Literature & Fiction | 12 Chapters
Author: Pratik P Sharda
If one can safely assume something, many of us who love reading are unable to do so due to lack of time to read a full novel running into a number of pages. Life in Different Colours offers the readers short and captivating stories, which focus on some facets of life as seen by the author, woven into a world of fiction. Each story in this book can be read within a maximum of thirty to forty minutes. But that is not all. The author hop....
In Search of Redemption
From what had been the rumours about him, he was a loner who liked to live in his own world and spent most of his time on cocaine and bar fights. His social life was a big ‘zero’, with only one or two public occurrences a year, at either some wedding or some funeral. People said that he attended them for free food, as he was mainly living off the last of his savings. He had no one left in his family. His uncle, who was his caretaker since the death of his parents in a plane crash when he was four years old, died ten months ago. I still remember that when I saw him at the funeral, I was surprised to see him not drunk for the very first time. Maybe they were very close. Maybe his uncle was the last thing connecting him to the world.
No one wished to speak to him. He was a man of limited wants, who was probably living an extravagant life on whatever was left of his father’s estate. He had bloodshot eyes, overly large pupils and drooping shoulders. I wasn’t comfortable with him in my house, but Rama, my wife, had invited him over to dinner, and there was nothing I could do to make him leave.
We all sat around the dining table. Rama was doing the occasional talking, trying to make a connection with him, but he was busy devouring the free meal.
She asked with her curious eyes fixated on him, “I do not know how to thank you, Ravi. My husband tells me that I fell unconscious at the drugstore, and you brought me back home. How did you know where I lived?”
He replied in a disinterested tone, “Well, I found your ID in your purse.”
She smiled modestly and said, “Oh, yes! I thank you for taking care of an old lady.”
He rejoined, “Oh! That’s fine. I live close by, so wasn’t really a problem.”
She looked at me with her ever-charming smile, “He reminds me of Suraj. It is sad that he is not visiting us this weekend.”
She turned to Ravi and continued, “I was looking forward to seeing my son, Suraj, and my grandchildren this weekend. But he is not coming as he has to work overtime on some office project.”
Hoping it would console her, I took her hands in mine and said, “It is okay, honey. If not this week, he will surely be here next weekend.”
I realised it did not work when I saw tears in her eyes. She mumbled, “Oh, yes! He will.” Saying this, Rama went back into the kitchen, leaving this stranger and me alone in that tiny dining room.
She came back with some dessert. A firm believer in the Indian culture, she loved to take care of her guests. Soon, she started telling Ravi about our lives. I was not like her. Talking to a stranger about our personal lives seemed the worst idea to me. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t even have invited him to dinner. Some part inside me hated him for being an uninvited guest in our life. I did not like Rama telling him all about our personal life. But I couldn’t do much and had to let her continue.
She told him that Suraj and his wife worked in Mumbai City while we decided to reside in the peaceful environment at Nanded, a small city roughly 600 kilometres from Mumbai. Suraj worked as the head clerk in a bank. Beside him, there was his beautiful wife Sangeeta, a four-year-old son Raj and a six-year-old daughter Bubbly. They usually came to spend their weekends at Nanded so that the children could spend some time with their grandparents.
Ravi wasn’t paying much attention and occasionally said “Hmm” to hide his lack of interest in the conversation. He just sat there, pretending to be listening and waiting to leave, but something kept him attached to Rama’s conversation. He politely asked her, “Do you have any pictures of them?”
“Sure,” said Rama excitedly and went upstairs to our room, where she usually kept all the pictures and other things important to her. We advanced to the living room.
She returned after a few minutes with a photograph in her hand but was not in the same state. Her body was burning, and she was sweating profusely. She shouted at Ravi, “Who are you? Who invited you to my house? Where is Suraj? Where are Raj and Bubbly?”
Ravi was taken aback at this sudden change in Rama’s behaviour. He was about to explain to her that he was at the nearby drug store where she had come to get some medicines. However, the moment she entered the store, she fell unconscious. Ravi was standing nearby and offered to help take her home.
She screamed “My son”, but before she could complete her sentence, she fell unconscious again. Both of us dove to grab her and managed to stop her fall. We took her to the room upstairs and made her lie on the bed. Ravi seemed to be extremely worried seeing her condition.
We came back to the living room. After a five-minute-long silence, he asked, “What was that? What happened to her?”
I replied, pretending that there was nothing wrong, “Ravi, it is fine. She just needs some rest. She is old, and these things are common in old people. There is nothing to worry about here.”
Ravi did not say anything and just nodded his head in acceptance.
I walked out of the living room into the balcony. He followed me and offered me a cigarette. We stood there, confused about what to do next, staring at the beauty of the stars and the constellations, perhaps both wondering what we were doing there in the company of a complete stranger.
The genius of the human mind lies in the fact that it cannot rest until it finds answers for almost anything in this world that intrigues it. Soon, curiosity took over Ravi, and he asked the question I was afraid to answer.
“Could you explain what happened back there? This doesn’t make sense. She is certainly not so old to not remember inviting someone to her home. She thinks she is at her home in Nanded and not in Mumbai. What is going on with her?”
Though not willing to answer him, I replied, “She has amnesia. The doctors call it ‘anterograde amnesia’.”
Surprised, Ravi asked, “What on earth is that?”
I replied in a well-practised tone, “In medical terms, it is loss or impairment of the ability of a person to form new memories through memorisation as the affected person’s mind is not capable of transferring any data or information from the conscious short-term memory into the permanent long-term memory. In simple words, I would call it a loss of memory beyond a certain event or point of time.”
Ravi was astounded to know that. After a few seconds of silence, he asked, “How did it happen?”
I lit another cigarette and having no other option, replied hesitantly, “Just a problem associated with old age. I guess she caught it five to ten years earlier than me.”
He responded in his usual manner with a long “Hmm,” and again, we united with the peaceful environment surrounding us.
After a few minutes, he took out something from his bag. It was a steel flask. He quickly took a couple of gulps from it and asked me, “Want some?”
I responded, “Sure.”
We continued drinking and smoking. No one said a word until all the whisky was over. I finally broke the silence.
“You seem to be a nice boy. Why haven’t you married yet?”
Ravi responded with a mild voice, “I had a girlfriend in college. We were going steady for four years until she left me one day.”
I asked one more question that I think hurt him, “Why did she leave you?”
His face quickly turned red, and he said in annoyance, “It just did not work out between us.”
He excused himself to the bathroom only to return after ten minutes with an overly dilated pupil. I could make out that he had taken some drugs, so I asked him, “Since when have you been doing drugs?”
My questions were making him uneasy, but he continued to answer, “Since Amy left me.”
Enjoying his displeasure, I asked again, “You did not mention why Amy left you.”
I knew I had been successful in taking him to the boiling point when he retorted, “Can we talk about something else, please?”
Realising I was making him very uncomfortable, I nodded and lit up another cigarette. It was burning my insides, but for the first time in a very long time, I was feeling happy.
Almost fifteen minutes went by when I broke the silence. “Sorry, you could not see the pictures of my son and his family. Let me show you.”
Saying this, I asked him to come to our bedroom upstairs, where I took out an old box made of tin from Rama’s closest and signalled for Ravi to follow me back to the living room downstairs.
Still uninterested, he came back with me to the living room, and I starting showing him our family album. The initial pages were filled with the pictures of my grandchildren, and then, as soon as I turned to a section that had the picture of my son and daughter-in-law, I noticed his face turning blue, as if a cobra had stung him.
He sprang up from the sofa, stammering, “I… I need to go.”
I retorted, “What? We had just settled down, and you have not even seen half of the album. I insist you must stay for some more time.”
He nearly shouted this time, “No, I need to leave now. Please excuse me.”
He headed for the door and was just about to leave when I said, “Ravi, my son and my grandchildren are dead. And I know you killed them.”
Ravi stood frozen by the door, not knowing what to do.
I continued. “This home actually belongs to my son and his family. Two years back, we were visiting them at this very home. It was very late on a Friday night when Suraj, Sangeeta and my grandchildren were returning from a friend’s wedding.”
Suddenly, I couldn’t speak anymore. I gathered some strength and continued, “We were waiting to hear the sound of his scooter, but instead, we heard a deafening sound of brakes and the crashing of some window panes. We rushed out to see his scooter lying about a kilometre away. I saw you there. You came out of your car and saw him. You stood there for ten seconds, hurried back to your car, and fled. We rushed only to find our son and his family, pierced with glasses in every part of their bodies. They were covered in blood and taking their last breaths as I held them in my arms crying and shouting for help. I still remember the look in his eyes before he died.”
I wiped some tears falling from my eyes and continued, “We reported the case to the police. I figured only later that your rich uncle had paid them off to protect you, or more importantly, the family name. I was so happy to see the look on your uncle’s face when he died as I strangled him with my bare hands. He kept asking me till his last breath, ‘Why?’”
Ravi stood silent like a lifeless body before me.
I continued, “After losing my son and grandchildren, I lost my wife too, as she was not mentally strong enough to cope with the trauma of the death of her only son and two small grandchildren right before her eyes. Do you know how it feels to see your entire happiness taken away from you? What it feels like to see your son die right before you? You showed us what any parent would never want to see.”
I wiped my tears, which had now turned into a waterfall, and continued, “Locating you was not difficult. I started watching your every move. Where you stayed, when you would step out, who you met, what you did every day. All that was left was ending your life just as I choked your uncle. I had multiple occasions to do so, but couldn’t do it as I had one important question to ask you before killing you.”
Saying this, I took out a gun from my trouser and pointed at him. “Today, I have that chance. A chance to know why you did it. A chance to know what kind of monster leaves a dying person without helping them. Even the faces of my grandchildren did not make you think twice? Why did you not help them even after realising it was your drunk driving responsible for the accident?”
Ravi broke into tears and started stammering, “I did stop to see them. They were surrounded by blood all around. Their eyes asked me for help, and trust me, I wanted to. I was just returning with my girlfriend after a late-night party. I had taken too many drinks. She repeatedly asked me to let her drive, but I shut her up, saying that nothing would happen. I never thought or intended that accident to happen. When it did happen, I could not decide whether to stay or run. And finally, I did what every coward does. I ran away.”
Ravi continued after a pause, “Seeing the monster that I was, Amy broke up with me. My entire life changed due to my biggest mistake, which I made that day. And since that day, the memories of the accident and the face of your son haunt me. I did not wish to live either. I thought drugs and drinking would do it for me and end my life. I was a coward then, and I am a coward still, for my life should have ended long back when I committed that crime. I repeatedly asked for God’s forgiveness despite knowing very well in my heart that this sin can never be forgiven.”
He fell on his knees and started crying loudly. Seeing his pain, I realised that all this while I had wanted to kill someone who was already dead inside. Seeing him on his knees reminded me of his uncle whom I had killed as he stood on his knees, begging for his life. It was then that I realised the wrongful path I had taken, of revenge and blood, which never actually brought any peace to me. I felt I was no different than Ravi himself for taking a life. Revenge had taken me to a point from where there was no return or salvation. And for what? To kill someone who is already dead? The gun dropped from my hands on the floor, and I advanced towards Ravi.
I picked him up, holding his shoulders and said, “Son, if there is someone you need to seek forgiveness from, it is my wife and me and not God. What you have taken away from us, in this old age, has damaged us beyond repair. Ending your life like this won’t bring our son and his family back. Your punishment will be to live with this forever till your last breath.”
I continued while he stood before me like a dead corpse, “You know what? I feel pity for you and, in fact, I forgive you. Now leave before I change my mind to not end your life right at this very moment.”
With tears in his eyes, Ravi slowly turned back and headed for the door. But even before he could take a step, there was a loud sound of a gunshot.
The very next moment, he stood lying on the floor, in a pool of his own blood gushing out from his chest, while he struggled to breathe. I turned back to see that Rama had my gun in her hand. She was crying, her hands were trembling, and she repeatedly stammered, “He killed… my son. He killed my… Suraj. He killed… my grandchildren.”
I quickly snatched the gun from her. Ravi, as he was taking the last of his breaths, stared at Rama for a while. Before dying, his last words were, “Thank you for freeing me. I am sorry.”
Rama fell on the ground, losing her consciousness again, while I stood there looking at the three corpses in that living room. One was of Rama, who lost her sanity due to the death of her only child. The other was of Ravi, who lost himself due to a mistake he could not ever correct, and the burden of which haunted his entire life. The last one was mine, who had lost his soul by burning in revenge and consciously taking an innocent life. I realised we all have our monsters. Ravi had faced his, and now it was my turn. Only one question lingered in my mind, “Will I find redemption for what I have done?”
The Angel of Death
“Azrael, although not mentioned in the Bible, in the common folklore is referred to as Azra, the one who entered heaven without tasting death’s taint, giving him the status of an angel. An angel more commonly called ‘The Angel of Death’.”
“Wow. Thanks for highlighting that. But I must say, this is a fine piece of art,” said Tarun to Lucy, the receptionist at The Kings Hotel, a 5-star hotel in South Mumbai.
He glanced once again at the magnanimous marble statue of ‘Azrael’ with huge wings, placed at the centre of the hotel lobby. Tarun was a businessman from Surat, Gujarat. He had just concluded a very important deal in Mumbai that day and was enjoying his stay at the luxurious 5-star hotel, fully paid for by his client.
It was about 7 p.m. He entered the adjoining bar and approached the bartender, “One of your finest scotch, on the rocks, please.”
“Chivas Regal. Why don’t you try that?” said a voice from behind.
Tarun looked back to find that the voice belonged to a man with a chiselled face. He had huge shoulders and a broad chest. His attire was a white t-shirt and denim. To add to that, he was wearing a red turban and a smile.
Tarun smiled back at him and then looked again at the bartender, “Can you make that two? One for this gentleman here as well, please.”
The man responded, “Thanks. I am Balbir, from Jalandhar, one of the oldest cities in India.”
“And I am Tarun, from Surat, one of the richest cities in India.” Both broke into laughter and started drinking.
Soon, they became like long lost friends. It was very difficult to say who drank more, as both kept ordering glasses of whisky as if they were taking part in some drinking competition. In a short time, Tarun spoke about everything from his childhood buddies to his marriage with the love of his life. Balbir, on the other hand, went on talking about his days in the Indian Army. He mentioned that he had just been a boy of twenty years when he had joined the Indian Army at the request of his father. But soon after the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971, he left the army, as he was too terrified of the horrors of war.