Posts Tagged ‘adventure’

INDIAN DERBY – A DAY AT THE RACES

December 16, 2010

INDIAN DERBY – A DAY AT THE RACES.

The Third Slap – Fiction Short Story – A Romance

May 4, 2010

THE THIRD SLAP

Pure Fiction – Pulp Fiction – Junk Fiction

A Comical Story – A Tall Story — A Yarn

By

VIKRAM KARVE

Dear Reader, I urge you not to read this story.

I think it is one of my worst stories – an example of my inchoate and amateurish attempts at creative writing.

I wrote this rubbish sometime in the 1990’s, I think, when you travelled to Goa by those delightful metre-gauge trains winding their way down from Londa past the cascading Dudhsagar falls to Vasco.

I wonder what genre one can call this. Pulp Fiction…?

Maybe ‘Junk Fiction’ is more apt…!

I’ve warned you…

Now, if you still want to read this bizarre, preposterous story, go ahead, do so at your own peril.

Have a laugh … and don’t forget the brickbats (or the bouquets) …

As always, I value your feedback and comments.

PART 1 – THE FIRST SLAP

I looked thoughtfully, with nostalgia and pride, at the words inscribed on the brass plaque I held in my hand:

“The first time you slap me it is your fault…

The second time you slap me it is my fault…”

This engraved plaque was the only item I had brought with me from my old office in Pune. I had now made it big time. A top job in a prestigious firm in Bangalore .

I gave the brass plaque to Suhas and told him to hang it on the wall. For added effect, I loudly recited the words – a Chinese proverb – again and again.

The first impression is a lasting one. I wanted to project myself as a tough guy, and had dramatically succeeded. I had totally intimidated Suhas into submission. He had never expected that I would order him to drive me from the airport straight to office on a Sunday, get the office opened, and brief me in detail.

Suhas had been one of the aspirants for the chair I was sitting on; now he would be my deputy. If he was disappointed at not being promoted, he did not show it. After all, he had worked for ten years in the same firm and surely did not like an outsider like me thrust upon him.

As I stroked my beard, I looked appraisingly at Suhas. True to his name he had a sweet pleasant smile. But he looked a weakling – one of those suave, slimy, effeminate characters that adorn the corporate world – a soft-spoken, clean-shaven, ingratiating sissy with an almost feminine voice and carefully cultivated mannerisms as if he had been trained in a finishing school. Suhas had no masculinity, no manliness about him. He was one of those cissy types who were bullied and ragged at school and college. In my mind’s eye I smiled to myself at my excellent assessment.

Suhas handed me an invitation card and stammered, “Sir, an invitation for the New Year Eve party tonight.”

I was genuinely pleased and gave him an appreciative smile. In my euphoria I had almost forgotten the date.

Eager-Beaver and sycophant that he was, Suresh had organized a partner for me. Anita. A young executive anxious to please the boss. Anita was openly showing her willingness to get involved with me. A pity. I was not interested. She was not my type of woman. Anita was one of those synthetic beauties; pleasing to look at but not exciting to embrace. Dainty, delicate, perfectly poised, petite, precise, prim and proper. Her make-up perfect and exact, she looked like an artificial doll – optimally designed, precisely engineered and finished to perfection. Her actions appeared carefully contrived; there was no spontaneity about her. That vital spark of sensuality was missing. I could see that she had titivated for me, but I was not titillated. I liked voluptuous, sensual, earthy women – the rough-and-ready kind. As we danced she pressed against me in desperate appeal. I was not stirred. She was too simulated to stimulate me.

I signaled to Suhas who rescued me. I picked up a drink and took up a strong tactical position with my back to the wall. I looked at Anita – Good from Far, but, Far from Good. I smiled to myself. I sipped my drink, lit a cigarette, and looked at the entrance.

I saw her almost at once. She radiated an extraordinary sensuousness of a degree I had never experienced before. The impact was so overwhelming that I was instantly aroused and consumed with desire. She could not have made her body more inviting. There was nothing delicate about her. Plump and lusty, she oozed raw sexuality. I ached with desire and drank her in with my eyes insatiably.

“Enjoying the party, Sir” Suhas had followed my transfixed gaze and guessed what was on my mind. “That dish is Menaka. She’s a hot-shot executive in our main competitor. Let me formally introduce you.”

“No,” I said, “not now.”

Politeness is a pleasant way for a man to get nowhere with a woman.

Suhas got the hint and left me alone. My hungry eyes locked on to Menaka. I was feasting my eyes on her captivating face when she suddenly turned and glanced at me. Our eyes met. She looked at me for that moment longer, and with a curious smile, she turned back to her group.

I kept my eyes on her, looking steadily and directly; trying to transmit and project my thought-waves of passionate yearning. She adjusted her stance slightly, probably to observe me through the corner of her eye. Her gestures indicated that I had succeeded in disturbing the equilibrium of her personal inner comfort zone. I was thrilled with anticipation.

Suddenly she excused herself from her group, walked towards a secluded corner, turned and looked directly towards me. She held my gaze in a kind of challenge, there was a lengthy pause, and then she smiled. There was a conspiratorial look in her expressive eyes; at once inviting and taunting. She teased me with her eyes. My stimulus had evoked a response.

Encouraged by her enthusiastic response, I indulged myself lavishly. I made love to her with my eyes. She responded with unrestrained zeal; exhilaration pouring out of her eyes. As our mutual visual interplay became intense, I could clearly decipher the language in her eyes. I did not require the power of clairvoyance to look into the province of her mind; to read her thoughts. I boldly walked up to her and asked her for a dance. As I led her onto the dance-floor, I realized that every man, who was a man, was hungrily ogling at her. I felt the natural pride of possession that any man feels when he has the company of a woman that other men desire.

We danced continuously, without break. I held her tightly. She let her body rub against mine. Suddenly, the lights went off. Someone announced, “One minute left for the New Year.”

It was pitch-dark. The dance-floor was packed with bodies. I locked Menaka in a passionate embrace. Intoxicated by the aroma of her natural scent, I caressed her neck with my tongue. Her skin was moist with sweat. She sighed and her breathing became heavy and rapid. I kissed her warm mouth, a fervent passionate kiss. She kissed me back, most eagerly and amorously. As our tongues intertwined I could taste the fresh flavour of her mouthwash mixed with her hot saliva. We were luxuriating in a wave of sensuality which had engulfed us when the lights were suddenly switched on. Everyone seemed to have gone berserk – shouting “Happy New Year” at the top of their voices, and hooters, whistles, horns, drums, shouts raising the noise level to a deafening din.

“Happy New Year,” it was Suhas. He was quite drunk. Anita was standing next to him – her hurt evident in her eyes.

Before I realized it, Menaka had quickly disengaged and walked away. I was too confused to react. Anita pulled me to dance. She still hadn’t given up hopes. I kissed her on the cheeks, wished her a Happy New Year, and joined in the merrymaking. It was only after a considerable amount of time that I noticed that Suhas had disappeared.

It took me a week to sink my teeth into my new assignment. I worked hard. My first vital challenge was to win a huge software development contract with a multinational company. It was a prestigious contract. A large number of firms would be vying for it. It was imperative that I succeeded in winning it – to establish my credentials and prove my worth. The primary reason I had been appointed to the top post was owing to my expertise and track record in this area. My professional reputation was at stake. By the end of the week I had my proposal ready. I kept just one hard copy – no soft copies – for I believe that one should not store anything in a computer that one cannot display on a public notice board.

But my being busy at work was not the only reason that I had not contacted Menaka. I had not forgotten the sensuality of her body. During nights, as I lay awake in bed, I desperately yearned for her and I felt like a volcano without eruption.

I purposely did not make the first move. I didn’t want her to think I was desperate and grovel before her. I had ardently communicated my unspoken intentions to her on New Year’s Eve – if she wanted me, she’d contact me.

One day, while I was working in my plush office, suddenly my phone rang. It was Menaka. I felt a tremor of anticipation. She invited me to lunch at a nearby restaurant. I accepted.

Menaka was waiting for me outside the restaurant. She was dressed in a full-sleeved blouse and a heavy formal blue silk sari. It was hot. The fabric of her blouse around her armpits was wet with sweat. She looked and smelt natural. No attempt to camouflage her raw steamy sensuousness behind the synthetic mask of make-up and deodorants. Raw steamy sensuousness – that’s what I liked about her. It stimulated me and attracted me towards her.

As we sipped chilled beer, I found that she was easy to talk to. I had a strange feeling of elation. In these moods there was so much to say, the words simply came tumbling out. I told her everything about myself. In hindsight, I realize that she hardly told me anything about herself.

We met often during the next few days, arranging rendezvous in restaurants and our club. She tantalized me. But she did not let me go all the way. A bit of petting, necking, fondling, caressing, hugging, kissing, cuddling – it was okay. But there she drew the line. She never invited me home nor talked about her personal things. At first I was patient. No point hurrying up or forcing things. I did not want to lose her. There is a time to let things happen and a time to make things happen. I thought I would let things happen. But the more I met her, the more the desire began building up in me. The time had come to make things happen. I was wondering what strategy I should adopt when Suhas interrupted me, “Drying a divorcee’s tears is one of the most dangerous pastimes known to man.”

I tried to hide my surprise and regain my composure. I certainly wasn’t interested in drying Menaka’s tears!

“I didn’t know she is a divorcee,” I said truthfully. “In any case it’s a purely platonic friendship.”

“All such platonic relationships have a potential to culminate into affairs,” Suhas pontificated.

I was getting angry now. Surely I didn’t need a lecture on how to handle women from this prissy effeminate sissy.

He sensed my feelings and pleaded, “The office grapevine is pulsating with juicy rumors about your romance with Menaka. Such liaisons can be dangerous. She is working for our rival firm which is competing for the vital contract.”

This was news to me. Menaka hadn’t mentioned the contract. I looked innocently at Suhas. I would have to be careful with this Nosey Parker around.

One evening I was stunned when Menaka suddenly walked into my office. I had not bargained for this unexpected situation at all. It was one thing to meet Menaka in some restaurant or club. It was quite another thing to have her show up bold as brass at my office; it was embarrassing and downright dangerous.

“Don’t worry, everyone has gone home,” Menaka said and came around my desk and stood close to me. I was sitting on my swivel-chair working on the computer. I swiveled my chair around. Her silky smooth stomach was inches from my face. I sensed the beginnings of the experience which had been eluding me. I was tremendously excited, yet frightened. Even the improbability of the situation made me slightly incredulous and cautious. But I could not control myself and animal instinct took charge of me. I clasped her hips and buried my face in her stomach, and we both were going wildly berserk when suddenly the door opened and Suhas walked in.

A few moments later, as I sat in Suhas’s office trying to regain my composure, I realized that Suhas had not spoken a word, and was totally ignoring me. He was sitting quietly, ostensibly engrossed in work. The nuance wasn’t lost on me.

I had left Menaka in my office to tidy up. I wondered what effect this episode would have on her.

Suddenly an ominous thought entered my mind and I was overcome by a strange foreboding. I rushed to my office. Menaka had disappeared. I yanked open my desk drawer. I broke into cold sweat. My premonition had come true – the vital file was missing.

Disgraced, and accused of moral turpitude and disloyalty, I resigned my job and left Bangalore forever, under a cloud of shame, a discredited man.

Needless to say, Suhas walked into my job.

PART2 – THE SECOND SLAP

But I was not one to wallow in despondency for long. I put the episode behind me and went on a sabbatical. Interestingly, I found my true métier in the world of academics. I bounced back into life with vigor and zeal. I started teaching and, in a couple of years, was heading my own computer training institute.

Five years later, I stood on the platform of Pune Railway Station and scanned the passenger list on the reservation chart. No matter how many times I begin a train journey; there is always an intriguing interest in seeing who one’s follow-passengers are. I was on berth number 27. Berth number 28 was reserved in the name of a Mrs. M. Rao, Age 35. All others in the vicinity were males. A disappointment. I always wondered why all the good chicks were in other trains, other compartments. Let’s hope this Mrs. Rao was worth a look, at least.

When Mrs. Rao entered and sat down opposite me, I was dumbstruck.

It was Menaka.

She gave me a warm smile and started talking of me as if she were expecting me. Her behaviour was natural, as if she had fixed up a rendezvous with me here on the train. No guilt, no regret, no remorse. There was absolutely no trace of surprise at seeing me evident on her face. She had blossomed. Her beauty had enhanced with age.

“I was looking forward to meeting you,” she said looking directly into my eyes. “It’s good they organized the seminar in Goa . We shall enjoy ourselves. And, of course, finish our unfinished business. It’s so exciting!”

I couldn’t believe my ears and cannot begin to describe my emotions I felt. At once, I hated her for the way she had played with me, used me, and tossed me by the wayside; at the same time she evoked within me the familiar stirrings of passion. But I knew it was dangerous, so I decided to steer clear of her – once bitten, twice shy

I avoided talking to Menaka, snubbed her when she tried to start a conversation, pretended to read and we traveled in silence on the broad-gauge train from Pune to Miraj, where we would change over to the connecting metre-gauge express to Goa . Hopefully, Menaka would get seat away from me.

In the evening, just before Miraj, the train conductor arrived and said, “There is no air-conditioned service on the metre-gauge overnight train from Miraj to Vasco Da Gama. You will have to travel first class.”

“Both of us are together. Give us a coupe,” Menaka said.

I was tongue-tied.

“Yes, Madam. Coach F-1, coupe compartment D,” the train conductor gave me a canny look, and said in railway lingo, “This train reaches Miraj at 2000 hrs. The connecting train leaves at 2030.”

Menaka sat down close to me on the berth of the coupe of the metre-gauge train. The compartment’s smallness forced us into such an intimacy that I could not control myself when she made her move.

She made love to me with a professional’s skill and an amateur’s enthusiasm. Making love in a speeding metre-gauge train was an awesome experience. As the train rocked and sped through the night, we went crazy with passion, and she did not let me rest, but brought me back to her each time I tried to slide away from her, exhausted.

In the next two weeks, I realized the wildest of my fantasies with her. We made love to each other in all possible ways, at all possible places.

Later, as I lay next to her on the wet sand in a secluded corner of the beach, intoxicated with ‘feni’, I felt exhausted, drained and gratified. “Enough is enough”, I said to myself and I decided to leave quietly next morning.

Six months later I had a surprise visitor. Anita. She had a parcel for me. I opened it. There was a ‘Thank-you’ card from Menaka. There was also the brass plaque with the Chinese proverb which I had forgotten in my Bangalore office. I was baffled, nonplussed.

“Tell me Anita, who is this Rao that Menaka remarried. Or is it her first husband’s surname. Or maiden name.”

Anita burst out laughing, “She married Suhas. Suhas Rao. Your ex-deputy. Have you forgotten him?”

I felt angry, betrayed. Suhas Rao. That effete womanish softy. He was hardly man enough for her. What a mismatch. She needed a real man; a strong, virile, potent man like me.

Seeing the look on my face, Anita spoke quickly, “Suhas and Menaka got married soon after you left. Now they have set up their own firm. I work for them.” She abruptly stopped speaking. I could sense her hesitation. But I wanted to know why Menaka had sent Anita to me. It was an intriguing mystery.

“Go on,” I said. “Tell me everything.”

Anita gave me a curious look and said, “Menaka is pregnant. For the first time. She was trying desperately all these years. I am so happy for her. The baby is due in another three months time.”

Comprehension dawned on me pretty fast. Anita need not have spelt it out to me. I did not know whether to laugh or to cry. Menaka had used me again, for the second time, to realize her goal and then cast me aside. She had “slapped” me again!

But was it a slap? Had she slapped me for the second time? I don’t know. I truly don’t know. And I don’t care. I picked up the brass plaque and read the proverbial words written on it:

“The first time you slap me it is your fault…

The second time you slap me it is my fault…”

Then I looked at the brass plaque nostalgically for one last time and tossed it out of the window. No more proverbs for me.

“Convey my congratulations and best wishes to Menaka,” I said genuinely to Anita. “Tell her I am eagerly waiting for the next rendezvous with her. Whenever she wants me, wherever she wants me, any time, any place, I’ll be there at her service.”

Ten years have passed since – ten long years. Often I think of Menaka, yearn for her, and wonder when I am going to have my next rendezvous with her. Yes, I eagerly await the “third slap…”

VIKRAM KARVE

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2010

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

MELTING MOMENTS Fiction Short Story – A Passionate Romance

December 14, 2009

MELTING MOMENTS

Fiction Short Story – A Passionate Romance
By

VIKRAM KARVE

Jayashree entered my life the moment I saw her photograph on Sanjay’s desk.

And my life changed forever!

Till that moment, I had never wanted anything belonging to anyone else.

I stared transfixed at her photo, enthralled, totally captivated by her beauty.

“Sir, this is Jayashree, my wife!” Sanjay said, getting up form the swivel chair.

He picked up the framed photograph and showed it to me.

I took her picture in my hand and looked intently at her, totally mesmerized.

What a stunning beauty!

Never before had the mere sight of a woman aroused such strong passions, and a yearning desire in me to this extent.

Sanjay was talking something, but it didn’t register.

I hastily said, “Cute!” for I believe that thoughts can transmit themselves if they are strong enough!

I thought Sanjay seemed just a trifle taken aback, but he smiled, and pulled out a photo-album from the drawer.

He began showing me the photographs and started describing his home, his family, his wedding, his honeymoon – the wonderful days they had spent together in Goa.

I took the album from him and looked at a photograph of Jayashree in a bathing suit which was so revealing that she might as well have worn nothing, but she conveyed such innocence that it was obvious that she had no inkling of this.

She looked ravishing. Absolutely Breathtaking! Her exquisite body was boldly outlined under the flimsy fabric and she radiated a tantalizing sensuousness with such fervour that I could not take my eyes off her.

“Cute,” I instinctively and unthinkingly said again, and bit my lip; it was the wrong word, but Sanjay didn’t seem to mind; he didn’t even seem to be listening.

Dear Reader, before I proceed further with my story, let me tell you something about myself.

My name is Vijay. At the time of this story I was the Master of a merchant ship – an oil tanker. Sanjay was my Chief Officer – my number two!

He had joined recently and it was our first sailing together.

I had not met him earlier, but in due course he proved to be an excellent deputy. He was young, just thirty, he ran the ship efficiently and I liked him for his good qualities.

But there was something in his eyes that I could not fathom. I shut my mind to it.

It’s extraordinary how close you can be to a man and still know nothing about him.

Sometimes I wondered whether he was much more naïve or a lot more shrewd than I thought.

“Captain, may I ask you a personal question?’ Sanjay asked me one evening, the first time we went ashore.

“Sure,” I said.

“Captain, I was wondering, why didn’t you get married so far?”  Sanjay said with childlike candour.

I sipped my drink and smiled, “I don’t really know. Maybe I am not marriage-material.”

“You tried?”

“Yes.”

“You loved someone?”

I didn’t answer.

And as I thought about it, I felt depressed.

Life was passing me by.

I looked around the restaurant.

The atmosphere was gloomy-dark and quiet. It was late; almost midnight.

Sanjay offered me a cigarette.

His hands were unsteady.

He seemed to be quite drunk.

As we smoked, he lapsed into silence – his eyes closed.

When he opened his eyes, I observed a strange metamorphosis in his expression.

He looked crestfallen; close to tears.

Suddenly, he blurted out, “I wish I had never got married.”

With those few words, Sanjay had bared the secret of his marriage.

As I attempted to smoothen my startled look into a grin, I was ashamed to find that, inwardly, I was glad to hear of his misfortune.

I wondered how I could desire and yearn for Jayashree to this extent without ever having met her in flesh and blood, merely by seeing her photograph?

But it is true; my heart ached whenever I thought of her.

We sailed from Chennai port next morning, and headed for Singapore.

It was the monsoon season and the sea was rough.

As the voyage progressed, the weather swiftly deteriorated.

The ship rolled and pitched feverishly, tossed about by the angry waves.

As we neared the Strait of Malacca, I began to experience a queer sensation – a strange foreboding.

Though I was moulded in a profession where intellect habitually meets danger, I felt restless and apprehensive. I had felt and fought occasional fear before, but this was different – a premonition – a nameless type of fright; a strange feeling of dread and uneasiness.

I tried my best to dispel my fear, thrust away the strange feelings. But all my efforts failed. The nagging uneasiness persisted and soon took charge of me.

It was so dark that I couldn’t even see our ship’s forecastle. The incessant rain and treacherous sea created an eerie atmosphere. I was close to panic as we negotiated the treacherous and hazardous waters of the Strait.

As I stared into the pitch blackness which shrouded the hour moments before the breaking of dawn, a strange tocsin began sounding in my brain – a warning I could not fathom.

The ship was pitching violently. I felt sick with fear and stood gasping for air, clutching the telegraph. I had to get outside, into the fresh air, or I’d suffocate.

As I groped my way along the rail in the bridge-wing, I heard a shrill voice behind me, “Don’t go away, Captain! Please stay. I can’t handle it alone. I can’t. Please, Sir. Don’t go!”

I turned around. It was Sanjay. He looked at me beseechingly with terror and fright in his eyes.

It penetrated to me in flash of revelation what I’d done.

I had transmitted my own fear into my crew. Sanjay was the Chief Officer. For him, to confess in front of the crew, that he could not handle it, brought home to me the fact of how desperate he was.

I had to take control at once.” You are not supposed to handle it as long as I’m around,” I shouted. “Go down to your cabin and catch up on your sleep. I don’t want passengers on the bridge. Get out from here.”

The moment those words left my mouth, I instantly regretted what I had said; but it was too late now. Sanjay was close to tears, humiliated in front of the crew. He shamefacedly left the bridge and went down to his cabin.

Suddenly, a searchlight was switched on, dead ahead. Instinctively I shouted an order to the quartermaster to swing the ship across the ship across to starboard. I crossed my fingers, desperately praying to avoid a collision. It was a near-miss, but the searchlight kept following our sheer to starboard.

I was angry now. I stopped the engines, picked up the loudhailer, rushed out the bridge-wing, leaned over, and shouted, “You stupid fools. Are you crazy? What the hell do you think you are doing?”

“We are in distress,” a voice answered. “Throw us a rope.”

I called the boatswain and told him to throw over the monkey-ladder. “Be careful, and report quickly,” I told him.

Ten minutes must have passed but there was no report. The silence was disquieting, ominous. I decided to go to the deck.

Before I could move, four men entered the bridge. They were wearing hoods. As I started at the nozzle of a carbine pointed at me, comprehensive dawned on me pretty fast. This was piracy on the high seas.

Incredible, but true, I had never imagined it would happen to me.

Undecided as to my next move, I stood there feeling far from heroic. There was no question of resistance. After all, this was a merchant ship, not a man-o’-war. Saving the lives of the crew was of paramount importance. The man pointing the carbine at me said softly, “Captain, we are taking over. Don’t try anything foolish. Tell the crew.”

Suddenly, there was deep shuddering sound followed by a deafening roar. The ship rose on top of a steep quivering hill and slithered down its slope. There was a resounding thud followed by reverberating screeching vibrations. We had run aground.

Suddenly the ship lurched wildly, throwing everyone off-balance. Sanjay suddenly appeared out of nowhere, made a running dive and grabbed the carbine from the pirate.

It happened too quickly, and so unexpectedly that I was totally dumbstruck. Everyone seemed to have opened fire. Bullets wildly straddled the bridge.

There was pandemonium, as crew members joined the melee, grappling with the pirates. I hit the deck and froze.

I don’t know who pulled me up, but by then everything was calm and quit. “The pirates have been overpowered,” said the boatswain, “but the Chief Officer ……….”

I followed his gaze.

Sanjay lay on the deck, in a pool of blood.

I knelt down beside him.

His face was vacant, but he tried to focus his eyes on me, whimpering, “Jayashree, Jayashree…” I shook him, he tried to get up, but slumped back – Sanjay was dead!

Six months later I knocked on a door.

There was long wait.

Then Jayashree opened the door.

Her gorgeously stunning dazzling face took my breath away.

She was even more beautiful than her photographs.

Dressed in white sari, she looked so proud in her grief that I felt embarrassed.

I had myself not yet recovered from the shock of Sanjay’s sudden death.

I said, awkwardly, “I am Captain Vijay.”

She looked directly into my eyes and said, “So I see.” Her dark eyes were hostile.

“I am sorry about what happened. Sanjay was a brave man, and we are all proud to have known him.” My words sounded insincere and I felt acutely uncomfortable.

“Proud!” she exclaimed, her magnificent eyes flashing. “Some people might feel grateful, especially those whose life he saved.”

I was stunned by the sting of her bitterness.

Never had I felt such a burning shame; the shame of being held responsible for someone’s death.

I looked at Jayashree helplessly, pleading innocence, but it was of no use.

It was hopeless now to try and explain.

The hurt was deep, and I had to let it go in silence.

Jayashree excused herself, turned and went inside.

It was then that I remembered the real reason for my visit.

I wanted to hand over what remained of Sanjay’s personal effects; an unfinished letter, a dairy, a framed photograph.

I would first give Jayashree the unfinished letter.

Once she read the letter – probably then she would understand the real reason for Sanjay’s reckless bravery, his suicidal heroics; his desperate concern about proving his masculinity.

When Jayashree returned, she was composed.

I gave her Sanjay’s unfinished letter.

She took the letter in her dainty hands and started reading it.

As she silently read on, I saw tears well up in her eyes.

I do not know whether I did the right thing by giving her Sanjay’s unfinished letter.

Probably it would have been wiser to destroy the letter and the diary – better to leave things unspoken and unhealed.

But I had thought it would be better to exorcise the sense of guilt and shame.

Better for me.

Better for Jayashree.

Best for both of us.

It was not easy, but we both had to come to terms with ourselves.

Jayashree finished reading the letter and looked at me, her eyes cold.

I looked at Jayashree, deep into her intoxicating eyes, and she looked into my eyes too.

We looked into each other, transfixed, in silence, a deafening silence.

And suddenly Jayashree’s frozen eyes melted and she smiled.

MELTING MOMENTS

Fiction Short Story – A Passionate Romance
By

VIKRAM KARVE

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009

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


vikramkarve@sify.com

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

SPDP Sev Potato Dahi Puri

October 11, 2009

SEV POTATO DAHI PURI


Short Fiction – A Tasty Story

By

VIKRAM KARVE

Pune. Fergusson College Road. Vaishali Restaurant. 5 PM on a Sunday evening.

Crowded. Crammed full. Jam-packed. All tables occupied chock-a-block. Aisles teeming with people waiting with watchful eyes for signs of someone finishing their refreshments.

Suddenly I see a woman waving to me, beckoning me with her hand. Her face seems familiar – oh yes, she is Ravi’s wife. She is sitting all alone on a table for two with a half eaten masala dosa in front of her.

I walk towards her and give her a smile.

“Sit down, sit down,” she says to me, gesturing with her hand towards the empty chair opposite her, “Sit down here with me, otherwise you will have to wait for hours.”

I sit down opposite her and say, “Thanks.”

She summons a waiter and orders peremptorily, “SPDP.”

“Two?” the waiter asks.

“No, one SPDP for Madam,” she says pointing to the empty plate in front of me without even bothering to ask me, “and get one Kachori for me.”

Before I can recover my wits, she says, “You like SPDP don’t you? Ravi told me.”

“Yes, I love the SPDP at Vaishali. In fact I come all the way here every Sunday…”

“To spend the day reading in the library opposite followed by an SPDP at Vaishali,” she completes my sentence.

“Ravi told you all this?”

“Of course. He’s told me everything about you. Ravi admires you so much, he always talks about you.”

“Really? But he never tells me anything about you.”

“What’s there to tell? I am only his housewife, you are his office wife.”

“Come on. Please don’t say that. There is nothing like that between me and Ravi. We are just colleagues – workmates. That’s all.”

“Workmates? I think you are his soulmate – and I am only his mate!”

I am struck dumb, feel a bit uneasy, but suddenly the plate of SPDP is kept in front of me, so I look down and begin to eat.

“I’m sorry,” she says, “Don’t get angry. I was just teasing. I want you to be Ravi’s friend. He likes you so much. That’s why he is so happy in office and doing so well in his work.”

I stop eating; look up at her vacuously, wondering what to say.

“Ravi appreciates you so much he even brings you home to me every evening in his thoughts and talks…that’s why I wanted to meet you.”

“We’ve met before…”

“Only once, that too only an introduction, at the Office Annual Day get-together…we are hardly married for three months, you know, and you all are so busy, with your targets and all, so I decided to meet you, talk to you, get to know you better, make a friendship…”

“You mean…”

“Yes, I contrived this coincidence. I came to the library also, but you were so busy browsing that I did not want to disturb you, so I waited here in Vaishali knowing you would surely come for your SPDP.”

“You’re not eating your Kachori,” I say, trying to change the direction of the conversation.

“Here, you eat,” she says pushing her untouched plate of Kachori and katori of whipped curds towards me, “I am all full – I ate an Uttapam, Idli-Vada Sambar, god-knows-what, waiting for you to come…”

She leans forward and casually picks up a Sev Potato Dahi Puri from my plate, pops into her mouth and says, “Wow. I love the chatpata flavour of SPDP – you call it Umami taste or something – that’s what you told Ravi, isn’t it?”

“I think I’ll go now,” I say, feeling distinctly uncomfortable, making up my mind to have a long talk with Ravi the moment I meet him in the morning at work.

“No, no, don’t go, I want to show you something.”

“Show me something?”

“Yes, that’s why I came all the way here to meet you.”

We finish the SPDP and Kachori, I insist on paying the bill, she doesn’t object too much, and then she takes me to the drapery section of the Shopping Mall nearby.

“We are furnishing our new house,” she says, pointing at the curtain cloth on display.

I look at her clueless.

“I like yellow, you like blue, and since you have told him about the aesthetic cool tranquil beauty of the blue colour, Ravi is besotted with everything blue – blue shirts, blue trousers, blue table-covers, blue bed-sheets, blue napkins, the sober blue everything that you make him buy…”

I look furtively and self-consciously at the blue dress I am wearing, and say, “Okay, tell me which curtains you like.”

She points to a bright yellow floral print and says, “I like that one, I love yellow, so lively and cheerful… I hate sober gloomy colours, especially blue, it depresses me.”

Next morning at the office, Ravi says to me, “Hey, keep yourself free in the evening. We’ll go to Deccan for some shopping. You’ve got to help me select curtains for our new home. Then we’ll have SPDP at Vaishali.”

“Sure, Ravi, I’ll love to come with you,” I say.

Now I’ve got till evening to decide one thing – which colour curtains should I tell Ravi to buy – Yellow Curtains or Blue Curtains?

VIKRAM KARVE

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009

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

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

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

Appetite for a Stroll

vikramkarve@sify.com

THE MARRIED WOMAN AND THE YOUNG DETECTIVE

September 27, 2009

THE MARRIED WOMAN AND THE YOUNG DETECTIVE

Fiction Short Story

By

VIKRAM KARVE

A detective always remembers his first case. Let me tell you about mine.

This happened long back – more than thirty years ago – in the 1970s – when Pune was a salubrious pensioners’ paradise – a cosy laid back friendly town where everyone knew everyone.

And let me tell you – at the time of this story – I was not even a full fledged detective – but I was just a rookie part-time amateur self-styled sleuth – studying in college – skylarking in my spare time as a private detective – masquerading as a Private Investigator for my uncle who ran a private detective agency.

Dear Reader, please remember that way back then, in good old days of the 1970s, there were no cell-phones, no PCs, no mobile cameras, handy cams or digital cameras, no modern technology gadgets, not even things like email and the internet that you take for granted today and the only method of investigation was the tried and tested good old physical surveillance where one spent hours and hours patiently shadowing and tailing your target.

“A woman wants her husband watched,” my uncle said giving me a slip of paper with a name and the room number of a well-known hotel in Pune.

“That’s all?” I asked.

“He is a businessman from Mumbai…drives down to Pune very often…at least once a week…sometimes twice…ostensibly in connection with business…but she suspects there is some hanky-panky going on…”

One week later, waiting for the client to arrive at our planned rendezvous, I sat on the balcony of Café Naaz atop Malabar Hill sipping a cup of delicious Chai and enjoying the breathtaking sunset as the Arabian Sea devoured the orange sun followed by spectacular view of the Queen’s Necklace as the lights lit up Marine Drive.

She arrived on the dot at seven and sat opposite me.

I looked at my client.  She was a Beauty, a real beauty, 35…maybe 40… must have been a stunner in her college days…I tried not to stare at her.

“Okay…Tell me,” she said, getting to the point straightaway.

I started reading from my pocket-book, “Thursday morning at ten fifteen he left his hotel room…deposited key at reception telling them that he was going for work would return in the evening…started to drive down in his car towards Deccan…picked up a female who seemed to be waiting for him…she sat next to him…and as they drove off away from the city into the countryside they seemed to be getting amorous…lovey-dovey, you know, a bit of kissing, cuddling…”

“No…No…skip the details…just tell me…is he or isn’t he…?” she interrupted me.

She seemed to be in a hurry. Maybe she was not comfortable being seen sitting with me over here and wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible.

“I think he is having an affair,” I said.

“You think…?”

“Yes…I am pretty sure…”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Well we look for three things – the three key ingredients which are required to have an affair – TIME, INCLINATION and OPPORTUNITY…”

“Time…Inclination…Opportunity…” she repeated looking quite perplexed.

“Well they certainly had the Time…they spent the whole day together in seclusion…and they certainly had the Opportunity…behind the privacy of closed doors in that lonely discreet motel hidden in the back of beyond…and as far as the Inclination part is concerned…well, the way they were behaving…I have no doubt about it….”

A smile broke out on her face.

I was flabbergasted – now tell me dear reader – what would be your reaction if you came to know that your spouse was having an affair – would you just smile…

Suddenly I remembered what my uncle had told me, so I asked the woman, “Do you wish to increase coverage?”

“Coverage…?”

“Photographs…receipts…documentary evidence…round the clock surveillance…full details….” I elaborated.

Of course all this would be handled in a professional manner by my experienced uncle and his agency…maybe he’d take me along as a learning experience.

“I don’t think so…” the woman said.

“No?” I said perplexed, “but you will require all this as evidence to establish that your husband is committing adultery…”

“Husband…? Who said he is my husband…?” she said grinning like a Cheshire cat.

“You said so…to the head of the detective agency…”

“No, I didn’t….I just told him that I wanted a man followed…”

“But we assumed…”

“A good detective shouldn’t assume things, isn’t it…?

“But then why did you want that man followed…?” I asked curious.

“Well that’s my private matter,” she said, “but since I like you, I’ll tell you…It is like this… One day, fifteen years ago, the day I completed my graduation, my parents showed me two photographs…the first photo was of the man you were following…the second photo was of the man who is now my husband.”

The woman paused for a moment, had a sip of water, and continued, “My parents told me to choose one…and I made my choice…but since then…during all these years of my married life… I was always tormented by the thought that I had made the wrong choice….now…thanks to you… I know I made the right choice!”

She took out an envelope from her purse and gave it to me. “Your fee…and there is a bonus for you too for doing such a good job…” she said and then she got up and walked away into the enveloping darkness.

Later when I opened the envelope and saw that the “bonus” was more than the fee, I wondered whether she had two envelopes in her purse, one for each eventuality.

I never forgot the cardinal lesson I learnt from this case – I never assume anything…and now…before I start a new investigation…the first thing I do is to carry out a background check of the client.

THE MARRIED WOMAN AND THE YOUNG DETECTIVE

Fiction Short Story

By

VIKRAM KARVE

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009

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


http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

vikramkarve@sify.com

A Flirty Date at Churchgate

September 3, 2009

A FLIRTY DATE AT CHURCHGATE


[Fiction Short Story – A Romance]

By

VIKRAM KARVE

What do you do if a man looks at you with frank admiration in his eyes – in an insistent suggestive sort of way that is worth a thousand compliments?

Nothing! You do absolutely nothing.

You do nothing because you are a thoroughly bored “happily” married thirty year old housewife sitting comfortably in your favourite rocking chair, browsing through Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care, at the Oxford Bookstore at Churchgate in Mumbai.

So you just look down, act as if you have not noticed his flirting, and try to concentrate on reading the book in your hands.

But you cannot read – the words just don’t focus in front of you. You think of the man, his lingering look, his eyes curiously languid, yet inviting – it’s the first time someone looked at you in such a flattering way for a long long time.

You feel a tinge of excitement.

Maybe something is going to happen. Something exciting – dangerously exciting. At long last.

Something that you secretly want to happen, but never ever happens.

Or maybe it’s just your imagination playing tricks.

So just to check up. Once. Only once.

You quickly look up – a fleeting glance.

He is still looking at you – not furtively, but brazenly, almost unashamedly, with waves of yearning flowing out of his eyes. He looks a decisive, hot-blooded and masculine man with his smart beard and piercing eyes.

You feel a flush inside. A shiver. A tremor. A tremor of trepidation – mixed with excitement. You cannot define how you feel – but it feels good. He looks at you. You look back at him in return. He begins to smile. You quickly look down and bury yourself into the pages in front of you and pretend to read.

But it’s no use. You can sense his unseen eyes locked onto you, burning into you, travelling all over your body and lingering exactly where they shouldn’t – just like a laser beam.

And now, he knows that you know.

What do you do? Best is not to react – just accept the fact of being looked at – ignore him. Keep on pretending to read.

Oh no! That may be dangerous. He may get ideas. You never know these types. He may think you are game. But are you? Or aren’t you?

Why not play on – have some fun. Flirt a bit. See what happens.

Why not have a little excitement to liven up your boring life a bit.

So you take a deep breath, brace yourself and start a dangerous game.

You look up from your book, pan your gaze slowly across the bookstore, looking at everything – the shelves of books, the people, the cha-bar, the sales counter – and finally, like a dog that has circled its bowl of food long enough, you look directly at him.

Eyes meet. His and yours. Yours and his. His appraising eyes look into yours. And then his eyes travel down and look at the book in your hands.

You spontaneously follow his gaze, and look down at the book in your hands – Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care – most inappropriate for what you have in mind. You quickly put it away into the rack, run your eyes across the shelf and pick up ‘The Art of Seduction’.

You turn the pages – nothing registers – so you look up at him almost seeking approbation.

He smiles – a wry canny smile – as if he knows something you don’t. And suddenly he gets up from the chair, keeps the magazine he is holding back in the rack and begins walking towards you.

Your heart stops – you want to disappear, but he is already standing in front of you.

“Good morning Anita,” he says. “I’m Sen. Dilip Sen.”

Anita? You are not Anita. Seems to be a case of mistaken identity – but you are curious, and in a playful mood, so you say, “Oh, Hello Mr. Sen. You are late.”

“Late? No,” he says looking at his watch, a confused look on his face. “The RV is correct – as planned.”

“RV?”

“Rendezvous.”

Now you are really curious. “Why don’t you pull that stool and sit,” you say.

“Not here. Let’s go to the cha-bar. We can talk in peace there,” he says.

“Okay,” You replace the book in its place in the shelf, get up and walk towards the cha-bar.

The cha-bar – the tea lounge – it’s the best thing about Oxford Bookstore. An ideal place to relax, browse, or have a quiet flirtatious chat over a cup of exquisite tea.

As you sip, savouring the fragrance and relishing the rich flavour of premium Darjeeling Tea, you feel a shiver of anticipation. It’s your first time. You wonder what’s going to happen next.

“Well done. Let’s recap,” he says pulling out a pocket diary.

Well done? Recap? You wonder what this is all about. The man seems to be crazy. But you keep your wits about, and to calm down you say to yourself, “Relax. Just keep quiet and go along.”

And to Mr. Sen, you say confidently, “Okay. Sure. Let’s recap.”

Step 1,” he says looking into the diary in front of him, “you and I independently arrive at the previously agreed upon rendezvous. Your choice is excellent – this bookstore – easy to wait, observe and not be noticed. We just blended in. Much better cover than a railway station, park or restaurant. And the book you chose – Baby and Child Care – easily discernible – so aptly chosen. Perfect for your cover. Looked so natural in your hands.”

“Do I look pregnant?” you snap at him.

“No. No. I am sorry. I didn’t mean it that way,” he says, taken aback, “You look lovely. But the book – it suited your cover – as a bored housewife.”

Cover? What’s he talking?

A bored housewife!

That’s what you are, aren’t you?

Husband busy working, kids at school, and you – bored to death with nothing to do.

“I’m not bored,” you tease him with your eyes. Flatter him by looking steadily at him without letting your eyes stray.

Step 2 – making eye contact. We could be a bit more discreet next time, isn’t it?” he says smiling into your eyes.

Discreet? Next time? What’s going on? Who’s this guy?

Step 3 – the signal. Change of book. Okay. But ‘The Art of Seduction’?” he looks perplexed, “try something more sober – in line with your cover…..”

He goes on and on but you aren’t listening. You just look at him. He is a man who looks like a man. Solid, strong, decisive but vulnerable.

You fantasize.

Your imagination begins to run wild.

You feel his touch – he has put his hand in your arm. His touch is electric.

A shiver of anticipation rises within you.

Suddenly he is shaking you.

You snap back to reality.

“Okay Anita. Let’s get on with the tradecraft,” he says, in an almost imperative tone.

“Tradecraft?”

“Yes. And make sure you don’t grow a tail.”

“Tail? “

“Yes,” he says, “Be careful. Maybe you’ve already grown a tail – check it out and shake it off.”

“Grown a tail?” unknowingly you move your hand over your behind to check and instinctively shake your bottom.

“Not there!” he reprimands, in a voice a teacher uses to scold a careless student.

“Have you forgotten everything – counter surveillance protocol?”

“Counter surveillance protocol?” you ask credulous.

“Come on Anita. Snap out of it. Be alert. They told me you were a seasoned detective. Now get on with your mission.”

Detective? Mission? What’s he talking about?

Oh my God! Fear starts rising within you. It’s getting dangerous. This is for real – no longer fun. It’s time to run.

“Excuse me,” you say, quickly get up and start walking towards the exit. You sense he is following you. So the moment you get out of the bookstore, you deliberately avoid going to your car but walk in the opposite direction towards the Oval.

The Clock on Rajabai Tower is striking twelve – it is twelve noon.

You look back over your shoulder. Dilip Sen is following you.

You break into a run, still looking back, and suddenly bang into someone.

Oh, My God! It’s Nalini – your gossipy neighbour.

“What happened?” Nalini asks, steadying you up.

“Nothing,” you say.

“Hey. Why did you abort?” Dilip Sen asks, catching up with you, his hand clutching your arm.

“Abort?” exclaims Nalini, her eyebrows arched, a mischievous glint in her eyes.

You look at Nalini. Then at Dilip Sen. And then at Nalini again.

Nalini’s roving eyes travel all over you, look meaningfully at Dilip Sen, for that significant moment her eyes focus on his hand holding yours, taking in everything, till her gaze settles down pointedly looking at where it shouldn’t.

Everything seems frozen in silence – a terrible silence, a deafening silence, a grotesque silence.

You look at Nalini, her changing expression.

Nalini looks at you with envious awe. And you see something mischievously wicked in her large radiating eyes.

You know you are sunk.

Yes, you are truly sunk. Lock, Stock and Barrel. Up the Gum Tree, as they say.

You break out into laughter.

That’s the only sane thing left to do.

Life isn’t going to be boring any longer after this flirty date at Churchgate.

VIKRAM KARVE

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009

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


vikramkarve@sify.com

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

The Derby

September 3, 2009

Prologue

I am not a die-hard punter, but I love to go to the races once in a while.

Whenever I was in Mumbai there was one race I never missed. I always went to the Race Course on Derby Day, not to gamble, but to enjoy myself, the atmosphere, the excitement, the horses [the four legged variety] and, of course, the lovely decked-up dressed-to-kill chicks [you know which variety].

The Indian Derby is normally held on the first Sunday of February at the Mahalaxmi Racecourse in Mumbai, and, like I said, when in Mumbai, I made it a point to enjoy the most exciting race of the year.

I was fortunate to witness races at Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Ooty too, and one of my most cherished memories is enjoying the Mysore Derby at probably the most picturesque race course I have ever seen, many years ago.  In fact, it was such a splendid unforgettable experience etched in my memory that, a few days later, I wrote a fiction short story set in Mysore.

Here is the fiction short story – The Flirting Game.

As I said I wrote this story long back, and maybe the writing is a bit old-fashioned, but I am sure you will like it.

THE DERBY

[Fiction Short Story]

By

VIKRAM KARVE

The Mysore racecourse is undoubtedly the most picturesque racecourse in India.

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

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

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

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

I still can’t describe the startling shock I experienced when I suddenly saw Dilip, bold as brass, standing bang in front of me, as if appearing from nowhere, looking straight into my eyes.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” he said. “I think you have dropped this.”

In his hand was tote jackpot ticket.

Now he was looking at me in a funny sort of way, neither avoiding my eyes nor seeking them.

I understood at once.

I took the tote ticket he proffered, put it in my purse and thanked him.

He smiled, turned and briskly walked away towards the first enclosure.

I felt a tremor of trepidation, but as I looked around I realized that no one had noticed our quick encounter in the hustle-bustle of the racecourse.

As I waited for my husband to emerge from the bookies’ betting ring, in my mind’s eye, I marvelled at the finesse with which Dilip had cleverly stage-managed the contrived encounter to make it look completely accidental.

It was only after lunch, in the solitude of my hotel room that I took out the tote jackpot ticket and examined it. I smiled to myself.

It was the simplest substitution cipher – maybe Dilip thought I’d gone rusty – a last minute improvisation for immediate emergency communication.

That meant Dilip wasn’t shadowing me; he hadn’t even expected me at the Mysore racecourse. But having suddenly seen me, he desperately wanted to make contact. So he quickly improvised, contrived the encounter, and left further initiative to me. The ball was now squarely in my court.

I scribbled the five numbers of the jackpot combination on a piece of paper. For seasoned punters, racing buffs, it was an unlikely jackpot combination that hardly had a chance of winning, and now that the races were over the ticket was worthless. But for me hidden inside it was information, a secret message from Dilip to me, since I knew how to decipher the secret code. To the five numbers I added the two numbers of my birth-date. I now had seven numbers and from each I subtracted Dilip’s single digit birth-date and in front of me I had a seven-digit combination. I picked up the telephone and dialled [At the time of this story Mysore still had seven digit telephone numbers – I wonder what it is now]. It was a travel agency – a nice cover. I didn’t identify myself but only said, “Railway Enquiry?”

“Oh, Yes, madam,” a male voice answered.

I recognized it at once. It was Dilip, probably anxiously waiting for my call, and he said, “You are booked on our evening sightseeing tour. Seat No. 13. The luxury coach will be at your hotel at 3 in the afternoon. And don’t carry your mobile with you. We don’t want to be tracked.”

I looked at my watch. It was almost 2:30. Time for a quick wash. I tore up the jackpot tote ticket and scribble paper and flushed it down the toilet. It was too dangerous to keep them around once their utility was over. And should the ticket fall into the wrong hands, anything was possible – one must not underestimate anybody – for it is well known that human ingenuity can never concoct a cipher which human ingenuity cannot resolve.

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

“Thanks for coming, Vibha,” he said.

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

“Don’t tell me you haven’t told your husband about us?” Dilip interrupted.

“No.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.”

“Tell him now. There’s no place for secrets between husband and wife”

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

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

“He is coming back tomorrow.”

“I know. He’ll be there in time for the Mysore Derby. Your horse Bingo is running, isn’t it? It’s a hot favourite too!”

“How do you know all this?”

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

The bus stopped. We had arrived at the majestic Mysore Palace.

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

“No,” I snapped.

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

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

“Dilip, tell me, who is the Target?” I asked.

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

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

“I don’t think they are having an affair,” I said, once we were inside the cool confines of the Mysore Palace, admiring the wall paintings of the Dasera procession, “Come on, Dilip, the boy looks so young, mod and handsome. And the woman – she’s middle-aged, a shy, timid, unadventurous, stay-at-home type. And just look at her face, her looks – so pedestrian. It is a most improbable combination.”

“Yes, a most improbable combination – that’s why their affair is flourishing for so long.”

I gave Dilip a quizzical look.

“Three years,” Dilip said. “It’s going on for over three years. The woman is a widow. She gets a huge monthly maintenance from her in-laws’ property – in lakhs. It’s a wealthy business family. They want to stop giving her the monthly maintenance.”

“I don’t understand,” I said, confused.

“The right of a widow to maintenance is conditional upon her leading a life of chastity,” Dilip quoted matter-of-factly.

“What nonsense!”

“That’s what their hot-shot lawyer told me. The one who commissioned this investigation,” Dilip said. “They’ll probably confront her with this evidence and coerce her into signing-off everything. Maybe even her children.”

“What if she doesn’t agree?”

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

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

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

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

Dilip did not answer. He just smiled and led me towards our bus.

I was glad I had not married Dilip. I had never known he could sink to such depths. I hated him for the way he was using me. Taking advantage of my fear, my past, and my helplessness. Filthy emotional blackmailer. Shameless bully. I looked at Dilip with loathing and disgust, but he just grinned at me bald-facedly like a Cheshire Cat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So that’s what you had your eyes on, didn’t you? My father’s property.” I knew it was a cruel thing to say and I could see that Dilip was genuinely hurt.

Instinctively I realized that Dilip was still in love with me.

Maybe he was jealous of my successful marriage, my happiness and probably my wealth, my status in society and that’s what had made him bitter.

But seeing the expression on his face I knew that Dilip would not harm me, for he was indeed truly in love with me. “I’m sorry, Dilip. Forget the past and let’s get on with our surveillance,” I said looking at the ‘target’ couple.

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

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

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

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

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

I wondered why I’d agreed to do all this. Maybe because I felt a sense of guilt, remorse, a sort of an obligation I owed Dilip. Any girl always has a feeling of debt, a guilt-complex, towards a decent man who she has ditched, brutally dumped.

Or maybe because I wanted to find out what life would have been like had I married Dilip.

Or maybe because I was scared and fearful that Dilip would blackmail me. Dilip was the only secret I had kept from my husband – a skeleton I wanted to keep firmly locked away in the cupboard.

Or maybe it was because a woman’s first love always has an enduring place in her heart.

I guess it was a combination of all the above reasons.

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

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

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

“No,” I insisted. “I want to know.”

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

At first the sentence sounded innocuous, but gradually comprehension began to dawn on me, and as I realized the import of those words I experienced a chill of panic. All sorts of scary thoughts entered my brain. Photographs of Dilip and me.

Oh my God!

The man may even have bugged our conversation.

The possibilities were endless.

I looked at Dilip. Didn’t he have any scruples?

My impulse was to run to my room and lock myself up.

But when Dilip invited me to have dinner with him in the restaurant I knew I dared not refuse. I had no choice. Dilip now had me at his mercy. He had his manacles on me. The only way to escape Dilip’s clutches was to tell Girish everything.

But could I tell him everything?

Especially after today! I couldn’t even bring myself to imagine the consequences.

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

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

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

“What happened?” I asked him.

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

“No, it was dark and hazy,” I said. “I could see just blurred images.”

Instinctively I rushed along with Dilip to his office-cum-laboratory.

He emphatically told me not to come, but I did not listen. A strange irresistible inner force was propelling me.

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

Oh, My God! I couldn’t believe it! It was Nalini and Girish. Or Girish and Nalini. Whichever way you like it. It doesn’t matter. Or does it? Nalini, my darling elder sister – the very person instrumental in arranging my  marriage to Girish. And Girish – my beloved ‘faithful’ husband. Their expressions so confident, so happy, so carefree. So lovey-dovey. So sure they would never be found out. So convenient.
I wondered how long was this going on? Both of them living a lie and fooling a trusting and naive person like me.
Deep down I felt terribly betrayed.
As I thought about them, suddenly I felt as if I had been pole-axed, a sharp sensation drilling into my vitals, my stomach curdling as I threw up my dinner.
I washed up, sat down, and closed my eyes in silence.
When I opened my eyes I saw Dilip staring intently at me.

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

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

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

“Why, Vibha. Why?”

I smiled and said, “Dilip, remember what you said in the afternoon about your professional credo and motto: You never ask the question ‘why’. You just state your fee.”

He looked at me nonplussed, in silence.

I paused, and said, “So my dear Dilip. Don’t ask any questions. Just state your fee. And do a good job.”

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

“The possibilities are endless,” I said, almost licking my lips in anticipation, as I could feel the venom rising within me. “Yes indeed! Information is power, isn’t it? Once I have all the information, just imagine what all I can do. The possibilities are endless – aren’t they?”

“Yes,” he echoed, “The possibilities are endless.”

“We’ll meet tomorrow at the race course,” I said, intertwining my arm in his.

I am looking forward to an exciting day at the Race Course tomorrow – it is going to be a thrilling Derby.

THE DERBY

[Fiction Short Story]

By

VIKRAM KARVE

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009

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

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

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

vikramkarve@sify.com

MONKEY TRAP

August 22, 2009

ARE YOU A MONKEY IN A TRAP

[Short Fiction]

By

VIKRAM KARVE

“And what are we doing tomorrow?” I asked my uncle.

“Let’s catch some monkeys,” he said.

“Monkeys?” I asked excitedly.

“Yes,” my uncle said and smiled,” And if you catch one you can take him home as a pet.”

“A monkey! As a pet?” I asked in astonishment.

“Why not?” my uncle said.

“But monkeys? Aren’t they dangerous?” I asked.

“The monkeys here are quite small and very cute. And once you train them, they become very friendly and obedient – ideal pets.”

And so, next morning, at the crack of dawn we sailed off from Haddo Wharf in Port Blair in a large motorboat. Soon we were crossing the Duncan Passage, moving due south; the densely forested Little Andaman Island to our right, the sea calm like a mirror.

I began to feel seasick, so I stood on the foc’sle deck, right at the front end sea-sick, enjoying the refreshing sea-spray, occasionally tasting my salty lips.

I looked in admiration, almost in awe, at uncle who stood rock-steady on the bridge, truly a majestic figure. He signaled to me and I rushed up to the bridge.

“Vijay, it’s time to prepare the Monkey Traps,” he said.

“Monkey-Traps?” I asked confused.

“Tito will show you,” he said. “You must learn to make them yourself.”

Tito, my uncle’s odd-job-man, was sitting on the deck, seaman’s knife in hand, amidst a heap of green coconuts. He punctured a coconut, put it to his lips, drank the coconut water, and then began scooping out a small hollow. I took out my seaman’s knife and joined in enthusiastically with the other coconuts. The coconut water tasted sweet.

“Keep the hole small,” my uncle shouted over my shoulder, “and hollow the coconut well.”

“But how will we catch monkeys with this?” I asked.

“You will see in the evening,” he said. “Now get on with the job.”

We reached a densely forested island at five in the evening.

It was almost dark. The sun sets early in these eastern longitudes.

And soon we set up our monkey-traps.

Each hollowed-out coconut was filled with a mixture of boiled rice and jaggery (gur) through the small hole. Then the coconut was chained to a stake, which was driven firmly into the ground.

And then we hid in the bushes in pin-drop silence.

Suddenly there was rattling sound. My uncle switched on his torch.

A monkey was struggling, one hand trapped inside the coconut. In an instant, Tito threw a gunny-bag over the monkey and within minutes we had the monkey nicely secured inside.

By the time we lit the campfire on the cool soft sands of the beach, we had captured three monkeys.

My uncle put his arm around my shoulder and, “Vijay, you know why the monkey gets trapped? The monkey gets trapped because of its greed.”

He picked up a hollowed-out coconut and said, “Look at this hole. It is just big enough so that the monkey’s hand can go in, but too small for full fist filled with rice to come out. Because his greed won’t allow him to let go of the rice and take out his hand, the monkey remains trapped, a victim of his own greed, until he is captured; forever a captive of his greed.”

“The monkey cannot see that freedom without rice is more valuable that capture with it!” he said.

My uncle looked at Tito and commanded, “Free the monkeys.” And, one by one, the monkeys jumped out of their gunny bags and started running, with one hand still stuck in a coconut. It was a really funny sight.

“There is a lesson for us to learn from this,” my uncle said. “That’s why I brought you here to show you all this.”

I looked at my uncle. His name was Ranjit Singh. And true to his name he was indeed a magnificent man! Over six feet tall, well-built, redoubtable; a truly striking personality! He stood erect in his khaki uniform, stroking his handsome beard with his left hand, his right hand gripping a swagger stick, which he gently tapped on his thigh.

As he surveyed the scenic surroundings – the moonlight sea, the swaying Causarina trees, the silver sands of the beach in between – he looked majestic, like a king cherishing his domain. Indeed he was like a king here – after all he was the Chief Forest Officer, in-charge of the entire islands – and this was his domain.

Uncle Ranjit was an exception in our family—the odd-man out. My father always said that he was the most intelligent of all brothers. But whereas all of them were busy earning money in Mumbai and Delhi, uncle Ranjit had chosen to be different.

To the surprise of everybody else, uncle Ranjit had joined the Forest Service when he could have easily become an engineer, doctor or even a business executive, for he had always topped all examinations – first class first in merit, whether it be the school or the university.

“So, Vijay, you like it here?” he asked.

“It’s lovely, uncle,” I answered. “And thank you so much for the lovely holiday, spending so much time with me. In Mumbai no one has any time for me. I feel so lonely.”

“Why?” he asked, with curiosity.

“Mummy and Daddy both come late from office. Then there are parties, business dinners, and tours. And on Sundays they sleep, exhausted, unless there is a business-meeting in the club or golf with the boss.”

Uncle Ranjit laughed, “Ha. Ha. The Monkey Trap. They are all caught in monkey traps of their own making. Slaves of their greed! Trapped by their desires,caught in the rat race, wallowing in their golden cages, rattling their jewellery, their golden chains – monkey-trapped, all of them, isn’t it?”

As I thought over Ranjit uncle’s words I realized how right he was. Most of the people I knew in Mumbai were just like that – trapped by their greed, chasing rainbows, in search of an ever elusive happiness.

“Happiness is to like what you do as well as to do what you like,” uncle Ranjit said, as if he were reading my thoughts. “Happiness is not a station which never arrives, but the manner you travel in life.” He paused, and asked me, “Tell me Vijay, tell me, what do you want to do in life?”

“I don’t know.”

“Come on, Vijay. You are fifteen now. By next year you have to decide, tell me what your plans are.”

“It depends on my percentage,” I said truthfully.

“I am sure you will get around ninety percent marks in your board exams,” he said. “Assume you top the exams. Secure a place in the merit list. Then what will you do?”

“I’ll go in for Engineering. Computers, Software, IT,” I said.

“Computers? Software? IT? Why? Why not something more interesting – like Arts, Literature, Philosophy, History, Humanities?” he asked.

“Job prospects,” I answered.

“Oh!”  He exclaimed. “And then?”

“Management. Or I may even go abroad for higher studies.”

“Why?”

“Qualifications.”

“And why do you want so many qualifications?”

“To get the best job,” I answered.

“And earn a lot of money?” uncle Ranjit prompted.

“Of course,” I said. “I want to earn plenty of money so that I can enjoy life.”

Uncle Ranjit laughed, “My dear Vijay. Aren’t you enjoying life right now, at this very moment? What about me? Am I am not enjoying life? Remember – if you do not find happiness as you are, where you are, you will never find it.”

He smiled and asked,” Vijay, you know what Maxim Gorky once said?

“What?”

“When work is a pleasure, life is a joy.

When work is a duty, life is slavery.”

“Slavery!” I exclaimed, understanding the message he was trying to give me. “Slavery to one’s elusive desires, one’s greed. Just like the Monkey Trap.”

“The Monkey Trap!” we both said in unison, in chorus.

It was the defining moment in my life – my Minerva Moment!

And so, I decided to do what I wanted to experience an inner freedom.

And guess what I am today?

Well, I am a teacher. I teach philosophy.

And let me tell you I enjoy every moment of it. It’s a life of sheer joy and delight – being with my students, their respect and adulation, my innate quest for knowledge and a sense of achievement that I am contributing my bit to society.

I shall never forget uncle Ranjit and that crucial visit to the forests of the Andamans, the turning point, or indeed the defining moment, of my life.

Dear Readers (especially my young friends on the verge choosing a career) – whenever you reach the crossroads of your life, and have to make the crucial decision of how you would like to live your life [selecting a career, life-partner, a house, a place to stay – any life-decision]; think, be careful, listen to your inner voice, and be careful not to trapped in a ‘Monkey-Trap’!

VIKRAM KARVE

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009

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

vikramkarve@sify.com

vikramkarve@hotmail.com

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

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

OFFICE WIFE

July 20, 2009

I WANT TO MARRY YOUR HUSBAND

[Fiction Short Story]

By

VIKRAM KARVE

One of my favourite short fiction stories guaranteed to drive away your Monday Morning Blues

“I want to marry your husband.”

“What? Are you mad or something?”

“No. I am not mad. Can’t you see? I am perfectly okay. I want to marry your husband. So I have come to ask you to please let him free…”

“I don’t want to talk to you. Please leave my office.”

“Come on Anu…”

“Anu? Listen Madam, my name is…”

“Anamika – Mrs. Anamika Prem Kumar, Senior Project Manager, IT whiz kid, ambitious, ruthless, careerist… I know everything about you…and don’t ‘madam’ me…call me Priti…that’s my name…Prem must have told you about me.”

“Priti?…never heard of you…I don’t know who you are…Prem’s told me nothing about you…he’s never even mentioned your name.”

“Funny, isn’t it? Think about it. I know everything about you but you know nothing about me. You see, your husband Prem tells me everything about you – each and every detail, he even shares your intimate secrets, but he doesn’t tell you about me – your darling husband hides his relationship with me from you!”

“Relationship? Intimate secrets? What nonsense…”

“Shall I tell you about your honeymoon…Things only you and Prem should know?”

“Who the hell do you think you are? Barging into my office unannounced…”

“Hey, I didn’t barge in. I sent you my visiting card, and you called me in, isn’t it? It’s all there on my card, my name, designation, the company I work for…Let’s say I am your husband’s colleague, his work-mate, his teammate, we almost share the same desk…”

Anamika looks at the card, picks up her cell-phone, but before she can dial Priti interrupts her, “You’re calling Prem? Don’t disturb him, Anu. Prem must be sleeping.”

“Sleeping? At eleven in the morning? He should be in office…”

“See, you don’t even know…”

“What?”

“Prem had his wisdom tooth extracted last evening…it was very very painful…Poor Prem…He was in such excruciating agony that I had to sit at his bedside the whole night…First thing in the morning I gave him a sedative and drove straight down to Pune to meet you.”

“You were with him the whole night?”

“No. No. It’s not what you think. We’re not having a physical affair – it’s purely platonic – maybe you can call it an emotional affair – at least till now – but it’s still a love affair, isn’t it?”

“Love? How can he love you? I am his wife!”

“Wife? Oh yes, you’re his legally wedded wife! But tell me Anu, where are you when he needs you..?”

“Needs me…?”

“See, you’re so busy out here in Pune chasing your career dreams that you don’t even know what he’s going through staying alone in Mumbai.”

“Of course I know. I speak to him on the mobile every day…”

“I know. Prem tells me all about it…and he also tells me how you bore him sick during your weekend rendezvous with your nauseating mask of fake love, he is fed up of your sugary sweet talk, your pretence, your ‘caring and sharing’ act…”

“That’s not true…we spend ‘Quality Time’ together…”

“Ha, Ha… ‘Quality Time’ indeed…once a week…it’s once a month now isn’t it…since you have started working on weekends to meet your deadlines…and long gaps when you go globetrotting on your projects…well you may be having your rare moments of ‘Quality Time’ with Prem, but me and Prem are spending plenty of ‘Quantity Time’ together…and that’s what really matters…”

“Listen Miss Priti…I’ve tolerated you long enough…I think it’s time you go now…I’ve work to do…And I am warning you…don’t try to steal my husband from me…”

“Steal your husband? There is no need for me to steal your husband…he is already mine…it is you who have thrown Prem into my arms then I am quite willing to have him be there…and hold onto him tight…”

The woman called Anu gets up and says, “I think it is time for you to go now.”

“I’ll tell Prem to get the papers ready. I think it’s best to get this over with as fast as possible.”

“Papers? What papers? I am not going to sign any papers. And I am warning you Miss…you just stay away from my husband…Good Bye!”

“Be reasonable, Anu…we are three persons in this marriage. That’s not good. There should be only two persons in a marriage, not a threesome. You are his paper wife, I am his office wife. Between the two of us I think I am more in tune with him, so I think it is you who will have to leave the threesome…Think about it…take your time…I am sure you will understand…” Priti says and leaves Anu’s office.

She doesn’t take the lift, but deliberately walks down the staircase, reflecting on her tête-à-tête with Anu, congratulating herself on a job well done.

She returns her visitor’s pass at the reception, walks past the foyer, crosses the road and reaches her car.

The moment Priti sits in her car she calls up her “office husband” Prem from her mobile.

“I spoke to her,” Priti says to Prem, the moment comes on line.

“I know. Anu rang up just now,” Prem says.

“So fast?”

“You really seem to have really rattled her. Anu’s coming down to Mumbai this evening after work. She’s taken a week’s leave. She wants to stay with me in Mumbai, talk things over. She was even asking about my wisdom tooth…she said she wanted to look after me!”

“Really?”

“Thanks, Priti. I think you’ve saved my marriage.”

“Come on Prem…there’s no ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’ between friends.”

“Yes, Priti, you’re really my true friend, my best friend in the world!”

“Hey, don’t get senti…and by the way…if she doesn’t turn up…gives you a ditch…remember I’m always there for you…but I’m sure she’ll come and everything will work out for you two.”

“I hope so.”

“I’m sure of it…and now I am going to make myself scarce for a few days…spend some time with my sister in Pune…then we’ll meet at the office and talk…bye.”

“Bye,” Prem says and he feels a flood of love, a unique affection, a sort of warm gratitude for Priti.

Meanwhile, Anu aka Mrs. Anamika Prem Kumar leaves her office and walks across to the cabin of her “office husband” and closes the door.

“You won’t believe it,” she laughs, “dodo is having an affair!”

“Your husband…affair?” the man says incredulous.

“The female was here…Priti…works in Prem’s office…she came here all the way from Mumbai,” Anu says, and then Anu tells her companion all about it.

“Just imagine, Anu! You were almost going to tell him about us…and you were feeling so guilty…now what are you going to do?”

“I’m going to Mumbai…I’ll throw a tantrum…create a ruckus…accuse him…tell him I want out…it’s better he has the guilt conscience, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” the man says, “it is much better he has the guilty conscience.”

VIKRAM KARVE

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009

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

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

vikramkarve@sify.com

vikramkarve@hotmail.com

THE WALLFLOWER – A Romance

June 13, 2009

HOW I DISCOVERED MY TRUE LOVE

Short Fiction – A Romantic Love Story

by

VIKRAM KARVE

“I don’t want to marry Manisha,” I told my mother.

My mother looked as if she had been pole-axed. Suddenly there was a metamorphosis in her expression – a distant look across my shoulder followed by a smile of forced geniality.

“Manisha is coming!” my mother whispered.

I turned around quickly and saw Manisha entering the wicket-gate and walking towards us.

She wished my mother and smiled at me. “I want to come and see you off at the airport.”

“Why bother? I’ll go on my own,” I said. “The flights are quite unpredictable. They never leave on time. And how will you come back all the way?”

“You two talk here in the garden,” my mother said. “I’ll go inside and pack your things.”

“I am sorry about last night,” Manisha said, with genuine regret in her voice.

“It’s okay.” I looked at Manisha. Plump and full-faced, with small brown eyes and dusky complexion, hair drawn back into a conventional knot – there was only one adjective to describe Manisha – ‘prosaic’; yes, she looked prosaic – so commonplace, unexciting and pedestrian.

“I’ll go inside and help your mother,” Manisha said, and went inside.

‘Last night’ was the fiasco at the disco. Manisha and I – An unmitigated disaster!

“Let’s dance,” I had asked Manisha.

“No,” Manisha was firm.

“Come on. I’ll teach you,” I pleaded. “Everyone is on the floor.”

But Manisha did not budge. So we just sat there watching. Everybody was thoroughly enjoying themselves. Many of my friends and colleagues were on the floor, with their wives, fiancées and girlfriends. Among them Sanjiv and Swati.

“Who is this wallflower you’ve brought with you?” taunted Sanjiv, during a break in the music.

“My fiancée, Manisha,” I answered, trying to keep cool.

“Your fiancée? How come you’ve hooked on to such a Vern?” Swati mocked. “Come on Vijay,” she said derisively, coming close and looking directly into my eyes. “You are an Executive now, not a clerk. Don’t live in your past. Find someone better. She doesn’t belong here.”

If someone had stuck a knife into my heart it would have been easier to endure than these words. It always rankled; the fact that I had come up the hard way, promoted from the ranks.

“This is too much” I said angrily to Sanjiv.

“Cool down, Vijay,” Sanjiv said putting his hand on my shoulder. “You know Swati doesn’t mean it.”

But I knew that Swati had meant every word she uttered.

“Let’s go,” I told Manisha. “I’ve had enough.”

When we were driving home, Manisha asked innocently, “What’s a Vern?

“Vernacular!” I answered. And at that moment there was a burst of firecrackers and rockets lit up the sky to usher in the New Year.

That night I could not sleep. I thought of my future, trying to see both halves of my future life, my career and my marriage, side by side. I realized that my career was more important to me than anything else. I had to succeed at any cost. And a key ingredient in the recipe for success was a ‘socially valuable’ wife. It mattered. It was the truth. The blunt truth – whether you liked it or not! Swati was right. Manisha just didn’t belong to that status and class of society of which I was now a part. I had crossed the class barrier; but Manisha had remained where she was. And she would remain there, unwilling and unable to change.

In marriage one has to be rational. Manisha would be an encumbrance, maybe even an embarrassment. It was a mistake – my getting engaged to her. She was the girl next door, we had grown up together and everyone assumed we would be married one day. And our parents got us engaged. At that point of time I didn’t think much of it. It was only now, that my eyes had opened; I realized the enormity of the situation. I was an upwardly mobile executive now, not a mere clerk, and the equations had changed. What I needed was someone like Swati. Smart, chic and savvy. Convent educated, well groomed and accustomed to the prevalent lifestyle, a perfect hostess, an asset to my career. And most importantly she was from a well-connected family. I tired to imagine what life would have been like had I married Swati.

Sanjiv was so lucky. He was already going places. After all Swati was the daughter of the senior VP.

Suddenly I returned to the present. I could bear my mother calling me. I went inside. Manisha was helping her pack my bags, unaware of what was going on in my mind. I felt a sense of deep guilt, but then it was question of my life.

“What’s wrong with you?” my mother asked after Manisha had left.

“Why were so rude to Manisha, so distant? She loves you so much!”

“I don’t love her,” I said.

“What?” my mother asked surprised, “Is there some else?”

“No,” I said.

“I don’t understand you.”

“Manisha is not compatible anymore. She just doesn’t fit in.”

I could see that my mother was angry. Outwardly she remained calm and nonchalant; her fury was visible only in her eyes.

“Who do you think you are?” she said icily, trying to control herself. “You know Manisha from childhood, isn’t it? For the last two years you have been engaged and moving around together. And suddenly you say Manisha is not compatible?” My mother paused for a moment, and then taking my hand asked me softly, “What happened last night?”

I told her. Then we argued for over two hours and till the end I stuck to my guns. Finally my mother said, “This is going to be difficult. And relations between our families are going to be permanently strained. Think about Manisha. It will be so difficult for her to get married after the stigma of a broken engagement. Forget about last night. It’s just a small incident. Think about it again. Manisha is the ideal wife, so suitable for you.”

But I had made up my mind, so I told my mother, “If you want I’ll go and talk to her father right now and break off the engagement.”

“No,” my mother snapped. “Let your father come home. He will decide what to do.”

The doorbell rang. I opened the door. Standing outside along with my father were Manisha and her parents.

“I have fixed up your wedding with Manisha Patwardhan on the 30th of May of this year,” my father thundered peremptorily in his usual impetuous style.

“Congratulations,” echoed Manisha’s parents, Mr. and Mr. Patwardhan.

I was dumbstruck. Manisha was smiling coyly. My mother was signaling to me with her eyes not to say anything. She was probably happy at the fait accompli. I felt trapped. I excused myself and went up to my room. I locked the door. Someone knocked.

“Give me five minutes,” I said. “I’ll get ready and come down.”

“Come soon,” said Manisha from the other side of the door.

I took out my notepad and wrote a letter to Manisha:

Dear Manisha,

Forgive me, but I have discovered that I can’t marry you and I think that it is best for us to say goodbye.

Yours sincerely,

Vijay

I knew the words sounded insincere, but that was all I could write for my mind had bone blank and I wanted to get it over with as fast as possible; just one sentence to terminate our long relationship. I knew I was being cruel but I just couldn’t help it.

I sealed the letter in a postal envelope, wrote Manisha’s name and address on it and put it in my bag. I looked at my watch. It was time to leave.

Everyone came to the airport to see me off. Sanjiv and Swati had come too. They were located at Pune and I was off on a promotion to Delhi.

“I’m really very sorry about last night,” Swati apologized to us. She took Manisha’s hand and said tenderly, “Manisha, please forgive me. You are truly an ideal couple – both made for each other.”

As I walked towards the boarding area Manisha’s father Mr. Patwardhan shouted to me jovially, “Hey, Vijay. Don’t forget to come on 30th of May. The wedding muhurat is exactly at 10.35 in the morning. Everything is fixed. I have already booked the best hall in town. If you don’t turn up I’ll lose my deposit!”

I nodded to him but in my mind’s eye I smiled to myself – the “joke” was going to be on him!  Then I waved everyone goodbye, went to the waiting hall, sat on a chair, opened my bag and took out the letter I had written to Manisha. I wish I had torn up the letter there and then, but some strange force stopped me. I put the envelope in my pocket and remembered my mother’s parting words: “Please Vijay. Marry Manisha. Don’t make everyone unhappy. Manisha is good girl. She’ll adjust. I’ll talk to her.”

During the flight I thought about it. I tried my utmost, but I just could not visualize Manisha as my wife in my new life any more. Till now I had done everything to make everybody happy. But what about me? It was my life after all. Time would heal wounds, abate the injury and dissipate the anger; but if I got trapped for life with Manisha, it would be an unmitigated sheer disaster.

I collected my baggage and walked towards the exit of Delhi Airport. Suddenly I spotted a red post box. I felt the envelope in my pocket. I knew I had to make the crucial decision right now. Yes, it was now or never.

I walked towards the red post box and stood in front of it, indecisive and confused. I took a deep breath, took out the envelope from my pocket and looked at it – the address, postage stamp – everything was okay.

I moved my hand to post the letter. A strange force stopped my hand in its tracks. I hesitated, and in my mind I tried to imagine the severe ramifications, the terrible consequences of what I was about to do.

At first Manisha would be delighted, even surprised, to see my handwriting on the letter. And then she would read it…! I dreaded to even think about the unimaginable hurt and distress she would feel… and then her parents… and mine…the sense of betrayal and insult…relationships built and nurtured for years would be strained, even broken, forever. And poor Manisha…everyone knew we were engaged…how tongues would wag…the stigma of broken engagement…the anguish of my betrayal of her love… she would be devastated… may even commit…

Suddenly my cell-phone rang interrupting my train of thoughts. ‘Must be Manisha monitoring me as usual,’ I thought getting irritated at her – Manisha’s suffocating familiarity and closeness seemed like manacles and I was glad I was getting away from her. I decided not to answer, but my mobile kept ringing persistently, so I looked at the display. It wasn’t Manisha, but an unknown new number.

“Hello,” I said into my cell-phone.

“Mr. Joshi?” a male voice spoke.

“Yes. Vijay Joshi here. Who is it, please?” I asked.

“Sir, we’ve come to receive you. Please come to the exit gate and look for the board with your name.”

“I’m coming,” I said and looked the letter addressed to Manisha in my hand.

No. Not now in a hurry. Providence was giving me signals to wait, reflect, and think it over, not to do something so irretrievable in such a hurry. So I put the envelope in my pocket and walked away from the post box towards the exit.

I settled down well in my new job and liked my place in Delhi. Every morning I would put the envelope in my pocket determined to post it in the post box outside my office on my way to work but something happened and I didn’t post the letter to Manisha. Meanwhile I rang up Manisha, and my mother, every evening, and made pretence that everything was okay. The stress and strain within me was steadily building up.

Every time I looked at the envelope I felt as if was holding a primed grenade in my hand. With every passing day, the 30th of May was approaching nearer and nearer. Time was running out, and I knew I would have to unburden myself of the bombshell pretty fast. So one day, during lunch break, I decided to post the fateful letter and get it over with once and for all.

As I was walking out someone from the reception called out to me, “Hey, Mr. Joshi, is Mr. Gokhale in his office?”

Gokhale was my boss, and he was out on tour, so I said, “No, he’s gone on tour. Anything I can do?”

“Sir, there’s a courier for him,” the receptionist said.

“I’ll take it and give it to him when he comes,” I said, signed the voucher and took the envelope from the courier.

The moment I looked at the envelope an electric tremor of trepidation quivered through me like a thunderbolt.

I cannot begin to describe the bewildered astonishment and shocking consternation I felt when I saw Manisha’s distinctive handwriting on the envelope. Beautiful large flowing feminine writing with her trademark star-shaped ‘t’ crossing, the huge circle dotting the ‘i’… there was no doubt about it. And of course her favorite turquoise blue ink. There was no doubt about it but I turned the envelope around hoping I was wrong, but I was right – the letter to my boss Mr. Gokhale was indeed from Manisha; she had written her name and address on the reverse, as bold as brass!

My pulse raced, my insides quivered, my brain resonated and I trembled with feverish anxiety. At first impulse I wanted to tear open the envelope and see what was inside, but I controlled myself, tried to mask my inner emotions, put on a fake smile of geniality for everyone around, gently put the letter in my pocket and began retracing my steps back to my office.

I discreetly felt the two envelopes in my suit pocket – one, my unposted letter to Manisha; and the other, much fatter, Manisha’s unopened letter to my boss Mr. Avinash Gokhale.

I locked myself in my office, sat down, calmed myself with a glass of water, took out the two envelopes and put them on the table in front of me. My unposted letter to Manisha would now have to wait – I thanked my stars that some mysterious hidden restraining force had stopped me from posting it every time I tried to.

I picked up Manisha’s envelope addressed to Avinash Gokhale. It was sheer serendipity that I happened to be at the reception when the courier arrived – otherwise I would have never known.

I looked at the envelope. The whole thing was incredulous. Why on earth should Manisha write to Avinash Gokhale? What was the connection? How did she know Gokhale? What had she written to him?

Had my simpleton mother blurted out something to her – told Manisha or her parents what I’d said – that I didn’t want to marry her? My mind went haywire with strange thoughts. Revenge! Yes, revenge. Stung by my betrayal, Manisha had somehow found out the name of my boss, from Sanjiv or Swati most probably, and was out to ruin my career – wreck vengeance on me for ditching her. Written to Avinash Gokhale what a jerk I was. These things mattered in my company. My heart skipped a beat. I felt a tremor of trepidation. I suddenly realized that I had to swiftly interrupt this pernicious line of thinking and insidious train of thoughts.

No, No! It was just not possible. No chance.  Manisha was not the vindictive type. She would never do such a thing. Especially to me. She always loved me so much. And I was sure my mother would not have been so indiscreet and would have kept our conversation to herself.

But then anything is possible. I couldn’t take any chances. Dying with curiosity I desperately felt like tearing open the envelope and reading the letter. I had to get to the bottom of this mystery. It was simple. I would open the letter in the privacy of my house. Steam-open the envelope very carefully so no one would even discern. Then I would read it and accordingly decide the further course of action.

I wondered why Manisha had sent this letter so indiscreetly to the office address with her name and address written so blatantly. Was it on purpose? She could have spoken privately to Gokhale, or even e-mailed him. Why this bold as brass missive? Was it on purpose?  She wanted me to know…No. No. It was too bizarre!

I had an impulse to call up Manisha then and there and get it over with once and for all, but I stopped myself. I had to know first what she had written in that letter before I could do anything.

The suspense was killing. I felt restless and uneasy. When I feel tense I go for a long walk. That’s what I did. I went for a long walk around my entire office, each department, making pretence of MBWA [Management By Walking Around]. When I returned to my office it was four, still an hour to go. The next hour was the longest hour of my life.

The moment it was five, I rushed out of my office. The moment I opened the door I ran bang into the receptionist. “Mr. Joshi, Sir. That letter for Mr. Gokhale – you want me to give it to his PA?”

“No. No. I’ll give to him personally,” I said feeling the envelope in my coat pocket.

She gave me a curious questioning look so I hastily said, “Don’t worry, I’ve locked it carefully in my drawer,” and hurriedly walked away.

I rushed home to my apartment. I put some water in a pot to boil and then carefully held the envelope over it. I had to steam it open very meticulously and delicately – no tell tale signs.

Soon I had Manisha letter in my hands.

Dear Avinashshe began.  Oh … great… Dear Avinash indeed!

Already on first name terms – Thank God for small mercies it wasn’t Darling AvinashSweetie-pie or something even more mushy!

Dear Avinash,

The suddenness with which you popped the question left me so dumbfounded that I am still recovering from the shock. Shock? Maybe that’s the wrong word, but the swiftness of your proposal, out of the blue, on our very first date – well I am a simple girl and it really left me dazed.

You called once. I didn’t answer. You didn’t call again. I really appreciate that. That was very gentlemanly of you.

You sent me an e-mail. Explaining your feelings. Apologizing for what you did at the spur of the moment. Said sorry for having hurt my feelings. Please don’t say sorry. You haven’t hurt my feelings at all. Maybe outwardly I didn’t show it, but in fact, inside, I felt so good, so happy, that a suave man like you found a simple ordinary looking girl like me so attractive.

Avinash, please try to understand. I also feel the same way about you. I can’t exactly describe the emotions I experienced when we were together. Is it love? I don’t know. It’s the first time it’s happened to me that I’ve  felt so attracted to someone. I really feel like being with you, forever, spending the rest of our lives together. Thanks for proposing to me, Avinash – I accept.

What I want to say now I don’t want to say over the phone, or e-mail, so I am writing this letter. I am writing this because I believe that there is no place for secrets between husband and wife. Please read it carefully and destroy it. For my sake. Please. Read what I have written, think about it carefully, and I’ll wait for your reply.

You know Vijay, don’t you? Vijay Joshi. Of course you do. He works with you in Delhi. You are his boss.

In fact, I came to Sanjiv and Swati’s party in Pune just to see what Vijay’s boss looked like. Of course, I’d also come to help out Swati, but I was more interested to know how Vijay is doing in his new job in Delhi and maybe say something good about him. But the thunderbolt struck and we ended saying sweet nothings to each other. I hope Swati didn’t notice, as she seemed the busy hostess most of the time, and I haven’t told her, or anyone, about our hush-hush dinner-date the next evening in that lovely romantic garden restaurant.

Now, let’s talk about Vijay. Vijay and me were neighbors ever since I remember. Our families are very very close, deeply bonded to each other. Vijay and I are the dearest of dearest childhood friends, inseparable buddies who grew up together. Vijay has always been my most intimate confidant. I have always told him everything. Except about you – about us. It’s the first time I have hidden something from Vijay. And I’m feeling so guilty about it.

Avinash, I really love Vijay. But not in that way. Vijay is my friend, yes; buddy, yes; even soul mate, yes; but I just can’t imagine Vijay as my lover. Like I can visualize you!

Now brace your heart, Avinash!

I am engaged to Vijay. And our wedding date has been fixed on the 30th of May. Everyone knows about it.

This was fixed long back by both our families. My marriage to Vijay – a foregone conclusion and implicit happy culmination of our friendship. I too was happy. Till I met you. Now it is different.

What do we do, Avinash?

I just can’t bear to tell Vijay myself. To him it will be a terrible betrayal, a stab in his back. I can’t break his heart. He will be devastated.

I don’t have the guts to tell my parents; or his, either. They will be shattered, the hurt very painful and relationships will be strained forever.

So what do we do, Avinash?

I have an idea. It may sound bizarre, but let’s give it a try. Why not make Vijay fall in love with someone else?

Avinash, why don’t you introduce Vijay to some nice girl out there? Someone smart and chic, like Swati. I think he likes girls like that – I’ve seen him stealing canny glances at Swati when he thought I wasn’t looking. Right now he is lonely, vulnerable, and I am sure you there are many lovely, mod, savvy, attractive women out there in Delhi who are also lonely and vulnerable. You’ve just got to match them and hope for the best.

Avinash, try to understand. I want Vijay to call off our engagement. I want him to “break” my heart. It will be better that way, isn’t it? For me, for you, and for all of us.

Avinash. Am I asking too much of you? You like the idea, or is it too weird? Or can you think of anything better?

I am waiting for your reply. Please send me e-mails only. Don’t ring up or write – we have to very careful of hidden ears and curious eyes.

And remember to destroy this letter right now.

Yours lovingly,

Manisha.

I read the letter once again, slowly, carefully, word by word, till the last line – And remember to destroy this letter right now”.

It was unbelievable – this bolt from the blue from Manisha. I laughed to myself. I thought I was smart, but it was Manisha who was playing the double game.

I put the letter on the table, closed my eyes, and tried to think clearly. It was crazy – a classy snob like Avinash Gokhale falling for a pedestrian Plain Jane like Manisha Patwardhan! Yes, Love is blind – Love is truly blind! Or, is it?

Instinctively I picked up my cell-phone and called Manisha.

“Hi, Vijay,” Manisha said, “what’s up?”

“Just thought of you, so called to say Hi,” I said.

“How’s life out there?”

“Good. I like Delhi. You’ll like it too – when you come here.”

“Come there?”

“You’re going to come here and stay with me in Delhi after we get married, aren’t you?”

“Of course,” Manisha said smoothly – so smoothly, so slickly, so effortlessly, so glibly, without even the slightest demur or trace of dither, that, for a moment I was struck dumb.

“Hey, Vijay, what happened?” Manisha asked.

“Nothing,” I answered, “everything okay out there?”

“Oh, yes, I’d gone to your place this morning – everyone is fine.”

“Your parents?”

“My Mum and Dad are fine. Everyone is okay – just waiting for you to come. When are you coming to Pune?”

“I don’t know. There’s lots of work.”

“Come on, Vijay. Don’t tell me you can’t come for a day or two, at least on a weekend. I’m sure there’s not that much work that the heavens will fall if you are not there.”

“It’s not that – my boss here is a funny guy.”

“Funny Guy?”

“A painful killjoy called Avinash Gokhale,” I said, and listened carefully, but I couldn’t even detect even the slightest gasp or tremor in her voice as Manisha continued talking smoothly and glibly as ever, “Never mind, Vijay, you just work hard,” and then she effortlessly changed the subject to the latest happenings in Pune and started off with mushy ‘sweet nothings’ about how much she missed me.

Listening to her, for a moment, I thought the letter in front of me was a forgery, but then I knew Manisha’s handwriting too well. I was too flabbergasted to continue the conversation so I quickly said bye and kept the cell-phone on the table.

I never imagined Manisha could be so secretive, so mendacious.

It was strange – how close one can be to a person and yet know nothing about her.

And Avinash Gokhale? I worked with him every day, spent hours together, yet knew nothing about him, except that he was brilliant workaholic and a recluse – a most boring and private person who always kept to himself, never mixed around, never socialized or attended parties, a pain in the neck who everyone avoided and the only thing he ever talked was about work.

Made for each other – two secretive loners – Manisha Patwardhan and Avinash Gokhale.

But why was I so bothered? Good Luck to them! My problem was being solved. I had to just quietly wait and watch, do nothing, till my boss found some nice smart chic girl for me. Can anyone be luckier? Life was going to be exciting!

I carefully put Manisha’s letter back into the envelope and resealed it meticulously with a glue-stick. No one could have suspected that it had been steamed open. Now all I had to do was to quietly put it in the mail folder of Avinash Gokhale before he reached office on Monday morning.

Suddenly, I was jolted out of my thoughts by the ring-tone of my cell-phone.

“Hello!” I said.

“Is that Mr. Joshi?” a sweet mellifluous feminine voice said.

“Yes. Vijay Joshi here,” I said.

“I’m Vibha speaking.”

“Vibha?” I asked surprised. I didn’t know any Vibha.

“Oh I’m sorry Mr. Joshi, we haven’t met. I’m Vibha Gokhale. Avinash Gokhale’s wife.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry Mrs. Gokhale. I didn’t know Mr. Gokhale had a wife,” I mumbled.

“Well, Well, Mr. Joshi! Of course your Mr. Gokhale is a much married man and has a Mrs. Gokhale and you are speaking to her right now,” she said playfully, and added, “You don’t believe me, do you?”

“No. No. Ma’am. It’s not that. I didn’t know he was married. He’s never told me anything about you.”

“Really? That’s curious,” she said, “Because he’s told me everything about you.”

“What? He’s told you everything about me?” I blurted in surprise.

“Oh, yes Mr. Joshi,” she said mischievously, “I know all about you. And what I don’t know, you can tell me yourself when we meet.”

“Meet?”

“At the airport.”

“Airport?” I asked, totally baffled.

“Yes, Mr. Joshi, Delhi Airport, I’m just about to board the direct flight from Singapore,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Singapore?”

“Yes, Singapore. I live and work here. You don’t know? Of course you don’t – he hasn’t even told you he’s married. Well, I was on my way to London for a conference, and, on the spur of the moment, thought I’ll stopover at Delhi and spend the weekend with Avinash.”

“How sad?” I stammered, “Gokhale Sir is on tour to Chennai till Monday.”

“Chennai? You’re totally clueless aren’t you – don’t even know where your boss is?”

I was at a loss for words, confused.

“He’s already left Chennai this morning. And right now your boss Avinash is in Pune.”

“Pune?” I exclaimed incredulously.

“Yes, Pune. I wanted him to finish off his work in Chennai and come back fast to Delhi today itself, so we could meet up, but he told me he was already in Pune as something very important and urgent suddenly came up and he wouldn’t be able to make it. So he asked me get in touch with you. He’ll be coming back to Delhi on Wednesday now.”

“Wednesday? Urgent work in Pune?” I uttered like a zombie.

“Don’t tell me he hasn’t told you!” she exclaimed in amazement.

Overwhelmed by the maze of confusion, my mind went numb, and I was struck dumb.

“Mr. Joshi, Mr. Joshi. Are you there? Please Mr. Joshi,” Vibha Gokhale said rapidly with hint of impatience, “I have to board now. It’s a six hour flight. Just find out the arrival details and make sure you are there on time. You don’t want your boss’s wife to be left high and dry, do you?”

“I’ll be there Ma’am,” I said, “but how will I recognize you?”

“Don’t worry. Just be there at the arrival lounge. I’ll recognize and find you,” she said and abruptly switched off.

I keep my cell-phone on the table beside the two letters [my unposted letter to Manisha and her shocking letter to my boss Avinash], close my eyes, and try to analyse the mystifying happenings of this most eventful day of my life.

First Manisha’s letter asking Avinash to set me up with some chic girl in Delhi so that I call off the marriage, instead of her, become the villain of the piece, take the rap from family and friends and look like a dirty jilting philandering rascal in everyone’s eyes, while Manisha looks the poor victimized wronged all-suffering sanctimonious goody-goody, besides saving her a guilt conscience.

And at the opportune moment our gallant knight in armour Mr. Avinash Gokhale rushes in to rescue the devastated inconsolable innocent damsel in distress and magnanimously proposes to marry her.

Only, this Mr. Avinash Gokhale is a dirtier rat one up on her. He’s married, and is obviously hiding this from Manisha, at least till now. And he’s not told his wife about Manisha either, or has he?

And what’s this sudden urgent work in Pune which no one in the office has a clue about? Devious cheat, making a jackass of everyone while romancing in Pune at company expense!

Suddenly I feel a premonition – that at this very moment they are together – at some secluded place, having a romantic dinner, or maybe…

I stop my train of thoughts and ring up Manisha. “Out of coverage area,” says the recorded voice. My worst fears are confirmed. Scheming scoundrels – both of them! And why the hell did Avinash give his wife my number, without even bothering to tell me?

In a flash, comprehension dawns on me. Avinash is setting me up with his own wife Vibha! In connivance with his wily lady-love Manisha. It’s truly disgusting! How low can anyone get?

“Okay friends,” I say to Avinash and Manisha in my mind’s eye, “you want to play a double game? I’m game. Let’s play!”

I reach the airport well in time and take up a strong tactical position where I can clearly observe the passengers coming out of the arrival gate without being easily seen myself.

I recognize her at once without ever having seen her. Stunningly attractive, a real beauty, smashing, sophisticated, elegant; truly chic – my type of woman – optimally designed, precisely engineered and finished to perfection. She looks so extraordinarily exquisite, so tantalizing, so sensuous, so temptingly inviting, that I cannot take my eyes off her. Suddenly she looks in my direction and realizes that I am feasting my eyes on her. At first she gives me stern look, then seeing the frank admiration in my eyes, she melts, her lovely, dark, expressive eyes begin to dance and she gives me a smile so captivating that I experience a delightful twinge in my heart.

“Excuse me,” someone is tapping my shoulder form behind. Exasperatingly I turn around, glare at the podgy pedestrian suburban unpretentious looking homely woman who has disturbed me and snap angrily, “Yes. What is it?”

“Mr. Vijay Joshi?” she says grinning like a Cheshire cat, “I am Vibha Gokhale. I told you I’ll recognize you, didn’t I?”

My Dear Reader, I have no words to describe my feelings at that moment. I’ll only say this. Deflated. Yes, deflated! I’d never felt so deflated before – or since!

Vibha Gokhale peeps past me at the object of my attention, arches her eyebrows, and says naughtily, “Aha, Mr. Vijay Joshi. So you thought that sexy dish over there is me, is it?”

I swivel round, then back, all confused, and stammer, “No, actually…”

“It’s okay. You’re not the first one to wonder how a handsome hulk like Avinash Gokhale married a Plain Jane like me,” she says, adjusting the hair pin in her bun.

“No, No…” I stammer in acute embarrassment.

“IIT,” she says.

“IIT?” I ask, confused.

“Avinash wooed me when we were classmates at IIT.”

I say nothing; try to conjure up a contrived smile of polite geniality.

“You know how ‘dry’ it used to be out there in IIT, isn’t it? The mirage! The mirage!,” she says as if it is some secret joke, “When you are starved, and thirsty, even a Plain Jane like me looks as if she is a Cleopatra…” she laughs with such frank innocence that I instantly take a liking to her.

Now I break out into a genuine friendly smile, amused in my mind’s eye about Avinash Gokhale’s penchant for Plain Janes.

“Hey, what are you thinking?” Vibha says, “Come, let’s collect my baggage and go home.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” I say, remembering she is my boss’s wife.

“Hey, don’t ‘Ma’am’ me!” she commands, “My name is Vibha. And I’ll call you Vijay.”

Soon we sit in my car and I ask her, “Where to?”

“Where to? What do you mean ‘Where to’? We’re going to your place, of course! I’m staying with you, isn’t it?” she says with childlike naiveté.

Probably seeing my shocked expression on my face, she says, “You don’t want to take me home? I thought it would be okay with you if I stayed over! Or should I stay here, at the airport, or in some hotel? I don’t want to go all the way to Avinash’s empty flat in NOIDA…”

“No, No. Of course you’re most welcome to stay with me,” I say, “Only thing is that I’m a bachelor.”

“I know,” she says matter-of-factly.

“I stay alone…” I stammer.

“Come on, shy boy, drive on. I won’t eat you up,” she says vivaciously, and I begin driving towards my house nearby in Vasant Vihar.

We reach my apartment and I open the door. I look at the wall clock – it’s almost three in the morning. She looks around my small one room studio apartment (an erstwhile decked up Barsati) and says, “A comfy, cozy bachelor’s den – I like it!”

“If you want to sleep you can sleep on the bed…”

“Hey, I’m dying for a cup of coffee, then I’ll bathe, and then we’ll see – we’ve got the full day ahead of us,” she says, walking towards the kitchenette.

“No, No, please…”

“Come on, Vijay, trust me. I make a decent cup of coffee, and I too live all alone like a bachelor girl in Singapore. Just tell me where the things are.”

Together we make coffee.

We sit down and talk. She is easy to talk to and my words come tumbling out. I tell her everything about myself, well, almost everything!

“Any love life?” she asks with a naughty conspiratorial look in her laughing eyes, at once inviting and taunting.

“No,” I say, “And you?”

“I told you – Avinash, Avinash, Avinash! Thst’s all. And a long distance marriage, pining for him, hoping that absence makes our hearts go fonder!”

I remain silent, not knowing what to say.

“Vijay, I like you,” she suddenly says with undisguised affection in her eyes.

“Like me?” I say nonplussed.

“Yes. After a long time I’ve met someone with whom I can be myself.”

“Me too,” I say, and I genuinely mean it. I feel a soft tenderness for her, a warm feeling of elation, but I quickly check my thoughts and hastily say, “You’ll like to have a nice hot shower, won’t you?” for I believe that thoughts can transmit themselves if they are strong enough.

“I’ll love to,” she says, and I show her the bathroom.

She comes out, freshly bathed, wearing a slim nightie that is so revealing that she might as well have worn nothing, but she conveys such innocence that it is obvious that she has no inkling of this. She looks so pure, so pristine, so desirable, and I realize that she’s not that plain looking at all, in fact, she is quite appealing, sensuous in a natural sort of way.

By instinct, and almost against my will, my eyes linger, travel all over her body. The transformation in her is amazing. Now she looks so wonderful, so feminine, so tender, so alluring, and so new – a woman in full bloom.

“I’ve become a little plump sitting on my haunches all day,” she says candidly, without a trace of coyness, throwing away the towel wrapped around her head, letting her luxuriant hair fall on her shoulders. She looks so tantalizing that I feel a moment of alarm. Maybe we are unthinkingly beginning something dangerous…so I blurt out, “I’ll have a shower too,” and rush towards the bathroom.

I have a soothing hot shower, and when I come out of the bathroom in my dressing gown, I see Vibha reading Manisha’s ludicrous “love letter” to Avinash Gokhale.

Oh, my God! I curse myself. What a careless fool I have been to let those letters lie on the table.

As she reads, I stare at her, dumbstruck, not knowing what to do.

Suddenly she turns and looks at me in incredulous despair.

“I can’t believe this,” Vibha moans, “It’s horrible,” she sobs, “Everything’s collapsed like a pack of cards,” she cries, “I invested my life in two things – my marriage and my career –and look what I’ve got in return? My marriage is a sham and my job – the two things I banked on, both have jilted me, and all I am left with is myself.”

“Your career? Your job? What happened?”

“It’s terrible,” she says, “I’m going through a very bad patch. Last week I was demoted, my junior promoted over my head,” she pauses, wipes her nose, “And I this so-called conference at the Head Office in London – it’s all a masquerade. I have a feeling they are going to fire me, give me termination letter, have an exit interview, settle my dues and tell me to go home.”

I listen silently, say nothing.

“I’m feeling so down,” she weeps. “I thought I’ll stop over, talk things over with Avinash, find some solace in his arms, plan our future, and see what happens! He does this!” she sobs holding out the letter.

“Maybe you can talk to him, patch up…”

“Patch up…?” she scorns mockingly, “A relationship in which the seeds of distrust have been sown – such a relationship, I think it is better to sever it, break it, terminate it permanently, than try to patch it up, isn’t it?”

I move my hands, wanting to take her into my arms, console her, but hesitate, not knowing what to do.

“I’ll never forgive him for this, for betraying me so terribly when I needed him the most,” she screams, and then suddenly her flaming red eyes look at me with such furious distress that I think she has gone raving mad.

“Please…”I say.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asks hoarsely, waving the letter. I see tears trickling down her cheeks. She covers her face with her hands, wildly shakes her head, disheveling her hair.

I want to comfort her. I touch her shoulder. She flashes her eyes at me through the tangled strands of her hair, and suddenly the blazing fury in her eyes collapses into incredulous despair.

“I loved him so much! Why did he do this to me, why did he do this…?” she sobs hysterically, wildly clutching my arms, totally breaking down, her knees giving way.

I grab her, hold her tight, and she slumps forward into my arms. Then she looks up into my eyes, yearning, thirsty, ravishing. And suddenly, naturally, instinctively, it happens. The most spontaneous, natural, beautiful and passionate experience of my life. Spur of the moment, unplanned, unforeseen frenzied love. Like a volcano.

It’s wonderful, lovely, exquisite. I feel good, cherished. But what about her? Vibha? Is it spontaneous love? An explosion of fiery pent up passion? Or is it an act of frenzy, rage, expiation?

I gradually come into consciousness, my eyes heavy, my body overwhelmed by the pleasurable sensation of lethargy in the aftermath of passion. Everything looks blurred and slowly Vibha’s face comes into focus.

“Vibha. I’m so…”

She gently puts her hand on my mouth and says, “It was lovely.” Then she lovingly ruffles my hair with her fingers. I close my eyes, snuggle up to her, and let her ruffle my hair. The emotion that comes to me is compassion for what we have done; never before have I felt such tenderness.

It’s almost noon by the time we are ready. We’ve still got most of the weekend ahead of us.

“What shall we do?” I ask Vibha, “Movie, shopping, sightseeing…whatever you want…”

“Let’s disappear,” Vibha says roguishly.

“Disappear?”

“Yes, Vijay, let’s just disappear, vanish into thin air, where no one will find us.”

“Where?”

“Anywhere, far away from this suffocating life,” she says, “Come Vijay, let’s head for the hills, breathe some new pure fresh air, cleanse the cobwebs, the demons from our minds.”

“Your flight? London?”

“I’ll cancel it.” She calls up, cancels her flight to London.

Then Vibha gives me her cell-phone, and says, “Switch it off and lock up this leash somewhere. Your mobile too. We don’t want to be tracked down, do we?”

“But…?”

“To hell with world – let them stew in suspense.”

I put the mobile phones in a drawer.

“What about these?” I point to the two letters lying on the table – My unposted letter to Manisha, in the envelope, and Manisha’a pathetic love letter to Avinash, tear-stained, crumpled.

Vibha opens my unposted letter to Manisha, reads it and just tears it up, shreds it to pieces.

“What…?” I shout, taken aback.

“This flotsam and jetsam; memories of betrayal – better get rid of it,” she says, shredding the other letter too. “No point carrying useless painful baggage of the past.”

“Come,” she says taking my hand, “Let’s get away from all this. Be free. We both need to breathe some fresh air.”

And so we disappear.

At sunset we sit together, all by ourselves on the precipice, relishing the breathtaking spectacle of the delightful dance of the panoply of colours on the awesome vista in front of us as the soothing orange sun plays hide-and-seek behind the snow capped peaks of the Himalayas, and then disappearing below the horizon and lighting up sky with vanishing crimson rays, streaks slowly dissolving in the enveloping grayness of twilight.

I feel wonderful, my spirits uplifted, my head in the clouds after savoring this inspiring soul-elevating feast for the eyes, I turn towards Vibha, cup her face in my hands and drown myself deep into her eyes. I can sense her finger-tips caressing the nape of my neck. The debris of the past has disappeared and a fresh new life is about to begin. I know that I have discovered my true love, my enduring love.

VIKRAM KARVE

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009

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

vikramkarve@sify.com

vikramkarve.sulekha.com

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

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