THE BLINDS


Krishna Sharma and his wife Radha, an aged couple, lived in a well laid out upper middle class locality.

Sharma was a retired government official who had managed to build his house towards the end of his career, balancing his budget with education for his children and day to day expenses.

The plots for these houses were part of the agricultural land belonging to a well to do farmer. So, when the city authorities bought it for laying out a modern township, the plots of 60’X40’ and 40’X40’ were carved out of them on alternate rows. So, Sharma’s plot, a bigger one faced the row of smaller plots, separated by them by a 35 feet wide road.

Sharma was one of the earliest residents to build and occupy the house.  A well travelled man, he had fairly modern ideas regarding the design of the house. A house with standard grilled frontage and small windows was not for him. In his house both the drawing room and the dining room, lying side by side faced the road. Huge picture windows, set low, one in each room provided a clear view of the street. An open verandah provided a sit-out as well.

On the house warming day, some of the invitees decried the design saying that there was absolutely no privacy in the house, as sitting behind the transparent panes of glass was as bad as sitting on the road. The neighbors who had started building their own houses used to refer to Sharma’s house as a ‘glass house’. In the course of time, wooden pelmets were made for the big windows and thick handloom curtains were provided. These curtains would be partially open during the day but closed shut as the sun set. The curtains hung to protect their privacy not only shut the world out but managed to conceal them from the outside world too, very efficiently.

The neighborhood which filled in slowly was a friendly, peaceful one with the residents fairly well acquainted with each other, though without undue interference. The road was pleasantly lined with trees bearing colorful flowers such as the flame of the forest, yellow argenta and jacaranda. In addition to these, every house had its own small neat garden. All types of city birds populated these trees making the neighborhood a musical one with their chirps and twitters. On the whole, one could say it was an upper middle class utopia.

Every house had the minimum assets of modern life, such as cars, refrigerators, television sets etc. Though communicating freely across the compound wall with each other during day time, sunset would see the inmates all cocooned in their own houses, busy with their television sets. Not a single resident would be seen on the road. Even the garrulous birds would have stopped their chattering.

Krishna Sharma and his wife who had the habit of retiring early would be practically shut behind their thick curtained windows which were as good as   walls.

The roads would be totally deserted and would don an eerie look in the late evenings which was totally in contrast to the day time. Nobody knew what type of people frequented their roads after sunset, nor would anyone bother about it.

This state of aloofness on the part of the residents after sunset was responsible for quite a few incidents that marred the peace of this ideal neighborhood.

*               *                    *

One night while engrossed in TV, Radha heard a girl’s voice shouting “Aunty, Aunty”. Thinking that their neighbors must be sending off their guests, Radha quietly opened the curtain a little and peeped out. What met her eyes was totally unexpected. The road was full of people tensely waiting and the girl had called out to Radha seeing that she was the only one to miss all the fun. It seems one of the families, Prasads, had gone on a pilgrimage entrusting the house keys with Kamalamma in the house opposite to theirs. One evening the latter was surprised to see Prasads’ house all lit up and all doors open. Kamalamma sent her grown up sons to enquire how Prasads could get into the locked house while the keys were lying with them. Why did they return early? Why did they not collect their keys?

The boys found out that 3-4 burglars had broken into the house. Switching on all the lights to keep people from suspecting, they had ransacked the whole house, tying everything into big bundles which they had left under the tree in the next empty plot ready to be carried. When they were caught red handed, they ran away leaving behind not only all the stuff but also one of their companions trapped in a room. The police had been sent for and the crowd was waiting to see the fourth burglar apprehended.

*               *                     *

Radha felt that she had not seen  Jayalakshmi, her neighbor in the opposite house for a long time. One day, she managed to see their eldest daughter Deepa and asked her whether her mother had gone out of station. She was shocked when she was told that her mother had been hospitalized with terminal cancer of the liver and that her days were now numbered. A week later, the lady was dead. The body was brought home and all the neighbors gathered and bade good bye to one of their own selves.

*                     *                        *

One day, early in the morning, Radha heard a girl crying. When she came out, she saw that it was the same Deepa now motherless. Her brother Narain  in the 9th standard had hung himself from the fan in the night. She had come to ask their next door doctor to see if the boy could be revived.

It seems, he was weak in Mathematics. His sister who was good at it, had coached the boy till 2 in the night and had gone to sleep only to find him hanging from the fan at 4 o’clock, as he was afraid to face his father’s wrath in case he failed to make the mark.

*                        *                             *

A young resident, Gopal, went out in the night to remind the priest about the pooja they had arranged in the morning. On the deserted road he saw 4-5 people. He recognized them as the same gang, one of whom his car had grazed earlier in the evening when he came home. As soon as they saw Gopal, they attacked him with open blades. After a short skirmish, Gopal managed to reach home with a few cuts, none of the residents of the road being wiser, including his own family.

*                           *                             *

Shanta, the lady in one of the houses used to give tuitions to some students including Ashita, a speech challenged one. One day, the teacher had to go to a hospital urgently. She managed to inform all her students about her inability to take the class except Ashita. The latter came at the usual time. Finding the house locked, she was waiting on the steps. The road was totally deserted. Her father had said that he would be coming a little later that evening and had asked her to wait at the teacher’s place.

A young man, who had been employed by one of the families as a driver for their car, saw the mute girl waiting on the steps of her teacher’s house on his way home. The ideal circumstances invoked his animal instincts. He pulled the girl to the rear of the house and raped her. The mute girl’s shouts could not be heard by any of the neighbors who were cozily watching TV in their own houses behind thick curtains.

When the father came to collect the girl, Ashita was nowhere to be seen. She was located only when the teacher came home and found her bleeding in the backyard.

*                      *                         *

One day Radha heard the loud banging of a door and a strong smell of kerosene emanating from her neighbor Kamalamma’s house with the mother’s voice shouting in panic. Radha’s very tall maid servant, Padma just jumped across the wall to find out what the matter was.

Though the family was anxious to shut her off and keep the matter within the family, Padma managed to glean this much:

Kamalamma’s second daughter Leela who was dark in complexion was not receiving any marriage proposals. So, when she saw her cousin Raj proposing to her younger sister Mala, she decided to end her life by immolation. Fortunately, she was prevented from doing so before anything  drastic happened.

*                         *                      *

Krishna Sharma’s children had settled abroad. He and his wife had been to visit them quite a few times. In addition to sight seeing, the visits helped to . baby sit their little grandchildren. Their children also had come a few times to India when their children had been younger. But with the airfares escalating and their children busy with their own now-grown up children’s lives, the inter- continental travel had become more expensive and tedious.

So, Sharmas were happy to communicate with their children and grandchildren by e mail and skype. The financial situation also being comfortable, they were leading quite comfortable lives. Still, time passes on  committing erosions.

Their health would suffer sometimes necessitating surgeries and hospitalizations.

Time would not only affect their bodies but their assets too. The car needed to be changed; so also the refrigerator, the washing machine etc. The repairs and alterations had to be done in the house to suit their present state of health. Thus there was a considerable traffic of work force in and around the house.

 

When their door remained locked for 3-4 days, the neighbors who had assumed that they might have gone out of station or might be sick in the hospital got suspicious. The heavy handloom curtains had not been opened even during the day.

When some of the neighbors reported to the police, their door was broke open to find the aged couple lying in pools of blood with their throats slit. The rear door had been broken. The house had been ransacked, the cash and silverware missing.

The thick handloom curtains had hidden it all from the friendly, peaceful neighborhood.

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THE WAITING GAME


THE WAITING GAME

 

Visits to the hospital become a matter of routine  as age and ailments increase. When our hospital introduced the advance booking system, I was thrilled. No more going to the hospital at an early hour of 7.00 in the morning to ensure an early position in the pile of notebooks (Yes, we all have our case history in note books), though the doctor would arrive only by 8, 9 or even 10 a.m. I could now not only ring up ‘appointments’ from home but also reach the hospital only a little before my turn.

 

But, just as I discovered the luxury of booking from home, many others also had become wiser and there was a huge demand for appointments too. The computer had been programmed to give appointments only one month ahead and so we had to be satisfied with the slot available to us.

 

Now we had to deposit our books in two heaps, one for the appointmentwallahs who would behave as if they were a superior species descended from heaven and the other for the ‘aam janata’ who had no appointments and thus would be given tokens on ‘first come first serve’ basis.

 

The doctor, after seeing the real early birds from the general group would attend to the appointment ones for two hours and then go back to the general queue.

 

Everything was working quite smoothly with a single man for collection of books, entering them in the register, issuing the token number, ushering the patients, regulating the traffic and finally copying the doctor’s prescriptions from our books for the dispensing section. But as the crowd increased and computers pervaded the whole system, separate sections for these jobs were formed necessitating the patients to run from pillar to post. A relatively fit inpatient would be detailed to regulate the traffic and to get the prescription chits signed by the doctor instead of the patients meeting the doctor again for signature.

 

This particular time I had an appointment for 24th of July. As I was complacently relaxing at home, I got a call from the hospital that since the doctor had gone on leave, my appointment had been cancelled and that I could meet him on the next OPD (Out patient dept)day.

 Expecting to be in the priority list due to my earlier cancelled appointment, I was shocked to find my book pushed unceremoniously into the general pile and a never, never number of 22 given to me by the computer guys after a long wait.

 

With no other recourse I decided to wait patiently solving the day’s cryptic crossword puzzle in the daily I had brought with me.

 

I expected the numbers to go in sequence smoothly. But I could not hide my elation when whole lot of patients did not respond to their call and very soon we arrived at double digits.

     A ramrod straight, tall, old, retired senior officer walked in and went straight into the doctor’s room coolly disregarding the waiting crowd outside. Probably at the altitude at which his eyes were situated he could barely perceive the lesser mortals. He had a talk with the doctor. When he walked out, we thought we had seen the last of him. But, he came back with an equally imposing wife and went directly to the doctor and had their consultation, queue and token number notwithstanding.

 

As the list slowly crept down towards 18, we suddenly found that the usher had been coolly overlooked and a group of people started pushing their way in__17a, 17b, 17c….? Could they probably be those from 1 to 10 who had missed their turns earlier? Whatever it was, the number 18 never seemed to be called out.

 

Next between 18 and 19, a ‘loving’ family of 5 members anxiously followed the head of the family and barged into the doctor’s room .The crowd outside got restive. 18.1 a, 18.2 a, 18.3 a,,,,,,,? But, thank God, I had seen another doctor entering the room who started examining the head of the ‘loving’ family. It was only that our doctor had permitted the other one to borrow the examination couch. But, the crowd unwary of this raised a ruckus. Our doctor had to come out and pacify them.

After that I could see the numbers going in a sequence. When my turn came, I found that a lady sitting in the doctor’s room whom I thought must be another doctor, slid quietly into the patient’s chair and started explaining her problems to the doctor. This lady must have sneaked in with the ‘loving’ family and established herself on one of the chairs.

 

Ultimately I found myself at the pearly gates with none to challenge me or supersede me. I went to the doctor and had my consultation.

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TO THOSE WHO DROPPED OFF


 In the long life I have been blessed with I have made many friends. While some of them have been keeping company with me still (though out of touch) it is sad that quite a few of them have dropped off midway leaving nothing but a few photographs and sweet memories for me to mull over.

 

The earliest one I remember is my friend Anu*. Spending my first two years of college with her, I was shocked to hear that she had become mentally imbalanced and had killed herself by drowning in the bathroom tank.

 

The second, closest and dearest one was Sudha*, a very sweet, loyal, affectionate and placid girl. Staying close to each other we would not only walk to school and then to college together, we would spend the evenings also together__ playing or chatting. We would be so reluctant to part from each other at the end of the day that we would extend it by escorting each other home, sometimes even two or three times in an evening! She was the recipient of all my teenage secrets and confessions. Our common interests, reading books and  Hindi songs-filmi, geets and ghazals had reinforced our friendship further. My mother would trust her to that extent that she had no compunction about sending me to movies with her and her elder sister.

 

After marriage we had kept in touch through visits (mostly on her part) and letters for quite a number of years. On my All India tour in early ‘80’s, I had managed to spend a night and a day with her  and her family at Bombay. Imagine my shock   when I heard that she had expired as early as in 2000 itself! Due to gradual slackness in our correspondence, I was totally unaware of what had led to her death. The irony is when I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis I had written to her dramatically that it was ‘the beginning of the end’ for me not knowing  that death was already waiting to knock on her door and  that it was going to ignore me for these many years !

 

 The next one was Ganga* whom I met in one of the Air Force units. Our quarters were opposite each other’s. We were of same age and we had been married for the same number of years. We both had baby daughters of the same age. Her thick long black hair was the striking feature of her lovely personality. She was a very chirpy, cheerful person cutting jokes all the time. Comparing my hyper active child with hers she would good naturedly say, “Oh, look at the fat lump of my daughter. She is wholly content to sit in one place with her toys and play”. Being a medical graduate, she was teaching part time in a local prestigious medical college. Being of a similar disposition, we had a great time together.

 

Next time I met her in Delhi; it was a shock to see her with a silk scarf tied around her shaven head. My friend Ganga was counting days to meet the Creator. She had terminal brain cancer. She was happy to see me and she tried to be her usual jovial self. But she could not help confiding in me, uncharacteristically enough, “Vimala, I wish I had died with all my hair intact because now this is how my husband and children will remember me”. I took leave of her with a heavy heart never to see her again.

 

The fourth one to drop off in the journey of life was Preeta*, a vibrant, jolly, intelligent girl fond of adventure. In fact I had met her mother earlier when she had come to give a lecture in an educational seminar and I had not been much impressed by her. So when Preeta joined the teaching staff in our school, I was quite surprised to hear that she was the daughter of the lady educator I had met earlier. With her joie de vivre, Preeta fitted easily into our group of three musketeers (like D’Artagnan!) During the time we were together, we had a great rapport. But later I lost touch with her.

 

One day I was unpacking the paper bundle in which the provisions from the grocery had been packed. With my habit of reading anything black on white, I started going through the news items on the slip of paper. A picture and the write up underneath caught my eye. It was my friend Preeta’s death report. She had married a German gentleman who shared her love of mountaineering. Her death, an accident, had occurred on one of the treks in the hills. One more untimely snuffing out of a bright and lively human being!

 

It is pre ordained when we should meet our end and nobody is capable of reversing what is in store for us. The least we can do is to leave a few sweet memories behind enriching ours as well as others’ lives.

 

* Names changed.

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