December 25, 2011

Chapter Five: Oleanders

After meeting Manoj I left the building needing to smoke. Maybe if I went home earlier than Shefali and cleaned up she wouldn’t find out right away. But she has great instincts and it won’t be long before she knows that the addiction has taken me in its vice-like grip. The only person who will be thrilled would be my colleague Das knowing that he can bum fags* off of me until I stop smoking again.

The letter stays in my pocket weighing more than a ton of bricks. But before I deal with that I have to go to the police station to make sure the cops have an FIR registered for Khan’s death.

As I walk a little girl comes and grabs hold of my leg. She is just over a foot tall, and very thin, her clothes are the same hue of brown as the earth beneath. I reach into my shirt pocket for change and hand it over. She closes her fist around the money, lets go of me and clutches someone else’s pants. He quickly brushes past her without looking down.

“Welcome back to Traffic Jam. I am Atosha, and I have caller Rajiv on the line. So Rajiv, tell us what song you would like to dedicate today” says the radio from the tea shop on the corner. It is a busy traffic light but people always have time for some tea.

“Thanks Atosha, I can’t believe I am on air. Can you please play Landslide by Fleetwood Mac? I would like to dedicate it to my cousin Radha.”

I wonder again if Abhaya had noticed my odd behaviour.

She had but she also had other pressing questions to think of, thinks Khan to himself, remembering the conversation between Abhaya and Vittala.

“And can you tell us why you are making this dedication?” Atosha asks with a smile in her voice.

“Haha, sure thing. Radha is leaving on a trek to the Himalayas tomorrow. I know it’s not exactly a good luck song, but it is appropriate.”

“Wow, the Himalayas? It’s a good time of the year to go there. I went last year. Ha ha, interesting choice of song indeed. Well, I hope Radha comes back safe and sound, and you should call us to let us know! Landslide by Fleetwood Mac coming right up, and don’t forget to sms 4242 with your dedications.”

“....And I saw my reflection…” plays on the radio. I head to the sink with my nail clipper and think back to my conversation with Vittala.

“How do you know the Shetty brothers?” I had repeated quietly.

“I don’t really know them” he had said, surprised, the dimples disappearing to be replaced by a frown on his forehead. “Why do you ask?”

“You know how I edit the ‘On this day’ column by publishing stories from the same day a few years ago? Well, I was looking through 2008’s paper when I saw a picture of you with one of the Shettys.”

Vittala scrunches up his face as he thinks, making wrinkle lines appear. Abhaya steels herself, wondering how she would react to his explanation. If there was one.
“Hmm May 2008? That would have been the first Sangama Utsava at Bellary. The local temple there received a huge donation from the Shetty brothers and decided to renovate and reopen the temple with a bang. They had a weeklong celebration, ending with a Yakshagana performance every night. My entire troupe was there. We were asked to go and thank the Shetty brothers for making such a spectacle happen. I don’t think I have met them since. Bellary called us back for performances, but the Shettys have gotten too busy to stay for the entire performance apparently. I don’t think I met them again.”

Satisfied, I had left it at that.

I open the tap to let the nail clippings wash down. Mom hated it when I did that. She used to ask me to carefully cut my nails over a newspaper spread out on the floor, pick up any stray pieces, and then go outside to throw it in the bin. When someone close to you dies, their presence and words never leave you.

Walking back down to the study, I tear paper out of my little journal and begin to write.

I need you to
Erase my scars and make me heal
Wipe away my dried up tears
Remain silent while I scream
Piece together the broken shards
Tell me I can breathe again
Steady my world and suspend belief
Bring back the sun on the morrow
Warm the chill in my bones
Let the wind muss my hair once more
Stay when I want you to go away

“Oleanders” I then write on top, where the title must be.

She turns around in her chair to look at one of the books on the second shelf behind her desk. “Red Oleanders” it says. She smiles, and leaves the study to put the paper up on the board in the stairwell, next to Vittala’s poem.

Taking her phone out of her right jeans pocket she called a retired judge, “Uncle, remember the MCOCA case?”

She agreed with his reply, and promised to visit him in person soon. Given that she had just conveyed her suspicion that their phones were being wire-tapped, a visit was necessary if they wanted to discuss any sensitive information.

She climbs the remaining stairs to her room.

“Welcome back to Traffic Jam, and I am your host Atosha. Our listeners are advising you against going on MG Road, there has been an accident and you will be stuck for quite a while. If you spot any other trouble spots, do sms 4242 and keep us informed. Alright then, we have Sheela on the line. Sheela, what song would you like to listen to today?”

“Hi Atosha! Can you please play Pee Loon? I would like to dedicate it to my dance instructor Aru. We have been rehearsing the choreography for that song for SDIPA’s Summer Funk show and she has been phenomenal.”

“That’s wonderful! When is the show?”

“Next weekend. We are all excited!”

“I am sure you are! Well, have fun dancing. Pee Loon, dedicated to Aru, will be coming up after a short commercial break. Don’t forget to sms your requests to 4242.”

Rishab listens to the song on his iPod’s radio as he enters his house. Shefali had messaged him saying she had taken their daughter Mridula to the park. He has time for a quick shower.

But he sits down on the divan instead, and takes out the letter from his pocket. He uses his keys to open the envelope and pulls the letter out. The ‘From’ address on the envelope is empty. On the stamp there is a red seal on it, the only indication of its source.

“Chinnu” it says, with each letter carefully written in a child-like handwriting. “When you coming? I miss you. Hug Mridula. Bye.” Rishab blinks back tears of love, guilt and regret. Mridula doesn’t know that she has an uncle. He wonders if he will ever introduce Hemanth to his wife and daughter. In the beginning, it was easier not to share his story and now it has become too difficult to bring it up. Where should he even begin? Abhaya’s face swims before his eyes. He pictures her smiling, a playful smile showing her upper teeth while her hand ran through her short hair. She laughed the same way more than a decade ago when he last saw her, and she still had the same high cheekbones. If her dad had not helped his family in the midst of the scandal wrought by Hemanth, who knows how different his life would have been right now.

He straightens up and folds the letter into its envelope.


"Red Oleanders" is one of Rabindranath Tagore's most famous plays.


* - note by author: no disrespect meant by the word used.

Find Chapter One here.


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Robbie said...

and 'm gonna kill u the next time v meet !!! u knw for wat .. argghhhh .. luv'd everything else about the story .. :) thoroughly njoy'd ..