Creative Writing Weblog of Vikram Karve

Creative Writng, fiction, food, philosophy and my thoughts.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Banter

BANTER
(a fiction short story)
by
VIKRAM KARVE



It’s late and the bar at the Savoy 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 lighthearted 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?”

“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 lies 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. You want to hear Leena’s exact words : ‘Anil is a born loser who is content to wallow in the gutter and see others climb mountains’. That’s why she left you. She didn’t want to ruin her life with a man without a future, a namby-pamby who had 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 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 shit 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. Cuddle me. Do something naughty to me. Like you used to do to Leena.”

“Shut up. Someone will hear!”

“There is no one here.”

“There is,” Anil says, 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 calls to him, “Hey eavesdropper, 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!” the woman shouts drunkenly, tries to get up and reels towards him, and seeing her swaying, 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. It’s on me,” the stranger says.

“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!”

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

“Yes, my dear. She’s coming for the seminar too. 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 either.”

“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,” 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.”

“She’s in room 406,” the stranger says.

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

“I’m 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

vikramkarve@sify.com

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Life Process Outsourcing - a short story by Vikram Karve

Life Process Outsourcing
by
Vikram Karve

( a fiction short story )



On the morning of New Year’s Eve, while I was loafing on Main Street, 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 which 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 she disappears. It’s the shortest 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. 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 in the modern rat race. ‘Non-core Life Activities’, for which they neither have the inclination or the time – outsource them; so you can maximize your work-time to rake in the money and make a fast climb up the ladder of success.

“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 says.

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

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

“Sorry ma’am. I didn’t know. My 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.

An 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 Life Process Outsourcing!





Life Process Outsourcing (LPO)
A fiction short story
by
VIKRAM KARVE

vikramkarve@sify.com

Monday, April 17, 2006

Life Process Outsourcing - a short story by Vikram Karve

Life Process Outsourcing
by
Vikram Karve

( a fiction short story )



On the morning of New Year’s Eve, while I was loafing on Main Street, 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 which 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 she disappears. It’s the shortest 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. 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 in the modern rat race. ‘Non-core Life Activities’, for which they neither have the inclination or the time – outsource them; so you can maximize your work-time to rake in the money and make a fast climb up the ladder of success.

“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 says.

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

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

“Sorry ma’am. I didn’t know. My 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.

An 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 Life Process Outsourcing!





Life Process Outsourcing (LPO)
A fiction short story
by
VIKRAM KARVE

vikramkarve@sify.com

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Monkey Trap

THE MONKEY TRAP
BY
VIKRAM KARVE

“And what are we doing tomorrow?” I asked my uncle.
“Let’s catch some monkeys,” he said.
“Monkeys?” I asked excitedly.
“Yes,” my uncle said and smiled,” And if you catch one you can take him home as a pet.”

“A monkey! As a pet?” I asked in astonishment.
“Why not?” my uncle said. “The monkeys here are quite small and very cute. And once you train them, they become very friendly and obedient. An ideal pet.”

And so, next morning, at the crack of dawn we sailed off from Haddo wharf in Port Blair in a large motorboat. Soon we were crossing the Duncan Passage, moving due south; the densely forested Little Andaman island to our right, the sea calm like a mirror. I began to feel sea-sick, so I stood on the foc’sle deck, right at the front end of the boat, enjoying the refreshing sea-spray, occasionally tasting my salty lips.

I looked in admiration, almost in awe, at uncle who stood rock-steady on the bridge, truly a majestic figure. He signaled to me and I rushed up to the bridge.

“Vijay, it’s time to prepare the monkey traps,” he said.
“Monkey-Traps ?” I asked confused.
“Tito will show you,” he said. “You must learn to make them yourself.”

Tito, my uncle’s odd-job-man, was sitting on the deck, seaman’s knife in hand, amidst a heap of green coconuts. He punctured a coconut, put it to his lips and drank its water, then began scooping out a small hollow. I took out my seaman’s knife and joined in enthusiastically. The coconut water tasted sweet.

“Keep the hole small,” my uncle shouted over my shoulder, “and hollow the coconut well.”

“But how will we catch monkeys with this?” I asked.
“You will see in the evening,” he said. “Now get on with the job.”
We reached a densely forested island at five in the evening. It was almost dark. The sun sets early in these eastern longitudes. And soon we set up our monkey-traps. Each hollowed-out coconut was filled with a mixture of boiled rice and sweet jaggery (gur) through the small hole. Then the coconut was chained to a stake which was driven firmly into the ground. Then we hid in the bushes in pin-drop silence, waiting in anticipation.

Suddenly there was rattling sound. My uncle switched on his torch. A monkey was struggling, one hand trapped inside the coconut. In an instant, Tito had thrown a gunny-bag over the monkey and within minutes we had the monkey nicely secured inside.

By the time we lit the campfire on the cool soft sands of the beach, we had captured three monkeys.

My uncle put his arm around my shoulder and, “Vijay, you know why the monkey gets trapped?”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because of its greed.”

He picked up a hollowed-out coconut and said, “Look at this hole. It is just big enough so that the monkey’s hand can go in, but too small for full fist filled with rice to come out. Because his greed won’t allow him to let go of the rice and take out his hand, the monkey remains trapped, a victim of his own greed, until he is captured; forever a captive of his greed.”

“The monkey cannot see that freedom without rice is more valuable that capture with it.”

My uncle looked at Tito and commanded, “Free the monkeys.” And, one by one, the monkeys jumped out of their gunny bags and started running, with one hand still stuck in a coconut. It was a really funny sight.

“There is a lesson for us to learn from this,” my uncle said. “That’s why I brought you here to show you all this.”

I looked at my uncle. Ranjit Singh. A magnificent man. Over six feet tall. Well-built. Standing erect in his khaki uniform, stroking his handsome beard with his left hand, his right hand gripping a swagger-stick which he gently tapped on his thigh. As he surveyed the scenic surroundings - the moonlight sea, the swaying Causarina trees, the silver sands of the beach in between - he looked majestic, like a king cherishing his domain. Indeed he was like a king here. For he was the Chief Forest Officer, in-charge of the entire islands.

Uncle Ranjit was an exception in our family—the odd-man out. My father always said that he was the most intelligent of all brothers. But whereas all of them were busy earning money in Mumbai and Delhi, uncle Ranjit had chosen to be different. To everybody’s surprise, uncle Ranjit had joined the Forest Service when he could have easily become an Engineer, Doctor, CA or even a top business executive. For he had always topped all examinations - first class first in merit, whether it be the school or the university.

“So, Vijay. You like it here?” he asked.
“It’s lovely, uncle,” I answered. “And thank you so much for the lovely holiday, spending so much time with me. In Mumbai no one has any time for me. I feel so lonely.”

“Why?” he asked, with curiosity.

“Mummy and Daddy both come home late from office. Then there are parties, business dinners, tours. And on Sundays they sleep, exhausted. Unless there is a business-meeting in the club or golf with the boss.”

Uncle Ranjit laughed, “The Monkey Trap! They are all caught in monkey traps of their own making. Slaves of their greed. Trapped by their desires. Caught in the rat race. Wallowing in their golden cages, rattling their jewellery, their golden chains.”


As I thought over Ranjit uncle’s words I realized how right he was. Most of the people I knew in Mumbai were just like that. Trapped by their greed. Chasing rainbows. In search of an elusive happiness. Planning for a happiness in the future which may never be fulfilled instead of enjoying the present.

“Happiness is liking what you do as well as doing what you like,” uncle Ranjit said, as if he were reading my thoughts. “Happiness is not a station which never arrives, but the manner in which you travel in life.” He paused, and asked me, “Tell me Vijay, what do you want to do in life?”

“I don’t know.”
“Come on, Vijay. You are fifteen now. By next year you have to decide. Tell me what are your plans?”

“It depends on my percentage,” I said truthfully.
“I am sure you will get more than ninety percent marks in your board exams,” he said. “Assume you top the exams. Secure a place in the merit list. Then what will you do?”

“I’ll go in for Engineering. Computers, IT.”
“Computers, IT! Why?” uncle Ranjit asked. “Why not Arts, Literature? Something creative? Something you would enjoy doing.”
“Job prospects,” I answered.
“Oh!” he said. “And then?”
“Management. An MBA from a top business school. Or I may even go abroad for higher studies.”
“Why?”
“Qualifications.”
“And why do you want so many qualifications?”
“To get the best job,” I answered.
“And earn a lot of money,” uncle Ranjit prompted.
“Of course,” I said. “So that I can enjoy life.”
Uncle Ranjit laughed, “My dear Vijay. Aren’t you enjoying life right now. At this very moment. What about me? Am I am not enjoying life?”

He smiled and asked, “ Vijay, you know what Maxim Gorky once said :

‘When work is a pleasure, life is a joy.
When work is a duty, life is slavery.’ ”

“Slavery!” I exclaimed, understanding the message he was trying to give me.

“Slavery to one’s elusive desires, one’s greed. Just like the monkey trap.”

“The Monkey Trap!” we both said in unison, in chorus.

And so, I decided to do what I really wanted to. To achieve true inner freedom and contentment..

And guess what I am today?

Well, I am a teacher. I teach philosophy. And let me tell you that I truly enjoy every moment of it. It’s a life of sheer joy and delight - being with my students, earning their respect and adulation, nurturing my innate quest for knowledge and feeling a sense of achievement that I am contributing my bit to society.

I shall never forget uncle Ranjit and that crucial visit to the forests of the Andamans, the turning point, or indeed the defining moment, of my life.

Dear Readers (especially my young friends on the verge choosing a career path); whenever you reach the crossroads of your life, remember the ‘Monkey-Trap’.



VIKRAM KARVE

vikramkarve@sify.com

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Tension

TENSION
by
VIKRAM KARVE



As the sun begins to set, the tension begins to rise. In the Patwardhan household.

Why?

Because it’s time for Mr. Patwardhan to come home from work.

Funny! Isn’t it? The family should be happy when the breadwinner returns home from work. They should be eagerly awaiting his arrival.

You are right. That was how it used to be earlier. But now it’s different. Every evening is hell, a torturous ordeal, for the wife, daughter and son; as they anxiously wait for Mr. Patwardhan to come home.

Why? What happened?

It’s sad. Every evening, after work, Mr. Patwardhan goes straight to a bar, and comes home drunk. The way he is drinking now-a-days, it won’t be long before he becomes an alcoholic.

Come, let’s go and see what happens tonight.

Where?

To the chawl tenement in Girgaum where Patwardhan lives.

Look how it is built. Four storeys. Common balcony with a row of ten one-room households on each floor. The balconies afford a good view of the entrance and the main road, so everyone stands there in the evening enjoying the happenings, the comings and goings – that’s the main source of entertainment here. And when it gets dark, they all go in and watch the soaps on cable TV.

And now-a-days, the arrival of the sozzled Mr. Patwardhan, his drunken antics, are the highlight, the event of the evening, eagerly awaited by all, except the Patwardhan family who wait in frightful trepidation, wishing it would be over fast.

Look.

Where?

The second floor balcony. Do you see two ladies in the center?

Yes.

The one on the left, in the red sari – she’s Mrs. Patwardhan.

And the other?

Mrs. Joshi. Patwardhan’s neighbour. She’s lucky. Her husband is doing well. Sober, successful. Her children are bright. They may even move out of this place to a flat in Dombivli or the western suburbs of Mumbai if all goes well.

Let’s go and see what they are talking.

“Where are your kids? I can’t see them playing below,” asks Mrs. Joshi.

“Avinash is inside, studying. He’s become such an introvert. The boys jeer at him, taunt him, because of his father; so he’s stopped playing with them.”

“It’s cruel!”

“Yes. He’s become so silent. And his eyes! I’m scared of the hate in his eyes.”

“It’ll be okay. Just give him time. At least he’s doing well in his studies.”

“Yes. But I’m more worried about Radhika. She’s just 14, and behaves as if she were 18, or even 20. Poor thing. From a child, she has straight away become a mature woman, because of all this. It’s so sad; she must be suffering terribly inside,” Mrs. Patwardhan says as tears well up in her eyes.

“Don’t cry,” Mrs. Joshi says, “everything will be all right.”

Suddenly, there is a commotion. Mr. Patwardhan has arrived. Totally drunk. Swinging from side to side, so unsteady on his feet that he is barely able to walk. He stumbles on first step of the staircase and falls. His daughter, Radhika, appears from nowhere and tries to lift him. Mrs. Patwardhan rushes down the staircase. Soon, both mother and daughter haul him up the staircase.

Mrs. Joshi stands transfixed, not knowing what to do. Her husband comes out of the house, looks at the scene, mutters: “disgraceful” and takes Mrs. Joshi inside. Words cannot describe the emotion of shame, humiliation, helplessness and anger Mrs. Patwardhan experiences at that moment.

A few hours later, Mrs. Patwardhan sleeps like a log; her tension dissipated. The day is over. Tomorrow is a new day. She’ll be up in the morning, busy with her chores and work, and everything will be okay. It’s only in the evening, when the sun begins to set, that the tension will begin to rise within her once again.

Next door, Mrs. Joshi pretends she is fast asleep. Though her eyes are closed, in her mind’s eye she can clearly visualize her husband’s surreptitiously silent movements as he ‘makes sure’ everyone is asleep, stealthily closes the door and sneaks out of the house in a furtive manner.

And as she lies on her barren bed in self-commiseration, feeling betrayed and overcome by a sense of helplessness, and deeply suffers her terrible sorrow in secret silence, there is just one thought in her mind : “ It is better to be the wife of a drunkard than be a wife of a womanizer ”.

Mrs. Joshi thinks of Mrs. Patwardhan with envious sympathy. She has nothing to hide and can share her stigma with everyone. But poor Mrs. Joshi – she has to bear her grief all alone. And then, as the night advances, the tension begins to rise within her. And it will never dissipate; just keep on increasing till one day everything snaps.

I think I agree with Mrs. Joshi. The public shame Mrs. Patwardhan suffers is bad enough, many make fun of her, humiliate her, but some do sympathize with her.

It is Mrs. Joshi who I really pity, as she suffers her private ignominy in secret; dying a hundred deaths inside, while keeping up a façade, a pretense, that everything is fine on the outside.


Dear Reader. Do you agree? What do you think? Do let me know.



VIKRAM KARVE

vikramkarve@sify.com

Monday, April 03, 2006

Confluence

CONFLUENCE
by
VIKRAM KARVE


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

Nothing much has changed here since the last time I came here on my way to Ooty. Almost 30 years ago. The place, the things, the people – everything looks the same. As if frozen in time.

But for me there is a world of difference. Then I was a young bride, full of inchoate zest, in the company of my handsome husband, eagerly looking forward to the romantic journey on the mountain train, on my way to our honeymoon at Ooty.

And now! The same place which then felt so exciting now feels so gloomy. Strange. But true. What’s outside just doesn’t matter; what’s inside does. I try not to reminisce. Remembering good times when I am in misery causes me unimaginable agony.

I look at my watch. 7.30 A.M. The small blue toy train pushed by its hissing steam engine comes on the platform. Dot on time. As it was then. The same December morning. The same chill in the air. Then I had the warmth of my husband’s arm around me. Now I feel the bitter cold penetrating within me.

I drag my feet across the platform towards the mountain train. Scared, anxious, fear in my stomach, I experience a strange uneasiness, a sense of foreboding, a feeling of ominous helplessness - wondering what my new life would have in store for me.

I sit alone in the First Class compartment right in front of the train. Waiting for the train to start. And take me to the point to no return. Wishing that all this is just a dream. But knowing it is not.

And suddenly, Avinash enters. We stare at each other in disbelief. Time stands still. Till Avinash speaks, “Roopa! What are you doing here?”

I do not answer. Because I cannot. For I am swept by a wave of melancholic despair. My vocal cords numbed by emotional pain. And as I look helplessly at Avinash, I realize that there is no greater pain than to remember happier times when in distress.

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

In the vulnerable emotional state that I am in, I know that I will have a breakdown if I continue sitting with Avinash. I want to get out, run away; but suddenly, the train moves. I am trapped. So I decide to put on a brave front, and say to Avinash, “Coming from Chennai?”

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

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

“I stay near Kotagiri,” Avinash says.

“Kotagiri?” I ask relieved.

“Yes, I own a tea-estate there.”
“A tea estate?”

“Yes. I am a planter.”

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

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

“I didn’t marry,” he says curtly. “There’s no family; only me. All by myself.”

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

“Strange you should be asking me that!” he says.

“Oh my God! Because of me?”

Avinash changes the subject, “I’ll be getting off at Coonoor. My jeep will pick me up.” He pauses, then says, “And you, Roopa? Going to Ooty? At the height of winter! To freeze there!”

“No,” I say, “ I’m going to Ketti.”

“Ketti ?” he asks with derisive surprise.

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

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

I say nothing. I can’t. I suffer his words in silence.

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

The cat is out of the bag. I cannot describe the sense of humiliation I feel sitting there with Avinash. The tables seem to have turned. Or have they?

There are only the two of us in the tiny compartment. As the train begins to climb up the hills it began to get windy and Avinash closes the windows. The smallness of the compartment forces us into a strange sort of intimacy. I remember the lovely moments with Avinash. A woman’s first love always has an enduring place in her heart.

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

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

I tell him everything. The story of my life. How I had struggled, sacrificed, taken every care. But still, everything had gone wrong. Widowed at 28. Abandoned by my only son at 52. Banished to an old-age home. So that ‘they’ could sell off our house and emigrate to Australia. ‘They’ - my son and that scheming wife of his.

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

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

Avinash takes me in his comforting arms and I experience the same feeling, the same zest, I felt thirty years ago, on my first romantic journey, on this same mountain toy train, on my way to my first honeymoon.



VIKRAM KARVE

vikramkarve@sify.com