Saturday, March 28, 2015

Gates of Heaven

“Amma, you should not be lying on the bed all the 24 hours. You must sit on the chair and keep moving about a little once a while,” said, Radha, her daughter-in-law, a bit loudly.
“What can I do? My back is paining when I sit. I am unable to walk and this walker is more a nuisance than a help,” replied Chellamma.
“At this rate you would not be able to even walk to toilet in a few months,” warned Radha.
The old woman did not respond.A frail woman in her eighties, her vision had gone dim, hearing impaired and limbs so weak that she needed a walker to move about. Of late she was falling sick frequently with minor ailments like cough, cold or fever making herself dependent on others. She lay mostly in her bed watching vacantly the ceiling and the revolving fan. With her handicaps, she had no use for a TV or music system in her room. Loneliness enveloped her as the body became weak with age...
Her only past time was to revive old memories of years bygone. There was a trace of smile in her face as she thought of her younger days when she like a queen had ruled her sprawling bungalow consisting of her soft natured husband, who was a leading advocate, and their seven sons and two daughters. Her writ prevailed in the house and none dared to question her. It was affluent days with no want. She was kind by nature but never allowed her daughters-in-law to claim intimacy with her. There were many servants and two cooks in the large house. The front hall always bristled with many juniors and clients with non-stop supply of coffee and refreshments. She carried herself with dignity and was held in great respect. There was happiness in the family with all sons living together with their wives and children.
These days she lived in a small room at the rear of an apartment with her second son Rajappa as all the others were living separately. Both Rajappa and his wife Radha though caring were away at work in the day time. They had no children. She kept the food and coffee in a flask on a table adjacent to her. There was none to assist the old woman.It was silence and monotony all through the day.Even when they returned home, they did not talk to her much. Radha used to frown at the stench that emanated from toilet. Chellamma luckily never heard her snide comments but knew Radha was upset about something.
It was the ennui and loneliness that frustrated her.She saw no purpose in living and wished God to take her soon to heaven. The failing heath, perceived neglect and emotional stress of being dependent were unbearable. She became depressed and yearned constantly for deliverance. She was all the time praying to God
One Sunday she was telling Radha,” I am tired of being tied to bed. I hope my constant prayers to God to take me away.soon would be answered. I hope He would listen to my prayers and take me to heaven,”
 “Amma, how do you think that the gates of heaven would be kept open for you to enter at your will? How can you be so sure that you will go to heaven? Do you have the key for it by any chance? asked Radha in a sarcastic tone.
“I don’t know all that. I pray to Guruvayurappan (Lord Krishna) daily that He should take me to Him. Wherever He is, it must be heaven” replied the old lady
Chellamma prayed that night intensely to God “Guruvayurappa, Narayana, don’t ditch me on any count. I have been praying all the waking hours. Please take me to your feet. I do not wish to live anymore..I totally depend on you for deliverance.” She went on praying and crying for His grace till she dozed off to sleep.This went on for three days pushing the poor woman to extreme misery and dejection.
It was on fourth day she had a dream in which Guruvayurappan  appeared and assured her “Chellamma, do not worry.I have heard your prayers.The gates of heaven will be open for you and you will have the key before long.Trust me and have no worry.”
The lady woke up with a start and was greatly surprised and relieved. Peace and calm descended on her face at what she believed to be God’s message to her.
 “Amma, what happened? You seem calm and happy? Have you got the Key for heaven’s gate or what?”taunted Radha in a smiling tone that night.
Chellamma did not respond but turned in bed and closed her eyes
It was past 8 am the next morning and Chellamma had not got up from the bed. It was getting late for the office. Radha came to wake her up followed by Rajappa.When she nudged the old woman, her hand fell on her side. Radha let out a shriek when it dawned on her  that the old woman was no more..Intrigued by the tightly closed hand, she opened the fingers to find a clear imprint of a key on her palm..
Radha stood perplexed staring at the imprint  wondering how  the old woman got it even as she remembered her taunt about the key for the gates of heaven.Overcome by grief, she fell on Chellamma crying “Amma, forgive me. I am a wretch….,” with a confused  and shaken Rajappa looking on in disbelief.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Instant justice

Sarangan reclined in the easy chair was reading the morning paper. His wife Rukmini squatting on the floor was cutting vegetables for dinner. Their two kids were watching some song and dance sequence on the TV.
“Keep the volume low or I will switch off the TV” shouted Sarangan at his children.
“Sorry daddy. The   programme is over and we have closed the TV. It showed Marina beach in the dance sequence. It is beautiful. We have never seen a beach in real. Won’t you take us to Chennai and show us the beach? Many of our classmates have seen. Please daddy” the two children said in chorus.
“I agree with children. My sister   is also inviting us for a long time. The beach is very close to their house. We can offer prayers at Sri Parthasarathi temple also. We can go for three days in the weekend. We have never gone out for years,” said Rukmini in support of the children.
“Have you gone mad or what? We are unable to manage even a single month our household needs within my meager salary and I keep borrowing frequently from friends at month end. Forget beach or temple. We cannot afford any outing now” Sarangan replied angrily.
The children’s faces fell and they left the hall quietly to their room. Rukmini also silently went to the kitchen. Sarangan felt sorry for them but his financial position did not permit him to indulge in a family trip to Chennai. He said in assuaging tone”Rukmini, I am aware I haven’t taken you people anywhere. I felt bad to say no but am helpless. May be next year we can all go. Please explain to the kids suitably”
Three days later Sarangan received a letter from his cousin in US along with a draft for about Rs25, 000.

Dear Sarangan,
Every year during the ten day annual festival at the Kothandaramar temple, we bear the expenses for a day’s puja and also offer in superior quality a silk sari with Zari for the goddess and a pair of veshti (dhoti) with zari for the God along with flowers, fruits, etc. As my mother is with me here this year, I need your help to arrange for this. I enclose a draft for US$400.I think this would cover the expenses. If any balance is remaining please give some to the priest and drop the rest if any in the hundi.I hope it would not be inconvenient for you.
Convey my regards to Rukmini and love to children

Sarangan got Rs.24,800 on encashment of the draft. Once the money was in his hand, wicked thoughts crowded his mind. He thought this a godsend opportunity to fulfill the desires of Rukmini and children. He remembered with regret the disappointment writ large on their faces when he refused their plea for a Chennai visit.
“Rukmini, my cousin has sent Rs 15,000 towards his share of puja at the annual festival in the temple. We have to pay Rs7,500 to temple in cash for the day’s puja.Out of the remaining, we should buy a silk sari, a pair of dhotis with Zari border, and fruits, garlands, flowers etc.We may also have to pay some small amount to the priest. Please get   the sari and pair of Dhotis for Rs.5000 tomorrow itself as their puja day is three days hence” he told her.
“Even for a very ordinary silk sari with imitation Zari and a pair of dhotis with false zari Rs.5000 is hardly adequate. Why is your cousin so miserly even when it relates to temple and when he is earning huge salary? My conscience will not permit me to buy such cheap stuff for the festival. You go and buy whatever you wish and hand over to the priest. Please do not call me to the temple. I will die of shame with such flimsy stuff” she said curtly.
Sarangan ignored her taunt and  bought some cheap silk sari with imitation zari and a pair of dhotis with zari border not in superior count for about Rs 5000. As his conscience pricked, he ordered for Sakkarai pongal (sweet rice) as an extra offering. He bought the rest of puja materials on the puja day. As Rukmini refused to accompany him, he took the two children with him to the temple. The day’s puja including the temple fees, offering in the hundi and dakshina for the priest was well within his budgeted amount of Rs.15000.
He later counted the cash with him and found to his great satisfaction that he had Rs.10140.Next day he told his wife and children “Get ready for a Chennai trip this weekend. I have taken two days leave and booked tickets by bus on Friday night. Rukmini, inform your sister. I hope all of you are now happy. We can see beach, temple, malls and whatever you wish to.”
“You told me only three days back that we cannot afford the trip. How come you are now asking us to be ready?”asked Rukmini.
“I got some unexpected arrears from office” bluffed Sarangan. The children jumped in joy and hugged their dad.
It was Thursday morning. When Sarangan went to bathroom in a hurry for a shower, he slipped and fell down. He could not get up. He called Rukmini thrice before she with the help of neighbours broke the door open to find him sprawled on the floor unable to get up. He had got hurt on the leg and hand. Luckily there was no injury on the head. He was rushed to hospital. His leg and hand had sustained big fracture with displacement in leg. He had to be operated upon, kept in ICU for a day and was discharged after three days.
The children who were greatly disappointed at the turn of events did not utter a word about Chennai.
While he lay in the bed with big bandages in leg and hand, he asked Rukmini where from she got the money and how much she had paid to the hospital.
“I paid from the arrears you had kept in your purse. I don’t remember the amount. Let me get the bill,” she said

When she gave the bill, Sarangan found it was for Rs 10,140.It hit like a sledgehammer that the bill was exactly for the amount he had misappropriated from his cousin and deceived the God.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The stolen smooch

With no nudge from my side, she came often to my room in the first floor of her own accord. She came many times mostly for a fleeting glance except once or twice in a day when she lingered close to me for long time. It was clear she was in love and longed to be with me as her face cheered up whenever she came before me. I just reciprocated her warmth in equal measure to her great glee.
In her early twenties, she was a fetching beauty with large eyes that fluttered for no reason in my presence. She was a funny young thing who reveled in making faces at me, sometimes narrowing her eyes, occasionally twisting her nose, frequently pouting her wet rosy lips and mostly smiling at me. I just watched her with interest when once a while she showed off a little unabashedly her beautiful figure,but I never responded in a big way to her overtures. But she was the type who never gave up.
She came to this house only six months back after having married into the family. Her husband left for office early in the morning only to come home late in the night. She had not taken up any job and after the morning chores she had nothing much to do. Leaving her aged in-laws who could not climb in the ground floor, she rushed to my room at the earliest opportunity. This has been going on without any interruption till yesterday
It was 4pm in the evening. She seemed to be happy and in great mood. She was dressed in style and wore matching jewelry. May be she was attending some function and possibly would be back only late at night. She came to me and stood erect before me as if she wanted me to tell her she looked extremely attractive. When I kept quiet, in a fit of emotion she pressed her lips hard on my face leaving a prominent mark of lipstick. When she saw me looking at her in utter credulity, like a crazy woman she did it repeatedly  leaving red marks all over my face.
It was then the door opened unexpectedly and her husband walked in silently. Even as she was busy disfiguring my face, he came behind her and wound his arms tightly around her.
”Hey, have you gone nuts or what? What are you doing?” he asked her. As she froze in embarrassment, he taunted her “You have never been so generous with me like this.”
Even as she, a bit ashamed, started wiping feverishly the smudges from my face, he said “I am extremely jealous. Beware, I may break your mirror one day”
I think he spoke in jest and really never meant any  harm to me.

Monday, March 16, 2015

A late night journey

I could not start earlier from the hospital. Uncle had just returned to intensive care unit after a major  surgery. I had to be with my aunt to provide her company and moral support. I could leave only after the attending doctor said uncle’s condition was stable. It was past 11 pm.I was afraid to take a cab at that hour. As I came out I found one three-wheeler at the gate. The driver had a monkey cap over his head and had a woolen blanket over him to ward off the cold wind in the wintry night. From his face he appeared to be past 50.
When I was hesitant to approach him, I heard him tell “It is late, beti. Tell me where you wish to go. I will drop you safely”
“How much would you want to go to Paschimvihar near Jwalahiri Market?”
“Pay me whatever the meter shows. It has not been tampered with”
As soon as I got into the vehicle, he tried to cover the side openings with Tarpaulin curtains.
Let them be open. Do not cover” I said
“Are you crazy? It is biting cold outside and windy too. Do not be afraid,” he said and continued to cover the openings despite my demur. I was tired and in no mood to argue. I hoped he would not engage me in conversation.
“Who is not well? Any of your close relatives?” he asked as the auto rickshaw started moving along the ring road. I knew he would ferret out more information from me. I did not reply him.
“It is ok if you do not wish to answer. Your fear is justifiable. The city has gone to dogs in the last three years by the wicked acts of a few but bringing bad reputation to many,” he said
“Sorry, it is not like that. I am very tired and stressed out. It is my dear uncle who is in hospital,” I replied
“I am sorry. Do you mind my smoking a beedi? It is very cold”
“No you can smoke” I said. I was not taken in by his deferential attitude and questions that expressed concern. I was happy that I was not travelling in a speeding car. Three wheelers are slow moving vehicles with openings on both sides. The driver was also within reach. I unzipped my bag and took the pepper spray in my hands.
He did not talk thereafter and continued to drive the vehicle at steady speed. It was dark and slightly foggy outside. I could only see the speeding street lights. I knew we had crossed JorBagh and was nearing Naraina. It was a desolate patch for a short distance. The vehicle made strange sound with jerks before it came to a grinding halt. I looked out .It was dark.
“Do not worry. I will set it right in a few minutes” he said as he climbed down the vehicle.
It was 11.45 pm. Some cars whizzed past. Memories of gruesome rape of a young and unsuspecting lady came to my mind. Is this a ruse and a prelude for some sinister act, I wondered. The pepper spray gave me some confidence.
As if he read my mind, I heard him sighing from darkness.”I know you are thinking of the recent rape and wondering why this man has stopped the vehicle. The snag is set right and we will be proceeding to Jwalahiri market now”
I did not like his presumptuous remark about the recent rape I cursed myself that my mobile was without charge but pretended to speak to my dad telling him that I am stuck near Naraina and would be home in 30 minutes.
As we were crossing Punjabi bagh, he admonished me for travelling late in the night “Don’t you educated people ever learn that Delhi is unsafe in the night for women? Why do you young women tempt the evil minded drivers by travelling alone?” he said
My anger grew at his audacity to advise me on what I should or not do. I decided not to answer him then but to give a piece of my mind when I reached my complex. I could see the vehicle turn into Paschimvihar road and my fears subsided when I saw the familiar surroundings. I was ready to forgive his unsolicited advice.
As he drew the vehicle to a stop after reaching my complex, I checked the meter and gave him 50 rupees more than the entitled night fare. Instead of accepting the money, I saw him crying and wiping his eyes with a kerchief. I asked him what the matter was and why he was sobbing. “Nothing, young lady” he said
When I insisted on knowing, he replied “Last year on this date in the same month, my daughter of your age foolishly but innocently took a three wheeler after late night shift. The driver stopped midway and took another accomplice in the vehicle only to destroy her dignity at a lonely place. She committed suicide the next day. Memories of her filled my mind when I saw you looking for a vehicle. May be I should not have advised you”
“I am extremely sorry, uncle, for misjudging all by the nefarious acts of a few. I have no words to express my sadness at your grief. Here take some more money” I said as I opened the purse.
“I don’t need any money, beti. I only want  my daughter back” he said as he cried inconsolably.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

55 word fiction

1. Offering
His prayer for job answered, he went to temple to drop his offering of 100 rupees in the hundi.The temple was closed but lines of beggars filled the entrance. He could see hunger in their eyes. Without second thought he distributed the entire offering money to them. The temple bell tolled as if in approval.
2. Ethics
She lay on the bed staring at him in his clinic. She looked cute and soft with golden hair. As he examined her belly slowly with his lingering fingers, she fluttered her eyes. He ran his fingers again over her body He resisted the urge to possess her, as she jumped on the ground purring.
3. Lonely path
News papers were awash about recent molestation in that area. She still chose the desolate park at night being a short cut to her home. To her horror she saw a stalker walking behind her. She ran to the main gate and turned to see the new patrol policeman waving at her from the park
4. Violence
What started as banter turned violent. Though 15 feet away, she could hardly follow the quarrel between the two goons. Her heart missed a beat when one of them whipped a knife and plunged it deep in other’s abdomen. As red blood gushed, the attacker turned his gaze at her. She quickly shut the television.
5. Tell me again
It was their first date. They snuggled closer as beach wind was cold
“Can I ask you one thing? Do you get angry?” she asked
“No, my darling “he whispered into her ear
“Tell me again”
“I don’t get angry, sweetheart”
“Say it once more”
“You blockhead! Are you deaf or what?”he shouted in anger

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Molagai (chillies) Bajji and the heart surgery

The phone rang. It was Rangan who said “Do you know Raju Mama has been admitted in Apollo hospital last night? I hear his condition is critical. The doctors are planning for an open heart surgery which may be tomorrow itself. I thought I should tell you since you are very close to him.”
 “Who told you? Was there any call from his house?” I asked. My thoughts went to Raju Mama, my mom’s youngest brother. An extremely pleasant and jovial person, he had a special liking for me amongst his many nephews. Possibly it could be for the reason that I resembled him or played cricket, a sport he loved very much. We used to attend cricket matches together and often differed violently on many matters relating to the game and players. He had strong likes and dislikes with a regional bias that colored his judgment. Be that as it may, this common interest brought us close.
I was greatly concerned about the news. He was in his fifties but enjoyed good health with no complaints of blood pressure, sugar or cholesterol. Nevertheless, heart attacks are silent killers giving no advance warning and coming when most unexpected. He had young children, some still school-going and one daughter to be married. I did not think he had saved much nor had any paternal property to fall back upon.
When I rang up his house, there was no response. This gave me worry. I contacted another cousin. He also mentioned that he had heard it from his niece and that in all probability the surgery could take place the next day. He added for good measure that he heard the surgery was a major one with fifty percent success rate, and that mama was in intensive care unit.
It was 3 pm and I decided to rush to the hospital immediately. I started praying that Mama should come out of this ordeal unscathed as he had huge responsibilities towards his family. As I went inside the sprawling and jam-packed lounge of the hospital, I saw Vignesh talking to someone with a cup of coffee in his hand. He was laughing and showed no sign of anxiety. I rushed to him asking “How is Raju Mama? What is the latest news?”
 “What happened to Raju Mama? Is he here? Any problem? I came here to meet a colleague,” he asked in bewildered tone
I could see none else known to me there. When I approached the admissions desk, they could not locate any Rajagopalan in ICU.They said one by the same name was in room L418. When I rushed there, I saw Mami standing outside talking to someone.
“Mami, what happened to mama? Why did you not seek my help? Is Mama free from danger? How is he now and when is the surgery?” I bombarded her with questions.
 “What are you telling? Mama is fine. He had this problem for a long time and was suffering silently. When it became unbearable, he went to the doctor. He said surgery is the only option and it is slated for tomorrow”, she said.
"Who is the cardio vascular surgeon and who is the cardiologist attending on him,” I asked anxiously.
“What are you blabbering? Why cardio-doctors for piles operation? It is very minor one and he will be sent home very soon. Go and see him inside. He is ordering all sorts of dishes from the canteen and enjoying himself”
When I went inside, the TV was blaring. He had a plate full of Molagai Bajjis and heartily welcomed me. “Nanu, don’t be upset with me. I didn’t want this piles business to be known to all. My children have all gone to Coimbatore for a marriage. So I chose this time..Mami stays here with me. Please don’t publicize this,” he said.
“Mama, I was greatly scared when I heard you had a serious heart ailment and was to be operated. tomorrow”
“Which fool told you? I told a few days ago one of my nephews I forget the idiot’s name readily, that I had heart-burn after eating molagai bajji (Hot fried delicacy made with chillies). When he perhaps heard that I am in the hospital, he must have embroidered on that news to, graduate the heart burn to heart surgery. May be in two days someone would have told you that I had kicked the bucket!”
Much relieved at the happy turn of the incident, I smiled when Raju mama offered the bajjis saying “Eat them. They are so delicious here  that one must get admitted to the hospital only to savour this”
Most rumours have no legs to stand upon. So many relationships are broken for believing what we hear without checking the veracity of the rumours given as news