Saturday, March 30, 2024

The impish laughter (901 words)

Madhavan dabbled in a small way in the stock market. He did not have the kind of resources to invest big. He used to sit in a broking firm whenever he had time and make a couple of hundred buying and selling the stock the same day. Some days he would also lose. One day when he made a cheque for investing a slightly higher sum than usual on what he thought was a blue-chip stock that was expected to zoom, he felt he heard a wisp of laughter behind his back. When he turned round to see none, he decided not to invest. On the second day, the stock crashed when the fudging of accounts of the company became public and cases were filed against the management.

There was a long-standing court case on his paternal property that came up for final hearing. He had spent a considerable amount towards legal expenses as he was told his case was very strong. He left early morning for the district court in another town. It was when he bought the bus ticket he heard the same kind of mild laughter behind his back. The source could not be located in the noisy bus stand. There was a lump in his throat with a tinge of fear. He ignored it and continued his journey. He was shocked when the court decided the case against him with costs to be paid to the other party. The memory of the laughter came to his mind but being a rationalist, he chided himself for being superstitious.

He was already 28 and his aged mom pressured him to marry. He had a fairly good job in the government and there was no reason to put it off. When he expressed his willingness, his mother went into raptures. Soon she found a good match for him from the adjacent town. The bride Mallika was good-looking, more qualified, had a better job and was from a wealthy family. Both liked each other and agreed to marry.

There was a huge crowd of relatives and friends on the wedding day. The auspicious time for tying the knot had arrived and the priest started chanting the mantras in a loud voice. Madhavan with the mangal sutra in his hands neared Mallika, who was seated on her father’s lap as was customary, to tie the knots. The nadaswara vidwan (piper) started playing the instrument briskly accompanied by melam(drum) loudly.

As Madhavan with a beaming face bent down to tie the knot, amidst the smiling faces of relatives around him, the poor chap felt he distinctly heard this time an impish smile twice. His face immediately lost colour, started perspiring heavily and his limbs seemed to go limp in fear. Urged by the priest, he tied the thread hastily with three knots amid the claps and congratulations from the crowd. The smile had, however, faded from his face and he looked ashen as if struck by a ghost. The perplexed bride looked at him with concern. Someone brought a Pepsi to him.

That night when they were together in the bedroom, the young wife asked him “Can I ask you a question?”

When he nodded his head, Mallika asked “Why did your face turn pale suddenly and you started perspiring heavily when you tied the wedding knot? Your face was also grim with no trace of cheerfulness. Are you not happy with me?”

He smiled at her with some effort and said “Oh, it is nothing.”

When she prodded him further, he replied “I thought I heard a vicious laughter twice behind my back just as I bent to tie the knots. This has happened a couple of times earlier and the outcomes were not favourable. That put me off.”

“You are well educated and yet seem to be highly superstitious. I shudder to think how we can lead a happy life. I wish I had known more about you,” she said. His protests that he was a rationalist and never visited temples did not impress her.

After a year and a half, Madhavan rushed to a maternity clinic when he got a call from his father-in-law that Mallika was in labour pain. He was a trifle worried when the memory of the laughter at the time of marriage returned to him. As he entered the clinic, he was much relieved to see his father-in-law with a broad smile.

“I have no full details. One nurse said the delivery was successful through a Caesarean process and the patient is safe. We should know soon,” he said.

There was a long wait before he was ushered inside the room. Mallika greeted him with a mischievous grin and asked naughtily, “Did you have two smiles behind your back today as you came here? Turn behind and see.”

Confused at her words, he turned to see the nurse pushing in two baby cots with a baby boy and a baby girl. He looked at Mallika in bewilderment when she said,” Yes, a twin we have. The mysterious laughter two times turned out to be a clear indicator. I do not know whether you are a rationalist or not but I have turned a believer. Don’t put on a glum face as we should be happy at God’s blessing.”

It is learned that the couple are often seen these days at a nearby temple with the babies.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Defer not small acts of kindness (794)


Madhav Ji as he is known is a rich man owning a coal and coke company and presently leading a peaceful life after handing over the business to his sons. A kindly old man he spent his time reading spiritual books, visiting temples and attending religious lectures. His palatial house overlooked a large municipal park situated in sylvan surroundings.

This park with its best-laid pathways for the morning walkers drew a large crowd daily both mornings and evenings. One could see joggers running, old men and women walking briskly, yoga sessions on green spots, children playing in the playing area on the slides and swings and young romantic couples hiding in secluded spots under the trees watching the ducks swimming in the large pond in the centre. Vendors were seen busy selling to the young and old jal mudi, gol goppas, alu tikias, ice creams of different brands and fluffy sugar candies in pink colour.

Madhav Ji invariably spent Sunday evenings at the park watching the people and the playing children. The children all well-dressed from well-to-do families flocked to the ice cream vendors and were busy buying cones and cups of ice cream in different colours and tastes. What saddened Madhav Ji was the sight of ill-clad poor children in tatters watching with drooling mouths from afar the rich kids licking the cones and slurping from the cups. The hapless kids did not approach the vendors but kept staring hungrily at the fortunate children with mouths open. Madhav Ji had not forgotten his early childhood days in poverty with his mom working in different households to make a living.

It was perhaps the first Sunday he had visited the park. What he saw disturbed him and when he found he had not brought any money with him, it upset him further that he left the park abruptly.

The next Sunday Madhav Ji was seen sitting in his usual place. Not yonder from him stood one man with a tall stool with large cubes of ice covered by a gunny bag and a carpenter tool like planer on the stool to shred the ice cubes. Mounted on his stool was an array of bottles with coloured sugar syrups in red, yellow and green and in different fragrances like rose, sarsaparilla, lemon, and orange.

Little away was the ice cream vendor ringing the bell to attract the children. Soon the rich children gathered around him buying and having cones and cups of ice cream,

 Madhav ji invited the poor children to come near him and asked them to have one or two as they desired of ice cream made of raw ice from the man by his side. The glee in the children’s faces, looking at the man shredding the ice, fixing it over a stick and pouring coloured syrups of their choice, should be seen to be believed. Their joy multiplied when their demands for repeated helpings of sugary syrups were willingly met by the man. Madhav Ji was a picture of contentment when he saw these kids were no longer eyeing the affluent children on the other side. Satisfied at the unexpected treat, they all gave him a shy smile before scampering.

This became a hardy Sunday ritual with the number of kids growing and Madhav Ji did not mind. He surprised them frequently gifting them T-shirts, school bags, water bottles, packets of biscuits or some such stuff. Though he did not talk to them much, the poor children looked upon their benefactor with fondness and awe.

 It was one Sunday evening Madhav Ji had not turned up. The children were all eagerly waiting for his arrival. One of the kids ran across the road to his palatial bungalow and saw a huge crowd of people and an array of cars coming one after the other and stopping opposite the house. Promptly the other children also gathered and stood at a safe distance watching the movements. They came to know from a security guard who was shooing them away that the old man had died of a sudden cardiac arrest in the afternoon.

The body was kept in the hall for the stream of distinguished visitors and relatives to file past. It was time to leave for the crematorium. The eldest son of Madhav Ji who knew his dad’s fondness for the poor children and his Sunday trysts with them asked the security to send them in to have one last look at their patron.

It was a measure of Madhav Ji’s compassion when the visitors saw a huge retinue of poorly dressed children walking past the body in tears and uncontrollable sobs.

“You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” Ralph Waldo Emerson


Saturday, March 16, 2024

The clever trick (960)

Renuka was lying in bed after a hectic morning. Getting up early in the morning, preparing hurriedly breakfast and lunch, and sending her six-year-old son to school by 8 am was a bugbear. It was a big ordeal to wake him up, give him a bath, force-feed the breakfast with milk and send him with his books for the day without forgetting the lunch box. But she enjoyed doing it though it irritated her sometimes making her raise her voice. Her hubby would have no time for her in the mornings but he never troubled her for his things. It was only after 10 am she would be somewhat relaxed when she would switch on the TV resting on the bed with the day’s paper and mobile by her side and the laptop on the other.

It was an independent house with a tiny garden. She loved gardening. As she was in the bed one afternoon, she heard the buzzer. She saw through the window a tall young man in his early twenties dressed well in pants and a shirt with a matching tie standing with a briefcase in his hand. He had curly hair and looked quite handsome. When he saw her, he bowed his head and said “Madam, sorry to disturb you at this hour. I have come to introduce to you some burglar alarms that would ensure total security. I wonder whether you would like to have a look. It wouldn’t take 15 minutes, madam”

“I don’t think we would be interested in burglar alarms. Thanks anyway for checking” Renuka replied.

“Madam, you must be aware of the spate of thefts and robberies in the vicinity of late. Almost daily some house is burgled. Much worse is the fact inmates are attacked and even killed. There is a great demand for our products particularly from independent houses. You don’t have to buy. It is enough if you make yourself aware of the foolproof security systems available with us” he pleaded.

She hesitated for a while He looked decent and harmless. His shoes were glistening with polish. She said before going in “Please wait. I will ask my husband if he is interested.”

Renuka was cautioned to be careful by her husband though he had no objection to her seeing the stuff and collecting details of price etc

She opened the door and let him in. He was perspiring a low. She switched on the fan and told him to wait as she went to the kitchen to fetch a glass of water he desired.

When she returned, she found to her shock the door which she had left ajar was closed and locked. As he drank the water with a smirk on his face, she knew she had erred in her judgment. As he advanced towards her making her recede backwards to a chair, he laughed and said” Madam, please remember no burglar alarm would be of any avail if you let unknown strangers into your house. Sit on the chair and don’t make any noise. Hand over the keys to the almirah. If you comply with my request without demur you would not get hurt bodily. Some wicked men rape before killing the victims. You seem intelligent. Please give me the keys” he said in a soft and leering tone.

“Young man, you seem to be new to this profession. Do you think I would ever open the door without ensuring adequate precaution? I did not go to telephone my husband as you surmised. I opened the back door and alerted the three gardeners who were clearing the weeds and cleaning the garden to come inside with their implements. They are behind the unlocked closed doors on either side of this drawing hall” she said

“What do you mean?” blurted the young chap.

“Nothing but what I told you. I could see that you are educated and speak English fluently. I have a suspicion you have strayed into this wrong path by mistake. You must have parents, sisters and brothers. I can spoil your life. I have two options. I can give a signal to the gardeners behind the doors to pounce upon you. They are armed with sickles, crowbars and whatnot. I can call the police and hand you over. The other option is to let you go scot-free if you promise that you will never indulge in such crimes. I do not want a young life and the dependent family to come to grief. Tell me quickly before I change my mind about what you wish to do”

The young man promptly fell at her feet and clasping her legs said “Sorry madam. This is my first foolish attempt. I am not getting any job. My family is starving. I hired these clothes for a day. I promise to turn a new leaf and never dream of such misdoings. Please forgive me and let me go.”

She then let him pick up his briefcase and opened the door for him to go out. Once he left and the door was secured, she sat on the sofa and broke into laughter. She narrated to her husband about ignoring his caution and the clever trick she employed with great presence of mind about the imaginary gardeners behind the doors to scare the young fellow away.

It was then she heard the school bus approaching from the loud horn. She turned to look at the expensive crystal clock on the side table to see time. But it was not there to her great shock. Then she remembered the iPad she had left there when she answered the doorbell of the young man. It was also missing. Her spirit of joy gave way to gloom at her foolishness.


Sunday, March 10, 2024

A mysterious assignment (1219words)

There was a gentle knock at the door around 9 PM. Who could it be, Vinay wondered? He had neither friends nor neighbours in this complex ever calling on him. He opened the door to find a young woman in her late twenties standing. He had seen her many times in the complex during his morning walks but had never spoken to her. She smiled at him and asked with a certain hurry in her tone. “I live in one of the adjacent apartments. My telephone isn’t working. The cell phone is also not usable. Can I please make an urgent call to my mom who I understand is not well.”

As she was talking to her mom, Vinay pretended to be reading a newspaper but was overhearing the conversation. She was quite an attractive woman, petite and had a sweet voice. He could feel her genuine concern for her mom and learned that she was feeling bad for not being by her side. After she disconnected, she thanked him profusely. He introduced himself and asked her to be seated when he went to get her coke. She saw as he opened the fridge, it was bare except for the small bottle of coke.

She could also see, from where she was seated, the kitchen that bore no evidence of any cooking or vessels. When they were talking, she came to know that he was single, he was laid off about eight months back and the money he had saved was spent, a sizable chunk towards his now deceased father’s medical expenses and the balance on his food and rent. He still owed some rent and was pressured to vacate. He was frantically looking for a job but nothing was forthcoming in the present downturn. She expressed her sympathy and her wish that he would find a job soon. They met each other in the next few days several times exchanging small talk that gradually became longer.

He was turned away wherever he went for a job He was at the end of his tether. It was at such a critical juncture that she came to him one day and asked him” Are you willing to do a job for me and if you accomplish this well, it may open the gate for a brighter future. But there is a condition. You should not ask much details but simply carry out the work entrusted to you without any demur. Do you have trust in me? If you trust me fully you must carry a packet to another city safely with you. This is a secret and important assignment. You must not discuss it with anyone and you should not carry any other luggage. The man meeting you at the airport will deliver you a box with new dresses and other essential things you would need. He will take you to the place where you are to hand over the packet given by me.”

“How will I know the man at the airport?” Vinay asked.

“My man will identify you and utter the password that I would be giving you. He will take you to the destination. You should not ask any questions about what the packet contained and whom you were going to meet. Certain secrecy is necessary. If you trust me, you can agree not otherwise. I will give you an air ticket and also some money for the help. Be assured that at the end, you will be happy that you did me this job”’ she said.

Vinay thought he could not be in any worse situation than he was now and the lady seemed nice. He had taken a great liking for her and often spent time thinking of her. She was paying some money too which he badly needed. He decided to agree notwithstanding a doubt about the possibility of drugs, contraband or some secret official documents exchanged.

He told her” I need a break from the present depressing situation. I have full trust in you and am aware that you will not get me into any trouble. I am ready to start any time.”

She replied “You may leave two days later. I will hand over the packet to you this evening along with the tickets and password. Please do not try to contact me till the packet is successfully delivered.”

Vinay carried nothing except the secured packet in a box. It passed through Xray without problem as he feared. He was thinking of her and her mysterious ways during the journey. He hoped that this could be the beginning of a series of such assignments.

The man who received Vinay at the airport was curt as he gave him a box. He gave him 15 minutes to change his dress. There was a pair of nice suits with shirts, other garments and a few things of daily need. He was surprised at the way money was spent on him when he was a mere courier and a strange fear came over him whether he would turn to be the sacrificial goat. The car took them to a posh apartment and the man left after dropping him.

As he was waiting in the drawing room, he started sweating despite the air conditioners. It took ten minutes and no one appeared. He felt some eyes were watching him though there was none. He wished she could have been a little more open. Suddenly he heard a door opening and saw a figure approaching him. He stood up involuntarily struck in total amazement and surprise when he saw the person.

“Are you surprised, dear, to see me here to receive you? Please open the packet yourself and see the contents” said the lady he had met at his place.

When he opened it, he found, to his utter surprise and disbelief, it was stuffed with scraps of waste paper and wondered why all this secrecy and for what purpose.

She laughed and said “The whole assignment is a silly test to see whether you have implicit faith in me. I am glad you passed it admirably well. I thought you might develop cold feet and back out. Luckily for me, you did not.”

“Why this test at all for me? I doubted initially whether you are romantically inclined towards me but I banished such a thought as I was a jobless man,” he asked with some naivete.

“I don’t know really. I had this strange desire to test you for I had lost my heart to you ever since I set my eyes on you during my daily walks. I have made inquiries of you. I came that night only to meet you and get to know you more with the ploy of using your phone. I do not know how you feel towards me. But I am madly in love with you and want you to marry me and help me in looking after my vast business interests. If you like me as I do for you, we will start a new life and spend the rest of our lives together. That is the reason I planned your discarding symbolically the old dress and everything from that wretched place,” she said.

He extended his arms wide open for her to fall into for a long embrace.




Wednesday, March 6, 2024

The reconciliation, thanks to Raju (1159 words)


Savitri was seen pacing anxiously between the living room and the front veranda till she finally called out to her husband who was watching TV,” Gopal, it is nearing 8.15 pm and there is no trace of Raju yet. He is usually back by 6 pm from the playground.”

“Ask his friend Shankar who lives three apartments away down the corridor,” Gopal suggested without taking his eyes off the TV.

” Aunty, Raju did not come to play today,” was the reply from Shankar

He has not gone to any place other than school and playground without informing. There were frantic calls to close relatives in the city and a few of his school friends. They drew blank from everywhere. There was no inkling of where he could have gone. Like any other day, on return from school, he kept his school bag on his desk, washed his hands, changed his clothes and had noodles with Horlicks. He looked normal though he did not speak much to his mom or sister.

The dailies and WhatsApp messages were full of stories, mostly false and some partially true, of the kidnapping of children for ransom and how in many cases the children were harmed if demands were not met. Some neighbours added to their anxiety with thoughtless remarks about children being maimed for begging or their kidneys being removed for sale.

 Savitri panicked and started crying inconsolably. Gopal, a senior manager in a reputed business firm wished to seek the help of the police. A couple of neighbours counselled patience and asked him not to rush to police as they felt such a step could bring harm to the child. It was already 9-30pm with the sky dark. It was also drizzling making the gloomy atmosphere sombre. The only redeeming feature was there being no call for ransom as yet.

Gopal spoke to one of his friends, who had influence with wide contacts, seeking his advice on how to proceed in the matter. He suggested that it is always advisable to seek the help of police as they are trained to nab the culprits without endangering the lives of the victims. He said that no time should be lost and that he would speak to a close relative of his in the police department. After talking to the relative, the friend took Gopal to the residence of his relative to lodge a complaint. He did not want Gopal to be seen going to the police station.

Men were put on the job. Gopal was asked to keep talking without disconnecting if there were any calls for money. He was advised to keep stalling by requesting the kidnappers to reduce the ransom amount or plead for time to borrow money Meanwhile the police would be monitoring the calls to his number.

Gopal and Savitri were awake the whole of the night. There was no call. The searches continued and phone calls were made again to Raju’s friends. The day dragged into the night with no progress. Another day went by with no clue about the whereabouts of the boy.

Raghavan was a regular caterer supplying lunch and dinner to bachelors or households living in various parts of the city. He rode a bike specially fitted with several hooks to carry many bags and covered areas like T Nagar, West Mambalam, Ashok Nagar, KK Nagar and Vadapalani. He had been supplying in the vast building complex at T Nagar where Gopal was living and even to his apartment on many occasions. Raghavan could identify members of the families to whom he supplied by their faces.

When he went to supply lunch to a customer in a block of flats in KK Nagar, he found to his surprise Raju playing alone near the staircase of the ground floor. He knew the boy lived in a posh apartment complex at TNagar and asked him how he was there and with whom he was staying. The boy, without replying, hastily ran into the flat. Raghavan did not take any special note of this as he was not aware of the boy missing from his home.

The next day when he went to supply food to someone’s house in Gopal’s complex, at TNagar, the lady of the house was telling him how a young boy, Raju by name, from one of the adjacent flats had been kidnapped three days back with no trace of the boy till then.

Raghavan immediately told her that he had seen the boy only the previous day at such and such a place in KK Nagar and how the boy ran inside a flat without replying to him. Both of them rushed to Gopal’s house and soon all of them went in a car to the place where they saw Raju.

It transpired only then that Gopal’s aged mother was living alone in the flat and the relations between the old lady and Savitri were so badly strained that the elderly lady was asked three years back to live separately with no contact whatsoever with her thereafter. Gopal was also not allowed to meet his mother.

They saw the boy hiding below his grandmother’s cot. The old lady past eighty who could hardly walk without a crutch was greatly surprised to see her son Gopal with his wife after years. She told him that his son Raju had come three days back saying it was vacation time for him and that he wished to stay with her. He had not told her that he had run away from his house without telling anyone. She was surprised no doubt as no one from his house visited her for years.

Savitri hugged Raju and was seen crying in joy that he had been at last found. Raju wrenched himself away from his mom and snuggled around his grandma. Gopal asked Raju why he left without informing anyone.

The boy replied amidst sobbing” I felt bad for grandma. She is alone here. She cannot see properly. We have to shout to her for her to hear. She is not allowed to stay in our home. You never met her. Mom would also not permit me to meet her. I felt sorry for her and wanted to give her some company. I know I have caused you worry but there was no other way.”

Raju’s grandma immediately remonstrated with him saying, “This is not the way to talk to parents and I disapprove of it. You should not have left the house without telling them. Apologize to them  right now in my presence,”

When Gopal turned towards his wife, he found Savitri falling at the feet of the old lady pleading for her forgiveness and begging her to come with them to their home permanently.

When Raju saw a trace of a smile on the wrinkled face of his grandma, he let out a shriek of joy and promptly fell at the feet of his parents.

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Man proposes, God disposes (960)

Vikas was posted in the 39 Mountain Division under XIV Corps situated in Palampur in Himachal Pradesh. There were occasional skirmishes beyond and soldiers were engaged in safeguarding the frontiers. The situation was mostly calm. On an off day every week, Vikas visited the nearby small town. It had nothing to offer except a small bazaar and some eating joints. There was a temple on a small hillock nearby.

It was on one such visit to the temple he came across Rajwanti (Rajvi in short). As she was climbing down, she tripped and fell. There were none seen around. She had sprained her leg and was in great pain unable to move. It was getting dark in the evening. Amidst feeble protests, he lifted her in his arms and brought her down to the road. He hailed a cart, thrust five rupees in the cart puller's hand and asked him to take her home. She never took her grateful eyes off Vikas till the cart turned into a lane.

He could not forget her beautiful face with her narrow slit eyes and high cheekbones. She had a golden complexion and her hair was not entirely black but darkish brown. She had a small mouth with a permanent pout on her lips. On the next off day, he came much earlier than usual to the temple looking for her. She was not seen and it was time to return. Disappointed, he started coming down the hill. He saw from a distance a petite figure standing at the same place where she had tripped. It was Rajvi obviously waiting for him. He found a bandage on her ankle.

"Aren't you ok? Why the bandage? Do you have pain when walking?" he asked.

She nodded her head in affirmative and said "It should become alright in a week. Thanks immensely for the help. I was shy to talk to you before the cart puller" she replied.

"No thanks are needed. I enjoyed carrying you in my arms. You are so light in weight" he said with a mischievous twinkle. She giggled in turn

"Sit down by my side if you are not in a hurry. We can talk for a while"

"Not here. Let us sit behind the big boulder” she said

Soon they fell in love after a few meetings and ended up getting intimate. He promised to marry her and on every off day, they met. He gave her each month a good sum to live in comfort with her parents. Life was full of joy for both. He found her a simple and good-natured girl and wished to take her along with him once he was transferred to civil station and marry her. Two years passed by in no time. She confided to him one day that she desired to have a child. He counselled her patience till they moved to Plains and were married.

Suddenly he stopped coming and there was no news of him. Rajvi came almost every day to their haunt but there was no trace of him. She was sure he would not have deserted her and as weeks passed by her parents seeing her disconsolate condition advised her that this was common amongst the army men. 

Her dad said “Your man seemed good and was paying you every month as a husband would do to a wife. The others did not even pay but ditched after being with women as long as they wished to. Let me go to their camp and find out”

A week later her dad said “I learned from someone there that one Vikas Pande was seriously hurt when fighting and was taken away to some distant hospital. He doesn’t know whether he is alive and discharged from the army or dead now. No point in crying always. Wait for six months. If he does not come in search of you, forget him.”

Her mother added “Thank God, he has not burdened you with a child. Many are left behind with children”

She was not reconciled. She knew he was an honest guy and truly loved her talking about the future of their children and family. She was worried whether the worst might have happened. It was five years since he had vanished. Much water had flown under the bridge in the village stream.

Rajvi was sitting with her two-year-old boy near the boulder that brought back old and fond memories. She had a bulging tummy being in an advanced stage of pregnancy. She came here frequently. As it was getting dark, she got up to go home. The little boy ran ahead of her in the slope. Afraid he may fall she hurried her steps and fell down. The little boy was crying by her mom’s side. She could not get up.

It was then a bearded man with long hair and a crutch approached her and said “Would you permit me to lift you? You can hold the crutch and get up if you don’t wish me to touch you.”

She grasped the cane and got up with difficulty. He held the boy in his hand and slowly they climbed down to the road.” Can you now go on your own with your boy or do you want me to accompany you?” he asked her gently.

“No, I can go on my own. Thanks immensely. You are a godsend” she said thinking of a similar incident in the past as she trudged her way home limping

Vikas in a beard with a wooden leg and a crutch wiped his eyes as he saw her fading away in the distance. He could make this arduous trip over the hills only after this long time spurred by a glimmer of hope.