Saturday, July 5, 2014

Pretty Parul

"Hi Sam," Parul purred on the phone.

Sam leaned back, a smile on his face. "Hello Parul, what a surprise!" He couldn't control the excitement from reflecting in his voice. Well, why not? Any man would welcome being greeted by that husky voice. Anybody would give their most expensive iphone just to have Pretty Parul call them. Sam was neither a saint nor immune to pretty faces. And he was going to enjoy this moment in the sun, when  the very woman he had been dreaming of ever since he met two evenings ago had taken the trouble to call him.

"Did I disturb you, handsome?" she asked and giggled.

He chuckled. "You disturb me even when you don't call..."

Parul squealed delightfully. "Oh you naughty boy! I didn't intend calling you, you know," she said, trying to sound matter of fact. "But I think I mixed up numbers and ended up calling you."

"Really? And yet you knew it was me," he said, exposing her game. She laughed. "Nothing escapes you," she teasedg him.

It was the best 10 minutes he spent that day, talking inanely to this woman of his dreams. But since he was just a salesman with targets to meet, he had to get on with work and excused himself. "Have to rush for an appointment. We'll talk later."

"Oh! On the phone? Why not meet?"

Sam thought for a second. "What about this Saturday?"

"Oh, but that's almost a week away!" Parul said and he imagined her bow-like lips pouting.

He smiled. "Flattering... And I can't wait too... But," he sighed heavily, "weekdays don't work. I have a lot of projects to submit for a course I am doing..."

Parul seemed to find that reasonable. Sam found pleasure in waiting. But Parul didn't seem to believe in that. She called again two days later. "Hi handsome," she said, her voice caressing. "What are you doing?"

He glanced at the clock - a meeting in 15 minutes. "I will call you when I get on the road," he said and dashed to his bike. He plugged the earphones, dialled her number and called. The way seemed shorter, now that her voice accompanied him. "Okay, gotta go now. Meeting a client."

"A client? Put it off," she said prettily. He laughed. "See you this Saturday," he said and rang off. But she called again. "I am bored," she said petulantly. "Meet me after the meeting." He frowned. "No dear, have back to back sales meetings. Month end, targets to meet... you know the works."

She let him go reluctantly.

*
Saturday. Excitement. Meeting Parul.

Sam was on a high. He dressed carefully, made sure his credit balance was respectable. He inhaled sharply on seeing Parul dressed to kill. Even without trying hard she could have walked all over him. He felt immensely lucky at having her in his life.

They quickly hugged each other and then walked to the diner together. She took his hand in hers and he smiled.

The food was brilliant. He wished the evening had been too. But somehow, Parul and he did not seem to connect. Her conversation did not hold his interest, and what he wanted to talk about did not seem worthy of her attention.

Didn't she see, the unfathomable chasm between them?

"When next?" she asked when they got up to leave. He hesitated, but not wanting to disappoint her and deciding to give it another chance, he offered to meet her next week. "A week? Playing hard to get?" she teased. When they met again, his misgivings were confirmed. She, though, seemed blissfully unaware of the mismatch.

She was pretty and not unintelligent. But no, they didn't have the same wavelength. He decided to ease her off. When she asked, "When next," he tried to be diplomatic. "It is going to be difficult for sometime to come..."

She frowned. "As in...?"

"Parul, I don't think I am the right person for you... I..."

"You are bored of me..." she said quietly.

He took a double take. "I don't mean that... I mean, I just fear we are not cut out for each other."

"So you are cutting me out. After using me, you are saying bye to me."

"Whoa!" Sam said, shocked. "Using you? We have just met twice and I am telling you that it is better we back off now."

She wheedled, "We can make it work. I feel it in my bones."

Sam shook his head. Her persistence put him a fix. He didn't want to be rude. He said, "One more try."

"I am not your slave!" she snapped angrily.

Perplexed he said, "Absolutely."

"Then what is this about trying?"

He rolled his eyes. "Because you think we can make it work but I don't."

She leaned towards him, "I love you Sam. Don't you feel the same about me?"

He wearied of this circular conversation. "Parul, why don't we give this a break and meet if we really feel like after some gap?"

"When you say Parul like that..." she smiled suggestively.

He got up and left, hoping she got the message.

She was hoping the same. She called, and how! Morning, evening, night. If he didn't pick up the phone, there were messages. When he ignored them, she called almost every 10 minutes. Unable to bear it any longer, he answered the call. "You cheap MCP! What do you think? You can play with a woman's emotions like this! After leading me to believe you liked me, to drop me like this!"

He tried reasoning with her. But the next moment she whined and wheedled. Frustrated, he put his phone on silent if she called. Even if he could not ignore the persistent ringing, at least it did not disturb or intrigue others around him.

The messages though were hard to ignore. He was called a flirt, a womaniser, MCP and more in that vein. He was harassed, scared to even carry his phone because of the vitriol that poured out of it. It was distracting, troubling, scaring...

He changed his mobile number.

But that did not end his troubles. There she stood, outside his office, "Please Sam..." His colleagues teased him. "Oho, he has a pretty girl wrapped around his finger."

No! That was not what he sought. He just wanted some peace and quiet... But her repeat appearances despite his trying to discourage her, psyched him. He caught himself looking out of the window frequently, especially if he had to go out. She came looking for him in the office and if he were there, he had to rely on his colleagues to send her away saying he was not there. If her stalking him was one problem, their teasing him another.

Seeing no way out, he finally sought and found another job, which took him out of the city.

Of Parul, he heard nothing more.

But with women, he was more wary, earning the sobriquet 'Shy Sam'.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Eternally Young

She wore a bright red, sleeveless evening gown. The lipstick matched the colour of her dress. She dyed her hair black, a stark contrast to her bright dress. She carried a black clutch and paired her dress with black heels. Her eyes glittered black and were kohl-lined heavily, to hide the crow feet and the slightly baggy look underneath.

Her face was heavily made up - a pathetic attempt to hide her 54 years on earth. She had been moisturising her hands and feet for several years now, and yet it looked as if in a few years, the gnarled look would slowly take over. The red finger and toenails somewhat distracted from the weathered look, but not for long.

She eyed herself critically and what she saw passed muster. She would never regain the first flush of youth, surely, but nor was she out of the race. Yet.

She checked the time. As the clock struck 6, the doorbell to her suite rang. He was punctual, as she had expected. She smiled at her reflection and adjusted her lips to get it right. She tried different expressions and finally settled for what she thought was a smouldering look.

The bell rang again. She walked quickly to the door, paused, took a deep breath in, put on the smile and opened the door.

He stood there in bottle green full sleeve shirt with dark blue jeans. She realised with a pang that he didn't look a day older than the first time she had met him almost 10 years ago, when he was just 32 or so. He moved back, seeing her dressed as if playing a part. The dismay was evident on his face though he smiled by way of greeting.

She put an arm on his shoulder and reached up to touch his cheek. Reluctantly, he leaned closer.

"I have ordered dinner in the room," she said in a husky voice.

They sat across the table and she served him wine. "So... How have you been?"

He shrugged and picked up the glass. "All well?" he asked, as if saying too much would get him in trouble.

"How is your girl?"

He took a deep breath, sipped the wine and started to say something evasive when she smiled with an eyebrow raised. "I remember the day we met so clearly."

"Do we need to go there? I have got the papers for you to sign."

She leaned back . "Oh, what's the hurry. Is my presence so abhorrent now? I can remember the day you pleaded with me to marry you. Remember, that day?" He was silent, so typical. "I even pointed out the age difference, but you didn't seem to care."

"You were right then. Happy?"

She laughed, a pleasant, throaty one. "Sometimes one likes to be wrong. But looks like you were! You thought you would love me always, no matter how old I became. But you couldn't, could you?"

"Look, this is getting us nowhere... I was wrong, you were right... So..."

"You do know you will not be young always, don't you?" she asked sharply, moving forward.

He inhaled sharply.

"What a pity," she studied his face without blinking. Nervously, he gulped the drink. He felt his throat burn. He coughed. "What a pity... But no... I love you too much."

"Look," he began but choked. He coughed some more and she affectionately patted the top of his head. "I love the way you are. I would hate to see you grow old..."

He got up, clutching his throat. She leaned back, an arm casually flung across the back of her chair. "People discard you when you grow old. It hurts, hurts deeply. Especially when it is someone you love." She looked at him as he went on his knees, coughing still, eyes popping. "I won't let you grow old and wizened and weak and abandoned. I want to remember you the way you were when we first met," she said, her eyes glowing dreamily, away from his prone form, struggling for breath, the veins in the neck  standing out from the struggle. Suddenly, she got up and sat next to him. "No, you cannot grow old and be forgotten, like me." She took his hand and said softly, "I love you too much to let you hurt yourself."

He fell back limply, his body still as the final breath racked his body. "No," she murmured, stroking his hand gently. "You will remain forever young."


Friday, June 20, 2014

One Earth: Seeking Answers

One Earth: Seeking Answers: I turned the car a/c knob to 2, turned the vents towards me and wondered at the change I had undergone. There was a time when I hated the...

Friday, June 13, 2014

Chapak, Chapak Goes the Demon

He was an old man, with crinkled eyes, wrinkled skin and a slight stoop.

He was a young man. He was still fascinated and keen to learn.

Having lived in the village all his life, working in the fields till his back broke. Watching the sun, watching the rain and watching his land were the only things he knew and understood. He heard about the city lights, which made a day out of the night. He heard of the vehicles that moved without horses or bulls. Sometimes he saw them in village too, raking up dust in its trail. He heard of tall buildings that one had to lean far back to see the tops of.

A small, teeny weeny desire to see this place that sounded right out of a fairy tale sprouted in his heart. But he had work and he kept postponing the trip. One day, he could bear it no longer. The fascinating tales filled his ears, flowed into his brain and like a bee, buzzed only one message in his head, Visit a City.

Finally, on a day when his work was light, he went to his neighbour - an old man of the world. "Sir, I have dreamed of seeing the city for long and wish to visit it today. How should I go about it?" he asked humbly.

The old man, remembering his own younger days when he had visited the city often, tried to prepare the younger man for the surprises in store there. This further fed the younger man's eagerness to visit the city. But the old man added, "Beware, don't get lured in by the attractions of the city. Not everything is as it seems. There are many demons there that will lead you astray."

When the young old man reached the city, he found that the old man had not exaggerated at all. There was so much to see that one day seemed too little. He saw people going by vehicles without bullocks and now realised what the old man had said about demons. He was careful to avoid them. He saw people coming out from a temple and put something on their feet and start walking faster.

This was really the last straw. Having resisted all temptations of the city till now, he couldn't control his urge and slipped his feet also into these contraptions. It seemed so simple and involved no devilry.

His heart shook just a bit when it caught his feet snugly. He looked around at the others shiftily. No one seemed perturbed and he was reassured. It was not comfortable though - the feet were, but his heart wasn't. Would he have to pay a heavy price for giving in?

Soon, he became aware that he was not alone. Every time he walked, he thought he could hear the sound "chapak, chapak" near him. He stopped, looking around to see who was making that noise. The sound stopped too. No one minded him, no one seemed to take note of him or pay him the slightest attention. He started walking, and he thought he could hear the chapak chapak sound around him faintly. He looked around sharply but could detect no one around him. The sound, though, continued unabated.

He felt nervous and lost interest in his surroundings. There was something following him, and something that refused to come out in the open. He said a prayer and started walking again. The sound followed him. Oh god, the demon had caught him, he thought nervously, speeding up. As he walked through grassland, he was relieved to note the demon had left him. But the moment his feet touched the muddy track leading to his village, he heard the sound again. If he ran, the demon ran too. If he slowed down, the demon slowed down too. Fear nearly paralysed him. By now it was dusk and the oncoming night would see him standing ripe for plucking in the middle of nowhere. He decided to run for his life, but by now he was hungry and tired and the demon seemed neither tired nor hungry. Or maybe, just hungry.

He was relieved to see another villager come by in a bullock cart. He hailed the cart and was relieved to be given a ride. Seeing him limp and flustered, the cart driver asked him the reason. Shamefully he told him of being chased by a demon. "I think it doesn't like company," he said looking around him. "The noise has stopped," he added with evident relief.

The cart driver laughed sceptically. But when he dropped the villager at the corner temple and heard the demon every time the villager walked, their eyes met in fear. The villager took a step towards the cart, but the cart driver wanted none of it. He drove away fast.

It was night now and the villager stood shivering in the new contraption. He wondered if that were the reason for the demon to follow him. It had trapped him and he was now unable to shake it off. Crying, he ran through the lonely paths towards the old man's hut, wondering if he could guide him on how to be rid of this chapak chapak demon, which was also running with him. What did it want? It hadn't eaten him up yet. What was it waiting for? Its friends to join in the killing?

Tearfully and fearfully he banged on the old man's door. When the old man opened the door, the young old villager fell at the older man's feet. "Save me from the demon," he cried out pitifully.

The old man, perplexed, raised the younger man and asked him what happened.

"Wherever I go, the chapak chapak demon chases me," he said looking around him as if fearing the demon would spring on him from nowhere. "I promise you, just as you said, I kept away from every city allure. And yet it has trapped me. It follows me everywhere," he said, now bawling more openly.

The old man looked at uncomprehendingly. "Chapak chapak demon? What is that???"

"Every time I walk, it walks with me. If I stop, it stops too."

The old man shook his head puzzled. He had heard of several novelties of the city, but never of a chapak chapak demon. "I do not know what it is. But you say it follows you when you walk? Can you walk for me?"

The villager trembled. 'Do I really have to?' he seemed to ask. But with great difficulty, he brought his feet frozen with fear to move. First, the old man could hear nothing. Then, when the young man walked a bit faster, he could hear it distinctly. "What did you do in the city?" the old man asked, his eyes twinkling. "Surely you were up to some mischief?"

"Not at all!" the villager sat on his haunches, his hands together in supplication.

"What is that on your feet then? Surely not your own. Did you steal someone's slippers?"

The villager looked at the old man perplexed, then he looked at his feet. "These are slippers? I didn't steal them. People came out of a temple and wore them as they left. I did the same." Then, as if he realised something, he said slowly, "Only I didn't go into the temple. Do you think that is why...?"

The old man laughed and patted the villager on the back. "No, that is not why. It is not a demon." And when he explained what the sound was all about, the villager looked sheepish - it was the contraption, the slippers, that had been making that sound? The younger man felt foolish, laughing at himself for believing in demons.

He was cured of his fear, and he was cured of his desire to visit the city too.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Greatness at a Price

Let me be done with the problematic bit first - language. Throughout the book, people 'laid down to sleep'. There were other editing mistakes that had slipped through, and being an editor myself, I can only wonder at what the original text looked like. Maybe the editor needs to be patted on the back for giving us a highly readable book despite these flaws.

The author has been involved with the theatre and maybe that's what gives him such a hold on the plot. His interest in history makes him scratch beneath the surface and present a highly plausible tale of one of the greatest kings in Indian history, despite which not much is known of his early days. So what Pillai writes of comes from his readings of the books mentioned in the Bibliography - most of which are about the agrarian economy in the times of the Nandas and the Mauryas.

My knowledge of the Maurya founder comes, like most other historical/mythological tales, from Amar Chitra Katha. I realise the lack in my education when I read authors who take this popular tales and dig deep.

For me, Chanakya was always the hero and Chandragupta Maurya, a beneficiary of his guru's infinite wisdom. Even in Ashwin Sanghvi's Chanakya, this view was strengthened.

Pillai, on the other hand, shows Maurya in a different light, with much more personality, skills and foresight. Even without his guru, he has mettle. His life is not all that smooth and he not a playful man having fun in life. He is a king, a responsible one, and morose, toughened by life and bereavements, betrayed by near and dear ones. 

The journey is fleshed out neatly, logically and without any rose-tinted glasses colouring the picture. WYSIWG - What you see is what you get. You need to act to achieve your goal, but that does not always give you joy though it may give you the desired result.

A must-read for those who like historical fiction, and even those who don't. But, read with a liberal mind to forgive those errors in language for the purpose sometimes is larger than technical details.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

One Earth: Debut Compost

One Earth: Debut Compost: Can you imagine, this is my kitchen waste! And now, it is mud!!!! Started with the process around Feb 23, with two small pots. Was worried...
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