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DATING and MATING

May 18, 2009

DATING and MATING

 

[Short Fiction – A Love Story]

 

By

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

(Earlier I had posted this story in parts. Here is the full story. If you’ve read the parts, do enjoy the full story once more.)

 

I am busy working in my office on the morning of the First of April when my cell phone rings. It is Sudha, my next door neighbour, so I take the call. 

 

“Vijay, you lucky dog, your life is made,” Sudha says excitedly.

 

“Lucky Dog? Please, Sudha, I am busy,” I say, a trifle irritated.

 

“Don’t switch off your cell phone,” Sudha says, “you are going to get a very important phone call.”

 

“Important call?”

 

“From the hottest and most eligible woman in town,” Sudha says with exuberance, “She’s fallen head over heels for you, Vijay. She wants to date you.”

 

“Date me? Who’s this?”

 

“My boss.”

 

“Your boss?”

 

“Come on, Vijay, I told you, didn’t I, about the chic Miss Hoity Toity who joined last week…”

 

Suddenly it dawns on me and I say to Sudha, “Happy April Fools Day…”

 

“Hey, seriously, I swear it is not an April Fools’ Day prank. She is really going to ring you up…she desperately wants to meet you…”

 

“Desperately wants to meet me? I don’t even know her…haven’t even seen her…”

 

“But she’s seen you…”

 

“Seen me…where…?”

 

“Jogging around the Oval Maidan…I think she is stalking you…”

 

“Stalking me…?”

 

“She knows everything…your routine…where you stay…that you are my neighbour…so she called me to her office and asked for your mobile number.”

 

“I’ve told you not to give my number to anyone…”

 

“I told her…but she said it was very urgent…I think she wants to come over in the evening…”

 

“This evening…?… I am switching off my mobile…”

 

“No you don’t…You’ll like her…she is your type…”

 

“My Type?… What do you mean?…Sudha please…”

 

“Bye, Vijay…I don’t want to keep your mobile busy…She’ll be calling any time now…Remember, her name is Nisha…All the Best…” Sudha cuts off the phone.

 

As I wait for the mysterious lady’s call, let me tell you’re a bit about Sudha. 

 

Ever since she dumped me and married that suave, slimy, effeminate, ingratiating sissy Suhas, Sudha probably felt so guilt ridden that she had taken upon herself the responsibility for getting me married.

 

Sudha was my neighbour, the girl next door; my childhood friend, playmate, classmate, soul-mate, confidante and constant companion. I assumed we would get married but she suddenly fell for Suhas who she met at a training seminar.

 

I hated Suhas – he was one of those glib, smooth-talking, street-smart, slick characters that adorn the corporate world – a clean-shaven, soft-spoken, genteel, elegantly groomed metrosexual type with an almost feminine voice and carefully cultivated mannerisms as if he had been trained in a finishing school.

 

At first, I was devastated and could not understand why Sudha had betrayed me, but when Sudha gently explained to me that she always saw me as a friend and never as a husband, I understood and maintained cordial relations with her, though I loathed her husband who had shamelessly moved into her spacious apartment after relocating from Delhi to Mumbai.

 

Probably Sudha thought I had remained unmarried because of her (which may have been true to an extent) so in order to allay her guilt conscience she kept on setting up dates for me hoping for the best.

 

The ring of my cell-phone interrupts my train of thoughts.

 

“Mr. Vijay…?” asks a sweet mellifluous feminine voice.

 

“Yes,” I say my heartbeat slightly increasing.

 

“Nisha here,” she says, “Is it a good time to talk.”

 

“Of course,” I say.

 

“I want to meet you…Is it okay if I come over to your place this evening…”

 

My My My! She comes to the point pretty fast isn’t it?

 

“Today evening…?” I blurt out a bit incredulous.

 

“It’s a bit urgent,” she says.

 

“Sure. You are most welcome,” I stammer recovering my wits.

 

“Six-thirty…before you go for your jog…or later after you return…or maybe we can meet up at the Oval…”

 

I am truly stunned… this Nisha is indeed stalking me…meet up at the Oval…as brazen as that… I have never experienced such blatant propositioning…Tocsins sound in my brain…

 

“Mr. Vijay…” I hear Nisha’s soft voice in the cell-phone earpiece.

 

“Yes, Yes, six-thirty is absolutely fine…I’ll wait for you in my house…you know the place…” I stutter recovering my wits.

 

“Yes, I know your place,” Nisha says, “I’ll be there at six-thirty,” and she disconnects.

 

I go home early, shower, deodorize, groom, titivate, put on my best shirt and wait in eager anticipation for this mysterious woman who is coming onto me so heavily.

 

Precisely at six-fifteen the bell rings. 

 

I open the door.

 

“Hi, I’m Nisha,” the stunningly attractive woman in front of me says.

 

Sudha was right…Nisha is certainly very hot… oh yes, Nisha is indeed my type of woman.

 

“I’m sorry I’m a bit early, but I noticed you were in, saw your car below…”she says.

 

‘Noticed I was in’… My, My…She knows my car…about my daily jogs on the Oval…my routine…everything…she’s really hot on my trail…isn’t she?

 

I look at her. She comes closer towards me.

 

She looks and smells natural. No attempt to camouflage her raw steamy physical self behind a synthetic mask of make-up and artificial deodorants.

 

Her persona is tantalizingly inviting and temptingly desirable; her tight-fitting pink T-shirt tucked into hip hugging dark blue jeans accentuate the curves of her exquisite body and she radiates a captivating aura, an extraordinary magnetic attraction, I have never experienced before.

 

I cannot take my eyes off her, her gorgeous face, her beautiful eyes, her lush skin, so I feast my eyes on her, let my eyes travel all over her shapely body.

 

The frank admiration in my eyes wins a smile. She lets her eyes hold mine.

 

 “Aren’t you going to ask me to come in?” she smiles as if reading my mind.

 

“Oh, yes, sorry, please come in,” I say, embarrassed at having eyed her so openly.

 

I guide her to the sofa and sit as near her as politely possible.

 

We sit on the sofa. She looks terribly attractive, very very desirable.

 

Our closeness envelops us in a stimulating kind of intimacy.

 

Overwhelmed by passion I inch towards her.

 

She too comes closer.

 

I sense the beginnings of an experience I have dreamt about in my fantasies.

  

“Actually, I have come for mating,” she says.

 

“Mating…?” I exclaim instinctively, totally shocked, stunned beyond belief.

 

I look at her tremendously excited, yet frightened, baffled, perplexed, wondering what to do, how to make my move, as the improbability of the situation makes me slightly incredulous and bewildered

 

I notice her eyes search the drawing room, then she looks at the bedroom door, and asks, “Where is your daughter?”

 

“Daughter? I’m not married,” I say, completely taken aback.

 

“I know,” she says, “I’m talking about your lovely dog…or rather, bitch…” she laughs tongue-in-cheek.

 

“I’ve locked her inside. She is not very friendly.”

 

“I know. Hounds do not like strangers…but don’t worry…soon I won’t be a stranger…” Nisha says, gets up and begins walking towards the closed bedroom door.

 

“Please,” I say anxiously, “Angel is very ferocious and aggressive.”

 

“Angel…what a lovely name,” Nisha says, “I have been seeing you two jogging and playing at the Oval. That’s why I have come here…to see your beautiful hound Angel…” and then she opens the door.

 

Angel looks suspiciously as Nisha enters the bedroom and as she extends her hand towards her to pat her on the head, Angel growls at Nisha menacingly, her tail becomes stiff, and the hackles on her back stiffen, since, like most Caravan Hounds, she does not like to be touched or handled by anyone other than me, her master.

 

“Please…please…” I plead to Nisha, but she moves ahead undaunted and caresses Angel’s neck and suddenly there is a noticeable metamorphosis in the hound’s body language as the dog recognizes the true dog lover. All of a sudden Angel licks Nisha’s hand, wags her tail and jumps lovingly at Nisha who embraces her.

 

I am really surprised at the way Nisha is hugging and caressing Angel as not even the most ardent of dog lovers would dare to fondle and take liberties with a ferocious Caravan Hound.

 

“She’s ideal for Bruno. They’ll love each other,” Nisha says cuddling Angel.

 

“Bruno?”

 

“My handsome boy… I was desperately looking for a mate for Bruno…and then I saw her…they’re ideally suited…a perfect made for each other couple.”

 

“You’ve got a hound?”

 

“A Mudhol.”

 

“Mudhol?”

 

“Exactly like her.”

 

“But Angel is a Caravan Hound.”

 

“It’s the same…a Caravan Hound is the same as a Mudhol Hound …in fact, the actual name is Mudhol…”

 

“I don’t think so.”

 

“Bet?”

 

“Okay.”

 

 “Dinner at the place of my choice.”

 

 “Done.”

 

“Let’s go.”

 

“Where?”

 

“To my place.”

 

“To your place?”

 

“To meet Bruno…doesn’t Angel want to see him?”

 

“Of course… me too.”

 

And so, the three of us, Nisha, Angel and I, drove down to Nisha’s home on Malabar Hill. The moment we opened the door Bruno rushed to welcome Nisha…then gave Angel a tentative look…for an instant both the hounds stared menacingly at each other…Bruno gave a low growl…then extended his nose to scent…Angel melted…it was love at first sight.

 

Nisha won the bet…we surfed the internet…cross checked in libraries…she was right… Mudhol Hound is the same as Caravan Hound…but not the same as a Rampur, Rajapalyam or  Chippiparai Hound.

 

But that’s another story.

 

Here is what happened to our “Dating and Mating Story”. 

 

Angel and Bruno had a successful mating and Nisha and Bruno would visit my pregnant girl every day, and then, on D-Day,  Nisha stayed through the night to egg on Angel in her whelping.

 

Angel gave birth to four cute little puppies, and every day the “doggie” parents and “human” grandparents would spend hours doting on the little ones.

 

Since Nisha and I could not agree as to who should take which puppy we solved the problem by getting married – strictly a marriage of convenience – but Sudha, her aim achieved, tells me that Nisha and I are the most rocking couple madly in love.

 

And so now we all live together as one big happy family – ours, theirs, mine and hers.

 

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009

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

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

 

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

 

vikramkarve@sify.com

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ROMANCE – A Love Story

December 26, 2008
ROMANCE

By

VIKRAM KARVE

  

[Dear Reader, here is one of my earliest mushy love stories for you to read this festive season when romance is in the air. Do tell me if you liked it]

 

 

            HIS STORY

 

Sanjay stared blankly at the TV set, never so frightened, never so alone.  He couldn’t believe the news.  The plane had crashed.  There were no survivors.  His wife was dead.  This was one contingency that he had never reckoned with.

 

  Sanjay had spent a good deal of time worrying about what would happen to Shalini, if he had died.  In fact, he had always presumed, and even taken for granted, that he would die first and had accordingly planned meticulously and made elaborate and adequate financial provisions for her in case something should happen to him.

 

  But he had never for a moment considered what would happen to him if Shalini died.  She had been an integral part of him and he couldn’t even imagine living without her.  He felt emotionally shattered.  He wanted to cry but tears refused to come in his eyes and his throat felt dry.  He lapsed into a zombie-like state of shock.

 

            His recollections of the next few days were just vivid flashes in a void.  At first, in desperate hope he had rushed to the airport to check the passenger list, hoping that by some miracle she had not been on board.  Little realizing that it was he who had seen her off.  Then there were condolence visits, and the airlines insurance forms.  He didn’t want any money, or condolences.  He wanted his wife back.  Heartbroken with grief and a strange fear of loneliness, Sanjay had sunk into a state of suspended vacuum, devoid of cognizance.  

 

            As he gradually came into consciousness from his drunken stupor, Sanjay realized that he had lost control over his life.  He opened his eyes with trepidation.  Everything looked blurred.  Slowly things began to come a little more into focus.  He was in a train – lying down on the lower berth in a first class compartment.  On the opposite berth sat a family – a young man, his wife and their small daughter.  The man was looking at him in disgust, the wife with pity, and the daughter with fear.  Sanjay felt ashamed of himself and closed his eyes, in embarrassment, trying to escape from reality.  As he lay on the berth indulging in self-commiseration, Sanjay had the lonely realization that there is indeed a moment when a man has no friend.  There was no one to share his grief.  Wallowing in a mood of self-pity in his private self-created hell, Sanjay had developed acute social phobia.  He was afraid of meeting people, attending social gatherings.  He had internalized his feelings to such an extent that he had even become a victim of agoraphobia – a fear of being in open or public places.  It was a crippling illness.  He was scared of leaving his home, afraid of even going to his office and meeting his colleagues.  Sanjay was rapidly sinking into the depths of a loneliness induced melancholic depression – to the point of no return.  The end of the road was in sight.

 

            “The most important thing is the ability to loosen and get rid of something that is worrying you, and forget your sorrow,” advised Anand, Sanjay’s boss.  “Life must go on.  What you need is break, a change of scene.  There is a technical seminar in Chennai next week.  I am sending you to attend it.  It should be of professional interest to you – in fact, I have intimated the organizers that you shall be giving a lecture regarding the successful project you completed last year.  Get busy and banish your sorrow.”

 

            “It’s easy to mouth platitudes,” thought Sanjay.  He tried to prepare the lecture but could not concentrate.  He had been totally overcome by feelings of hopelessness and a sense of failure.  He had lost his self–confidence.  He looked at his watch – it was six o’clock in the evening; his train was at eight o’clock .  The thought of traveling, facing so many people at the seminar and delivering the lecture – all these induced a strange fear in him.  He was overcome by phobia.  In his frustration, for the first time in his life, he began to drink.  Trying to escape from reality, he drank quite a lot – almost the whole bottle of whisky.  He could vaguely remember Anand taking him to the railway station and helping him to the train.  Anand’s parting words had an ominous ring about them,  “It’s your last chance Sanjay.  To get hold of yourself.”

 

            Sanjay entered the auditorium and stood near the door, his eyes adjusting to the darkness.  Slowly things began to come into view.  He was late.  The seminar was already in progress.  The auditorium was small and compact.  It was shaped like a quadrant of a circle, with a raised podium in the central.  The rows of seats were arranged in the fashion of curved arcs, split radially in the centre by the aisle.  Each row was raised behind the one in front, in elevated steps, thereby affording each member of the audience a clear view, not only of the speaker, but also of each person sitting in the audience.  Sanjay sat down on a vacant seat in the last row and surveyed his surroundings.  His eyes had adjusted themselves to the subdued lighting and he could see clearly now.  Most of the participants appeared to be professionals, smartly dressed in formal suits, with a sprinkling of academics easily distinguishable by their patent attire of bush-shirts and sandals.  There was also small group of women, dressed in formal saris, sitting diagonally opposite across the aisle.

 

  As he surveyed the group, his eyes suddenly lit upon a stunningly attractive woman wearing a blue sari.  She was a real beauty.  She radiated an extraordinary sensuousness; of such a degree that Sanjay just could not take his eyes off her.  He felt as if his eyes had locked on to her face.  She exuded a captivating aura about her, which ravished his now hungry eyes.  He feasted his eyes on her lovely face.  She looked pristine – so fresh, so pure.  He was oblivious of his surroundings; he only had eyes for her.  Sanjay was in a haze of delight.  For the first time since his wife’s death did Sanjay feel completely relaxed; once again, he was in harmony with himself.

 

 At first, didn’t notice the lights being switched on.  He had been completely absorbed by her radiant sensuousness, almost in a trance.  As she got up from her seat, the woman turned and looked at him.  Their eyes met.  He hoped that his genuine adoration had not gone unnoticed.  She gave him a glance that could have meant anything.  No response.  He was disappointed.  But he was not going to give up so easily.

 

 He caught her eyes again, looking steadily and directly:  passionate admiration and yearning radiating from his eyes.  She held his gaze in a kind of challenge, there was a lengthy pause and then she smiled.  He felt relieved, and elated.  The frank admiration in his eyes had won him a smile.  Her large youthful eyes were now fastened on his.  There was a language in her eyes, which Sanjay could not fully fathom.  Happy and gay, her eyes conveyed a certain naïveté tinged with curiosity, possibly approval.  For Sanjay, it was a moment of supreme satisfaction.  He felt renewed and refreshed.  Suddenly, contact was broken as somebody blocked his line of sight.

 

  Everyone was walking towards the exit for the tea break.  Sanjay had now lost sight of her.  She had gone out for tea.  Sanjay kept sitting.  The auditorium was now empty.  He closed his eyes in introspection.  He felt calm and serene.  In his mind’s eye he could clearly visualize her exquisite face and magnetic eyes.  And her tantalizing smile – teasing, almost naughty.  Sanjay could not begin to describe the sensation.  She evoked in him.  Certainly it was pleasurable and had a soothing effect on his frayed nerves.  A much needed palliative.

 

            When Sanjay opened his eyes he noticed that the woman had shifted her seat and was sitting alone, across the aisle, much closer than before, affording a better view.  She was looking at him in a canny manner, and when he caught her eye, she quickly turned her gaze towards the podium.  Sanjay experienced an encouraging flush of self-confidence.  He got up from his seat, moved forward, and took up a strong tactical position.  He now had an unobstructed, clear view of her from the most favorable aspect.  He noticed that her eyes had been tracking him.  He looked into her eyes and smiled.  There was a conspiratorial look in her expressive eyes, at once inviting, and taunting.  She was teasing him with her eyes, as if her stimulus had evoked a response; or was it vice – versa.   

 

            Encouraged by her enthusiastic response, Sanjay indulged himself lavishly.  He made love to her with his eyes.  She responded with unrestrained zeal, genuine exhilaration pouring out of her eyes.  As their mutual visual interplay became intense, Sanjay was transported to an ecstatic state of supreme bliss.

 

            Mesmerized in her enchanting eyes, Sanjay was in a delightful trance, oblivious of his surroundings, forgetting his grief.  This immensely enjoyable experience had, at least momentarily, liberated him from his inner tyranny.

 

            As he walked back to his hotel in the evening Sanjay was bubbling with joy.  He experienced a unique state of awareness and self–confidence.  Renewed and invigorated, he felt on top of the world.  His lecture was scheduled the next day.  His would work hard and make it a success.  He had to do it, at least for her.

 

 She was his inspiration.  He felt confident.  He was going to give an impressive performance; make a lasting impression on her.  She would never forget him.  Luckily he had got his chance and he was going to make the most of it.  As his thoughts ran on, he felt charged with energy. Sanjay had bounced back into life again.  He felt buoyant, as though he had traveled through a long dark tunnel and, suddenly, burst out into the bright open countryside again. 

 

 

HER STORY

            Rajashree lay on her bed, sleep eluding her.  She was in a state of pleasurable excitation.  She felt good; on top of the world.  The day had passed in a haze of delight.  Rajashree had never imagined that such a seemingly trivial experience would give her so much pleasure and bring happiness into her life.  But this was no synthetic experience.  It had been genuine and real – had actually happened to her – and was profoundly affecting her.  She explored her own feelings, the stimulus of the welter of events and her response.   

 

            When she had first noticed the handsome, bearded man staring at her, she had uncomfortable but had resigned herself to his ogling – what she believed was a masculine propensity in Indian society.  Maybe he was just looking in her direction, since she was sitting with a group of women.  She decided to ignore it. In any case, she couldn’t do anything about it.  

 

But curiosity got the better of her.  After some time she looked in his direction through the corner of her eyes.  He was still looking at her.  She got confused.  “What was his motive?” she wondered.  Was he trying to seduce her?  She dare not smile back or appear too friendly lest he misinterpret it as a sign of easy availability.  Rajashree felt irritated at the invasion of her private space.  His visual intrusion was disturbing the equilibrium of her personal inner zone. 

 

            Suddenly the lights came on. As she got up she came into eye contact with him.  She tried to avoid his gaze.  But she could not avert the magnetic pull of his eyes.  She looked straight into his eyes, trying to project defiance.  But when she saw the genuine ardor and frank admiration in his eyes, her defenses broke down and she smiled.

 

            At the tea break, as she picked up a cup of tea, Rajashree searched for him.  He had not come out.  Rajashree sat down in a remote corner.  Sipping her tea, she explored her feelings.  The seemingly trivial encounter had definitely raised her spirits.  She felt good.  Fresh, buoyant and youthful, Rajashree was no clairvoyant to look into the province of Sanjay ’s mind, but she was curious to know the extent of his feelings.

 

            “What does he want from me? “ she wondered.  “Is he really attracted to me or is it my vicarious imagination titillating me?”

 

            Rajashree made a spontaneous decision, trusting her intuition.  If he was playing a game, she too would join in.  A bit of harmless flirtation never hurt anyone.  She went into the auditorium and sat on a vacant seat much closer to him.  She noticed that the man was sitting silently with his eyes closed, as if he were meditating.  Even as she was feeling a flush of disappointment, he suddenly opened his eyes.  The astonishment evident in his surprised eyes made her realize that she had been ogling at him unabashedly.  She quickly turned her eyes away in momentary sense of guilty embarrassment, and then recovered.

 

  He had shifted to a better position and was smiling at her.  She felt a tremor of anticipation at his positive response and teased him with her eyes.  She surrendered herself and her inhibitions to the mysterious rhythm of their spontaneous interaction and locked her eyes into his, radiating unconcealed feelings of joy.  As they made ethereal love to each other with their eyes, she experienced immense enjoyment and unparalleled pleasure.  It was the first genuine physical attraction she had felt for anyone since her bitter divorce.  It had been a long time ago, and not since then had the mere sight of a man aroused the womanhood in her to such an extent.

 

 

 

THEIR STORY


 

            Sanjay delivered the lecture with newfound verve, radiating self-confidence and professional competence. Rajashree was sitting in the first row.  From time to time, Sanjay looked at her.  She was directly concentrating on him; the language of her eyes clearly projecting approbation, assurance and encouragement.  Silently, she cheered him on.  She was Sanjay’s inspiration, his motivation and, at that moment, his raison d’etre.

 

            “As the applause died down, Sanjay sat down on the stage.  He looked at Rajashree.  She gave him a canny look of congratulation, got up from her seat and left the auditorium.  Sanjay, desperately wanted to follow her, but he was helpless.  The chairman was delivering the vote of thanks for him and Sanjay couldn’t possibly leave the stage.

 

 Time crawled.  Sanjay became anxious.   The chairman was going on and on with his long-winded speech.  Sanjay looked at his watch.  He realized that the chairman had spoken only for five minutes.  But these five minutes were the longest five minutes of Sanjay’s life.

 

  He was desperate to meet her; afraid he would lose her, forever.   She was the one bright spot in his present life.  He did not want to lose her.  In his frustration, he mentally cursed the speaker for taking so long.  Finally, he could take it no longer.  He excused himself and left the auditorium.

 

 Outside, he frantically searched for her.  But there was no joy – he drew a blank wherever he looked for her.  Sanjay was crestfallen.  His mind went blank.  Suddenly he felt a tap on his shoulder.  He turned around in anticipation.  He was disappointed.  It was some other woman – one of the seminar delegates.  Probably wanting to compliment him on his lecture.

 

            “Mr. Sanjay Kulkarni?” the woman delegate queried, her eyes arched.

 

            He nodded in affirmation.

 

            “A letter for you,” she said, giving him a synthetic smile; and before he could react, quietly walked away.

 

            Sanjay tore open the envelope and began to read the letter.  His pulse had quickened and it was only with difficulty that he could concentrate and focus his eyes.

 

            “Dear Mr. Kulkarni,” the letter began, “or shall I call you Sanjay? Don’t wonder how I have found out your name.  It was announced before your lecture.  I cannot express in words, or begin to describe, the sentiments and feelings you have evoked in me.  The language of our eyes was something that surpassed the language of words and speech.

 

  I want to cherish those wonderful moments – the sublime experience.  It was the one bright spot in my depressingly vapid life.  I never imagined that such a seemingly trivial occurrence would have such a profound influence on me.  The appreciation and love in your eyes aroused the dormant woman in me.  For years, after my bitter divorce, I had repressed my natural feelings, forgotten the simple joys of living.  

 

 I saw true love in your eyes and that is why I am afraid of meeting you.  I do not want our beautiful sublime relationship degenerate into something physical.  I feel as if I am caught between two fires – my sense of values and my emotions.  I am experiencing the conflict between the practical and poetic vision of life.  Our strange and brief encounter has awakened the womanhood in me.  I feel youthful and invigorated, but also lonely and vulnerable.  I have fallen in love with you.  That is why I am scared of facing you.  I am afraid I shall ruin everything by succumbing to temptation.  It may lead to something that we both may later regret.

 

            It may sound strange but the lively experience has also awakened the motherhood in me.  It may appear irrelevant and trivial, but it is true.  I had put my daughter in a boarding school in Ooty.  Maybe I wanted to shield her. Maybe I felt I had no time for her. Only my ambitions, my career mattered.  I had got my priorities wrong.  I was chasing rainbows. 

 

            Thanks again for the wonderful and enchanting experience.  I enjoyed it thoroughly.  I now feel in harmony with myself; don’t want to hide from myself.

 

  I shall always remember this wonderful encounter and cherish the simple joys of living.  As we made love to each other with our eyes, it appeared as if I had journeyed inwards to explore my true feelings and discover myself.  It has been an enjoyable romance – for this once. Let’s keep it that way.

 

            With love and best wishes,

                                                Rajashree.”

 

 

                        Sanjay felt jubilant.  Rajashree had fallen in love with him.  He rushed to find the woman who had given him the letter.  Rajashree was staying in the guesthouse – about a mile away.  Sanjay was tired, exhausted, but he walked his fastest mile to the guesthouse.  He saw Rajashree standing at the entrance, a suitcase beside her.  As she saw him, she blushed with surprise.  She felt like a prisoner being caught while escaping.

 

 “Where are you going?” he asked her.

 

            Rajashree had recovered enough to smile back, “I am going to Ooty to meet my daughter in boarding school – to bring her home.”

 

            “I am coming with you,” said Sanjay, and he took Rajashree in his arms held her tightly and whispered in her ear, “From now on, we shall make our journey together.”

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

[A Fiction Short Story]

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

Lovedale to Coonoor – Don’t Delve Too Much

July 5, 2007

DON’T DELVE TOO MUCH

(a fiction short story)

By

VIKRAM KARVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            “Can I go with her?” Lata asks.

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

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

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

            Lata gives me my school-bag and leaves quickly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

          “Yes ma’am,” I answer.

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

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

          “1987,” she says.

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

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

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

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

            “Season ticket?” she asked surprised.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            “Yes”

            “Often?”

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

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

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

            “He’s an alcoholic,” I say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            “For some work? Children’s admission?”

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

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

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

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

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

            “You work?” I ask.

            “Yes. In an MNC.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            “Not playing?” she asks.

            “No,” I say.

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

            “Who’s captaining?” her friend asks.

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

            “Where are you going?”

            “Coonoor.”

            “Coonoor?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            “Sure?”

            “I’m sure, thanks.”      

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

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

            Stunned, I struggle, feeling acutely uncomfortable.

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

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

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

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

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

            “Yes?” a voice says from behind.

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

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

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

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

            “Papa,” I say softly.

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

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

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

            “Can I take him?” I ask.

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

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

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

            “Yes,” I say.           

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

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

            “You’re hungry?” he asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            “Who?”

            “Your mother.”

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

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

            “She came last evening. Wanted your custody.”

            “Custody? What are you talking?”

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

            “Who?”

            “Your birthmother.”

            “Birthmother?”

            “Yes.”

            “But mummy?”

            “Don’t delve too much.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            “Sure?”

            “Absolutely sure.”

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

            “Papa?”

            “Yes.”

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

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

VIKRAM KARVE

Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve

vikramkarve@sify.com 
 

vikramkarve@hotmail.com

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

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Lovedale

July 4, 2007

LOVEDALE

 

(a short story)

 

by

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

“Yes,” the woman replies softly.

 

 

 

“You should have told her before.”

 

 

 

“When?”

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

“How could I be so cruel?”

 

 

 

“Cruel? What’s so cruel about it?”

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

“She’ll understand.”

 

 

 

“Poor thing. She will be all alone.”

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

“Can’t we take her with us?”

 

 

 

“You know it’s not possible.”

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

“An Old Age Home?”

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

       

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

“DLFMTC ?”

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

“Next time you too …”

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

That evening the woman tells them everything.

 

 

 

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

   

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve

 

 

 

vikramkarve@sify.com

 

vikramkarve@hotmail.com

 

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

 

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

 

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

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE WALLFLOWER parts 1, 2 and 3

June 20, 2007

THE WALLFLOWER – PARTS 1, 2 AND 3

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 ex-pression – 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

MYSORE CHASE

May 30, 2007

THE CHASE

 

(a fiction short story)

 

by

 VIKRAM KARVE 

 

 

 

           

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “Thanks for coming, Vibha,” he said. 

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

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

            “Why?” 

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

 

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

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

 

            “He is coming back tomorrow.” 

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

            “How do you know all this?” 

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

 

            The bus stopped. We had arrived at the

Mysore
Palace. 

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

 

            “No,” I snapped. 

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

 

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

 

            “The Targets – Who?” I asked. 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

            I gave Dilip a quizzical look. 

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

 

            “I don’t understand,” I said. 

 

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

                        “What nonsense!” 

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

 

            “What if she doesn’t agree?” 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

Mysore
Museum.  

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

            “What happened?” I asked him. 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

            “Why, Vibha. Why?” 

 

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

 

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

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

 

             Now the real chase had begun! 

 

 

 

VIKRAM KARVE 

Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com 

 

vikramkarve@sify.com 

 

 

             

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lal Tibba

May 29, 2007

 

 

 

            LAL TIBBA

 

            [a short story]

 

            By

             VIKRAM KARVE 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            I reached
Delhi airport took the airport bus to

Connaught Place

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

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

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

 

            “Heading for Mussoorie,” I said. 

            “A/C sleeper?” 

            “I haven’t got reservation.” 

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

 

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

 

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

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

            “Dehradun?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Give me the syringe,” I shouted. 

“I dropped it,” she said. 

“I don’t believe you,” I said. 

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

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

“Ketamine.” 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

            “Full night?” 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “Who gets the
Anchorage?” I asked.
 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

VIKRAM KARVE 

Copyright  2006  Vikram Karve 

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com 

vikramkarve@sify.com