopped by nearly three million in U.S. dollars, allowing Ranjit and I to provide a much smaller amount to the investment total of the corporation to cover the balance while putting up the hotel as collateral for the loan for the rest, just like the big boys and girls. Walid stayed on as manager, Omar and Darshana moved into a vacant apartment so she could be closer to one of her sisters living near Jalandhar, Kumar moved back to Hotel Shanti, and Serena and Lena simply shook their heads when it was all complete. “I want to see the inside of the duplex.”

Seeing the inside of the duplex took a considerable amount of time arranging. I thought the sales agent was putting me off, but the second time I called her to remind her we hadn't seen it yet, she stated, “The owner insists he be present when I show it to you and he has been trying to free up his schedule. He asked me to apologize to you, he does want to show it to you, he does want to meet you, Al-Barrak. He has asked me to ask you to please be patient. He said he has heard you have stated in the past you are a patient man, so please be patient.”

I was losing my patience but I politely told her, “Please call me when he is ready to show it. I am a patient man, though I do have my limits. Everyone has limits.”

We had closed the complex sale, I was still living at the hotel, Omar and Darshana had already moved, Serena was still in her hotel room in Jalandhar, when I finally got the call from the sales agent the owner was at the duplex and ready to show it to me. We made an appointment in the afternoon. “Thank you. I will see you then.” Immediately I called Serena. “We finally have an appointment at the duplex this afternoon. Let's go see it.” Serena agreed and Lena was coming, too.

We met the sales agent in front of the duplex and when all introductions were concluded, she walked us up to the door on the left. “The old woman still lives in the right one?”

“She does, yes. Here, you'll meet the owner, Arjuna Paras.”

Paras was a familiar name in Jalandhar. The family owned a considerable estate south and west of the city and they were quite well known. I was thinking, though, why it took so long for a Paras family member to be available to show a property in Jalandhar. I figured I was going to find out soon.

Arjuna Paras opened the door himself, all smiles, and welcomed us inside. Inside a fairly modest housing structure from the outside was considerable and detailed opulence. Much of the opulence was reflected in the furnishings, but there were intricacies of trim and decor which added to the furnishings appropriately. It exceeded what I hoped and I could tell from my frequent glances to Serena and Lena both were certainly not repulsed by what they were seeing. Arjuna stated, “Each side of the duplex, Al-Barrak, is a mirror of the other. I would show the other side to you, to confirm what I've said, but the current resident is difficult in that regard.”

“She would be your mother?”

Arjuna stopped and stared at me smiling widely. “Yes. How did you know? Or...have you read up about my family?”

“I know a little about your family, Arjuna, but it's family. Often, what takes place between family members doesn't proceed logically or rationally. Instead it tends to move along feelings, and I'm sure your mother doesn't feel like moving right now.”

Arjuna laughed heartily. “She does not! My mother, though, does have another residence where I will move her, back on the estate. It's more extravagant than here.”

“As I said, Arjuna, family members tend to do things with other family members based on feelings, and I imagine she doesn't feel very comfortable with family on the estate.”

“Well, Al-Barrak, it is family. It makes it personal, something I'd rather not discuss now. I'm sure you understand.”

“I understand. I do love what we've seen so far.” I smiled warmly at Arjuna. “My patience has been rewarded.”

He immediately apologized for making us wait so long. Arjuna Paras was one of the latest Indian software billionaires, having sold a successful application currently being woven into an IBM offering, mostly for Indian customers. This weaving was the source of his delay, since he had certain contractual requirements for deadlines for merging his product into the IBM offering and soon expressed his frustration with some of the coding contingent provided by his new business partner. “Been there, done that, Arjuna,” I assured him. He also was now playing with the big boys and girls and seeing and meeting movers and shakers world wide.

“When I heard your name, though, Al-Barrak,” Arjuna assured me, “I wanted to show you the residence personally. You have built for yourself quite a reputation in my esteem.”

“Thank you, Arjuna. Call me Al.”

The side we could see was spacious. The first floor included a large living room, large dining room, a modern, wide-open kitchen with an island and lots of cabinets and drawers and the latest in appliances, and a half bath. The second floor featured three bedrooms, including a master bedroom nearly the size of Serena's master bedroom. I engaged Serena when we entered the master bedroom and noted her expression included a smile. At least she's not frowning. This floor also contained two full baths, the one from the master bedroom being the larger by far. The third floor contained four smaller bedrooms, one and a half baths, and a small kitchen. The first and second floors each contained a study, and each was filled with book shelves and lots of books, the one on the second floor being nearly twice the size of the first floor. Each side of the duplex spread out toward the rear of the lot with an open space between the halves. The space contained a pond with fish, a wooden walkway around the pond, and two bridges over the pond with a small island in the middle. Each room on either side which faced the pond had a porch and at the rear end of the full-length porch on the third floor of each was a stairway leading to the pond. The pond of the duplex left me with a very distinctive Japanese feel. It felt the same way to Serena because she made the declaration almost immediately when she saw it. Lena slipped up next to me and hugged me, whispering, “This is very nice, Al. I am even more impressed you simply drove by this one day and insisted on seeing it. Good choice.”

When we wandered back inside, Serena, Lena, and Sofia, with the sales agent, wanted to inspect the kitchens, baths, and bedrooms more closely. Arjuna insisted they do so. “It will also give us an opportunity to talk together, Al. It is why I insisted on showing it to you personally. I was hoping we could talk and not about the residence, but to get to know each other. I've wanted to meet you for quite some time.” I had no objection and no one else thought it odd. “Please, accompany me to the study.” We left the others and strolled into his study on the first floor, the smaller one.

If I had known what the general topic of our conversation would be, I'm not so sure I would have been so agreeable to step into a private room and conduct it. It was personal, a little too close to my heart for comfort with an essential complete stranger, because I had never met nor heard of Arjuna Paras before this day. It was personal, because it involved Serena, and Serena's ex-husband. That's personal. Arjuna started by telling me he had seen the movie The True Cross the first month of its release in India, and, as a movie, it had touched him. Long before the movie ended he had grasped the most prominent theme: free-willed cooperation from love between two or more human beings can achieve greatness. Nothing else can. I was enamored, but I had no idea what was coming.

“The free-willed cooperation and love came from your characters, Al, you and Serena. It was clear to me from watching and listening to your movie. It intrigued me about you two personally, though. Watching your actions, both of you, in the movie combined with all the rumor, I found it all intriguing. Then, you seemed to have separated, you left for Europe, her husband filed for divorce, but, suddenly, the divorce was over and Serena received a settlement of millions, and they reported her pre-nuptial here, Al. She should have received nothing. It wasn't only me who wondered what happened.”

“It's all confidential, Arjuna, although I'm not a party to any agreement between Serena and her ex-husband. Still, I have no interest in discussing it.”

“I didn't imagine you would, but I've met her ex-husband, two months ago, before I reached the deal with IBM. His company was in the running for my application and he invited me to France to meet with him and his representatives.”

“So you met him. What did you think of him? I've never met him.”

“We had a chance to speak privately and he spoke openly and freely about both you and Serena.”

“In what manner?” Okay, now I was intrigued.

“I happened to express my...sympathy...with his recent divorce, it must have been a trying time for him, because it was so...public. Nobody wants their dirty linen washed out in the open.” We were both sitting comfortably in large, leather chairs beside each other. Arjuna had offered me a drink, which I refused and chose water while he was sipping a cognac. He leaned closer, lowered his tone, and said, “He wanted Serena to divorce him, tried to push her to it, but when she wouldn't, he started the divorce himself, but set a meeting with a model where they would both be photographed with each other.”

Arjuna leaned back in his chair, wide-eyed and smugly smiling. “Why would any self-respecting man do that?”

“It's what I asked. 'Why would you do that?' His response was, 'Because the man who used to be Gregory Hess and my former wife, Serena, belonged together. I didn't love Serena like he did and I knew she didn't love me like she loved him. I knew it for months.' He did all of it so he would be out of the way for the two of you, because he believes you two belong together, and now, both of you are in my house, where I hardly ever visit any more, looking at it together. Are you two going to get together, or am I too personal?”

I leaned back deep in the leather chair, took a sip and flashed to my conversation with the French photographer, Alain. I hadn't believed what he told me, and I still had some personal animosity concerning Serena's ex-husband. He had our private conversations recorded, seemed to blackmail Serena at one point, and his attorneys placed my name on a list of witnesses for the trial. None of that seemed to be conciliatory and stepping aside to pave the way for Serena and I to become inextricably bound. I didn't know what to think. “Does it matter to you what I think about this, Arjuna?”

“Only from a curiosity level...You were awarded an Oscar for your screenplay, Serena received an Oscar for her role, which she deserved in my opinion, and she's stopped making those silly movies, and look what you've done since. An experiment in Africa which everyone still talks about, and will for years, you sit before guns drawn at you in Gaza and convince the Israelis to pull back, your movie version of a musical theater with an entire group of amateurs, what you've done and continue to do here in my homeland, but you two are still not together. You two should be together. Are you looking at this place together, Al-Barrak?”

“We are considering it. I was considering it...as a possible home for all of us, Serena, her daughter, every one of us.”

“Then let me sell it to you. It will give me great pleasure to do so.”

“What about your mother, since you got personal with me?”

Arjuna laughed. “My mother has her place in our family and, as you stated earlier, family members tend to deal with other family members through their feelings, and my mother's feelings about certain family members are...strong.”

Arjuna laughed heartily again as I interjected, “To put it mildly?”

“Quite, yes.” He chuckled once more. “Since I did get personal, what do you know about the Paras family?”

“Not much, other than they have been a family of great power, wealth and influence in this part of India for as long as anyone can remember.”

“All true, and being a member of the Paras family does have its privileges and rewards. I know. I have lived above most all my life. There are those in the family who have more influence and prestige than others, as you can imagine.”

“I'll tell you what I can imagine, Arjuna, and you tell me whether I'm right or not. For centuries India has been a land of patriarchal descent, meaning power and influence descends on the male side, and typically in those circumstances, the eldest male becomes the most powerful and influential of all brothers. Additionally, in such societies, the most powerful and influential families trace their lineage proudly. It is well known and especially among the members of the family.”

Arjuna nodded his head. “All quite true, Al-Barrak.” Since I hesitated in continuing, waiting for Arjuna to perhaps add something, he did so. “Our family lineage does go back very far and it is something all of us are very proud of, and, just as you stated, Al, being descended from a certain male ancestor places one family member above another. There are family members descended from the eldest who hold the highest rank. We, my siblings and I, are not from that branch and my mother, who comes from another highly-placed family from Punjab province, married into the Paras family, and ever since has had an interesting relationship with others of the Paras family.”

“Well, I can certainly imagine that and how interesting it has been, I assure you. I've had family, too.”

“To be fair, though, my mother can be rather, shall we say, difficult in her own way.”

“Arjuna, you should spend some quality time with Serena.” Arjuna erupted in laughter. I wasn't even trying to be funny. “Now that I know why it took so long to see the residence, I understand completely. I once was a very modest coder myself and every time I finished some small coding project, I generally received this for thanks. 'What took you so long?' Sound familiar?”

Arjuna laughed again. He certainly had a jovial sense about him, a great sense of humor. “From bottom to top, Al, it's the same response. That's exactly how it seems.”

“Now, I didn't come from a large and influential family, Arjuna, with its proud heritage and the divisions and ranks inside it, and I have witnessed how difficult your mother can be, but I'll promise you this. I am very impressed with this residence. I want the approval of Magdalena, who is my cherished wife and partner, and Serena, who may very well be another of my wives and partners, but who shall always be my equal. Should they approve, let's reach an agreement, close the sale on the residence, and on moving day for your mother, I'll arrive personally to help move her back to the estate. I'll do it for one reason, Arjuna.”

With a huge smile, Arjuna asked, “And what would that reason be?”

“No matter how large or small a family, there are always the snobs. Your mother may be difficult, and I'll be the judge, but I would love nothing more than to help her move back to the estate so I can rub their noses in it. Because, really, Arjuna, do you think I would help any of them move?”

Arjuna erupted in laughter one more time. When he finally got a grip, he remarked, “Let me work with my mother so that I, too, can be there. It will be an event I shall surely want to witness.”

Before we left his study, Arjuna gave me a copy of the most recent appraisal for the residence. He suggested, through a buying agent—I immediately considered Ram—we coordinate with him to have the entire residence inspected on a day when he would have his mother out of the house, and from the inspection have it independently appraised, and he offered to pay for all of it. With those two appraisals he assured me we would reach an agreement on the sale price. “I have four homes, Al-Barrak, including this one. It has been in my branch of the family for decades, but I do not have any use for it any more. When I'm here in Jalandhar, I stay at my residence on the estate. There is plenty of room for my mother, since I have only kept this residence for her, but she is reaching the age where she should not be alone. She, of course, does not see it that way.”

“They never do, Arjuna. No one really wants to surrender their independence willingly.”

“She is beginning to come around. It has been trying for her since she has lived here for many years, mostly alone but with her assistant of many years, who would come every day, clean, fix meals. She was my mother's trusted companion for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, this woman passed away recently and it has been...hard on my mother since.” Arjuna's expression was pained as he looked away from me. Suddenly, he turned back and smiled. “Let's get you those two appraisals, Al-Barrak, so you may discuss it with your wives, with Serena, and anyone else. Then, let's you and I discuss it. I am certain there is a figure which both you and I will find agreeable.”

As we were leaving Arjuna offered his hand. Sofia, standing a few feet away, shook her head and frowned. “Al-Barrak finds a handshake suspicious, Mister Paras. It's a hug or nothing!”

As the laughter subsided, Arjuna stepped up to me warmly and hugged me tightly as I returned the gesture. While still embraced, Arjuna stated, “I have no idea whether you and Senorita Dominguez will become as one, however, should it be the case, I know which one will be running the family and it won't be the adults!”

I separated as all laughed again. “It would hardly surprise me, Arjuna. Sofia's already the Board Chairperson of a movie production company in California. Everyone knows it!”

- Just Desserts, Segment Thirty-FivePainting an Alternate Hollywood Portrait” by Gregory R. Schussele, © 2021 contact me, as always: schussprose@gmail.com