A Far Cry from Mr Darcy

Image Credit: 'Pride and Prejudice'
Image Credit: Dennis Adams
Image Credit: Dennis Adams

The concluding part of Never Forget a Ruby

As I stood stiff under a jet stream of water, the set of four faces kept throbbing in my head, they all saying something to my eyes squeezed shut. Hemant, Robin, Sonia, Ruby and a stab in my heart. I lathered myself like a soiled bedspread and let the fusillade hit my face till I could take it no more. Time was like water gushing down the drain, never to return. I had let the years slip by while folks had made friends, fallen in and out of love, confessed and cavorted, even cheated and blackmailed. And where was I but in the taiga of my own delusions?

I pulled out the best of my lean wardrobe, a navy blue shirt and khakis. I would use ‘Lauder For Men’ for the first time, a bottle of cologne gifted by Ruby on my birthday, the one I had all but forgotten. A far cry from Mr Darcy, but I was ready for the first ball of my life, like a  spark in the wind.

Soon, I ran into the castellated gate of the Girls’ Hostel. The gurkha guarding the entrance was unusually belligerent that day.  ‘I am sorry, no boyfriends! Only fathers, brothers, local guardians, three to five PM. Warden’s orders.’ Then I saw a pair of girls walking hurriedly towards the gate. I recognised Anchal who had once taken me as a ‘subject’ to the Psychology lab.

‘Hi Anchal! I hailed her before the Gurkha had the chance to berate them for coming in late. ‘Mind if I request you to pass a message to Ruby?’

‘Oh, hi, Samir! Just shoot!’ She said, glancing around cautiously.

‘I must meet Ruby, you see…. Could you please ask her to come over to Kite Park tomorrow, say at four?’

‘Sure! I must rush now. You guys are in trouble over Hemant Singh, aren’t you? Good night!’ The girls vanished through the wicket gate but not before they were tongue lashed by the fierce guard.

Same navy blue shirt and khakis, more ‘Lauder For Men’. I hit Kite Park at half past three. The sun was hot and high and the air blistering. I could see no one save a pair of dogs wrestling with each other playfully on the grass hosed with water. I wondered at my wisdom of fixing up a meeting there in the scorching heat but there was no turning back now. I sat waiting for Ruby under a dense ashoka tree, facing the river.  A thick smoke wafted from the brewery across the river, punching everything with its rotten egg smell.

I was jolted out of my brooding by a lilting ‘hello’ in about an hour and I found myself looking up at Sonia and her brother, whom I had met before. Her brother shook hands with me and wandered off towards the flowerbeds. Where was Ruby? I felt both alarmed and miffed. She sat next to me.

‘I met Ruby at the hostel today.’ She said, staring at the muddy river. ‘Her warden has gone hyper after the questioning session with the police. She is not permitted to go out unless it’s an emergency.’

‘I see.’

‘You know what, Samir? I was interrogated for hours by the police in the morning today. Some Inspector Anant –he is a goddamned bully!’

‘I am sorry that happened, Sonia.’ I said.

‘Yes, the woe is me!’ She was fighting back tears.

We sat without speaking for some time.

‘I believe you already know about my fascination with Hemant. The idiot was not worth it but then he has paid with his life now.

‘Sometime in the winters last year we had planned a get together at Nawabganj bird sanctuary –just me and him. But that scoundrel Robin was already lurking there with a camera.

‘He managed to capture a couple of shots when we were a bit intimate –nothing much though.’

Sonia stopped. The wind had changed directions and was now blowing towards me from Sonia. Her tresses kept engulfing my face and it was as if I sat in Eden, inhaling from the spring of femininity.

‘And then they started blackmailing me. It began with Robin showing me a photocopy of our shot. I went mad like a cornered prey and confronted Hemant who said maybe Robin needs some money! I almost committed suicide.’ She sobbed for a while.

We saw her brother walking back towards us. ‘So I thought I’ll meet you too and tell my little secret. Besides, I had to pass Ruby’s message. Then there is this book, which is probably your property, given to me by Hemant.’ She took out my copy of Gone with the Wind from a folder.

‘Ha!’ Astonished at being able to hold that volume again, I turned open its cover, only to be mockeded by a floral message,

‘To the Love of my life: Sonia
–Hemant Singh’

‘I am sorry to be the motive of the desecration. I hope you understand.’ And she walked away.

Inspector Anant appeared at my room again the same evening. He seemed rather fond of Thums Up and samosas and I had few reasons to disagree. The cones he had brought were steaming hot. ‘Much better than what I have to tell, Samir.’ Robin was discovered stuck in the ventilator of the washroom, trying to slip away from the hospital; he claimed he was too scared. His mother, ‘Barbara Lillian’, was the first nail the Inspector had driven in his hide.

Where on earth is she? He didn’t know where she was, except that she would send him a picture postcard from time to time. The last one was sent from Norway the previous year.

Then, who is Bela? He didn’t know anyone by that name.

And, who is Stanley Martin?  He didn’t know anyone by that name either, but he blanched visibly. Then he was shown the picture postcard from Norway, with the bear on its back. He went limp like an airless balloon.

Who is Gagan Rana? One of his friends, who had earlier offered him an alibi, had confided that Robin could be the stepson of Gagan, a cross-border thug.

When did you shoot the f16? And then Robin was the canary of the year!

They had fleeced Sonia of Rs 100,000 in cash in lieu of the photographs the evening before.  Hemant and Robin had boozed till midnight after which they started bickering over the share. Hemant was not willing to fork out more than one fourth to Robin. Robin lost his mind and whisked out a country made pistol and fired through his chest at close range.

X     X     X

Eventually, I met Ruby on the 8th of May after the examination hours and there was a lot we had to talk, most of it about Hemant and Sonia, and, of course, Robin Rana. We reminisced about the years gone by and the people we had met all along but, strangely, not a word about ourselves. We booked a ticket for her to Nainital in the train leaving the same night. She was going to stay with her sister this summer. We went shopping for chikan dresses deep into the alleys of Chowk where the artisans work under dim lights. Then we ate kulfi at Moti Mahal in silence and she left for the hostel to wind up her affairs there. Her roommate was already gone as were most other girls. We decided to leave for the station together from her hostel.

Away from the chaos of the main station, the platform of North Eastern Railway was quieter and subdued. There was also a lot less grease and grime but it was lighted frugally, to the point of being eerie. Globs of brightness followed patches of gloom at odd, linear intervals. People moved past counting the coach numbers slovenly. Coolies were just the same though, walking in straight lines, balancing loads on their heads, expecting everyone to move over.

We found her berth to the lower right of the compartment and pushed her suitcase under it, securing it with a lock and chain to the hook under the bunk. We managed to squeeze in the carton of books too and walked back to the platform.  A sour looking man in a black jacket ambled towards the coach with a fanfold chart and pasted it next to the door.  It was quickly mobbed by wait-listed passengers hoping to find their names in print. We felt lucky to be standing under a pair of tube lights when we saw people stumbling and jostling in the semi-darkness elsewhere. A man frying puris was accosting the passersby with ‘cheap and best stuff’. Next to him, a wooden cart was loaded with inflatable toys and pillows. The vendor kept wounding up a little toy monkey beating drums and cymbals.

‘So? Is this the end of Cleo and Nietzsche?’ She spoke, exhaling a deep breath.

‘Perhaps it is.’ It struck me finally.

 ‘Hey, Nietzsche, we may not meet again!’ she said slowly. ‘But don’t you forget me!’

A small boy who wanted to be in the train with someone started sobbing.

As if that were a prompt, something rolled down my cheek. ‘I am going to miss you, Cleo.’  I kept staring at the frenzied monkey on the toy cart.

I think she flicked a droplet from her lashes. It fell on my wrist.

‘It is sad that things end this way.’ She said softly. ‘We meet someone we become fond of. We are content but not sure how the other one feels. Then we part just like that, sometimes forever.’

‘Yes Ruby!’ I realised how sweet that name felt in my mouth. ‘Then there are times when we keep fooling ourselves about our feelings for that someone.’ I paused before I said something I never thought I would. ‘Like I kept loving you, Ruby, day in and day out and yet I never knew it!’

‘May I have your attention please -’ an announcement crackled on. Her face was a blur because of the mist in mine. She was digging into her handbag intently. A wrinkled old woman was standing near her with an outstretched palm.  She found a comb and put it back, then a candy in golden-blue wrapper, which she kept holding, and then a two rupee note that she gave to the beggar.

The arms of the clock were already pointing to 10:00 and we heard a dull wail from the engine.  A noisy group had come to see off a newlywed couple and they all wanted to hug and bless them at the same time.  The little boy was now giggling, ‘Goodbye! Goodbye!’ Someone whistled back sharply from the other end. The puri vendor’s chant had risen to frenzy. But it was all a vague buzz against the rising clamour of my own mind, she is going, she is going!

 Tell me Ruby,’ I heard myself saying, ‘did you ever love me too?’

The train had begun crawling.  Touching my fingers fleetingly, she slipped the candy within them and turned away without saying goodbye.  I can swear her cheekbones were glistening. Someone helped her step inside the coach. The toy monkey had gone silent. The vendor wouldn’t key him anymore.

The hostel was a long way from the station but I kept walking ahead through the dying traffic. Remembering the myriad moments passed in her company, I wondered what had kept me in a denial about her for so long. And now she was gone like a dream in semi-sleep, never to be seen again. Ruby, my own Cleopatra, my own Scarlett, My own Ophelia! Ruby, who was gone with the wind!

A cool breeze hugged me as I moved up the bridge over Gomti. Remembering her parting gift I fished out the candy from my pocket. Bringing it to my nose, I could still smell her. Like a crestfallen child, I peeled open the last of my treasure. I was about to toss off the golden-blue foil when with a flutter in my heart, I realised there was a tiny white chit sticking to the cookie. It had three capital letters in Ruby’s unmistakable strokes – ‘Y E S’.

I never found out what happened to Ruby. Nor did I hear from her again. Years rolled by and today I have a loving wife and a couple of fairylike daughters. But there is this little wisp of paper somewhere with three letters on them, in the crevices of a  faltering heart.



  1. you kept me on the seat till the last very line … all engrossed in the emotional journey of Samir and Ruby ! Simply awesome !

  2. Mush-master!! 🙂

    So much to be said in so few words – it must have been a tough job, but you got it done.

    Is this the longest short story you have written?

    I thought you would leave it open-ended and let the reader wonder whether Cleo and Nietzsche met again. Instead, you gave the parting a finality and a permanent departure, a painful irreparable rupture in their lives.

    But then life is like that – happy ending are rare.

    With each story your story-telling style is improving and you are able to keep the reader interested to the very end.

    Great read!

    Got some elements to discuss with you which I shall do offline.

    1. That’s right, JM, it’s the longest one I have written, though originally I had planned six parts I compressed it for the fear of losing readers’ interest. The blogosphere is a bit like T-20!

      You are welcome for the discussion @offline or online, anytime! 🙂

  3. That was very interesting — the coming together of a thriller and a beautiful love story. It was like two stories in one. Simply loved the bittersweet ending!

  4. “Time was like water gushing down the drain, never to return. I had let the years slip by while folks had made friends, fallen in and out of love, confessed and cavorted, even cheated and blackmailed. And where was I but in the taiga of my own delusions?” That says it all, doesn’t it, uma? Samir had perhaps woken up too late to his role as an observer of life, rather than a participant. Now there was nowhere to go but forward in Time, with some regrets, without Ruby, but perhaps with a new awareness and a call to action.

  5. Wonder where Ruby is and would sparks fly if they met again. I binged on every detail. Not the usual ending but very realistic.

  6. The story is lovely… Absolutely beautiful and has the perfect crests and troughs of narration. But that’s not what excited me it the familiar words nawabganj, moti mahal that triggered my senses! You are from lucknow!! I am born and brought up in lucknow still live here. Again I am very excited to know this 🙂

  7. The power of a “YES”. Or the powerlessness of a “YES” in this case . What is the point in such an answer when the ship has sailed. When the “right time” has gone by, we live with regrets. A very practical ending to the tale.

  8. Interesting package and concept…I like the way you amalgate a first person narrative with a third person narrative….I observed it in the Monk Series. Here of course you have kept to the former. Well, as I said earlier, a web version is distinctly different from a print version. For me a murder story needs to follow the Christie style …a little ruminative, sedate almost sedentary and rather philosophical…I am not very fond of the adrenaline rush of a thriller or a hurried patched up closure. The narrative has to capture the imagination as well as satiate the hunger of the intellect.

    As usual your presentation is ornate with a surprisingly pragmatic end. I wish the characters could have been more well-defined allowing the reader a peek into the psychological make-up of the characters.

    All in all engrossing and enjoyable.

    However, I remain curious to read the print version of all your tales where you can develop both plot and characters without any space constraint.

    1. One man’s meat is another man’s poison. No matter how brief or detailed one is in his work, someone is going to complain. Cricket may offer a powerful analogy: some love the adrenalin rush of the twenty-20, while some others swear by the slow grind of test match cricket.

      Writing stories, both standalone and in episodes, calls for brevity and lightness on a blog where readers’ span of attention is notoriously fickle.

      Thank you for your extensive input.

  9. A very convincing end, Samir could be any of us. Will have to come back again to read all the parts w/o any breaks in between. Enjoyed the atmosphere you have created, very absorbing.

  10. Ah US, I was waiting for the true romantic twist: & was not disappointed.

    What a plot! Blackmail to be sure…a dash of Agatha Christie. But me, alas, I feel for that whimsical romance that might have been – ships passing in the night.
    A captivating read.
    Cheers, ic

    1. Ian, it is heartening to learn I have passed your touchstone. Ships passing in the night -how I love that metaphor! Maybe I’ll dabble in romance someday soon.

      Many thanks to you!

  11. I went back and read the entire series again.

    One thing has confused me. Why did your protagonist want to meet Ruby? He had already guessed that Sonia was being blackmailed. What had Ruby to do with the murder?

    Or was that a red herring? Or am I missing something here?

    1. That might happen if you expect the story to be purely a crime thriller, which it is not. The murder is incidental to Samir’s awakening to his feelings about Ruby.

      1. Ah! So I was missing something!

        The attention to detail is truly fascinating. The scene at the rail platform was just so well woven together. I could feel myself there.

  12. Oh, I loved this! As a reader who enjoys sinking into every crack , I personally wished that the climax was a bit more detailed; but, as a journalism major in school I understand and admire the brevity. You are right – folks are fickle in the blogosphere. You nailed everything though, and pulled it together very well. In a short story like this, I was only concerned with Samir’s perspective. I hope for the possibility of this turning into a novel so I can sink my teeth into the other charachters.

    Oh, what a bittersweet, but HIGHLY romantic ending! The piece of candy was priceless.
    And, like most of us I’m guessing, Samir is very happy with his wife and daughters, but can’t help that ‘what if’ question from popping up from time to time. It seems that few of us forget our first loves, either because of the person, or the first time feeling a heavy emotion like love.

    Thank you for a lovely read!

    1. Maybe I should have put in one more episode but, as said, I wanted to be brief. And I’d like to think I have taken care of Samir’s perspective. Your praise tempts me, however, for turning it into a novel. 🙂 We are eternal hopers, aren’t we, Charlene?

      A million thanks for your precious words!

      1. I also enjoyed the rapport the investigator and Samir shared. Plus, your first paragraph to this story was beautiful and profound. NothingProfound nailed it.

  13. What a beautiful yet so bittersweet ending! May I ask is this a true story? When I got to the end I realized it perhaps could be a chapter from your past. Love the entire story and most especially the conclusion. I see greed was the motive for the dastardly deed. Good detective work by Samir.

    Marvelous the way you built up the suspense at the end between Cleo/Ruby and Nietzsche/Samir. My heart broke for Samir and what a scene with Ruby silently handing him the candy without saying goodbye, turning away with tears in her eyes, and the noisy toy monkey suddenly quiet. Then later the “yes” on the candy wrapper. Oh, the heartbreak of what might have been! It’s the kind of heartbreak so familiar to so many of us and it gives your story such a universal appeal. You are quite the romantic. Wonderfully written, well done!

    1. Strange are the ways of Akismet! I had written a long reply only to realise today that it never got posted!

      Thank you for the extensive input, Madilyn. Past experiences are the primary spring from which all waters flow. That said, the story is a work of fiction.

      I am happy the characters touched you so. That is the basic touchstone all stories must pass.

      A million thanks to you! 🙂

  14. Wonderful, bittersweet ending, Uma. I love the scene at the train station. Jerseylil has posted above me here, and I have to say her sentiments mirror my own! Great story and a very vivid world you created!

      1. Uma, no doubt you have a great gift. Very unique style and you write with a “confidence” that leads the reader (at least me for sure!) to feel that they are in capable hands and in for an entertaining and enlightening ride. Have a great weekend!

  15. Wow, wonderful ending there Uma. You had me at the edge of my seat and the scene at the train station was great. The yearning that Samir still has at the end for Ruby makes the reader yearn too!

  16. Best love stories are those which always leave something to be desired… Sonia and Robin should be thanked for playing spoilsport and making their story so special! Enjoyed it. 🙂

  17. Wow this was such a wonderful read Umashankar. A lost love and a a crime thriller in one story. This was really beautifully penned. You should write a book…am sure it will be a best seller.

  18. I don’t know which part I liked more, the thriller or the romantic. I think the romantic story had me hooked though right from the start. The descriptions are always so detailed, sentiments so well expressed although the protagonists themselves must have found them so hard to express!, very well written indeed. Really, I don’t see why I don’t see your book yet.

    1. Richa, the reader is the ultimate touchstone of a story and I am glad to have passed the test here. It is encouragement enough to restart that abandoned project. Thank you.

  19. Now that was a superb reading experience overall. A crime thriller and a bitter-sweet romance dovetailed into one smooth narrative.

    Apologies for being late on this. I have been a bit too caught up with social engagements – weddings, guests, what-have-you – and it has taken toll of my blog reading.

  20. Have read the entire series over the last few weeks in brief moments of time snatched from the pressures of work. I thought it was wonderful. As they say fictional characters must have sufficient strength of character to handle difficult dilemmas. I think your characters pass the test as they take a life of their own where you become not just the writer but the narrator of this story involving Cleo and Nietzsche.

    1. Subroto, it is heartening to receive your approval. Your observation on strength of characters is apt. I am glad Cleo and Nietzsche passed the test. A million thanks!

    1. Thank you, Talkalittledo. Those words are like manna. I am happy that you found the characters real enough to wish a different denouement.

  21. A mystery and romance tangled together. The ending is beautiful yet a little sad. And this kind of ‘sad’ thing happens every day everywhere. People are afraid of showing love, desire, which blew so many chances in the “wind”.
    I like the contrast between the character of Nietsche and those two jerks . They came out naturally as story flows.
    The story also triggered me some sort of nostalgic feeling. So many people we loved no longer kept in touch. Wonder how they doing right now. Wish Ruby is having a wonderful life!
    What a wonderful story!

    1. Yun Yi, I am grateful to you for picking up my story and I am happy you could relate to it at different levels. Yes, life is full of those bittersweet moments that leave us with evergreen wounds at times.

  22. I was finally able to read the last part today and really liked the ending.
    And Congratulations on taking the jump for finishing your book. 🙂

  23. You are a writer! Loved the combination of mystery and love story. You tied up all the details on the mystery and then caught me up in the humanity of the romance again when I thought I was through, a novel trick! I enjoyed the student’s poverty, having been such a poor student myself, and the chemistry between the Cleo and Nietze, which was probably sweeter and more enduring than a romance would have been. Thanks for a wonderful read. I loved every word of it.

    1. It is heartening to note the story had so much to offer to you. Your resounding approval has made me proud! Thank you for ever and ever, Linda!

  24. Well I might be 4 years behind in my reading but I burst into tears at the end. You did the almost impossible and conveyed a sense of nostalgia without reeking of mawkish sentimentality. Brilliant character creation, brilliant movement of plot… written in a style with flair and elegance. (I’m seriously thinking of becoming a fan!)

    1. I keep reminding myself to edit these stories seriously –some of these pieces were written on the fly. You encourage me to spill some more stuff like that, my friend.

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