Rahul had barely reached the helipad on the 200th floor of Amar Towers when he heard the sound of the helicopter arriving from the east. The sun was still below the horizon, but the eastern sky was getting brighter by the minute.
It had been a while since Rahul had seen the sunrise. Getting up at ghastly pre-dawn hours was not all that unusual for him these days, but on the 57th floor of Amar Towers, where Rahul lived, one could no longer see the sunrise. In fact, even the midday sun looked like a mildly brighter blob in the middle of the perpetually dull grey sky. Over the years, the smog in Mumbai had gotten so thick, that you had to get up to about the 150th floor to see the blue sky.
The helicopter landed and Rahul climbed in. He took one more look at the orange colored horizon, and remembered how he used to feel when the sun would peek out of the clouds in Seattle during his childhood. Memories of the past came flooding into his mind.
There he was, barely 18 years old, standing in the buffet line at the Seattle Convention Center in the summer of 2007. He hadn’t really wanted to go, but his parents, who had been very active in the convention organization committee, had been persistent. Plus, his best friend Vijay had convinced him that it might be a good place to check out some girls from out of town. “At least the food should be good,” Vijay had pleaded. Food was supposed to be good at any BMM convention, and Seattle would be no exception. So there they were.
Vijay had been on the spot. Girls were everywhere. In fact, that’s where he had met Pooja for the first time. She and her mother had come to Seattle all the way from New Delhi. Just over an year ago, they had moved to India from California. Mrs. Deshpande, Pooja’s mother, had received an offer from a multinational company to head their new office in New Delhi. Mr. Deshpande had been dreaming of starting a company to build a product that he believed had better potential for growth in India than in the US. So they had moved. Pooja had really been missing her American surroundings since their move; and Mrs. Deshpande had a business meeting in Seattle anyway; so they had taken this opportunity to come to Seattle and attend the convention.
Rahul and Pooja had become good friends during those couple of days at the convention. After Pooja had returned to Delhi, they had continued their friendship, first via email and later via video mail. Rahul had gone on to study Environmental Engineering at the University of Florida. Boys from Seattle always ended up attending universities in Florida for some reason.
After graduation, Rahul had declared that he would be taking a job in Mumbai. “I would rather work where they clearly need some environmental engineering expertise,” he had told his parents. His parents had resisted somewhat, but they didn’t really have a good enough argument against such a reasonable and noble proposal. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt that Rahul would be closer to Pooja, but Rahul felt no need to burden his parents with such details ï¿½ yet, anyway. Pooja was studying fashion design at New Delhi University. Now he could hop on a flight any Friday after work and spend the weekend with her in New Delhi. Over the years their relationship had blossomed, and they had even flirted with the idea of marriage – good girls in India always had marriage at the back of their minds – but had decided that it could wait a for while.
Meanwhile, Mr. Deshpande, Pooja’s father, had become an incredibly successful businessman. He had invented a simple but highly effective face mask with a built-in air filter. One could wear the mask while going out on the polluted streets of cities like Mumbai and the mask would filter the air, allowing the wearer to breathe clean air. People were already using dupattas and napkins for this purpose, but they were only marginally effective. Mr. Deshpande had believed that his invention would fill the need much better.
The “Jeevan Shwaas Mask”, as it was called, had initially taken a long time to catch on. It was a logical and practical invention, but people hated having things stuck in front of their faces that made them look funny, even if it meant they could breathe fresher air. Appealing to their health concerns alone was not sufficient.
That’s when Pooja, with her eye for fashion, had come up with a bright idea. She had created masks using embroidered velvet and studded them with precious stones. The air filter itself was completely concealed inside the velvet material. The masks looked more like pieces of jewelry rather than medical gadgets. Shwaas Industries had struck a deal with Shahrukh Khan to wear such a mask during one of his “Campaign for Clean Air” charity events in Mumbai. Needless to say, it had been an instant hit! Masks in various colors and materials – embroidered for women, metallic for men, and in the shape of cartoon characters for children ï¿½ had flown off shelves. They had become a fashion accessory. Fancy video goggles, which had been such a craze in previous years, had gotten stale already. People wore them for fashion ï¿½ the fact that it helped them breathe better was a mere side effect.
Shwaas Industries had grown faster than even Google. It had expanded into the rest of Asia, Africa, and South America. Even the Chinese multinational Shin-Hwa International had started making similar masks. A rivalry of sorts had ensued between the companies, Shin-Hwa was a tough competitor, but Shwaas was still far ahead.
Initially, Pooja’s father had been very supportive of her relationship with Rahul. Rahul had the right combination of Indian and American upbringing, a good education, and was ambitious. What’s not to like?
But recently, things had taken a wrong turn. Rahul had never quite liked the idea of masks ï¿½ he had always thought that it was just a band-aid, not really solving the main problem of pollution. He had been working on technology for cleaner fuels at his job. He had developed a revolutionary fuel cell that was far more efficient than anything existing at the time. The fuel cell design was flexible enough to be used in all kinds of automobiles including two-wheelers, cars, trucks, etc. It was so good, in fact, that it had the potential to clean up the air not just in Mumbai, but in polluted cities all over the world.
Rahul had naturally approached Pooja’s father for funding to start manufacturing the fuel cells. But, instead of getting excited about his fantastic idea, he had turned him down. Not only that, but he had told Rahul in no uncertain terms that if he wanted to continue his relationship with Pooja, he would have to give up the idea of manufacturing any such contraption!
Initially, he had been bewildered. But soon he had realized why Pooja’s father was against this world-changing technology. Rahul’s fuel cells would have meant the death of the Jeevan Shwaas Mask, Mr. Deshpande’s own brainchild! If the air got cleaner, who would wear a mask?
Of course, Rahul wasn’t about to give up on something so important. It was rare that one got a chance to do something revolutionary that would not only transform the world for the better, but also make you rich beyond imagination. But then, he was in love with Pooja, too. Of course, it wasn’t like Mr. Deshpande could really stop them from getting together ï¿½ they were both adults and financially independent ï¿½ but Rahul did not want to complicate his life unnecessarily. He had to find a way to not only manufacture the fuel cell, but also get Pooja’s father to bless their union.
He had started talking to other big investors in India. But Mr. Deshpande had become a very powerful man due to his success. He hobnobbed with powerful politicians in New Delhi. He had business relationships with all the big industrialists in India. Instead of encouraging him, they had been hostile to him. Rahul had even started suspecting that his telephone conversations were being tapped. His computer had been hacked into a few times already. He was definitely being watched. He knew he had to be a lot more creative.
In the meantime, Vijay, Rahul’s old buddy from Seattle, had followed a completely different path. He had studied Tae-kwon-do and had become a master. He had traveled all over Asia participating in competitions and winning awards. He had finally moved to Shanghai and opened a school to teach Tae-kwon-do. He had changed his name from Vijay to Wu-Jian, to make it sound more Chinese. Even his accent had changed over the years so he sounded a little bit like an American with a slight Chinese accent rather than an American with a slight Indian accent. It was unusual to have an American, of Indian origin, teaching Tae-kwon-do, a Korean marshal art, to the Chinese. But such was the nature of the world we lived in. If you were really good at something, had your eyes open, and were able to take chances, there was always a place for you.
On his last trip to Shanghai, Rahul had stayed with Vijay like usual. They had talked at length about his love life, and, of course, his problems with Pooja’s father. Rahul had also mentioned his suspicion that he was being watched. After a lot of thinking, they had hatched a plan. It was risky, but that was the only way out. Rahul and Vijay had put the plan into action immediately…
One Monday morning, just as Rahul expected, the phone rang.
“Hello,” Rahul picked up the phone.
“Hallo, zis ees Mr. Wu-Jian, from Shong-haai. Can I talk to Raw-hool Joshee, please?”
“Hmmm…,” Rahul thought, “Vijay appears to be trying a little too hard to sound Chinese. His natural accent is already sufficiently Chinese-sounding. But I can’t say anything right now.”
“Yes, this is Rahul Joshi. Who is this?” he said.
“Hallo, Mr. Raw-hool. My name is Wu-Jian. I am from Shin-Hwa In-thar-natio-naal, from Shong-haai. I want to speak to you about your new fuel cell invention.”
“I am flattered. But what makes you think I have some new fuel cell invention?”
“We know every thing that happens in zis field, parthee-cularly in Eendia, Mr. Raw-hool! Anyway, my company is very intha-rested in zis technology. We would like to collaborate with you.”
“Well, may be we should have a meeting and discuss some options.”
“Of course! I am coming to Moombaai on Wednesday. May be we can meet then?”
“Sure. Let me check my schedule.”
Rahul and Mr. Wu-Jian had settled on a time and place for the meeting.
The next day, the phone rang again. This time, Rahul wasn’t really expecting it.
“Hi Rahul, this is Pooja. Are you there? Believe it or not, dad wants to talk to you. In fact, he is anxious to talk to you. If you are at home, please just pick up the phone!”
Rahul pounced on the phone.
“Hi Pooja! I’m here. I miss you! I wish you could hop on the next flight to Mumbai!”
“Rahul, listen to me. There will be lots of time for all that later. You need to talk to my dad first.”
“Huh? What? Are you alright?” Rahul wasn’t sure. He hadn’t talked to Pooja’s father in a long time.
“Rahul, this is Pooja’s dad. How are you?”
“Uh, Ok, I guessï¿½” Rahul could never talk to him straight, even before their problems began.
“Listen, I want you to come up to Delhi and meet my management team. We are interested in manufacturing your fuel cell. We’d like you to join our team.”
Rahul couldn’t believe his ears.
“What’s that? Your team?”
“Yes, I want to start a Fuel Cell Division. I’d like you to head it.”
“The meeting is tomorrow afternoon. My helicopter will pick you up from Amar Towers and take you to the Mumbai airport. My private jet will take you to Delhi from there.”
“But, I have an important meeting with someone tomorrow morning.”
“Cancel it. Tell him you have a ‘family’ emergency. Pooja will pick you up from Delhi airport when you land,” Pooja’s dad sounded upset. He continued, just in case Rahul hadn’t gotten the point, “and remember Rahul, I don’t want you to talk to anyone from Shin-Hwa International again – er, I mean – ever, ok?”
“Of course, sir!” Rahul didn’t want to embarrass Pooja’s dad by asking him what he meant by “again”. He knew already.
As the helicopter took off, it encircled Amar Towers again. The sun was peeking over the horizon. Mumbai was covered in smog as usual, with only the three “Mumbai Triple-Towers” visible above it. Rahul suddenly realized why there were three of them and why they were named the way they were ï¿½ Amar, Akbar and Anthony Towers. Mumbai was the home of Bollywood after all!
Rahul smiled at the thought. “This Bollywood thing ï¿½ I used to make fun of it ï¿½ but there must be something to it!”
“Main aa raha hoon, Pooja. Sab theek ho jaega!” He said to himself.
Everything was going to be fine. Just like in Bollywood movies.