Wednesday, 20 January 2010

A Ghost Incident

(This is a true incident, happened to one of my friends)

At the first glance, the Inn looked like another one of the myriads of cheap Inns that spread all over the city of London. A marked entrance from a quite alleyway, the cracked paint, the dirty windows, wilted plants in the pot, a sad attempt at decorating which had ended up different walls sporting yellow, orange and a hue of cream, a few prints and the latest addition of a big Plasma TV crowding the already cramped seating area.

Jeremy, however, had other considerations than being concerned about the theme of interior decor. It was the middle of winter, and the city was brimming with harassed residents scurrying about to finish the Christmas shopping. And so far Jeremy could not find a place to put down his equipment and spend the night, let alone take a shower in preparation for his impending interview with the aging actor in two hour’s time.

That was a ‘down’ day for Jeremy – not that he was not used to it. The days in the life as a freelance investigative journalist had its ups and downs – Ups when a piece is finally accepted by the Editors and when the cheque arrives, ‘down’s when he has to travel far and wild looking for a needle in the hay sack, with nothing but toast and canned beans to sustain with and an option of plain tap water or cheap wine.

But that is what he likes about the job – the uncertainties and the plain adrenalin rush of meeting strange people. Of unknown smells and sounds. Of decayed bodies and dilapidated houses. The ethereal feeling of achievement when a piece was finally emailed to the editor after being written, rewritten, read, reread and edited the hundredth time. And the almost unbearable tension between the email and the rejection slip. Or the much awaited acceptance letter.

‘Do you have a room’?

Jeremy was not in a mood to the ‘Good afternoon sir’ crap the adolescent youth was belching out, in between his preoccupation with the Plasma screen and the computer game he was playing.

‘Well, it depends..’ The youth was kind of playing coquettish.

‘Depends on..?’ A headache was coming. Jeremy wanted a drink. On the rocks.

‘Depends on your requirement. We have a basement room, but I am afraid it has not been used for sometime’ , announced the youth with a name tag Kevin attached to his greasy shirt.

Jeremy was ready to take the reception floor, if they would allow. Climbing down the rickety steps and walking haphazardly through the dingy basement, past the broken furniture, moldy curtains and broken hotel equipment, Jeremy opened the room expecting the worse.

‘whhoosh’ the whistle came out unexpectedly out of the lips, the room was not at all what he expected.

It was well lit though with an overpowering smell of room de-odorants competing with antiseptic lotion. Surprisingly, the radiator was working and the mattress and the duet seemed new.

After a hasty shower, Jeremy decided to take a deep breath and relax , to ‘unclutter’ the mind and to concentrate on the task in hand, to actually pump out something a bit original from the actor, who has had his life shredded to pieces, sub pieces and then to atoms by journalists before him.

Five minutes on the chair, the fatigue of the past seven days began to set in. Requesting the reception for a wake up call in one hour’s time, Jeremy hit the bed, expecting the long ignored sleep to jump into bed with him.

But sleep was reluctant, and Jeremy gazed directly at the fan working lazily overhead. There was something wrong with the fan, he mused, why did the fan blades look like it has been tampered with, as it was bent downwards with force, then made straight? Has something happened here?

Jeremy tried to shake off the silly feeling of uneasiness creeping on to him and tried to look at other things around – like the door knob. The door knob which looked gleaming new and not matching with the old door. Why did the management put in the new door knob? What was wrong with the old one? Now the tinkling sensation started crying out loud in his brain.

And suddenly there came a sound from the corner near the cupboard. Trying to laugh at himself for acting silly, Jeremy moved to the cupboard in the corner and opened the door. It was empty save for some hangers on the rail.

‘What did I expect’? Jeremy chuckled, in relief.

While closing the door, the fresh newspaper sitting on top of the cupboard drawer caught his attention. Mentally lauding the management for the sheer insight of providing the guests with newspapers in room, he brought it to the bed and opened it.

The news staring back at him all looked almost 6 months old, though still had the smell of fresh newsprint. As if somebody left the newspaper over there, but never bothered to open it. Ditto those people who occupied the room for the past 6 months.

Scanning through the aged news, Jeremy suddenly felt a bolt of lightning passing through his body. Almost hidden beneath a big smiling photo of Gordon Brown, a small 4 column news caught his attention.

‘Youth found murdered in hotel room’

London: The body 18 year old girl is found in the basement of an Inn in the capital city yesterday. The Police suspects homicide as the body was badly mutilated. The hotel declined comments’.

Jeremys’s throat suddenly felt dry. He could sense a presence in the room. The rotting smell suddenly became very intense and Jeremy could feel a sharp chill.

Sweat began tricking on Jeremy’s body. With shaking hands, he picked up his cell phone and dialed Cain, the reporter for local page and a friend.

‘Cain, chap, I want an information’

‘Shoot , but with a price tag attached’ joked Cain.

‘Do you remember a girl being murdered in a hotel room in the Kings Cross area six months back?’


‘Which hotel was it?’

Before Cain could complete uttering the hotel’s name, the bulbs flashed with a crack. The chill closed on him like a blanket, suffocating.

Jeremy, with his bag and phone leaped out of the room.

‘Can I have another room, please’? Praying that the receptionist could not detect the scratchy notes in his voice, Jeremy inquired.

All of a sudden, the supervisor who had his back on him on the pretext of checking something, turned to face Jeremy.

‘Is there any problem?’ Kevin the receptionist and the supervisor asked in unison.

‘No, but I would like to have another room , please’

‘I am sorry sir, no rooms are available, but if you wish, we can keep your luggage in the luggage room and wait to see if there are any last minute cancellations’.

Still wondering why the receptionist and the supervisor were suddenly being very devoted to his comforts, Jeremy left the luggage to embrace the darkness and chill of the winter nights and the unearthly ego of the actor.

Later on, while nursing a drink in the late night bar closer to the Inn, Jeremy spotted Kevin coming in.

Kevin came hesitantly to Jeremy.

‘Mind if I sit down’?

‘No’ Jeremy was not in the mood for pleasantries.

‘Why did you want to change the room earlier’? Kevin was not taking the put off.

‘Well, I suddenly decided that I don’t like basement rooms that much’ Jeremy countered, willing him to go away.

‘Oh, well, I thought something would have happened….’ Kevin got up to leave in mid sentence, causing Jeremy’s curiosity antennas to perk up.

‘What would have happen there’? Jeremy decided to take the bite, and ordered a drink for Kevin.

‘Well, it was six months back...’ started Kevin.

‘And a girl got killed in the basement room’ completed Jeremy.

Giving an odd look, Kevin continued, ‘Now that you know, I had better finish the whole story’.

‘After the murder, the room was roped off for a long time, pending Police investigation. When the Police gave us a clearance two months back, the housekeeping stripped down the entire room including the carpets and cleaned it. We put in new bedding as the old bed was soaked with blood. Also the room was pretty damaged, and there was a rope dangling from the fan, as if someone was trying to hang a body by the rope attached to the fan. After cleaning, we had plans to rent out the room as usual. The first guest in the room was a middle aged tourist from Paris, who came to London that morning.

Around 2 at night, house keeping crew heard a blood curdling shriek from that room and went running to check. They could hear strange noises, as if a man was struggling to breathe hard’

Kevin stopped for a moment as if recounting the happenings on that spooky night.

‘Suddenly the door opened and the guest tumbled out. He was looking all spooked, and had turned pink. The veins on his neck were throbbing , and his eyes were twitching. He was palpitating and fell into the hands of the head housekeeper.

Later on, after the ambulance crew departed, the tourist came to the reception, refusing to go back to the room.’

‘There is a girl in that room’ he said and we all felt goose bumps breaking out.

‘I but there are no girls there. Even the housekeeping crew today does not have girls in the team’ The supervisor said.

‘No, there is a girl, I have seen her quite clearly’ the man insisted.

‘I was sleeping soundly and suddenly I felt someone near the bed. I opened my eyes to see a girl with hands reaching out to my neck . I tried to get up , but she pinned me down. She had her fingers around my throat and she was trying to strangle me’ The man shuddered at the thought.

‘We were ready to write it off as a night-mare until,’ continued Kevin ‘ Until the man described the girl to us. The girl exactly matched with the descriptions of the other girl who got killed’

Now Jeremy was fully awake in spite of the exhaustion.

Kevin polished off the drink and got to up to leave and paused, ‘He said the girl was wearing a green top with cream jeans. Exactly what the dead girl was wearing. Now how would you explain it?’

Jeremy didn’t have an answer. On second thoughts he didn’t have answer as to how a six month’s old newspaper came about in the cupboard, after all the clean-up in the room.

However, Jeremy never returned to that Inn for another night.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Anita dances

‘‘Two Thousand’‘ proposed Anita, her practiced eye taking in the air conditioned car and the Armani Suit.

‘‘Eh?’‘ The man raised his eyebrow as if amused. But showed no indication that he was interested.

Anita was holding her breath. The business was not very good for the past few nights. And the kid’s school fees were due. She had to have this one.

‘‘Fifteen Hundred?’‘ She tried to adjust her pose, to draw his attention to her assets. Haggling was hard work. A desperate ‘‘please, please, please’‘ hung in air, silent.

‘‘Get in’‘ said he.

‘‘I wont stay for long’‘ Anita tried to set the ground rules, indicating that he would have the honour of her full night‘s service, only if he had agreed to pay the full amount.
He didn’t seem to notice that.

She stepped into the soothing climate controlled air , thankful to be at last away from the heat and humidity and subtly sniffed the arm prits. There is nothing like a bit of body odor to put off men, she had learnt her lesson early in her career. Then it would make a wasteful journey.

‘‘Five Hundred to the school, Two Hundred to the milk man, Two hundred to the vegetable vendor, A Hundred for the Lord Shiva temple’‘……. Closing the eyes, she started ticking off silently. A few hours of work today would cover some of the bills. And some money needs to go to the Savings Account towards the kid’s education.
‘‘What’s your name’‘? The driver asked casually.
‘‘Rani’‘ Anita replied automatically.
Rani had been her alter ego for years now. Ever since Rohan died in an automobile accident, leaving Anita and the kids to fend for themselves in the big bustling city of Mumbai. Ever since the day, when Anita, draped her heavy silk sarees and jasmine flowers, finally agreed to pay a visit to the old, hawkish landlord who threatened to throw her and the children out otherwise. And later on to others too, when Ram was caught a fever and hospitalized, then Juhi was sent back home from school for not paying her fees. Ever since Ram fainted at school because he had nothing to eat for 2 consecutive days. The evolution was stressful, to say the least. But here she is, seen all, done all- almost a professional.
The man fell silent , negotiating expertly the route to the nearest cheap motel. A blessing, thought Anita. There are some creeps, who bore you with their biographies too, as if boring in bed was not enough.
Wearily glancing around, she wondered whether Ram and Juhi had finished their dinner of chapattis and curry. Ram had a bit of temperature when she left . Now, if the temperature wouldn’t subside, she might have to take him to the doctor in the morning. Then, to cover the doctor’s bills, she would have to ‘‘work’‘ a few hours extra. Perhaps a second customer on the same day.

‘‘Oh, Shiv Mahraj, I will put a 50 rupee note in your bhandar tomorrow, if Ram is alright’‘ offered Anita, desperately praying that the God will take that bait.
‘‘Rani, do you dance?’‘ asked the driver.

‘‘Yes Ji’‘, replied Anita, reminiscing all the years of religiously practicing the Indian Classical dance. Of learning to emulate peacocks with her fingers and Rasas with her eyes. Of indicating love with a gracious tilt of the head and fear with raised eyebrows. The Mudras and Adavu’‘s one has to practice over and over.

Back in the village, her amma used to say ‘‘A girl has to know classical dance and music to be a good housewife’‘ True to the Hindu tradition, Anita had learnt all classical art forms, along with cooking and cleaning in preparation for the marriage. She was being chiseled out to be the perfect Indian bride.

Last year , when Anita, suitably clad in the widow’s shabby white visited her parents during the yearly trip to the village, Amma remarked,

‘‘Thank God that Anita has a good job’‘

‘‘All Lord Shivji’‘s kripa’‘ agreed Anita, hating herself for the double act.

But on the other hand, if someone in the village comes to know of her profession, which suitable boy will come forward to marry Juhi?

‘‘Do an item number* when we reach the hotel’‘ instructed the driver, pushing a CD into the player. The almost barbarian beatings and lewd lyrics of the latest Bollywood hit filled the car. Anita started practicing the hip movements in mind, and hoped that he would perhaps pay a bit extra for the dance.
Doing a dance routine among other things can be very tiring, agreed Anitha, while gathering the clothes a long time later on. Its almost dawn and there is no chance for a second round this night. Looking at the client she had hoped that he was well pleased to offer a tip. After all, she did a professional’s job.

‘jee’ Anitha tried to attract his attention from the Business channel to no avail.

‘Jee’ she tried again after waiting for another five minutes. The man did not stir. Anitha tried to shuffle her feet on the ground. The man was engrossed in the TV, and paid no attention to Anitha.
‘My money’’ she tried to tap him on the shoulder.

‘What’? he turned around and looked fiercely at Anitha. At that moment he saw a manic’s glare in his eyes.
‘I have to go’ she mumbled, taking a step backward. And the first blow hit her on the shoulder.

‘You want money, you bitch?’ the man towered over her, belt in hand. It hit her body. Anitha was still in shock to react and she didn’t feel any pain. Afterall, all sensations had left her years ago. Why should one feel pain, where there are important things like money to think of?

The man was advancing on her with belt in hand. ‘money, you want money?’ he kept on chanting, as if in a violent trance. Clutching her handbag, which had a few coins to cover for her bus journey, Anitha tried to hide behind the corner unit.
As the TV anchor was still analysing the unprecedented fall in the share market , the man became more and more agitated. ‘’I lost everything and now you are asking for more money?’’ he was in the stages of delirium. And the lashings came one by one. Till blackness descended on her.
When she woke up hours later in the room, she was looking into the face of the duty doctor. ‘Where am I? where is Ram and Juhi’ Anitha panicked. But no one was paying attention.

‘You can go now. We haven’t called the Police; cant tarnish the hotel’s reputation’ told the doctor as Anitha tried to get up.

‘Don’t ever come back’ warned the manger. ‘Filthy whores’ the doctor agreed.

‘Girl, don’t go to Police, nobody will testify for you’ advised the old concierge, while he was trying to get an auto rickshaw for her. ‘Say that you fell off the steps’’ Nodding agreement, Anitha got into the vehicle. Police and her job never mix, she had learnt quite early in her career.

As the balmy evening's dusty winds stroked her face, Anitha thought only about what to cook for the children’s breakfast. And about the school fees. And the unpaid bills.

* An item number is an erotic dance, more or less like Belly dancing, in tune to the Hindi film songs.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

The Why, When and How I killed my husband

‘Glum, glub, gllub, glumm…’
Those were his last words. Then he sank slowly into the bottom of the water. Dead, finally.

I watched him, perching on the side of the bath I drew for him. With rose petals strewn around and scented candles twinkling near the mirror. Soft music wafting through the stereo. A goblet of golden liquid nearby. Everything as per his liking. I was very particular that he should die happily. Because I loved him. And killed him.

Don’t call me a ‘cold blooded’ assassin, because I am not murderous by nature. Never been. I killed him simply because he cheated me with another woman.

We had been together for very long and I knew the novelty was wearing off. The cancelled dinners and late nights. Forgetting my birthdays and our anniversaries . I was getting all classic signs of philandery. And one day, I found the ultimate proof - a credit card slip from the florist. It was poking out of his coat pocket. For a whooping £100, charges being to send flowers to a Miss. Annabel Lee. So typically common. So ‘chick-lit’ like. And it hurt.

Why did J go after another woman? I was an ideal wife. I spent all my spare time with J. I doted on him, cooked him fabulous meals, waited for him in sheer negligees’ and catered to all his whims. I loved him. Still he cheated me, after having told me countless times that he loved me for my inner beauty.

I met J on a Christmas evening fifteen years back. I was sitting alone in the road side café, sipping my hot chocolate and watching happy couples go by. They all seemed so much in love with each other. Magic and love intermingling with snow on air. Snowflakes swirling down towards the earth, then to be lifted up by the wind. ‘White Christmas’ blaring from the stereo. Intoxicating smell of soups and cakes and coffee.

I had only my book for company, as usual. Nowhere to go to, as no one invited me to share their Christmas. No one wanted to have me, a fat, spinster with thick glasses, approaching middle age.

And, in he walked, like a Prince, through the café doors. It was as if the heavens had dropped him there just for me. I particularly remember watching the droplet of melted snow trickling down that delectable forehead. And those twinkling sea-blue eyes.

He came to me direct, had eyes only for me.
‘Hi, my Princess’ said he, ‘Will you marry me?’

I was dumb-found, but for him it was love at first sight. For me too. That was the start of our heavenly relationship. We were always holding hands. Laughing on silly jokes. Touching and kissing.

And the years started to roll on. We were happy. Rather I was deliriously happy and tried my best to flaunt my new status as Mrs.J. When something was not perfect, I made up stories. Like, during one winter, when I didn’t get a Christmas gift, I told everyone about the beautiful sapphire set he bought for me, which I accidentally left near the WC , which accidentally fell into the water, which was accidentally flushed off. All blame on me. And everyone loved the story so much that they tut tuted me for being careless. I rivaled on the envious attention I was receiving from colleagues.

That was just the start, then I went on making up stories. Like the tales I chewed up on our imaginary holidays. Our idyllic home life. And our dog called Valentine. The diamonds, which I left in the bank safe for fear of loosing them. The romantic walks and the hearty meals we shared. And that snowy day when we got stranded in the mountain cabin and made out crazily. The way he held me close to him, when a couple of teenagers in the parking lot called me ‘that fat cow’.

Everyone around me envied me and my luck – and never questioned, as I was never close with anyone. I never invited anyone home, and they in turn did not invite me. I told everyone that I just wanted to be with J, they believed that. I made up a story on how possessive J could be. They loved that too.

All were relieved that I finally found someone, so that they could take the guilt out of their petty hearts for not involving me in their lives.

Sometimes, on those rare moments when I think back on my life, I could clearly see where it all began. The beautiful mansion called my home. My ambitious parents. The constant comparisons between my over achieving siblings and me with my mediocre looks and my mediocre grades and lack of ambition. The continuous air of disapproval and disappointment. I was the ugly duckling who would never become a swan. No one saw my tears – only my failure, my lack of grace, my ugliness.

Then I started shutting them out. I had my happy world around me – of the fairy tales, romance novels and magic. I imagined to be Cinderella one day and then the fairy god mother would transform me with her wand. The Prince Charming would make me his Princess.

The next day I dreamed to be Julia Roberts and Richard Gere would come in a fancy car. He would ask me,

‘Oh, pretty one, would you come for a ride?’

And at the end he would confess that he loved me all along and we would get married to live happily ever after.

That was when J came into my life. To make my life. To cheat me later. I was being robbed off the only ray of happiness I had in my whole life. Life betrayed me there too. And I knew that I had to kill him.

I knew how to kill, the books and movies had told me all about it. I would make him deliriously drunk on the lethal combination – whiskey and sleeping pills. He would plunge slowly into the perfumed bath, struggle to come up for air. Finally he would experience that intoxicating moment of ultimate joy, when the body would be freed of the life force. Perfect death. Perfect murder.

And one fine evening, after his favorite dinner of beef stroganoff and strawberry cheese cake, I just killed him.

They came to get me the next day and brought me here. I knew I would be punished, so, that was not a big deal. And I was very friendly towards the lady in white coat who came in, obviously intent on chatting with me.

‘The black one or the blue?’ I asked, indicating the pile of clothes on my bed. It was important that I should dress suitably for his funeral.

She was obviously not listening, and wanted to get on with the news she came to deliver.

‘See, you are not a murderer’ she uttered slowly, making sure that I understood each syllable.

‘What’? For one moment, I was afraid that he somehow survived. That, I no longer had to dress for the funeral.

‘There is no J’. She was looking intensely at my eyes.

‘What?’ I repeated like a fool, twisting my fingers on the scarf.

‘Delusional Disorders, you see’ she nodded uneasily, shoving her fingers in her pocket.

‘What?’ I stopped sorting.

‘See, it happens to people with mental disorders. Create characters and situations out of imagination. Like your marriage with J’ She was feeding me the psychology crap. All I could figure out was that she was basically calling me a liar. And I hit her with the phone sitting nearby.

So they locked me up in this padded cell, and here I am for the past 10 years, in this mental asylum. But now I don’t mind all that – because I have K. He comes in when others are not around , through that rat hole in the corner of my cupboard.