Posts Tagged ‘romantic’

LPO – THE ART OF OUTSOURCING

July 11, 2009

ART OF OUTSOURCING 

by 

VIKRAM KARVE 


Short Fiction – On of my favourite stories, revisited  

 

One leisurely morning, while I am loafing on Main Street, in Pune, I meet an old friend of mine.   

“Hi!” I say.  

“Hi,” he says, “where to?”   

“Aimless loitering,” I say, “And you?”   

“I’m going to work.”   

“Work? This early? I thought your shift starts in the evening, or late at night. You work at a call center don’t you?”   

“Not now. I quit. I’m on my own now.”   

“On your own? What do you do?”   

“LPO.”   

“LPO? What’s that?”   

“Life Process Outsourcing.”   

“Life Process Outsourcing? Never heard of it!”   

“You’ve heard of Business Process Outsourcing haven’t you?”   

“BPO? Outsourcing non-core business activities and functions?”   

“Precisely. LPO is similar to BPO. There it’s Business Processes that are outsourced, here it’s Life Processes.”   

“Life Processes? Outsourced?”  

“Why don’t you come along with me? I’ll show you.”   

Soon we are in his office. It looks like a mini call center.   

A young attractive girl welcomes us. “Meet Rita, my Manager,” my friend says, and introduces us.   

Rita looks distraught, and says to my friend, “I’m not feeling well. Must be viral fever.”  

“No problem. My friend here will stand in.”   

“What? I don’t have a clue about all this LPO thing!” I protest.  

“There’s nothing like learning on the job! Rita will show you.”   

“It’s simple,” Rita says, in a hurry. “See the console. You just press the appropriate switch and route the call to the appropriate person or agency.”

And with these words Rita disappears. It’s the shortest induction training I have ever had in my life.   

And so I plunge into the world of Life Process Outsourcing; or LPO as they call it.  

It’s all very simple.

Everyone is busy. Working people don’t seem to have time these days, but they have lots of money; especially those double income couples, IT nerds, MBA hot shots, finance wizards; just about everybody running desperately in the modern rat race.
 
So what do they do? Simple. They ‘outsource’!

‘Non-core Life Activities’, for which you neither have the inclination or the time – you just outsource them; so you can maximize your work-time to rake in the money and make a fast climb up the ladder of success. 

A ring, a flash on the console infront of me and I take my first LPO call.  

“My daughter’s puked in her school. They want someone to pick her up and take her home. I’m busy in a shoot and just can’t leave,” a creative ad agency type with a husky voice says.    

“Why don’t you tell your husband?” I suggest.   

“Are you crazy or something? I’m a single mother.”   

“Sorry ma’am. I didn’t know. My sympathies and condolences.”  

 “Condolences? Who’s this? Is this LPO?”   

“Yes ma’am,” I say, press the button marked ‘children’ and transfer the call, hoping I have made the right choice. Maybe I should have pressed ‘doctor’.  

 Nothing happens for the next few moments. I breathe a sigh of relief.   

A yuppie wants his grandmother to be taken to a movie. I press the ‘movies’ button. ‘Movies’ transfers the call back, “Hey, this is for movie tickets; try ‘escort services’. He wants the old hag escorted to the movies.”   

‘Escort Services’ are in high demand. These guys and girls, slogging in their offices minting money, want escort services for their kith and kin for various non-core family processes like shopping, movies, eating out, sight seeing, marriages, funerals, all types of functions; even going to art galleries, book fairs, exhibitions, zoos, museums or even a walk in the nearby garden.   

A father wants someone to read bedtime stories to his small son while he works late. A busy couple wants proxy stand-in ‘parents’ at the school PTA meeting. An investment banker rings up from Singapore; he wants his mother to be taken to pray in a temple at a certain time on a specific day. 

Someone wants his kids to be taken for a swim, brunch, a play and browsing books and music.   

A sweet-voiced IT project manager wants someone to motivate and pep-talk her husband, who’s been recently sacked, and is cribbing away at home demoralized. He desperately needs someone to talk to, unburden himself, but the wife is busy – she neither has the time nor the inclination to take a few days off to boost the morale of her depressed husband when there are deadlines to be met at work and so much is at stake.   

The things they want outsourced range from the mundane to the bizarre; life processes that one earlier enjoyed and took pride in doing or did as one’s sacred duty are considered ‘non-core life activities’ now-a-days by these highfalutin people.   

At the end of the day I feel illuminated on this novel concept of Life Process Outsourcing, and I am about to leave, when suddenly a call comes in.   

“LPO?” a man asks softly.   

“Yes, this is LPO. May I help you?” I say.   

“I’m speaking from Frankfurt Airport. I really don’t know if I can ask this?” he says nervously.   

“Please go ahead and feel free to ask anything you desire, Sir. We do everything.”   

“Everything?”   

“Yes, Sir. Anything and everything!” I say.   

“I don’t know how to say this. This is the first time I’m asking. You see, I am working 24/7 on an important project for the last few months. I’m globetrotting abroad and can’t make it there. Can you please arrange for someone suitable to take my wife out to the New Year’s Eve Dance?”   

I am taken aback but quickly recover, “Yes, Sir.”   

“Please send someone really good, an excellent dancer, and make sure she enjoys and has a good time. She loves dancing and I just haven’t had the time.”   

“Of course, Sir.”   

“And I told you – I’ve been away abroad for quite some time now and I’ve got to stay out here till I complete the project.”   

“I know. Work takes top priority.”   

“My wife. She’s been lonely. She desperately needs some love. Do you have someone with a loving and caring nature who can give her some love? I just don’t have the time. You understand what I’m saying, don’t you?”   

I let the words sink in. This is one call I am not going to transfer. “Please give me the details, Sir,” I say softly into the mike.  

As I walk towards my destination with a spring in my step, I feel truly enlightened.    

Till this moment, I never knew that ‘love’ was a ‘non-core’ ‘life-process’ worthy of outsourcing.  

Long Live LPO

Life Process Outsourcing


Love Process Outsourcing

Call it what you like, but I’m sure you’ve got the essence of outsourcing. 

 

VIKRAM KARVE 

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009

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

 

vikramkarve@sify.com

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com  

http://www.ryze.com/go/karve  

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

How I discovered the Meaning of Love

June 22, 2009

HOW I DISCOVERED THE MEANING OF LOVE

[Short Fiction – A Love Story]

by 

  VIKRAM KARVE  

  

 

 

            I do not know how the idea entered my brain in the first place; but once conceived, it haunted me with such urgency that a strange force took charge of me, impelling me to act. I tucked the packet under my arm and walked towards my destination, looking around furtively like someone with a guilty conscience. 

 

            The moment I saw her photograph I knew that I had to see her. A man’s first love fills an enduring place in his heart. Ten years. Ten long years. She had married money. And status. I was heartbroken. Yet I bore her no pique or rancor. Never will. How can I? I had truly loved her. I still love her. I will always love her. Till my dying day.

 

             I was desperately eager to impress her. To give her a gift would be too obvious. I did not know how much she had told her husband. About me! About us! 

 

            Her children should be the same age as mine. Maybe slightly older. They say the best route to a married woman’s heart is through her children. I looked at the packet under my arm. A gift. The deluxe set of children’s encyclopedias I had promised my son. And my daughter. Year after year. For the last three years. And did not buy. Because it was too expensive. And now I was going to present it to Anjali’s children. Just to impress her. Why? I do not know.

 

            As I rang the doorbell, I felt a tremor of anticipation. Suddenly I realized that I did not know whether Anjali would be happy to see me or pretend she didn’t recognize me. The door opened. Anjali looked ravishing. She gave me her sparkling smile and welcomed me with genuine happiness, “Sanjiv! After so many years! What a delightful surprise. How did you manage to find me?’

 

            We looked at each other. Anjali had fully blossomed and looked stunning. She looked so exquisite, so dazzling, that I cannot begin to describe the intense emotion I felt as I looked intently into her radiating eyes, totally mesmerized by her beauty.

 

            “Stop staring at me, “Anjali said, her large expressive eyes dancing mischievously.

 

            “You look so beautiful. And so young!”

 

            “But you look old. Even your beard has becoming gray.” Anjali paused, probably regretting what she had said.

 

            Then suddenly she held out her hand to me and said, “I am so happy to see you, Sanjiv. Come inside.”

 

            Her house was extravagant. Wealth and opulence showed everywhere. Anjali carried herself majestically with regal poise; her demeanor slick and confident. No wonder! To ‘belong’ had always been the driving force of her life. Money, status, social prestige, success – she had got everything she wanted. I couldn’t help feeling a pang of envy, and failure.

 

            “You like my house?” she asked. “Sit down. And don’t look so lost.”

 

            I sat down on a sofa and kept the gift wrapped packet on the side-table.

 

            Anjali sat down opposite. “How did you know I live here? We shifted to Mumbai only a month ago.”

 

            I took out the wallet from my pocket and gave it to her. “Your husband’s purse. I saw your photograph in it.”

 

            Anjali opened the purse and started to check the contents.

 

            “You don’t trust cops, do you?” I smiled.

 

            Anjali blushed. She kept the wallet on the table. She looked at me with frank admiration in her eyes. “IPS? That’s fantastic. I never thought you would do so well! What are you? Superintendent? Deputy Commissioner?”

 

            Now it was my turn to blush. “No,” I said sheepishly. “I am only a sub-inspector.”

 

            “Oh!” she said, trying to hide her disappointment. But I had read the language of her eyes. The nuance wasn’t lost on me. Suddenly she had changed.

 

            “Is Mr. Joshi at home?” I asked.

 

            “He is still at the office,” Anjali said.

 

            “Oh! I thought he would be home,” I said.

 

            “I’ll make you some tea,” she said and started to get up.

 

            “Please sit down, Anjali. Let’s talk.” I looked at my watch. “It’s already six-thirty. Let’s wait for Mr. Joshi. Maybe he’ll offer me a drink. And dinner.”

 

            “My husband comes home very late,” Anjali said. “After all, he is the Managing Director. There is so much work. And conferences. Important business meetings. He is the top boss – a very successful and extremely busy man.” She couldn’t have spelt it out more clearly. I got the message loud and clear.

 

             Anjali changed the topic and asked, “Where did you find the purse?”

 

              “It was deposited in the lost-and-found section last evening,” I lied.

 

             “It’s strange,” Anjali said. “He didn’t mention anything.”

 

            “He may not have noticed,” I said, tongue-in-cheek, “After all Mr. Joshi is a very busy man to notice such minor things like a missing purse.”

 

            “Yes,” she said, giving a distant look. Anjali opened the purse once more and examined his credit cards and driving license. At first she appeared confused. Then she gave me a cold hard look. But she didn’t say anything. There was a long period of silence. 

 

            Anjali kept staring at me. Looking directly into my eyes.  A distant look. Almost dismissive. I began to feel uneasy. Suddenly I remembered the gift wrapped packet I had brought and exclaimed enthusiastically, “Anjali, where are your children? I have got a gift for them. Just a small present for your kids!”            

 

            From the look on her face, I immediately sensed that I had said something terribly wrong. I saw tears well up in her eyes. All of a sudden, Anjali looked small, weak and vulnerable. I felt a sense of deep regret as comprehension dawned on me. I looked at her helplessly, pleading innocence, but it was of no use. Some day Anjali might understand my actions, but at that moment it was hopeless to try and explain. The hurt was deep, and I had to let it go in silence.

 

            We just sat there in silence, not knowing what to say. A deafening silence. A grotesque silence.

 

            It’s strange how moments you have rehearsed for end up with a different script.

 

            I could not bear it any longer. I quickly got up and started walking swiftly towards the door. Suddenly I realized that I had forgotten to pick up the packet – the gift. But I did not turn back. Why? I do not know.

 

            “Don’t go, Sanjiv. I want to talk to you,” Anjali spoke coldly.

 

            I stopped in my tracks. I could hear Anjali footsteps behind me. I turned around to face her. She seemed a bit composed.  

 

            “You lied to me, Sanjiv,” Anjali said. “I want to know where you found this wallet.”

 

             I did not know what to say. I tried to avoid her eyes.

 

            “Tell me,” Anjali pleaded.

 

            When in doubt, I speak the truth. “We raided one of those exclusive classy joints last night,” I stammered. “A posh call-girl racket……….” I could not continue. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

 

            “I know! Oh yes I know!” Anjali said mockingly. “That impotent creep! Trying to prove his virility to himself.” 

 

            With those few words, she had bared the secret of her marriage. I looked at her. Her manner was relaxed and nonchalant; her fury was visible only in her eyes. 

 

            I was nonplussed. Suddenly I blurted out, “Don’t worry Anjali. I have dropped the charges. I’ll hush it up.” 

 

            I still don’t know why I uttered those words, but on hearing them there was a visible metamorphosis in Anjali. Suddenly she became flaming mad. She looked so distraught and angry that I felt very frightened. Terrified that she would go berserk and attack me, slap me, or something, I instinctively stepped back. But Anjali suddenly turned and left the room. I waited, pole-axed, for a moment and after regaining my composure decided to leave and started to move towards the door.

 

            “Wait!” I heard her scream. I stopped in my tracks and turned around. 

 

            Anjali quickly walked towards me and thrust out her right hand. She held a bundle of hundred rupee notes. “So this is what you have come for, isn’t it? A bribe to hush up the case, isn’t it? Even from me! You unscrupulous dog, I didn’t expect you to fall so low. Here – take the money and get out. This is all I have at home. If you want more, you know where to find my husband; don’t you?”           

 

            “No, Anjali,” I recoiled. “Please don’t ………..”

 

            “Cheap!” Anjali spat out. There was contempt in her eyes. “Cheap riffraff! That’s what you always were, Sanjiv. Get out you filthy blackmailer.” She threw the bundle of notes at me. It hit my chest and fell on the ground, the money scattering near my feet.

 

            “I love you, Anjali,” I said, trying to sound sincere.

 

            “Love,” she exclaimed, her radiating eyes burning with anger. “So you have come to see how your barren old flame is flourishing, isn’t it?” She paused and said sarcastically, “So you are pleased aren’t you? Happy to see my success?”

 

            Her sly and sarcastic suggestion that I might be happy at her misfortune hurt me more than anything else. I turned around and walked out of the house. As I walked towards the gate something hit me on my back. I winced in pain. The three volumes of the expensive Children’s Encyclopedia were scattered on the ground, their silver paper gift wrapper torn. I knew that Anjali was standing in the door looking at me. But I did not look back at her. I gathered the books and walked away into the darkness.

 

            As I gradually came into consciousness from my drunken stupor, I realized that I was in my bed. Though sunlight filtered in through the open windows, everything looked blurred. Slowly things began to come into focus.
 
           My daughter was sitting beside me on the bed. She touched my arm with tenderness. There were tears in her eyes.
 
           My son stood aloof on the other side of the bed. There was fear in his eyes.
 
           My wife looked at me with loving pity and said, “The children want to thank you for the lovely gift. They are so happy!” She was holding the set of encyclopedias in her hands.

          I smiled and reached out to them. They held my hands and smiled back. 

           I looked at the pure unadulterated joy in their eyes. For the first time in my life I experienced a deep genuine true love for my wife and children. A love which I had never felt before. 
          
           Tears of joy welled up in my eyes. I had discovered love.

           Yes, I had discovered the true meaning of love.

  

 VIKRAM KARVE 

 

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009

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

UNREQUITED LOVE

June 20, 2009

JILTED LOVER

[Short Fiction – Romance]
 

By

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t fib!”  

“Fib? Why should I fib?”  

“Masculine pride!”  

“Masculine pride? What nonsense!” 

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

“So?”  

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

“Talk softly,” the man says.  

“Why? Afraid of the truth, is it?”  

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

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

“Who told you that?”  

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

“Namby-pamby! Good for nothing geek?”  

“That’s what she told me.”  

“She told you? When? Where?”  

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

“I’m not interested!”  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And frisky! I want to feel frisky.”  

“You mustn’t drink so much.”  

“Why?”  

“Someone may take advantage of you!”  

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

“Shut up. Someone will hear!”  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s the spirit,” Nanda roars.  

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

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

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

“Surprise?” Anil asks.  

“We’ll all go and wake up Leena!”  

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

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

“How do you know?”  

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

“You didn’t tell me!”  

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

“I’m going back!” Anil says.  

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

“No.”  

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

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

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

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

 

VIKRAM KARVE

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009 
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

THE WALLFLOWER – A Romance

June 13, 2009

HOW I DISCOVERED MY TRUE LOVE

Short Fiction – A Romantic Love Story

by

VIKRAM KARVE

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

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

“Manisha is coming!” my mother whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s dance,” I had asked Manisha.

“No,” Manisha was firm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t love her,” I said.

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

“No,” I said.

“I don’t understand you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Manisha,

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

Yours sincerely,

Vijay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hello,” I said into my cell-phone.

“Mr. Joshi?” a male voice spoke.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soon I had Manisha letter in my hands.

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

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

Dear Avinash,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now brace your heart, Avinash!

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

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

What do we do, Avinash?

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

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

So what do we do, Avinash?

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

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

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

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

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

And remember to destroy this letter right now.

Yours lovingly,

Manisha.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How’s life out there?”

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

“Come there?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Your parents?”

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

“I don’t know. There’s lots of work.”

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

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

“Funny Guy?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hello!” I said.

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

“Yes. Vijay Joshi here,” I said.

“I’m Vibha speaking.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Meet?”

“At the airport.”

“Airport?” I asked, totally baffled.

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

“Singapore?”

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

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

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

I was at a loss for words, confused.

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

“Pune?” I exclaimed incredulously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“IIT,” she says.

“IIT?” I ask, confused.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know,” she says matter-of-factly.

“I stay alone…” I stammer.

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

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

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

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

“No, No, please…”

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

Together we make coffee.

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

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

“No,” I say, “And you?”

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

I remain silent, not knowing what to say.

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

“Like me?” I say nonplussed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly she turns and looks at me in incredulous despair.

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

“Your career? Your job? What happened?”

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

I listen silently, say nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

“Please…”I say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Vibha. I’m so…”

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

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

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

“Let’s disappear,” Vibha says roguishly.

“Disappear?”

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

“Where?”

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

“Your flight? London?”

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

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

“But…?”

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

I put the mobile phones in a drawer.

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

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

“What…?” I shout, taken aback.

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

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

And so we disappear.

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

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

VIKRAM KARVE

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009

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

vikramkarve@sify.com

vikramkarve.sulekha.com

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

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