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
You Don't Mess With Viru
- Jayant Kripalani
'Fuck off,' she said. 'I never want to see you again, Viru. And here's your cheap ring.'
That hurt. The ring bit. Of course it was a cheap ring. I didn't earn much, but the ring did represent two months of my annual income. So naturally, I looked hurt.
'You didn't think I was going to marry you, did you? You're a loser, man. In a dead-end job. And you've become boring.'
The finality of her tone made me realize there was little point in discussing anything or delaying any action because of it. The rather tragic part of the break up, if you can call it that, was that emotionally I felt nothing.
I landed up at Rachna's place the next day with all her DVDs, books, make up, clothes and things she'd left behind at my place over the three years we had been an 'item' – about four large cabin trunks full of her junk – and rang her doorbell.
A stud-type male, about a couple of yards long and at least a yard and a half wide at the chest, opened the door. He had on a jock strap and little else. Not a bad looking type if you liked a Neanderthal forehead.
That was quick, I thought to myself.
I had been planning to lug the trunks up myself but....
'Tell Rachna there's some stuff that belongs to her, downstairs.'
Let him handle it.
I drove home and walked into my flat. It used to be a cramped little apartment, but with Rachna's shit out of there it looked huge. I'd forgotten what a pleasant place it was. Never again was I going to let anyone occupy my space the way she had. And I did what seemed the logical thing to do. I changed the locks on the door.
About a week later I ran into Rachna at a common friend's house. She was livid. How could you? Extremely thoughtless of you. What a bastard you are! How could you change the locks on your door? So soon? Obviously she'd come a-visiting and had tried to let herself in. I wished I'd been at the peep-hole to see her reaction.
Considering she had blown out three years with two words, I thought her ranting rather amusing and told her so. She was apoplectic, frothing at the mouth. Our common friend rushed to her rescue and threw me out of his house. And most of our common friends threw me out of their lives. They were all on her side. I discovered I didn't have any of my friends any more. Over the three years I had stopped seeing all of them and had slowly been inducted into Rachna's group of friends. Now that we had parted company....
Nothing like a fresh start, I thought to myself. So off I went to the mountains to read, think, take long walks, and to catch some rainbow trout for meals. A year went by before I realised a year had gone by. I felt at peace. I had lost a lot of weight, my mind was buzzing with new ideas. When I looked at my reflection in the turquoise blue water where I was fishing, I didn't recognize myself. I had grown a beard and long hair; a lot of it had greyed. I liked what I saw. A largish rainbow trout, about twelve inches long, had trapped itself on the fly I was using. I brought it in, removed the fly and let it loose in the river.
I was ready to mingle again. After a long road trip in an uncomfortable bus, I was back in Delhi at an Inter State Bus Terminus. I was kneeling on the pavement. I had my haversack open, and was rummaging around in it for an envelope that had the last of my funds.
A yellow i10 on the wrong side of the road climbed onto the pavement and hit me – rather hard. And here I was four days later – if the clock-calendar on my bedside table was to be believed – in a hospital. I noticed that my left hand was in a plaster. I had a bandage on the right elbow, another tied right across my forehead, and many minor cuts and bruises all over me. My body looked like a road map of Old Delhi.
I was groggy and in some pain. I had probably been medicated with heavy-duty painkillers. A nurse walked in and noticed me examining my bruises.
'Ah, you're awake,' she said. 'I'd better get the doctor.'
A few minutes later an elderly doctor walked in, surrounded by his entourage of interns and nurses.
'Mr Sharma, you gave us quite a scare staying under for so long. Concussion. Minor fracture in the arm, bad gash on elbow and a not-so-serious wound on the head. Good to see you again though.'
I looked around. There was no one else in the room. He was obviously talking to me. And one thing I was certain about in my semi-groggy state was that I wasn't Mr Sharma.
'When can I get out of here?'
'In a few days. We want to keep an eye on you. The externals are easy to mend, but we are concerned that you might have some internal injuries. And then there's the concussion. We'll run a few tests, and all other things being equal, we'll let you out as soon as we can.'
'I was rummaging around in it on the pavement when a car hit me... That's the last thing I remember.'
'You didn't have one when you came here. Your wife found you on the road, hurt and out of it. She put you into her car with the help of some passers by and brought you in. Lucky for you.'
'Quite a lady, your wife,' he said.
And this was the second thing I was sure of in my current state: I was not married, never had been. I didn't have a wife. If ever I intended to find one, she would have to be as crazy as I was to even think about moving in with me on a temporary or permanent basis.
There was commotion at the door.
'That sounds like Mrs Sharma. Have a nice day. I'll come by in the evening to check you out again.' The doctor beat a hasty retreat, hidden effectively by his entourage.
My 'wife' Mrs Sharma blew into the room, sweeping everyone in her path away, rushed to me, grabbed me none-too-gently, I might add, and before I could say anything planted a huge wet kiss on my reluctant lips.
'Oh darling, you're conscious again!' Then she whispered, 'I'll explain. Let them leave the room.'
I looked at this apparition in shock and horror. Did she really expect to get away with this deception? She didn't have a clue about who I was. And here she was claiming to be my wife!
She hustled everyone out of the room and turned to face me. Had I been standing, my jaw line would have scraped the floor. Her hair permed in a frizzy Hendrix style, about forty pounds overweight, wearing a bright red kaftan with a printed yellow sun beaming broad rays in every direction from her ample belly stood Rachna.
I had recognized her the moment she blasted into the room. She was yet to recognize me behind my beard and wounds.
She was at her garrulous best for the next hour or so. I didn't say a word. Had I opened my mouth, I would have either (a) given myself away or (b) leaned across, grabbed her throat and strangled her, thereby giving myself away anyway. A discreet and judicious silence was called for.
And she talked. Boy, did she talk! She sounded like Dhoni in a post-match interview. One long punctuation-free drone.
'How did this happen? See, it wasn't my fault! I noticed, suddenly, that my ring finger had a chipped nail. It was irritating me. The only way to relax was to do something about it. So I leaned back and grabbed my handbag, which was on the back seat, to pull out the nail varnish. I guess I must have swerved because ... the next thing I knew, I had climbed onto the pavement and you were under the car! I was surrounded by an unruly mob baying for my blood.'
The bitch! A chipped nail for crying out loud! Go to a parlour for Christ's sake! Why do you have to try and repair a chipped nail in the middle of the road, in a moving car, at a crowded Inter State Bus Terminus?!
'Fortunately, I hadn't had any gins and tonics for lunch, which is something I usually have. I told the crowd you were my husband – I had to – and that I had come to pick you up ... You were knocked out. Ooof! All that blood! One of them came with us, so I had to continue the charade....'
What if he hadn't? Would you have dropped the charade, and me, bleeding, in the middle of the road?
'It took forty-eight hours and three grand to get the blood cleaned off the back seat where some people put you. Most inconvenient. I had to take a three-wheeler here everyday to see you – and what for? You were fast asleep!'
She looked at me balefully. What did she expect me to say? That I was sorry for being such an inconvenience? That I promised to stay out of the way in future? That I would never again bleed all over the back seat of her car? Fortunately, neither of my arms was in a position to do any damage to her. But, when she tried to sit on the bed, I had to do something. My leg developed a rather strategic twitch, jerked convulsively, and kicked her off.
She looked pained. I looked apologetic. But underneath, a broad smile stretched from one ear to the other.
'This whole thing is turning out to be rather expensive. I hope you have a lot of medical insurance because I can't afford to pay for all this. And, if my dad finds out that I've knocked someone down, I'll have to go home for good. Then there's the car, damage to the suspension, wheel alignment, bumper, a bit of denting and painting ... What is your name? I couldn't find anything in your haversack except for some really dirty clothes. I've got them cleaned, and here they are.' She handed me a laundry bag. 'I hope we can go fifty-fifty on all costs ... Here's the laundry bill.'
I could have killed her cheerfully right then.
So somewhere along the way my cash and information regarding my identity had disappeared. Didn't matter. I didn't possess a credit or debit card. I'm old fashioned that way. I present cheques at banks to draw what I need. I might even be the only person in my peer group who has a post office savings account. And my ID card? I had the originals at home.
But a more immediate problem was worrying me at that point. How was I going to get out of this hospital without revealing who I was? And now that I was conscious, the police were bound to come sniffing for information.
Concussion? Amnesia? Yes. I was going to suffer from amnesia, while I worked out how to disappear from the hospital without a trace.
'So what is your name?' she asked.
I didn't reply; just stared at her vaguely. I could see a million and one expressions of anxiety flit across her ravaged face. She had told everyone I was her husband. How was she going to get out of that one? Ah ... revenge is sweetest when comeuppance comes without even trying.
Just then a nurse walked in. 'Madam, could you see the accounts department on your way out, please?'
Rachna looked more worried now. 'Okay.' She turned to me. 'I'll see you tomorrow.'
I waited for her to leave and then waited some more. By the time dinner came, it was quite dark. I asked the ward boy, who had brought my dinner, if I could get a shaving kit and a pair of scissors. He obliged. With one arm in plaster and the other bandaged, I knew a shave and a haircut were going to be difficult. Somehow I managed. An hour later, the long hair was gone. Another half hour later, the beard was gone.
I struggled into the clothes Rachna had brought me from the laundry. Since I had been up in the mountains, I still had a shawl which I wrapped around myself covering my head and the plastered arm. Without further ado, I walked out of the hospital, hailed an auto, and went home.
Nobody stopped me.
Ramu, my cook, was at home and a bit concerned that I was four days late. However, he was quite used to my wayward ways, so he hadn't really panicked. He paid the autowala, cooked me a hot meal of aalu dum, tadka daal, and crisp rotis.
I went to sleep. Like a baby.
A few months later I heard that Rachna's father had had to come to Delhi after my escape, to rescue her from the predicament she had landed herself in. He settled the hospital bill, made her shut down her Delhi flat, sell her car and go back with him to Hoshiarpur where she was now married to a strapping young sardar and was gloriously pregnant with twins.
I smiled. Viru se takkar?
Jayant Kripalani is a well-known Indian actor and director who has worked on stage, as well as for television and the big screen. His most popular television series include Khandaan, Mr Ya Mrs, and Ji Mantriji. He is a graduate from Jadavpur University, Kolkata, and has a degree in English Literature. New Market Tales, his debut collection of humorous and moving short stories, has recently been published by Pan Macmillan India. Jayant himself believes he is working towards becoming a 'disaster'.