Elixir: a magic potion. Madzelixir: magic touched with madness.

Dog Day Afternoon

posted Aug 8, 2014, 12:19 AM by Madhuri Sen

Lucas hurried down the road, head bent like his nose would scrape the ground. He was looking for that bottle he’d spotted on the road last evening when walking by. It would have been a nice addition to his bottle collection.  Darned bad luck that at the time that he’d spotted it, his patron had been in a hurry. Duty first. So he had hurried after him, keeping his eyes skinned on the road for any potential threat to the patron.  His patron was a good man; if one did his duty well. Lucas felt satisfied with life, doing his job, the best he could. A round-the-clock job wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it came with its perks. He could actually relax totally when his patron was indoors, as long as he stayed close to his post at the door and the food was wonderful. The patron believed you are what you eat and personally made sure that the “quality” of his security was not threatened. Lucas’ colleague Rudolph was new and still learning the ropes. The patron didn’t ever quite say so; but it was an unspoken expectation that Lucas would take the younger member under his wing. He felt proud of his new responsibilities.

There was a bit of green sticking out there – was that the bottle? He went in for a closer inspection. No – that was just a shiny piece of plastic. He was quickly losing heart. Maybe an overzealous rag picker had spotted it in the corner as well and added it to their collection.  He stood there pondering, trying to make up his mind to continue the search or just give up – there would be other bottles. He thought about the rows of them in the house, his collection over the last 5 years. He imagined exactly where he would have fitted that one and felt a twinge of dejection.  He knew he was a tad high strung about seemingly nonsensical stuff – but that quality served him well in his job. He was suspicious of everyone and everything and would first act and then think. He hadn’t been retained to think – only watch and protect the patron. The patron could do the thinking and stop him if he liked, as he wanted.

His attention suddenly turned to a loud crash from somewhere across the road. His first assumption was a speeding car may have run into another or maybe the divider. Instead as he swiftly turned around, he saw that one of the ramshackle shanties that the road repair workers put together had collapsed. Had anyone been in there, he wondered?  A crowd was quickly gathering. He crossed the road to get a closer look and poked his head in between two of the onlookers.

What he saw was puzzling. There seemed to be a man stuck under one of the asbestos sheets and he was trying to beat away whoever tried to get close or pull him out. He made shooing gestures and yelled repeatedly, “Arre jao na. Tamasha hai kya! Main theek hoon.” (“Go away! Is this a circus? I am fine.”) How he would be fine was anyone’s guess. The asbestos was squarely on his back and another couple had collapsed on top of those in a zigzag pattern. The crowd was not to be deterred however. They kept pulling at him by hooking their hands under his both his armpits. As he budged the first inch, another voice, a woman’s this time, yelled in muffled tones, “@#$%%*.” He responded in kind, “*&^%$@#. Ab mai aur kya karoon. Yeh sun nahi rahe. Tu aur andar sarak ja.”  (What am I to do, they won’t listen to me. You move in further) She responded, “%&^&^@%*”. 

A lady in the crowd moved forward, “There seems to be a woman in there as well. But why won’t they let us help them.” The police had arrived there by then. He bent down over the man as asked him it was hurting if they tried to pull him out. The man stuck gestured to the police constable closer and whispered in his ear. Having heard him out, the policeman’s stern, annoyed face suddenly eased into a mild expression of amusement. After a second’s pause, he started yelling at the crowd to move away; that they would need to get equipment to haul the collapsed asbestos off before the couple stuck beneath could be moved. He got busy on his walkie to summon help. Much of the entertainment value dissipated, the crowd started to disperse.

Lucas moved on as well; his focus back on the bottle. He crossed several other patrons with their bodyguards as he proceeded to the end of the long stretch of the straight road. There were quick gestures between them, signaling all was well ahead.  However, no one would actually stop or exchange a word;  not while they were on duty. As the road ended, Lucas sat down disappointed on the side of the road for a minute and then turned around to proceed back. As he passed the point at which the recent incident occurred, he saw the man and there was a woman next to him; both huddled on their haunches with seemingly just tattered bedsheets wrapped around each of them. The asbestos sheets seemed to have been pulled away into the corner.

He wished he could comment aloud to his patron. But then they belonged to different worlds. Communication was always a challenge and he wasn’t sure if anything he had to say about the matter would be welcome. So he stayed silent.  He couldn’t decipher the patron’s thoughts either. The sun was setting into a grey and black streaked sky of varying shades. It was a lovely time of day. But it was time to get home.

As he started to get back to his post at the door, his patron who had preceded him inside called out to him, “Lucas you may be thirsty. Come get a drink, boy.” He smiled inwardly at the caring that always seemed to lurking barely beneath his patron’s stern façade. With a happy swish of his tail, he went to his bowl to lap up the iced water poured in!

What Vanita did next...

posted Aug 8, 2014, 12:15 AM by Madhuri Sen

Amit noticed the wedding card in the stack of mail that he was going through. Simple, elegant, muted card solemnly declaring ‘Gaurav weds Amrita’ with the customary mark of ‘om’ on top. He quickly mentally scanned through Vanita’s friends and colleagues list. Neither Gaurav nor Amrita rang a bell. The wedding was on the next Sunday. He made a mental note to ask her this evening. He had plans to hang out with the guys that Sunday and certainly didn’t want to throw that up for some stranger’s wedding. He hoped that Vanita wouldn’t insist as she usually did about anything that she decided just had to be done.


Vanita was staring at the empty pack of cigarettes as if one would materialize if she looked long and hard enough. The conversation had lapsed into an uncomfortable silence. She looked up tentatively at Gaurav and asked, “So what happens after this? Engaged last week and marrying the next. Is this the last time I’m seeing you?”


“You surprise me, Vanita! You know this is all for you; so that I don’t demand anymore time of you than you do of me. Both of us being in similar boats makes it so much easier,” retorted Gaurav. “Does it really, Gaurav? I am not so sure. This is about you and what you want. Not about me and certainly not about us.”


That evening as the family sat down to dinner, Amit casually checked, “Do I need to come for that wedding on Sunday or is it just a girl group kind of thing?” “Wedding?” “I mean Amrita’s. I saw the card this morning.” “But I don’t know an Amrita!” Amit went silent.


“Since its addressed ‘Vanita’, I’d then assume that it’s Gaurav that you know.” Vanita froze for a moment and recovered quickly. “It’s just someone I knew in college and bumped into quite recently and he mentioned he was getting married. We don’t really have to go at all.”


She abruptly got up from the dining table to get something from the kitchen.


“Mamma, can I have some ice cream now?”


“Vanita, sonu wants some ice cream. Do you hear?”


He got up to check on her when he didn’t get a response and found her sobbing, bent over the kitchen sink.


“What is it, Vanita?”


“Oh, it nothing. Just something at work that upset me.”


“I don’t believe that,” he said coldly. “Tell me what it is really.”


He paused for a few minutes and asked with steely anger in his tone, “It’s something to do with that Gaurav, isn’t it?”


“Isn’t it?”


Her ears buzzed with the familiar blow as she fell hitting her head on the sink as she fell. The kicking came next till there was nothing but pain around. Sonu stood mutely at the door crying silent tears saying “Mamma” softly at long intervals.


She lay on the floor in a painful daze till she was able to move and went straight to the room take her purse. She pulled he son by his hand half dragging him as she moved towards the door.


Amit blocked her way saying, “What the hell do you think you are doing?” There was a note of fright in his voice.


“Something I should have done years back. Get out of this house and your life.”


“But where would you go? And you don’t even have your things. It’s late in the night. And you certainly can’t go dragging Sonu around!”


“Yes I can. Though not dragging him around. I’m off to my house that I got myself a month back. Good bye.”


Amit’s grip on her arm though still tight, froze. “So you have been planning this for a while. Don’t leave me, Vanita. All I have is you. You and Sonu are the only ones I care for,” he said in a strangled voice.


Vanita yanked open the front door and started to walk out. Amit crumpled in a heap sobbing. “No Vanita. You can’t.”


“And how would you stop me? By beating me up even more until I die and your child is motherless?” she said bitterly.


“I’ve been going for anger management therapy, Vanita. I thought I had it under control. Was too embarrassed to tell you that I had been trying to get help. I promise to never beat you up again. Just don’t leave me. I love you.”


“I need my own time and space to think, Amit.  I’ll call you tomorrow.”


Vanita shook herself out of her reverie as she looked at Gaurav’s wedding card lying in a pile of old stuff that had not been discarded for over ten years. It had turned up as she was cleaning an old cupboard. She wondered what had happened to him after she had changed her phone number and her job two months into the time he got married. She went back to her cupboard cleaning. Amit would be back for the long weekend starting tomorrow so that they could go for Sonu’s annual day function together. He was so excited about his performance.

What Vanita did...

posted Aug 8, 2014, 12:14 AM by Madhuri Sen

Vanita looked at herself in the mirror. Her eye did not look quite as bad as it did last time and the concealing make-up stick might do adequately to cover it up; enough to get to work. She couldn’t quite afford to call in sick again today, it was starting to reflect on her performance record and more importantly putting her in the unreliable page in her boss’ book.  She looked at Amit through her mirror, sleeping as peacefully as a baby just after its born. She wondered how she could love him through all the battering. But she did. And the love making was always more fierce and satisfying when they made up after one of these bouts.


Last night’s episode had been brought on by her not being able to inform him that she was going to drop in at Aditi’s place on her request. Aditi was depressed about being between jobs and not being able to find anything suitable. Vanita’s phone battery had died just after she left office and could call Amit only after she reached Vanita’s place. His phone had been unreachable and she did not try again. Amit as usual suspected her of cheating on him. He never really had anyone specific that he suspected her with. But each time he had one of these flare ups, he would get literally violently angry and beat her up. The pattern remained the same for the last six years that they lived together, the last two of them married; before which they had started living in after a short torrential dating relationship. He would dissolve into tears once he had beaten her till the anger left him and beg her to forgive him and not leave him.


She left for work, shutting the door noiselessly so that Amit’s sleep wouldn’t be disturbed.


While she was still checking her day’s email, her mobile phone started to ring with an unknown number flashing on it. She picked it up all prepared to cut short a sales pitch for an insurance policy, credit card, car loan, holiday share plan or whatever else this telemarketing executive - that had been let loose on her and other unsuspecting mobile users – had to sell.


“Hey, Nats. How’ve you been?”


“Nats? Gaurav!! What the hell!” Vanita thought as she screeched down the phone line expressing her ecstasy at hearing from her favorite erstwhile colleague who had since left the country to study further.


The quickly agreed to meet for a coffee and Gaurav offered to pick her up at the office after work. Just as she kept the phone down, she quivered at the thought of telling Amit that she was meeting Gaurav for coffee. She just couldn’t take another of his storms today. Her body was yet to heal from yesterday’s.  She called him to let him know that she was meeting a client for coffee and that may delay her a bit; making sure to tell him the exact location and adding an hour to the time she actually expected to make her way back.


She didn’t remember having so much fun in all of the last year since she had changed jobs from a company with a more ‘young’ culture than the more staid corporate that she had since joined. The new job left her little time for her to make new friends or even keep in touch with older ones.  “I’m in this part of town a couple of days every week. We should really stay in touch” Gaurav said, just as they were leaving. Vanita happily agreed.


Establishing a regular routine of Gaurav calling at about the time she would be leaving work once or twice a week and then meet was easy. Telling Amit about it was not. What he wouldn’t know couldn’t hurt, she reasoned. And besides she was not really doing anything dishonest.


About six months down, Gaurav wanted to know if she’d like to join a group of them going off that on a weekend long trek. Vanita knew that that would be stretching things too far: taking off not telling Amit. So she politely declined.  The next week Gaurav was full of stories about all the fun they had out there and Vanita ached to go back to her carefree college days when she would have done this kind of thing every weekend.  It only took Gaurav to ask her out the next time they were going and she found a plausible enough story to tell Amit. She was tempted to tell him who she was really going with; but sufficed with telling him that she had joined a amateur trekkers and mountaineers club. He was none too happy about it, but did not actively protest.


Her meetings with Gaurav occasionally resulted in one of the violent episodes with Amit, but Vanita liked her newfound sense of self. It was like her early days with Amit when he unabashedly courted her. Gaurav’s behavior was fast starting to resemble a courtship and Vanita reveled in the attention.


The affair started with neither Gaurav nor Vanita choosing to admit that it was one. They chose to believe that their emotional and now physical intimacy was just an extension of their “good times” together.


Vanita lit a cigarette as she sat up. Gaurav was still lying back on the pillow, exhausted and fulfilled.  “So how often do you sleep with him now?” Vanita did not turn back as she responded, “How’s that any of your business?” “Only wondering,” said Gaurav as he fell into a disquieted silence. After about a couple of minutes, “Did you screw him last night?”




“And you might again today”


“Yes, I might….Stop it, Gaurav. You are making me uncomfortable.”


“How do you feel sleeping with both of us at the same time?”


“Why? Does it bother you?”


“I would really prefer if you didn’t. But then I guess no one else’s opinions or feelings but your own matters to you.”


Vanita turned back now to face him. “That was absolutely uncalled for, Gaurav! I have never misled you. You know that I’m married and I love my husband”


“Yes, so much so that you have no qualms cheating on him and he has no qualms beating the shit out of you. That’s just the perfect marriage!!” Gaurav shot back.


“How dare you!”


“I dare because I love you Vanita and I wish you could see that you did too….and give up that farce of a marriage you are in. We could be so happy together. We are just soulmates.”


“I think we should just stop meeting. This is not the conversation that I ever expected to have”


“Yeah…till you find another dolt to lead by the nose.”


“That’s it! I’m off”


She rose to dress quickly. Gaurav snarled, “Not so quickly. Not until you admit that you do love me.”


She continued to dress and Gaurav held her upper arm to stop her. “It hurts. Let me go.”


“And you think what you are doing to me does not hurt!”


As she struggled to tear away from him, Gaurav slapped her hard across her face and pushed her to the floor. Vanita crumpled in a heap on the floor sobbing “Yes I love you. I do. But if Amit ever gets to know about this he will kill me.”

It's not funny!

posted Aug 8, 2014, 12:12 AM by Madhuri Sen

Megha could hear the slight sound of the key rattling in the door even as she half awoke the sound. She sleepily unlocked her phone to check the time. It was 3 AM. In the back of her mind, she wondered if she may have double locked it from the inside which she’d mistakenly done a couple of times from sheer habit. But then Shirish would ring the doorbell. With no sound of the doorbell forthcoming, she fell back to sleep expecting in to crawl into the duvet with her after he’d washed and had his dinner. His dinner as usual when he was expected late was waiting in the microwave arranged neatly on a plate to be heated and eaten.

She awoke with a start in a while. Shirish wasn’t there yet. She also needed to go to the washroom. With a mild sleepy frown on her face, she dragged herself out of bed and moving in slow steps towards the kitchen first to check if Shirish was still pottering around over dinner.  There was no sign of him there. She stood around for a while, wondering if she may have imagined the sound of the key at the door; when she heard slight scraping sounds in the guest bedroom. What was he doing in the other room at this hour – they hardly ever stepped into it.

She walked up to the door that lay slightly ajar walking smack into a strange man who looked equally astonished for a second. Quickly recovering, he pulled out a knife pointed at her. She noticed that his hand was slightly quavering. In what he may have imagined to be his most menacing voice, he stuttered out a staccato in perfect English, “Ma’am, please do not scream. I will leave right away. I’ve got as much as I needed and am on my way out.” The look of silent terror on her face had frozen with her mouth hanging slightly open. She nodded silently wondering if he hadn’t thought of the eventuality that she may scream the moment she had shut the door behind him; wondering if he would stab her anyway because she may be able to identify him and was only biding his time.

She stared intently into his face trying to read his next move. Her expression changed suddenly and she screwed up her eyes in recognition with a slow finger lifting towards as it does in readiness to ask a question. “You wouldn’t be Sripad, would you?” It was his turn to have his eyes light up in recognition, “Akshita?” She started off with a, “What a pl….” and stopped short wondering at the total weirdness of the situation. What was her next question supposed to be? Was it: Where have you been all these years? Or: what the hell are you doing being a cheap house robber, and a terrible one at that? Or would it be: It’s wonderful meeting you after so long? …..just exactly what was the conversation supposed to be?.....

“So you would be wondering what made me turn into a common robber?  Actually it’s quite as silly story if you have the patience to hear it.” She nodded flashing a quick glance at the knife still pointed at her. He followed her glance and quickly pulled the knife away. “Could we sit down?” he asked. She led him to the living room. “Well you see, it’s like this…… I got into this debate with a friend saying that there is nothing that’s free. His point being that everyone has to learn a livelihood and work hard for it whether it’s in a manner that the law allows or not. My point was that the returns were greater with lesser effort when being something like a robber or pickpocket or whatever; living off another rightfully earned wealth…..can’t exactly say how it got to that point – but we got to the place when I said even I could rob a house….and we were passing through this neighbourhood. My friend pointed up to this house and said that they look pretty well off, could you rob them in a week?  And I took up the dare on the condition that I’d only pick-up something that would prove that I’d gotten into the house. If you see, I picked up only your file of electric bills.”

Akshita burst out laughing. “But that’s so horribly silly. You never quite grew out of being the prankster did you? ….but remained as dumb!”

“Well if I may keep your file, I can come over and return it in a day or two. Would that be ok?” he said with a sheepish expression. “I don’t want to lose that bet.” She grinned and nodded her acceptance.

They exchanged numbers and she saw him to the door. “You better walk down the stairs. Shirish should be back any minute and I won’t know what to tell him if he sees you getting out of here.”

Just as she lay back in bed with a grin on her face, she heard the key at the door again in less than a minute. Unusual as it was, Shirish walked in straight into the bedroom and turned on the lights. “So who exactly was that?” Akshita blanched. “Who?”…she stammered.  “Who else?....the guy you just saw to the door? How long has this been going on?”

“It’s not what it looks like!” she said. His eyes screwed up even more menacingly, “And would you like to tell me what this looks like?”

“Well you see, he is someone who lived in my parent’s neighborhood when I was a kid, and….”

“….and you picked up the romance where you left it off,” he completed the sentence for her.

“No. He’d come to rob our place. I can explain. Actually not exactly rob……”

“Rob me of my peace and my woman would be more accurate. What do you mean he was here to rob our place? What kind of desperate story is that? Exactly HOW dumb do you think I am? least don’t insult me with a stupid story.”

Akshita fell silent.

Her phone message tone went off loudly with its two double beeps. Shirish snatched the phone away and opened the message. It was from Sripad. It said, “I’ll come over on the day after in the morning. I can’t stop thinking about how amazing the day was today.”

Shirish smashed the phone to the floor and stormed off to the door. Akshita heard the sound of the door slamming behind him reverberate across the house - through the deafening buzzing in her head.

The Ice Maiden

posted Aug 8, 2014, 12:10 AM by Madhuri Sen   [ updated Aug 2, 2017, 11:01 AM ]

She stared deep into the heart of the fire that was burning down the forest in the distance. The snow fell all around her. Her heart had turned to ice. It was only the imagined warmth of the fire far away that kept her alive. Tears streaked her face, turning into icicles that glistened on her cheeks like little diamond drops. She put her frozen blue hands up to her cheeks to see if she could warm them, but to no avail.

She tried to imagine how it may have been to burn with the forest, with the crackling dry leaves, the tinder from the trees, possibly even the birds that had not been able to fly off and rabbits that got roasted in their holes. She shivered at the thought. It felt gruesome. She wondered if it was the cold that made her shiver or the idea of what was burning down with the forest.

She wanted to feel colder. She wondered if she shut her eyes and didn’t see the forest fire if she would finally be able to die. She had earlier huddled by the fireplace and come away from it because much as it tried, it could do nothing to take away the numbness. The comforting fire of the hearth could not thaw her frozen heart or get blood back into her blue hands. She had stared at the fireplace accusingly, wishing the frozen lump inside her that used to be her heart to melt. Streaks of pain shot through her as the night grew colder still.

A wide frozen lake stretched across between her and the forest fire. She started to walk towards it. With no shoes on, the cold quickly further numbed her feet and toes. With heavy steps she dragged on. It was only the forest fire that could save her. She could feel the ice thinning under her as she got closer to the forest, but she pulled on. The ice cracked one step after another and then it broke. She shut her eyes and sank smoothly into the icy water. There were a million lights behind her tightly shut eyelids and she could remember another life; a life in which there had been springtime, grass, flowers and a heart with blood pumping through. The sun had shone so bright then - even the moon and the stars would warm her at night.

The forest could see her sinking into the lake and wanted to burn faster to get to her before she froze altogether. But the wood was damp from the snow and was slow to burn. The water had now gone over her head and the night was getting colder still. The ice began to form a thick layer above and she felt the freeze creep all over her till she was one with the ice - peaceful.

It was only just before dawn that the forest could reach her. His burning bushes however could only melt the water. She seemed to have turned to un-melting ice. He hovered around her to see if she would open her eyes, but to vain. He looked at her longingly as she lay in her watery grave one last time – his ice maiden; then turned around to face his world that had once been lush and green and now lay around in ashes.

Time in Frames

posted Aug 6, 2014, 10:09 PM by Madhuri Sen

If only time could frame its favorite moments
And ‘range them on my wall
I could amuse myself at my expense
Yet never laugh at all

Those ice candy store trips
And racing with the rain
Stumbling drunk tipsy dips
Wishing it were all the same again

The forward motion, the jerky stops
The shy giggles, the tear drops
All held in moments with no reverse gear
They flash by as I blindly stand and stare

Monsoon Series: Epilogue

posted Aug 6, 2014, 9:59 PM by Madhuri Sen

The rains have always been special for me. There is something about the smell of the wet, heavy earth; the booming of the heavens, the purifying showers, the unique monsoon sea spray, the frowning skies and the flirtatious winds that makes every emotional experience stand out more starkly.  I find nothing more romantic than a long walk in the rain, nothing more calming that those showers when excited, nothing more conducive to sorting out life and its perspectives with the showers for company. Of course being able to sing to the beat of the rain and sometimes the lashing waves or to break into an impromptu jig to celebrate life in general are only tiny bonus points.

It was in the rains that I insisted on walking to school even when my mother was sure it would be declared a “rainy holiday” coz everything was knee deep in water. The apparent excuse was what if there were any classes conducted and I missed them. Really it was the excitement of walking in the puddles, seeing an empty school, mostly empty roads and getting soaked to the skin. The books always got packed in extra plastic to ensure they were protected.

It was in the rains that the school reopened each year; which meant new uniforms, new water bottles and tiffin boxes and new teachers who would love me.  I was actually geeky enough to love my studies even in school and would get choked with the excitement of a new academic session starting, and most mistook it for the happiness of being reunited with my classmates after the long summer vacations. It was the prospect of acquiring new knowledge that I was rearing to go back to (strange as it may sound). I always read up all my text books long before the vacations got over, usually within a week from when they were bought. The teachers only served to bring clarity to what I had read.

It was in the rains that the first guy (who I had a five year long crush on), asked me out in my high school years. I only mumbled and ran away. Was too confused to be the cool chick I wanted to act out to be. That date never happened. That day I could not smell the rain though, only the horrid ammonia after smell of Anne French that I’d used for the first time and swore never to use again. The smell of Anne French even now makes me gag.

It was in the rains that I figured that crossing over from Xavier’s college at Metro using the overbridge to walk the entire stretch of Marine drive was a lot of fun.  I made it a ritual to buy a green coconut and sip its sweet water, while the rain water mixed in it. It of course lasted forever, coz eventually I was only sipping rain water. But it’s an annual ritual. I walk down Marine Drive end to end at least once every year. More if time permits. I have been glad for company when I got it through the years.  But it’s not been often. Not many can take the fury of the rains and waves at once like it is usually on the days I choose to walk; when nature’s passions are at their highest. 

And then there are those flooded days every year when I have had to wade home through many miles since transport would have come to a standstill. There is only once of all these occasions when I couldn’t actually make it home for three days at a stretch. That was the legendary 26 July 2004 holocaust that saw the city come to a standstill for many days. Even so those days were lovely – mid week, shacked up at a friend’s place with no phone, laptop or TV as electricity had been shut off.  Entertainment was by way of long walks by the sea, eating out and listening to radio updates at the restaurants and pubs we hung out in. It was that episode that made me decide that I wanted to live in the vicinity of Carter Road in Bandra, just by the sea. It took a couple of years from then to get my place there, but I did.

There are many other stories of flooded days including making new friends while wading through, fighting the odds to make client press conferences happen, walking scary dark stretches with treacherous open manholes lurking if not whole open gutters, impromptu dancing at the sound of some random wafting music along with whatever company had come together. The one thing I consider miraculous is that I’ve never ever got stuck in a train that can’t make its way forward on flooded tracks. That’s like the worst thing to happen as one can’t jump off on to the tracks safely either.

And then there are the more personal memories that I can’t put down here for easy reading. Walks, promises, songs, expectations, budding bonds……with the canvas of the monsoons making it all more poignant. Many such monsoons to relish. Life is good. Life is beautiful.

Monsoon series 6: Mirages

posted Aug 6, 2014, 9:57 PM by Madhuri Sen

“Sameer, sameer,” she yelled out over the loud splattering of the rain. She could see him standing under the tree, silently sobbing. She dared not venture out into the pouring rain from the safe shelter of the building foyer, to speak with him at closer range. She wanted to ask him why he was upset.  He seemed not to hear; which was no surprise to her.

She hugged her windcheater closer around her, waiting for the rain to lessen its fury. Finally she sat down on the chair placed there for the watchman, resigned to a longish wait. She saw Sameer move off with slouched shoulders towards the back of the building.  Mom would just have to wait for her tea.  She would rather face her mother’s wrath later than get soaked to the skin trying to get the milk from the grocer’s.

He walked up right next to where she was sitting and stared out at the rain as well. It seemed like he would prefer to wait it out until the rain stopped, as well. He looked down at her and smiled, “Hi, I live in the D Wing. I have seen you get off your school bus at the same time that I get back from work. My name is Saajan. What’s yours?”  She always called him Saajan in her mind because Saajan and Sanjana kind of sounded nice together. “Sanjana,” she replied looking up with a sideways look, meeting his eyes. “You are very pretty you know. I just couldn’t help noticing,” he said. She looked away with a shy smile. He continued, “Can I come to your school and give you a ride back on my bike sometimes? It’s anyway on my way back from work.” At this point she always got stuck. How was she supposed to respond: Was it, I will have to check with my mom; or sure, you can come looking for me in school bus no. Y-14, if you can get there before 5.30?  She frowned looking blankly into the distance as she pondered the question.

That was Sameer’s mom coming through the gate looking ridiculous on Sameer’s cycle. She came right up to the tree where Sameer had earlier been standing and leaned the cycle to it. “Hi, Santa,” she called out as she passed where Sanjana was sitting. Sanjana’s frown turned into a scowl. She wished her nickname from when she was a kid would vanish. How was she ever supposed to look cool if everyone called her Santa. She mumbled a hello back with her scowl still in place. But Sameer’s mother wasn’t really looking. Sanjana looked at her own reflection in the mirrored surface of the column at the entrance foyer. She was almost a woman now she thought to herself, as she looked at her reflection. She seemed pleased with what she saw as she stood straighter, pulling the t-shirt back a little tighter so that the shape of her budding curves showed more clearly.

The rain seemed to be getting down to a drizzle now. She ventured out tentatively towards the gate and stared in dismay at the huge puddle the road seemed to have become.  She stood there undecided on her next plan of action. If she went back without getting the carton of milk after such a huge delay, her mother was sure to yell at her. But if she stepped on to the road, she ran the risk of getting her new t-shirt and capris splashed; and Saajan hadn’t even seen her in it yet. Like the devil may have, just as that thought crossed her mind Saajan appeared from the building entrance on his side. He seemed to be in a hurry. It was only later that she noticed his wife walking ahead of him. She puzzled, why weren’t they walking together?  So they were fighting, were they? His wife’s expression seemed to say that she was in a foul mood. She felt pleased at the thought. Maybe they would fight and get divorced. It was simply unfair that he got married before she could be old enough to even have a chance.

She followed both of them out towards the seaside promenade. The rain had started to come down hard again. She picked up her pace in a half running stride to catch up with him. When she had managed to come alongside she slowed down to walk by his side with only a few feet distance between them. She felt good pretending that they were taking a walk together through the rain. She kept her eyes carefully averted however, with as casual an expression as was possible given that her heartbeats were deafening her with their war drumming.

She could see that he deliberately kept a fair distance from his wife; until about half way up the promenade. He quickened his pace thereafter to catch up with her. So did Sanjana. As he got close, she saw him reach out and hold his wife by her waist from behind as she turned around seemingly taken by  surprise. A sharp stab of jealousy shot through her. If only….

There were tears starting to well in her eyes as she watched them from the distance of a few feet.  He was so close, yet so far way. Others on the promenade moved around her to walk past; a few jostled her as well. But she just felt nothing, no one. She was numb. She saw him throw away two sodden tickets before they turned around together and started to walk back in the direction of the house.

She walked up to the pieces of sodden paper and picked them up from the puddle they were floating in, smoothening them out. They would make a nice addition to her collection of ‘Saajan souvenirs’ as she called them. These may have been the tickets to go watch…she peered down to see the lettering on the tickets in the poor illumination of the street lights….Hamlet…in another time and dimension, they would have been watching Hamlet together with his arms around her shoulders, snuggling in the dark. She smiled and started to walk back, shutting her eyes every few minutes to relive the moments when shortly before she had actually been walking next to him.

Monsoon Series 5: Subjective Objectivity

posted Aug 6, 2014, 9:51 PM by Madhuri Sen

Chandni stared longingly at the rain, out of the large office windows running wall to wall. It was such a tempting sight. There was peek of Marine Drive visible from that vantage point. Just a peek that had made this a “premium sea view” rated commercial space.  She moved her eyes off the sea and rains with an effort, to the document open on her laptop in front of her and sighed; then paused with a mild frown for a few seconds. At the end of the frown was a grin. She pushed her chair back decisively and it rolled into the corner. Laptop packed, she stuffed it into her bag and called her driver to get the bag and take the car out. Her mind had quickly clicked a plan into place: Finish the document in the car, with this rain there was bound to be plenty of traffic anyway; get back in early enough for a long jog in the rain and return home from it well in time for the late evening call.

Settling down in the backseat she fired up her laptop again. She frowned out at the sea line she was driving past now. He mind was focused on sorting out what her recommendation for further action should be in the report.  Her sense of fairness said that the girl was holding their company hostage only because she wanted to arm twist her way into getting a transfer to the US as her husband it appeared had got a plum offer to move there.  A sexual harassment case brought in with the help of an activist friend who well understood the legal guidance on such cases was a rather creative way to get her way. However it could not be ignored that the level of sexually explicit language used by all members of the business unit that girl belonged to, had debatably reached unacceptable levels for work place behavior.

Her document stayed stuck at the point until which she had recorded the proceedings of the committee hearing on the “case”. As head of that committee, the weighing scales of “justice” lay with her after having weighed up the pros and cons with the other members based on all facts and evidence presented.  And this had to have come up at the end of an even otherwise high pressure quarter!  The company had scrambled to put the mandatory committee together as required by law within a day from the time that the girl had fired her first salvo to the global HR head over email, by passing all local channels for redress.

She stared at the bumper of the car in front of her with a satisfied look. Even though she was already half way home, the traffic snarl as she had predicted still left her with adequate time.  With her hands still on the laptop keyboard, she leaned back into the seat with a sigh and shut her eyes.  Was she being biased because giving the girl’s complaint any credence meant discrediting the company’s fairly liberal work place culture? Or was she right in ”seeing through” her ulterior motives which had nothing really to do with any offence taken at the language used by the person she had made the complaint about. She grinned at the thought, “Objectivity is so subjective.”

She looked up and realized that the traffic had cleared and her home was now about 20 minutes away. She started to type in the conclusions drawn from the hearing swiftly. As she closed the document and fired it off over email to the global and HR teams to read through before the call later this evening, she felt a sense of satisfaction at seeing that it was perfectly timed. Her building gate was in sight now.

Swiftly changing into her running clothes, she looked out of her window pleased that the rain had not ceased. But the thought niggled somewhere at the back of her mind: What if the girl had indeed felt peer pressure to behave in a manner inappropriate to what she personally considered “decent” for the entire period since she had joined the company till the time she made a complaint. She had claimed exactly that when questioned about the evidence of her willingly having earlier participated in the same kind of banter that she now said was offensive to her. But then even if that was the case, giving her the benefit of the doubt, should this one specific person be penalized for the company overall not having drawn up clear guidelines for acceptable workplace language and conduct? Who exactly was at fault here?  But then, over and above the specific issue at hand he had clearly inspired a strong dislike for his management style by a large number of his team members that had created factions within the team of his favorites vs the “others”. That had clearly emerged from the evidence presented. So was that what he should be penalized for? …..because the girl and many others on the team disliked him and did not care if he paid the price for what may be her ulterior motives?  Her mind wandered to the subject of men as reverse victims of the system only because the law by default granted the position of victim to the woman.  But then, what if……………

The sea was beautiful today. The rising waves soothed her nerves as she ran. She stood at her door a at the end of an hour, reaching into the pocket of her shorts….darned she had forgotten to pick the case with the money and keys when she left home. The prospect of walking to the Sharmas to pick up the duplicate set was a tiring one. She looked at her watch frowning. If she tried walking there and back she would be back only barely in time for the call. She brightened up at a sudden thought. Of course, that was it….Sameer’s cycle was always left unlocked!

Monsoon Series 4: Nostalgia

posted Aug 6, 2014, 9:50 PM by Madhuri Sen

“Oye, stop, stop, stop…turn the paper upside down. Let me answer this call….it’s Valmik.”

“Hi. Wassup? ……no, no…not at home.  Out with Ryan….have to cover off something with him urgently. No, there is no one at home either…… I can leave in about half an hour and you could account for another half to get home through all this rain clogged traffic … wait, na…..theek hai. Can’t wait toh chal. Cya.”

“What happened?” Ryan asked. “Can we continue with the crossword?”

“Yeah, sure,” said Arzaan. “Arre, Valmik misplaced his wallet and wanted money to buy some NCPA play tickets. Ab bas kaam aaya toh he thinks of us, ever since he met Shruti…..he’s got only worse since they got married.”

“Anyway,” he continued, “I put him off saying we were doing something important. Why the hell should I run around in this rain just for him.  Not ready to wait either because he doesn’t know what story to give Shruti. What a joru ka ghulaam.”

“Hehehe, yeah of course…racing to solving the midday crossword whenever we manage to catch up is an important religious ritual, hai na?” said Ryan.

They returned to their crosswords and the unique extra sweetened coffees served in glasses that only Iranian cafés, sprinkled liberally across South Bombay, offered.

In a few mins, Ryan triumphantly put his pen down, “Done!” He was grinning ear to ear. “In 12 minutes flat. Is that like a new record for us or what?”

“What was 18 down….dikha ….besides you had time to think even if the paper was upside down while I was on the phone. So not exactly a record,”  Arzaan pulled the paper towards him to peek at Ryan’s copy of the paper. Ryan craned his head around to check 18 down, as well.

“Hey, remember the time that….,” Ryan started and stopped short. “…What happened?” Arzaan was staring over Ryan’s shoulder at the entrance to the café. He looked like he wasn’t breathing. Ryan turned around quickly almost over turning his chair in his haste. Those who could see him would have figured that his lips silently shaped into an “Oh my God!”

The subject of their shock pulled out the third chair at their table, grinning. “Stop staring at me guys, as if I were a hot chick. Folks around here will get the wrong idea.” Arzaan recovered first, “Shucks, dude. Where have you been?” “Out from where you left me last?” he replied. There was a brittle note to his voice now and the grin had turned a bit glassy.

“That was two years back! I thought you would have got out on bail,” Ryan exclaimed. “Not that lucky man, I was rapped the hardest,” the new addition at the table quipped.“   The bail posted was too large for Papa to even take a loan, with his retirement so close and Ishu’s wedding having anyway already dried us out. So I told him to chill, I’d take a holiday from life. Learn something new.”

“Anyway, I’m out now. Not so much worse for the wear, eh? ….Took a chance that I’d find you guys at the old adda…’ve you been?”

“You know, Dhiren, I would have stayed in touch, visited and stuff. Really did mean to. But then I got my job just then….,”  Arzaan said. Ryan was focusing intently at his glass of coffee.

“It’s ok, guys,” Dhiren said. “Don’t look so guilty. I wasn’t expecting you to give me company whiling my time away in the slammer. I may have moved on just as you did. Where is our fourth wheel? Valmik?”

“Interesting that you and Valmik surfaced back on the same day,” Arzaan said. “We haven’t seen him since his wedding. But he called today to ask if he could borrow some money. And you….,” he let his sentence trail off. “I still can’t believe what happened. One drunken evening to celebrate your sister’s wedding and two years of your life flushed down the drain.”

“Who did he marry? That same girl…what was her name…?” Dhiren asked. Ryan replied, “Yes….the same clingy one for whom he would have make up stories for every time we wanted to have a boys night out.”

“Well, how were we to know that he was a human rights activist when we picked that fight over a stupid car scraping incident, that night!” Ryan added.

“But tell me,” Arzaan asked. “Why did you say you were driving the car when it was Valmik?”

“Well honestly I didn’t think it would become such a big deal when it all first started,” Dhiren said. “But I knew that the driver would take the biggest rap. It was my sister’s wedding celebs and it was my idea that night to drink; besides which it was my car. If you recall, Valmik had insisted on driving only because he had hardly drunk anything as compared to us. So at the spur of the moment I just said that. Seemed wrong to get him into trouble for something which was more our fault. I swung at that guy first.”

“But you know, Arzaan,” said Ryan. “It’s not so much why Dhiren took the rap on himself but why Valmik didn’t protest, that bothered me.”

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