Archive for the ‘railway’ Category

Lovedale – a short story

August 20, 2007

LOVEDALE

 

(a short story)

 

by

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lovedale. A quaint little station on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway that runs from Mettupalayam in the plains on a breathtaking journey to beautiful Ooty, the Queen of Hill Stations. On Lovedale station there is just one small platform – and on it, towards its southern end, a solitary bench. If you sit on this bench you will see in front of you, beyond the railway track, an undulating valley, covered with eucalyptus trees, and in the distance the silhouette of a huge structure, which looks like a castle, with an impressive clock-tower. In this mighty building is located a famous boarding school – one of the best schools in India. Many such ‘elite’ schools are known more for snob value than academic achievements, but this one is different – it is a prestigious public school famous for its rich heritage and tradition of excellence.

 

 

 

Lovedale, in 1970. That’s all there is in Lovedale – this famous public school, a small tea-estate called Lovedale (from which this place got its name), a tiny post office and, of course, the lonely railway platform with its solitary bench.

 

 

 

It’s a cold damp depressing winter morning, and since the school is closed for winter, the platform is deserted except for two people – yes, just two persons – a woman and a small girl, shivering in the morning mist, sitting on the solitary bench. It’s almost 9 o’clock – time for the morning “toy-train” from the plains carrying tourists via Coonoor to Ooty, the “Queen” of hill-stations, just three kilometers ahead – the end of the line. But this morning the train is late, probably because of the dense fog and the drizzle on the mountain-slopes, and it will be empty – for there are hardly any tourists in this cold and damp winter season.

 

 

 

 “I’m dying to meet mummy. And this stupid train – it’s always late,” the girl says. She is dressed in school uniform – gray blazer, thick gray woolen skirt, navy-blue stockings, freshly polished black shoes, her hair tied smartly in two small plaits with black ribbons.

 

 

 

The woman, 55 – maybe 60, dressed in a white sari with a thick white shawl draped over her shoulder and a white scarf around her head covering her ears, looks lovingly at the girl, softly takes the girl’s hand in her own, and says, “It will come. Look at the weather. The driver can hardly see in this mist. And it must be raining down there in Ketti valley.”

 

 

 

“I hate this place. It’s so cold and lonely. Everyone has gone home for the winter holidays and we have nowhere to go. Why do we have to spend our holidays here every time?”

 

 

 

“You know we can’t stay with her in the hostel.”

 

 

 

“But her training is over now. And she’s become an executive – that’s what she wrote.”

 

 

 

“Yes. Yes. She is an executive now. After two years of tough training. Very creditable; after all that has happened,” the old woman says.

 

 

 

“She has to take us to Mumbai with her now. We can’t stay here any longer. No more excuses now.”

 

 

 

 “Even I don’t want to stay here. It’s cold and I am old. Let your mummy come. This time we’ll tell her to take us all to Mumbai.”

 

 

 

“And we’ll all stay together – like we did before God took Daddy away.”

 

 

 

 “Yes. Mummy will go to work. You will go to school. And I will look after the house and all of you. Just like before.”

 

 

 

“Only Daddy won’t be there. Why did God take Daddy away?” the girl says, tears welling up in her eyes.

 

 

 

 “Don’t think those sad things. We cannot change what has happened. You must be brave – like your mummy,” says the old lady putting her hand softly around the girl. The old lady closes her eyes in sadness.There is no greater pain than to remember happier times when in distress.

 

 

 

Meanwhile the toy-train is meandering its way laboriously round the steep u-curve, desperately pushed by a hissing steam engine, as it leaves Wellington station on its way to Ketti. A man and a woman sit facing each other in the tiny first class compartment. There is no one else.

 

 

 

“You must tell her today,” the man says.

 

 

 

“Yes,” the woman replies softly.

 

 

 

“You should have told her before.”

 

 

 

“When?”

 

 

 

“You could have written, called her up. I told you so many times.”

 

 

 

“How could I be so cruel?”

 

 

 

“Cruel? What’s so cruel about it?”

 

 

 

“I don’t know how she will react. She loved her father very much.”

 

 

 

“Now she will have to love me. I am her new father now.”

 

 

 

“Yes, I know,” the woman says, tears welling up in her eyes. “I don’t know how to tell her; how she’ll take it. I think we should wait for some time. Baby is very sensitive.”

 

 

 

“Baby! Why do you still call her Baby? She is a grown up girl now. You must call her by her real name. Damayanti – what a nice name – and you call her Baby”

 

 

 

“It’s her pet name. Deepak always liked to call her Baby.”

 

 

 

“But I don’t like it! It’s ridiculous,” the man says firmly. “Anyway, all that we can sort out later. But you tell her about us today. Tell both of them.”

 

 

 

“Both of them? My mother-in-law also? What will she feel?”

 

 

 

“She’ll understand.”

 

 

 

“Poor thing. She will be all alone.”

 

 

 

“She’s got her work to keep her busy.”

 

 

 

 “She’s old and weak. I don’t think she’ll be able to do the matron’s job much longer.”

 

 

 

“Let her work till she can. At least it will keep her occupied. Then we’ll see.”

 

 

 

“Can’t we take her with us?”

 

 

 

“You know it’s not possible.”

 

 

 

“It’s so sad. She was so good to me. Where will she go? We can’t abandon her just like that!”

 

 

 

“Abandon? Nobody is abandoning her. Don’t worry. If she doesn’t want to stay on here, I’ll arrange something – I know an excellent place near Lonavala. She will be very comfortable there – it’s an ideal place for senior citizens like her.”

 

 

 

“An Old Age Home?”

 

 

 

“Call it what you want but actually it’s quite a luxurious place. She’ll be happy there. I’ve already spoken to them. Let her continue here till she can. Then we’ll shift her there.”

 

 

 

“How cruel? She was so loving and good to me, treated me like her own daughter, and looked after Baby, when we were devastated. And now we discard her when she needs us most,” the woman says, and starts sobbing.

 

 

 

“Come on Kavita. Don’t get sentimental,. You have to face the harsh reality. You know we can’t take her with us. Kavita, you must begin a new life now – no point carrying the baggage of your past,” the man realizes he has said something wrong and instantly apologizes, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”

 

 

 

“You did mean it. That’s why you said it! I hate you, you are so cruel and selfish,” the woman says, turns away from the man and looks out of the window.

 

 

 

They travel in silence. An uneasy disquieting silence. Suddenly it is dark, as the train enters a tunnel, and as it emerges on the other side, the woman can see the vast green KettiValley with its undulating mountains in the distance.

 

 

 

“I think I’ll also get down with you at Lovedale. I’ll tell them. Explain everything. And get over with it once and for all,” the man says.

 

 

 

“No! No! I don’t even want them to see you. The sudden shock may upset them. I have to do this carefully. Please don’t get down at Lovedale. Go straight to Ooty. I’ll tell them everything and we’ll do as we decided.”

 

 

 

“I was only trying to help you. Make things easier. I want to meet Damayanti. Tell her about us. I’m sure she’ll love me and understand everything.”

 

 

 

“No, please. Let me do this. I don’t want her to see you before I tell her. She’s a very sensitive girl. I don’t know how she’ll react. I’ll have to do it very gently.”

 

 

 

“Okay,” the man says. “Make sure you wind up everything at the school. We have to leave for Mumbai tomorrow. There is so much to be done. We’ve hardly got any time left.”

 

 

 

The steam engine pushing the train huffs and puffs up the slope round the bend under the bridge. “Lovedale station is coming,” the woman says. She gets up and takes out her bag from the shelf.

 

 

 

“Sure you don’t want me to come?” asks the man.

       

“Not now. I’ll ring you up,” says the woman.

  “Okay. But tell them everything. We can’t wait any longer.”

 

 

“Just leave everything to me. Don’t make it more difficult.”

 

 

 

They sit in silence, looking out of different windows, waiting for Lovedale railway station to come.

 

 

 

On the solitary bench on the platform at Lovedale station the girl and her grandmother wait patiently for the train which will bring their deliverance.

 

 

 

“I hate it over here. The cold scary dormitories. At night I miss mummy tucking me in. And every night I count DLFMTC ?”

 

 

 

“DLFMTC ?”

 

 

 

“Days Left For Mummy To Come ! Others count DLTGH – Days Left To Go Home.”

 

 

 

“Next time you too …”

 

 

 

“No. No. I am not going to stay here in boarding school. I don’t know why we came here to this horrible place. I hate boarding school. I miss mummy so much. We could have stayed on in Mumbai with her.”

 

 

 

“Now we will be all staying in Mumbai. Your mummy’s training is over. She can hire a house now. Or get a loan. We will try to buy a good house. I’ve saved some money too.”

 

 

 

The lone station-master strikes the bell outside his office. The occupants of the solitary bench look towards their left. There is no one else on the platform. And suddenly the train emerges from under the bridge – pushed by the hissing steam engine.

 

 

 

Only one person gets down from the train – a beautiful woman, around 30. The girl runs into her arms. The old woman walks towards her with a welcoming smile. The man, sitting in the train, looks cautiously trying not to be seen. A whistle; and the train starts and moves out of the station towards Ooty.

 

 

 

That evening the woman tells them everything.

 

 

 

 At noon the next day, four people wait at Lovedale station for the train which comes from Ooty and goes down to the plains – the girl, her mother, her grandmother and the man. The girl presses close to her grandmother and looks at her new ‘father’ with trepidation. He gives her a smile of forced geniality. The old woman holds the girl tight to her body and looks at the man with distaste. The young woman looks with awe, mixed with hope, at her new husband. They all stand in silence. No one speaks. Time stands still. And suddenly the train enters.

   

“I don’t want to go,” the girl cries, clinging to her grandmother.

 

“Don’t you want to stay with your mummy? You hate boarding school don’t you? ” the man says extending his hand.

 

 

 

 The girl recoils and says, “No. No. I like it here. I don’t want to come. I like boarding school.”

 

 

 

“Come Baby, we have to go,” her mother says as tears well up in her eyes.

 

 

 

“What about granny? How will she stay here all alone? No mummy – you also stay here. We all will stay here. Let this man go to Mumbai,” the girl pleads.

 

 

 

“Damayanti. I am your new father,” the man says firmly to the girl. And then turning to the young woman he commands, “Kavita. Come. The train is going to leave.”

 

 

 

“Go Baby. Be a good girl. I will be okay,” says the old woman releasing the girl.

 

 

 

As her mother gently holds her arm and guides her towards the train, for the first time in her life the girl feels that her mother’s hand is like the clasp of an iron gate. Like manacles.

 

 

 

“I will come and meet you in Mumbai. I promise!” the grandmother says. But the girl feels scared – something inside tells her she that may never see her grandmother again.

 

 

 

As the train heads towards the plains, the old woman begins to walk her longest mile – her loneliest mile – into emptiness, a void.

 

 

 

And poor old Lovedale Railway Station, the mute witness, doesn’t even a shed a tear. It tries. But it can’t. Poor thing. It’s not human. So it suffers its sorrow in inanimate helplessness. A pity. What a pity!

 

 

 

 

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve

 

 

 

vikramkarve@sify.com

 

vikramkarve@hotmail.com

 

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

 

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

 

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

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

July 4, 2007

LOVEDALE

 

(a short story)

 

by

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lovedale. A quaint little station on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway that runs from Mettupalayam in the plains on a breathtaking journey to beautiful Ooty, the Queen of Hill Stations. On Lovedale station there is just one small platform – and on it, towards its southern end, a solitary bench. If you sit on this bench you will see in front of you, beyond the railway track, an undulating valley, covered with eucalyptus trees, and in the distance the silhouette of a huge structure, which looks like a castle, with an impressive clock-tower. In this mighty building is located a famous boarding school – one of the best schools in India. Many such ‘elite’ schools are known more for snob value than academic achievements, but this one is different – it is a prestigious public school famous for its rich heritage and tradition of excellence.

 

 

 

Lovedale, in 1970. That’s all there is in Lovedale – this famous public school, a small tea-estate called Lovedale (from which this place got its name), a tiny post office and, of course, the lonely railway platform with its solitary bench.

 

 

 

It’s a cold damp depressing winter morning, and since the school is closed for winter, the platform is deserted except for two people – yes, just two persons – a woman and a small girl, shivering in the morning mist, sitting on the solitary bench. It’s almost 9 o’clock – time for the morning “toy-train” from the plains carrying tourists via Coonoor to Ooty, the “Queen” of hill-stations, just three kilometers ahead – the end of the line. But this morning the train is late, probably because of the dense fog and the drizzle on the mountain-slopes, and it will be empty – for there are hardly any tourists in this cold and damp winter season.

 

 

 

 “I’m dying to meet mummy. And this stupid train – it’s always late,” the girl says. She is dressed in school uniform – gray blazer, thick gray woolen skirt, navy-blue stockings, freshly polished black shoes, her hair tied smartly in two small plaits with black ribbons.

 

 

 

The woman, 55 – maybe 60, dressed in a white sari with a thick white shawl draped over her shoulder and a white scarf around her head covering her ears, looks lovingly at the girl, softly takes the girl’s hand in her own, and says, “It will come. Look at the weather. The driver can hardly see in this mist. And it must be raining down there in Ketti valley.”

 

 

 

“I hate this place. It’s so cold and lonely. Everyone has gone home for the winter holidays and we have nowhere to go. Why do we have to spend our holidays here every time?”

 

 

 

“You know we can’t stay with her in the hostel.”

 

 

 

“But her training is over now. And she’s become an executive – that’s what she wrote.”

 

 

 

“Yes. Yes. She is an executive now. After two years of tough training. Very creditable; after all that has happened,” the old woman says.

 

 

 

“She has to take us to Mumbai with her now. We can’t stay here any longer. No more excuses now.”

 

 

 

 “Even I don’t want to stay here. It’s cold and I am old. Let your mummy come. This time we’ll tell her to take us all to Mumbai.”

 

 

 

“And we’ll all stay together – like we did before God took Daddy away.”

 

 

 

 “Yes. Mummy will go to work. You will go to school. And I will look after the house and all of you. Just like before.”

 

 

 

“Only Daddy won’t be there. Why did God take Daddy away?” the girl says, tears welling up in her eyes.

 

 

 

 “Don’t think those sad things. We cannot change what has happened. You must be brave – like your mummy,” says the old lady putting her hand softly around the girl. The old lady closes her eyes in sadness.There is no greater pain than to remember happier times when in distress.

 

 

 

Meanwhile the toy-train is meandering its way laboriously round the steep u-curve, desperately pushed by a hissing steam engine, as it leaves Wellington station on its way to Ketti. A man and a woman sit facing each other in the tiny first class compartment. There is no one else.

 

 

 

“You must tell her today,” the man says.

 

 

 

“Yes,” the woman replies softly.

 

 

 

“You should have told her before.”

 

 

 

“When?”

 

 

 

“You could have written, called her up. I told you so many times.”

 

 

 

“How could I be so cruel?”

 

 

 

“Cruel? What’s so cruel about it?”

 

 

 

“I don’t know how she will react. She loved her father very much.”

 

 

 

“Now she will have to love me. I am her new father now.”

 

 

 

“Yes, I know,” the woman says, tears welling up in her eyes. “I don’t know how to tell her; how she’ll take it. I think we should wait for some time. Baby is very sensitive.”

 

 

 

“Baby! Why do you still call her Baby? She is a grown up girl now. You must call her by her real name. Damayanti – what a nice name – and you call her Baby”

 

 

 

“It’s her pet name. Deepak always liked to call her Baby.”

 

 

 

“But I don’t like it! It’s ridiculous,” the man says firmly. “Anyway, all that we can sort out later. But you tell her about us today. Tell both of them.”

 

 

 

“Both of them? My mother-in-law also? What will she feel?”

 

 

 

“She’ll understand.”

 

 

 

“Poor thing. She will be all alone.”

 

 

 

“She’s got her work to keep her busy.”

 

 

 

 “She’s old and weak. I don’t think she’ll be able to do the matron’s job much longer.”

 

 

 

“Let her work till she can. At least it will keep her occupied. Then we’ll see.”

 

 

 

“Can’t we take her with us?”

 

 

 

“You know it’s not possible.”

 

 

 

“It’s so sad. She was so good to me. Where will she go? We can’t abandon her just like that!”

 

 

 

“Abandon? Nobody is abandoning her. Don’t worry. If she doesn’t want to stay on here, I’ll arrange something – I know an excellent place near Lonavala. She will be very comfortable there – it’s an ideal place for senior citizens like her.”

 

 

 

“An Old Age Home?”

 

 

 

“Call it what you want but actually it’s quite a luxurious place. She’ll be happy there. I’ve already spoken to them. Let her continue here till she can. Then we’ll shift her there.”

 

 

 

“How cruel? She was so loving and good to me, treated me like her own daughter, and looked after Baby, when we were devastated. And now we discard her when she needs us most,” the woman says, and starts sobbing.

 

 

 

“Come on Kavita. Don’t get sentimental,. You have to face the harsh reality. You know we can’t take her with us. Kavita, you must begin a new life now – no point carrying the baggage of your past,” the man realizes he has said something wrong and instantly apologizes, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”

 

 

 

“You did mean it. That’s why you said it! I hate you, you are so cruel and selfish,” the woman says, turns away from the man and looks out of the window.

 

 

 

They travel in silence. An uneasy disquieting silence. Suddenly it is dark, as the train enters a tunnel, and as it emerges on the other side, the woman can see the vast green KettiValley with its undulating mountains in the distance.

 

 

 

“I think I’ll also get down with you at Lovedale. I’ll tell them. Explain everything. And get over with it once and for all,” the man says.

 

 

 

“No! No! I don’t even want them to see you. The sudden shock may upset them. I have to do this carefully. Please don’t get down at Lovedale. Go straight to Ooty. I’ll tell them everything and we’ll do as we decided.”

 

 

 

“I was only trying to help you. Make things easier. I want to meet Damayanti. Tell her about us. I’m sure she’ll love me and understand everything.”

 

 

 

“No, please. Let me do this. I don’t want her to see you before I tell her. She’s a very sensitive girl. I don’t know how she’ll react. I’ll have to do it very gently.”

 

 

 

“Okay,” the man says. “Make sure you wind up everything at the school. We have to leave for Mumbai tomorrow. There is so much to be done. We’ve hardly got any time left.”

 

 

 

The steam engine pushing the train huffs and puffs up the slope round the bend under the bridge. “Lovedale station is coming,” the woman says. She gets up and takes out her bag from the shelf.

 

 

 

“Sure you don’t want me to come?” asks the man.

       

“Not now. I’ll ring you up,” says the woman.

  “Okay. But tell them everything. We can’t wait any longer.”

 

 

“Just leave everything to me. Don’t make it more difficult.”

 

 

 

They sit in silence, looking out of different windows, waiting for Lovedale railway station to come.

 

 

 

On the solitary bench on the platform at Lovedale station the girl and her grandmother wait patiently for the train which will bring their deliverance.

 

 

 

“I hate it over here. The cold scary dormitories. At night I miss mummy tucking me in. And every night I count DLFMTC ?”

 

 

 

“DLFMTC ?”

 

 

 

“Days Left For Mummy To Come ! Others count DLTGH – Days Left To Go Home.”

 

 

 

“Next time you too …”

 

 

 

“No. No. I am not going to stay here in boarding school. I don’t know why we came here to this horrible place. I hate boarding school. I miss mummy so much. We could have stayed on in Mumbai with her.”

 

 

 

“Now we will be all staying in Mumbai. Your mummy’s training is over. She can hire a house now. Or get a loan. We will try to buy a good house. I’ve saved some money too.”

 

 

 

The lone station-master strikes the bell outside his office. The occupants of the solitary bench look towards their left. There is no one else on the platform. And suddenly the train emerges from under the bridge – pushed by the hissing steam engine.

 

 

 

Only one person gets down from the train – a beautiful woman, around 30. The girl runs into her arms. The old woman walks towards her with a welcoming smile. The man, sitting in the train, looks cautiously trying not to be seen. A whistle; and the train starts and moves out of the station towards Ooty.

 

 

 

That evening the woman tells them everything.

 

 

 

 At noon the next day, four people wait at Lovedale station for the train which comes from Ooty and goes down to the plains – the girl, her mother, her grandmother and the man. The girl presses close to her grandmother and looks at her new ‘father’ with trepidation. He gives her a smile of forced geniality. The old woman holds the girl tight to her body and looks at the man with distaste. The young woman looks with awe, mixed with hope, at her new husband. They all stand in silence. No one speaks. Time stands still. And suddenly the train enters.

   

“I don’t want to go,” the girl cries, clinging to her grandmother.

 

“Don’t you want to stay with your mummy? You hate boarding school don’t you? ” the man says extending his hand.

 

 

 

 The girl recoils and says, “No. No. I like it here. I don’t want to come. I like boarding school.”

 

 

 

“Come Baby, we have to go,” her mother says as tears well up in her eyes.

 

 

 

“What about granny? How will she stay here all alone? No mummy – you also stay here. We all will stay here. Let this man go to Mumbai,” the girl pleads.

 

 

 

“Damayanti. I am your new father,” the man says firmly to the girl. And then turning to the young woman he commands, “Kavita. Come. The train is going to leave.”

 

 

 

“Go Baby. Be a good girl. I will be okay,” says the old woman releasing the girl.

 

 

 

As her mother gently holds her arm and guides her towards the train, for the first time in her life the girl feels that her mother’s hand is like the clasp of an iron gate. Like manacles.

 

 

 

“I will come and meet you in Mumbai. I promise!” the grandmother says. But the girl feels scared – something inside tells her she that may never see her grandmother again.

 

 

 

As the train heads towards the plains, the old woman begins to walk her longest mile – her loneliest mile – into emptiness, a void.

 

 

 

And poor old Lovedale Railway Station, the mute witness, doesn’t even a shed a tear. It tries. But it can’t. Poor thing. It’s not human. So it suffers its sorrow in inanimate helplessness. A pity. What a pity!

 

 

 

 

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve

 

 

 

vikramkarve@sify.com

 

vikramkarve@hotmail.com

 

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

 

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

 

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

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 

 

 

             

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 

DECCAN QUEEN

May 10, 2007

DECCAN QUEEN

  

(a short story)

  

by

  

VIKRAM KARVE 

  

  

Have you ever seen a strapping young man reading a Mills & Boon Romance? And that too in the Deccan Queen. So Blatantly? In front of so many people? 

  

I did. Just today evening [I can already hear my English Teacher scream: “It’s this evening – not today evening!”]. Okay. Okay. It doesn’t matter. This evening. What I am about to tell you happened this evening. On the
Deccan Queen. Yes, on the Deccan Queen – my favorite train that runs from Mumbai to Pune. Let me tell you about it.
 

  

But first I’ll tell you about myself.  My name is Pooja. I am twelve years old and I’m a girl. I love train journeys and I have traveled a lot, especially on the Mumbai – Pune route. But this was the first time I was traveling alone. And my father was worried. 

  

My father came to see me off at Mumbai CST Railway Station. He seemed anxious and kept on saying the same things again and again, “Pooja, take care. Don’t get down at any station. It’s only a three-hour journey. She’ll come to pick you up at Pune. I’ve told her your coach and seat number. And I’ve told uncle to look after you.” 

  

‘Uncle’ was a young man of about twenty-five on the seat next to mine. He was very handsome. Smartly dressed. In a light blue T-shirt and jeans. 25? Maybe slightly older. But not above 30. He had a smart beard. A proper well-kept full-grown beard, not the repulsive dirty-looking horrible two-day designer stubble young men sport nowadays. They think the filthy hideous stubble on their face looks fashionable, but let me tell you it looks sick and makes me feel like puking.  But this guy had a gorgeous beard – it suited his face so well and made him look very handsome and manly. 

  

“Don’t you worry, sir,” he said to my father, “she’ll be delivered safe and sound.” He gave me a friendly smile. I liked him and felt happy to have him as a companion. And of course I had the window seat in case he turned out to be a bore. 

  

Now my father was talking to the train-conductor, probably telling him the same things. I felt embarrassed but didn’t say anything. For I knew my father loved me very much and genuinely cared for me. After all, he had no one else in this world except me. 

  

I felt worried about him too. That’s why when he kissed me on the cheek just before the train started, I whispered in his ear, “Papa, don’t drink too much.” I knew how much he hated to be lonely and now I wouldn’t be there to look after him. 

  

The train moved. I looked at my watch. Ten minutes past five. The Deccan Queen started speeding towards Pune. We would be there by dinner-time. 

  

I looked at ‘uncle’ – just a sideways glance. But he did not notice me as he had already buried himself in the pages of the Mumbai Mid-Day newspaper. I took out my Walkman from my bag, kept in on my knee, adjusted the earphones in my ears and looked at him again. He was still buried in his newspaper. Oblivious of the world around him. 

  

I pressed my earphones tighter and tried to hear the music from my Walkman pretending to ignore him. Tried to look out of the tinted-glass window of the air-conditioned chair car. But my eyes kept wandering, trying to look at him when I thought he wouldn’t notice. Hoping he would notice me. Say something. Talk to me. But he remained glued to his newspaper. As if I did not exist! How mean? And snobbish? It seemed he had no manners! I hated him. And decided to ignore him. 

  

After some time the young man next to me folded his newspaper and kept in the rack in front of him. Then he pulled out his bag from below his seat, opened the zip, took out a book from his bag and kept it on his knees in front of him. It was a ‘Mills & Boon’ romance! I smiled to myself. He seemed to be an interesting character. Young men in their twenties don’t read Mills & Boon. Or do they? 

  

He opened the Mills & Boon and started reading intently. I know it is bad manners to disturb someone who is reading, but I was so curious to know more about him that I just could not resist. I shut the Walkman, pulled earphones out and said, “Hello, uncle. I’m Pooja.” 

  

“Oh yes! I know. Pooja Agashe. Age 12.” 

 

 “How…?” I asked surprised.  

“I read the reservation chart,” he said. 

  

“No. No. Papa must have told you my name,” I said. 

  

“But he didn’t tell me your age, young lady,” he smiled mischievously and said, “Whenever I begin a train journey I always find out who my fellow-passengers are.” 

  

“You a detective or something?” 

  

“No,” he said smiling. “I’m in the Navy. A Chief Officer in the Merchant Navy.” He held out his hand,” Girish Pradhan. And don’t call me uncle. Just Girish.” 

  

We shook hands. His grip was firm and strong. Robust. Reassuring. Redoubtable. Just like he looked.  

  

The Mills & Boon paperback fell off. He picked it up and put it back on his knees. It really seemed funny – a solid macho man like him reading Mills & Boon. 

  

He spoke, “Been to Pune before?” 

  

“Oh yes,” I said. “We lived in Pune before we came to Mumbai.”  

  

“Then you can help me out,” he said. “You know where’s a restaurant called Vaishali?” 

  

“You don’t know Vaishali?” I asked surprised. 

  

“No,” he said. “It’s the first time I’m going to Pune. But she told me it was a famous place. I’d find it easily.” 

  

“She?” 

  

“The person I have an appointment with. 10 o’clock tomorrow morning. She promised she would be there.” 

  

“At Vaishali?” 

  

“Yes,” he said. “She told me that the Dosa at Vaishali is even better than the one at Shompen.” 

  

“Shompen?” 

  

“It’s the best restaurant in Port Blair. That’s where we met for the first time.” 

  

“Port Blair! That’s where you met her, is it?” I asked. This was getting very interesting. 

  

“Yes. Last December. We were sailing from
Singapore to Mumbai and docked enroute in Port Blair. For some emergency repairs. Just a short stay of four days.”
 

  

I love to talk to someone who loves to talk. And this was like a fairy tale. It was getting exciting and I wanted to ask him so many things. Who was she? Her name? Was it love at first sight? What happened? About the Mills & Boon on his lap? 

  

But before I could speak, he suddenly said,” Hey! Why am I telling you all this? It’s supposed to be secret.” 

             

“It’s okay,” I said. “I won’t tell anyone.” 

  

“Now you tell me about yourself, Pooja. Why are you going to Pune?” he asked. 

              

“To see my new mother,” I blurted out without thinking. And then like a stupid fool I told him everything. I knew I was making a mistake but he was so easy to talk to that my words just came tumbling out. My mother’s sudden death. My father sinking into depression. His drinking problem. Everyone advising him to remarry. His refusal. Just for my sake. And this proposal. My father insisting that I see her first and we like each other. 

  

“You mean your father hasn’t even met her?” Girish asked. 

  

“No. Only relatives. Papa has only spoken to her on the phone,” I said. “Papa’s worried. He loves me so much.”  I couldn’t speak any longer. Tears had welled up in my eyes. 

  

For some time there was silence. I felt very embarrassed at having told everything to a complete stranger. But strangely after telling him everything I felt good too.  

  

I wiped my tears and nose with my handkerchief and said, “I am sorry, uncle.” 

  

“Uncle? Hey come on. I’m not that old. Call me Girish. I told you, didn’t I? And don’t worry. Everything will work out. 

  

“For you too!”I said. 

  

“I hope so,” he said. I’m making it to this appointment with great difficulty – I made it almost by a hair’s breadth. I signed off my ship in
Perth yesterday evening and managed to reach Mumbai just a few hours ago. And here I am on this train to Pune. She told me if I didn’t keep my appointment with her tomorrow, she’d go ahead and marry someone else.”
 

  

“So romantic!” I said. “Just like in the movie …” 

  

“An Affair to Remember?” 

  

“No. Some Hindi Movie… I don’t remember the name, “ I said, “You must be dying to meet her, isn’t it?” 

  

“Of course I’m dying to meet her,” he said. “It’s more than one year since we said goodbye to each other at Port Blair. The fifteenth of December last year promising each other to meet tomorrow – the 24th December this year at 10 a.m. at Vaishali restaurant in Pune.” 

  

“Why 24th?” 

  

“We met for the first time on the 24th of December last year.” 

  

“But you must have written to each other. E-mailed. At least spoken on the phone.” 

  

“No. She didn’t give me her address. She was in Port Blair on a holiday. And me. I’ve been sailing since. She said if I really loved her I would come.”  He paused, picked up the Mills & Boon romance book from his lap and said,” The only thing she gave me was this.” 

  

“Can I see it?” 

  

“No. You are too small for Mills & Boon.” He kept the book in the plastic book-rack in front of his seat, turned to me and said, “Hey, Pooja. Why don’t you come to Vaishali tomorrow at ten? We’ll celebrate her birthday together.” 

  

“But you haven’t even told me her name.” 

  

“You’ll find out tomorrow,” he said. “And suppose she doesn’t come, I’ll be heartbroken. Then you can console me. But I’m sure she will be there waiting for me. She promised. Whatever her decision, she said she won’t ditch me. She’ll definitely be there for our appointment.” 

  

I looked out of the tinted-glass window. The sun was about to set. Outside it was getting dark. Inside it was cold. The Deccan Queen slowed down. It was Karjat. I turned to Girish and said, “Let’s get down. You get good batata-wadas here.” 

  

“Your father…” 

  

“Please?” 

  

“Okay.” 

  

We strolled on the platform eating the delicious batata-wadas and suddenly Girish said, “I’m nervous. I hope everything works out.” 

  

“Me too,” I said. “Papa needs someone. But he’s so worried for me. Whether I’ll like her or not. And she too?” 

  

“Of course, she will like you. You will like each other. I’m sure things will work out. For you; and for me also. Why don’t you bring her to Vaishali tomorrow along with you? And we will all celebrate!” he said. 

  

“I’ll try.” 

  

“You must.” 

  

“Okay. If I like her.” 

  

“But you must come.” 

  

“I will,” I said. “Like a kabab-me-haddi.” 

  

We laughed and got inside the train. Pushed by the banker engines the Deccan Queen began its climb up the steep
Western Ghats.
 

  

“Hi, Girish!” an excited voice said. 

  

I looked up. Another young bearded man. But this was a boisterous type. 

  

“Oh, Hi Sanjiv. What are you doing here?” Girish getting up form his seat. 

  

“Going to Lonavala,” the man named Sanjiv answered. 

  

“Lonavala?” 

  

“I’ve  bought a cottage in Lonavala. A sort of farmhouse. Why don’t you come and see it?” 

  

“No, No,” Girish said, “I’ve got an appointment in Pune.”  

  

“When?” 

  

“Tomorrow morning. At ten.” 

  

“And where are you going to spend night?” 

  

“I don’t know. Some hotel or someplace.” 

  

“Why don’t you spend the night with me? I’ve got a bottle of Scotch and we’ve got so much to talk. I’ll drop you first thing I the morning. It’s only an hour’s drive to Pune. I’ll get my car serviced too.” 

  

I could sense that Girish wanted to go so I said, “It’s okay. I’ll manage. She’s definitely coming to pick me up.” 

  

Sanjiv looked at me in a curious manner, so Girish said, “This is Pooja. My co-passenger. I promised her father I’d deliver her safely to Pune.” 

  

 “Hi, young lady,” Sanjiv said. “Girish and I are batch mates and shipmates. We’re meeting after a long time.” 

  

I knew that both of them were dying to talk to each other, have a good time, so I said to Girish, “You get down at Lonavala. I promise I’ll look after myself. I’ve got my mobile with me and I’ve got her number also. I’ll ring up my Papa the moment I reach Pune.” 

  

I insisted, and egged on by Sanjiv, Girish got down at Lonavala, but not before we exchanged each other’s cell numbers and he requested the lady across the aisle to look after me. 

  

It was only after the train left Lonavala on its final leg to Pune did I notice that Girish had forgotten his Mills & Boon. I took out the book from the rack and opened it. On the first page was written in beautiful cursive handwriting: 

  

To My Dear Girish, 

In remembrance of the lovely time we had together in Port Blair. 

Snehal 

PS – Remember, there is a thin line between pity and love. 

  

As I looked at the message something started happening within me. Snehal? It couldn’t be? Or could it? Snehal! A loving person. That’s what the name means. Maybe it was just a coincidence. There may be so many Snehals in Pune. 

  

The Deccan Queen is rushing towards Pune. There will be a Snehal waiting for me at Pune railway Station. And do you know, what is the first thing I am going to ask her? 

  

I am going to ask her which is the best restaurant in Port Blair. 

  

And whatever her answer, I am going to take her to Vaishali restaurant on

Fergusson College Road

at ten o’clock tomorrow morning. But I will not give her the Mills & Boon romance book. I’ll keep it for myself. 

 

And then I’ll return to Mumbai by the Deccan Queen. 

  

  

  

  

VIKRAM KARVE

  

Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve   

  

vikramkarve@sify.com 

  

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com 

 

    

             

  

  

  

Lovedale

April 23, 2007

LOVEDALE  

(a short story)  

by  

VIKRAM KARVE  

   

     

   

Lovedale. A quaint little station on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway that runs from Mettupalayam in the plains on a breathtaking journey to beautiful Ooty, the Queen of Hill Stations. On Lovedale station there is just one small platform – and on it, towards its southern end, a solitary bench. If you sit on this bench you will see in front of you, beyond the railway track, an undulating valley, covered with eucalyptus trees, and in the distance the silhouette of a huge structure, which looks like a castle, with an impressive clock-tower. In this mighty building is located a famous boarding school – one of the best schools in
India. Many such ‘elite’ schools are known more for snob value than academic achievements, but this one is different – it is a prestigious public school famous for its rich heritage and tradition of excellence.
 

   

Lovedale, in 1970. That’s all there is in Lovedale – this famous public school, a small tea-estate called Lovedale (from which this place got its name), a tiny post office and, of course, the lonely railway platform with its solitary bench.  

   

It’s a cold damp depressing winter morning, and since the school is closed for winter, the platform is deserted except for two people – yes, just two persons – a woman and a small girl, shivering in the morning mist, sitting on the solitary bench. It’s almost 9 o’clock – time for the morning “toy-train” from the plains carrying tourists via Coonoor to Ooty, the “Queen” of hill-stations, just three kilometers ahead – the end of the line. But this morning the train is late, probably because of the dense fog and the drizzle on the mountain-slopes, and it will be empty – for there are hardly any tourists in this cold and damp winter season.  

   

 “I’m dying to meet mummy. And this stupid train – it’s always late,” the girl says. She is dressed in school uniform – gray blazer, thick gray woolen skirt, navy-blue stockings, freshly polished black shoes, her hair tied smartly in two small plaits with black ribbons.  

   

The woman, 55 – maybe 60, dressed in a white sari with a thick white shawl draped over her shoulder and a white scarf around her head covering her ears, looks lovingly at the girl, softly takes the girl’s hand in her own, and says, “It will come. Look at the weather. The driver can hardly see in this mist. And it must be raining down there in Ketti valley.”  

   

“I hate this place. It’s so cold and lonely. Everyone has gone home for the winter holidays and we have nowhere to go. Why do we have to spend our holidays here every time?”  

   

“You know we can’t stay with her in the hostel.”  

   

“But her training is over now. And she’s become an executive – that’s what she wrote.”  

   

“Yes. Yes. She is an executive now. After two years of tough training. Very creditable; after all that has happened,” the old woman says.  

   

“She has to take us to Mumbai with her now. We can’t stay here any longer. No more excuses now.”  

   

 “Even I don’t want to stay here. It’s cold and I am old. Let your mummy come. This time we’ll tell her to take us all to Mumbai.”  

   

“And we’ll all stay together – like we did before God took Daddy away.”  

   

 “Yes. Mummy will go to work. You will go to school. And I will look after the house and all of you. Just like before.”  

   

“Only Daddy won’t be there. Why did God take Daddy away?” the girl says, tears welling up in her eyes.  

   

 “Don’t think those sad things. We cannot change what has happened. You must be brave – like your mummy,” says the old lady putting her hand softly around the girl. The old lady closes her eyes in sadness.There is no greater pain than to remember happier times when in distress.  

   

Meanwhile the toy-train is meandering its way laboriously round the steep u-curve, desperately pushed by a hissing steam engine, as it leaves
Wellington station on its way to Ketti. A man and a woman sit facing each other in the tiny first class compartment. There is no one else.
 

   

“You must tell her today,” the man says.  

   

“Yes,” the woman replies softly.  

   

“You should have told her before.”  

   

“When?”  

   

“You could have written, called her up. I told you so many times.”  

   

“How could I be so cruel?”  

   

“Cruel? What’s so cruel about it?”  

   

“I don’t know how she will react. She loved her father very much.”  

   

“Now she will have to love me. I am her new father now.”  

   

“Yes, I know,” the woman says, tears welling up in her eyes. “I don’t know how to tell her; how she’ll take it. I think we should wait for some time. Baby is very sensitive.”  

   

“Baby! Why do you still call her Baby? She is a grown up girl now. You must call her by her real name. Damayanti – what a nice name – and you call her Baby”  

   

“It’s her pet name. Deepak always liked to call her Baby.”  

   

“But I don’t like it! It’s ridiculous,” the man says firmly. “Anyway, all that we can sort out later. But you tell her about us today. Tell both of them.”  

   

“Both of them? My mother-in-law also? What will she feel?”  

   

“She’ll understand.”  

   

“Poor thing. She will be all alone.”  

   

“She’s got her work to keep her busy.”  

   

 “She’s old and weak. I don’t think she’ll be able to do the matron’s job much longer.”  

   

“Let her work till she can. At least it will keep her occupied. Then we’ll see.”  

   

“Can’t we take her with us?”  

   

“You know it’s not possible.”  

   

“It’s so sad. She was so good to me. Where will she go? We can’t abandon her just like that!”  

   

“Abandon? Nobody is abandoning her. Don’t worry. If she doesn’t want to stay on here, I’ll arrange something – I know an excellent place near Lonavala. She will be very comfortable there – it’s an ideal place for senior citizens like her.”  

   

“An Old Age Home?”  

   

“Call it what you want but actually it’s quite a luxurious place. She’ll be happy there. I’ve already spoken to them. Let her continue here till she can. Then we’ll shift her there.”  

   

“How cruel? She was so loving and good to me, treated me like her own daughter, and looked after Baby, when we were devastated. And now we discard her when she needs us most,” the woman says, and starts sobbing.  

   

“Come on Kavita. Don’t get sentimental,. You have to face the harsh reality. You know we can’t take her with us. Kavita, you must begin a new life now – no point carrying the baggage of your past,” the man realizes he has said something wrong and instantly apologizes, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”  

   

“You did mean it. That’s why you said it! I hate you, you are so cruel and selfish,” the woman says, turns away from the man and looks out of the window.  

   

They travel in silence. An uneasy disquieting silence. Suddenly it is dark, as the train enters a tunnel, and as it emerges on the other side, the woman can see the vast green KettiValley with its undulating mountains in the distance.  

   

“I think I’ll also get down with you at Lovedale. I’ll tell them. Explain everything. And get over with it once and for all,” the man says.  

   

“No! No! I don’t even want them to see you. The sudden shock may upset them. I have to do this carefully. Please don’t get down at Lovedale. Go straight to Ooty. I’ll tell them everything and we’ll do as we decided.”  

   

“I was only trying to help you. Make things easier. I want to meet Damayanti. Tell her about us. I’m sure she’ll love me and understand everything.”  

   

“No, please. Let me do this. I don’t want her to see you before I tell her. She’s a very sensitive girl. I don’t know how she’ll react. I’ll have to do it very gently.”  

   

“Okay,” the man says. “Make sure you wind up everything at the school. We have to leave for Mumbai tomorrow. There is so much to be done. We’ve hardly got any time left.”  

   

The steam engine pushing the train huffs and puffs up the slope round the bend under the bridge. “Lovedale station is coming,” the woman says. She gets up and takes out her bag from the shelf.  

   

“Sure you don’t want me to come?” asks the man.  

     

“Not now. I’ll ring you up,” says the woman.  “Okay. But tell them everything. We can’t wait any longer.”    

“Just leave everything to me. Don’t make it more difficult.”  

   

They sit in silence, looking out of different windows, waiting for Lovedale railway station to come.  

   

On the solitary bench on the platform at Lovedale station the girl and her grandmother wait patiently for the train which will bring their deliverance.  

   

“I hate it over here. The cold scary dormitories. At night I miss mummy tucking me in. And every night I count DLFMTC ?”  

   

“DLFMTC ?”  

   

“Days Left For Mummy To Come ! Others count DLTGH – Days Left To Go Home.”  

   

“Next time you too …”  

   

“No. No. I am not going to stay here in boarding school. I don’t know why we came here to this horrible place. I hate boarding school. I miss mummy so much. We could have stayed on in Mumbai with her.”  

   

“Now we will be all staying in Mumbai. Your mummy’s training is over. She can hire a house now. Or get a loan. We will try to buy a good house. I’ve saved some money too.”  

   

The lone station-master strikes the bell outside his office. The occupants of the solitary bench look towards their left. There is no one else on the platform. And suddenly the train emerges from under the bridge – pushed by the hissing steam engine.  

   

Only one person gets down from the train – a beautiful woman, around 30. The girl runs into her arms. The old woman walks towards her with a welcoming smile. The man, sitting in the train, looks cautiously trying not to be seen. A whistle; and the train starts and moves out of the station towards Ooty.  

   

That evening the woman tells them everything.  

   

 At noon the next day, four people wait at Lovedale station for the train which comes from Ooty and goes down to the plains – the girl, her mother, her grandmother and the man. The girl presses close to her grandmother and looks at her new ‘father’ with trepidation. He gives her a smile of forced geniality. The old woman holds the girl tight to her body and looks at the man with distaste. The young woman looks with awe, mixed with hope, at her new husband. They all stand in silence. No one speaks. Time stands still. And suddenly the train enters.  

 

“I don’t want to go,” the girl cries, clinging to her grandmother.  

“Don’t you want to stay with your mummy? You hate boarding school don’t you? ” the man says extending his hand.  

   

 The girl recoils and says, “No. No. I like it here. I don’t want to come. I like boarding school.”  

   

“Come Baby, we have to go,” her mother says as tears well up in her eyes.  

   

“What about granny? How will she stay here all alone? No mummy – you also stay here. We all will stay here. Let this man go to Mumbai,” the girl pleads.  

   

“Damayanti. I am your new father,” the man says firmly to the girl. And then turning to the young woman he commands, “Kavita. Come. The train is going to leave.”  

   

“Go Baby. Be a good girl. I will be okay,” says the old woman releasing the girl.  

   

As her mother gently holds her arm and guides her towards the train, for the first time in her life the girl feels that her mother’s hand is like the clasp of an iron gate. Like manacles.  

   

“I will come and meet you in Mumbai. I promise!” the grandmother says. But the girl feels scared – something inside tells her she that may never see her grandmother again.  

   

As the train heads towards the plains, the old woman begins to walk her longest mile – her loneliest mile – into emptiness, a void.  

   

And poor old Lovedale Railway Station, the mute witness, doesn’t even a shed a tear. It tries. But it can’t. Poor thing. It’s not human. So it suffers its sorrow in inanimate helplessness. A pity. What a pity!  

   

   

VIKRAM KARVE  

Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve  

   

vikramkarve@sify.com 

vikramkarve@hotmail.com  

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com 

http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve 

http://www.ryze.com/go/karve 

 

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

FLASH FICTION – TAIL CHASE by VIKRAM KARVE

April 12, 2007

TAIL CHASE

[Flash Fiction]

by

VIKRAM KARVE 

 

 

 

“Wake up, I’m sending you on a mission,” my father said, shaking me off my bed.

 


Mission!” I jumped out of bed and got ready in a jiffy.

 

My father is a detective and, once in a while, he sends me on undercover assignments. My father is all I have got in this world after God took my mother away.

 

“Surveillance?” I ask, as we stand discreetly at the bus stop outside Taraporewala Aquarium on

Marine Drive

.

 

“Yes. A simple tail-chase. Look to your right; keep your eyes focused on the gate of the working women’s hostel. A woman will come out soon. Follow her, shadow her, like a tail, but very discreetly, and the moment you lose her, ring me up on your mobile.”

 

Suddenly, a tall woman wearing a bright yellow dress appeared at the gate. My father gave me a nudge, and then he disappeared.

 

The woman walked towards Charni Road Station, crossed the over-bridge to platform No.2, and waited for the train to Churchgate. She got into the ladies compartment and I followed her in, for though I am a boy, I’m still below twelve. She sat down and I observed her, unseen, standing in the crowd. She must have been around 25, maybe 30, and with her smooth fair creamy complexion she looked really smashing in the bright yellow dress. What I liked about her the most was her huge strikingly expressive dancing eyes.

 

At Churchgate, she leisurely strolled down the platform, whilst everyone else rushed by. She browsed at Wheeler’s bookstall, and then stopped at Tibbs, bought a Frankie, and walked towards the underground exit. I too love frankies, so I quickly bought one too, and followed her, careful not to be seen. We both walked, me behind her, munching away, straight down the road towards Nariman Point, till she stopped at the Inox Multiplex.

 

Shit! I hoped she wouldn’t go for an Adults movie, but she bought a ticket for ‘
Madagascar’ and I followed her in.

 

I really enjoyed the rest of my mission. She was quite a fun person, and spent the day enjoying herself, seeing the sights, browsing books, window shopping, street food, eating things I love to eat, doing the things I like to do.

 

It was smooth sailing, till suddenly she stepped into a beauty parlour.

 

Now I needed backup, so I called up my father. But he told me to abort the mission and to meet him at our usual favourite place in the vicinity – Stadium next to Churchgate station.

 

We chose an inconspicuous table in the middle of the restaurant and sat facing the entrance. I told him everything. He listened intently.

 

Suddenly I saw the woman in yellow standing bold as brass at the entrance of the restaurant looking directly at us. I felt a tremor of trepidation, the ground slipped beneath my feet, and when I saw her coming directly towards our table, I wished the earth would swallow me up.

 

My father smiled at the woman, “Hello, Nanda.”

 

‘Hello Nanda?’ This was too much! First he sends me after her on a tail-chase, shadowing her all day, and now ‘Hello Nanda’!

 

She sat down, looked at me curiously.

 

“You’ve met, haven’t you?” father asked.  

 

“No, she said.”

 

“No? You’re sure? Try to think. You must have seen him somewhere before.”

 

“I’m sure. I never forget a face. This is the first time I am seeing him. He’s cute.”

 

My father winked at me in appreciation.

 

But who was this woman, I wondered, so I asked my father, “Who is this aunty?”

 

It was the beautiful woman with dancing eyes who looked lovingly at me and answered, “Don’t call me aunty. I’m going to be your new mother.”

 

 

 

 

VIKRAM KARVE 

Copyright 2007 Vikram Karve 

vikramkarve@sify.com

 

vikramkarve@hotmail.com

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

 

 

 

A short story by Vikram Karve – The Right Choice

March 29, 2007

A TRAIN JOURNEY 

(a fiction short story) 

By 

VIKRAM KARVE 

  

  

          No matter how many times I begin a train journey; there is always an intriguing interest in seeing who one’s fellow-passengers area. I scanned the reservation chart pasted on the air conditioned chair-car of the Indrayani Express. I was on seat number 30. A window seat. The neighbouring seat was reserved in the name of a Master Avinash Bhide – age 10. A disappointment! There was better luck on seat number 28. Mrs. Manisha Bhide – age 35. In my mind’s eye I tried to imagine and visualise what Mrs. Manisha Bhide would be like. 

  

          Surprisingly, she did not board the train as it left Mumbai CST. I felt a pang of disappointment. Maybe she would come at Dadar. The seats were three abreast, 28 near the aisle, 30 near the window and 29 in-between. I sat down on number 28. In 10 minutes the train reached Dadar and a beautiful woman with vivacious dancing eyes with a young boy in tow entered the coach. As she walked towards me I instinctively knew that she was Manisha Bhide.         

  

 “Mrs. Manisha Bhide?” I asked, as I stood up and gave her a smile of forced geniality. Our eyes met. She looked into my eyes for that moment longer than may be considered polite greeting. I felt a sense of elation. I quickly moved out on the aisle and helped her with her luggage. Meanwhile Master Avinash Bhide had occupied the window-seat. Before Mrs. Manisha Bhide could say anything I quickly interjected, “It’s okay. Let him sit in the window-seat”. 

  

          She smiled in resignation at the fait accompli and sat down on seat number 29. My opening gambit having succeeded I closed my eyes to savour the sense of delight I was experiencing. After a long time I felt young and happy once again. This was one journey I was going to enjoy. 

  

          Suddenly she spoke, “Excuse me, but aren’t you Pratap Joshi?” 

  

          Flabbergasted, I opened my eyes in surprise wondering whether they put up reservation charts at Dadar too since the one on the coach was on the right-hand side and the platform at Dadar was on the left.  

  

          Before I could recover my wits, she said, “You are in the Merchant Navy, aren’t you?” 

  

          I was dumbstruck and stared vacuously at her. The silence was grotesque. Manisha Bhide broke the silence. “You don’t remember me, do you? But I have recognized you Mr. Joshi; or is it Captain Joshi? Why are you hiding behind that ghastly beard? It doesn’t suit you. You looked so handsome clean-shaven.” 

  

          “No ma’am,” I said meekly, “I don’t think we have met.” 

  

          That was true. Hers wasn’t a face one could forget easily. 

  

          I looked at her totally astounded. She seemed to give the impression as if we had known each other very well. “You are right,” I said, “I am indeed Captain Pratap Joshi, Master Mariner. But I don’t remember ever meeting you.” 

  

            “But then how do you know my new name?” she snapped. 

  

            “New name?” 

  

            “Yes. My new name. Manisha Bhide.” 

  

            “I saw it on the reservation chart,” I said sheepishly. 

  

          “I was Swati Gokhale before marriage,” she said. “After marriage my surname changed and my in-laws have changed my maiden name from Swati to Manisha.” 

  

          “Manisha Bhide nee Swati Gokhale!” I joked. “I don’t think we’ve met before.” 

  

          People are always little disconcerted when you do not recognize them. They are so important to themselves that it is disheartening indeed to discover of what negligible importance they are to others. I racked my brains but just could not remember meeting any Swati Gokhale. 

  

            “Are you from Pune?” I asked. 

  

            “No. I’m from Mumbai,” she answered. “But now I live in Pune. My husband works there.” She paused for a moment, looked directly into my eyes, and asked, “Do you still live in
Nasik?”
 

  

          “No. No.” I said, trying to hide my surprise. “I’ve got a flat in Mumbai. In Colaba. And I have also bought a bungalow in Lonavala. That’s where I am going right now.” 

  

          “Oh!” she said raising her eyebrows appreciatively. But I did sense that slight tinge of regret in her voice, just a trace mind you, but the nuance did not escape me. She looked at me, genuine admiration in her eyes, and said, “You must be a rich man?” 

  

            I smiled. “It’s a paying job. And then one gets paid in dollars.” 

  

            “I wish I had married you,” she said matter-of-factly. 

  

            “What?” I asked stunned and totally taken aback. 

  

          “One day my parents showed me two photographs. One was yours and the other was my husband’s – my present husband that is!” she wistfully. “I had to choose one and I think I made the wrong choice. A big mistake! I really wish I had married you, Captain Joshi!” 

  

          It took a while for her words to sink in, and as comprehension dawned on me I understood the reasons for her interest in me. 

  

           People have many reasons for snooping into others people’s lives and affairs. Everyone has a natural curiosity to know what lies beyond the closed door – especially if they have closed that door themselves. 

  

           In my mind’s eye I tried to imagine what life would have been like had she married me. I was tempted to probe a bit.” Why did you reject me?” I asked. 

  

          “Please don’t say that,” she said. “It all happened so fast, you were away sailing and I had only your photograph to go by – it was going to be six months before you would return from sea. And the Bhide’s were in a terrible hurry. Vishwas Bhide was in India for precisely one month – to find a bride, get married and go back to
America. Actually he was flooded with proposals, but he had liked me and I too wanted to go abroad, enjoy the luxury, the high standard of living.”
 

  

“When was this?” I asked. 

  

“In May 1991. I was exactly 20 years old.”  

  

“I wonder why my mother didn’t tell me about you?” I said to her quite confused. My mother was the one busy finding a girl for me then. 

  

          “It’s understandable,” Manisha Bhide said nonchalantly. “If a boy rejects a girl, it doesn’t matter; but if the girl rejects the boy, he becomes a laughing stock, an object of ridicule. 

  

          I smiled to myself at the truth of her statement. “So you live in the States do you? On a holiday here?” I asked. 

  

          “No,” she said. “We came back in 1995. My husband took up a professorship in the University. He is so qualified that he could earn millions, but is an idealist sort of chap who lacks ambition. It’s so sad. His idea of happiness is to wallow in mediocrity in every aspect of life.” 

  

          “How can you say that?” I interjected. “Teaching is an honourable profession. And surely the pay must be okay.” 

  

          “It’s no standard of living, Mr. Joshi,” he said with bitterness in her voice. “We stay in a dilapidated house in the university campus. And I am ashamed to drive in our small rickety car. All my dreams have been dashed. I too wish I could have a bungalow in Lonavala like you and live in style. I really envy your wife, Captain Joshi!” 

  

          “I don’t have a wife,” I said. 

  

           “Good God! You never got married?” she asked, confusion writ large on her face. She paused for a moment, then said tenderly, “Or is it?… Oh! I am so sorry.” 

  

          “No. No!” I said. “It’s not what you think. I am not a widower. Nor am I a bachelor. I am a divorcee. One day my wife just left me and moved in with some college-lecturer in Mumbai. Three years ago.” 

  

          “She left you for ridiculous lecturer! How silly?” 

  

          “It’s ironic isn’t it?” I said, “You wanted a standard of living, she wanted a quality of life.” 

  

          “Quality of life?” Manisha Bhide interrogated. 

  

          “That’s what she used to say. She couldn’t stand the separations, the loneliness, She wanted me to give up merchant navy and take up some job ashore, But I’d got too used to the sea and didn’t want to give up the ‘standard of living’ as you put it,” I paused and then said wistfully, “I wish I had understood! On the whole, I think an imperfect marriage is better than no marriage at all.” 

  

“I think your wife was very unfair,” Manisha said. 

  

“On the contrary I too haven’t been an angel. You see, life at sea is not all fun and frolic. One docks at exotic ports and one does get lonely at times.” I instantly regretted those words the moment they left my lips. 

  

          There was a sudden metamorphosis in Manisha Bhide. She was looking at me now as if I were a predator on the prowl. I excused myself and went to the toilet. When I returned I found Master Avinash Bhide in the centre-seat, with a scowl on his face, and Manisha Bhide in the window seat studiously reading a magazine. I sat down next to the young boy and the rest of the journey passed in interesting conversation with Master Avinash Bhide. He wanted to know all about ships! 

  

          As the train approached Lonavala I pulled down my bag and said, “Goodbye Mrs. Bhide. It was nice meeting you and, of course, your son is a delightful chap!” 

  

          Manisha Bhide turned her face and looked at me. She looked so beautiful and attractive that I stood mesmerized, unable to take my eyes off her. Then she smiled and said, “It was good I met you Captain Joshi. All these years I was always tormented by the thought that I had made the wrong choice. Now I know I made the right choice!” 

  

          As I walked away I had a canny feeling that I had probably saved her marriage. I can never forget Manisha Bhide, and sometimes when I feel lonely and melancholic, I wish Manisha Bhide nee Swati Gokhale had made a different choice. Maybe that would have been the right choice! And maybe my life would have been different. Who knows?  

  

  

VIKRAM KARVE 

Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve 

vikramkarve@sify.com 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com