1. AN ATTRIBUTE
( Featured in efiction India Vol.1 Issue 12)
“A little cock-sparrow sat on a green tree,
And he chirruped, he chirruped, so merry was he;
A naughty boy came with his wee bow and arrow,
Determined to shoot this little cock-sparrow”.
“Amar, wait for me” called Sameer to the retreating back of his friend as he ran down the street ahead of him. Even as he called a tiny movement at the corner of his eye caught his attention. Sameer stopped running and looked down at the pavement. There lay a little sparrow on its side breathing heavily. It fluttered one wing in a feeble attempt to try and get up.
Sameer looked down a bit unsure of what to do. He felt he had to do something; it looked so sad and helpless lying there. It reminded him of his little sister, when she fell down and looked up with sad, tearful eyes. His gaze travelled around looking for some guidance, or help, to no avail. It was a cold winter morning and there was no one around as yet. Gingerly he put out his index finger and poked it. He had never touched a sparrow before. What did it feel like he wondered? Warm, smooth and oh! so thin and fragile. He could feel its tiny bones through its feathers. The sparrow hardly moved, its breadth was getting shallow. Is it going to die? Its eyes were open, small beady black stones that somehow looked terrified of the monster beside it. Did sparrows feel scared or did they just stop breathing?
At that moment he heard Amar’s voice calling out to him “hurry up Sameer the bus has come.”
“Oh! My God, now what do I do. Can I leave it here? He looked around still nobody. He poked at it again. No reaction. He hadn’t dropped it; somebody else would come and pick it up. His sister’s limpid gaze swam before his eyes. Without thinking he grabbed a napkin from his bag and picked up the little bird. It gave a slight quiver and then lay still. He could feel the tiny body against his hand and he was glad he had the napkin. Somehow he didn’t want to feel its body directly on his skin. He ran up to Amar to show him what he had picked up. The bus boy was not at all impressed with the two of them, just impatient to get going.
“C’mon! C’mon, I don’t have the full day to stand around here. Lots of other children to pick up still”.
As he got on the bus, the others crowded around him to try and get a peek at the sparrow. The bus driver shouted “Baitho! Baitho! accident ho jayega”
Maybe the sparrow wasn’t so bad after all. He felt good with all the attention. Important.
“Hey Chottu! show us what you got there” called out some senior boys from behind.
Sameer didn’t dare argue. He passed the napkin with the bird wrapped in it back to them. He felt glad it was out of his hands, grateful even. They would know what to do with it. Suddenly a commotion broke out behind him. Girls started screaming and some boys began to snicker. One or two actually jumped up and ran to the front of the bus. The driver was livid and began shouting at them again to sit down. Throughout the entire din, Sameer and Amar sat quietly. They were lowly second graders and did not want to call any attention to themselves. Luckily, they had reached school and everybody piled out. Sameer, was about to climb down the steps when one of the seniors called out to him.
“Oh! Oh! don’t run away, come and take your bird”. Sameer reluctantly walked towards them. He didn’t really want the bird back and he definitely didn’t want to go back to a group of 9th Graders on an empty bus. This was such a pain, why had he even picked it up?
He looked down at the napkin being held out to him, it was stained red. Sameer was too petrified to even pull the cloth back. The other boys looked down at him laughing.
“Aren’t you going to open it? Your little friend”.
Bile rose in his throat and his stomach knotted up. With a trembling hand he plucked at the material and looked down at the small body lying there, its head had been twisted and lay dangling to one side. No longer did the small beady eye look terrified.
“Why, oh why had he picked it up?”
“I am only a sparrow amongst a great flock of sparrows.”
“Hi Raj, have you read the Financial Express today?” inquired Sameer as he stepped out of his office building. “What? I can’t believe it boss, here we are on the brink of our IPO and you aren’t even reading the paper. Sab theek hai na?” he asked excitedly. (Is everything okay?)
A disgruntled Sameer put away his mobile a few minutes later. Obviously the absent Raj did not share Sameer’s urgency about matters in hand. He hardly walked a few steps and he pulled it out again and began to punch in another number. He was a man on a mission. As he stood talking, he looked at his reflection in the shop window. Already he was looking a bit rotund his mind observed absent mindedly. He turned sideways and pulled in his stomach, a slight smile on his face. That’s better, not bad for a 42 year old. At that very moment something hit him from above on his shoulder. He jumped back in haste, an irritated scowl on his face. People just throw any rubbish out of their windows these days. He looked down to see what it was and saw a sparrow lying on the ground in front of him. Now he was really annoyed. Did that idiot bird have to fall on me only? Thousands of people walking around and it chooses my shoulder. With a distracted shrug he turned around and resumed his conversation.
He didn’t notice a group of his office colleagues coming up behind him. They had seen him though and were not too happy about it.
Trisha made a face. “There is that chipku Sameer. He is going to want to join us for lunch and if you all agree, I am not coming.
“Trisha, he is talking on the phone, he won’t even notice us” said Yasmin in a hopeful voice.
“Oh! Just you wait and see” prophesied Trisha darkly. “He never fails to try and get included in every group, just so he can go and report back to the boss. Chamcha No.1” she snorted derisively. (One who sucks up).
Just as they were about to sidle past him they heard a shout behind them. “Aare Madam, thamba! thamba! (Stop! Stop!). It was Shinde their office peon. They looked back annoyed. Sameer had heard Shinde shouting too and had turned around and seen them.
Shinde hurried past them and picked up something from the ground. “Chimni hai Madam. Upar se gir gaya hoga”. (It’s a sparrow, must have fallen from above).
The girls crowded around him trying to look at the little bird he was cradling in his hands. Sameer hurriedly disconnected his phone and came over as well.
Yasmin was cooing sympathetically. “Poor thing, I hope it is not dead.”
“No, see it has hurt its wing” observed Trisha.
Sameer, decided he had to say something as well. “It fell on my shoulder you know, I was standing here and it just fell out of the sky.”
“Shinde, abhi kya karega iske sath?” questioned Trisha, ignoring Sameer completely. (Shinde, what are you going to do?)
Not one to be left out of anything, he interjected “what can happen now Trisha? It is finished, it cannot fly.” He poked at the quivering bird to show what he was talking about.
The girls looked at him with annoyance in their eyes.
“ Madam, isko ghar leke uska parr bandh ke dekhta, pakrega ya nahin. Kabhi fit ho jata hai”, suggested Shinde hopefully. (I will take it home and tie its wing and see if it gets patched up)
Hann Shinde, aap leke jao. C’mon lets go to the office and see if we can get a box to put the sparrow in. (Yes Shinde, please take it)
“No use ladies, no use. That bird is going to die. If Shinde can fix that wing, then we can call him Baba Shinde tomorrow” mocked Sameer.
Yasmin had, had enough she turned around to Sameer. “The bird fell on you, did you even bother to pick it up.”
“How could I?” he blustered “I was busy on the phone; the IPO you know.”
“I know, so you can keep talking on your mobile and we will go to the office to see what we can do about the sparrow.” With that she turned around and walked away. Sameer could see some of the onlookers looking at him smirking at the put down He looked sullenly at their departing backs.
Why, oh why had he not picked up that bird?
As he lay in bed that night, the sparrow incident was still playing on his mind; the staff had been decidedly cold with him. How could anyone make such a big thing about a bird? His son moved beside him and he shifted slightly to accommodate him on the bed. An old forgotten memory stirred, he suddenly remembered picking up a sparrow when he was about his son’s age. What had he done with it, did its wing mend? It was so long ago. He drifted off into a deep sleep.
“You picked me up Sameer, you were supposed to look after me and then what did you do? You gave me over to those murderers. They snapped my head. Did you know I was alive when they did that? Did you know that? Yet, you didn’t stop them, you didn’t tell anybody about it.
You did care. I know that. I was with you when you walked home. When you sat outside your building, crying for me. Why didn’t you say something Sameer? There is no use crying later. Were those tears for your failure or for my pain? It was all about you. As for me, you cared but you just didn’t care enough. Were you frightened that they would snap your neck as well?
You are scared! Scared! Scared! You have always been fearful of people whom you think have power. Cursing your weakness, yet you always back down. Do you know what it is to defend yourself? Not physically but defend what you feel, what you think, what you know is right? Or have you forgotten what it is, to do that for yourself? I saw you in college when they were ragging that new kid. You didn’t like it but you kept quiet. I saw you standing in line at your son’s school; being pushed around there as well. I saw you in the office sucking up to Mehta. Are you terrified he is going to fire you if you disagree with him?
The bird fluttered….maybe that is it….you are petrified of being me, lying there with a broken wing…waiting to see what is going to happen.”
Sameer woke with a start. He remembered now, what had happened to the little sparrow. He sat up and took a drink of water from the glass beside his bed. He lay back down looking up at the ceiling and whispered”I am sorry little bird, for not being your friend but you died, I have had to live with it.”
2. MARGHARITA MAN
( Featured in eFictionIndia Vol 2. Issue 1 )
Life was crazy and I loved every minute of it. It was the
end of the month and work was more demanding than usual. I was mulling over some design issues in my head as I walked down to the sea face for some ‘me’ time. I badly needed to recharge my batteries; the evening had all the makings of an all-nighter. The promenade in front of the Taj Hotel had to be just about my favourite place in Mumbai. I sat on the parapet staring out over the water as the evening sun turned the sea into a sheet of gold. The gentle feel of the salty spray on my face never failed to release me and send me soaring up on a carpet of bliss. Evening were always such a beautiful time, the trials of the day were over and you had the thought of relaxing in your mind’s eye as you hurried home. Tomorrow was another day, this evening was yours. Mumbai has millions living together and for many of these millions The Gateway was a wonderful spot to visit. Young couples surreptitiously saying goodbye before having to head off home, others just sitting and unwinding; glad to be together. Children running around, not sure if they would rather look out longingly at the mysteries of the water or at the monolithic Gateway and all the hustle and bustle around it. It was my favourite time of the day and I was in my favourite place…the world was good and there was a God up there who was looking down on me.
That was when I met Mario. Did I say met? Let me amend that, at that moment it was more of a rude intrusion. There I was floating along on my velvet cushion of well-being when I suddenly heard this gratingly, jovial voice beside me
“Hi! My name is Mario”
‘Eh! I said none two politely. Couldn’t this guy see I wanted to be alone? I gave him a sideways glance and then went back to contemplating the scenery in front of me. Hopefully he would get the hint and carry on walking. My response or rather the lack of it did not seem to faze Mario one bit.
“I work as a Barkeeper at the Red Earth….sorry make that the ‘Bar Master’….as I really am an absolute whizz at what I do.
I didn’t even bother to look at him this time.
“Have you ever been to the Red Earth?”
“What in the world are you talking about?” I asked sharply. “Are you selling something?” By now I was really annoyed.
“What is Red Earth? C’mon don’t tell me you haven’t heard about us, we are just about the hottest night club in SOBO (South Bombay). I think we get more mentions on Page 3 then all the other restaurants in SOBO combined….but then again that is just me talking...and as you might have guessed I do have a healthy opinion of myself. “, he said in a bright voice.
OMG! He was like a steam engine. It didn’t matter what I said nor did….he just carried on. I looked away and rolled my eyes in disgust. That should hopefully do the trick.
Beep! Wrong again.
“Would you like to know how I do it? Hmmm? Well why don’t you come with me and see for yourself, how the,ehm..’Master’ works”, he offered enigmatically. Then he looked around conspiratorially “shhhh”, he said his finger on his lips “can’t let all these others know what is happening.”
So what was happening, that he was acting so cagey? Not that I really wanted to know anything about it. I was totally exasperated and obviously not on the same page with him. Why couldn’t this guy just leave me alone I seethed?
My lack of response did not deter him one bit, on the contrary it seemed to make him more determined to get me to respond to him. For the first time I looked at him, as he stood there beside me his hands in his pockets. I saw a rotund figure in a flowery beach shirt, Bermudas and flip flops a Buddha like smile on his face. I just sat there staring at him, dumbstruck. How completely thick could a person be…didn’t he get it? I didn’t want to talk to him. Was he trying to promote that night club? Who was he and why did he pick on me specifically from all the hundreds who were wandering around in front of the Taj Hotel that evening? On a scale of one to ten for weird experiences, this had to be an eleven.
“Well, are you coming or not?” he persisted.
I couldn’t believe it but I actually found myself getting up to follow Mario. That is after the sum total of my contribution to the conversation (if you could call it that) was Eh, and what are you talking about.
Why? I don’t know why. Maybe it was just to get rid of him, which sounds really odd, as you don’t follow someone to get rid of them. The only thing that I can come up with is that as it was such a puzzling experience I felt I had to see it to the end.
As we made our way to the Red Earth I could see that Mario had not been bragging. It was just 7pm and already people were making their way in, and this is in a city which doesn’t come alive till past eleven. As we entered through the massive brass studded doors, I looked down into a huge dimly lit space with red velvet banquettes arranged around the edges. The walls had looped red velvet drapes hanging from them, interspersed with gigantic mirrors. A shiny black floor in the middle made of what looked like under-lit glass completed this designer’s nightmare. Red Earth, this looked like something from Dante’s Inferno. People were definitely not coming here for the décor.
“What do you think, man?” asked Mario all bounce and swagger. I did not have the heart to tell him what I did think, so I just grunted in response; hoping against hope that he would let it pass. To my relief he did. He promptly gave me a knuckle bump
“Good! Eh Good! He asks rhetorically in an enthusiastic voice, fairly dancing on his toes.
He then lowers his tone mysteriously and leans over towards me..”ready to learn? He hisses the question into my ears. I had absolutely no idea what great knowledge he was planning to impart to me but I nodded vigorously nevertheless. This was beginning to look more and more interesting.
He raised his hands in the air as if he were Zubin Mehta about to start conducting. The ‘Master’ had arrived.
“Look at all these people” he gestured grandly “they are all here for me. They want to taste what I mix for them. You know how I do it? It’s just a case of psychology”, he said tapping the side of his head. “I look at them and I know what they will like from the way they behave. It is my system”, he beamed proudly at me.
I must have been looking a bit dubious at his claim as he pointed at a couple that was seated to the right of us and said sotto voice:
“See that couple over there…. For her I would give the Absolute Lemonade (vodka, lemon, almond liqueur and sprite)…she is cute, bubbly, loving life and all that it is giving her right now. For him….Salty Dog…he loves it too but he is going to take what he gets and then walk away. I feel sad for her, I really do he voiced with emotion, his hand theatrically planted on his chest….but who is to tell her? Eh! Who is to tell her? He questioned with feeling.
We made our way to an empty table. Once we were seated there, he glanced around. He pointed out to a lady sitting and texting on her phone. Every inch corporate. “See that one, she has to be a Margharita….not flavoured or frozen but the absolute original one with the salt around the rim and a bit of lime. All no fuss but she likes to break out once in a while. Am I right or am I right”, he quizzed me. His eyebrow was raised and he had slight smile on his lips. At that moment one of the waiters came up and put a Margarhita in front of her. I was completely astounded. He had hit it spot on.
“What about me?” I was eager to hear what he said.
“Beer” he replied. “Not the very strong ones but the SAB Miller type.”
“My jaw dropped. “How do you do it, you just met me 15 minutes ago?
Mario gazed at me with an odd look of compassion in his eyes. It was as if I hadn’t spoken.
“That is what you were drinking that day, weren’t you? You had decided to meet your old college buddy at Leopold. He was just in town for the day and it was perfect: near your office and great ambience. You couldn’t have known what was going to happen. You can’t blame yourself for it”
I looked down at the crisp white tablecloth, my fingers knotted together so tight that my knuckles were white. There was a lump in my throat. I looked up at him anguish written all over my face.
“His back was to the door, he didn’t even see them come in.”
“Did you”, countered Mario.
I could feel my head nod like an automaton.
“I threw myself under the table. I should have tried to pull him down with me but I left him slumped on the table”.
I could still see the scene as if it were yesterday. The noise, the sickening sound of bullets thudding all over and the screaming. The screaming that just wouldn’t stop. Funnily enough…all I remember thinking at that moment as I lay on the ground was, why was Leopold letting of fireworks at this time of the year. That also indoors? Then everything had gone blank and I slipped into a warm, welcoming cocoon of silence.
Mario was still staring at me waiting to come to terms with what had happened.
“You do know you have to face it,” he said gently patting my hand. “You have to move on.”
Suddenly he stood up and put his hand on my shoulder. “Dude, at least you went with a bullet. F***** that I am, I heard the gun shots and died of a heart attack.
Can you beat that?” he guffawed.
A small chortle escaped my lips. It felt good to be able to laugh again. Now I knew why I was the one he had chosen to talk to that evening.
3. INDIA GATE
( Featured in eFictionIndia Vol 2. Issue 4 ).
“Chahat desh se aane wale” Pankaj Udhas’s poignant words and melodious voice slipped like silk over the listeners ears. Mr. Gupta had his head back against the sofa, head swaying in pleasure to the beat, his hand tapping a tattoo on its arm. His son Manoj sat beside him, ostensibly looking at the TV too but his eyes were following the lissome curves of his wife Menaka as she moved around the dining table clearing the table after dinner. Menaka knew his eyes were on her and she had a small, secretive smile playing at the edge of her mouth as she deliberately bent forward to arch her back in a svelte movement as she leaned over the table to pick up the plates. She had her back to him and her head was covered but her lithe back could be seen under the diaphanous saree that she was wearing and she knew that Manoj was dying to come over and hold her and bury his face in her neck. She turned around in a playful manner, gave him a quick grin and scampered into the kitchen to put her dishes down.
Manoj could hear his mother’s voice talking to her and he groaned. When his mother started she could go on and on non-stop and Menaka had no choice but to listen.
It was New Years Eve, they had just been married six months and he wanted his wife by his side. He had promised to take her to India Gate. With all the hustle and bustle and lights, it was the best place to be on the 31’st. He had been saving his money surreptitiously from his job at the small family grocery store below their house so he could take her there and they could eat tikki chola and have some ekspresso coffee. A little bit here a little bit there every bit counted. His father considered all that a waste of money and he had to account for every paisa he spent. Not that he usually minded doing that, as he knew his father had been a poor rickshaw puller when he came to Delhi and he had built up their little business and got these two rooms above the shop in Chandani Chowk by working day and night and saving every little bit he could. However he was twenty two years old, he hadn’t been married long and he worshipped his child bride. Just for tonight Bapuji, just for tonight…let me take my Menaka out, he prayed silently.
Manoj’s eyes misted over as he tried to peek into the kitchen to catch a glimpse of his wife. In his effort to lean forward he nearly fell off the sofa. His mothers back was to him but his wife saw what he was trying to do over her shoulder. She brought up her pallu to cover her mouth and tried to turn her laugh into a cough.
“Menaka, you okay no beti” her mother in law asked concerned
“Ji Haa Maaji” she replied in a hurry, trying to glance over her shoulder to see what her husband was up to now.
After his little near mishap, Manoj was sitting still on the sofa beside his father who was following Doordarshan’s New Year Eve’s Program with rapt attention. In between he would say something to his son, who dutifully nodded, not really listening to what his father had remarked upon. His eyes were unfocused and he had a silly smile on his face. Menaka looked down, the eternal temptress: she knew he was thinking of her. Last night their love making had been intense and after that he had promised to take her to India Gate. As she laid there, her long hair spread out on the pillow, her blouse open and her pallu thrown to one side, Manoj had looked at her with tenderness and wanted to give her the world.
She was from a small village two hours out of Bulundshahr, she had never been to a big city before in all of her sixteen years and then after her marriage she was brought straight to Chandani Chowk. It was like being thrown into a maelstrom of light, colour and sound all at once. She was like a kid in a candy store and at night she always had so many questions for Manoj. He loved her curiosity and it made him feel so important to be able to explain things to her. In her village each day was just the same as another day, unless it was a festival. New Years Eve was an urban invention and she didn’t even know what it meant.
“The year changes Menaka and the new year starts so people celebrate that.”
“But that is what happens at Diwali…hai Na? Why do they celebrate it again? Which Devi ma do they pray to?”
“No silly, this is not for any Devi or Devata this is just like that. Haven’t you seen the programs on TV, when they have all the singing and dancing and burn phatakas?”
“Oooh Maa, nahin. Babuji never let us watch anything like that. He said they were all bad people.”
He smiled at her gently and tucked her hair behind her ears “tomorrow I will show you how they celebrate, I will take you with me to India Gate at night and you can see the entire big bazaar they have there.”
“India Gate” her eyes were round with wonder. I saw the picture in my 5th standard book. Will you really take me there?”
He nodded affectionately “have you ever tasted coffee before”
“Coffee ? Like Nescafe?”
“Yes, did you like it?”
“Nahin baba, had it once and it was so bitter.”
“You must try this coffee that I will get you, it is called Ekspresso. It is delicious.”
“Is it bitter?”
“Don’t worry” he reassured her, “we will put in a lot of sugar.”
He looked down at his beautiful , young wife. His Menaka. He would talk to Babuji tomorrow but inside he wasn’t feeling that sure of himself. He would have to ask his father’s permission and he knew his father would not look too kindly on what he would term as frivolous behavior. Besides he would have to explain the money he had been hiding away.
Manoj glanced up at his wife, hovering at the kitchen door. She was beside herself with excitement. She gestured with her head towards his father, trying to control the grin that was threatening to spread across her face.
“Babuji” he began nervously. His father was too engrossed to respond. “Babuji”. His voice was a bit stronger.
“Aare beta Manoj look at that, the huge Buddha statue in Hyderabad that they are showing. It’s built in the middle of the lake. Wah! Wah! What our engineers can do.”
“Yes, Babuji it is great.”
“Babuji, they have a lot of celebrations at India Gate too” persisted Manoj.
“Haa, Haa, all over the place they are celebrating. India is also becoming like foreign now. You know beta, Khurana was telling me his son has gone with his family outside to celebrate. Bechara Khuranaji, this is the family time and look he is all alone.”
“Ji haa Bapuji but sometimes even the young people like to go to these places.”
Gupta turned around to look at his son directly in the eye “family is family beta.”
Manoj, slouched down in the chair; from the corner of his eye, he could see Menaka turn away disappointment written all over her face, her mouth beginning to wobble. He loved her and it hurt him to see her so dejected.
“ Babuji, Menaka has never seen a New Year program” he said timidly.
“Aare, tho tell me that, come here beti, come here” he gestured expansively. “Today you also sit and watch with us. You can see what is happening at India Gate.”
“Ji Babuji.” She came forward and sat on the ground near the sofa. She looked up at Manoj, disillusionment writ large in her brown, almond shaped eyes. Manoj refused to look directly at her, his own feebleness a large lump in his throat.
“See” said his father beaming heartily at his own big heartedness “I will call Mummyji also to join us and afterwards we can have some nice adrak chai.”
They both looked up at him impassively. “Ji Babuji”.
4. A CUP OF TEA
( Featured in eFictionIndia Vol 2. Issue 2 )
Sumati looked out through her grimy kitchen window. Paint peeling of the buildings, moss covered roofs; laundry fluttering in the breeze met her unseeing eyes. Here and there a window was open its shutters pulled to one side blank testimony to the woman who stood and gazed at them.
How many years had she stood staring at this very scene?
Maybe twenty, she surmised. Whatever, it was a long time, a very long time. Too long and a big waste to spend your life looking out at descript old buildings, she chided herself. Then again that little snapshot was hers and she felt an odd kinship with it. She knew every window, every balcony. She knew when another piece of plaster fell of any building exposing the bricks within. She even knew if the people changed in the houses by the laundry they hung out.
She shifted a bit as the perspiration ran in rivulets down her back. Behind her the TV was on, some politician was giving a speech in Delhi, his voice droned on and on and was giving her a headache. For the life of her she couldn’t understand why her husband sat transfixed. Maybe that is why they called it the idiot box.
“What happened to my chai?” queried his petulant voice
Silence greeted his query; she continued staring out of the window. The crows were flying low over the rooftops. The sky was ominous and pregnant with low grey clouds.
Hmmm, she thought distractedly, rain again I had better get in the washing.
A drop of hot water splashed on her hand from the boiling pot on the stove. Instinctively she jerked it away and used her saree ‘pallu’ to dab at it.
“Aare! Are you getting my tea or not?” his voice rose in irritation.
She turned around measuredly to look at him. He sat on the leather couch with his back to her, slouched down on its inflexible surface. Even though she could only see his bald head, she knew exactly what he was wearing; his loose white cotton pajamas which he bought every two years from P.N Varajkar on Girgaum Road and his once white cotton vest (only from VIP and only the ones with half sleeves). Seriously, why did he even make the effort to say something, when she knew exactly what he was going to say even before he said it. Her sister called it being married for so long, she called it being boring. Well she had better get him his tea or his next words would be
“Can’t you even get a cup of chai ready in time?” She turned back to the stove her hand reaching out to the bottle of tea leaves on the counter.
“Why do you keep staring out of that window, what do you see there?”
She stopped her body rigid with shock. She cast a sideways glance at him, was he actually interested in what she was looking at?
He had broken his pattern, but why today she wondered? Even as she opened her mouth to answer, she heard him announce sweepingly..”All a stupid waste of time, nothing there but some people throwing rubbish out of their windows. If it stops you from doing your work, maybe I should just cover it up”
Sumati, almost choked on the bile that rose up in her throat. Her hands shook so much that she held on tightly to the counter to steady herself. She turned around a sharp retort on her lips but she saw that he had already turned away and lost interest in her. Maybe it was better that he stuck to a pattern, at least that way he left her alone. How could he even think of boarding up her window? There was a kitchen knife lying on the counter beside her. She silently picked it up and hefted it in her hand, it felt good. Cold and powerful. She deliberately looked over at him and then at the knife in her hand. He wasn’t even looking at her. Maybe she could just walk over and stick it into the back of his neck even as he sat there.
“Would she be able to do it?” she questioned.
Then he said something that helped her make up her mind.
“Seriously Sumati, your brain must have got frozen, standing there for twenty years looking out of the same window. That also at the backs of some dirty old buildings. That window takes up too much of your time, it will make you mad one day.
A strange feral sound escaped her lips. She shook her head vigorously from side to side as if to get rid of some disturbing thoughts. She was leaning against the kitchen counter now, staring at him.
“She hated him, she just hated him with his bald head and a few strands pulled over to the other side in a pathetic attempt to hide it. She hated the way he spoke to her, she hated the way he dressed, she hated the way he talked, the way he ate his food. She took a deep breath...” but that was her and she could handle it but he could not talk about her window like that. With an anguished cry she ran over to the couch and stuck the knife in to his chest as deep as it could go. His eyes questioned her….”why?” even as they slowly glassed over. She drew it out carefully and then pushed it back in; into the stomach this time, again and again. Until he could breath no more. Sumati laughed great big guffaws from deep within.
“She was free! Free! Free! he could not touch her again”.
She leaned back on her heels, surprised at how easy it had been.
“Where is my tea?”
Was she imagining it? A spear of lightning lit up the sky shaking her out of her reverie.
He still sat there on the couch, demanding his cup of tea.
She turned around and walked over to him, her hand wrapped carefully in her pallu’ by her side. He looked up as she sat down beside him and then she turned to him and smiled.
“Shit! Why did that ass Jayant have to be sitting there watching her at a time like this? Absolute scum” Madhur cursed under her breath as she tried to balance her coffee, her laptop and her bag of biscuits and open the glass door to the office at the same time all the while teetering precariously on her 4” high black pumps. Jayant, the office peon sat there looking at her through the door but refused to get up and help. He didn’t even pretend that he hadn’t seen her. He just sat there with a smirk on his face picking his teeth and enjoying her predicament. His fleshy lips peeled back from ugly beetle stained teeth that looked as if some rotten bugs were stuck there. Wonder if he even brushed them Madhur thought idly?
She grimaced inwardly, not for the life of her was she going to give him the satisfaction of her asking for his help. Luckily for her the receptionist saw her situation and ran forward to hold the door open for her.
“Thanks Sheetal, I really needed that” Madhur smiled warmly.
Sheetal looked at her shyly, painfully ready to please “it’s okay Madam, should I put the laptop into your cabin?”
“Please, I will be there soon”. She walked into the pantry to get some tissues to wipe the drops of coffee that had splashed on to her hand. She looked through the open door and saw Jayant still leering at her. She gave herself a shake mentally, the snake…but she wouldn’t let him get to her… she wouldn’t let him get to her… she repeated her mantra. Her stomach knotted and a cold shiver ran down her spine but she held her head up high as she walked past him to her cabin. She would never ever give him the pleasure of letting him know how scared she was of him. She was his boss and he had to remember that and it was her job to make sure he did. That was it, she turned around to face him her hand on the door.
“ Jayant, 10 baje mera biscuits lehh kar aana. Pantry me para hai” (get my biscuits at 10’o’clock, they are in the pantry).
He stared at her sullenly, still refusing to acknowledge her presence with an answer or even a nod.
Madhur drew on all her inner reserves to say yet again “Jayant . maine aap say kuch bola hai (I have been talking to you)”.
She stood with her hand on the door her foot beating an impatient tattoo on the floor. She had decided that she wasn’t going to move till he answered her. Let’s see how long that creep can maintain his silent act.
Jayant gave her a glowering look and nodded his head. She had made him back down and his ego found it insufferable. She was a woman and that meant she had to listen to him. So what if she sat in a cabin. What had life reduced him too that he had to listen to a ‘kachda’ (rubbish) woman like her? He would make sure she paid for that.
Madhur walked into her cabin purposefully and sat down at the table, glad of the privacy that the band of frosted glass in the middle afforded her. She let out her breath and sat down shakily at her desk, the stress of the situation getting to her. She put her elbows on the table and massaged her temples in circular movements trying to relieve the tension. Slouched down in the chair she looked unseeing at the blank computer screen in front of her.
How much longer could she carry on like this?
That man was an arrogant pig and had been giving her a tough time now ever since she joined this branch a year ago. She had complained about him to her HR department but they didn’t want to touch him as he was the General Secretary of the Union. Madhur thought of the files he always banged down on her table, the arrogant silence when she talked to him or asked him to do something, the sneering laugh when she walked past….for what? She couldn’t understand why, unless it was just for the fact that she was a woman who happened to be his boss. This guy was getting to her and he knew that and enjoyed the power it gave him. She had to stop getting fazed by him and assert her authority or the others in the office would begin to question her authority as well.
Madhur sighed as she switched on her computer, her mouth dry…it was easier said than done.
In the pantry Jayant stood looking at the plate of biscuits on the pantry counter. His mind was seething with ill will towards Madhur.
That randi (prostitute) had dared to talk to him like that? He would show her. He looked down at the six chocolate biscuits arranged on the plate in front of him, a small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. He deliberately picked up a biscuit and walked out of the pantry past her cabin munching as he walked along. He knew she had seen him as he ate one biscuit and then a second and then a third but she did not respond at all and he soon tired of his little game. The other staff members were looking at the whole tableau, casting furtive glances at one and then the other. Jayant was aware of this. He knew he had to get a rise out of her to show that he had won.
Status maintain karna tha. (He had to maintain his position)
He went back into the pantry and picked up the plate and marched into her cabin unannounced where Madhur was in a meeting. She looked up at him as he entered.
“Kya hua?” (what’s up)
He banged the plate down in front of her. “Biscuit, bahut achha tha” (the biscuits were very nice). He looked at her mockingly, daring her to say something. The other two men at the table never said a word, just sat and looked at her warily, waiting for her reaction
Madhur’s toes curled up with the stress of trying to contain the hot tears that were pricking the back of her eyelids. There was a lump in her throat. After what seemed like eons she eventually managed to say.
“Theek hai, wahan daal do” waving her hand dismissively. (It’s okay just put it down there). She turned back and continued talking to her colleagues.
Jayant stood there all red in the face at being dismissed so inconsequentially. His anger was a solid ball of hate in his stomach. He would show this bitch. He picked up a biscuit from the plate right before her and sauntered out, waving it over his head in perceived victory to show the others in the office what he had done. He sat down to munch on his prize. Whatever he did, he knew she couldn’t touch him and he wallowed in his strength. He had won again.
Madhur didn’t know from where she got the will power to finish her meeting, but she did finish it despite the clear discomfiture of her managers at Jayant’s rank insubordination. She knew that Jayant always ate the biscuits that she brought in for her morning snack but he had never made a big thing of it as he had done today. She had got under his skin and that gave her an odd satisfaction despite all that had ensued. One for team madhur she patted herself. He would learn that she couldn’t be messed with.
Just after lunch a commotion broke out in the office, she looked up as Sheetal burst into her cabin.
“Madam, something has happened to Jayant, he has collapsed”
Madhur got up immediately and walked out to where the staff were crowded around him lying on the floor.
“Rakesh, call an ambulance immediately. Sameer get someone to help you put him on the sofa” Madhur issued orders crisply.
As he was being carried out on a stretcher to the waiting ambulance, Madhur leaned forward and said sotto voice so that only Jayant could hear
“Biscuit achha than na?” (Weren’t the biscuits good?).
She walked back into her cabin and sat down. Her gaze travelled down to the two remaining biscuits lying in her dust bin and she looked up and smiled.