© Gaurav Monga 2012
Cover image: Red Virginia Creeper by Edvard Munch.
Contact the author: email@example.com
Tears for Rahul Dutta
He had just awakened, seated halfway up on his bed, finding it difficult to believe that what he thought was only a momentary hallucination was still persisting. The reflection of Rahul Dutta hung across the mirror on the wall. His chest looked a lot larger, closely resembling that of a woman’s. Never before had it given such an impression. He was just about to touch it, when he realized that it would be embarrassing had someone come in; so he leapt out of bed and made for the door. He then gazed out of the window to make sure no one could look in from the outside, knowing that he had done this many times before, and had already confirmed that as long as no new building came up near his, he would remain undisturbed.
He leapt onto the bed to see his reflection again. He placed his hands on his chest and gently pressed. As he got closer to the mirror, he noticed a blush appear on his cheeks. He wondered from where it came. He removed all his clothes and started to dance, jumping around the room. Amidst his reverie, however, he caught a clearer reflection of himself, causing him to come to a sudden halt. He jumped back into bed, covered his head with a blanket, feeling that this was the only way to shake this dream, haunting him in the early hours of the morning.
From the last row of an auditorium, he saw himself seated on centre stage. It was dark, save for a fluorescent bulb hanging from a high ceiling. His shirt was removed; his hands were tied to a chair; a group of men watched. Rahul, sitting in the back, was at first surprised, never expecting himself to have been so bold. He then grew to enjoy it, taking pleasure in every caress he received from the audience. Then his body started to hurt. He looked towards the stage and saw that they had tilted his chair. He heard himself scream and cry, so loud that he woke up, panting.
He slowly approached the mirror, relieved to find that nothing had changed, and was soon getting ready for work, gazing out of the window while preparing his tie. He remembered something. His face appeared confused – an expression of a happy man suddenly cast down, hurrying off to work with a hat resting on his head and a long black overcoat draping his skinny legs.
He reached work late, hung his coat on the rack outside, and was making his way to Mr Lucky’s office, when Mr Lucky himself came out. ‘You’re late again sonny.' He asked him to take a seat but before he could, Mr Lucky shouted loudly. Rahul, scared, realizing what was inevitably in store for him, felt that he ought to tell Mr Lucky that he would happily quit, for never before had Mr Lucky addressed him in such a manner. He concluded that if he were to resign in time, he would avoid the embarrassment of ever getting fired, and on this note, in a calm and proud voice, he hissed out, ‘I quit.' He put his hat back on, which he had left in the corner of his little cubicle and walked out of the building, freely roaming the streets as if on holiday.
At a house he rang a bell and was awaiting an answer, when a voice asked, ‘Who’s that?’ ‘It’s me,’ replied Rahul. The girl snorted and then on a more serious note remarked, ‘How am I supposed to know who that is?’ Rahul wanted to say something offensive but instead only said, ‘It’s Rahul.' The door opened and he walked in. The girl whom he had come to visit lived on the top floor.
As he was making his way upstairs, he caught a glimpse of Rupa, standing in a corner. Upon seeing him, she pressed her breasts and said, ‘Hey Rahul.' Rahul bowed his head and hurried past her. ‘You little child! Why do you come here anyway? She does not care about you!’ Rahul was tempted to lash out – she ought to at least have recognized his voice– but instead suppressed his anger, walking past all the others, some of whom did not notice him, owing to the frequency of his visits.
Upon entering her room, he saw her breasts and turned away. ‘I don’t believe this! We make love every day, and you’re still ashamed to see me this way?’ Rahul tried to explain but found that he really had no reason. Nadia grew angry; she kept on pushing the question. ‘Why? Why do you feel ashamed? Oh, poor child!’ Rahul was mumbling; he knew that he had no reason and was now trying to invent one, to stop her from her insistent interrogation. He tried to hug her. She pushed him away. He fell on the floor and grabbed her feet. She tried to let herself loose. ‘Let go, let go! Let go, Rahul, let go!’ and with raised shouts, she managed to kick him in the eye. She brought some ice and pressed it against the wound; she stroked his long hair. ‘I’ve always loved your hair, please don’t ever cut it!’
Rahul’s tears had dried up.
At home, dinner was waiting. He had no appetite and so told his parents that he had a difficult day at work and wished to sleep.
The new morning had arrived. The sun shone on Rahul’s face as his eyes opened slowly. He immediately got up, looked at himself in the mirror while walking towards the bathroom, and felt revived. It was a ‘new day’ he thought to himself. Within half an hour he had finished taking a shower and had started putting his clothes on. The clothes seemed new. He’d been gifted these clothes about two years ago but had never felt right in them. He then walked down the stairs in a slow fashion, clomping loudly. His parents, sitting at the dining table, were twitching their noses and eyes. He finally reached the foot of the stairs.
‘O, Rahul, said his mother, ‘you’re looking like a new man’ – she clasped her hands and smiled. ‘I feel like a new man, mama!’ ‘Pancakes today,’ said his mother. Rahul sat next to his father who had remained quiet, and then in a soft yet powerful voice spoke, ‘Why son?’ ‘Why what?’ asked Rahul. ‘Why the clothes?’ ‘For no particular reason, papa.' ‘There must be a reason!’ Rahul sat in silence and stared at the wall. He couldn’t understand why his father was being so inquisitive, and why did there have to be a reason. He finally said, ‘Because it’s a new day, dad'. His father stared at him and then broke into a smile, feeling proud that he understood what his son had meant and was now waiting for Rahul to smile back. Rahul, who couldn’t quite figure out why his father was smiling, continued to eat, staring at the maple syrup spread across the pancakes. He ate quickly, took a sip of his coffee and left the house. He was nearing the tall metal gates, when his father got up and shouted, ‘Seize the day, son,’ still smiling.
Rahul waved goodbye and walked on out. His father sat back down. ‘The kid’s in love, Aruna,’ he said to his wife. ‘I didn’t notice anything of the sort, Kishore,’ Aruna remarked. ‘Well to be honest,’ said his father, ‘I don’t think even he knows it yet. The look in his eyes when he said “It’s a new day, dad”; I just knew it right then. He really does underestimate us, doesn’t he Aruna? Aruna?’ He turned around and saw that she had left. He returned to his coffee and said, ‘Oh, well,’ with a blank look on his face.
While Rahul was making his way to The Café Khargosh, he thought of how his father had smiled, and how he had expected him to smile in return. He feared he had missed the occasion, that in fact there was something to be shared. He then started to recollect other such instances when his father had smiled in much the same manner, expecting something in return; it was not just an acknowledgement. He wanted Rahul to share in his triumph. Rahul often realized the desires expressed in such gestures only later, and so tried to make it a point to catalogue them, so that if they were to occur again he would know when to smile, snigger or perhaps laugh. It was not that he didn’t want his father to cherish these moments – far from that. He just never knew when his cue was.
He now diverted his thoughts forcedly to the newspaper advertisement, sitting in front of him, stating:
A keen aspiring journalist
Does not need prior work experience
154, Koocha Rahman
The content of this advertisement naturally interested Rahul, for it had not even been a day since he lost his job, and what would one render this but a good stroke of fortune. He didn’t need experience, which meant that his soon to be employer would not investigate his past. It occurred to Rahul this might be the opportunity to start anew, perhaps even a ‘career’. He shouted the word, cherishing the sound of its syllables, looking around to see if anyone was listening. Without thinking, he left some money on the table, gathered his stuff and started heading towards Koocha Rahman.
After walking for an hour or so, he found himself standing in front of an office building. In one of the offices a clerk asked him to take a seat and assured him that it wouldn’t be long before he would be asked to come in. He then said, ‘You’re here for that new job, aren’t you?’ Rahul assumed the clerk was referring to the job he’d arrived for but was not sure. He avoided taking up the matter any further than needed and returned to the fashion magazine sitting on his lap. ‘Because,’ said the clerk – Rahul raised his eyes so that they were facing the clerk’s –‘the deadline is already up and you seem to be the only one who showed. Well congratulations Mr.?’ ‘Mr. Dutta,’ said Rahul. ‘Well congratulations, Mr. Dutta! You are asked to report here at 10 am tomorrow.' Rahul thanked him by merely smiling. The clerk smiled too.
It was not even 10. In fact it was long before 10, but for some reason Rahul was standing outside the office building. A few shopkeepers had arrived and were opening their shutters. Although Rahul was early, no one could have known it. It is quite natural for others to notice when someone is early, as the latter has usually either mistakenly done so and is angry at himself for not having paid attention to what time he was scheduled to arrive, or is angry at someone else who didn’t show at the time he had promised to; so either they display a certain irritability, by pacing up and down, looking at their watches, staring at the people on the street or they bicker, feeling warranted in doing so, as they sometimes persist in cussing, yelling and throwing all sorts of tantrums. Rahul was neither irritable nor loud. He was in fact well composed, silent, and fit into his surroundings much like a telephone pole. The clerk was walking down the street and although Rahul had seen him, he had not seen Rahul. In fact he almost bumped into Rahul, when he suddenly came to a halt, ‘Oh Mr. Dutta, I didn’t see you! Pardon me!’ Rahul waved his hand, waiving off the ordeal. The clerk opened the shutters and walked in. Rahul waited outside. It was not 10 yet.
The boss, Mr. Mahmud, arrived shortly at exactly 10, which was when he invited Rahul to come inside. Their conversation was brief. He told Rahul that he didn’t want anyone with experience, for he already had many of that sort, and now wanted someone fresh. He also made it a point to say, ‘And besides, this will be a fresh experience for you too.'
Rahul had already said goodbye to his boss and was leaving the office premises when the clerk tapped him on the shoulder and asked, ‘How did it go, heh?’ It immediately became clear to both of them that their exchange yesterday had opened a vista to more intimate relations, as they both paused, realizing that they were not addressing each other with ‘Mr.' but with ‘heh.' They then continued to talk. Rahul told him that he had already received an assignment, 'a most dangerous one, one involving great risk.' He told him that he was meant to investigate the underground gang wars in the city; he said that he had been advised to try meeting the dons, if he had the nerve to. He told him that Mr. Mahmud expected much from him. He then grew silent. The reason was obvious. It was about who he was. It was not an impersonal request nor advice but rather a confession, an opinion on the nature of his character. Rahul, having been in the business world for some time, had come to realize – though quite slowly – that people often lied. He was, however, convinced that each individual, no matter how corrupt he had become, had a little human honesty. The problem for him, however, was how to distinguish the truth from lies. He would start by thinking about the person and convince himself temporarily that he was honest – for that’s what he wanted him to be. New doubts would surface; the thinking would go on.
After thinking hard, he saw how far he had come out on to the street. He laughed a little and then grew silent. He lit a cigarette and muttered silently to himself, ‘I smoke to misery,’ as he broke out laughing, growing suddenly silent again, looking around to see if anyone had seen him. He then returned to the cigarette, this time laughing silently.
When he got home, he went to his closet and opened the bottom drawer. He pulled out a pistol, wrapped in a felt cloth. His eyes were fixed upon it; it frightened him but at the same time, thrilled. He felt a sense of power, of meaning, that finally an opportunity had presented itself for him to show to others that he was not useless. He got ready in a black suit without having considered the heat of the afternoon sun. He left abruptly – for there were still some more preparations to be made – and took the bus to Zehad market, an area where Mr. Mahmud had advised him to go. He felt that Rahul could get the necessary information he needed, provided he used his ‘gift of the gab’, as Mr. Mahmud had rendered it his most natural quality. Rahul suddenly felt flattered but was soon reminded of an earlier compliment and had successfully, at least temporarily, blocked this one out. He got off at the bus stop and made his way into the bazaar.
This area was particularly well known for the food it offered the rest of the city. There was a large variety of kebabs and sauces. Rahul had always loved the food here, but today there was no time to eat. He did feel odd however, overdressed. Even the beggars, ironically enough, avoided him in spite of his fancy clothes.
He felt that people were staring at him; he then suddenly turned around to see whether they actually were; he thought he saw them turn away. He continued to do this sporadically while walking through the bazaar, but felt that they were too fast for him, that every time he turned around, he could not even get so much as a look. His only consolation was that they, too, could only see him the same way. This, however, was not really a consolation, since it was he, who had come to see these people – people who oddly enough were everywhere yet seemed to have nothing to do with each other. Rahul found that, just like everyone else, he had nothing to do with anyone.
Just then someone started to walk towards him. He was fat and had a long beard. Rahul was panting; the sun had made him nauseous. He was, however, relieved that finally someone had arrived, well at least was making his way towards him. He decided to stop and wait. He stretched his neck upwards and closed his eyes; he felt his whole body burn. When he opened his eyes, he saw the bearded man standing in front of him.
Rahul then pulled the trigger.
At this point, Rahul simply vanished. Perhaps he merely wandered off into the bazaar, and the further he went in the quieter it became, until he reached a neighborhood with empty yellow houses, dusty windows, and an occasional abandoned shoe or football resting quietly against a wall. Perhaps he kept on walking until he was no longer there. Perhaps for days to come the people of the bazaar – witnesses to the crime – when asked about Rahul, would respond with puzzled faces, as if it weren’t quite certain whether they had simply forgotten him, what he had done, or had never known.
His mother insisted on a funeral for her lost child’s memory. She said she couldn’t go on living, waiting on a miracle. She said she needed this, like any other important ritual, to allow her to come to terms with reality. The clerk tried to dissuade her by suggesting that especially with Rahul, one could never be quite sure. He sent her an endearing letter concluded by, ‘You might just bump into him, Mrs. Dutta.'
Rahul received a funeral later on that year, when leaves crowded the streets. Family from different parts of the country had flown in. Mr Lucky, Mr. Mahmud, and the clerk were some of the first to arrive. Nadia had come with Rupa. They didn’t introduce themselves to the family, in fear of spoiling the child’s memory. Instead they appeared inconspicuous – much like Rahul, himself – standing in one corner, crying. The clerk whispered into his boss’ ear, ‘Premature … premature,’ with a sigh.
The mere fact that so many were present gave one the feeling that a great man had passed. There were many tears shed that day, tears for Rahul Dutta.