Monday, January 9, 2017

The Cliché

It must be true that everyone has their railway platform moment, or some variant of the same: a tragic parting with a train’s whistle playing in the background, a heart-breaking arms-stretched tableau at an airport’s Departure terminal or a lingering handshake at the bus-stand with thirty or so impatient fellow-passengers grumbling, “Aw…get on the bus, will you?”.
I have mine.
She was on platform number one. I was running to the escalator. A kid came in between. We nearly collided.
I mumbled an apology, recognized her instantly. It took her a while.
“We have met before, haven’t we?” she asked.
“Madam, at the bank, the mutual fund investment,” I mumbled.
“Ah yes…they are not doing well, are they?” she said with a smile in her eyes.
“Madam, think long-term, blue-chip portfolio never fails,” I tried to sound confident. “Are you here to catch a train?”
“Is there anything else to catch on a railway platform?” she teased.
We laughed.
“How about you?” she asked.
“My train is about to leave on platform number three,” I said. I added, “Going on honeymoon…”
“Alone?” she continued to tease.
I blushed and said, “With wife…”
“You have a lovely time,” she said.
The kid, and a trolley-bag it was pushing, whizzed behind her. She took a few steps forward to evade a collision. I raised my arms. We nearly touched.
“Phew…” she said, “you better run, your train is leaving.”
I raced over the bridge, jumped into my compartment and slumped on my seat.
“Who was that?” my wife asked.
“The lady you were talking to…?” she continued.
“Oh…no one…” I replied.
We had the coupe to ourselves.
An hour later, at Kollam, she asked, “How did she know you would be here today?”
“I don’t know…” I said.
Just before Ernakulam, she asked, “Did she talk…” she paused.
I waited for her to continue.
“You know…about long-term stuff…?” she said.
I nodded.
“But, it’s over, isn’t it?” she asked.
I nodded.
I watched the setting sun, stared blankly at a winding river, my unblinking tear-filled eyes followed twittering birds, my thoughts could have seemed far away, sat back, gave a long sigh, blinked and then closed my eyes.
At Kozhikode, she held my hand.
“Let’s have biriyani,” she said.
The honeymoon was lovely.
We returned by plane, via Bangalore. We had a four-hour wait there.
When I returned after a toilet break, I saw her at a bookshop, talking to a tall, handsome man. They smiled sadly at each other, the farewell seemed long and touching. He walked away, haltingly, to another gate. She returned to me, wiping her eyes with a small tissue.
She immersed herself in the book she had bought, with him. It was the bestseller, ‘Farewell to Gods’.
“Tea…?” I asked.
She nodded without looking up. I patted her shoulder. She rested her cold damp cheek on my hand. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Warning

We were undressing each other when I asked her, “Aarchee, did you get my parcel?”
“Oh yes, lovely photos,” she replied, “very sweet of you.”
Between kisses, she added, “It nearly got lost in the office mail. It landed sometime when I was on tour.”
Sometime later, she continued, “Guess what…Ahalya stayed with me for a few days and she found that album. She always finds my inner secrets.” Archana laughed.
“Where did you keep it?” I asked.
“With my cosmetics,” she replied. “I removed all the racy stuff before she found it…thank are very naughty, my darling sweetie-pie.”
Ahalya turned up at the restaurant and woke me up from that deep reverie.
“Are your naughty thoughts worth a penny?” Ahalya asked. I reached for her. She slipped in next to me on the curved booth-seat and snuggled close to me. I kissed her.
“Oye, the love goons will tar us,” she protested, “or, the proprietor…or, the young ones. And, we are fifty plus…”
“Bah, bah, bah…to the goons, to our age, to everything…” I protested. We separated when the waiter came with the menu card and a broad amused smile. He knew us. We ordered the usual.
“So, what were you thinking about?” Ahalya asked.
“Your sister,” I replied.
“Aarchee?” she asked. “What about her?”
“The album,” I said.
“Ah, the album,” she laughed. “What racy stuff you wrote in that!”
“Trust you to find the stuff she hid.”
“She removed it from the album and kept it by its side, face down though. In fact, it was the writing that caught my attention.”
“I know,” I thought for a while, “you read the writing and she saw only the photos.”
“Come on, that’s not fair, she read it too.”
“Well, you know what I mean.”
“I have always wondered,” Ahalya said, “how things would have turned out if I had not told you that I read what you wrote on the back of those photos.”
“Well, I would have married her,” I said, “and, we would have been divorced a few years later. I don’t think I would have given enough importance to the warning sign.”
“But, we are not really that different…” Ahalya argued.
“True…” I agreed.
“She is more beautiful,” Ahalya pointed out.
Ahalya elbowed my ribs. I cried, “Ouch.”
“Is she still with that venture capital something guy?” I asked, rubbing my side.
“Oh yes, he is a hunk, right? They are in Machu-Pichu,” Ahalya said.
“Somehow, your sister in Machu-Pichu sounds right,” I said.
“You are cruel.”
“Hey, I heard from my publisher,” I turned to her, “The Screwed has got the award.”
“Wow!” she hugged me. Then, she pulled back and said with a long face, “I didn’t like that story one bit.”
“I know…” I grinned.
“Why is it that I dislike all your award-winning stories?” she asked. “And none of the ones I like get a prize?”
“Sweetie-pie, I write two types of stories, one for you, and one to get money.”
“You are such a smooth-talker, Mr…”
After a while, she asked, “You thinking of my sister…now, that is not a warning sign, is it?”
“Could be…” Her elbow made contact with my ribs once again.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Fingerprint

On the first day, there was a spate of robberies in poor neighbourhoods. The police could do little. The thefts were too many, in places far apart and at the same time. They were surprised to find the same fingerprint at all locations.
On the second day, the police should not have been caught unawares. Billions of financial transactions on the new fingerprint-enabled app brought the marketplace to a crunching halt, that too with a single fingerprint.
On the third day, a very important person was found murdered. A poisoned tilaka on the forehead did the job. The fingerprint lifted from that was the same.
On the fourth day, the fingerprint rested.
On the fifth day, the faithless wondered why the fingerprint rested before the seventh day.
On the sixth day, the faithful created a temple for the fingerprint.
On the seventh day, there was an election and the fingerprint won. The fingerprint faded before the end of that day.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Photo

People were low on cash and spirit this festive season. Where could they leave yesterday for a while and collect a tomorrow when they were ready? The movie-halls did not exhibit any new release. For the holiday crowd, it was either the cool Museum grounds or the hot beach. Very few entered the shabby claustrophobic museum. Most preferred to stay on the grounds, beneath the old trees. Families counted heads and spent carefully. The peanut-sellers and the tea-shops enticed them with small change and bonus amounts. Not even a single balloon-seller was around. Who had money for packaged hot air?
There was a photo exhibition at the museum from Christmas till New Year. The nominal entry charge was removed after the first empty morning. It was a mediocre show. I am not an aficionado of that, or anything. There were two sections, or themes, a black and white series of common objects (underwear, garbage and such) and a colourful set with excessive filters and bewildering fusion. One set was described as neo-or-post-something.
The photo was in between those two collections. I nearly walked past without noticing it. It shows a bedroom (in a home or homestay?). The room must be on the first floor, with wooden floor and washroom down the hall. That’s not from the photo, but the room seems familiar. There is old wooden furniture. A thin white curtain sways in the wind, there must be a balcony with a view of whitewashed houses, sparse green on brown stretching to the azure sky and sea. The focus is on the bed with creased white sheet. A woman lies on her side, facing me.
I knew her. I knew the look in her eyes. There was sadness (did she take some half-joke of mine seriously?), a comforting smile (did I kiss and touch and suck the right spots?), weariness (didn’t she doze off with her head against my chest?) and, a fading light. I stood before her, silently wondering how she could be there.
There were others who lingered, not all. I returned the next day, and the next, and every day of the exhibition. I noticed the other repeat-offenders. They looked more and more tired and sleep-deprived each day.
One lady of sixty brought a friend the fourth day.
“It’s him,” she told the friend, “it’s definitely him.”
“Come on, dear,” the friend said, “there’s nothing there.”
“Forty years I have tried to forget him,” she explained, grabbing the friend’s hand.
“Look,” the friend pointed at the label, “this photo was taken this year.”
“Then, how is he on that bed, looking at me?” she asked.
“It’s an empty bed,” the friend said firmly, “enough of this, let’s go.”