When you have gone
My eyes will turn
To lumps of stone
Not that he was cooking often, yet a man must have a morsel to live. Usually, he would just warm up a bun or scramble the odd egg. And just as the food was ready, he would run into soiled plates, festering with fungi. But he would always clean the non-stick pan, a gift from Roma, by pouring water onto it while still hot and rubbing it dry with a sponge. And like the pan, he wouldn’t allow anything to smear his heart for long. Roma was another matter though.
He threw the omelette on the smug face of the previous year’s topper of the civil services examination, peering through the cover of a competition magazine. He stiffened as he remembered something. Passing by the side of table, he spun to his left viciously and plunged the dagger full into the belly of the pumpkin in one swift motion. He had been perfecting the act on a bunch of them over a week now.
His fingers trembled as he swapped Etta James with Chicken Shack in the cassette player. He liked the latter’s version of the song better.
“Something told me it was over,
When I saw you and her talking….”
The smoky contralto of Christine Perfect rang out in the room. He sat brooding on the wooden bed. The omelette went cold.
“…I would rather, I would rather go blind boy,
Than to see you walk away from me….” She went on.
From within the song, the voice spoke to him again, “Given a chance, which of your favourite poems would you recite to the Prime Minister?”
Was he sick of the innuendos hurled at him for being a student of literature!
“What difference would it make?” He heard himself saying. “They would all sound the same to a puppet.”
As if a master switch that plunges an entire city in darkness, it quickly concluded the interview. The ensuing gloom engulfed all future hopes in one sweep.
“…I was just, I was just sitting here thinking,
About your kiss and your warm embrace.”
Christine Perfect poured out her guts a bit more flooding him with memories of their first kiss.
He and Roma were quickly drawn to each other early in their postgraduate course in English Literature. Their first meeting in the King George Library was a chance encounter but the rest that followed were carefully planned accidents. They’d sit in the journals section whispering to each other. Time and again one of them would lean to point to an article or an image in the other’s magazine and their shoulders would join for a few seconds more than needed.
The noon show at Mayfair was an act of impulse and they were soon holding hands through ‘The Notebook’, a romance based on a true story. He was quite touched too but she wept silently many times before the movie came to an end. All this while, he was battling a deep urge to pull her sweet face to his.
It was drizzling softly when they emerged from the theatre. They stood silently by the roadside where many auto-rickshaws approached them and wheeled ahead when they showed no interest. One was particularly insistent, “Nice weather! Let me take you to Residency, sir! All silence in the ruins, sir, not even a bird to disturb! You still have two hours before it closes.”
The jagged ruins of the Residency stand in a stunned silence till date, corners and facades of its buildings blown away by hails of bullets and cannon balls. Their walls with countless holes stand witness to the grim deaths of over two thousand British officers, Indian sepoys, women and children besieged within, during the fateful Mutiny of 1857. Death came in many forms to them; to some it came riding bullets and cannon balls while for others it emerged from within themselves in spores of typhoid, cholera, malaria and dysentery. Today, though, these structures are a witness to a conflict of more primordial kind. The cavernous halls, thick with broken pillars and partitions, are a perfect backdrop for the game of hide and seek. They have become a magnet to the hungry lovers and desperate paramours of a city living in false glory.
There was no one at the ticket window when they arrived and the clerk had to be cajoled out of his impromptu tea break from a nearby canteen. Finally, they were walking up the cobbled incline under a lone printed umbrella which shuddered like a feather in the rain which was falling heavily now. To their left lay an inviting building whose erstwhile resident was certain Dr Fayrer, or so said a small blue sign. Holding hands, they sauntered towards the crumbling structure. Roma yelped at something she saw in a dark corner. It turned out to be a pair of lovers who sat entwined like cobras at play, the woman’s wet hair wrapped around their faces in a veil of sorts. Shortly after that, they arrived at a semi covered enclosure and he quickly pulled her into a deep embrace. Her face was wet with rain and she closed her eyes. He kissed her eyes and moved to her lips softly. Soon their mouths locked in a passionate duel.
Chakra looked ruefully at the pile of sealed polythene bags all containing slaughtered pumpkins. He would have never guessed disposing off the remains would prove so cumbersome. They were in various stages of post-mortem, filling the room with a faintly cloying smell even through the sealed coffins. He felt a queer tinge of sorrow for them all and he almost smiled. Thanks to them, he could now strike like a bolt from the sky and hopefully, she will never see what hit her. He wished he had a gun to reduce her pain instead.
Justice held a high perch in Chakradhar Shukla’s set of convictions. He had sealed his own fate with a fitting decree for when he would have ripped open the belly of the girl he had once loved so deeply. The dagger, soaked in her blood must be driven quickly into his own innards, uniting them in death forever. Thereafter, his corpse would be donated to the anatomy department of Lucknow Medical College. The students will ensure further revenge by piercing and scissoring him beyond his living days.
A motorbike with molested silencers roared away to somewhere. These days, it always reminded him of Sandeep, the spoilt brat of a politician in Delhi, forever airborne on a smuggled Honda ‘beauty’. Everything had an amazingly short shelf life for him; the wardrobe, the hairstyle and the girlfriends. The thought of Roma filling the last slot of late was gut-wrenching to say the least. Will Sandeep accompany her to Residency where Roma had agreed to meet for the last time, to reclaim her outpourings on letters and greeting cards addressed to him on various moments? Knowing that he was an avid collector of memorabilia, she had asked him to repatriate them to her, ‘You never know what twists life may take tomorrow.’
Twists were there for sure. Roma was already under pressure from her parents for settling for an arranged marriage in a respectable family. She had become ill-tempered and there were days when she remained inaccessible. But she had hugged him in front of a bunch of classmates when he had cleared the ‘Main’ examination of the Union Public Service Commission. She had scribbled his roll number on her palm with a ball pen, ‘217025’, and drawn a heart around it. ‘Know what Chakra, it totals up to ‘8’, a number that has never failed me!’ It did fail her though, when she checked out the final results a few months later. The ‘eternal love’ slumped like a castle of sand. Soon afterwards, friends started coming in with stories of how she had been sighted pillion riding Sandeep’s ‘beauty’. Some of them were kind enough to elaborate further. If Sandeep was quick to take girls to movie shows, he was quicker to plunge his hand below their navels: ‘God gave you fingers; put them to some use!’
He let Christine Perfect had a go at it once again.
At around 10 am in the morning, it was unusually hot for an April. He could feel rivulets of sweat snaking down his back and armpits. His palms had become clammy and he could hear his heart thudding. Many waves of remorse had raised their heads since the morning but he kept reminding himself of the slippery fingers of Sandeep Singh. He wouldn’t have trusted his jealous friends reporting on her if he hadn’t seen her with own eyes, crouching on his bike, her bosom buried in his back, as he zipped away to some God-forsaken place. He loitered behind the dilapidated banquet hall of the Residency, at the agreed time. He had carefully chosen a Monday when the Museum remained closed and visitors were few, especially, in the morning. Apart from the man watering the lawns with a hose and the mustachioed security guard, he couldn’t see anyone else.
Peering from behind a pillar, he could see a group of noisy people trudging towards him. A girl in Jeans and a light blue top was trailing them with bowed head. So, she had decided to dress to his taste! Too late for that, though. He quickly fell back to his ambush. He could feel the blood thumping in his temples. What now! The moment of deliverance had come. Should he do it in full public view? Why bother when his own life was coming to a close within minutes. Abruptly, the noisy group changed their mind and started moving away in a different direction. The girl however kept advancing towards him. Why was she taking so much time? Was she scared of him now? Or, did she know?
She took a long time reaching the pillar behind which he was lurking. The dagger was naked and ready in his violently shaking hands. Just as she was about to pass the spot he gritted his teeth and lunged at her, driving the blade full into her stomach with a blinding force.
In the end, it had been quite unlike the pumpkins. Unlike the stolid vegetable, she had fallen herself on the dagger in a huff, making it easier. A muted grunt escaped her throat as she slumped to the ground with the dagger still inside her. Shell-shocked, her eyes had opened wide with the stab. They soon started fluttering as she tried to hold on to the stones in a disoriented way as if to get up. He had full view of his victim now as his eyes rested on her face finally, and the earth swam under his feet. It was not Roma! God, no! That was surely not Roma!!
The recognition cured Chakra of his blindness like a flash of lightening. The ruins stood in all their ragged beauty under the sparkling sun as Roma’s sister Mona squirmed on the green grass losing her life like sand in a timer. A splotch of red was spreading quickly on her dress and the ground beneath her. The faithfuls girl who had come to reclaim her sister’s bundle of sin was sadly retrieving her death.
Trembling spasmodically now, Chakra looked around quickly. Soon people would start pouring from everywhere. He started walking towards the exit and almost bolted when he came upon the security guard halfway through it. Once out of the gates of Residency, he turned to his right on the road when he saw the Police Van parked on the road, its contents spilt on the road with walki-talkies. He quickly moved to the makeshift newspaper stall and picked up a paper. It was only then that he noticed the blood on his fingers. Worried that he would pass out any moment now, he started flipping into the newspaper noisily as his vision swam in and out. Suddenly, he froze at a UPSC Press Note on the recently concluded civil services examination:
The candidature of candidates with following Roll Numbers, earlier withheld for various reasons, has now been recommended for recruitment:
S. NO. ROLL NO. NAME OF THE CANDIDATE
1 000199 SUREKHA SAXENA
2 217025 CHAKRADHAR SHUKLA
…. …. ….
9 480794 AMIT BARUAH
He realised the hawker was yelling at him, “Look at you Man, you are hurt…!”
The newspaper slipped out of his hand and its sheaves flew in different directions. The vendor cursed loudly and ran after them pouncing. Someone saw him collapsing on the road and fetched a jug of water from the tea stall. He realized he was lying on the road when the cold water hit him like a slap and he sat with a jerk, remembering what he had done. “Help her! Help her, please…!” He started sobbing violently, his crimson fingers pointing to the monument of death.