The Man Thing (Conclusion)

br_winters_themanthing_img0.jpg(Click here for Part II)

There was a subtle fishiness in the way Kanika was averting her eyes, a sign there was more to the chance encounter she had with the ruffian on the platform. Not willing to mire an entire day with the bitterness of a possibly freak incident, I brushed away my doubts and proceeded to occupy a window seat in the train. Kanika chose a window at the other extreme. The train halted longer than usual, allowing the stolid porters to retrieve the dismembered acrobat from its underside. Skies wept yet again causing a rivulet to spurt down the window, spilling over my midriff and right leg. The sun emerged tentatively from among the clouds a few stations down. We disembarked at Mira Road mechanically and found a taxi for the office of the real estate broker. The quiet between us followed our footsteps into the cab.

“They say about thirteen commuters perish daily on an average on the suburban tracks,” I said just to hear one of us speak.

“Weird that those who deserve to be run over don’t ever get run over,” she said sullenly.

“Hey, you are angry!” I was taken aback by the resentment that hung about her as she sat stiffly, her legs crossed in the tiny space of the backseat. I pictured the whole scene as she had stood on the platform, her hands raised in front of her to shield her face from the oncoming blow that luckily didn’t materialise. Yes, that was crude. Unforgivable, even. My pulse quickened as the scene flashed before my eyes once more. It was good in a way he changed his mind and vanished before I could confront him, I would have felt obligated to pummel his face promptly. There is no telling how he would have responded. He did look tough, the sort that brawled with others compulsively and enjoyed it.

“You are right,” I told her. The crook did deserve to slip into the gap and be reduced to mincemeat.” I must have said that with a deep feeling, ruing his fortunate escape. It lightened up her face instantly.

The broker’s office-cum-residence was on the fourth floor of a building without lifts. It stank of a mixture of stale cigarette smoke and incense sticks. A chubby Lord Ganesha sat in a wooden temple fixed to the wall. I spelled out our requirement in detail —we needed a reception area, two classrooms and one room for back office.

“Actually, basically,” he said, “you want to run a coaching college. Anybody can tell you it will be chock-full of teenage boys and teenage girls.”

“Is that a problem?” Kanika asked.

“Neighbours,” he said. “Actually, the neighbours, basically. Police complaints. You see that, madam? Then the beat officer will raise his monthly graft.”

“Mr Sathe, it’s not possible for us to pay four lakh, up front,” I told him flat out.

“Four lakh in cash,” he corrected me, waiving away the protestation, “and four lakh in cheque, fifty thousand in rent for the next eleven months. Then the rent will move up by twenty five percent basically.”

We were feeling slightly deflated after that but there still was hope. We resumed our journey to the suburban station for Vasai Road, the next stop as per the plans. Instead of finding a seat in the mostly unoccupied coach, we leaned against the side of the passageway. The wind picked up speed with the train. A pleasant gust kept welling in the cavity, spraying Kanika’s hair all over her face. The megapolis thinned out as the train trudged north.

“One broker does not a summer make,” I declared, staring at the clouds. It set us laughing after a moment’s silence.

“Can you make out the crocodile?” asked Kanika, pointing to a fluff of clouds with a reptilian stretch.

“Come on dear crocodile, croak good luck to us!” I chimed.

“Wow, sir, you are a poet too?”

But the broker at Vasai Road had other ideas which he didn’t believe in sharing with us. Unlike the bloke at Mira Road who would pull no punches, this fellow was a master of reticence. I let Kanika take charge of explaining the kind of place we were looking for. A thick golden chain lay lazily around the realtor’s fat neck, peeking through the grey-black overgrowth of his slyly bared chest. The matchstick stuck between his teeth wobbled from time to time as he kept parroting the same phrase without opening his mouth, ‘We’ll work it out’. In the end, he refused to come clean about the advance or the rent he wanted, nor was he sure about the place he’ll make available. But he wanted us to begin as soon as possible nonetheless, and everything else, he assured, would work out itself.

That brought us down to the last name I had on the list I had compiled, certain Waghmare in Virar. But Kanika put her foot down, refusing to move even an inch further north. “Virar is the land’s end.”

“I thought that was somewhere in Alaska,” I said.

“Land’s end for Mumbai, any which way.” She said.

“Which is a five star hotel in Bandra,” I said.

“Please, sir. Let us go back,” she begged.

“And let the devil eat away our dream academy?” I was crestfallen.

“Dreams don’t die till they become nightmares,” she said. “We’ll surely try again.”

I searched her face for clues. How much did our dream mean to her? How keen was she not to lose sight of me? I wish there was a sign.

As we sat on the opposite benches on the returning train, I tried to salvage the situation by making fun of Waghmare. Maybe he was a nightmare after all —at least the two words ended the same way in English. I said not one person I had known with that surname was a respectable human being. Our own Senior Vice President. The constable at Hill Road police station. I invented a few more to add spice. She laughed amply, but it sounded forced and tinny. When I took out my phone to place a call to Jatin who was to be the last stop in today’s itinerary, she seemed startled to see the very similar smartphone as hers.

Jatin told me the coaching centre was closed for the day as usual but he was in office replying to the mails of ‘distance learners’, and if I could walk in within the next hour we could catch him still. He had this habit of writing back perky replies to the students of correspondence courses, preferably girl students. “Girls are the dark matter of the universe,” he used to philosophise. “Without them, there would be no boys, no men, and of course no women.”

Soon, we were moving up the stairwell of the building that housed Radiance Classes. The old security man recognised me instantly and raised his hand in a salute. Jatin’s office was at the extreme end of the corridor past the classrooms and spare rooms one of which was crammed with courseware and old furniture. The narrower store room was rarely unlocked and was rumoured to have been stashed with cash. The wall to the right was adorned along the length with pictures of premium institutes and successful students. Classrooms were respectable in size but there was precious little space in the six by seven feet cubicle that passed for the Director’s office, where Jatin sat close to the wall with the back of his chair rubbing against Sydney Harbour Bridge, etching out a pattern in the wallpaper. There was just enough space for a desk and a chair across him. A side chair was squeezed in the only available space, the passage between the panelling and the table. The setup had remained unchanged over the years, and so was Jatin.

“Look who remembered an old friend today!” He stretched his arms to embrace me. I managed to squeak in and accept his hug.

“How nice of you!” He patted my back. He composed himself quickly for Kanika, whom he asked to be seated with a gentlemanly air. I introduced her and stated the purpose of our impromptu visit, taking care to include a bit of backstory about the sale of our company to Sterling Fincom and leaving out the part of floating our own coaching setup. For the whole part Jatin kept listening to me, his eyes alternated between Kanika’s face and a spot on the table with his characteristic half-smile.

“As usual, you make a good case for yourself —and our new friend here.” He said, spinning an expensive pen on the table top. “But would you believe the irony of the situation? I am currently part of a group that is about to launch a non-banking finance company. Just because the promoters of Goldkeys Unlimited have drifted apart and decided to wind up, doesn’t mean financing has become unprofitable. On the other hand, it’s been lesser and lesser fun running a career oriented coaching centre. Students are flying off to fancy locations like Kota. Mumabi has all but fallen off the educational map.”

“Great guns! You never told me that before.” I was impressed.

“You forget we are meeting after more than a year,” Jatin said. “Meanwhile, we have registered our company —it’s called Cubix Finance— and applied for a license to RBI. Incidentally, I was looking for people to run the show.” He flashed a charming smile at Kanika. She smiled back at him. It was her best smile I had seen.

I wouldn’t call Jatin handsome as hell, but I have to give credit to his smile. He too has a great pair of lips, somewhat like Kanika’s. And I had managed to bring together two very attractive people I knew, and first sparks were flying already.

Jatin said he would be happy to have Kanika both in coaching and the upcoming finance venture, the choice would be hers. Kanika said she would prefer the coaching, at least initially. “Never mind,” said Jatin. “We will sit together in the evenings for designing the new courseware, beginning tomorrow.”

Kanika protested feebly but Jatin insisted. In the end she agreed to join Radiance Classes right away. As for me, Jatin had a senior position in mind in Cubix Finance but that would come later. I was seething at Kanika’s sudden decision but I lacked the courage to find words and dissuade her. We left together and parted way at the Portuguese Church. She sent her resignation through post the very next day.

First few days at office without Kanika was like rowing a boat without oars, a situation I learnt anew with each passing day, sometimes even by the hour. She was not just an expert hand at most jobs at the office and could do in minutes what other would do in hours, she had become the guiding spirit of the branch. With Mrs Joshi also gone, it became impossible to wrap up everyday transactions before ten and it kept getting only later in the night. As we neared the acquisition date, things became madder and madder and we were virtually working all night apart from the day. I was wriggling to break free from the grips of Goldkeys Unlimited, but they were holding back a sizeable sum in my severance allowance.

Because of the hectic working hours I had fallen a prey to, and also because I was annoyed with Kanika for ditching me so readily, I didn’t call her up for a fortnight. But then I relented, and even accepted her decision to quit us as a fair move. I called her number and heard a music playing instead of the ringtone. I disconnected and called her again and heard the same music. Surely, I had heard it play before, and it played out till the timeout. But no one picked the phone at the other end. It was a disturbing experience. Kanika had never done that before. Perhaps she was travelling at the moment. I recognised the music that was set as her new ringtone. It was the song she had liked at Birdsong Café. It took some brain racking to recall the number, it was called ‘Bell Bottomed Tear’. I remembered how she seemed struck by the song when we had gone there for dinner. I Googled the lyrics on my smartphone and was quickly presented with its words:

‘This is the dinner prepared
This is the dress that I made
This is the child I brought up
And this is the woman you laid
This is the woman you laid
This is the perfume I wore
This is the hotel we stayed
This is the way that I lay…

I felt a chill at my pores. In what state of mind would someone get obsessed with those lyrics? Was it penitence or remorse on being coarsely transgressed in the past? Or a reminder to a perpetrator of unpaid dues? Kanika seemed to be trying to lash out at the darkness hogging her with that signature ringtone. Which also meant she was still in touch with whoever that was. Disturbingly though, it seemed to carry a message to others who knew her too. A message of something afoot, something awful in offing. And therefore, a message to stay on alert, or stay clear? The trouble was, it was hard to figure what and who it was meant for — me, Jatin, or a yet unknown player, or the whole lot of us including herself.

Kanika returned my call in the morning to tell me she was engrossed in setting up a puzzle set for the courseware and hadn’t noticed my call. She disconnected almost immediately, saying she needed to rush to Kia’s creche. She was an honest worker, so I believed what she told me. But I promised myself to visit the coaching centre in the evening to keep me in the picture. Throwing everything to wind, I downed the shutter of my office at six and hopped in a local train for Dadar, and took a cab to the destination. As I eased myself through the front gate, I found Kia engrossed in an iPad on a sofa at the reception.

“It is Jatin Sir’s iPad,” the receptionist said dully, instead of greeting me as usual. Alarmed that she might drop it accidently and shatter the screen, I asked Kia to give it back to her.

“But he gave me because he loves me,” Kia protested.

“She’s right,” the receptionist chipped in. “Jatin Sir gave it to her to keep her busy.” With that, she switched off the desktop computer, fiddled briskly with folders and drawers and moved towards the exit with her oversized bag. The clock on the wall was displaying 6:45.

“You are leaving early.” I called out at her. The receptionist was rarely permitted to leave before 8:30, if ever.

“I have been told to leave at 6:00 now. There will be no evening classes for all of December.” She beamed at me before she walked away, her heals clicking sharply.

The evening shift in classroom No.1 was in session and I could hear Murthy’s nasal harangue as I passed by. The other two classrooms were closed as I walked to the end of the corridor. As I approached the cabin, I could hear the combined laughter of a male and female. There was no mistaking either.

“Long time, sir!” Jatin exclaimed, cutting out his laughter. Kanika was startled to see me and stood in a huff and said ‘hello’.

“Hello!” I said. “Please carry on what you’re doing.”

“No, sir. I will check on Kia.” Kanika said, moving out and making way for me to the chair. I noticed the third chair that used to be squeezed into the side for eternity was no more there. Somehow, I didn’t like the absence of the third chair. Apparently, no third person was expected to be around. The development was alarming in more than one ways —I tried not to think of other things.

“We were compiling a new set of problems,” Jatin said. “Man, how grateful I am to you for bringing a gem to this office.”

I stared at the hieroglyphic problems on the page lying before me. They were the stock question sets being cycled session after session. For the life of me, I couldn’t sense anything new in them.

“I heard there will be no more evening classes in December?” I asked him.

Jatin didn’t seem to like the question. He grimaced, “Oh, yes. Murthy is having the last session of the current year today. Everyone gets into the New Year mode in December nowadays. We will begin full swing in January.”

Kanika appeared with Kia in her lap. She wrestled away the iPad from her hands and put it on the table. “I am sorry to be leaving just as you came, sir. My roommate is having a fever and I must leave now.”

“No worries, Kanika. I’ll catch up with you later.” I told her. For the rest of the time I sat there, Jatin dodged my queries about the finance company he was floating. He kept blabbering about the surrender of our cricket team before Pakistan in the Champion’s Trophy. What was there to say for me? The trophy was truly lost.

I made and unmade many plans through the long night I passed. The resolve I had taken to corner Jatin flattened out like ripples in the sand in the gust of daylight. Back at the workplace, I was expected to migrate the accounts to the crash-prone software provided by Sterling Fincom with no Kanika to help me out. I moved about the workplace as if wading through molasses, ignoring the new workstations like pests. My useless staff was acting even more deflated, and I didn’t give two hoots to what they were doing or not doing. I jumped from my seat at six pm sharp and rushed to the local station.

Kia was alone in the reception, focussing hard into the iPad. “You want to feed letters to the Dolphin?” she offered the iPad to me.

“Thanks Kia. Is mama here?” I asked. She nodded a big yes with her face and pointed a finger towards the corridor as far as she could.

I wanted to stop and stroke her hair but a smouldering was beginning to smite my heart. Leaving her to the bunch of giraffes and dolphins, I walked down the carpeted length to Jatin’s cabin. Kanika and Jatin were sitting across in their usual chairs busy with a stack of sheets as I entered. Kanika started to get up but Jatin motioned her to remain seated with his eyes. He then asked me to get a chair for myself from behind. I made the journey back to the reception but finding nothing there turned to a classroom and pulled out a chair and carried it to the cabin. I found it hard to squeeze it in and then sit into it too.

“You folks are working hard on the courseware” I said.

“Oh, it’s mostly the same falling bridge and a few men with lone torch. We just keep tweaking the timer and the number of men and their abilities.” Jatin said.

“Kia is alone in the reception today,” I addressed Kanika.

Kanika raised her head from the papers and gave me a blank look.

“Not to worry. The old guard out there is vigilant.” Jatin answered for her. But my eyes stuck to the mark on Kanika’s lips, right at the ridge of the cupid’s bow and the slight protrusion in the middle. It took less than a trice for the truth to blow in my face like a bomb. I scanned Jatin’s face in turn and sure as hell he too had that mark of love bite, only fainter. But more than that, I could make out a streak of colour around the left corner of his mouth, the very shade of almond-pink lipstick Kanika was wearing. Many years ago, when I still worked at the coaching centre, Jatin had that bruise mark on his lips and I had joked about someone having boxed him in his face. He had laughed to his heart’s fill at my naivete before he let me into the secrets of love bites and the distinctive marks of teeth bites

“What are you doing tomorrow evening?” Jatin asked sheepishly. I remembered the air-tickets I had received in mail from Polaris Software Solutions. I pulled out the folded sheet from the front pocket of my shirt and slapped it on the table before him. I was expected to approach them for a personal interview at Bengaluru. The assignment in question was of a domain expert at Johannesburg where Polaris team was launching a software system for an overseas finance company.

“Jet Airways 9W-411 06:30 AM Mumabi to Begaluru…” Jatin read from the printed ticket. He congratulated me with an exaggerated warmth. I turned back without looking at anyone’s face. It was out of the question.

As I dragged my feet towards the railway station, ignoring the calls of share-taxi drivers, I was drowned in a gush of remorse. It was difficult to tell on how many occasions I and Kanika sat alone in the office, many times till late into the evening. We were under instructions to keep the front gate locked after office hours because of the huge number of valuables stored in the mini vault, so there was nothing really to stop us from the worst mischiefs we could have thought of except us. Granted she dolled herself up every once in a while, but wasn’t it a very basic urge? Every time she did that, she looked ravishingly beautiful, and I had steep targets to follow and a bustling office to run. Hell, I didn’t even stop to pay her a compliment. Even today, I had no clue what hurt her, or how lonely she was. She appeared to have opened up to Jatin now. He had managed to do something in a fortnight what I couldn’t do in eight months. And the brute was now extracting his pound of flesh. Or maybe I was getting paranoid. Maybe the filth was a figment of my mind, a product of my own repressed desires.

I called Kanika up in the morning, just as the taxi emerged from the tunnel to Terminal T2 off Western Express Highway. The damned ringtone played out the whole length but she didn’t pick up the phone. The hurt returned to smother my heart like an insistent vulture. At one moment, it welled so hard in my rib cage I asked the driver to take me back home. He was startled by the eccentric request, but he drove straight past the arrival gates and we sped off together. At home, I whiled away till it was the same time of evening.

When I entered the reception, Kia was standing in the middle of the room. She lisped about some door being closed. Realising what she meant to say, I hurled down the semi-darkness of the corridor. The lights of all the classrooms were out and the only light at the far end oozed from the transom above Jatin’s cabin. I was about to knock sharply at the aluminium panel when a moaning sound froze my fingers inches from the door.

“Please —” There was no missing Kanika’s deep-throated voice.

“I’ll love you, forever—” Jatin’s rasping was followed by more gasps and murmuring.

What the hell!

I opened my mouth to call out Kanika but my larynx had turned to lead. In a hypnosis, I put my ear to the tiny gap between the panels, and the sounds that began filling me couldn’t be described any other way than smooching — loud, passionate and raw. The duo was breathing heavily and trying little to stifle their moans.

The Devil was gobbling up the delicious lips…

“My princess, my queen!” he crooned.

“Kiss my everywhere.”

“I love your lips —your breasts—” I heard him gurgling from under a lake.

“Love me everywhere—” murmured the mermaid.

“Forever —forever!”

There came sounds of hasty shuffling and a crash. Some book or a stack of sheets got knocked over and pages fell noisily and slipped about the floor. A lone sheet careened right through the crack under the door and came to rest before my eyes. It had the trademark cones and orbs Kanika doodled on any piece of paper she could lay her hands on.

Something began scrapping the panel next to the door in the place where the spared chair used to be squeezed in. It cheeped and shuddered, cheeped and shuddered.

It cheeped. And it shuddered.

A tempest seemed to have descended upon two trekkers in wilderness. A voice mumbled a trembling soprano. The bull grunted in a curt baritone, rhythmic, like a grandfather clock. A dozen limbs scraped the wooden table top.

Then it stopped.  I discovered I was trembling too.

“Kanika? Are you OK?” Suddenly, I shot off like a bullet that had got stuck in the muzzle of a pistol. Everything inside the cabin came to a freeze.

“Kanika?” I squealed.

“Go away, idiot!” Jatin barked back.

“Kanika?” I insisted.

“Go away, man —Oh, hell!” she hissed.

Or did she say ‘mongrel’?

I broke into a sprint in the corridor itself, banged opened the front door, and scrambled down the stairs. I kept barging into people in the evening time rush and realised after a while I was running down the wrong end on Gokhale Road. But I didn’t stop. I must have covered a good kilometre and was bitterly out of breath when I saw the familiar sign of Goldkeys Unlimited on the other side of the street. On a spur, I turned sharply not caring about the traffic, and then heard the shrill horn of a vehicle closing in with its headlights blasting out my vision. I hesitated, turned, and then pirouetted back and jumped hard across to the right to avoid the damn thing. A loud bang ensued and brakes squealed hard in a chorus. The next thing I knew I was down on the road with my right foot wedged in the front-forks of a motorbike. I didn’t feel the pain till they started pulling my foot out of the bike. I swam between consciousness and blackouts. In between, I noticed the big person holding me was wearing a Goldkeys ID card.

It took the orthopedist about a quarter of an hour to ply my foot back into shape and put it in a plaster cast. Somehow, the shock I had undergone outside Jatin’s cubicle had fused with the smell of the clinic. Shots of painkiller had subdued the physical pain to a dull thumping thing. Curiously, I was feeling disoriented and acutely conscious at the same time. Thankfully, the big guy stayed back for the procedure. He came to visit me briefly as I was shifted to a room. He was a burly man but he had the bearing of someone highly agile. He had a long, grave face that tapered into his chin in a faintly lopsided manner.”

“Vishal More. Field Executive.” He extended his hand as he introduced himself.

“Please tell me, it was God who sent you!” I said. I thanked him profusely for helping me out.

“Not at all. It happened just in front of our office. I had to help.” He said, looking sideways all the time. He looked vaguely familiar.

“Where have we met before?” I asked him.

“Perhaps in some workshop —or training,” he offered.

Which meant he knew who I was. It didn’t make sense. We belonged to different clusters of the company, and there was a dog-eat-dog kind of relationship between the two clusters from top to bottom. Moreover, I was an AVP and he was just a field executive. Fat chance that we attended workshops together.

He was sitting on a circular metal stool at the side of the bed, the kind patients are made to sit on by the physicians for scrutiny. His eyes were locked on a tall gray cylinder in the corner of the room. Its top third was painted mauve.

“You remember Kanika?” I probed him directly.

“What about her?” He said.

“I want to know about her —family.”

He remained silent for long before he said quickly, “She doesn’t have a family.”

I tried to digest his reply but failed. At least, she had a daughter. I told him so.

“I meant she doesn’t have a husband. She was in a live-in relationship with a man who had a family of his own in Baroda.” He clarified, still refusing to look at me.

“You said that man had a family…” I was piqued.

“Because, you need to be alive to have a family. He was run over by a train at Bandra last month.” He said that with an uncalled-for force, as if he was holding a bitter thing in his mouth and was now relieved to have spat it.

A memory stirred in some recess of my body and spread across my limbs. “It was on the 13th of November —a Sunday!” I said. My brain was whirring like a rotor.

For the first time, his eyes came to rest on mine. I cannot say he glared at me with his large, pale eyes, but he seemed to be passing some message to me like a hypnotist would do. At last, he nodded and said ‘yes’, and turned and loped towards the door.

“He was a good friend, wasn’t he?” I called after him and he froze. He was halfway through the door. In the end, he left without answering my query.

A sharp pain in my fractured foot woke me up next day. My pelvis had turned into a slab of stone, my tongue into a stick of bile. But it was clear I needed to remain grounded more than anything else. I requested to be relieved from the hospital and the doctor agreed. The hospital was keen to sell me a pair of carbon fibre crutches but I invested in only one. I was assured I would recover entirely, and within months I would forget I ever had an accident, but I was not so sure. There was no way I was going to forget that evening ever.

After about a week, I received my last pay-cheque from Goldkeys Unlimited in post, along with a letter that both fired me and wished me good health. I had lost my phone again at the accident site and hadn’t acquired a new one since. I had stacked my bedroom with classic novels that had been languishing in my well-nourished bucket-list till now, and was wading neck deep in them. I was doing a good job of keeping all memories of Kanika at bay, but she kept sneaking into my dreams. I would often wake up from deep sleep abruptly, pining for her presence next to me, and finding it hard to resume sleeping. Turning to books didn’t work always. There was the time when I saw her and Jatin making violent love on the table of his office, and there was no door or partition between them and me at all. I rushed to the bathroom when I woke and stood under the shower but it would do nothing to the latent heat that was churning my insides. Through the whorl of anger and hurt, I realized I was feeling aroused too. Strangely, my private part remained shriveled like a raisin. Alarmed, I shook it up briskly, patted, and even pinched it but to no avail. It was the first time I had noticed I was not able to be sexually ready despite a thumping call from the rest of my body. I decided to discuss it with my orthopedist —perhaps my misaligned gait was having an impact on some nerve in my pelvis.

I didn’t forget the story of the man who had died at Bandra on the day I and Kanika had gone to the suburbs to speak with brokers. So, on the day I finished reading Women in Love, I picked up the new walking stick that I had switched to, and ambled to Bandra station. The railway constable kept deflecting my queries till I produced a crisp one thousand rupees note. He quickly got me a cup of tea from the mixing unit after that, and also fished out the details of the victim in the manually maintained register: his name was Vilas More.

Vishal More and Vilas More. Brothers! You didn’t need rocket science to figure that.

The orthopedist suggested I consult a spinal cord specialist. He took the name of Dr Ketan at Lilavati Hospital. It was hard to secure an appointment from the famed doctor but it was worth the wait when I ended before him. He patiently listened to my protracted complaint and then subjected me to even longer scrutiny, tapping the joints of my limbs with a mallet, flexing and twisting my feet and torso, watching my reaction. He taught me a set of exercises and asked me to come back with a bunch of MRI scans after a week. MRI tests weren’t much of a problem, but continuing the exercises in a particular sequence and count day after day was a hassle. I persisted nevertheless, at least it distracted my mind from the ghosts haunting me. The Vilas guy had a family of his own at Baroda but lived with Kanika in Mumbai for a while and they had a daughter. Or did they? And just what Vishal and Vilas were trying to do with Kanika on the platform on that fateful day? There were myriad questions to lose myself in.

Dr Ketan appeared tired the day I turned up with the scans. His assistant said he had performed a marathon operation on some victim of a road crash. He was in the OT all night long. Dr Ketan’s eyes closed once in a while as he studied the MRI reports that the assistant had splattered over a long view box. He studied it intently like a treasure hunter would pore over a complicated map. He switched off the light at last and turned to me.

“No problems. It’s perfect. Why don’t you see a sexologist about it?”

“I don’t like them.” I mumbled.

“Have you had an erection before?” He asked ever so gently. I thought about the spectacle I had witnessed in the field of mustard in my early days as a man, and the first thundering reaction of my organ as I sat waiting for a train on the tiny railway station. And I thought of many more erections. I was already nodding in yes.

He chuckled. “You should give psychotherapy a chance in that case.” I felt like a stupid child who had bunked school. “Because,” he continued, trying hard to stifle a yawn, “It seems more mental than physical. This problem with your man thing.”

Dr Ketan had a translucent skin on his face making the greys under his eyes look massive. He was obviously working too hard for his own good.

“Did you have a trauma or something —like girlfriend left for someone else?” He asked me again.

“Go away, mongrel!” I said.

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I am just a watcher then. Sometimes I watch life, sometimes I watch death; many times I watch in between...

54 thoughts on “The Man Thing (Conclusion)

  1. Another masterpiece concluded. It went where I had no idea it would go! Intense, addictive, action-packed… grounded in the realities of life. It was pretty lyrically-raw in the long run! Congrats on a terrific piece of writing.

    1. I agree More brothers get much less exposure here. Perhaps their part in the narrator’s condition is limited. I promise they will get their share of canvass in the larger format.

  2. Kanika pulled me in different directions. I loved the first part, it was so poetic. This culminating part was action packed in more ways than one.
    Overall, engaging and engrossing, as always.

  3. My word, Uma. What a tour de force. Action-packed with such accurate descriptions; the second realtor; Jatin’s flickering eyes. Kept us guessing all the way. An essay in trust – not.

  4. Wonderfully written. I read it fast, wanting to know what happened next.
    The characters are sketched well and there is so much attention to detail. The pace is breathless. I have not read the first two parts but at no point did the story confuse me.
    Kudos on a very well structured story.

    1. Thank you, Vicki. I believe the saga has ended from the perspective of a short story. A novel could be a different animal though. I am finding it hard to bid adieu to these people, so help me God!

  5. Glad to read all the three parts together. Some more lights on the More brothers could have made it a semi-thriller. It was, undoubtedly, full of thrill and excitement.

    Just a Q, did you write it before the de-moni affair? Because the constable at Bandra station was given a thousand-rupee note…. 🙂

    1. That is precisely the point, Maniparna. The story focuses on the narrator and his concern about certain condition he has developed. The story’s not turning into a thriller is intentional. I feel fortunate that you read it in one go. Many, many thanks!

      About that note of one thousand rupees, I just wanted to antedate the incident to the pre-de-moni era. As a writer, I am a firm believer of the dictum: ‘God is in the details.’

  6. I was away from this site for sometime so I had not noticed that the second part had been released. Nevertheless, today I read all the three parts one after the other. I could barely hold myself to read the details in the second part as my mind was racing ahead of me and thinking about the ending. You have maintained the interest throughout the three parts.

    I love your writing. God lies in details is perhaps your motto. I can see the events unfold in front of my eyes. For some reason I was reminded of novels that I used to read during my college days in the late eighties, especially Ken and Abel. Your writing felt gritty as well as polished to instill a sense of rawness to the events unfolding and drowning the protagonist.

    I felt perhaps you have something more about Vishal More character. At the moment, their meeting seems like a coincidence though you have mentioned that he works in the same office and offering to help a fellow colleague. Nevertheless this meeting helps us to start imagining some kind of malevolence being in store for the men engaged in relationship with Kanika?

    Hindi films are full of coincidences. However, filmmakers like Akira Kurosawa of Japan and many others would prefer to introduce us to the ways of the character so that their subsequent act is believable. For example, if a character has to throw a knife and hit the bullseye during a do-or-die scenario, then the audience is told about it before. You too have first established the case of the missing chair and then telling us in the climax that the chair if present would have impeded in the act. Coming back to the introduction of Vishal More in the story, you have talked about our protagonist noticing the id before blackout and the More character being an employee offering to help a fellow colleague, however my mind still disbelieves. Damn, I am feeling like a critique who despite knowing nothing has to point out something to save his job. The Patron who told Michelangelo that his statue of David had a long nose is also dancing infront of my eyes while I write this. 🙂

    Overall there is so much to love, despite my belaboured attempt at nitpicking. If my words have come out disjointed then it accurately reflects my state of mind, as I am currently grappling in the editing table to streamline and integrated several stories into my documentary. I digress.

    I think you have much in store and a full version of this novel is in the pipeline. If not, then take it as a demand to go ahead and repurpose this into a full fledged novel.

    Wish you all the best!

    1. Sabyasachi, I am hooked to your wildlife films for the immersive world they transcend me to. Your cinematography soars several notches up not only because of the breathtaking footage both audio and video, but also because of the stories you weave around the creatures in unlikely company and surroundings. In short, you have a gifted eye, and and uncanny knack for detecting stories. And therefore, I get worried when I don’t get your feedback on my stories!

      In Vishal More, you have rightly identified a mischievous streak, and potential. Of course, I could have easily chucked him off the story —he may not have appeared at the platform at all, and also, the narrator could have walked inside the Goldkeys branch and easily gathered the same bits of information about Kanika and then come out and be hit by the biker —but I decided to make him what he is, and flesh him out a bit. It makes Kanika so much more vulnerable and acutely insecure. Again, you have rightly identified him as the key to continuation, although I would rather publish the story separately.

      You have given me a new resolve today. (Talk about that)! Thank you ever so much for finding time to read the story, and to nourish my pen.

  7. I like your style of writing and your voice. You kept me interested from beginning to end with your polished style and characters and humour.
    I agree that you have started something with the main characters and they could very well be dropped into a novel

    1. Your comment reassures me I am not wasting my time writing stories or whatever I am posting in this corner. These characters are refusing to leave my mind so I may put them in a long-read as well.

  8. Well, Uma, I am left with so many questions! I feel that there has to be more! You have created characters and a situation that have pulled me in. I am quite sad to let them go. Which suggests you have achieved a primary objective. Strong writing! (I wonder if you will decide to do more with this tale…)

    1. I ‘have achieved a primary objective’: those words couldn’t have come sweeter than that. It was a short story that dealt with a particular subject, so there may be threads dangling loose, although I hope not to a point of flaw. That you didn’t want to let go of the characters has given me oodles of hope. Many thanks, Sandra.

  9. You surprised us again. Who thought it would end this way? 🙂
    Engaging as ever, USP.
    Everybody seems to be screaming for ‘more.’ 🙂 Please let us have the pleasure of reading more of your brilliant writing — like — several chapter put together in a book, maybe? 😉

    Thank you so much, USP. 🙂

  10. You write beautifully! I enjoyed reading the whole story! It was exciting, mesmerizing and seductive.

    I couldn’t help thinking that Kanika for all her charms and intelligence is quite manipulative, perhaps even self-centered and would not make a good long-term partner at all. If she could be so easily swayed to fall for Jatin, who seems quite the manipulator himself, there would be nothing to keep her from wandering later if she would have fallen for the narrator instead. Perhaps he spared himself greater heartbreak..a leg and…em a man part can still heal.
    I’m a fan of your work!

    1. That is a stunning feedback to have received from someone like you. That you are thinking of those characters implies I have got them reasonably right, and their effect is as intended. I am honoured by the readership and the compliments!

  11. Stunned. You possess a rare gift of weaving in details that tug at the heart and trigger an enormous avalanche of empathy towards all of the characters and the whole situation. Towards all the mankind, actually.

    1. I had made a pact with myself to turn the story into a novel (isn’t everyone writing one?😃). But I’d beat the Prince of Denmark any day in procrastination. Your appraisal has rekindled a fire in the cinders gone cold.

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