THE TENANT

It had all started about six  months back when Meenakshi had decided to rent out the upstairs portion of her house.  After her husband’s death a couple of years ago, she had found  the house  becoming too big to manage. Her daughter Anita was married and living in another town while  son Ajay was working  abroad. With the problems of getting domestic help and her own knees making it difficult for her to make that journey upstairs everyday, she had realized that the most practical thing to do would be to rent it out. The money would certainly come in handy. Besides, the downstairs had two bedrooms and a study, making it easy to accommodate any unexpected guests  who might decide to stay over.

Dr. Debashish Ghosh was recommended as a prospective tenant by Usha, Meenakshi’s friend from her music class. . He was a visiting surgeon in a local hospital and was usually in their town for about ten days in a month at a stretch. Usha’s family had consulted the doctor for many ailments and had a very good opinion of him.

Meenakshi met the doctor and found him to be very polite and soft spoken. He agreed readily to the rent proposed by her. He had moved in a week later with a few pieces of furniture  and ten  carton loads  of books!

It was a bit awkward in the initial days. Never having had to play the role of a land lady, Meenakshi did not really know how to interact with him. Should she maintain a distance or be friendly?  But Dr. Ghosh’s lifestyle made it easy for her to adjust. Most of the days when he was in town, he used to leave for work  early in the morning coming back often very late in the night. He usually parked his car in the small lane outside and came in quietly without making a noise opening or closing the gate.

They led separate lives in the same house until the day she sprained her ankle.  Meenakshi was trying to trim a low hanging branch  in the garden when her foot had slipped and she had fallen down spraining her ankle!. She was just wondering how she was going to lift herself up when she suddenly found a pair of strong hands helping her up. It was Dr. Ghosh. He had seen her fall from the balcony upstairs and had come down to help her up. Slowly,  he walked her to her house making her sit on a chair in her verandah before examining her foot.

“Not badly sprained. I will give you some pain killers and wrap a crepe bandage” he said moving around upstairs to get them. Meenakshi thanked him profusely!

Thus began the friendship between the two of them. He would look in every day whenever he was around and spend a few minutes chatting with her. Though it was initially about her health, the weather and other inane things, slowly they began speaking more about themselves. “Call me Deb” was the probably the first thing he said that marked the turning point in their relationship. Well.. if he was okay about her calling him Deb she was okay with him calling her Meena.  It was preferable to “Madam”

Strange -but she did not realize how quickly they had become  friends. Both of them were almost of the same age. He was a bachelor- “! There was a time when my mother used to keep pushing pictures of girls in front of me. I was not interested then because I was building my career. Now  she is gone, there is no one to do that. Anyway,, I am nearly fifty five and well past that stage now”!  he told her one day with a laugh. She in turn told him about how she was married at twenty and how busy life had kept her as a wife and mother until a couple of years back when Cheenu had left her for the other world.

She began to slowly arrange her daily routine around his coming and going. There were other changes too. Four extra idlis at breakfast or three more rotis at dinner. Initially it used to be a hot case that would be waiting for him to take up, later they dispensed with that and began having their meals together at her dining table downstairs.

Meals together lead to discussions. They found that their tastes were almost similar –whether it was in books, music or movies. Both of them loved Hindustani classical music. So it was but a matter of time when he invited her one day for a music recital by Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. She was a bit hesitant to accept the request – she had never gone out anywhere with anyone other than her immediate family. But he persisted and she agreed. Somehow, she did not know why but it made her feel young!  The loneliness of middle age that had set in after Cheenu’s death slowly began to lift. She did not have to rely on that yoga class or the music class to fill her time.

She found herself taking more interest around the house and in her self. Probably, for the first time in two years she bought herself a new sari and spent money on a facial in the  beauty parlour nearby.

It was not long before her friends began noticing these changes in Meenakshi. First it was Radhika, who lived down the road. Then it was Usha who felt that Meenakshi’s singing had improved dramatically all of a sudden. “What is this change all about ?” they asked her.

“I cannot understand why this should bother them. Why, do they want me to remain melancholic and sad all the time thinking about what was …” she told Deb one day. He did not answer. But then that was something nice about him. He spoke only when he felt that speaking would make a difference. “He is not like Cheenu talking all the time giving me little opportunity to be heard!” she thought feeling guilty almost immediately for making that comparison.

Fragrance like happiness they say, cannot stay hidden..! But happiness unlike fragrance attracts envy. So it was only a matter of time before tongues began to wag and one fine day, she found her daughter Anita at her door step.

“Hi Anu, what is the reason for this sudden visit?” she asked welcoming her inside. Anita was very curt and short taking in her mother’s appearance and glancing towards the entrance to the upstairs portion once in a while. It was when Ajay joined Anita a couple of days later that Meena began to wonder if it was not something planned.

“Mom what is this that we are hearing about you” said her son almost hours after his arrival. “What have you heard? “ she asked defiantly.

“That you are having an affair with the tenant upstairs” said Anita bitterly “Don’t you care about what people may think?” she  continued. “ Mom, there is something called decent behaviour. I of all people do not have to tell you about it” said Ajay!

Meenakshi was shocked! She could not believe that these were her own children who were talking! They went on and on … this time casting aspersions on Deb’s character. Finally when she could bear it no longer Meenakshi screamed ”Stop”!

“Both of you listen to me!  I have given more than thirty years of my life to you and your father. In fact I had immersed myself so deep in your lives that I had forgotten my own identity. I lived as your mother and your father’s wife and derived my pleasure from that. But can you imagine what it does to a person when the person from whom you derive your identity suddenly leaves you? Anu, you got married and moved to Bombay, Ajay moved on to New Jersey. I lived those days for that one telephone call or letter from both of you. Did you have any time for your mother then? No obviously not. You were busy with your lives. I tried to make myself busy with mine. Between your father and me we had a routine that kept us occupied. But two years ago when your father died,  what was left behind? Nothing but a void!   I suddenly found myself devoid of a life. There was no Anu, Ajay or Cheenu to occupy my life or my time. Believe me when I say this, I did not know what to do with my life. I had been married at twenty to your father and become a mother at twenty one. I don’t know what it is that I want. I spent two years all alone in this house moving from one class to another to keep loneliness at bay. Did it ever strike you then that your mother may need some of your time to help cope with her loneliness? Now that I have found a friend you grudge me that happiness ?”

The rest of the day passed by in a succession of moody silences. Meenakshi was glad that Deb was not here today. She did not want him to see this selfish side to her children. Finally, it was time for them to leave- first Anu and then Ajay…!

Meenakshi was looking forward to some solitude.. She made  tea for herself and waited in the verandah for Deb to arrive. His flight was would have landed an hour ago.  He had asked her again this time before leaving for Kolkata…”Will you marry me”

While she had been unsure about what she should say when he was leaving, she had no such doubts now.

There was no way she was going to tie her life again with another person . She had done that and got nothing out of it except the loss of her identity. She was beginning to discover herself and she did not want to cut it short by becoming Mrs Ghosh.

At fifty four it was okay to be just Meenakshi!

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LADIES SPECIAL – (part 2)

Sam, who ran the coffee shop  called “ Coffee and More” at the Rainbow Mall looked at  the three ladies with interest. They were his regulars, coming almost every month or so. But he was surprised to see them sitting separately today. The youngest one was sitting alone at a table while the pretty one and the older lady were sitting together at another table. He wondered what the matter was.. Had they fought with each other ? No, that did  not seem to be the case. The young girl was signalling to the other two ladies and they were signalling back…! “Well, none of my business really” he thought shrugging his shoulders and getting back to supervising his waiters. He looked around the shop- there  seemed to be a lot of ladies- he could count atleast eight ( including his three regulars). “Well as long as it gets me business” he said to himself.

Tanya who was sitting alone at a table in the centre of the shop  was typing out a text message “ It is 6 o’clock now. Do you think he will show up?”

“ Have patience. He will. I know his kind” typed back Maya for whom the message was intended. She showed the message to Rehana who nodded.

Rehana looked around the shop- yes five of the ladies had come as they had promised. This was the grand finale of what Tanya called “Operation ROCKET”.

Tanya, Maya and Rehana had met up last week deciding to do something about ROCKET.  But they did not really know how to go about it.

“Why don’t we comment on his blog telling him what an awful character he is” asked Rehana. But Maya had ruled that out. “ You will be doing exactly what he wants you to do. You will be giving  him the attention that he is craving for”  They tried to  wrack their brains for some other ideas.

It was Tanya who had finally come up with the idea. Rocket , she had found out was from their town. She had offered to contact Rocket asking him to meet her at the coffee shop on Rainbow Mall . “And both of you Rehana Aunty and Maya didi can come and yell at him in person” she had said.

But Maya had said  that though the idea was a good one, in order to embarrass the man, they needed more women to be part of it. So, began the hunt for other women bloggers who had received the attentions of Rocket. They then sorted out the names by location  to see  who were from their town. Between the three of them they used up every network they had and reached out to eight of the ten women from their town who was on Rocket’s “blog hit list”. Of the eight, three had been nervous about the whole thing though they said that they were with the others “in spirit” ( “What is this  in spirit girls? Either they are in or not in it” Rehana had exclaimed in anger)

So, here they were waiting for Mr. Rocket to show up!

The clocked ticked on. It was 6.15 PM now.  Rehana had her eyes glued to the entrance of the shop.! Most of the ladies had a mental image of the man- an all brawn person with a six pack and an empty brain! Rehana’s hands were inside her purse fingering the rolling pin she had brought along.

It was 6.20 PM  when a person walked into the shop. A thin man with  balding hair wearing a a red T shirt and glasses. His eyes scanned the occupants of the shop. He took out his phone and made a call. Tanya’s phone rang. She looked up – so this was Mr. Rocket! A wimp of a guy with a hunch and a twitch in his left eye!

Seven pairs of eyes watched as Tanya waved at Mr. Rocket saying “Come here. I am Tanya”  Just to be sure she asked loudly “Rocket?” He nodded and sat down opposite her.

Sam suddenly felt that he was in the middle of a movie climax. Seven ladies from the two long tables in the corner were getting up and making their way to the young girl’s table.  He watched with interest. He was sure something interesting was about to happen.

“Are you Rocket? I think you wanted to kiss my hands. Here have a go” said Rehana extending her hand which had the rolling pin clasped on it.

“ You creep!  Look at me. I am Maya from “Rhythms and Rhymes”You think that just because I write love poems I am on the look out for a lover? And even if I were, you will be the last person I would consider for that” said Maya closing in on him.

Rocket was now perspiring…

“I am  Parvathi Srinivasan. Head of the department of English at the University. I have read some of your atrocious comments on my blog. Let me tell you, even my worst student writes better English. If you do not know how to write in English you should try blogging in the language that you are most comfortable with. But that I guess would deprive you of the opportunity to meet hep girls right?”

“ I am  Minoti a cosmetic surgeon. Though I have deleted your indecent comments from my blog, I have not forgotten what you had commented on my post on breast reconstruction and its harmful effects!” said another woman from the group.

“ I am Anjana Tripathi, I work for a NGO which deals with harassment faced by women. I am going to report you to police” she said almost pulling Rocket up by his collar.

“Rocket ? I am Dr. Rekha  Kamath an  astrophysicist. I design rockets. If I ever designed something like you I would break it with my foot!!” she said stamping her foot hard on the ground.

“And I am Mini Thomas a mother of two teenage boys. I don’t know what your mother has taught you but if any of my boys misbehaved like this with any woman I would finish him off!”she said bringing her face close to his.

Rocket was clearly shivering now. He looked at the women around him.. He had never expected to be ambushed  like this. He was particularly nervous about the lady with the rolling pin. He looked at Tanya. She raised an eyebrow and smiled at him.

He suddenly got up and pushed his way out of the circle of ladies around his table. Before they could react he had dashed out of the shop!

“ Shall I run and catch him?” asked Tanya. “No let him be.. he has had his lesson” said Rehana sitting down on a chair nearby. Sam went up to them clapping his hands.“Bravo ladies. Next round of coffee comes with my compliments”.

A week later,  there appeared a post entitled “Ladies Special” on eight blogs. Signed by Tanya Gonsalves, Rehana Habib, Maya Bhattacharya, Parvathi Srinivasan, Mini Thomas, Anjana Tripathi, Minoti Patnaik and Rekha  Kamath it dealt with the problems of harassment of women in the virtual world. Each of the blogs had over 500 hits per day and were flooded with comments from women across the world.

Needless to say, there were no comments from a person called Rocket. Tanya, found out later that the blog had been deleted.

If you ever go to the shop “Coffee and More” at the Rainbow Mall, you will find on the wall a picture of the owner Sam, with eight ladies- titled “The brave hearts of Blogosphere” . When you ask him who they are he will most probably smile and tell you “ this is the MORE in the name of my shop”

LADIES SPECIAL (part 1)

Rehana switched on the computer and logged into her blog. She was hoping that there would be some comments on her new post.

Rehana had a cookery blog – “ Zaika”  in which she posted her recipes. A true
foodie, she was also a talented cook.  The interesting part of her recipes were that they were easy to follow. She looked through the  comments section – yes, there were  as usual two comments -one from Tanya and another from Maya!

Tanya and Maya were avid followers of Rehana’s  blog. Tanya was a young IT professional who had never thought that she could cook until she had  tried out Rehana’s recipes. Maya was a young homemaker with a  husband who loved to
eat. Rehana’s recipes, according to Maya kept her “marriage alive”.  Over the eight months that “Zaika” had been on blogosphere, a friendship had developed between the three ladies. Rehana enjoyed visiting Tanya’s blog    “Jottings” which was about funny incidents from her work. Some of the things that Tanya wrote made her laugh till her sides ached. She also loved Maya’s poetry blog and admired the depth of the feelings that the words portrayed.  Since they lived in the same town, they had
met up after a few months of blog based friendship. Now, they met almost twice
a month, often for movies or lunches.

For Rehana, blogging was a  hobby that kept her busy in her retired life. With the children now married and settled, she had all the time in the world to indulge in her passion for creativity. Habib, her husband often teased her about it. But he was also glad about the fact that she did not waste her time gossiping with the other ladies in the building  !

Rehana, scanned through the comments section once again.. before logging out.. Wait- what was that? A comment from someone called “ Rocket” said “ I tried out your recipe. It was so yumm. I want to kiss the hand that wrote it!”  She started laughing..! What an ass! Did this Rocket know that she was a fifty seven year old grandmother?

She must share this with Tanya and Maya. She picked up her phone and dialed Maya’s number- the line was busy. So she tried Tanya.

“ Hello Rehana Aunty. Whats up?”  asked Tanya’s cheery voice.

“ You are not going to believe this but someone just commented on my blog saying that he wants to kiss my hand” said Rehana.

“ How do you know it is a He?”  asked Tanya?

“ I am sure no woman will have a blog called Rocket” she said

“ Wait a minute-Rocket did you say? “ asked Tanya.

“ Yes. Do you know this person? “  asked Rehana.

“ You can say that – it is a He alright- one of the biggest pests prowling the net! He keeps emailing me” said Tanya.

“ What! See I told you it is not right to have your email displayed on your profile”  scolded Rehana.

“ Aunty, if my email were not displayed you or Maya didi would not have contacted me. For everything good that happens there are some annoying things that also happen” said Tanya with a laugh

“ But this person Rocket who is he?” asked Rehana. She was extremely protective about Tanya and was now feeling a little concerned.

“ Oh I don’t know. Writes silly reviews about movies. I now delete all his comments” said Tanya dismissively

“ Tanya, you live alone. You have got to be careful. What if he is a psycho?” asked Rehana.

“ Aunty please chill. He is just a disgusting character. We can ignore him. Ofcourse if you want to encourage him considering that he wants to kiss your hands that is another question”  said Tanya giggling.

Rehana smiled and put the phone down. It was surprising how the companionship of a young person could make one feel young.

The phone rang again. This time it was Maya.

“ Rehanaji read your recipe. I am going to try it for dinner”  said Maya. “ Good ! Listen Maya, I am a bit disturbed about Tanya”  said Rehana

“ Why what happened? “ asked Maya “ She is being harassed by a chap on the internet. Someone called Rocket”  said Rehana.

“  Rocket? That idiot!! “ exclaimed Maya. “ Why do you know him?” asked Rehana

“ You can say that! He comments on my blog. Writes some really over the top comments. You know he sent me a friend request on face book”  said Maya angrily

“ So did you accept it?” asked Rehana with interest

“ Ofcourse not! You know there are some men who are just on the net pretending to blog so they can get in touch with women bloggers. They are not interested in what we write. They are only interested in the fact that we are women… You will never see them comment on blogs written by men” Maya said.

Rehana, thought about this conversation seriously. She then began to look up the comments section in her various posts. Her blog was usually frequented by women. She randomly picked out some women and went into their blogs browsing through the different posts. Yes…! There he was Mr. Rocket! Another blog, and there he was again. Another, another and yet another! Out of fifteen comments that she had received from her women followers in her previous post she found  Rocket comment on blogs of nine of them.

It was interesting to read the comments. Most of them were not about the post but more about the writer- “ Oh this is awesome! I really love the way you pen your thoughts. Someday I want to get into your head and see how those thoughts are created” being one. “ Yes, life is like that …sometimes people like us need to come together to discuss these things more closely” being another! And the best one being on Maya’s blog” Maya I am hurt. Why are you not publishing my comments and why are you not visiting my blog” !! What cheek!

“ We need to do something about this fellow” thought Rehana. A mother of two daughters, Rehana had strong feelings about men who harassed women. She was just a beginner in the virtual world and it was shocking for her to realize that the virtual world was just like a street,  bus or a train where men could harass women.  Men stalked women or commented on them lewdly on the road but these men of the virtual world were probably not so crude though the modus operandi was pretty much the same! But the problem was that while on the road, a woman could slap a man for misbehaving, on the net, it was not so easy. One could delete the comments but Rehana was not sure if the blog could be made inaccessible to creeps like this!

“ We have to teach people like this Rocket a lesson!”  thought Rehana as she switched off her computer.

JATAYU

He was often found outside their gate. A frail looking man probably in his fifties with a long grey beard. His hair was matted, his clothes dirty and discolored. Vaidehi, could not remember exactly when she had first seen him. Probably a year or two after her marriage and move into this house.

He had materialized one day outside their gate shouting “Seetamma, Seetamma”. Vaidehi had gone out of the house to see what the matter was. He was standing outside her gate looking at her pitifully. She asked him what he wanted. But he seemed unable to tell her anything.  Every few minutes he would look at her and say “Seetamma”.

Finally, she had gone inside the house and brought out some of the left over rice and sambar on a paper plate and given it to him. He had taken it from her gratefully, polishing it off quickly in less than five minutes. She then went in and brought out some water in a tumbler and gave it to him. He drank it and extended the tumbler to her indicating that he wanted some more. She had gone in and returned with a bottle of water which he drank thirstily returning the bottle to her.

After  that it had become a pattern. Every now and then he would appear and shout “Seetamma”  and Vaidehi would go inside and get out some food and water for him. Sometimes it would be a cup of tea. He often slept under the shade of the tree outside their gate. During rainy seasons Vaidehi was tempted to bring him inside the house to sleep in the garage but Raghav ,her husband was completely  against it!

Raghav often scolded her for “encouraging”  the “mad man”! “ You don’t know anything about him. He is mentally unstable. He could attack you”  But Vaidehi was sure that this man would not harm anyone. She just prayed that he would not show up when her husband was at home. A peace loving person of calm nature, Vaidehi did not like any arguments.

But then it is difficult to control the movements of a homeless person. He sometimes did come when  Raghav was at home. It used to irritate him no end.  . “And why does he shout out Seetamma?”  he used ask.

“I don’t know. He never says anything else. Probably this is the only word he knows. It might have been the name of someone dear to him-his mother, daughter or sister. So whenever he wants something he shouts out that name” she said by way of explanation.

Vaidehi had tried to contact NGOs working with homeless persons like him but the problem was that there was no way she could tell them when or how long  he would be there so that they could take him to their shelter . Of course, when he was
there, she herself could not take him to the NGO because she could not drive
and she was sure no auto rickshaw driver  would be willing to drive her with
him . And about Raghav agreeing to drive them both … well it was
difficult even to imagine that!

Other than these arguments about the man, life for Vaidehi and Raghav was quite peaceful at “ Chitrakoot” . An old house belonging to the 1950s era, it was the only one of its kind in the small lane. But both Vaidehi and Raghav loved the house with its small garden. They refused to sell out to the builders who repeatedly contacted them.

Over the ten years of their marriage  and residence in the house, the old people in the neighborhood began to slowly leave the locality and this world. Their
children sold the old houses and moved on and away from the area. So what remained on 3rd cross street was “ Chitrakoot”  and four blocks of
multistory buildings. A new breed of people seemed to have moved into these
brand new apartments-they moved around in fancy cars and rarely spoke to their neighbors.

It was only 6.30 PM on that day but the cloudy weather and the incessant rain made it look later than it was. Vaidehi, was walking home from the bus stop on the main road. She hurriedly pulled her bag under the shade of her umbrella and walked into the lane. She was a bit nervous. Two of the street lights were not working giving the tree shrouded lane an eerie look. When she reached her gate, she looked inside her bag for the keys to the gate.

Suddenly, she felt someone behind her. “Do not make any sound. Open the gate and walk inside normally” he said. She could feel something cold pressing against her back! Probably a knife… Her fingers trembled as she tried to open the lock. She wished she could somehow take out her phone from the bag and call Raghav.

“ What is taking you so long? Remember any tricks and I will slash your throat” he said.  Vaidehi’s heart was beating fast. If she opened the gate and led him into the house he would use her as hostage and demand money from Raghav. She was sure of that. She was thinking of some way to escape. Suddenly she dropped her bag. It took
him by surprise. She used that split second to start running. He ran behind her
and grabbed her! She was struggling to get away. She tried to scream but he had
his palm over her mouth.

Then she heard it-aROAR! From somewhere she could feel another person jump on her captor and catch him by the head! She looked around and saw her bearded friend. He was kicking the captor. But the other man was stronger. He hit back and the bearded man fell down. Blows were being exchanged. Vaidehi, ran fast out of the lane towards  the main road. She found a traffic constable and grabbed his hand

“ Sir please come with me” she pleaded. “ What is it Amma”. “Sir please please “  she said sobbing. A crowd gathered around her. She took out her phone and
called Raghav” Please Raghav… come soon. There is an emergency situation around
the house” !

People calmed her down and along with the police man she went into the lane. On seeing a crowd appear the assailant jumped across a wall and disappeared.

Vaidehi ran out to the bearded man lying on the road. His head was bleeding and he was groaning with pain. She took his head and put it on her lap. “ Some one please call an ambulance” she said.

It was  7 o’clock when the ambulance arrived. Vaidehi climbed into it cradling the injured man’s head on her lap. Raghav followed in the car.

There was stretcher waiting outside the trauma care department which took the injured man. Vaidehi followed him into casualty. “Madam, please wait outside” said a young doctor closing the door behind him. Vaidehi slumped down on bench nearby closing her eyes in prayer.

“ Madam, could you please fill in this form?” asked a hospital staff giving her a pen and a form.

Vaidehi looked at the form. The first question was “ NAME OFTHE PATIENT” .

She thought for a moment and then filled in “ JATAYU”

( Jatayu is a charachter from the Ramayana- a lesser known hero when compared to Hanuman and the monkeys who helped Ram. Jatayu was a vulture who faught valiantly to help Seeta when she was being kidnapped by Ravana. Unfortunately, he  succumbed to his injuries dying a hero’s death)