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My ancestral home was perched on a high cliff with the sea on three sides. Like huge sheets of mirrors, the waters reflected the moods of the sky. Thick forest, beyond the hills, encircled us - these vast open spaces kept me on a perpetual high. In the bliss of this Shangri–la I lived with my ailing mother and a few family retainers. They conducted the business of living for us. We had little to do with the outside world.

Rajesh, my childhood companion was the son of my father’s oldest, most trusted, employee. As adults we kept a respectable distance without losing the closeness. He ran a flourishing business, quarrying and supplying local stones to the big city builders. He enjoyed the status of a village baron, while we dwelt on past glory, relying on trust funds left by our ancestors. He could have bought us out many times but he never crossed the line. He tried to help us financially, especially towards the repair and maintenance of our huge estate, he loved it as much as me, but mother would have none of it.

He found other means - selling pieces of my pottery and sculpture to his rich city clients. Sometimes he would bring them home. The price he quoted embarrassed me but he always got away with it. He had a ruthless knack of dealing with city folks. I think he hated them as much as father did.

I liked nothing better, then to spend hours in my studio, sculpting out my fantasies with the mud and clay of my own land. The village kids would come for some fun, I would take them down to the garden where the spinning wheel and firing kiln was kept and teach them how to make the perfect pot. It never failed to fascinate them.

Nobody was allowed in my studio, except Rajesh and father when he was alive. I guarded it with the ferocity of a tigress with cubs. Balanced precariously on the highest point of the cliff it jutted out to all that was wild and unfettered. Just getting there was a medieval adventure. It was joined to the rest of the house by a narrow winding passage so low and dark, you had to crouch with a light to get in. It was father’s gift to me when I finally came home.

I was his favorite child. There was constant friction between him and my two brothers. He disapproved of their ‘wild city ways’. They had outgrown the village and went to study in the city. Father refused to see this natural progression. They hated his rigid regressive ways. Bitter quarrels ensued. Sometimes I wished they never came and always heaved a sigh of relief when they left. Peace inevitably returned. Of course I loved them - specially Manoj, the younger one. Mother was never happy to see them go, she always cried.

In rare moments of affection father called mother ‘my Bengal Tigress.’ They fought bitterly when Manoj wanted to buy a motor-cycle. Father hated the infernal machine but had to finally give in. That was Mother’s last fight.

Manoj would turn up unexpectedly on his brand new bike, like a knight in shinning armor. I secretly went on rides with him, until I got caught. Minor problems with the bike turned into a major expedition. The bike had to be dragged for miles to the nearest town, half the village came to help. We had a rip-roaring time shouting and singing all the way. By the time we returned it was dark. Father was pacing the verandah like a wounded tiger. I had never gone missing so late in the night and to see me on ‘that thing’ was more than he could handle.

Like a coward I ran off into my room, leaving Manoj to face his wrath. The loud ugly sounds rang clear in the night. I heard the rebellious kick of the motorcycle. From my window I saw Manoj’s retreating back swerving dangerously out of the gate. I stood for a long time hearing the last dying notes - that was the last we saw of him.

 Early next morning the villagers brought his body home. A truck had collided head-on. He never wore a helmet. His body was intact but his head was smashed and brought in pieces. Mother was inconsolable and never recovered. She took to her bed and stopped taking an interest in anything around her, least of all me.

Killed by the very bone of contention, mother and I share the burden of his death to this day. Mother had come into this Zamindari family, a young robust bride but was reduced to a lonely invalid. The death of my elder brother Ajit hit the final nail in her coffin. After a bout of viral fever, he developed pneumonia, untreated, it reached serious proportions. He was taken to the hospital by friends but it was too late. Father rushed to the city to witness the dying throes of his eldest son. This time it was he, who brought the body home. Mother’s mental state actually buffered the shock. If vacant eyes and a numb brain could grieve, she grieved. Father died of a broken heart, leaving me the whole and sole heir to the property.

Jul/5/2013, 4:40 am Link to this post Send Email to queenfisher   Send PM to queenfisher Blog
 
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Stuck on this dirt- track road, I was drenched to the bone. In disgust I slammed down the bonnet and sat inside the car shivering. To make matters worse, I had no idea where I was. The worst- case scenario. There was nothing to it but wait. I lit a cigarette and instantly felt better. I had to think this out with a calm mind. The rain was easing out. It was pitch dark, but - what was that? A flickering light or a mirage? No most certainly a light in the distance, a house, a cottage, a something perhaps? As if on cue the rain stopped. I tried to restart the car but to no avail. Better to fetch help. I picked up my night-case, locked the car and started moving towards the flickering light… my only hope.

Mother was restless. The storm was kicking up a terrific row. The wind shrieked through gaps in the windows. Lightning lit up the trees in eerie white - perfect setting for a horror film. Mother was behaving strangely, the weather always did this to her. Delirious, she would lapse into semi consciousness, It was going to be a long night. She was immune to sedatives, she had to be given an injection. Rajesh was out in the city for business. It would have to be our old gardener, Suraj, trudging four miles on his cycle in this weather.

Our old family doctor was a widower and an alcoholic to boot. He would be passed out on a night like this. Lost in reverie I did not hear the loud clanking of the heavy metal gates till the banging reached the door. I ran to open - it was Suraj, with a light in his hand and a stranger by his side. I looked down… fascinated at the pool of water from the stranger’s dripping form. He sneezed loudly propelling himself inside the room. As if on cue mother started screaming…

From the frying pan to the fire, I just hope these are for real and not ghosts. The old man looked spooky enough, and now this…. A mad woman having a fit and a girl, well not exactly a girl, but a girl-woman with that ethereal wan kind of beauty. Perfect setting for the tales of the ghostly and supernatural, dark stormy night etc. etc. Before I knew it, the vice-like grip of the mad woman almost clawed my arm away. Her eyes were rolling in their sockets, yet she could see, her mouth was foaming, yet I could make out the words ‘Manoj…Manoj..’ With one free hand I pulled out my soggy handkerchief and stuffed it in her mouth.

It was a full- blown seizure. We were all trying to hold her down – unsuccessfully. I rummaged through the drawers for pills. I could clearly hear her muttering Manoj’s name, the stranger was the only person who did the right thing, stuffed her mouth with his handkerchief. Mother’s eyes were transfixed on him. She calmed down, her claw-like grip must have hurt but he did not flinch. Eventually she fell into a stupor. Her fingers had to be priced open. His arms were red and bruised but the crisis was over. The stranger had saved the day.

The relief on the girl’s face was the only natural thing in that spooky place. Now that things were calm with a semblance of sanity restored - time for introductions: Madame I am Avinash from the city, builder-cum- architect by profession. I could have elaborated but the situation did not demand it. So here I was, at her doorstep, spooky or real, with my car broken down a mile off, walking in the relentless rain till I was drenched to the bone - might catch pneumonia if I did not change into dry clothes. Madame I am seeking some hospitality and a mechanic for my car. It was quite evident that they did not know what to do with me. Perhaps humankind was not their forte. Perhaps I would be eaten for dinner. They looked at each other positively uncomfortable. Not quite like the spider welcoming the fly. After much whispering it was decided I could spend the night in the out-house. The gardener would tend to my creature comforts. In the morning I would be taken to the doctor who would direct me to the mechanic. Well so far so good. At least a dry bed, dry clothes and if my luck was good some food in the belly. The out-house was damp and musty but the gardener had put a clean sheet on the bed. There was a primitive loo with a rusted iron flush tank - it worked. Ghosts or angels somebody was looking after me tonight. Dry clothes, dry bed, hot food, tomorrow would take care of itself. I slept like the proverbial log.

Alarm bells were ringing loud and clear – a stranger in our midst, that too from the city, that too a builder! He epitomized everything that father hated. Builder was the dirtiest word in his dictionary. Father called them vampires who sucked mother earth dry. Had he been alive, Mr. Gentleman, would never have gained entry - stormy night or no. But he had saved the day, I owed him shelter for the night - at least for mother’s sake. Tomorrow he would be gone. Today would fade from our memory.
 
I had never slept so soundly in my life, my limbs felt strong and refreshed. The sight of old Suraj grinning from ear to ear with a cup of tea in his hand was a welcome sight. Last night he looked ominous but today I could have been home. I stretched and yawned - carried the tea out. The sight that greeted me almost made me drop my cup. It was right out of the Arabian nights. If this was indeed a ghost house it looked pretty substantial and splendid. The yellow stones lit up in the diffused morning light. A magnificent old structure like a medieval castle, it also had a moat of sorts, thick forest intruded on all sides and the yonder hills completed the picture in one magnificent sweep. Light from the stained glass windows danced in subdued tones. The central dome was adorned with intricate carvings more Grecian in style than Indian. The ancient blue tiles almost Byzantium adorned the facade. Was it for real or was my dream / nightmare still lingering? Oh-oh, here was the princess of the castle herself…

Jul/8/2013, 1:48 am Link to this post Send Email to queenfisher   Send PM to queenfisher Blog
 
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Courteous pleasantries over in a stilted fashion I took him inside to see mother. He seemed concerned enough. The storm was over – mother had returned to normal She realized, Avinash was a far cry from Manoj but insisted on pointing similarities, there were none. Like a dog with a bone she refused to let go - that bone, of course, was Avinash. What surprised me was the ease with which he slipped into the role of not-quite-the-son-but-quite-like-the-son. He couldn’t be a reincarnation either! He was definitely not born after Manoj’s death – he would have to be twelve! Mother was so happy - I was damned if I would play the skeptic. After last night’s scare, I was not complaining at the turn of events.
 
Our savior left just as abruptly as he had come. Suraj went to fetch our dear old alcoholic doctor whom we affectionately called doc uncle. After satisfying himself that all was well with mother, he turned to Avinash. Starved for company doc uncle was a compulsive talker. He would be taking Avinash to his own place for lunch. A few drinks would be thrown in and then they would proceed to the mechanic. Seven generations of our family history would be revealed for scrutiny, Avinash would depart a wiser man!

The old doc’s tale got wilder after every drink. Later I lost count. I had never drunk so much hard liquor in the heat of the afternoon, sitting in an open verandah. I left the half-finished bottle of Scotch, for the doc. to nurse. Scandal was to be expected in this time- warp place. It seems the great patriarch had been quite a formidable chap.I couldn’t wait to share my adventure with Radhika and Shailendra.

I must admit I could not get over our gentleman caller. No doubt he had made an impression on both mother & me - for different reasons. I had just finished lunch, licking the mango juice from my fingers, thinking what a blessed country we lived in. The shrill tones of the old dusty black phone scared the living daylights out of me. Except for doc uncle, enquiring about mother, the phone never rang. It was Mr. Gentleman calling! It was uncanny - I couldn’t believe my ears! I don’t remember giving him my number…he was going to be passing by next weekend with some friends…could they drop in? He wanted to see mother.

I could have chewed my tongue off, for inviting him for lunch…or dinner…? What made me do it, common curtsey or curiosity? Whatever… no point behaving like father and getting all worked up, I told myself. These were modern times - so what if I lived in a time warp? I was not an ancient old relic like father was.

When mother was told about it her transformation was reward enough. I’d never seen her alive like this. Avinash was coming to visit her. The spirit of her dead son was alive in him! Nothing could dissuade her from believing. Doc uncle advised us to go along with the flow. If we did not actively encourage her belief we were not to discourage it either. Her positive energies lying dormant should not be killed by our negative ones. That would spell disaster. None of us were ready to bear the guilt of killing her in cold blood! We humored her.

After a long time, I saw mother assume the role of the mistress of the house. She issued orders to just about everybody including me. Everything had to be scrubbed clean. The best hand-embroidered bedspreads, smelling musty of mothballs, were out sunning themselves. Turkish towels, matching bath mats, whose existence I had never known were given to the dhobi with explicit instructions. The bathrooms smelt of jasmine and sandalwood soap. Suraj was lambasted for years of neglect. The weeds had become trees with lovely pink and purple flowers, I’d grown to love them. They were now being hacked to pieces. The cook was being interrogated - his culinary expertise in question. The servants were moving around with large grins on their faces. It was a miracle! Their mistress had risen from the grave!

The only person who watched all this from a disdainful distance was Rajesh. Distrust and disbelief writ large on his face, nobody paid him any heed. Nobody had the time for him. Who wanted to listen to the glum, skeptic voice of reason when the whole house wore a festive look? After years of mourning, Avinash’s role as a heaven-sent savior was firmly established.

The re-birth of mother was the most talked about event after Manoj’s death. The whole village was agog – they came under any pretext to have a glimpse of her. Their mistress was hobbling around with a walking stick. She was plucking a peach colored rose-bud and putting it in her hair! It was unbelievable! The man from the city had cast a magical spell on her, she was as besotted as a new bride! Was this good or evil? Speculation was rife.

Rajesh continued to play the role of a skeptic in his dogged fashion - not the type to give up easily. He popped in at odd hours never failing to express the obvious: what utter fools we were making of ourselves! One day I almost fell off the rickety ladder, trying to clean the grand old chandelier, he shook it with such disgust. What would father have said? City folks, that too, builders! Did he not know the breed, doing daily business with them? They would seize this place and render us homeless. Where would we be then? Father’s ghost had got inside him – not that all this, had not occurred to me!

It was not difficult to convince shailendra & Radhika. Shailendra as usual was slow in digesting my adventure and weighing the possibilities but Radhika was game and super excited, especially when I told her that I had stumbled onto our dream place...

We had gone to the same college of Architecture and Design and now worked on many projects together. Radhika was a natural with interiors, Shailendra, with finance and I was the man of steel and concrete. Together we made a deadly team. Our reputation grew in leaps and bounds as prestigious projects fell on our laps. Soon we were moving in that charmed circle of the rich and powerful. Shailendra was born in that circle. He came from a long line of successful builders. Radhika was from a highly educated family, her father was a civil engineer, mother a lecturer in college - the world of glamour did not turn her on. I had certainly arrived.

My father was a poor Estate Agent. As a kid I used to go around with him opening doors of houses and closing up, after the customers had left. I was born with a hunger to better myself. I never envied Shailendra - his silver spoon. He was complacent, slow and steady but solid as a rock. He was a good man but he did not have what I had. The hunger made me win every time. I won Radhika from him while he was still trying to make up his mind. I literally swept her off her feet, carrying the prized trophy from under his nose. This time slow and steady did not win the race. Luckily like a true gentleman he withdrew without bearing a grudge – we were thick as thieves, not just professionally compatible but the best of friends - a rare combination.

The night before, we were in Mr. Khanna’s, Worli sea-face house. We had just finished doing it up and were basking in the glory of admiration with champagne, kebabs and caviar. The conversation drifted to our favorite topic - exotic locations in the wild. About eight hours drive from Mumbai was this most fabulous site. Our friend Atul would take us there, first thing in the morning. Plans, like all plans, after three drinks or four sound great. Shailendra and Radhika had previous commitments, that left only yours truly, ever impulsive and ever ready.

God had gifted me with the supreme gift of no hangovers. I always woke up clear-headed and bright- eyed. But the Gods were not so kind to Atul Kumar. The morning after, he had no idea what I was talking about. My heavy cursing jogged his fuzzy brain. He wanted to call the whole thing off, I would have none of it. Once ready for the road nothing could stop me. He gave me vague directions; I drove off. The weather grew from bad to worse. I got lost. The rest as they say is history but for me it was that one wrong geographical turn that led me to the right place.


Jul/10/2013, 3:11 am Link to this post Send Email to queenfisher   Send PM to queenfisher Blog
 
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When the hour dawned, I felt like a fool welcoming the party of three. Only the flowers and garlands were missing! Father must have done a few turns in his grave - this was sacrilege! My life as an introvert had not dulled my sense of observation. Within minutes I grasped the situation – the eternal triangle! The girl was besotted with Mr. Gentleman. Her effusive enthusiasm grated on my nerves. His friend was the quiet dignified type, discreet but in admiration of the girl. Avinash concentrated on mother with single-minded devotion. I must confess they made quite a handsome threesome!

Mother played the perfect hostess reveling in the company of her guests. Avinash received her special favors. She kept on plying him with food, just as she had done with her sons. She was not only laughing at Avinash’s jokes but even making some witty remarks of her own. I had never known mother to have possessed such social charms! I was uncomfortable with people. Close proximity was anathema to me.

This must have been the kind of life mother always wanted. She was sitting upright looking alive and happy – how could I grudge her that? She had seen the last straw and clutched at it for dear life! I had no right to watch her with father’s disapproving eyes.

On mother’s insistence one day prolonged to a weekend. She and Avinash had taken to playing cards. Mother was more than ever convinced of the strange connection between him and her dead son. He played exactly like Manoj, cheated like him, cracked the same jokes, was a bad loser, etc. etc. Everything tallied, everything fell into place. The pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fitted to form the picture of Manoj. She was growing stronger each minute with the strength of her conviction.

Rajesh made himself scarce. Nobody missed him. As an invalid, mother depended on him. He always called after his long business trips, bringing medicines, small gifts and some interesting news from the city. Mother used to wait for his visits. She hardly noticed him now, he was replaced by Avinash. I merely shrugged at Rajesh’s thunderous brow, when we happened to catch sight of each other. The floodgates of mother’s maternal love carried us to regions unknown.

The guests were taken for a tour around the house with mother leading the way – the royal hostess, supported on the strong able arms of Avinash. We all came out on the huge lawns admiring the view from all angles. My pride was no less - it was my own little kingdom after all. I looked at it from a stranger’s eye and was overwhelmed with its magnificence.

Mother’s piercing command broke my reverie. Why don’t you take them to your studio and show them your precious view? I was horrified. Her inane remark really hurt. I’d never known her to be insensitive. In her re-birth I was re-discovering a new mother – almost a social butterfly! Her laughter made it worse. Rajesh walked in just then, I knew he had grasped the situation, few words were required between us. He came to my rescue by inviting us all to his place. Thankfully mother excused herself with - you young people enjoy yourselves, I will retire… much to my relief!

Rajesh occupied the old house within our estate, gifted to his father. He could afford a fancy place but much to our relief, never moved out. He was born here and loved the old house. As a child I spent more time here than my own place. Ancient Peepul and Banyan trees grew in crazy profusion surrounding the house in a mad maze. Thick mango groves and other fruit trees cordoned off the area from human sight. As kids we spent hours in this magical kingdom, lost to the world outside.
          
Rajesh’s mother was a kindly little lady with a strong melodious voice. She sang old Hindi film songs while washing, cooking, cleaning. For her size she had tremendous energy – I never saw her sit or lie down – though Rajesh swore, she slept at nights! She was the exact opposite of mother who hardly left her bed. I loved being around her, besides, she was an excellent cook. I ended up having most of my meals here.

Rajesh had refurbished the place in style. On the side verandah was a washing machine, in the main hall, a wide [sign in to see URL]. screen, a home theatre with surround sound, five speakers perched on the walls like birds of prey. I would come for the occasional good movie, my visits now were infrequent. In the far corner, the music system played his mother’s favorite songs. The modern kitchen transported you to a foreign apartment complete with dishwasher. All the gleaming machines shone spotless with disuse. His old help took all the dishes, including his clothes, to wash under the tap in the back verandah. The ancient grinding stone mocked the modern food processer - the incongruity was amusing! Rajesh simply loved gadgets.

Surprisingly we had a great evening. Rajesh played the perfect host. He had the quality of making a thief welcome, while immodestly flaunting his latest acquisition. Everything was duly admired including his latest I- pad. He had the knack of telling stories with an ironic twist. Especially about slick city folks and how he could see through them. I thought it would make them uncomfortable but Shailendra appeared genuinely amused, Radhika, a bit confused but Avinash’s laughter was definitely forced. Still it was a successful evening. For all his initial apprehensions and opposition, Rajesh ended up doing brisk business. He would supply them with stones, cheaper than the market rate. He was too shrewd a person to let an excellent business opportunity slip by.

Farewells were said, future promises made - of course they would return, there was mother and there was Rajesh - their future supplier. Mother even packed some home made delicacies like she used to do with her sons. She was happy - she had a future to look forward to. I was happy to see them go and return to my life of splendid isolation. My studio beckoned and I returned thankfully. What might appear as a drab dull life for many was vital nourishment for my soul.

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Ever since we returned I found Shailendra strangely quiet. He did not share our earlier enthusiasm. There was something amiss and I’d be damned if I did not get to the bottom of it. In my usual brusque manner I broached the subject head-on. Of course he had reservations. This was a sweet, helpless girl and we were monsters trying to deprive her of home and hearth. Luckily Radhika came to my rescue. Monsters… ? Deprive…? How long could she afford to maintain such a huge place? It was a white elephant. We were doing her a big favor. She could retire peacefully in a more manageable place and have enough money to last her lifetime. She was hardly the marrying kind, with her mother gone… imagine living in that huge house all alone?

We would pay her handsomely, for God’s sake! Shailendra, don’t look like that - as If we are committing some horrendous crime. We are not stealing her precious place! That was quite a mouthful coming from Radhika. Normally she is a woman of few words. One of the things I like about her. Her passion was both stirred and shaken. I was pleased as punch. We’ll give it a try old chap what’s the harm in that? I tried to reassure him. If it doesn’t work, well what the heck, we’re all gentlemen [sign in to see URL] the lady... we’ll gracefully withdraw.

Well I’m already telling you it won’t work. I had a chat with the old doc while you were busy cheating mama at cards….remember? Shailendra was all hot under the collar. The old patriarch had a horror for city folks. If he had been alive he would have shot us not plied us with biryani and sweets. There is no question of the girl parting with her castle either. I smiled at Shailendra. His simple straight forward attitude was more amusing than disturbing. I had got around these situations often enough. It had caused road-blocks in business as well. If not for me, he would still be servicing his father’s clients. He would have been making money alright but he wouldn’t have enjoyed the kind of independent fame he did right now. If it was just the matter of the girl, I told Shailendra, he could rest assured. I was neither a thief nor a cheat, I had my own reputation at stake. Shailendra looked more alarmed than ever. I could see he was not reassured and this time he could not look for support from Radhika. She was completely sold on the place.

Radhika & and I went into frantic consultation. The thing had to be handled with kid-gloves - this would be no ordinary negotiation. Timing is it, Avinash, as luck would have it, you took the wrong turn at the right time! Radhika beamed. Exactly my sentiments, dear girl, a head-way is made, a delicate balance remains - to swing the deal in our direction. Our laughter froze as Shailendra entered, an expression of mock-guilt writ large on our faces. Of course, he knew what was going on. The three of us had done enough plotting in our business negotiations – the acquisition of land was never a simple straightforward affair. Yes this was different - more personal for all of us. We’d always dreamt of owning a dream resort and here was Shailendra having a bad attack of… [sign in to see URL]? Have you gone sweet on the girl? Radhika joked, he did not look amused.


Mother continued her lively cheerful progression for which I was grudgingly thankful to Avinash. I even got used to their visits. It was now basically Avinash and Radhika who showed up most times. When I enquired about Shailendra I was told: somebody had to mind the store. I accepted the situation gracefully, threw emotions out of the window. Mother was happy, Rajesh was doing brisk business, I was left alone, which suited me fine…until mother dropped the bomb.
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She calmly announced that she was going to the city with Avinash. Modern medical treatment was what she needed to lead a normal healthy life, not the drunken ministrations of doc uncle. After all, she was only sixty nine and had a good many years to live. Why should she lead an invalid’s life when there was hope? She looked me straight in the eye daring me to defy her. It was more an assertion of her rights than a question. I did not know whether to laugh or cry

The hope, of course, was Avinash. While I was sitting pretty in my complacent, isolated glory, our guests had been busy working on mother, laying it on thick, I bet! When I joined them for meals there would be a special dish prepared by Radhika. Her familiarity grew in leaps and bounds with every visit. Soon she was addressing mother as ‘maaji’, instructing the cook on the correct diet for her, with Avinash playfully teasing and joking around the house, providing entertainment. They were like one happy family and instantly sobered up when I arrived. I was the outsider, the unexpected guest who’d walked in unannounced – to be treated with formal civility.

I had seen it coming. I was not blind or deaf but biding my time - postponing the inevitable confrontation with mother, knowing how unpleasant it would be. To add to my discomfort, doc uncle never failed to admire her progress and to warn of possible regression. Let it ride – my heart said, later…later…there would be time… but my mind was furious and unforgiving. The result was obvious. I had forgotten how fast city-slickers moved – they never waited for things to happen but made things happen, specially, if those things were aimed at monetary gain.

Avinash offered his home and hearth and the best medical facility money could buy. I was to accompany her. I was horrified. I wished to God I had broached the indelicate subject of ulterior motive, she was so blind to see, earlier. She had gone absolutely overboard. I was determined to put my foot down – forcefully. There was no question –
I could never leave my beloved home to live in a stranger’s house, in a strange city, on charity – like a helpless orphan, I exploded bitterly, sounding like father. I was not prepared for mother’s reaction. She broke down and wept like a child. It was heart-rending.

Strangely, it was Avinash, who finally broke down my resistence. Our stint in the city would not be for long, only till all the specialists had seen mother and cured her for life. Doc uncle had served his purpose. An odd injection was short term relief, what she needed was the treatment of qualified specialists, for a complete and permanent cure. It would be selfish of me, not to give her this last chance, of leading a normal, healthy life. There was no question of charity. He had seen and admired my sculptor pieces - lying all around the house. These would sell like hot cakes in the city. He knew the best interior designers in the business. He would arrange for exhibitions. I would be rich and famous in no time. I did not need charity; I needed city exposure. I could do so much with all that money - spruce up my beloved home. Insinuating that, I too, deserved a last chance!

See how it goes with the doctors, advised Rajesh. I had expected an outburst, almost similar to mine. I was disappointed. I was hoping for his forceful support – together we could dissuade mother. His thinking had influenced her on many occasions. He was the practical man. Perhaps it was this practicality which was speaking now…

After years, I was leaving…
The final good-bye was said with great trepidation, as if, I’d never see my beloved home again…

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Avinash’s house was an architectural splendor on the highest point of the posh Malabar Hill. Opulence and luxury ruled with a golden hand and the sea glittered like diamonds, dancing in obeisance to its masters, its view enslaved for a hefty sum. It was nothing like the sea at home, free and ferocious, servile to none. The tapestries and curtains were rich brocade, stiff and pompous that pricked like thorns when they brushed the skin. Plush sofas were not meant to put your feet up and head down on the cushions, embossed with heavy zardosi embroidery – in fact there was not a single chair where you could close your eyes and relax. The stress of money was everywhere. I was on edge and amazed to see mother feel right at home.

I do confess to admiring the Chinese pottery, the Japanese vases, the finely sculpted Gods and Goddesses from South India. His place was a cross between a plush hotel and a museum. Avinash’s mother was the only real thing in the house. She was a kindly, unpretentious lady and took to mother rather too promptly. Within days both were exchanging similar childhood stories of a bygone era. Both had taken to watching the endless soap operas on T.V. all dealing with family intrigue, deception, revenge, adultery. I promptly walked out whenever I heard the loud strains of hysterical sobbing and jarring music blaring from the idiot box. The sprawling lawns outside were perfectly manicured, the concrete sky loomed large with tall towers. I was fairly suffocating. The only redeeming factor was that mother was getting top-notch specialist treatment.

For the first time in her life she did not need me. A car and driver was kept exclusively for her needs. Most times she was accompanied by Aninash’s mother and Radhika. Sometimes I tagged along. Radhika now called her ‘maaji’ and mother replied with the affectionate ‘beti’. Of course it irked me but I was willing to make the sacrifice. Her health improved in leaps and bounds. She no longer required a stick to walk, her back was straight like a young girl’s. She looked ten years younger, she blossomed and bloomed. I got glimpses of a young woman before Manoj’s death. She loved it best when Avinash’s friends dropped in. She was the life and soul of the party. Some rare elaborate dish always appeared on the table, made by her delicate hands, admired and relished by all. She took great pleasure in regaling the young crowd, fussing over them, laughing and joking. I was the wall flower, sitting in the corner, nether enjoying their company, nor the food – too rich for my taste.
 
The only person who was successful in drawing me out was Shailendra. His attentions were so non-invasive that I found myself responding. He would join me when I sat on the balcony looking out at the sea and feeling desolately homesick. There was no compulsion for inane conversation. That’s the best thing I liked about his company. Silence was golden. He could let me be…and I could be myself.

I had politely declined his birthday invitation over the weekend. He joined me with two bowls of ice-cream with fruits, handed me one. We ate silently while I squinted to see a few faint stars above. Not a patch like the village sky he laughed. I feel like a country mouse, I smiled, inviting him to sit. Please do come he said in earnest. Not wanting to fuss unnecessarily and calling undue attention to myself, I accepted.
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Re: My Story


There was nothing impressive about Shailendra’s house at first glance. Even after entering the driveway I could have missed it, if I was coming on my own. Ancient trees overpowered the exquisite stone structure. Only after entering the huge verandah and gliding into the living room did I feel the concept of space or rather the expanse of it. Once inside, the feeling of being out in the open still persisted. It was a pleasurable experience. I was at once at ease. Wealth could have a restful beauty. There was nothing here that screamed loudly: see how much I cost!

There was a genuine smile of pleasure in Shailendra’s eyes as he ushered us in. Mother sallied forth majestically with Avinash and his mother, I followed a little behind. He had two mothers, now, I couldn’t help thinking. A lot of familiar faces greeted us, common friends, who often visited Avinash. Mother was right at home. She was a natural, it seemed, she’d been socializing all her life, not spending more than half of it, in almost solitary confinement! She was made much of and enjoyed the fuss and attention. Why they’re nice people! The thought both surprised and shocked me, catching me completely off-guard. If father’s ghost was alive and kicking and watching, it would be running for its dear life back into the grave!

Radhika walked in, making a grand entrance, looking lovely in a shocking pink sari. It was interesting to see the effect she had on Shailendra, rather than Avinash. He still carried a flickering candle for her. I had met her parents on few occasions. Cultured, educated people like Shailendra’s folks. The mothers, elegant and graceful in their subdued silk sarees. Shailendra’s father was given to flamboyance but in a discreet dignified manner. Always well dressed in his crisp cotton kurtas with delicate hand embroidery at the collar and small but shiny diamond studs for buttons. He took pleasure in his cigars and single malts. He was a man of refined taste, almost like an artist, who had made it good. Most unlike any builders I’d seen in Avinash’s house, who talked, laughed, ate and drank only Black Label whiskey - all in large measures.

Shailendra’s married sister greeted me with her usual warmth. Her husband was part of the extended family, a renowned interior designer, who graced many magazines. Nothing succeeds like success especially if it is maintained and augmented with each succeeding generation! Even the numerous domestic help were treated with kind consideration as was evident in their manner and sense of belonging. I looked at all these people, realizing with a great degree of amazement, how well I knew them over the past…how many days…months? Was it close to three months…four or five… that I’d spent here? Unbelievable! The shocking sense of passing time hit me suddenly with full force.

The tremors of shock waves must have registered with Shailendra. I saw him walk towards me, purposefully, drink in hand, followed by two distinguished looking gentlemen, probably the only people I did not know, among the sea of so many faces. Ah! There she is, my dear you look spooked, I hope it was a friendly ghost! Like these… two of the friendliest ghosts…living between two worlds…



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The ‘ghosts’ turned out to be friends and business associates of Shailendra. Men of the world, with the rosy glow of prosperity, feet planted firmly on solid ground, spanning both worlds – east & west – nothing ghostly about them! Shailendra hustled us, unceremoniously, into his study, which looked like a very spacious art studio. He strode purposefully, towards a large table, picked up the centre piece, turned to his friends with a flourish, this is what I was talking about. He held aloft the prized trophy, which exchanged hands, was scrutinized from all angles, then handed back to the proud possessor - I failed to recognize it as my own creation!

Perched on Shailendra’s impressive oak paneled table, amidst classy art décor, it looked priceless, could have been purchased from an expensive art dealer and not from my old pottery shed! Shailendra’s, sharp eye, had spotted it, on one of his visits. I was willing to make a gift of it, happily get rid of it for free, but he’d insisted on paying, that too, in hard cash - a princely sum of 30, 000! On his subsequent visit, after lunch, out in the front lawns, under the old Gulmohar tree, in full blood-red bloom, I remember him, discreetly taking out a fat bundle from his coat pocket, almost apologetically counting the endless notes for my benefit. At one point of time, I almost screamed – enough!

Covered in dust and cobwebs, the piece was lying like junk, amongst numerous such pieces. Part of an ancient relic - an ornamental, wrought iron grill, that father insisted on bringing down. He wanted to construct a solid wall instead - for his own security reasons. My vehement protests fell into his deaf ears and down came the whole enchilada – birds, trees, flowers and all!

With Rajesh’s help at dismantling and soldiering, I turned the whole frame into different artifacts, incorporating wood and clay with charming effect. The combination looked creatively distinctive. This particular piece was a nude dancing girl, with her head thrown back, carved in wood, supported by wrought iron trees, each leaf and flower delicately etched like filigree work, with small birds perched on the metal branches. The pride of place, for artistic, creative work, accorded in another’s home, is of immense satisfaction to the artist.

Shailendra’s friends had recently returned from New-York, after finishing work at a modern art studio. The owner was looking for an exotic mix of the orient and the west to adorn the walls. The duo, were on a mission, looking for art that would fit the bill. Apparently mine did. How many did I have? Three sacks full, laughed Shailendra. They looked at me with big smiles. For some insane reason, I felt like the goose that was going to lay the golden eggs!

I would be paid handsomely, which goes without saying, their smiles broadened. We were wondering where you’d been abducted, Avinash walked in with Radhika in tow. The clink of money exchanging hands must have reached his ears. His tight, polite smile did not belie the irritation in his tone. Radhika’s syrupy response, did nothing to dispel the fact, that they were not privy to Shailendra’s plans, for my future. Perhaps they had reason to be peeved. After all they were business partners and close friends. Was there money to be made, all around, on this deal, too, and were they feeling deprived? Perhaps I was giving too much importance to myself, perhaps I was thinking like a small town girl.

Shailendra covered the surprise he’d sprung with finesse and truth. I had no reason to believe otherwise. It was an impulsive act of generosity corroborated by his two friends. Amicable conversation resumed, potential business transactions discussed. They were all too successful, wealthy and famous in their own rights, to be bothered by a small fry like me, I thought, unless they had bigger plans…

In all honesty, the exhibitions Avinash had promised, to hold in my honor, kept getting postponed for various reasons. Time, being the chief factor, besides, it could, on no account, be a shoddy affair, their reputation was at stake. Careful planning was required, to make the event successful and different, I’d hardly lugged enough of my stuff, another aspect to look into etc. etc. – all valid reasons. To be fair to both Avinash and Radhika, preliminary plans had been discussed, perhaps they could combine it with a fashion show. This was a freak chance, an opportunity grabbed - good old Shailendra! Avinash even patted him on the back, after his friends left.
 
So that was what, being at the right place, at the right time, was all about! Perhaps I should thank Avinash and mother, I thought grudgingly. It was a rare experience. Mother was like an excited schoolgirl when I told her that there was a fair chance, all that I touched, would soon turn to gold!

What a romantic fool! Trust old Shailendra to make the wrong move at the wrong time with the wrong girl Trust him to wear his heart on his sleeve, he’d done it before and where did it leave him? Trust him to jump the gun. What was the hurry? What a dumb-ass thing to do. An impulsive act of generosity, my…! His motives were all too clear. After making such a dream headway - opportunity had not only knocked at my door it was now living comfortably in my home. I’ll be damned if I was going to turn it away - I would be a complete jackass to do so. I was furious!

The signs are all too clear, Radhika smiled sweetly, to make matters worse, I groused. Good for Shailendra, if anyone deserves happiness, it’s him. I’m not sure if she’s the right girl but if he thinks…you’re damn right, I said, a bit too loud, well don’t jump down my throat, what do you think this means…I mean to your plans, she looked at me with a mock-grin. I thought it was ours, well…she hesitated…only as far as certain things go… what’s that suppose to mean? It means I will not go beyond certain limits…so you’re implying I will, is that it. Oh! Come on Avinash you can’t be that serious, I agree it will be a dream come true, our dream resort, look I know places like that are rare, very rare, they’ve either been sold or don’t exist, but if you think…think what, I questioned, that I will commit a crime…perhaps murder…? Are you in your right mind…are you implying that I’m going to put my life on stake for that place?

No I don’t think that…I know your struggles too well…but I also know the limits you can cross when you want a thing badly…Oh! I don’t mean murder, don’t be ridiculous. Remember that deal with Mr. Sharma, how unwilling he was to part with that small patch of ground, on which we built our first high-rise apartment? Well what of it? We did fudge those Conveyance papers and bribed the [sign in to see URL]….Yes and how excited you were to commit your first great crime! You were petrified the police would arrest you, handcuff you, parade you down the street, as a fine example of… Radhika laughed and the tension eased. After each incident your excitement and fear died down…reduced to the mundane…later some of your diabolical plans even surprised us! Well maybe now it’s Shailendra’s turn! I ignored her dig, look Radhika, we’ll make an honest bid, it could be a wee bit dishonest nothing more, I promised kissing her. You can’t snatch all Shailendra’s girls, you know, how many women could you marry? Who said anything about marrying, I teased.

When I got back home, I was surprised to see Rajesh…

Aug/23/2013, 5:21 am Link to this post Send Email to queenfisher   Send PM to queenfisher Blog
 
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Re: My Story


His familiar voice was sweet music to my years. Seemingly on a business trip, his main concern was to look us up. I felt the full impact, of my long absence, from my beloved home, in Rajesh’s presence, I couldn’t be happier! He’d come at an opportune time – home beckoned, I had to get ‘three sacks-full’ of my artistic consignment. My impending trip, however, loomed large like a dark cloud over mother’s head. I insisted on her coming – she was right as rain and we’d overstayed our welcome. But Avinash and his mother would have none of it – not to speak of mother. Wrong timing, they countered, her road to recovery had begun but was by no means, over. She was still under medical supervision, doctors were looking to decrease, even change her medication. Her mental health was of prime importance, at this delicate stage, besides, the city air suited her more than the country air! Rajesh had landed right in the middle of our heated debate, which sounded like a family argument! His timely intervention and practical solution solved the case, conducive to both parties. He would take me home, mother could stay on – simple!

Once the decision was made, I was impatient to be gone - the rest could sort itself out. I ran up, threw a few things in my bag, after a hurried lunch, we left. As the car drove out of the gates – I heaved a huge sigh of relief. Sweet freedom! Anybody, would have thought, you were being tortured in that house, instead of enjoying such privileged, preferential treatment! What a spread and you hardly let me eat! Rajesh had sensed my desperation with a twinkle in his eyes. I’ll make all the food you want, let’s just go home, I sang! I did feel like a prisoner, being let out, although that was not altogether fair to my benefactors. But at this moment, nothing mattered but the fact, that I was on my way home, sweet home!

For two days I did nothing but dance about the place, taking in the mountains, forests, the sea, the blue expanse, drinking it all in, in deep draughts! I’d forgotten that heady feeling! The domestic staff, inquired about mother and were relieved to know, she was hale and hearty. They folded their hands in reverence, sending a quick prayer, for her well-being. They looked at me with moist eyes. Very much part of our extended family, they’d looked after mother, tended to all her minutest personal needs, with loving care. Suraj, proudly showed me the patch of hot-house plants with exotic flowers, that he was specially preparing for mother, as a surprise. When I wended my way to the studio I was drunk with happiness and went around fingering the dusty pieces – even the dust was precious!

Rajesh and I met every day, making up for lost time. A barrier had dropped between us. The distance had never been closer! He had dropped, some of his former inhibitions. This is my nirvana! I looked at Rajesh, do you think mother also feels this way in Avinash’s house? Rajesh ignored the question, now that you’ll be rich I’ll put an ad in the matrimonial column: rich, young woman, maybe not so young, seeking prospective grooms, only the richest might apply, he teased.

Money has its uses, no denying, who can defy the will of God, if he wants to shower me with his blessing, so be it, I joked. We were sitting on the front veranda, Rajesh was on his second beer and had brought a bottle of Shiraz from his well-stocked bar, when I told him of my latest, acquired, city tastes. There are a number of things we can do, although we’re counting our eggs before they’re hatched. I’d always dreamt of refurbishing and renovating our two bedrooms and re-doing the ancient, gothic bathrooms from scratch and maybe…I got caught up and carried away with future plans. The huge orange globe dipped behind the mountains, slowly but surely. Tomorrow it would rise again, steadfast old chap! Nature had not lost its glow, in this part of the country. Twilight did not come, with dull-grey gloom but a soft sense of mystery. As the blue deepened, the sky opened up, in a dark expanse, lit by the stars in quiet celebration. How noiseless – the changing of guards!

Rajesh was quietly propounding his practical philosophy of life. I don’t believe in destiny or fate, only circumstance. If you can’t change it, don’t fight it. Accept, adjust, adapt, allow it to work for you – play along. Like child’s play, is it that simple, I wondered. Children are the best example, continued Rajesh, almost reading my thoughts. Have you never watched them at play, have you forgotten your own self, is it that far back – we always played to our advantage. Growing up is such loss. And no gain, I mocked. Was I destined to go to Avinash’s house, I think I was. Believe what you will, but plan your actions well – to your best advantage, that’s when the mind comes to play. The mind is free – not subject to fate or destiny. That’s what Krishna told Arjuna when he refused to fight his brothers on moral grounds. He swept aside all morals, blew them to bits, we’re lucky to have Krishna as one of our Gods, why do you think He was such a hot favorite with the women. You tell me, I laughed.

The third beer was opened and my full-empty glass was topped up. Because women are smart, he laughed, they know a man, when they see one! Krishna was a God, I protested. That doesn’t make Him less of a man, he almost spilled the wine, shaking with laughter. What’s so funny, I wondered.

The last bright orange trails, left behind by the sun, puckered in sullen discontent, crumpled in grief, folded and faded into dark oblivion. It was the final curtain call – the show was over. When the house-lights come on, it’s back to reality. Mother is the first priority, Rajesh continued, right on cue. She regards them as her extended family. She’s in excellent care and could well continue the relationship, if it pleases her. Visiting them even after she returns – it would be a holiday for her, the change would do her good. You can come and go as you please, take the advantage of having the best of both worlds. I was waiting for the final word – simple, when the phone rang.

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It was Shailendra, inquiring when I would be back. His friends were leaving next week. They would have loved to come down, take in the country air, see me in my natural habitat, but there was much to be done and not enough time. No problem, I replied glumly. Rajesh cheerfully proclaimed – bad news eh? A lucrative offer that might raise your financial and social status – sounds tragic! I have to leave sooner than I thought, I imitated his crying face. Your chauffer, at your beck and call, he bowed low, happily drunk. In fact, you’ll be doing me a big favor. I won’t have to listen to Subhash’s lectures, on the virtues of social visits, to keep the clients happy. I practice what I preach - never act without self-gain! Let’s leave day after tomorrow. Your wish is my command!

I was sad to leave, but in a strange way, my heart was light – a burden almost lifted, how different this trip from the first! Few months at Avinash’s place had altered my perspective. I could no longer harbor father’s blind hatred for city folks. Had he been alive, even Shailendra, would not have been above suspicion. If city exposure had changed me, mother was beyond recognition. I was both curious and excited to see her again. The only time we ever separated was when I’d left for college. Another brief stint in the city, but hostel life was a world of its own. Everything outside was surreal, inhabited by aliens, as far as we were concerned!

With you as my charioteer, dear Krishna, I will conquer my fears and win many battles! Spoken like a true warrior, Rajesh smiled. Mother was not in the house when we arrived. She was out with Avinash’s mother. When she finally came, even I was not prepared for the drastic change! She dismissed me after a cursory glance and inquiry about home and hearth and proceeded to display the contents of various shopping bags, with the excitement of a teenager! Her latest acquisition – a lovely ash-grey silk saree with silver border! She went into the next room to try it on and came out blushing like a bride! She could have been anywhere in her mid-forties, in the prime of her life and health – her transformation was complete!

She was a social butterfly! Very much part of the elite ladies club, they met for cards, movies, lunch. Last weekend they’d driven three hours out of the city, for a great outing. I was filled in with the details of the beautiful resort, the excellent cuisine, the games they played, the songs they sang…her life was full to the brim and spilling over. If it’s possible to be resurrected, at that ripe old age, mother was a prime example! I looked at her with grudging appreciation and all the old fears returned. It seemed too much of a good thing – too unreal, like a film script. I caught the hysterical edge of her frenzied excitement, the last desperate bid to make up for lost time - it frightened me. I could not find myself being a party to it and went quietly up to my room.

The gloom of last night faded with the brightness of Shailendra’s smile. He greeted me like an old friend. I was glad I took Rajesh along. He was not only my chauffer, but manager cum accountant, rolled in one. His friends could barely conceal their excitement when the artifacts where displayed rather dramatically by Rajesh, he was good at these things. It had its desired effect. Of course, the final selection would be made by their foreign counterpart. I would receive a handsome amount as down payment. Details of bank transfer, foreign exchange were all Rajesh’s forte. Once again I thanked my lucky stars to have him by my side. Rajesh had unlimited facets to his personality. At home he was a country bumpkin, looked and acted like one. Out on business, in the big bad world, he was a wolf! An asset to have!

On the second front, talk of the much awaited exhibition, was also hotting up. Avinash and Radhika were going all out to strike a lucrative deal with the sponsors of a prestigious fashion show, of international repute. All the big wigs of the trade would be there. My pieces would be rented out for the art décor with my name prominently displayed. Potential buyers could later woo me! I would be paid rent for displaying my wares, instead of the other way round. We would be wining and dining with the who’s who, rubbing shoulders with the glittering glitterati, a win-win situation!

I had three months to polish my old pieces and create new ones. The thrill of uninterrupted creativity, in my beloved studio, would be bliss! Hypothetical fears were, once again, pushed aside. This time, I did not insist on mother coming. She was getting dental treatment from the best dentist, with the latest equipment. She was going for yoga classes three times a week. The thought that she did not miss home, refused to sink in. It was a bitter pill to swallow. Apart from sending some goodies for the staff, she seemed cheerful enough to see me go.

Nothing succeeds like success. I turned to Radhika, you have to admit she’s a good sculptress, some of those pieces were exquisite, not to mention that centre-piece in Shailendra’s house. He does have an eye for beauty! I wouldn’t mind buying some of her stuff for the new hotel, Radhika ignored my dig. She was busy with the interiors of her new boutique hotel. She’s come a long way in a few months, so much for all her introverted country-ways…Imagine pulling off that coup with Shailendra and his hard-core art dealers. They refused to buy anything when I took them around to all our old haunts. Well, as I said, you’ve got to admit she’s an exceptional artist to excite jaded city pallets. I added with gusto, even I’m excited and admit it, so are you. Who on earth would ever give her a platform likes this, I doubt whether she appreciates…Well, if you think she’s going to thank us on bended knees you’re bound to be disappointed! I teased... not her style, look at it this way, from builders, we’ve turned to philanthropists!

I could tell Radhika was not amused. A happy philanthropist in perpetuity! How and when you’re going to broach the subject, is anybody’s guess. For the first time, I’m appreciating and imbibing the virtues of patience from dear Shailendra, learning to be slow and steady like the tortoise, never fear, Radhika dear, we shall win the race and how! And how? Exactly, that’s what I want to know. To tell you the truth, I don’t know either, not in concrete terms and maaji is like my second mother, to tell you another truth, I’m genuinely fond of the old lady, by the way, not so old anymore. Well so am I, tell me something new. I’m looking for the gentlemanly thing to do, a decent way out, as I said before, maybe a wee bit of dishonesty, just a teeny-tiny bit…that wouldn’t harm anyone…not even a fly…

Radhika gave a wicked smile, well the fly has walked into your parlour, Mr. Spider, when are you going to...

Oct/10/2013, 4:47 am Link to this post Send Email to queenfisher   Send PM to queenfisher Blog
 
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Home felt strange without mother. Her empty bed mocked me. The only time she ever traveled, was to visit her parents place in Calcutta, now known as Kolkata. Even those trips became fewer, over a period of time and eventually stopped, after we were much older. As kids we accompanied her. It was a rare treat to visit our grandparents. They doted on us. Father never went, except that one time as a groom, to fetch his bride home. Till this day, the city remains frozen in time, with its quaint colonial charm - as if the British never left! Their ghosts haunt the city’s imposing monuments and roam wild in the elite Tollygunj Golf Club, where we went every Sunday for brunch. Impeccable Queen’s English floated in the air, with the tinkling of glasses and laughter. The men so dapper in their casuals, the women elegant, mother, the toast of the club, in her peach chiffon, with a glass of Bloody Mary, topped with a sprig of mint. The aroma of fried fish, prawns, the best sea food in the world, followed by the best dessert made of cottage cheese, we eating ourselves silly! Suddenly I’m hungry!

As I get up to make my way to the kitchen, the electricity goes off – what a pain! The usual power cut, to compensate for urban wastage. I light candles, the maids are already rustling in the veranda, lighting the kerosene lamps. How I love the evening dusk, like dusky village maidens, burnt brown in the sun! Perfect setting for time-travel! Memories are flooding, fast and thick, now that I’m alone. Mother’s excitement while packing, the best sarees, the finest jewelry - stuff she never wore at home, those rare occasions when she was driven out of town, to shop for us – not wanting us to look like country bumpkins, the packing of sumptuous meals, enough to feed a small army, for our two day train journey and finally the [sign in to see URL]. welcome! All rules were thrown out of the window, late nights were the norm, mother’s keen eyes, no longer watchful, she had our own life, much to our delight, we had our own. Enough people floated about the place to cater for our basic needs. Mother was a young girl again with no responsibilities.

We were even allowed to attend the all night musical concerts. Your mother attended them even before she was born, grandfather would proclaim, never too early to learn about our rich culture! Mother would come down looking lovely, the admiring glances of a distant cousin, would follow her everywhere, with dog-like devotion, I remember watching him like a hawk and being horribly rude for hogging all her attention!

Mother’s family was also a Zamindari set-up, like father’s – but what a difference! Far more sophisticated, educated and liberal but at the same time, retaining their traditional heritage, right down to the foundation of their hundred year old ancestral home, in the midst of urban sprawl.

I hadn’t thought so far back into my childhood for a long time. It helped me to understand mother as a woman, on this lonely evening. Her desperation at staying at a stranger’s house, which was more a home to her than her own place - she was finally free. Free from her suffocating years with father, the double tragedy of her sons’ death, free from memories and most of all free from me – a constant reminder of the old days. Rajesh came in so quietly, he frightened me. Thinking of ghosts, he smiled, count me in. We watched silently, the flickering flames for a long time, words were not needed between us.

I was beginning to settle in and enjoy the solitude. Gloriously alone with my work – hours of undisturbed creativity, my old faithful retainers, ever attentive to my every need, life could be worse! I unearthed a lot of forgotten pieces, refurbished unfinished work, put final touches, worked at new creations and experimented with new forms. Wood, clay and metal formed the mainstay of my creativity. The village welder and carpenter, were put into good use, happy to do something different from their routine work and be paid twice the amount! Apart from mother’s absence, it was one of the best periods of my life - creative, stimulating and challenging! Out in the big, bad, competitive world, I would be formally displaying my work - I better be good!

Rajesh dropped in whenever he could. I called mother daily, she was always excited about something or the other. There were so many things happening, today she was going for a puja ceremony, tomorrow for a movie, then lunch and shopping…mother what’s all this shopping about…? Her laughter rang loud and clear, echoing her younger days – how happy she was! The fact never ceased to surprise me. Forever the skeptic, my ears strained to detect one false note, so that I could rush over and bring her home – but it never came.

One fine day Avinash called, out of the blue, to announce that he and Radhika would be coming over for the weekend. What about mother, I said, ever hopeful. But… no, how could she leave Avinash’s mother…the tea party at Mrs. Sharma’s place…the birthday dinner at dear old Mrs. Bhatnagar’s place…everyone would be so disappointed…never mind me.

So what are you coming for…I stopped myself from being rude. We both want to see how far you’ve progressed and to discuss the details of the exhibition, in answer to my unasked question. I regarded this as a pointless intrusion, just when I was getting into the flow of things. What was there to see, I thought with irritation, had they not seen enough of my sculptures at Shailendra’s place, to judge the quality of my work, too late in the day for that, when they’d already committed themselves to the grand exhibition. I must have conveyed something to the effect, the tone of my voice was not at all encouraging. Some details had to be worked out, which could not be discussed over the phone, besides, he laughed, I miss the old place!

Sensing my ominous silence, he continued, Rajesh promised to show us samples of some new stones, being quarried in the nearby village. Yes they would be coming for two nights, the guest room would be fine and another room for Radhika, he laughed, as if making a joke. Well I was not amused and didn’t give a damn where they slept! Seeing my infuriated face, Rajesh took the phone from me. He talked shop, I confronted him as soon as he put the phone down, new stones indeed! Is there a time and place for business, I glared at him. Look I did promise but no dates were fixed, how was I to know…well then you entertain them, I wanted to say more much more, but checked myself. I just hated the thought of any intrusion right now.

O well, if they were coming, they were coming. The poor maid scrubbed her hands out , trying to get the unused room in order, the bathroom was a mess and needed serious plumbing work – too bad, they would have to share a bathroom, not my problem!

I needn’t have feared and gone into such a tizzy, their coming was pretty uneventful. I think they got the general drift and kept things pretty quiet. Rajesh took them off my hands completely. One full day was gone in the excursion to the nearest village. A pale yellow stone, resembling the Jaisalmer stone was being unearthed, exactly the same shade, they wanted for the foyer of their new fancy hotel. Next came dinner at Rajesh’s place which I had no inclination of joining. No need to go out of your way to be inhospitable, Rajesh hissed, all rrrrright, I hissed back and off we trooped. His cook had outdone himself, the food was splendid, a few drinks under their belt and the conversation was animated.

The scene I’d tried to avoid making the previous night, happened the next day – which was a bit of a disaster. They insisted on seeing my unfinished work, lying in the studio. I insisted I never showed unfinished work. There was a tussle. Radhika was hesitant and pleasant, almost turning to go but Avinash stood his ground, almost meaning to climb up, I stood as if to bar the way with Rajesh behind me, not providing the support, which he would have, if not for the small matter of big money coming in the way. There are ghosts up there, enter at your own peril, Rajesh laughed, which made my hair stand on edge. I dropped my hands, what the hell enter, I said loudly, leading the way.

Nov/19/2013, 4:56 am Link to this post Send Email to queenfisher   Send PM to queenfisher Blog
 
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The magnificence of the circular studio had its desired effect. Their city sophistication could not suppress their obvious admiration – they were like wide-eyed kids! Grounded on solid rock, the studio seemed to float on air – like a spaceship! From here you could step out into an open balcony which ran 360 degrees around the studio. It’s like standing on a giant globe and revolving, shouted Avinash. I could see them scampering round and round like excited mice! When they finally came in – the world had changed for them. I could see it in their eyes. I smiled with smug satisfaction followed by a feeling of unease. They were intruders into my private domain. Nothing good would come of it. The vulnerability of personal exposure is sacrilege onto oneself!

What exclusive luxury suites that heavenly studio would make – with a private plunge pool and a jacuzzi, open to the skies! The possibilities are limitless! Not that the rest is any less… but that was…well…stupendous!For once Radhika was short on words, she was actually spluttering and gasping on our drive back home. What gives, o silent one, she turned to me, dying to get my reaction. I could not speak. No words could express this strange feeling that started from my toes and whirled all the way up like a mini tornado inside my brain. The world around me ceased to exist. I remember picking up a book from Shailendra’s table out of curiosity, the title had intrigued me - ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’, That was how I was feeling, that’s how I felt inside the studio and that’s how I wanted to feel for the rest of my life…

Radhika kept up a steady stream of prattle, in a squeaky high pitched voice, I’d never heard before. Always so calm and composed – she was like a wound-up doll! Yes sir, we were not prepared to meet the abode of the Gods, in this heavenly Shangri-la! I needn’t have feared about revealing too much – she was in her own trip of ecstasy!

Everything was duly reported to Shailendra in that same animated pitch - you must see it for yourself, of course, you must! But will you be invited by the princess herself? A head gnome stands guard! Shailendra looked at her with mock concern, as if, she’d gone mad. I affirmed her affliction. Best you should go alone, knowing she likes you the most! Radhika continued unabashed, but it has to be on an urgent mission, on her majesty’s secret service! Or how about, asking her royal hand in marriage? Shailendra looked daggers at her and blushed. I could see the game had ceased to amuse him. But there was no stopping Radhika, she was like a burst dam - yes that’s it! You are sweet on her, admit it and you have to marry someone – you could land up with a ring! She finished on a note of triumph!

Shut up Radhika, was delivered like a slap on her face. It stopped her hysteria. Have you gone mad - what are you, a scheming witch? I could see Radhika had felt the virtual stinging slap - her hands went up to her cheeks in reflex action. In all these years, Shailendra had never been impolite, never even raised his voice, always the perfect, soft spoken, gentleman – he was never ever rude. But to be fair to him, we’d never seen this side of Radhika either. She seemed capable enough of handing the poisoned apple to our Snow White!
   
The subject was dropped like a hot potato and locked like the prison gates. Nobody wanted to open that door. We talked in whispers like scheming prisoners plotting and planning a prison break. Radhika was shaken but no one apologized. We plunged into work slowly resuming normalcy. The best part of our relationship was work. To bring personal quarrels on that alter was sacrilege. I’d had my share of bitter arguments with both over a lot of different issues. Some related to work and some not. In the end, work triumphed above all and that’s how we wanted to keep it.

We were pushed for time, with the completion of the new hotel and the exhibition. Thankfully, we did not have to manage the logistics of the latter, which was being handled by Wizcraft, the best event management company, which handled mega-events on an international scale. We would be more like invitees, along with Bollywood, the world of fashion, the culture vultures, the corporate world, the glitterati at their glittering best, events of this magnitude was always good for business!

Amidst all this, Shailedra’s announcement that he was actually going to the village, to call on her royal highness, came as a bolt from the blue! Radhika’s eyes turned into huge saucers! He was not going alone, but would be accompanied by a journalist of a glossy magazine of international repute. Her works had caused a stir abroad and had been sold to important art dealers and everyone wanted to know more about the mysterious, reclusive artist. Shailendra just got this good news from his buyer friends. The journalist was going to do an in-depth interview of the upcoming artist in her natural habitat. Even shoot pictures of her at work and play! The first thought that came to my mind was that Shailendra was a crafty fox and the second that it bode well for our exhibition. But for some reason my mind was agitated, this time Shailendra had run faster and beaten me at my own game. He had already spoken to the princess and was cordially invited! For the first time, a kind of mistrust, for the ever dependable Shailendra, creeped in. Or was it jealous possessiveness of some sort, over something I did not own? Radhika was still looking at him with those big eyes – frozen!

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