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)