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Search this site. On 8 November, when the clock strikes 12, your money will be no good. Somewhere on the India - Nepal Border, a car full of passengers swerves off a highway and plunges into a valley, its trunk full of cash. In Panama, Central America, a whistle-blower at a law firm brings down billionaires across the globe. Aditya Kesavan is dynamic, charismatic and ambitious. And he's been handed the reins of the RBI on a platter.

Aditya Rao's words kept ringing in his mind: We cannot rest until we win. Hadn't his life been a war all along? Survival was his mission, and he was close to achieving it. His hand went inside his coat pocket and out came a handkerchief, which wiped a tear that had sneaked out from the corner of his eye. While Sundeep was having tea during the break, a khaki-clad peon came and handed him a small chit. He opened it and was taken aback. The chit read: Was it good?

Did it spell disaster? He had no clue. His heart started pounding faster. First day in office and the unit head sends out a note to meet him. He had no choice but to wait, wondering what was in store for him. Sundeep's journey back in time was abruptly disturbed by a knock on the cabin door. She had a tremendous faith in his leadership and business building capabilities. Michelle was the one who had, in fact, recommended Sundeep's name, when Chetan Bindra moved out to take over as the Global Head of Retail Banking.

It was not too difficult to swing the job for Sundeep as he had successfully delivered in roles across the globe. Not when you are at this level. I can't protect you even if I want to. You know that,' said Sundeep, in a voice that belied his own confidence in what he was saying. Why don't you understand someone is playing me? Anyway, a lot has been said on this. What's the verdict? Tedd wants to meet you today. By the way, I came to tell you that Tedd can only make it at 3.

The meeting at Just came to check if that suits you. Michelle left, leaving him alone in his cabin—just he and his thoughts. Please hold all calls till I tell you to put them through. I am not to be disturbed for the next two hours. Kalpana, who was still sitting in front of Sundeep, could sense that something was wrong with him.

He had not tried flirting with her in the past three hours. Though she would never accept it publicly, she quite liked Sundeep's attention. She turned around and looked at him a couple of times, but Sundeep didn't respond.

He was lost in his own thoughts. Thoughts of what was in store for him in Aditya's room. The last few minutes of the day were spent in discussing logistics for the next day and the schedule for the next week.

It was a month-long training programme, with a week of classroom training, and three weeks of 'on the job' training, in which the new recruits would spend time at the branches of New York International Bank and observe how work gets done.

At the end of one month, they were to reassemble, assess what they have learnt, and list out their preferred areas of work. This would form the basis of their final assignments. We will meet tomorrow morning at nine, in this very room. Our party tonight will begin at 8.

Brian Close will address you. Please be on time. Formals please. Don't forget your jackets. See ya there. He was extremely nervous and didn't want to stay back and speak to anyone.

He headed for the den of the don Aditya Rao. On his way he saw a rest room and ducked into it. He washed his face and freshened up. He wanted to be sure that he was properly groomed before meeting Aditya for the first time. For the first time in his life Sundeep was nervous before a meeting. It was the fear of the unknown. Why had Aditya called him? This question was gnawing his brain. But he knew one thing for sure: For good or bad, he didn't know, but he had to capitalise on this.

He is expecting you. Please wait for a second while I check with him,' said Natasha. She was an attractive young woman, surely not older than twenty-one, and looked like someone straight out of college. Natasha got up from her seat and walked into Aditya's room. Sundeep couldn't help noticing how attractive she was.

Sundeep surveyed the secretary's workspace. She had a large cubicle. In other organisations, six to eight employees would be seated in the space that she occupied.

There was a plush leather sofa, definitely an imported item. He tried guessing the place of origin of the sofa. UK, Germany, probably Greece! He couldn't make up his mind and eventually gave up.

If the secretary had this kind of space, he could well imagine the size and furnishings of Aditya's office. Despite his nervousness, he couldn't help being distracted by these thoughts.

Can I get you something? Thank you. I will just wait here. He had just walked back from the induction programme. There is a guy in there called Sundeep. Please send a note to him and ask him to see me after the session ends for the day. He had called her again within the next three minutes and crackled over the speakerphone: She had been in the organisation for no more than thirty days and had already become indispensable for Aditya.

Knowing Aditya, she was feeling a bit sorry for Sundeep. She was beginning to like him. He was looking for familiar faces in an alien crowd. Being an introvert, it was a challenge for him to go and talk to people on his own. He was standing alone in the corner of the training hall, holding the study material that they had been given.

It was 6. He had nowhere to go. He walked back into the classroom and opened the spiral bound books. They were actually not books, but collations of the various presentations that the seniors from the organisation had made to the group. He was soon completely engrossed in his reading material. He looked up through his thick glasses and found Kalpana staring down at him.

I saw your picture on the notice board for our batch. They hadn't spoken to each other despite being in a small group of thirty-eight people. Swami was too shy to initiate a conversation with anyone, and if it was a woman, Swami would stay a mile away. Let's go and get ourselves some fresh air.

The Marine Drive promenade offered a breathtaking view of the whole of south Mumbai. For years, Queen's Necklace, as Marine Drive was otherwise called, was dear to the heart of every Mumbaikar. Pick up any magazine on Mumbai and you would find it on the cover.

The place is particularly engaging at the cusp when day bids adieu and night takes over. Hordes of people gather to see the spectacle of the lights coming on one by one in a gigantic semi-circle—the glittering pearls on the Queen's necklace of lights.

Kalpana literally dragged Swami to Marine Drive, from the confines of the training room. While all his classmates would actively seek out female company, Swami would be happy in the world of books, spending all his free time in the library. This single-minded dedication had partly to do with his modest means that didn't allow him to spend money on girlfriends like most of his friends.

He didn't want to be embarrassed, and so stayed away. Marine Drive was extremely windy. The waves were lashing against the rocky shore.

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Water was splashing all over the promenade. Kalpana and Swami were chatting and strolling on the path alongside the shore. Swami was a little worried about his borrowed jacket getting wet; he would have to wear it again tomorrow. But he was embarrassed to mention it. He quietly moved as far away from the water as he could without making it obvious to Kalpana.

Kalpana, however, saw through his effort. There's a fundo shop on the other side. Let's go there. Let's go,' she responded spontaneously. I have roamed these streets for years.


I know every street, every nook and corner. Leave me in any galli, and I will find my way back home. Her parents moved to UK when she was very young. They spent a few years there, but finding it difficult to bring up a child in alien surroundings, they moved back to India and set up shop in Mumbai in the early seventies.

They opened a small electronics goods store.

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Their business grew rapidly, and now they had a chain of twelve stores in Mumbai alone. Planning to make their chain a nationwide success, they were also talking to a number of foreign brands for collaboration. Kalpana was their only daughter. Independence Cafe was a small joint just off Marine Drive.

It was frequented by college goers and had a relatively young crowd patronising it. They looked around and settled for a table in the corner, away from the door. It's away from the door and there is less disturbance here. The first item on the menu card was 'South Indian Filter Coffee.

The Hindu newspaper, and his morning cup of coffee. Ever since he landed in Mumbai, Swami had got neither.

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A shabbily dressed waiter came to the table. Swami waited till the waiter was out of earshot. Are you worried about your sugar levels or is it plain calorie consciousness? Not at all,' laughed Kalpana. I am not calorie conscious at all. You look good anyway. Was he flirting with Kalpana? He had never done such a thing in his whole life. Clumsy though he was, Kalpana couldn't resist a smile, and Swami was embarrassed. He didn't know what to say. Kalpana found his embarrassment quite amusing.

She was beginning to like his simplicity. Swami came across as an honest, down-to-earth guy. No one makes guys like these nowadays, she thought.

They talked about nearly everything under the sun. The weather, their families, their aspirations, their lifestyles, and more. Completely oblivious of the passage of time, they seemed to be enjoying each other's company. Kalpana just happened to glance at her watch and exclaimed, 'Oh my god! It's 8. We will have to rush immediately. Swami couldn't have paid for the three rounds of coffee and watermelon juice.

By the time they reached the ballroom, it was 8. They were five minutes late. Everyone else from their group had arrived. Swami looked around the room trying to find Sundeep, but there was no trace of him. Sundeep was with Aditya Rao. The five minutes that Natasha had initially indicated stretched to forty-five minutes. But Sundeep just had to wait.

He could not push his way through here, especially since it concerned Aditya Rao. There are no sirs here. Sundeep was shivering in his pants. What had he done? Topper at IIT. Army major's son. Mother, a doctor. Impressive, very impressive young man. Quite an impressive pedigree, son. He chose to keep quiet, lest he said something wrong. Obviously, something he had done in the morning had pissed off Aditya. You were extremely distracted on the first day of your job.

I noticed that you were also disturbing those who wanted to learn something. This is not acceptable, my friend. But Sundeep was no idiot. He realised that this was his only chance—not only to make up for what he had done, but also to leave a lasting impression on Aditya. If he managed to pull this one through, he would always be on top of mind as far as Aditya was concerned. Sundeep apologised for his behaviour. He realised that this was the best thing to do. I am sorry.

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You should try to know your colleagues, realise their strengths and weaknesses, and focus on the task at hand. This will help you go a long way in any organisation. First impressions last long. Always remember this. I will take utmost care in the future,' responded the ambitious Sundeep to his boss' sermon. Sundeep wanted to leave Aditya with a good feeling. No point getting egoistic with the boss. Aditya had made his point and was a bit relaxed now.

The retail launch strategy paper was a document given to all new recruits as a part of their joining kit. He had decided to challenge Aditya on this. Aditya looked at him disdainfully. I remember you mention that we were planning to launch credit cards first, before we launch any other product in the retail segment.

I have serious doubts about whether this would work in India. That's why I quickly went through the strategy paper during the break, to figure out the rationale. Even after reading the document, I am not convinced. Sundeep had his complete attention. He said: We will get customers and will also manage to get them to use our cards. In the process, we will build a huge client base that will be the envy of every other organisation.

In fact, so huge a customer base that our existing infrastructure and technology will not be able to support it. Our overburdened service delivery system will creak, and we will give away all our goodwill and market to the next player who comes in with better services and systems.

And use that to build our brand in the retail space. This will give us some time to set up the required infrastructure. We cannot afford to do that. Not sir. If you were to ask me, the first product I would launch in this market would be car loans. It is a product which is backed by security, and there is no large player in the market.

If we do it well, it will establish us as a leading player in the market, and give us some revenues to play around with. We will get enormous media presence.

Every car ad will scream: They will spend the money and we will book the loans. This will give us time to set up an infrastructure to sell credit cards. We will then be able to sell cards from every car dealership in the country. Just imagine the distribution capability we would have set up. Imagine a situation where we start selling cards through eight hundred car dealerships across the country. If each dealership sells a hundred cards a month, we would have sold eighty thousand cards a month, which will propel us to a different level altogether.

His eyes didn't leave Sundeep for a minute. Was this a rookie speaking, or was this an experienced professional? Aditya was completely floored. Aditya believed in debate. He did not propagate a dictatorial approach to business.

He was willing to learn, even if it was from a rookie. However, no one had ever come up and told him that he was wrong. When Aditya had set out to build this business, his thinking was exactly the same as Sundeep's. Somewhere down the line, it got diluted and he decided to place his faith in NYB's expertise in cards in other markets.

But what Sundeep was saying made eminent sense to him. Surprisingly, in his project report Sundeep had argued that the launch strategy for any retail bank in India had to be driven by its credit cards product.

Then why did he change his stance now, and say exactly the opposite to Aditya? Well, no one knew. The discussion between the boss and the new recruit went on and on, and neither was in a mood to stop it. Just then the door opened and Natasha came in. I completely forgot about it. Thanks, Natasha. By the time they finished, it was well past I must say that your CV is not the only thing that looks impressive.

You have an impressive mind too. I have not only made him miss Brian Close's address, but also his dinner. Wasn't she happy to be stuck with him?

But at least twice a week. Aditya normally works late and expects you to work late too. His earlier secretary, Leena, used to work really hard.

She would do everything on time, but had to leave at six everyday.

See a Problem?

She had a problem. Her daughter was in a day care, which would shut down at 6. I have picked up from others that she was the most efficient secretary to have ever worked in New York International Bank.

Still, Aditya didn't like her. She resigned about two months ago. For Aditya, if you leave before him, you haven't worked hard enough.

Do not leave before Aditya does. If that was the culture in New York International Bank, he better follow it. The two of them stepped out to Kala Ghoda in the Fort area of Mumbai for a quick bite.

They had an uneventful and quick dinner. Both were tired at the end of a long day. Natasha quite enjoyed Sundeep's company. Sundeep, on the other hand, kept comparing her with Kalpana. Natasha would run Kalpana close on almost every aspect, but Sundeep was biased in favour of Kalpana.

By the time they finished their dinner, Sundeep had gathered that Natasha was single and did not have a boyfriend. He could also make out that Natasha kinda liked him. He invited her to dinner on Saturday evening, which Natasha promised to consider. She couldn't have said yes at the first instance, and Sundeep knew that. NYB was no exception. Expat CEOs in the Indian financial services market had a typical problem.

They failed to see the Indian market as something different from the developed world they came from. It beat them why a customer in Delhi could not access his account from Mumbai. Technology drove banks in the developed world; in India everything was pretty much manual. It was difficult for them to understand why it was impolite to push an Indian customer to an ATM for withdrawing cash, when in the US, not to have ATMs was simply inefficient service delivery. They couldn't grasp why, in a country with over a billion people, it was difficult to find thirty smart, educated persons.

They also got into another usual MNC rut. Converted into dollars, the money an organisation would make in India after tremendous struggle would hardly stack up. India would contribute only a miniscule proportion to an MNC's global profits and hence would be way down in the pecking order. This would hurt the expat's self-esteem and they would want to go back to their home country.

Things have changed a lot since then, but when Swami and Sundeep joined New York International Bank, things were still pretty much gloomy. The hierarchies in every multinational was reminiscent of the days of the Raj; the brown Indians would never get the top post.

A foreigner needn't be a top performer to become a CEO in India. An average performer willing to go to India stood a good chance to get the job. India was perceived to be a difficult and hostile country to work in. Punishment posting, it was called. Expats sent to India also got a hardship allowance for having agreed to work here. Brian Close too was one such banker.

He had joined NYB over three decades ago, as a teller—the ones who count cash behind the counter whenever you walk into a bank—and was close to retirement. India was his last assignment and he was due to retire in nine months.

Brian Close's speech was nothing great. He was one of those expat CEOs who begin to think of themselves as rock stars the moment they get the microphone, and think that the Indian employees are suckers who would gleefully lap up any Hindi word thrown at them in an anglicised accent. He expected the new recruits to jump in ecstasy at his Hindi. That didn't happen. Still he went on for over forty-five minutes, without conviction. When he stepped off the podium, there was a thunderous applause.

One thing was not clear though: Did the new recruits applaud him for a fabulous speech, or were they simply relieved that the torture had ended! Brian thought it was the former, while the look on the faces of Swami and Kalpana made one believe that it was definitely the latter. Kalpana was glued to Swami for almost the entire evening. She had begun to admire him.

Swami was a humble human being, with a deep intellect and a clear thought process. When Brian came and met them after the address, Kalpana was impressed by the way in which Swami spoke with him— crisp, concise, clear, and, most important, honest. She couldn't help comparing him with the aggressive, arrogant, and brash Sundeep. Swami clearly stood out. On her way home, Kalpana couldn't stop thinking about Swami and Sundeep.

Natasha too was lost in thoughts, but she had only Sundeep on her mind. What happened? The latter was not listening. His eyes were focused on the door. Kalpana had just walked in. She was looking stunning in a violet sari. Her free flowing hair added to her girlish charms, leaving Sundeep speechless for a minute. But Sundeep was already heading towards the door.

She heard him but decided to ignore it. She went straight to the vacant seat next to Swami. Sundeep realised that Swami was asking him something and turned towards him. How was the dinner last night?

Did you tell him about our lunch time conversation yesterday that the launch paper is not a well thought through document, rather a hastily made one that will not cut ice in the market. He hadn't taken his eyes off Kalpana. Sundeep did not tell Swami anything about his discussion with Aditya. Everything he had told Aditya the previous evening were actually ripped from his lunch time conversation with Swami.

Sundeep had chosen not to mention Swami and had passed off everything as his own thoughts. He had no qualms about seizing the opportunity to impress Aditya. Swami would never get to know of the discussion Aditya had with Sundeep. Round one had gone to Sundeep, without Swami even realising it. He had reached home quite late, well past midnight, after his crazy discussion with Sundeep. He could not help being impressed by the young talent he had unearthed.

He stayed awake for a long time, thinking about Sundeep's point of view. There was significant merit in what he said. For long, Aditya's office had resembled the sets of Yes Minister, the popular British soap. But finally someone from outside had come in like a whiff of fresh air. He will go a long way, thought Aditya, as his eyes closed involuntarily.

It was 4. As a consequence, he overslept and was late to work. Normally, Aditya would leave early in order to beat the heavy morning traffic. Today, however, he was late and had to contend with twenty-five extra minutes of driving through the maddening Mumbai traffic.

When he reached office, there were three messages from Brian Close waiting for him. I asked him, but he wouldn't tell. He seemed quite easy and had even dropped in once to see you.

He requested that you call him once you get in. Didn't seem to be anything urgent. How was dinner, sweetheart? In fact, Sundeep couldn't stop singing ballads about your conversation with him last night. An intelligent young man he is. A bit arrogant though. At my place. She was looking forward to dinner with Sundeep on Saturday, but now her boss had usurped him. She didn't say anything. Her look said it all. I will drop in and say hello. The very next moment, Brain walked in.

At the dinner last night, I met these two young recruits—Swaaamee and Kaalpaanaa. Very bright guys. I had an interesting conversation with them. While I was speaking with them, they mentioned that we should not launch credit cards without building a service infrastructure.

Instead we should launch other quick revenue generating products. Quite interesting that they should mention car loans. They were emphatic that we should stay away from credit cards till we have strengthened our branch infrastructure and service delivery channels. I found that discussion quite intriguing. Couldn't wait to mention it to you. It is worth your while to have a chat with those blokes. Not sure, but something tells me that we might have missed a trick or two.

Around the same time yesterday, I had a chat with a guy called Sundeep and he had a similar view. So taken in was I by this discussion, that I couldn't cut it short and attend your address. But yes, I will speak to these guys as well.

Huge by any standards, it covered 4, square feet. The sprawling living room alone could play host to over a hundred people. It had three seating bays, with carpets imported from Afghanistan providing comfort for the feet. Antique furniture brought in from the villages of Tanjore gave it a rich feel. Many visitors to his house often wondered how Aditya stayed here all alone.

Aditya had separated from his wife Mandira after twelve years of marriage. Not many people in New York International Bank knew about his wife or had met her. The separation, which happened over two years ago, when both of them were in the US, was bitter and financially draining.

Despite that, Aditya had enough to last him a lifetime. The talk was that after he joined New York International Bank, Aditya had little or no time for his family, and slowly both of them started drifting away. The fact that they had no children didn't quite help either. He had a cook who stayed with him. He had taken good care of him for over a decade now. Kalpana was the first to arrive, followed by Sundeep and Natasha.

Natasha had picked up Sundeep on her way. Swami was the last to arrive. Unfamiliar with Mumbai, it had taken him some time to locate the building.

Aditya was a great host. Natasha helped him and played the role of a good hostess to the core. This was the first time that any new recruits had been invited to Aditya's house for dinner within a week of their coming on board.

Something had to be different with these guys. Sundeep didn't need any invitation for booze. She turned to Swami, 'Where's yours?

I will have a Thumbs Up. Thumbs Up and Campa Cola dominated the soft drink scene. Everyone looked at Swami as if he was from a different planet. He was embarrassed. Aditya sensed his discomfort and quickly changed the topic. Dad passed away when I was two. He died of cancer. I would like to meet that lady one day.

He couldn't take all the adulation. All this embarrassed him. Meanwhile, Sundeep was ogling at Kalpana. She was wearing a red top with a plunging backline over a pair of Levi's. Sundeep couldn't take his eyes off her.

She looked stunning. Ever since Kalpana had started spending time with Swami, she had been ignoring him. Sundeep was getting a bit worked up on that. Whole of this week, he had been trying to ask her out for dinner and she had been constantly putting it off.

Natasha was constantly observing Sundeep. In a world of middle-aged pot bellied bankers, Sundeep was one young dude she was looking forward to. She had spent hours getting ready, trying out numerous outfits before she settled on one, and Sundeep was not even looking at her.

She was looking forward to this night, but it seemed to belong to Kalpana. She had offered to pick up Sundeep, despite the fact that the place where Sundeep stayed was out of the way for her. Sundeep was very quiet all along the route. He could sense the widening chasm in his relationship with Kalpana. Natasha tried to cheer him up. She flirted with him, but the normal Sundeep was missing. Natasha was not the only one who had noticed.

Once he had everyone's attention, Aditya started talking about the plans for New York International Bank. All of you had some interesting thoughts.

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The purpose of tonight's meeting is to brainstorm and lay out the broad priorities for the launch. Global HQ wants us to be self-funding in three years time.

That is, we will have to generate the required investments from our profits in three years time. Natasha will take notes. This was followed by a long and arduous discussion. It was good that none of them had to go back to their families as they kept no track of time.

Sundeep, Swami and Kalpana battled it out with Aditya on the product sequencing of the launch. All three were very passionate about what they felt. Aditya was playing a smart game. He contested even those points of view that were not divergent from his. He played the devil's advocate. He questioned every simple logic. He made sure that they thought through every option and every consequence of their actions. It was five in the morning when they called it quits. Sundeep was completely drunk.

The adrenalin rush of the discussion had kept him going. The moment it was time to pack up, he couldn't take it any more and collapsed. Aditya called for his cook, 'Ramu Kaka, please take him to the guest room and leave him there. He can find his way back to the hotel tomorrow. I will drop him at his hotel,' said Natasha. Aditya just smiled and nodded. Ramu Kaka helped Sundeep get into Natasha's car. Natasha then drove towards Sundeep's hotel.

Swami and Kalpana left together. Both were sober. The mild chill in the winds, the lonely stretch of the early morning beach, a few joggers strolling around, and the mild roar of the waves dying on the beach made it a very romantic setting. They found a clean stretch and settled down.

A young boy with a kettle in hand came running to serve some tea. Swami looked at Kalpana and she nodded. A couple of rupees exchanged hands, and Swami and Kalpana got two kullars clay cups of steaming hot tea. And I don't have the personality that women look for these days. Don't lie. Taking care of my family and meeting my basic expenses never left me with any money to spend on girlfriends.

So I stayed away from them. Women don't like paupers for boyfriends, do they? Swami, for the first time, moved his eyes from the sand and looked up. Kalpana was smiling. He did not know what to say. The visit to the cafe last week was the first time in his life that he had gone out with a woman, and here she was already proposing to him. He was too stunned to react.

This had never happened to him.

His eyes went back to survey the sand. Anyone else with even half your intelligence would be screaming from the rooftops, stinking of arrogance. But you are different, Swami, and that's the reason why I like you.

If there is anyone I have met so far, with whom I feel like spending the rest of my life with, it's you. You can think it through. We can remain good friends till then. We will remain great pals even if your answer is a no. He was confused. All this was a bit filmy for him. He had a mother and a sister to provide for. His sister had to be married off. True, he too had started liking Kalpana, and looked forward to spending time with her.

But this was too fast for him. The fact that Kalpana was a Rajasthani and from a very well off family was not making matters any easier for him. What will his mom say? She had lived her life for him. It was payback time.

How could he be so selfish now? Swami knew that Kalpana was the kind of girl he would like to take home to his mother. But she was a Rajasthani. His mother was a conservative South Indian.

What would she think of him? He did not want to say no. His heart wanted to say yes. Yet he couldn't. Kalpana understood the turmoil going on within his mind.

She put her arms around him and held him tightly. My heart is lighter, now that I have told you what I wanted to. I will not bring it up again till you want to. I will wait for your decision. They would have hardly walked two hundred metres, when Kalpana felt something moving next to her hand. She was startled and looked to her left. A smile came to her lips. It was Swami. He was clumsily trying to hold her hand.

When he finally managed to, he looked up and smiled at her. They walked back hand in hand. Swami had made his decision. The doorman helped her carry Sundeep to the room. Both of them carefully put Sundeep on the bed. Sundeep had passed out and had no clue what was happening. Natasha gave the doorman a twenty-rupee note before he left, closing the door behind him.

Natasha looked at her watch. It was 5. She didn't feel like leaving, as she didn't want to leave Sundeep in this state. Had she fallen for him? Of course, she had!

She plonked herself on the sofa in the room and switched on the TV. She surfed all the channels and settled on an old Hindi classic that was running on one of the hotel channels. The next thing she knew was someone shaking her, asking her to get up. What are some great mind-blowing books? What are some of the best business books? Is Subramanian Swamy really honest? Why doesn't he complete any of the cases he's taken but just stage a drama?

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