Saturday, August 27, 2011


"Pooriyan taiyyar ho gayin kya?? Office ke liye late ho raha hai!"
"Haan!! Do minute ruko, bas la rahi hoon!...Yeh lo."

Shreedhar looked at his wife. She looked beautiful. She was setting the table for breakfast, and there were tiny droplets of water in her hair. The ever familiar scent of jasmine oil floated into the room, as she went to and from the kitchen, bringing puris with her. She stood in the kitchen, humming an old number - "Aaj jaane ki zid na karo...." The notes of the song transported him to a different world - Sudha had always been a good singer. He remembered his college days when he had first met her. He remembered, how once upon a time, he had fallen in love with that voice.

But age had a way of catching on. It was like dust... that ever familiar, permanenent layer of dust that is all pervading in Indian society - from the houses, to the dingy shops in the mohalla, the roads, the numerous small shrines dedicated to local deities found in every street. And no matter how much we Indians scrubbed, cleaned, mopped, rinsed, sweeped and wiped with a wide variety of brushes, suds and tools, to get rid of its signs, it always managed to find the most unlikely corner or nook to settle in- your kitchen, your house, your being and even in the comforts of your long marriage. Accumulating, unknown to you, before the next big party, the next guest arrival, the next big clean up.

"Saaman sab rakh liya hai?" she asked.
"Haan. Aaj mujhe aane mein thodi der ho jaaegi, zara Chaman se kuch
kaam ke silsile mein milne jaana hai. Mera intezaar mat karna."
"Theek hai. Apna dhyan rakhna", she said, handing him his tiffin
filled with hot puris.
"Haan. Chalo, chalta hoon, der ho rahi hai."

It had been a long, exhausting day at work. One of many. Business had been real tight the last couple of days. Tired as he was, Shreedhar trudged on - he had missed the last bus home, and the probability of getting a cab in Mumbai at this hour in Mumbai was as close to impossible.

The sign ahead said "Kamathipura ->", with the arrow pointing straight. Shreedhar stopped for a moment, looking at the dingy suburb ahead with slight trepidation. He did not prefer being in these areas. It made him slightly uncomfortable - being seen on these streets was sure to cause a stir in the neighbourhood. Shreedhar clutched his bag tightly and walked cautiously, looking straight ahead, pretending to be oblivious to his surroundings.

Today, somehow, after a long time, he was feeling the urge for a smoke. He used to smoke long back, in college, but had given it up long ago. But the market had been exceptionally disastrous, and he wanted to give himself the luxury of but imagining, what it would be like, if problems were as ephemeral as a mere whiff of a cigarette. Today, Chaman would have to wait.

Vapours of smoke filled the surroundings, wafting lazily, spirits emanating from the embers of a wasted life.

Shreedhar sat there for a long time, thinking, reflecting on his past, his life and his thirty years of marriage to Sudha. It was not as if Sudha was a bad wife. He had no problems with her. She cooked, she cleaned, she took care of the house and of him, she cared for him, got worried when he went for long trips, made his favourite laddoos for him on festivals, everything that is required of a good Indian housewife. Theirs was like any other happy Middle class household. They never fought, argued- perhaps. On trifles like how he ever remembered to get the groceries on the way back from office, or repair that perpetually leaking tap, ask for directions to the new restaurant in town which everyone is talking about - things like that. Like any other married couple of their time and age.

"Eh Seth! Chalta ha kya?" Shreedhar shot back to the present with a start, as a raspy voice from somewhere behind him broke his chain of thoughts. He turned back, and almost got the shock of his life. He almost froze to the spot, not knowing what to do or how to react. "Main...Main...woh...” he sputtered incoherently. "Main kya..?? Kuch bolta kahe ko nah hai?" Some lookers-on intervened, approaching her menacingly -"Eh! Hat! Chal yahaan se!" "Haan haan - jaati hoon Hmph! Saala fattu. Bahut dekhe hain tere jaise!"

In that sudden moment, Shreedhar felt a jolt through his being. An unexplainable and intense force gripped him, a feeling like never before. It was as if that one insult, that one derision, had sent him into a frenzy. He did not know whether it was the nicotine or the effect of the climes he was in. Was it anger that he felt? It couldn't be - he wasn't the sort to ever get angry. He barely even raised his voice. Was it lust? It couldn't be. Or was he losing control? That one quality - the loss of which can fill even the ablest of men with a deep sense of paranoia? That one quality which is ingrained into every man - from being told off for mingling with the maid's son as a child, to try as hard as possible not to stare at Mrs. Braganza's low cut blouse in English class, to being told to choose the right subjects in college which would result in a comfortable and satisfying career, to being told whom to marry. Control was something that had, with meticulous care, been ground into each one of his kin, almost like the ever-present grated baadam in the glass of milk Shreedhar had on his wedding night. Needless to say, Shreedhar couldn't feel the taste of that control anymore. He got up slowly, as if in a trance, and started walking. And he knew exactly where to go.

Shreedhar reached the place - "Gulp It Inn" . He smiled in spite of himself. The luminosity of the neon green lights coming from within the building seemed hazy. He could hear women calling out to him in a seductive tone, some teasing him, calling him all sorts of things that the otherwise immaculate Shreedhar would have found unsavoury. But today was different. He staggered on, intoxicated with the high of his recent guilty pleasure and the one waiting to unleash.

His insides were burning. " Main toh phooljhadhi hoon, maachis tu jalaa jaa......" the lyrics of a popular Bollywood number were playing somewhere in the background, with busty women suggestively gyrating to them, trying to seduce their customers.

"Give me your best," he spluttered, throwing 5000 rupees at the female pimp. Tajjobai scrutinized him briefly, and then signalled to a nearby Chhotu, smiling her signature wry smile, her paan stained lips saying "Pramila ko bolde naya customer hai". Shreedhar followed Chhotu almost automatically, as they ascended the stairs. "Yahaan se doosra room, left mein,"Chhotu said mechanically, once they had ascended. He had been doing this for a while now. Shreedhar looked at the curtain made of sea shells. His mind wandered to his honeymoon with Sudha, it seemed aeons ago. Her hair, the unforgettable jasmine oil. He pushed it out of his mind. It did not matter now. Nothing did. He peeped inside the room. No one was there. With slight trepidation, he called out - "Pramila?" He took a step inside. He looked towards the bathroom at the far end. In the darkness, he could just make out the silhouette of her back. She was combing her hair. What was going to happen next was something that he had probably never imagined in his wildest dreams. He could not wait for her. She was approaching. He could not see her, but judging by the smell of her perfume, he could ascertain that she was near. She seemed to be humming.. it was an old Bollywood number. For some bizarre reason, it seemed vaguely familiar. Where had he heard it recently..? He tried to recall. It was Farida Khanum- Sudha's favourite ghazal singer. The answer hit him like a crack of lightning, jolting him right out of his senses.

"Aaj jaane ki zid na karo..."

He froze in his tracks as the smell of jasmine oil wafted in the air.


  1. wow kya baat hai maine poori story pad dali

  2. world verification hata do comments dene mein problem ho rahi hai

  3. You got some real good talent for writing, keep going girl!

  4. i remember reading this earlier, and commenting on fb .. but this is great ... superb piece :)

  5. Veryyy well written...write more:-)