The bell rang continuously without stopping.
‘Yay, dad’s back,’ Arvind shouted happily, running up to open the door. Dad had returned from another one of his office trips to the U.S.
“Hi Dada,” Arvind’s plump arms wrapped around his father’s long legs.
With a slight upturn of his lips which might be interpreted as a smile, and a pat on his son’s head, Ramesh walked in. He had never been the one to show affection.
“Bring the suitcase in and get me a glass of water Arvind.”
Ramesh had hurt his hand a long time ago, in an accident, rendering it impossible for him to do any kind of manual labor that would result in straining his fingers.
I hope he’s bought me something exciting this time. It would be nice to share it with Sachin. His dad’s always getting him things, Arvind thought wishfully, dragging the luggage in.
Though Ramesh had never come back from a trip with gifts, Arvind hoped it would be different this time.
“Dada does not enjoy shopping on his own, Arvind” his mom explained each time she saw his crestfallen face, on finding nothing other than soiled linen and office papers in the suitcase.
Though disheartened, Arvind never shared his disappointment with his best friend, Sachin. Instead he said, “Dada works so hard. He doesn’t have time to go shopping.”
Sachin’s dad worked at IDM as well and he not only returned with gifts for Sachin, but for Arvind as well. Arvind decided Sachin’s dad was generous to a fault.
“Is your mother home?”
Arvind’s mother, Sheila, was a sweet-natured lady, who worked in the same company as her husband.
She had been an officer in the H.R. department when Ramesh had applied for the job. Ramesh’s inability to answer the simplest questions had baffled the panel as his certificates spoke a different story – a distinction in Computer Engineering from a reputed college and 4 years’ work experience in I.T. The grapevine was, that she had helped Ramesh bag the job by putting in a good word with the head of the H.R. Department; who had found it difficult to refuse her, for Sheila was all things nice.
Ramesh had not let Sheila down. He had worked late nights, attended weekend computer classes to hone his skills and in a matter of fifteen years’ had risen to the position of S. Manager. Though Sheila was proud of him, she had never understood the need for the weekend classes.
Two years’ after Ramesh had joined the company the two had expressed their desire to tie the knot. Sheila’s parents had objected.
“We do not know him well enough. He has just moved into the city. No friends, no family. He is used to living alone. How can you live with him? He is so different from you.”
“I respect him Appa. Isn’t that the most important thing in a relationship?” “He is a self-made man, Amma.”
Sheila had proved ‘opposites attract.’ It was really the first time she had fought for anything. She had been a disciplined, conscientious student and the obedient daughter. They had had never any reason to object to her demands and meeting them always seemed the right thing to do.
“Ramesh has been an orphan since he was one. His parents died in a car crash. Why would he maintain a relationship with his extended family when they cared just enough to leave him in an orphanage at such a tender age? As for friends, he does have a few. But they are in other cities and he’s far too busy trying to make something out of himself to waste time with friends drinking alcohol and playing cards. Appa, you must stop worrying.”
“Amma you agree with me no?”
Her father relented.
And Ramesh and Sheila were married in a small ceremony at the neighborhood temple without any fanfare. It was as per Ramesh’s request. Having lived in difficult conditions he believed huge celebrations were an unnecessary waste of money. Sheila agreed. Appa and Amma loved their only daughter too much, to protest. The money they had set aside for their daughter’s wedding was given to the orphanage – the one in which Ramesh had spent his childhood.
A year later, the couple had a beautiful baby girl, Shruthi, and two years’ later a baby boy, Arvind. The niggling worry that Sheila’s parents had at the outset of their daughter’s courtship was put to rest. Whether it had been banished from their mind or whether it still lurked in the dark recesses of their brains did not matter anymore. That Ramesh liked to keep to himself most of the time or had hardly made any friends during the last 15 years was not a point of discussion. That there were no family get-togethers since the wedding or visitors to the house, was insignificant. Sheila’s infectious smile and effervescent attitude, managed to lay any apprehension they may have had, to rest.
“We must respect his feelings, Amma,” Sheila said when Amma raised the topic of celebrating the children’s birthday and proposed inviting close relatives and friends over.
“How can one be like that? Not keeping in touch with anybody. Uff… All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, you know na, Sheila? Your children do not even know what a family get-together is or a picnic. Do you want our little Arvind to become like Ramesh? And Shruthi – she is a girl! One day, she will get married. Will he not have a wedding ceremony even then? Or is he hoping to find one like him, for her?”
“Ramesh loves his privacy Amma,” Sheila firmly but kindly, responded to Amma’s repeated remonstrations, ending further discussions on the subject; at-least for that moment.
Once or twice, Sheila had raised the need for socializing to Ramesh. The first time her supplication had been met with an uncalled for change in his temperament; quite unlike anything she had witnessed earlier. It had frightened her to see him like that. But she had not discussed it with Amma or Appa. His childhood has been hard. There is nothing to discuss, she told herself and life had gone back to status quo.
A few years later, when Sheila had raised the issue again, Ramesh had walked out of the house; in the dead of the night. It had required a lot of coaxing and a promise never to raise the topic again to get him to return home. That was it. It was settled then that there would be no further discussion on the matter.
It was the first day of school after the Diwali holidays; a bright Monday morning. Shruthi and Arvind were excited to return to school. It had been frustrating sitting all day at home with ageing grandparents while their parents were busy at work. The children had outgrown Appa’s stories and Amma’s freshly cooked meals, which they once found finger-licking delicious. They were at an age where they craved for change. They wanted more than a comfortable home and loving grand-parents.
“Rahul has got us all gifts from Italy,” Arvind exclaimed excitedly, as Sheila drove them to school.
“That’s fantastic. You must give him a box of chocolates.”
“Mamma, do you know Tina went to the UK with her family. She even went to Buckingham Palace and saw the Queen!” he continued.
“Don’t be silly, Arvind. She may have gone to the palace but there’s no way she saw the Queen. How can you be so stupid? ” Shruthi chimed in.
Undeterred, Arvind carried on, “And do you know Kodaikanal is in our State? It’s so beautiful and we haven’t even gone there. Ashok, went on holidays, there. He was telling me that the home-made chocolates there…”
“Please shut-up Arvind! I’m tired of you talking about other people’s holidays. Why don’t you tell them what we did – how much we enjoyed: moving in and out of the rooms like the waves that we see from our bedroom window every single day – nothing different – just come and go?” Shruthi snapped.
Shruthi was thirteen and lately, she had been voicing her opinion about the things that bothered her. She was too afraid to say it to her father but she made no attempt to hide her dissatisfaction from her brother or her mother. Sheila discussed this with Amma. ‘It’s probably her hormones that make her so irritable and angry all the time. I’m sure she will grow out of it.’ Amma had not responded, knowing fully well there was no point in explaining it to her daughter.
Instead, Amma tried to placate Shruthi by taking her out on a walk to the neighborhood park and give her an ice-cream, corn on the cob or roasted peanuts. That compensation, for the absence of better things to do, had been enough when Shruthi was younger; but it had lost its’ appeal when she entered adolescence. Amma could only pray her grandchild would one day strengthen her wings and fly out to a place where she would be happier and more content.
After dropping the children to school, Sheila turned the car toward the IDM office. The sun’s rays glinted off the glass. Sheila’s felt a surge of pride, as she always did, when she saw the office building. As of today, she would complete twenty years’ with the organization and she did not regret it for a moment. Picking up her blue Kate Spade bag from the back seat and locking the car door, she turned towards the elevators.
“Good Morning Ma’am,” a new recruit addressed her. Sheila was the Head of the H.R. Department. The team loved her. Unlike the other H.R. people, she did not mince words or set the wrong expectations. She ensured that every employee was given a fair chance to grow in the organization, by providing adequate training and mentorship.
“Good Morning Aakrit. How are you?”
“I’m good Ma’am. Just had my orientation.”
“That’s wonderful. Have a great day!”
“You too Ma’am. There’s someone waiting to see you.”
“Oh really! Who?”
“They did not say.”
Sheila pressed the button on the lift wondering if she had forgotten an appointment. Hurrying out, she headed towards her cabin which was at the end of a brightly lit corridor. She loved her new position; not so much for the title and the cabin that came with it, but for the authority it gave her, to do all that was required to ensure IDM was the number 1 I.T. Company when it came to employee satisfaction.
Two gentlemen, dressed in smart casuals, were waiting for her at the end of the corridor.
“Hello, you must be Mrs. Sheila,” said the taller of the two men, extending his hand in greeting.
“Yes. Were we scheduled for a meeting today?”
“No. But this was urgent,” and so saying he pulled his I.D. from his blazer pocket.
“Please come in. I’m not sure what this is about. But we are ready to extend any help you require.” Sheila’s breadth quickened. This wasn’t one of those regular visits people paid her.
The office boy came in to offer the visitors tea and water, as was customary. The shorter of the two men offered it to Sheila and asked her to take a seat.
It was strange how quickly an introduction had managed to derail her and put the two men in control.
“This is confidential,” the shorter man spoke now, and closed the door of the glass cabin behind him.
“I am listening. Please continue,” Sheila tried her best to appear unflustered but her best attempts were not good enough. She had ensured all her life to stay clear of all uniformed people – policemen, customs officials…even the traffic policeman!
“Please call Mr. Harish in your I.T. department”
“There is no Harish in the I.T. department. There must be a mistake”
“Then he must be in the Operations Department or is there a Ramesh in the I.T. Department?”
Ramesh? The blood drained from Sheila’s face. What had Ramesh done? How could he have done anything? He had only returned the previous night from the USA. There had to be a mistake. Ramesh never ventured out and when he did, it was always for work. In the last 15 years, he had never digressed. It was home and work. The monotony and predictability of Ramesh’s routine brought a smile to her lips in-spite of the situation.
“Ramesh from the IT department. We are not sure of the second name.”
Sheila dialed 253 and asked the receptionist to call the 2 Ramesh’s in the I.T. department. The third one did not fit the age provided to her by the men.
“Ma’am Ramesh Kulkarni will join you in a few minutes. But Sir is still not in,” the receptionist confirmed.
“Ah yes. I remember. He said he will be in by 11 a.m.”
The two men left Sheila’s cabin and entered the conference room as Ramesh Kulkarni walked in.
An hour later the three men emerged from the conference room. Ramesh left first. The two men told Sheila they would come in later to meet the other Mr. Ramesh.
Sheila nodded and breathed a sigh of relief. She decided to call her Ramesh and appraise him of the situation. He would tell her that there was nothing to worry about, she was sure. But she needed to hear it from him.
Sheila dialed his number once, twice, thrice. The phone was busy. She tried again. The phone rang but went unanswered. She tried again.
Well, maybe he is in lift or the phone is on silent. I must tell Ramesh to be careful in future. How frustrating it is, if one cannot reach a person when one desperately needs to?
When Ramesh did not answer the phone an hour later, Sheila could not help panicking. She called up the landline at home only to be told by the domestic help that Ramesh had left and hour and a half earlier.
Oh God! Where is he? Sheila could think of nobody she could call. Ramesh had no friends! And he had no family other than Sheila, the children, Amma and Appa. And he would never go on a courtesy call, to meet Amma and Appa. He had never done so in the last fifteen years. Why would he now when he had just returned the previous day?
But then again, this was a day of surprises. No uniformed personnel had ever paid a visit to the company since the time she had joined. They had done today. So maybe Ramesh had decided to meet Amma, Appa. Who knows?
With trembling fingers that she tried to still, she dialed the only number that came to her mind, whenever she was in trouble.
“Hello. Sathya Residence” a voice that she loved, answered.
“Amma, has Ramesh come home?” Sheila asked sounding as composed as she possibly could.
“No…has he ever come in the last…” Sheila hung up. This was no time to hear Amma complaining about her son-in-law.
Sheila woke up the next day feeling groggy. She had fallen asleep on the couch waiting for Ramesh. His shoes were not outside. She went to the bedroom to check. There was no sign of him there too.
Has he met with an accident? She quickly brushed the thought away. Fears have a way of translating themselves to reality. She reined her thoughts and decided to call the Police instead.
“Hello, I need to file a missing person’s complaint.”
“Has it been 24 hours since the person went missing?”
Sheila looked at the clock. It was 6 o’ clock. She had seen Ramesh at 8.00 a.m. the previous day.
“Its 22 hours. But…”
“Please call back to file a complaint if he does not come in another 2 hours. It has been raining heavily. A lot of areas are water-logged so maybe he’s stuck somewhere.”
Hoping this was true, Sheila opened the door and picked up the papers as she was wont to doing. The newspaper boy had flung it at the door and it now lay strewn on the tiled floor.
On the Front Page – ‘Car Crash,’ ‘Red alert for heavy rains,’ ‘Girl gang-raped,’ ‘Tree falls, kills a woman’ and across the page in bold, in a font size bigger than the rest, it said
Killer Hubby nabbed after 15 years
3 months after marriage in 2003, man strangles wife on Valentine’s Day for lover. When his lover refuses to marry him because of the murder committed, he leaves the city and goes to Pune, then Bangalore and finally Chennai where he remarries again and has two children. The CBI managed to close the case yesterday when they picked Harish from his office parking lot. It has taken 15 long years’ for the victim’s family to get justice. While the case has been open since 2003, it was only two months’ ago when the Police got a lead. Harish made the mistake of calling his mother in Bhopal from the office landline. ‘That’s how we tracked him to IDM, where he was working as a Senior Manager. He had even managed to travel to the U.S.A with fake documentation. ’ ACP Suresh said. ‘The telltale hand clinched our doubts. When we shook his hand and felt the broken ligament on his ring finger, we knew that Harish alias Ramesh were one and the same person.’ Continued on page 3.
The shrill ringing of the phone shattered the silence. “Sheila are you ok? We are coming there now,” she heard Appa’s voice, calm, at the end of the line.
Sheila stared outside – the sky and the sea were both shades of grey. Her face pale as a winter’s evening.
Would love to know what you think. Criticism welcome as long as it’s meant to help 🙂