Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Quarrel

The quarrel started over a minor issue. Mrs Menon’s daughter Ria and Mrs. Sen’s daughter Parul were playing in the shade of the Gulmohar tree on one fine, sunny morning. It was a midsummer morning and the kids’ schools were closed for the summer vacations. They had been playing badminton and hopscotch till the sun became too hot to endure. So they took their dolls and kitchen sets and started playing in the cool shade of the tree. All was going well, till Ria thought it amusing to pull the dress off Parul’s doll and in the process managed to break the doll’s arms. Now Parul was feeling tired and quite hungry and at that moment the damage instilled on her favourite doll under her very eyes proved to be the last straw. On a child’s impulse, she reached out and pulled Ria’s hair. Ria, being the more timid of the two, found herself helpless and scampered off to her mother, howling.
Within ten minutes, Mrs. Menon, a big, heavy set lady came storming to ring the bell at the Sens’ apartment. Mrs Sen was entertaining a client at home as her office was undergoing renovation. Paying no heed to courtesy, Mrs Menon embarked on a long and very descriptive assault on Mrs Sen’s daughter’s aggressive, impudent behaviour. Mrs Sen, sufficiently embarrassed, vowed to intervene later as she was having a guest. This further fuelled Mrs Menon’s anger as she increased her volume of uttering expletives and refused to budge from the door. Mrs Sen, who was by now sufficiently humiliated in front of her client, and seething with rage, slammed the door on her face.
Things took a turn for the worse very quickly, as Mrs Menon wasted no time to gather all the ladies of the building and report that she had seen with her own eyes Mrs Sen resort to ‘inappropriate behaviour with an unknown male in her house during the absence of her husband.’ A few of the ladies who were generally bored housewives and desperate for entertainment in any form, seconded her allegation. They claimed that they had all seen Mrs Sen with dubious looking men in her house at all hours of the day when her husband was at work. In no time at all, Mrs Sen’s reputation was laid to dust.
In the evening, when the respective husbands returned from work, the matter took a different turn. The moment the exhausted men returned home to toss aside their brief cases and sink down on the couch demanding a blissful cup of tea, they were ambushed by their incensed wives. The poor men hardly had time to breathe when they were pounced upon with exaggerated details of the day’s activities from two totally different perspectives.
Mrs Sen, who was always the polished, diplomatic kinds, soon manipulated her husband to lodge a complaint with the housing society regarding the Menons’ lack of civic sense in leaving their garbage out near their neighbour’s door each morning and making their dog relieve itself on the common staircase landing. Before he had a chance to shower and gulp down the tea, Mr Sen was off to the Society Secretary’s place with a written complaint against the Menons. He even gathered a few signatures on the way from a handful of ‘witnesses’ who happened to be none other than his Bridge partners every Sunday.
By the next morning, the whole building accommodating thirty two apartments, were teeming with excitement. There was quite a lot on the ‘unofficial agenda’ of the monthly meeting of the housing society scheduled for the coming Sunday. Mrs Sen had a reputation to save by counter accusing her assailants while Mrs Menon was driven to prove a point.

The birds chirped and the breeze made waves on the carpet of grass. It was a light, cloudy day in summer, perfect for a picnic. Butterflies fluttered along the path of tiny violet blossoms hidden by the grass. Two little girls rolled on the green carpet, playing with the butterflies and laughing in spontaneous delight. Ria and Parul cherished every moment of their holiday, lost in an innocent world where fights happened everyday to be forgotten.

 A little way off, in the club house hall, a meeting was on and two very agitated families were playing a different ball game, trying to settle a quarrel with heigtened zeal and purpose.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Wait

The rains had paused on an impulse after drenching the city for twelve long hours. Alas, in the concrete jungle of the big city, the rain loses its romance to overflowing gutters and mud puddles. Against this backdrop, she waited, on Paltform number 1 of Bandra Station, under the big station clock. She waited, trying to ignore the stench in the air and the tide of mud-splattered, perspiring bodies pushing past her in waves, to catch a foothold in the Churchgate local.
Her dress was sufficiently ruined, thanks to the sadistic delights of auto rickshaws speeding over the mud puddles, drenching her in muck from head to toe. Her pretty sandals were caked with mud from the station stairs. She was waiting for her date. Between cursing the effects of rain and the lack of punctuality of her boy friend, she glanced at the station clock every few seconds.
Her mind was in a state to invite chaos. So she let herself be tormented with the recent memories of a ruthless boss who hogged the limelight at her expense. The fury and resentment that these thoughts invited, paved the way for a chain of never ending bitterness towards a roommate who had not returned a substantial portion of her hard – earned salary, towards an unrelenting landlord, an uncompromising colleague and finally, her inconsiderate boy friend who dared to make her wait under such pathetic circumstances. She knew that he would finally arrive with a big grin on his face and an even bigger bunch of red roses as a sincere attempt to compensate for her distress. She knew that she would finally relent.

He stood on the overcrowded bus, sandwiched between a plump lady and a college girl, the umbrella of the former poking his back, while the wet, spiky hair of the latter brushing against his face. He had stood this way for the past half hour during which the bus had progressed barely a few yards. Evening traffic was always bad, and coupled with an outpouring of monsoon shower, it completely paralysed the city. He glanced at his watch again. He was running late, too late. He knew that despite the delay, he would have to make a dash for the florist at the junction of Linking Road and S.V Road, and then sprint the remaining distance to the station dodging moody auto rickshaws and careless pedestrians. He cursed his last minute meeting called by his sadistic boss that had ensured that he miss the earlier bus. Now he had no option but to hang on to the jerky and painfully slow bus ride and brace himself for the inevitable tongue lashing which awaited him. Someone from the rear of the bus had switched on FM and the magical notes of Kishore Kumar drifted to fill up the imposed pause in life....pal pal dil ke paas tum rehti ho (every moment of my life I feel you with me)

She glanced at the station clock once again. And then, inadvertently her gaze fell on the beggar. She had seen the same beggar many a time at around the same spot, next to the corner pillar. His hair was long and tangled, his beard dirty and unkempt. His left foot was amputated and there was an open wound on his right knee which was infected, possibly septic. His tragic plight was such an eyesore that the reflex of any sane person would have dictated him or her to look away and save one’s mind from a blend of disgust and pity. But today, he was not alone. A stray dog, very thin and bathed in mud, shared his intimate space. As she looked on with bewilderment, the beggar tore a piece of stale chapatti which was placed on a piece of newspaper and fed the dog with extreme care and devotion, then he tore another piece and took a bite himself. The dog nuzzled close and the beggar looked contented and at ease. There was no trace of any chaos in his mind. As she watched, losing track of time, the beggar and the dog continued to share the chapatti in utter bliss and with that chapatti they shared a mutual companionship of unconditional respect and love. The eyesore has disappeared, and the mental block had cleared. She saw a unique beauty of life unfold before her eyes, a beauty so raw and tender, that it invaded her soul with its touch. The squalor and odours of Bandra station vanished from her sphere of sensations and in its place there was the scent of wet earth mingled with nostalgia.

The little girl selling the flowers was dripping wet; her meagre, tattered frock clung to her slender body. She was asking less than half the price for the dozen roses. She was hungry, and desperate for some money to buy bread. She was running from car to car, knocking on windows, pleading for someone to buy her roses.
He forgot about the usual florist in the usual corner. He took all her roses and paid her liberally. Then, on a weird impulse, he turned around and gave her a single rose from the bunch he had bought for his lady. It had started to drizzle again and he had to hurry to reach his destination.

They took an auto rickshaw to Bandstand. The rocks were submerged by the tide. They gazed at the last hues of orange shading the horizon and scattering its vibes on the Arabian Sea. They waited for an eternity saying nothing but absorbing the spirit of the rains romancing the city of mud and grime. There was no need for impatience for there was always enough time for everything.

(I dedicate this post to my dear friend Cayman who has inspired me with a little story on Cayman time)