Tuesday 9 December 2014

Culmination Point

Suresh woke up with a start to find cold water dripping from his face. He had a splitting hangover headache and tried to focus on what was happening. His wife, Santhi was standing by his side carrying an empty bucket. Her eyes were blazing like hot coals.

“Look at your son… He has fever… What have you done? Stolen money from my purse last night for drinking… Shame on you…”

He was distracted by the cries of his two-year-old son, who was lying on the mat. Santhi worked as a maid in four houses and Suresh knew it was hard work. But, he couldn’t help the craving for alcohol and had emptied her purse the previous evening.

“I borrowed this money from Sumithra amma to buy milk for the child… I have already taken advance from all the houses… What shall I do now?” Santhi dropped the bucket and started crying.

“You have ruined my life… you don’t provide us and take away what little I eke out...” She lifted the baby and walked out of the house. 

Suresh was tall and gaunt with coffee brown complexion and jet black curly hair that formed a halo around his head. His blood shot wide set eyes, thick moustache and misshapen teeth gave a rather menacing look. Presently, Suresh felt off-colour and desperately needed hot tea. He lumbered towards Nair Tea Stall, where he slumped on the bench next to Kabali, his long time friend. 

“Did you get the wages yesterday?” asked Kabali.

“Hmm… yes…” sighed Suresh, “What is the use? One of Ramu Anna’s thugs caught hold of me in the evening and took away all the money… On top of this, Santhi had picked up a fight early in the morning… What a miserable life…” 

“All wives are the same” commented Kabali wisely.

Ramu Anna was the local money lender, from whom Suresh had borrowed heavily pawning the little gold jewellery Santhi had.

“Is that ‘Tiger Babu’? Looks like he has become rich overnight…” exclaimed Nair. ‘Tiger Babu’, an undesirable history-sheeter in that locality, was approaching them; he was wearing new clothes, gold chain and gold rings. 

“Hey, you both… How are you? Nair anna, one special tea for me…” beamed ‘Tiger Babu’.

Kabali couldn’t control his curiosity “Babu, are you getting married? You look all decked up….” 

“No... No… my business is doing very well….” winked ‘Tiger Babu’. 

“What business are you doing now?” asked Kabali with a condescending look.

Babu leaned forward and said in a conspiratorial whisper “Easy job… chain snatching… just go around the deserted streets on your bike… once you spot the ‘bird’, speed along and snatch the chain… you should do it very fast… never look back… never go to the same area again… don’t forget to mask your face and the number plate… ok…” Having shared the trick of his trade, he looked at their reaction proudly. Vanity was Babu’s second nature.

“What if you are caught by the police?” asked Suresh sceptically. 

“Ha… Ha… Ha... this job is not for cowards…” departed ‘Tiger Babu’ with a sneer.

Suresh stared at the receding figure of Babu. “Don’t take Babu seriously…” Kabali cautioned. He did not approve of Babu’s ways.

Suresh and Kabali were construction workers and it had always been a struggle to make the ends meet. Construction industry was going through a slump and hence, they were out of work for at least 10 days a month. On these days Kabali took up loading-unloading job in the market. However, Suresh found this work too hard and generally whiled away time if he couldn’t get construction work. He blamed all and sundry for his wretched troubles. Out of frustration, he started to drink. One thing led to the other, and before long, he ended up neck deep in debt.

Suresh felt being trapped in a rut and could find no way out. Babu’s sneer kept troubling him and he desperately needed a ‘quarter’. The wine shop was only a block away; but, he did not have money.


Charu brushed her hair once more. Her thick dark brown mane looked lustrous and shiny. She was taller for an average Indian woman, with a wheatish skin tone and large eyes expressing melancholy. She looked elegant in a pale pink cotton sari with a matching blouse. Charu had a good dress sense, and she chose a thick gold chain with a pearl pendent and a pair of pearl danglers to go with her outfit. Charu looked at her reflection on the mirror and adjusted her sari. It was getting late for work. She called out for Bala, who rolled over in his sleep.

“Bala, I am leaving breakfast on the table… lunch is in the hot case…” Charu sighed.

Her husband Balaji worked in a call centre doing night shift. They hardly got time together. With rising inflation, it had been very difficult to manage with single income. Hence, she started working. Nonetheless, she was unhappy with the present arrangement and had been pestering Balaji to find a day-shift job, but, despite his best efforts, nothing had clicked so far. 

“In the interim, we have to manage somehow...” thought Charu wistfully as she closed the front door. 

Her workload was so heavy this month that she was held up late almost every day. To top it all, Charu couldn’t get a replacement for the domestic help, who had returned to her village a week ago. Sumithra, who lived next door, recommended her maid Santhi. Charu waited in vain for Santhi this morning and as a result, her entire routine went haywire. She quickened her pace, lest she might miss 8:45 shuttle service. In the peak hours, it took a good 45 minutes to reach her office.


Suresh was slowly staggering along the road after having his ‘quarter’ bottle of booze. Selva, the shop owner had warned him to pay up the money by evening without fail. Suresh felt angry and swore under his breath. Presently, a tall guy called him over to the side of the road. 

“Ramu Anna wants to see you…” he gestured towards the TATA Sumo parked on the roadside. Ramu Anna was a heavyset man, who chewed betel leaves all the time. He charged exorbitant interest and had employed a group of hooligans to collect money from defaulting customers. Suresh approached the vehicle and found Ramu Anna sitting in the front seat.

“Namaste” greeted Suresh tentatively.

Ramu Anna dismissed the greeting with a wave of his hand “Suresh, you have not paid the interest for this month… I have reached the limit of my patience… You better pay the money by tomorrow morning… Or else I will send my boys to your house… This is my last and final warning…” he gestured to his 'boys' and drove off.

Ramu Anna’s boys were ruffians and Suresh shuddered to think of the consequences if he failed to pay on time. He had to get money somehow. With a determined look, he trudged towards his house.  


Charu managed to reach office on time. She had barely settled down to work, when the Project Manager called her for a discussion. The client had sought a few additions to the statement of work.

After going through the requirements, Charu protested “This increases the scope of the work, Sir...”

“I agree, but you surely know how important this project is... we have to fulfil the requirements and complete the work on time...”replied the manager firmly.

“Then you will have to extend the deadline, Sir... Already the team is working long hours...” Charu pleaded.

“We can’t help it Charu... you can offer cash incentives to the team members...You are the team leader... Do whatever it takes, but get the job done...” with these words the manager dismissed her.

Charu drew up a new schedule, and had a tough time convincing her team. By the evening, bleary-eyed and exhausted Charu continued to work resolutely to deliver the final product on time. 


“Santhi has taken the child to the hospital... Why don’t you help her out once in a while? Poor thing, she has to manage everything on her own...” said his neighbour as she handed over the house key to Suresh. She had witnessed his frequent drunken brawls. Suresh was consumed by an impotent rage whenever Santhi reminded his inability to earn, either by her words or deeds.

“I will show her today what I am made of...” Suresh cursed as he rummaged through their belongings, only to find a tiny gold baby ring. He threw it back in the trunk.

“This won’t do... I need something more valuable...” Suresh started ransacking the house in desperation. Something fell down with a clang and he found the kitchen knife lying near his feet. After a brief thought, Suresh left the house with the knife rolled safely in a hand towel. 


Charu had just dispatched the final product. With a sigh of relief, she looked at the clock. It was 10.30 PM; if she could just hurry she might be in time for the 10:45 shuttle, the last one for the day. To her bad luck, project manager had called for an update and by the time she reached the bus shelter, the last bus had already left. The bus shelter was on the main road, lined by shops and other commercial establishments, which were all closed. Charu found nobody in the vicinity. She could have asked the HR Department to arrange for a cab. This would have meant further delay and she was apprehensive about travelling alone with an unknown driver. 

“If only I had left 5 minutes early...” rued Charu. 


Suresh entered the main road through a deserted alley and looked around surreptitiously. He could find nobody except a fair, tall woman standing near the bus shelter under the street lamp. She was wearing a gold chain that glittered in the street light. 

Presently she was speaking over the phone, “Bala, I have missed the last shuttle just by a minute... No... No... Didn’t ask Suma for a cab... You know the problems... Can you come and pick me up immediately? It’s rather lonely here... Yes... I am waiting near the bus stop as usual...I will take care... Don’t worry...” she switched off the phone.

“This chain would take care of my present troubles... I could do with the phone as well... She has just called someone... I should act swiftly...” Suresh pulled out the knife and started walking unsteadily towards his prey.


Charu looked at her watch. “It only takes 10 minutes for Bala to reach here... He sounded rather worried... Told me to stay safe...” She felt uneasy and looked around. A dark, lanky figure was walking towards her, in a stealthy manner. Charu felt agitated and started searching her bag for the pepper spray.


Suresh saw her groping in the bag. “What is she looking for?” he was worried. He had heard of women carrying chilli powder or even knives for their personal safety. He lunged with the raised knife and the woman let out a shriek. Suresh pushed her against the lamp post, with his left hand closing around her neck.


Charu started choking with her assailant’s hand pressing around her throat. She could smell the stale breath of alcohol and see his menacing eyes in close proximity. She felt revulsed and pushed him with all her might, but he was too strong. His right forearm was across her face and she plunged her teeth deeply into it. He retreated with a yell. Charu turned to run, but he caught her left hand and pulled her back. 


Suresh’s forearm was bleeding and he dropped the knife. He was blinded by anger and pain. 

“Bitch... How dare you?” All his frustrations mounted to the fore. Alcohol and rage clouded his mind. He pulled her back and pushed her against the lamp post. She lost balance and hit the post with a thud.


Charu lost balance and fell backwards. Her head hit against the solid cement lamp post. For a moment there was an excruciating pain at the back of her head. She saw a pair of blood shot eyes and a face screwed up in anger. Then there was total darkness.


Suresh watched her slide limply down and sit precariously on the platform. Her head made a long red mark along the length of the post and finally, hung to the side. She was not protesting anymore. Nor did she move. Her legs were folded at an odd angle and her hand still clutching the handbag. 

An eerie silence descended on Suresh. It took ages for him to grasp what had happened. As the consequences of what he had done slowly dawned on him, his hands started shaking uncontrollably and he was consumed by a paralyzing terror. The world stopped around him and time remained static.

A vehicle honked at a distance. Suresh woke up from the drunken stupor, glanced at the still form of the woman, and then started running down the dark alley at breakneck speed.

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