Posts Tagged ‘ooty’

THREE-IN-ONE LOVE STORY

July 17, 2011

THREE-IN-ONE LOVE STORY.

click the title above to read this love story on my creative writing blog

KETTI – a travel romance by Vikram Karve

May 28, 2011

KETTI.

KETTI
Short Fiction – A Travel Tale
By
VIKRAM KARVE

From my Creative Writing Archives:

 
Short Fiction – A Simple Love Story I wrote sometime in the 1990s …
Winter.

Early morning.

Chill in the air.


I stand alone on the metre gauge side of the lonely island platform of Mettupalaiyam Railway Station and stare at the peaks of the Blue Mountains (the Nilgiris) silhouetted in a veil of mist in the distance.

Nothing much has changed here since the last time I came here on my way to Ooty.

It was almost 30 years ago and even now the place, the things, the people – everything looks the same – as if frozen in time.

But for me there is a world of difference.

Then I was a young bride, full of inchoate zest, in the company of my handsome husband, eagerly looking forward to the romantic journey on the toy train of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway on my way to our honeymoon at Ooty.  

Then, on my way to my honeymoon, the place felt so exciting. 

Now it feels so gloomy.

Strange. 

But true. 

What’s outside just doesn’t matter; it is what is inside that matters.


I try not to reminisce.

Remembering good times when I am in misery causes me unimaginable agony.


I look at my watch.

7.30 A.M.

The small blue toy train pushed by its hissing steam engine comes on the platform.

Dot on time.

As it was then.


The same chill in the air. The same February morning – the 14th of February – Valentine’s Day. 

Then I had the loving warmth of my husband’s arm around me.

Now I feel the bitter cold penetrating within me.


I drag my feet across the platform towards the mountain train – then they called it The Blue Mountain Express – now I don’t know.

Scared, anxious, fear in my stomach, I experience a strange uneasiness, a sense of foreboding, a feeling of ominous helplessness – wondering what my new life would have in store for me.

I sit alone in the First Class compartment right in front of the train and wait for the train to start – the train which is going to take me to the point to no return.

I wish that all this is just a dream.

But I know it is not.


And suddenly, Avinash enters.

We stare at each other in disbelief.

Time stands still.


There is silence, a grotesque silence, till Avinash speaks, “Roopa! What are you doing here?”

I do not answer.

Because I cannot answer.

I am struck dumb, swept by a wave of melancholic despair.

My vocal cords numbed by emotional pain.


I look ineffectually and forlornly at Avinash and I realize that there is no greater pain than to remember happier times when in distress.  

“You look good when you get emotional,” Avinash says sitting opposite me.

In the vulnerable emotional state that I am in, I know that I will have a breakdown if I continue sitting with Avinash.

I want to get out, run away; but suddenly, the train moves.

I am trapped.

So I decide to put on a brave front, and say to Avinash, “Coming from Chennai?”


“Yes,” he says, “I’d gone for some work there.”

“You stay here? In Ooty?” I ask with a tremor of trepidation for I do not want to run into Avinash again and again; and let him know that I had made a big mistake by not marrying him – that I had made the wrong choice by dumping him, the man I loved, in search of a “better” life.

“I stay near Kotagiri,” Avinash says.

“Kotagiri?” I ask relieved.

“Yes, I own a tea-estate there.”

“You own a tea estate?”

“Yes. I am a planter.”

Now I really regret my blunder 30 years ago. Indeed I had made the wrong choice.

“Your family – wife, children?” I probe, curious.

“I didn’t marry,” he says curtly. “There’s no family; only me. A confirmed bachelor – just me – I live all by myself.”

“Oh, Avinash. You should have got married. Why didn’t you?”

“It is strange that you should be asking me why I did not marry,” he says.

 “Oh my God! Because of me?” 
 
Avinash changes the subject and says, “I’ll be getting off at Coonoor. My jeep will pick me up.”

He pauses, then asks me, “And you, Roopa? Going to Ooty? At the height of winter! To freeze over there?”


“No,” I say, “I am going to Ketti.”

“Ketti ?” he asks with derisive surprise.

“Yes. What’s wrong with going to Ketti?” I protest.

“There are only two places you can go to in Ketti – The boarding school and the old-age home. And the school is closed in December,” Avinash says nonchalantly, looking out of the window.

I say nothing.

Because I cannot say anything.

So I suffer his words in silence.


“Unless of course you own a bungalow there!” he says sarcastically turning towards me and mocking me once again.

The cat is out of the bag.

I cannot describe the sense of humiliation I feel sitting there with Avinash.

The tables seem to have turned.

Or have they?


There are only the two of us in the tiny compartment.

As the train begins to climb up the hills it began to get windy and Avinash closes the windows.


The smallness of the compartment forces us into a strange sort of intimacy.

I remember the lovely moments with Avinash.


A woman’s first love always has an enduring place in her heart.

“I am sorry if I hurt you,” Avinash says, “but the bitterness just came out.”

We talk.

Avinash is easy to talk to and I am astonished how effortlessly my words come tumbling out. 


I tell him everything. Yes, I tell him everything – the entire story of my life.

How I had struggled, sacrificed, planned and taken every care.

But still, everything had gone wrong.


Widowed at 28.

Abandoned by my only son at 52.

Banished to an old-age home. So that “they” could sell off our house and emigrate abroad.

“They” – yes, “they” – those two who ruined my life, betrayed my trust – my only son who I doted upon and lived for and that scheming wife of his. 


“I have lost everything,” I cry, unable to control my self. “Avinash, I have lost everything.”

“No, Roopa,” Avinash says. “You haven’t lost everything. You have got me! I’ve got you. We’ve got each other.”

Avinash takes me in his comforting arms. 

Cuddled in his arms, I experience the same feeling, the same zest, the same warmth, the same lovely emotion, the same love, that I felt thirty years ago, yes, thirty years ago, as a newly-wed on my first romantic journey, on this same mountain toy train, on my way to my first honeymoon, into the lovely blue mountains. 


VIKRAM KARVE
Copyright © Vikram Karve 2011
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. 
© vikram karve., all rights reserved. 

Did you like this story?

I am sure you will like the stories in my recently published book COCKTAIL comprising twenty seven short stories about relationships.  

 

 

 

Do try out this delicious, heady and excitingCOCKTAIL. 

 

To know more please click the links below:
Cheers

About Vikram Karve

A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer. Educated at IIT Delhi, ITBHU Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures(2008) and is currently working on his novel. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories and creative non-fiction articles in magazines and journals for many years before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for almost 14 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing. Vikram lives in Pune India with his family and muse – his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts. 

Vikram Karve Academic and Creative Writing Journal: http://karvediat.blogspot.com
Professional Profile Vikram Karve: http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve
Vikram Karve Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/vikramkarve
Vikram Karve Creative Writing Blog: http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com/blog/posts.htm

Email: vikramkarve@sify.com          

Fiction Short Stories Book

© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

 

 

LOVE IN MYSORE – a short story by Vikram Karve

January 19, 2011

LOVE IN MYSORE.

LOVE IN MYSORE
Romantic Fiction
by
VIKRAM KARVE
From my Creative Writing Archives: One of my earliest short fiction stories, written long back, maybe 15 years ago…
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 the first Saturday of 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 shock I experienced when I suddenly saw Dilip, bold as brass, standing bang in front of me, appearing from nowhere. “Excuse me, ma’am,” he said. “I think you have dropped this.” In his hand was tote jackpot ticket.
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 marveled 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 in it was some information 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 dialed [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. “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 couldn’t underestimate anybody. For human ingenuity cannot 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…”
“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. 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. “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. 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 maintenence.”
“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 right 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 but he just grinned at me bald-facedly like a Cheshire Cat.
Nalini, my elder sister, had been right about Dilip. Thanks to 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. And 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  sitting 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 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? 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 what 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 inner force 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. How long was this going on? Living a lie. Deep down I felt terribly betrayed. 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.
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.”

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.”

“Now,” I said, intertwining my arm in his, “Let’s go to Lovers’ Park!”

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.
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.
VIKRAM KARVE educated at IIT Delhi, ITBHU and The Lawrence School Lovedale, is an Electronics and Communications Engineer by profession, a Human Resource Manager and Trainer by occupation, a Teacher by vocation, a Creative Writer by inclination and a Foodie by passion. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories and creative non-fiction articles in magazines and journals for many years before the advent of blogging. His delicious foodie blogs have been compiled in a book “Appetite for a Stroll”. Vikram lives in Pune with his family and pet Doberman girl Sherry, with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.
Vikram Karve Creative Writing Blog: http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com/blog/posts.htm
Academic Journal Vikram Karve – http://karvediat.blogspot.com
Professional Profile of Vikram Karve – http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve

© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

INDIAN DERBY – A DAY AT THE RACES

December 16, 2010

INDIAN DERBY – A DAY AT THE RACES.

SECOND HONEYMOON

July 28, 2010

SECOND HONEYMOON.

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

LOVEDALE

July 10, 2009

LOVEDALE

[Short Fiction – A Slice of Life Story]

By

VIKRAM KARVE

Lovedale.

A quaint little station on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway that runs from Mettupalayam in the plains up the Blue Mountains on a breathtaking journey to beautiful Ooty, the Queen of Hill Stations.

On Lovedale railway station there is just one small platform – and on it, towards its southern end, there is a solitary bench.

If you sit on this bench you will see in front of you, beyond the railway track, an undulating valley, covered with eucalyptus trees, and in the distance the silhouette of a huge structure, which looks like a castle, with an impressive clock-tower.

In this mighty building is located a famous boarding school – one of the best schools in India. Many such ‘elite’ schools are known more for snob value than academic achievements, but this one is different – it is a prestigious public school famous for its rich heritage and tradition of excellence.

Lovedale, in 1970 – that’s all there is in Lovedale – this famous public school, a small tea-estate called Lovedale (from which this place got its name), a tiny post office and, of course, the lonely railway platform with its solitary bench.

It’s a cold damp depressing winter morning, and since the school is closed for winter, the platform is deserted except for two people – yes, just two persons – a woman and a small girl, shivering in the morning mist, sitting on the solitary bench.

It’s almost 9 o’clock – time for the morning “toy-train” from the plains carrying tourists via Coonoor to Ooty, the “Queen” of hill-stations, just three kilometres ahead – the end of the line. But this morning the train is late, probably because of the dense fog and the drizzle on the mountain-slopes, and it will be empty – for there are hardly any tourists in this cold and damp winter season.

“I’m dying to meet mummy. And this stupid train – it’s always late,” the girl says. She is dressed in school uniform – gray blazer, thick gray woollen skirt, navy-blue stockings, freshly polished black shoes, her hair tied smartly in two small plaits with black ribbons.

The woman, 55 – maybe 60, dressed in a white sari with a thick white shawl draped over her shoulder and a white scarf around her head covering her ears, looks lovingly at the girl, softly takes the girl’s hand in her own, and says, “It will come. Look at the weather. The driver can hardly see in this mist. And it must be raining down there in Ketti valley.”

“I hate this place. It’s so cold and lonely. Everyone has gone home for the winter holidays and we have nowhere to go. Why do we have to spend our holidays here every time?”

“You know we can’t stay with her in the hostel.”

“But her training is over now. And she’s become an executive – that’s what she wrote.”

“Yes. Yes. She is an executive now. After two years of tough training. Very creditable; after all that has happened,” the old woman says.

“She has to take us to Mumbai with her now. We can’t stay here any longer. No more excuses now.”

“Even I don’t want to stay here. It’s cold and I am old. Let your mummy come. This time we’ll tell her to take us all to Mumbai.”

“And we’ll all stay together – like we did before God took Daddy away.”

“Yes. Mummy will go to work. You will go to school. And I will look after the house and all of you. Just like before.”

“Only Daddy won’t be there. Why did God take Daddy away?” the girl says, tears welling up in her eyes.

“Don’t think those sad things. We cannot change what has happened. You must be brave – like your mummy,” says the old lady putting her hand softly around the girl.

The old lady closes her eyes in sadness. There is no greater pain than to remember happier times when in distress.

Meanwhile the toy-train is meandering its way laboriously round the steep u-curve, desperately pushed by a hissing steam engine, as it leaves Wellington station on its way to Ketti.

A man and a woman sit facing each other in the tiny first class compartment. There is no one else.

“You must tell her today,” the man says.

“Yes,” the woman replies softly.

“You should have told her before.”

“Told her before? How? When?”

“You could have written, called her up. I told you so many times.”

“How can I be so cruel?”

“Cruel? What’s so cruel about it?”

“I don’t know how she will react. She loved her father very much.”

“Now she will have to love me. I am her new father now.”

“Yes, I know,” the woman says, tears welling up in her eyes. “I don’t know how to tell her; how she’ll take it. I think we should wait for some time. Baby is very sensitive.”

“Baby! Why do you still call her Baby? She is a grown up girl now. You must call her by her real name. Damayanti – what a nice name – and you call her Baby!”

“It’s her pet name. Deepak always liked to call her Baby.”

“Well I don’t like it! It’s childish, ridiculous!” the man says firmly. “Anyway, all that we can sort out later. But you tell her about us today. Tell both of them.”

“You want me to tell both of them right now? My mother-in-law also? What will she feel? She will be shocked!”

“She’ll understand.”

“Poor thing. She will be all alone.”

“Stop saying ‘poor thing’, poor thing’. She’ll be okay. She’s got her work to keep her busy.”

“She’s old and weak. I don’t think she’ll be able to do that matron’s job much longer.”

“Let her work till she can. At least it will keep her occupied. Then we’ll see.”

“Can’t we take her with us?”

“You know it’s not possible.”

“It’s so sad. She was so good to me. Where will she go? We can’t abandon her just like that!”

“Abandon? Nobody is abandoning her. Don’t worry. If she doesn’t want to stay on here, I’ll arrange something – I know an excellent place near Lonavala. She will be very comfortable there – it’s an ideal place for senior citizens like her.”

“You want to me to put her in an Old-Age Home?”

“Call it what you want but actually it’s quite a luxurious place. She’ll be happy there. I’ve already spoken to them. Let her continue here till she can. Then we’ll shift her there.”

“I can’t be that cruel and heartless to my mother-in-law. She was so loving and good to me, treated me like her own daughter, and looked after Baby, when we were devastated. And now we discard her when she needs us most,” the woman says, and starts sobbing.

“Come on Kavita. Don’t get sentimental,. You have to face the harsh reality. You know we can’t take your mother-in-law with us. Kavita, you must begin a new life now – no point carrying the baggage of your past,” the man realizes he has said something wrong and instantly apologizes, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”

“You did mean it! That’s why you said it! I hate you, you are so cruel, mean and selfish,” the woman says, turns away from the man and looks out of the window.

They travel in silence, an uneasy disquieting silence.

Suddenly it is dark, as the train enters a tunnel, and as it emerges on the other side, the woman can see the vast lush green Ketti Valley with its undulating mountains in the distance.

“Listen Kavita, I think I’ll also get down with you at Lovedale. I’ll tell them. Explain everything. And get over with it once and for all,” the man says.

“No! No! I don’t even want them to see you. The sudden shock may upset them. I have to do this carefully. Please don’t get down at Lovedale. Go straight to Ooty. I’ll tell them everything and we’ll do as we decided.”

“I was only trying to help you, Kavita. Make things easier for everyone. I want to meet Damayanti. Tell her about us. I’m sure she’ll love me and understand everything.”

“No, please. Let me do this. I don’t want her to see you before I tell her. She’s a very sensitive girl. I don’t know how she’ll react. I’ll have to do it very gently.”

“Okay,” the man says. “Make sure you wind up everything at the school. We have to leave for Mumbai tomorrow. There is so much to be done. We’ve hardly got any time left.”

The steam engine pushing the train huffs and puffs up the slope round the bend under the bridge. “Lovedale station is coming,” the woman says. She gets up and takes out her bag from the shelf.

“Sure you don’t want me to come with you to the school?” asks the man.

“No. Not now. You go ahead to Ooty. I’ll ring you up,” says the woman.

“Okay. But tell them everything. We can’t wait any longer.”

“Just leave everything to me. Don’t make it more difficult.”

They sit in silence, looking out of different windows, waiting for Lovedale railway station to come.

On the solitary bench on the platform at Lovedale station the girl and her grandmother wait patiently for the train which will bring their deliverance.

“I hate it over here in boarding school. I hate the cold scary dormitories. At night I miss mummy tucking me in. And every night I count DLFMTC ?”

“DLFMTC ?”

“Days Left For Mummy To Come! Others count DLTGH – Days Left To Go Home.”

“Next time you too …”

“No. No. I am not going to stay here in boarding school. I don’t know why we came here to this horrible place. I hate boarding school. I miss mummy so much. We could have stayed on in Mumbai with her.”

“Now we will be all staying in Mumbai. Your mummy’s training is over. She can hire a house now. Or get a loan. We will try to buy a good house. I’ve saved some money too.”

The lone station-master of the forlorn Lovedale Railway Station strikes the bell outside his office.

The occupants of the solitary bench look towards their left.

There is no one else on the platform.

And suddenly the train emerges from under the bridge – pushed by the hissing steam engine.

Only one person gets down from the train – a beautiful woman, around 30.

The girl runs into her arms.

The old woman walks towards her with a welcoming smile.

The man, sitting in the train, looks furtively, cautious not to be seen.

A whistle; and the train starts and moves out of Lovedale station towards Fern Hill tunnel on its way to Ooty – the end of the line.

That evening the small girl and her granny sit near the fireplace with the girl’s mother eating dinner and the woman tells them everything.

At noon the next day, four people wait at Lovedale station for the train which comes from Ooty and goes down to the plains – the girl, her mother, her grandmother and the man.

The girl presses close to her grandmother and looks at her new ‘father’ with trepidation. He gives her a smile of forced geniality.

The old woman holds the girl tight to her body and looks at the man with distaste.

The young woman looks with awe, mixed with hope, at her new husband.

They all stand in silence. No one speaks. Time stands still. And suddenly the train enters.

“I don’t want to go,” the girl cries, clinging to her grandmother.

“Don’t you want to stay with your mummy? You hate boarding school don’t you? ” the man says extending his hand.

The girl recoils and says, “No. No. I like it here. I don’t want to come. I like boarding school. I want to stay here.”

“Come Baby, we have to go,” her mother says as tears well up in her eyes.

“What about granny? How will she stay here all alone? No mummy – you also stay here. We all will stay here. Let this man go to Mumbai,” the girl pleads.

“Damayanti! I am your new father!” the man says firmly to the girl.

And then turning to the young woman he commands, “Kavita. Come. The train is going to leave.”

“Go Baby. Be a good girl. I will be okay,” says the old woman releasing the girl.

As her mother gently holds her arm and guides her towards the train, for the first time in her life the girl feels that her mother’s hand is like the clasp of an iron gate; like manacles.

“I will come and meet you in Mumbai. I promise!” the grandmother says fighting back her tears.

But the girl feels scared – something inside tells her she that may never see her grandmother again.

As the train heads towards the plains, the old woman begins to walk her longest mile – her loneliest mile – into emptiness, a void.

Poor old Lovedale Railway Station, the mute witness, doesn’t even a shed a tear.

It wants to cry. It tries. But it can’t. Poor thing. It’s not human. So it suffers its sorrow in inanimate helplessness.

Powerless. Hapless. Helpless.

A Silent Spectator. A Mute Witness.

A pity. A real pity!

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

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