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Koel’s Song

Koel shuddered. Till now she had ignored all his lecherous looks, suffered his uninvited touches, and pretended not to understand the double entendres full of sexual undertones.

Koel shuddered. Till now she had ignored all his lecherous looks, suffered his uninvited touches, and pretended not to understand the double entendres full of sexual undertones.

The breeze bullied the reeds forcing them to swish and sway to its vagaries, forwards and backwards, this way and that. Everything was as it had been yesterday and the day before. The cuckoo bird continued its ‘coo-coo-once-is-not-enough-here’s-another’, coo-coo call, pleased with its own poetics, its rhythm unfaltering. So much had transpired, yet nothing had changed.

Koel sat on a bench, some distance away from the water. The gently undulating waves over the lake surface soothed her troubled heart. She closed her eyes and inhaled a deep breath, in an effort to transfer the calm deep into her being. The shrill tring of the mobile broke her concentration and the calm that she had gathered, fled along with the few sparrows that were busy looking for worms nearby in the wet earth.

She opened her eyes in irritation and froze at the name displayed on the screen. Her boss, Rakesh Verma.

Isn’t there one moment available to me without that lecher breaking in on my solitude?

The memory rose like bile, sour and unpleasant. She swallowed it like she had done umpteen times, and it sunk to her belly, heavy like discontent.

“Hello!” Her voice shook in spite of her resolution to be strong.

“Koel, why aren’t you in the office today? You didn’t even inform me? Be here in fifteen minutes. We have that presentation to finish…,” he paused, “the one we were working on before I was distracted.” He laughed and she could visualise his leering laughter, bared over teeth stained brown with the stains of the gutkha he was so fond of.

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Koel shuddered. Till now she had ignored all his lecherous looks, suffered his uninvited touches, and pretended not to understand the double entendres full of sexual undertones. She even had an inbox full of mails from him overflowing with lewd pictures. It was his favourite pastime, trying to lure all new female employees with his charms and then boast of his conquests to his coterie. But now, she couldn’t even bear to stand next to him. Not after what had happened yesterday.

She pulled up the sleeve of her loose cotton kurti and gazed at the bruises, turning blue and purple on her creamy skin. That was where he had held her as he’d tried to kiss her, in his cabin where he had detained her on the pretext of the presentation for the upcoming CII Energy Award. Only the timely arrival of the well knowing tea boy had stopped him from indulging in further adventures.

So, today she had bunked the office and stood before the lake, where the sight of the waves rippling over the water in ever growing concentric circles and the gently swaying reeds, calmed her mind and soothed her heart.

Something had to be done. It wasn’t as if no one was aware of his philandering ways. Everyone knew. She had talked to other girls but everyone had told her the same thing.

Ignore.

Adjust.

Brave his advances stoically.

He could make or break their career, being at a very senior position and hailing from a powerful family.

Someone needs to talk about the elephant in the room. I can’t ignore things when they interfere with my self-respect.

The coo coo of the bird penetrated the thoughts swirling around her perturbed mind like the waves breaking on the water surface. She returned to the moment, losing herself presently in the mellifluous song of the cuckoo.

You sing your heart out, dear cuckoo, uncaring of whether anyone hears your song or not. You do it because it is what you were made to do. It takes courage to be true to yourself. I will follow you, brave bird. I refuse to be silent anymore. I will sing my song but unlike you, I will make sure it is heard.

Wasn’t there a Sexual Harassment Committee to handle issues such as these?

Koel gathered her things and rose from the bench in one fluid, confident motion. Soon she was on way to her office, to make some noise which she should have done earlier, instead of subduing her voice.

*

Ding… ding… ding…

The sound of incoming emails pinged one after the other in quick succession. Ahana Mehta looked up on the screen and her eyes widened in surprise. In her two year stint as the Sexual Harassment Committe Chairperson, she had yet to see someone raise a complain. She knew of the rumours about the predatory behaviour of some senior level officials but lack of proof and formal complaint had held her hands. She needed someone to speak up.

Well… Well…

Someone had lodged a formal complaint against the Operations Manager Rakesh Verma. The barrage of lewd pictures was more than enough proof.

She smiled at nothing in particular. Looked like she was going to be very busy in the upcoming weeks. Someone was ready to sing.

This story was shortlisted for our September 2021 Muse of the Month short fiction contest. Our juror for the month Manjul Bajaj says “The author used the writing prompt very well, making it organic to the story’s setting, exposition and title. Brief, to the point story, moves quickly. Could have been layered with more points of interest, either characters or situations.”

Image source: a still from the film Hichki

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