Archive for the ‘train’ Category

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

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Lovedale – a short story

August 20, 2007

LOVEDALE

 

(a short story)

 

by

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

“Yes,” the woman replies softly.

 

 

 

“You should have told her before.”

 

 

 

“When?”

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

“How could I be so cruel?”

 

 

 

“Cruel? What’s so cruel about it?”

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

“She’ll understand.”

 

 

 

“Poor thing. She will be all alone.”

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

“Can’t we take her with us?”

 

 

 

“You know it’s not possible.”

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

“An Old Age Home?”

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

       

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

“DLFMTC ?”

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

“Next time you too …”

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

That evening the woman tells them everything.

 

 

 

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

   

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve

 

 

 

vikramkarve@sify.com

 

vikramkarve@hotmail.com

 

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

 

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

 

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

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 
 

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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

 

 

 

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vikramkarve@hotmail.com

 

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

 

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Lal Tibba

May 29, 2007

 

 

 

            LAL TIBBA

 

            [a short story]

 

            By

             VIKRAM KARVE 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            I reached
Delhi airport took the airport bus to

Connaught Place

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

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

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

 

            “Heading for Mussoorie,” I said. 

            “A/C sleeper?” 

            “I haven’t got reservation.” 

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

 

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

 

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

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

            “Dehradun?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Give me the syringe,” I shouted. 

“I dropped it,” she said. 

“I don’t believe you,” I said. 

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

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

“Ketamine.” 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

            “Full night?” 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

            “Who gets the
Anchorage?” I asked.
 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

VIKRAM KARVE 

Copyright  2006  Vikram Karve 

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com 

vikramkarve@sify.com 

DECCAN QUEEN

May 10, 2007

DECCAN QUEEN

  

(a short story)

  

by

  

VIKRAM KARVE 

  

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

 

 “How…?” I asked surprised.  

“I read the reservation chart,” he said. 

  

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

  

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

  

“You a detective or something?” 

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

He spoke, “Been to Pune before?” 

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

“She?” 

  

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

  

“At Vaishali?” 

  

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

  

“Shompen?” 

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

             

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

  

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

              

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

“For you too!”I said. 

  

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

  

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

  

“An Affair to Remember?” 

  

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

  

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

  

“Why 24th?” 

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

“Can I see it?” 

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

“Your father…” 

  

“Please?” 

  

“Okay.” 

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

“I’ll try.” 

  

“You must.” 

  

“Okay. If I like her.” 

  

“But you must come.” 

  

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

  

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

  

“Hi, Girish!” an excited voice said. 

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

“Lonavala?” 

  

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

  

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

  

“When?” 

  

“Tomorrow morning. At ten.” 

  

“And where are you going to spend night?” 

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

To My Dear Girish, 

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

Snehal 

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

Fergusson College Road

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

 

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

  

  

  

  

VIKRAM KARVE

  

Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve   

  

vikramkarve@sify.com 

  

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com 

 

    

             

  

  

  

Lovedale

April 23, 2007

LOVEDALE  

(a short story)  

by  

VIKRAM KARVE  

   

     

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

“Yes,” the woman replies softly.  

   

“You should have told her before.”  

   

“When?”  

   

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

   

“How could I be so cruel?”  

   

“Cruel? What’s so cruel about it?”  

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

“She’ll understand.”  

   

“Poor thing. She will be all alone.”  

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

“Can’t we take her with us?”  

   

“You know it’s not possible.”  

   

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

   

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

   

“An Old Age Home?”  

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

     

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

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

“DLFMTC ?”  

   

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

   

“Next time you too …”  

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

That evening the woman tells them everything.  

   

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

 

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

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

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

   

   

VIKRAM KARVE  

Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve  

   

vikramkarve@sify.com 

vikramkarve@hotmail.com  

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com 

http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve 

http://www.ryze.com/go/karve 

 

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

FLASH FICTION – TAIL CHASE by VIKRAM KARVE

April 12, 2007

TAIL CHASE

[Flash Fiction]

by

VIKRAM KARVE 

 

 

 

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

 


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

 

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

 

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

Marine Drive

.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

She sat down, looked at me curiously.

 

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

 

“No, she said.”

 

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

 

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

 

My father winked at me in appreciation.

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

VIKRAM KARVE 

Copyright 2007 Vikram Karve 

vikramkarve@sify.com

 

vikramkarve@hotmail.com

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

 

 

 

A short story by Vikram Karve – The Right Choice

March 29, 2007

A TRAIN JOURNEY 

(a fiction short story) 

By 

VIKRAM KARVE 

  

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

            “New name?” 

  

            “Yes. My new name. Manisha Bhide.” 

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

            “Are you from Pune?” I asked. 

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

“When was this?” I asked. 

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

          “Quality of life?” Manisha Bhide interrogated. 

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

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

  

  

VIKRAM KARVE 

Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve 

vikramkarve@sify.com 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com