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.