Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Liaison



Fiction

January, 5, 1990

"I am not an invalid,” Cindy protested as he offered to lift her from the bed. “Stop pampering me.”
It wasn’t exactly an ideal start to a dream holiday. Cindy McKinnon had fractured her ankle while alighting from a crowded train in Bangalore. The injury scuttled her plans to travel to other destinations. A week after her cast was removed, the doctor advised Cindy to go for physiotherapy sessions.
She looked forward to the sessions with him. With an earnest face and a naughty cleft in his chin, Raghu appeared younger than the thirty he claimed to be. Dressed in a pair of jeans and a white coat, he could easily be the medical college backbencher who had you in splits.
“Why do they call me 'gory'?” she asked. “Do I look like a bloodthirsty witch?”
He laughed.“In Hindi, it means a fair skinned foreigner." Then he  stretched her leg gently and asked, “Does this hurt?’
She groaned. “A bit.”
At times he was comforting, at times inquisitive. Raghu wanted to know all about her life, her family, her job. For some obscure reason she told him that she had a small business of her own.
“Married?”
“Widow,” she lied. Again.
“I’m sorry,” he ruminated silently.
A day prior to her departure, he came with a box of steaming idlis and coconut chutney prepared by his sister, Sumitra. Cindy polished it off within minutes.
"This was the best breakfast I’ve had in a long time,” she said. "Your sister is an awesome cook.Tell her, I said that."
“I will,” said Raghu. His benevolent smile lit his face. “So when are you flying back?”
“Not yet. I want to visit Agra, Varanasi," she told him."Goa, maybe.”
“Alone?”
“Yup, but don’t worry. I won’t break my leg again,” she smiled. And then she leaned over to give him a friendly peck. “You are a good guy Raghu.Thank you.”


The air was redolent with grilled fish being cooked in the nearby shack on Anjuna Beach. She lay under the warmth of the sun, dressed in a one piece bikini, along with a bright sarong for the entire day. Shining waters, lazy breeze and sliced cucumbers on her eyes made it perfect. A thin layer of clouds moved over her - light and shadow making patterns on her slender legs. The world was both, pulsating and hazy at the same time.
Looking back, she could have made different choices. But soon after college, she began escorting wealthy businessmen for  charity events and business meetings, and there was no looking back. When customers petered out, she taught in a kindergarten. Those were the best years of her life. Until one fine morning, when the father of a student complained that the parents didn't want a hooker to teach impressionable minds. She was scarred for life.
Here, she thought, thousands of miles away, where no one knew about her past, maybe she could begin afresh. Maybe, she belonged here. Maybe, she could settle down, have kids.  
With her mind meandering in different directions, she dozed in spurts. When she opened her eyes, she saw two men next to her. “Madam, massage,” the short one squawked persistently. While his companion was at some distance, the shorter one came close. 
“Go awaaay,” she got up with a jerk to shake his hand away from her legs. And that is when a tall man with a camera slung on his shoulders intervened. He said something in Hindi and shoved the leering youngster away.
“Never trust a man with short legs. Brains too near the bottoms,” the tall man shrugged.
“Raghu?” Cindy rose up on her elbows. “I can’t believe this.”
“Are you okay?” he asked concerned.
“I’m fine. But how?”
“How what?”
“How did you find me?
Taken aback he shrugged, “You could be in trouble. You were alone.”
He had come all the way to find her just because she was traveling alone.
“But, I haven’t broken my leg,” she chided him."Not yet."
“It’s not your leg that dragged me here,” he teased, keeping one hand on his chest. “It’s my heart.”

Wielding a camera, he sat next to her. So unlike the physiotherapist she had met in the Bangalore hospital. In place of the formal white coat and combed hair, here he was, in khaki shorts, loose white shirt, tousled hair through which he ran his fingers often.
“I didn’t mean to follow you,” he said apologetically.
“You saved me from being molested,” she smiled. "I should thank you."
Adjoining the beach, several shacks were selling beach-wear, trinkets and multicolored caps when a fortune-teller caught Cindy’s attention. The bucktoothed, bearded, puny man squatted on the ground holding a parrot perched on his shoulders. The parrot picked fortune cards revealing future.To her amusement, the parrot hopped on several cards laid on a sheet, before picking up one with its beak. When the fortune teller mumbled a few rustic syllables in chaste Hindi, she looked at Raghu. He grinned like a school boy, “Your card predicts marriage on a foreign land.” 
“That’s impossible,” Cindy blurted with a rasp of laughter. 


Together, they spent the day lazing under the sun, with the sound of splashing waves giving them company. Raghu infused her with his own enthusiasm, with camera in his hands, capturing her relaxed mood, her vivacious smile, her toned yet tanned body. Secretly she enjoyed the attention, the admiration and the bliss of doing nothing in a place where no one cared for her past or the present.
That day, they hired a two wheeler and planned a visit to the famous churches of Goa. After an hour long drive from Panjim, they arrived at the Basilica of Bom Jesus in South Goa. The church was constructed in Dorian style architecture and the walls illustrated scenes from the Bible. Beautiful paintings on wood depicted the story of St. Francis Xavier's birth, his anointment and his life. The stained glass windows were ablaze creating jewel like images of saints, doves and fire. The centre aisle lay bare and silence prevailed except for the chirping of birds nesting inside the church. A sense of peace, and emptiness overwhelmed her.

They sat silently for a few minutes and then Raghu cleared his throat and said, “Cindy, I had not planned on anything. But I guess it has happened.” Then he looked at her puzzled face and shuffled his legs nervously. Clearing his throat he said, “Let's get married?” 

“What?” 
 “We have something special, you and me,” Raghu continued. “I know we’re different. But once we met, despite our differences, something beautiful was created,” he shuffled his legs again. “Last week has been perfect for me. I haven’t been happier.”
“But you know nothin bout me,” she said.

"What I know is that you’re beautiful and kind,” he said, his eyes dancing. “I also know that you have a tattoo on your left thigh…and..” 
She interrupted."And how do you know that I am kind?"
"Well, I saw your pictures at charity events."
“I'm much older than you think,”she changed tracks. 

He smiled reassuringly. “Since its confession time, I have to confess too. I’ll complete twenty-six next month,” he said sheepishly. “But it doesn’t matter.”

Doesn't matter?When your parents realize you are marrying a forty year old hooker, they’ll kill you, she thought. 

That night, Cindy ventured out for a stroll on the beach. She reminisced how her parent’s relationship had crumbled for the lack of trust. She remembered how her clients invented devious lies to cheat on their wives while they were in bed with her. He was unlike them. He was comforting like her favorite pair of jeans – dependable. What did he say, “I enjoy spending time with you.” No one had said this to her before. If he truly loved her he would understand. You don’t love someone because they are perfect. You love them in spite of the fact that they are not. “So, what have you decided?” echoed a familiar voice breaking the monotony of the splashing waves. 
“ We need to talk.”
“About what?”
“About getting married. Moving to Denver. I’ll tell my parents that I’m going for work.”
“Secretly?” she rolled her eyes quizzically.
“I doubt if there is any other way,” he said. “I’m tired of doing what my parents want me to do. They’ll never understand how much you mean to me.”
“What about your job?” she asked. “And your unmarried sister?”
“With you by my side, I’ll manage everything,” he looked at her pleadingly.
Just then a huge wave splashed and soaked them above the knees. In the silence she held his hand tightly.
“I don’t want to go back. Why can’t we stay here?”
He tightened the grip of the hands, reassuring her that nothing mattered. “We’ll return in a few years. By then everything will be fine. Trust me.”

A week prior to the marriage, Cindy decided to meet his sister and parents. After all it was he who had shown what it was to care for another person. It made sense to begin on a clean state. Since Raghu wouldn’t agree, she called the hospital to find his local address.
When the auto stopped in a narrow by lane, she rummaged her bag for the slip which had his house number. Standing in front of the house she thought, “Damn, I hope I am doing the right thing.” Trepidation caused her heart to beat faster as she rang the bell of the modest house in BTM Layout. A young lady dressed in a silk sari with a contrasting border opened the door.
“I’m Raghu’s friend,” said Cindy. “Can I come in?”
“Yes, of course,” she smiled. Cindy removed her slippers, attempting to adhere to the customs. “I’m Sumitra.”
“I thought as much. Thank you for the hot idlis you made for me,” Cindy said. "So tell me about Raghu?

Sumitra smiled."Well, he doesn’t like it here in Bangalore. He wants to go abroad. In fact, he is in Goa for a business deal."
“Really? Have you been to Goa Sumitra?”
She giggled like a school girl and pointed towards a framed picture on the mantle.It was a picture of Raghu and Sumitra holding hands, standing next to the Basilica of Bom Jesus. "Yes, Goa was our honeymoon destination. "


( This was penned a decade ago, at a time when most youngsters wanted to go to the US to make it big.Back to active blogging next week.)

64 comments:

  1. How mean of Raghu! He wanted to go to the Promised Land using her as a crutch.

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    Replies
    1. Both were cheating each other. Thanks for spending time Kalpana.

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  2. Beautiful story. Enjoy reading it! There are lots of Raghu out there who is being kind just to take advantage of other people's situation. Luckily she found it out early! :)

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, but she was hiding facts from him too. Thank you Rima. Your first visit here?

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    2. Haha... She indeed, was doing that too, like you said. Not really first visit, but not long ago :)

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  3. Wow, the ending was quite something else :) Nicely narrated

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  4. Alka, this is beautifully woven story. There are several Raghus around, who can go to any extent to deceive innocent girls.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, but the girl was hiding facts too. Thanks Ma. So good to see you here.

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  5. Interesting premise Alka. And something that has been prevalent during the period you mentioned. Welcome to the lovely world of fiction. Something tells me you are here to stay :)

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    Replies
    1. Your feedback is valued and cherished. Sid, honestly, I am not comfortable with fiction. The struggle shows.
      I guess, I should stick to what I enjoy writing the most. Political satires and media critique.

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    2. Just look around Alka. The readers are going wild with appreciation. You SHOULD...no..MUST write fiction more often. And you know you can count on us for some honest, constructive feedback :)

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  6. Loved the narrative and no, it does not seem like you are uncomfortable with Fiction. You were able to bring to life, your story.. and that's what counts to me as a reader... try some more, I am sure you will do as much justice to them as you do to satire and media critique :)

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement Seeta.

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  7. I loved it, Alka! I wonder why you don't do fiction more often?

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  8. As I said in my mail in the morning Alka, you really ought to write fiction more often. This is particularly distasteful to me because I knew a man who did something like this to get to the US. At 36 he agreed to marry a 52 yr old American lady, never once telling her that he was already married and had a son. He did this ten years ago... matching exactly with your story's timeline.

    The end was totally unexpected. Loved this!

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    Replies
    1. Truly encouraged by your words Dagny. Always a pleasure to see you here.
      Thanks.

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  9. Nicely narrated. Written a decade back ? you should have written more all these years. Now too, its not too late. Keep writing :))

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    1. Thank you Sundar. Cherish and value your presence here.

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  10. Very nice... lucid and engaging all the way, with a "hammer on the head" ending. :-)

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  11. Engaging narration, and quite an unexpected twist at the end. Cindy was looking for a fresh start in her own way, Raghu in his own devious way was planning another type of escape from his present life. For some reason, I find it hard to judge even a person like Raghu...who knows what he was running from and why. How is someone's hope that all will be hunky-dory in the promised land of Disneyland and Dollar much different from the hope of another looking for instant nirvana, anonymity and mental peace in the land of Taj Mahal and gods and godmen?
    This was quite an enjoyable read, Alka!

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    Replies
    1. Beloo, welcome here. And thank you for reading.
      Glad you liked it.

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  12. Probably the first time I have read fiction on your blog. A great piece here...I guess you should write more of fiction as well :)

    Thanks!

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  13. So Raghu is also a fiend... Brilliant story. The ending was quite unexpected.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Rajlakshmi. I was never good at story telling but I wanted to try.

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  14. People will do anything to go abroad.. You remember the post i had written Paaji-bhenji will you marry me .. people are marrying their own sisters / brothers .. uncles just to come abroad.. its disgusting ..

    That was a lovely story though and i enjoyed reading it .. :)

    Bikram

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    Replies
    1. Yes, I remember that post Bikram. Things have changed now. For the better.

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  15. OMG! Alka. The end took me completely by surprise.

    I want more. Please don't stop at one!

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    Replies
    1. Purba, I have a few more in my draft folder. Never had the courage to share them in public.
      Maybe, now I will. Thanks.

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    2. please don't hesitate. make them public

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  16. The sting in the tail. Totally unexpected. Great story, Alka.

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  17. And this one is not fiction.....Last year ,the day we reach Bangalore,my wife slipped and fractured her foot.That was operated upon and Dr wanted her to be in bed for at least six weeks.Next day after six weeks,we took a flight Back home..So much of a holiday

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    1. Really? How unfortunate. I guess your son resides there so you were at home.

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  18. Now i am wondering why you don't write fiction often. You should, I totally loved it.

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    1. Thanks Jas. I will now share a few other stories lying in the draft folder.

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  19. You should write more stories.. This one was really good.. :)

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  20. Trust is so rare these days!
    Seems like a real story:)
    Great Alka!

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  21. Ohho....what a twist at the end...enjoyed reading it...wow..10 yrs back? and things haven't changed much, Alka. :(
    write more stories. You write fiction so well. :)

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  22. It makes for a compelling read on aspirations of moving to Phoren land to make it big. Any reason was good enough reason for both of them who cheated! Though scripted in 90s, the story is so fresh, enthusiast and compelling. Guess, there are some things that never changes when we want a good life. Great one, Alka:)

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