Archive for the ‘itbhu’ Category

QUALITY TIME

July 10, 2007

QUALITY TIME

(A fictional short “love” story)

 

by

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

 

 

 

At exactly 8 PM her cell-phone rings in her hand. She’s expecting the call – that’s why she’s holding the cell-phone in her hand. She looks at the caller-id, accepts the call, moves the mobile phone near her ear and says, “I love you, darling!”

 

“I love you, Sugar!” says her husband’s voice from half way around the globe. On his bed beside him, sprawled with arms and legs outstretched like a fallen statue, the woman is still asleep, her breathing untroubled.

 

It’s a long distance marriage, and the ‘married bachelors’ have been following the same drill for quite some time now – two calls every day at exactly the same time (Eight in the morning she calls him up just before leaving for work and eight in the evening she receives his call from half way across the globe just before he leaves for work). And both of them start their conversation automatically with the words: “I love you, darling! Or, I love you, Sugar!” He’s her ‘darling’ and she’s his ‘Sugar’!)

 

“How was your day?” the husband asks.

 

“Hectic. Lot’s of work. Deadlines!” the wife answers. She steals a glance at the handsome young man sitting beside her in the darkened lounge bar.

 

“It’s terrible here too,” the husband  says. “It’s killing, the work. Too much traveling. Sales meets, seminars, conferences. One hotel to another. Living out of a suitcase. I’m feeling exhausted.”

 

It’s true. The husband is indeed feeling exhausted; a relaxing, satiating kind of exhaustion. He gets up and opens the window and allows the early morning air to cool his body, then turns around and looks at the marvelous body of the woman on his bed. She looks lovelier than ever before, and as he remembers the ferocity of her lovemaking, he feels waves of desire rise within him. Not for a long time has the mere sight of a woman aroused the lion in him to such an extent. He smiles to himself. He feels proud and elated; it was a grand performance. Spontaneous lovemaking at its best; not like the planned and contrived “quality” lovemaking with his wife, full of performance anxiety, each performing for the other’s gratification, and both faking pleasure thinking the other would not know.

 

“Yes, darling. Poor you. I can understand,” the wife says, and sips her potent cocktail. It’s her third. She wonders what it is – the mysterious but deadly intoxicating cocktails her companion is plying her with, and she is feeling gloriously high.

 

“I’m just waiting for this hectic spell of work to be over so we can meet,” the husband says. He sits on the edge of the bed and looks at the sleeping woman. Mesmerized, marveling. It is difficult to believe that in a few hours from now they would be addressing each other formally again.

 

“Oh, yes. It’s been three months and I’m dying to meet you. When are we meeting?” the wife asks.

 

“I’m planning a fantastic vacation. I’ll let you know soon. We’ll go to some exotic place. Just the two of us. Quality Time!” the husband says to his wife, looking yearningly at the gorgeously sexy woman on his bed.

 

“That’s great! We must spend some Quality Time together.” the wife says, snuggling against her strikingly handsome colleague. He presses his knee against hers. She presses hers against his. He moves his hand around her over her soft skin and pulls her gently. She feels an inchoate desire. He gently strokes her hair, and she turns towards him, her mouth partly open as he leans over her.  Fuelled by the alcohol in her veins, she can sense the want churning inside her like fire. And as she looks into his eyes, and feels the intensity of his caresses, she can sense her resistance melting.

 

“I love you, Sugar!” the husband says.

 

“I love you, darling!” the wife says.

 

Their lovey-dovey conversation completed, both of them disconnect their cell-phones. And carry on with renewed zeal their passionate amorous activity presently in hand. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush!

 

I’ve heard somewhere: ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder – for someone else’.

 

Married, yet bachelors! Forced distance and unnatural loneliness – for too long. It does take its toll, doesn’t it?

 

And what about the so-called much touted buzzword ‘Quality Time’?

 

There’s no doubt about it!

 

It’s Quality Time that sustains and nourishes long distance marriages.

 

Yes. Quality Time!

 

Quality Time – with someone else!

 

 

Dear Reader, do you agree? Or, don’t you?

 

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve

 

vikramkarve@sify.com

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom

July 9, 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 JehangirArtGallery. 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 story

by

VIKRAM KARVE

 

Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve

   

http://www.ryze.com/go/karve

   

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

   

vikramkarve@sify.com

Lovedale to Coonoor – Don’t Delve Too Much

July 5, 2007

DON’T DELVE TOO MUCH

(a fiction short story)

By

VIKRAM KARVE

            The moment I see Muthu, the office-boy, standing at the door of the class room I feel a familiar fear. I close my eyes and try to concentrate on Ms Bhalla who is reading aloud with dramatic effect Ruskin Bond’s story ‘The Woman on Platform 8’. It’s a moving story about a brief encounter between a woman and a motherless boy.

            I love short stories, especially Ruskin Bond, and Ms Bhalla is my favorite teacher. But it’s no use. I can’t hear a word she is saying.

            I open my eyes. Ms Bhalla is in a world of her own, reading away, book in her left hand and making gestures with her right. She hasn’t noticed Muthu, or the fact that almost everyone in the class are looking at him and not at her. So thoroughly is she absorbed in herself and so totally is she oblivious of her surroundings that no one dare disturb her.

            “………..I watched her until she was lost in the milling crowd,” Ms Bhalla ends the story with a flourish and looks at us triumphantly only to discover that most of her students are looking towards the door. Her expression starts changing.

            Before she gets angry someone says, “It is Muthu, ma’am.”

            Ms Bhalla glares at poor Muthu who sheepishly walks in and gives her the chit he is holding in his hand.

            I look down into my notebook trying to keep my mind blank, but even without seeing I know that Ms Bhalla is looking at me. “Shanta, go to the principal’s office,” she says, “and take your bag with you.”

            Take my bag with me? I feel scared, anxious. I hope it’s not too serious.

            “Must be a big binge this time,” I hear Rita’s voice behind me. Tears start to well up in my eyes. Rita is from such a happy family. Why is she so mean and nasty?

            I’m about to break down when I feel Lata’s reassuring hand on my wrist, “Let’s go, Shanta. I’ll bring your bag.”

            We walk through the silent corridors. Our school is located in one of those ancient castle type buildings – cold, dark and gloomy.

            “I shouldn’t have left him alone last night,” I say.

            “I feel so sad for uncle,” Lata says.

            “Whenever I’m there with him, he’s okay and controls himself. He loves me so much. I’m the only one he’s got in this world – after mummy died.”

            “He was improving so much and looked so good last weekend,” Lata says.

          Lata is my true friend who I can open my heart to. The others – they watch from a distance. With pity. And a few like Rita with an evil delight at my misfortune.

            “Something must have happened yesterday,” I say. “I wish I had gone home last night. It’s in the evenings that he needs me the most.”

            “Shanta, you want me to come,” Lata asks.

            “Yes,” I say. I really need some moral support. Facing the cruel world all alone. I can’t bear it any longer.

            Ms David, our class-teacher, is standing outside the principal’s office. I follow her in.

            I nervously enter the principal’s office. The principal, Mrs. Nathan, is talking to a lady sitting opposite her. Noticing me she says, “Ah, Shanta. You daddy’s not well again. He’s admitted in the clinic again. You take the ten o’clock shuttle. And ring me up if you want anything.”

            “Can I go with her?” Lata asks.

            “You go back to class,” the principal says sternly, “you’ve got a mathematics test at 10 o’clock haven’t you?”

            “Please Miss,” Lata pleads with Ms David, our class teacher, but Ms David says, “Lata you are in the ninth standard now. Be serious about your studies. And today afternoon is the basketball final. How can you be absent?”

            I feel pain in the interiors of my mind. No one ever tells me to be serious about studies; or even sports.

            Lata gives me my school-bag and leaves quickly.

            Mrs Nathan takes off her glasses and looks at me. There is compassion in her eyes. “Be brave, Shanta,” she says. “This is Ms Pushpa – an ex-student of our school.”

            “Good morning, ma’am,” I say.

            “Hello, Shanta.” Ms Pushpa says. “I’m also taking the train to Coonoor. We’ll travel together.”

            As we leave the principal’s office I can feel the piercing looks of pity burning into me. The teachers, the staff, even the gardener. Everyone knows. And they know that I know that they know. Morose faces creased with lines of compassion. The atmosphere of pity. The deafening silence. It’s grotesque, terrible. I just want to get away from the place. These people – they just don’t understand that I want empathy; not sympathy.

            I walk with Ms Pushpa taking the short-cut to Lovedale railway station. It’s cold, damp and the smell of eucalyptus fills my nostrils. A typical winter morning in the Nilgiris.

            I look at Ms Pushpa. She looks so chic. Blue jeans, bright red pullover, fair creamy flawless complexion, jet-black hair neatly tied in a bun, dark Ray-Ban sunglasses of the latest style. A good-looking woman with smart feminine features. Elegant. Fashionable. Well groomed.

            We walk in silence. I wait for her to start the conversation. I don’t know how much she knows.

            “You’re in Rose house, aren’t you?” she asks looking at the crest on my blazer.

            Polite conversation. Asking a question to which you already know the answer! 

          “Yes ma’am,” I answer.

          “I too was in Rose house,” she says.

          “When did you pass out, ma’am ?” I ask.

          “1987,” she says.

            I do a quick mental calculation. She must be in her mid-thirties. 35, maybe. She certainly looks young for her age. And very beautiful.

            We cross the tracks and reach the solitary platform of the lonely Lovedale railway station.

            “Let me buy your ticket. You’re going to Coonoor aren’t you?” she asks.

            “Thank you ma’am. I’ve got a season ticket,” I say.

            “Season ticket?” she asked surprised.

            “I’m a day scholar, ma’am. I travel every day from Coonoor,” I say.

            “Oh! In our time it was strictly a boarding school,” she says.

            “Even now ma’am,” I say. “I’ve got special permission. My father doesn’t keep well. I have to look after him.”           

            “Oh, yes,” she says, and walks towards the deserted booking window.

            Lovedale is the most picturesque railway station on the Nilgiri mountain railway but today it looks gloomy, desolate. One has to be happy inside for things to look beautiful outside.

            She returns with her ticket and we sit on the solitary bench.

            “Where do you stay ma’am ?” I ask.

            “Bangalore,” she says. “You’ve been there?”

            “Yes”

            “Often?”

            “Only once. Last month. For my father’s treatment,” I say.           

            She asks the question I’m waiting for, “Shanta. Tell me. Your father? What’s wrong with him? What’s he suffering from?”

            I’ve never really understood why people ask me this question to which I suspect they already know the answer. Each probably has their own reason. Curiosity, lip-sympathy, genuine concern, sadistic pleasure! At first I used to feel embarrassed, try to cover up, mask, give all sorts of explanations. But now I have learnt that it is best to be blunt and straightforward.

            “He’s an alcoholic,” I say.

           Most people shut up after this. Or change the topic of conversation. But Ms Pushpa pursues, “It must be terrible living with him. He must be getting violent?”            

            “No,” I say. “With me papa is very gentle. He loves me a lot.”

            Tears well up in my eyes and my nose feels heavy. I take out my handkerchief. I feel her comforting arm around my shoulder and know her concern is genuine.

            Suddenly the station bell rings, I hear the whistle and the blue mountain train streams into the platform. They still use steam engines here on the Nilgiri mountain railway. The train is almost empty. It’s off-season, there are no tourists, and in any case this train is never crowded as it returns to Coonoor after transporting all the office-goers to Ooty.

            We sit opposite each other in an empty compartment. She still hasn’t taken off her dark sunglasses even though it is overcast and it begins to drizzle.

            She looks at her watch. I look at mine. 10 AM. Half-an-hour’s journey to Coonoor.

            “You came today morning, ma’am?” I ask.

            “No. Last evening. I stayed with Monica David. Your class teacher. We were classmates.”

            What a difference. Miss David is so schoolmarmish. And Ms Pushpa so mod and chic. But I better be careful what I say. After all, classmates are classmates.

            The train begins its journey and soon Ketti valley comes into view.

            “There used to be orchards down there. Now there are buildings,” she says.

            “You’ve come after a long time?” I ask.

            “Yes. It’s been almost eighteen years. I am returning here the first time since I passed out,” she says.

            “For some work? Children’s admission?”

            “No, No,” she bursts out laughing, “I’m single. Happily unmarried.”

            “I’m sorry,” I say, contrite.

            “Come on, Shanta. It’s Okay,” she says. “I’ve come for some work in Coonoor. Just visited the school for old times’ sake.”

            “You must come during Founder’s day. You’ll meet everyone,” I say.

            “Yes,” she says. “All these years I was abroad. America, Singapore, Manila, Europe. Now that I’m in Bangalore, I’ll definitely make it.”

            “You work?” I ask.

            “Yes. In an MNC.”

            She must be an MBA from a top business school. Like IIM. Or maybe even Harvard. Wish I could be like her. Independent. Smart. Elegant. Successful. I certainly have the talent. But what about papa? Who will look after him?

            I try not to think of the future. It all looks so bleak, uncertain. Better not think of it. I don’t even know what awaits me at the clinic. Just a few minutes more. It’s unbearable – the tension. Why do I have to go through all this?

            She’s looking out of the window. It’s grey and cold. Dark clouds. But she still wears her dark sunglasses. Hasn’t taken them off even once.

            Suddenly we enter the Ketti tunnel. It’s pitch dark. The smell of steam and smoke. It’s warm. Comforting. I close my eyes.

            The train whistles. Slows down. I open my eyes. She’s still wearing dark glasses. Maybe she too has something to hide. And me. What I want to hide, everyone knows; but makes a pretence of not knowing. At least in my presence.

            The train stops at Ketti. On the platform there is a group of girls, my age. They are in a jovial mood; giggling, eyes dancing, faces beaming, so carefree and happy. Their happiness hurts me deep down in my heart.

            The girls don’t get in. Dressed in track-suits, and Ketti valley school blazers, they are probably waiting for the up train to Ooty which crosses here. Must be going for the basketball match.

            A girl with a familiar face walks up to me with her friend.

            “Not playing?” she asks.

            “No,” I say.

            “I wish we knew. We wouldn’t have gone so early to practice,” she says.

            “Who’s captaining?” her friend asks.

            “Lata maybe. I don’t know,” I say.

            “Where are you going?”

            “Coonoor.”

            “Coonoor?”

            “My father’s in hospital. He’s not well.”

            “Oh! Hope he gets well soon. Okay bye.”

            The girls walk away whispering to each other. And I hear the hushed voice of the one I’ve met for the first time, “Poor thing.”

            “Poor thing.” The words pierce through my heart. “Poor thing.” The words echo in the interiors of my mind. “Poor thing!” “Poor thing!” “Poor thing!” The resonance is deafening. I feel I’m going mad. I feel Ms Pushpa’s hand on mine. A slight pressure. Comforting.

            The up train comes, the girls get in, and train leaves towards Ooty.

            Our engine’s whistle shrieks, our train starts moving. Outside it starts to rain. We close the windows. The smallness of the compartment forces us into a strange intimacy.

            “I’ll come with you to the hospital,” Ms Pushpa says.

            I know she means well, but nowadays I hate to depend on the kindness of strangers; so I reply, “Thank you ma’am, but I’ll manage. I’m used to it.”

            “Is your father often like this?” she asks.

            Why is she asking me all this? It seems genuine compassion. Or maybe she has her own troubles and talking to even more troubled people like me makes her own troubles go away.

            I decide to give her every thing in one go. “When I am there he’s okay. Controls himself. He loves me more than his drink. Last night I stayed at the hostel to study for a test. And he must have felt lonely and hit the bottle. I shouldn’t have left him alone. After mummy’s gone I am the only one he’s got, and he’s the only one I’ve got.” I pause and I say, “He was improving so much. Something must have happened last evening. Something disturbing! He must have got upset – really badly upset.”

            “I’m so sorry,” she says. Her tone is apologetic as if she were responsible in some way.

            “Why should you feel sorry, ma’am. It’s my fate. I’ve to just find out what’s upset him. And see it doesn’t happen again. Maybe somebody visited him, passed some hurting remark. He’s very sensitive.”

            Her expression changes slightly. She winces. “Does he tell you everything?” she asks.

            “Of course he tells me everything,” I say, “There are no secrets between us. I’m his best friend.”

            “I wish I could help you in some way,” she says.

            I don’t say anything. I close my eyes. What a fool I have been, I’ve told her everything. And I know nothing about her. Not even the color of her eyes – she hasn’t even once taken off her dark sunglasses, like someone who’s blind. How cleverly she’s manipulated the conversation. Maybe people who are happy and successful feel good listening to other people’s sorrows.

            I feel stifled. I open my eyes and the window. A shrill whistle and we pass through a gorge. Noise, steam, smoke, and suddenly it becomes sunny and the train begins to slow down. 

            “We’ve reached,” I say. We get down on the platform at Coonoor.

            “I’ll come with you,” she says.           

            “Thanks. But it’s okay. I’ll go by myself.”

            “Sure?”

            “I’m sure, thanks.”      

             Ms Pushpa takes off her dark sunglasses and looks at me. I see her eyes for the first time. A shiver passes through me as I look into her eyes. They are greenish-grey. She’s got cat-eyes. Exactly like mine.

            Suddenly she takes me in her arms and hugs me in a tight embrace.

            Stunned, I struggle, feeling acutely uncomfortable.

            She releases me and I just stand there feeling numb, confused.

            The whistle shrieks. I come to my senses. Look up at her. Her eyes are red and tears flow down her cheeks.

            Suddenly she puts on her sunglasses, turns and walks away.

            As I walk towards the hospital I think about my brief encounter with Ms Pushpa, her rather strange behaviour. It’s certainly not one of those hail fellow – well met types of time-pass conversations between co-passengers. But suddenly she’s gone and I don’t know anything about her. She hasn’t even given me her card, address, phone, nothing. It all happened so fast.

           I reach the clinic. Well laid-out. Neat. Spick and span. Anesthetic smell. An air of discipline. I walk through the corridor. I know where to go.

            “Yes?” a voice says from behind.

            I turn around. It’s a matron. I’ve never seen her before. Her eyes are hard, pitiless.

            I tell her who I am. Her expression changes. Lines of compassion begin to crease her face. But still, her face has something terrible written on it.

            I smile. I have learnt to smile even when I feel like weeping.

            I enter the room. Papa is lying on the solitary bed. He looks okay. His eyes are closed.

            “Papa,” I say softly.

            He opens his eyes. “Shanta! Come to me,” he says. I rush to his bed. He hugs me tightly, “Don’t go Shanta. Don’t leave me and go away,” he cries.

            “Don’t cry papa. I’ll always be with you. I’ll never leave you alone again,” I say, tears rolling down my checks.

            We both cry copiously. Time stands still. I sense the presence of people in the room. Apart from the matron, there is the comforting face of Dr. Ghosh and a young doctor in white coat, stethoscope around his neck.

            “Can I take him?” I ask.

            “Of course,” Dr. Ghosh says.” He’s okay now.”

            “But sir,” the young doctor protests and says, “He’s hallucinating….”

            “It’s okay,” Dr. Ghosh interrupts giving him a sharp look. “Shanta knows how to look after him; like a mother. Isn’t it Shanta?”

            “Yes,” I say.           

            Papa gives sheepish look. That’s what I like about Dr. Ghosh. The way he gets his message across. There is no need for him to reprimand papa. Especially in front of me. My papa’s own remorse is his own worst reprimand.

            We talk in silence. I don’t ask him any thing. He’ll tell me when he wants to.

            “You’re hungry?” he asks.

            “Yes,” I say. It’s almost noon.

            Soon we sit at the Garden Restaurant overlooking Sim’s Park. He takes his hands out of the overcoat pockets and picks up the menu card. His hands tremble. DT. Delirium Tremens. Withdrawal symptoms. Must have had a prolonged bout of drinking last night. I know what to do. Just in case. I don’t want him to turn cold turkey. 

            “Papa, you order,” I say and pick up my school bag and briskly walk across the road to the wine shop. On seeing me the owner puts a small bottle of brandy in a brown paper bag and gives it to me. I put in my school bag. No words are exchanged. No permit is required. It doesn’t matter that I’m a 14 year old schoolgirl. He knows. Everyone knows. Pity. Compassion.

            But I know that unseen eyes see, and tongues I cannot hear will wag.

            The silence. It’s grotesque. Deafening. Unbearable.

            As I give him a fifty-rupee note, the owner asks, “Saab – I hope he’s okay.”

            I nod. I don’t seem to have a private life anymore. Unsolicited sympathy is a burden I find difficult to carry nowadays.

            Papa has ordered Chinese food. My favorite. He has a nip of brandy. His hands become steady. We start eating.

            “She wants to take you away from me,” he says.

            “Who wants take me away? I don’t understand,” I say perplexed.

            “Yes. She’s going to take you away. She came last evening.”

            “Who?”

            “Your mother.”

            I feel a strange sensation in my stomach. The food becomes tasteless in my mouth. It seems he’s reached the final stage. Hallucinations. Loneliness. Driving him insane. He’s seeing images of mummy now. The point of no return. Fear drills into my vitals.

            “Please papa. Mummy is dead. You’re hallucinating again.” I say.

            “She came last evening. Wanted your custody.”

            “Custody? What are you talking?”

            “Yes. She wants to take you away from me.”

            “Who?”

            “Your birthmother.”

            “Birthmother?”

            “Yes.”

            “But mummy?”

            “Don’t delve too much.”

            In the evening we sit on the lawns of the club waiting for my birthmother. I feel like a volcano about to erupt. Daddy sits with his head in his hands; nervous, scared. Dr. Ghosh looks away into the distance, as if he’s in our group but not a part of it. I wonder what’s his role in all this.

            And opposite me is that hideous woman with suspiciously black hair. Mrs. Murthy. The social worker from the child welfare department.

            Social work indeed! Removing adopted children from happy homes and forcibly returning them to their biological parents who had abandoned them in the first place.

            And this birthmother of mine. I hate her without even knowing her. First she abandons me. And then after fourteen long years she emerges from nowhere with an overflowing love and concern for me. ‘My papa is a dangerous man,’ she decides. It’s unsafe for me to live with him. So she wants to take me away into the unknown.

            “Don’t worry,” Mrs. Murthy the social worker says,” Everything will be okay.”

            Yes. Everything will be okay. Papa will land up in an asylum. I’ll be condemned to spend the rest of my life with a woman I hate. Our lives will be ruined. Great social service will be done. Yes. Everything will be okay.

            Papa is silent. Scared. He’s been warmed by Dr. Ghosh. No outbursts. It’ll only worsen the case.

            And me. I’m only a minor. They’ll decide what is good for me. Of course they’ll take my views into consideration. I can see my world disintegrating in front of me.

            We sit in silence. Six-thirty. Seven. The longest half-hour of my life.

            “She said she’ll be here at six-thirty sharp,” Mrs. Murthy says, “I’ll check up.” She pulls out her cell phone. Signal’s weak. She walks to the reception.

            We wait. And gradually, a depressing and frightening darkness envelopes.

            Mrs. Murthy returns. There’s urgency in her step. “Her cell phone is switched off. I rang up the hotel,” she says, “It’s strange. She checked out in the afternoon. Hired a taxi to Bangalore. It’s funny. She hasn’t even bothered to leave a message for me.” Mrs. Murthy is disappointed and says angrily, “After all the trouble I have taken. She just goes away without even informing me. She promised she’ll be here at six-thirty sharp.” Looking perturbed, she leaves, promising to check up and let us know.

            After she leaves, Dr. Ghosh says to my father, “Come on. Let’s have a drink.”

            “No,” my papa says,” I don’t need a drink.”

            “Sure?”

            “Absolutely sure.”

            We take leave of Dr. Ghosh and begin walking home.

            “Papa?”

            “Yes.”

            “This woman. My ‘birthmother’. Does she have cat-eyes? Like me?”

            “Don’t delve too much!” Papa says lovingly as he puts his protective arm around me and we walk together into the enveloping darkness. And I can see light in the distance.

VIKRAM KARVE

Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve

vikramkarve@sify.com 
 

vikramkarve@hotmail.com

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com   http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve

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FOOD FOR THOUGHT

June 12, 2007

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

  

By

  

VIKRAM KARVE

     

A renowned Trainer entered a hall to deliver a lecture on Motivation to the employees of a large industrial organization.  To his horror he found that the hall was empty except for a young man seated in the front row.

  

  The Trainer asked him who he was.

  

“I am a Cook in the Industrial Canteen,” said the young man.

  

The Trainer, pondering whether to speak or not, asked the Cook, “You are the only one here. Do you think I should speak or not?”

  

The Cook said to Trainer: “I am a simple man and do not understand these things.  But, if I came into the Dining Hall and saw only one man sitting there, I would certainly give him food.”

  

The Trainer took this to heart and, with full gusto, began to deliver his lecture.  He spoke passionately for over two hours.

  

  Immensely proud after his virtuoso performance, he felt highly elated and wanted his audience to confirm how great his lecture had been.

  

He asked the Cook, “How did you like my lecture?”

   

The simpleton Cook answered, “I told you already that I am a simple man and do not understand these things very well.  However, if I came into the dining hall and found only one man sitting there, I will certainly feed him, but I will not force him to eat the enormous amount of food I have prepared in the kitchen.”

     

VIKRAM KARVE

  

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

  

http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve

  

http://www.ryze.com/go/karve

  vikramkarve@sify.com  

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

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