Posts Tagged ‘read’

BEST OF BOTH WORLDS – A Story of Non Resident Indian (NRI) Diaspora

September 29, 2011

BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
A Short Story
By
VIKRAM KARVE

I have noticed one thing. In the colony where I live in Pune almost everyone’s children have migrated to the USA to realize the American Dream (That’s why Computer Science, Software Engineering and IT is so popular – it is the easiest way to go abroad). But one thing is very funny about this Indian (Puneri) diaspora. In their professional lives and careers they quickly adopt “modern” western American values but in their personal lives they still cling on to traditional Indian values. This story explores this dichotomy…

A middle aged woman watches the sun set from the balcony of her tenth floor flat of one of those ubiquitous residential “townships” rapidly sprawling and proliferating around the once remote suburb of Aundh on the outskirts of the once beautiful and picturesque city of Pune in western India.

The doorbell rings. It’s her husband back home from work.

He’s tired and aching all over after the long bone-rattling, back-breaking and lung-choking commute on the terrible roads and in the polluted atmosphere.

“Good news,” his wife says exuberantly, giving him his customary cup of tea.

“What?” the husband asks nonchalantly, carefully pouring the precise amount of tea from the cup into the saucer and lifting the saucer to his lips to enjoy his tea in his usual habitual manner.

“Our daughter Nalini is pregnant,” the wife exults.

“At long last – I thought she didn’t have time for mundane things like procreation –  I am so glad she found time from her busy schedule,” the husband comments acerbically and noisily sips his tea in his customary acerbic style.

“Don’t be sarcastic. She’s a career woman. Aren’t you happy…?”

“Of course I’m happy. I’m 56 now – it’s high time I became a grandfather.”

“I’ll have to go…”

“Where…?”

“For her delivery.”

“To Seattle…?”

“Yes. Her due date is sometime in December. I better go as early as possible, maybe in October. Poor thing, it’s her first child. You better get the visas and all ready well in time. Nalini wants me to stay for at least three-four months after her delivery.”

“Three-four months after her delivery…? So you’ll be away for more than six months…?”

“Yes. I’m her mother and I have to be there to help her. Poor thing. It’s her first delivery. And that too in America… poor thing…”

“Poor thing…? Who asked her to go there…? And what about me…?”

“You also come and help out.”

“I won’t get six months’ leave.”

“Come for a month. To see the baby. In December or January…”

“I’ll see. But I don’t like it there. It’s too boring. And in December it will be freezing cold.”

“Then stay here.”

“I wish we hadn’t shifted from Sadashiv Peth.”

“Why…? Isn’t this lovely apartment better than those two horrible rented rooms we had…? And it’s all thanks to Nalini.”

“I know… I know… Don’t rub it in. But sometimes I wish we hadn’t pushed her into Computers and IT. We should have let her study arts, history, literature – whatever she wanted to.”

“And it would have been difficult to find a decent boy for her and she would be languishing like an ordinary housewife with no future… slogging away throughout her life like me.”

“And we would be still staying in the heart of the city and not in the wilderness out here… and you wouldn’t have to go all the way to America for her delivery…!”

“Don’t change the topic….” the wife says.

“I am not changing the topic,” says the husband firmly. “You are not going for Nalini’s delivery to America. Let them, she and her husband, manage on her own.”

“But why shouldn’t I go…? She is sending the ticket.”

“It’s not a question of money. The fact is I don’t want to stay all alone at this age. It is difficult. And here, in this godforsaken township full of snobs, I don’t even have any friends.”

“Try to understand. I have to be there. It’s her first delivery.”

“Tell me one thing.”

“What…?”

“Don’t the women out there have babies…?”

“Yes. So…?”

“And do they always have their mothers around pampering them during their pregnancies and deliveries…? And then mollycoddling their babies for the next few months, maybe even a year…?”

“I don’t know,” she said evading an answer, “for them it’s different.”

“Different…?”

“Our girls are najuk.”

“Najuk…?”

“Delicate…. fragile.”

“Nonsense. They are as tough as any one else. It’s all in the mind. It’s only our mindset that’s different.”

“What do you mean…?”

“Thousands of women who have migrated from all over the world are delivering babies out there every day, but it’s only our girls who can’t do without their mothers around, is it…?”

“Don’t argue with me. It’s our culture… our tradition. A daughter’s first delivery is her mother’s responsibility.”

“Culture…? Tradition…? What nonsense…? It’s not culture… it’s attitude…! Our people may have physically migrated to the modern world, but their mental make-up hasn’t changed, isn’t it…?”

“Please stop your lecturing. I’m fed up of hearing…” the wife pleads.

The husband continues as if he hasn’t heard her: “What they require is attitudinal change and to stop their double standards. Nonsense… Nobody forced them to go to America… They went there on their own and it’s high time they adopt the American way of life instead of clinging on to roots and values they themselves have cast off…”

“Please. Please. Please. Enough… I beg of you. Don’t argue. Just let me go.”

“No. You can’t go. I can’t stay alone for six months. Why should I…?”

“Try to understand. I’ve told you a hundred times. It’s our only daughter’s first delivery. I have to be there.”

“Okay. Tell her to come here.”

“Here…?”

“Yes. Here. To Pune. We’ll do her delivery right here in Pune. We’ll go to the best maternity hospital and then you can keep her here as long as you want. She’ll be comfortable, the weather will be good and you can pamper your darling daughter and her baby to your heart’s content.”

“No.”

“What do you mean ‘No’…? You went to your mother’s place for your deliveries isn’t it…? And you came back after the babies were more than three months old.”

“That was different. I wasn’t working.”

“Oh. It’s about her job is it…? I’m sure they have maternity leave out there. She can take a break. Come here to India. Have her baby. And if she wants to go back early we’ll look after the kid for a couple of months and then I’ll take leave and we’ll both go and drop the baby there.”

The wife says nothing.

“Give me the phone. I’ll ring her up and tell her to come here as early as possible. I’ll convince her she will be more comfortable here,” the husband says.

“I’ve already spoken to her and tried to convince her exactly what you suggested,” the wife says.

“And…?”

“She wants the baby to be born there. It’s something about citizenship.”

“So that’s the point…” the husband says, “She wants the best of both worlds, isn’t it…?”

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?
This is a story from my recently published anthology of Short Fiction COCKTAIL and I am sure you will like all the 27 stories in COCKTAIL
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Foodie Book:  Appetite for a Stroll
If your are a Foodie you will like my book of Food Adventures APPETITE FOR A STROLL. Do order a copy from FLIPKART:
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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 and a book of vignettes and short fiction. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories, creative non-fiction articles on a variety of topics including food, travel, philosophy, academics, technology, management, health, pet parenting, teaching stories and self help in magazines and published a large number of professional research papers in journals and edited in-house 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
vikramkarve@gmail.com

© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

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Chilled Beer

May 6, 2010

CHILLED BEER

Fiction Short Story – A Mystery

By

VIKRAM KARVE

It’s a lazy Sunday morning and I sit languidly in my balcony reminiscing the good old days of my wonderful past, melancholically mourning the gloomy and depressing present, and speculating with foreboding about what the ominous future may hold in store for me.

The doorbell rings.

I curse at being disturbed from my reverie, and wonder who’s come to meet me on a Sunday morning.

I open the door.

I am dumbstruck.

It is that gorgeous snooty pompous beauty called Monica, my wife Anjali’s friend and colleague, who lives across the street.

“Anjali is not at home,” I say tersely.

“I know,” she says, “I’ve come to see you.”

“Me…?” I stare at her baffled, for till now the pretentious haughty Monica, who doesn’t care for losers, has always ignored me as if I did not exist.

“Yes, Ajay, I know Anjali is not at home. I’ve come to see you. I want to talk to you alone.”

“Alone…?” I am curious as I can feel a shiver of anticipation rising within me. We’ve never been alone before.

“Yes. Alone. Won’t you ask me to come in…?”

“Of course. Please come in. Shall we sit in the balcony…?”

“No. We’ll sit inside here, so no one will see us and we can talk in private.”

Monica looks chic and ravishing, in tight jeans and a close fitting pink T-shirt.

I try not to stare at her.

The moment we sit down on the living room sofa, she says, “Suppose you found out that your wife was being unfaithful. Tell me, Ajay, what would you do…?”

Taken aback by the bombshell, I say, “What…?”

“Suppose you caught her having an affair.”

“What nonsense…!” I say angrily, but inside me there germinates a small seed of doubt. Does Monica know something…? Why is she saying all this…? Trying to hide my fears, I put up a solid face and say, “Come on Mrs. Kumar. It’s impossible. You know Anjali for so many years and how much she loves me.”

“Hey, stop calling me Mrs. Kumar. I’ve told you before, haven’t I…? You just call me Monica…” Monica says, looks provocatively into my eyes, and asks, “Now think carefully…Suppose, just suppose, you caught your wife Anjali having an affair, cheating on you, betraying your trust with infidelity…”

“I’ll kill her,” I say instinctively.

“How…?”

“How…? What do you mean ‘How’…?”

“I mean ‘How’. How will you kill your wife…?”

“Well, I don’t know,” I say getting up from the sofa, not wanting to continue this conversation.

“Let’s hypothesize. Will you shoot her…? Strangle her…? Stab her to death…? Suffocate her with a pillow…? Push her over the balcony or shove her off a cliff…?  Electrocute her…? Drown her…? Douse her with kerosene and set her on fire…? An ‘accidental’ gas cylinder explosion…?”

“What do you want from me…? Why are you harassing me…? Please go away Mrs. Kumar. Anjali will be here any moment,” I beseech her.

“No, she won’t. I know she’s gone to the health club and parlour for her Sunday session. She’ll be back after twelve. We have enough time together, haven’t we…?” Monica says mischievously looking up at me and adds, “Okay, you just tell me how you would kill your wife if you caught her having an affair, and I promise I’ll go away…!”

“I’d probably use poison,” I say, and start walking towards the entrance door.

Monica remains seated in silence for some time, and then she looks at me intently and says, her words clear and deliberate, “Poison… The way you finished off Nisha, your first wife…?”

I stop dead in my tracks.

Stunned, pole-axed, I can sense a sharp, cold fear drilling into my vitals.

I look at Monica, into her shining eyes.

She knows…

And she wants me to know, that she knows…

And now I know that I have no choice.

I walk back to my sofa, sit down and say to her, “So you want to kill your husband. Just because you think he is having an affair.”

“You killed Nisha, didn’t you…?” she asks, looking directly into my eyes.

I feel very frightened, scared.

How much does Monica know…?

Or is she just speculating, guessing…?

Maybe she’s just trying a shot in the dark…

But seeing the venom in her eyes, I realize that I dare not take any chances, so I smile and say, “Well, Monica, you have got your manacles on me, haven’t you…?”

“Listen, Ajay,” Monica says, her voice soft, as she speaks in measured tones, “I don’t want a scandal, that’s why I haven’t given him even the slightest hint that I suspect. But I can’t live a lie any longer pretending I am happy. The flimsy façade of our successful marriage, the veneer of pretence – it’s all going to blow-up sooner or later as he is becoming more and more indiscreet and careless.”

She pauses for a moment and says, “He’s got to go. Quickly. Quietly. As ‘normal’ a death as you can arrange.”

“Why don’t you leave him…? Ask him for a divorce.”

“It’s much better to be a widow than a divorcee, isn’t it…?”

I think about what she says.

Monica is right. It is much better to have all the sympathy of a widow than the stigma of being a divorcee; inherit all her husband’s riches, money, property rather than the paltry alimony.

Her husband is rich and successful, and her marriage a social triumph.

“Tell me, who is he having an affair with…?” I ask out of sheer curiosity.

“It’s none of your business,” she says angrily. “Just do what I tell you and don’t delve too deeply.”

“I thought maybe…”

“What’s the use…? He’ll get another one – bloody philanderer,” Monica says with contempt. “It’s he who has betrayed me and I want to get rid of him fast. You do this for me, Ajay, and my lips remain sealed about Nisha forever. I promise…”

“That’s all…?”

“I’ll clear all your gambling debts, your loans, the mortgages – with the bookies, financers…”

Inside I tremble with indescribable terror… outside I try to be calm and say, “You know all about me, don’t you…?”

“I’ve done my homework. Now you execute a foolproof plan. And after it’s all over there’ll be plenty more to come for you. I’ll give you so much money, you can’t even imagine…”

“Okay, let’s brainstorm. You tell me everything about your husband. Each and every detail, his food habits, his routine, his programme for the next few days, about both of you, everything. Absolutely everything.”

“I’m thirsty,” Monica announces.

“Fresh Lime…?”

“How about a chilled beer?”

I get two cans of chilled beer from the fridge.

“Hey,” Monica exclaims holding up a beer can, “you know what…? Kumar drinks the same brand of beer as you do…! It’s his favourite beer.”

“That’s a good start,” I say and clink my beer can with hers, “Cheers… To our success… Now tell me everything.”

Monica tells me everything about her husband Kumar.

I listen intently and carefully make notes.

By the time Monica finishes, in my mind’s eye I am already evaluating the pros and cons of various options of how Kumar is going to die.

“How do you want him to die…? Instantaneous death or prolonged illness…?” I ask Monica.

“I want to finish it off as quickly as possible. Painless. Fast. When he is far away from here. Like maybe during his trekking trip to Mussoorie next week,” she pauses for a moment and says, “but make sure it’s a perfect foolproof job – not even an iota of doubt or needle of suspicion.”

My mind races, exploring and weighing all the options, like maybe an exotoxin which leaves no trace, excretes itself from the organism within a few hours…?

I keep on thinking, my brain cells working at lightning speed, and all of a sudden I know what I’m going to do…

“We’ll give him something in his favourite beer,” I say.

“What…? Tell me, please…” Monica says excitedly.

“Now you don’t delve too much…” I say haughtily. “Just do what I say. Lips sealed. And ask no questions…”

“Okay.”

I look at the notes I have made when she was telling me about her husband and ask, “His weight is only 70…?”

“That’s right. Seventy kilograms. Five feet ten. Thirty Eight years of age. Ideal, isn’t it… He’s a fitness freak.”

“And he leaves for Mussoorie on Thursday…”

“Yes. Early in the morning.”

“Okay,” I say, “I’ll have the beer can ready by Wednesday evening. Make sure you collect it by six before Anjali comes back from office and see that he drinks it…”

“No. No. You serve it to him. Let him have it here. In front of you. Right here.”

“He’s never come here to our place before…”

“He will come here. If you invite him.”

“Fine. I’ll tell Anjali to invite both of you to dinner on Wednesday evening. She’s been wanting to call you over for a long time.”

“And…?”

“I’ll make sure your Kumar drinks the special beer. He’ll be off to Mussoorie on Thursday, and you should have the ‘good news’ by Sunday morning.”

“He shouldn’t pop off here…”

“He won’t. I’ll calculate everything precisely – make sure there’s at least a 36 hour incubation and proliferation period.”

After Monica leaves, I realize three things.

Firstly, murder is a rather lucrative business.

Secondly, from an amateur, I am going to become a professional.

And thirdly, infidelity is not only reason why Monica wants to get rid of her husband.

Everything works as per my plan.

I meticulously keep the vacuum microencapsulated ‘special’ can of beer firmly in its designated place in the fridge on Wednesday morning the moment Anjali leaves for work.

Then I leave for my office.

When I open the fridge the moment I return early from work on Wednesday evening I notice that the particular beer-can is missing.

My heart skips a beat, I feel a tremor of trepidation, search desperately in the fridge, don’t find the can, and soon I’m in a state of total panic.

After a frantic search I find the empty beer can in the kitchen dustbin.

I pick up the can and check.

Oh yes, no doubt about it – it is the same beer-can.

And the beer can is empty…

I try to think, steady my confused mind.

Who can it be…?

Everything becomes clear all of a sudden and I find myself shaking in sheer terror.

I rush to the bedroom, run around the house like a crazy animal.

Anjali is not at home.

I dial her mobile.

An excruciating wait as time stands still.

Anjali answers.

“Anjali…? Where are you…?”

“In the mall. Picking up some stuff for the evening.”

“So early…?”

“I took half a day off. Came home for lunch, got things tidied up and ready for the evening and am just getting a few things from the market. I’ll be back soon.”

“Anjali. The beer…! The beer…! ” I stutter anxiously.

“You want me to get more beer…? I thought we had enough.”

“No. No. There is a beer-can missing in the fridge. I found it in the dustbin.”

“Oh, that. I drank it in the afternoon,” Anjali says.

“What…? You drank that beer…?” I shout anxiously.

“Yes. I drank it. I came home in the afternoon. It was hot. I felt thirsty. So I opened the fridge, picked up a can of beer and I drank it. It’s that simple.”

“You stupid fool… Why did you drink that beer-can…?” I scream into the phone.

“Stupid fool…? How dare you…? Ajay, have you lost it…? I just can’t understand your behaviour now-a-days…” Anjali says and disconnects.

It was extraordinary, how my mind became clear all of a sudden.

There was no known antidote to the stuff I had synthesized.

Clinically, there was nothing I could do.

Logically, there was no point in doing something stupid in desperation.

It was a question of my own survival.

Having sunk to the depths of depravity, all I could do was helplessly wait and haplessly watch Anjali die.

She was less than sixty kilos, much lighter than Kumar.

By Saturday evening it would all be over…

The evening passes in a haze.

My heart sinks as I watch Kumar enjoy beer after beer, but what’s the use…? That beer-can, the one I had specially prepared for him, is lying empty in the dustbin.

There is a gleam in Monica’s eye.

What excuse am I going to give her…?

She does not know what’s happened and I shudder to think what she may do when she realizes.

At best she may forget everything; but knowing her vindictive streak, anything is possible…

Inside I tremble with fear in unimaginable agony… outside I try to present a happy and cheerful façade and make pretence of enjoying the dinner.

Time crawls.

I feel wretched and suffer in painful silence the longest and most agonizing hours of my life.

Thursday. Friday. Saturday.

I closely observe Anjali for symptoms, waiting for the worst.

Nothing happens.

Anjali seems normal, in fact, quite hale and hearty.

Sunday.

Anjali is still going strong…!

She sits across the dining table devouring her favorite idli-chutney-sambar Sunday breakfast.

I marvel at her constitution, her liver, it’s got to be super-strong; or maybe I’ve goofed up!

My cell-phone rings.

It’s Monica.

My heart skips a beat.

“Hello,” I say with trepidation.

“Ajay, congrats… You’ve done it… Kumar is dead. I just got a call from Mussoorie,” Monica says excitedly.

“How…?” I mumble incredulously, perplexed, baffled out of my wits in consternation.

“It happened exactly like you said. In the early hours of Sunday morning. He died in his sleep. They say maybe it was heart failure. Painless, instantaneous death.”

“I’ll come now…?” I ask Monica.

“No… No… Not now. We can’t take chances. I’m rushing to Mussoorie now. I’ll finish off everything; make sure the paperwork is done okay. And when I return, you can come and offer your condolences…” I hear Monica’s voice trail away.

I disconnect, put my mobile phone in my pocket, and look at Anjali.

“Who was it…?” she asks.

“Someone from the office,” I lie, trying to keep a straight face.

“Anything important…?”

“No. A man died. That’s all…” I say nonchalantly.

I look at Anjali, into her large brown liquid eyes, and comprehension dawns on me like a bolt of lightening.

What a cuckold she’s made me, a real sucker.

My brain goes into a tizzy. I wonder what I should do to her.  The possibilities are endless, aren’t they…?

And while I contemplate on my plan of action…I think I’ll have a chilled beer…

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.

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

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