The Wait is and is Not
- Nitasha Kaul
You Don't Mess with Viru - Jayant Kripalani
The Last Journey Home - Siddhartha Gigoo
Family Trip - Mihir Vatsa
For the Longest Time - Mridula Koshy
The Tree's Passport - Sumana Roy
I Try to be so Buddhist - Robert Sugg
Oh God, My God - GB Prabhat
Stroke at Noon - KL Chowdhury
Unbroken Awareness - Tendair Mwanaka
Island of a Thousand Mirrors - Nayomi Munaweera
My Hungry Workers - Sourabh Gupta
The Stone - Anupam Choudhary
The Return - Shirani Rajapakse
The Unsent Email - Shyama Laxman
Poetry: Naseer Ahmed Nasir
(Translated by Bina Biswas)
Dr Bhikbab Changes His World - Sheela Jaywant
The Pillar of Society - Manju Kak
- Attia Hosain
London Company - Farrukh Dhondy
The Cripple and His Talismans - Anosh Irani
Their Language of Love - Bapsi Sidhwa
(Arjun Raj Gaind)
Silk Fish Opium - Jaina Sanga
The Blind Man's Garden - Nadeem Aslam
The Almond Tree - Michelle Corasanti
Nobody Can Love You More - Mayank Austen Soofi
Along the Red River - Sabita Goswami
Tales of a Journalist, Bureaucrat, Spy - Som Nath Dhar
Che in Paona Bazaar - Kishalay Bhattacharjee
A Pillar of Society
- Manju Kak
All the years Simi was married to her engineer husband, there was seldom a time when she didn't insist on introducing herself as 'Mrs' Tripathi with just the right inflection to make it clear that she was, after all, his wife. Oh yes, she knew what they said behind her back, but did she encourage it ever? A mouse of a man. That's what he was. Mickey Mouse. A silly Mickey Mouse. A stupid Mickeeey Mouse. A bloody bastard of a Mickey Mouse. A mouse who now said that he had gone along to please her. He wanted her to believe all those evenings at Aunty Swaran's had been a pain, all those dinners – intolerable? How they had helped his career, ah, that was of no consequence now. Even his rise to the top was manipulated by her, and now he claimed it was never important to him to reach there. That he had been happy at the Bhillai Factory, that he had enjoyed the R&D work, that he had never been interested in the chief executive's job. Bhillai! There was only so much of the town one could take. But he said he could've stayed on, that he had never minded the fact that they went nowhere, never did anything, that nobody ever called. Who the hell would have called on them anyway? Oh yes, it was she who took him out of that to give him this and he said ... so what if they were on the governor's guest list, so what if he was given the honour to light the lamp at the Engineers India Annual Meet? God in Heaven, he said so what!
The way she tried. She really did. It never came easy. And she did it. Yes, she did it. Though it was hard making it look effortless; she alone knew how dearly she had paid. How exhausting it was to get people to recognize you. But for that, they would have been just another engineer and his wife. At the Annual Rotary Ball ... when they presented her with a plaque and gave her a standing ovation ... didn't he remember, as the strobe lights focused on her, and she waved to where he stood, the lights caught him with that funny expression on his face? Pleasure. What else could it be? She had told the world that behind a woman's success stood her man. And it was she who had inspired the applause as it thundered round the huge convention hall.
Oh yes, it was she who had taken him from the miserable engineer that he was and put him into Big League. What would his ideas have been without her push? All the planning, meetings, and cocktails – and cultivating friendships to make things fit? And now this.....
You live around yourself, he said. When did he not live around himself? When had she ever seen him as the life and soul of a party? Would he ever even make the effort? Oh no. He would stand in the corner holding soda water until someone took pity and drew him into conversation, and then after a few minutes they would veer off knowing he had burnt himself out.
When they first shifted to Delhi, she thought it was that widow who was her neighbour, the one related to Brigadier Kaul, whom he confided in. Then she saw him seek out her bespectacled daughter, Samina, who he kept sitting next to at parties. A young linnet half his age. A translator! As mousy as he, as inarticulate, as blubbering. True, she would have drowned in her skin before having to tell people that he was leaving her for a girl so young, with no face – no figure – no dress sense, but it would still have been better than this. Yes, if it had been her, she could have taken it better. It would have seemed more natural, easier to explain.
No doubt it had taken her a while to notice his behaviour. It was a particularly busy season last year, and she had to admit there were so many projects demanding her attention that she had neglected him a bit. In the end, she would have had the unpleasant task of making herself clear to the girl's mother. Not threats really; she would just have been safeguarding her own. She wasn't going to be made a laughing stock and do nothing about it. However much she rooted for the independent woman, it was so much better being escorted by her own husband anywhere. But ... that was the kind of dalliance she might have understood – could have explained away. After all, some men did become less discriminating after fifty. And everyone would have laughed to see him leave a handsome woman like her for a wispy fool. (She only had to look in the mirror to know there was still some flesh and blood left in her figure.)
Oh God, she wished she was Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, any-ese, if only she had a face that registered nothing so she could go out and face them, those waiting out there – as if nothing had happened. But to say that he was leaving her for no one, no one at all! Why, for God's sake, why, she asked. She could picture the wimp shaking that bald sixty-year-old pate. Him who always chimed in that weasel voice that was never full-throated – yes, Simi; no, Simi; as you say Simi – that same mouse of a man ... She could choke on his words ringing in her ears ... But dear, life has been just so...bor....
What! I ... boring?
There was a flutter as Simi groaned and sank to the floor.
Manju Kak is a writer, documentary film-maker, artist, and literary critic, and historian. Her fiction, essays, critical reviews, and articles have been published by newspapers, journals, anthologies and magazines such as The Hindu, Women's Press, Times of India, The Westview Press, Katha Prize Stories, Mail Today, Express, Toronto Review, Hong Kong Standard, amongst others. Her published works include First Light in Colonelpura (Penguin); Requiem for an Unsung Revolutionary (Ravi Dayal), Whose Media – a Woman's Space (Ed-Concept), and most recently, Nicholas Roerich – a Quest & Legacy (Niyogi Books).