Saturday 22 March 2014

Deju gets a beau – II

The lights decided to come back just as the taxi veered out of sight. The old man turned to Deju.
“I don’t know what to say, my dear lady. I understand you were trying to be helpful, but you really were off the mark. These three are students and we are all used to their odd ways,” he told her.
“Can’t blame you, though. We must all thank you, in fact. At least you were alert to a potentially dangerous situation,” a languid voice spoke up from the back of the crowd.
Deju and her beau by the lamp post.
Digital sketch: Harjeet
The gathering parted to make way for a good-looking guy in his late 30s who ambled up to Deju. “I salute you, ma’am. Few of us would have done this. You are truly brave.”
He walked up to her nonchalantly, and pinned her against the lamp post to see her face more clearly. “Did you sometime in college create a similar scene?”
Deju was almost furious, struggling to get free. “What may you be suggesting, sir, if I may ask?”
“I am suggesting that you are the same girl because of whom I got caught in a women’s hostel one night,” he said, grinning. “I can’t believe you still pry on people, that too at night!”
“I don’t like to let thieves get away,” she snapped.
“I assure you I share the sentiment,” he replied, loosening his hold nevertheless.
Then he addressed his neighbours who, curious at this turn of events, were still hovering around without wanting to look intrusive

He was only too happy to explain: “Some of you have asked me why I did not marry. Behold the reason for my bachelorhood. She exposed my affair with her classmate, but we broke up soon after. Why? Because I kept thinking of the girl who had had the guts to raise a hue and cry at finding a stranger where there should have been none.”

He could see some nods and a general sense of approval on the faces of the people he had been living among for some years now.
“I was confused. By the time I realised I was in love, you had left college. You stole my heart, and I can’t let you off, now that I have found you. Umm, I hope you are single too, or I’ll insist you get a divorce,” her smitten beau was speaking to her again.

An appreciative murmur rippled through the crowd. The sleepy boy was now wide awake. He could sniff a romance, a live one, the very first he would witness first-hand, perhaps. No, she shifted here alone, he said helpfully.
Deju made a half-hearted attempt to fend off the man. “Aren’t you giving your imagination too much rein? How do you know I’m the same one? I haven’t said so myself. And I don’t know you from Adam.”
“Have you heard of signature tunes? You have a signature yell that trapped me then, and again today. So don’t you play games with me, my lady,” he purred.
It is not a yell. Hoot, I call it a hoot, she corrected him weakly.

“Call it by whatever name you wish, but it has been haunting me ever since, he breathed into her ear.

It was an intense moment. The old man quietly motioned to the rest to disperse.
Then he turned to Deju. “From what little that I have seen of you, let me assure you, ma’am, he is a man after your heart. And I’ve known him long enough.”
“Oh-ho, if you needed credentials, you have them now, but I assure you I am after your heart, pun intended. I have waited long enough, and I won’t rest till I have it,” Deju’s admirer said with determination.
The crease on Deju’s brow cleared. “Then you shall have it,” she said in a low voice, overcome by uncharacteristic shyness.
The old man decided it was time to exit the scene, wondering at yet another of the mysterious ways of the One above.


Monday 17 March 2014

Deju gets a beau – I

This was ominous, Deju thought as she heard yet another thud. A do-gooder at heart, she felt it was her bounden duty to investigate. She threw off the covers and stepped out of bed. It was pitch dark outside. The power breakdown seemed never-ending. It was not going to be easy, she told herself.
She had shifted into this flat just two days back and did not really know her way around the place. In the darkness, she could only guess the general direction of where the staircase was located. Groping along the wall, she ran slam-bang into its banister. She rubbed her temple gingerly, and peered down what seemed to be the stairwell. Slowly, she felt around with her toe to ascertain where to begin descending. Once she gained a firm foothold, the rest was a cakewalk.
Deju could see two dark shapes in the lane.
Digital sketch: Harjeet
Deju had done this climbing up or down stairs in the dark often enough. Like the time the smart alec of a postman thought he could return at night to steal her roses from the lawn below. Or when the fishmonger tried to dump his smelly bag of stale fish next door in the hope no one would be around to stop him. There had been other occasions too. But she had sharp eyes and ears, she did. She had caught many a miscreant in the act, and been applauded for her daring too. Nowadays everyone was scared of looking around just in case they ran into trouble, she thought a little snootily.
She had reached the landing, and stood uncertainly against the wall. Exactly where had the sound come from – the left or right side of where she was standing? She wished the lights would come on soon. It was difficult to make out where the lane was leading to. Still, she bravely blundered on, brushing against a number of shrubs jutting out from fences that ground-floor residents had put up. Twice she tripped over some flower pots but managed not to tip them over. That would have surely tipped off whoever was responsible for those sounds.
Deju now had a good view of the lane. She could make out two shapes. One was bending over a piece of luggage. Another was propping a travel case against the wall. And lo! There was yet another shadowy character looming in the balcony above.
She did some quick calculation. Two suitcases on the road now, and God knows how many more probably still with the thief upstairs. If she raised an alarm right now, the two in the lane might escape but the one in the balcony would be trapped.
“Thud!” went yet another bag thrown from the balcony. It was followed by a smaller bag. A large basket was slung down a rope. The two people below unfastened it and the rope was pulled up.
So more was to follow, it seemed. Deju decided she had to act fast. She recalled the time when the police trundled in much after the thieves had scooted when she threw a trash can at them through her window. The can had landed on a car’s windshield, as a result of which the owner created such a shindy that there was no way anyone could have spared a thought for the thieves.
Should she try the hooter method? If she let out sharp, loud hoots at short intervals, would that alert the neighbourhood, or would these people make a break for it before anyone emerged? She was fairly sturdy, but even she could not grapple three of them single-handedly. 
In her college days, this had worked fine twice. The entire hostel was awake in an instant. It was a different matter that the first time she had mistaken their warden for a hulking robber. The second time her classmate had been hugely embarrassed because it was her boyfriend sneaking in.
While Deju was weighing her options, the third person had shinned down the rope and looped it back into the balcony. So the loot was all in the lane now, she thought grimly. She had always been cat-footed, so when she pounced on the surprised man nearest to her as she let out a loud hoot, he lost his footing and was eating dirt in a matter of seconds.
Deju yelled again and again while pounding the second person to the ground. The third one turned out to be a woman, who fell upon Deju using her nails to good effect. She scratched and shrieked as loudly as Deju, confusing the good Samaritan. Just then a car turned into the lane, and its headlights shone upon the strange spectacle of two women engaged in fisticuffs and screaming at each other while two roughed-up men stood dusting themselves down and watching as if in a daze.
Deju had succeeded in rousing her neighbours. About eight or ten people tumbled out of their flats, surrounding the foursome. The car had come to a standstill just a few feet away, and the baffled driver had left the headlamps on low beam. So it was possible to see faces clearly.
An old man spoke up. “Ma’am, may I ask what you are doing here?”
“Oh, and you won’t ask them what they are doing here, stealing stuff from that flat there?” Deju flared up. Calm down, she told herself silently. You are new to the place, and they don’t know you yet.
“Who, these three?” asked the old man. “They live in that flat. Why would they steal from it?”
“Really?” she retorted, a bit sheepishly now. “So is it normal to throw your stuff down and climb down a rope from your flat? And no one heard a thing but me?”
More people had joined them. One sleepy boy admitted to hearing some sounds, but said he had been too tired to wonder about it.
“You actually did that?” the old man turned to the trio.
“She just came yelling down at us,” said the young woman who had scuffled with Deju. “She had no business creating such a ruckus.”
“Yes, indeed, but did you really throw these bags down?” the old man looked at them quizzically.
“We did. We have a train to catch, and couldn’t find the key to lock our door from the outside. We burnt all the candles trying to look for it. Our phone batteries have nearly run out because we were using them to locate the key. Finally we decided to keep the door shut from inside and take the balcony instead. On our return we would have called a locksmith,” replied one of the flatmates.
“See, that is a taxi waiting for us, and we’ve already lost 15 precious minutes,” he added, complaining.
“It’s okay, don’t miss your train. Away you go!” the old man sent them off as Deju fumed in indignation

More next week

Sunday 2 March 2014

The fraternal twins

Tonu thumped his son’s back, happy with the terms of the contract Diga had drawn up. He looked up at his daughter in the family picture on the wall opposite him. Digna too had done him proud that morning, making such a good pitch overseas for the project.

And to think that just a few years back he had almost written off his son, though he never let his disappointment show. Of the fraternal twins, Digna was the prankster and the daredevil, and her brother the tame follower. But the tide had truly turned one day. 
Digna lost her footing in the strong current.
Digital sketch: Harjeet 
That was the day they had gone to Haridwar.

Pradya’s face had lost all colour. She saw the strong river current carrying away her daughter while Diga stood rooted to the ground. He couldn’t swim. And he was terrified … terrified of any and every adventure.

Minutes before, he had just dipped a toe in the holy Ganga waters and receded to a safe spot away from the bank. Digna would never do that. She must take risks all the time. Diga was afraid to even sit by the river, lest it sweep him away. Digna knew no such fear, though she too could not swim.

She had gone down the steps and grabbed one of the stout chains grouted into the embankment for holding on to when taking a holy dip. The icy waters thrilled her no end, and she made bold to wade a little farther into the gushing river. Suddenly there was no solid ground under her feet. The current had lifted her off the steps, and in the unexpectedness of it all she let go of the chain.

She could feel the water washing her away, but an iron hand caught her before she had gone too far. As he clung to a chain with one hand and to his sister with the other, Diga called out to his father to help bring her in.

Pradya rushed to her husband’s side to haul their children up the slippery steps. Diga wept from sheer relief. He took Digna to a dry, secluded patch where their mother dried her. Then he stood guard while Digna changed behind the large towel Pradya held around her. All this time he and his mother tried to hush Digna, for she was almost hysterical with laughter.

Of course she was in shock, but she was also used to laughing off her troubles. Her brother, in sharp contrast, was a conservative lad. It was as if the genes of the fraternal twins had got mixed up. Digna was an aggressive girl with don-like looks, and Diga timid and very girlish. Their dissimilarities never failed to astonish.

Like the time she had tried to dislodge a drain pipe on the terrace just because the nuts and screws holding it in place were somewhat loose. Diga simply stood by helplessly, unable to dissuade her.

Or when she ambushed an old man and nearly gave him a heart attack. Another time she poured oil into a pail of water the manservant Aastu was using to wash the porch with. Had he slipped on the oily water, he might have ended up with a broken leg or back. It was sheer luck that Diga warned him just before he splashed it on the floor.

Diga had been overwhelmed by his sister’s sheer presence, perhaps from the cradle. She used to bawl loudly while he scarcely whimpered, lying beside her. As they grew up, it was Digna’s peals of laughter that rang out loud and clear, not Diga’s protests. He had pretty early in life learnt not to mind her shenanigans, happy to just watch.

At school, Digna participated in every activity and won medals and certificates. Diga was known more as Digna’s brother. His teachers took few pains with the self-effacing boy. He attended every class, submitted assignments on time, never asked a question, spoke when spoken to, and stayed in his seat during recess. Apart from the compulsory physical education classes, he shunned every sport and contest, but he did well in academics.

Digna’s near-brush with death changed Diga forever. He had grown older in that one second when she was nearly gone. A self-centred and headstrong girl till then, Digna too began paying heed to her brother and his advice. A fine balance developed between their personalities – she picked up some grace while he gained confidence. 

Her dangerous adventures found a new monitor in her brother. She could no longer stand in the middle of the road and wave down an unwilling cabbie. Diga would push her back to the pavement. She had to wear properly matched clothes, too, not any slapstick combinations. Those weird hair colours and baubles also became a thing of the past.

A relationship in which she took Diga for granted had now transformed into a more caring, sharing attachment. Digna sought his advice when selecting her college course, and consulted him when they chose to go abroad for higher studies. They were now the twins their parents had always wanted them to be – highly telepathic and mutually respectful of their strengths and weaknesses. 

It was not just Tonu who was thankful for the change triggered by that one act of bravery. Pradya was equally grateful for it, grateful that Digna was finally giving her twin his share of space and place in society. Digna picked for him a trendier wardrobe. She bamboozled him into taking up golf, and involved him in the young people’s society she had helped set up. She even talked him into attending social get-togethers, so important for their chosen careers.

They had both decided to join their father’s business after studies, and soon became popular in Tonu’s office. Diga’s keen sense of the law and Digna’s architecture degree had boosted their company’s prospects, and chances of a regular profit and a handsome dividend for their shareholders had created a cheerful environment both at home and at work.

Tonu packed his laptop and stood up to go home. Diga was at his side in a trice, taking charge of his father. As they drove home, Tonu confessed to him for the first time how his feelings had changed towards him, from bare tolerance to pride, revelling in his son’s achievements. Diga smilingly heard him through. Tonu at last asked him where he had picked up the courage to leap to his sister’s rescue.

Diga said with a smile: “The impulse to save her. The mere thought of losing my sister made me rush in. Not in my wildest dreams would I have done that otherwise, Dad! With due apologies to you and Mom, she was even then my universe and remains so.”

“I’m sure it’s mutual. And why apologise? Which parent would not want that?” Tonu retorted. 

They laughed at the nettled look that Pradya gave them. She had heard the last bit as she met them in the porch.

“All’s well,” Tonu reassured her. “It is your daughter we are talking about. We’ll worry when one or both of them fall in love and have to expand their universe to admit someone else into it.”

Diga had no time for such talk yet. He was already splayed across the sofa, making a long-distance call to his sister.