The inheritor

Berjis Desai

He was a scientist in the employment of Her Majesty’s Government. He resided quietly with his mother in a nondescript suburb of London, after his divorce. His Parsi mother had seen enemy action in the Second World War as a RAF (Royal Air Force) bomber pilot. One evening he received a facsimile (fax) message that he had inherited a large bungalow in a posh area of the metropolis under his paternal grandmother’s will. 
Upon reading the will, he realized that the property had been initially bequeathed to his sister who, having married an East European sailor, was disinherited by virtue of a specific clause in the will. Due to the disqualification, he became entitled to inherit.

  Illustration by Farzana Cooper


His dowager grandmother had lost both her sons during her lifetime. Both she and his grandfather had a stellar record of social service as humanitarians. His father had died young decades ago, after divorcing his mother. His uncle was hospitalized, fell hopelessly in love with a Catholic nurse and married her. The grandmother detested interfaith marriages and disinherited him too. However, he died mysteriously within weeks of his marriage to the nurse, who continued to reside in the now decrepit bungalow, much to the chagrin of her mother-in-law. The nurse’s boyfriend was a roughneck who provoked her to continually harass the old lady, who complained to the courts that her daughter-in-law threw stones at her when she strolled in the compound of the bungalow and that the nurse’s many pet cats, perched on the ledges, glowered ferociously at her.
To say that the bungalow was jinxed was the understatement of the century. It looked miserable, smelt miserable, felt miserable. The demons of death and decay had not been exorcised. The large garden, with gnarled trees looking distinctly malevolent, was unkempt. Happiness had been banished. Those days, vaastu (geomancy) was not so fashionable; nevertheless, the vibes were most uncomfortable. As if some ancient curse swirled around the place like a flying serpent. The scientist was advised to sell it as soon as possible. With millions of pounds dancing in his eyes, he flew down and was slapped with multiple litigation.
The nurse claimed the entire property as her matrimonial home and obtained a stay order against any disposal thereof. The disinherited sister joined the fray to claim that the dowager did not possess the testamentary capacity to weigh the conflicting claims of her heirs on her estate; and in any event, the anti-marriage clause was in terrorem, and not legally valid. She filed a caveat to oppose any probate being granted to the will. Thus, the stage was set for a battle royale. The litigation would be long, bitter and acrimonious. Legal fees mounted faster than the ugly green moss creeping all over the walls of the bungalow. The scientist lacked the financial resources to wage the battle.
He was soon approached by some illustrious Parsi gentlemen offering what looked like a sweetheart deal. They would finance the litigation, pay upfront a handsome sum to our hero, and the balance, when the bungalow was sold. In the meanwhile, a tenancy agreement for the entire property would be executed in favor of these gentlemen. The transaction was implemented and, as expected, assailed as illegal, mala fide and in contempt of court, by both the nurse and the sister.
The scientist was himself as fickle as the English weather. A couple of legal setbacks and he was convinced that he had been cheated by the illustrious Parsis. None knew that he advised MI 5 (the British Secret Service) on some abstruse scientific matters. He secretly taped the telephone conversations (there were no mobile phones then) with the Parsis and their professional advisors, who, unaware, were rather indiscreet over the phone. Thereafter, he cancelled the deal which greatly incensed the illustrious gentlemen who were in advanced settlement talks with the nurse and the sister. This is breach of contract, they complained. Is it, riposted the Parsi James Bond, then first listen to these tapes. Some of the transcripts were damaging; some were embarrassing, to say the least.
The scientist engaged the services of an honest but aggressive non-Parsi solicitor who was known to be vicious against his professional brothers and opponents. He was excited with the tapes his client had provided and was confident that the illustrious ones would be pressurized to cancel the deal with his client. This made his adrenalin levels rise. The Parsis, however, did not succumb to the threats. Instead, they inducted a Hindu gentleman, whom we shall call Mr Orange (for his propensity to wear orange colored jackets at formal functions). To be polite to Mr Orange, he was an adventurist. His methods, to say the least, were unorthodox. Within weeks of his entry into the fray, the scientist’s aggressive solicitor, looking terribly crestfallen, withdrew from the case. Tongues wagged that he had been given a dose of his own medicine.
Mr Orange, in possession of the property, claiming to be a tenant, gave a ghastly face-lift to the old bungalow, held noisy parties on the once hallowed lawns, organized exhibitions to sell georgette saris at highly discounted rates to an army of eager ladies, and permitted Bollywood film shooting. The scientist doggedly pursued litigation in various fora and against all the players – the nurse, Mr Orange, the Parsis and their advisors, his sister. Many stratagems were adopted including some innovative ones, like an endless chess game. Our hero, though unaware of local conditions, was dogged and determined. This episode had provided him with a reason to exist. Slowly, he managed to vanquish all. Almost a quarter century after his grandmother’s death, he obtained vacant possession of the property.
In the meanwhile however, his bomber pilot mother had passed away without seeing her son’s vindication; the aggressive former solicitor was dramatically killed in a terror attack; Mr Orange’s fortunes nosedived and he virtually vanished from the scene; the roughneck became toothless and his girlfriend, the nurse incurred heavy debt due to the cost of multiple litigation and had to exit the so-called matrimonial home; the illustrious Parsis too did not fare well in terms of health or wealth; many others were terribly stressed and careers blighted.  In a strange sort of way, natural justice prevailed.
Most believed that the honest inheritor, with modest means would swiftly dispose of the property. After all, it was prime property, totally unencumbered, with a crystal clear title, in the heart of the metropolis. Greedy developers will swoop on it like vultures, they said. He tried hard to sell. No one seemed to be interested in the hot cake. Years rolled by. It lies in a desolate state with fallen trees covered by weeds; thick layers of green moss like garish lipstick on its walls. The front entrance clumsily sealed to prevent trespass. From a back entrance, a lone caretaker enters and exits. Strangely, like the nurse, he too is obsessed with the many cats who roam around the property like guardians of its sadness.

Berjis M. Desai is a lawyer in private practice and a part-time writer. He considers himself an unsuccessful community activist.