Thursday, November 29, 2012

The price of mom’s foolishness

It was 4.30 in the evening.Nivedita was folding the clothes she brought from the clothesline. She heard a scream from the next apartment. She knew it must be from the young girl living there. It troubled her mind and she heard no more screams. But this was not new as it had happened earlier too on many days mostly around this time. Though impelled to go and enquire, she was hesitant to meddle in others affairs.
The adjacent apartment was occupied by Sundari and Vanita her thirteen year old daughter. Sundari had lost her husband when she was in her early thirties. She worked in a large departmental store in the mall Shiva a major who had retired from the army worked in the same mall as security in charge.. A tall and well built man nearing 50 he had a good physique and was single. They both fell in love and married. With her life turned rosy, she virtually doted on him and had spoken of him with great pride to Nivedita on a couple of occasions. She generally returned around 7pm.Nivedita had seen Shiva coming early on many occasions and leaving for work in the evenings. There were no regular timings for him it seemed to Nivedita.
The next day as Nivedita was returning from post office, she met Vanita coming back from school. She smiled at her asked the young girl” Vanita,I heard a scream yesterday from your home. It must be you. I had half a mind to come to your place. Since your dad was there, I did not come. I hope everything is fine”
“I hurt myself when I was cleaning dishes. Sorry” she replied
“It is okay. But yesterday was not the first time. I have heard you scream earlier too on different days”
She did not reply but hung her head down. After a few embarrassing moments, she said “Aunty, can I go? I have lot of homework to do.”
Nivedita felt something was not okay but did not know what to do. To tell her mom about the screams seemed inappropriate. She knew her class teacher well and long while back she remembered her telling that Vanita was a bright student though not a topper and well behaved. The teacher specifically said that she took a liking for the girl.
A fortnight later Nivedita heard a commotion outside and rushed out to see an ambulance with some men carrying Vanita in the stretcher. Her wailing mom followed her with her husband in tow. Nivedita was shocked when someone in the crowd told her that the girl had left a note that she was taking her life as she was not able to cope with her studies. Nivedita thought this queer as her teacher had mentioned that she was good in studies
Nivedita did not know what to do. It was past school time and her thought of meeting the teacher was out of question as she did not have her address or telephone number. She preferred to wait till next morning. The body was still in the hospital. The step father seemed influential with police may be due to nature of his work and she had seen earlier many couples in police vehicles dropping in for social visit to their flat. Nivedita could not sleep the whole night and the girl’s scream on a few occasions haunted. The thought that she had not probed in depth made her feel guilty.
The next morning she learnt the girl’s body was expected by noon and the cremation would be over by evening. She rushed to the school by 9am and asked to meet the teacher. Nivedita was told that the teacher was in the class consoling the agitated students over Vanita’s tragic end. She sent word that she must meet her immediately on a very urgent matter.
When she came they went to the lawn and Nivedita came to the point directly “I suspect there is something more than what meets the eye in Vanita’s suicide. You had mentioned that she was good in her studies but the note she left behind says something contrary. I often used to hear her scream when she was alone with her step dad but when asked she was not forthright. I could discern certain fear in her eyes. They are planning to cremate her by evening. Do you have anything to throw light on? The girl was close to you “
The teacher in a whisper that was almost inaudible said “I also think something was amiss in her house. It was only two days back that I chanced to see bruise marks on her body and a trace of bite mark on her nape. When I put probing questions, she was not forthcoming initially. When I asked her to tell honestly whether she had broached her problem to her mom, she nodded her head in affirmative. When I persisted to know her mom’s reaction, she said that her mom got angry with her for slandering about step dad and beat her. She was in no mood to listen despite the marks on her body of cruelty What I could gather was that manic was troubling the young girl to submit to his lust and when this girl let out a scream, he retreated it seems. She started sobbing and asked me whether I would take her in my custody as she was terribly afraid of remaining alone with that beast.
I promised her I will find a way out within a week and meantime cautioned her to threaten him that she would tell the teachers and neighbours.I do not know what precipitated her to take this extreme step. May be the brute succeeded in spoiling her” she said as she wiped her eyes.
It did not take seconds for Nivedita and the teacher to decide to go to police station and tell the authorities the sordid background. It was a poor comfort for the loss of a promising young girl that the stepfather was sentenced to a long period of rigorous imprisonment. The mother was let off to regret for life her foolishness in not heeding to the girl’s pleas.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


It is more than three years since I had seen my dad. He is still at the same house where I grew and lived till my marriage. Having lost my mom at a young age, he was everything to me, both mom and dad. I am the only child born late to my parents. He did not marry again. He showered his affection and pampered me meeting every wish of mine. I did not miss my mother much as a result. He put me in the best school and would remain awake in the night till I completed my study. He would make tea for me when I studied till the wee hours of the morning and get up early to make my breakfast and lunch.
When I went to college, he bought me a scooter and encouraged me to choose the discipline that I liked even when it was not popular. He instilled in me the confidence to stand by my conviction. When I finished my college and post graduate degree in journalism, his joy knew no bounds.
After I joined a newspaper, he said one day "Lakshmi, I am getting old. I would like to see you married. I am getting proposals from different quarters."
"Daddy, it is good you broached the subject. In fact I wanted to tell you but was feeling hesitant as I did not know how you would react. I am in love with a man who studied with me in the college. He is well employed and comes from a good family but belongs to a different religion. Please allow me to marry him. I cannot think of anyone else in his place" I said
For the first time in my life I saw him explode in rage as he shouted at me" You ungrateful brat, is this what you do to me after all the sacrifice of mine for your well being? I will not permit you. If you still marry him, you are no more my daughter nor am I your daddy. You make up your mind whether you want me or not"
I did not pursue the matter immediately as the vague parental misgiving needed to be handled gently and gave time for his anger to subside. After a week I tried to reason with him but in vain. When he was adamant even after two months, I steeled myself and walked out of the house. I soon got married to my lover and had a child too. I tried after sometime to reach him but my dad neither welcomed nor visited me. I sent him letters that were unanswered.
His birthday was approaching. I had heard from a neighbor of his that he had not been keeping well. May be due to this, I had a bad dream that he was very sick and that he wished to see me. When I got up in the morning, my desire to meet him was overpowering. My husband suggested that we all go and meet him but I rejected the idea as I was not sure how he would treat my husband.
I decided to go with my little daughter. He was just three hours drive away in a different town. I bought some fruits and sweets and waited for the bus. I was told that the bus from that town was delayed and would take its return journey once it arrived. As I was waiting, I fervently prayed that my dad should accept me and agree to come and live with us. I wished to ensure that his remaining years are spent in comfort and homely atmosphere. But there was a trepidation that he may refuse even to meet me.  I was however determined not to return without making up with him.
The waiting passengers around me stood up getting ready to board as the bus arrived at the bus stand.As I picked up my daughter and the bag waiting for my turn in the line, I saw among the passengers alighting, a frail figure climbing down. When I saw it was my dad, I was excited beyond words and shouted “Daddy, daddy” He turned towards me and came rushing with a broad smile on his face. I knew that instant he had changed. He snatched my daughter from my hands and showered kisses on her much to her bewilderment and fear.
What brought about this transformation I knew not but I was certain that my prayer was answered as I proudly walked hand in hand with him towards my residence and what will be his too henceforth.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Deadly visit

The death god (DG in short) had come down to the town in disguise like an ordinary man. He had been doing his destructive work diligently with great care from time immemorial and none were happy with him. There was no one above him to review his work or assess him. He had been entrusted with this ‘thankless’ job that only evoked fear and dread and no respect. He wished to find the reactions of people when death struck a house. It is not that he was whimsical or arbitrary in the choice of his ‘victim’ but there was a method and an unfailing system anchored on justice. He had an able assistant in Chitragupt who kept minute details of the good and bad that one did and personal record for everyone without the fancy gizmos that can splutter to a halt due to system failure. No one has ever accused him of mistake in identity though they would have liked him to spare them and visit somebody’s house nearby instead.
He inwardly smiled what would have been the consequences if his work were in the hands of an earthling in authority with his greed, corrupt ways and pronounced propensity to subvert the system. There would have been mind boggling scams with the rich and powerful remaining untouched by the icy hands of death but the death rate maintained at the expense of the poor lonely and lost. There would have been an unwritten rate for extension of life for each day. If any activist dared to question, he would be the instant victim. Luckily for mankind DG was still in charge of affairs.
As he was walking on the road, he saw a crowd at one spot craning inside a gaping hole. Someone told him that a child fell in the hole a day ago and they did not have the necessary expertise or the machinery to bring out the child dead or alive. He smiled to himself as he knew the child had died last night itself. Luckily no one was blaming him but only the municipality though the child’s mom was bewailing that Yama was blind bringing to an end the life of a child even before it had bloomed. Little did she know that the child was indeed blessed to depart so soon and had no bad karma to linger longer? Her grief was immeasurable though.
An old beggar lay dead unclaimed on the platform. Everyone walked past him with their nostrils closed by hankies and again the municipality was the butt of their anger and no one thought of DG
It was at the death of a young woman stricken with cancer and who had three small children that the entire crowd of mourners cursed him for his cruel and insensitive snatching of a young life. The wailing children and sobbing husband was a pathetic sight even to DG known for his calm and stoic demeanour. But in his job there was no place for emotion or special dispensation. It was her past karma that gave her this sad and short life.
The scene was different at the violent death at the hands of an assassin of a middle level political functionary known for his corrupt ways, immoral life and dadagiri that had a huge crowd of his followers restless and wanting a vent to let out their emotions on public property.DG was never in their radar. The common folk in the area seemed pleased at the ‘leader’s’ departure and had no grouse against DG for doing his duty.
Strange was the scene at another house where DG heard someone calling him by name Yama dharma Raja. He peeped in to find an old lady in her late 80s who lay on a mat on the ground coughing intermittently and turning her body in pain or hunger DG knew not what. He found the house folks before TV happily watching a music serial unmindful of the suffering of the old woman. She was muttering “Dharma raja, won’t you take me away? Enough of this wretched life, I do not wish to be a burden anymore and suffer unwanted and uncared for. Take me away immediately.” He knew her time had not come and that she was destined to suffer for a few months more. Though he pitied her, he could not abridge her life before the predetermined time.
But he never had entered any house without taking a life. The next day morning the household woke up to witness their cow dead. Someone said heartlessly “Yama could have taken that useless old woman instead of the cow that yielded good amount of milk daily”: to the accompaniment of approving nods.
Yama let out a sigh in disgust and left for his abode

Monday, November 19, 2012

Gopi’s mom

It was 10.30 pm. Rajagopalan switched off the TV getting ready to go to bed. Shenbagam, his wife, was sitting in their bed staring at him vacantly. She hardly sleeps these days.
“Don’t switch off all the lights. Gopi hasn’t come yet. It is already late and the food is getting cold” she said. He did not reply but looked at her with concern. Their only son Gopal after his engineering degree and a management diploma had secured a good position in a reputed company. They started looking for a girl for him but he wished to wait for a year more.
A loving and affectionate son, he had gone on a picnic about a year back with friends. While swimming in Cauvery he was caught is a swirl and drowned even before others could rescue him. All efforts to trace him proved futile. His friends were witness to his struggling to come out of the swirl. Even divers could not find his body and  it was also not washed ashore. Rajagopalan waited for a fortnight and then as advised by pundits, he did the funeral rites of the young man even when the body remained untraced.
Shenbagam shocked and shattered could not reconcile to the grim reality and became withdrawn living in her own world of delusion where her son was expected to return from the picnic. All attempts to make her realize the truth were in vain. She cooked food for three and kept on the dining table for Gopi.Rajagopalan did not mind the waste of food that was thrown away the next day but what bothered him was her waiting for him till 1am when she was overcome by sleep. She would be seen standing at the porch all day long and the slightest noise from the gate would make her run from kitchen to the front door. Day in and day out he was tired of the same refrain from her “Why hasn’t Gopi returned yet?”She will get up at 2 or 3 am and nudge him to ask why the boy hasn’t come and when he gave her sometimes assuring and sometimes the bitter truth as answers, she would start sobbing..He never got angry with her but it was pathetic to see her in such a state. He took her to doctors, tried tranquilizers, and counseling to no effect.
It was in such circumstance that he met on the road one day Gopi’s classmate Chandran and a close buddy of his. He was enquiring about the well being of aunty after the tragedy. When Rajagopalan narrated her condition, Chandran asked “Uncle, I am actually on the lookout for a place to live. The front room in your house with separate entrance would suit me very well. Would you let me occupy the room? I think it may do aunty good eventually. I will spend some time daily with her.”
When Chandran landed with his limited luggage, Shenbagam asked her hubby who it was.
“He is my friend’s son who has come to the city and was in search of accommodation. He will stay in the front room”
Shenbagam asked the young man “What is your name?”
“Aunty, I am Gopal but called Gopi”
“What? Did you say Gopi? My son is also Gopi. What a coincidence though he doesn’t come home these days. May be working somewhere or on tour, he must be. Do you know him by any chance? He will be your age only and also would look like you” Shenbagam said
“No aunty, but will be happy to meet him and be his friend” he replied
“Only god knows when he will return” she sighed and went inside sobbing
“Chandran, what is this Gopi business?” asked Rajagopalan
“Uncle, please bear with me. You also call me Gopi
In the next few days the youngster spent some time daily in the evenings with aunty telling her of the day’s happenings. Being a witty and smart chap, he soon ingratiated himself to her and made her smile
One day when she asked Rajagopalan the usual refrain “When will Gopi return?” he said “He is already back and watching TV in his room”
“Not him.I am asking about our Gopi” she said
“The Gopi in the front room is also our Gopi” he replied
“True, still.This boy is also very nice and helpful”
Rajagopalan discerned a slight change in her and she smiled when she talked to the youngster.
Next day evening when they were about to have their dinner, Shenbagam as usual kept Gopi’s portion in small vessels aside. Abruptly she stopped doing it and said “I keep the food separately daily for our Gopi and he does not come. Why not we share the food with Gopi staying  in our house?. Please call him before he goes to hotel”
Rajagopalan was surprised and ran to fetch the young man.
“Henceforth you will have your dinner with us, Gopi.I make for three persons. If my Gopi comes unexpectedly, I can always cook afresh” Shenbagam said
“Am I not your Gopi” he asked with a mischievous smile”
“I think you are also my Gopi. The only difference between you two is he loved curd and pickles while you detest them. It does not matter as you will be my Gopi always”
Rajagopalan patted her and said “Well said”

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The kidnap

“Uncle, let me go. Why have you brought me here? I am scared. My parents would be worried and looking for me” said the ten year old boy.
“Keep quiet, I warn you.  I am not letting you go so soon. Let me get some money from your dad and I will think about it later” said the evil looking man with a big drooping mustache.
The boy started crying loudly. The man slapped the boy hard and asked him to be silent if he were not to get hurt. As the boy continued to scream “Ayyo, ayyo.It is paining. Please allow me to go. I will ask my dad to pay you whatever you want”, the wicked man put tape on the boys mouth securely. He tied his hands behind and also the legs.
“You ignored my warning. Now suffer the consequences” said the kidnapper as he spat the pan through the window. He closed the shutters and started smoking. Scared beyond wits, the boy turned silent and was looking at him plaintively. More than an hour passed and the man had exhausted his cigarettes.
He was pacing in the room restlessly waiting for a few hours to elapse before he made the ransom call. It was then he heard loud knocks at the front door. He immediately lifted the top of a hollow centre table and thrust the boy inside.”If you make even a small noise I will kill you. Beware” he warned the boy as he replaced the top covering it with embroidered table cloth and keeping on it a flower vase.
As the pounding of the door became incessant, he opened the front door to find a policeman with two other men.
When he looked askance at them, the policeman said “We have come in search of a young boy. This man here who was in the tea shop across the road says he saw you with a boy. Where is he? The other person is his father and says the boy is missing for two hours from the house where he was playing.”
“I know of no boy. What crap is that man talking? He must have seen someone else”
“Any way let me make a search in the house” the policeman replied and went from one room to the other and searched thoroughly opening the shelves, lofts and almirahs.When they drew a blank, the policeman said “This is the room where this man has been staying as it is filled with cigarette smoke. Call your boy by name” he told the father of the boy.
“Ambi, Ambi” he called loudly twice. The boy heard his dad but could neither make any noise as the mouth was tightly taped nor could he kick the sides of the centre table as he was cramped inside. He became terribly afraid that they would go away.
The policeman turned to father and said “We are not finding him here. Come to the police station and lodge a formal complaint. We will take further action. No point in wasting time here. Let us go”
As they turned the man from the teashop suddenly exclaimed “Look there under the centre table”
They saw a watery liquid trickling from below. The policeman caught the kidnapper who tried to flee even as both the other men removed the top to find Ambi there tightly bound. When they removed the tape the boy proudly told “Daddy, when I heard your voice I tried to shout or make noise. When I could not, I started pissing though in fear hoping you will find me”