Thursday, September 29, 2016

The comforting hand

The bright colors on the walls of the building or the well ventilated rooms did little to lift the gloom that had enveloped the space inside the hospice run by an NGO on a no profit no loss basis.   The building was built out of the donations from philanthropic souls and many who worked there, except for the nurses and other maintenance staff, took no remuneration.
Priya, looking at her watch, hurried the pace as she neared the building. A young woman in her early twenties, she is a voluntary day time worker doing the duty of a nurse, administrative staff and overseeing the kitchen depending on the needs. She was accustomed to the groans, the grunts and the cries from the inmates that filled the air. There was an unmistakable stench despite the good ventilation and the liberal usage of floor deodorants.
Most of the patients were in their final stages of lives afflicted by cancer, Alzheimer’s and other acute ailments that are terminal in nature. Some of them were paid in-patients, some of them abandoned by children and admitted by friends or relatives and a few from poor families. Such of those who were well off contributed liberally for their upkeep and even donated for the corpus. Those who paid for their maintenance were housed in rooms that had very few beds and had attached bath rooms. The others were in spacious halls with many beds. There was however no discrimination shown in food and medical attention.
As was her habit Priya entered first the room where 89-year-old Kumuda was staying.” Patti, how are you keeping today? You look slightly better. Could you sleep well without much pain?” she asked with warmth in her tone even as she was caressing her back. Kumuda was in the final stages of cancer of liver and her end was expected any time. She lay in the bed folded like a small bundle, emaciated and skinny.
Kumuda turned her head slowly with some effort and one could see a flicker of brightness in her doleful eyes.” Is it Priya? Bring your face closer to me. You know well, my good girl, each day is no different from the other and I am just biding my time for the bhagwan to take me in his fold and relieve me from this pain and suffering. I wish He opens His eyes quickly to answer my prayer,” she said with much difficulty.
Priya took her hand in hers and said softly, “Pray do not talk on these lines. If the pain is too much, I can arrange a pain killer. I am here by your side till evening. Have no worry. I went to Ganesa temple and prayed for you to keep you free from pain. Let me apply the ash on your forehead. It will surely help. I will make a quick round of the other rooms and return soon to sit by your side,” As she got up from the stool, she saw a trickle of tears in Kumuda’s eyes and said as she wiped it,” Do not cry. I know how painful it is, Patti”
“No, it is not pain. I am overwhelmed by your affection and deep concern for me, when my own children hardly make it here,” she spoke almost inaudibly.
Kumuda patti had three sons and a daughter, with two sons living in faraway cities. The local son visited her once a fortnight but ensured financially that the hospice kept her in great comfort. His wife rarely came. The daughter came once a week but spent time with her mom mostly griping about her problems. Priya even remembered patti tell her as to why her daughter was coming here only to grumble and complain. Priya had not seen patti’s grandchildren visit her though she knew they were living in the city.
Priya knew that terminal patients can only be kept comfortable and pain free to the extent possible but hospices cannot cater to their emotional and psychological needs. Patti, though she never spoke much, had in an unguarded moment once expressed her deep disappointment about the lack of demonstrated warmth and affection from her children. Priya only tried to fill that want by spending extra time with her, talking to her in comforting ways and confiding to her personal dreams and goals. Such interactions always lifted the old lady’s spirit.
A week later Kumuda’s condition grew worse and attending doctors felt her end was very near. Priya lingered with her for as long as possible. Patti was mostly drowsy with occasional consciousness. Sad as she was, Priya could not wrench herself away from her   and was seen whispering into her ears whenever patti’s eyes opened, “Patti, Priya here. I will be by your side. Do not worry and sleep calmly.”  Patti’s lips would quiver as if she wanted to say something but soon would sink into drowsiness.
That evening as Priya was standing near the reception, she saw Patti’s son entering. He smiled at her and came near her and said “Can I talk to you for a few minutes? We can go to that corner.”
“Priya, amma has told me about you and how much your presence in the hospital means to her. She even said that her stay here was made bearable thanks to you. I put her here because she would get greater care and comfort than in my house. You may think I am a heartless son but I am not. I have not told my mom but would confide in you now. My wife, after an accident is paralyzed below waist and remains bound to bed and wheel chair. My children and I take turn to look after her. I have the greatest affection for my mother but cannot bear to see her suffering. Every time I come here to see her I go back with lot of heartache and anxiety. My mom is suffering from pain and I know I am unable to be by her side and give comfort to her. I am grateful to you for bringing some sunshine in her final years with your attention and affection which even my children did not do,” he said.
“It is my duty, Sir. I have also developed a fondness for patti as if she was my own. I am very sad when I think of her ebbing life. I am very sorry to hear about your wife and realize now how hard it must be for you to manage two sick people," Priya said as he hurried towards her room.
As Priya entered the hospice the next day morning, she could surmise the worst had happened from the faces of the receptionist and other nurses. One of them said” Priya, it happened at 10 pm last night even as her son was by her bedside. I heard from him that though she was not conscious, she was muttering your name many times. He wanted you to get in touch with him after a fortnight without fail and here is the number and address he gave.”
Priya sobbed inconsolably as she stared at the vacant bed.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Raghav’s strange encounter

Raghav wished to reach home before it got dark. There was a reason for this. He decided to take a short cut through the mini forest that saved his walk by three kilometres. As he walked hurriedly through the narrow winding path amidst thick bushes, he saw midway a little yonder a cloud of smoke enveloping the sky on one side. It was summer and everything was bone dry. It could be a fire, he surmised and increased the pace. Luckily the sun had not yet set giving some dim light.
He saw a little away on this desolate stretch, a lean and lanky man standing at the edge of the pathway looking at him. As he neared the man, he found him to be dark and also appeared somewhat strange with his longish neck. His face   was elongated horizontally and the head wide at the top narrowing down below reminding of an inverted triangle. His eyes were narrow but flitting brightly from one side to other. He was perspiring heavily.
As he smiled at Raghav, the latter felt uneasy but still welcomed his company in this deserted area.
The man saw a flask hanging on Raghav’s shoulders and requested him for some water. Actually the flask contained toddy, an intoxicating drink, that he was habituated to. Raghav readily gave a cup. When he saw the man drink it with gusto, he offered him another cup. The man said his name was Manidharan. Raghav became less apprehensive of the guy now and prodded him to walk faster as it was getting dark.  But the man could not keep pace with Raghav as he walked rather wobbly.
When they came out of forest, they both sat down on the mud to rest and finish the drink. Soon both of them  became inebriated and prattled loudly. It was then Manidharan gave Raghav a marble sized stone for being nice to him adding that it is very precious. Raghav with his mud soiled dirty hand took it.
“My house is very near. Do come with me and have your dinner,” requested Raghav.
“I will come with you up to your place but will leave immediately without having dinner,” Manidharan replied.
“I cannot tell you more. Do not press me. Keep the stone carefully.” he replied.
When they reached the hut, Raghav’s wife saw him highly intoxicated in disheveled condition with mud all over the body.
 ” How many times should I tell you not to drink outside the home. You can drink as much as you wish within the hut as I do not want you to remain fallen on the road,” she spoke with much irritability.
“Do not get angry, my dear.  My friend here gave me this precious stone and we celebrated a little,” he said and gave her the mud covered stone.
She took one short look at it and shouted, “Who would give you a   precious stone, you worthless fellow? This is a dirty green marble,” and lifted her hand to throw it across towards the open drain. Stopping her, he turned towards the man for help, but to his great shock, he found he was not there. Instead to his horror he saw what seemed a long king cobra slithering under the bush rustling the leaves as it sped fast.
When he realized the full import of what he had undergone, keeping in mind the shape of his face, his name, the squeaky voice and wobbly walk, he snatched the gem stone from his wife’s hands and said “You fool. You were about to throw away a priceless gem that would make us very rich. He rubbed it with his cloth to see a dazzling and invaluable naagmani (cobra pearl) in greenish yellow emitting a glow.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Paramasivam’s bequest

I rushed back from Bengaluru, on hearing the sudden demise of my maternal uncle Paramasivam. Despite his advanced years, he was reasonably healthy with no ailments. Lean and lanky, he never missed his daily walks till recently. His cook Sundaram, a bachelor, who has been with him for 30 years zealously ensured he ate limited but healthy food. My uncle treated him like a brother and their affection for each other was great but was muted not easily visible for others.
Paramasivam, a very wealthy man with huge landed property, several houses at Chennai, Coimbatore and Salem where he hailed from, unfortunately lost his wife in his late forties. He did not marry again but brought home a young woman, Selvi by name, from Salem, whose antecedents were not known. I have gathered from hearsay that her past was shady but somehow inveigled into uncle’s heart. She brought along with her a boy, who she claimed as her brother’s child. The boy was put in best school and college till he eventually became a pharmaceutical graduate presently working in Mumbai. He had come on a vacation when this sad event occurred.
 My mother till she was alive never spoke to her brother angered by his living with an unknown woman. I had pleaded in vain with my mom that it was none of our business to judge what uncle did and with whom he lived. But, I maintained cordial relations with my rich uncle hoping it would be beneficial in the long run.
The spacious hall where his body lay was crowded with people. A few from his native place in Salem were also seen. Though there was a pall of gloom, no one seemed to be in great grief save the cook Sundaram who was seen wiping his eyes frequently with his towel. Selvi looked dazed sat in a cornet unable to digest the suddenness of the calamity. Somehow I had never taken a liking for Sundaram with his show of undue deference that I suspected was fake. The dislike must have been mutual. I was rebuked once by my uncle when I spoke something against Sundaram.
While the purohit was busy with rituals for taking the body for cremation, there was a sudden commotion when two or three policemen headed by an inspector entered the house There was a hushed silence with all eyes filled with unknown fear and an avid curiosity to know the reason for their presence. No one dared to ask why they had come on such a solemn occasion till the inspector announced after gently coughing that there was a call from an unknown person informing that there was something amiss with the old man’s death and needed an investigation. Everyone turned around looking at other faces for a clue about the informant. The eyes rested a tad longer on Sundaram and me. I wiped my face with kerchief unable to overcome this oblique insinuation. Sundaram on the other hand was cool as cucumber.
The samples of the blood and viscera were collected and the inspector asked the priest to defer the cremation till next day and keep the body in the freezer till then.
The inspector asked the inmates of the house and close relatives to stay back permitting others to leave. One could hear the people who left wondering loudly whether there was some mischief in Paramasivam’s unexpected demise.
Two constables were left outside the house and the inmates were asked in stern tone to remain within the house till next day morning when the lab results would be known. Uncle’s bedroom was locked. The purohit was asked to come next day. I did not like the stentorian and authoritative manner of the inspector but avoided rubbing him on the wrong side. An attempt by the cook to fetch vegetables from outside failed as the sentry did not allow him to go out.
The next day morning Selvi was called inside the study by the inspector first. She was asked, it transpired later, what her relationship with the deceased was like, whether she was married to him secretly in any temple and why her brother’s son was with her instead of brother and whether she was aware of any will made by Paramasivam or discussions held regarding disposal of the property after his death.
She had replied though not married legally despite her many requests to him they lived like a married couple and that he had indicated he would not leave her in lurch. She confessed she was a sex worker before she met Paramasivam. She did not know whether he had made a will but he had a lawyer friend. Her answers about brother’s son were vague, neither helpful nor did she know about her brother’s whereabouts. She discussed freely about Paramasivam’s nephew and the cook expressing her opinion about them. I know of her deep dislike for me. A police doctor collected blood samples of Selvi and her brother’s son despite their protest.
It was my turn next and I went in with some unease as I have had no such experiences in the past. The Inspector asked after some pleasantries, “Gopal, I hear you are close to your maternal uncle despite your mother’s staunch dislike for him. What was it that brought you close to him? Were there any common interests like hobbies, games, literature or politics?”
 “Nothing like that. It was a natural affection. He was my only uncle and led a lonely life. He had helped me financially for my studies. He was a good and pleasant natured man bearing no grudge even against my mom,” I said
“Do you visit him often and did you recently bring eatables like sweets and confectioneries?”
“Why do you ask? Was there anything wrong with lab results?” I asked rather jolted by the implied question.
  “Answer my question,” he curtly said
“Yes, I visit him once in a month or two. I do not fetch him any eatables except multi vitamin tablets for his general health. He would not otherwise buy for himself saying it was unnecessary. But he took them when I brought them. Is there anything wrong in the results? “I asked.
“Where do you buy the tablets?”
“In a reputed pharmacy of a well-known hospital.” I replied.
“Okay, please do not leave the house till I permit you. I will call you later after talking to other members of the family,” he said.
Sundaram was called in. The inspector came out alone and talked to a couple of his men in hushed manner. All members were asked to remain seated in the living room. When he went in, everyone heard a long wail from Sundaram bemoaning his loss. “He was like my elder brother and brought this orphan up with utmost affection. I have been orphaned again,” he went on grumbling loudly till Inspector asked him to stop.
“Tell me who gives him his food daily. Does he come to the dining hall or food taken inside?”
” Earlier he used to have his meals in the hall. Of late all things are taken to his room by me. He does not walk much complaining of tiredness”
“All thing means, what?”
“Morning coffee, breakfast, lunch, evening tea and dinner,” he replied
“Does he take any medicines?”
“Yes, Sir, I give him a vitamin tablet after breakfast. Gopal brings couple of bottles of these tablets once a month or two.”
Meanwhile one constable entered and said “We made intense search of the kitchen but could find only these medicine bottles deep inside the bottom drawer of a cupboard.”
Turning to Sundaram, “These seem the vitamin tablets we were talking about. Why are they kept in kitchen when the medicine is intended for the master?” asked the inspector.
“It is easy for me to take it with breakfast without forgetting,” he replied. The inspector did not ask him why they were kept deep inside the bottom shelf.
“I understand your concern for your master. What will you do now? Where will you go? “asked the inspector in a sympathetic tone.” Do you think the master would have left something for you?” he added.
“He told me once not to worry about my future after he is gone and that he would provide enough for my comfortable living.” he replied.
Ï am not so sure as you are. These rich people often forget those who had served them sincerely. He might have left the entire thing for the woman and Gopal,” said the inspector provoking him to react.
“No sir, he will never do that. He is a kind hearted man and a philanthropist. I once overheard his speaking to his lawyer recently how much to provide for each. I could not hear fully as Selvi amma suddenly came” Sundaram said  
The next day the inspector had Selvi and her son, Sundaram and me brought to the police station. He had already discussed with the lawyer about the details of the bequest. It seems that Paramasivam had left 70% for charitable purposes,15% for Selvi,10% for Sundaram and 5% for me with cash balance for miscellaneous
Sundaram was taken inside and told the tablets contained slow poison that made him weak and kill in due course.The inspector said," I learn from Gopal that the bottles are given with seals unbroken. It is evident that someone in the house had tampered with medicine." Sundaram put on a show of injured innocence professing his gratitude for his master and pleaded ignorance about their being poisoned. He could not explain satisfactorily why the bottles were kept hidden when the tablets are intended for daily use.
A mild treatment by the constables inside a cell in the lock up was enough to break his will power and he began to sing.  Selvi and her son (not brother’s as already corroborated by DNA test) along with Sundaram hatched a plan to get the money quickly. Her son brought from Mumbai the poisonous drug that resembled the vitamin tablet. Sundaram also confided after another beating to his amoral relationship with Selvi.
When accosted with such evidence, Selvi broke down and confessed her complicity. The three were arrested and I was asked to go home urgently to attend to the final ceremonies of the departed uncle.
 Police were tight lipped where from the initial call came and passed the buck to lawyer to reveal to whom and in what proportion would the wealth go if Selvi, her son and Sundaram were very likely convicted for murder.

Monday, August 8, 2016

A bid to abort a suicide

Amit had just graduated from his old motorbike to a small car. To be precise, he bought a Maruti Zen from a used car dealer two days back for a price that was affordable and reasonable. He had taken a mechanic who certified to its good condition. He had the seat covers replaced and took the car out for the first time with much pride for going to his office.
As he sat in the car and opened the glove compartment to keep some packet, he chanced upon an envelope that remained stuck at the top of the box. He had failed to locate it earlier when he examined the glove compartments. The envelope was addressed in a female hand writing ‘To whomsoever concerned’ in big and bold letters. It was not closed by paste or cello tape. Out of curiosity, he pulled out the sheet and started reading. There was initially a frown that turned into a worry with beads of sweat on his forehead. He switched on the air conditioner.
With no intention to keep you in the dark, the letter read thus:
Dear Vikram,
When you get to know about my fate, I would be lying bundled in a white sheet along with many other dead bodies in the icy cold mortuary of a hospital, most likely the one close to my apartment. The doctors would have pronounced me dead on arrival and a postmortem would have indicated overdose of sleeping tablets as the cause. I know the body would be claimed by none and least by you
I am forced to take my life out after all my pleas to you to marry me, with an unborn child in my womb through you, fell on your deaf ears. You forgot your repeated promises to marry me within a year of our moving together in your ramshackle room. We have lived together for two years even as you were searching for a job that had always eluded you. I am not saying you lived off me but the fact is you had no income of your own except what I gave you and what you took from mine without my knowledge.
When you drove me out of your room, I could surmise you must have acquired a richer but dumber catch than me and most probably moved into her place. It was a tough decision for me to take the life of an innocent unborn child along with mine but I had no option as I have none worth calling my own.
Beware, I will not let you go scot free for the treachery you committed and will leave enough leads for law enforcers to get you to justice.
I sold my car and my flat three days back to leave the proceeds to a destitute women’s home. This took some time. I am not complaining to police beforehand lest they prevent me from the contemplated step. But I have devised means for the authorities to find their way to you soon when you least expect them. I intend to take my life this Thursday night
I hate you from the bottom of my heart and my soul would rest in peace only when you are condemned to lifelong cell.
Amit did not waste a minute as the day was the said Thursday. He thought if only he could reach the woman in time, he can save her life. He rushed to the used car depot to find to his great luck the owner. Without mincing words, he explained the gravity of the matter and gave the letter to the owner.
He read it carefully and said, “I don’t think the woman who sold the car a few days back appeared depressed. She was smiling and bargained hard to get a good price. There is something wrong here.”
“No, she might have tried to get more money for the destitute home. That is not a valid reason. Again why reveal her troubles to strangers? I think it is better to meet her and hand over the letter to her. If she seems suicidal in tendency, we must do something to save her life,” Amit implored.
“I agree this needs to be explored quickly. I will give her address. It is good not to give a ring as it may alert her. I cannot leave the depot as no one else is here. Please hurry up. If you need my help, do give me a ring. The workmen would have come by then,” he said,
As Amit rang the bell of the apartment, there was no response. He put his ears on the door to see if there is any movement inside. Luckily he heard soft film music giving him hopes of finding her. The name board indicated Kokila assuring he had not come to a wrong apartment. He pressed the bell long and repeatedly. When he put his ear on the door, he heard a faint voice, “Please wait. I am having shower.”
In a few minutes, the door opened and he found a tall, young and beautiful woman clad in bright colored sari and drying her hair with a towel. She had a smiling face as she said, “Sorry, I made you wait. I haven’t met you earlier. What is it you want?”
“I am Amit. I bought your Maruti Zen,” he said as she interrupted him telling, “I have already sold the car. Any complaint you have, you must talk to the depot chap.”
“No, I have no complaint about the car but chanced to see your letter in the glovebox of the car. It was an unusual and serious letter and I wished to waste no time. I took off from my office, went to depot and got your address. I came to dissuade you from any rash step. If you permit, I can discuss with you in your drawing hall,” he said giving her his card and the letter.
“I am extremely sorry for lacking in common civilities. Please come in and be seated,” she said as she also sat beside him opening the letter and reading it. After reading a few lines she burst into uncontrollable laughter holding her sides unable to restrain.
After it subsided, she said “There is nothing to panic or worry. I am Kokila no doubt and in the most cheerful mood. I have no intention of taking my life out now or ever especially when I have not lived it fully. Banish the thought of any suicide by me. What are you Amit? I am really touched by your deep concern for a stranger’s life. We rarely come across such type.”
“Tell me first about the letter and why you wrote it,” asked Amit sort of unconvinced with her bonhomie.
“Okay, I will tell you. It is part of a script for our office drama we are planning to enact where the characters have their own real names. This is amenable to verification, if you do not trust me. That Vikram is my boss, a decent and happily married guy with two children,” she said with a large smile. She continued “We really need to celebrate your genuine effort by having your breakfast with me now. It is Spartan though with fluffy idlies and chutney along with a large glass of orange juice. We can then head to our respective offices. Incidentally I bought a new medium sized car and I will show it to you when we get down,” she said proffering her hands to shake.
He took them with alacrity even as Cupid got busy.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Gold waist belt (Oddiyanam, kamar patta)

While Lord Vishnu was reclining on the thousand hooded serpent Adisesha on the great ocean, a strange idea struck Him. Not one in a million is praying devoutly for His vision but  all only for some material benefits. Why not surprise the first human being He accosted by appearing in his presence in the form as He is generally perceived when He is least expected and grant him a boon? The word would spread around and many would start thinking of Him and wishing for His darshan (vision).
He then descended on the earth dressed in peetambaram yellow cloth with a crown, the wheel(Chakra), Sangha(conch), Gadha(Mace), Kundala (ear rings) and various gold ornaments studded with precious gems and adorned with garlands of flowers and sacred beads. It was around 8pm already dark in the desolate road of a small city. He chose to wait without getting into the crowded area. The halo around Him gave enough light and visibility for a passerby to see Him. There was a dim lamppost too.
It was by a stroke of luck that police constable Manickam had just finished his beat and was proceeding towards his home on this stretch. He could not believe his eyes when he saw the dazzling figure standing a little yonder. He rubbed his eyes to make sure what he saw was real and not an apparition. He hurried his steps swinging his baton vigorously to show his power.
Vishnu smiled at him beatifically and said “Hello”.
In his typical irreverent way, Manickam asked Him, “Who are you in disguise like a God? Are you from a drama or film troupe come out without changing the make up? What are you up to?”
“No, Manickam, I am real God. You are very fortunate to be the first person on whom I set my eyes in earth,” Vishnu answered with a smile that enhanced the beauty of His lotus like lips.
“Hey, what guts you have to address me by name? Even the hardened thug speaks to me with back bended and hands covering his mouth. I will put you in the lock up for impersonating God and duping people. Beware,” Manickam spoke in anger.
“Do not be foolish and waste your God sent chance. I have come here to give you one single item you want. Do not have any doubt about my identity. I am very much the real God. Don’t you see the halo around me? Ask me what you wish,” Vishnu replied.
“Are all the jewelry you are wearing made of gold or in cheap metal as we have in drama theater? Answer me first that point,” Manickam asked eyeing all the time what item would be best for his wife Anjali. He had never purchased even a gram of gold despite the money he made on side most of which goes for his booze.
“They are real made of 24 carat gold and the gems are all genuine. Choose what you want but remember only one item,” He said with an impish smile.
A though struck Manickam. What if this person is real God and should I be foolish to let go this rare chance? The gold belt on his waist is quite wide and should weigh heavily. He can even melt it and make enough jewels for his wife and daughters. As of now Anjali would look captivating with this gold waist belt even though she was a bit stodgy.
“Okay, I trust you.  I will take your waist belt for my wife, but If it turns out to be cheap metal, I would not hesitate for a moment to put you in lockup when I see you next. No one dares to cheat Manickam and go scot free,” Manickam said.
“Here is it. Take it home carefully hidden lest someone robs you. I hope you will remember me henceforth daily, “Vishnu said and disappeared instantly.
Manickam felt the waist belt heavy and gloated over his luck as he hurried home.
“My darling, come quickly and see what I have brought for you. You will look mesmerizingly beautiful in this gold belt that is four inches wide with many gems studded. Do not complain anymore that I do not love you. Come near me, sweetie, and I will tell you how I got it for you without anyone knowing about it,” said Manickam
The next moment there was a sledge hammer blow on his head and he heard his wife Anjali with her hands on her hips  screaming at the top of her voice, “You worthless two-timer, who cannot keep me happy all these years, want to give a golden belt to your darling lover.You are thinking of her even in your dream. How long this treachery has been going on behind my back. Who is that cheap woman you call your sweetie?Tell me now I will break her back.”
Poor Manickam rubbed his eyes as he got up from the bed aware that he had overslept and that a long day of haranguing awaits him.

Monday, August 1, 2016

A letter from lover

Deepika had sprained her neck and taken a day off. The pain was not unbearable and she was watching an Australian chef program, not that she was fond of cooking or in trying new recipe. The music was also playing from her mobile. She liked to eat out just like her husband Anirudh. They had similar tastes and were a loving couple. There was one point however they had different views. She wanted a child being married for three years and he wanted her to defer the plan and was also vague when would be the proper time.
It was then she heard the doorbell. It was the young security guard from Bihar who stood with an envelope in hand. He asked for Anirudh and when she told him that he would be late in coming, he handed over the letter with much hesitation. It was correctly addressed to Anirudh,312, Beach view apartments though his second name Sharma was omitted. There was an initial K at the left bottom. It was a plain envelope stapled to secure the content with a cursive female handwriting.
“Who gave this letter to you? It does not seem to be from post office or courier?” she asked.
“Madam, one lady came in a car and requested me to deliver the letter personally to him as she was in a hurry,” he replied.
“Did she say personally? Was she young or middle aged?” she asked.
“A young lady like you, madam, in jeans and T shirt,” he replied with unsolicited extra information.
As she entered her bedroom wondering who that K could be, there was a gentle perspiration. She switched on the AC and turned the envelope many times. When she smelt, she sensed a gentle fragrance of a perfume. This upset her. She got up from the bed and drank a glass of cool water. She walked up and down the room trying to recollect any known woman with name starting in K. None of her friends or the wives of his friends he brought home had such a name. His personal assistant was one Sulochana about whose shoddy work he always griped. She felt a creeping head ache.
Normally they do not open each other’s personal letters. But this stapled carelessly evidently carrying no confidential messages. After some hesitation, she opened the envelope taking care not to break the staple pin.
“Anirudh dear,
You had promised to visit me last evening. I was waiting eagerly for you after asking the maid to cook the dinner quickly and leave early. There was no call or message from you about any change in your program. Your phone was also switched off. It is more than a week since we met. Why do you punish me like this?
I had specifically requested the security chap at your gate to hand the letter personally in your hands. Please ring me immediately you see this.
Yours as always
Deepika could not believe what she read and an improbable treachery. This cannot be true as Anirudh loved her so much, a god fearing and a very decent guy not given to any vices. But she remembered that he came late one-day last week and went to bed without eating complaining tummy upset. Could this be the day he met her and was it the first time? She went for a painkiller and tranquilizer as her head was splitting with ache.
She rang up in vain many times his number and then through switchboard contacted his steno to be told that he was busy in a high level meeting. In anger she threw herself on the bed and skipped her lunch.
She must have dozed off till she felt someone shaking her to wake up. It was Anirudh who said “Are you not well? Why are you sleeping at this hour? My secretary told me you rang for me and that there was urgency in your tone. I left the office immediately after the meeting. What happened?”
“Were you in your office or outside reveling? Did you tell your secretary to tell me you were busy in a meeting? How is your tummy? Any upset again as in the last week?” she bombarded him with questions.
“Deepika, what are you blabbering? Are you mad or what?” he asked in disbelief at her anger and abrasive tone.
“Here is the letter from your dearest K wanting another tryst with you. What audacity has she to send her love letter in a stapled envelope to our house?” she screamed.
As Anirudh perplexed somewhat was about to open the stapled envelope, there was a bell. When he went to answer, she also followed him hurriedly. It was the same Bihari security chap.
“Madam, galati ho gayi (There was a mistake. That letter is for Anirudh Srivastava saheb jo upar rahte hain (the one residing above) at 412.He asked me whether a lady had given me a letter for him and why I had not given. I realized then the mistake and ran up here,” he said.
Deepika grabbed the letter from her husband   and handed it over to the guard. She dragged the confused Anirudh to the bedroom saying “galati ho gayi, sorry” even as she hugged and smothered him with smooches.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The old man’s worry

The weather was fine with gentle breeze and the sun was luckily still shining bright. The boys were playing in the middle of the big park and many people young and old were walking briskly on the well laid pathway. As I scanned around the park. I saw at a distance an elderly gentleman sitting alone on a bench. I went near and sat quietly beside him. He must have observed me and gently coughed possibly to attract my attention. He must be around 75, frail and lanky with a prominent red vertical line on his receding forehead. Clad in a clean dhoti and a white shirt with a towel thrown over his shoulder, he smiled at me. When I reciprocated his smile, he started a conversation asking, “I remember to have seen you often, but do not exactly remember where, whether here or elsewhere. I wish to talk to you.”
“Nice to hear you. Can you try to recollect where? Is it in the park or elsewhere? What is it you wish to talk about? My name is Partha. Do you know anyone by that name? I live in the adjacent street,“ I replied
He did not speak immediately and was lost in some thoughts with a forlorn look. He coughed repeatedly.
“Are you fine?” I asked.
“Can I address you Partha? I like that name as it is after the presiding deity of Triplicane temple. I used to live in car street years back. My son was born there,” he replied.
“You have not answered my question whether you are fine since you are repeatedly coughing,” I said.
“I am fine but suffer from lot of worries that I cannot speak out openly, but they make me sleepless. I live with my son who is very affectionate. My daughter-in-law, I forget her name Rohini or Mohini, is also very caring and kind. They look after me well and have given all comforts. He earns very well,” he said and stopped when the cough recurred.
I looked at him intently even as he saw me. There was a distant look and the eyes seemed tired with the spark missing
“Strange, what worry troubles you? You said your son and his wife are very caring and keeping you in comfort. Your health also is good as you said. What is the problem for your sleeplessness? Did you tell your son to take you to a doctor?” I asked.
“I wish to but I do not see him these days.”
“What, why don’t you see him as you are in the same house? Ask his wife to take you,” I said.
 “Ï do not see her also. Both of them are not there. May be they are away.”
“Who looks after you then? Who gives you food? You must be having grandchildren”,” I asked
“One man and his wife are there with their children. I do not talk to them though they keep coming to me frequently pestering me to take bath, eat, take medicines and sleep. They do not allow me to go out alone. They are always keeping a watch on my movements. Where is my son and his family? I am really scared. Today I managed to escape without the couple’s knowledge”, he said with a sly smile.
“What is the worry you that is bothering you? You can confide in me safely,” I said.
“My only worry is why my son and his wife have left me with this strange couple. Where have they gone? He is a good and loving chap and would never do that. Still it has happened. I suspect this man and his wife might have driven them out or done harm to them? I am afraid to ask them as they may kill me. I found you to be a decent person and thought of telling you. Do not tell what I confided to the stranger and his wife, I implore you,” he pleaded with tears and fear in his eyes.
“Do not worry. Your son would never desert you. I will get your son and his family very soon as I have tremendous influence. Do not be afraid, I will take care. No one can do any harm to you. Come with me. I will drop you at your home,” I told him
As I led him inside the house clutching his forefinger with one hand and putting my other arm around him, he stopped for a few seconds and looked at me keenly. Meanwhile my wife rushed out to me and asked “Where did you find him? I was so worried that I prayed to all gods for his safety.”
My children followed her and said “Thatha, why did you go out alone. Amma and appa were in tears not finding you in the house and searching you everywhere.”
The old man, my father, looked at us in a bewildering and incomprehensible manner and asked me after a very long pause,” Are you my son Partha? Only he would clutch my forefinger and put his arm around me as you did.”
Nodding my head vigorously in affirmative, I hugged my dad tightly as the children also snuggled around his legs. My wife was wiping her eyes in joy. I could see the distant look in his eyes had vanished.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Love at first sight

It was dark and the wind was howling. Kanchana was alone and her husband was expected only the next day evening. She walked up to the rattling window to close it. When she put out her hand to draw the shutters, she saw a young man standing at the opposite window of adjacent house and intently staring at her. It is not the first time, as whenever she came to the window, he was there watching her with a sly smile. Kanchana knew but she was impelled, by some magnetic force as it were, to be drawn often to the window for no reason. He must be in mid-thirties, tall and with a muscular body, sharp featured and handsome, and a mesmerizing eyes that had a seductive twinkle. She was always happy to see him virtually devouring her with his eyes transfixed on her. She had no guts to look at him straight except by stolen glances. They had never exchanged words or waved their hands or met except once at the local grocery this afternoon but she relished their mutual infatuation. Her conscience pricked her as her husband was loving to her and she too loved him much. She still had a deep crush on the irresistible young neighbour and enjoyed his attention. This mutual but distant admiration continued for a month or so.
 It was in the afternoon when she had finished buying groceries and walking towards her vehicle, she had dropped a bag unknowingly. When she was about to get into the car, she saw someone calling ‘Madam, you have dropped your bag’ and rushing towards her. It was the neighbor. When he handed the bag, his hand brushed against hers perhaps by design but set the butterflies aflutter in her stomach. It was a strange delectable feeling that she wished to linger for long.  
When she thanked him profusely, he said, “Do you know that I live in the adjacent house of yours and often see you? I am Suman, an IT engineer, living here since recently”
He looked more handsome and like-able at close quarters. She kept quiet for a while before saying, “Yes, I know you are the gentleman found standing always by the window” and broke into a laughter that he too joined in.
“How would you know, madam that I am always at the window? You are er.” he asked mischievously.
“I am Kanchana and my husband is a senior marketing executive. Thank you again for the help” she said as she got into the car.
“Can I drop in sometime to get introduced to your husband? We can then have many social occasions to meet”.
“Surely, but my husband is away and would be back only tomorrow evening. May be some other time later “she said.
That night as she lay in the bed she could never take off his face from her mind for long.
The patter of the rain had stopped and she came to the hall to open the window. Looking out expectantly, she saw the window at the adjacent apartment also open at the same time with Suman standing with his hairy bare chest uncovered. Both could not suppress their giggle as they saw each other. He waved his hand at her with her responding in equal glee and not moving from the window for a long time.
As she lay on the bed reading a novel, there was a knock on the door. Wondering who it could be, she opened the door to find Suman standing. She felt a shock of million volts pass through her and stood dazed undecided whether to invite him inside or not. He gave her no choice as he entered the hall shutting the door slightly.
“I had told you my husband is away and that you can visit some other time,” she said with a frown in the face.
“Yes, I am aware but I wished to come to meet you. How long we should be content gazing at each other? I could not resist this opportunity to visit, know you more and exchange our feelings for each other,” he said even as he sat on the sofa unasked. Not only that he had the temerity to pat on the sofa by his side suggesting that she sit by his side.
Though torn between the attraction of new found love and her sense of loyalty to her loving husband, she could realize where a moment of indecision and weakness would irretrievably lead to. She decided instantly that she would not betray her husband and told him in stern tone, “You are not welcome when my husband is not at home. Please leave this place immediately.”
“I am surprised at your sudden volte face. What is the meaning of standing before each other smiling and giggling all these days? I thought you were in love with me just as I am ardently with you. Please be sensible, you will not regret.” he pleaded with his arms extended towards her.
“I agree I was at fault gazing at you daily. I should not have done it especially when I am married and not a single. True I was infatuated rather foolishly but I would not be untrue to my husband till we have each other. Please go away before I scream,” she said in a determined tone.
Suman stared at her in disbelief and left the hall without a word.
On the Sunday two days later Kanchana was standing in the verandah in the morning waving her hand to her husband Kartik as he left for gym. Just as she turned to go back into the house she saw, Suman accosting Kartik on the road in front of his house and shaking hands with him after some small conversation. She wondered why he was befriending him especially when she avoided seeing him. The window since two days was fully covered by curtain. She went in knowing that Kartik would tell her after his return from gym.
As she was working in the kitchen she heard loud thuds from the adjacent house as if a wall or floor being demolished. This continued for long though she ignored it presuming some repairs are being carried out. She could see no workmen however.
It was past 11am and there was no trace of Kartik. He normally does not work out more than an hour. Worried she crisscrossed the house and finally rang up the gym to ascertain whether Kartik had left. To her shock, the assistant informed Kartik did not visit the gym. Not knowing what to do, she ran to the adjacent house and rang the bell. Suman came out in shorts and a vest with body covered with mud and cement and asked her somewhat surprised what brought her to him.
. “I saw my husband talking to you on his way to gym. He has not returned till now. He hardly spends an hour there. The gym says he had not come there. You were the last person he met before he left. Unfortunately, he had left his mobile at home. Did he tell you of any change in his plan?” she asked.
“Nothing. We just said good morning and talked about the weather before he left on his way. I am sorry to hear that he has not come. May be, held up somewhere. If you need any help, feel free to ask,” he said.
As Kanchana was slowly recounting to the police inspector the happenings since morning and also about the exchange of greetings between Suman and Kartik, Suman entered the hall unexpectedly. Turning to Kanchana, he said " I saw the police vehicle and wondered whether you needed my help."
The inspector who was seated spoke to him " I was myself wanting to meet you. Luckily you are here. Can I have some details of you before we discuss about this matter?"
Suman produced an identity card from his pocket and on seeing it the inspector stood up deferentially and saluted him to the surprise of Kanchana. Suman patted him on his shoulder and said "Do not worry about Kartik.There is nothing for you to do. He is safe in custody at a secret place. In fact, I wished to inform this lady but felt better to break the news to her gently in the evening."
Turning to Kanchana, he said, “I am sorry I did not reveal my true identity to you. As the inspector will testify, I am in the intelligence wing. Kartik is not what he seems to you. He has been indulging in many illegal, criminal and anti-national activities. He is no marketing man but a hardened criminal in disguise. I wonder how and when you got married to him? It may shock you that you are one of the many whom he has duped and left in lurch. True, he wallows in money. He has been escaping our net for long and I moved in to the next house after getting to know he is here. We wished to catch him red handed." He added with a faint smile in his face, “It may disappoint you to know that I was initially watching your window to get a glimpse of him and his activities. Anyway brace yourself to know he may be in jail for decades. You will come to know of his treacherous activities in due course. Luckily you are out of harm’s way. Please get some friends or relatives to stay with you for a few days. I will meet you later. You can always ring me," he said as he gave her his card.
Without going into details, suffice it to inform, from the information gathered, that Kanchana and Suman are happily living together in a Northern city with none wiser about the secret lying buried in the adjacent house.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Confetti-a 500 word story

The hall in the restaurant was dazzlingly lit with festoons and balloons fluttering all around with a large banner in multi colors announcing Happy birthday. There were about 60 people both ladies and gentlemen with a large sprinkling of young children to celebrate the birthday of a boy decked in a brightly laced sherwani who was standing near the center table. A cluster of balloons of different hues with a large red balloon hung over the table. A large well decorated circular cake with candles inserted on it were burning ready for the commencement of the function. There was a continuous chatter and loud laughter around. At one end of the hall, a long table was lined with glistening steel containers with food over the dimly burning lamps for the buffet dinner to follow.
As the gathered members gravitated towards the center table to witness the boy blow the candles and cut the cake , a man in dark suit with his face save the eyes covered by a black silk entered through a side door. Sharp came his baritone voice jerking everyone to turn towards him.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am sorry for this unwelcome interruption but regret it is unavoidable. This should be over very soon with your cooperation, I am sure,” he said and pulled a shining gun from the holster.
There was a rustle of feet amid the dumb struck gathering, when he spoke loudly and peremptorily. “Pray, do not create commotion and hurt yourselves. I have only one target and the rest can breathe easily. I must warn you to raise your hands across the chest to clap and cheer the boy when he blows the candles. Beware, no funny tricks and I am dead serious on this,” he thundered.
Turning his attention to the boy, he said “Start the party by blowing the candle. Have no fear and you will have all mirth and fun immediately.” Amid the ashen and sweat drenched faces, he urged the boy “No time to waste. Blow the candles I say,” as the lights dimmed and the hall became dark.
 The boy half in fear and half in mirth blew the candles when they heard a loud report of the gun. Immediately the lights came on amidst the shower of small pieces or streamers of glittering metallic material in bright colors from the balloon above. The hidden mikes blared Happy Birthday song. The dazed crowd recovered fast to realize the prank played on them by the hotel entertainer in conspiracy with the boy’s father.
There was a loud clapping and shouts of happy birthday as the entertainer in black suit now without the black silk on his face gave the boy a big and richly decorated gift box as was customary on such occasions.
Little did   they or entertainer notice amid the fanfare one person standing on the fringe had fallen a prey to a gunshot fired at the same time from somewhere. Who did it and why?

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The closure

 It is almost 11 years since I left my home in distasteful circumstances with a vow never to return. It was a difficult decision and as an emotional young boy I did what I thought then was right. I had neither made any contact with my dad nor let him know my whereabouts. The passage of years did little to blunt my anger towards my old man.
By a strange twist of circumstances, I am now on my way to my village near Kumbakonam. I felt odd and at the same time somewhat tense. As the train chugged along with intermittent long whistles, I could see on either side green fields with crops nearly grown and canals of water alongside the fields and farmers diverting the flowing water into small channels to reach their fields. As memories of my village gushed through my mind, a pang of guilt arose in me.
I am the only child born to my parents in their early forties. My mother passed away when I was a young kid and it was my father who brought me up single handed refusing to marry again. He was a highly principled man and known for his short temper. After my mom’s demise, he did not mingle much with the neighbours who were all part of the clan or extended family. He became a loner seeking no help from others. His world was small and revolved around me.
All the boys and girls of the village studied in schools at Kumbakonam and usually walked to and fro except for two girls from a wealthy family who went in bullock carts. I remember even my running behind the carts on a few occasions to keep up the pace to be in time for the school. Ramu of my age who lived in the adjacent house was my best pal. Given to playing pranks, he was generally a pleasant and good guy.
 I suspect he became jealous of me on two counts. I scored more marks than him and this displeased him as his dad always compared his performance with mine. The bigger reason is one day as we were running behind the bullock cart that carried the girls and it started raining, the girls called “Saranga, get into the cart before you get drenched.” Though I wished to, I did not get into the cart as Ramu was not invited and we both walked in rain. But Ramu never forgot the slight from the girls and nursed an unspoken grudge towards me.
A month later around 7pm, when I was saying prayers with my dad, Ramu’s father came in an agitated mood along with Ramu. Even before we got up from prayers, Ramu’s dad said “Anna (elder brother), Ramu tells me that Sarangan has stolen his new geometry box. It seems they were studying together in the evening at my house and the box is missing ever since. This is a petty loss to me but I wished to warn you about the boy lest it became a habit with him.”
My father turned towards me and asked” is it true? Did you steal his geometry box? I want the truth immediately.”
“No, appa. Do you think I would steal and then why would I when I have already one with me? He must have misplaced it and falsely accusing me.”
“No, uncle. We were working with the instrument box and when we had finished, I went to kitchen to drink water. When I came back, Sarangan was waiting at the front door to take leave of me. I noticed only after half hour the box that lay on the table was missing. None else had come to our house. It does not matter but my father insisted that I came along with him,” said Ramu.
When Ramu’s father and Ramu looked at me accusingly and I was blinking dazed by the turn of events, my father became wild in rage and started beating me all over crying all the time, “Have I wasted all my life on this wretch only for him to become a petty thief? I have lost all my honour this day. I neither wish to set my eyes anymore on this thief nor will I permit him stay here. “He grabbed my hand, dragged me towards the front door and pushed me out. “Never set your foot again here. You are dead as far as I am concerned, “he screamed in uncontrollable anger. That night I lay till dawn on the front porch outside with the main door shut.
Woken up from the reverie, I looked out. The train had stopped at a small station. One urchin proffered a tender coconut with straw inside. I gulped the entire content as if it would remove my bitterness to some extent. My thoughts turned towards my father though I was bitter all these years that he would rather trust Ramu and his dad than me and condemn me to be a thief. But the chance meeting with a penitent Ramu three days back at a mall in Singapore and the news from him of the happenings in the village subsequent to my running away filled me with endless remorse at my insensitive behavior towards my father.
It seemed that after I left the village, my father was crestfallen refusing to take food or even take care of himself and the lands. He was always repentant at his rash behavior towards me when he learnt that Ramu had confided to his dad that the geometry box was safe with him and was never stolen at all. Ramu’s father put the entire blame on himself for the turn of events. All their efforts to trace me were in vain. From then on, he took upon taking care of my dad as his total responsibility. Afflicted by the loss of his only son, my dad became a recluse and psychologically affected. He would it seems address all boys as Saranga and talk incoherently. For the last three years he has been acutely afflicted by Alzheimer and utters only my name.
Ramu urged me to leave for village immediately to meet my dad before his end that was expected anytime. The train now seemed to move at snail’s pace and I became restless.
I rushed in a taxi from Kumbakonam station to my house. The door was ajar. I ran inside shouting “Appa, I have come, your Sarangan. Can you recognize me? “I pleaded with tears swelling in my eyes as my father was lying on the bed.
 Ramu’s father was there. He put his arms around me and comforted me saying “Please wait. Let us see whether he recognizes you. You haven’t changed much except grown bigger.”
Meanwhile my father was looking at me intently and I saw a glimmer in his eyes before he touched my cheeks to say “My Sarangan has come. My god has at last heard my prayers,”.
I hugged him tightly sobbing “Appa forgive this wretch. I was an egoistic fool and failed you when you needed me most. Please say once that you have forgiven me”.”
He stared vacantly at me showing no sign of recognition. Ramu’s father ran outside and in a few minutes a doctor was at my dad’s bedside only to say the long waiting soul had flown away. Ramu’s dad drew me towards him and let my head rest on his shoulders. He waited patiently as I cried inconsolably and comforted me saying, “Do not grieve, Saranga. Anna has finally found his peace.”