Sakhi's Laghukatha

Posts Tagged ‘Short stories

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Aks got up cursing again. He hated to go to office in those crowded Mumbai trains. Even the thought of the crowd pushing, crushing him; where he can smell the sweat of people around him and people breathing air almost in his mouth made him almost puke. The first class pass was not really helping in peak hours either. He shifted to Mumbai some six months back and was still not used to the crowd, the heat, the cacophony and the mad rush that everyone seemed to be in. Even the soothing waves of beaches failed to entice him. He saw filth everywhere. Aks questioned himself again and again why he ever decided to come to this dreaded city. Yet here he was, getting ready to go to work and cursing some more as today he was running late.

As Aks reached the platform running, panting and sweating, he saw his regular fast train pull out of the station and he cursed some more. Sometime later he boarded another train. As this was a slow train, at least the first class compartment was not as crowded. He squeezed himself between two gentlemen who reluctantly gave some space so that he can just about rest his rears at edge of the seat. Ah Mumbaikars!! He rolled his eyes and was about to say something caustic when his eyes fell on a lady in the adjacent ladies compartment.

He kept staring at her. She looked extremely beautiful with big black bindi on her forehead, elegantly tied bun at the nape of her neck, crisp saree… grace personified! He could not believe someone can look this beautiful and fresh even in this Mumbai heat and humidity, especially in a local train. She was so different from others around her who wore more comfortable salwar kameez or jean and tee shirts. Aks kept looking at her and forgot all about his Mumbai woes. He came out of his trance when she got up to get down at her station. He then realized that he had missed his station but for a change he did not curse. A slight smile played on his lips. He had no idea why, but something fluttered in his heart. He kept smiling till he reached his office.

The next day Aks deliberately took the same train and managed to get in the same compartment in the hope of finding Grace (that’s what he decided to call her till he gets to know her real name!). His eyes searched for Grace and a small sigh escaped from his lips on spotting her at the window. She must be a regular here to get a window seat, he thought. The journey to office was breezy that day. Air did not seem hot at all and humidity did not bother him. Fellow passengers seemed more tolerable too. He sighed again. He got down at Grace’s station even if it meant that he had to go back two stations in order to go to his office.

About a week later, by chance, their eyes met and Grace smiled at him when she found him looking at her (probably she was not aware that Aks was staring at her for a week now). Aks’ heart leaped to his mouth, he grinned back a silly grin even though he knew that hers was a courtesy smile, a smile one gives to a fellow passenger. Her smile stayed with him even during his sleep. Next day there was a bounce in his feet and heart felt as light as a feather, he was in fact humming a song while getting ready for office. Now that was a first since he shifted to Mumbai!

He boarded the train and saw her at her usual seat. Aks waited for her glance, to see that gorgeous smile but she seemed oblivious to his presence. Another day went by. As days became weeks, a routine was established for Aks – board this slow train, wait for Grace to smile at him (which she did more often than not), get down at Grace’s station, go to office, go home, sleep, repeat. Grace too appeared to wait for him to board the train. He could feel that when she looked at him her face softened. Some mysterious expression played on her attractive face, her eyes seemed to say something which he could not decipher. However, he was happy to see her smile. She seemed like an anchor to him. They never spoke, never exchanged even a hello yet she, her smile, seemed to fill his days with eternal happiness. He could not understand it but then he did not want to decode this anyway. Weekends seemed longer and he could not wait for Mondays. He was happy and suddenly Mumbai felt livable.

Today was different though, someone else was sitting at Grace’s window. Since Aks has started boarding this train a couple of months back, this was the first time that Grace was absent. He missed her smile, her presence, her everything. He did not know what to do. He knew deep in his heart that it was just one day and she might just have taken a day off for some domestic reason; that he should not panic but still panic he did. He could not wait till it was next day so that he can run to board the same train, to see Grace sitting at her usual window seat smiling at him. He longed to see that softness of her eyes. He needed to know that she was okay. He kept telling himself that this anxiety was unwarranted but some unknown dread filled his heart when he did not find Grace even on the next day.

Aks never saw her again. He tried to find out about her from her fellow passengers but no one seemed to know anything about her. He never got to know what happened to his Grace, why she disappeared without a trace. His days were filled with despondency and Mumbai’s overcast skies matched his mood. The heavy downpour that followed could not wash away the agony in Aks’ heart. Once again, Mumbai was not a happy place.

Had Aks payed attention to News in morning papers, he would have known that Grace killed herself two days back due to severe depression. Her suicide note did mention something about local train and finding her late husband there.

————————————————————

P.S.  For non-Indian Readers – Aks means reflection

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Taunts

Posted on: July 12, 2011

“Did you read this today?” asked Rahil, “Men need to cuddle and women need sex to be happy in a relationship.” He was referring to the latest research outcome reported in the newspaper. “Really, hun?” he smirked at his wife, Sati. Sati’s face crumbled with embarrassment.

She was timid and more docile when it came to the physical intimacy with her husband, even a year after their marriage. But his regular taunts were getting on her nerves. It wasn’t that she was not interested or was frigid by any mean. She had a healthy libido but somehow Rahil could not just arouse her. She could not help it!

But enough was enough… she looked at her husband and smiled like never before. Rahil could sense the difference and was taken aback. Something was changed in Sati suddenly. Sensuality oozed from Sati, her kohled black eyes, her big red kumkum bindi, her long loose hair, her sari draped lithe body… everything seemed different. This was not Sati he was used to. He was a bit scared at the transformation. Sati moved towards Rahil with a grace of a tigress. She came and sat on Rahil’s lap and started muttering sweet nothings in his ears. Rahil could hear blood pounding in his own ears. He sat there dumb struck. Sati went about the task at hand. What ensued was beyond Rahil’s wildest imagination. He was taken to heaven and back and then back to heaven again. Sati did not wait for Rahil to take her anywhere, she took Rahil with her. The journey started tentatively and became more adventurous as they went ahead. Sati looked at her exhausted husband and his shocked, idiotic smile. He did not know what hit him but he was not complaining at all. Sati gathered her clothes, went to wash room and smiled; a satisfied, triumphant smile; at her own reflection. She could see Rahil, spent and sprawled on their bed. She half turned and smirked at the sorry figure he cut.

She looked at her reflection in the mirror again, redone her smudged kumkum bindi and murmured “Sorry Jay, but I could not take the taunts any longer. Hope you understand.” With that she was gone to her daily chores and called out to her husband to come and finish his breakfast.

What was she expecting from him?

What was she expecting from herself?

Why this heartache when she knew this relationship cannot work out?

She was not a sixteen year old who believed in fairytale love stories. She was a mature woman who had seen world. She had always lived her life at her own terms. She was a successful business woman who had recently been featured on Times front page for achieving “Young Entrepreneur Award”. People were envious of her and called her “Ice Princess” on her back but at the same time admired her guts too. She had chosen to be alone in life and had vowed never to marry. It was not that she had never experienced love, but that one failed relationship had taught her never to completely give herself to anyone. She was cautious even among friends.

So what made her long for Kshitij? How things changed between them?

She sat at her french window looking at the gloomy sky. Even natural elements were feeling as sad as her, she felt! She knew Kshitij since more than a decade now. They were never best friends, or so to say, but quite close. They had stood by each other in the testing times they faced in their lives. Even though they did not reside in the same city for many years now, their bond was intact, just a bit rusted.

Then came the news of Kshitij shifting his business base to his motherland last year, coming nearer to her. Though they kept busy with their respective lives, they made sure to keep in touch. Technology had made communication easier. Or complicated?!

She never realized when she started expecting his calls every day or when she started getting upset when he did not sms her good night. He would be the first person she would want to share the good news with. Oh hell, any news for that matter! She felt miserable the whole day, when she did not hear his cheerful good morning. She started getting more demanding on his time and never realized when she clung to him so tightly that made Kshitij suffocated. There were never any exchanges of lovey dovey promises. But the tell-tale signs were there for anyone to notice.

Probably even Kshitij noticed the change in the “Ice Princess”. He saw his friend turning into something else. He was not sure whether he liked that change, though.

She knew she cannot have him for herself even if she wanted. He was married and had two lovely daughters. For all practical purposes he was off-limits. She was not kind of a person who would wreck havoc in anyone’s life, least of all Kshitij’s. Plus, she was not sure what he thought about her. He was always friendly with her, teasing her, bantering with her, sparring with her. He would change subject when he saw that soft look in her eyes, but will not stop talking to her or cutting her off.

Was he too in love with her? Was he feeling guilty of having a wife and hence was not opening up to her? Or was it just that he was too much of a man to insult his friend and cut her off completely but at the same time will not go ahead with anything shameful.

She was so lost in her thoughts that she did not realize someone standing behind her. Kshitij felt a knife twisting in his chest when he saw his strong, iron-willed friend sitting like a lost child at the window. He knew what was she going through, but he also knew she would come around, especially when he was not there anymore. She was made of tough material. He would miss her strong will, her unbending support, her rock-solid backing, but he knew he had to take this decision, for them.

He squeezed her hand. Her eyes lit up the moment she saw him but could sense something was seriously wrong. Her eyes searched his for some clue.

With a lot of efforts he said, “Bye, Roshni!”

At that moment she knew they were never going to meet again as Kshitij never said “bye”, for him it was always “bye for now”.

Roshni looked in his eyes one last time as she asked, “can I hug you just once before you go?”

He took her in his arms and they stood there for some time. Roshni was lost in him when he gently took her arms off him, patted her cheeks and said, “Take Care”. With that he was gone, and with him gone was Roshni’s heart. She stood there with tears flowing uncontrollably.

In a few weeks time ‘Ice Princess” was back with a bang, never to melt again.

Storm

Posted on: January 30, 2011

It was as if a volcano had erupted and she was burnt alive. The scars were not visible but they were there and quite deep. She was so shaken that not a single tear was shed.

There was not a single place in this house where her mother had not left her fragrance. Zeenat remembered her soft hugs and her vibrant smile, her constant chatter and love-filled anger. Zeenat knew and so did everyone else that Zeenat was her mother’s universe. As Zeenat grew up she became more of a friend to her mother than a daughter. Lately Zeenat had started teasing her mother about the glow on her face and twinkle in her eyes. She would blush like a young maiden and then they would both giggle.

How she missed her mother!

Suddenly Zeenat felt extremely lonely. Now that the relatives had also gone, the house seemed like a haunted place. It was only her dad and her. Zeenat was never felt close to her father and now that the bond that tied them together was gone, she felt even more alienated. Zeenat felt a pressing need to be with her mother. With trembling hands Zeenat opened the box in which she kept all the cards and little gifts her mother had ever given her. She spread them all on her bed and hugged them as if she was hugging her mother. Zeenat opened them one by one and revisited each event with the most precious person of her life.

While going through her treasure Zeenat came across a sealed envelop with no name on it. Not only was she surprised but a little scared too! She opened the envelop with trembling hands and thumping heart. She was not wrong; the letter was indeed from her mother!

“My Dearest Bunny,

I know you will find this letter sooner than later.

I want you to know that I love you very much. You are my daughter, my friend and my confidante. Since you came in my life, this life felt like worth living. You filled colours and laughter in my mundane existence. You gave me reason to look forward to evenings when you would be back from your classes. When your friends came over our place and complimented our friendship, how proud I felt! That time was very nice and I felt blessed.

Then one day he came in my life and life looked even better to me. He was everything your father was not. In his presence I felt alive, I felt myself. Do you remember, you said one day that I sang well? Baby, I always sung well but I had forgotten that I could. He made me realize what all I had lost in all those years being wife to a person who did not even acknowledge my existence. If it would not have been for you I would not even have lived this long. I know that what I did would never be acceptable in our society. But it felt just right.

Everything felt just right and suddenly one day you saw us together when you came home unexpectedly. I know you saw us together. You went away and did not even ask me anything. You tried your level best not to show it on your face, but I did see confusion and hurt there. I wanted to talk to you but did not have courage to look into your eyes, did not know what to say.

I think I will never be able to look into your eyes. I don’t know if it feels such a right thing when I am with him, why I feel so miserable when I think of facing you. I do not have answers but I am sure that I will never be able to face you. At the same time, now I can not imagine my life without him. I can not choose between the two of you. So, to end this misery I will have to go.

Please forgive me.

Ma

P.S. I love you very much.

Zeenat kept staring at the paper in her hand. Slowly tears started trickling down her cheeks and turned into a storm. She felt as if her heart was being crushed. She crumpled the letter and hugged it tight as if her life depended on it.

“Ma, if only you knew how happy I was for you!”

Mridula opened her eyes and saw his smiling face. She took a dyspnoeic breath and smiled contentedly. At last he had come.

She closed her eyes again and went back to the day he had entered her life. She remembered his first touch all too well. She was ecstatic every time he smiled at her. How she loved it when he came running to her and hugged her as if there was no tomorrow. Her world revolved around him. His choices became her choices; starting from his favourite food to the colours to the TV shows… everything! Even her clothes were decided by his choice.

But slowly and inevitably things started changing. Other people started getting more attention than her. She felt sidelined but smiled and tried to understand. She assured herself that it is just a phase and he will come back to her as he used to do earlier. Of course, he hugged her and kissed her before leaving home every morning but she missed his undivided attention. They no longer sat together and talked about his day or watched movies together with a bag full of popcorns. He did not have time to tell her each and every detail of his life any more. Most of his time at home was spent either on phone or on the computer. She tried learning computer for him too, but he laughed at her. The laugh was not a mockery, she told herself.

As if this was not enough, she sensed other girls in his life too. She tried to enquire about them nonchalantly but he would say they were just friends and she should not be paranoid about it. But she kept a check for any tell-tale signs. She found none. She increasingly felt insecure. More she tried to hold him, farther he went.

She remembered the last fight they had before he left home for good. She had found some gift in his drawer. She kept looking at it and as the time passed she became increasingly agitated. By the end of the day, when he came home she was livid with rage. She started shouting and calling him names. He was stumped, could not understand her reaction or the things she was saying. He tried to make her understand, tried to calm her, but she would not listen. She did not know when she started abusing him. She could see the shocked expression on his face and later the tears too. But she was unable to control herself. She just went on and on. He tried to hold her tight, a hug she was longing for so long. But this time it did nothing to calm her. In her heart she knew, what she was doing, what she was feeling was entirely wrong. And yet, she was unable to control herself. She did not know for how long she went on but somewhere she heard him say that he was sick of her insecurities and sick of her hold over him. He said he needed space. And then she heard a thud, he had closed the door after him.

He was gone, forever.

That was the last time she saw or heard of him. He never called her or reached out to her. She did not know how and where to look for him.

Today, after about ten years, at her death bed he had come back. At last, her son had come to take care of her. At last he will be all hers! With these thoughts, she opened her eyes again, smiled at him once more with all the love she had for him and her soul gently left her body.

What she did not know and would never know was that he was always around her. He stood by her with all his love and care. He diligently visited her in this asylum every single day. It was just that she could not recognize him.

It was a miracle that she could feel his presence and see him for last one time!

You  can find part I, Part II and Part III here.

*****

“WHAT?” HoD and the Dean almost shouted in unison. “What do you mean he is harassing you?” demanded the Dean.

“Whatever I have to say, I will say in front of my uncle!” Khyati said adamantly.

A look of worry passed between the two faculties. They were having a fair idea what would become of Dr. Artha’s career as well as his personal life if what Khyati was saying comes into full public view. There were some nagging doubts about the way Khyati was taking the matter further. She seemed to be enjoying the whole situation. Also Dr. Artha’s conduct till date has been pristine. Something was not right but they did not have a choice but to go ahead with the inquiry though both were trying not to make this official. They refrained from suggesting Khyati to put her grievance on paper.

“Fine. We will talk about this on Wednesday as I am out of town for two days after the weekend. But till then ask your uncle to leave Dr. Artha alone.” said the Dean after much deliberation.

“Yes sir.” With that Khyati exited herself. It was obvious that her “yes sir” did not really mean “yes”.

Once she was gone, the Dean and HoD sat there in silence, both trying to gather their thoughts.

“Ask your female students in your department about Dr. Artha’s behaviour. See if we have missed anything. We will meet again on Wednesday. Hope this whole episode does not turn into something of a disaster.” With that he dismissed HoD.

On her return to the department she summoned the resident doctors. As it turned out, none of the doctors, male or female, had anything ill to say about Dr. Artha. But all of them had been threatened by Khyati’s men to keep their mouth shut or face the music. They were almost in tears. They were now not only scared for Artha but also for their own lives. But  now HoD was sure  that Khyati’s allegation was not true or was it? Could Artha have misbehaved with the girl? Was it possible for so many people to be wrong about a person? She did not have any answers; not at least now.

***

After he convinced the bullies about Artha’s disappearance and his ignorance about his whereabouts, Kunal contacted other friends; they deported Shobha’s parents stealthily. Suddenly their lives were on a giant roller coaster ride. It turned out that all of them had been threatened to face the “consequences” if they stood by Artha. They just wished this nightmare was over and they return to their normal lives.

***

Artha called HoD on Sunday, two days after his sudden exit. He told her about his whereabouts and wanted to get some assurance about the whole scenario. HoD told him to stay put wherever he was and asked him to keep in touch with her and no one else. Also since she feared that her landline was being taped she asked him to call only from PCO. She wished him luck and asked him to call again onon Wednesday evening.

***

All of Artha’s friends were on tenterhooks for the next couple of days. The feeling of dread was palpable in their every action. The mood was subdued in the department. Other medical faculty members too were feeling sorry for their favourite resident doctor. But the PhD doctors were smug at Artha’s predicament. Though never openly, these PhD doctors were always at loggerheads with medical doctors and were now having some sadistic pleasure at one of their students getting back at a medical student. They knew Khyati was wrong, but what the heck!

Wednesday, at 10 in the morning the Dean’s office was jammed pack with faculty members, Artha’s friends and colleagues, Khyati and her uncle.

“Khyati, I hope you know what your complaint can do to Dr. Artha’s career and life.” started the Dean solemnly. Khyati and her uncle smiled wickedly as if saying, “That is exactly what we want!”

“Now girl, tell me again what problem you have with Dr. Artha.”

“Didn’t you hear her properly last time when she said that she was harrased?” interjected “uncle” heatedly.

“Sir, this is my office and I am talking to MY student. Please let us take this further. I want to know how exactly “harassed” she is!” the Dean replied with an edge to his voice. “Uncle” was taken aback with this sudden change in the Dean’s attitude.

“Now, Khyati, tell me what is your complaint and how exactly were you harassed by Dr. Artha?” the Dean seemed to be losing his patience.

“He harassed me mentally.” Khyati was taken aback too by the subtle anger in the Dean’s voice.

“Elaborate!”

“He…he… scolded me in front of the whole department…”

“Why?”

Khyati looked down.

 “WHY?” When she did not answer the Dean shouted “What had you done for which your senior had to scold you, as you put it!”

“Speak up lady! We don’t have the whole day and your complaints can jeopardize some doctor’s life.”

“I had not completed the task assigned to me.”

“You are telling us that because you did not do the work you were assigned, your senior reprimanded you AND you consider that to be harassment?” There was mockery in his question.

Khyati was feeling humiliated in front of the whole gathering. She was trying hard to substantiate her claim but it was getting increasingly difficult. Her uncle tried to intervene but was silenced by the Dean’s stern look. Khyati tried again.

“He talks to the female doctors and colleagues and jokes with them.”

There was a collective gasp from the audience. Were they hearing right? She had a problem because Artha talked and joked with female of the species! Immediately Khyati realized her mistake and she changed her statement again.

“I mean he back slaps them and tease them and…” her voice trailed of.

“So what is your problem? That he does that to other girls or that he doesn’t do that to you?” the Dean was having trouble putting the lid on his anger.

“Yes girls, what do you have to say to this?” the question was directed towards the ladies gathered in his office. They looked down. They were threatened to keep quite. They were worried about their own careers and lives. The Dean frowned and so did HoD.

“What? Are you girls trying to tell me that Artha, indeed, misbehaved with you too?” There was a ring of disbelief in his voice.

“No sir, he is the nicest person we have in our department. He has not done anything to me or any of us. The others are not speaking up because we have been threatened to keep quite. But I can’t keep mum. He is the best senior, the best doctor and the best person…” the girl’s voiced trailed off and her eyes brimmed with tears. She looked around her and quietly urged others to speak up.

Slowly others too chipped in. And collectively they all threw Khyati’s allegations out of the window. The smile spread over the Dean’s face. Khyati was fuming. She looked at her uncle. He was baffled at Khyati’s allegations. He had not bothered to verify them, never thought that Khyati was out to get back at a doctor without his fault. But he kept his thoughts to himself.

Others were asked to go back to their respective departments. Now only the Dean, HoD, Khyati and “uncle” were seated.

“Now, tell me sir, what you think. The boy is not at fault. You just witnessed it. He is running for his life. Ask you men not to harm him.”

“I want his unconditional aplology.” fumed Khyati.

“For what? He hasn’t done anything!” reasoned HoD.

“I don’t care. He apologizes or I will see to it that his medical registration gets cancelled. You know once it is done, he is doomed.” said Khyati adamantly. She looked at her uncle for support; he mumbled something, still lost at the turns of the event.

“Nothing doing, I won’t permit anything of the sort.” The Dean was bewildered. Khyati smirked, mocking the very authority of the head of the institute, knowing her power too well.

The Dean saw that Khyati was hell bent on destroying Dr. Artha for some unfathomable reason. She had goofed up this time and could not come up with any reasonable charge. But she might be more vicious next time. He also knew her political connections. However unreasonable it may sound, it was better for Artha to apologize, albeit verbally, and be done with. The chapter will be closed.

“Okay, I will ask him to apologize. We will meet here tomorrow. Is that okay with you, sir?” The last question was directed towards Khyati’s uncle. He nodded his head but the earlier aggression was missing.

“Artha is going to call me tonight. Do you think it will be safe for him to come back?” HoD asked the Dean with concern once they were alone.

“I think even the “uncle” was taken aback by Khyati’s unfounded allegations. I don’t think he will back her in anything else now. Plus, we have assured her that Artha will apologize to her. Her ego is balmed. I don’t think there is any harm in asking Artha to return.” The Dean sighed heavily.

The next day Shobha and Artha entered the Dean’s office with HoD. Khyati and her, now subdued, uncle were already seated..

The Dean escorted Shobha out, looked at her kindly, as if he did not want her to witness her husband’s humiliation. Shobha’s eyes filled with tears for her beloved. She sat outside the office, silently crying and praying to God to give strength to her husband to endure the inevitable.

Inside the Dean’s office; tears glistened in Arha’s eyes; tears of humiliation, tears of impotent anger, tears of shame…

“Say sorry!” coaxed the dean.

“But Sir, I did not do anything…” his voice trailed off, his eyes pleading.

Khyati stood there, looking at him with venom in her eyes.

He looked around, as if to find some support, someone who will tell him that it was all a joke and he was free. What he found were three solemn faces, with down cast eyes and sympathetic look.


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Sakhi's Laghukatha by Sakhi (aka Dr. Dhara Shah) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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