Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I Forgive You Mr. Kapoor! -- A Short Story

Sitting in my office, my stare moves from window to ceiling and then to the desk, where lies a huge mess of old and new files, samples, rusted scissors, scattered stationery and amongst all this, a cup of tea, cold as ice by now. However, for me the only thing important is my job that I take damn seriously. I have even told Mr. Kapoor all this minutes back.

Mr. Kapoor, my boss, is short and stout with a hanging lower lip that seems to indicate that it is too tired to keep the beetel and pan masala from coming out of those pursed lips. However, whenever Mr. Kapoor calls me ‘beti’ instead of Sarika, I can’t even describe the feeling.
It was only 20 minutes ago when I was summoned to Kapoor’s office, a cubicle tastefully decorated in maroon and purple, strange as himself. Anyways, as I entered he interrogated -
“Helloji, everything fine?”
“Yes sir”
His calm and composed ‘every thing is fine?’ question is actually the lull before the storm. I could see his hawk -like eyes, his computer like mind was ready to bombard me with some unforeseen issue.
As far as my cool and composed ‘yes sir’ was concerned, what a junior merchandiser can say even if she has to fight for her chair and water jug every morning with other employees. Actually chair means literally that- ‘chair’, the ubiquitous four legged furniture but Kapoor has not replaced those office chairs since Noah built his ark so a fight follows every morning with employees going even to the extremes of making insignias on them.
Kapoor started in his husky voice-
“What do you want to do in life?”
“Sir ?”
“What do you want to do in life?”
“Sir a comfortable life, what else?”
“How will you get a comfortable life beti?”
This beti word is a sign of danger, for it allows 61 year old Kapoor to scold staff like one scolds one’s own children- much more ruthlessly.
“Sir, by good performance. What happened sir?”
“No don’t ask me beti you know better”
“Sir I did send the samples to ‘Anks’
‘Anks’ was one of the clothing brands I was handling.
“I also contacted the sourcing department for the exact color of buttons they want and the thread number required”
“Hmmmm” said Kapoor in a low tone as if gauging his prey before pouncing and tearing it into unrecognizable pieces”
“Sir I have worked really hard”
“Just like a donkey right beti?”
“Sir my foot! You stupid girl… the buttons you ordered were of exact colour but have you checked the shade? Did you make the minutes of the meeting on Anks? You took two days, two full days, to respond to the department about the status of the sample”
“But sir, I have to handle four brands more sir. That’s why the delay”
“No, the delay was because of our incapable staff” he said looking me into eye. “And yes, your disinterest for work. What if you handle five brands? What if? Look at me, I have three kids and a wife and a house and a company and a club and my investments and my health and a thousand other issues to take care of. Getting some inspiration or not?”
Kapoor said adjusting his glasses and grinding his teeth when he stopped to inhale some air as if it were glucose that would give him more energy to shout.
“I know” he continued “I know a normal merchandiser can handle two brands normally, but always remember you only said for yourself at the time of recruitment ‘Sir, I want to prove myself’. Now I have seen the proof” he shouted, making funny hand gestures.
I have been working here ever since I have earned my diploma in merchandising from an institute nearby, affiliated to some obscure university somewhere in South India. I report to Kapoor directly.
“Do not stand here and let your work suffer now, go and complete the entire work now only”
“Yes sir”
“Got it?”
“Yes sir”
“Go now. By the way, do you think you deserve another chance here?”
“Yes sir, Please trust me. I will prove myself for sure and you will definitely see zero mistakes from now” I said wiping my hot tears. He then gestured me again to get back to work.

His is the only room that has all the things in working condition in fact. He sits on a high Godrej chair and has a peculiar habit of scanning every staff member from head to toe from behind his gold rimmed glasses as if he could detect cocaine hidden in someone’s stomach.

I swear on my dead husband, if I were not having all the EMIs to pay along with the home loan he took for our one room flat and for my child’s education and yes, only if I were a little more educated, I would have spat on his devilish face.

But as I sit here under the ancient fan that always seems to be begging for retirement by creaking loudly, I have pardoned Kapoor once more for behaving rudely with me. After all, you see, I am not like him, insolent and rude, so I forgive him for all the rudeness he shows to me after all he has called me ‘beti’!

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Certain movies never make it to the super-hit status but certainly to must watch list; ‘Chitralekha’ (1964) is one of them. It is a classic example of soulful cinema. It is based on a Hindi novel by the same name, written by the great author Shree Bhagwati Charan Verma. The lead actors are late Meena Kumari as Chitralekha, Pradeep Kumar as ‘Samant Beejgupta’ and Ashok Kumar as head priest Kumargiri, known as ‘Swamiji’. Mahmood also plays an important role as ‘Brahmachari Shewtank’. The story is set in the ancient Mauryan period when Emperor Chandragupta Maurya ruled the nation.

This story is about the clash of opinions and ideologies of a hermit and a harlot; ‘yog’ and ‘bhog’, the two schools of salvation. While the former takes the path of salvation through celibacy and meditation to reach God, the latter believes enjoying every pleasure to be the right way.

The story is as follows:

Chitralekha is a high profile court dancer, who comes to the city of Patliputra with the troupe she heads. She wins a royal dance competition and hence meets Beejgupta and eventually falls for him. Beejgupta too, starts feeling an uncanny attraction towards her and starts visiting her daily. Incidentally, Beejgupta is engaged to Yashodhara, the beautiful and religious daughter of a prominent courtier of the emperor. Slowly, the friendship between the dancer and Beejgupta takes the form of a deep platonic love. Meanwhile, worried about his daughter’s future, Yashodhara’s father requests the head priest, Swamiji to show Beejgupta the right and pious path of marriage and family. Swamiji visits the place of Chitralekha and gives her a hard hitting lecture on morals and ‘karma’ on which she too retaliates and justifies herself, something quite unimaginable for the swami. Later, lives take curious turns; Chitralekha starts deviating towards religion and decides to take ‘sanyas’ while Swamiji gets enamored with her. I will not disclose the climax here as it will spoil all the fun. The story is beautifully woven with interesting dialogues.

This movie is a far cry from all those frivolous and cheap Hindi flicks that are usually released these days. A complete family movie and very beautifully directed, Chitralekha makes us ponder about life, love, duties and spirituality. Lyrics are written by the great poet, Sahir Ludhiyanvi and music is by Roshan. I loved two songs in particular, ‘sansaar se bhaage firte ho’ in which Chitralekha justifies her point of view and ‘mann re tu kahe na dheer dhare’ that consoles the heart stung by separation.

This movie is definitely a must watch!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Book Review - Neither Night Nor Day

Title:          Neither Night Nor Day
Edited By:  Rakhshanda Jalil
Publisher:   Harper Collins India
ISBN:        978-81-7223-691-5
MRP:         Rs 250/-

‘Unputdownable’, ‘awesome’ and ‘shaking’, these are some of the adjectives I would use to describe my latest read, ‘Neither Night Nor Day’. It is an anthology of 13 short stories by women writers from Pakistan. However, the collection is edited by our very own Rakhshanda Jalil, the Media and Cultural Coordinator of Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

These short stories basically deal with the lives of women in Pakistan. This book had been short listed for 'The Commonwealth Writers Prize 2008'. Pakistan’s image for most of us is that of a society very conservative and stifling, suffocating for women in general, but this work dispels that impression. Women now have opportunities to write and to express opinions on a much wider and larger platform .

The first story ‘Plans in Pink’ was not so interesting, but was a good read anyway.
The second, story, ‘The Tongue’ is set in a fictional land where everyone is mute for their tongues are cut as per the orders of the ruler but who fails to sever the will of the people.
The third one ‘She Who Went Looking For Butterflies’ is set within a time frame of a few hours when a lady waits for her execution. Somber and well written, it will definitely touch you somewhere.
The next story, ‘Leaves’ talks about the reunion of childhood buddies in their old age, and is a nice read.
Then comes the story from which the title of the book is taken, ‘Neither Night Nor Day’. This is my favorite as well. Amazingly written, this tells the story of a Paki immigrant in London and her deep set feelings of insecurity and identity crisis. This is a must read.
'The Breast’ talks about the brutality towards women in a Pakistani village. This story will definitely make you feel blessed and you will never curse your family or society again!

The next story is actually an excerpt form a novel by Sorayya Khan. The story ‘Five Queen’s Street’ is set in the time of partition. It is about the abduction of a Hindu woman by Muslim men, witnessed by a Muslim girl and her dilemma and outrage towards her own community.
The next in line is ‘A Brief Acquaintance’, I found personally boring and confusing. It is about Ron, a soldier from USA who dies near Waziristan.
Then comes another favorite of mine, ‘The Job Application’. This story describes the situation we all frequently deal with. It tells the story of a widow who applies for a job vacancy and the great pains she takes to make it up to interview, only to find that the job was not to be given to her, and shows in fine details the how a single unprofessional move by a company creates mess and flutter in her life and upsets her daily routine. You will love this too!
The ghost story, ‘The Sandstone Past’ is the next. This talks about a ghost in the elevator and a girls’ night out party. Basically, the story seeks to describe the cordial Hindu-Muslim relations in old Karachi.

The next story about honor killing can move many readers. In ‘The Wedding of Sundari’, a Sindhi teenage bride gets killed on the very day of her marriage for a very trivial issue, or rather non-issue. This is also one of my favorites.
In ‘The Goonga’, a disabled father dies craving for his son who is too embarrassed to accept him in public. This story literally made me cry and most of the readers will feel the same way.
The story ‘The Heathen Air’ is also immensely readable. This story is about the English ways of a rich lawyer and his wife’s silent suffering when he goes too far in his angreziat!

There is a solid reason behind using the first adjective to describe this book; I finished it within two days of purchase!

PS: I found it much better than the recently published book ‘Urban Shots’ which is also a collection of short stories.