Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Bride wanted

Vanita came home earlier than usual from her office to her mom’s surprise. Although she had asked no question, Vanita said with a smile “I had not much work to do and felt like having hot bajjis with coffee from you.”
“Why not? I will have it ready in a jiffy,” her mom replied happily as she hurried to the work station to cut the vegetables.
Vanita sank comfortably on the sofa and lazily skimmed through the day’s paper till her eyes fell on an advertisement under the Brides wanted category in the matrimonial section. It was in bold letters against a color background obviously to attract potential brides. Vanita, nearing 30 and a spinster, took delight once a while browsing through such matrimonial columns. It is more an amusing diversion than an effort to source her partner.
“A marketing executive in a multinational company aged 34,170cm with clean habits and drawing a good salary, frequently on tour desires a life partner. Has an aged mother with initial signs of Alzheimer. The potential partner should be a graduate around 30, without any encumbrance, not working but pleasant and smiling always. Caste and language no bar. The expectations are small and very few. She should have an aesthetic sense, love her home, keeping it clean and well decorated and be good in culinary art experimenting daily different cuisines of many regions and countries. Should be fond of having children and have cheerful disposition and  not given to tantrums even under slight provocation. Would want her to be a home bird and not employed after marriage. All her needs would be amply taken care of. Quick marriage is contemplated
Call xxxxxxxxxx”
Vanita had a strong streak of independence and a dim view of arranged marriages. The few men she met in her work place and social circles did not inspire her. She found them either egoistic with notions of male superiority or just plain uninteresting men. She was happy with her present state and had no intention to marry although her mother gently broached the subject once a while.
Anger rose in her when she read this ad but she nevertheless went though it again carefully. This guy needed a woman to take care of his ailing mom without spending on servants and possibly he is a foodie wanting to eat varieties of food at home. He also needed a woman waiting for him when he returned home from office or tour and willing to raise a family of many children. He would not like her to work and in plain words want her to be tied to home but disingenuously clothes his real intention by words like aesthetic sense, love of home and decorating it. To cap it all he wants her to be cheerful without frustration even under trying circumstances with an aged woman in what is possibly a case of advanced Alzheimer.
An idea struck her mind she called the number and asked him to visit her home the next day at 4pm for discussions.f
A well dressed and smart looking guy rang the bell sharp at 4pm.Vanita’s mom was asleep in the bedroom.
“Good evening. I am Abhinav and have come in response to your invitation about my ad” he said, a bit overawed at the beautiful maiden who answered his bell.
“Come in, Abhinav.I am Vanita who called you yesterday” replied Vanita as she led him to the living room overlooking the workstation and kitchen area where a young woman was busy shining the glasses.
As he seated himself comfortably considering himself fortunate to meet the charming lady, she asked “What would you have? Apple, guava or mango juice?”
“Mango” he said contrary to her expectation that he would leave the choice to her.
“Rukku, bring two glasses of mango juice” she said and turned towards him.
“I am very pleased to meet you. I hope you must have read about my requirements. I am very particular about them. Since you have invited me, I assume you have understood”
“Certainly I have understood what you want. You are indeed lucky to have come across one who fits to the T your demands” said Vanita smiling in a bewitching manner. “You need a woman who is qualified but would stay at home tending to your sick mother, cooking different kinds of food to satisfy your palate, raise a family of many children and be always smiling and cheerful. Am I correct?”she asked.
“In a way yes but I would not put it so crudely” he answered
“Never mind how it is put. But it is a fact. Rukku ,come here” she said and as Rukku came in her old cotton sari with an apron tied around her waist and  in a disheveled hair and perspiring face, Vanita  added ”Mr. Abhinav,my maid Rukku meets all your requirements and would gladly marry you. She has written her graduate examination on line and results are expected next month. She will stop working after wedding. She will look very charming after a wash and dressing up.She will take care of your mother. What do you say?”
Abhinav stood up and angrily said ”I am not amused at your silly behavior, you you …”even as he stomped towards the door
“Get out, I say and go to an employment agency looking for a maid and not a slave for your wife” said Vanita as she banged the door behind him
She turned and rushed to hug the smiling Rukku even as her sister was in peals of laughter.
”Akka (elder sister), I thoroughly enjoyed this small act as a maid  in an old sari. A fitting lesson you gave to that foolish man. Thank God amma is sleeping in the bedroom” said Rukmini

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A check mate

.My father a lawyer by profession spent major part of his time on astrology. Most of the folks in our village and nearby places used to approach him with horoscopes of their offspring  for checking compatibility with those of prospective spouses’ or for choosing an auspicious date for starting a venture, building a house and such like. I was born the second among two sons and a daughter the youngest.
This story is not about my family but how my dad’s faith in horoscope affected me. Both the elder brother and sister are married and happily settled. I am 30, well qualified and employed earning a handsome salary. I am good in health, tall and a good looking man that female colleagues often linger to have small chat with me. Many young women have shown romantic inclinations that I would have gladly reciprocated but for the injunction put by dad on planetary considerations. He would not reveal what exactly the planets foretold except the vague reply that they were hostile to my wellbeing if I got married before 32. My prodding to be more specific yielded no response. My timid mother with a worried face would constantly be visiting temples and offering prayers.
I was also not keen about marriage and was busy moving up in the career till I was recently drawn to a colleague, Karthika. We meet almost daily and very often go out to restaurants and movies. She obliquely pointed one day to my single status and asked me with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes whether I was waiting for the right woman to come across.
“No, I have found her already and spend quite some time with her daily in office and restaurants” I said with a wink
“Then what holds you in proposing to her? May be she is waiting for you to take the first step” she said with a smile.
It was then I confided to her my dad’s objection on astrological grounds and that I was waiting to cross the doomsday before I commit to the lady whom I love.
“My God, do you decide on important matters of your life from the few squares of a horoscope. I thought you are modern and just cannot believe that you are an old hat,” she said with some disappointment.
“Not like that. I just do not wish to displease my dad or make fun of his beliefs and more importantly I had not met my lady till recently,” he said with a twinkle.
“Now that you have found your ladylove, you should have no difficulty in taking things forward”
“True, but I must also tell you that my brother one day in a moment of weakness confided that there are strong indications in my kundli that my life would come to an abrupt end before I am 32 and that was the reason dad was not inclined to jeopardize some young woman’s life. I also saw the logic in it.”
“What nonsense? Do you believe in all these balderdash?”
“Okay, let me ask you a question? Would you marry someone who is predicted though unscientifically to die in two years? Would you not fear every moment? You are no Savitri of mythology to bring back dead” he countered her
“I would willingly and enthusiastically jump at the offer. I have no faith in all these hokum. Even if something happens, I would not attribute to the horoscope”Kartika replied
“Wow, would you marry me then?”
“Where did I say I would marry you? Ask me directly and propose formally” she said with a beaming smile
As I made a formal gesture by bending my knee and extending my arm, both broke into laughter.”Tell me seriously how to go about it. Frankly I cannot wait for two years. But I am also afraid what if the prediction comes true?” I said
“Okay, I have a spark. What if I ask my dad to take my horoscope to your dad for reading my future, and specifically the longevity of my would be spouse. I am free with my dad and have already told him obliquely that our love is in initial stages. He also like me does not set much store by astrology. He would certainly not talk about you”
A week later Kartika showed her thumbs up when she entered my cabin and said “As per your dad’s reading of my horoscope, nothing can stop our getting wedded. He has written in his own hand that I would be happily married for long, hold your breath, with four children.  Shed your fear. If you marry me, you should live to minimum 40 to get four kids even at the earliest.”
“What shall we do now?” I asked wondering at her ability to checkmate my dad.
“Let us fix a convenient day at the earliest and get our marriage registered, solemnized in a temple and present a fait accompli to your dad. What do you say?”
Forgetting it was office, I said "done" and hugged her tightly even as she smothered me with smooches.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A happy end

Tring, tring, tring… the phone rang. There was a long gap before Sanjay heard Sheela’s voice.
“Sheelu, were you sleeping or what?”
“No, I was in the living room watching a serial. The phone was in bedroom. How come you rang me now? This is not your usual time. What is the matter?”
“Hold your breath. I have a big surprise for you. But I will not tell you now. You have to wait. I will be late and be at home only at 9pm”
“No, no you must tell me right away.  What is the big surprise? I cannot wait that long, Sanju dear, please” pleaded Sheelu
“Sorry, Sheelu. You wrack your brain till I come in the late evening. But I promise you it will be an exciting thing.Byebye”
Sanjay disconnected the phone. He did not tell her about the official trip to Singapore next day morning for a week. He had arranged to take her along too. He wished to reach home within an hour to get their things packed. He wished to plunge her totally in surprise.
Within 45 minutes he was in the lift of his fifth floor apartment in his building. He slowly opened the door with his key and walked in softly. She was not in drawing hall. He wanted to hug her from behind before sharing the happy news. He peeped into the kitchen and she was not there. The bed room was closed and locked from inside. He went near the door and whistled softly. There was some silence and then there was a noise of running water from inside. He put his ear on the door and heard nothing. Worried, he looked around and saw a shirt on the sofa and pair of shoes beneath it. He realized something was amiss.
Sanjay came back to the bedroom and tapped the door repeatedly shouting “Sheelu, Sanju here. Why have you locked the door? Who else is there? Any problem? Open it quickly.
He now banged the door furiously like a mad man suspecting something worse.”Could it be Sheelu is unfaithful? Was he foolish in trusting her blindly?” he thought for a moment but dismissed the idea immediately. She is such a loving wife. But what about the tell tale evidence of shirt, shoes and the locked bedroom with no response, he wondered.
He searched the house and brought a cricket bat to break open the door possessed as he was in insane rage. He hit the door hard with the bat.
 It was then he heard the click of the front door opening. He turned to see Sheela coming in with several bags of grocery, fruits and vegetables in her hand. She was surprised to see him at this hour and exclaimed “Sanju, how is it you are here now? You told me that you would come late in the evening”
“Never mind that. Tell me first who is in the bedroom? Whoever is there, he is not answering despite my calling your name and banging the door. I see his shirt and shoes at the sofa” he asked irascibly.
She broke into uncontrollable peals of laughter and amidst them she managed to say “Wait, he will come out soon? Did you suspect a secret lover or what? Fie on you then”
Sheela’s aged dad came out asking “Sheelu, where is my hearing aid? I must have left it in my shirt pocket before going for shower.”
Sanjay smiled at Sheela sheepishly in total embarrassment and said sorry. She was not easily mollified and snapped back, “I never knew you had such a filthy mind. I hate you. I have been asking you to get the WC in the other bathroom fixed? It is not flushing since a week. Dad had some unexpected work at the high court. He dropped in to see me and will be leaving presently by evening flight to Bangalore.”
“Let me talk to your dad for a minute. Please go to bedroom. I have something urgent to tell you”
After exchanging pleasantries with his father-in-law, he went to the bedroom and hugged her before telling her about their Singapore trip the early next morning.”I am sorry but this is a small recompense for my foolishness” he said.

Sheela in turn embraced him tightly at the unexpected and happy denouement

Monday, November 2, 2015

A bolt from the blue

She must be around 25 tall,well built and charming to look. Clad in white pajama and a light blue top, she looked forlorn and lost not knowing even the nature of place she was living. Her separate room, sparsely furnished with a cot, table and chair and a cupboard, is in a small building a little away from the main building. She does not stir out of her room, not that she is chained, but perhaps not permitted to. There is no TV or radio and the room is bare with nothing to cheer about. But the saving grace was the large grilled window that opened to the bright garden and the early morning sun. But she seemed happy in her solitary state and mostly silent immersed in her own thoughts that we have no clue about. She would stand once a while by the window staring vacantly at the scene before her.
Normally quiet, she gets upset with her face changing to scarlet whenever the nurse enters the room. She often  breaks into scream like a ferocious cat at high pitch as if someone is assaulting her.Ammini,the tall nurse, accustomed to her nature  gives her a cold and stern stare and tells ” Paru,stop it, I say. Open your mouth if you do not want a prick. I have lots of other things to do.” There would be instantly a magical transformation and the young woman as if under a spell would open her mouth obediently and swallow the tablets put along with water.
Ammini’s eyes would turn moist as she pats Paru and asks her “Please lie down. You need some sleep before your mom turns up in the evening.” She would cover Paru with a bed sheet and leave the room after drawing the curtains. This was a daily routine.
“Who are you? Why do you come here daily to disturb me from my thoughts?” asked Paru at the middle aged woman sitting before her in the only chair. A girl younger to Paru stood by the woman’s side staring at her, half in anxiety and half in fear.
“Paru dear, don’t you recognize me? It doesn’t matter. By Lord Guruvayurappan’s grace you would surely be able to soon. I have brought some sweet cookies that you are fond of  for you. Please have them” she said as she fed Paru in her mouth. She ate initially with a chuckle and gusto and after two pieces she spat them with crumbs falling on her young sister.
“You should not spit if you do not like. I will keep the box aside and you may take whenever you like” said the woman softly not showing any trace of annoyance.
“I don’t want your cookies. They are poison. You want me to die. Do not think I do not know your plan” saying these hurting words she laughed like one possessed. Abruptly she stopped laughing and started screaming and tearing her hair “Go away, I want my mom here and not you. You are out to kill me. Get out “.
Ammini rushed in and shouted “Paru, be quiet. Don’t hurt your mother who comes daily for your sake” When the scream did not stop and she became hysterical, Ammini gave her an injection. She dozed away soon.
Turning to the woman, Ammini said “Do not worry. Such alternating emotions are common. Doctors are trying their best to cure her. The rest is in God’s hands. I would advise you not to come for two or three days. I want her to miss your daily presence. Rest assured,I will take care of her”
“It is difficult not to come and see my daughter even for a single day. If you think, it may help her, let me try. I am immensely grateful to you for the tender care and patience you are showing towards her”
“It is our duty and I also consider her as my younger sister” said Ammini
Ammini did not notice initially that Paru’s mother had been absent for the last few days. It was only when she saw Paru’s younger sister with her younger brother that Ammini realized it was more than a week since Paru’s mom was absent.
“Where is your mom? Why has she not been coming? Is she not well?” asked Ammini
The girl broke into sob and said “My mother met with accident on the day we came here last. An auto hit her and she is in the hospital .She was unconscious till yesterday. The first question she asked was whether we had met Paru.”
“Where is your dad? Who brought you here?”
“Our dad left us long back. We do not know where he is. An uncle in the next house brought us here and is waiting outside.” replied the girl
“What is your name and that of your brother?”
“Vijaya.He is Kesavan”
“Okay, come along with me to meet Paru” said Ammini
Paru was standing by the window staring vacantly. She did not notice Ammini and her own siblings.
“Paru, see who have come to meet you”
Paru turned and looked at them without any sign of recognition. She then asked out of the blue “Where is the woman who came to see me daily?”
An idea struck Ammini’s mind when she remembered doctors telling that on rare occasions shocking news help in restoring sanity. She told Paru “Do not say a woman. She is your mother and she met with a serious accident while returning after she met you last time. She is unconscious. Do you realize the gravity of what I am telling you? Your mom is critically injured and doctors are trying to save her.”
Paru was blinking initially not comprehending what Ammini said. She was absolutely silent for a few moments and then started shaking her head furiously as if something was trying to explode inside. Her face was drenched in sweat
“Paru, please lie down on the bed. Stop shaking your head” said Ammini as she led her to the cot. Surprisingly Paru wrenched herself away from Ammini and screamed “I want to see my mother right now. Take me to the hospital where she is.Please, won’t you do it” she started wailing
Overcome by surprise at the happy turn Ammini realized that her exaggeration of her mother’s accident as critical had acted as a shock. She wished to make sure that the news had indeed jerked Paru to reality.
 Ammini told Paru”I do not know which hospital she is in. Ask this girl and boy if you know them for they may know:
Paru scratched her head a few times and said in a hurried tone “Aren’t you Vijaya and Kesavan.I am sorry I did not recognize you till now. Won’t you take me to amma?”She turned to Ammini and said “I do not know clearly where and why I am here but I know hazily now you are my benefactor.”
Ammini hugged Paru and showered kisses on her forehead saying with profuse tears in her eyes “It is all the grace of my Guruvayurappan that you have become normal now like anyone of us. Let me hurry to  tell the doctors immediately. I will surely arrange for your meeting your mom soonest. Please bear with me”

Thursday, October 29, 2015


It was small village in North India and the only semblance of its connection to the urban life is the dusty road through which rickety buses passed through daily at infrequent intervals. One could see camel carts loaded much beyond its size parked on the sides of the road. A few tractors could also be seen plying people.
One could discern from a distance a few people seated on a raised platform around a big tree with many folks seated on the ground. The winter had not set in but there was a nip in the air as was evident from the blankets over the shoulders of a few. There was a tall and well built man of about 70 with a big turban in white kurta and dhoti worn through the legs seated centrally. There was a hookah by his side. He seemed the head of the village panchayat and had some dignified bearing
The panchayat is an informal  organization operating in the villages that set rules some of them illegal and dispensed justice not always in conformity with government rules and laws. It met routinely this Sunday morning with no big issues on hand to be resolved. There was no controversial sa-gotra marriage, case of adultery or rape or assault. Everything seemed peaceful till it was broken by the shrill cry of a young boy of about seven or eight years being dragged by Bola the local grocer towards the group. The boy in shorts and an over sized vest seemed to be in pain presumably from the beatings by Bola.
“Hey Bola, what happened? Why is the poor urchin crying?” asked someone from the raised platform.
“This ladka (boy) is a thief even at this young age and if left unchecked may turn to be a robber. He took bread from my shop even as I was present there and ran away without paying for it. I had to chase him up to his hut and bring him here. He should be punished by burning his palm with hot iron as is the custom in our village”
“What is your name, young boy? Is it a fact that you took bread from Bola's shop without paying for it and ran away? Tell me the truth” asked the elderly head of panchayat.
The boy was silent initially and after some prodding said “My name is Murari.What he says is true. I took the bread as my mother is starving for the last three days. We have no money. She is dying. I could not bear see her hungry. I am sorry.”
“You should have requested him explaining the situation. What you did is wrong and you deserve a punishment” remonstrated the old man.”Hey, Munna, go to the boy’s hut and find out whether his mom is really sick as he says and what his dad is doing. We will wait here. Hurry up. We will see after you return about the punishment”
Bola’s wife had already lit up a fire and heated a thin steel rod waiting for Munna’s return.
Someone from the dais said “The boy has himself confessed to the crime. What is the need for further enquiry? He must be punished severely to ensure he does not do it again” A few others from the assembled crowd nodded in agreement. When the boy started crying loudly, Bola smacked him inviting the wrath of the headman.
“Stop it, Bola.Take your hands off the boy. Murari, come near me”
Munna came running and said “Saheb, I am afraid the boy’s mother is very sick, may be dead too I am not sure. She looks too emaciated and weak to respond. There was no movement. I think someone should rush her to the hospital in the next town to see if her life can be saved”
“Does anyone in the crowd know her?”
One man rose and said “She works in my field. Her husband had deserted her and she has only this boy. She came to our village after the husband left as her dad belonged to this village. She has not been coming to work for the last few days. I was thinking of checking myself about her when this incident has happened. She is quiet by nature and hard working. I have heard no complaint against her.”
“Are you suggesting that we let go this boy free unpunished? We must burn the boy’s palm for the theft. Does her mother’s sickness exonerate the boy of the theft?”shouted one heartless farmer from the crowd. Some merciless men joined him and there was a chorus demanding punishment.
The head of panchayat signaled silence and said ”Hey Jassaram, you have a jeep. Take that poor woman to the hospital immediately along with your wife and some other willing women. Take this 1000Rs.She belongs to our village and our daughter. We cannot allow her to die like an orphan. Hurry up before it becomes late. The others remain seated till I dispose of this case.”
There was a murmur of voices both in protest and in agreement. After Jassaram and others left the venue to take the woman to hospital in the jeep, the old man beckoned Bola’s wife to come near him and hand over the red hot iron rod. The boy sobbed in fear loudly.
The old man took the rod in his hand and said, “I agree with you all that the guilty should be punished without mercy. Murari's mom was sick and without work for a few days. There was none to take care of her. When her condition had worsened and she was starving, the seven year old had no other aim than to feed his mom. I am sure he must have asked Bola to give a few loaves of bread before snatching the bread and running away.” He turned to Bola and asked him “Did the boy not ask you initially for your help? Answer truthfully”
Bola in shame hung his head down and nodded his head in affirmative.
“As I told you the woman is a daughter of this village. She came here with her young son after her husband deserted her as she thought rightly this village her home and that she would be safe here than elsewhere. The farmer in whose field the poor woman worked did not make any effort to inquire about her well being although she worked for him sincerely as he himself had said. No other member of the village who worked in the field along with her cared  for her with each one minding his or her own business..Yet many of you are baying for the blood of this young boy who does not know even what is right or wrong in a crisis. His only goal was to save his mother. Bola could have been generous. I consider the whole village guilty of negligence and indifference. As the head of the village I own the responsibility for our callous attitude and inflict the punishment on myself. He opened his left palm and ran the red hot iron on it to the shock and dismay of the crowd.
“I hope this will be a lesson for future that we should not let down one of our own in times of distress. The boy Murari will be in my care and custody till his mother returns. I will take charge of his education and well being as if he is my grandson. The meeting is over” he said even as he put his right hand on the shoulder of boy. The crowd dispersed a little chastened and a few were seen wiping their tears.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The young lady in distress

It was unusually cold for this part of the year with the chill wind blowing now and then adding to the discomfort. I was sitting aimlessly on a raised parapet wall built around the lounge leading to the metro station. One needed a ticket to enter the station where one can find comfortable seats. I had neither a place to go nor the money to spend for the luxury of sitting in the station. I had just finished the last fag with my eyes closed and decided that it was time to leave for my room. It was then I heard a slight shuffle of feet by my side. It was a young woman in her early twenties who would look pretty charming but for her jaded clothes, crumpled hair  and a face that badly needed a wash.
 “Can I sit by your side for a while, as a jerk has been stalking me? I am unable to shake him off, and if he sees us conversing, he may go away looking for another quarry.”
I turned to see a tall muscular guy with a county cap on his head walking away
“Okay, sit down by my side though it is cold here. Tell me where you reside as it is obvious you are not travelling by train.”
“Frankly I have no place to go and that is why I am loitering here not knowing what to do.”
“Sounds strange! Where were you living hitherto?What is your name?”
“Tina,I was living with a man for six months till he threw me out this morning.”
“Oh oh,I am sorry. Why did he throw you out? Any other woman? How long you had known him?”
“Six months only as I had moved in on the first day I met him. He sounded genuine and warm. He was also sturdy and good looking. I had also no place to go. We were getting along well and I had no reason to suspect that anything was amiss. He did not also tell me why he suddenly lost interest in me” she said in a stoical way.
“Was it like that earlier too, I mean living with someone, before you met this guy? Anyway you do not have to answer that question. Tell me whether you work anywhere or just loaf around living off others?”
“That was a mean question from you” Tina said angrily. "I was working as a maid in a bar till a week back when they decided to send away a few girls due to poor business. I am looking for another place and hope to get in two days. May be the guy threw me out when he knew I had no job. Anyway it is a closed chapter.”
I remained quiet not knowing what to do. I did not have the heart to leave her in the dead of night at a vulnerable and dangerous place nor was I convinced about the desirability of taking an unknown woman to my place.
She broke me from my reverie when she touched my hand and with folded hands pleaded, “Please help me stay with you for this night. I will leave tomorrow morning. You need have no fear, I promise”
When I saw the same stalker a little yonder, I decided to take her with me.”Okay, come with me. I see that guy still there waiting for you to be alone. Let me make it clear. My room is small and cannot accommodate a guest on regular basis.. You will have to sleep on the floor and leave when the day breaks. Is it clear?”
We then crisscrossed through different dark and dingy lanes till we reached my room at the  basement of a house.It was self contained with a bath and kitchenette. A queen sized bed, a reclining chair, a big fridge and a small TV on the wall made it a livable place.
As she was looking around the room with interest, I rummaged the small closet to come up up with a faded jeans and a shirt. I gave them to her along with a towel and said, “Have a good shower. You can use the soap and shampoo. This jeans and shirt should fit you. I will get you a new pair tomorrow. Do remember you are leaving in the morning”
She extended her hand to shake mine and said “Thank you so much. You are so kind and understanding..I will be back in a trice after a shower”
When she was inside the bathroom, Tina heard the sound of something being moved.
She gently opened the door a little to see him moving the bed away from the wall and craning his neck that side. She closed the door swiftly without noise and had a warm and soothing shower. Everything was clean and perfect. His stonewashed jeans and shirt fitted her well and she looked attractive totally different from the grimy woman she was earlier.
As she came out, I screamed involuntarily and said “ Wow, you look ravishing”
She hugged me and said “Thank you. I am famished and need something to eat right away. Can I peep inside your fridge to find something?”
In a startled tone I said “No, you sit on the chair. I have a piece of Pizza and an apple. May be a glass of milk if you care to warm it up”
I had already spread a bed on the floor with a pillow and blanket. I said “You may eat and then go to sleep. I am dead tired and would like to hit the bed” and added with a wink “No misreading me, be sure on that. I am just trying to be hospitable to a young lady in distress”
I heard a loud knock at the door.It was 7 am,I turned to see the woman.She was not in the bed.I could see the light in the bath room.As I opened the main door slightly,the tall guy with county cap,the stalker,put his foot inside and pushed me in
“Where is the lady?”he gruffly asked.
“Who the hell are you? How can you enter my house without my permission? I am not obliged to tell the whereabouts of any lady you are talking about. Please get out” I shouted in anger.
He whipped from his pocket an identity card to show he is from Anti drugs authority and let in two  armed men in uniform. Shocked at the sudden turn of events, I turned towards the bathroom when I heard the door being opened.
The tall guy stood in attention and gave her a stiff salute that sent a chill on my spine.
She said in a soft but authoritative voice “Look at the wall on the side of his bed. He was meddling there last night.
I let out a swear “You dirty B***h when the two uniformed men encircled me and  handcuffed my hands behind me..The game was soon up  with the secret vault on the wall opened and a large cache of contraband stuff found inside
"I want you to open the large fridge  that is possibly empty  and rip it apart. I suspect it is bound to give a rich haul" she said to the tall guy. The search was not in vain and far exceeded her expectations.
As I was pushed into the waiting police car  she said to me “ I am sorry buddy. You were a good host  but I had my duty to do, though painful it was, on a trusting guy like you..We had identified you already but did not know where you had stashed the stuff. We wished to secure concrete evidence before you are put behind bars” and moved with firm steps towards her chauffeured car.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The train journey

Rohit was tired after the long journey from the Kashmir border to Srinagar and then to Delhi. He was still in his informal fatigue and wished to catch some sleep before the train reached Gwalior. Luckily he had the window seat to recline. There were still five minutes for the train to start. He stretched his legs and closed his eyes.
“Excuse me. Let me keep my luggage on the loft. These two seats next to you belong to us," an elderly but short man said. His wife who was taller than him was standing beside him with two heavy bags in her hand.
“Let me help you. Give me the boxes and bags,” Rohit said
“Thanks a lot. It would have been anyway difficult for me to reach the loft," he said with a giggle.”We are going up to Bhopal. Are you also travelling to the same place?”
“No, I am travelling up to Gwalior.”
“You seem to be an army man from your dress. My son is also in army in artillery somewhere in Kashmir. He should have been here with us .We have finalized the marriage of his sister. We are going there for that purpose. Other family members and relatives along with my daughter have left by train earlier. My son had sent a message through someone that he cannot come due to exigencies of work and asked us to go ahead with the wedding." the old man spoke nonstop.
"I am sorry to hear that he could not come. What is his name? Any idea where he is presently?"
"Sohan. Unlike me he is a tall chap six foot with curly hair and sharp nose. I don't know the exact place. Some place called Uri or some such name. Would you know him by any chance?"
"Did you say Sohan...Sohan Gupta? Does he have a black mole below his lip on the chin?"
"Yes, right you are..He has the mole and a deep scar on his temple he sustained from injury while playing as a young boy. Do you know him?"
Instead of replying Rohit turned his head towards the window to see the station passing by as the train slowly started moving. The elderly man was waiting eagerly for Rohit to turn back. When he continued to look outside even after the station was left behind, the man coughed gently to draw his attention.
As Rohit paid no heed, the man asked him "You haven't replied whether you know my son. But you were right about the mole on his chin. How is it he could not get leave when you have been given?"
“I don't know him personally. I have seen him in the mess a few times. That was a few months back. I got leave only for a week as my dad is having heart surgery. Sorry, I am very sleepy as I have been traveling," Rohit said and stretched himself on his seat
The man mumbled something to his wife.
Rohit with his eyes closed was recollecting his close friend Sohan telling him about two weeks back how eagerly he was looking forward to attend his sister's marriage as his leave was sanctioned. Thoughts about him and their friendship slowly waned as he dozed off to sleep.
He woke up with a jerk when the man next to him nudged him to inform that the train was entering Gwalior station
“Thanks uncle for waking me up. I was very tired and fell asleep”
“I have one request. When you meet Sohan next, please ask him to write to us. It is nearly a  fortnight since we got to hear from him. We are worried at his unusual silence. I am happy to have met you. I shall pray for your dad’s well being,” the man said as he shook his hands.
After getting down, Rohit lingered by the door, where the elderly man stood, till the train slowly departed. Waving his hand at the receding figure, Rohit stood still unable to control the tears from his eyes. He had not the heart to tell Sohan’s parents, especially on the eve of their daughter’s barat, that he was the one who had sent the message about Sohan’s inability to come. How could he tell them that their son was critically injured  from a terrorist attack two weeks back and that he is battling for his life? He could only pray for a divine miracle.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Truth prevails

The board outside announcing that the store was hiring hands was godsend as he was roaming the streets in search of a job. Someone in the shop collected his name and address in a chit. In a few moments Kartik stood perspiring before the owner of ‘Vinayaka’, an air conditioned departmental store.
“Where were you working earlier and why did you leave the job?” asked the owner.
He knew a truthful answer would certainly not fetch him the job. The thought of his starving family troubled his mind. However, he was determined not to lie come what may.
He gulped the saliva and said “I was not working anywhere for more than two years.”
“Why? You do not seem to be in good circumstances to be without a job. Aren’t you married?”
“I am, Sir. I have a wife and a son. My aged mother is also with me”
“You have not answered my first question. Were you idling your time for two years or do you not wish to reveal the name of your previous employer?”
“It is not like that. To be frank, I was in jail for two years and was released six months back. I have been searching for a job since then without any luck”
He was interrupted by owner who said “Who will give a job to a criminal? I am sorry I cannot also.”
“I understand, Sir, but I wish to say I am no criminal. It was my destiny that I was falsely accused for a crime I was not even aware of”
“What do you mean? That is what everyone tells”
“I was travelling in a crowded bus and a seat was about to fall vacant. When I lunged for it, a man asked why I was pushing him and that he was not going to occupy the seat. I thanked him and sat in the seat. Within minutes there was a commotion and a scream from an elderly man that his pocket was picked and people saw the man who was talking to me escaping through the front exit. Someone said he had seen the culprit talking to me and the conductor saw the empty wallet under my legs. Despite my pleading that he was a stranger and he must have dropped the wallet by my side, I was handed over to the police. After beating me blue I was put in jail.Trust me, Sir, I have never indulged in crime in my life nor uttered a lie. My family is starving. Kindly help me. I swear by what I told you,”Kartik said.
“What you say may be true. I have no means of verifying it. But I am not in a position to take a risk and employ you,”  the owner said curtly and escorted him outside the store himself.
He had hardly moved ten steps, he heard a loud cry from a middle aged woman “Stop the cycle, he had snatched my chain” It took no time for Kartik to stand in the front of a speeding cycle and push the cyclist down even as he also fell down. The chain snatcher whipped a knife but was overpowered by other passersby. The chain was safely restored to the woman who profusely thanked Kartik for his resourcefulness and bravery.
Limping back home, he told his wife “No luck today also, dear. I found a place offering jobs but the stigma seems hard to erase.”
“Never mind. I have hot gruel ready. Do not lose heart. God will answer our prayers as you have done no wrong,” she consoled him.
An hour later a young boy in his teens was at their door asking ‘I am from Vinayaka stores. Is there any Kartik here? My owner wants him immediately.”
“I am Kartik. Do you have any idea why he wants me?”
“No Sir. Please come along with me in the scooter. He is waiting.”
When he was ushered into the owner’s room, he smiled at Kartik and said “I have since changed my mind. You can come for work from tomorrow as part of our security. I trust you fully. You will get uniform in two days. Give measurements before you go. Take these thousand rupees and buy provisions.”
Taken by surprise and not knowing what brought about this change in him, he said with tears flowing from his eyes “Only about an hour ago, you sent me away suspecting my integrity and now you are not only employing me but as security. My prayers to God have not been in vain”
“I judged you wrongly. Luckily and very soon I had a proof of your helping nature when you left my store. A compassionate man can never be a criminal. I was watching the incident from the store. Incidentally that lady is my wife.”

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Easy money

There was a nip in the air with the full moon shining brightly on the clear sky. Kapali was returning to Chennai in his empty mini-truck after dropping a load at Hosur. Humming a film song after a scrumptious meal at Krishnagiri, he seemed in no hurry. He switched on the recorder, lighted a cigarette and drove for an hour,
He saw at a distance two men waving their hands to stop the vehicle. There was a big bundle beside them. Thinking they needed a lift with the prospect of some easy money, he stopped the vehicle.
“This is our relative who fell from terrace by accident and died on the spot. He hails from Gudiyatham.We will pay you 500 rupees if you can hand over this bundle containing his body to two members of his family who would be waiting on the highway as you near Gudiyattham.They would have a lantern for easy identification. Can you please help us in this emergency?”
Though afraid to carry an unknown body, the lure of money tempted him to agree but he reveled at the prospect of extracting more from these village folks.
“I do not carry dead bodies for the risk involved. It is against company rules to carry unauthorized goods. But considering the urgency, the late hour and his waiting family members, I agree if you are willing to pay me 750 rupees and one of you accompany the bundle,” said Kapali.
They looked at each other for a while. One of them said “We agree to pay the amount you demanded but we cannot travel with you as we have urgent work here. We will leave early morning by bus. Our relatives would be there waiting for you. Please help us”
Kapali refused and required lot of persuasion
He finally said “I will not take a dead body without someone responsible for it accompanying me. What if the two men who are supposed to receive the body do not turn up? I would be burdened and stranded with a dead body in hand. There is a lot of risk involved in this business. Considering the urgency, I do not mind if you pay me 2000 rupees.”
“Our relatives would surely be there. Do not worry” they said in unison. They reluctantly paid the sum he demanded before placing the covered bundle on the rear of the truck.
Richer by 2000 bucks, Kapali was happy thinking that in two hours he would be relieved of the burden. He drove for some distance and stopped the truck for emptying his full bladder.
As he returned to his seat, he felt a very slight movement of the truck. Wondering what could be the reason, he felt the movement again. He looked behind through the opening to see whether the bundle was intact. His blood froze and sweat broke out on his forehead when he saw the bundle shaking violently as if trying to free itself. How can a dead body move? Was he imagining himself he wondered and pinched himself hard? It was clear that whoever was presumed to be dead is in fact alive. He got down and opened the cloth covering the body. There was a middle aged man bloodied all over with both limbs tied and covered in plastic sheet. He was seen trying to extricate himself. Luckily the man had not suffocated to death thanks to shoddy packing that left an opening near his face.
Kapali quickly removed the cloth cover and the plastic sheet. He untied his hands and legs and tried in vain to make him sit. The man was injured all over the body with a gash on his head. He seemed critically injured and needed immediate medical attention. After swallowing some water that Kapali poured in his mouth, the man opened his eyes.
“I was told by two men that you had died instantly after a fall from a height and that I should hand you over to your relatives who would be waiting at Gudiyatham.Luckily you are not dead and need to be rushed to a hospital nearby”
“Those two men were evil. They beat me up with rods when I went to collect the long pending dues from them. There was no accident or a fall. They tried to kill me and possibly thought I was dead. I have none at Gudiyatham.I belong to Bangalore” he spoke haltingly with great difficulty and almost inaudibly.
When Kapali told him that he would first inform the police at Gudiyatham and thereafter admit him in a hospital, he nodded his head and said “Thank you. I am feeling very sleepy. Please hurry”
Kapali pressed the accelerator not to lose valuable time and stopped only when he reached the police station. He ran inside and luckily saw the Inspector still there with two constables.
He narrated the event as it took place and said “The man is outside in the truck. I must rush him to the hospital as his condition seems critical. Meanwhile please try to nab the two wicked men at Krishnagiri”
“Let me talk to the injured man first and verify the veracity of your statement, “said the inspector as he came out..
Kapali touched the injured man who lay with his eyes closed and spoke to  him loudly, “The inspector is here. Please tell him quickly what you told me as I have to take you to the hospital”
The man did not reply. Kapali tried to wake him up again from his drowsiness. There was no movement to his great worry. He repeatedly asked him to open his eyes and tell the inspector. But the man lay inert.
The inspector turned the injured man’s head towards him when the head fell on its side. The inspector felt at his nostrils for breath and his pulse. He looked accusingly at Kapali and said “The man is dead.”
With a dead body on his hand and with no proof for his statements other than the only person who could corroborate already dead, Kapali started crying “I am innocent, Sir” even as he was rudely pushed inside the station. The inspector had a smirk on his face as the constable pulled out the bundle of 2000 rupees from Kapali’s pocket.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The elevator

It was around 5pm and the offices in that tall 14 floor building were closing. There were long lines before the elevators in each floor of people wanting to reach home early before the evening traffic snarls. All eyes were on the panel indicating  the floor where lifts were at any point of time. There were three elevators on this wing and one of them was out of order thus adding to the number waiting.
One of the lifts started at the 14th floor and was cruising down up to eighth floor without stopping midway. Suddenly it got stuck slightly above the seventh floor. The waiting people became restless as they heard the thuds of the passengers in the lift.
Someone from seventh floor shouted “Press the emergency. How many of you are there? Any operator inside?”
“We did. It is not moving. We are just two. No operator. No light too” a female voice answered.
“We have alerted the security. The mechanics are expected. Take care. Is the other one a female like you?”
Thanks.No.I am scared to be caught like this” said the female voice.
“Do not worry. We are here” assured the nameless voice from seventh floor.
Suddenly there was loud noise of someone knocking on the sides of elevator and sounds of shuffling and movement.
All ears were tuned to the noises
“Don’t touch me. I warn you” screeched the female voice
“No, no. Take your hands off me, you rogue. I will lodge police complaint” shrieked the female.
There was a nonchalant giggle and vague noises of reply.
“Help, help. I am being groped in the dark by a wicked person. Please get the lift operated immediately. I beg of you’ shouted the voice
“Hey mister, keep your hands off her. We are more than twenty here waiting to teach you a lesson. I warn you not to mess with her” said the voice from seventh floor.
There was a loud shriek followed by frantic appeals that faded into long silence. One could hear only muffled sobs.
The people on the seventh and sixth floor who could hear were highly agitated.
Someone in the crowd asked “Are you safe, madam? Your silence is bothering us”
Someone called 100 to get the police. More calls were made to get the mechanic post haste.
It was clear some evil person is trying to take advantage of the situation and molest the poor female caught alone in the lift. Seething in anger and shock, they were waiting to punch and box him before handing over to the police.
The long delay for the mechanics to reach and the total silence made them worry whether the worst had happened. All their warnings and admonitions were met with stony silence.
There was a great relief when the mechanics arrived and hurriedly fixed the problem. There was no reply to their query whether the light had come. The lift slowly came down nonstop to 7,6,5,4,3,2,1, and G. A big crowd had gathered. Policemen near the elevator entrance asked the onlookers to move aside.
After what was an interminable excruciating wait, out came a young man and young woman hand in hand smiling at the onlookers. While the waiting persons looked with shock and disbelief, a policeman asked the female, “Do you have any complaints to make against this man, madam”
“What, a complaint against my husband. We are Mr. and Mrs. Swaroop,actors,” she replied with a laugh
The man added “We wished to turn the unexpected mishap into a Hitchcock experience for all the waiting persons and an acting diversion for us to pass the time. Sorry folks, if we had caused you some worry. I am sure the happy conclusion should make the experience worth the while.”

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The temple bell

Dingdong, dingdong, dingdingdong…dingdong, dingdong, dingdingdong…. rang sonorously the temple bell situated at the top of gopuram (tower) as Aadhi repeatedly pulled the rope in a manner perfected by years of practice. With no discordant note, there was certain pleasing rhythm and blissful music in the ringing. To the trained ear however the bell seemed to produce the long strains of Aum.The loud peals that echoed around the four main streets surrounding the temple and beyond alerted the residents of the puja time in the temple. The bell rang several times in a day.
Neither a village nor a town, it was something in between in size boasting of its temple as the only one in the vicinity and its main attraction. The beauty of the Presiding Deity and His consort, and the famed power ascribed to the god in alleviating chronic ailments drew many devotees from outside the place too. The temple was not rich and had bequests just enough to carry out the daily rituals.
Aadhi, a frail middle aged man inherited this job from his father upon his premature death. The remuneration was low but carried the perk of free accommodation adjacent to the temple as he also did the duty of security when he was not ringing the bell. On most days he got at midday the food from the temple kitchen. But this was not adequate for his family of wife and two kids. With his school going children growing up, he found the income hardly adequate even for the basic needs. His salary remained stagnant with the temple itself in bad straits.
But Aadhi did not consider this a job but as a family privilege to serve the lord through the bell. Like the Chakra and Conch that adorned the Lord, the temple bell to him had also the same divinity. He often spoke to the bell when alone confiding his travails and felt his burden had lightened.
“What are you going to do about the school fees for the children? The last date is already over. If we do not pay in a week they will be sent away” lamented his wife Kumudha, when he went home one day late for dinner.
“I don’t know who to ask but know for sure no one in this town will advance me money. It is temple festival starting from tomorrow for three days. I will try to find some help thereafter. Do not worry. I will seek the help of my master, the bell, whom I have served diligently for years to take my case with the Lord. He will never let me down” he said with trusting faith. With nothing better to suggest, his wife kept quiet with a wry smile at the credulity of her husband.
That night as he lay on the bench near the entrance to the temple, he could not sleep. He looked up at the big bell and uttered in plaintive tone” Have I not served you well all these years? Have I taken holiday even once? Even in fever or pain I have always served you to my best. Yet when I am in difficulties to whom I can go for help? I cannot directly access God except through a master. You have been my master and still you remain a silent witness to my suffering. Please plead for me to God” He was praying continuously till sleep embraced him.
Next day morning the temple wore a festive look. Aadhi was near the gate where the rope hung tolling the bell with gusto. The brass plated dwajasthamba (flagstaff) close to the entrance shone in golden colour.Devotees started coming to the temple. The children stood near him watching him ringing the bell with zest, Devotees too at the dwajasthamba lingered to hear the joyful sound of the bell in great rhythm.
It was then a short man, strange looking with a conical head and broad hips, stopped near Aadhi and watched him keenly at his work. The crowd around now started looking alternately at the strange man and Aadhi working at the bell. Aadhi was oblivious to the former’s presence till the short man placed a brass vessel on Aadhi’s bench that was adjacent to him and put a ten rupee coin to the surprise of the gathered devotees. The sound of falling coin drew the attention of also those depositing coins in the temple hundi adjacent to the flagstaff. They too dropped coins and notes in the brass vessel.
By evening the vessel had a sizable collection. Aadhi did not know to whom this money belonged. He went to the senior priest who knew his pitiable condition for advice.
“Aadhi, the devotees drop their offerings at the temple hundi and also on the plates after we show the aarti.The latter is shared by the priests. Likewise whatever is given to you is yours. Thank God for his blessings”
The strange conical headed man came all the three days and dropped a coin first to be followed by the visiting devotees. Each day Aadhi collected a tidy amount to the glee of his wife and children.
On the third day, when he saw the short man, Aadhi approached him with folded hands and said “Sir, I do not know who you are. I have been here for years. No one has ever paid me. It was only after your gesture that people have started dropping money in the vessel you placed on my bench. Can you please tell me what made you to be so kind to me?”
The short man just smiled and said “I did it to shore up your faith.”
“Did you mean shore up my faith? I do not understand. I have never seen you earlier. Do you live in this town?” said Aadhi
He just smiled and said “Yes. I live here only like you for years” before he abruptly left leaving Aadhi confused.
Aadhi affirmed to Kumudha his strong belief that his benefactor was none else than the divine bell in disguise while she still wore her wry smile.