Pinky needed an escape. NOW. She counted the many obstacles blocking her exit.
First, her father. Her phone was buzzing, her manager mostly, and her father glared at it to silence. No one argued with her father.
Second, her costume. If you asked her, it was an 18th century torture chamber. A humongous heap of billowy cotton-candy pink, darned with hundred sequins piercing onto her helpless body. Her older sister’s idea of feminine garb.
They rest sat around Pinky, the circle of elders playing a game of fate. Pinky’s fate to be precise. Her father was constipated with his death stares. Her older sister, Jisha, pregnant yet again with diarrheic stream of disapprovals. And her mother sported a nonchalant calm, an unknown terror whose form and fury Pinky could not even guess.
But these were elementary. At least, in comparison.
Pinky strained to listen to the conversation and not faint in pain as the sequins tore into her. Trump was an idiot. Check. The metro construction was blocking traffic. Check. Bangalore weather was confused, cold a minute, warm the next, raining at the turn. Check. It was like they held a leaky tap over her shackled head, and the dreary drops falling, one excruciating topic after another.
“You’re fidgeting. Are you nervous?”
Pinky froze. As per her sister’s instructions on humility, her head had stayed low. It rose now, and looked up at the Major, and took in the crumbs of samosas scattered on his moustache.
Her father shifted nervously. The phone whimpered.
“It’s a working day”, said Pinky, hating the hint of apology that had crept into her tone, “I was thinking of work.“
The upper-left of the Major’s face twitched as if a fly buzzed there.
“Your work is important to you,” he said. His eyes seemed to drill into hers, “You work with that…girl don’t you?” He stressed on the girl, as if even mentioning Afreen’s name disgusted him.
Pinky considered not responding. She looked at Vishnu, so blissfully detached from the situation. The guy not only ignored his own father, but focussed his undivided attention on an ant dragging a morsel across the room. Perhaps he had found love, she mused.
Her phone buzzed again. Ignoring another call was putting her job at risk. Not that anyone cared. Here she was prancing around like a mid-century princess. She had to leave. NOW.
Pinky stood up firmly.
The Major looked at her, his eyes squinting in a surprised question. He looked at Pinky’s father, as if astounded but not interfering in the lack of cadre discipline in another’s army.
“Pinky will sing a song for you,” declared her father, a high giggle and a surreptitious glare in her direction.
She answered her father in flurry of return glares, tempered with polite yet fractured smiles at the Major.
Jisha settled it for them, “Why don’t you sing Teri Meri.“
That is so low, Pinky’s glare told Jisha Pinky’d been singing that song for a week since Jisha had arrived, and her sister had almost clobbered her. There was only so much loving a family could do when a song got stuck into your head. But for Pinky, that song was a wild animal. So rebellious and free. The final swara had taunted her. And Pinky, patiently worked through sheer drudgery. She had ensnared it and she was proud of it.
“Just one song before she leaves….” said her father. “For work…She has a release today.”
Pinky looked at her father, moved by his show of empathy. Of course, she smelled the trickery. Her family cared as little for her job as the major. They stared at each other, she and her father, sealing the price for her freedom.
She sat down. The song, she began in earnest, smoothening her expressions, as they crammed the corners of her mouth with the stress of the song.
When the final note was stuck, her eyes opened. Her only hope was that the family was not too impressed. Vishnu was still enamoured by the ant. But the Major was clapping.
“Bhesh, Bhesh,” Major said, “What an excellent performance. Delivered like a woman! I always tell Vishnu and my wife. That singing, is like, cooking and knitting and maybe even love. Art for women!”
“Thanks, I guess,” Pinky said, her teeth clenched. Her sister launched a quick warning glare at Pinky.
But Major wasn’t done. “It reminds me so much of those classical music concerts. With color-coordinated singers, the matching jewellery. The nine-yard zaris. Raju…you ever been to one of those?” No one called her father Raju. It was always Mr. Rajkumar. Father insisted on it. “Ha…i’m sure you did. Ahh…what a spectacle. Many of us went just for the sight than the sound.”
Pinky wiped her forehead, and licked her salty lips. They were trembling in the mid-summer Bangalore heat.
“You know…I have a great idea. You should give us an encore,” said Menon, grabbing one of the samosas on the table, and settling back into the sofa. “And this time, wear a Kanjeevaram sari.”
Pinky bit her lips, almost drawing a drop of blood.
“Menon…that is a fine joke!” her father’s weak giggle escaping his lips.
“Joke?” said Menon, his mouth full with the gigantic bite, “I am serious. I would like to see your daughter in a sari.”
Pinky felt a vein in her head throb at the sound of the crunching samosa. She looked at the bowl of ketchup. The glass of water. The pot of caucasia. One of this she would choose. And then enduring the pins tearing into her body, step by step, towards the man, and his imbecilic son, and then she would wreak havoc. She would teach the men a lesson on what more a woman was capable of.
Her mother intervened, “We don’t have saris in the house. Why don’t the two kids visit the park and get to know each other?”
The good thing about being sent out on a romantic getaway to the nearby park, at a time when even the homeless gave it a quick miss was that Pinky could finally access to her phone.
She grabbed her phone, and raced out, almost weeping in relief at being re-united. She’d not even bothered to shed the palace wear. She sorted through the deluge of good morning messages, until she reached Sumanth’s chat. It was in all caps, with too many exclamations, “Five Modules down. What did you do? Deepak is losing it!”
PINKY. It was a disembodied sound, and she looked skywards. Perhaps a divine entity was here to save her? But the followup giggle destroyed her hopes. It was Vishnu, her earthly lame-ass appointed soul mate, who seemed temporarily blessed with the power of speech. Or worse, mistook her for his beloved arthropod? She sat down on a garden bench, and quickly searched for a six-legged creature that she could herself befriend.
“What?” she said to Vishnu as she typed her response in Whatsapp, Can you and Afreen help. Please. I will come to office in an hour. That was a lie. Even if she started now….
“Tell me about yourself!” His voice was unpleasantly high-pitched. “Or should I start?”
The sun bore relentlessly on her head, the dress was like a heat sink. Waves of nausea were hitting her. Was the weather trying to murder her? And what was that smell? A dead rat?
Vishnu had inched into her personal space, his unmasked body odour was an combination of sweat and hair oil. She looked at his lips on an impulse, immediately regretting it. Bubbles of enthusiasm collected beside the embankments of his chapped lips.
“Are you OK?” he asked. Perhaps he was thinking of resuscitating her. Mouth to Mouth and stuff. The thought revived her instantly.
“Oh, I’m fine. Why don’t you go first,” she said, the words tumbling out of her, before her mouth sealed shut. She’d suffocate herself to death than drown in stale air.
“Well. Ok. Where should I begin. I live in the US, as you know. And my hobbies are driving. And I go to work everyday. I work at AMEX. Then when I’m home, I cook. Watch TV. “
She checked her phone again. Her manager had stopped calling her at least. But Sumanth was panicking. I can’t find Afreen. Who will test it?
“What else would you like to know?” said Vishnu.
“Huh… Oh…umm…weekend life?” She said, regretting the length of that sentence. The flow of foul air was immediate. She had to stick to monosyllables.
“Weekends…I am working, mostly. But if no work…TV. Simple,” he said, grinning at the joke that was his life. What about you?”
She sized the guy up. He was probably in India merely to subscribe to the Indian wife channel, she thought. And when he gets it, he’d need a translator. She considered her own reply. Tennis, salsa, part-time MBA, after-office guitar class. But to mention all of that seemed…perilous, to say the least. But why say anything at all? She wasn’t going to see him again. “I love music,” she managed, coughing almost at the effort. She took a gasp of air from the further end of the garden bench. Then they sat for an entirety of six minutes, not a chirpy bird to interrupt the silence.
It was probably the heat. But Pinky finally blurted it, “I…don’t think this will work out.”
Vishnu eyes grew slowly, then darted, first to his feet then towards her, a quick back and forth that was almost weirdly comical. His eyes finally stabilized in front of her, “I…I have a Benz car.”
Pinky wondered how that was relevant. “That’s…nice,” she replied.
The silence returned, as strongly as the heat. Somewhere, a leaf considered falling, dry and hopeless.
“Do you have a boyfriend?” asked Vishnu.
“No” said Pinky. Vishnu mouth and eyes seem to bulge, as if he had gulped down that fly, and some more, and was about to choke it all out. Perhaps he preferred she had a boyfriend. Would be a good excuse to tell the father. The Major’s son had been unmarried too long. They were desperate. She should probably feel sorry for the guy.
The major wouldn’t let this go, of course. The man was vengeful as he was manipulative. And the worst part was that he lived practically next door.
Read Chapter 2 here.