Sunday, July 08, 2012

Idiot out of the Box

Chapter One

Nothing at all was unusual about that Saturday. Raj parked his car and climbed the stairs to his second-floor office. He entered his cubicle to find a smiling Ms. Reva waiting for him.

“Mrs. Roy has already called twice, Sir”, she informed, with the sort of sparkle in her eyes that Raj always found so absorbing. She was again wearing the same navy blue skirt Raj had so often admired.
“Thank You Reva. I’ll talk to her. By the way, looking gorgeous today.”
Reva went out without a word. By now she was quite at home with the way married men often behaved. Raj settled on the armchair and started dialing home. He knew what was in store for him.


That morning he and Sandhya had had one of their routine squabbles.

Little Tina was wailing loudly in her pram, Kushal was creating a ruckus with his toy gun and Nisha was into one of her tantrums for a reason known to nobody. Amidst all this, Sandhya somehow managed to sit before the TV all engrossed in her favorite serial.

Raj walked over to Tina’s perambulator and immediately flinched. With a wistful look at Sandhya, he started changing Tina’s nappy. He was no master in this art & Tina cried all the more louder.

“Shh…” Sandhya murmured, trying her best not to miss anything of the serial she adored beyond description. She was watching the re-telecast of some soap, the fact of her having watched it the previous night notwithstanding.

Raj didn’t say anything. He had come to accept several things in course of nine years of his marriage, like he would have to admire the new hairstyles Sandhya would flaunt every now and then, however disgusting she might look; he would have to regard every matter related to his in-laws with utmost esteem & behave as if his own errands were of no consequence at all. But one thing in which he felt he closed a fair deal was control over the Television. Perhaps it was his bargaining-flair as a sales executive which came in handy. It was decided that every alternate weeks they would have supreme authority over the TV (However Sandhya somehow found a way of cajoling Raj into letting her watch her serials everyday nevertheless). He quietly went into the bedroom and started looking for his towel. But he couldn't find it anywhere.

“Sandhya, where’s my towel?” No Reply.
“Sandhya….?” No Reply still.
He stomped his way to the drawing room. By now, Nisha had seated herself beside her mom and was murmuring, “Mom, why don’t you wear a bindi like that?” Day by day she was growing more and more like Sandhya, thought Raj.
“Sandhya, my towel?”
“Oh Raj, look yourself no” Sandhya replied without the least stir.
“You have already seen that yesterday” Raj reminded.
“Oh no, I missed some parts of it” Sandhya replied, her eyes still glued to the idiot box.
“But… Look, I’m getting late; they show the same thing a hundred times over”
“Clearly, that’s not the case when you watch the repeated telecasts of your stupid cricket matches” Sandhya sounded a bit annoyed.
“Now, what does my cricket matches have to do with…?”
“Ok, fine, don’t let me watch my serials... as it is you’ve always got something against them,” Sandhya finally got up and marched into the bedroom, “You have just one motive in life – don’t let poor Sandhya see her favorite serials, as if that’s harming you in any way…” she went on with her tirade while apparently looking for the towel and actually bringing the whole house to shambles.
“Now, Sandhya, why do you say that? Don’t I let you watch…?”
“Yeah, that’s a great favor really… now what I am supposed to do – wait on you head and toe?” she flung his towel at him.
Raj opened his mouth to retort but was stopped short of saying anything by a bloodcurdling scream which came from the drawing room. They both rushed outside to find Nisha staring at the TV screen with a horrified look at her face.
“What happened???” Sandhya embraced Nisha.
“Mom… she… that hag… she’s conspiring to kill her daughter-in-law and the poor bahu has no idea of it”, Nisha narrated among sobs.

It took a while before realization dawned on Raj. He could make out that Nisha was talking of the ‘serial’ she had been watching, which must have ended with that ‘revelation’ about the mother-in-law’s character that had ‘shocked’ her so much.

Once Nisha was assured that the bahu was in perfect health and nothing would happen to her till she returned from her honeymoon, and she had gone out to play with her friends, Raj turned to Sandhya, fuming.
“Look what impact your serials have on our children”
“Raj, there’s nothing wrong with Nisha. She’ll get over this within minutes. She usually reacts to such stuff in a similar way…”
“What??? And still you continue to watch these? What sort of a mother…”
“I think I know my responsibility better than you…”
…and as usual it had continued for the next fifteen minutes, with both of them flinging accusations at each other and it had ended in the usual way with Sandhya flinging different objects (comprising of vases, table lamp, Kushal’s toys and other potentially harmful items) at Raj until one found its target.

But usually it actually ended with Sandhya calling Raj in the office over phone to say sorry.


Chapter Two

Tring… Tring…

Sandhya hastily put on the dressing-gown and rushed out to pick up the phone. She glanced at the caller-ID-display and smiled, “Oh Raj, I knew you’d call. I’m so sorry about what happened today. It was only after you went away that I realized that you had been right. I should not have…Raj?
“Yeah, I’m here.”
“Are you still angry with me?”
“Angry? No, not at all (I forgot being that long back)”
“(Good, that makes it a lot easier) So, honey, say something sweet to me.”
“Sandhya, are you all right?
“Of course, I am. Why?”
“Hey, I’m just asking like that. By the way, it seems you’d been thinking about me?”
Sandhya noted the flirtatious tone and smiled triumphantly, “Actually I was in the shower...”
Raj imagined her absentmindedly running her fingers through her wet hair as she usually did and felt a stir, “I have an idea. Why don’t we go out for lunch today? Then perhaps we could watch the new…”
“No, darling, actually today I’ve got to go shopping with Mrs. Mehta.”
“And darling, you know I just seem to have run short of cash (And I was foolish enough to have picked up a fight today). Perhaps I could use your credit card…, mine is out of balance” she hastily added without waiting for a reply “I looked around but couldn’t find it anywhere.”
Raj suddenly realized where this conversation was leading to and felt strong repulsion for Sandhya. “Actually... I’m afraid...”
“Oh, I have to do only a bit of shopping. And I can’t afford not to go because Mrs. Mehta is an expert in swapping rumors. As it is, she’s always trying to…”
Raj could make neither head nor tail out of her blabbering. He just knew one thing – he was not falling for this one this time, “Sandhya, didn’t I tell you I have surrendered the card long back…”
“I’m quite sure you haven’t,” her tone suddenly changed “(This is not going to work, time for the trump card) Look, let’s make a deal.”
Raj could only admire the different facets of Sandhya’s personality. She changed colors faster than a chameleon, “What deal??”
“You tell me where the credit card is and I promise to pick up Kushal from school everyday, you won’t have to waste your precious time anymore…”
“…and I won’t go shopping for the next whole month…”
Sandhya was growing impatient, “…and I’d also bring you your towel in the bathroom whenever you forget to take it and…,” her nose screwed up, “…not mind when you leave your dirty underwear on the bathroom floor. Now tell me where the card is.”
“(In your dreams) I don’t think that is good enough.”
“What???” Sandhya yelled, “Okay, tell me what do you want?”
“You won’t be watching your serials for the next whole month.”
The thought itself of the dilemma Sandhya must be in gave Raj immense pleasure. Sandhya kept quiet. How could he do this to her? She wanted to shout at the top of her voice, curse him and abuse him, but this was not the time.
“Okay, I won’t watch the serials for the next month, happy? Now tell…”
“Look among my ‘dirty’ underwear in the cupboard. Good bye.”
“Bye” Sandhya said bitterly.

Raj was jubilantly putting down the phone when something caught his eye and he almost slipped from his chair. In the cubicle directly across from his, Ms. Reva was bending over her knees to adjust her sandals. There was nothing remotely enticing about her posture other than the fact that the strap of her top had slipped off her shoulder. Raj looked hungrily as Reva regained her composure and stretched like a young bird trying to fly. Suddenly her eyes caught his; she stared for a moment and then smiled at him. He smiled back and looked away.


Reva wasn’t used to sitting in front of a computer. But now she had to as her job demanded it. Her eyes hurt if she stared at the screen continuously. But today she had just seated herself and her eyes began to itch. ‘I must visit an optician’ she told to herself. Something else was also bothering her – her new sandals. She bent over to adjust them only to find that her skirt had entangled itself with the clasp on the sandals. After five minutes of struggle, she finally freed her skirt. She felt exhausted as if had just gone through an ordeal. She yawned, and stretched and found Mr. Roy looking straight at her. He looked like a greedy dog salivating for a bone.
Bastard’ she muttered. And then gave him a smile.


Sandhya replaced the receiver and turned. Nisha was watching her thoughtfully. She asked, “Mama, won’t we be watching the serials any more?” She looked clearly pained at the probability of her missing out on her favorite serials.
“No, dear, who said so?” Sandhya consoled her.
“You just told Papa that…”
Sandhya interrupted her with an indolent wave of her hand, “Oh, don't worry about it.”
And Nisha watched as Sandhya hopped into the bathroom again, with an unmistakable smirk on her face and an old tune on her lips.


To be continued...

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