Short Stories

The Study Table – II

I

II

Life moves on. So, I moved on too –

After he left, his room was converted to cater paying guests. My new user, a girl, wasn’t very studious. The stains on me – You can attribute almost all of them to her. Before I met her, I was aware of just one use of mine – be a good companion to studies. But she used me for everything other than that. I was pretty shocked by my own versatility. I remember the day when she had even used me for things that are usually described in those books – Eroticas! If I had cheeks, you could have seen how embarrassed I still get by just thinking about it. But that also was one of the wildest nights I had ever had. I would admit that. This acceptance didn’t come easily though. When she used me for the same purpose again I was horrified to realize that I was secretly anticipating it. It was shocking because I remembered being furious about it. And yet, my anger had deserted me for a secret anticipation! But there’s no point in making denials, is there? You can’t change how you feel – You feel what you feel. Initially, I had judged her. Then I judged my own self. I hated her. I hated her the most because she made me hate myself. I thought the worst had hit me. But then it hadn’t. There’s a thin line between hate and love. I don’t know when I crossed it. I don’t know how I found the sudden acceptance for both of us. But my days significantly improved from then on. How did it all come to be? It’s a mystery. I soon forgot my ex-job roles. I had conformed completely according to my new environment, according to my new user. I became lazy. Not being dusted didn’t bother me. Not being touched didn’t bother me. In fact, I soon became absolutely reluctant to being disturbed at all. All I wanted was to be left alone. I slept and slept except the time when I would gaze at the girl comb her hair or apply Kajal looking at the small dusty mirror placed on me. Sometimes, she would work on her laptop, or read a novel; those were some occasional moments that made me grow nostalgic of the old days. Sometimes, she would sit on me and smoke and just stare at the ceiling in the dark. She was peculiar that way and her peculiarity often made me feel protective about her. Not that I was particularly skilled at protecting her. But she could be so bold and vulnerable at the same time, it broke my heart. Sometimes, she would talk for endless hours, often to herself. Sometimes, she would even talk to me. “Table Oh! Table! Where’s my comb?” Not on me, in your bag but how would I tell her that? “Where’s my mascara?” You dropped it and now it has rolled over behind me. But how do I tell her that? “Where’s my book?” You don’t have it. Not even the photocopy.

She was unique. She was amazing. I loved her. But sometimes, I used to be mad at her for both disturbing me and not disturbing me often. Each evening when she would come home, I would eagerly wait for her to take her journal out of the drawer and pen down her day with me. I would scan through her thoughts, through her breakups, through her patch ups, through her rifts with professors, through her weekend getaways, through her long walks, through her discoveries of new food joints, through her shopping habits, through her experiences, through her life, through her beauty – shining radiantly in front of my eyes.

But you know the thing about life – it goes on, often turning a blind eye towards your deepest desires. So yes, one day, she moved out too.

**

III

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Short Stories

The Study Table – I

I

Truth be told, I admit that I am not the kind of thing who gets a lot of attention. And hence, receiving the same from you seems almost surreal. I can’t remember the last time when I received that look of admiration that you currently seem to hold. I am flattered, thank you. But it’s okay if you go back to being completely oblivious of me. You have done more than enough and I don’t wish to be too hopeful. It’s not like I will be offended by your negligence. I would be relieved, on the contrary. You might find this confession of mine, in a way, pitiable but you don’t have to waste your pity on me. You see, I accepted the fact, long time ago, that only the most fortunate ones among us are used for the purpose they are really meant for. Rest of all, are just meant to carry the load of the unused books kept at the corner, to forcibly flaunt the food stain scattered on our surface like acne marks on a teenager’s face and to be used as the open shelf for various weird things like lotion or medicine or pen stands filled with pens that don’t really work, the used plates that’s not been washed since several days, an empty bottle, ashes from the incense stick or a framed photograph received as a birthday gift, some rough useless papers, some broken pencils, ear rings – awfully lonely without their significant others, rubber bands, clutches who, with their broken tooth, are in a dire need of a dentist – you get the gist. But hold on, I am not trying to gain your sympathy here. Don’t be under the impression that I have never experienced any good days. There was a time when I used to dazzle under the light of a study lamp. There was a time when I was considered too sacred to be eaten upon; you see dining table and the study table aren’t the same thing. There was once a time, when the books kept on me were indeed used, read and written into.  There was once a time when I indeed felt useful and respected. Of course, that time is gone now. I have aged and I have become too ugly for the current furniture beauty standards. My ex-owner found me too obese and ancient to be kept inside his “modern” home. I seemed to be taking too much space. But I don’t bear any hard feelings against him or anyone. In fact, his opinions were, in a way, completely justifiable. However, I am pretty startled by your unconventional choice. Unconventional or in colloquial term – bad. But then, it’s just time, I understand. We all, once in our lives see the best of it. We all, once in our lives also see the worst of it. I guess, I have already seen the best and hence here’s the worst. It’s okay – it’s life. My only regret is that I never realized how beautiful it is to a hold book, watch a person read it, write on it and even sometimes sleep on it (especially when he is supposed to be studying). You might be startled by my unique standards for beauty. But then it used to be our secret; mine, chair’s and his. There are so many illegal naps he had taken under my supervision. I am not even remotely guilty about that. He seemed so beautiful and vulnerable in those moments. If I had hands, I would have run them through his hair. If I had voice, I would have sung a lullaby. But instead, I had a responsibility so I never let him doze for long intervals. Waking him up used to be the hardest thing to do but I had to do it. I am a study table after all, not a bed. But there were more secrets besides this. I witnessed him writing poems in lieu of solving mathematics problems for his first crush. I have also witnessed him using his newly learnt (rather a bit peculiar) vocabulary on the same crush when she told him she didn’t like him back. I have seen his anguish and gradual acceptance. I have seen him getting annoyed by the periodic table and inorganic chemistry in particular! I have seen him quoting Robert Frost and pasting extracts of Walt Whitman’s poetry on me. Ah! Those were the good days, when we would stay up till 3 A.M trying to solve a stubborn calculus problem and yet find no solution until one random day when we would realize how easy it really was. How mysteriously things work out! And how suddenly and yet spontaneously things deteriorate! I wasn’t taken completely by surprise when he left. I had always known that he would depart someday – that was ironically a major part of my purpose in his life and my life as well. But still I never thought that that someday would arrive so soon. How time flies! I kept hoping for the longest time that he would come back. I kept hoping that we would rekindle our relationship – at least for one day! But he never did, at least not the way I wanted him to. What could I do? That’s the most iconic thing about life – it goes on, often completely neglecting your desires.

*

II

III

Bitch Trilogy, Short Stories

The Bonus

The most annoying tune in the whole world is of my alarm. The most annoying time is 7:00 A.M. The most annoying things are the first few drops of the cold water assaulting my skin when I step into the shower. The very act of dressing up, dragging myself to the bus stop and waiting for that god damned cart while blinking at the idiot sky and homo sapiens walking around, when I should have ideally been asleep under the loving warmth of my blanket, has staggering vexation embedded right into its DNA. Our cart when it finally arrives, takes us all cattle to our farm – wherein we will munch on our fodder on the keypads of our laptops or on the calls on our smartphones and passionately quack over irrelevant topics (about which nobody really knows) or the spicy gossips (about which nobody really confirms) on the tea breaks. And then we will submit ourselves to be milked till our whole ‘work-life-balance’ gets completely annihilated or something and we will settle permanently inside the farm engaged in a perpetual day-dream of someday kicking our manager with our hind legs and leaving the premises forever with a two-legged swag. My cubicle, my sack of hay, my means of living, my catalyst of procrastination is dear to me and I hate it. I hate it when I have to come back here every morning and stare at it as well as at the face of a new disdainful day. I hate it when I have to arrange the sack of papers at the corner of my table which stays useless until the moment I throw them away. Then I hate being part of these immensely popular things called meeting. Meetings; Unofficially defined as nothing but a formal event for all the barking, quacking, squeaking, cackling, neighing, mooing, braying, croaking, cawing and everything else that can be categorized as the antonym of the word “productive”. And today is no different. I am going to graze on this same tasteless grass. Lick the same bitter water from the container decorated with the algae at the bottom. I am going to plough the same way over my forged spreadsheets and try my best to wipe my legs drenched in mine or somebody else’s dirt on someone else’s skin through my e-mails and double bleats. I am going to follow the same routine. I am going to caress the feet of the different customers who might have different faces but they all have the same habit of picking on every bit of our brains. Hell! Look at me whining and constantly bleating! When did I become such a pathetic goat? I almost remember being human once. Though as far as I can recall, everything had always been like this – A monotone; the gray ceiling, the gray walls, the grayer complaints of fellow cattle of how they hate mooing around here and how they would like to leave and explore the greener farms outside but they just don’t. Because let’s face it – no farms are green. Not for the dumb witted animals like us! We exist for the sole reason to get forcibly fed and be butchered later to become a meal. At least, I hope that meal is delicious. But let’s fret not. Let’s adapt ourselves to our fate. And let’s laugh hysterically at a joke we didn’t really get but our manager oinked it with such affection that you just had to show the entire population of teeth in your mouth. And let’s learn to passionately blame the other ducks or the hens or the buffaloes or the cows or if we dare, the ‘favorite’ dogs for anything that turns out wrong and that way we can keep ourselves out of all the troubles all the time. And if you are diplomatic and pretentious enough, you might also grab an undeserved promotion! Vous comprenez?

With this long trail of complaints and gloomy thoughts dangling behind him like a long tail, Amar slowly walks to the bus-stop. When the bus arrives, shining in the ironically cheerful combination of grays, Amar sits on the same seat – fourth from the last, listening to the same playlist that hasn’t been modified at all since the previous year. His eyes, engulfed in a darker circle of brown, droopy from lack/over-abundance of sleep closes immediately with the cradling of the moving bus. He falls asleep with his head leaning on the glass window, mouth half open, earphone wire dancing along with the bus and also complementing a long thread of saliva emanating from his lips. He breaks away from his brief slumber when the bus finally halts at the office. Groggily, he leaves his seat and takes reluctant steps towards the thing that provides him both a comfortable life and an equally uncomfortable state of mind. Before beginning the day’s work, he stops at the smoking zone. After converting two Goldflakes into ashes, he suddenly recalls how he had resolved to quit smoking. As if blaming the cigarette butt for his own lack of will power, Amar thrusts it on the bottom of the ashtray angrily. When he finally inaugurates his day by clicking open his inbox, his eyes start hurting immediately. The day has just begun, and eight more hours need to be spent staring at this screen – How would he accomplish that? His mind wanders back to his delightful morning thoughts –

Vous comprenez? Non! Je ne comprends pas! Why should the undeserved be promoted? And get the highest incentives? Why should the meetings be unproductive? Why can’t the grass be green here? Why can’t the managers be inspiring? Why can’t this job be exciting? Why can’t-

Ping! The vibration of his cellphone diverts Amar’s train of thought to another route. Without even bothering to look at the content, he starts cursing the SMS(s) too – How they practically spam his cellphone and take up so much of space! And what do they convey anyway? That there’s a sale at the mall where he will never go? Or the special offer at the pizza place that he absolutely detests? Or the discounts on the brands that shall remain too expensive for him to afford even after the reduction in their prices?

The message today, however, says something else entirely – something that is going to brighten the rest of his day for a change.

“Your account XXXXX1111 has been credited with …”

He is both surprised and shocked by this message. Not because this message has been sent at an unusual day. It is 30th after all and this SMS was thoroughly expected. But what has left him surprised is the slight change in the order of digits which has led to a figure that bears significantly higher value than his usual monthly salary. A bit excited and at the same time apprehensive, Amar asks his team mate –

“Hey Bhavna! Did you check your salary?”

“Yeah, I received the bonus as well!”

“Wow, what is it for? Any idea?”

“Our project!”

The confirmation on the fact that his salary is not a mistake results in a mild smile on Amar’s face. His annoyance and desire for a break from his monotonous life turns into reluctant appreciation as well as gratitude towards his manager and office. Suddenly the farm transforms into a workplace and the surrounding cattle turn into people-

I guess the most beautiful day is the 30th of the month. The most pleasing message is not of a proposal or confession of love but the bank telling you that your account has been credited with a good amount of money. I wasn’t being completely honest when I was talking about this place earlier. Morning blues, one can say. You know when you work on your project, dedicating your days and nights to it, being showered with all kinds of weird obstacles and yet when you are able to succeed, you can’t help but feel a certain kind of satisfaction seeping right into your heart. And when this hard work is finally recognized, transforms us all cattle, I mean people, from being employees to being proud engineers. Sure, work can ask too much from you sometimes. But isn’t this work the reason why your personal life exists? Yes, we all get carried away in emotions. Sometimes being here isn’t very pleasing. We get furious. We get disappointed. But we can’t always keep looking at the troughs of the waves, can we? My cubicle, my corner of inspiration, my means of living is the center of my existence. Here, I admit it. Sometimes, days aren’t that bad – they are merely a little challenging. Here, I admit it. Sometimes, I even love coming here. Here, I admit it. So, today is different. Today is the day when I am confessing all this –  that it’s not always a monotone. That the grass, right here, can be green. That people here can indeed be people.

Wait. Why am I being this joyous? It’s just a little of extra cash, that’s all!

But isn’t fifteen a decent amount?  We could do a lot of things with it. Go on a short trip maybe. Or buy Arpita a surprise gift. Or maybe a saree for Ma? Or maybe I can buy those speakers I had been wanting to for so long! There are these plethora of options to explore suddenly! It’s good. It’s good.

Amar spots Rohan passing by his cubicle, he excitedly asks him about the bonus hoping that he hasn’t been given any and he would get to witness an amusing expression on his face.

“Hey! Rohan! Did you hear about the bonus?”

“Yeah! I got 25! Cool, no? Didn’t expect this at all!”

With his jaws dropped to the floor, Amar unsuccessfully tries to conceal the shocked expression on his face. The figure 25 echoes so loudly in his head that for a moment he isn’t sure if it is his thought or he is actually speaking out loud.

Rohan got twenty-five?

The person who did nothing, NOTHING AT ALL on the project got twenty-five?

Twenty-five?                    

T-W-E-N-T-Y-F-I-V-E? And what is mine? A fucking charity?

Amar gets up from his cubicle, heads straight towards the smoking zone. “Nothing has changed of course! The undeserved will always be rewarded! And the actual talent, well, the actual talent will always be greeted with a few pennies or not even that! Fucking bullshit these people! Fucking bullshit these animals! Fucking bitch this job!” He angrily mutters as he takes the last puff from his third cigarette and resumes making a mental To-do-list for the day.

***

 Author’s little note: You can find the other two stories of Bitch Trilogy here.
Bitch Trilogy, Short Stories

The Rickshaw driver

Out there underneath the setting sun, stands a brightly painted yellow and green tri-wheeled vehicle shamelessly exposing the sponge beneath its disheveled and wounded seat. This injury, being too neglected and way down the priority list for a first aid, doesn’t deter the rickshaw from flaunting off the poster of blue-eyed Sonakshi Sinha at its back. Along with this badly battered and yet arrogantly grumpy thing, stands a grumpier man, the driver of this auto-rickshaw who is too crossed and too careless to comment on the crimson sky or be aware of how he has been scratching his groin ceaselessly for the last five minutes. He scoffs at the memory of his miserable day and puts the paan in his mouth hoping that it would distract him from his foul mood. But even the highest of high cannot make him stop thinking about the dreadfulness of the dusty streets or the burning heat of the sun or the suffocation in the traffic jam and the cacophonous horns of the cars or the poisonous smoke or the irritating beggars and the policemen. He thinks of his most frequent customers –  the vendors who stink of fish, the maids who don’t know how to sit silently or the ladies who can spend 5000 bucks on wallets without complaining but will start a war for that extra 10 bucks he asked for. He is pissed at the garbage heap nearby, at the receding effect of his paan, at the stinking wall where he would himself be peeing and at the people around; each and every one of them. His back aches from the constant sitting, his eyes hurt because they have dried due to the ceaseless staring at the road and what more! He was nearly hit by a car today! He still gets goose flesh with just a momentary thought of it. He had never imagined that the annoying screech of a halting car could one day become the most blissful symphony he would ever hear. Had it not been there, he hadn’t even been alive to curse the most atrocious words at it later. But one mustn’t blame the sound. It’s the driver! The bitch! The cunt who doesn’t even know how to drive but she will drive anyway. There’s a reason why they say women are the worst drivers! The stupid creatures are too busy applying lipstick or talking to their boyfriends on their phones to handle the steering wheel. Have some mercy at the people around you, Madam! You can win an award if you could just refrain yourself from handling a car. “Kya Madam! Aapko dikhta nahi kya?” He recalls how he had hollered at her. And in return, she had howled back with equal ferocity. Her voice lacked the usual sophistication these high class ladies seem to possess. It was high pitched, capable of rupturing every eardrum in the radius of twelve feet. She screamed and screamed in her stinging voice without a single trace of guilt or shame in it. This aggravated him further. He was the one who could have got killed! He was the one who should be shouting like a mad man! Not this foolish dumb witted lady! Unable to tolerate her anymore, he drove away immediately.

The head ache and the nausea hits him again. Why did he think of that woman! He needs another dose of tobacco. He searches for it in his trousers but finds nothing but some crumpled papers. The throbbing in his head worsens. Could the day get any better?
He starts driving to the nearest stall to procure his most trusted medicine and that’s when he catches her glimpse. Even before he could think of it, he stops and shouts “Kidhar?”. The girl walks up to him and asks back,  “Athwa?” He suddenly recalls that he had called it a day but then there is no way he can say no to her.
“Baithiye…”
“How much?” She asks.
“Whatever you think is fair.”
“Fifty?”
Usually he would have asked for seventy but he doesn’t argue. Fifty is also fair. He pulls the lever and the engine roars back to life. He makes sure that the rearview mirror is adjusted in such a way that it’s easy to steal glances at her.  She is really pretty. Not just because she is fair or slim but she has an innocent charm that’s very rare to find. He looks at her again. She is looking away at the buildings passing by, lost in her own thoughts. She is not texting or talking on the phone like these youngsters usually do. She is just there as if she is the part of the background. Her presence strangely calms him. He carefully prolongs his glances. He notices the light kajal in her eyes, her black bra strap that’s slightly peeking through her kurti, her eyebrows beautifully shaped, her hands clasped with one another resting on her knees, the faint wrinkles on her lips, the tiny spots on her cheeks…
“You study here?” He asks.
She nods.
The streetlight falls on her face and he is once again reminded of why he had halted at the first place. He forgets about his addiction; about how he had been missing his high. He forgets about the witch who had almost killed him. He just wants to look at this beautiful face and nothing else.
“You have a very good character, I can tell that…” he says trying his hard to come up with an appropriate compliment.
When she doesn’t say anything, he continues, “You don’t speak much. Aapka nature bahut accha hai. Ekdum shant… ”
The girl looks at him and smiles awkwardly.
“No, but really, people like you are rare.”
“Bhaiya, yahi pe utaar dijiye…”
“Lekin–”
“I need to get off here only.”
He stops. The girl hastily gives him the money and walks away.
He stays there for a while staring at her till she disappears in the streets. His hands find a packet of tobacco in his breast pocket. Pleasantly surprised, he hurriedly empties the content in his mouth. The taste disgusts him. “Bitch!” He shouts as he spits on the ground and drives away.

***

 Author’s little note: You can find the other two stories of Bitch Trilogy here.