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But one just needed to scratch the surface, and voila! It revealed a truth bitter than medicines. People behaved like dogs in heat, panting after anybody in a skirt or a saree.
Kalyani was about to knock at her superior’s door, when the desk phone trilled. Muttering a silent curse to herself, she turned back, and proceeded to her position. There goes my plan of leaving early! She could hear him barking into the phone, and felt sorry for the person at the other end of the line. No wonder the people fear the police! Suddenly, the hair on her skin stood up. Did she hear the name right? No! It must have been a figment of her imagination. And then, she froze in her tracks. The inspector was confirming the name. Sunshine Housing Society it was!
She tottered to her desk, gasping for air.
“Kamble! You ok? You look as though you have seen a ghost!” Constable Kulkarni looked at her with concern, while biting into a vada pav.
“Yes! I am fine. Thank you!” she muttered, grabbing a glass of water, and gulping it down in one go.
Just then, Inspector Dahale barged in. “Constable Kamble and Kulkarni! You will come with me. We are going to Sunshine Housing Society in Bandra. The caller said there has been a ruckus!” He paused, “If it’s some random rich people creating a nuisance, aai shapath, I am not going to spare them for spoiling my Friday plans.”
The police jeep was speeding towards its destination. Rows of aesthetically constructed houses stood on either side of the street. The city of Mumbai was notorious for its space crunch, an only the affluent could afford a decent looking accommodation in posh areas. Kalyani sat in the back of the jeep. She didn’t utter a word, but her face was still pale. It couldn’t be happening! She had tried to obliterate those painful memories, but they came gushing in, like water which had freed itself from the confines of a dam.
Her mother Manjari had worked as a household help in Sunshine Housing Society. A little Kalyani used to accompany her aai during the weekends. She used to look forward to those days. The spic and span houses attracted the naïve mind. She felt ashamed of her cramped one-room dwelling in a chawl. But castles built in the air have an uncanny ability of getting demolished by a sudden spurt in maturity! In the case of Kalyani, it came swooping down on her, like a hawk taking off with a rat. She had been admiring the intricate designs of a flower vase, when it fell to the floor, shattered to smithereens.
On an impulse, Kalyani looked at her right hand. The scar was still there. Not only had she been slapped by the Saklanis, they had also traumatised the kid. And as for the vase, they ensured that they were compensated for it, by deducting Manjari’s salary. The stoic lady hadn’t complained, but had slogged like a dog, and had ensured that her only daughter get a decent education.
The jeep screeched to a halt in front of a familiar fate. She could hear Dahale muttering Flat 23D. That belonged to the Saklani family. Come on, Kalyani. You are a policewoman now! You need not fear them! With that, Constable Kalyani Kamble got down from the jeep.
Nothing had changed! The same old rickety wooden box inside which the security personnel sat, a noisy table fan whirring in the svelte heat. The garden with shrubs sans flowers! Every morning, before dawn, the residents would move around like ghosts, and pluck them. Maybe God was happy with them, for they never seemed to lack in wealth.
The lift stopped at the 23rd floor. Kalyani stepped out, and turned right automatically.
“How did you know it?” asked Kulkarni. Kalyani kept mum.
How many times had she seen this? It had always been her aai cleaning up the mess.
Paper cups, cigarette butts, vomit. There were even a couple of broken flower pots, the mud spilling out, oddly angled flowers with broken stems. And then because it was all so depressing, the overturned plastic chairs and food half-eaten on Styrofoam plates, she knew in that moment that she would have to make up her mind about it all. Did she really want to be here? A part of her wanted to throw up, and exit this goddamn place. Another voice whispered to her to stay put, and face it like a hero. Her past was beyond her.
Her ears perked up when she heard the drawling voice of Sheela Saklani. There she was! Dressed as elegantly as ever in a sequinned gown, she glided to the scene, and whispered in a rather embarrassed tone. “I am so sorry, Inspector. The neighbours might have called you. I apologise profusely for this. The party went a little out of control.” She chuckled, and continued, “But I have taken care of it. The guests have left.”
Her eyes met Kalyani’s for a second. And then, she turned her attention to Inspector Dahale. She hadn’t recognised Kalyani. And why should she? The family hadn’t seen her after that incident with the vase!
Kalyani didn’t hear what the inspector was saying to Saklani. She looked around, and had to stop herself from chuckling. To think she had yearned for those weekends in this façade. She had been blown away by the wealth and the veneer of sophistication that masked those made-up faces! But one just needed to scratch the surface, and voila! It revealed a truth bitter than medicines. People behaved like dogs in heat, panting after anybody in a skirt or a saree. Kalyani could have rattled off the happenings without pausing for breath. Mr. Saklani would have touched a girl inappropriately, or a guest might have thrown a fit for the cheap quality of alcohol. Down several pegs, some might have puked on the fake Persian carpet. Dustbins? What are they? Something for the lowly middle-class!
Kalyani sighed, and realised that Inspector Dahale was taking leave of Mrs Saklani. As she crossed the gate, she turned back one final time. She mentally thanked her aai for her upbringing, and her beloved Ganpati that she wasn’t born amongst these ‘beasts’. With that, she got into the jeep.
This story had been shortlisted for our October 2021 Muse of the Month short fiction contest. The juror, Himanjali Sankar has commented: “An impactful story, visual and tense, which takes us through one evening in the life of the protagonist which helps her and, by extension, her readers come to certain conclusions about life and how our childhoods don’t leave us till we understand the true meaning of what we went through as children.”
Image source: shutterstock
I am an IT professional, lost in the monotonous world of Excel. So, I seek refuge in Word, pun intended.
I write for various literary platforms and have quite a few anthologies to my credit.
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If her MIL had accepted her with some affection, wouldn't they have built a mutually happier relationship by now?
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