Name of the father and the Son

TImage result for father and son imageshe letter came in a simple brown envelope marked “personal”. It had  probably come in a few days ago. But since I was travelling , the mail had piled up. I slit it open wondering who it was from? I could not think of anyone who would write an address by hand.

The letter was also handwritten and the  message simple

Dear Mr. Rao

My mother Dr Rupa Bharadwaj is seriously ill and admitted at the Healing touch hospitals on R.N. Road . I am writing to you on her behalf. She  suffered a sudden brain hemorrhage last night and was rushed to the hospital . Her condition is critical.

 I do not know if you remember but we had met briefly at Hyderabad airport three years ago when I had come to receive my mother. We were introduced. My mother had given me your card and told me to contact you if I ever felt the need.  I  have unfortunately misplaced the card but I am contacting you now because I know she would have wanted you to come and see her.

Look forward to seeing you.

 Varun.

He had followed up with a post script giving his mobile number.

It somehow felt painful that he should address me so formally.  Did , he know, I wondered? There was only one way to find out, I needed to get in touch with him. So I  dialed the number wondering what I would say or how I would introduce myself when he answered. I also felt anxious about Rupa hoping she was recovering. It had been almost a week since the letter  had been posted.

The phone was answered by a girl. “Hi,  This is Arushi. Sorry  Varun  can’t take your call as he is busy with the funeral arrangements. Who is speaking please”

Funeral!!! Oh my God, it couldn’t be….

“Hello? Are you there” she asked impatiently

“Yes. I am Varun Rao, an old friend of Rupa’s. I am sorry to hear about  her demise. When and where is the funeral?” I asked trying to keep my voice steady.

“ Oh, we leave for the crematorium in  about half an  hour” she said

“Which crematorium?” I asked her

She gave me the address.  There was no way I could reach there in time given the evening traffic. I asked instead for Rupa’s home address and noted it down. I would go there and meet my namesake.

I put the phone back into my pocket with shaking hands. I couldn’t believe it !! She would have hardly been fifty.  Who would have thought she would  leave me like this forever!! I had failed her once again, I thought as the tears came down my face.

My mind went back in time and I saw once again that smiling face with a dimple on the left cheek, the mole below her lower lip,  her petite frame . I could hear her tinkling laugh, her soft voice and feel her burning stare. It had been a shock to meet her on that flight to Hyderabad that day. A crazy part of me had wanted to find out where she lived and lay my soul bare in front of her. Finding all about her would  not have  been difficult considering the resources I had at my disposal but sanity had prevailed. I had realized that it was not right on my part to intrude into her life again after so many years.

It must have been nearly six thirty before I collected myself and got ready to go to her house and meet the boy.

A small lane tucked away from the main road, it was exactly the sort of place she would live in. There were a few small and unpretentious houses in what was an old middle class neighborhood. I walked up to door number 5 and stood quietly for a moment. The name plate on the gate said “Dr Rupa Bhardwaj” , “Varun Bhardwaj”. It was nearly seven thirty and the porch light was on.  I could see the light was on inside the house indicating someone was there.

I opened the gate and walked in, waiting for a moment before I rang the door bell.

The door was opened almost immediately and I stood looking once again at my reflection as I had three years ago.

“May I come in?”  I asked him. He opened  the door wider to let me in.

I followed him into the living room where the furniture had been cleared and pushed away around the walls. A smell of stale flowers and incense hung in the air.

The boy had dark circles around his eyes. His hair was tousled  and there was a stubble around his jaw line . My heart ached for him . For a moment I forgot my grief as  I reached out to touch his shoulder. He flinched as my hand made contact.

“What took you so long? ” he asked me angrily, eyes flashing like his mother’s

“ I am sorry my boy. I got your letter only today. I was travelling” I said quietly

“She loved you a lot you know. But she was fiercely independent. She braved social stigma, financial crunches and so much more , bringing me up She had decided she would never ask you for any support” he said breaking down as I watched helplessly.

A part of me wanted to hold him in my arms and comfort him but another part of told me I had lost that right three decades ago. He may carry my genes but he was otherwise entirely his mother’s son!He suddenly stopped crying and collected himself , asking “Can I get you something?”

“No its alright. I had coffee before I left my office” I said.

“I did not mean coffee or tea. I was offering you something stronger. I don’t know about you but I certainly need it” he said moving towards the fridge and pouring out a drink into a glass.

“Yes please make one for me too” I said

We took our glasses and moved into the porch outside. The night was cool and there was a faint smell of  mango blossoms from the tree in the garden. We sat together as two adults- father and son nursing our drink as they show in the movies- except that this was complicated in ways that such scenes  in movies were not.

We sat silently for some time. I wanted to give the boy some time to  calm down before I started speaking.

“ I am sorry Varun that you and your mother had to go through all this. I was a selfish bastard . If I could live my life again, I would never have let her go. ” I said softly.

He listened silently before suddenly turning around and asking me “Do you have kids?”

“Yes I have a son. A very bright boy who unlike his father is loving and duty bound” I said smiling at him.

“Oh! No one else?” he asked

“No” I said as silence engulfed us once again.  I could hear traffic noises somewhere  far away .

“You are a lawyer, Varun?” I asked him breaking the silence.

“Yes” he said nodding. “I have my own practice”

“Would you be willing to join my company as a legal advisor” I asked tentatively

“Why? Do you want to make amends for your sins or is it because  you think you can only trust your own blood, even if it is your bastard son, when it comes to handling important legal matters for your company” he asked sarcastically

“Neither!!! Whenever I see talent I want to give it a chance. My own rise in the company has been because the former managing director had seen potential in me” I said

“Oh yes. Your father in law “ he said laughing angrily

“Don’t blame him.  He was a gentleman. He would have probably understood had I been upfront with him and told him about Rupa. I was the one who did not want to take a chance ” I said

I do not know  how long it was before he spoke once again

“Look, I am sorry for being so rude.  I appreciate your offer but unfortunately I cannot take it up because I will be leaving to the United States in a couple of months for higher studies in human rights law” he said.

My heart felt like it would burst with pride!! But I contained myself and extended my hand saying “Congratulations!! I am proud of you”

And that when I  noticed it –a dimple on his left cheek like his mother as his lips parted in a smile and he said “Thank you”

The moment was precious and I wanted to savor it but it was not to be. There was someone at the gate, a young girl who had opened the latch and was driving inside on a scooter. He got up abruptly and went towards her.

“Varun, I got us some dinner” she said pulling out a take away bag from the front of the scooter. He took the bag from her , helped her up the steps until she was standing face to face with me. She looked at me for a moment and then at Varun. I felt nervous wondering  what conclusions she might be drawing.

“Arushi,  please meet my Dad” he said introducing her to me as  tears pricked my eyes

“Dad this is Arushi, my fiancée. She is also a lawyer and we are both going abroad for our studies” he said

“ I am so happy and proud of  you both”  I said taking both their hands into mine.

“Uncle why don’t you come inside and join us for dinner? ” she asked

I looked uncertainly at my son. “Yes Dad, please come in” said  he said , putting out his hand and leading me inside the house once again

I could feel Rupa smiling somewhere far away…!

It had taken me thirty years to make peace with my heart and conscience  !

(This is Part 2 of the story “Flight of Fancy” as those of you who have read the earlier part might have guess.  I wrote this sequel because of requests from some of my readers. I thank them all for their encouragement.  I would especially like to acknowledge “Amanram”  on whose idea I have built this part ) 

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Flight of Fancy

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Rupa

I would recognize that scent anywhere!  A mix of the woody and the musky!!!

What was it called?  I don’t remember …. My memory fails me these days ….

And of course the hint of tobacco that went with it ..….. and that peppermint flavour around his mouth!!!

I felt shocked with the sudden rush of my senses coming together like this…!!

He was sitting at the aisle seat next to mine. Actually his seat was three rows behind but the family that was occupying that row wanted to sit together and he had agreed to swap seats with the boy whose seat it actually was.

He was reading a newspaper.  I watched him covertly from the pages of the book that I was no longer reading.

He had aged. The curly brown hair was now grey and he was wearing glasses. He had also grown a beard that covered his cleft chin.

Twenty-five years… and I was still breathless when he was nearby. It was crazy…!!!

The elderly lady sitting next to him in the middle seat was getting up to go to the toilet. He unbuckled his seat belt and got up, moving to the side to let her pass. His legs were now just a touch away from me. I screwed up my fingers and held them tightly on my lap!

“Excuse me Ms Rupa, may I have your boarding card please?” asked the stewardess from behind the food cart.

I pulled out the boarding card from the pages of my book looking up to hand it to her. I had no sense of when she took it from me and returned it because I was now looking straight at him. It seemed like eternity before his lips parted into a smile

“Hello Rupa!! What a surprise!” he said

“Yes indeed” I said hoping he would not hear the beating of my heart.

“What would you like to have” I heard the stewardess ask, bringing me back to my senses.

“Some coffee please” I said

I hoped he could not see my fingers tremble as I took the coffee from her.

“So what are you doing these days” he asked leaning towards me.

“I run a market research firm. A small company, we mostly do data analytics for larger research firms” I said “What about you?”

“I am still working with Amalgamatics. I am the CEO” he said giving me his card.

Well I was not surprised!! After all wasn’t he aiming for something like that all along?

“So what takes you to Hyderabad” he asked me

“I am going there for a client meeting.” I said

“What about you? “I asked him

“I am also going to there like you. on business” he said.

The basic information being exchanged, there was this awkward moment when neither of us seemed to know what to say. I felt once again like that gawky intern I was a quarter of a century ago.

I had been assigned to his team to do some market analysis work. A mouse of a girl, just out of university, I had been completely overawed by the flashy corporate environment. I kept to myself and spoke little to anyone else.

And then fate through us together. We had to do some analysis on the market trends around one of the products that the company was planning to launch. I think that was probably the first time Varun had even realized I existed. He was the team lead on this and I was working with him, providing him with data that he would require. A hard task master, he had kept me with my nose buried in numbers until late in the evening. It was nearly eight o clock when we were finished.

“Can I give you a lift?” he had asked me as I was getting ready to go

I had agreed and we left the office in his car. He then offered to buy me dinner. I was staying in a paying guest and my land lady had given me the keys to let me in if I was late. So I had agreed.

Dinner and then a walk along the beach. I had got to know him as a person during those couple of hours.

The next day, we had to stay back again and we again left the office together. On the third day I had goofed up on the numbers so I had to redo the projections. He had been angry and had yelled at me. I had burst into tears and run out of his cabin.

An hour later, with the numbers redone, I had taken the print out and left it on his desk, and tried to leave his room quietly. Before I could leave tip toe away, I had felt his hand on my wrist.

“Wait, don’t leave” he had said. I sat in front of him and watched him look through the numbers before putting them into his drawer and shutting it.

“Is it all okay?” I asked him feeling relieved when had nodded.

I got up to leave. “Rupa, wait let me drop you” he said after me.

But I did not want a lift. I wanted to go by myself, on my bus route number 15 like I usually did. His proximity was disturbing me in ways I could not understand. He was nearly seven years older, charming and dynamic. He was also engaged to be married to the daughter of the company’s Managing Director.

I found it was pouring rain outside when I left the building. I had braved the rain and run towards the bus stop. Fifteen minutes of waiting at the stop and Varun had stopped by in his car and asked me to get in. I had got in dripping wet. We had driven for a while before he had stopped the car. I knew instinctively what was to follow.

A kiss and then more……!!!

I had often wondered later if I could have stopped him. But my senses were against me. I was crazily attracted to him- a romance that I had never imagined would sweep me away like that

 Varun

To say that I had been surprised to suddenly find her next to me would be an understatement!! I was simply blown away!! Yes, she had aged but like wine, seemed to have only become better. Gone was the gawkiness and lack of confidence. She held my gaze my steadily …!! A slightly built woman, she looked younger than her forty odd years. The grey strands in her hair notwithstanding, there was something girlish about her even today.

Hers had been a razor sharp brain. She could work wonders with numbers!! She was also well read and knew a lot more beyond just her work. It was not often that I met someone who I considered my intellectual equal. I had been attracted to her right from the day we had first worked together.  I had pushed for every opportunity to work with her. And I had engineered situations where she would have to stay back late into the evening to work so I would get to drop her back.

Those were different times in India’s corporate history. I do not know how it would be viewed in today’s “Me-too” world!! Had I taken advantage of her innocence I had often wondered? I knew I was engaged to Anita so why was I getting involved with Rupa? But then Anita was my ticket to fulfilling my career ambitions. A middle class boy, son of a government officer, I had a burning desire to make it big. A graduate from the top business school in India, I knew that I had good looks and charm to complement my intelligence.

Anita’s father had recognized my potential and it was he who had encouraged me to court his daughter and sure enough as his son in law and the CEO of his company I had taken his business to heights that he could never have done by himself.

I had often thought about Rupa.! She had walked out of my life after the show down we had that evening many years ago. I had never thought her capable of going away from me like that and not looking back. We had been six months into our relationship and Anita’s father was pushing for finalizing our wedding date.

I had suddenly found myself in two minds.  What had seemed like a great idea when I had joined the company no longer seemed so. Anita was beautiful and nice but she was not Rupa! I could never relate to her intellectually the way I could with Rupa. I wanted to stall for time but Rupa wanted a firm answer from me. She wanted to know if I was serious about her and if I was, then she wanted me to break my engagement with Anita. It had been a difficult choice. but finally it was ambition that had won.

Today I had money, power and everything else that money could buy. To the world, it seemed like I also had a great marriage. But we did not have a child. Anita had wanted to adopt. But I was not sure I could love a child that was biologically not mine. She had been through bouts of depression. We had gone through numerous fertility treatments. We had also met counsellors and psychiatrists to deal with her depression.  I had handled all the emotional stress by immersing myself in my work.

But seeing Rupa like this suddenly had disturbed me in a way I never thought would be possible- at least not after so many years! It was like those years between then and now never existed. I wanted to reach out and hold her hand …!!

I looked at her covertly. I wondered if she was indeed that much caught up with what she was reading or was she doing it to simply avoid talking to me.

 Rupa

Varun had wanted to have the cake and eat it too. But I am glad I had been firm. It had broken me emotionally to go away from him like that. Life had been a struggle for the few years after breaking off from him. However, looking back, I think it was all for the best.

I wondered if he was happy with the choices he had made? But what if he wasn’t? Was I going to let him back into my life? Was I going to put myself through all that pain once again?

I could feel his eyes on me. He could pretend he was reading the newspaper but I knew he was looking at me. I could always sense that. from those days when there was just a glass wall separating us in the office.

The public address system on the aircraft was announcing landing. I shut my book, retrieved my bag from under my seat and put it in.

“Rupa do you have your card?  Let’s talk sometime. We might have some assignments for you” he said

I had his card but I wondered if I should share mine. It was very tempting. But I decided against it.

“Thanks Varun.  We do not have the resources to take on large assignments. It is a small firm and we work at our own pace.” I said smiling at him

“But can you give me your card” he asked me directly now.

“Sorry, I have run out of cards” I lied.

Varun

I knew she was lying. But then I could do nothing about it.  The ball was now in her court.

The flight had landed and people were getting up and opening the luggage compartments to collect their bags.

As I helped her retrieve her bag I was for a moment transported back in time. That smell of Cubicula talcum powder was so nostalgic! Reminded me of a soft body I had kissed on moonlit nights so many years ago. Her smell and her presence had lingered on in my flat for days after she had walked out of my life.

Passengers were moving out of the aircraft now. I followed her out of the plane. She was walking briskly towards the arrival lounge. A part of me wanted to stop her and ask her if we could drive together. I finally mustered up courage and called out after her

“Rupa please wait. I have a car coming to pick me up. I can drop you at your hotel”

“Thank you Varun but that will not be necessary. I have someone coming to pick me up at the airport” she said looking back at me with a smile.

Okay, I hadn’t thought of that. She wasn’t an intern any longer. She was heading her own company. So I guess she had a car to pick her up.

But I continued walking beside her hoping she would change her mind.

We were now outside the building amidst the crowd of people waiting with name boards and bouquets.

“Mom, look here” shouted a young man waving from behind the railing.

I saw Rupa walking towards him as he ran up to her and enveloped her in a hug.

Tall and lanky with a cleft chin and curly brown hair, this young man was a replica of another young man whose photographs lay in my college album!!! I felt like I was looking at myself from many years ago.

I watched the boy as he took the bag from his mother. She turned back for a moment and our eyes met. I waited with bated breath. The young man turned back to look at me and then at his mother

“Varun, please meet Mr. Rao. We used to work together many years ago” she said introducing me. My hands were trembling as I shook his…!!

“This is Varun, my son. He studies at the law school here” she said looking directly at my eyes, smiling enigmatically.

“Aah!! And what does Varun’s father do” I asked shakily

“Uncle, mom is both my mother and my father. Isn’t that right mom? ” asked Junior looking at his mother with pride.

“Good bye, Mr. Rao, it has been nice meeting you after so many years” she said extending her hand towards me. I took it in mine and shook it, searching her face with my unasked questions.

But I got no answers. I stood silently watching, as mother and son walked away from me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Intruder Part 4

IImage result for Woman with a phone and a parcel sketcht was nearly two weeks since we had a conversation. He had told me that he was going to Delhi on some work. I did not want to message and disturb him even though the desire to get in touch was strong.

After one week, I started getting angry. I mean I was not exactly sitting at home and twiddling my thumbs. Yet I found time to hold a conversation with him. What was so important that even a few words like “Good morning”  or “Hello how are you” could not be shared? Finally, I swallowed my pride and sent him a long text asking him what he was doing and if everything was alright.

I kept looking for the blue tick against the message that indicated it had been seen or read. But there was nothing to indicate that.

Gazing at my phone became an obsession after some time.

At times I felt shocked at what was happening to me. I was behaving like a crazy woman, running to check messages every time the whatsapp tone went off!!

I lay awake at night feeling depressed. After another week had passed I dialed his number with the intention of speaking to him. But the message I got at the other end was that his number was switched off!!

It was at that point that I decided to begin dealing with my feelings. I thought back about what had happened in the last six months. I had moved from being an anxious and depressed middle aged widow to a happy middle aged woman. I wondered if I had fallen in love with him. I was not sure. What we shared was something beyond friendship and probably just short of love. And I was feeling hurt and let down that it had suddenly ended with no explanation – just about as suddenly as it had started!

Three weeks were over and I began to slowly get a better hold on myself. The phone no longer held the interest that it used to. Life began to settle down and move at its usual pace when suddenly it again turned topsy turvy.

I had just come back from the workshop in the evening when Riya handed  a parcel to me saying that it had come by courier that afternoon.  I took my own time opening it.

When I did open it I found inside a book “Bridging distances – conversations with my beloved” . The author was someone called Arundeep . I had never read anything by him but I somehow remembered seeing a book  by this writer on some book shelf somewhere.  When I opened the first page and read the acknowledgement everything fell into place… the book was dedicated to “Bee- who I have never met but who has been the source of inspiration for this work”

My hands were shaking when I opened the envelope. There was a letter inside. The handwriting was bad, almost a scrawl. But the message beckoned.  So I read on

“My dearest Bee

You had often wanted to know what I did with my life. I had told you I was a writer. You had said that you had never read anything written by me. So I decided to write a book especially for you. Every word in this is dedicated to you. I have never seen you or met you but I could always feel your beauty. In my world where there are so many shallow people  you are that one genuine person.

I plan to be in Bangalore next month for the launch of this book. Will you come and meet me?

Hoping to meet you soon.

Yours Shab”

My hands were trembling as I read the letter. Should I meet him, I wondered. But when? Next month, he had said, when was that? The letter was undated so I had no clue. And his phone continued to be switched off…!!! My head was swimming with questions.  I sat down at the dining table and closed my eyes.

“What’s up Mom? Are you okay” asked Riya as she sat down opposite me

“Oh.. nothing I am fine” I said rubbing my eyes

“Hey, who sent you this book?” she asked grabbing it from me. I was glad that she had not seen the letter.

“A friend. Who is this writer? I have never read anything by him” I said carefully

“Mom, Arundeep or AD as he is called is the most happening science fiction writer in India This book of his is something out of his usual genre. It has been attracting a lot of good reviews. Can I read it first ” she asked flicking through the  pages.

Science fiction!!! Well…! No wonder I had never read him. I guess I must have seen his book on Riya’s shelf.

I was still unsure whether I should go for his book release… And when was that I wondered.

“Riya, is there going to be a book release in Bangalore” I asked her

“Yes, this weekend. ” she said, not looking up from the book.

“Shall we go for it?” I asked her

“Are you sure? You don’t like these events I thought” she said

“No I want to go.” I insisted.

I was utterly confused now. Why was he inviting me for his book launch when he did not respond to my messages or had his phone switched off? Was this invitation a way of saying thank you for inspiring him to write something different? And anyway what was it that he had written. I was hoping that Riya would finish the book soon so that I could read it.

But first  I needed to  acknowledge receipt of the book and send him a thank you. If he replied to the message then I would go for the book launch.

My phone was lying on the counter. I picked it up , typed ” Thank you for the book” and pressed send. Within minutes I received a response “ My pleasure”.

“Shab” – read the contact.  The display picture was the cover of the book.

I waited with my fingers poised over the letters on the keyboard. On one hand I was happy, on the other I was angry. I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time.

A minute passed before I saw the message that said he was typing

“Sorry for the long silence. I had lost my phone. It caused a lot of problems in communicating with the publishers. Had to manage with a land line. The place where I stay has no mobile phone shops. So I had to wait until I came again to Delhi to get a phone and reactivate my number. I know I could have contacted you through other means but I was too preoccupied with the publication. You must be terribly angry with me”

“I was. But you are forgiven now” I wrote, adding a smiley

“Then please come to your front door. I am standing outside” he said

I walked up to the front door pausing for a moment in front of it, wondering how I would explain his presence to Riya.  I was utterly confused by the suddenness with which things were happening.

But Riya was already there getting ready to go out. And just as she opened the door, both of us were face to face with a tall man with grey hair wearing glasses.

“Hello, you must be Riya. I am Arundeep” he said looking at her with a smile

“AD!!! Oh my God!! Mom, do you know him!! “ she asked excitedly

I stood there wondering what to say.

“Your mother and I are very old friends” he replied “Just that she knows me only by my nickname”

“Ah…yes. No wonder she asked me who you were“ said Riya looking at me with amusement.

“To friends, we are just people. Not celebrities. That is the nice thing isn’t it Bina” He said looking at me with a twinkle in his eyes

“Yes Shab!! Please come inside” I said walking up to the door and opening it wide.

An Intruder had just become a guest!

( Concluded)

  

 

Intruder Part 3

It wRelated imageas very strange how we got round to conversing over Whatsapp!! Everyday I would find a “Good morning” message followed by a smiley , sometimes accompanied by a photograph of a flower, rising sun or even a cup of tea! A “Good morning” deserves a reciprocation was what I told myself, the first time I responded to the greeting.

And then during the day there would be some random messages – funny questions or observations! Sometimes these led to some interesting conversations

“Hey Bina, would a woman feel very special if she received flowers or a card with a verse” was an example of an odd question.

“Depends on the woman”  I replied

“She is middle aged, sensitive and intelligent” he said

“May be a verse then” I said. But I couldn’t hold myself back from asking “Who is this woman? Your wife or girl friend”

“Neither!! But I wish she could be either” he replied

“Then please work on it” I advised

“No… I don’t think I will” he said , making me wonder what was the point of sending someone a verse if he did not want to have a relationship with her.

And then we had our funny moments. Like when I was out buying vegetables and he wanted to know what I was buying. I must say, messaging on the phone in the middle of a crowded market place was an experience in itself.. So I sent him a photograph of the bottle gourd I was buying. And then when I got back home, I found a request from him asking me to make a “kofta curry” and send him a picture.

So I sent him an image of the curry , in my best crockery, making Riya ask me why we were having dinner in our special crockery considering it was only bottle gourd koftas and chappatis? I had to tell her that I was hoping that this boring vegetable would taste better if served in a nice bowl.

I was  curious to know his reaction to the photograph. Sure enough I saw it just when I getting ready to sleep “The gem does not befit the setting” it said!! I couldn’t help telling him that it was exactly what Riya had also said.

“What about her father ?” he asked.

And that was when I told him about having lost my husband a year ago.

I have never really shared my feelings openly with anyone about the pain around the loss  but I was surprised how easily I was able to share it with him. I must say that he was most sensitive !!! At one point he asked me if he should call me so I could speak. But I was not ready to speak about it , even though it might be to a stranger.

That conversation was like a watershed of sorts because, it led to a regular pattern around our interactions. Besides, the “Good morning” wishes, we would have a conversation through whatsapp late into the night.

I had told him a lot about myself but he was very cryptic when it came to sharing about himself.

He did tell me though about being an only child. From his conversations I gathered he was well educated and had traveled around the world.

I wanted to ask him if he was married, whether he had children .. but something kept me back. I think I did not want to appear like I was too interested to know about him.

It was not exactly a romantic relationship .. more a friendship I kept telling myself. But I could sense something between the two of us that was beyond friendship!!!

For example, when I down with fever, he messaged me a number of times to find out how I was. I thought that was very sweet of him!! And then when I traveled to an old house near Hyderabad to buy some antique furniture, he was very concerned that I was travelling in a transportation van on a highway after sunset.  No amount of reassuring that the driver was well known to me seemed to allay his worries. When I finally reached home at Bangalore around midnight, I messaged him saying “Reached home” .  I was very touched to find a response immediately that said “Thank God! I was worried”

That was when I did something very uncharacteristic of me. I called his number. Just when it started ringing I had a doubt whether he would take my call.

But he had answered within two rings!

“ Hello Shab, its me Bina” I said

“ I know, your name popped up when you called” he said with a laugh

If  written conversations with him were  witty and interesting a spoken conversation was even better! He had a soft and husky voice.

We spoke for nearly an hour…!!!  I learnt that he lived in the hills near Nainital. I also found out that he lived alone. But I was not sure what he did with his life. However this was good enough to begin with. At least I knew something about him!

I finally asked him why he was behaving like a worried father, messaging me while I was on the road.

“Because I care” was what he had said. I wanted to ask him more but I had to hang up  when I heard the sound of the flush coming from Riya’s bathroom. I switched off my phone and did something  odd… I put a password on my phone and locked the screen!!!

I would have to find a way to explain this to Riya if she used my phone like she sometimes did. I am not sure how she would take it…!! I felt a bit guilty about it!

Shab and I did not have a spoken conversation again after that night but our written conversations continued. For a man who I had dismissed as a  character with a whacky sense of humor,  I must say he was very perceptive. We discussed about what made us happy, what saddened us . He sent me links to his favourite songs which I listened to using earphones, late into the night. I sent him some lines from my poems which he read. He sometimes gave me  feedback which I did not always like.

And then one day suddenly, he started referring to me as “Bee” !! He said that was his image of me- a busy bee who was always doing something or the other. I found it very amusing that he should think of me like that, but I guess he was right. As a woman who ran a business and a home, I was always on the move, between my workshop,  home and my sourcing locations.

So, at the ripe old age of forty nine, I Bina, who had such a short name that a nick name was never needed, suddenly found myself with a strange nick name!! But I must confess that I felt closer to him in some ways after that.

I felt a perceptible change come over me in these three months that I had known him. I could sense myself getting happier every day. Even Riya remarked about it “Mamma, those creases on your forehead are finally gone” !!

But I lived in the secret dread that they might reappear one day. After all, this relationship was like a feather floating in a gentle breeze. One never knew how long the breeze would blow for  it to stay aloft!!!

( to be concluded in part 4)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Intruder – Part 2

Image result for sketch of woman texting on a mobile phoneRemembering to do something and actually doing it , I realize now are two different things.  I guess I am growing old and with so many things on my mind, I can be forgiven for not remembering to  block an unknown man on whatsapp.

So here I was ten days later at the new year party with my school mates. No, we did not have “male strippers”( for those of you who might be curious!!). What we had was a DJ who was playing remixes of songs from our times which was annoying me no end!! But my friends did not seem to mind as they were jiving away to “Yeh ladka hai allah” that definitely did not sound like the original. To tell you the truth, these women were beginning to irritate me!!! I wished I had not come for this stupid party!!

But Riya had been insistent. She was going out with her friends and she felt that after her  Pappa’s death,  her Mamma was becoming reclusive. She had almost forced me to go for this. And so here I was with twenty five other women my age, some of whom had come with their families and some alone like me.  I looked at the fat paunchy husbands and was thankful that my late husband, however anti social he might have been had never been undignified like them!! He was fit and never got drunk like some of these fellows. His only weakness was his temper which he often lost. But I had eventually learnt to deal with that.

I felt sad and lonely as I walked out of the room into the garden outside. It was a moonlit night and a bit chilly. I pulled my shawl around me and sat down on one of the chairs outside gazing at the moon. Suddenly the fireworks went off  and there were shouts from inside… I guess the new year had come in!!

My phone suddenly started to buzz with the Whatsapp message tone… once, twice, thrice and four times. One from Riya wishing me a happy new year and hoping that the new year would make me smile more. I felt tears prick my eyes. This nineteen year old was so much more mature than her years!! And then was a message from my brother and sister in law in Delhi wishing me for the new year which I reciprocated. A third message from a former client. And finally the fourth message – from none other than Mr. Smiley face!!

“Hi!! Happy New year” it said

“Thanks same to you” I replied.

“So are you girls partying like you had planned” he asked

I wanted to type “None of your business” but instead went on to write “Yes.”

“Strippers?” he asked with a winking face icon

“OF COURSE  NOT” I wrote in full caps!

“ I think you are not enjoying the party” he said

“Why do you say so?” I asked

“Because you are having this conversation with me” he said

“ No I am not!! I am just answering your questions” I typed

“That is how conversations go… questions and then answers” he typed. I did not need to see that laughing out loud icon to guess that he must be actually laughing.

I could feel my lips part in a smile in the darkness as I typed “Well you must also be bored with your  party if you are finding the time to chat me up”

“I don’t party…!!! Can’t handle so many people together” he said

“I don’t mind them as long as they are not a nuisance” I said

“ Who is being the nuisance? Tell me I will come and beat him up” he said with a smile.

“Don’t bother. I know how to handle the nuisance affecting me” I wrote.

He  “Ah!! Independent lady!”

Me “ Yes!  No clinging vine. Never was !”

“You are an interesting lady…Bina” he said

“ You remember my name?” I asked surprised.

“ I never forget names or faces” he said

“Why? Are you a detective or a spy” I typed

“Neither!! I am an observer of people. I watch them and recreate them.. I am a writer” he said

“Really? Tell me the names of some of your books” I typed

“No…!! Not at this point any way” he said

“Why not ? Are you going to reveal it only when there is a twist in the tale” I asked adding a laughing out loud icon for effect.

“Is there going to be a tale ?” he asked

I paused for a while…! This was a tricky question. Should I answer? I saw the word “online” against his number. A few seconds went by… It still showed “online”! The man was waiting for my answer.

I had got myself into a strange situation  indeed!  Had this stranger penetrated my defenses or had I allowed my guard to come down ? Whatever… it was not something I should do .  One heard about a lot about crooks chatting up women online. But somehow, he did not seem like a crook.

“Hi, are you there” he typed.

“Hey, I need to go now. They are calling me inside” I said hastily trying to end the conversation.

“You mean, you were outside until now? Did you see the moon?” he asked.

“Yes, beautiful” I replied.

“Look for me by moonlight , watch for me by moonlight, I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way” he wrote

“Highwayman”!! I responded.

“Happy to know that you read poetry” he said

I wanted to tell him that I also wrote poetry- four notebooks full of verses! But I held myself back. As it is , I had opened up too much with a stranger.

“Bye Mr. Smiley. Good night and a happy new year” I typed, determined to end the conversation now.

“The name is Shab” he replied.

“Whatever may be your name, good bye” I said

“Good bye Bina. It was nice talking to you” he said

I exited whatsapp and made my way inside.

People were getting ready to leave. Sana was looking for me. She was going to drop me home.

I got into the car with her and put on my seat belt, adjusting my hand bag on my lap. “Bina, put your phone into your bag” said Sana as she put the car in gear.

“Ah.. yes” I said getting ready to put in.. But just before I put my phone away, I did something completely crazy.

I saved the number of a complete stranger under the name “Shab”!!!\

( Part 3 to follow )

 

 

Intruder

Part 1

Image result for images of whatsapp conversationIt was Sana who had created that whatsapp group and added me to it.

According to the group information there were twenty seven of us in that group – twenty seven women who had been together in an all girls school sometime in the 1980s!

It felt  nice to be in touch with all of them once again.. though it was difficult to imagine some of those fat women in the profile display pictures as the slim beauties who attracted admirers like bees to honey! Time as they say is the best leveller.. I looked at the group icon with a smile .. it had our school logo .

There was a lot of chatter going on –  some plan to get together for the new year. I scrolled through the messages, I was quite new to the group and also to Whatsapp. Riya, my teenaged daughter, had made me download it since it helped with my business. You see,  I am a dealer in antique furniture and my clients wanted photographs of the items before they came around to see them – an image transmitted through whatsapp was way quicker than email.

“Lets go for a picnic outside the city.”

“Yes.. lets hire a place outside.. We can stay overnight and have a party.”

“Lovely!!! We can change and dress up nicely for the party”

“ And How about getting a band and asking them play songs from our times”

Some discussion now on the venue options.. there were at least five options being discussed and voted for based on distance from the city and cost when a message suddenly popped up causing I am sure, all fingers to stop on key board

“ How about getting some male strippers ?”

“What!!!” typed Rani, the self styled conscience of the group. She followed it with an emoticon of a gasping face .

“Who is this” I typed. The comment seemed  to be so out of context in what was a group of women from middle class  conservative backgrounds in their late forties.

I looked at the number in the group member list – it did not have any name against it and had a smiley as the display picture!!

Who was it .. I wondered as did many others I am sure. In the silence that seemed to engulf us all  momentarily

“ What is the problem. No harm in looking…. right? I can give you some numbers”

I couldn’t believe it but some of these silly girls actually said “he he” and posted emoticons laughing out loud

But the question that was still bothering me was who was this?

I messaged Sana separately

“Hey who was that “

After a few minutes she replied “I don’t know. Must be one of our classmates. But I must say I was mighty tickled at the idea”

Well I wasn’t so tickled…..

When I went back to the group I couldn’t believe the conversation that was going on …!!   It seemed like we were back in school – a bunch of male crazy girls!!

I know I probably sounded like our headmistress (or at the worst Rani) when I said

“Girls what is wrong with you!! You can’t  be serious!”

And then again the smiley face icon responded “Stop being so uptight! You are behaving like you are decade older than what you are “

Really!!!! I was mad now… I mean who was this….?  But ofcourse I did not show my anger.  Twenty six years of being married to a man with a hot temper had taught me to keep mine tightly in check…  Besides, now that he was no more in this word and it was my business that paid for our day today expenses, I could not afford to antagonize anyone because my experience had taught me that everyone was a potential customer!! And anyways, hadn’t I joined this group also with an ulterior motive- of expanding my network?

“Okay so we agree to get male strippers!! But how are we going to go about finding some” I asked posting a lot of laughing out loud icons to mask my irritation!

“When you want something it finds you” said smiley face

“Oh really? You mean some strippers are looking for us right now in the hope that we will hire them for our new year’s party in the next few days” I asked hoping the sarcasm would come through despite my inability to find an emoticon (Oh how I hated this way of communicating in words that had to be accompanied with images !!!!!)

Some of my friends seemed to be giggling with “ha ha” popping up along with “Lol” and some moronic stuff.

And then suddenly some links to certain websites popped up… Smiley face again…!! I opened the links and was shocked to find they were actually taking me to some sites that might have what I had scornfully dismissed some time ago.

“My God!! But who is this…..please identify yourself” I typed.

No response….!!! I was now sure something was wrong.. though I did not know exactly what it was that was bothering me.. except that it did not seem like any response that I would expect from a former classmate of mine!! I considered asking Riya but I wasn’t sure how I would be able to explain all of this to her.. Besides, my nineteen year old daughter was not someone who I wanted to see what had transpired.

May be I was just too new to this virtual world.  I had read somewhere that people often behaved differently when they interacted with others through written messages. May be it was someone from my class. I was never one of the popular girls and besides I had been out of touch with many of old friends. So it was quite possible that I had been left behind while they had all moved on and changed in this new world.

I decided to put my phone away and get some sleep. It was nearly 11.00 PM.

And just as I was about to switch off my bedside lamp the phone buzzed again with the whatsapp message tone.  I opened the app and found a message that said “Hi ”  It was from smiley face.

Okay so, what I had said had obviously made some impact because here she was messaging me separately.

“Hi” I replied

“You seemed upset”

“Shocked actually!!! I don’t know about you but I am not the kind of person who receives information on male strippers on a day today basis “ I said

“Sorry…. “

Me  “Its okay. But I don’t think the others minded in any way… In a group of twenty seven, you can ignore this one prude. But tell me who are you.”

Smiley” Difficult to ignore someone whose display picture has the image of an amazing antique desk. What is it mahogany or rosewood” ?

“Rosewood. I have it in my store. Would you like to buy it” I asked.

“ I would if I could but I won’t because I can’t “ said smiley

What a cryptic message… “ Did you mean that you think it might be too expensive or that you do not have space in your house to accommodate this piece because if it is the former I can offer you a payment option”.

“Neither!! It is just what I said. I would buy it if I could”

“Okay. Good night” I said getting ready to end the conversation, all the while wondering who was this girl who had been in my class so many years ago.

“Are you from Bangalore” asked Smiley

“Yes.”  Silence.. for some time before I decided to ask the question that was bothering me

“Listen I don’t think I know who you are. Could you please tell me your name. It wasn’t there in the group information”

“That is because I am not there in your contact list” said Smiley

Ah… that explained it..!! I had the names of most of the group members in my phone contact list now after I had joined the group. But this was a number I had probably forgotten to add. But there was an uneasy doubt lingering in my mind .. a question “Why did any of the others not know who you were either” But I stopped myself from asking this.

“I know what you are thinking. You are wondering why I seem like a stranger in  a group of friends”

“Yes. You do seem like you are different. I mean that male stripper comment…”

“Ha… ha.. shocked you ladies didn’t I “ asked Smiley

“ Yes you did … now would you mind telling me your name” I typed out impatiently.

Smiley..“ I will if you promise to tell me yours”

“Bina” I said

Smiley “You can call me Shab… I

“Shab? I don’t think we had a Shab in our class” I said

Smiley “That is because I am not from your class or from your school. I studied in an all boys boarding school in a far off hills station. I must have passed out from school at least three years before you people did ”

I was shocked!!! “ But how did you get into this group if you are not one of us”

I did not have to see those” LoL “ icons he had posted to know that he was laughing..

“To tell you the truth, I do not know either. Must have been a mistake… a divine one indeed. I have been in this group for a week now and it has been very entertaining observing all your interactions. But today I could not control myself and so I did what I did “

I really did not know how to react.. here was a fifty something man confessing to virtual eavesdropping… hell it was close to voyeurism of a certain kind.. !! I mean we had discussed menopause, hysterectomy, fading sex drives and more in that group!! I had not participated in all those conversations but I know we had discussed because the messages were all there for me to see. And now a man was telling me  that he had also read them!!!!!!

I am absolutely horrified. I must tell Sana to delete this fellow from the group

“Bina are you there” said the message

“ Yes!!” I typed.

“Look I am sorry I will exit the group” he said

“Thank you  and good bye” I said closing the conversation and putting away my phone.

Just as I was falling asleep somewhere in my mind a message popped up that said “Remember to block his number”.

Yes I must do that tomorrow. God knows who he was… He said his name was.. no no he hadn’t told me his name.. He had said to call him “Shab” ..

Shab.. night.. How cliched I thought with a smile as sleep engulfed me.

 to be continued …. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nirvana

IImage result for actress silhouettet had been a long time since she had stood in a queue. A surge of people waiting to get to the ticket window. The jostling, pushing and the smell of sweaty bodies around her!!!

“One ticket…. to Gaya” she said extending a a 500 rupee note under the ticket window.

“ Give me the correct fare, I don’t have change” barked the man behind the window. She looked into her purse and after going through all the compartments managed the Rs 250 that he wanted.

With the ticket in her hand, and her handbag slung on her shoulder, she made her way to the platform from where her train was expected to depart. Finding herself a place to sit on one of the steel chairs placed on the platform, she wiped her face with her dupatta!

Was it only fifteen years ago that she had arrived by the same train to this metropolis chasing her dreams?

At nineteen she had been a beauty. Not only was she beautiful, she was also talented! All her performances in the local nautankis had run to full houses. It was not without reason that Rajesh had brought her to Bombay. They were both sure that she was going to make it as a star!

And star she had become.. in a matter of four to five years! The casting couches, explained Rajesh were a necessary evil that she had to negotiate. She had believed in him and soon it had begun to pay off…one role leading to another until she was one of the leading ladies of the film industry.

She had bought a house in the city, paid off her family’s debts in the village and invited them to live with her in Mumbai. It had all seemed to them at that time to be a dream come true- except that the dream began to have shadows of a nightmare hovering around it.

Rajesh who had become her manager,  was making her work around the clock!! She had  lost count of the hours she was in front of the camera. And the number of characters she was slipping in and out of. She was an innocent young village girl in one role,  an arrogant rich girl in another, a chaste housewife sometimes, a courtesan, a mentally ill girl… and so many more characters that the writers created out of their imagination.  She was all of them, yet she was none of them….!!

Her family lived with her spending her money faster than she could make it.

It was strange that in the all her movies, she who espoused the cause of love was in reality looking for it. It seemed to be everywhere around her and yet nowhere!!

That is until she had met Yash! He had been her co star, son of a producer and an established hero. Acting opposite him had taken her from the B to the A grade group of films!

Related imageIt is strange how love can give a person a “high” and then fling them down again into the dumps. A high that had helped her give exquisite performances and a low that left her depressed inside a dark corner of her mind. A roller coaster ride that she negotiated on a daily basis as she fell more and more deeply in love with a man who was married. A man who had told her that he could never marry her! She had told him that she did not care for any social sanction for living in love.  That he cared to spend a few hours or a few days with her was enough for her.

While her parents and Rajesh exploited her financially,  Yash played with her emotions. Days he would spend making love to her followed by weeks when he would not take her calls or even see her!!!

It has all begun to slowly take its toll on her. She was unable to go for work preferring to take solace in alcohol. When she did go for work she would break down in front of the entire crew sobbing her heart out.  That she was making a public fool of herself was something that she refused to accept.

The shooting dates were piling up as she missed work one day after the other. Producers were threatening to sue her. She felt completely trapped within her own life!!

But strange it had to be Zohra Bai who had helped her decide. An elderly woman who was rumoured to have been a dancer and junior artiste but was now a part of the cleaning crew. A strange being , she never spoke to anyone.  They said she slept in the studio and never actually left it.

She was running into her make up  van after a shot as she was feeling nauseous!! Her body was heaving as her guts emptied itself into the toilet when she suddenly found the woman standing behind her with a mop and a pail of water. They had stared at each other for a good few minutes before Zohara bai had said “ You are pregnant!” .

Like a soothsayer predicting the future she had said “Now, don’t think this will bring him back to you”

“What should I do” had been her desperate question

“Save what you have of yourself…!! Get away while you still can” said Zohra as she went out of the van shutting the door behind her.

What a simple solution..! Why hadn’t she thought of it?

She had told her make up man that she wanted to leave. Rajesh was trying to get her to go back to the studio and complete another shot.

But she knew she had leave now….

She had called for her driver and got into the car asking him to take her home. Her phone started ringing frantically. It was the producer of the film. She looked at it desperately wondering what was she to do with it? It seemed to have taken a life of its own as it buzzed and flickered like a demon! She took it out of her bag and lowered the window meaning to fling it out. And then she  saw the man standing with a begging bowl near her window. Yes, let him have it… ! it would fetch him a good amount.

She pulled out her sim card quickly and dropped her phone into his begging bowl. Some part of her brain could not help seeing the humour in the situation as the beggar looked at the phone that been dropped into his bowl!! She threw back her head and started laughing hysterically.

“Madam are you alright? “ asked her driver , looking at her with worry.

“No no, please drive on” she said wiping her tears.

The car drove on…! She would be home in about ten minutes. But then was  home a  place of freedom or captivity, she wondered.

The car stopped as a funeral procession went past. She knew it was now or never..!!

She opened the door and jumped out.  Before her driver could react, she had crossed the road and hailed an autorickshaw going in the opposite direction.

“ Bombay Central” she told the driver.

She looked inside her hand bag. She had a few currency notes, her credit cards and some make up!! Other than the cash, she had no use for anything now.

She had paid the driver and got herself a ticket back to Gaya- to go back to the home that only  existed  inside her head now.

What was she going to do when her money ran out, she wondered. She really did not know. What she knew now was to board the train that was making its way towards the platform.

She joined the crowd of passengers who scrambled into the ladies general compartment. After a lot of manoeuvring she found herself inside the train and bagged a window seat! She rested her head against the window rails and closed her eyes.

After a few moments when she opened her eyes she found two young girls on the opposite seat looking at her and whispering among themselves. One of them looked at her with a giggle and said “My sister tells me you look like  Sitara”

“Really? And who is that?” she asked

“A famous film star” said the other girl

She smiled at them and said “I am flattered” and stared out of the window at the tracks.

The engine was whistling as the train pulled out of the station slowly…. Sitara was history now….!!

She,  Dhano was finally escaping from the life that was no longer hers, carrying within her a life that needed to take its root in peace!!

 

( Images from the internet)

 

 

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