At half past two, Shekhar’s mobile phone rang in his coat pocket and he shuddered. The phone call, the whirlpool of dark clouds and the warning flashed in his mind. He felt uneasy and hesitantly took out his mobile phone; it was his friend, Dr. Gupta.
Shekhar stood up in his office and walked to the window and looked at the garden facing his cabin; the kids had gone.
‘Hello,’ Shekhar said, his Blackberry on his right ear.
‘Hello, buddy,’ a familiar voice said, ‘I’m goin’ to Australia for a conference. Will be back in a fortnight.’
‘Do you want anythin’ from Australia?’
‘Bring a kangaroo for me.’
The familiar voice on the other end of the phone broke into an easy laughter. ‘I know you love animals, why don’t you adopt a puppy or cat? Anyway, I’m going but your bhabhi is not going’ he continued ‘cause of Aarav’s exams. Just wanted to ask you to take care of them while I’m not here.’
‘Okay, thanks buddy.’
Shekhar smiled. ‘Call me when you return.’
‘Okay, see ya.’
Shekhar hung up. He thought about his friend’s family, about his wife and son. This was precisely why he never got married. Marriage, for Shekhar, was just a liability. It was like a restaurant, with a fixed menu for every day. Boring! Why should he marry when he could have different, delicious meals, every day? Marriage was nothing but easy availability of sex, and Shekhar didn’t wish to fuck the same woman every day. Marriage was not his cup of tea.
Shekhar sank into his chair and opened a file. After a minute of flipping through the file, he casually glanced at his black phone sitting on his desk.
He threw the file on the desk, picked the receiver up and dialled a number. ‘Hello, sir, this is Shekhar Kapoor,’ a fake smile spread on Shekhar’s face. ‘You know what I want. I bought Feetland Shoe Company six months back but it’s still of no use to me. The workers are on strike and they are not even letting the new workers work.’ Shekhar paused to listen to the man on the phone, ‘I know the court has granted them stay but…’ Shekhar licked his lips, ‘You’re the superintendent of police, and you can do anything... hmm… hmm… Do me this one favour and you’d be rewarded suitably.’ Shekhar dropped the receiver on the cradle and muttered, ‘Lazy asshole.’
Around 8 p.m., Shekhar was having alcohol while watching the news channel and imprecating the Government. He was dressed in starched white kurta-pajamas, sitting comfortably on the couch in his bedroom. Before him was the coffee-table and on it was a bottle of Jim Beam, a glass, a soda bottle and ice cubes in the ice bucket. Shekhar took a long gulp and heard a knock on the partly-opened bedroom door. He looked towards the door and saw a beautiful girl, dressed in red, standing at the threshold.
‘Sir, I’m Hrishita.’
Woman on top, Shekhar thought as he nodded, ‘Come in.’
Hrishita entered meekly and sat on the couch.
‘When did you join?’
‘Wanna have a drink?’ Shekhar asked.
Shekhar asked her to fetch a glass from the mini-bar located in the corner of his bedroom and he poured drink in the glass with some soda and handed her the glass.
Around four in the morning, Shekhar slowly opened his eyes, confused. He was in his bed. He looked around and found someone sleeping in his bed, her back facing him. He slid off the bed, walked to the other side and saw her face. The woman on the bed was Hrishita. How could I forget? Shekhar thought.
Shekhar looked at his watch and moaned. He did not know what woke him up but there was no sleep in his bloodshot eyes. He looked at the empty bottle of Jim Beam and the empty glasses on the table. He opened the door, exited the room and stood in the balcony, pondering. He did not know what he wanted to do. After fifteen minutes, he was still strolling in the balcony, thoughtful. He eyed the door next to his room. He looked around, went closer to the door and carefully opened it, trying to make no noise. An old man lay on the bed in the room in the dark, motionless. Shekhar felt his heart beat increase. He strained his ears to listen to the old man’s snore, the only evidence that he was alive. He felt a strange restlessness to see the old man and hear him snore. The old man was his father, Balraj Kapoor, a paralytic bedridden man who had spent the last ten years of his life on this very bed.
Feeling restless, Shekhar closed the door and walked back to the balcony. He felt something strange in the air—fear?
This sequence of events was not unusual. From opening the bottle of whisky to strolling in the balcony and listening to his father’s snore was his daily routine. He hated spending his nights awake, constantly turning in bed with an uneasy restlessness. He had consulted with many doctors, including his friend, Dr. Gupta, for the same problem and had taken many treatments as well. All possible solutions were tried, but the problem was never solved. Many times, Shekhar would wake up with the feeling of invisible hands strangling him.
Around half past five, after millions of directionless thoughts had consumed him, he went to bed and fell asleep again.
In the darkness, Shekhar stood bewildered, unable to figure out of where he was. The only shred of light his retina could sense was reflecting from a huge diamond chandelier hung overhead. In the faint light, he could see the flooring below his feet. It was a brilliant combination of black and white marbles, studded with glittering diamonds and shining white and black pearls, all together combining to form a beautiful flower—a lotus.
Shekhar's eyes glinted looking at the treasure trove. The businessman inside him had already calculated its worth—more than one hundred million. His expression slowly transformed into confusion--Where am I? The question made him uneasy.
He looked around—he was enveloped in darkness—no light except the shimmering diamonds on the floor reflecting the chandelier overhead. He strained his eyes to see more, but the impenetrable darkness did not permit it. Chilling air breezed into the room; a stench of burning flesh filled his nostrils and forced him to exhale. His confusion grew and a sudden noise almost made him gasp. A noise, a grunting sound—someone's breath perhaps. He could feel the hair on his neck stand up. He tried to move his feet but they were too heavy to lift. He stood there motionless, biting his lips, his eyes were wide open. He heard the noise again; by that time an ominous feeling had engulfed him.
Taking a deep breath, he mustered all his might and placed his step forward. He heard what sounded like someone exhaling and the sound again incited the same feeling in him. Suddenly, a force with a deafening roar threw him back on the lavish floor. Shekhar was shocked. He could swear that nothing had touched him. He was sure that what pushed him was an impalpable and invisible force—a force that roared like thunder. Lying on the opulent floor, he waited for something to happen, his limbs trembling with fear. He sensed a movement in the darkness.
Emerging from the dark was an enormous hand that wrapped around Shekhar’s head with crushing force, its nails almost ripping apart his scalp. His eyes bulged out. He heard a husky, frightening, chilly voice--Guilty. His head creaked.
Shekhar woke up in his comfortable bed, his forehead wet with sweat beads. He wiped it off with his palm. His protruded eyes were red with engorged blood vessels and his corpulent sweaty face was pale. Was it a dream? He touched his head—still uncrushed. He sighed, sat up and looked to the other side of the bed. It was empty, Hrishita had left.
How much do you think the flooring you saw in your nightmare cost, a dull voice said contemptuously in his head. Shekhar furrowed his eyebrows, squinted and thought, How is this possible? It is not possible to know about anyone’s dream. Then how was this happening?
After an hour, Shekhar Kapoor stood before a full length mirror in his room. The man in the reflection was in his late thirties, stout and short—all of five feet four inches, with brown slicked hair and hazy black eyes. He stood in a brown single-breasted suit that strained to cover his amply large belly. The man in the reflection stared at Shekhar’s belly with a gloomy expression. He combed his French cut beard thinking about the nightmare, 13th time this month, should I talk to someone? But then he had no one to talk to. He thought about his only friend Dr. Gupta, but he was out of the country. He turned to leave, slipped his mobile phone in his pocket, his mind still brooding over the dream, the phone call and the mysterious event, as he left the room. His Italian leather shoes squeaked as he walked in the balcony of his splendid house, a brown stone mansion with walnut wood flooring.
From the balcony, he looked at the half-ajar door of his father’s room. Making no sound, he covertly peeped in. His father was lying on the bed. He looked at the old man for five seconds, and noticed little movement in his father’s right index finger. Yes, he’s alive. He moved ahead towards the staircase and walked down a flight of marvellous maple wood stairs.
In the kitchen, an old servant, Manohar, was cooking breakfast for Shekhar--aaloo paratha—Shekhar’s favourite. He flipped the sizzling paratha on the pan. Manohar had lost all hopes that this house could again be what it used to be. There was no laughing, no talking and no singing in the house. The only thing one could hear was deafening silence. Manohar had been a servant in the house since Shekhar was a three year old child, and he had seen the family at its best, smiling and singing. Balraj Kapoor was a cheerful man and his wife, Anita Kapoor, had a beautiful voice. Earlier, she sang and hummed most of the times but everything had changed now. Manohar again flipped the paratha on the pan. Balraj Kapoor, the one who could not even sit himself up or feed himself now, was once a cheerful man. Alas, now he was just a bag of bones, bedridden and melancholic. What made Manohar worry the most was not his master’s health, it was his gloominess. Balraj Kapoor rarely spoke anymore, and it was not just because half of his tongue was paralyzed along with most of his body. It was the melancholy in his heart that made him so cheerless that he couldn’t even bear to savour himself alive.
Manohar placed the paratha and chutney in a plate and carried the tray to the living room and waited for Shekhar. Shekhar, in his brown suit and brown Italian leather shoes, came down and, without giving Manohar a second glance, looked at his mother’s photograph and walked towards the door to leave.
‘Shekhar baba, have breakfast,’ Manohar said, ‘Your favourite, aaloo paratha.’
Shekhar stopped, turned and said, ‘I don’t want to eat.’
‘Shekhar baba, you don’t take care of yourself, you don’t eat on time.’
‘Kaka, I can take care of myself. You don’t need to worry.’
Shekhar turned to leave.
Manohar didn’t feel good. He wanted to change the ambience of the house and tried to do so every day, but nothing was changing. No one wanted to change, neither Shekhar nor his father. He knew why Shekhar’s father was doing what he was doing, but Manohar had no idea what Shekhar was thinking.
Shekhar was almost at the door. Manohar, uncertain, said, ‘Shekhar baba, can I ask you something?’
Shekhar turned back, and unwillingly said, ‘Okay!’
Manohar didn’t know whether he should ask the question or not but the problem was a burden to him. He said, ‘Shekhar baba, I want to know one thing… why… why don’t you talk to your father?’
Shekhar's face made it evident that he wanted to avoid the question. Manohar eyed him, waiting for an answer.
Shekhar stood without a word.
‘If you’re doing so intentionally,’ Manohar continued, ‘there must be some reason. You refuse to talk to your dying father!’ Manohar kept looking at Shekhar.
‘I don’t talk to him because…’ Shekhar said, and after a pause, he added, ‘I hate him.’
‘You hate your father?’ Manohar asked, evidently taken aback by this revelation. ‘Why?’
‘Because he killed my mother,’ Shekhar said, his voice louder. ‘I hate him, he killed her.’
‘He didn’t kill your mother,’ Manohar said, unbelieving his ears. ‘It was an accident!’
‘It was no accident,’ yelled Shekhar. ‘She didn’t know how to drive, then why was she driving? And where to? Why was dad not with her? Because he was busy making money!’
‘This is not true,’ Manohar said. ‘Bade sahib loved memsaab a lot. It was an accident that ruined his world.’
‘He killed my mom,’ Shekhar muttered.
‘Shekhar baba, twenty four years have passed,’ Manohar said. ‘You and bade sahib lost her, now let it go. He is on his death-bed, talk to him. He needs you.’
Shekhar had stopped talking to his father after his mother’s death but after his father’s paralysis ten years ago, his father had not even seen his own son’s face.
‘Please talk to him,’ begged Manohar.
Shekhar did not answer; he looked in Manohar’s eyes and walked out the door.
Manohar's eyes widened and he could not utter another word. He saw something in Shekhar’s eyes that he never expected when he had fed him in his childhood. The expression in his eyes clearly stated that he was a servant.
Manohar looked at the tray and missed young Shekhar, his innocent face, his playful mischievousness, his cute talks. He went into the kitchen and angrily threw the parathas and the chutney in the garbage bin.
If you want to read the book on your Android phone, first download "Amazon kindle app" from google play and purchase the e-book from amazon. It will appear in your kindle app, open the book in the app and enjoy it with a cup of coffee.