The window

Submitted into Contest #166 in response to: Set your story at a retirement or leaving party. ... view prompt

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Fiction Coming of Age Inspirational

It was the end of June in Mumbai. After three days of incessant rains, the monsoon relented to allow the frenzy of Mumbai life to resume. The tracks re-emerged from the swaths of overflowing waters and the local trains carried this frenzy and distributed and re-distributed it across the city. 

Madan was in his office, a hitherto unused corner improvised as an office by setting up partitions on two sides to give him the benefit of having an independent office matching his recently acquired stature as an officer. His crammed office on the eighth floor of the Government Administrative Building in the heart of Mumbai was nothing to boast of except for the two square foot window which gave him a glimpse of animated Mumbai life to compensate for his sedate office life as an Assistant Statistical Officer. The window was the pivot on which two contrasting worlds balanced, a phantom outside world of mirth and adventure and a real inside world of gloom and routine. But there were days when both these worlds merged. 

That day was one such. The gloom from his heart seeped into his office and escaped out through the window filling the entire city. A misty drizzle outside compounded the effect. He was standing by the window, looking outside, straining his eyes to catch a glimpse of the park that he so loved watching, when there was a knock on the door.   

‘Sir, Tea.’ It was Ramu’s voice. 

Madan looked back and nodded. Ramu placed the cup of tea on the table, looked at Madan, smiled sympathetically and left. For the past one week he had been finding everyone sympathetic and unusually nice to him. He wondered if it was his imagination, or his retirement. He turned sixty that month. So, that was the last month for him in office. But he did not understand the sympathetic looks and in fact was embarrassed to meet eyes with those that hitherto had at best ignored him, suddenly smiling at him. It was not as though he was dying. 

Madan sat down and took a sip of his tea when Ramu barged in again, but this time with summons. 

“Sir, Saab is calling” 

In government, everybody has a Saab or a boss to bow to. If one had to draw the government on a paper, it would be a hierarchy of bowed heads with each higher rung bowing a little more than the lower rung. Finally, the person at the top would no longer be bowing, but prostrating. If it were only this, it would be very easy to draw it on paper. But every higher rung has a very stiff straight back in relation to the lower rung. Depicting these contrasting proclivities simultaneously is a significant challenge even to the most creative. That is probably why government hierarchies are depicted simply in rectangular boxes quietly ignoring the behavioral undercurrents. 

Madan finished his tea in two large gulps and rushed out. 

** 

The Deputy Director’s office was much wider, but it lacked windows and had an AC instead. So, for him, there was neither a balancing pivot nor a contrast. Only one world existed for him, the inner one. The other world of mirth and adventure was no more than a myth to him. Madan wondered if it was the reason for his boss’s lack of perspective. 

“So, Madan, big day tomorrow, eh? What plans after?” 

Plans? Ramu had plans. He always had them, many of them. One could tell looking at his eyes. They always looked like he was multiplying two three digit numbers in his mind. And why not? Every year he planned a tour and organized it for all the staff in the building. If anyone needed any work done in the city, like a gas connection, water connection, and even school admissions, he was the guy to go to. He dealt in real estate, organized ROSCA and on the weekends, drank to the brim and passed out. And only he knows what other plans he had had on those days when he needed sudden leave due to a death in the family, some inexplicable illness or a myriad of other ostensible reasons. He had no office though. His world was the outside world. May be that explained. 

“No plans Sir, Not thought about it yet” 

“You can go on pilgrimage, connect with God, you know. Never too late, isn’t it?” 

Late for what? For connecting with God? Why now, specifically? Because I have no plans? Or because he thinks I don’t have time left anymore? 

Madan’s mind was reeling with questions and before he could answer, his boss spoke. 

“We are organizing a small get-together tomorrow. A small farewell function. Just our office staff. 11 AM. OK?” 

Tomorrow, 11 AM. The same introduction, the standard eulogy, the routine anecdotes, the indifferent faces, and the unknown acquaintances eager more to finish the samosa and slurp the tea. 

Madan could not have dreamt of a worse nightmare. 

** 

Churchgate-Virar local train was chugging at its peak speed. The rain nor the track seemed to matter, let alone the lashing of rain on the passengers. Madan, sitting beside the window, placed his leather satchel against the window in a vain attempt to block the gush from the rain. The water seeped anyway and drenched his trousers. He was planning to wear the same trousers the next day. Rama would not have let it happen anyway. In all of those thirty five years that he worked, Rama had decided what he would wear each day to his office. She ironed only one pair a day, so he had no choice but to wear that pair to office unless he ironed some other dress himself. But he always rather went by her choice. 

A young boy sitting opposite was unfazed by the rain drenching him but kept fiddling on his phone, carefully covering it with one hand. An old person sitting next to him was playing songs from his youthful days on the speaker. He seemed more immersed in his own thoughts than in the songs. He broke out of his reverie suddenly, looked at Madan looking at him and blurted out involuntarily. 

“Lata’s song. Lata is no more” 

Madan could see two worlds there, in front of him, physically adjacent but two worlds, nonetheless, and distinct. The boy seemed to care about nothing, and the old man seemed to care about everything. Even those things that had affected him only in his imagination. Madan felt stuck between these two worlds. He could not become that boy again and he did not wish to become the old man. He was physically close to one, but mentally another. He remembered his school days when he was the captain of the football team. He vividly remembered how a bad penalty shootout cost them the inter-school championship trophy. They were sad for a day but moved on the very next day. But then, after so many years, he wished he could take that penalty again. Memories were flashing, drowning him in nostalgia and sadness - his college, the group dance during the college fest, the day he proposed to Rama, their marriage, their daughter, their only vacation outside the country to Maldives. He wished he could relive them. But Madan stopped himself. He saw himself turn into that old man living in the past. He felt as though standing on a pivot between what he did not want to become and what he was becoming.  He wondered if that was it. A purposeless wait till the inevitable, agonizing over lost youth and praying for a calm end.

** 

The dinner table at Madan’s house was a suspended bench that could be folded to the wall when not needed. It also served as an ironing table. Rama removed the clothes lying on it and called Madan and Priya for dinner. It was Priya’s last examination that day. She would be graduating that year. But the dinner was quieter than usual. Priya was eagerly waiting for him to ask about her exam as he always had. She was surprised that he had almost finished his dinner and yet had not asked her. She thought that starting a conversation could help.

“So, Papa, what are you going to wear tomorrow?” 

 Madan, deeply in thought, was jolted by the question. 

“Your mother will decide.” he said, feigning a smile, and continued eating. 

Priya was confounded at his obvious ignorance of the significance of that day for her. She took her plate and went into her room to finish her dinner. Madan had not even noticed her leaving, let alone noticing her disappointment. 

Rama intervened like she always did, only at a time when it was absolutely necessary and to the minimal extent. 

“Today was her last examination.” 

Madan realized his folly, quickly finished his dinner and went to see Priya in her room. She looked glum, but Madan knew how to cheer her up. 

“So, what plans for the vacation?” 

He knew that she was excited about her trip to Goa. He also knew that she could not resist talking about it. 

“Papa, but you forgot." That was the end of the previous discussion. So, she continued.

"You know, we got a place that is almost on the beach. It has a great shack. I am so excited.” 

Madan was happy that he accomplished his mission, but he was still pulled and pushed by the nagging thoughts of his retirement day and the future. 

“But, I’m gonna miss my friends. Papa, you are not listening again” Priya added. 

“Oh no, Priya, I listened, you are gonna miss your friends. But you need not worry. you will make new friends and there will be new moments, and there will always be something to look forward to” 

The flurry of thoughts flushing his mind stopped suddenly. He knew it all the while, but it took him so long to realize it. He repeated to himself. There will always be something to look forward to. There will always be new moments. A smile erupted. 

“Papa, why are you smiling?” 

“Oh nothing. Speaking to you takes me to a happy place.” He smiled teasingly. 

But he had one other thing to contend with. His farewell get-together at 11 AM the next day. 

** 

At 11 A.M the next day, Rama’s phone rang. It was Ramu. 

“Madam, Sir is not coming today?” 

Rama was shocked. Madan was excited to go to office that day. He told her to pack a parantha extra. 

“No, he left on time. Has he not reached office? Did you try his phone?” 

In all these years, it never happened that he missed his train, nor did he switch off his phone. She called Priya and told her what happened. Suddenly, Rama remembered him saying that he might be late that day. She had not bothered about it then, but now she felt that it might have meant something. Priya knew that the police would not take cognizance of the complaint if the person had been missing only for a couple of hours. She was readying herself to go out and look for her father when Rama came out of her room with a letter.

"Never been to Elephanta. Will be taking a ferry. I will be back late" 


October 08, 2022 01:47

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