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.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The new found thrill

Keshav and Kamli were anything but a ‘made for each other couple’. She was an extrovert, fun loving and gregarious while he was an introvert, a loner and a staid type. She loved eating out, fond of many cuisines and  especially new and esoteric dishes while he always preferred traditional home made food. She loved friends and kitty parties, and was fond of travel. He avoided parties and was a home bird. She loved watching films while he dozed away in cinema halls. She was a great fan of Shreya Ghosal and Sonu Nigam while he liked only Carnatic music. She loved Soccer and had a crush on Messi, and Keshav was no sports person. But the silver lining despite all these differences was that they deeply loved each other.
One Sunday as they were sipping tea at the balcony, he was nibbling with his iPhone. Kamli broke the silence.
“I had great expectations from the marriage. But I never expected even in my dream of such a dull life. We are married for three years. Search your heart and tell me whether you had surprised me even once with an outing to a far off place for my birthday. Am I asking you for a hot balloon ride at a hilly resort that my friend R got from her hubby as a surprise gift?”
“It is not like that, dear. You know my office and the work they have heaped on me. Believe me, it is want of time and nothing more.”
Phew! Just try to tickle your mind to remember of any gift given for our wedding anniversary. I am not asking for a gorgeous dress. You could at least take me to a local restaurant. You do not even take me for a long drive along the beach,let alone thrilling me. You haven’t even shocked me once doing something different from your insipid routine,”she bemoaned
“I am sorry, Kamli. What you say is possibly true. I am not giving excuses but the pressure of office work is too much. But I have given you total freedom to do what pleased you and never questioned you on what you did or where you went. I have given you a vehicle and enough money,”Keshav said in his defense.

“Who wants your car and money? Sad, you know nothing about what a woman seeks”
“It did not strike me that you get carried away by the outward demonstration of love. I love you deeply you know” he replied
“It is not only these. We are like two islands with no common interest. You do not like anything that I love. I wish you understand me more.”
“I will try and please you from now on,” he said patting her in the back
Two days later he told her “I may be late tonight as I am to submit the annual report in gist to Chairman. Do not wait for me.”
She went to bed early by 9 pm and spent some time reading an unfinished novel listening to Suniti Chauhan on iPod. She switched off the night lamp too and soon fell asleep. Around 1 am when she was half asleep and turned to one side, she felt the warmth of a body behind her and an arm over her.. She was drowsy and thought Keshav had returned even as she snuggled closer. The grip of the arm tightened drawing her closer to him. He had put his leg over her and ran his hand over her shoulder and arm. She enjoyed the comfort of the grasp from behind her and the smooches on the shoulder and her nape that sent goose bumps across her body. Keshav was always gentle but today he was different as he had promised, she thought. “Keshav” she called softly and asked “when did you come?”
Instead of a response, she was pulled forcefully. It then struck her that this was not the Revlon musk that Keshav used daily but something else pungent. Scared beyond words, she tried to push him aside
Her both hands were now in his clasp in a scissor hold and her scream was silenced by his palm closing her mouth. It was dark and she could not see. It was obviously someone else who had stealthily entered and about to assault her. Praying to God, she summoned all her strength and succeeded in freeing herself. She jumped out of the bed and ran to a corner.
It was then the bright light came alive and she saw Keshav sitting on the bed laughing loudly and uncontrollably.
“What a foolish act is this? You scared the life out of me. I could have hit you hard with anything I could have got hold of” she said angrily
“Calm down, Kamli..You wanted shock and thrill. I hope you had it in ample measure. As a bonus, be ready to fly to Hong Kong next week. I have some work there for a day but we will spend a week there. I will make amends for all the lost happiness” he said with a mischievous wink
It was now her turn to hug him in joy.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The capricious fate.

It cannot be called a restaurant. It was at best a small eatery, somewhat like a way side dhaba in a thatched shed. There was nothing presumptuous about the place, no name board, no bright lights or clang of china. But there was a steady flow of customers because of its location at a vantage point near the bus stand and the affordable prices. It had only tall benches serving as tables with short ones doing the duty of chairs. It boasted of no big variety in the menu. There were a few ordinary people having their dinner of roti and sabzi, vegetable briyani or aappam, a dosa like rice preparation.
Gopal who owned the place has been noticing for a long time from his cash counter one young woman with a small bag in her hand seated on a culvert near a lamp post on the opposite side of road. She did not look like a passenger waiting for a bus but someone in poor circumstances with nowhere to go. It was nearing the closing time of 11pm.There was none eating in the eatery and the day’s left over was there. He beckoned her to come and when she looked hesitant summoned her by gesture.
“I have been seeing you since evening sitting at the same place obviously with no place to go. You must be hungry. Be seated and have your meal,” Gopal said
Unsure but with a surprised look, she sat in the corner of a bench. A small boy brought her roti sabzi and briyani in ample quantity.
“I have no money to pay,” she said almost inaudibly.
“Who asked you for money? Eat as much as you want and  tell me later about yourself,” Gopal said
He was watching her eat gluttonously as one who had been starving for days. She must be in her mid thirties, good looking but with a worn out sari and a wan look. Her hair was disheveled as if it had not seen oil for years and her skin appeared dry.
As he was looking at her sideways, his thought went back to his wife Thamarai who must be of the same age as this woman. He wondered where she would be and whether she would also be roaming like this woman in the streets.
Thamarai was 19 when they were married and a year since then he lost her. She went out to buy provisions in the nearby store, his mom had said, but she never returned. Someone had said she was forcibly pulled into a van in a matter of seconds and taken away while another saw her walking along with a middle aged woman. The store boy affirmed that she bought the provisions from the store. Searches were made and police complaint registered, but there was no trace of her.After a couple of years his mother nagged him to marry someone else but he was adamant not to marry. Thamarai, he knew, was a good girl and loved him deeply. He was sure that she would never have deserted him. He decided to wait and was even willing to accept her without asking her questions about her absence.
He felt Thamarai may not return. He remembered the happy days with her and one particular incident very well. They had gone to a local fair moving around arm in arm buying many small stuff, eating cotton candies and having various rides in merry-go round, giant wheel and such. There was one stall where a middle aged woman was putting tattoos. On an impulse Gopal proffered his arm and asked the woman to tattoo a lotus (Thamarai) on the upper arm. When finished, he asked Thamarai to have one.
”I am not a man like you. I cannot also have one openly in hand and that too your name,” she said
The tattoo woman smilingly said with a wink ”Pappa (child) your husband is wanting. Have one in your calf muscle and only you two will know”
On his insistence, Thamarai had a tattoo of Krishna with a cow (Gopal) put on her leg.
He would often ask her when both of them were alone “Let me see my name on your leg” much to her shyness and then caress her leg lovingly.
He woke up from his reverie when the woman after eating came and stood before him deferentially.”Be seated,” he said as he showed her a stool.
”You don’t seem belong to this town? I don’t think you have anyone here from your appearance. Are you single or married? What is your name?”he asked.
She kept silent for a while and when prodded said” You can call me Mangala.Please do not ask me anything more. I have nothing to tell except that I have no one. I thank you for giving me food when I needed it most. Allow me to go.”
“If you do not wish to tell, it is ok.But where will you go at this hour? It is not safe. You better stay in this dining hall and leave in the morning” he said
She remained silent unsure of what to do. “Whether it is tonight or tomorrow it is the same for me. I have no place to go,” she replied
”Ok you stay here tonight. You can decide where to go tomorrow,” he suggested and went to his portion on the rear.
.It had rained heavily nonstop in the night with one foot deep water everywhere in the morning. Gopal standing outside the eatery was surveying the area seeing the water receding  slowly in many places from the pathway.
It was then Mangala came out of the eatery and said to him”Thank you again. I have no words to express my gratitude. Let me go on my way.”
Gopal gave her a hundred rupee note and bade her good bye.
As she was wading through the water towards the gate with her sari lifted up knee high, he had a fleeting glance of the tattoo of Krishna with cow on her slim leg. Shocked beyond words, he continued to stare at her leg. As she turned at the gate and saw him gazing at her leg, she instantly put down the sari in disgust and hurriedly walked away.
Gopal opened his mouth to call  her Thamarai but his voice choked in emotional indecision even as he continued to stare at the fading figure with tears flowing from his eyes.