Crimson Surprise

He took out his blue denim shirt from his closet. “I should wear blue. After all I’ve harped on and on to her about how it’s my favourite colour”, he thought aloud. He was getting ready for his date with Lucy as he sprayed his favourite Aramis cologne. “Never old fashioned to smell like a true man”, he smiled as he liked what he saw in the mirror. And putting the Aramis on always reminded him of his father.

He met her at the cafe they always spoke about meeting at. He was excited as it was their first meeting after a whirlwind online courtship. They’d met in a Beatles’ group and from the first day got along great. It seemed to him that she was keen to meet up sooner, but like always, he needed time. The time had to be perfect. He stood up as she entered. She smiled at him, and then hugged him. As they embraced, she took a deep breath. “You smell great”, she whispered in his ears as they sat down. She looked more slender in her appearance than the pictures. Her wavy hair was brown with streaks on them. Her eyes sparkled every time she spoke and her smile reached her eyes almost simultaneously. She was beautiful. Oh so beautiful.

She ordered a garden salad with a salsa-vinaigrette dressing as he opted for the simpler grilled fish and mixed vegetables. They both shared a panna cotta for dessert. “I’ve got to always watch what I eat. My profession is such”, she sighed as she dug into his dessert bowl.

“Let’s go to my place”, he finally said, breaking their silence during their walk on the pier post-dinner. She looked at him lovingly and they kissed. “I’d love to”, she replied, her face buried in his chest as they walked past the pier. The moon cast its silver shadows in the dark waters.

As they entered his basement flat, they kissed passionately. He couldn’t contain his passion any longer. After all it had been 3 months.

6 Hours Later…

He threw the last plastic bag across the lake from the back of his old Renault. “I must change this car now. It’s too old”. He couldn’t risk it breaking down in between. After all the journey from his apartment to the lake was a good 12 miles. He couldn’t take that chance.

He loved slicing them up. He loved to catch them by surprise. In the throes of passion when he would suddenly take the steely silver dagger out and run it across their slender necks. The first sight of fresh blood excited him. Turned him on. And then the best bit was to see that look of unexpected horror in their eyes as their body shuddered in pain, violently shook and ultimately collapsed. All that blood seemed to justify all the sweet sugary things women said. “This is the best end”, he would smirk to himself. And yes red was his favourite colour unlike all the other colours he lied about.

The Next Morning

He shut his account down. It was time to create a new one. From Bungalow Bill he changed his ID to Rocky Racoon. Oh how I love the Beatles. So many names so many characters to choose from, he was pleased with his new nickname.

He took Lucy’s picture which he had shot from his instamatic and opened the shoe box to put it in there. As he flipped through the others he saw Michelle, Lizzy, Mary and Anna amongst them. My lovely Beatle girls, he smiled as he put Lucy along with them. He had seen a Lovely Rita in the Beatles Group. It was time he sent her a friend request.

As he shut the shoe box and slid it under his bed, he sighed. “It’s time I do a quick count”, he thought out aloud. He loved his cold smile in the mirror opposite, as he said this.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

Tere Bina Zindagi Se…

The sun was about to set as he sat down on his favourite arm-chair. His eyes were shut and his hands were comfortably placed on either side of the chair. The last rays of the sun were falling directly on his face giving it an unreal golden glaze. He was humming an old Kishore Kumar number. Probably Dev Anand had sung it on screen, he couldn’t remember…nor did he care. It was Kishore who mattered to him, not the heroes who merely lip-synced his golden beauties. It had been a long time since he had been so relaxed so at peace with himself. He felt like sipping his favourite whisky and listening to his favourite compilation…a delicious mix of Kishore, Gulzar and RD Burman numbers. The perfect way to spend a relaxed evening, he thought to himself. But he was a tad too comfortable on his chair to get up and do these things. If only…he sighed…if only…he wished.

He mustn’t have shut his eyes for more than 15 minutes when he felt a gentle tap on his shoulders. It wasn’t so much of a tap as it was a soft hand being placed on his shoulders. He turned around and there she was standing behind him. Her long silky hair was left open…just the way he liked it…and her big brown eyes were smiling down at him. “Here’s your whisky darling”, she whispered, and as if on cue O Mere Dil Ki Chaen started playing on his music system. He shut his eyes once more and felt the bliss of her touch and the mellifluous voice of Kishore, touch the core of his soul.

He sipped his whisky from time to time as the songs kept running on…O Majhi Re, Phir Wohi Raat Hai, Bahut Door Hokey …the melodies flowing as smoothly as his whisky. He hadn’t felt like this in a long time. “You know I’ve missed you so much these years”, he said softly, his words almost drowning in the waves of romance being ushered by Kishore and Pancham. “I wasn’t far way, all you had to do was call”, she said, her head now resting on his shoulders, as she knelt beside his arm-chair. She had now put her arms around him and they were both listening to gems such as Bahut Door Mujhe Chaley Jaana Hai, Bheegi Bheegi Aankhen, Theirs was a silence, which conveyed as much as words. He was really happy to have her next to him and that was all that mattered to him now. As the evening grew darker he could see their silhouettes on the wall. The songs were still playing…he was surprised at the length of the compilation…he hadn’t heard it for a while now but it surely wasn’t this long.

“Hey did you put on another disc”, he asked her. She smiled at him, ruffling his hair. Tere Bina Zindagi Se Koi Shikwa was playing when the lights suddenly came on.

He got up with a start.

He glanced at the music system.

It stood the way it did 3 years ago. The empty bar next to his book-stand and music system stared blankly at him. As he got up from his chair he felt a tiny tear trickle down the side of his eye.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

Mohini…The Enchantress

I want you I want you so bad

I want youI want you so bad

It’s driving me mad (she’s so heavy)

The Beatles, 1969.

He didn’t know when he’d dozed off. RD Burman was playing on his headphone and he could also hear strains of Laxmi Pravachan wafting through the air. “The Puja must have started as I knocked off to sleep”, he thought. Surely she’d be angry at him not sitting for the Puja. “Or maybe she decided to be easy on me after all”, he reasoned. The past few days had indeed been very hectic work-wise.

He got up from his bed and saw that she had kept a kurta pajama set neatly ironed, for him to wear. He smiled as he saw the rust coloured silk kurta and white pajamas She had even got the maid to keep his favourite mojdees out. There was no way she was going to let him sit for the Puja on his shorts and tee (like he would have preferred). He softly smiled to himself as he got up.

And then he felt it. That fragrance. That was so very hers. He could sense she was somewhere in the room. He couldn’t believe his luck. As the rest of the family was busy with the Puja outside in the living room, here he was alone in the bedroom feeling her presence. It was almost too good to be true. But he knew she was here. Somewhere in the room.

Their love affair had started in his youth. He must have been in his teens then. And even thirty odd years later he felt the same about her. The same freshness feeling and emotions. Nothing had changed about her in all these years. As she silently weaved her magic right into his heart, he knew she was special. Too bad he had to keep her hidden from his family. That was the only thing that bothered him about their relationship.

He kept looking for her everywhere in the room. He could sense her but could not see her. “Stop playing games with me”, he implored as he searched in vain for her. The mantras were coming loud and clear from outside and a few crackers also made their presence felt with the noise and sparkles filling up the sky. He knew he had to find her before anyone came inside the room to pull him out for the Puja.

He was panicking now as more and more time went in the hunt. He had to get dressed, wash his face and be out. But before that he knew he had to have her. The desire was eating him up from inside. He had to find her. He had to have her.

And just as he was losing hope from within, he saw her. Golden, pristine, oh so pretty and delicate. There she lay right before his eyes, almost too obviously, for him to be blind-sighted. There you are he smiled victoriously, as he picked her up. “Mohini you’re mine. Finally mine”.

He was about to open…when the door opened in a flash and his wife was standing in front of him. Dressed in a white silk saree with red border she was dazzling. A simple chain around her neck and two golden bangles around her wrist and she was looking ethereal. He could not take his eyes off her, as he stood there with Mohini in his arms, transfixed.

She stared at him. First in disbelief and then she smiled. “I knew you’d find her, but you didn’t know that I knew, did you”, she asked him, her smile getting wider at his expression on being found out.

“Believe me, I would’ve eventually told you”, he fumbled, the guilt too much for him to handle. I knew I couldn’t keep it a secret for too long, he surrendered to his wife. She came closer to him and gave him a warm hug. He loved the smell of fresh flowers which were adorned around her hair.

“You’re the best”, he said, once they broke their embrace.

“And you’re the cutest”, she responded, “to hide something like this from me. Now get dressed fast and join me for the Puja”.

He stared at her as she left the room, turning just once more to look at him and smile. That smile made his Diwali even brighter.

He quickly got into his kurta pajama and combed his hair. He looked in the mirror and felt nice. He felt lighter as the weight of a hidden guilty pleasure had been removed from his chest.

Just as he was leaving his bedroom to join in the Puja, he looked at Mohini. The golden packet of Mohini Dry Fruit Chikkis stared back at him, knowing that she’d be devoured once he came back in the room.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

The Journey

Sometimes, a journey is the best way to move away.

Old African Proverb

His thoughts raced faster than the train he was sitting in. Old memories flashed across his mind as the stations whizzed by. He got up from his window seat just to stretch his legs and arms. The train was speeding in order to make up for lost time. How he wished there was a way for him to make up for all the time he had lost. What opportunities did we allow to go by, went the McCartney song he so loved. And he found himself humming, Did I ever….and once more thoughts of her filled his mind.

She always seemed to be smiling. Her wavy auburn hair seemed to bounce in sync with her walk. The air smelt nice and birds seemed to sing sweeter when she was around. There seemed to be an ethereal glow about her, wherever she went. And when she sat next to him, the glow seemed to rub off on him too. Often he heard himself hum for no reason.

The train continued with its frantic journey. Leaving behind a blur of small towns and green fields, alternating at regular intervals. Vendors and salesman advertising their wares for sale continued their sing-song dialogues. He could hardly hear what they were shouting, so lost was he in his thoughts. They almost formed the background to the opera of the past playing in his mind.

A cup of green tea and a double-shot espresso. That always stayed constant. Puff pastry, grilled chicken sandwich, cream rolls…they changed depending on the time and…more significantly…on what kind of a mood she was in. More cream roll or dutch truffle ordered usually meant she was in a foul mood. Over time he learned to keep quiet on such occasions

The coffeewala stood next to him almost as if he knew his thoughts. “Make it strong and no sugar,” he said sitting up from his slouched position. He rubbed his hands as the AC of the train was now beginning to affect him, it was getting cold. The warm coffee touching his lips made him feel nice and snug.

“Must you always slurp on your espresso”? She had sounded really caustic that day. “You really could do with some training in social grace and manners you know”. He looked up at her surprised, rudely awakened from his state of bliss which always prevailed when he was with her. Her face had no smile on it, as she stared back at him, looking in his eyes. More like looking through his eyes, as he felt the pierce of her gaze cutting though him. “What’s the matter”, he asked a bit bewildered and unprepared. “I think I’ve had enough”, she said. “This cannot go on forever. I cannot go on”, she was getting up to leave as she spoke. “But…listen…we….”, he didn’t even get a chance to complete his questions. There were going to be no answers.

“That’ll be ten rupees sir”, the coffeewala said extending his arms in anticipation of the money. “Here’s twenty and give me one more”, he replied, happy to be brought back to the present. His fellow passengers seemed taken aback slightly by the unexpected aggression in his tone. The coffeewala happily served him one more, adding an extra spoon of coffee to make it stronger and hurriedly moved on. He sat up more comfortably on his seat. His thoughts of the past disappeared as he stared hard at the cup of coffee and brought it closer to his lips. He slurped hard and strong on it, making a few of his fellow passengers look up once again. He didn’t care. He liked the way the journey was going. His smile grew wider with each noisy slurp he took from the cup. The train moved on…

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

The Blue Diary

“He was never serious about you”. He tried to console her mainly to stop her from crying. But she wouldn’t stop. She silently sobbed, her face bent down covered totally in her palms as she wept. He tried to put an arm around her to comfort her but something stopped him from doing so. He sat silently in the seat next to her, as the car kept moving. They were on their way back to her home.

He remembered how he kept telling her she deserved better. But she was blind about him. “You don’t know how much I love him”, she would tell him, “…and that’s only because of how much he loves me”. He knew it was best to keep quiet at such times.

As he drove on he kept looking at her face from time to time. She was still crying although she appeared a little more in control of herself. “You want to listen to some music”, he asked as he was about to turn on the car stereo. She nodded in the negative and he turned it off almost as immediately. The silence in car seemed heavy and hard to bear. Maybe she felt it too as she broke it by saying, “let’s stop for some coffee somewhere”. In a short while they had parked in front of a highway coffee shop. She had her usual latte as he sipped on his double-shot espresso.

“I know I made a mistake”, she finally broke the long silence. “I rushed. I just followed my heart. I didn’t use my head at all”, she looked at his face for the first time since morning, when he had driven all the way to pick her up.

“It’s ok”, he meekly responded. He found himself at a loss of words on such occasions. They had been the best of friends since childhood but even after all these years he didn’t know what to say at such times to her. He extended his hands to touch hers. She took his hand and squeezed it gently, looking at him and mouthing a silent ‘thank you’. He was her rock. She knew others would come and go but her friend would be true to her and there for her always. That was her biggest comfort.

“See you tomorrow at the bookstore”, he said as he dropped her home. He ran his family bookstore and was happy to have her sit in the store and work on her thesis. That way he could spend as much time with her as was possible. She knew she had to shrug off this recent infatuation and get back to finishing her work. “See you”, she smiled as she warmly hugged him before getting off the car. She took a deep breath and held it for a while before releasing it and also releasing him from her embrace.

He reached home and sat on his desk. He took out his blue diary. It was perhaps his favourite possession. She had gifted it to him when they were way younger. He wrote in it meticulously. Every day of spending time with her. Every word she said. Every emotion he felt. It was his own little secret place of solace. He would unwind there completely.

He wrote of her latest encounter. How yet again she had found an inappropriate guy for herself only to be rejected yet again. Why could she not see that the right guy was with her. All the time. All these years. When would she stop being so blind, he asked in the blue diary. Knowing well, that there would be no answers.

The next few days went by normally. They’d spend time together in the bookshop. Sometimes they went out for coffee. Sometimes to catch an oldie in the retro-movie theatre that had re-opened in their locality again. Sometimes just for a long drive. Almost all the time spent was spent together. With each other.

One day I will tell her how I feel about her truly, he wrote in his diary that night. It was amazing she didn’t feel the same way after all these years. Is it really possible that when two people are this close, one of them still remain oblivious to these feelings? Like all his earlier questions to the diary, this one would remain unanswered too. I must tell her how I feel. It’s high time, he concluded his writing for that night.

The next day they were to meet at the coffee house. But she wasn’t there. He tried her on her mobile but couldn’t get through to her. It was unlike her not to call if she was late, he thought to himself. He was a little worried. He tried her phone but couldn’t reach her. Finally he got off the table and decided to head towards her home.

As he approached her house, he saw the door ajar. He went in and saw her mother. “Oh you’re here”, she said, surprised to see him. “She’s gone to get you a gift, she said today’s a special day”, her mother told him. “Why don’t you wait in her room”, she told him. He was surprised at the turn of events. What gift? What special day? It didn’t make any sense to him. In all these years of being friends he had never ever entered her room, so today he felt strange entering, and that too without her being present.

He sat tentatively on her neatly made bed and looked around. Her walls were plastered with posters and pictures from the past. Of her family, her pets, her friends . But he didn’t see a single photograph of them together. That surprised him. He looked around to see her writing desk in one corner of the room. Her laptop and a bunch of paper lay strewn on the desk. Suddenly he saw something that caught his eye.

It was a blue diary. Identical to the one he had

He walked on to the table to take a look at the diary. As he reached her desk he saw pictures of the two of them under the glass sheet on the desk. There were pictures of the two of them from their childhood days to present. His eyes lit up when he saw the pictures. His eyes widened further when he picked the diary up and began leafing through it. He read one entry and immediately turned around to see if anyone had seen him sneaking. His face flushed as he kept reading her diary. His smile broadened. His heart was galloping away at an unimaginable speed. He sat down on the chair to read in detail

Mum!!! Why did you let him go to my room!!! You should’ve asked him to wait here. He suddenly heard her voice from the doorway. He stumbled, got up from the chair and went and jumped back on her bed.

She looked first towards her desk and the blue diary kept on it before she looked at him, sitting on her bed. Her face was flushed with the most amazing mix of apprehension, embarrassment, happiness and surprise.

You didn’t did you…was all she could say.

He simply smiled as he got off her bed to walk towards her.

The blue diary remained open on her desk.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

Amitabh Bachchan… 5 Underrated Films

Amitabh Bachchan. Two words that describe the Indian Film Industry more than anything or anybody. To start evaluating the man, the actor, the star, the superstar, would be an exercise in futility. Because no one, yes no one, can truly evaluate a phenomenon called Amitabh Bachchan. Perhaps the late Manmohan Desai came closest to the perfect description of the superstar, when he called him Haley’s Comet, someone who comes once in 76 years. Maybe even a hundred years later there won’t be another Amitabh Bachchan. He is unique. He is perfect. He is the God of all things popular Hindi cinema.

To pick favourites from his impressive filmography is a daunting one. Does Deewaar make it to the top five? Do we leave out Trishul? Or can we truly think of omitting Sholay? Or that brooding silence of Kala Patthar…can that be ignored?

The task is Herculean.

So what I have done here is slightly different. I have tried to pick my five personal favourites from his vast number of films. But in most cases, these films have been slightly different from his all-round action comic romantic superstar genre. These films are instances when the makers have attempted to show a different side of the superstar. A closer-to-life image of the actor rather than the larger-than-life image of a superstar. And in each of these films, more than the Bachchan persona, it is the actor in him that shines brighter. So without further ado, here goes…

  1. Saudagar (1973) : Directed by Sudhendu Roy. Co-star: Nutan

Based on a short story Ras by renowned Bengali author Narendranath Mitra, art director Roy’s foray into direction was a commendable effort. Released in a year when Bachchan has memorable and milestone films like Abhimaan, Namak Haraam and Zanjeer releasing, this quiet little tale of a jaggery seller and his relationship with the two women in his life was a proverbial gem. Nutan, as the suffering wife of Bachchan, was flawless in her enactment, but Amitabh managed to ably match her histrionics with his own. No mean feat for a young actor, especially given Nutan’s range and ability as a performer. The sorry box office fate of the film combined with the super-stardom that was to embrace Amitabh, has made his film a forgotten one unfortunately. But watch it to discover a side of the superstar rarely dwelved on to.

  • 2. Manzil (1979) Directed by Basu Chatterjee. Co-star Mousumi Chatterjee

Based on Mrinal Sen’s 1965 Bengali film Akash Kusum (written by Ashish Barman) this Basu Chatterjee Film was actually an improvement on an already splendid film. For one, the end was more hopeful than the gloomy climax of the Bengali film. Made at a time when Bachchan was well and truly a one-man industry, at the top of his game as the angry young man, it was a heartening choice made by him to act in this simple movie, playing a character that was diametrically opposite to the ones he was mostly portraying at the time. Amitabh excelled as a simple day-dreamer who lies through his teeth, pretending to be super rich in order to impress the girl he loves. Lilting music by RD Burman and an impeccable capture of the city of Bombay, added to the film’s charm. And it hasn’t diminished after all these years. Timeless.

3. Parwana (1970) Directed by Jyoti Swaroop. Co-star Yogeeta Bali.

A super flop when released, this movie has achieved a cult status over the years,making it a film many Bachchan fans revisit over and over again. Bachchan plays the role of a meek quiet docile artist who gets rejected by the lady he silently pines for. His transformation into an angry ruthless and cold killer is chilling to say the least. One of the earliest instances of the great man using his eyes to emote, Parwana was a clear indication of what was to follow. It’s box office failure at the time only delayed the inevitable…the rise of a superstar.

  • 4. Raaste Ka Patthar (1972) Directed by Mukul Dutt. Co-star Neeta Khyaani

Loosely based on Billy Wilder’s classic The Apartment (starring Jack Lemon and Shirley MacLaine), this must be a surprise inclusion for most fans, in this list. But do give it a serious revisit to find Amitabh in top form as a meek executive who unwillingly gives his apartment to his office superiors for their pleasure, in hope of corporate rewards. He falls in love with a woman who also works in his office. His learning of the truth about her and the shock at his discovery is vintage Bachchan. Made at a time when he wasn’t shackled by his “image” this is a refreshingly different Amitabh. One which we yearn for even today.

  • 5. Bemisaal (1982) Directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Co-star Raakhee

Another remake of a Bengali film (Aami Shey O Shawkha, written by Ashutosh Mukherjee, starring Bengali superstar Uttam Kumar), Bemisaal is a quiet masterpiece. Hrishikesh Mukherjee combined with Amitabh (then at his peak as an action superstar) for the last time to give us an absolutely brilliant film. Bachchan uses his strong personality, his superstar swag, his incredible voice, to the hilt as he conveys he role of a loyal friend, who’d go to any extent to save his friend and family. And most of all he uses his eyes instead of words, at his absolute best in this film. To match the legendary Uttam Kumar, in a landmark film of his is no mean feat. Bachchan not just matches, he actually supercedes it by a few yards. Arguably his best for Hrishida and definitely one of his best. When Amitabh sings “khafa Hoon Khafa Hoon” (I’m Angry, I’m Angry) he gives the (much overused) term…attitude… it’s definition.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

The Naked Face

He kept coming in her thoughts

She was sitting in the midst of her family and also her prospective groom’s family and yet her thoughts kept going back to him. The house wore a festive and happy look that day, because she had, after stalling for years, agreed to see a guy of her parents choice. They were thrilled that she’d finally seen sense. “High time she got married” was the general family consensus.

But in the middle of all the shenanigans, she kept thinking of him. She remembered the first time they met. It was a chance meeting at the library when they both reached for a William Burroughs book. He didn’t know too many in his friend circle who loved Beat Literature as much as he did, so he was surprised to see someone else be interested in that book. But she was. And that’s what made them talk to each other for the first time.

Their meeting became regular starting from the bump-Ins in the library. They began to go out for coffee and long walks. They spoke and spoke. It was amazing how conversation flowed freely when the two of them met. There was never an awkward silence or a lack of topic to talk on. They spoke on everything under the sun. Literature, art, religion, politics, sports, nothing was left untouched.

She didn’t realise when she started getting attracted to him, but she could sense a change in her feelings towards him. His passion, his intensity, his love for life was something she found incredibly appealing. At times he’d like to project a tough “I don’t care” image but she had grown to know by now that he was a softie inside. Anyone had to tell him their sob story and like a sucker he’d fall for it. She kept telling him this at times, but he didn’t bother to listen. Always did what his heart told him.

She felt she was more mature compared to him. His habit of wearing his heart on his sleeves meant he tended to black and white issues. She was more the grey types. Always saw both sides and both points of view. Sometimes he admonished her for her attitude. “You need to stop being politically correct and diplomatic all the time”, he’d yell. “It’s ok to call things out the way they are”. She soon realised that there was no way of getting through him when he was in a foul mood.

Both the families, her and her groom’s, were now talking even more animatedly. “Let the boy and girl spend some time on their own”, the groom’s mother said. “Yes of course. Why don’t you take him to your room and talk”, her mother instructed, “We will send your coffees there”.

She was rudely broken from her thoughts by her mother’s command. She looked at her and nodded and then looked at him. He had gotten up from his seat, eager to follow her to her room.

They walked silently towards her room, he slightly behind her. Her thoughts were still a mixture of the past and current happenings. She felt her heart race a tad quicker as his hands touched hers as she turned the lock of her door.

As they both entered her room, he shut the door behind him and hugged her tightly. “I can’t believe we did it, we did it”, he kept on repeating himself as he hugged her tighter and tighter.

She stood there motionless and didn’t hug him back. Her eyes stared blankly at the wall facing her, her thoughts still back all those years ago about the man she loved. Her groom to be, was a changed man today. He was a cool and calculating suave executive. He had successfully sold himself in the corporate world and his future looked promising if he played his cards well. And he looked like doing exactly so, hence her parents had agreed to meet him and his family. He was the perfect son-in-law in every way for them.

But she missed the ‘old him’. She tried her best to remove the thoughts and memories of the old him and replace it with the ‘current him’. But she couldn’t. No one, not even he himself could replace the person who was deeply entrenched in her heart and soul. She knew she’d lost the old him forever. In the race to be acceptable and successful. But she herself didn’t know if she had it in her to accept the new him.

“Let’s go down and pretend we have hit it off”, he winked at her. “Let’s both go down and say yes”, he smiled. “Just imagine they’ll never guess how long we’ve known and loved each other”.

All this while, she kept looking at his face blankly. A tiny tear trickled down her eyes as she knew what she had to do.

She couldn’t pretend any more. She wouldn’t.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

Payback


The car just wouldn’t start. It was the dead of the night, in the middle of a deserted highway. All that was required to complete the cliche was a broken down car. And they had it. They both looked at each other in disbelief. “Surely this cannot be happening” he said, in a tone that bordered on the ridiculously funny ironical. She stared back at him with the “I told you this trip was a mistake look” but said nothing. Almost simultaneously both looked at their mobile phones to see the network coverage. There was none.

“What are the chances of finding another vehicle in this desolate place”, he wondered. “Yeah a car which doesn’t have some psycho that is”, she responded, trying to make light of the situation they found themselves in. It had all started with a casual conversation a few days ago. She received a call from an old friend from college and she began to reminisce. He agreed with her when she lamented that they never went out on spontaneous short trips anymore. “We must do it again”, he admitted. “It’s just that I’ve got too much on my plate. I know sometimes I neglect you”. She looked at him with a mix of sadness and anger at his last statement, but didn’t say a word.

He decided to surprise her with a few days break from his work. “Let’s go off somewhere lonely. No people. No shops. Just nature and us. Let’s drive off like we used to before.”

And that’s how it started.

She checked her phone to see how much battery was left. Fortunately it was nearly full. At least something was right, she thought to herself, hoping that they’d be blessed with network coverage by some miracle. By now he’d opened the bonnet of the car trying to peer into the engine with his mobile phone torch. “I can’t seem to figure what’s wrong. We have a tank full of gas. We did a complete service last week. What could be wrong?” He peered into the car clueless. The crickets were chirping away merrily that moonless night.

“You remember David don’t you”, she asked him all of a sudden. “Who?”, he asked back, stretching his neck away from the bonnet looking at her seated in the car.

He was shocked at what he saw.

There sat, along with her, a middle-aged man with black streaks on his silver hair. He wore thin rimmed spectacles which covered his light blue eyes. His grin revealed a gold tooth amongst his regular ones. “Hi Mark,” he waved his right hand, towards the shocked husband.

Mark left the bonnet and came to the front door. Before he could open it, David opened it from inside striking him and throwing him off on the road. Before he could recover, he was kicked on his stomach and then face by David. “This is for high school. And for university. And for all those years Mark”. He kept on kicking incessantly. Mark threw up some blood from the constant kicking. He tried to get up after the sudden attack but the momentum was against him. David kept on pounding him with his feet till finally Mark’s body became lifeless. David bent down and took Mark’s wallet from his back pocket and also his watch. This had to look like a good fashioned mugging and robbery. As his still body lay slumped, David got into the car, reconnected the wire which Liza had cleverly disconnected and started the car. They drove off to the hotel which Mark had booked for Liza and himself. “Only now it’s going to be us”, Liza smiled as she held David’s arm on the steering wheel.

Liza was waiting in the motel room. Waiting for David to come to her arms. They had waited long enough for this. Fourteen years. For the right time. Right opportunity. And now it was all theirs. Mark’s wealth and a new life. As she lay waiting for him, he was in the bar finishing off his ale before he joined her in their room.

She heard the shots but at first couldn’t make out what they were. Then the screams from the bar confirmed that they were indeed gun shots. She put on a robe and rushed towards the bar to see what had happened. As she reached the bar she saw David lying in a pool of blood. His eyes and mouth were open indicating a sudden and close-range attack. She stood there transfixed not knowing what to do or who to turn to. “Was he with you lady”, the burly bartender asked her. As she nodded a shocked yes, he handed a white envelope to her. “This was given to me by the man in the black coat earlier in the evening. He told me, “When I am done, there will come a lady. Give her this envelope”.

Liza took the white envelope with trembling hands and opened it. Her name was written on top in a familiar handwriting.

“Liza my darling. I heard your conversation with David. All of it. If you wanted to leave me you should’ve told me. You know I’d never say no to anything you asked for. But this? Really? You actually thought that you and David could get the better of me? Well no my love. You can’t. I had told John this would happen. He was waiting here to see which man came with you this evening. If it was me he wouldn’t have to fire a single bullet from his handgun. But if it was the other man (yes my love I gave John my photograph) all he had to do was fire those two shots and disappear. If this letter is in your hands now, then that’s exactly what he’s done. See you in hell darling.”

PS: Hope you have a good night’s stay at the motel. Don’t worry, I’ve paid for it already sweetheart”.

Liza crumpled the letter and was about to throw it. Then she stopped and simply put in inside her robe. She sat down on one of the empty chairs of the bar and buried her face in her hands as the wailing police sirens became louder and closer.

Back in the deserted highway, the “battered body” stirred.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

Mad About You

It would make a prison of my life

If you became another’s wife

With every prison blown to dust

My enemies walk free

I’m mad about you. I’m mad about you

Sting, Mad About You

His sister’s words kept echoing in his mind as he paced up and down the river bank.

“Dee and you!!! I can see sparks every time the two of you meet!”

As her words went on like a stuck record in his mind, he remembered his last evening with her. It was a Sting concert. They went for it together holding hands all the while. He could smell the sweet perfume of her jet black hair as she jumped to the beat of Every Breath You Take. He felt her soft lips touch his cheeks as Fields of Gold played. The evening was magical. And all the time the song that played in his head was Mad About You. But she rendered him speechless as always.

As the concert ended they walked along the pier and sat on a wooden bench next to the river. The silver moon shone brightly as they sat close to each other. Not a word was spoken as their hearts beat in unison. At one point he swore he could hear their beats together.

“I will never forget you”, she said breaking a silence that seemed eternal. Her brown eyes were filled up as she held his hand tightly and then placed her head on his shoulders. He felt her tears on his shirt, as she sobbed silently. He wanted to put his arm across her but stopped himself from doing so.

“Why can’t you reason with him, he asked, exasperated at her loyalty and obedience to her father. “I’m sure he would reconsider if he knew about us”, his logic was sound although he knew it was a lost cause with her.

“I’ve given him my word and I won’t go against it”, she said as she wiped her eyes and steadied herself. She didn’t like losing control of her emotions and was always quick in her recovery if ever she did.

They sat together by the river till late that evening. The journey back home in his car was filled with silence. Their silences argued, tried to reason, tried to compromise with each other all through the way. Finally she gave him a warm tight hug as she got off the car. Once more his shirt shoulder felt the dampness of her eyes. “I hope you find someone better than me”, were her parting words to him.

There were no goodbyes.

Kay was exactly the opposite of what he was. He first met her in his office, the new girl everyone wanted to befriend. His advertising job which seemed boring and mundane after Dee left his life, was filled with happiness and joy suddenly. There was excitement, anticipation, laughter and surprises galore, once Kay came into his office. In his life. Suddenly he found the spring back in his steps as he rushed to work. Eager to face a new day. Eager to be with her. As Kay slowly made her presence in his world, he felt Dee making a natural exit from his thoughts. He never thought it would happen. But it was happening.

What really amazed him about his equation with Kay was the spontaneity and speed with which everything was happening. No one could have planned something like this to happen. It just happened naturally. He hadn’t realised when he was so drawn to her but he found her in his thoughts more often than not. The times they were together felt special. And those times when they weren’t were spent thinking about her, which made them special again.

And then one day he heard her sing. To say he was mesmerised would be an understatement. He realised he had well and truly fallen in love with her. Her mellifluous voice mirrored the angelic look on her face as she sang. To him there appeared to be a halo around her at that very instance. He was hopelessly and madly in love with her from that moment.

The intensity they shared seemed truly magical thereafter. After spending the whole day at work they’d walk to the pier and spend some more time together. They’d sit on the same wooden bench where he had other memories of the past which were now being repainted with fresher and happier ones. And then there were those late night phone calls. Most of the times he didn’t know when he’d doze off in the wee hours of the morning listening to her angelic voice. Every night he went off to sleep with a smile on his lips.

“I’ve got a surprise for you this evening”, she excitedly whispered to him at work that day, before heading to her own cabin. “At the pier, 6pm”, she mouthed silently. He could even understand her silence. He looked at her and smiled.

She was holding his hands as they sat in he wooden bench by the pier. The evening sun was in its last stages of saying goodbye and the birds were flying home too. The setting couldn’t have been more perfect. “This one is for you”, she whispered as she strummed on her guitar. The opening chords created a flutter in his heart as memories tangled up inside of him.

As she sang…

A stone’s throw from Jerusalem

I walked a lonely mile in the moonlight…

Her voice sweeter than honey cooed, as his eyes remained shut. He couldn’t believe what was happening inside of him at that very moment. The perfume, the laugh, the touch, the kiss. Dee was all over his thoughts, making him completely surrender to her memory.

For a moment it felt he had been transported back to the Sting concert years ago. He moved closer to her and kissed her on the mouth, taking her by surprise. She recovered quick enough to kiss him back with equal passion. “That’s a lovely way to make me stop singing”, she said, looking at him with a delicious mix of surprise and love. “Don’t leave me this time”, he pleaded, just before kissing her again before she could reply. She didn’t know what he meant by “this time”, but she didn’t care. She knew she was happy and so was he.

As the two lovers spent the rest of the evening on the pier, lost in each other, somewhere at another end of the globe Dee felt inexplicably happy. She smiled to herself knowing in her heart, something wonderful had just happened.

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar

Together…again !

It was a dark and stormy night. With the wind blowing like mad, she got off from her chair, closing the windows one by one. The rain soon started and as she went to shut the last window, she felt a splash of rain hit her face. The splash felt so good, she just stood there feeling more of the rain hitting her. With every drop of rain that touched her, she felt alive, she felt awake, almost like a new person.

“Will u stop it now? Holi is over and we’re home now. Stop this splashing immediately”, she admonished him, as they were in the bath, trying to rid themselves off the colours that they were both covered in. He looked like a purple statue and she herself looked no better. Even her lustrous hair was soaked in different colours. “It’ll be crazy trying to get these colours off”, she grumbled. “Let me help”, he said as he poured some more water on her, making her scream loudly. Their laughter echoed throughout the house that day.

She smiled to herself, as she closed the last window. The only sound that came from the house, or actually from outside, was the thunder that came seconds after every lightening that happened. The house had gone silent for three years now. She went and sat down on her chair again, rocking it back and forth gently as she kept the Cronin paperback on the side table next to the chair.

“I don’t know how you can read Cronin”, he would always joke. “I tried reading him once and it was so boring. Why don’t you start reading Chase? It’s pacy, action-packed and so entertaining. I can’t get what you like in those sombre intense books of yours. No wonder you got glasses at such an early age”, he’d laugh loudly. Her usual response would be to lift her glasses over her forehead and plonk them on her head and make a face at him, sticking her tongue out.

She smiled to herself as she stuck her tongue out in mock anger, as she rocked on her chair. The chair was slightly creaking as she moved back and forth. She didn’t know when her eyes shut. But soon she was in deep sleep. The noise of the thunder from outside kept getting fainter as she drifted off to a soft slumber.

She was woken up by a soft peck on her forehead. She looked up and saw him standing behind her, bent down, his hands on the head of the rocking chair. He was dressed in all white and there seemed to be a shining light all around him.

“You took so long darling”, he whispered, as he stroked her hair from her forehead, putting them back in place. “I was waiting for you”, he smiled, as he went down to kiss her again.

She felt the misty smell of moonlight and way down below, she faintly heard the sounds of thunder.

Why must I stay here
Rain comes I’m sitting here
Watching love moving
Away into yesterday

Winter is blue
Everything’s leaving
Fires are now burning
And life has no reason

Vashty Bunyan, Winter is Blue

Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar