Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The second chance

It was getting dark and the sky was overcast. The crowd had thinned out in the park and the children playing on the slides and swings had also gone back to their homes. The park was almost empty. When he felt a drop of water fall on his face, Sadasivam too decided to leave. As he was walking back slowly on the long bridge over the river to reach his area, he saw a young boy a little away standing at the edge of the bridge holding its railings on hand. The boy stood motionless with his eyes fixed on the vast space of water moving slowly beneath. Sadasivam felt it odd for a young boy of about 15 to be standing alone gazing at the water below at this hour. He knew the river was deep there. He suspected the boy’s intentions may not be good and hurried his pace towards him.
When he went close to the boy, he looked at him vacantly possibly waiting for him to pass leaving him alone again. But Sadasivam had no mind to do that.
“Why are you standing here alone when it is dark and about to rain?” he asked the boy.
The boy did not respond but turned his face towards the river.
“Haven’t you heard me? Why are you here? Go back home before it rains. Is your home nearby?”
“Leave me alone, Sir, I beg of you,” he mumbled. It was then Sadasivam noticed his swollen eyes and surmised he must have been crying. It did not take long for him to figure out that the boy must have failed in the annual examination and afraid to go home.
I will not pry much into your affairs but have no intention to leave you here alone. You can come to my home which is very close by, eat something and share your problem. We can discuss and find ways to resolve it. I will help you. I am living alone with my wife and servant in a big house. You can stay for the night if you wish to and decide what should be done next. If you still want to go to the bridge, I cannot prevent you but I may alert the police. But right now you are coming with me,” Sadasivam said with finality.
The boy then started crying inconsolably. Sadasivam put his hands on his shoulder and led him home without talking much.
“I have brought a young guest home. I found him standing on the bridge alone. He will stay here tonight with us as we have some important matter to discuss after dinner when you can also be present. Can you give him some fruit juice before he freshens himself up?” Sadasivam said explaining to his wife about the  boy’s presence.
“What is your name?” she asked when she handed over the chilled orange juice.
With his head hung low, the boy mumbled,” Vedagiri”.”
When she heard the name, she was startled and kept silent for a moment. With a twinge of sadness and  much affection, she said, “I like the name and it is my favourite,” even as she started wiping her eyes with her sari.
Meanwhile Sadasivam handed him a towel and asked him to have a quick wash and come to dining table
As they sat down comfortably after dinner on the sofa with Vedagiri by the side of aunty, Sadasivam prodded him to tell his story truthfully without any fear. As the boy was perspiring, aunty switched on the AC.
“Tell me first about your parents, siblings if any, where you live and then proceed with your account of today’s happenings,” said Sadasivam in casual tone.
“We are a poor family. My father Sundaresan works as a cook for marriages and such like occasions. The income is not enough. He will be away for four or five days in a week and come for one or two days only to go back. My mother manages with limited income. I have a sister two years younger to me and studying in class 7 in the government school. I have also a brother who is just 8 years and in class two. We are living in a small portion adjacent to perumal kovil (temple),” and paused awaiting their reaction.
“Good, tell me now what all happened since morning and why you were standing near the bridge. I can tolerate anything but a lie. Speak truthfully I warn you,” Sadasivam said in an admonishing tone.
Aunty intervened to tell her husband, “Please do not threaten the child. He looks scared already,” and turning to the boy said affectionately,” Vedagiri, do not be afraid but tell uncle in your own way what all had happened.”
“Okay aunty. The results were out today and I failed for the second time in class 8.I got fair marks in all subjects except mathematics. Previous year too I failed in the same subject. Last year the teacher suggested that I take tuition from him but how can we afford it? The school will not keep boys who have failed twice in same class. I am terribly ashamed and feel bad to face my parents. My father would be shattered by the news as he pinned all his hopes on me. I did not know what to do. I came to the river with a crazy idea but got afraid of the deep water. I did not know what to do as my mind was blank. It was then luckily uncle came and took me away from the spot.,” he stopped as he broke down into sobs.
“Do you have any interest in extracurricular activities like sports, music or anything else,” Sadasivam asked.
“I have not participated in sports as I wished to return home quickly to help my mother. I fetch water daily in the evenings from public tap. I like Carnatic music but have not learnt.” he said.
“There is nothing serious to worry about. With good tuition for a year, you can top the class. We have no child and we are alone. If aunt agrees, you can stay with us permanently. I will engage best teachers to coach you. I will take care of your entire education till you reach post graduate level but on one condition,” he stopped looking at the face of the boy.
Vedagiri looked at him anxiously unable to guess the condition uncle was talking about. He turned to see aunty simply smiling.
Sadasivam laughed and told, “Vedagiri, do not be afraid. I will talk to your parents first and then let you know. Tell me now whether you are comfortable with us and like the surroundings here. If you give me any contact number, I will convey the message to your parents that you are safe with us and that you would return tomorrow.”
“I like the place very much, uncle. It is so spacious and bright and I have never tasted the kind of food served by aunty. The house is very big and posh looking like a palace to me as I am accustomed to live only in a dark single room tenement with broken floor and dim light,” Vedagiri said with a smile.
Aunty drew him close and hugged him to say,” The way you speak is exactly like our Vedagiri,” putting the boy again into confusion.
Uncle cleared it saying, “We had a son of your age by same name but he is no more. Come with me and I will show your room,” and took him away hurriedly.
The next day when Sadasivam went to drop the boy, his father was also luckily there. After the initial pleasantries, Sadasivam told him about how he met the boy and how he persuaded him to come to his home and how much of instant liking his wife and himself took for the boy.
Vedagiri unexpectedly interrupted to say,” Appa, uncle had a son of my age with the same name but he is no more.”
“It is true I had a son of his age. It was all my fault. The boy was not doing well in his class and failed once. Busy as I was in making my company prosper I neglected to pay attention to his progress in studies. I should have discussed with his teachers and engaged a tutor but I was all the time touring across the country and outside in my race for wealth.My wife was also fully busy in taking care of office administration.Both of us were naive in not realizing the gravity of the situation till it was too late.The boy was also not fully open about what was happening at school.
Being a highly sensitive boy, he could not bear the indifference of his class mates and taunts of the teacher and suffered in silence till one day he committed suicide putting us into immense grief. I lost all interest in business but running the company for the welfare of the employees. My wife unable to bear the grief became dazed and silent.
Luckily your son Vedagiri appeared for us and I could see a streak of smile and joy in her face. We wish to make amends for our mistake by making your son reach top of the class and succeed in life. I will talk to a friend of mine who is the correspondent of a well known private school and get him admitted provisionally in class 9 without loss of a year.
I am sure the boy’s presence would bring some life and joy to my home and our lonely existence. Pray do not think I am selfish. If you are agreeable you can be in charge of the canteen of my company and only supervise its efficient running. No hard work and all in air conditioned atmosphere. The salary would be good. You can move into our outhouse that served earlier as a guest house. That way Vedagiri would not be missed by you. I will also meet all the expenses of the education of your other children. I will get them admitted in the same school. I will employ a music teacher to coach Vedagiri and his sister. God has given me abundant wealth. I would implore you kindly to agree.”
Both Sundaresan and his wife fell at his feet and expressed their gratitude, “Our life has been one of utter penury thus far and we have not been able to feed and clothe the children properly. We regard you as god come in human form in answer to our prayers. We will make no claim on Vedagiri as we are interested only in his wellbeing. You have saved him from the jaws of death and you are rightfully his father. While I am beholden to you for what you intend to do for Vedagiri, we will be in eternal debt of gratitude for what you do to me and my family. We both fully agree to abide by your wishes. Anytime you find our presence inconvenient. we will move to some other place.”
“That would not be necessary. All of you come with me now to convey the good news to my anxious wife. Besides Vedagiri, your wife also would give company to my wife. Tell me when I can arrange movers and packers for shifting into the outhouse soonest?” concluded Sadasivam.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Bhagavathi's blessing

Nandini was in a happy frame of mind as the plane taxied to tarmac at Mangalore airport. She would be meeting her only sister Bhargavi, elder to her by six years, after a gap of five years. Bhargavi has been pleading with her all these years to take a break and spend a month with her. The exigencies of work, her frequent tours abroad and her husband’s schedule somehow stood in the way of her visit to this coastal town till this day. Luckily she could do now as her husband was away on tour to China for a week and she was relatively free having just completed her project.
She had not decided about the visit till Bhargavi rang up two days back and mentioned,” Nandini, I know you are busy and cannot take a break. But I insist that you come down for your own sake. The Bhagavathi temple here is celebrating its famed quinquennial function this week and young women are thronging to seek the blessings of goddess. There is no question of your disregarding my request as you are wont to since childhood days.”
“Akka (elder sister), I know why you are particular about my visiting the temple. I have lost all hopes of bearing a child and all the medical opinions support such a pessimism. Please understand that I am really not keen about a visit to the temple. I will nevertheless come for a couple of days just to meet you and your two daughters.” Nandini said.
“Yay, inform me your flight details, I will be at the airport. We can decide the rest when you are here,” Bhargavi said in jubilation.
Nandini saw from a distance her sister standing tall and beautiful as ever belying her 38 years in age but a little worn out in these intervening years. She rushed to her dragging the suitcase and hugged her tightly.
“Nandini, believe me, there has been no change at all in you. You look the same charming and graceful young thing that I saw five years back. I am so happy you could at last make it,” said Bhargavi holding her hands warmly.
“Akka, you have also not changed much except for a few strands of grey hair. What is the secret of your youth?” Nandini asked with a twinkle in her eyes.
As Nandini lay in her bed that night after a sumptuous Palakkad dinner with her sister and nieces by her side, she felt as if she was in her ancestral home with her mother who passed away when she had just joined college. It was Bhargavi who was married by then who took care of her till she finished her post graduation and found a good job at Delhi. The two sisters talked into the late hours of the night after sending the nieces to their room.
“Nandini, I am not pressurizing you but having come this far especially at this opportune and auspicious time, why miss offering prayers to the Goddess. You know amma was a devout devotee of Bhagavathi and regularly visited the temple,” said Bhargavi.
“Do you really believe, akka, that visiting a temple during this time helps in conceiving a child even where doctors have ruled it out? I think it is as ridiculous as circambulating peepal tree for getting a child,” said Nandini in a taunting tone.
“I cannot answer your question to your satisfaction except saying that there is a strong belief long held by our past generations and in such matters only implicit faith helps. You need not come as a supplicant but as a devotee of the Goddess whom amma revered much.
Let us have fun afterwards in the beach as the temple is close to sea shore. The scenic beauty of the location, the incessant waves, the blue sea, the azure sky and the boats of fishermen setting into the sea is a delight to watch. Get up early. We will all go in the morning. Sleep well as you must be tired,” Bhargavi said and bade her goodnight.
The next morning was spent in the crowded temple, offering prayers and going around the sanctum thrice. While Bhargavi prayed for Nandini, it is not known what she sought for. The rest of the time about an hour were spent on a long walk in the beach and watching the waves striking the shore.
On the way back home, Nandini asked her sister, “Have you heard of cases where women without children for long years having conceived after visiting the temple? Be truthful.”
“Frankly, I do not know. It is all hear say but still people throng here. Your case should tell me whether it really works or not.”
“That means you used this ploy to drag me here, is it?” asked Nandini in an accusatory tone.
“Take it in whatever way you like. Is it wrong for an elder sister wanting to have her younger one with her and shower her affection?  Do you really know how much I miss you? Who else is there for me except you after our parents passed away,” Bhargavi said wiping her moist eyes.
Struck by remorse by her own rude remark, Nandini pleaded,” Akka, please forgive me. I was a fool to talk like that. I really enjoy my visit here. I would do anything you ask for unquestioningly,” even as she bent to touch her sister’s feet.
Once back in Delhi, Nandini plunged into her work. In about two months she had to go to Seattle for three months on a project.
It was a rainy Sunday at Seattle when Bhargavi invited her on FaceTime. “Nandini, I am in a mess and I feel highly embarrassed to talk about it. You know I have completed 38 years and my younger daughter is nearing six. I have not had the monthly thing for the last two months. I actually went to pray for you but I wonder whether Bhagavathi misheard me,” she said hiding her pain behind a smile and added,” I wished to abort but your brother in law dissuades me from it. I am very shy to go out these days and remain confined at home.”
“Wow, I concede Bhagavathi is indeed powerful though her blessings are misplaced! Why do you care about others? Let us hope it is a boy for a change. When it is time for delivery, I will come to be of assistance, I assure you,” Nandini spoke to her encouragingly.
Six months later, when Bhargavi was blessed with a baby girl, her husband offered the baby to Nandini who was there telling,” We had already decided accordingly. We felt since Goddess Bhagavathi could not help you directly due to you some medical issues, She perhaps used this ploy to give you a baby. Kindly accept this baby girl as yours. We are sure your home would be filled with laughter and fun and you will have someone to aspire for and shower your affection.
Nandini gladly took the baby in her arms to give her smooches even as her heart was filled with gratitude to Goddess and no less to Bhargavi. Her joy knew no bounds as the baby snuggled close to her and smiled. Bhargavi looked on with tears of joy in her eyes.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

55 word fiction

Yet another peep into 55-word fiction

If you kiss her, you get the money you wanted
I don’t like it and in public
Take it or leave it.
She may not like.
She will say nothing and is readily available.
Why do you insist?
So you will not ask me again
OK I need money
He produced a frog to kiss.

Midnight scare
It was past midnight. Trriing, triing.. Wife on phone from Chennai
“Arun, why are you awake so late? “
“Sarah is coming. I am struggling to avoid her.”
“Sarah, who? Don’t open the door.”
“Can’t, she is too big to stop.”
“Have you met her earlier?”
 No, her landfall is expected  in half hour”

The chase
With wind blowing his hair, Nitin chased at hectic speed to retrieve what Vipul had snatched from him. But the gap never seemed to close with both maintaining the same speed. Unrelenting Nitin rode on till he finally grabbed Vipul’s collar to demand the chocolate bar back. The music and carousel had by then stopped 

They were young pretty girls clad in jeans and T-shirts.
When I stared, one of them said “Just 200 rupees Sir. You will be happy for the visit”
I was hesitant wondering at the open soliciting.
“Come, I am free now.”
My wife nudged and said “You need a haircut. Try, it is a new salon”

The mango trick
After the magician’s rope walk and wriggling out of a narrow ring, the dumbfounded audience clapped. Commencing mango trick he placed the seed under a basket under watchful eyes. After some mumbo jumbo, he was about to lift the basket, when his young son shouted, ” Appa, you have left the mango here with me”

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

A peep into my old 55-word fiction

He paid Rs.500 to the famous tantric for an unfailing talisman to attract women. He came out and tried it on a young woman waiting at bus stop. Lo, she smiled at him and came near. He smiled back not seeing the talisman she also had in hand and trying on him. Talisman seemed working.
What started as banter turned violent. Though 15 feet away, she could hardly follow the quarrel between the two goons. Her heart missed a beat when one of them whipped a knife and plunged it deep in other’s abdomen. As red blood gushed, the attacker turned his gaze at her. She quickly shut the television

Beating death
It was a complicated and long heart surgery for four hours. The cardiac surgeon emerged triumphantly announcing ’Operation success. I can beat death.” He told his assistant, ‘Keep things ready for the next surgery. Will be back after a short rest” After an hour, assistant was waking up an inert doctor. Death was smugly laughing
"You will hit jackpot today!"  said my neighbour first thing in the morning, I wondered how he knew my plan to visit Casino. In high spirits, I determined to try my luck fully. As I took the car out, I broke a flower pot by mistake. My wife shrieked "You have hit Jack’s pot!!!"
First time
My family was away. I saw her when strolling in the mall. Tall, shapely and attractive, she was. I took her home. What a pleasant surprise it would be, I thought, even as I laid her on  bed. I gingerly caressed her soft hair. It’s my first gift of Barbie doll for my young daughter.
He made sure to see her thrice daily. Her blue eyes, the way she spoke and her smile made her his obsession. She never knew his love for her. She talked a lot but never to him. She just ignored him. He nevertheless hung on to her words till his mom switched off the TV.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

A snap decision

Today is the final of the World Cup 2019.Cricket transforms the lives of a few talented but poor young boys into one of great wealth and prosperity. This is a story on one such boy.

Sanjay was the last recognized batsman at the crease. It was the final of an international one day series and with the series evenly poised 2-2 each. He was facing the last ball of the 50th over. A sixer was needed to win the match. It was a do or die situation. He was the cynosure of all the millions of eyes on the ground and before TVs. His future depended on what he did today.
 The stadium was packed to the full. There was an eerie silence with the hearts of viewers in their mouths. The suspense was punishing with the commentators going silent with their fingers crossed. As the menacing bowler was walking back to the starting point, there was a flash of his life for Sanjay from his child hood days like a film on a screen.
The couple in their thirties with their two children were the last to get down from the passenger train at the last station. The compartment was empty. The husband and wife took their small luggage in one hand and the children on the other. Just as they were moving away from the train, they heard a wail of a baby. They both stopped wondering where from the cry had come. The shrill cry from a new born babe came again from within the compartment. The man went up and saw a babe of hardly ten days old under a seat. It was clear to him that it was abandoned. The wife too had followed him and looked around. There was not a soul seen.
He said, “We cannot leave this abandoned baby here. We will take it and leave it at the police outpost in the station.” The moment she took the baby in her hand, it stopped crying and broke into an innocent smile. It was cute looking baby boy.
 She turned to her husband and said, “Why not we keep this baby ourselves? The police will surely hand this over to an orphanage. I don’t wish this gift of God should go there.”
The husband meekly pointed out that they were already leading a hand to mouth existence and that addition of one more member would strain their tiny budget. She put her foot down telling emphatically that they could share whatever they had amongst the five and that the baby should be retained by them. That settled the issue. The baby boy grew up as a member of their family. They bestowed the same affection and care as they gave to the other two children.
Sanjay broken from reverie looked at the bowler running intimidatingly towards him to bowl the last ball. The entire crowd stood up on their feet in high anticipation. His mind was blank to the noisy surroundings and his eyes were focused at the bowler’s arm. Sanjay hit the ball with all the strength at his command and lo the ball fell on the roof of the pavilion opposite him with a thud. There was a deafening uproar with his team mates running in to the middle to lift him in their arms. His country had won. As he walked back to the pavilion with pride along with other players forming line on both sides, the thunderous applause from the stands was resounding.
Declared the man of the match, one of the of the officials approached him with a mike and said, “This is a memorable occasion in your life. You have been instrumental in bringing the trophy to our country. You will be showered with riches and goodies in plenty. What would you like to say on this unforgettable occasion? To whom would you ascribe this outstanding feat?”
Even as he wiped the tears from his eyes, Sanjay replied without a moment’s hesitation, “I dedicate this achievement wholly to my loving parents. My thoughts go back very long. Twenty five years ago, they took a snap decision at a railway station that changed the course of my life. I owe everything to them today, tomorrow and forever.”
There was a puzzled look in the official’s face and the millions who heard him. Sanjay continued,” The snap decision they took that day transformed an abandoned orphan in a train to a loving son in their home. I will now be able to transform in a small way their lives to one of plenty and comfort”

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

A lesson on magnanimity

With World Cup in full swing, I thought a story on cricket  would be topical
 I remember as a young boy I used to play cricket in our colony about decades back. There was not much of vacant space for playing except the side road in the colony. Three sticks of different heights did the duty of stumps with a broken brick serving as the fourth stump. There were half a dozen boys of varying ages and heights forming the team. Discarded tennis balls were donated by the dad of one of the boys.
 Two hours in the evening till the shadows lengthened were sheer thrill and joy for us. The high decibel noise and shouting were not objected to by the elders though one old gentleman Bhaskar Rao living adjacent to the playing area did not relish the game being played there. He often came out and remonstrated with us saying “You are all shouting too much and are a daily nuisance. This is not a playground. Why don’t you go and play in the corporation ground in the next street?”
We would plead with him “Uncle, we will not shout or make noise. Please allow us to play here as older boys are playing in the corporation ground and do not allow us to enter the ground.”
“I don’t wish to hear all your excuses. I am not going to allow you fellows to play here anymore. I will complain to the Secretary of the colony in writing though I know his son Mukesh is one of your gang” he said.
Nevertheless, he had never written or spoken to the secretary and we continued playing merrily. One day Mukesh had brought his cousin an older boy. Short and stocky fellow, who fancied himself as famed Everton Weekes in his attacking style, hit a ball hard on the window of Bhaskar Rao’s flat. Luckily the ball hit the wooden frame and the glass was spared. The old man rushed out of the flat to survey whether any damage had been done to the window.
I said “Uncle, nothing has happened. It just hit the frame. We will be careful in future.” Without uttering one word he took the ball that was lying near him and went inside. All our pleas for the ball fell on deaf ears. When he did not open the door, I remember to have pressed the bell at regular intervals, sometimes nonstop for long duration much to his annoyance.
He came out seething in anger and exploded “You rascal, how dare you press the bell like this continuously. I will complain to your father in the evening. I have no intention of returning the ball” He slammed the door and never opened despite our shouting. The day’s play had to stop as there was no spare ball. As we dispersed I took a small stone and hit the glass of the window directly making a small hole in it. I ran away quickly before he came out.
I was a bit scared that the old man would catch me the next day. But surprisingly we found the ball lying on the ground and he never came out to make noise about the window pane. When there was no mention of the broken glass even when I crossed him on the way to my school, I felt guilty. I could not return his smile and instead I hung my head in shame. His stony silence about the incident made me all the more uncomfortable.
When I told my mom about my rash behavior in anger that day, how I broke the glass and his stoic indifference, she said that Rao had lost his only son of my age years ago while playing cricket. When he was fielding at close quarters, it appeared the ball, not a tennis ball, hit him on his head near the brow and the poor boy died the same night. My mom felt that It was basically the fear of likely injury to youngsters that made him paranoid about cricket.
 I could not sleep that night. I had saved about three hundred rupees from the gifts for my birthday. The first thing in the morning I did was to go to his house and fall at his feet. He lifted me up and said with a smile “Raju, why are you prostrating? Any examination today or birthday for you?”
 He saw me crying and hugging me, he asked “What happened? Why are you crying? Tell me.”
In sobbing tone, I remember to have said “Uncle, you must pardon me. I was the wretch who broke the window that day in anger when you did not return the ball. Here is three hundred rupees that I had saved. Please accept it. It would cover the cost of putting a new glass. I never knew why you did not like us playing cricket till mom told me last evening. Until you forgive me, I cannot look straight into your eyes.”
“Wait a minute” he said and came back with a new cricket bat.” This was bought by my son a week before he had the tragic accident. I am not against cricket when played with protective gears. Take this bat, I gift it to you as it can be put to better use than being just an article of memory. I do not need your money. I will get you batting pads, abdomen guards and a pair of helmets. Although you play normally with tennis ball, I have seen you people playing on occasions with cork ball. The boy who fields at  short leg position should always wear a helmet. Forget about the broken window.  I have left the window deliberately unrepaired as it would make you all play carefully. “
I remember fondly even after about thirty years, the kindly face that taught me a lesson on forgiveness and magnanimity.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

A happy resolution

Siva Kumar was busy preparing an urgent report for the board meeting. His mobile rang to his annoyance.
“Siva, Chandru here. I need your urgent help. Can you give me an hour during lunch time to discuss a pressing matter?” asked his friend Chandrasekhar.
“What is it about? Is it something urgent?
“Yes, this is something very delicate and personal I have not mentioned to you but needs urgent solution,” he replied
“Sorry Chandru, I am busy with a report to be submitted tomorrow. We can meet if it suits you only tomorrow evening at 6pm at Woodlands over coffee,” Siva replied.
“Not Woodlands, it is crowded and I need some privacy to discuss this confidential issue,” and mentioned name of another restaurant nearby. “I will remind you again tomorrow morning. Please do not fail to come,” he said.
Chandru was Siva’s classmate in college for four years and after a long gap of more than a decade, they met at an alumnus meet a couple of years back. During college days, Chandru used to have many girls giggling before him for no reason and seeking his friendship. He still retained after all these years, the handsome look with his aquiline nose and curly hair with sharp features. Both of them since then have been meeting once in a while but not often. Though close friends while at college, the long gap and lack of contact had somewhat inhibited the old intimacy. They did not mingle closely as before, busy as they were with their own work and families. They had not visited each other’s house or known the family. Siva knew he was married like him and had two sons.
The next day when Siva entered the restaurant, Chandru was already waiting. He ordered spinach vada and butter masala roast dosa.
“Thank you for coming. I have been wanting to seek your help but was hesitant to broach the subject knowing that you are a man of principles and even during our college days you disapproved of my dalliance with several girls. What I am going to confide may be disgusting to you but I cannot help it. I have no one enjoying my trust as you to discuss my personal matters.,” Chandru went on till Siva interrupted him.
“Why all this prelude? Come to the point and keep it short and simple. I cannot spend more than an hour as I have promised my wife and children to watch a movie with them,” said Siva
“Hold your breath and do not get shocked. I am in love with a married woman since two years. We met at a birthday party of my wife’s friend. The host introduced her to us. She had come alone. A gregarious and pleasant personality with several interests, she impressed my wife very much. Needless to say I took an instant liking for her. Right through the party, I could sense her interest in me from her frequent discreet sideward glances. Subsequently she came often to my house apparently to spend time with my wife. On one occasion, she came when my wife and children were away. I do not know whether she was aware of my wife’s absence as she did not go away but came in to chat with me,” said Chandru pausing for a moment.
“What made you think, she was in love with you? Mere glances and exchange of pleasantries to a friend’s husband are no signs of love,” Siva said
“I cannot pinpoint any single incident. Her coy demeanour, her lingering long without withdrawing her hand when my fingers brushed hers when I handed over the glass with coke and her abrupt shifting from the single seater to my side in three seater and her giggling when I raised my eyebrows at her audacity. I could go on. These are experienced Siva and cannot be proved” Chandru said.
“Is she a working woman? Any children? What is her husband doing?” Siva asked
“Yes, she is working and has two kids. Her husband she said is a nice guy, loving and unsuspecting. When I told her bluntly that I am passionately attracted to her, she replied she too was but wondered how we could take it forward with both of us married with loving spouses and children. I concurred with her and said let us be friends with friendship remaining unknown and that we could meet somewhere once a while. She kept quiet and when I hugged her, she reciprocated with equal warmth. Since then we have been meeting regularly somewhere outside,” confessed Chandru
“I condemn this. Have you ever thought about the enormity of your behavior? You must snap your relationship with her forthwith and have no contact whatsoever. I have no other advice for you,” Siva said firmly
“Please listen. We are blindly in love and committed to each other that we would not break our relationship.”
“Did you say relationship? You said earlier friendship,” asked Siva
“Yes, it graduated into relationship. Her husband even at the age of 40 has lost the zest for life though very loving and affectionate.”
“It is sad and despicable on the part of you both cheating on respective spouses. This is nothing but brazen adultery. Tell her to move away before it becomes a scandal. Think of the children. Come to my house one day. Why not this Sunday ?I will be back from tour in the morning.Can you please pick me from the airport and take me to my home?.  See for yourself how lovingly my children and wife welcome me when I return from tour of just one day. Love your wife and your children. Spend time with them. A happy family is a heaven. Put an end to this abominable thing you call love,” Siva spoke with a finality.
On Sunday morning, as Chandru brought Siva from airport to latter’s home, both the children came rushing shouting ‘Appa” and snuggled around his legs. He lifted the little girl and showered smooches with the boy waiting for his turn,” Where is Amma?”, he asked.
“She has gone to Hanuman temple and would be here any moment,” the boy replied.
‘Give me a minute or two, Chandru. I will keep the box inside and come,” Siva said and went inside followed by children
Chandru left alone in the hall admired the neat way the hall was kept without any clutter. He got up to see the show case tastefully decorated with a Dasavathar pieces sculpted beautifully in ivory. There was Sri Ram Durbar in ebony and various other antiques. When his eyes descended on a recent photo of Siva with his wife, he looked at it with his eyes transfixed for a few moments and then peeped inside. Not finding Siva, he quickly made a hurried exit.
When Siva came to the drawing room, he found Chandru missing. He went out to see the car too missing and walked till the end of the small road and could see no trace of him or his car. When he was returning perplexed at his strange behaviour, Siva saw his wife returning home from temple with a bowl of flowers and hailing him with a large smile on her face,” When did you come? Where had you gone out? You said some friend is coming for breakfast. I have made idly, vada and sambhar.”
“He actually brought me from airport, sat for a while and abruptly vanished when I went inside for a minute. I was searching for him only and his phone is also switched off. Weird chap, I would say,” said Siva.
The last Siva heard about Chandru was that he had sought an immediate  transfer and left the city within a week with his family. Siva was happy that Chandru took his advice seriously.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The gate crasher

Biren had no great attainments to boast of being born in a poor family, being an ordinary graduate and with no special skill to fetch him a job, let alone a decent one. But strange as were the ways of god, he was endowed with a tall physique, handsome look, a very fair complexion that was usually associated with the rich and famous. Though his hairline was receding, the constant twinkle in his eyes added to his charm that evoked an instant admiration.
He had a weakness for good food that was not available at his home. Being an unemployed graduate in Kolkata looking for job in the day time, his evenings were relatively free. The leisure in the evenings gave him time for some adventure and satiation of his taste buds by attending wedding receptions uninvited. His good look and attractive personality served as an easy passport to any gathering, big or small.
 He had a finely embroidered silk Khurta in cream colour and a nice dhoti with attractive border, though used ones, gifted to him by a well to do neighbour when Biren helped him physically to shift all the things to a new house. He used this pair of clothes sparingly once or twice a week depending upon the marriage receptions held in the vicinity.
He had a close friend who was driving an Innova car for a private travel company. The car did not sport any indication that it belonged to a travel company. Dressed immaculately, he would alight before the gate about an hour after the commencement of reception. His friend would rush to open the door for him making the onlookers believe he was someone in particular. He would be welcomed at the gate with someone sprinkling rosewater and another handing him a red rose for his buttonhole. With a slight nod of his head, he would nonchalantly walk in measured steps turning his head sideways on both sides.
Once inside he would quietly walk to one of the middle rows of chairs and settle down unobtrusively listening to music if any or the noisy band that was favoured these days. He generally avoided conversation and if unavoidable replied in monosyllables with other guests who gravitated to him thinking he is someone big. The larger the crowd he felt comfortable in merging with it. After about 30 minutes he would unobtrusively sneak into the dining hall and enjoy leisurely the sumptuous feast served generally in buffet style these days.
The Bengalis love for good food is best seen in their weddings and no effort is spared to make it a gala and rich fare. The spread invariably would be large suiting the different palates of guests. The popular and basic items that are never missed vary from the starters like mochar chop and macher chop and then luchi or koraishutir kochuri with aloo dum, potoler dolma, mishit pulao, fish paturi wrapped in banana leaf, Bengali mutton curry, chicken chaap and with desserts like rosogolla, sandesh and mishti doi. Biren would not hurry but do full justice to the fare offered relishing every item by sucking his fingers and with a satisfied nod of a gourmet
Once finished, he would linger around for a short while changing seats and make an exit quietly. Luckily he has never had any hassle so far with none detecting the interloper he was.
But he had a strange foreboding this day that things may not be as smooth as it had been thus far. Nevertheless, he assured himself that he can manage any eventuality his wit. As he alighted from the car in the early night and entered the reception hall nonchalantly, an elderly gentleman of about 65 with a bald head, dressed in a typical Bengali style with the end of his long dhoti tucked in the side pocket of khurta, welcomed him with a broad smile.
As he led him inside, he casually asked, “I am sorry I am not able to place you. Are you from the bride’s side or the bridegroom to enable me to get you seated with appropriate people?”.
“Thank you, Sir for the warm welcome. I can find my way myself and enjoy meeting people to whichever side they belong.”
“I am sure of that but you have not answered my question to which side you belong. I should not be faulted later that I have not taken care of a honoured guest appropriately,” the old man smilingly persisted.
 As generally bride’s people stand at the gate to welcome guests, Biren said he was related to bridegroom. The loquacious bald man asked him in what way. Not to be taken aback Biren said,” I am actually Tapas Ranjan’s cousin,” remembering the name displayed in flowers outside the banquet hall.
“How lucky. I was just now talking to his brother. He was sitting alone. Let me take you to him” he said as he held his hand and started walking to the front.
Biren, though alarmed at the prospect of detection, could not back out except saying, “Thank you. I will go to him after meeting my other friends.”
Meanwhile someone luckily for Biren, came rushing to the bald man and took him away on some urgent business. Biren sat in a nearby chair for a few minutes and with no sign of the bald man, he sauntered towards the dining hall. Luckily no one came and he could relish the hearty meal with hundreds of others.
It was at the ice-cream stall when he was enjoying faluda ice-cream that the bald man saw him. Profusely apologizing for leaving him abruptly, he said “Tapas’s brother is   sitting alone and I mentioned about you and he is eagerly waiting to meet you,” and literally dragged Biren who started sweating profusely.
Approaching a lean man in a colorful knee long khurta, the bald man said “Hey Binod, I have brought your cousin You don’t have to sit alone without company. Lucky I could see him at the dining hall.”
Binod turned at Biren and looking intently asked him, “Did you say you are a cousin of Tapas? I am his elder brother. I should know you better.” The bald man was craning his neck to hear what Biren was about to say.
Resourceful as Biren was, he replied without batting an eyelid, “We were actually roommates at Durgapur Engineering college. We used to be together always that others called us brothers. We used to introduce ourselves as cousins.”
“My younger brother never stayed in a hostel. He attended college from home. Tell me the truth. Who are you? I can call your bluff by taking you to Tapas.,” he said in an abrasive manner.
Meanwhile the bald man siganalled to a few youngsters who immediately crowded around them.
When Biren was mum in this piquant predicament, one of the youngsters pulled his Khurta and another put his hand around his neck. Even as Binod warned them not to touch Biren, one impulsive young man hit him on his head. Soon there was a loud commotion with Biren being called, a fraud, an impostor, a fake, a chain snatcher and someone said a kidnapper of young children. Blows started raining on him, when they heard a loud voice commanding “Stop it this moment, I say.”
They turned to see Tapas rushing in and hugging Biren said, “Sorry Ashok Da, I am extremely sorry for this unruly behavior on a mistaken identity. It is years since we met. How is your Ma?” He turned to his brother and asked him how he could allow these people to manhandle his friend.
His brother Binod said,” He was your roommate in engineering college hostel. When did you ever stay in a hostel? That was why I suspected and wished to bring him to you. Meanwhile this unfortunate thing happened. Sorry Tapas.”
Tapas clarified,” Ashok Da was in the hostel and I used to spend most of my time with him. He used to clarify all my doubts and would not go for lunch without me. I am greatly pained that this should have happened,” and told his brother to fetch the yellow gift bag immediately.
Asking others to disperse, Tapas asked him when alone, “It does not matter who you are. You have come as a guest on my wedding day. I do not wish any humiliation and that was why I pretended I knew you. Did you have your food?  I am sorry for this incident.’ Biren nodded his head in shame unable to look at straight at Tapas’s eyes.
Giving the yellow bag his brother brought meanwhile, Tapas asked him, “Was the food delicious? Thank you for coming. Here is my card. Do contact me after a month if you need any help,”
As Biren folded his arms to show his respect,” No, no, you are my elder cousin” said Tapas and bent deferentially.
When his brother asked after he left who he really was, Tapas replied, “He is one of the hundreds of guests on this happy occasion who came to bless me. Leave it a t that.”
Biren opened the bag at his house to see a silk khurta and a fine dhoti with colouful border. Tears started flowing at the magnanimity of Tapas and his effort to save him from humiliation, He decided to put an end to his detestable habit forthwith.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The budding romance

The sky was unusually cloudy though it has been a hot  day and it was getting dark. Renuka hurried her steps towards the bus stand not to miss the bus. There were not many on the road with only cars and trucks whizzing past. When she turned back to look for bus, she saw a tall young man about hundred yards behind her walking fast. She increased her pace to reach the stand that was slightly away. She could in a while hear his footsteps closing in on her. Her heart pounded in fear as the place was desolate.
Very soon he was by her side and she heard him telling, “Madam, do not be afraid as I am following you only to hand over the key chain you dropped when you took your mobile out outside your office. Please wait for a moment.”
She opened her bag, even as she was walking, to notice the key chain was in fact missing. She stopped abruptly and looked at the lanky handsome guy with a key chain on hand.
“Were you afraid that I was stalking you?l” he laughed gustily as he handed over the chain.
“To be honest, yes, especially as the road is deserted being Saturday. I had to finish some urgent work and was held up. Thank you very much as you had to literally run to catch me. But for you I would have been in a mess as this my room key,” she replied with a grateful smile.
“Do you work here? I am seeing you for the first time. I am Shilesh,” and offered his hand.
“Renuka, I work in ABC bank meant for IT companies here. Do you also work in this area?” she asked without taking his proffered hand.
“A sweet name. I do not work here but have some contracts with some companies here. I come here very frequently,” he said without elaborating on the nature of contracts. As he saw a bus approaching, he said, “Your bus I think. Let us hope we get to meet once a while.”
“Yes, my bus. Thank you very much for the help. Surely we shall meet again,” she replied as she hurried to get into the bus.
Two days later as she was coming out of the bank, Shilesh sitting on a motor bike hailed her,” Renuka, I never expected to meet you so soon. As I saw the name of bank, I remembered you and lingered for a while wondering whether you would come out. To my great luck you came out.”
“Good we could meet again. I cannot easily forget your helpful gesture that day.’
“Where do you live? We can have some tiffin and then I can drop you at your place,” he suggested.
When she mentioned the place where she lived, “It suits me fine as I live close to your place. We can talk at a restaurant closer to our area,” Shilesh said.
As they sat in a cozy corner, he told her with a smile “Order what you like for both of us and tell me all about you both official and personal.”
With sharp features, mesmerizing smile and curly hair that by habit he pushed back frequently, he cast a spell on her and poor Renuka could not but lower her eyes when he looked at her intently. Dressed in blue jeans and striped T shirt that indicated his muscular athletic body, Shilesh made a favourable impression on Renuka.
The server meanwhile brought two plates of crisp onion rava dosas with four different chutneys and another plate of four Mangalore bondas with their own accompaniments straight from the frying pan.
Looking at the spread with satisfaction, he asked her “Now tell me about you, Renuka, where are your parents living since you are in a hostel? Any siblings? How long are you in the bank?”
“They live in Tirupatthur.I have no sibling. They pay no heed to my request to come here as they have some lands nearby to take care of. I am with the bank for the last one year after my training. How about you?” she asked.
“Since you are in hostel, am I wrong in presuming you are single?”
She lowered her head without answering him but asked, “What do you do? Which place are you from? You told me you have contracts with some firms here. What sort of contracts? Are you an engineer?”
“I belong to Krishnagiri but live in Saligramam with my parents. My only sister is married and in Singapore. As I told you I have contracts with IT companies to keep their systems in good condition,” and added with a mischievous twinkle,” I am also a single like you.”
On hearing this, Renuka broke into laughter with Shilesh joining her.
 “Is the pressure in bank heavy on all days? Are there enough people to share the burden?  With so many IT offices close by, there must be rush of customers always in the bank. Isn’t it?” he queried
“Actually it is a small bank catering only to IT employees. Apart from me, there is a manager and one chowkidar. We hope to get one more assistant within a fortnight. It is mostly myself in the office whenever my manager goes out to local head office. On Mondays and Tuesdays a few customers visit to draw money. There is no ATM in the bank premises. The other days very few come with practically none on Saturdays. Most do transactions online. Actually it is boring some days,” she said with a smile.
“Lucky you are. I will try to meet you some day at your office when I am free.”
He paid the bill and dropped her at her place. Except asking her to hold his hip firmly with both hands, he did not seem inquisitive and talked generally about the condition of roads, water scarcity and total absence of rains. He seemed a very decent fellow and Renuka was impressed. They met again outside office on alternate days and the same routine was happily followed with a romantic turn.
It was Saturday past 12 noon. There was no customer since morning. The manager had gone out. The chowkidar was not to be seen and may have gone to take tea in the nearby shop. It was then Shilesh entered the bank and came straight to her counter. The usual smile was missing and he had a grim face.
“What happened, Shilesh? Was there any problem in the offices you visited? Why this stern look?” asked Renuka.
He did not reply but put his hand in the counter with a note.
She grabbed the note and read, “This is a hold up. Cooperate to avoid personal harm”
She looked at him unbelievingly and asked him, “Don’t be silly. Are you indulging in a prank or what?”
“I am dead serious. To prove my earnest, see this,” he said as he produced a glistening pistol. “Do not waste time trying to escape,” he warned
Her knees became weak in fear and shock and she held her head with both her hands looking at him in utter disbelief.
” No drama or screaming. Hand over the keys to the box on your table and to the safety room. If you cooperate, I promise everything will be taken care of smoothly and we can both leave the city to some distant place and live happily married. If there is slightest attempt to stop me, I will not hesitate to do what I must, I am ruthless by nature,” he warned without any ambiguity.
Sizing up the situation, she said,” OK, I am with you on this for the only reason I am madly in love with you. But be quick as chowkidar may come anytime. Just close the front door without locking and come inside.”
She gave the keys to the cash box on the counter and led him to the safety room and opened the door.
“Within five minutes you must come out. Don’t be greedy. I will keep a watch on the front door and signal you if chowkidar enters. There is a big bag in the corner. Be very quick,” she said.
“Thank you, Renu.I am also attracted to you and I promise to keep you happily. I never expected you would support me readily. I will be out in three minutes. Please keep a watch, my dear,” he said as he patted her cheek and entered the safety room.
As he opened the locker and found to his joy, stacks of notes of varied denominations, he heard a click of the door and turned to see to his horror the door of the safety room was shut. He heard the alarm shrieking loud alternately in high and low notes. “Dirty bitch, you will pay for this with your life” he swore in anger
Renuka was seen at the front door shouting for chowkidar and hailing others for help.A police van was seen  fast approaching the bank at a short distance.