Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Twist

SCENE 1
"Madam, that's your bill." The waiter said to Radhika, quite obsequiously. The waiter went away. The bill was quite moderate - 1200 rupees, which after all was not much for her six-figured salary-fed bank account.

Radhika. Cheerful, bubbly and talkative. She can be dropped in category of the people who know how to make themselves happy. And that's really a big thing to do!

"Thanks." Radhika said in a highly enthusiastic tone. She sought for her purse. Here. There. Right. Left. Below the table. On the table. Alas, it was not there. Ding! The torch inside her mind lighted up suddenly. 'Oh yeah, I left it in my car'.

"I left my purse in my car. I am just coming." She said to the waiter. Before the waiter could respond, she was out there - on road. Her eyes wandered. Here. There. Right. Left. The eyes stopped wandering, rather got affixed. Affixed to the tow-truck. Her car was exquisitely hanging on it. Her eyes now seemed to pop out of the skull. She looked slightly better than the villain of Scary Movie. The popping eyes transformed into a fountain, a fountain of tears, tears of helplessness. Tragic, her situation was.

Sometimes, some day comes when you are forced to think that it was better to be in the pre-historic times rather than the modern world. Dinosaurs seem much less troublemakers than the tow-truck.

A dozen frantic breaths taken. Eyes were restored to their garage. Ciliary muscles heaved a sigh of relief. Her footsteps automatically retraced the path on which she came outside. She was back at the counter of the restaurant. The fountain's after-effects still visible on her reddened cheek.

"I am sorry. I've no money right now. My car has been towed away. And my mobile as well as purse were in it. Can I pay the bill tomorrow?" Radhika asked the waiter.

"I am sorry madam, but we have no provisions like these. Can't you ask some acquaintance of yours to pay the bill?" The waiter said what he was supposed to do.

"I don't have my mobile, and my memory for numbers is slightly better than nuts. I remember just my car-plate and mobile number." She said, laughing at herself. Finally she was back to her ground state. The waiter didn't reciprocate.

"Madam, my boss is very particular about the bills. At the end of the day, he wants no errors in the business." The waiter said, his tone crossing the servile limit.

"You can keep my watch for the time being. I'll see what I can do. By the way, it is a costly watch - Titan - my brother gifted it to me. That too last to last birthday. You know he is such a lovely brother..." She flew with her effervescence and forgot the key-point of the hour.

"Madam, it is not funny. It is not a time to crack jokes. I've other customers to attend to. " The waiter interrupted her.

"Take my watch for the time being. It's really costly. See there is a hologram too!" Radhika was unperturbed. She was busy adoring her wrist watch.

"We don't accept payment in kinds. Either you give the money or otherwise I'll have my boss take over." The waiter said in a slightly annoyed tone. Radhika glanced at him angrily.

"Get your boss! I can't help...just call your boss. I'll talk to him directly." She ordered. The waiter walked away to the office briskly. Two minutes went by, Radhika started reading the menu again, her mind busy in fixing the evitable turmoil that had crept in because of the last conversation. Meanwhile, a young fellow emerged out of the office and started coming towards her table.

SCENE 2
"Hello Ma'm." He said as he reached in the field of view of the lady of the hour.

"Ishan! Hey! How are you? So long time! How are you...what are you doing here...?" She said having just a glimpse of the guy. Her effervescence was back. Ishan Mehra - her long lost classmate of the school-days was standing in front of him. Tall, dark and handsome. An executive coat and an elite tie brought an elegant man in him. Memories of school days came flooding back.

"Hey, Radhika...you! Where had you been?"

"First tell me, where had 'you' been? You disappeared just after the boards, no contacts with any of your friends..." She said in an excited tone.

"Oh! I had been suffering from a major knee injury. I had to run to US for medical check-ups after the examinations. It took me three months to get back to my perfect health and when I returned, my parents shifted to Jammu and you know how difficult it is to stay in touch with all scattered across different states of this country. Leave all those things. Tell me, how had you been?"

"Oh me! I am doing fine. Currently am working with The Times of India, Delhi as the assistant editor. And today I had this six-hours field work taking interviews of the local MLAs of Vikaspuri and Pitampura Constituency. I hate this job of taking interviews of the uneducated, muddleheaded politicians. I took this career to address the issue of poverty and child-labour, to make the voices of the deprived ones to be heard and see what I am assigned to do - to take interviews of the corrupt-to-the-core MLAs." Radhika, as always, spoke more than what she was asked about.

"Nothing is easy. I didn't realize that journalism can be such a painstaking job." Ishan commented.

"They treat us like machines. I get up at 5 o clock, have a light breakfast and run to work. My days run on coffees and sometimes even a cup of coffee misses my fate. Today too, surviving the tedious work on just two slices of bread in the morning seemed to hard for my appetite. Those politicians treat us from media like servants, they don't even ask us for water. Therefore I am here, this was the only elite restaurant that I could find to kill my hunger in the suburbs."

"So welcome to Ishan - the garden restaurant." Ishan smiled.

"ISHAN! Oh! I realize now, how silly am I? This is your restaurant..I see...hmm! So you are the hard-headed boss who is very particular about bills that your waiter was talking about!" Radhika poked him.

"What? He called me hard-headed? I am going to see him." Ishan reacted.

"Now certainly you're a hard headed boss. I was just kidding yaar, chill!" She tried to clear up the matter.

"I am OK. But these waiters have certainly become over-smart. They need to be taught a lesson. Anyways, leave that. I think there was some thing related to the bill for which I was asked to see you."

"Yeah. I left my purse in my car and curse my luck, it got towed. My hapless situation sought no mercy from your waiter, who kept pestering me to pay the bill howsoever. Haven't they been taught some courtesy?" Her lost irritation flushed back into her mind.

"Has he misbehaved? Just say me yes, and I'll fire him now." Ishan was in wrath. He just needed a reason to execute his merciless plans.

"No, not exactly. He did what he should have done, but he lacked the polish in his voice. Anyways, leave it. It is a trifle matter. You say how is everybody at home?"

"It is not a trifle matter. He needs to know courtesy. I'll take care of him, don't worry." He said.

"You don't need to hamper that poor fellow's livelihood, he'll learn with time. And I am dead sure that he won't encounter a customer as bizarre as me - with car towed and incredibly bad memory for numbers." Radhika said and smiled.

"You need not worry for today's mishappening. I'll help you with the car thing and this bill of yours - here it goes." Ishan took the bill from the table, crushed it and threw it in the dustbin across the room - a perfect throw.

"Hey that's not fair. You can't be so generous. I'll return the money to you, I don't like exploiting friendship in the matter of money." She said, sounding quite convincing.

"I won't take the money. This is the first time I got an opportunity to host a friend at my own restaurant."

"I don't like this way. Friendship and money need to be kept on two different shelves."

"OK. If you insist, you rather owe me a treat. I would prefer a treat than getting the cash back." Ishan said. It was a nice offer, gratifying at both the ends.

"Done. Both are happy that way. I'll tell you the date and place as soon as I get my car back. My whole schedule and mobile are waiting there."

"Oh yeah, come. The tow station is nearby, and I know the guy there - the in-charge of the tow cars."

"Hmm, Mr.Famous...?" Her face assumed the shape of a question mark with her smile creating a bowl below that question mark.

"Yeah, certainly famous. After all I hold a record for maximum number of car-towing in this area." He smiled quite boastfully.

"You haven't changed. Ishan - the troublemaker. C'mon, let us go. We have to get my car." Radhika said and they both packed up. He instructed his manager something about work, took his car keys and went out escorting the lady. The waiter was stunned to see his monotonous boss in such a lively mood. The company of a good-looking woman can even transform Hitler into Gandhi, so his boss was no exception. The waiter escorted his boss and his guest towards the gate and wished the Madam, "Thank you Ma'm. Keep visiting."

"Yeah, I'll. Thanks!" Radhika said. She was more or less pleased with the waiter and she asked Ishan to give him a tip of 20 Rupees, which he reluctantly gave.

"Was he the one who misbehaved with you? Why you asked me to give him the tip?" Ishan was not quite happy with everything around.

"He did not misbehave, firstly. And, I think he did a prompt job and deserved a tip."

The talks continued. They went ahead, Ishan helped her get the car back and their next meet - after all she owed him a treat - was scheduled somewhere in the next week.

SCENE 3
One week went by. Their talks increased. The mobile phones played the role of unofficial match-makers. Interestingly, Radhika Paul was Ishan's crush right from the early schooldays. This serendipitous meeting fostered some tender feelings in him. The fondness was not one sided - but rather lingered over the other side too. After all they both were single, and supposedly ready to mingle. The Sunday's lunch was quite a big thing to look forward to for both of them.

Sunday, 1 pm, Ambience Restaurant
"Hey Radhika. What's up?"

"Nothing special. You tell."

"Just was looking forward to this lunch...no hidden meanings though."

"Hmmm, it would have been better if you didn't mention that last phrase of yours - 'no hidden meanings'. It pokes me to think about what hidden meanings can be lying there."

"Hmm...I think it is the time to change the topic...hmm...let me suggest...that fan...oh no!...how about these sets of cutlery...really nice they are, aren't they?"

"Yeah they are. They would look even better if I smash one of them up your head. Flirting with a school-friend, that is what silly people like you are upto. You are messing with the wrong girl. I am smart enough to understand everything, ain't I?"She started lolling with a naughty smile on her face.

"Very. Smarter than what I had presumed." He said genuinely.

"So how was your week? What special did you do this week, other than looking forward for this lunch, of course." Radhika switched her talk-engine on.

"Hmm. Nothing quite special..."

"You mean nothing quite special other than that, aren't you?" She taunted.

"Now you are flirting...!" Ishan struck the bull's eye.

"Hmm, so should I change the topic now...hmm...rather you continue...what after that 'nothing quite special'?"

"Right. So, last monday, I summoned that waiter of yours and I instantly fired him. I cannot withstand people who are discourteous to ladies." Ishan said proudly expecting an appreciative expression from the lady, but she was on the other side of road - being completely stunned.

"That waiter was not discourteous to me. He did what any waiter would have done. I feel sorry for him. And sorry for you too, that you could not take a fair decision."

"Hey, you are taking it too personally. I did what seemed right to me. He is not even faintly related to you, why are you so much bothered about him?"

"It is not about being related or not. It's about being righteous. You were not right in that case. We, simply because we constitute the higher class of the society, cannot exploit the less resourceful ones. We rather need to take care of them, protect them and be just to them."

"Oh! Cheer up yaar, it is a trifle matter. He'll get another job. They are not as innocent as you think them to be. C'mon tell me what do you want to eat?" Ishan said in an indifferent tone.

"You don't even feel anything...do you?"

"What? A waiter has become more important than every other thing...Forget it yaar."

"I am not one of the waiters of yours. I can't forget it. I feel disgusted with you."

"I am sorry. I'll get him reinstated, promise. Now, please cheer up. C'mon let us place the order."

"I don't feel like eating. I need to leave, I'm not feeling well."

She stood up and went away. Ishan remained seated on his chair; lost in thoughts, trying to enforce discipline on his tear glands.

"What's your order sir?" A waiter came to his table and brought him back to the present.

"Nothing. I think I'll leave." He said and stood up.

"Is it about the ambience of The Ambience that's bothering you sir? No...then is it about this particular table? We can arrange a seat for you on the terrace if you wish. There is a great view up there. No...then...Has any of our staff erred, Sir?" The waiter pestered him, but with servitude.

"It is I who erred." Ishan said. He took out an envelope from inside his coat and pulled something out from it. That something was enough to make the waiter understand what had happened. Placing that something in the flower vase on the table, Ishan left the place.

The flower vase on the table was embellished with a red rose now and its fragrance added charm to the ambience of the 'Ambience'.

SCENE 4 - The same day.
Ishan went out in search of the waiter he fired. The grief in him metamorphosed into guilt. He understood the pain it brings to lose something after he himself lost someone - a friend or someone he hoped could be more than just a friend.

He straightaway called his manager, "Mr. Prasad. Tell me the name of that waiter we fired the last monday. His name, address, everything - be fast."

"Yes sir, anything urgent?" The manager asked.

"Just give it to me. I have some important work."

"Yes sir, note the address. It is - Ramsharan, near Bus Station, one of the small cottage near the temple. There is no fixed address, he used to say that people know him there. You can ask people around there."

"Thanks Prasad. Catch up with you later, bye." Ishan disconnected the phone. He rushed the car to the given address.

Sixty minutes later
Ishan could feel something playing with his nose. Open drains, heaps of garbage and buffaloes filling the potholes of the jerky road with their paste-like crap. This was the first time that his Honda Accord stepped in such a slum.

He stopped the car on the way carefully away from all the buffaloes, stepped outside in haste and BOOM.

"Oh damn!" He shrieked loudly and jumped in air, people around started laughing.

His shiny black shoes were sprinkled with sparkles of sea-green colour of the divine dung he accidentally stepped upon. Done with a dozen strokes of wiping it on the nearby grass, he went on to fulfill the mission that brought him to such a wonderland - a world he didn't even know existed in the city he was living in.

Seeing a pan-shop at far distance, he walked ahead.

"Hello, you have any idea where Ramsharan - the waiter at the Ishan restaurant lives?" Ishan asked the petite pan-wala. The pan-wala glanced him from up to down. Never before had he seen such a gentleman at his pan-shop.

"Hello, I'm talking to you. Do you know where Ramsharan lives?" Ishan shouted.

"Umm..Aha...Who? Ramsharan, ya, he used to live here, but last week some sick boss of his fired him on no pretence. He had nothing to sustain his house or his ailing mother, he left without informing anyone the same night. It was only the next day when we came to know that he had been fired."

"Didn't you people search for him?" Ishan sounded worried.

"Who cares nowadays sir? People come and go, no one is a friend in today's world sir. You know, time has gone so bad, that everybody can turn out to be a foe. Just think of his boss, Ramsharan used to praise him for offering more money than any other waitering job in the city everytime he came at my shop and now see, he only kicked his ass. You want a pan sir, my shop is famous all across this area."

"No thanks!" Ishan was lost somewhere in his thoughts.

"Where is his native place? You've any idea?" Ishan suddenly interrogated.

"Yes sir, his native place is Chakradharpur, near Agra in UP. But he was not quite attached to that place. His uncles captured all the small fields he was to inherit by blackmailing his sick father. You see, no one can be trusted nowadays."

"Hmm. Chakradharpur in UP." Ishan said. Tired, with sunset's light filtering through his goggles to finally strike his eyes, he decided to return back. His nose was by now adapted to the smell which was heinous sometimes earlier. He went back to his car and drove back home, being lost in thoughts all the way. He was feeling the guilt.

Scene 5
"I've always thought about me. Me, my feelings, my friends, my ambition or my employees. But today I realized that this whole world is much bigger than 'my' own little world. There are problems, difficulties and hardships everywhere around - hardships which could even bury the chances to sustain oneself. My eyes had always remained closed to these, they shunned every bad sight by finding some alternative, every heinous thing was covered with some beautiful mask and every good thing was treated as if it is destined to be mine. But, life is too hard to avoid every single bad thing and take every single good thing. Today, I was shaken to realize that 'If I am unable to do anything good, even then I've an opportunity to make this world a better place to live by doing nothing bad.'

My heart aches to think that this subtle realization came after hurting Radhika's feelings and ruining Ramsharan's life. But, certainly something touched me - touched me deep within. I don't deserve to be called an able boss or a good friend - I did the thing which she despised the most and did not even feel sorry for it.

Radhika, I promise you that I'll reinstate Ramsharan respectfully and seek his forgiveness in front of everyone, including you. And then you'll never feel disgusted with me. I promise..."

He dropped his pen, closed his diary and wiped his wet eyes. Suddenly, the phone-bell buzzed his ears.

"Hi Ishan, this is Radhika. I am sorry for the outburst today. I overreacted. You know, I can't stand any injustice to the poor ones, and I could not stop myself that time. I shouldn't have left the table, I am so sorry."

"Your reaction was apt. I've been an unkind indifferent brat all the while. You just opened my eyes. You need not feel sorry. I deserve a punishment. You know, I went to that waiters' place, he left his home the day I fired him - all because he had no money to sustain himself for yet another month. He had an old mother to take care of and bloody me ruined his life. With every information I came to find about him, the more my guilt increased...I am not worthy to be called his boss...actually I am not worthy of anything...I don't deserve to be your friend even...I don't deserve..." Ishan became agitated.

"Don't curse yourself. It's no use now. It's good that you realized your mistake."

"I am not worthy to be your friend. I won't be comfortable talking to you until I win back my self-respect. And that'll be when he forgives me in front of you. I promise to you Radhika that I'll find him and respectfully welcome him back in my restaurant. I'll call you soon...don't call me...I'll call you soon!" Ishan was distraught with grief as well as hope at the same time.

"You're taking too much to your heart buddy..." Radhika said, but there was no response. The phone was disconnected a minute earlier.

SCENE 6
Two weeks passed by. He went in search of Ramsharan to his native place Chakradharpur, where his uncles declined to know anybody with his name. His struggle began and he searched for some of Ramsharan's friends but alas, the struggle seemed to have no end. Ramsharan was missing. He even considered the option of lodging a missing report at the police station but he dropped the plan thinking it might cause Ramsharan further trouble. Meanwhile, Radhika called sometimes but Ishan didn't reciprocate, didn't even pick-up the phone after seeing her number flashing. He stuck to his words. Radhika stopped calling, the friendship chose the path of destiny.

He ran across all the past employers of Ramsharan, all his past dwellings but no Ramsharan anywhere. Days passed, months passed. It was tough for him. His patience did not surrender though his ways to trace Ramsharan encountered a full stop. His daily life made everything a memory, but the guilt and the promise to Radhika seemed to haunt him from time to time. He was not successful in fulfilling his promise. His self-respect waited for its saviour to appear out of nowhere. But, miracles are not that easy to happen.

Six months later
24th May
It was hot outside. Delhi's summer, you know how torturous it can be. Ishan was sitting in the air-conditioned chamber in his office. Suddenly his secretary called, "Sir, someone named R.S.Sharma has come to see you. He tells that he has to thank you for something."

"R.S.Sharma. I don't know anybody with that name. Anyways, send him in." Ishan sat back on his easy chair thinking about who this strange guy was.

"Hello sir. Remember me?" R.S.Sharma said. Ishan looked at and was turned into a statue. Ramsharan was standing in front of him in an executive suit, giving competition to Ishan himself.

"Oh yeah, Ramsharan. Be seated. How had you been...oh my God! Is that really you? I can't believe it. I searched you frantically over the entire city in the last six months to... well...to seek your forgiveness. Will you forgive me Ramsharan?"

"Forgiveness, sir why are you seeking forgiveness, rather I owe you a thank you. Sir, you would not believe what happened the day you fired me. You gave me a month's salary. Having postponed my mother's cataract operation for over one year, I immediately took her to the city hospital with the money I got plus some money which I had. Upon reaching the hospital, I could see all the doctors rushing towards the emergency ward. There was one emergency case of a child and they needed an O+ blood group, and fortunately I had the same blood group. I voluntarily offered my blood and the life of that child was saved. The father of that child turned out to be Mr. Ramjas Jhaveri, the famous fabric tycoon. He became so grateful to me that he offered me a job at his Bangalore apparel unit as the assistant unit manager. I vacated my house without telling anyone in my locality since they would all feel jealous and I slipped away to Bangalore with my mother, who also underwent a successful cataract operation. I worked hard and now I have been promoted to the post of project manager of DenMan - Denim Manufacturing Unit of Jhaveri's Apparels in Gurgaon. My mother keeps on telling me that you have played a role of Messiah in disguise for me. You changed the course of my fate. I want to thank you from the core of my heart. If you hadn't fired me that day, then I would still be cleaning up the tables at one of your restaurants and my life would have never changed."

"I....." Ishan's tongue was paralyzed. With nothing, nothing at all, for his mind to believe, he sat in front of Ramsharan looking depressingly dumb. He had exhausted his sweat glands and fatigued his body to seek his forgiveness and now this guy was thanking him.

After practicing dumbness for another two minutes, Ishan gathered himself and spoke up, "I am amazed...so much amazed. Huh...oh my God! I can't believe it...I need to pinch myself. Is it really happening...oh...huh! Oh"

"Are you all right sir?" Ramsharan asked courteously.

"Oh yeah. I am. Oops! I even forgot to ask you something. So tell me, what do you want to have - tea or a coffee?"

"Sir, sorry I won't have anything. My mother is waiting down there in the taxi. I would rather leave. Thanks again!" Ramsharan stood up, shook hands with Ishan and went forward towards the door.

"Thanks Mr. Sharma, you don't know that you have liberated me from my guilt. Thanks a lot. Be in touch. Take my visiting card." Ishan said. He in-turn gave his own visiting card to Ishan. and bid him a bye with a smile. As soon as Ramsharan left the room, Ishan dropped himself in the couch gasping for breath. He was excited as well as puzzled. His heartbeat was sinusoidal and the breath pattern was pulsating. Heaving a huge sigh, he took out his mobile phone and searched for Radhika's number.

'Radhika would be thrilled to know what has just happened. My self-respect, oh, it never needed to leave me. Shit man, I never really needed to punish me like that! Oh! The way this world works is bizarre, really bizarre.'

Finally, his promise to Radhika was in a way going to be fulfilled - after all he was forgiven, apparently. Though he had absolutely no talks to her since his last talk - six months ago, he inwardly missed her all the while. Radhika's number was in front of him - on his mobile screen, the empty mobile screen was waiting so desperately to display the phrase 'Calling...Radhika' but Ishan felt a bit awkward, courtesy to him not responding to her missed calls earlier. But his amazement at what had just happened shredded away all his uneasiness in a moment. He knew that now it was the time when his days of missing her were going to be over.

Taking a deep breath in, he dialled Radhika's number. He had a smile adorning his face - a happy and expectant smile, a satisfied and contented smile, a hopeful and naughty smile. The phone rung about nine times and then the answering machine said in Radhika's ultra-excited voice, "Hi. I am out of the country - in Switzerland. With Piyush - on our honeymoon. Will be back on 24th June. Please drop your message after the beep. Beep."

Ishan had a smile adorning his face - a frozen and shocked smile, a shattered and screwed smile, a paralyzed and dumbstruck smile. With the beep, his entire life had been 'beep'-ed forever. His breath-pattern was no more pulsating and his heartbeat was no more a sinusoidal one - rather it became a straight line with slope zero.

P.S. It was just a mild heart-attack. Ishan's Ishan-restaurant-delicacy-fed-heart was too fragile to absorb two shocks in a single hour. Ishan was definitely right, "The way this world works is bizarre, really bizarre."

P.S. Certainly a long one, but worth reading, I can assure you. This is for those who read P.S. before reading the story.
P.S. Imagination started catching speed, it takes some time to sharpen one's axe after-all. The flow is back, the writer's block is over and it's an euphoric sensation!

10 comments:

keshav said...

Firstly heart-beat is not sinusoidal......It's more of a repeated delta function....... but who cares.... we got what u were trying to say......

nice story!!...well said!!.... keep up the good work

(aur saale treat de....... itni lambi lambi story padhke comment dene ke liye)

Vidhu said...

yahan kuch likhna hota hai kya?
:P :P :P

Anonymous said...

I like the flow of your story and the way you have conveyed it was Excellent.You have a very different style of ending a story but why do you prefer to end it negatively?

Buzz said...

Hey Anonymous,

Thanks for reading my work. I really appreciate your comment, and also I like your name - Anonymous. :D

The ending is essentially acknowledging the fact that nothing waits for you in this world, everything is impermanent and also the fact that 'the world works in a really bizarre way.'.

I think story telling is not about making the reader happy and pleased at the end, rather it is about making the reader wonder at the end.

supriya said...

Dude,hyundai accord?

anirudh said...

oy u write really well dude

aman said...

i really enjoyed the story. the way you mentioned everything about that waiter's life was superb... u just went into his actual life so deep.
And the concern of radhika as well as later realization and desperate effort of ishan was truly awesome!!
u put in a gr88 way

buzzzzzzzzz... said...

lolz......cnt help lollin , dis one stumped me ,,,,,seriusly bechara..!!

Sadiya Merchant said...

i sooooo knew dis was goin to happen!
i mean dats aftr readin abt ur love fr tragedies dat is.
cos isse bura to kuch ho hi nahi sakta! :P
*wats wid d use of d wrd 'hmm'!!'
i dont undrstand y ppl use it so often! reallyyyy!

Dreamer said...

It is 4:30 in the morning and I am still glued to the blog.. I have said this in almost all my comments, You write amazingly well!
This was no exception. I kinda expected an unexpected ending and I got that. Seriously, your writing style is worth appreciating.