Posts Tagged ‘character’

A Lazy Hot Afternoon in Mumbai

July 27, 2009

Métier

[Short Fiction – A Romance]

By

VIKRAM KARVE

What is the best way to kill a lazy hot afternoon in South Mumbai?

You can go window-shopping on Colaba Causeway; enjoy a movie at Eros or Regal; loaf aimlessly around Churchgate, Fountain, Gateway of India or on the Marine Drive; leisurely sip chilled beer at Gaylord, Leopold, Sundance or Mondegar; browse at the Oxford Book Store or in the Mumbai University Library under the Rajabai clock-tower; watch cricket sitting under the shade of a tree at the Oval; visit the Museum; or, if you are an art lover, admire the works of budding artists on display in the numerous art galleries in the Kalaghoda art district.

That’s what I decide to do.

At 11 o’clock in the morning I stand at the entrance of the JehangirArt Gallery at Kalaghoda in Mumbai. I walk into the exhibition hall to my right. The art gallery has just opened and I am the first visitor.

Standing all alone in placid relaxing hall, in peaceful silence, surrounded by paintings adorning the pristine white walls, I experience a feeling of soothing tranquillity – a serene relaxing calm – and for the first time after many hectic, harried and stressed days, I experience an inner peace and comforting silence within me and, at that moment, I know what it feels like to be in harmony with oneself.

I leisurely look around at the paintings. I see a familiar face in a portrait. An uncanny resemblance to someone I know.

The face on the canvas stares back at me. Comprehension strikes like a thunderbolt. It’s me! Yes – it’s me! No doubt about it! Someone has painted my portrait, my own face.

I look at myself. I like what I see. It is a striking painting, crafted to the point of the most eloquent perfection.

I am amazed at the painter’s precise attention to detail – my flowing luxuriant black hair, delicate nose, large expressive eyes, even my beauty spot, the tiny mole on my left cheek; the painter has got everything right.

Never before have I looked so beautiful; even in a photograph. My face looks so eye-catching that I can’t help admiring myself – like Narcissus.

I look at the title of the painting on a brass tally below – My Lovely Muse. Muse?

I’ve never modelled for anyone in my life. Who can it be?

Suddenly I notice a wizened old man staring at me. He looks at the painting and then at me, and gives me a knowing smile.

“Excuse me, Sir,” I ask him, “do you know the artist who painted this?”

“I’m the painter,” a gruff voice says behind me. I turn around and look at the man. With his flowing beard, unkempt hair and dishevelled appearance he looks like a scruffy scarecrow. At first sight, totally unrecognizable.

But the yearning look of frank admiration in his eyes gives him away. No one else has ever looked at me in that way and I know he is still desperately in love with me.

“Do I see the naughty boy I once knew hiding behind that horrible shaggy beard?” I say to him.

“Do I see the bubbly and vivacious girl I once knew hiding inside the beautiful woman standing in front of me?” he responds.

“You look terrible,” I say.

“You look lovely – like a flower in full bloom,” he says.

I feel good. Aditya may be in love with me, but there is no pretence about him. I know the compliment is genuine.

“Come, Anu,” he says taking my arm, “let me show you my work.” And as we walk around he explains the themes, nuances and finer points of each painting.

Here I feel a sense of timelessness – a state of supreme bliss. I wish this were my world; sublime, harmonious, creative. I wish I’d stayed on; not burnt my bridges. Or have I?

“Let’s eat, I’m hungry,” Aditya interrupts my train of thoughts.

“Khyber?” I ask.

“No. I can’t afford it,” he says.

“I can,” I tease.

“The treat’s on me,” he asserts, pulls me gently, and says, “Let’s go next door to Samovar and have the stuffed parathas you loved once upon a time.”

“I still do,” I say, and soon we sit in Café Samovar enjoying a lazy unhurried lunch relishing delicious stuffed parathas.

“What time do you have to go?”

“I’ll collect the visa from Churchgate at four and then catch the flight at night.”

“Churchgate? I thought the visa office was at Breach Candy!”

“That’s the American visa. It’s already done. The British visa office is at Churchgate.”

“Wow! You are going to England too?”

“Of course. US, UK, Europe, Singapore. Globetrotting. The next few months are going to be really hectic. It’s a huge software development project.”

“Lucky you! It must be so exciting. You must love it!”

“I hate it!”

“What?”

“It’s unimaginable agony. Sitting in front of a computer for hours and hours doing something I don’t like.”

“You don’t like it? Then why do you do it?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “Aditya, do you know what the tragedy of my life is?”

“What?”

“My biggest misfortune is that I am good at things I don’t like.”

“Come on, be serious! Don’t tell me all that.”

“I hated Maths, but was so good at it that I landed up in IIT doing Engineering, and that too Computers.”

“But you’re damn good. A genius at computers. That’s why they are sending abroad aren’t they? The youngest and brightest project manager! You told me that.”

“Being good at work is different from liking it. You know, the thing I despise the most – sitting like a Zombie in front of the monitor for hours, discussing tedious technical mumbo jumbo with nerds I find insufferable. It’s painful, but then I am the best software expert in the company, the IT whiz-kid!”

“Yes. I know. It’s true. It is indeed a great tragedy to be so good at something you hate doing. That’s why I quit practice and am doing my first love – painting. I don’t know how good I am but I certainly love doing it.”

“But you are so good. You must be minting money, isn’t it?”

“Not at all. I told you I couldn’t afford Khyber. Just about make ends meet.”

“I thought artists make a lot of money. The art market is booming.”

“Only the established ones. Not struggling types like me!.”

“Come on, Aditya. Don’t joke. Tell me, how can you afford to have your exhibition here in Jehangir?”

“There’s a patron. An old lady. She encourages budding artists like me. She’s given me a place for my studio.”

“Just like that?”

“Yes. There are still a few such people left in this world. I present her a painting once in a while,” he pauses and says, “But today I’m going to be lucky. Looks like My Lovely Muse is going to fetch me a good price. Thanks to you!”

“Thanks to me?”

“You were the model for this painting. My inspiration. My Muse!”

“I never modeled for you!”

“You don’t have to. You image is so exquisitely etched in my mind’s eye that I can even paint you in the nude.”

“Stop it!” I say angrily, but inside me I blush and feel a kind of stirring sensation.

“Tell me about yourself, Anu,” Aditya says, changing the subject.

“I told you. About my painfullyboring work. And you won’t understand much about software. Spare me the agony. I just don’t want to talk about it.”

“You still paint?”

“No. I stopped long ago. At IIT.”

“Why?”

“No time. Too much study, I guess. And the techie crowd.”

“You should start again. You’re good. You’ve got a natural talent.”

“It’s too late. That part of me is dead. Now, it’s work and meeting deadlines. An intellectual sweatshop.”

“Come on Anu, cheer up. Tell me about your love life?”

“The company is taking care of that too! They are trying to get me hooked to some high flier Project Manager in my team.”

“Don’t tell me? What’s his name?”

“Anand.”

“Wow! Anu and Anand! Made for each other!”

“You know they set us up as per their convenience, facilitate working together all the time, encourage office romance, and even give us a dating allowance.”

“Dating allowance? Office romance! It’s crazy! Just imagine – Paying people money to fall in love!”

“Helps reduce attrition, they say; makes people stay on in the company. Nerds understand each other better; can cope better together, at work and at home. That’s what they say. Smart fellows, those guys in HR – they try and team us up as it suits them. They are dangling carrots too – like this trip abroad. They’ve even promised us a posting together to Singapore on a two year contract, if things work out.”

“It’s great!”

“Great? Are you crazy? Just imagine living full-time with a boring number crunching nerd all my life, doing nothing but being buried in software, day in and day out. I shiver at the very thought.”

“Tell me, who would you like to marry?”

“I don’t know.”

“How about marrying me?”

“Come on, be serious.”

“I’m serious. We could paint together, do all the creative stuff you always wanted to do. Live a good life.”

“Let’s go,” I say changing the topic.

“Anu. Remember. If you love flowers, become a gardener. Don’t curb your creativity. A lifetime of having to curb the expression of original thought often culminates in one losing one’s ability to express.”

“I’ve got to go, Aditya. It’s almost four. The visa should be ready by now.”

“Wait. Let me give you a parting gift to remember me by.”

Aditya calls the curator and tells him to gift wrap and pack the painting titled ‘My Lovely Muse’.

“Sir, we’ll get a good price for it. I’ve already got an offer,” the curator says.

“It’s not for sale,” Aditya says, “It’s a gift from an Artist to his Muse.”

I am overcome by emotion at his loving gesture. I look at Aditya.

It is clearly evident that Aditya is really deeply in love with me. And me?

Am I in love with him? Tears well up in my eyes. My throat chokes. My heart aches.

I find myself imprisoned in the chasm between the two different worlds – Aditya’s and mine.

But soon the rational side of me takes charge, and as we part, Aditya says, “Bye, Anu. Remember. If you can do something well, enjoy doing it and feel proud of doing it, then that’s your perfect métier. There’s no point living a lie. You’ve got to find yourself.”

I hold out my hand to him.

He presses my hand fondly and says, “Start painting. You must always do what you love to do. That’s the highest value use of time – time spent on doing what you want to do.”

“And what is the lowest value of time?” I ask.

“Doing what you don’t like just because others want you to do it.”

“Or maybe for money!”

“Money?” he asks, and then he looks lovingly into my eyes and says, “Anu, don’t destroy your talent by not using it.”

I get into a taxi and drive away form his world, my dream-world; into the material world of harsh reality.

In the evening, I sit by the sea, at the southern tip of Marine Drive and watch the glorious spectacle of sunset. As I watch the orange sun being gobbled up the calm blue sea, and crimson petals form in the sky, my mobile phone rings.

It is Anand, my Project Manager, with whom my romance is being contrived, from the airport. “Hey, Anuradha. The flight is at 10, check in begins at 8; make sure you are there on time. Terminal 2A.”

“I’m not coming,” I say.

“What do you mean you’re not coming?” Anand shouts from the other end.

“I mean I’m not coming,” I say calmly.

“Why? What’s wrong? Someone made you a better offer?”

“It’s nothing like that. I’ve discovered my métier. I’m going back to the world where I really belong,” I say.

“Where are you? How can you ditch us like this at the last moment?” he pleads.

I know if this is the defining moment of my life. It’s now or never. I have to burn my bridges now. “I have made my decision, Anand. I am not coming back. I have to discover my true self, do what I want, be happy from the inside. I’m sorry, Anand. I’m sure you’ll find someone else, your soul-mate, at work and for yourself. Best of luck!”

I switch off my cell-phone. I look at it. The last of the manacles! Deliberately, I throw the mobile phone into the Arabian Sea.

I begin walking towards the place where I know I’ll find Aditya.

And then I will return to the world where I really belong to realize my true metier and be my own Muse!

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

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

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UNREQUITED LOVE

June 20, 2009

JILTED LOVER

[Short Fiction – Romance]
 

By

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

 

 

It’s late and the bar at the Savoy in Mussoorie is almost empty.

There are just three people – a couple, a man and woman, in their thirties, sit together on a sofa; and on the sofa just behind them sits a solitary man, unseen, in the shadows.  

It is quite dark as the lights are dim; in fact the lights are so dim that the man and woman can hardly see each other’s face.

They have been drinking for quite some time, and, in fact, the woman appears pleasantly drunk as she engages the man in some light-hearted banter, slurring loudly as she speaks. 

“She dumped you, isn’t it?” the woman says.  

“No. That’s not true. Leena didn’t dump me. It was I who left her!” the man says emphatically.  

“Come on, Anil. You think I don’t know everything about you two?”  

“You don’t. You know nothing. It was I who left her. I told you once; I’m telling you again! She didn’t dump me. I didn’t want to live with her, so I left her.”  

“Don’t fib!”  

“Fib? Why should I fib?”  

“Masculine pride!”  

“Masculine pride? What nonsense!” 

“When a man ditches a woman she gains sympathy; but when a woman dumps a man he becomes a laughing stock, a subject of ridicule.”  

“So?”  

“That’s why you ran away from Bangalore after spreading false stories all around that you were the one who had split up with her, when actually it was Leena who had dumped you unceremoniously,” the woman jeers loudly. 

“Talk softly,” the man says.  

“Why? Afraid of the truth, is it?”  

“I told you it’s not true. We had our differences. And I wanted a change of job.”  

“You know why she dumped you? Because you are a bloody ‘loser’. A born loser!”  

“Who told you that?”  

“She did. I’ll never forget what she told me. Anil, you want to hear Leena’s exact words about you: quote ‘Anil is a born loser who is content to wallow in the gutter and see others climb mountains’ unquote. That’s why she left you. She didn’t want to ruin her life with you – a man with no future, a namby-pamby who has no ambition, no drive – a good for nothing geek.”  

“Namby-pamby! Good for nothing geek?”  

“That’s what she told me.”  

“She told you? When? Where?”  

“Last year. In Hyderabad . During this same annual IT Seminar. She’d flown down from the States. She even presented a paper – I’m sure it was plagiarized from something you had written or from the notes you kept giving her about your work and research.”  

“I’m not interested!”  

“Leena is real smart – a real scheming bitch. Mesmerizes you with her wily charms, uses you and then jettisons you, just throws you away when she’s got what she’s wanted. Like toilet paper! Or you know what?” the woman starts giggling; “She treated you like a pad – a sanitary napkin! Use and throw straight into the dustbin.” 

“Shut up, will you?” the man shouts angrily, “Let’s go now. You’re drunk.”

 “I still remember our Bangalore days when you used to grovel at her feet, your tongue drooling like a lapdog. And now look where she’s reached – the hot shot CEO of a top IT company while you wallow in your self-made misery as a Nobody in some nondescript place.”  

“Please, Nanda! Let’s go,” the man says exasperated.  

But the woman is in no mood to go, ignores him, and continues talking loudly: “Leena is smart! She told me she’d managed to hook some NRI Head Honcho. He’s an American citizen too. Her life is made!”  

“Maybe, she’ll use him and dump him too!” the man says sardonically.  

“Hey! You’ve accepted it! You’ve accepted that she dumped you. I was right! That calls for a drink.”  

“No. You’ve already had three big bottles of beer.”  

“Who’s counting?” the woman says happily, lurching from her seat, “Okay. If I’ve had too much beer, now I’ll have whisky!” She picks up the man’s glass, drinks it bottoms up in one go, and exclaims at the top of her voice: “Cheers! Down the hatch!”  

“What’s wrong with you?” the man scolds her. Don’t you know, “Beer and whisky – it’s risky.”  

“And frisky! I want to feel frisky.”  

“You mustn’t drink so much.”  

“Why?”  

“Someone may take advantage of you!”  

“Ha! Maybe I want to be taken advantage of? Come, take advantage of me,” she says loudly and snuggles up to him, “Come on, Lovey-dovey. Cuddle me. Do something naughty to me, like you used to do to Leena. Remember…”  

“Shut up. Someone will hear!”  

“Come on sweetie-pie,” the Nanda says snuggling even closer, “No one will see, no one will hear. We are all alone. There is no one here!”  

“We are not alone,” Anil whispers gravely, noticing the solitary figure in the shadows for the first time.

He moves close to Nanda and whispers into her ear, “Don’t look behind you.”  

“Where?” she shouts in surprise and turns around.

She sees the silhouette of the man and brazenly calls out to him, “Hey Mr. Eavesdropper! Come, why don’t you join us?”  

“Thanks. But it’s okay. I’m fine here,” the stranger says.  

“No! No! Come on. Have a drink with us. Don’t be a snob!” Nanda shouts drunkenly, tries to get up and reels towards him, and seeing her swaying and lurching in an inebriated manner, the stranger quickly joins them, pulling up a chair opposite the sofa.  

“I hope we have not been disturbing you,” Anil says, “We’re sorry. We thought we were all alone in the bar.”  

“Not at all!” the stranger says, “in fact, I’ve been enjoying your banter.”  

“Good. That calls for a drink!” the woman says.  

“Certainly. My pleasure! The drink is on me,” the stranger says.  

“That’s the spirit,” Nanda roars.  

“Nanda. Please. I think we’ve had enough,” Anil pleads.  

“I insist,” the stranger says, “just one last drink.”  

“Just one last drink!” Nanda repeats drunkenly, “and then the real surprise!”  

“Surprise?” Anil asks.  

“We’ll all go and wake up Leena!”  

“Leena? She’s here? In Mussoorie?” Anil asks incredulously.  

“Yes, my dear. She’s coming for the seminar too. She must have arrived in the evening when we had gone out for our romantic walk to Lal Tibba.”  

“How do you know?”  

“E-mail! I was the one who called her for this seminar.”  

“You didn’t tell me!”  

“Of course not! And I didn’t tell her that I had called you here either. I don’t want to be a killjoy!”  

“I’m going back!” Anil says.  

“You still desperately love her, don’t you? After all that she’s done to you; destroyed you. You’re scared of her aren’t you?”  

“No.”  

“Then why are you afraid of facing her? Come on, Anil, be a man! Ask her why she dumped you so unceremoniously. Leena owes you a bloody explanation, doesn’t she?” Nanda says. She pulls Anil’s hand and lurches towards the entrance, “Come. We’ll go to the reception and find out in which room Leena is staying.”  

“Leena is in Room 406,” the stranger says wryly.  

“How do you know?” Nanda asks wide-eyed, trying to focus on the stranger.  

“I am Leena’s husband,” the stranger says matter-of-factly. He keeps his glass on the table and silently walks out of the bar.

 

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.

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