Thursday, May 1, 2014

WHORE


There were only two other people in the compartment- a middle-aged man who sat on the other side of the aisle from me, passionately reading a Chitralekha weekly through his soda-bottle glasses, and a dressed up woman seated on the far end next to the exit doors, near the toilets, doing what I couldn’t tell from the distance. I was traveling alone at that time of night without Madhur for the first time. He was going to pick me up at the station. It was mostly just the racket of the wheels till we crossed Jogeshwari. Then a bunch of drunkards swayed their way in from the next carriage and sat near the woman, and in no time started a discordant Qawwali number about “a lady in the night time”. She sat there resisting the tease for some time squinting angry glances at them, but soon had to give up. She got up and walked towards me, her heavy jewelry rattling all the way, and sat on the opposite side at the window, facing me. She did not say a word except fleetingly make a face indicating the drunkards. The pack of jasmine garland stacked on her head coupled with the harsh smell of some bad perfume and the jingle made the man across the aisle pause and peep over the journal. He uninterestedly went back to his reading right away.

I could say she was shorter than me, and somewhat on the fatter side. She must have been in her late thirties but looked much older. Remains of bygone beauty shadowed around her face that now was jaded with what looked like the stress of everyday toil, which she futilely tried to mask with a thick layer of makeup. The lipstick and the bindi were blood red that gutsily rebelled against her dark green sari with broad golden hem. There was an excess of golden color about her. The golden nose ring, a pair of heavy golden ear rings, a bulky golden necklace and golden bangles alternating glass ones on the arrays on both her hands bunched up till almost elbow- all of them gleaming with an added sheen like that of the fake ones. All in all, she looked like an inferior, plumper version of ‘Manjula’ in the Balbir Pasha ads for AIDS prevention, displayed all over Mumbai. There was also a kind of omnipresent negligence about her overall person. Madhur called her types Phoolwantis- ‘flower girls’- a term he often used rather derogatorily on these tastelessly overdressed traditional looking women in the city!

I keenly studied her, but only when she was not looking. Even then she did notice once, and I looked away immediately. She was fiddling with a pink cellphone, occasionally dialing and keenly listening for an answer. Apparently nobody picked. When she caught me staring a second time she smiled.
“Where to?” she said in Marathi.
“Vasai Road.” I tired to smile.
“Me too. It’s a friend’s wedding.”
For some reason, I did not buy that. 
Then she propped her feet up on my seat, and I noticed her stark white platform heels on the floor. That should complete the get up, I thought.
“Why you wearing it at night?” she said pointing at my shades, “You’ll trip and fall, and with those heels, you might even hurt yourself.” She had a predominant but fading Konkani lilt that was hard to miss.
“My eyes water a lot in the wind otherwise.” I restrained from rolling my eyes since she obviously could see through the shades.
“Don’t you feel hot?”
Now she was talking about my headscarf.
I only smiled this time. I did not feel like educating her about the filth in public transport in our city.
“You live there? Vasai?”
“No, I’m meeting a friend.”
“Not afraid to travel alone at this time? I mean there’ll not be many to even catch a howl around here after nine. And you never miss the likes of those ones.” She said eying at the boozehounds in the rear, who by then had broken off their Qawwali and was arguing on some point none of them agreed with.
“What about you?” I said with a grin.
“My husband works in Vasai. It’s actually his friend’s wedding. He’ll meet me there.”
Then she went on and on about his job and how his long absence at home has started to affect the studies of their kids, and his general ambivalence towards family matters, and his midlife crisis. Twice almost I asked her what she did for a living. She might have come up with a clever answer like she did with everything else. But I restrained from asking. How was that any of my business!
“It’s a headache to manage kids these days, especially when you have to stay away like this at night,“ she said, “Two of mine are criminals. The neighbors have given up watching them for me. So I had to take them to my sister. That’s how I got late. Prabal’s going to skin me alive. He is very image conscious with his friends. He wouldn’t even want to know. Now he’s not picking the phone.”
Then she flashed that pink phone in my face. There was something very fabricated about her openness. It also had a slight tone of boasting. The jerky bounces of English in between her Marathi only enhanced it. Even if her husband-and-kids story was true, she surely seemed to stay out at nighttime a lot.
Then her phone rang.
“No I hadn’t switched off,” she said loudly over the phone, “It’s the train, no? I was also trying you… yeah, they’re with Deepali… no, no, I will tell you when I reach… I think we just left Bhayandar station… okay… okay… yeah!”
Then she turned to me.
“We might stay back. At another friend’s house. Most of Prabal’s friends are in Vasai. Are you going back today itself?”
“Only if my friend’s ready to drive me back.”
Over and over her mannerisms reminded me of Utkala Aunty, my neighbor, who had worked with the Rang Sai Theatre group and was a rather respected theatre tragedienne of her time, but a full-time phony in real life.

When the train finally arrived at Vasai Road, I felt like l was stepping out of the cinema with my ears still buzzing from her jabber over the din of the train. She stood up, leaned over and gently touched on my arm above the elbow and said with a friendly smile that looked somewhat genuine this time, “It was nice meeting you. Myself, Manjula. I’ll see you.”
My gasp was not completely subtle, I’m pretty sure.
“Padmini.” I introduced myself hiding the buzz that her name sparked in my eyes. It was possibly an alias inspired by the lady from the Balbir Pasha ads, I thought.
The man with the soda-bottle glasses arose and looked at the two of us rather strangely, like he was noticing us for the first time that evening. Or our odd pairing probably amused him. Upon being caught staring, he looked away and started to peek through the corner of his eyes up until he finally took a dive out onto the platform while the train was still moving.

Right before she stepped out, Manjula turned around, and with an embarrassed grin, said, “By the way, I thought I shouldn’t tell you this, but you look a lot like Raveena Tandon.”
I smiled trying to avoid looking flattered as if that was not a big deal.
“I initially thought you were she. But then she must have gotten old after all these years away from films, no?” Then she laughed out loud and stepped down to the platform. She walked up to a tall man standing in the shadow of the pillars and walked away further into the dark. They had already started squabbling in Konkani and the echo rang out loud, long after they were gone.

Madhur was waiting out in the lobby next to the ticket counter. I had insisted. The guy never bought a platform ticket in his life! I couldn’t walk very fast as I was trying those knee-high boots for the first time and the folds in the back of the knee hurt in every stride. “Hurry, “ he said when I reached him, “Bhonsale has called me for the hundredth time.”
We climbed into the car and headed towards Gokhivare Road, and it was quarter to twelve by the time we reached Hotel Paradise Fort. That’s where Madhur made the men wait, in Vasai. There we have an arrangement with a guy who sat behind the desk. On our way to the lift, Madhur waved at him. The room was on the third floor, and as I stood knocking on the door, Madhur opened the door to the neighboring room and said, “I’ll wait”. He went in and shut the door behind him right before mine opened.
.

17 comments:

  1. That sure was a treat to read. And that surely tells us a lot about our habit of judging someone.
    A wonderfully crafted piece! :)

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  2. Raveena Tandon indeed :) Great description. I like your phony Aunty! So many around in real life that it seems like a Drama :)

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  3. It was a real treat reading this one. It is all about the way we inspect other people. beautifully crafted :)

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  4. It is truely amazing... great work

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  5. Enjoyed reading it. But somehow I was sure about the climax right from the beginning. Its the title I guess..

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  6. Nicely woven..the twist at the end really shows how we judge people by their looks...it was an enjoyable read.. keep writing short stories..you got a flare for it.. :-)

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  7. Amazing! I mean stories with a twist have been done. But this one was far more than that! A wonderful piece on how quick we are to judge. Does it come from the resentment of who we are? From the bitterness of what we have become? This is a very well crafted story, where for the first time I felt that the eagerness to describe every last detail was as crucial as was the intelligent ending which didn't spoon feed the reader! Great job!

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  8. very well written...some of the expressions and the language used in this story were exceptional...keep up the great work

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  9. Wow ... not very proud of saying it .... but i so fell into the trap.
    This piece is all about self introspection and in the best kind of way ... subliminally ...!!

    Great read ... in more ways than one ... Atta Boy!!

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  10. Amazing story.... i almost saw a movie. great job.

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  11. Lovely narrative, especially loved how it ended, pure brilliance, the ending was :)

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  12. This post has been selected for the Spicy Saturday Picks this week. Thank You for an amazing post! Cheers! Keep Blogging :)

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  13. very well executed...amazing story

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  14. Being judgemental....a human trait hard to get rid of! Nicely portrayed in the write up.

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