Archive for May 2007

IIT JEE

May 31, 2007

IIT JEE

[An unfinished story]

by

VIKRAM KARVE

Sunday. The 8th of April 2007. The date of the IIT-JEE.

IIT-JEE. You know what it is, don’t you?

You don’t? I’m surprised! Maybe you are an “Arts” type, or on your own trip! Okay, I’ll tell you. IIT-JEE is the Joint Entrance Examination for entrance to the Indian Institutes of Technology, the most prestigious BENCO, MIMMET AND TECHNO – unique pioneering engineering and technology learning institutions of India, with a rich heritage and matchless tradition of excellence, located at Banaras, the temple of learning, now amalgamated and synergized into what they call ITBHU, Varanasi.

Now-a-days, the IIT-JEE is a simple one-day affair – two composite three-hour papers for which you just need a pencil to mark off the answers. Way back then, in the scorching summer of 1972, it was a two-day grind, on the 4th and 5th of May, the height of summer, in the dilapidated drawing hall of the COEP, which vibrated and reverberated every time a train thundered close by on the adjoining tracks from Pune to Shivajinagar. Four papers, three hours each, two a day, in English, Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry, analytical and subjective, and you thought and thought, and wrote and wrote, till your fingers ached, your brain went blank, and you collapsed in agony with the sheer mental and physical exhaustion of it all.

That was the time when education, even at an IIT, meant something much more than mere utility value, and it was not primarily the mind-boggling money-spinning placements that benchmarked an academic institution but there were multifarious quality and heritage factors by which a place of learning would be judged.

Then, we all lived in Madiwale Colony, a lovely place in the premier middle class locality of Sadashiv Peth of Pune. Life was good. It was easy to be happy as our threshold of happiness was so low that it was quite readily achievable. A morning run up Parvati, a stroll in Talyatla Ganpati Saras Baug Garden, enjoying the frolics of animals in the Peshwe Park Zoo, a ride in the toy-train Phulrani , unrestrained playing with carefree abandon on the swings, see-saws and slides in adjoining park, a yummy bhel made by the hugely bearded Kalpana Bhelwala, a cream-roll or doughnut at Ashok Bakery, Patties, Nankatai and Khari at Hindustan Bakery, Ice Cream at Bua – so many things to do – and once in a while, we would bicycle down Camp to partake the inimitable non-veg samosas and tea at Naaz, Chinese at Kamling, Paan at George and enjoy a Hollywood Movie and Ice Cream Soda at West End. And for the more adventurous, it was rumored that there was a hush-hush cabaret in the posh hotel across the road. [Needless to say, yours truly was certainly not an adventurous type!]

Most parents with bright sons had but one ambition – their son should get into an IIT. And there he would strive for a nine point CGPA – a passport to the “land of opportunity” – for higher studies in a good university – the best way for a middle-class boy to go abroad. And then he would find a suitable groom for his sister there, so she could follow.

My neighbor was a bright boy – in fact, he was the only child of his ambitious parents. And his parents were desperate, they left no stone unturned, to ensure that their son successfully cleared the IIT-JEE and got the course he wanted in the IIT of his choice. And the son did indeed make the parents proud – he got a top-notch IIT-JEE rank, later topped in IIT too, and achieved the dream of flying off across the oceans to pursue higher studies

Hey, why am I telling you all this and boring you to death? Permit me to elucidate. This is a story I didn’t want to write, I didn’t want to tell you. But on the 8th of April this year, something happened. A couple and their only son visited us. During the lunch break between the two papers of the IIT-JEE. They knocked on our door to enable their only child, on whom they had pinned all their hopes, to freshen up and prepare for the second paper in his exam-center nearby. They talked, and I realized how desperate they were to get their son into IIT, how they had staked everything, material, emotional, their hopes, for achieving their dream. I looked at the couple in front of me who were in almost a do or die situation for their son’s success –totally frantic parents whose burning life’s ambition was to get their one and only son into an IIT. Just like our neighbors in Madiwale colony. Memories revived. Something triggered in my mind, a stimulus, and suddenly I wanted to tell them this story. I didn’t. When you read it you’ll know why. But I’m not going to tell it to you right now, for it’s quite late in the night, I’m feeling quite tired and want to go off to sleep. So, Dear Reader, please bear with me and wait a while. Let’s hope I can finish this unfinished story soon, right here, in my blog!

VIKRAM KARVE

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

vikramkarve@sify.com

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WALLFLOWER

May 31, 2007

THE WALLFLOWER

 

By

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

 

 

[PART – 1]

 

 

 

 

            “I don’t want to marry Manisha,” I told my mother.

 

            My mother looked as if she had been pole-axed. Suddenly there was a metamorphosis in her expression – a distant look across my shoulder followed by a smile of forced geniality.

 

            “Manisha is coming!” my mother whispered.

 

            I turned around quickly and saw Manisha entering the wicket-gate and walking towards us.

 

            She wished my mother and smiled at me. “I want to come and see you off at the airport.”

 

            “Why bother? I’ll go on my own,” I said. “The flights are quite unpredictable. They never leave on time. And how will you come back all the way?”

 

            “You two talk here in the garden,” my mother said. “I’ll go inside and pack your things.”

 

            “I am sorry about last night,” Manisha said, with genuine regret in her voice.

 

            “It’s okay.” I looked at Manisha. Plump and full-faced, with small brown eyes and dusky complexion, hair drawn back into a conventional knot – there was only one adjective to describe Manisha – ‘prosaic’; yes, she looked prosaic – so commonplace, unexciting and pedestrian.

 

            “I’ll go inside and help your mother,” Manisha said, and went inside.

 

            ‘Last night’ was the fiasco at the disco. Manisha and I – An unmitigated disaster!

 

            “Let’s dance,” I had asked Manisha.

 

            “No,” Manisha was firm.

 

            “Come on. I’ll teach you,” I pleaded. “Everyone is on the floor.”

 

            But Manisha did not budge. So we just sat there watching. Everybody was thoroughly enjoying themselves. Many of my friends and colleagues were on the floor, with their wives, fiancées and girlfriends. Among them Sanjiv and Swati.

 

            “Who is this wallflower you’ve brought with you?” taunted Sanjiv, during a break in the music.

 

            “My fiancée, Manisha,” I answered, trying to keep cool.

 

            “Your fiancée? How come you’ve hooked on to such a Vern?” Swati mocked. “Come on Vijay,” she said derisively, coming close and looking directly into my eyes. “You are an Executive now, not a clerk. Don’t live in your past. Find someone better. She doesn’t belong here.”

 

            If someone had stuck a knife into my heart it would have been easier to endure than these words. It always rankled; the fact that I had come up the hard way, promoted from the ranks.

 

            “This is too much” I said angrily to Sanjiv.

 

            “Cool down, Vijay,” Sanjiv said putting his hand on my shoulder. “You know Swati doesn’t mean it.”

 

            But I knew that Swati had meant every word she uttered.

 

            “Let’s go,” I told Manisha. “I’ve had enough.”

 

            When we were driving home, Manisha asked innocently, “What’s a Vern?

  

            “Vernacular!” I answered. And at that moment there was a burst of firecrackers and rockets lit up the sky to usher in the New Year.

 

            That night I could not sleep. I thought of my future, trying to see both halves of my future life, my career and my marriage, side by side. I realized that my career was more important to me than anything else. I had to succeed at any cost. And a key ingredient in the recipe for success was a ‘socially valuable’ wife. It mattered. It was the truth. Whether you like it or not. Swati was right. Manisha just didn’t belong to that aspect and class of society of which I was now a part. I had crossed the class barrier; but Manisha had remained where she was. And she would remain there, unwilling and unable to change.

 

            In marriage one has to be rational. Manisha would be an encumbrance, maybe even an embarrassment. It was a mistake – my getting engaged to her. She was the girl next door, we had grown up together and everyone assumed we would be married one day. And our parents got us engaged. At that point of time I didn’t think much of it. It was only now, that my eyes had opened; I realized the enormity of the situation. I was an upwardly mobile executive now, not a mere clerk, and the equations had changed. What I needed was someone like Swati. Smart, chic and savvy. Convent educated, well-groomed and accustomed to the prevalent lifestyle, a perfect hostess, an asset to my career. And most importantly she was from a well connected family. I tired to imagine what life would have been like had I married Swati.

 

            Sanjiv was so lucky. He was already going places. After all Swati was the daughter of the senior VP.

 

            Suddenly I returned to the present. I could bear my mother calling me. I went inside. Manisha was helping her pack my bags, unaware of what was going on in my mind. I felt a sense of deep guilt, but then it was question of my life.

 

            “What’s wrong with you?” my mother asked after Manisha had left.

 

            “Why were so rude to Manisha, so distant? She loves you so much!”

 

            “I don’t love her,” I said.

 

            “What?” my mother asked surprised, “Is there some else?”

 

            “No,” I said.

 

            “I don’t understand you.”

 

            “Manisha is not compatible anymore. She just doesn’t fit in.”

 

            I could see that my mother was angry. Outwardly she remained calm and nonchalant; her fury was visible only in her eyes.

 

             “Who do you think you are?” she said icily, trying to control herself. “You know Manisha from childhood, isn’t it? For the last two years you have been engaged and moving around together. And suddenly you say Manisha is not compatible?” My mother paused for a moment, and then taking my hand asked me softly, “What happened last night?”

 

            I told her. Then we argued for over two hours and till the end I stuck to my guns. Finally my mother said, “This is going to be difficult. And relations between our families are going to be permanently strained. Think about Manisha. It will be so difficult for her to get married after the stigma of a broken engagement. Forget about last night. It’s just a small incident. Think about it again. Manisha is the ideal wife, so suitable for you.”

 

            But I had made up my mind, so I told my mother, “If you want I’ll go and talk to her father right now and break off the engagement.”

 

            “No,” my mother snapped. “Let your father come home. He will decide what to do.”

 

            The doorbell rang. I opened the door. Standing outside along with my father were Manisha and her parents.

 

            “I have fixed up your wedding with Manisha Patwardhan on the 30th of May of this year,” my father thundered peremptorily in his usual impetuous style.

 

            “Congratulations,” echoed Manisha’s parents, Mr. and Mr. Patwardhan.

 

            I was dumbstruck. Manisha was smiling coyly. My mother was signaling to me with her eyes not to say anything. She was probably happy at the fait accompli. I felt trapped. I excused myself and went up to my room. I locked the door. Someone knocked.

 

            “Give me five minutes,” I said. “I’ll get ready and come down.”

 

            “Come soon,” said Manisha from the other side of the door.

 

            I took out my notepad and wrote a letter to Manisha:

 

 

            Dear Manisha,

 

                                    Forgive me, but I have discovered that I can’t marry you and I think that it is best for us to say goodbye.

 

                       

                                                                                                Yours sincerely,

                                                                                                Vijay

 

 

            I knew the words sounded insincere, but that was all I could write for my mind had bone blank and I wanted to get it over with as fast as possible; just one sentence to terminate our long relationship. I knew I was being cruel but I just couldn’t help it.

 

            I sealed the letter in a postal envelope, wrote Manisha’s name and address on it and put it in my bag. I looked at my watch. It was time to leave.

 

            Everyone came to the airport to see me off. Sanjiv and Swati had come too. They were located at Pune and I was off on a promotion to
Delhi .

 

            “I’m really very sorry about last night,” Swati apologized to us. She took Manisha’s hand and said tenderly, “Manisha, please forgive me. You are truly an ideal couple – both made for each other.”

           

            As I walked towards the boarding area Manisha’s father Mr. Patwardhan shouted to me jovially, “Hey, Vijay. Don’t forget to come on 30th May. I have already booked a hall. If you don’t turn up I’ll lose my deposit!”

 

            I waved everyone goodbye, went to the waiting hall, sat on a chair, opened my bag and took out the letter I had written to Manisha. I wish I had torn up the letter there and then but some strange force stopped me. I put the envelope in my pocket and remembered my mother’s parting words, “Don’t make everyone unhappy. Manisha is good girl. She’ll adjust. I’ll talk to her.”

 

            During the flight I thought about it. I tried my utmost, but I just could not visualize Manisha as my wife in my new life any more. Till now I had done everything to make everybody happy. But what about me? It was my life after all. Time would heal wounds, abate the injury and dissipate the anger; but if I got trapped for life with Manisha, it would be an unmitigated sheer disaster.

 

            I collected my baggage and walked towards the exit of

Delhi
Airport . Suddenly I spotted a red post box. I felt the envelope in my pocket. I knew I had to make the crucial decision right now. Yes, it was now or never.

 

 

 

To be continued…

 

 

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

 

vikramkarve@sify.com

 

vikramkarve@hotmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

MYSORE CHASE

May 30, 2007

THE CHASE

 

(a fiction short story)

 

by

 VIKRAM KARVE 

 

 

 

           

            The Mysore race-course is undoubtedly the most picturesque race-course in
India. The lush green grass track, the verdant expanse right up to the foot of the rugged Chamundi hills which serve as a magnificent backdrop with the mighty temple atop, standing like a sentinel. The luxuriant ambience is so delightful and soothing to the eye that it instantly lifts one’s spirit. And on this bright morning on the first Saturday of October, the atmosphere was so refreshing that I felt as if I were on top of the world!
 

 

            “I love this place, it’s so beautiful,” I said. 

 

            “And lucky too,” Girish added. “I have already made fifty grand. And I’m sure Bingo will win the
Derby tomorrow.”
 

 

            Girish appraisingly looked at the horses being paraded in the paddock, suddenly excused himself and briskly walked towards the Bookies’ betting ring. 

 

            I still can’t describe the shock I experienced when I suddenly saw Dilip, bold as brass, standing bang-on in front of me, appearing as if from nowhere. “Excuse me, ma’am,” he said. “I think you have dropped this.” In his hand was tote jackpot ticket. 

 

            He was looking at me in a funny sort of way, neither avoiding my eyes nor seeking them. I understood at once. I took the tote ticket he proffered, put it in my purse and thanked him. He smiled, turned and briskly walked away towards the first enclosure. 

 

            I felt a tremor of trepidation, but as I looked around I realized that no one had noticed in the hustle-bustle of the race-course. As I waited for my husband to emerge from the bookies’ betting ring, in my mind’s eye I marveled at the finesse with which Dilip had cleverly stage-managed the encounter to make it look completely accidental. 

             It was only after lunch, in the solitude of my hotel room that I took out the jackpot ticket and examined it. I smiled to myself. The simplest substitution cipher. A last minute resort for immediate emergency communication. That meant Dilip wasn’t shadowing me; he hadn’t even expected me at the
Mysore race-course. But having suddenly seen me, wanted to make contact. So he quickly improvised, contrived the encounter, and left further initiative to me. The ball was now squarely in my court.
 

 

            I scribbled the five numbers of the jackpot combination on a piece of paper. For racing buff it was an unlikely jackpot combination which did not win and the ticket was worthless. But for me it was contained some information since I knew how to decipher it. To the five numbers I added the two numbers of my birth-date. I now had seven numbers and from each I subtracted Dilip’s single digit birth-date and in front of me I had a seven digit combination. I picked up the telephone and dialed (
Mysore still had seven digit telephone numbers). It was a travel agency – a nice cover. I didn’t identify myself but only said, “Railway Enquiry?”
 

 

 

            “Oh, Yes, madam,” a male voice answered. I recognized it at once. It was Dilip, probably anxiously waiting for my call. “You are booked on our evening sightseeing tour. Seat no. 13. The coach will be at your hotel at 3 in the afternoon. And don’t carry your mobile with you. We don’t want to be tracked.” 

 

            I looked at my watch. It was almost 2:30. Time for a quick wash. I tore up tote ticket and scribble paper and flushed it down the toilet. It was too dangerous to keep them around once their utility was over. And should ticket fall into the wrong hands, one couldn’t underestimate anybody. For human ingenuity cannot concoct a cipher which human ingenuity cannot resolve. 

 

            The tourist bus arrived precisely at 3 o’clock and soon I was in seat No. 13, a window seat. I had hardly sat down when Dilip occupied the adjacent seat No. 14. He was carrying the ubiquitous tourist bag, but I knew what was inside – the tools of his tradecraft. 

 

            “Thanks for coming, Vibha,” he said. 

            “I was scared you’d do something stupid, indiscreet.” I scolded him. 

            “You haven’t told your husband about your past?            “No.” 

            “Why?” 

            “I don’t know.”                        “Tell him now. There’s no place for secrets between husband and wife” 

 

            “I can’t. I don’t want to. It’s too late now.” I was getting a bit impatient now. “Listen, Dilip. This is dangerous. What do you want? My husband…….” 

             “He’s gone to Ooty. It’s a four hours’ drive. Should be half-way by now,” Dilip interjected looking at his watch. 

 

            “He is coming back tomorrow.” 

            “I know. In time for the Mysore Derby. Your horse Bingo is running, isn’t it?” 

            “How do you know all this?” 

            “It’s common knowledge. Besides I make a living prying into other people’s lives.” Dilip paused for a moment. “Don’t worry, Vibha. The races start only at two tomorrow afternoon. We’ve got plenty of time together. He won’t know. I promise you.” 

 

            The bus stopped. We had arrived at the

Mysore
Palace. 

            “Come, Vibha. Let me take your photo,” Dilip said, talking out his camera. 

 

            “No,” I snapped. 

            “Okay. You take mine. I’ll stand there. Make sure you get the Palace in the frame.” He gave me the camera and said, “Have a look. It’s a special camera. I’ll focus the zoom lens if you want.” 

 

            I pointed the camera in the direction of the palace and looked through the viewfinder. But the palace wasn’t in the frame. The camera had a ninety degree prismatic zoom lens. I could see the tourists from our bus crowding around the shoe-stand about fifty meters to my left, depositing their shoes. 

 

            “The Targets – Who?” I asked. 

            “Lady in the sky-blue sari, long hair. And the man in the yellow T-shirt and jeans, still wearing his Ray Ban aviator.” 

 

            I happily clicked away, a number of photos, the target couple not once realizing that it was they who were in my frame. 

                        “I don’t think they are having an affair,” I said, once we were inside the cool confines of the

Mysore
Palace, admiring the wall paintings of the Dasera procession. “The boy looks so young and handsome. And she’s middle-aged and her looks- so pedestrian. A most improbable combination.” 

 

            “That’s why the affair is flourishing for so long!” 

 

            I gave Dilip a quizzical look. 

            “Three years,” Dilip said. “It’s going on for over three years. The woman is a widow. She gets a maintenance from her in-laws’ property. They want to stop it.” 

 

            “I don’t understand,” I said. 

 

            “The right of a widow to maintenance is conditional upon her leading a life of chastity.” 

                        “What nonsense!” 

            “That’s what the lawyer told me. The one who commissioned this investigation,” Dilip said. “They’ll probably use this evidence to coerce her into signing-off everything. Maybe even her children.” 

 

            “What if she doesn’t agree?” 

            “Then we’ll intensify the surveillance. A ‘no holds barred’ investigation. Two-way mirrors with installed video cameras, bugs with recording equipment,” Dilip paused, and said, “In fact, in this case I’m so desperate for success that I’m even considering computer morphing if nothing else works.” 

 

            I was shocked. “Isn’t it morally disgusting? To do all these unethical dirty things. Extortion? Blackmail? To what length does one go?”  

 

            “Once you have the right information, the possibilities are endless,” Dilip said softly, “It’s not my concern to worry about moral and ethical issues. I never ask the question ‘why’. I just state my fee. And even if I do know why, I’ve made it a policy never to show that I understand what other people are up to.” 

 

            “What are you up to Dilip? And why me?” I asked. 

            Dilip did not answer. He just smiled and led me towards our bus. I was glad I had not married Dilip. I had never known he could sink to such depths. I hated him for the way he was using me. Taking advantage of my fear, my helplessness. Shameless bully. 

 

            Nalini, my elder sister, had been right about Dilip. But for her timely intervention, I would have married Dilip. Even eloped with him. I shudder to think what life would have been like had I married Dilip. 

 

 

 

            “It’s beautiful,” Dilip said, looking at the famous painting – ‘Lady with the Lamp’ – at the

Mysore
Museum.  

 

            “Yes,” I answered, jolted out of my thoughts. 

            “Remember, Vibha. The last time we were here. It’s been almost ten years.” 

 

            I did not answer, but I clearly remembered. It was our college tour. And Dilip had quickly pulled me into a dark corner and kissed me on the lips. A stolen kiss. My first kiss. How could I ever forget? 

                        “Vibha. Tell me honestly. Why did you ditch me so suddenly, so mercilessly?” 

 

            “Nalini told me not to marry you,” I said involuntarily, instantly regretting my words. 

            “And then she forced you to marry Girish, your brother-in-law.” 

            “Girish is not my brother-in-law. He is my co-brother.” 

            “Co-brother indeed! He is the younger brother of your elder sister Nalini’s husband. So he is your brother in law also isn’t it?” Dilip said sarcastically. 

                        “So what?” I snapped angrily. “It’s not illegal. Two brothers marrying two sisters. And it’s none of your business.” 

 

            “Business!” Dilip said. “That’s it. Two sisters marry two brothers. So it’s all in the family. The business. The money. The tea estates and coffee plantations. The industries. The property. Everything.” 

 

            “So that’s what you had your eyes on, didn’t you? My father’s property!” I knew it was a cruel thing to say and I could see that Dilip was genuinely hurt. Instinctively I realized that Dilip was still in love with me. Maybe he was jealous of my successful marriage, my happiness and probably my wealth, my status in society and that’s what had made him bitter. But seeing the expression on his face I knew that Dilip would not harm me, for he was indeed truly in love with me. “I’m sorry, Dilip. Forget the past and let’s get on with our surveillance,” I said looking at the ‘target’ couple. 

 

            And so we reached the magnificent Brindavan gardens, posing as tourists in the growing crowd of humanity, stalking the couple, taking their photographs as they romantically watched the water, gushing through the sluice gates of Krishnarajasagar dam, forming a rainbow admits the spraying surf. 

 

            After sunset we enjoyed the performance at the musical fountain sitting right behind the ‘couple’. Suddenly, the lights went out, everyone stood up and started moving. Trying to adjust our eyes to the enveloping darkness, we desperately tried not to lose track of target couple as they made their way, in the confusion, towards “Lovers’ Park.” 

 

            It was pitch dark. But through the lens of the night vision device I could clearly discern two silhouettes, an eerie blue-green against the infrared background. The images were blurred and tended to merge as the two figures embraced each other, but that did not matter since I knew that the infrared camera would process the signal through an image intensifier before recording, rendering crystal-clear photo quality pictures. 

 

            “Let’s go,” Dilip whispered, and we stealthily negotiated our way out, but in hindsight, there was really no need to be clandestine about it since we were just another couple ostensibly having a good time in the dense foliage of “Lover’s Park” as it was known. 

 

            Pondering over the day’s events I realized how right Dilip had been. Surveillance involves hours of shadowing and stalking training and tracking your target, sitting for hours in all sports of places like hotels, restaurants, parks, cars etc, hanging around airports, railway stations, bus stands or even on the streets, waiting and watching. A man and a woman would appear for less conspicuous than a single man or a pair of men. And if they look like a married couple it’s even better for the cover. 

 

            I wondered why I’d agreed to do all this. Maybe because I felt a sense of guilt, a sort of an obligation that I owed Dilip. Any girl always has a feeling of dept towards a decent man who she has ditched. Or maybe because I wanted to find out what life would have been like had I married Dilip. Or maybe because I was scared that Dilip would blackmail me. Dilip was the only secret I had kept from my husband – a skeleton I wanted to keep firmly locked away in the cupboard. I guess it was a combination of all the above reasons, 

 

            The tourist bus reached my hotel at precisely 9.30 p.m. Before getting down from the bus, Dilip handed over the bag containing the infrared device, special cameras and all paraphernalia to a man sitting right behind us. 

 

            “Who was that man?” I asked after the bus drove away with the man in it. 

 

            “Never mind,” Dilip said leading me into the foyer of the hotel. 

            “No,” I insisted. “I want to know.” 

            “It is sometimes important for an operative conducting surveillance to put himself, his own self, under observation,” Dilip said nonchalantly. 

                        At first the sentence sounded innocuous, but gradually comprehension began to dawn on me, and as I realized the import of those words I experienced a chill of panic. All sorts of thoughts entered my brain. Photographs of Dilip and me. Oh my God! The man may even have bugged our conversation. The possibilities were endless. I looked at Dilip. Didn’t he have any scruples? My impulse was to run to my room and lock myself up. But when Dilip invited me to have dinner with him in the restaurant I knew I dared not refuse. I had no choice. Dilip now had me at his mercy. He had his manacles on me. The only way to escape Dilip’s clutches was to tell Girish everything. But could I? Especially after today! I couldn’t even bring myself to imagine the consequences.  

            After dinner I invited Dilip to my room for a cup of coffee. I knew it was suicidal but I had decided to give Dilip what he wanted and get rid of him, out of my life, forever. 

 

            The moment we entered the room, the phone rang. It was for Dilip- a man’s voice – probably the same man sitting behind us in the bus. 

 

 

            Dilip took the receiver from my hands and spoke, “I told you not to ring up here……… What?…….. But how is that possible?……… Oh, my God! I am coming at once.” 

 

            “What happened?” I asked him. 

            “We got the wrong couple on the infrared camera in Lovers’ Park. Couldn’t you see properly?” 

 

            “No, I said. “Just blurred images.” 

            Instinctively I rushed with Dilip to his office-cum-laboratory. He told me not to come, but I did not listen, a strange inner force propelling me. 

 

             I looked at the blurred images on the PC monitor. Then as Dilip kept zooming, enhancing the magnification and focus, the images started becoming clear, and as I watched something started happening inside me and I could sense my heartbeats rise.  

 

            It was Nalini and Girish. Or Girish and Nalini. Whichever way you like it. It doesn’t matter. Or does it? Nalini, my elder sister – the very person instrumental in arranging my  marriage to Girish. And Girish – my beloved ‘faithful’ husband. Their expressions so confident, so happy, so carefree. So sure they would never be found out. So convenient. How long was this going on? Living a lie. Deep down I felt terribly betrayed. I felt as if I had been pole-axed, a sharp sensation drilling into my vitals, my stomach curdling as I threw up my dinner. 

 

            It was extraordinary how clear my mind became all of a sudden. “Listen, Dilip,” I said emphatically, “I want a full-scale comprehensive surveillance. Two-way mirrors, bugs, video, audio – the works. A no-holds barred investigation. And dig up the past. I want everything.” 

 

            “No, Vibha !” Dilip said. “I can’t do it.” 

            “You can’t do it or you won’t do it?” I asserted. “Listen, Dilip. You have to do it. I want you to do it.” 

 

            “Why, Vibha. Why?” 

 

            I smiled and said, “Dilip, remember what you said in the afternoon about your professional credo and motto: You never ask the question ‘why’. You just state your fee.” I paused. “So my dear Dilip. Don’t ask any questions. Just state your fee. And do a good job!” 

 

            “But, Vibha. What would you do with all this information?” Dilip protested. 

                        “The possibilities are endless,” I said, almost licking my lips in anticipation, as I could feel the venom rising within me. “Yes indeed! The possibilities are endless!” 

 

             Now the real chase had begun! 

 

 

 

VIKRAM KARVE 

Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com 

 

vikramkarve@sify.com 

 

 

             

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom – a liberating tale

May 29, 2007

 

FREEDOM 

By 

VIKRAM KARVE 

 

 

 

                Anonymity. That’s what I like about Mumbai. As I lose myself in the sea of humanity leaving Churchgate station in the morning rush hour, I experience a refreshing sense of solitude. I notice that I am walking fast, in step with the crowd, as if propelled by the collective momentum. I experience the tremendous advantages of obscurity as I lose myself in the huge enveloping deluge of people. That’s freedom – the power of anonymity. 

 

                But I am in no hurry. I have no office, no destination to reach. I had come here to spend some time with myself. Where no one would be watching me. And I can do as I please. That’s freedom – to be able to do what I want to do.  

                I stand outside the subway at Churchgate. Should I turn right, walk past Asiatic, Gaylord, and Rustoms towards

Marine Drive

on the
Arabian Sea? Or go straight ahead, past Eros, to Nariman Point? Or walk to my left, between the Oval and Cross Maidan, towards Hutatma Chowk? I feel good. On top of the world. I am free to go wherever I please. That’s freedom! 

                The essence of travel is to have no destination. A good traveler is one who does not know where he is going to reach before he starts his journey. One decides on the spot. Instinctively. Intuitively. Impulsively. Spontaneously. That’s freedom! To be able to do as one likes. To go where one wants. Yes. That’s real and true freedom! 

                I choose the third option, leisurely walk on the pavement, looking at the boys playing cricket on the Oval to my right. The pavement booksellers near the Central Telegraph Office are gone. I cross the road and stand near the Fountain. Might as well ring up my husband. Not that he would bother. Indifference is the essence of our relationship. But the facade of conjugal conviviality has to be carefully maintained. At least for the sake of the outside world. That’s  what matters. To him, at least. And maybe for me too; at least till now, 

                I search for a public telephone. I am not carrying my cell-phone. I didn’t forget it. I deliberately did not bring it with me. That’s freedom! Unshackling myself from my cell-phone. 

                I find a phone, insert a coin and dial his office number. 

                “I shall be late today,” I say. 

                “Okay,” he replies trying to suppress his irritation. But I can sense his annoyance a hundred miles away. Transmitted through the telephonic waves. He doesn’t like to be disturbed at office. Especially by me. For he is always too busy with his affairs. I wonder who his latest conquest is. Last time it was that petite girl at his office. Who looked so innocent, so pristine, so pure. An improbable paramour for a man of fifty. That’s why probably she made such a good one for so many months. There were many before. Many will be there in future. Deep down I feel betrayed. It’s terrible to love and not be loved in return. I don’t know what to do. I feel a sense of futility and helplessness. That’s not freedom. 

                What can I do? Walk out of the marriage. And do what? Perhaps I can have also had an affair. Tit for tat. I have the looks, but lack the guts. And that’s why I have no choice but to continue this futile and meaningless relationship. That’s not freedom. That’s cowardice, what they also call compromise.  

                Everyone looks at us with envy and admiration. The successful husband. The charming wife. The ideal couple. ‘Made for each other’. And from time to time I hear myself tell everyone my biggest lie, “I’m so lucky. It’s been a lovely marriage. My life has been such a marvelous success.” Mendacity, hypocrisy, pretense – that’s not freedom. 

                I window-shop on

MG Road

opposite the university till I reach Kalaghoda. There’s a sale almost everywhere. Have a glass of refreshing cold sugarcane juice on the roadside stall. Browse at the Magna Book Store. Hear the latest music at Rhythm House. See the latest paintings at

Jehangir
Art
Gallery. You can see, feel, browse, hear whatever you want; need not buy – that’s freedom. 

                I decide to have lunch. Stuffed Parathas at Café Samovar. Heavenly rich tasty stuff with an abundance of calories and cholesterol. To hell with self-imposed killjoy restrictions. That’s freedom! 

                I sit alone in the long rectangular restaurant which reminds me of the dining cars on trains of yesteryears. I eat alone. I eat unhurriedly and consciously. It is sacrilege to eat delectable food hastily.  

                Nobody stares at me as I eat slowly and mindfully, relishing the piping hot stuffed parathas to the fullest, dipping them liberally in the spicy chutneys with my fingers. I indulge till I am satiated. Follow up with ice cream. A delightful delicious meal enjoyed alone. Epicurean pleasure of the highest order. That’s freedom! 

                Once again I realize the benefits of anonymity. Nobody knows me. Nobody’s bothered about me. The place is full – with artists, art-lovers, office-goers, society ladies. All busy in their own world. Preoccupied with their own thoughts. No one gives a damn. This is Mumbai. Not our company township, and in it the exclusive residential campus near Pune, where my husband is the undisputed boss – the feudal lord, the ‘King’ – and I the ‘Queen’, pampered with all the comforts, fawned and flattered, by plenty of sycophants masquerading as friends, secretly envied by all, but trapped in a golden cage. That’s pseudo-freedom! 

                 My daughter must have returned from college. She is independent. On her own trip. Having been given all the material comforts she desires. With every passing year the distance between us is increasing. I telephone from the phone outside the restaurant.  

                “I’ll be late,” I tell my daughter. 

                “So shall I,” she replies. “I am going out with my friends.”                 Brevity in communication. The hallmark of our family. 

                I spend the next few hours doing what I always liked. Aimless loafing on Colaba Causeway, a brief visit to the Museum, gazing at the ships across the Gateway of India, a movie at Regal, a walk across the Oval, invigorating Irani Style Tea at the Stadium restaurant, sitting on the parapet at Marine Drive and watching the sun being swallowed up by the sea. I lose myself in my pleasure trip, in a state of timelessness. This is freedom – not the artificial sterile synthetic life I am living. 

                The sky is overcast and it starts to drizzle. I walk leisurely on A-Road enjoying the weather. Mumbai is at its best in the monsoon season. I stop before my house. My old house. My parents’ house. The house of my childhood. The house where I grew up. The house my parents had to sell for my dowry. In the hope that I would enjoy a better life. And yes, they were so happy – for my parents, my marriage was a social triumph. 

                I feel a sense of nostalgia. I reminisce. There is no greater pain than to remember happier times when one is despondent; dejected with life. But it is also true that when one’s intractable desires are thwarted by reality, there is a tendency to hark back to happy memories. It is indeed at vicious circle. In which I felt trapped at that moment. So I turn away from my house of the past and walk into the present, back towards

Marine Drive

.  

                The sea is rough. It is windy. I can smell the rain in the distance. I look at my watch. Almost 7 PM. More than ten hours since I left my house in Pune. I am enjoying the change of routine. A break. After a long long time. Most of us have a preference for some kind of routine or rhythm in our day-to-day life. But when the rhythm becomes sinusoidal, the routine overwhelms you. That’s when you got to break it. Like I had done. Today. At precisely 6.30 AM I had left my house. As usual. But today I wasn’t wearing leotards underneath. For I wasn’t going to the health club. I went straight to the railway station and caught the Deccan Queen. To Mumbai. 

                It’s raining now. I rush towards Churchgate station. As I cross my favourite Chinese restaurant I wonder with whom my husband would be having his “working” dinner. He wouldn’t have missed me. We never ate together now-a-days. Except breakfast on Sundays. When he would bury himself behind the newspaper nursing a hangover. On other days he would be off to office by the time I returned form the health club. And I would busy myself with my daily routine. Everything ran like clockwork. Everyone took me for granted. There were no problems. That was the real problem. Oh yes! My problem was that I didn’t have any problems! Or did I? 

                I catch a Volvo bus from Dadar and reach home late at night. It’s almost 11. There is no one at home. The servants ask me if I want anything and then go off to sleep. 

                I wake up late in the morning. My husband gives me a beautiful diamond necklace. A gift for his darling wife.  As always. A gift to compensate his conscience for his misdemeanors – the bigger the misdemeanor, the larger the guilt, and the more expensive the gift. 

                We sit at the breakfast table. No one asks me where I was yesterday. Maybe I have become redundant. Or have I?                                                “Be ready at 12. I’ll send the car. We’ve got to go for that business lunch at the Golf Club,” my husband snaps pepremptorily.                                Oh yes. I’ll go along. As ‘Arm Candy’!                 “And, Mom, after that you’ve got to come with me to the jeweler,” my daughter commands. That’s all I am worth these days, isn’t it? Just ornamental value. 

                 The moment they go away I break into a laugh. To hell with them! From now on I am going to be free. Do exactly as I want. Go wherever I want. Do whatever I please. Yesterday it was Mumbai. Today, where should I go – Lonavla? No, it’s too boring. Mumbai? – Not again!
Bangalore? – I’ve been there many times.
Delhi? – Maybe! Why not head for the hills – Ooty, Mussoorie,
Darjeeling, Simla?
 

                 Hey! Why should I tell you? I’m free to do as I please. I’m off on my own trip. That’s freedom! 

 

 

 

FREEDOM – a short storybyVIKRAM KARVE 

Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve 

 

http://www.ryze.com/go/karve 

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com 

 

vikramkarve@sify.com 

 

 

 

 

 

Lal Tibba

May 29, 2007

 

 

 

            LAL TIBBA

 

            [a short story]

 

            By

             VIKRAM KARVE 

 

 

            “Excuse me, Sir,” said a feminine voice, “Do you have change for twenty rupees? Even two tens will do.” 

            I put down the bunch of grapes which I was examining and looked up. She proffered a crisp twenty rupee note, folded into half at the centre, the reverse side of the watermark turned upwards and she held it in such a way that I could not fail to notice something written on the watermark in neat capital letters in blue ink. I understood at once. An active dead letter drop, vintage David Mackenzie style, used only in emergencies. 

            “I’ll check,” I said, pulling out my wallet from my hip pocket. I extracted two ten rupee notes and gave them to her, taking her twenty rupee note and putting it into my wallet. 

            I didn’t make any purchases, but rushed a straight home, walking the fastest mile of my life. 

            I reproduce below the exact words written on the twenty rupee note: 

            D E W D O L O E            I dusted out my codebook and deciphered the coded message – ‘LAL TIBBA’. 

            So that was what David Mackenzie has sent me. It was vintage David Mackenzie. Tell a guy only the place of the rendezvous. Never mention the time. It was too risky. Now all I had to do was to reach Mussoorie by the fastest available means and then trek up Landour to the

peak of
LAL TIBBA, the highest point in Mussoorie. David Mackenzie would find me. We both knew the area around Lal Tibba quite well. We had many a rendezvous there and had even used it as a dead letter drop once in while. But that was more than ten years ago. I had retired and broken all contact with David. I wondered why he had summoned me. All of a sudden after ten long years. What was the assignment? And why Mussoorie of all places when there were so many secure and convenient rendezvous in and around Pune!             I picked up the telephone and dialed my travel agent booked myself on the next flight to
Delhi. Beyond
Delhi I would have to make on-the-spot decisions and improvise to shake off a tail, if any.
 

            Of course I had torn up the twenty rupee note that had brought me the coded message, into small pieces but I wondered who the woman was. Maybe she was just a housewife. David Mackenzie has a vast network of contacts – agents, runners, watchers, sleepers. I was certain that I would never see the woman again. Though it had happened so fast there were two things about the woman which made a distinct impression on me. Her eyes were the restless eyes of a woman with a great thirst for life. And from her body emanated the lingering fragrance of her enticing perfume! 

            I reached
Delhi airport took the airport bus to

Connaught Place

, walked around a bit, ostensibly window-shopping, had a pizza at a fast-food joint, and convinced that I was not being followed, took a taxi to Old Delhi railway station. It was almost 9.30 at night by the time I purchased a second class unreserved ticket to Dehradun and walked onto the platform clutching my small briefcase. And out of the blue, I ran bang into Manisha Rawat. 

            David insisted that a man and a woman would be far less conspicuous than a single man or a pair of men. So I always teamed up with Manisha Rawat. She worked as a stenographer in our office and like most girls from the hills was extremely attractive, had a flawless complexion and carried herself very well. Then one fine day she got married and resigned from her job. I never maintained contact with her after that, for obvious reasons. 

            I was wondering how to avoid her when Manisha Rawat called out me, “What a surprise,
Ravi. But what on earth are you doing here?”
 

 

            “Heading for Mussoorie,” I said. 

            “A/C sleeper?” 

            “I haven’t got reservation.” 

            “No problem,” Manisha said. “We’ve got two berths. Me and my son. He is sitting inside. We’ll adjust.” I knew I should refuse, but I could see that Manisha was so genuinely happy to meet me and was yearning to talk to me that I couldn’t do anything else but agree and I joined Manisha and her ten year old son in the compartment. 

 

            “I won’t ask you why you are going to Mussoorie,” Manisha said. 

 

            “But I’ll ask you,” I replied tongue-in-check. 

            “I’m going to Dehradun,” she said. 

            “Dehradun?” 

            “We have settled down in Dehradun. My husband and I, both of us work in the Survey of India office. He’s an engineer and, by the way, I’m an HR officer now.” She opened her purse, pulled out a visiting card and gave it to me. 

            “So you are Manisha Joshi now. I’m looking forward to meeting Mr. Joshi.” In my mind’s eye I was visualizing how I could avoid meeting Manisha’s husband. 

            I was tempted to tell Manisha everything, get it off my chest, but I stopped myself. Life has taught me to leave dangerous things unsaid. I asked her, “Your husband must be coming to the station to pick you up tomorrow morning?” 

            “No,” she said. “He’s gone to
Australia for a seminar. That’s why we had come to
Delhi see him off. He left yesterday. But that doesn’t matter. You must come over to my place in Dehradun. It’s on Rajpur road, on the way to Mussoorie. The address, phone number – everything is on the card.”
 

            As I put Manisha’s visiting card in my wallet I knew that visiting her was out of the question. At least this time. Manisha probably realized it too. I noticed she had not asked me anything about myself. She had given me her visiting card and left the ball in my court. 

            The Mussoorie Express reached the destination, Dehradun, precisely at 7:20 next morning. I engaged a tourist taxi for my onward journey to Mussoorie. En route I dropped Manisha Joshi and her son at their house on Rajpur road. 

            The road to Mussoorie, coiling like a snake, was surrounded by dense vegetation, and as we made our way up I noticed patches of snow, like lather, which became denser as we neared Mussoorie. It was off-season, quite cold, and getting a room at the
Savoy wouldn’t be a problem.
 

             When I reached I was shocked to find that a room had already been booked in my name. Something was wrong, terribly wrong. I couldn’t believe that David Mackenzie would commit such a grave lapse. I tried to smoothen my startled look into a grin and quietly checked in, trying not to arouse any suspicions. 

             All sorts of confusing thoughts crowded my brain. The coded message, the woman with the restless eyes and fragrant perfume at the fruit stall in Pune, Manisha appearing as if from nowhere after fifteen long years and very conveniently offering me a berth and now a room booked in my name at the
Savoy. Coincidence, Red Herrings, or an invisible hand guiding me into a trap?
 

            Complete anonymity was my best weapon I had always relied upon. But now it was useless. Invisible eyes seemed to be following me everywhere. There was only one thing to do now – contact David Mackenzie and ask him what the hell was going on?  

            I went down to the reception and asked the girl at the counter, “Please can you tell me who made my hotel reservation?” 

            “Just a moment, sir,” she said and began consulting a register. “It’s here,” she gave me a curious look, “A travel agency. Hill Travels. They rang up from Dehradun this morning at 8:30.” 

            Dehradun! Manisha? How could she be so naïve?  Or was she? I’d have to find out for myself. But first the rendezvous with David Mackenzie at Lal Tibba.  

            After lunch I walked down the Mall, posing as a tourist, seemingly clicking photograph with my camera. But this was in fact a LASER-DAZZLER or Dazer which could dazzle or flash blind the victim by means of laser beam. Nobody even gave a second look to an inoffensive-appearing, meek-looking man like me, which was really to my advantage. 

            There was a chill in the air now and I knew it would get bitterly cold so I bought a trench-coat from a Tibetan roadside stall at Landour Bazaar and then turned left and began climbing up the path towards Lal Tibba. At the char-dukan junction I did not take the normal route to Lal Tibba, but instinctively turned right, in a last-ditch attempt to spot any tail, and began negotiating the steep and longer route skirting and traversing and undulating mountainous slopes. It was this instinctive decision that probably saved my life, for when it suddenly started snowing I took refuge under the porch of the entrance to a cemetery. Gradually it stopped snowing and all of sudden rays of evening sunlight filtered through the gaps in the Deodar trees. Indeed the weather in Mussoorie was as unpredictable as the stock market. 

            As I was about to leave, I heard the bark of a dog. I turned in that direction. A Bhutiya dog was sitting about fifteen feet away from me. It was a friendly breed. I smiled. And then I froze, my blood ran cold for next to the dog was a tombstone, illuminated by a ray of sunlight. And on the tombstone was engraved in large bold letters: 

            DAVID W. MACKENZIE            BORN 24 MAY 1935            DIED 15 JANUARY 2006 

            I stood motionless on the Lal Tibba peak which jutted out like a bird’s beak, holding the railing in front of me below which there was a sheer drop of over thousand feet into dense jungle. The cold hung like a cloak of ice around my shivering shoulders. I breathed in slowly, mouth and nose together. The air was so pure that I at once sensed her arrival. A whiff of that familiar fragrance. No doubt about it! It was the same woman at the fruit stall in Pune. The woman with the restless eyes. 

            “Why did you kill David?” I asked softly. I did not turn around but I could feel the waft of her warm breath on the nape of my neck. Suddenly, at the same spot I felt a needle. With cobra speed I ducked and rammed against her with my shoulders. Then I turned around, pointed the dazer camera in her direction and pressed the button. Despite the weather, the laser beam was quite effective at that short range and soon she began screaming. The manner in which her silhouette was moving it was evident that she was totally dazed. 

            “Don’t kill me,” she shrieked in anguish. “David was going to die anyway. He had terminal cancer. I just put him to sleep to spare him the agony.” 

            I look two quick steps and pushed her towards the railing. Her hands, which were earlier cupping her eyes, now gripped the railing. As gripped the railing. As I walked away from Lal Tibba, I could hear her trailing voice, “Don’t’ leave me here. I’m blinded. I can’t see anything. Please don’t go ………..” 

            I stopped in my tracks. In this profession one operated on the basis of the 11th Commandment – “Thou shalt not get caught”. I closed my eyes with my palms for about half a minute and when I opened them again I could see better in the dark. I carefully scanned the footprints in the snow, where or scuffle had taken place. After a bit of searching I found what I wanted. The syringe was intact. I looked towards her silhouette. She was standing still, gripping the railing. It was evident that she could not see anything.  

“Give me the syringe,” I shouted. 

“I dropped it,” she said. 

“I don’t believe you,” I said. 

 “No. I don’t have it,” she said desperately. “Search me if you want.” 

“Okay. But tell me first. What was in the syringe?” 

“Ketamine.” 

            I smiled to myself. Ketamine. An anesthetic with hallucinatory emergence reaction. 

 

            “Take off your coat. I want to check it,” I commanded, and as she started to do so I moved fast. With my left hand I pushed up the sleeve of the pullover and with my right I jabbed the needle of the syringe into her wrist, and injected the entire contents of the syringe into her body. 

            At first she struggled but soon she gave up and in a few moments slid down on the snow, her body limp. I lifted her body, struggling, using all me strength rolled it over the railing watching it vanish into dark nothingness.      

            Miraculously, the dazer was still intact around my neck. I was tempted to throw it away, but no – I may indeed need it yet. David Mackenzie was dead, I had taken care of the woman with the restless eyes, but there was still the question of Manisha. I had to be sure, dead sure. It had started snowing again and it was with great difficulty that I made my way down the slopes of Lal Tibba in the enveloping darkness. 

            When I rang the door bell of Manisha’s house it was dark. I had not gone back to the Savoy hotel, but caught the first bus to Dehradun from the

Picture
Palace bus-stand near Landour Bazaar. Though I could read the surprise in her eyes at my disheveled state, she didn’t say a word. She just made me sit down and gave me a cup of tea. So I played it straight. I told her everything the whole story, exactly as it happened; observing her closely I knew she was innocent. 

           
Ravi, it’s high time you broke off with the looking-glass world,” she said tenderly.
 

            Manisha was right. David Mackenzie was dead. My link broken. Now it was entirely up to me. 

            “Sleep here and we’ll go and collect your baggage from the
Savoy in the morning,” Manisha said.
 

            We reached the hotel at noon to find a police officer waiting to interrogate me. “Where were you since yesterday afternoon, sir? The hotel staff has reported you missing. Almost twenty-four hours. We were about send a search party.” 

 

            “He was with me. In Dehradun,” Manisha answered. 

            “Full night?” 

            “Yes,” Manisha opened her purse and showed him her identity card. 

 

            “Oh, you are an officer in Survey office, madam,” the policeman said. He gave me a conspirational look and advised, “Better to inform the hotel staff and avoid panic.” And then he walked away, smiling to himself. 

 

            I cannot begin to describe the emotion I felt towards Manisha at that moment. But before I could say anything she held my arm and said “It’s okay,
Ravi. For old times’ sake. But remember what I said. There’s no point living a lie – a double-life, it’s not worth it.”
 

 

            The reason why the woman with the restless eyes wanted to murder me became clear only a few days later. When I reached Pune I found a letter asking me to contact Mehta and Co., Solicitors, at Mumbai. The matter was urgent. I rushed to Mumbai the next morning. 

 

            “It’s good you came, Mr. Ravi,” Mehta said. “We are the executors of the late Mr.David Mackenzie’s will. He has left you everything he had, except his bungalow – The Anchorage, at Lal Tibba in Mussoorie.” 

 

            “Who gets the
Anchorage?” I asked.
 

                        “Susan Morris,” he said looking at his papers. “In fact, she was the one who came here on the second of February and personally handed over the death certificate.” 

 

            I looked at the wall-calendar. Second was Friday, Third was Saturday – the office closed, Fourth, a Sunday, on the Fifth she handed me the coded message and the Sixth afternoon I was on the flight on my way to Mussoorie. Everything was falling into place. 

 

            “Who gets my share in case of my death?” I asked. 

 

            “Susan Morris. And, of course, you are the alternate nominee for the
Anchorage.” He paused, and said, “It’s surprising. We’ve sent her two letters by Speed-post, but she hasn’t contacted us yet. Do you know who she was to David Mackenzie?”
 

 

            “I’ve never heard of her,” I answered. “David Mackenzie was a bachelor, and bachelors do get very lonely sometimes, don’t they?” 

 

             Mehta smiled and said, “We were hoping she turns up fast and we can settle everything. Anyway, we’ll wait.”  

             “Yes, you wait. She’ll surely turn up,” I said nonchalantly, and walked away, and lost myself in the crowd on the street.  

 

 

VIKRAM KARVE 

Copyright  2006  Vikram Karve 

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com 

vikramkarve@sify.com 

The Relevation

May 28, 2007

THE REVELATION 

[ a story of secret romance] 

By 

VIKRAM KARVE 

 

 

 

JAYASHREE entered my life the moment I saw her photograph on Sanjay’s desk. And my life changed forever! Till that moment, I had never wanted anything belonging to anyone else. I stared at her photo, captivated by her beauty. 

“Sir, this is Jayashree, my wife!” Sanjay said, getting up form the swivel chair. He picked up the framed photograph and showed it to me. I took her picture in my hand and looked intently at her, totally mesmerized. What a stunning beauty! Never before had the mere sight of a woman aroused such strong passions and yearning in me to this extent. 

Sanjay was talking something, but it didn’t register. I hastily said, “Cute!” for I believe that thoughts can transmit themselves if they are strong enough! 

I thought Sanjay seemed just a trifle taken aback, but he smiled, and pulled out a photo-album from the drawer. He began showing me the photographs and started describing his home, his family, his wedding, his honeymoon – the wonderful days they had spent together in
Goa.
 

I took the album from him and looked at a photograph of Jayashree in a bathing suit which was so revealing that she might as well have worn nothing, but she conveyed such innocence that it was obvious that she had no inkling of this. She looked ravishing. Breathtaking! Her breasts were boldly outlined under the flimsy fabric and she radiated a tantalizing sensuousness with such fervor that I could not take my eyes off her. “Cute,” I instinctively and unthinkingly said again, and bit my lip; it was the wrong word, but Sanjay didn’t seem to mind; he didn’t even seem to be listening. 

My name is Vijay. At the time of this story I was the Master of a merchant ship – an oil tanker. Sanjay was my Chief Officer – my number two! He had joined recently and it was our first sailing together. I had not met him earlier, but in due course he proved to be an excellent deputy. He was young, just thirty, he ran the ship efficiently and I liked him for his good qualities. But there was something in his eyes that I could not fathom. I shut my mind to it. It’s extraordinary how close you can be to a man and still know nothing about him. Sometimes I wondered whether he was much more naïve or a lot more shrewd than I thought. 

“Captain, may I ask you a personal question?’ Sanjay asked me one evening, the first time we went ashore. 

“Sure,” I said. 

 “Sir, I was wondering, why didn’t you get married so far?”  Sanjay said with childlike candor. 

I sipped my drink and smiled, “I don’t really know. Maybe I am not marriage-material.” 

“You tried?” 

“Yes.” 

“You loved someone?” 

I didn’t answer. 

And as I thought about it, I felt depressed. Life was passing me by. I looked around the restaurant. The atmosphere was gloomy-dark and quiet. It was late; almost midnight. 

Sanjay offered me a cigarette. His hands were unsteady. He seemed to be quite drunk. As we smoked, he lapsed into silence – his eyes closed. When he opened his eyes, I observed a strange metamorphosis in his expression. He looked crestfallen; close to tears. Suddenly, he blurted out, “I wish I had never got married.” 

With those few words, Sanjay had bared the secret of his marriage. As I attempted to smoothen my startled look into a grin, I was ashamed to find that, inwardly, I was glad to hear of his misfortune. How could I desire and yearn for Jayashree to this extent without ever having met her in flesh and blood, merely by seeing her photograph? But it is true, my heart ached whenever I thought of her. 

We sailed from Chennai port next morning, and headed for
Singapore. It was the monsoon season and the sea was rough. As the voyage progressed, the weather swiftly deteriorated. The ship rolled and pitched feverishly, tossed about by the angry waves. As we neared the
Strait of Malacca, I began to experience a queer sensation – a strange foreboding. Though I was molded in a profession where intellect habitually meets danger, I felt restless and apprehensive. I had felt and fought occasional fear before, but this was different – a premonition – a nameless type of fright; a strange feeling of dread and uneasiness. I tried my best to dispel my fear, thrust away the strange feelings. But all my efforts failed. The nagging uneasiness persisted and soon took charge of me. It was so dark that I couldn’t even see our ship’s forecastle. The incessant rain and treacherous sea created an eerie atmosphere. I was close to panic as we negotiated the treacherous and hazardous waters of the Strait.
 

As I stared into the pitch blackness which shrouded the hour moments before the breaking of dawn, a strange tocsin began sounding in my brain – a warning I could not fathom. The ship was pitching violently. I felt sick with fear and stood gasping for air, clutching the telegraph. I had to get outside, into the fresh air, or I’d suffocate. As I groped my way along the rail in the bridge-wing, I heard a shrill voice behind me, “Don’t go away, Captain! Please stay. I can’t handle it alone. I can’t. Please, Sir. Don’t go!”  

I turned around. It was Sanjay. He looked at me beseechingly with terror and fright in his eyes. 

It penetrated to me in flash of revelation what I’d done. I had transmitted my own fear into my crew. Sanjay was the Chief Officer. For him, to confess in front of the crew, that he could not handle it, brought home to me the fact of how desperate he was. 

I had to take control at once.” You are not supposed to handle it as long as I’m about,” I shouted. “Go down to your cabin and catch up on your sleep. I don’t want passengers on the bridge. Get out from here.” 

The moment those words left my mouth, I instantly regretted what I had said; but it was too late now. Sanjay was close to tears, humiliated in front of the crew. He shamefacedly left the bridge and went down to his cabin. 

Suddenly, a searchlight was switched on, dead ahead. Instinctively I shouted an order to the quartermaster to swing the ship across the ship across to starboard. I crossed my fingers, desperately praying to avoid a collision. It was a near-miss, but the searchlight kept following our sheer to starboard. I was angry now. I stopped the engines, picked up the loudhailer, rushed out the bridge-wing, leaned over, and shouted, “You stupid fools. Are you crazy? What the hell do you think you are doing?” 

“We are in distress,” a voice answered. “Throw us a rope.” I called the boatswain and told him to throw over the monkey-ladder. “Be careful, and report quickly,” I told him. 

Ten minutes must have passed but there was no report. The silence was prickling. I decided to go to the deck. Before I could move, four men entered the bridge. They were wearing hoods. As I started at the nozzle of a carbine pointed at me, comprehensive dawned on me pretty fast. This was piracy on the high seas. Incredible, but true, I had never imagined it would happen to me. Undecided as to my next move, I stood there feeling far from heroic. There was no question of resistance. After all, this was a merchant ship, not a man-o’-war. Saving the lives of the crew was of paramount importance. The man pointing the carbine at me said softly, “Captain, we are taking over. Don’t try anything foolish. Tell the crew.” 

Suddenly, there was deep shuddering sound followed by a deafening roar. The ship rose on top of a steep quivering hill and slithered down its slope. There was a responding thud followed by screeching vibrations. We had run aground. The ship lurched wildly, throwing everyone off-balance. Sanjay suddenly appeared out of nowhere, made a running dive and grabbed the carbine from the pirate. It happened too quickly, and so unexpectedly that I was totally dumbstruck. Everyone seemed to have opened fire. Bullets wildly started the bridge. There was pandemonium, as crew members joined the melee, grappling with the pirates. I hit the deck and froze. 

I don’t know who pulled me up, but by then everything was calm and quit. “The pirates have been overpowered,” said the boatswain. “But the Chief Officer ……….” I followed his gaze. Sanjay lay on the deck, in a pool of blood. I knelt down beside him. His face was vacant, but he tried to focus his eyes on me, whimpering, “Jayashree, Jayashree…” I shook him, he tried to get up, but slumped back – Sanjay was dead! 

 

 

 

Six months later I knocked on a door. There was long wait. Then Jayashree opened the door. Her gorgeously stunning dazzling face took my breath away. She was even more beautiful than her photographs. Dressed in white sari, she looked so proud in her grief that I felt embarrassed. I had myself not yet recovered from the shock of Sanjay’s sudden death. 

I said, awkwardly, “I am Captain Vijay.” 

She looked directly into my eyes and said, “So I see.” Her dark eyes were hostile. 

“I am sorry about what happened. Sanjay was a brave man, and we are all proud to have known him.” My words sounded insincere and I felt acutely uncomfortable. 

“Proud!” she exclaimed, her magnificent eyes flashing. “Some people might feel grateful, especially those whose life he saved.” 

I was stunned by the sting of her bitterness. Never had I felt such a burning shame; the shame of being held responsible for someone’s death. I looked at Jayashree helplessly, pleading innocence, but it was of no use. It was hopeless now to try and explain. The hurt was deep, and I had to let it go in silence. 

Jayashree excused herself, turned and went inside. It was then that I remembered the real reason for my visit. I wanted to hand over what remained of Sanjay’s personal effects; an unfinished letter, a dairy, a framed photograph. I decided to wait till she read the letter. Probably then she would understand the real reason for Sanjay’s reckless bravery, his suicidal heroics; his desperate concern about proving his masculinity. 

When Jayashree returned, she was composed. I gave her Sanjay’s unfinished letter. As she silently read on, I saw tears well up in her eyes. 

I do not know whether I did the right thing. Probably it would have been wiser to destroy the letter and the diary. Leaving things unspoken and unhealed. But I had thought it would be better to exorcise the sense of guilt and shame. Better for me. Better for Jayashree. Better for both of us. It was not easy, but we both had to come to terms with ourselves. 

 

I looked at Jayashree, deep into her intoxicating eyes, and she looked into my eyes too. We looked into each other, transfixed, in silence, a deafening silence. And suddenly she melted and smiled.  

 

 

 

VIKRAM KARVE 

Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve 

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com 

 

vikramkarve@sify.com 

 

Banter

May 18, 2007

TETE A TETE

by VIKRAM KARVE

 It’s late and the bar at the  Savoy in Mussoorie is almost empty. There are just three people – a couple, a man and woman, in their thirties, sit together on a sofa; and on the sofa just behind them sits a solitary man, unseen, in the shadows.

It is quite dark as the lights are dim; in fact the lights are so dim that the man and woman can hardly see each other’s face. They have been drinking for quite some time, and, in fact, the woman appears pleasantly drunk as she engages the man in some lighthearted banter, slurring loudly as she speaks.

“She dumped you, isn’t it?” the woman says.

“No. That’s not true. Leena didn’t dump me. It was I who left her!” the man says emphatically.

“Come on, Anil. You think I don’t know everything about you two?”

“You don’t. You know nothing. It was I who left her. I told you once; I’m telling you again! She didn’t dump me. I didn’t want to live with her, so I left her.”

“Don’t fib!”

“Fib? Why should I?”

“Masculine pride!”

“Masculine pride? What nonsense!”

“When a man ditches a woman she gains sympathy; but when a woman dumps a man he becomes a laughing stock, a subject of ridicule.”

“So?”

“That’s why you ran away from
Bangalore after spreading stories all around that you were the one who had split up with her, when actually it was Leena who had dumped you unceremoniously,” the woman jeers loudly.

“Talk softly,” the man says.

“Why? Afraid of the truth, is it?”

“I told you it’s not true. We had our differences. And I wanted a change of job.”

“You know why she dumped you? Because you are a bloody ‘loser’. A born loser!”

“Who told you that?”

“She did. I’ll never forget what she told me. Anil, you want to hear Leena’s exact words about you: quote ‘Anil is a born loser who is content to wallow in the gutter and see others climb mountains’ unquote. That’s why she left you. She didn’t want to ruin her life with you – a man with no future, a namby-pamby who has no ambition, no drive – a good for nothing geek.”

“Namby-pamby! Good for nothing geek?”

“That’s what she told me.”

“She told you? When? Where?”

“Last year. In
Hyderabad. During this same annual IT Seminar. She’d flown down from the States. She even presented a paper – I’m sure it was plagiarized from something you had written or from the notes you kept giving her about your work and research.”

“I’m not interested!”

“Leena is real smart – a real scheming bitch. Mesmerizes you with her wily charms, uses you and then jettisons you, just throws you away when she’s got what she’s wanted. Like toilet paper! Or you know what?” the woman starts giggling; “She treated you like a sanitary napkin! Use and throw straight into the dustbin.”

“Shut up, will you?” the man shouts angrily, “Let’s go now. You’re drunk.”

“I still remember our
Bangalore days when you used to grovel at her feet, your tongue drooling like a lapdog. And now look where she’s reached – the hot shot CEO of a top IT company while you wallow in your self-made misery as a Nobody in some nondescript place.”

“Please, Nanda! Let’s go,” the man says exasperated.

But the woman is in no mood to go, ignores him, and continues talking loudly: “Leena is smart! She told me she’d managed to hook some NRI Head Honcho. He’s an American citizen too. Her life is made!”

“Maybe, she’ll use him and dump him too!” the man says sardonically.

“Hey! You’ve accepted it! You’ve accepted that she dumped you. I was right! That calls for a drink.”

“No. You’ve already had three big bottles of beer.”

“Who’s counting?” the woman says happily, lurching from her seat, “Okay. If I’ve had too much beer, now I’ll have whisky!” She picks up the man’s glass, drinks it bottoms up in one go, and exclaims at the top of her voice: “Cheers! Down the hatch!”

“What’s wrong with you?” the man scolds her. Don’t you know, “Beer and whisky – it’s risky.”

“And frisky! I want to feel frisky.”

“You mustn’t drink so much.”

“Why?”

“Someone may take advantage of you!”

“Ha! Maybe I want to be taken advantage of? Come, take advantage of me,” she says loudly and snuggles up to him, “Come on, Lovey-dovey. Cuddle me. Do something naughty to me, like you used to do to Leena. Remember…”

“Shut up. Someone will hear!”

“Come on sweetie-pie,” the Nanda says snuggling even closer, “No one will see, no one will hear. We are all alone. There is no one here!”

“There is,” Anil whispers gravely, noticing the solitary figure in the shadows for the first time. He moves close to Nanda and whispers into her ear, “Don’t look behind you.”

“Where?” she shouts in surprise and turns around. She sees the silhouette of the man and brazenly calls out to him, “Hey Mr. Eavesdropper! Come, why don’t you join us?”

“Thanks. But it’s okay. I’m fine here,” the stranger says.

“No! No! Come on. Have a drink with us. Don’t be a snob!” the woman shouts drunkenly, tries to get up and reels towards him, and seeing her swaying and lurching in an inebriated manner, the stranger quickly joins them, pulling up a chair opposite the sofa.

“I hope we have not been disturbing you,” Anil says, “We’re sorry. We thought we were all alone in the bar.”

“Not at all!” the stranger says, “in fact, I’ve been enjoying your banter.”

“Good. That calls for a drink!” the woman says.

“Certainly. My pleasure! The drink is on me,” the stranger says.

“That’s the spirit,” Nanda roars.

“Nanda. Please. I think we’ve had enough,” Anil pleads.

“I insist,” the stranger says, “just one last drink.”

“Just one last drink!” Nanda repeats drunkenly, “and then the real surprise!”

“Surprise?” Anil asks.

“We’ll all go and wake up Leena!”

“What? Leena? She’s here? In Mussoorie?” Anil asks incredulously.

“Yes, my dear. She’s coming for the seminar too. She must have arrived in the evening when we had gone out for our romantic walk to Lal Tibba.”

“How do you know?”

“E-mail! I was the one who called her for this seminar.”

“You didn’t tell me!”

“Of course not! And I didn’t tell her that I had called you here either. I don’t want to be a killjoy!”

“I’m going back!” Anil says.

“You still desperately love her, don’t you? After all that she’s done to you; destroyed you. You’re scared of her aren’t you?”

“No.”

“Then why are you afraid of facing her? Come on, Anil, be a man! Ask her why she dumped you so unceremoniously. Leena owes you a bloody explanation, doesn’t she?” Nanda says. She pulls Anil’s hand and lurches towards the entrance, “Come. We’ll go to the reception and find out in which room Leena is staying.”

“She’s in room 406,” the stranger says wryly.

“How do you know?” Nanda asks wide-eyed, trying to focus on the stranger.

“I’m Leena’s husband,” the stranger says matter-of-factly. He keeps his glass on the table and silently walks out of the bar.

VIKRAM KARVE

 Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

vikramkarve@hotmail.com

vikramkarve@sify.com

TETE A TETE

May 18, 2007

TETE A TETEby VIKRAM KARVE       It’s late and the bar at the
Savoy in Mussoorie is almost empty. There are just three people – a couple, a man and woman, in their thirties, sit together on a sofa; and on the sofa just behind them sits a solitary man, unseen, in the shadows.
  It is quite dark as the lights are dim; in fact the lights are so dim that the man and woman can hardly see each other’s face. They have been drinking for quite some time, and, in fact, the woman appears pleasantly drunk as she engages the man in some lighthearted banter, slurring loudly as she speaks.   “She dumped you, isn’t it?” the woman says.   “No. That’s not true. Leena didn’t dump me. It was I who left her!” the man says emphatically.   “Come on, Anil. You think I don’t know everything about you two?”   “You don’t. You know nothing. It was I who left her. I told you once; I’m telling you again! She didn’t dump me. I didn’t want to live with her, so I left her.”   “Don’t fib!”   “Fib? Why should I?”   “Masculine pride!”   “Masculine pride? What nonsense!”   “When a man ditches a woman she gains sympathy; but when a woman dumps a man he becomes a laughing stock, a subject of ridicule.”   “So?”   “That’s why you ran away from
Bangalore after spreading stories all around that you were the one who had split up with her, when actually it was Leena who had dumped you unceremoniously,” the woman jeers loudly.
  “Talk softly,” the man says.   “Why? Afraid of the truth, is it?”   “I told you it’s not true. We had our differences. And I wanted a change of job.”   “You know why she dumped you? Because you are a bloody ‘loser’. A born loser!”   “Who told you that?”   “She did. I’ll never forget what she told me. Anil, you want to hear Leena’s exact words about you: quote ‘Anil is a born loser who is content to wallow in the gutter and see others climb mountains’ unquote. That’s why she left you. She didn’t want to ruin her life with you – a man with no future, a namby-pamby who has no ambition, no drive – a good for nothing geek.”   “Namby-pamby! Good for nothing geek?”   “That’s what she told me.”   “She told you? When? Where?”   “Last year. In
Hyderabad. During this same annual IT Seminar. She’d flown down from the States. She even presented a paper – I’m sure it was plagiarized from something you had written or from the notes you kept giving her about your work and research.”
  “I’m not interested!”   “Leena is real smart – a real scheming bitch. Mesmerizes you with her wily charms, uses you and then jettisons you, just throws you away when she’s got what she’s wanted. Like toilet paper! Or you know what?” the woman starts giggling; “She treated you like a sanitary napkin! Use and throw straight into the dustbin.”   “Shut up, will you?” the man shouts angrily, “Let’s go now. You’re drunk.”   “I still remember our
Bangalore days when you used to grovel at her feet, your tongue drooling like a lapdog. And now look where she’s reached – the hot shot CEO of a top IT company while you wallow in your self-made misery as a Nobody in some nondescript place.”
  “Please, Nanda! Let’s go,” the man says exasperated.   But the woman is in no mood to go, ignores him, and continues talking loudly: “Leena is smart! She told me she’d managed to hook some NRI Head Honcho. He’s an American citizen too. Her life is made!”   “Maybe, she’ll use him and dump him too!” the man says sardonically.   “Hey! You’ve accepted it! You’ve accepted that she dumped you. I was right! That calls for a drink.”   “No. You’ve already had three big bottles of beer.”   “Who’s counting?” the woman says happily, lurching from her seat, “Okay. If I’ve had too much beer, now I’ll have whisky!” She picks up the man’s glass, drinks it bottoms up in one go, and exclaims at the top of her voice: “Cheers! Down the hatch!”   “What’s wrong with you?” the man scolds her. Don’t you know, “Beer and whisky – it’s risky.”   “And frisky! I want to feel frisky.”   “You mustn’t drink so much.”   “Why?”   “Someone may take advantage of you!”   “Ha! Maybe I want to be taken advantage of? Come, take advantage of me,” she says loudly and snuggles up to him, “Come on, Lovey-dovey. Cuddle me. Do something naughty to me, like you used to do to Leena. Remember…”   “Shut up. Someone will hear!”   “Come on sweetie-pie,” the Nanda says snuggling even closer, “No one will see, no one will hear. We are all alone. There is no one here!”   “There is,” Anil whispers gravely, noticing the solitary figure in the shadows for the first time. He moves close to Nanda and whispers into her ear, “Don’t look behind you.”   “Where?” she shouts in surprise and turns around. She sees the silhouette of the man and brazenly calls out to him, “Hey Mr. Eavesdropper! Come, why don’t you join us?”   “Thanks. But it’s okay. I’m fine here,” the stranger says.   “No! No! Come on. Have a drink with us. Don’t be a snob!” the woman shouts drunkenly, tries to get up and reels towards him, and seeing her swaying and lurching in an inebriated manner, the stranger quickly joins them, pulling up a chair opposite the sofa.   “I hope we have not been disturbing you,” Anil says, “We’re sorry. We thought we were all alone in the bar.”   “Not at all!” the stranger says, “in fact, I’ve been enjoying your banter.”   “Good. That calls for a drink!” the woman says.   “Certainly. My pleasure! The drink is on me,” the stranger says. 

“That’s the spirit,” Nanda roars.   “Nanda. Please. I think we’ve had enough,” Anil pleads.   “I insist,” the stranger says, “just one last drink.”   “Just one last drink!” Nanda repeats drunkenly, “and then the real surprise!”   “Surprise?” Anil asks.   “We’ll all go and wake up Leena!”   “What? Leena? She’s here? In Mussoorie?” Anil asks incredulously.   “Yes, my dear. She’s coming for the seminar too. She must have arrived in the evening when we had gone out for our romantic walk to Lal Tibba.”   “How do you know?”   “E-mail! I was the one who called her for this seminar.”   “You didn’t tell me!”   “Of course not! And I didn’t tell her that I had called you here either. I don’t want to be a killjoy!”  “I’m going back!” Anil says.   “You still desperately love her, don’t you? After all that she’s done to you; destroyed you. You’re scared of her aren’t you?”   “No.”   “Then why are you afraid of facing her? Come on, Anil, be a man! Ask her why she dumped you so unceremoniously. Leena owes you a bloody explanation, doesn’t she?” Nanda says. She pulls Anil’s hand and lurches towards the entrance, “Come. We’ll go to the reception and find out in which room Leena is staying.”   “She’s in room 406,” the stranger says wryly.   “How do you know?” Nanda asks wide-eyed, trying to focus on the stranger.   “I’m Leena’s husband,” the stranger says matter-of-factly. He keeps his glass on the table and silently walks out of the bar.           VIKRAM KARVE Copyright 2006 Vikram Karvehttp://vikramkarve.sulekha.comvikramkarve@hotmail.comvikramkarve@sify.com

IIT JEE – an unfinished story

May 17, 2007

IIT JEE

[An unfinished story] by 

VIKRAM KARVE

Sunday. The 8th of April 2007. The date of the IIT-JEE. 

IIT-JEE. You know what it is, don’t you? You don’t? I’m surprised! Maybe you are an “Arts” type, or on your own trip! Okay, I’ll tell you. IIT-JEE is the Joint Entrance Examination for entrance to the Indian Institutes of Technology, the most prestigious BENCO, MIMMET AND TECHNO – unique pioneering engineering and technology learning institutions of India, with a rich heritage and matchless tradition of excellence, located at Banaras, the temple of learning, now amalgamated and synergized into what they call ITBHU, Varanasi.  

Now-a-days, the IIT-JEE is a simple one-day affair – two composite three-hour papers for which you just need a pencil to mark off the answers. Way back then, in the scorching summer of 1972, it was a two-day grind, on the 4th and 5th of May, the height of summer, in the dilapidated drawing hall of the COEP, which vibrated and reverberated every time a train thundered close by on the adjoining tracks from Pune to Shivajinagar. Four papers, three hours each, two a day, in English, Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry, analytical and subjective, and you thought and thought, and wrote and wrote, till your fingers ached, your brain went blank, and you collapsed in agony with the sheer mental and physical exhaustion of it all.  That was the time when education, even at an IIT, meant something much more than mere utility value, and it was not primarily the mind-boggling money-spinning placements that benchmarked an academic institution but there were multifarious quality and heritage factors by which a place of learning would be judged.    

Then, we all lived in Madiwale Colony, a lovely place in the premier middle class locality of Sadashiv Peth of Pune. Life was good. It was easy to be happy as our threshold of happiness was so low that it was quite readily achievable. A morning run up Parvati, a stroll in Talyatla Ganpati Saras Baug Garden, enjoying the frolics of animals in the Peshwe Park Zoo, a ride in the toy-train Phulrani , unrestrained playing with carefree abandon on the swings, see-saws and slides in adjoining park, a yummy bhel made by the hugely bearded Kalpana Bhelwala, a cream-roll or doughnut at Ashok Bakery, Patties, Nankatai and Khari at Hindustan Bakery, Ice Cream at Bua – so many things to do – and once in a while, we would bicycle down Camp to partake the inimitable non-veg samosas and tea at Naaz, Chinese at Kamling, Paan at George and enjoy a Hollywood Movie and Ice Cream Soda at West End. And for the more adventurous, it was rumored that there was a hush-hush cabaret in the posh hotel across the road. [Needless to say, yours truly was certainly not an adventurous type!] Most parents with bright sons had but one ambition – their son should get into an IIT. And there he would strive for a nine point CGPA – a passport to the “land of opportunity” – for higher studies in a good university – the   best way for a middle-class boy to go abroad. And then he would find a suitable groom for his sister there, so she could follow.  

My neighbor was a bright boy – in fact, he was the only child of his ambitious parents. And his parents were desperate, they left no stone unturned, to ensure that their son successfully cleared the IIT-JEE and got the course he wanted in the IIT of his choice. And the son did indeed make the parents proud – he got a top-notch IIT-JEE rank, later topped in IIT too, and achieved the dream of flying off across the oceans to pursue higher studies  Hey, why am I telling you all this and boring you to death? Permit me to elucidate. This is a story I didn’t want to write, I didn’t want to tell you. But on the 8th of April this year, something happened. A couple and their only son visited us. During the lunch break between the two papers of the IIT-JEE. They knocked on our door to enable their only child, on whom they had pinned all their hopes, to freshen up and prepare for the second paper in his exam-center nearby. They talked, and I realized how desperate they were to get their son into IIT, how they had staked everything, material, emotional, their hopes, for achieving their dream. I looked at the couple in front of me who were in almost a do or die situation for their son’s success –totally frantic parents whose burning life’s ambition was to get their one and only son into an IIT. Just like our neighbors in Madiwale colony. Memories revived. Something triggered in my mind, a stimulus, and suddenly I wanted to tell them this story. I didn’t. When you read it you’ll know why. But I’m not going to tell it to you right now, for it’s quite late in the night, I’m feeling quite tired and want to go off to sleep. So, Dear Reader, please bear with me and wait a while. Let’s hope I can finish this unfinished story soon, right here, in my blog!  

VIKRAM KARVE

  

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

  vikramkarve@sify.com 

Tension – a fiction short story by Vikram Karve

May 15, 2007

TENSION 

By 

VIKRAM KARVE 

 

 

 

As the sun begins to set, the tension begins to rise in the Patwardhan household. 

  

Why? 

  

Because it’s time for Mr. Patwardhan to come home from work. 

  

Funny! Isn’t it? The family should be happy when the breadwinner returns home from work. They should be eagerly awaiting his arrival. 

  

You are right. That was how it used to be earlier. But now it’s different. Every evening is hell, a torturous ordeal, for the wife, daughter and son; as they anxiously wait for Mr. Patwardhan to come home. 

  

Why? What happened? 

  

It’s sad. Every evening, after work, Mr. Patwardhan goes straight to a bar, and comes home drunk. The way he is drinking now-a-days, it won’t be long before he becomes an alcoholic. 

  

Come, let’s go and see what happens tonight.  

  

Where? 

  

To the chawl tenement in Girgaum where Patwardhan lives. 

  

Look how it is built. Four storeys. Common balcony with a row of ten one-room households on each floor. The balconies afford a good view of the entrance and the main road, so everyone stands there in the evening enjoying the happenings, the comings and goings – that’s the main source of entertainment here. And when it gets dark, they all go in and watch the soaps on cable TV. 

  

And now-a-days, the arrival of the sozzled Mr. Patwardhan, his drunken antics, are the highlight, the event of the evening, eagerly awaited by all, except the Patwardhan family who wait in frightful trepidation, wishing it would be over fast. 

  

Look. 

  

Where? 

  

The second floor balcony. Do you see two ladies in the center? 

  

Yes. 

  

The one on the left, in the red sari – she’s Mrs. Patwardhan. 

  

And the other? 

  

Mrs. Joshi. Patwardhan’s neighbour. She’s lucky. Her husband is doing well. Sober, successful. Her children are bright. They may even move out of this place to a flat in Dombivli or the western suburbs of Mumbai if all goes well. 

  

Let’s go and see what they are talking. 

  

“Where are your kids? I can’t see them playing below,” asks Mrs. Joshi. 

  

“Avinash is inside, studying. He’s become such an introvert. The boys jeer at him, taunt him, because of his father; so he’s stopped playing with them.” 

  

“It’s cruel!” 

  

“Yes. He’s become so silent. And his eyes! I’m scared of the hate in his eyes.” 

  

“It’ll be okay. Just give him time. At least he’s doing well in his studies.” 

  

“Yes. But I’m more worried about Radhika. She’s just 14, and behaves as if she were 18, or even 20. Poor thing. From a child, she has straight away become a mature woman, because of all this. It’s so sad; she must be suffering terribly inside,” Mrs. Patwardhan says as tears well up in her eyes. 

  

“Don’t cry,” Mrs. Joshi says, “everything will be all right.” 

  

Suddenly, there is a commotion. Mr. Patwardhan has arrived. Totally drunk. Swinging from side to side, so unsteady on his feet that he is barely able to walk. He stumbles on first step of the staircase and falls. His daughter, Radhika, appears from nowhere and tries to lift him. Mrs. Patwardhan rushes down the staircase. Soon, both mother and daughter haul him up the staircase. 

  

Mrs. Joshi stands transfixed, not knowing what to do. Her husband comes out of the house, looks at the scene, mutters: “disgraceful” and takes Mrs. Joshi inside. Words cannot describe the emotion of shame, humiliation, helplessness and anger Mrs. Patwardhan experiences at that moment. 

  

A few hours later, Mrs. Patwardhan sleeps like a log; her tension dissipated. The day is over. Tomorrow is a new day. She’ll be up in the morning, busy with her chores and work, and everything will be okay. It’s only in the evening, when the sun begins to set, that the tension will begin to rise within her once again. 

  

Next door, Mrs. Joshi pretends she is fast asleep. Though her eyes are closed, in her mind’s eye she can clearly visualize her husband’s surreptitiously silent movements as he ‘makes sure’ everyone is asleep, stealthily closes the door and sneaks out of the house in a furtive manner. 

  

And as she lies desolately on her barren bed in self-commiseration, feeling betrayed and overcome by a sense of helplessness, and deeply suffers her terrible sorrow in secret silence; there is just one thought in her mind: “Her neighbor is luckier than her. It is better to be the wife of a drunkard than be a wife of a womanizer”. 

  

Mrs. Joshi thinks of Mrs. Patwardhan with envious sympathy. She has nothing to hide and can share her stigma with everyone. But Mrs. Joshi – she has to bear her grief all alone. And then, as the night advances, the tension begins to rise within her. And it will never dissipate; it will just keep on increasing till one day something snaps within her. 

  

I think I agree with Mrs. Joshi. The public shame Mrs. Patwardhan suffers is bad enough, many make fun of her, humiliate her, but some do sympathize with her. 

  

It is Mrs. Joshi who I really pity, as she suffers her private ignominy in secret; dying a hundred deaths inside, while keeping up a façade, a pretense, that everything is fine on the outside. Secret sorrow is worse than public humiliation – there is always the fear of your secret being found out! 

  

  

Dear Reader. Do you agree? What do you think? Do let me know. 

  

  

  

VIKRAM KARVE  

Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve 

 vikramkarve@sify.com 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com