Archive for the ‘sangvi’ Category

The Day After I Quit Smoking

January 18, 2008

THE DAY AFTER I QUIT SMOKING 

 By

 VIKRAM KARVE

One of the things that deters smokers from quitting decisively in one go is the fear of withdrawal symptoms. This results in smokers resorting to half-baked remedies like gradual reduction, nicotine patches, low tar cigarettes and various other futile therapies. In my opinion this exaggerated importance given to withdrawal symptoms is just a big myth, a ploy, an excuse by addicts to avoid giving up smoking. The so-called withdrawal symptoms are nothing but craving. The best and most effective way of quitting smoking is to just stop smoking, totally, in one go, and then never to smoke again. Don’t be afraid of the so-called “withdrawal symptoms” – you can easily tackle the craving. You can take my word for it – I successfully did it and conquered the craving for smoking once and for all.

I’ve written earlier and described how I quit smoking. I’m sure you must have read it in my blog.

 [In case you haven’t read it just click the link below – but remember to come back to this article!]

 http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com/blog/post/2006/12/how-i-quit-smoking.htm

 Now let me describe to you the day after I quit smoking. I woke up early, at five-thirty as usual, made a cup of tea, and the moment I took a sip of the piping hot delicious tea, I felt the familiar crave for my first cigarette of the day. I kept down the cup of tea, made a note of the craving in my diary, had a glass of hot water (quickly heated in the microwave oven), completed my ablutions, and stepped out of my house, crossed the Maharshi Karve Road, and began a brisk walk-cum-jog around the verdant tranquil Oval Maidan, deeply rinsing my lungs with the pure refreshing morning air, which made me feel on top of the world. The Clock on MumbaiUniversity’s RajabaiTower silhouetted against the calm bluish gray sky, was striking six, and I felt invigorated.

I had overcome my craving, and not smoked, what used to be my first cigarette of the day. I then went on my daily morning walk on Marine Drive to Chowpatty and on my way back I spotted my friends ‘N’ and ‘S’ across the road beckoning me for our customary post-exercise tea and cigarette at the stall opposite Mantralaya. I felt tempted, but my resolve firm, I waved to them, looked away and ran towards my house. They must have thought I’d gone crazy, but it didn’t matter – I had avoided what used to be my second cigarette of the day.

 I made a note of it my diary, as I would do the entire day of all the stimuli that triggered in me the urge to smoke – what I would call my “smoking anchors” which could be anything, internal and external, tangible or intangible – people, situations, events, feelings, smells, emotions, tendencies, moods, foods, social or organizational trends, practices, norms, peer pressure; and most importantly how I tackled and triumphed over these stimuli.

After breakfast, I didn’t drink my usual cup of coffee – a strong “smoking anchor” which triggered in me a desperate desire to smoke, and drank a glass of bland milk instead, thereby averting what used to be my third cigarette of the day. It was nine, as I walked to work, and I hadn’t smoked a single cigarette.

It was a long day ahead and I had to be cognizant, observe myself inwardly and devise strategies to tackle situations that elicited craving for smoking – recognize and neutralize my “smoking anchors”, so to speak. Anchoring is a naturally occurring phenomenon, a natural process that usually occurs without our awareness.

An anchor is any representation in the human nervous system that triggers any other representation. Anchors can operate in any representational system (sight, sound, feeling, sensation, smell, taste).

You create an anchor when you unconsciously set up a stimulus response pattern. Response [smoking] becomes associated with (anchored to) some stimulus; in such a way that perception of the stimulus (the anchor) leads by reflex to the anchored response [smoking] occurring. Repeated stimulus–response action, reinforces anchors and this is a vicious circle, especially in the context of “smoking anchors”.

The trick is to identify your “smoking anchors”, become conscious of these anchors and ensure you do not activate them.

The moment I reached office I saw my colleague ‘B’ eagerly waiting for me, as he did every day. Actually he was eagerly waiting to bum a cigarette from me for his first smoke of the day [“I smoke only other’s cigarettes” was his motto!].

I politely told him I had quit smoking and told him to look for a cigarette elsewhere. He looked at me in disbelief; taunted, jeered and badgered me a bit, but when I stood firm, he disappeared. I removed from my office my ashtray, declared the entire place a no-smoking zone and put up signs to that effect.

The working day began. It was a tough and stressful working day. I was tired, when my boss called me across and offered me a cigarette. I looked at the cigarette pack yearningly, tempted, overcome by a strong craving, desperate to have just that “one” cigarette. Nothing like a “refreshing” smoke to drive my blues away and revitalize me – the “panacea” to my “stressed-out” state! It was now or never!

I politely excused myself on the pretext of going to the toilet, but rushed out into the open and took a brisk walk rinsing my lungs with fresh air, and by the time I returned I had lost the craving to smoke and realized, like in the Oval early in the morning, that physical exercise is probably the best antidote.

 People may think I’m crazy, but even now I rush out of my office once in a while to take a brisk walk in the open and not only do I lose the craving for a smoke but I feel distressed and invigorated as well. Conversely, once I rushed into a “no-smoking” cinema when I desperately felt like a smoke while strolling in the evening. Often, after dinner, when I used to feel like a smoke, I rushed into the Oxford Bookstore next door, for a long leisurely browse till my craving dissipated.

And, of course, one has to change his lifestyle, activities, and, maybe, even friends. Always try to be with likeminded people who you would like to emulate – if you want to quit smoking try to be in the company of non-smokers. It was simple after that, but my diary for that defining day makes interesting reading of smoking anchors – saunf or supari after lunch, afternoon tea, the company of smokers, paan, coffee…

But the crucial test came in the evening. My dear friend ‘A’ landed up for a drink. Now ‘A’ is a guy who doesn’t smoke in front of his kids and wife (I’m sure she knows!). So since he doesn’t smoke in his own home he makes up in other people’s houses. But mind you, he doesn’t bum cigarettes – in fact he gets a pack and generously leaves the remaining behind for the host.

We poured out a rum–paani each, clinked our glasses, said cheers, and sipped.

‘A’ lit a cigarette and offered the pack to me. At the end of a hot, humid and tiring day, the fortifying beverage induced a heavenly ambrosial sensation which permeated throughout the body and what better way to synergise the enjoyment than to smoke a cigarette along with the drink and enhance the pleasure to sheer bliss.

Till that moment, for me, drinking and smoking were inextricably intertwined – they complemented, accentuated each other and accorded me the ultimate supreme pleasure. I enjoyed my smoke the most along with a drink.

I realized that drinking was my strongest “smoking anchor” and if I had to quit smoking permanently I would have to give up drinking forever.

 So that’s what I did. At this defining moment of my life, I quit drinking forever. It’s been almost four years now and I do not smoke and I do not drink. I will never smoke again – I have quit smoking forever.

I may be tempted, but I know I can overcome the urge, for I have mastered the art of taking charge of my “smoking anchors”. And from time to time, I shall look at my old diary to remember and cherish that cardinal day of my life – ‘the day after I quit smoking’.

 Dear Reader, do comment and give me your feedback. Did this work for you?

 VIKRAM KARVE

 Copyright © Vikram Karve 2008 Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work

vikramkarve@sify.com

 http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve

 vikramkarve@hotmail.com

 http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

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THE AFFAIR by VIKRAM KARVE

September 30, 2007

Click the link below and read a fiction short story THE AFFAIR by Vikram Karve

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com/blog/post/2007/09/the-affair.htm

If you like it do read my fiction on my creative writing blog

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

Regards

Vikram Karve

Life Process Outsourcing – LPO

September 30, 2007

Just click on the link below and read my story on LPO – Life Process Outsourcing:

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com/blog/post/2007/09/life-process-outsourcing-pure-fiction.htm

Do read all my creative writing on my sulekha creative writing blog:

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

Regards

Vikram Karve

The Visitor – Fiction Short Story

September 25, 2007

Click the link below and read my short story – The Visitor

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com/blog/post/2007/09/the-visitor-fiction-short-story.htm

VIKRAM KARVE

Book Review – The Importance of Living

September 18, 2007

BOOK REVIEW [A book that enriched my life and taught me the art of living]   Title: THE IMPORTANCE OF LIVINGAuthor: LIN YUTANGPublished: 1937 (New York, USA), Indian Edition: 1960 JAICO MumbaiISBN: 81-7224-829    There is one book you will never find in my bookcase – you will always find it by my bedside near my pillow. At night, just before I go to sleep, I open this book to any random page, and read on till I drift off to blissful idyllic sleep. The name of this book, which has had a profound defining effect on me, maybe even subconsciously shaped my philosophy of life, is called: The Importance of Living written in 1937 by the Chinese philosopher Lin Yutang.  But first, let me tell you a story, maybe apocryphal, about a scholar who had thoroughly studied the Bhagavad Gita for many years, considered himself an expert, traveled far and wide delivering discourses on the teachings of the Gita and was widely acknowledged as an authority on the subject. His ultimate desire was to deliver a discourse on the Bhagavad Gita at Benares, which was the sanctum sanctorum of learning. So he went to Benares, and impressed by the scholar’s erudition and fame, the King of Benares invited the scholar to deliver a discourse on the Bhagavad Gita in his court. All the wise men of Benares assembled to hear the Scholar, but just as he began to speak the King interrupted him and told him to read the Bhagavad Gita one more time in the evening and deliver his discourse the next day. The Scholar was furious but he had no choice but to comply with the king’s wishes. As he read the Bhagavad Gita with full concentration in the evening, he realized some new meanings and updated his speech accordingly. Next day the same thing happened – the moment the scholar began to speak the King interrupted him and told him to read the Gita once more and then come the next day to give his lecture. And again as the Scholar read the Gita he comprehended some new wisdom – something he hadn’t perceived before. So he incorporated his new findings and proceeded to deliver his talk. Again the same thing happened – the king interrupted him and told him to again read the Gita once more before he gave his discourse. And again the scholar discovered some new wisdom in the Gita. This cycle went on for days and days till the scholar realized how ignorant he was and how much more there was to learn from the Bhagavad Gita that he gave up the idea of delivering the discourse and decided to totally devote his entire efforts to the study of the Bhagavad Gita. Days passed, and suddenly one morning, when the scholar was deeply immersed in his study, the King went to the scholar’s house, sat before him with folded hands and requested the scholar to enlighten him about the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita.  It’s the same with any great book. Every time you read it, something new emerges, and you realize you have so much more to learn from it. I have read The Importance of Living innumerable times, again and again, with renewed pleasure, and every time I read it I imbibe a special different philosophical flavor, and grasp new wisdom, which delves on all aspects of the art of living, and I have realized that there is more significance and value in Lin Yutang’s magnum opus than I am capable of appreciating. So let me not be as presumptuous as to attempt to evaluate this classic treatise – I’ll just try to gently pilot you along in random vignettes to give you a flavor of this delightful philosophical gem. Let’s open this delightful book to a few random pages, read some lines to give you glimpse into the wisdom on the art of living contained in this masterpiece. In the section on Leisure and Friendship are these words: “Only those who take leisurely what the people of the world are busy about can be busy about what the people of the world take leisurely”. Reflect on this, let these words perambulate in your mind for some time. There is nothing that man enjoys more than leisure. The highest value of time is when you are doing what you love and want to do. During leisure you are free to choose what you want to do and enjoy doing. Leisure enables you to realize the highest value of your time!  Tell me, why do you work? Is it for job satisfaction? Or is it to earn money so that you can enjoy satisfaction off the job? In fact, most of us work for our leisure, because there is nothing we enjoy more than leisure. Elaborating on a theory of leisure the book says: “Time is useful because it is not being used. Leisure is like unoccupied floor space in a room…it is that unoccupied space which makes a room habitable, as it is our leisure hours which make our life endurable”. Those who are wise won’t be busy, and those who are too busy can’t be wise. Enunciating the distinction between Buddhism and Taoism: “The goal of the Buddhist is that he shall not want anything, while the goal of the Taoist is that he shall not be wanted at all”, the author describes the tremendous advantages of obscurity, and deduces that only he who is not wanted by the public can be a carefree individual. It is true isn’t it – only he who is a carefree individual can be a happy human being? Lin Yutang deliberates delightfully on his philosophical view: “Nothing matters to a man who says nothing matters”. “How are we to live? How shall we enjoy life, and who can best enjoy life?” The feast of life is before us; the only question is what appetite we have for it. The appetite is vital, not the feast. This delightful treatise gives us insights on how to develop, enhance and refine our appetites in order to enjoy various facets of living. The capacity for true enjoyment comes from an inner richness in a man who loves the simple ways of life. There is always plenty of life to enjoy for a man who is determined to enjoy it. You may find some of the author’s views a bit passé – “mere relationship between man and woman is not sufficient; the relationship must result in babies, or it is incomplete” or “woman reaches her noblest status only as a mother, and that wife who by choice refuses to become a mother… loses a great part of her dignity…and stands in danger of becoming a plaything” or “a natural man loves his children, but a cultured man loves his parents” or “The art of attaining happiness consists in keeping your pleasures mild” or “It is against the will of God to eat delicate food hastily, to pass gorgeous views hurriedly, to express deep sentiments superficially, to pass a beautiful day steeped on food and drink, and to enjoy your wealth steeped in luxuries” – think about it, reflect a bit, and you may detect a iota of authenticity in these nuggets. The book has fourteen chapters, embellished with epigrams, teaching stories, ancient wisdom and wit, on various aspects of the importance and enjoyment of living and once you start reading it this book is indeed so engrossing that it is truly unputdownable. The Importance of Loafing, The Enjoyment of the Home, Nature, Travel, Culture, The Arts of Thinking, Eating, Reading, Writing, Loving, Happiness – the range and variety of topics covered indeed make fascinating reading.  Reading is the greatest of all joys. Extolling the virtues and charm of reading, Lin Yutang says: “The man who has not the habit of reading is imprisoned in his immediate world…the reader is always carried away into a world of thought and reflection”, and on writing: “a writing is always better when it is one’s own, and a woman is always lovelier when she is somebody else’s wife”. “He who is afraid to use an ‘I’ in his writing will never make a good writer” and “anyone who reads a book with a sense of obligation does not understand the art of reading… to be thoroughly enjoyed, reading must be entirely spontaneous…you can leave the books that you don’t like alone, and let other people read them!” The best way to read The Importance of Living is to open any page and browse whatever appeals to you, randomly, in an unstructured and haphazard manner. Think of yourself as a traveler in the philosophical or spiritual domain. The essence of travel is to have no destination. A good traveler is one who does not know where he is going to; a perfect traveler does not know where he came from! A true traveler is always a vagabond – he travels to see nothing, to see nobody, with plenty of time and leisure, with the true motive to become lost and unknown.  Are you the ambitious competitive go-getter obsessed with an overpowering desire for achieving quick success – craving for power, wealth, fame, and the status and money-oriented aspects of life? Do you value material possessions more than peace of mind? Is external achievement more important than inner tranquility? If your answer to any of the questions is “Yes”, then please don’t bother to read this book now, as you may be too “busy” in your own competitive rat race of your own making and probably you don’t have any time to “waste” on anything that doesn’t give you something tangible in return – a solid material ROI (Return on Investment) for investing your valuable time and effort reading this book. But please don’t forget to read The Importance of Living after you’ve burned out, had a heart attack or suffered a nervous breakdown – when you’ll have plenty of time and, perhaps, the inclination, to reflect, contemplate, and delve more deeply upon the more intangible philosophical aspects of life – and ruminate on how you could have obviated that stressful burn-out, agonizing heart attack or traumatic nervous breakdown. Here’s Lin Yutang’s take: “Those who are wise won’t be busy, and those who are too busy can’t be wise.” If you are happy here and now, wherever you are, in whatever state you are, and you are truly content with what you have, you place living above thinking, and are interested in savoring the feast of life and its joys, then this witty philosophical treatise on the art of living in its entirety is the book for you. The Importance of Living presents an uncomplicated approach to living life to its fullest in today’s rapidly changing, fast paced, competitive, ambition dominated, money and status oriented, commercialized world, enabling each one of us to enjoy inner peace and happiness. Sometimes, it is a great pity to read a good book too early in life. The first impression is the one that counts. Young people should be careful in their reading, as old people in eating their food. They should not eat too much. They should chew it well.  Like you should eat gourmet food only when you are ready for it, you should read a good book only when you are ready for it. Mature wisdom cannot be appreciated until one becomes mature. But The Importance of Living is a book for all ages. Of 1937 vintage, an ancestor and precursor of modern “self-help” books, it is a delightful philosophical treatise, which advocates a humorous and vagabond attitude towards life and deals with a variety of topics encompassing the art of living. Is such a happy and carefree philosophy of life relevant today? Why don’t you give it a try and see for yourself! Slowly, relaxingly, thoroughly, peruse this classic masterpiece, absorb the witty wisdom, reflect, try out, practice and incorporate whatever appeals to you in your daily life, ruminate, experiment, enjoy yourself, have a laugh, change your lifestyle, enhance your quality of life, elevate your plane of living, and maybe your entire way of life may change forever.  Dear Reader, I commend this delightfully illuminating book. Though enunciated with a touch of humor, the thoughts are profound. Do get a copy of The Importance of Living and read it leisurely. I’m sure you will find a copy at your nearest bookstore or in your library. And don’t forget to tell us how you liked it, and did it change your life for the better.      

VIKRAM KARVE

 vikramkarve@sify.com vikramkarve@hotmail.com http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve http://www.ryze.com/go/karve    Book Review of THE IMPORTANCE OF LIVING by LIN YUTANG[A book that enriched my life and taught me the art of living] Reviewed by VIKRAM KARVE    

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

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wallflower [parts 1,2,3,4,5]

July 19, 2007

THE WALLFLOWER

 By VIKRAM KARVE   [PART – 1]                “I don’t want to marry Manisha,” I told my mother.             My mother looked as if she had been pole-axed. Suddenly there was a metamorphosis in her expression – a distant look across my shoulder followed by a smile of forced geniality.             “Manisha is coming!” my mother whispered.             I turned around quickly and saw Manisha entering the wicket-gate and walking towards us.             She wished my mother and smiled at me. “I want to come and see you off at the airport.”             “Why bother? I’ll go on my own,” I said. “The flights are quite unpredictable. They never leave on time. And how will you come back all the way?”             “You two talk here in the garden,” my mother said. “I’ll go inside and pack your things.”             “I am sorry about last night,” Manisha said, with genuine regret in her voice.             “It’s okay.” I looked at Manisha. Plump and full-faced, with small brown eyes and dusky complexion, hair drawn back into a conventional knot – there was only one adjective to describe Manisha – ‘prosaic’; yes, she looked prosaic – so commonplace, unexciting and pedestrian.             “I’ll go inside and help your mother,” Manisha said, and went inside.             ‘Last night’ was the fiasco at the disco. Manisha and I – An unmitigated disaster!             “Let’s dance,” I had asked Manisha.             “No,” Manisha was firm.             “Come on. I’ll teach you,” I pleaded. “Everyone is on the floor.”             But Manisha did not budge. So we just sat there watching. Everybody was thoroughly enjoying themselves. Many of my friends and colleagues were on the floor, with their wives, fiancées and girlfriends. Among them Sanjiv and Swati.             “Who is this wallflower you’ve brought with you?” taunted Sanjiv, during a break in the music.             “My fiancée, Manisha,” I answered, trying to keep cool.             “Your fiancée? How come you’ve hooked on to such a Vern?” Swati mocked. “Come on Vijay,” she said derisively, coming close and looking directly into my eyes. “You are an Executive now, not a clerk. Don’t live in your past. Find someone better. She doesn’t belong here.”             If someone had stuck a knife into my heart it would have been easier to endure than these words. It always rankled; the fact that I had come up the hard way, promoted from the ranks.             “This is too much” I said angrily to Sanjiv.             “Cool down, Vijay,” Sanjiv said putting his hand on my shoulder. “You know Swati doesn’t mean it.”             But I knew that Swati had meant every word she uttered.             “Let’s go,” I told Manisha. “I’ve had enough.”             When we were driving home, Manisha asked innocently, “What’s a Vern?               “Vernacular!” I answered. And at that moment there was a burst of firecrackers and rockets lit up the sky to usher in the New Year.             That night I could not sleep. I thought of my future, trying to see both halves of my future life, my career and my marriage, side by side. I realized that my career was more important to me than anything else. I had to succeed at any cost. And a key ingredient in the recipe for success was a ‘socially valuable’ wife. It mattered. It was the truth. Whether you like it or not. Swati was right. Manisha just didn’t belong to that aspect and class of society of which I was now a part. I had crossed the class barrier; but Manisha had remained where she was. And she would remain there, unwilling and unable to change.              In marriage one has to be rational. Manisha would be an encumbrance, maybe even an embarrassment. It was a mistake – my getting engaged to her. She was the girl next door, we had grown up together and everyone assumed we would be married one day. And our parents got us engaged. At that point of time I didn’t think much of it. It was only now, that my eyes had opened; I realized the enormity of the situation. I was an upwardly mobile executive now, not a mere clerk, and the equations had changed. What I needed was someone like Swati. Smart, chic and savvy. Convent educated, well groomed and accustomed to the prevalent lifestyle, a perfect hostess, an asset to my career. And most importantly she was from a well-connected family. I tired to imagine what life would have been like had I married Swati.              Sanjiv was so lucky. He was already going places. After all Swati was the daughter of the senior VP.             Suddenly I returned to the present. I could bear my mother calling me. I went inside. Manisha was helping her pack my bags, unaware of what was going on in my mind. I felt a sense of deep guilt, but then it was question of my life.             “What’s wrong with you?” my mother asked after Manisha had left.             “Why were so rude to Manisha, so distant? She loves you so much!”             “I don’t love her,” I said.             “What?” my mother asked surprised, “Is there some else?”             “No,” I said.             “I don’t understand you.”             “Manisha is not compatible anymore. She just doesn’t fit in.”             I could see that my mother was angry. Outwardly she remained calm and nonchalant; her fury was visible only in her eyes.              “Who do you think you are?” she said icily, trying to control herself. “You know Manisha from childhood, isn’t it? For the last two years you have been engaged and moving around together. And suddenly you say Manisha is not compatible?” My mother paused for a moment, and then taking my hand asked me softly, “What happened last night?”             I told her. Then we argued for over two hours and till the end I stuck to my guns. Finally my mother said, “This is going to be difficult. And relations between our families are going to be permanently strained. Think about Manisha. It will be so difficult for her to get married after the stigma of a broken engagement. Forget about last night. It’s just a small incident. Think about it again. Manisha is the ideal wife, so suitable for you.”             But I had made up my mind, so I told my mother, “If you want I’ll go and talk to her father right now and break off the engagement.”             “No,” my mother snapped. “Let your father come home. He will decide what to do.”             The doorbell rang. I opened the door. Standing outside along with my father were Manisha and her parents.             “I have fixed up your wedding with Manisha Patwardhan on the 30th of May of this year,” my father thundered peremptorily in his usual impetuous style.             “Congratulations,” echoed Manisha’s parents, Mr. and Mr. Patwardhan.             I was dumbstruck. Manisha was smiling coyly. My mother was signaling to me with her eyes not to say anything. She was probably happy at the fait accompli. I felt trapped. I excused myself and went up to my room. I locked the door. Someone knocked.             “Give me five minutes,” I said. “I’ll get ready and come down.”             “Come soon,” said Manisha from the other side of the door.             I took out my notepad and wrote a letter to Manisha:              Dear Manisha,                                     Forgive me, but I have discovered that I can’t marry you and I think that it is best for us to say goodbye.                                                                                                                         Yours sincerely,                                                                                                Vijay              I knew the words sounded insincere, but that was all I could write for my mind had bone blank and I wanted to get it over with as fast as possible; just one sentence to terminate our long relationship. I knew I was being cruel but I just couldn’t help it.              I sealed the letter in a postal envelope, wrote Manisha’s name and address on it and put it in my bag. I looked at my watch. It was time to leave.             Everyone came to the airport to see me off. Sanjiv and Swati had come too. They were located at Pune and I was off on a promotion to Delhi.             “I’m really very sorry about last night,” Swati apologized to us. She took Manisha’s hand and said tenderly, “Manisha, please forgive me. You are truly an ideal couple – both made for each other.”                        As I walked towards the boarding area Manisha’s father Mr. Patwardhan shouted to me jovially, “Hey, Vijay. Don’t forget to come on 30th of May. The wedding muhurat is exactly at 10.35 in the morning. Everything is fixed. I have already booked the best hall in town. If you don’t turn up I’ll lose my deposit!”             I nodded to him but in my mind’s eye I smiled to myself – the “joke” was going to be on him!  Then I waved everyone goodbye, went to the waiting hall, sat on a chair, opened my bag and took out the letter I had written to Manisha. I wish I had torn up the letter there and then, but some strange force stopped me. I put the envelope in my pocket and remembered my mother’s parting words: “Please Vijay. Marry Manisha. Don’t make everyone unhappy. Manisha is good girl. She’ll adjust. I’ll talk to her.”             During the flight I thought about it. I tried my utmost, but I just could not visualize Manisha as my wife in my new life any more. Till now I had done everything to make everybody happy. But what about me? It was my life after all. Time would heal wounds, abate the injury and dissipate the anger; but if I got trapped for life with Manisha, it would be an unmitigated sheer disaster.             I collected my baggage and walked towards the exit of Delhi Airport. Suddenly I spotted a red post box. I felt the envelope in my pocket. I knew I had to make the crucial decision right now. Yes, it was now or never.   To be continued…   VIKRAM KARVE http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com vikramkarve@sify.com vikramkarve@hotmail.com     THE WALLFLOWER By VIKRAM KARVE   [PART – 2]  [continued from Part 1]   I collected my baggage and walked towards the exit of Delhi Airport. Suddenly I spotted a red post box. I felt the envelope in my pocket. I knew I had to make the crucial decision right now. Yes, it was now or never. I walked towards the red post box and stood in front of it, indecisive and confused. I took a deep breath, took out the envelope from my pocket and looked at it – the address, postage stamp – everything was okay. I moved my hand to post the letter. A strange force stopped my hand in its tracks. I hesitated, and in my mind I tried to imagine the severe ramifications, the terrible consequences of what I was about to do.  At first Manisha would be delighted, even surprised, to see my handwriting on the letter. And then she would read it…! I dreaded to even think about the unimaginable hurt and distress she would feel… and then her parents… and mine…the sense of betrayal and insult…relationships built and nurtured for years would be strained, even broken, forever. And poor Manisha…everyone knew we were engaged…how tongues would wag…the stigma of broken engagement…the anguish of my betrayal of her love… she would be devastated… may even commit… Suddenly my cell-phone rang interrupting my train of thoughts. ‘Must be Manisha monitoring me as usual,’ I thought getting irritated at her – Manisha’s suffocating familiarity and closeness seemed like manacles and I was glad I was getting away from her. I decided not to answer, but my mobile kept ringing persistently, so I looked at the display. It wasn’t Manisha, but an unknown new number. “Hello,” I said into my cell-phone. “Mr. Joshi?” a male voice spoke. “Yes. Vijay Joshi here. Who is it, please?” I asked.  “Sir, we’ve come to receive you. Please come to the exit gate and look for the board with your name.” “I’m coming,” I said and looked the letter addressed to Manisha in my hand. No. Not now in a hurry. Providence was giving me signals to wait, reflect, and think it over, not to do something so irretrievable in such a hurry. So I put the envelope in my pocket and walked away from the post box towards the exit. I settled down well in my new job and liked my place in Delhi. Every morning I would put the envelope in my pocket determined to post it in the post box outside my office on my way to work but something happened and I didn’t post the letter to Manisha. Meanwhile I rang up Manisha, and my mother, every evening, and made pretence that everything was okay. The stress and strain within me was steadily building up. Every time I looked at the envelope I felt as if was holding a primed grenade in my hand. With every passing day, the 30th of May was approaching nearer and nearer. Time was running out, and I knew I would have to unburden myself of the bombshell pretty fast. So one day, during lunch break, I decided to post the fateful letter and get it over with once and for all. As I was walking out someone from the reception called out to me, “Hey, Mr. Joshi, is Mr. Gokhale in his office?” Gokhale was my boss, and he was out on tour, so I said, “No, he’s gone on tour. Anything I can do?” “Sir, there’s a courier for him,” the receptionist said. “I’ll take it and give it to him when he comes,” I said, signed the voucher and took the envelope from the courier. The moment I looked at the envelope an electric tremor of trepidation quivered through me like a thunderbolt.  I cannot begin to describe the bewildered astonishment and shocking consternation I felt when I saw Manisha’s distinctive handwriting on the envelope. Beautiful large flowing feminine writing with her trademark star-shaped ‘t’ crossing, the huge circle dotting the ‘i’… there was no doubt about it. And of course her favorite turquoise blue ink. There was no doubt about it but I turned the envelope around hoping I was wrong, but I was right – the letter to my boss Mr. Gokhale was indeed from Manisha; she had written her name and address on the reverse, as bold as brass! My pulse raced, my insides quivered, my brain resonated and I trembled with feverish anxiety. At first impulse I wanted to tear open the envelope and see what was inside, but I controlled myself, tried to mask my inner emotions, put on a fake smile of geniality for everyone around, gently put the letter in my pocket and began retracing my steps back to my office. I discreetly felt the two envelopes in my suit pocket – one, my unposted letter to Manisha; and the other, much fatter, Manisha’s unopened letter to my boss Mr. Avinash Gokhale.      To be continued…   VIKRAM KARVE 

Copyright 2007 Vikram Karve

  http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve http://www.ryze.com/go/karve  vikramkarve@sify.com vikramkarve@hotmail.com       THE WALLFLOWER By VIKRAM KARVE   [Part 3]  [continued from part 2]   I locked myself in my office, sat down, calmed myself with a glass of water, took out the two envelopes and put them on the table in front of me. My unposted letter to Manisha would now have to wait – I thanked my stars that some mysterious hidden restraining force had stopped me from posting it every time I tried to. I picked up Manisha’s envelope addressed to Avinash Gokhale. It was sheer serendipity that I happened to be at the reception when the courier arrived – otherwise I would have never known. I looked at the envelope. The whole thing was incredulous. Why on earth should Manisha write to Avinash Gokhale? What was the connection? How did she know Gokhale? What had she written to him? Had my simpleton mother blurted out something to her – told Manisha or her parents what I’d said – that I didn’t want to marry her? My mind went haywire with strange thoughts. Revenge! Yes, revenge. Stung by my betrayal, Manisha had somehow found out the name of my boss, from Sanjiv or Swati most probably, and was out to ruin my career – wreck vengeance on me for ditching her. Written to Avinash Gokhale what a jerk I was. These things mattered in my company. My heart skipped a beat. I felt a tremor of trepidation. I suddenly realized that I had to swiftly interrupt this pernicious line of thinking and insidious train of thoughts. No, No! It was just not possible. No chance.  Manisha was not the vindictive type. She would never do such a thing. Especially to me. She always loved me so much. And I was sure my mother would not have been so indiscreet and would have kept our conversation to herself. But then anything is possible. I couldn’t take any chances. Dying with curiosity I desperately felt like tearing open the envelope and reading the letter. I had to get to the bottom of this mystery. It was simple. I would open the letter in the privacy of my house. Steam-open the envelope very carefully so no one would even discern. Then I would read it and accordingly decide the further course of action. I wondered why Manisha had sent this letter so indiscreetly to the office address with her name and address written so blatantly. Was it on purpose? She could have spoken privately to Gokhale, or even e-mailed him. Why this bold as brass missive? Was it on purpose?  She wanted me to know…No. No. It was too bizarre!  I had an impulse to call up Manisha then and there and get it over with once and for all, but I stopped myself. I had to know first what she had written in that letter before I could do anything. The suspense was killing. I felt restless and uneasy. When I feel tense I go for a long walk. That’s what I did. I went for a long walk around my entire office, each department, making pretence of MBWA [Management By Walking Around]. When I returned to my office it was four, still an hour to go. The next hour was the longest hour of my life.  The moment it was five, I rushed out of my office. The moment I opened the door I ran bang into the receptionist. “Mr. Joshi, Sir. That letter for Mr. Gokhale – you want me to give it to his PA?” “No. No. I’ll give to him personally,” I said feeling the envelope in my coat pocket.  She gave me a curious questioning look so I hastily said, “Don’t worry, I’ve locked it carefully in my drawer,” and hurriedly walked away.  I rushed home to my apartment. I put some water in a pot to boil and then carefully held the envelope over it. I had to steam it open very meticulously and delicately – no tell tale signs.  Soon I had Manisha letter in my hands. Dear Avinash… she began.  Oh … great… Dear Avinash indeed! Already on first name terms – Thank God for small mercies it wasn’t Darling Avinash , Sweetie-pie or something more mushy!         [to be continued…]  VIKRAM KARVE 

Copyright 2007 Vikram Karve

  http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve http://www.ryze.com/go/karve  vikramkarve@sify.com vikramkarve@hotmail.com          

THE WALLFLOWER

 By VIKRAM KARVE  [Part 4]  [Continued from part 3]    Dear Avinash, The suddenness with which you popped the question left me so dumbfounded that I am still recovering from the shock. Shock? Maybe that’s the wrong word, but the swiftness of your proposal, out of the blue, on our very first date – well I am a simple girl and it really left me dazed.  You called once. I didn’t answer. You didn’t call again. I really appreciate that. That was very gentlemanly of you.  You sent me an e-mail. Explaining your feelings. Apologizing for what you did at the spur of the moment. Said sorry for having hurt my feelings. Please don’t say sorry. You haven’t hurt my feelings at all. Maybe outwardly I didn’t show it, but in fact, inside, I felt so good, so happy, that a suave man like you found a simple ordinary looking girl like me so attractive. Avinash, please try to understand. I also feel the same way about you. I can’t exactly describe the emotions I experienced when we were together. Is it love? I don’t know. It’s the first time it’s happened to me that I’ve  felt so attracted to someone. I really feel like being with you, forever, spending the rest of our lives together. Thanks for proposing to me, Avinash – I accept.  What I want to say now I don’t want to say over the phone, or e-mail, so I am writing this letter. I am writing this because I believe that there is no place for secrets between husband and wife. Please read it carefully and destroy it. For my sake. Please. Read what I have written, think about it carefully, and I’ll wait for your reply.    You know Vijay, don’t you? Vijay Joshi. Of course you do. He works with you in Delhi. You are his boss. In fact, I came to Sanjiv and Swati’s party in Pune just to see what Vijay’s boss looked like. Of course, I’d also come to help out Swati, but I was more interested to know how Vijay is doing in his new job in Delhi and maybe say something good about him. But the thunderbolt struck and we ended saying sweet nothings to each other. I hope Swati didn’t notice, as she seemed the busy hostess most of the time, and I haven’t told her, or anyone, about our hush-hush dinner-date the next evening in that lovely romantic garden restaurant.    Now, let’s talk about Vijay. Vijay and me were neighbors ever since I remember. Our families are very very close, deeply bonded to each other. Vijay and I are the dearest of dearest childhood friends, inseparable buddies who grew up together. Vijay has always been my most intimate confidant. I have always told him everything. Except about you – about us. It’s the first time I have hidden something from Vijay. And I’m feeling so guilty about it.  Avinash, I really love Vijay. But not in that way. Vijay is my friend, yes; buddy, yes; even soul mate, yes; but I just can’t imagine Vijay as my lover. Like I can visualize you! Now brace your heart, Avinash! I am engaged to Vijay. And our wedding date has been fixed on the 30th of May. Everyone knows about it. This was fixed long back by both our families. My marriage to Vijay – a foregone conclusion and implicit happy culmination of our friendship. I too was happy. Till I met you. Now it is different. What do we do, Avinash?  I just can’t bear to tell Vijay myself. To him it will be a terrible betrayal, a stab in his back. I can’t break his heart. He will be devastated. I don’t have the guts to tell my parents; or his, either. They will be shattered, the hurt very painful and relationships will be strained forever.  So what do we do, Avinash? I have an idea. It may sound bizarre, but let’s give it a try. Why not make Vijay fall in love with someone else? Avinash, why don’t you introduce Vijay to some nice girl out there? Someone smart and chic, like Swati. I think he likes girls like that – I’ve seen him stealing canny glances at Swati when he thought I wasn’t looking. Right now he is lonely, vulnerable, and I am sure you there are many lovely, mod, savvy, attractive women out there in Delhi who are also lonely and vulnerable. You’ve just got to match them and hope for the best. Avinash, try to understand. I want Vijay to call off our engagement. I want him to “break” my heart. It will be better that way, isn’t it? For me, for you, and for all of us. Avinash. Am I asking too much of you? You like the idea, or is it too weird? Or can you think of anything better? I am waiting for your reply. Please send me e-mails only. Don’t ring up or write – we have to very careful of hidden ears and curious eyes. And remember to destroy this letter right now. Yours lovingly,Manisha.   [To be continued?]    VIKRAM KARVE 

Copyright 2007 Vikram Karve

  http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve http://www.ryze.com/go/karve  vikramkarve@sify.com vikramkarve@hotmail.com     THE WALLFLOWER by VIKRAM KARVE  [Part 5]    I read the letter once again, slowly, carefully, word by word, till the last line – “And remember to destroy this letter right now”.  It was unbelievable – this bolt from the blue from Manisha. I laughed to myself. I thought I was smart, but it was Manisha who was playing the double game. I put the letter on the table, closed my eyes, and tried to think clearly. It was crazy – a classy snob like Avinash Gokhale falling for a pedestrian Plain Jane like Manisha Patwardhan! Yes, Love is blind – Love is truly blind! Or, is it?    Instinctively I picked up my cell-phone and called Manisha. “Hi, Vijay,” Manisha said, “what’s up?” “Just thought of you, so called to say Hi,” I said. “How’s life out there?” “Good. I like Delhi. You’ll like it too – when you come here.” “Come there?” “You’re going to come here and stay with me in Delhi after we get married, aren’t you?” “Of course,” Manisha said smoothly – so smoothly, so slickly, so effortlessly, so glibly, without even the slightest demur or trace of dither, that, for a moment I was struck dumb. “Hey, Vijay, what happened?” Manisha asked. “Nothing,” I answered, “everything okay out there?” “Oh, yes, I’d gone to your place this morning – everyone is fine.” “Your parents?” “My Mum and Dad are fine. Everyone is okay – just waiting for you to come. When are you coming to Pune?” “I don’t know. There’s lots of work.” “Come on, Vijay. Don’t tell me you can’t come for a day or two, at least on a weekend. I’m sure there’s not that much work that the heavens will fall if you are not there.” “It’s not that – my boss here is a funny guy.” “Funny Guy?” “A painful killjoy called Avinash Gokhale,” I said, and listened carefully, but I couldn’t even detect even the slightest gasp or tremor in her voice as Manisha continued talking smoothly and glibly as ever, “Never mind, Vijay, you just work hard,” and then she effortlessly changed the subject to the latest happenings in Pune and started off with mushy ‘sweet nothings’ about how much she missed me. Listening to her, for a moment, I thought the letter in front of me was a forgery, but then I knew Manisha’s handwriting too well. I was too flabbergasted to continue the conversation so I quickly said bye and kept the cell-phone on the table. I never imagined Manisha could be so secretive, so mendacious. It was strange – how close one can be to a person and yet know nothing about her. And Avinash Gokhale? I worked with him every day, spent hours together, yet knew nothing about him, except that he was brilliant workaholic and a recluse – a most boring and private person who always kept to himself, never mixed around, never socialized or attended parties, a pain in the neck who everyone avoided and the only thing he ever talked was about work. Made for each other – two secretive loners – Manisha Patwardhan and Avinash Gokhale. But why was I so bothered? Good Luck to them! My problem was being solved. I had to just quietly wait and watch, do nothing, till my boss found some nice smart chic girl for me. Can anyone be luckier? Life was going to be exciting! I carefully put Manisha’s letter back into the envelope and resealed it meticulously with a glue-stick. No one could have suspected that it had been steamed open. Now all I had to do was to quietly put it in the mail folder of Avinash Gokhale before he reached office on Monday morning.  Suddenly, I was jolted out of my thoughts by the ring-tone of my cell-phone. “Hello!” I said. “Is that Mr. Joshi?” a sweet mellifluous feminine voice said. “Yes. Vijay Joshi here,” I said. “I’m Vibha speaking.”  “Vibha?” I asked surprised. I didn’t know any Vibha.   “Oh I’m sorry Mr. Joshi, we haven’t met. I’m Vibha Gokhale. Avinash Gokhale’s wife.”   [ to be continued ]   VIKRAM KARVE 

Copyright 2007 Vikram Karve

  http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com  http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve  http://www.ryze.com/go/karve  vikramkarve@sify.com  vikramkarve@hotmail.com          

QUALITY TIME

July 10, 2007

QUALITY TIME

(A fictional short “love” story)

 

by

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“How was your day?” the husband asks.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“I love you, darling!” the wife says.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

There’s no doubt about it!

 

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

 

Yes. Quality Time!

 

Quality Time – with someone else!

 

 

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

 

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve

 

vikramkarve@sify.com

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom

July 9, 2007

FREEDOM

 

By

 

VIKRAM KARVE

       

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

   

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

 

                I stand outside the subway at Churchgate. Should I turn right, walk past Asiatic, Gaylord, and Rustoms towards Marine Drive on the Arabian Sea? Or go straight ahead, past Eros, to Nariman Point? Or walk to my left, between the Oval and Cross Maidan, towards Hutatma Chowk? I feel good. On top of the world. I am free to go wherever I please. That’s freedom!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

                “I shall be late today,” I say.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

                I window-shop on MG Road opposite the university till I reach Kalaghoda. There’s a sale almost everywhere. Have a glass of refreshing cold sugarcane juice on the roadside stall. Browse at the Magna Book Store. Hear the latest music at Rhythm House. See the latest paintings at JehangirArtGallery. You can see, feel, browse, hear whatever you want; need not buy – that’s freedom.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

                “So shall I,” she replies. “I am going out with my friends.”

 

                Brevity in communication. The hallmark of our family.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

                We sit at the breakfast table. No one asks me where I was yesterday. Maybe I have become redundant. Or have I?               

               

                “Be ready at 12. I’ll send the car. We’ve got to go for that business lunch at the Golf Club,” my husband snaps pepremptorily.

               

                Oh yes. I’ll go along. As ‘Arm Candy’!

 

                “And, Mom, after that you’ve got to come with me to the jeweler,” my daughter commands. That’s all I am worth these days, isn’t it? Just ornamental value.

 

 

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

 

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

       

FREEDOM – a short story

by

VIKRAM KARVE

 

Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve

   

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

   

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

   

vikramkarve@sify.com

Lovedale to Coonoor – Don’t Delve Too Much

July 5, 2007

DON’T DELVE TOO MUCH

(a fiction short story)

By

VIKRAM KARVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            “Can I go with her?” Lata asks.

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

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

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

            Lata gives me my school-bag and leaves quickly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

          “Yes ma’am,” I answer.

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

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

          “1987,” she says.

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

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

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

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

            “Season ticket?” she asked surprised.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            “Yes”

            “Often?”

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

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

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

            “He’s an alcoholic,” I say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            “For some work? Children’s admission?”

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

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

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

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

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

            “You work?” I ask.

            “Yes. In an MNC.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            “Not playing?” she asks.

            “No,” I say.

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

            “Who’s captaining?” her friend asks.

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

            “Where are you going?”

            “Coonoor.”

            “Coonoor?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            “Sure?”

            “I’m sure, thanks.”      

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

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

            Stunned, I struggle, feeling acutely uncomfortable.

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

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

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

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

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

            “Yes?” a voice says from behind.

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

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

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

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

            “Papa,” I say softly.

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

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

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

            “Can I take him?” I ask.

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

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

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

            “Yes,” I say.           

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

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

            “You’re hungry?” he asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            “Who?”

            “Your mother.”

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

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

            “She came last evening. Wanted your custody.”

            “Custody? What are you talking?”

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

            “Who?”

            “Your birthmother.”

            “Birthmother?”

            “Yes.”

            “But mummy?”

            “Don’t delve too much.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            “Sure?”

            “Absolutely sure.”

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

            “Papa?”

            “Yes.”

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

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

VIKRAM KARVE

Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve

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