True Lies

16 09 2010

Mr Sharma was a young strapping man of 20 and was lucky to find a job as soon as he was out of college. The family was elated and he was found a suitable match and within a year he was a father.  He took his job seriously and had his set of value and ethics which governed his work life. He was far from corruption and the other in his office dread that he might blow a whistle on them but he never did as a matter of principle and maintained complete honesty at his work.

He started his day early at 6:30 am when the sun would just peek from behind the hill and lighten up the entire village with its golden hue and the warmth. After the morning rituals he would spend about an hour shaving not giving up until the tiniest of the stray strand was remove followed by breakfast which was put up in jiffy by his loving wife who had to mange the kids, him and his parents. Then he would change into freshly ironed clothes and would walk all the way uphill for 15 minutes and then follow the tarred road for 3 km to work and spend honest 9 hours in office on work days. He followed this routine for the first 5 years of his 38 years long carrier with the government until he was posted to an office in a remote district; he smelled conspiracy in that.

He stayed aloof and maintained distance on account of his nature and choice. Everybody reckoned that they didn’t see and hear of a more honest man than him. This is the story of the only true and honest government employee I knew of.

The phone rang off and he rushed into his boss’s cabin to answer it. It was 15 min past 10 am; he had just made himself comfortable and dusted the files on his desk. “Why is nobody answering the phone? I have been calling for the past 30 min” shouted the man on the other end of the line. “Sorry Sir, I just came in”, Mr Sharma replied in a shaky voice. “Is this the time to come to office? Do you come to office at this time each day? Each day call me when you come in and ask Mr Thakur to send me the file on the new project”. Mr Thankur was his superior and as a habit he would only stroll into office after 11 am.

This was the defining conversation. Mr Sharma could have lied or could have kept quite. Way back then they only had one line which was used in the office during the day and after the office closed the peon would hook it up in Mr Thakur’s residence which was just besides the office building to ensure Mr Thakur could be reached during emergency and odd hours. That day peon took a wee bit longer to hook it up in the office and had just done finished when Mr Sharma entered the office. Mr Sharma was too honest to shut up or tell a lie. He diligently called his super boss each day for a month reporting that he reached on time and ruing the day when he answered the call on that wretched morning.

Mr Sharma invited trouble now and then with unintentional show of honesty but more or less lived a respectable guilt free work life until he retired. After retiring to fill up his free time he started walking the grand daughter to school and back and helping her with her homework plus pitching in to help with the house work which mostly resulted in a mess up.

The time passed on and Mr Sharma eased into the retired life and tried to keep up with his old habits and duties. He spend time fussing over the cleanliness and his health. He was spending more time with the kid and they happen to be inseparable – eating, playing, studies, playing and the grandfather would tuck the kid in with sweet stories and some stern words.

On one fine day during the monsoon the kid complained of ill health and refused to eat. The whole house got worried and the kid was rushed to the hospital; the doctor diagnosed her quickly with a liver infection and recommended a complete rest for 3 weeks. The grandfather on learning about the infection instantly put the kids on home remedies and completely forgot about the medicines recommended by the doctor. In 3 weeks the kid recovered quite well and resumed school.

“Could you please come to school and take Sofi home as she seems to be feeling uneasy and is crying”? Mr Sharma panicked and picked the kid from the school and rushed her to the hospital. She was already feeling better after tucking into her lunch box; problem seemed to be that she had missed her breakfast. While they waited outside the doctor’s room grandpa told the kid that if the doctor asks if she had medicines she should say yes. The kid turned around and looked at her grandpa with disbelief and said, “But we don’t tell a lie”.

Mr Sharma was taken aback and it transported him to his early days at work. “Just don’t say anything if the doctor ask you about medicines, that way you would not be telling a lie”.

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The Tavern

7 09 2010

He looked at his watch, it was just past midnight. He was on his last scotch and the eighth cigarette hanged dangerously from his lips desiring to be exhumed and to be sent out into billows through the crowd in the old tavern on the bend of the hill road. The tavern had weathered a century of storms and had stood tall like a strong solider though had often changed hands. No one knew why it didn’t had a steady owner like its steady patrons.

Before he could raise his hand to wave for the waiter to get his bill, the old man made himself comfortable on the adjoining bar stool and dumped his frayed old coat of the table in the process making lot of noise and attraction the attention of others in the tavern.

The old man turned to Raj and gave him a friendly smile and a nod. He appeared to have been dragged in by a cat; he smelled of cheap booze and reeked of sweat and not to mention the heavy breathing and the annoying mutter. Raj would have ignored him on any other day but today he was making an exception; it was his birthday and moreover he was alone. Raj made a futile attempt again to get the attention of the waiting staff  but the old man did a better job of getting Raj’s attention with, “you seems to be in a hurry, dear friend. Don’t be in rush they might be waiting for you outside.”

It certainly caught his attention and irked him too; he wanted to knock him down for being intrusive. Raj was in no hurry and felt the old man too needed a company. The old man had a wrinkled face making him historic and was slightly bent with age; he wore grubby and tattered clothes and constantly rambled. He looked at Raj now and then and gave him a toothless smile. Raj taking it as a cue for doles pushed his scotch glass to him and the old man grabbed the glass with both hands and was delighted at the gesture. Between sips of expensive scotch he spoke and mumbled about the old times. Then he put the glass down and looked at Raj, “the time has changed but they still are around”. The old man rambled on to tell Raj about the time he was young and the town was less crowded and the booze, dime a dozen.

This was not the time to swap stories but the old man kept going on while Raj checked his watch. “Do you believe in afterlife and the soul”? His question stuck Raj and he blurted, “you mean ghosts”. “Yes, that’s what the living calls them.” He turned to his right and looked straight into Raj’s eyes, “they say we have too many of them around”.

“I am an old-timer and have seen good and bad times but I can’t forget the night when this small hill town saw the bloody accident. It was late in the night and Mr and Mrs Brownstone were returning from the dinner hosted by their artist friend at Summer Hill. The night was beautiful and the star covered the sky like a night spread. Mr and Mrs Brownstone were the gentle folks visiting the town. Mr Brownstone was invited over by the Governor to design the official residence of the Viceroy. The couple was childless and had given hope as they both eased into their fifties; They had been in the town for barely a week and loved every bit of it – the morning sunshine, the smell of pine, the cool evening breeze and the sparkling night sky. The place was acting like a balm and they were glad that they got an opportunity to visit this exotic locale and explore a new part of the world in the process drowning their sorrows and finding each other again.

The dinner went well where they were introduced to the who is who of the town. Mrs Brownstone couldn’t be happier; the years of longing for a kid and depression had made her lose interest in the matters of the words. Mr Brownstone was delighted to see her smile again.

They both walked out of the party delighted and made their way to the small porch; the chauffeur was waiting for his master. He opened the door to Mrs Brownstone and they ease out of the property into the dark night.

Mrs Brownstone broke into a melodious love song incited by the beautiful starry lit night and the peace which they were experiencing in the town. After they had gone a few miles the driver lost control of the car just around the hill road and it plunged deep into the gorge. The next day the papers reported the news of this sad accident and the pall of gloom shrouded the entire town. The couple was found in peace in each others arms but the chauffeur’s body was never recovered.”

The old man stopped talking picked up his coat and got up to leave. He looked at Raj and smiled, “they say the dead chauffeur still walks around here telling his story”. The old walked on and disappeared through the door while the colour leached from Raj’s face.





The Old Man

4 09 2010

He slaved hard to feed ten,
And toiled like a mule for them.
They loved and respected him;
No man in that country saw a time so grim.

Destiny had it for him to brave hardship;
Fought he with the time like a lion.
Never had anyone a chance against him,
He could have wrestled down a bear himalayan.

He stood tall like an old tall oak tree,
Shadow benign near and far.
The gnarled hands told a story,
Of tough times and the hard lives scars.






SCHOOL

29 08 2010

Then I hated it and now I miss it,
How fast I grew to love it;
On the hill it stood like a solid rock,
I still smell the dusty white chalk;
There was fun and games to learn,
Now I realize how fast the clock runs.

I cried the first day and till the year end,
She bundled and walked me uphill with the friends;
I would wait for the bell to ring,
Ignoring what they made us sing;
No joy bound when I would see her wait;
I would run through the open gate.

When I walk past it and glare,
My eyes well up with tears;
I miss those lovely days,
And wish I could trade them for my gray;
Those days are long gone,
But the sweet memories linger and stay on.





The Iranian Girl – 2

14 08 2010

I thought about Sarah and her SOS messages for a month, was it a prank or was she really in trouble. I discussed with my friends who said I was crazy but I still decided to take on a journey to Iran.

I had to wait for another three months to get the visa. I didn’t hear from Sarah in this period. I read up on Iran – history, culture, places, people, hot spots, political situation, universities, gangs, terrorism etc and got my tour planned to spend most of the time around the town of Karaj. I booked myself a seven days and five night tour to Iran. I knew I was taking a risk.

I had three names- Sarah, Amir and Karaj to find her. After spending time shopping in Bazaar of Tabriz, Kish Beaches, Jangal-e Abr and Baghe Melli Gate, I decided to look for Sarah. I called in sick and skipped the tour and decided to travel to Karaj. It is situated 20 km west of Tehran, at the foothills of the Alborz mountains. A populated town making it the 5th largest city in Iran. Culturally very rich and a hub of educational institutes. The Art University was the only university which offered masters degree in English – that must be the pace where Sarah used to go.

I pleaded with the authorities that I was looking for my pen friend, Sarah and have traveled all the way to meet her. They relented and tried to help me. There was no one by the name of Sarah enrolled with them. Then I tried asking about the English professor – one of them has been away on a sick leave for quite sometime and the rest of the professors were ladies. I bribed the clerk and got the professors address.

He lived a short walk away from the campus in a small bungalow curtained by thick shrubs. I knocked on the door and a suave looking gentleman in his forties opened the door. I inquired about Sarah, one of his students but he had never heard of her. I tried describing the girl but he pretended to be busy and tried to shoo me away. I could sense he knew something about the girl but he maintained a straight face.

I had not traveled all the way here to be turned away. I pushed the professor in and closed the door, I held his tight in a choking grip under my arm. He squealed and I didn’t relent, I punched him hard on the nose and almost broke his jaw. I tightened my grip and he gasped for breath; he pleaded to be let free and then he started talking.

“Her name is not Sarah, her real name is Fatima. She was in the final year of the university, a very precocious girl. I don’t believe in getting close to my students, I knew she had something for me I  ignored her completely. She wrote me letter, sent me flowers, and got me email address and send out erotic and dirty note. I ignored it all.” He sighed and asked me if I would care for some scotch. I nodded and he poured a large shot for me.

“About four months ago she knocked on my door in the dead of the night. She was crying and looked shaken. I let her in and that was the biggest mistake of my life”. He walked to the window and gazed out for long. “Amir was looking for her while she slept on my couch. They seem to have had a fight when he was forcing her to join his friends for a night out. He and his friends chased her here and broke open the door and beat me up and took her away. That was the last I saw her”.

He opened a drawer and handed me a paper cutting, it had news about Fatima. Amir pushed her into prostitution and when she couldn’t take it anymore she decided to end her life. There was a picture of Fatima with a beautiful smile and a big nose.





The Iranian Girl – 1

14 08 2010


“Did I tell you, I have even been to Tehran”, I stooped and then walked away leaving the boy gaping at my extraordinary youth and the escapades.

I met her online. It was about 10 years ago, the yahoo chat was abuzz, everyone was doing it and even I got pulled in by the anonymous world of sleaze and strangers and salacious talks. I felt liberated and the garb of anonymity made me super superman. She was 22 and was from Iran.

She never told me much about her whereabouts except for the fact that her nose was too big and made her conscious and that she was seeing a rich kid because he was rich and gave her gifts. Her real crush was her English teacher at the university to whom she was practically invisible. She told me her efforts and schemes are failing to get his attention. She asked for suggestions and insight into the mind of a complicated man and how to win him; I readily supported her by quick searches in Google and from my experience. My advice sounded very apt for Sarah, that’s what her name was. She came online to chat with strangers to improve her English.

This continued for quite some time, she talked about her loveless boyfriend and the rejection from the English teacher. I had developed feeling for her in those months. She discussed everything, her pious sister who was a devoted Muslim and herself a loose girl who was a virgin to ensure a husband in future but had allowed Amir to please himself through other means. Amir, her boyfriend was attractive but boorish. He brought her gifts every time they met and the expensive gifts made his stick to him, though she had no love for him. She couldn’t break through the stoic and tough English teacher, that’s what she told me last.

Then we lost touch with each other. I hardly got time to get on the messenger to chat up and when I was online she was not there. I knew I would never ever speak to her; I erased her from my memory. I had feelings for her but never expressed them and was not sure if she knew about them. I closed the chapter.

I got a job that helped me get busy and earn living, years passed and then one day I had an offline message from Sarah. It seem to have been hurriedly written, it read, “I need HELP they would kill me, please tell someone to help me.” The usual and the customary smiley and cheerio was missing. I didn’t pay attention to it and dismissed it as a scam. In some days I again had a message from Sarah this time much longer. “He beats me everyday. I am so scared. I miss my sister and family, my tears have dried up I would die. Please help.”

I traced the IP address to Karaj in Iran.





FRIEND

13 08 2010

There is no one who cares for him,
He wondered all day and now he lay limp.
If I had time I would pick him and preen,
Humanity lost to the money machine.
Each day, I pack my bags and climb the morning train,
What have I become? A vain.
No time and pain for my broken friend,
Why do I hesitate to stretch my hand?
Our childhood was fun,
Those long walks and short runs.
Damn the fellow who made greed,
My nights are comfortable but my heart bleeds.
He breaths last and hard and writhe in pain,
I look out of my penthouse and try to enjoy the rain.