Charity begins at home. How many times did you hear this phrase in your life? A number of times, right? It tells us that we should take care of our own needs at first before helping others. But there was a Henry Preston who once took the meaning of this phrase to a whole new level. Jeffrey Archer talks about Mr. Preston, an employee of Pearson, Clutterbuck & Reynolds in his short story CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME ! Once I read the story, I felt like I had to share it.
Henry Preston, an extremely shy guy and with an almost nil social life, joined Pearson, Clutterbuck & Reynolds as a clerk. Neither Henry had any hobby nor he had any addiction to sex or drugs. His only indulgence was occasional gin and tonic and that too on Saturdays. In Jeffrey’s words – frankly, if there was a club for introverts, Henry would be elected chairman – reluctantly.
But Henry’s dull life changed forever just few years before his retirement from Pearson. He got the task of managing the accounts of Angela Forster’s company, Events Unlimited. Angela, after her husband left her for a younger woman, opened a small business that specialised in organising events – from annual dinners to Balls. Her natural organising skills made her business eventually more successful than she had expected it to be.
‘Why don’t you come along to one of my functions, Mr Preston?’ Angela one day asked after her meeting with Henry.
Henry accepted her invitation for a ball for African famine relief on Saturday evening. In his mind, Henry, a born introvert, was regretting as attending the event would mean missing his regular Chinese takeaway with gin and tonic that tops his priority list while watching the film of the week in television. Moreover, he had to be in time on Sunday morning for checking the church collection.
Still on Saturday, Henry found himself in the town hall for the ball, dressed in an old-fashioned jacket his mother gifted on his 21st birthday. Once Henry got the chance to slip away, he met Ms Forster. After few moments of conversation, he realised Ms Foster took back home a meagre amount of what her company earned from all the events annually. Ms Forster said she was unable to increase her income. Whenever she demanded a hike in her fees, her clients reminded they ran a charity. Henry thought something, asked Angela out for dinner and hatched a plan.
Henry commented, ‘Don’t forget that any winnings made from gambling are tax-free.’
Angela’s Westminster and City Conservative Association’s annual ball saw Henry entering the ballroom with an empty Gladstone bag in one hand and an umbrella in the other. The ball fetched £22,370 that evening. Henry gave Angela a receipt in exchange of £19,400 cash (which he later dropped in the nearest HSBC bank’s safe deposit) and entered the Black Ace Casino with the remaining £2,970 cash.
At the roulette table, he exchanged £2,970 for blue and white chips in the next three hours. After leaving the table, he reached the bar, carefully put all the chips from his pocket into the open handbag of a woman sitting next to him and made an exit from the casino. Angela, who sat showing no interest on Henry all the while took her bag and exchanged the coins for a cheque in the name of Mrs Ruth Richards at the cash counter.
In next three years, Angela managed to make £267,900, £311,150 and £364,610 annually as a charity to herself. Upon Henry’s advice, she transferred her first million to an offshore bank in the Cook Islands.
It was Miss Florence Blenkinsopp who discovered a shortage of £820 from an event’s earnings after an uninvited guest with a Gladstone bag entered the ballroom. Miss Blenkinsopp didn’t doubt Angela, her ex-pupil from St Catherine’s Convent, and reported the matter to chief constable. Detective Sergeant Janet Seaton was assigned the task of investigating the issue.
Janet followed the old man with the Gladstone bag from one of the events at Bebbington Hall to the casino. She understood Henry’s addiction to gambling and cracked his plan of exchanging cash at the roulette table for chips in return. What she could not understand was if the lady sitting on a stool near Henry was also involved in the plan or not. Was she Angela? Janet wasn’t sure.
However, police arrested Henry and his lawyer suggested him to plead guilty. The Special Crime Unit spent days trying to confirm Angela’s involvement in the crime. But they failed to trace any cheques made in the name of Angela Forster even after enquiring in all the casinos across London. Her bank account also didn’t reflect any suspicious transactions.
Henry, on the other side, admitted his gambling addiction and got three years sentence in prison. They released him 18 months later. Henry took his personal belongings in a Gladstone bag and headed towards the local railway station. Nobody saw him after that day.
Mr and Mrs Graham Richards have a happening social life in the island of Majorca. Mr Richards, the owner of a small and front-line villa overlooking the Bay of Palma, manages the accounts of the Royal Overseas Club in Palma. The chairman boasts the accounts of the club is well-managed ever since Mr Richards took the position as treasurer. He also informs the club’s AGM that Graham’s wife, Mrs Ruth Richards has agreed to organise their annual ball.
How do you find this act of charity that begun at home? Let me know in the comments.
‘To heck with Valentine’s Day,’ Mallika thinks as she presses Aditya’s number one more time. Same announcement.
The number you are trying to reach is not reachable.…
‘No, I am not going to call him anymore.’
A big box of heart-shaped Ferrero Rocher chocolates, a red rose and a jewellery box containing a pair of diamond earrings are resting on Shruti’s(she showed these to Mallika) desk. Looks like Himanshu has spent a large portion of his salary on Shruti this Valentine’s Day. And here is Mallika, totally clueless about her boyfriend’s whereabouts. She looks away from Shruti’s desk. The gifts are pricking her eyes badly.
‘Okay……’ Mallika hangs up the call. ‘If work is that important to him, then let it be,’ she says to herself.
Mallika doesn’t believe in the concept of Valentine’s day. Still, when people around you receive gifts and go to candle-lit dinners, then mind expects surprises automatically. She looks at her watch. It’s 1:50 pm in India, that means 7:20 pm in Sydney. Aditya must have left work by now. Unless he is stuck in team meetings as usual. Workaholic Aditya often puts his mobile in flight mode during meetings. But how much time does it take for him to at least send a text saying Happy Valentine’s Day, baby?
Mallika goes back to her unfinished article on 10 Tips To Write A Good Post For Your Blog. But her mind is roaming on the other part of the globe.
She and Aditya met while doing their Masters in a prestigious college in Mumbai. They hit it off well as friends and started dating shortly. Good GPAs fetched them nice jobs in Mumbai. Everything was going well. Suddenly Aditya got a job offer from Sydney and shifted there two years back.
Thanks to Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp and sex in Mallika’s rented apartment (whenever Aditya is back in town for a short break) for making their long-distance relationship survive this far. But off late, she has noticed a change in Aditya’s behaviour. Office meetings, work trips and deadlines – Mallika often hears these excuses whenever she insists him to spend some more time on phone or video calls.
Gone are those days when Mallika wanted to hang up the call. But Aditya used to hold her back by saying, ‘Five more minutes, honey. I am feeling so lonely without you here.’ Nowadays, Aditya appears to be in a hurry. He has ample of time to party with his colleagues though.
‘You know how important it is to maintain good relationship at work,’ this is how Aditya explains his pictures from different parties in Facebook.
And Sienna? That girl from Aditya’s team always needs to lean upon him while clicking pictures. There have been moments, when Mallika thought of asking Aditya about her. But she didn’t want to be a nagging girlfriend(like her ex-boyfriend often complained). She has forced herself to believe that Aditya would never cheat on her.
Failing to concentrate anymore on work, Mallika grabs a cup of tea from the canteen. She was about to take a sip from her cup while scrolling the Facebook timeline in her phone, when a selfie almost knocked the air out of her lungs.
Sienna is standing (read: leaning) on a smiling Aditya in the airport. The post says :
Sienna White is 🙂 Feeling happy with Aditya Sen
Now she gets why Aditya’s number is unreachable for so long. This is the price Mallika pays for having so much faith in Aditya. Tears flow down Mallika’s eyes and she dials Aditya’s number.
The number you are trying to reach is not reachable…
‘Maa, why don’t you enjoy your potluck party without worrying for my dinner?’ Mallika stands in the middle of the stairs and frustratedly searches her apartment’s keys inside the bag.
‘Yes, I will try to come home this weekend,’ she says.
‘No. Tell her, you will be very busy with me this whole week,’ a voice comes from somewhere. Mallika looks up and her eyes see a six-feet tall, strikingly handsome guy with sharp features and a dimple hiding under the stubble. Aditya! He is winking at her.
‘What the…What are you doing here, Adi?’ Mallika asks astonished.
‘To give you a surprise,’ he replies. ‘And going by your look, it seems that I have succeeded…..Happy Valentine’s Day, baby.’ He spreads his arms and within seconds Mallika surrenders herself to him. They remain like this for sometime without caring that someone might see them.
‘Gosh ! I am waiting since an hour for you here. Why is your phone switched off?’
‘Look who is complaining! Do you have any idea how many times I have called you since morning? Your number was unreachable,’ Mallika says.
‘Sorry baby. Saw your missed calls. But I wanted to surprise you, so…..my flight also got delayed. Thankfully, Sienna was also travelling. Hence got some company in the airport.’
‘Sienna? Where was she going?’ Mallika wants to dig more into this character.
‘New York. To spend the Valentine’s Day with her girlfriend.’
Mallika raises her eyebrows.
‘Umm…yeah…she is gay,’ Aditya shrugs. ‘Anyway, forget her. Now don’t you want your Valentine’s Day gift?’
‘Come inside first,’ Mallika brings out the door keys with relief. Sienna is gay!
‘Before you let me into your room, can I say something?’
‘What?’ Mallika frowns.
‘See, you know a Finance guy like me has never been very good in such things. Still….Mili, I think this long-distance relationship is taking a toll on both of us. You waiting for me here and me unable to give you the attention you deserve from there. I want to put an end to this waiting-and-missing game.’
Mallika’s heart is beating drums inside. What does this mean? A break-up?
‘So, Miss. Mallika Roy,’Aditya puts his hand inside his jacket’s pocket and brings out a small box. ‘If you don’t have any objection, then will you be kind enough to allow me in your life as your beloved husband?’ He opens the box and Mallika finds a stunning diamond ring inside it. ‘Marry me, please.’
Mallika is dumbstruck. She feels short of words. Fifteen minutes ago, she didn’t know how she was going to live without Aditya. And now, as if the whole world has fallen into her lap in a moment.
‘I will marry you,’ she says shyly. ‘Only if….’
‘Only if?’ Aditya asks.
‘Only if you promise me to never let your number be unreachable again.’
Aditya laughs as he slowly slides the ring on her finger.
‘Promise, baby,’ he gives a peck on her lips. ‘I have one more thing to say.’
‘Now what?’ Mallika asks as she puts the key inside the keyhole.
‘I got a promotion.’
‘Really? That’s such a wonderful news, Adi. You are giving one surprise after another….’
Mallika opens the door and switches on the lights of her room leaving behind the insecurities and anxieties on the other end of the door.
Who the hell is busy with a hammer on Sunday morning? I toss from one to another end of the bed but fail to hold back my sweet morning sleep.
There it goes again.
The sound is coming from the other side of the wall. Kabir informed that a family has shifted in the adjacent flat last night. I think they are trying to settle down, without giving a damn that their act of settling down is actually unsettling the neighbours. I sit on the bed and give an irritating look at the wall. And not finding any way to stop this noise, decide to seek refuge under the pillow.
What the hell? Going by this rate, they will knock down the entire wall soon. For a second, I got scared thinking if that is their intention in the first place.
Oh good Lord !
‘Kabir…wake up,’ I kick the body, weighing eighty kilos, sleeping peacefully on the other bed. How can he sleep amidst this noise? Not everyone is lucky enough to booze like him on Saturday night and have a hangover the next morning. Some people like me need to work even on weekends to meet deadlines. And they badly need some sleep on the Sunday morning.
‘Moron,’ I kick Kabir’s bum. His bed gives a creaky sound in response.
I open the door in full Hindi film hero style and ring the bell of the next flat, the source of all trouble.
A middle-aged grey-haired man, with the celebrated hammer in his left hand, opens the door. So he is the one who has screwed up my Sunday morning sleep. I take a look at the rest of his hand and then his physique. Must have been a gold medalist in weight lifting in his younger days. No wonder the sound of the hammer is so loud. I compare his well built frame in an Adidas training suit with my lean one in a Rupa vest and striped boxers. My brain debates whether it would be wise to complain about the noise.
‘Yes?’ he asks in a hoarse tone.
‘Hi….I am Vishal Patel. I stay next door,’ I answer.
‘So?’ he asks in the same hoarse and equally anti-social tone.
‘Nothing. Just if you can slow down the hammering…..only if it’s not much of a problem to you.’
‘Will try. Anything else?’
By that time, a woman comes in the room and asks, ‘Who is it, Mahesh?’ Must be his wife.
When you are a nobody to someone, then it’s always better to leave that place. I walk towards my rented flat and the body builder closes the door with a thud.
I was locking the door before going to work when a female voice attracted my attention.
I turn around and see a beautiful girl smiling at me.
‘I am Mahi. We are your new neighbours.’
‘Hi,’ I tell her. She is a complete beauty.
‘I am sorry you had to face inconvenience because of all the noise yesterday. You see, we had just shifted.’
‘It’s completely okay,’ I reply. A beautiful girl doesn’t look good apologising and explaining things unnecessarily. By the way, who is she? Mahesh’s daughter, I guess. However, she is definitely more polite and civil than her father.
‘Come and have some tea with us.’
‘Oh! thank you so much…’ I tell her. ‘But some other day. Need to rush to work.’ A part of me wants to chat with Mahi for some more time though.
‘Okay. No problem,’ Mahi says. ‘Have a nice day.’
God knows why, I press the lift’s button while blushing to my core.
‘Wake up, buddy and get ready,’ Kabir pushes me in my sleep.
‘Why? What happened?’ I squint as he removes the blanket from me. Why is everyone on earth trying to ruin my weekend sleep?
‘We have a lunch invitation.’
‘Invitation? From whom?’
‘The Kumars .’
‘Our new neighbours,’ he says as he sprays deodorant all over his body. Kabir is an eco-friendly person. He believes in saving water in Mumbai by skipping a bath as much as he can. And he is also sensible enough to take care of the air pollution part. A nice portion of his salary goes behind buying deodorants.
‘Mahi came to our flat last evening and invited us for a lunch today.’
‘Who? Mahi? She came here?Why didn’t you tell me?’ Violin starts playing around me when I hear or think the name Mahi. I have often replayed our first and last conversation throughout the week. Andher killer smile.
‘You came home late last night. So, couldn’t inform you. Now hurry up. I don’t want to be late to have some delicious home-made food.’ Kabir and I are ever ready to gulp some free food. And if that offer is coming from Mahi’s end, then I can’t miss it even for my life. Wasting no more time, I jump out of the bed.
‘Welcome. Have a seat. Mahesh is taking bath. He will join you guys soon,’ Mahesh’s wife greets me and Kabir into their living room. My eyes are eagerly searching for that beautiful face.
‘Hello,’ Mahi comes out of the kitchen. ‘So kind of you for accepting our invitation. Lunch is almost ready. Please sit and do feel at home.’
‘Don’t rush. Take your time,’ I tell her as we sit on the sofa.
‘You must have met my mother,’ Mahi says.
‘Namaste aunty,’ Kabir and me fold our hands like obedient children.
‘Namaste beta. I am Anuradha. This place is really good. They have these first-class amenities here…’ Anuradha aunty starts telling how much she likes the apartment. Meanwhile, I glance at the opposite wall. Lot of pictures are hanging there displaying the Kumar family and the reason of using the hammer last Sunday vigorously.
In one, Mahi and Anuradha aunty are enjoying the waves in a beach. In another, Mahi is all dressed up as a Kashmiri girl and standing in front of the Dal lake. There is a picture where Mahi, Anuradha aunty, Mahesh and a teenage boy are smiling in a restaurant. Who is this boy? Mahi’s younger brother? This boy is sitting in between Mahi and Mahesh in a different picture.
‘Say hi to uncles, Sonu,’ Anuradha aunty brings out the same boy in the picture from the bedroom.
‘Hello,’ Sonu says.
‘Hi. What do you do, Sonu?’ Kabir asks.
‘Sonu, ask them if they know any good cricket academy nearby,’ Anuradha aunty says. ‘Sonu wants to play cricket. Isn’t it Sonu?’
‘At present, I just want to have food. Can you please serve food soon, Mummy?’ Sonu turns towards Mahi in the kitchen. And I watch him in horror. Am I mistaken somewhere or is he actually addressing Mahi as Mummy?
‘Sure beta. Check if Papa is ready or not,’ Mahi replies from kitchen.
‘I am ready,’ the ever grumpy Mahesh Kumar, fresh from his bath, enters the scene.
‘Oh Mahesh, meet our guests, Kabir and Vishal,’ Mahi says. ‘And he is Mahesh, my husband. You have already met our son, Sonu and…..’
Have you ever seen that beauty soap advertisement? All the boys are awestruck by the beauty of that new girl in the college. And suddenly there runs a kid towards her saying ‘Mummy’. The new girl embraces the kid giving everyone around an electric shock of thousand volts.
I got the same shock of my life in the Kumar’s living room. Mahi has no regular signs of a married woman. And even if she is married, still she definitely doesn’t look like a mother of a teenager at all. Does she bathe with the same beauty soap? Anyway, how does it matter now to me? It’s my fault that I started dreaming about her from the very first meeting. After all, not everything you see is what it appears to be.
‘Lunch is ready,’ Mrs. Mahi Kumar gives her charming smile and invites us to the dining table.
And I follow Kabir’s enthusiastic steps like a loser.
‘I will keep an eye on the milk, aunty,’ Ritika assures.
‘Are you sure? I can boil it once we are back,’ Madhavi says. Any mother-in-law would be happy to give her daughter-in-law some responsibility in kitchen. But Madhavi appears reluctant in this department.
Three days after Soham and Ritika’s wedding, the newly wedded bride was supposed to prepare a sweet dish for her in-laws. To Madhavi’s surprise, Ritika was scared to even switch on the gas. It was Madhavi who finally did the entire preparation. All Ritika did was to stir the milk occasionally. She held the ladle as if it was a pen.
Soham and Ritika fell in love with each other in college. Ritika is beautiful, soft-spoken, works as a software engineer in a reputed MNC and comes from a well-off family. Madhavi was too impressed to ask any typical question. And cooking? Well, even boys can cook some dish or other these days. Then why should a twenty-eight year old woman like Ritika be asked do you know cooking?In Madhavi Sen’s opinion, periods and cooking are the two things that come naturally to women.
However, Madhavi has a different opinion now. She is confident that given a chance, Ritika can even burn water. So, will it be a good idea to trust Ritika with a vessel filled with milk on the gas?
‘You don’t worry,’ Ritika says. ‘I will boil it nicely.’
‘Okay…but be careful,’ Madhavi replies. It can be a matter of grave discussion though whom she was more concerned about – Ritika or the milk. Anyway, Madhavi needs to visit her best friend who is lying in the hospital bed with a fractured leg. Domestic stuffs can be dealt later on.
‘Are we good to go, Mummy?’ Soham asks swirling the car keys around his index finger. He looks at Ritika with love in his eyes. But Madhavi’s presence makes him to hold a control on his emotions.
‘Papa is waiting outside,’ he says.
‘Lock the door, Ritika. We won’t take much time,’ Madhavi says while taking out her purple flats from the shoe rack.
Standing behind his mother, Soham was making naughty expressions at Ritika. The moment Madhavi turned towards Soham, he straightened his face like an innocent kid. Ritika somehow suppresses a laugh and says, ‘It’s okay. Take your time. I will be fine, aunty.’
When will this girl understand that Madhavi is not her aunty now? Madhavi thinks and steps out of the house. Soham follows his mother’s footsteps after giving a flying kiss to a blushing Ritika.
Who wrote those words in his car’s backseat? Only Neha can do this. She has done it in past too. But how is that possible? Neha is dead. Anirban himself killed her last night and buried the body in her backyard. Then? Lost in thoughts, Anirban drives his car. Suddenly the driving mirror catches his attention. Neha !! She is sitting on the backseat of his car. His heart comes to mouth. He looks back. No, Neha is not there. Suddenly he loses control and the car hits a tree. Anirban’s head is now resting on the steering wheel as blood oozes out of his forehead.
End of episode four.
Ritika scrolls down to click the next episode. But to her utter dismay, she realises the next episode is yet to be released. She was waiting eagerly to watch the second season of this web series, which was out last week. The wedding kept her busy. She found some lone time today and decided to watch the series. But what a pity! Why do they always end an episode with a twist that keeps you restless until you see the next one? Ritika shuts down her laptop and enters the kitchen to fetch a glass of water. A chill runs down her spine. The milk !
Soon after Madhavi left the house, Ritika lit the gas and put the stainless steel vessel on a low flame. She thought of checking the milk after a few minutes, went inside her bedroom and the web series engrossed her entire mind. Few minutes have become three hours.
Ritika comes near the gas and peeps inside. An entire vessel full of cow’s milk is now reduced to a miserable quantity. Madhavi has invited few guests at home this evening and planned to prepare rice pudding for them. Ritika’s legs are shaking. She switches off the gas, covers her mistake with a lid and sits on a chair. Madhavi has never criticised the fact that Ritika is not good in kitchen. Still, that does not give Ritika any liberty to mess with simple chores like boiling milk.
An idea strikes her. What if she goes to the nearby store and buys milk packets before anyone comes back? Madhavi is not a fan of milk sold in markets though. A milkman, who is serving the Sen family for a long time, brings fresh milk in the morning. But now, Ritika can’t waste anymore time. She adjusts her dupatta, takes her purse, proceeds towards the door and suddenly the door bell rings. A glance through the eyehole makes her numb.
‘We were stuck in traffic. Hence got late,’ Shuvendu apologises to his daughter-in-law unnecessarily after she opens the door. ‘Hope you didn’t feel bored.’
‘No, uncle,’ Ritika says softly and looks at Madhavi from the corner of her eyes. Soham is parking the car in the garage.
‘Let me freshen up. Then I will show you the rice pudding recipe. It’s very easy,’ Madhavi says enthusiastically. ‘Oh! You have boiled the milk. Great. I was thinking if…..’ she ends her sentence midway after removing the lid. Madhavi’s enthusiastic face turns into a question mark.
‘I put the milk on low flame. But forgot to check……..I am sorry,’Ritika says with tears in her eyes.
In Ritika, Madhavi sees a twenty-two year old girl. That girl, whom her parents pampered so much, was married off to a big joint family. As the girl was not an expert in kitchen, she became a matter of joke in front of her mother-in-law and rest of the sister-in-laws. It took immense patience and humiliation for her to learn the craft and gain respect in the family. She knows how it feels to be judged and never wanted the same for her own daughter-in-law.
Madhavi comes closer to Ritika.
‘Why are you crying?It’s only some milk,’ she pats Ritika’s cheeks gently. ‘Silly girl. How will you learn new things if you don’t make mistakes? And don’t feel so scared. You are in your own home.’
‘But what about the rice pudding?’ Ritika asks.
‘Rice pudding !’ Madhavi laughs. ‘Don’t worry. I will prepare something else.’
‘Please forgive me, aunty.’
‘Only on one condition,’ Madhavi says.
‘Start calling me Mummy, my child and cheer up.’
Madhavi brings out sugar and some more ingredients from the cupboard. Probably to prepare another sweet dish. Ritika heaves a sigh of relief inside. Mistakes too play an important role in building a beautiful bond sometimes. Today’s situation has taught her this lesson.
‘Why don’t we check some recipes from internet, Mummy?’ she stands beside her mother-in-law. Madhavi keeps the milk aside, puts another vessel of sugar on the gas and continues listening to Ritika’s culinary tips with a smile.
‘Do you mind if I sit on this chair?’ Alisha, with her coffee tray, asks the person sitting on the other side of the table.
‘Please,’ comes a deep male voice from behind the Business Standard.
Alisha wastes no time to take her seat. Ah! What a relief ! She thinks after leaning on the cushioned chair. You need luck to get a seat in this ever-busy coffee shop and that too on a Friday evening.
Rajat told her to wait for him in the lobby. Akash Chopra, his company’s new CEO has come to visit the Bangalore office for a day. Throughout the day, he was busy doing meetings with each department separately, discussing the reasons behind the software company’s poor performance in the market this year. The sales team is the last one that was going to bear the brunt. This is what Rajat said when Alisha called him to ask about this evening’s plans. After reaching near the office building twenty minutes back, Alisha pinged Rajat in WhatsApp.
Are you still in the meeting?
Rajat’s reply came after five minutes.
Yes.Wait in the lobby.
Rajat’s authoritative tone doesn’t spare even his WhatsApp messages. The receptionist is staring at her. A desperate Alisha typed :
How long will it continue?
To which, Rajat replied :
I am telling you to wait. Do you have any other work now? Then what’s the problem?
Manners – this is something Rajat needs to learn. Is Rajat the only person who has stress at work?Alisha too has a job. Running a boutique is not as easy as it sounds. Her meeting with that fashion house didn’t go well. Did she complain about it?
Anyway, all she needed to improve her mood was a cup of hot coffee. She entered the coffee shop on the opposite side of the office building. Let Rajat look out for her.
‘Drink your coffee before it gets cold,’ the Business Standard reader finally decides to give a face to his voice. And Alisha’s heart comes to her mouth. Has she met this man before?But when and where?
‘Please give me another cup of coffee,’ the man, in an accented English, tells the waiter who came to take his empty cup.
‘Sure, Sir,’ the waiter replies.
‘Coffee is really good here,’ the man smiles. A chill runs down Alisha’s spine. He is a spitting image of Alisha. If Alisha had a moustache, cut her hair short and did a side parting, then she would exactly look like him. She has heard that there are seven similar faces in the world. How would she know someday one of them would be sitting in a coffee shop opposite to her?
‘Do you come here often?’ he asks Alisha. ‘I am new in the city.’
‘Um….yes. I have come here a couple of times…..where are you from?’ Alisha looks at him. From his behaviour, it’s clear that he hasn’t noticed the uncanny similarities between both of them.
‘New York,’ he replies. That explains his accent. ‘The IISC campus…..a conference was going on there for last three days. I came here to participate in it.’
Alisha saw a headline International Conference on Artificial Intelligence few days back in The Deccan Chronicle. Is he talking about that?
‘Ah ! Thank you,’ he says with satisfaction as the waiter keeps a steaming cup of coffee and three sugar sachets. ‘The conference was over yesterday. But I wanted to keep some time in hand and explore the city. Will fly back to New York tomorrow.’
‘Do you like this place?’
‘Yes. People are good and warm. But, there is a lot of work required to improve the traffic and pollution,’ he replies while taking a sip from his cup.
‘Yeah….I agree.’ She is slowly feeling at ease sitting opposite to him. His striking resemblance with her is not bothering Alisha much now.
‘In fact, this was the subject of my speech in the conference. How AI can help in controlling traffic and pollution?’
‘Speech? What do you do exactly?’ Alisha asks. He should be a couple of years older than her, but doesn’t look that aged to give a boring speech in an even more boring conference.
‘I am a scientist,’ he answers. ‘ And you?’
‘I am a fashion designer,’ Alisha replies. In her mind, she is thinking you are too handsome to be a scientist. She always gets compliments about her good looks. But she had no idea that her male version would look so charming.
‘Wow! That means I am sitting with a creative genius.’
‘I just run a small boutique,’ Alisha feels shy.
‘A self-made woman…quite impressive.Are these your designs? Can I see them?’ he points finger towards a paper hanging out of Alisha’s file.
‘Yeah…,’ she hesitates but pulls out few sketches from the file anticipating another smirk just like that senior designer in the fashion house.
He looks at them for some time and says, ‘I would be the last person who should comment anything related to fashion….but your designs are pretty good….’
It is the first time in years that someone has appreciated Alisha’s designs. She feels grateful.
‘But..’ he says. ‘I feel…something is missing.’
‘Missing?’ Alisha feels curious. Scientist giving suggestions on fashion designing is definitely a sight to behold.
‘You are lacking confidence in yourself…am I right?’
Alisha looks at him in surprise. It’s true that her designs get rejected most of the time. She has borrowed a lot of money from Rajat and invested in the boutique. But business isn’t in great shape either. Her boutique has become Rajat’s favourite joke. All these have only lowered Alisha’s self-esteem. But how did this man know about what she feels inside?
‘It seems you want to succeed without taking any risk. You are very conscious with your designs,’her look-alike shares his observations.
‘My business is running in losses. I can’t afford taking risks,’ Alisha justifies.
‘That’s wonderful. It means you have very little in your hands to lose. Then you should feel free to make mistakes. Let your imagination flow.’
‘You are a scientist…..people listen to your speeches in conferences. You will not know how it feels to get rejected and be made fun of,’ Alisha says.
‘Are you under the impression that I have never failed in life?’ the man laughs. ‘Let me tell you, I have never succeeded doing anything in life in my first attempt. My designs fail often too, sometimes people disagree with my research work, they criticise….but I don’t see them as failures. My real failure will be on that day when I stop believing in myself. So, always believe in what you are doing and keep trying. However, I think you are already doing some great job.’
‘Thank you….’ Alisha says. ‘Talking to you is the only good thing that has happened to me throughout the day.’
‘My pleasure,’ he smiles. ‘Moreover, it’s my good luck that I am spending time with such a pretty woman. By the way, may I know your name?’
‘Vikram Chauhan,’ he extends his hand across the table. Alisha’s phone rings and Rajat’s name flashes on the screen.
‘Work?’ Vikram asks.
‘Husband.’ Alisha replies.
‘Oh…please carry on,’ he gets up from the chair and brings something out of his pocket. ‘Here is my card. If you and your family visit New York any time, don’t hesitate to give me a call.’
‘That’s so nice of you, Vikram,’ Alisha says.
He gives his dazzling smile in return and proceeds towards the guy sitting in the cash counter.’
‘I told you to be in the lobby. Where the hell are you?Why do I need to wait for you? What have you thought about me?’ Rajat fires the moment Alisha calls him back. His rudeness brings Alisha back to reality. She walks towards the counter to pay her bill.
‘Your bill is already paid, Ma’am,’ the waiter says.
‘Paid? By whom?’Alisha asks astonished.
‘The gentleman who was sitting with you. And he has left this note for you.’ The waiter gives her a tissue paper. The hand-written note says:
It has been nice talking to you. You must have heard many times that obstacles and failures are the assured roads towards success. So don’t let them scare the hell out of you. Live your dreams. I can sense you have a great potential.
P.S: Couldn’t resist myself from paying your bill. It is the least I can do to make you feel a bit cheerful.
Alisha stands there with tears and surprise in her eyes. Attempts, failures, rejections and being taken for granted has taken a toll on her. It is the first time in months someone has shown some care about her dreams , appreciated her efforts instead of criticising her. She looks at the table where they were sitting. A Business Standard is lying there reminding her about some nice moments she had spent minutes ago.
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‘What is hanging !?’ Aditya asks to reconfirm if he had heard his girlfriend correctly.
‘A man…. there is a man hanging from the ceiling in the opposite apartment,’ Ruhi repeats the line she said a minute ago.
‘Ruhi….’ Aditya looks at his mobile screen and says, ‘I think you had a nightmare. Just look at the time….it’s 3:30 am.’
‘What do you mean?’ she looks irritated. ‘Is 3:30 am the perfect time to have a nightmare? Or can’t people commit suicide at this hour?’
‘Suicide ?!…….’ a scream escapes Aditya’s mouth. She said the fatal word with such conviction that it acted as an alarm clock for Aditya’s brain. ‘Are you mad?’
‘See for yourself,’ Ruhi pulls his left hand in an effort to make Aditya get up from the bed. But it needs tremendous muscle power for a female who weighs barely fifty two kilos to move an almost eighty kilos male body.
‘Wait….’ Aditya removes the blanket away.
This whole idea of having a party at his place was a total crap. Ruhi made him invite their entire college gang. Seven amongst them threw up a large share of the five-star restaurant’s home delivered food inside the commode after gulping bear beyond their capacity. What a waste of Aditya’s hard earned salary ! That’s why he wished to spend only a quiet romantic evening with Ruhi and ‘celebrate’ his promotion. But have Ruhi ever listened to him in past six years? Then why would she do now?
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A short story about the experience of Aditya and Ruhi had after seeing someone hanging from a ceiling on the opposite building !! THE HANGING MAN Link for the story available in bio 😊 Follow my blog perceptionsunplugged.in for more such stories. #shortstories #indibloggers #wordpress #blogginggals #bloglife #bloggingcommunity #writersoﬁnstagram #writings #shortstoriesofinstagram #shortstorycollection
The only good decision Ruhi took was to stay back at his place. She had to give her parents a well-rehearsed excuse of a pyjama party in Nikita’s house though. But by the time everyone left, neither Aditya nor Ruhi had an iota of energy left in them to do anything else. In fact, Aditya can’t even remember when he drifted away to sleep. When did Ruhi wake up?
‘Come fast,’ he hears Ruhi’s voice from the living room.
‘Coming,’ Aditya flinches after letting his feet out on the cold floor. Doesn’t Ruhi feel cold or what? His head is aching because of the alcohol. Only Heaven knows what she has seen at this hour? He puts on a jacket and comes near Ruhi.
‘Look there,’ she points her finger to the darkness on the other side of the giant window. Aditya tries to figure out what she is referring to. After a few seconds, a chill runs down his spine. He takes a closer view. Ruhi was right. There is a building just opposite to his apartment. A man is hanging from the ceiling of one of it’s room in the tenth floor. Aditya looks at Ruhi. Fear is evident on both their faces.
‘What do we do now?’ Ruhi asks. ‘Shall we call the police?’
‘Police?’ Aditya freaks out. ‘No…no way, Ruhi.’
‘But why?We should call the police. I mean….’
‘No Ruhi. We can’t. Calling police means they may interrogate us too. I can’t put your reputation at risk. Moreover, this is a bachelor pad. If my house owner finds out about you, then it will be another problem. Please understand.’
‘Then?’ Ruhi asks something which Aditya doesn’t know what to answer. His eyes go back to the man hanging in the air wearing dark coloured pant. The man is visible only from his waist though. But Aditya can imagine how a dead face may look like.The view is definitely not for the weak hearts.
‘We can’t do anything right now,’ Aditya says after turning his face away from the disturbed scene. ‘Let’s wait till morning. If anyone else finds out, then fine. Else I will call the cops once you leave.’
Ruhi remains silent. Her heart is playing drums inside. Why on earth she had to discover this thing of all people?She simply went to the washroom to pee. What was her need to look for her phone she forgot in the living room? Had she not laid her eyes on the only lit room outside, she would have been sleeping peacefully beside Aditya by now. Bad luck. What more can she say? Lie more at home about weekend pyjama parties. She thinks. God has His own way to teach lessons. How long does she need to endure this sight?
‘Come to bedroom and don’t look at this,’ Aditya must have read her mind. They come back to the bedroom.
‘Do you know anyone who lives in that building?’ Ruhi asks as Aditya puts a blanket around her.
‘No. Forget about that building, I even don’t know people living in my own floor. Who has time for these things?’
She looks at her watch. 4:00 am. Two more hours before the day breaks. Who is this man? Why did he commit suicide? Is it a suicide? Or murder? Are the criminals hanging around in the locality? Oh God ! She holds the blanket around her to let go off the goosebumps.
‘Hey. Wake up, honey,’ Aditya’s soft voice awakens Ruhi. When did she fell asleep? Broad daylight is peeping from the bedroom’s window curtains. At once, Ruhi recollects everything that happened.
‘What’s the time?’ she hurriedly sits up in the bed. ‘The man….what happened to him? Is he still there?’
‘Yes,’ Aditya replies.
‘That means nobody has found him out yet. I am leaving now and you call the cops, Aditya.’
‘Shh…calm down, Ruhi. There is nothing to panic.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Come with me,’ Aditya takes her hand and brings her near the window in the living room. ‘Take a look at him now.’
Ruhi doesn’t take much time to figure out that ill-fated room. A woman is standing near those hanging legs and giving water to the plants. She puts the watering can on the floor and with a stick pulls something from above. And there comes down the two legs that had almost sucked life out of Ruhi and Aditya few hours back. The woman takes out the hanger, folds the black coloured pant and goes inside.
‘When will you play the role of a husband in reality? Or you want to simply waste your life like this?’ Ramola Bose asks her son the question which she repeats often after attending any wedding. Tonight, they are returning from Rajdip’s co-actor’s wedding reception.
‘Be happy that I am only wasting my life at present. Marriage means I won’t have any life at all,’ Rajdip smirks keeping his eyes on the iPhone. One of his fan accounts in Instagram has posted a recent still from his upcoming movie.
The presence of Suravi Roy, Hindi film industry’s renowned actress has brought the movie in the limelight throughout the country. However, Rajdip was confident about it right from the start, so what if it’s a regional movie. Language doesn’t matter. Audience wants to see one thing in a movie – content. And this one scores cent percent in this category. The movie’s trailer has already gained millions of views. For Rajdip, it is the best role he has played on screen so far.
‘I am serious, Raj,’ Ramola says. ‘You are thirty four and it’s high time for you to think about marriage.’
‘Mum, marriage will happen when it has to happen.’
Rajdip always dodges the topic of marriage with some excuse or another. There have been times, when Ramola was secretly scared about her son’s sexuality. Her fears dissolved when Rajdip got engaged with Shinjini. But they broke up after an year. Reason? Compatibility issues.
Ramola too is an established actress. As a matter of fact, when she and Aniruddha got married, Ramola was at the peak of her acting career. But her profession never came in between their relationship. Till date, they always manage time for each other from their busy schedule. Where there is a will, there is a way. But this generation? One small issue and they cut all ties. Ramola sometimes wonders whether Rajdip is still in love with Shinjini. If that is the case, then why doesn’t he try to patch up with her? What’s the problem? Ramola sighs and looks into the dark night prevailing outside the Audi’s window.
‘What a relief !’ Debayan Chatterjee sips some champagne, leans back on the sofa and closes his eyes in peace. His movie has been a major hit of the year. Critics are talking highly about his work. The box office collections speak a thousand words. He couldn’t have asked for more from his directorial debut.
‘All your hard work has paid off, Debayan,’ Rajdip smiles. ‘Entire industry has poured in today’s success bash.’
‘My hard work?What are you saying,Raj?’ says Debayan. ‘I am here today due to the entire team’s hard work. Especially you and Suravi’s. Without you two, this movie would have been difficult to make. Who believes in a new director after all? Thank you.’ He raises his champagne glass.
‘C’mon, Debayan. I should thank you for giving me this role. It feels wonderful to be back in Bengali cinema after almost a decade,’ Suravi says.
‘Don’t thank me. I was rather apprehensive of approaching you. Rajdip was the one who assured me you are perfect for the role. Moreover, audience have always loved both of your on-screen chemistry.’
Suravi gives an appreciating smile to her colleague. Rajdip’s expressionless face however cuts Suravi into pieces and she decides to concentrate on her champagne. Self-respect is more important to her.
‘I heard that you received a web series offer from Netflix?’ Rajdip changes the topic.
‘Nothing is confirmed. You know this business. Moreover, they are telling me to…..’ Debayan looks back after someone calls his name. It’s almost midnight and the guests have started departing.
‘Excuse me guys. I need to have a word with Ashok,’ Debayan gets up from the sofa and rushes towards Ashok Agarwal, one of the sponsoring partners of their movie. This bald fat guy has a reputation of being a Casanova. Suravi shifts her eyes towards the swimming pool on the other side of the balcony. The hotel, which was full of music and high profile guests even half an hour ago, has become so quiet now.
Rajdip gets up from the chair and stands leaning on one of the pillars in the balcony. Rajdip and Surabhi could sequester themselves behind Debayan’s presence so far. Now they don’t know what to do to remove this awkward silence.
‘When are you going back to Mumbai?’ he breaks the ice.
‘Tomorrow.’ She replies. ‘Evening flight. Need to rush for an outdoor shooting day after tomorrow.’
‘Hmm….always so busy in work. A famous heroine after all. ‘
The hidden taunt in his tone does not miss Suravi. ‘What is your problem, Rajdip?’ Suravi snaps at him. ‘From day one of the shooting, I have noticed that you are not talking to me properly.’
‘That’s your imagination. And moreover, I don’t have anything to tell you.‘
‘Yeah. Right. What can you say to someone like me?’ Suravi becomes silent.
This is not the same Rajdip she met ten years back. It was her debut movie in Bengali cinema. Rajdip was already a huge movie star then, but he had a personality which was rare in people who belong to this profession. Be his co-actor or a spot boy, he could make anyone feel at ease with him because of his humble nature. Suravi never felt like a newcomer in front of him. Like a guardian angel, he always ensured she is comfortable on sets, even during filming those intimate scenes. They became good friends in short time.
‘Emotional drama suits you better on screen,’ Rajdip’s heated voice brings Suravi to present. Just look at the way he is talking now ! All the while they were shooting six months ago, Rajdip behaved as if she is a stranger.He came on sets, finished his work and went back. And now after the movie’s success bash, Suravi is discovering that Rajdip suggested her name to Debayan for this role. Seriously. She can’t figure out men anymore.But she won’t spare him today.
‘You can’t talk to me like that, Rajdip.’
He takes some time to cool down and says, ‘I am sorry.’
Suravi’s is no longer in mood to talk to this man. What does he think of himself?
Rajdip sits on the sofa. Opposite to him, there is a person who has stolen and broken his heart many times in past.The first day he saw Suravi years back, he couldn’t take his eyes off from her. Beautiful, talented, intelligent yet so simple. By the time their film was over, he was head over heels in love with her. Rajdip was not sure about her feelings though. Then one fine morning, he learnt she had shifted to Mumbai. Anyway, Suravi deserved a brighter future. But what irked him was that she didn’t feel it necessary to inform Rajdip once. If nothing else, then at least they shared a good bond with each other. Having said that, why was he surprised? Fame can easily make people insensible and selfish.
He holds her hands and apologises again.’Hey, I am really sorry. I have no right to talk like this to you.’
‘You have every right to do so. I love you, Raj,’ Suravi blurts out. She can’t take it anymore.A six feet tall toned body, deep baritone, Greek God features, superb acting skills and above all, no scandals. Simply a true gentleman. Did she ever met anyone like him in her life?How could Suravi not fall deeply in love with him? Was she any different from all the women who wanted him? And God knows why, Suravi started believing Rajdip loved her too.
However, Rajdip is taken aback by Suravi’s declaration. After all these years, her words sound too good to be true. He walks away from her and says in a calm voice, ‘You are lying.’
‘What makes you think this way?’ Saravi says.
‘Then why did you leave Kolkata without informing me anything?’
‘Are we living in 40s? You could easily give me a phone call. Right?’ Suravi complaints like a child.
‘Nobody mattered to you more than yourself. You even said no to Abhiroop. Then why should I call you? ‘
Suravi was trying for a break in Hindi film industry those days when the news reached her. Rajdip and Shinjini were seeing each other. At first, she thought it was just a rumour. Whatever little she knew about Shinjini, she was not someone who could be compatible with Rajdip. Having said that, this was the first time Rajdip was linked to someone. She called Abhiroop, her first film’s director and tried to ask him casually about the affair.
‘Yes, it’s true. They are dating,’ Abhiroop continued. ‘Suravi, I want you to look at the script which I was discussing with Raj also two days back. Audience will love to see both of you on-screen together again. Can you come down to Kolkata next week?’
Suravi somehow managed her voice from breaking down and declined Abhiroop’s offer. She didn’t want to go back to Kolkata. How silly of her to think that Rajdip liked her ! Who was Suravi ? There was no comparison between a nobody like her and Shinjini, the diva. Rajdip and Shinjini got engaged few weeks later.
‘Anyway, how does it matter to you?Starting from career to relationships, you have a habit of rushing into things.’ Rajdip murmurs standing far away from Suravi. His charismatic persona shines in the soft moonlit night.
Yes. Rajdip is right. Apart from gaining fame by playing one difficult role after another in movies, winning three National awards, Suravi also had one divorce, and two ugly break ups.
‘I was not on top of the world. Believe me,’ Suravi doesn’t want to remember those hard times. Her unconscious mind always searched for her first love in all her relationships. When Debayan offered her the movie, she wasted no time to grab the opportunity. She couldn’t restrain herself from having one more chance of working with Rajdip. So what if she couldn’t have him in her life.
‘Yeah,I could sense that,’ Rajdip shrugs his shoulder. ‘You made a big mistake by marrying that womaniser NRI. And those two morons….I mean are you aware that it needs immense talent for someone to repeat the same mistake thrice, Suravi?’ He laughs which is enough to provoke Suravi. She leaves her seat and stands in front of him.
‘You were no wise either. You brought that dumb Shinjini in your life. How intelligent of you!’ Suravi can’t believe her own ears. How could she speak to him like that? Nobody dares talking to Rajdip Bose in this manner.
Rajdip looks at her and replies, ‘Shinjini was not dumb…..it was me who showed stupidity. I was trying to get over you…but… couldn’t. Shinjini could never take the place that you had in my heart. I have not met any woman more amazing than you, Suravi.’
There is a split second’s silence and then she hears the deep muscular voice saying, ‘I love you too, Suravi.’
How many times did Suravi dream of such an encounter with Rajdip? Dreams do come true then. She feels shy all of a sudden.
‘Really? Had you said those words earlier, you could have saved me a lot of pain and tears.’
‘Only if I knew that you loved me too,’ he comes closer to Suravi.
‘I couldn’t tell you anything. I was scared. Don’t ask me why.’
‘I will ask you just one question.’
‘What?’ says Suravi.
‘Will you marry me?Please,’ Rajdip takes her face into his hands. ‘I have been waiting only for you all these years.’
Suravi touches his lips passionately with hers and says, ‘Hope you have got your answer.’
‘Couldn’t have asked for more,’ Rajdip smiles as he pulls her into his arms. Suravi blushes in his embrace as they gear themselves up to play the best role of their lifetime.