Saturday, November 01, 2008

The ghost in Miss Devaki’s purse – Part 2 of 2

For those who came in late - Part 1 of 2

The ghost in Miss Devaki’s purse – Part 2 of 2

A ShaKri Tale

IT HAD STARTED FEELING strange that Nandini was actually being led to God knows where by the same woman who had been her biggest fear for so many long years. After the first few steps she was suddenly unsure of her spontaneous albeit noteworthy mission since she was beginning to feel oddly out of place. She knew the moment they took a steep turn into a dimly lit alley that she had somehow managed to make the wrong move. An immediate rush of uncertainty clouded Nandini’s thoughts as she passed by an array of crumbling walls attached to blackened houses with tired housewives looking back at her in mute wonder. This just seemed like a little too much reality for what was supposed to be a more predictable reunion. At least the way it had played out in Nandini’s head at some point. And that’s when she knew – she had to tell the woman who she was even if it was beyond reason.

‘Miss Devaki…’ she mumbled in a tone that still had hints of a primary school girl.

The old woman kept talking to herself in whispers and completely ignored Nandini’s initiative.

‘Miss…Devaki?’ said Nandini again after clearing her throat a little and raising her tone.

‘What is it now? Are you already tired from the walking? Look at me! I am seventy five and still slaving like a dog to keep that bastard happy. What woman my age wants to go through this hell! I can’t even kick the fellow out since that will make me the crazy one! What a life this is! Now shut up and bring my bag. I still insist I wont pay you a dime…’ And then she continued ranting about several things that made Nandini lose complete track of what her original intention was.

But that wasn’t the problem anymore. The moment they stopped at a cream colored wall that had a large poster of some rally by an unknown politician, Nandini was about to get a glimpse of her teacher’s purse and the ghost in it.

There was a distinct smell of something rotting that hit Nandini’s nose. This made her cringe with disgust as she quickly grabbed her veil once again for help. She just couldn’t believe how on earth her teacher had ended up in a place like this. Devaki pulled out a bronze colored key and unlocked the door that opened with a tiny squeal. The interior of what looked like the living room was lit just by the subtle rays of the sun that were peeping through from one of the only two windows in the wall. There was the strong stench of body odor that had enveloped the interiors and got to Nandini once again. As she looked around she realized that right under that open window was a bed on which lay the silent body of someone moaning in dull murmurs.

‘Yes! Yes! Don’t shout! I have brought your bloody medicines! Let us see how many more days this can keep you screaming! Do you hear me? Are you still alive or dead?’ yelled Devaki as she grabbed the bag she had handed to Nandini earlier and disappeared into the only other door that room had.

Nandini walked a little closer to the person on the bed. Just as she had taken two steps further her eyes casually rested on an old black and white photograph that was lying on a pile of two steel trunks and a rolled up mattress. It was clearly a photograph of a couple and needless to say one of them was Devaki but she couldn’t quite place the other person in it. She then walked a little closer to look at it in the light that showered into the room when she heard a shivering masculine voice from the bed say softly ‘…a smaller size of that used to be with her all the time you know…’ Nandini was a bit startled at this rather unexpected interaction and turned to speak to the stranger.

‘Excuse me?’ she said as she took another step closer to the ailing man.

‘….she kept it in her purse then…old stories…who are you?’ he responded straining his silver eyebrows and trying to place the woman in front of him.

‘Uh…’ started Nandini before being interrupted by the old man. ‘Oh… it doesn’t matter. It is nice to have company…would you like to sit down?’

‘No thank you,’ said Nandini as she realized there wasn’t anything in the room to sit on. All the room had was an old carpet rolled and set aside, a medium sized metallic cupboard that had an outdated calendar stuck on it, a rickety tea table with three and three fourth legs and an old bed pan that lay next to it.

‘…times have changed…’ continued the man without acknowledging Nandini’s words, ‘…there was a time I used to say the same thing and people would say ‘Thank you, sir!’ and sit in front of me with respect….now…’ he stopped and turned to look outside the window ‘…even I don’t respect myself for what I did…’

Nandini could swear she had heard that voice somewhere before. But she wasn’t really sure where. That soft gentle way of putting things in perspective and that easy going attitude which could easily win over the toughest of children. Yes – Nandini definitely was having flashbacks about this man too.

A bunch of steel pans rattled in the other room as Devaki yelled back ‘Oh! Don’t worry! I am OK! No need to come and help me! As if you can just walk up on those lifeless legs and hop by to finally free me from this jail!’

Following the incoherent chant from the woman, Nandini ventured the next obvious question.

‘I am sorry about your condition. How did you lose your legs?’

‘….they had warned me against it…’ the old man continued oblivious of Nandini’s existence. ‘…they had told me….Namboodari…don’t do it…Devi is tricking you…don’t do it…what about Parimala…don’t do it…but…’

‘Oh! You are still here! What the hell do you want from me! Go away! I am not giving you any money! Go now! Out! Else I will have to call the neighbors!’ screamed Devaki as she emerged from the room with two small bottles. She waved one of them viciously at Nandini screaming at her to leave.

Nandini took one last look at the couple – the oddest kind she had ever seen, smiled back quickly at the emotionless face of the old man and walked outside the door. No sooner had she stepped out back into the rotting alley Devaki slammed the door shut behind her. ‘Thieves! They are all thieves! They put on perfume now and cheat you…’

A minute later Nandini was out of the alley and into bright sunlight again. She quickly opened her shoulder bag and took out her cell phone. A few buttons later she awaited the call to be picked up.

‘Nanda…where are you?’ said a male voice.

‘Pa I got off at the wrong stop that’s all. Don’t worry. I am waiting for the next bus.’

‘I told you not to take the bus! What is it with you? All auto-drivers are the same. Just pay them whatever and get on one will you! This city is unsafe…and you…’

‘Don’t worry pa,’ she continued realizing that her worried father was missing the point.

‘I am not far away. I will call Shamili and have her pick me up in her bike. But listen…’ she said as she quickly started walking back to the bus stop. ‘Do you remember Vidyavardaka Primary?’

Her father paused for a moment and responded ‘Uhh…yes yes…why?’

‘OK. I will explain that later but was there a man called Namboodari there?’

‘Namboodari? Yes. The Principal of your school. Why?’

‘Do you know anything more about him?’

‘Well,’ continued her father ‘…you were too small then so you didn’t know. The man was fine but they say he had an affair with someone. Some teacher in the school. I don’t know her name but she was definitely not popular. The guy was married too…so that caused more issues they said. Maybe your mother knows I think. I can ask her….but…Nandu…are you OK? Why are you asking me this? Did you meet him?’

After bidding her father a quick goodbye Nandini fell silent for a few seconds. There it was. The ghost in Miss Devaki’s purse. That photograph that showed the two of them together in some random park somewhere. The dirty little secret that nasty woman had hidden from everyone at that school. Nandini suddenly saw the irony that the crime she had been publicly humiliated for was actually something Devaki was guilty of. Not only had she stolen the man from his wife but had made him absolutely miserable in what were possibly his last few days. How they both went from being respectable educators to leading an insufferable existence in a nameless shanty town was best left unexplored.

And just like that – Nandini was no longer afraid. No longer did the threatening looks of the men on that street bother her. No longer did the rabid looking canine scare her. No longer did the stench of the rubbish annoy her. No longer did the disturbing image of her past haunt her since now she knew – she had not only found the ghost but had also released it. The smacks she had received for being an innocent had returned to haunt Devaki for the rest of her life. Namboodari was just paying the price.

And as for Nandini, well she had finally found redemption.

End of Part 2

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