Saturday, March 28, 2015

Love Sick

Sreekumar is a nice, brilliant chap. I have no doubts about that, not about him being my best mate either. But, I would not have recruited him in my department given a choice.
The new venture is exciting and challenging. That could be the high of early days speaking. As in most pioneering stuff, life and work will surely be great once we get through the initial drudge. It is for that I hired two lieutenants to guide the dozen overconfident not-so-exceptional flunkies who think they should not be doing donkey-work. 
I was lucky to get Girija, a quiet lady with an amazing academic and professional track record who could have reached greater heights if she had focused on her career instead of trying to balance that with a marriage, and that too a troublesome marriage. As for Sreekumar, I know that he can do a great job as the second lieutenant, as long as he is not backed up against the wall and pressed for an explanation.
It is tough to explain the problem with him. My first encounter with his ways might shed some light. We were in grade six. Our class-teacher that year was a martial middle-aged lady with the manner and countenance of a bull dog, the kind of stuff that’s called fearsome force of nature. In the middle of her tough regimen to turn cherubic angels into battle-ready men, Sreekumar went AWOL for a week. He returned and presented a crazy nonchalance when the class-teacher demanded an explanation. He offered the succinct, ‘Bus miss.’ The bull dog thought its tail was being pulled and attacked viciously. The ensuing fracas in that school, in those dark ages, followed the predictable punishing plot. Sreekumar barely managed to avoid expulsion.
With him, such incidents turned out to be the rule rather than the exception and, as his best friend, I had the misfortune to be in the neighbourhood.
In college, my love-interest of those days confronted him and she enquired why he frowned upon our relationship. He replied, ‘Stupid stupider.’
In graduate school, a bunch of bellicose right-wingers felt reasonably aggrieved when Sreekumar described their views as, ‘Constipated wit.’ We escaped with cracked lips and swollen knuckles.
Every day in office, I expect some big honcho to forward a message or mail from Sreekumar explaining our work as, ‘Syphilitic fuck.’ True but troublesome that would be.
Strangely, nothing of that sort happened, crossed-fingers knocked-wood et al. Girija and Sreekumar divided the empire and ruled effectively. They rarely crossed boundaries and avoided each other like the plague. I did not try to educate those two about teamwork. Life was ambling along nicely.
One quiet evening, at a bar, I tried to tell Sreekumar about Girija’s marital troubles which she had confided to me during a one-on-one session of performance appraisal. He concentrated on his drink and told me to ‘Shut up.’
Last week, we faced our first major crisis. We had a few big projects to complete. Girija called in sick. I wondered if it was caused by illness or abuse. I stepped in to cover for Girija.
I should not have been surprised when Sreekumar went AWOL that same day leaving me in deep muck. Didn’t Yogi Berra say it was déjà vu all over again? My calls and messages to him went unanswered. If I was not confined in office, with the dozen imbeciles, I would have gone to his place and dragged him to work.
On the third day of absence, he sent a message, ‘Love sick.’
I nearly blew my top and readied myself for a final confrontation. I cursed him for leaving me with the tremendous load and that too for love.
On the fourth day, I got a call from Girija’s house. Her father informed me that she had died of an aneurysm that morning.  I informed the team of the loss and arranged for taxis to take us to her place. We planned to return to office after paying our respects. We still had lots of work to complete. I did not bother to inform the still absent Sreekumar.
We went to her parents’ place. Her father took us in. Her mother sat alone near the head, staring blankly at the face, weeping silently. We tried to leave unobtrusively after doing the rounds, but Girija’s younger brother requested us to wait for thirty minutes, till the body was taken for cremation. He found seats for us in the small courtyard and filled us in on the details of her death. I studied the crowd. The scene was the usual. Relatives looked busy or sad. Neighbours and friends waited patiently, silently, like us. I noticed a bored fidgety man standing with his own group near the front gate. I guessed that that impatient one was her husband. The ambulance backed up into the compound. The driver and his companion carried a rusty metal stretcher into the house.
Her mother stood up and beckoned her son. Girija’s brother nodded at her instructions. He went outside the compound. A minutes or two later, he returned with a man who must have been standing in the street, a little away from the house. The man went up to her mother. They hugged, supported each other. The man looked at Girija’s body one last time. Sreekumar’s face was expressionless. He looked haggard. I heard her mother tell him that Girija would never leave them. He nodded. Then, without a word, he left the place, his head down. He did not notice us. Before leaving with the body for the cremation, her father came up to me and told me to take care of Sreekumar. He told me that my friend had been in the hospital all the time, keeping watch outside the ICU. Her father was scared that he might do something silly. We waited for the ambulance to leave, and then returned to office. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Her Unremarkable Problem

A few days after their engagement, she met his first crush. They were in a coffee-shop. The lady was sipping latte and reading a book of poetry. He took her to the lady’s table and introduced her, rather proudly, as his fiancée. The lady said ‘lovely’. There was the what-are-you-doing lovely-to-meet-you chit chat. The meeting lasted barely a minute. She wondered why the lady seemed evasive, or impatient to get back to the poetry. Back at their table, he told her that the affair had lasted a year. She asked if the lady was ‘into poetry even then’. He nodded. Weird, she thought, he hardly seemed the type for ladies ‘into poetry’.
At their wedding reception, she met two ‘old girlfriends’. They were the friendly sort. They teased him, her too. She felt jealous when he blushed. That turned into irritation when he gushed ‘we should get together soon’. They laughed and teased her, ‘keep an eye on this ladies’ man’. She did not like the way they said it.
In the first year of marriage, she came across a few more of ‘his women’, that’s how she called them then. She sulked at first. He told her that he did not matter to them ‘at all’. She wondered why he did not say ‘they do not matter to me at all’.
One of the ladies was downright rude. He accosted that lady on the busy Main Street and she pretended not to remember him for a few minutes and when she did, she winced, quite visibly. She seemed, strangely, relieved when he introduced his wife. The lady even gave her a strange look. Only later, when they were at home, did she realize it as a pitying look. She observed more closely the next time, and the next time. He was right. He did not seem to matter to them at all. That irritated her. She sulked for a while. She winced whenever she thought of her unremarkable problem.