FOR SOME PEOPLE, their day starts with morning music, and for some with a fixed good smile from their spouses. For me a day starts with one big thrust on my cabin door and entry of a large-sized monkey-shaped man, my peon Bora.
“Ma’am, here is your coffee.”
Again a thrust on the door, and he goes out. On seeing him I always remember what Aristotle had written: ‘the man is a social animal’. I am sure he would have written the word animal in bold letters.
I have also read that animals do not smile. I have no idea about other creations of God whether they smile or not. But I am ready to say on oath that Bora has never smiled, not even on his wedding day. This is only the half of the details about him. Another half you would immediately get by just looking at his square face, uncombed hair, and a permanent bidi in his mouth.
We have two different species of animals in our office. Another one is Bhima. He is from the world of sophistication. He is lighter than the light. You can measure his lightness right from his feet. Light slippers in feet, light colour pyjama and kurta, and finally the lightweight head. But whenever you look at him he would be smiling, no reasons needed.
“Would you like biscuit with tea Ma’am?”
And it would fetch him a ten-rupee note. A packet of biscuit costs seven rupees. I take biscuits daily, my doctor has told me so for maintaining good level of sugar in my blood. I remember everything what my doctors tell me. But I do not remember the day when Bhima had given me three Rupees back. After putting the packet on my table he would just stand at the door and would do his all-time favourite act: the smiling.
At home I would talk as less as possible about my office. But whenever Vijay, my dear dear husband, refers to his staff, it would prompt me to stand up on a sofa and clean my throat. “Let… let me introduce my staff.”
I would copy the movements of my entire staff. One-by-one. Miming of the office ranges from slightly erotic to heavily funny—erotic when I talk about the personal secretary, Elena, and funny when I talk about habits of my peons. The most terrible is my local manager’s character, Mr Prakash. He is a thin primitive ape in suit, wearing coloured specs even in darkness.
On Vijay’s ‘once more’ I copy all the functions of Mr. Prakash’s eyeballs, which always keep touring around the regions of Elena’s breasts. There are several other versions of his introduction available from our staff. But the most authentic is like this. He has married twice. First wife always kept his credit cards overdrawn, arranged big parties, and finally eloped with her ex-boyfriend, an owner of a chocolate factory. The second is wealthy, seven years older than him and she, the wealthy second wife, calls him ‘puppy’.
Vijay would keep thumping sofa-sides with bursting pleasure and clap in between. “O my God. Please Julia, have an interval, please. Now I will recognise anyone of your colleagues at first sight.”
This is how my staff provides free of cost entertainment to us.
TODAY BHIMA WAS collecting his monthly loans. He borrows from all those who were addicted to give him money. Borrowing is his time bound habit, always starting from twenty fifth of every month. There are fifteen staff members in my office, including the ‘puppy’. But Bhima would get money only from four persons. And he is man of confidence, too. He would borrow from me only after exhausting the other three sources. He knows that I would never say no. He would look at my purse and smile incessantly, and I would assume that the date must be twenty-seven or twenty-eight.
But today was the different story. He demanded big amount from the three other lenders and had already collected more than Rupees two thousand. He was not smiling today. Strange.
“Sir, my mother is ill. I need five thousand.” He told everyone.
The day was to end and Bhima had not yet contacted me. I had kept the delivery ready for him. I knew certain facts about his mother, too. And at last he came in and looked straight at my purse. He had confidence. He might have hope, as big as Rupees three thousand in his eyes, too.
“Ma’am, my mother is ill. Please give me three thousand. I will repay after getting a loan from Provident Fund. Please, ma’am.”
“You just get out of my cabin.” I delivered all that I had kept ready inside of my skull. It was, perhaps, a big blow for Bhima and a wonder for rest of my staff members. They had never seen me in angry mood.
VIJAY IS READER of the moods. He would have caught the filaments of distress on my face and hence we were sitting on a good chair of a good restaurant in a very good surrounding.
It was on Vijay’s insistence: the dinner.
A waiter in red coat, which they all put on even in hot summer days, first stood beside me, vertical as a new recruit in army. With pole-straight limbs and non-stop smiling, he looked like a red chocolate-bar melting from its top.
In restaurants Vijay always followed a logical sequence. First he would check the menu, searching for the articles that would not act as trained terrorists in our stomachs; and then he would dictate a foot-long order admiring the waiter’s dress, telling him to apply greater portion of his energy for speedy execution of the order. The sequence followed. The melting chocolate-bar, the waiter, wrote down the foot-long order.
“Julia, I am to tell you one thing.”
“Don’t tell me that you have won a lottery.”
“No. I am serious.”
Then the words he spoke, the information he revealed, the circumstances he narrated for not telling me about the issue, and his pleading for an unconditional apology for the matter he kept secret till the day: these everything went into my head and heat like fire balls.
I straightaway left the table, leaving everything as it was, and ran out of the restaurant. I thrust open the car door and sat inside, sobbing, almost crying, and repenting for believing that I was the happiest woman in the world and my husband never kept anything secret from me. It was the greatest defeat for me. I felt as if the land under my feet had been snatched, the land on which I stood firmly till the date. I was still unable to believe what he had said. But it was fact. And the fact was a bombshell: before we met, Vijay was married. He had taken divorce.
“Julia, I… I am…”
“Don’t touch me.”
The road up to home was dead silent. The night was sleepless for me. I did not care whether he was sleeping or awake. He was on drawing room sofa till morning.
NEXT DAY: the coffee is on my table. I do not remember whether Bora has thrust the door or not. Bhima is absent. His Provident Fund loan application is on my table. I sign it immediately for sending it to our head office.
“I will be back within an hour.” I tell Elena who looks after my work in my absence.
I know where Bhima lives with his family.
I drive out of the city. A giant sized ditch, a bucket for dumping the garbage, is a dividing range between main city and the area where Bhima and people like him live. There comes a polluted water pond. It is full of dirty water, as if the whole city had vomited and the liquid is gathered therein. My car dribbles through the heaps of garbage, transported from the city, and then runs on a straight road that looks like a long swollen bruise, or a mark of a flog on back of the land.
On seeing my car, Bhima comes running. He gets me sitting in room from where his wife is visible, sleeping on a cot.
“Bhima, you may not be remembering, you might not have seen me on that day, but I was the only person from our office to visit your home on the day your mother died. It was a rainy day and I sat among women.”
“You know ma’am…”
“It’s okay. Take this three thousand and don’t worry about paying it soon.”
“Ma’am, I lied because I needed money for my wife’s illness, I mean the delivery. Everyone would have laughed at me, as this is our fourth child. So I told everyone in office that my mother was ill.” His eyes are tearful and so are mine.
He makes tea. He gives me biscuits and smiles, too.
Bhima was a small liar. He lied only for a small gain, borrowing money for a week. He is not a cheater. There are people who cheat, and cheat on a great scale. There are cheaters who inflict lifelong wounds on other. [Image courtesy By Julia Margaret Cameron (Yale University Art Gallery ) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]