Tuesday 1 September 2015

Short Story 2015, Longlist Anirban Nanda


“Hello, Hello, can’t hear you. Hellooo? Shit! You bloody stupid phone.” Ashwin was utterly irked and he threw his mobile phone on the white office vinyl floor. The mobile made a trajectory in the shape of a dome and struck on the floor creating a crackling sound. The back-cover, battery and sim card had sprung out and scattered nearby and the phone remained upside down.  He remained immobile for few minutes. Then he went towards the scattered mobile parts and gathered one by one in his two hands and stared at them silently. He took them and kept safely in his office drawer.
Stirring a spoon in his coffee cup, Ashwin was looking blankly in space. He did not notice the arrival of Rabin, his colleague-cum-only-friend in the office. Rabin heard about his raging behaviour in front of his client.

“Why don’t you get a new phone? Your mobile is six years old and it has given you all its service it has to offer. You’ve repaired it four times. How much service do you expect from a multi-tasking mobile?” Rabin added showing a newspaper “Have a look at these android phones, they are so cool. Oh! The brand new iphone is awesome.”
Ashwin gazed at the mobile advertisements and then looked at Rabin but said nothing.
“What? What happened to you, dude? You earn 40,000 Rupees a month. A new mobile is not a big deal for you.” Rabin stated with a perplexed look.

“You won’t understand this. No phone can replace this mobile. In previous 6 x 365 days it had accompanied me in my good and bad times. With every good memory, one thing was common; and that is this mobile.” Ashwin’s face was look like that within few seconds, he would cry.
“Oh C’mon! Now, what’s this silly excuse! It is just a device to help you in your daily needs. When it cannot give service, you should simply throw it and get a new one.” Rabin reasoned.
“I told you.” Ashwin mumbled, “You won’t understand.” He stood up, left the office canteen, lolled to the office parking lodge, got into his car and then started it.

He was driving to his apartment in the empty main road. Unknowingly, he stared at his broken phone beside. If it was any other day, he would listen to his favourite songs in headphone. The touch screen got some cracks and the phone was decided to keep itself switched off and to make Ashwin more depressed.

The misty winter night with its beautiful city-scenery passed very fast as the car went on. The lonely street lamps was glistening without knowing for whom, the closed small cigarette shops appeared as very old and cold witches. A public telephone booth was standing calmly as it knew everything, like an old pundit. Closed stores were like waiting for someone, for some unexpected incident. Fogs made the street a little wet, a carcass of a cat was lying silently with blood and other parts scattered around it drying; might be lynched by some imbecile and cruel driver. The women in festoons and posters were smiling, laughing and gazing seductively at everything, mysteriously; at the dead cat, at the street-lamps, at the sky, at street beggars, at Ashwin, his car, his mobile; like they were the happiest people having that special cream, that special biscuit, that wonderful shampoo. But Ashwin did not notice any of these; he was lost in his thoughts and was driving the car mechanically. At last, he came in front of his housing garage. He crossed the garage, building gate, stairs like a remote controlled puppet.

The door opened with a creaking cry. No one was waiting at the door for him to open, to ask him about the whole day, to make a coffee for him, to sit beside him. He was lonely at his 25 years of age. He opened the wooden door and entered in his dark, lonely room. He didn’t turned on the lights. He sank in his bed straight after entrance and closed his eyes. Several incidents, events popped up in his brain and his eyes became wet. Everything was quiet, so quiet that he can hear his heart-beats. He would watch some pictures, videos, messages in his mobile in any day after his return and smile in his mind. But it was all locked in the crashed mobile. He took the mobile in his hand and placed its battery, SIM card and back-cover properly and pressed its power button for few seconds, waiting and expecting that in the immediate next second its screen would glow flashing ‘WELCOME’. Seconds passed, his heart had beaten faster, hopes increased in every millisecond; but the off-white device hadn’t shown any single response. He placed that rectangular, rounded-cornered plastic box hopelessly in his table and went to bathroom. Refreshed externally, he came out and switched on the dim fluorescent lights of his room and went to kitchen to make some noodles for dinner. For years, that was the common menu in his dinner.

He ate the long thick ribbons staring at his Champ, as he used to call his mobile. He thought how this small device intertwined with every corner of his life. His first Facebook account was created in this phone, any memorable moments with friends; colleagues were captured in its memory. Morning news-papers flashed in its screen and he forgot when he bought a newspaper last time. It was like a real living friend of him, not just a simple electronic device. On morning when it woke him up with its sweet tone, he would rose up on his bed and used to say, “Good Morning! Hey, little Champ. How was the sleep my boy?” Then he would check his Facebook updates, Twitter updates, and his mails and would go for a bath. He thought he and his electronic device would be enough to traverse the journey of life.

”Ah! Crap!” a small stone mixed with noodles was crunched by his teeth. He came out of his thought and finished the noodles; and then went to his bed. He lay on his bed with his arm on forehead. He was severely missing his phone. Every night he’d watch any photo of him and Shruti, their close up pictures, birthday videos, and Good Night messages and then recalling them he’d sleep with a smile.
But this night would not be a normal one. And instead of enjoying one single video or photo stored in phone memory, when he tried to recall the same from his brain memory, several another unwanted pictures came up and forced him to face a sudden overflow of emotions, sentiments. In one shot, he returned to his eight years back love story. 

It was nearly 8 pm when Ashwin was ‘facebooking’ behind his physics book though he had exam next day. A message in his chat-box popped out with a name Shruti Sarkar. He can’t remember when he had added this girl in his friend-list. But boys always consider it a golden opportunity if a girl herself starts chatting. After all, for a boy, one of the fundamental reasons behind creating a social network account is to represent himself in such a manner that the opposite sex would admire him, chat with him and ultimately, becoming a girlfriend to be bonded. So, Ashwin started chatting formally, then normally and finally, they were always in chat box whenever they logged on.
Expectedly, things was happening like: they became closer and closer, exchanged their cell numbers, started to recharge promos for messages and calls, appeared less on Facebook and became very busy typing messages and talking all day long. They came to know that they were from same city but lived in two corners. Ashwin started meeting, better say, dating with Shruti. He was never happy like then before, he would sacrifice anything; his carrier, his home, only if he was allowed to live with her. He slept because he wanted to wish Good Morning to Shruti next morning, bought costly T-shirts, jeans, face-wash to look handsome in date. In every meeting, he took several selfies with Shruti in his Champ, stored them in phone memory instead of memory-card in fear of losing them. Shruti gave him a watch in his birth day and he wore it 24 hours. He stored every single message of their conversation and recorded their talking. He thought he had a right on her, on her every word.
Following 6 months, they had their sweet-spicy relationship. Ashwin loved the moments when they had involved in physical intimacy, mostly the seconds before it.

The waiting for those love-making moments was the best feeling he had ever had. Still, he could remember the messages:
As:  Hey, r u redy???
Sh: Hmmm, nt sure. Confusd wat 2 wear. U tell.
As: Nething.Ultimtely, evrythng wud b taken off.:)
Sh: Oh,shut up nw u baby! Tell me na.
As: Umm, ok, tight black top n jeans.
Sh: U nauty! Ok I’ll be dere in 30 min.evrythng is clr na?
As: Yup,evrythng,Mom 2 her sis’s place n Dad had latenight work.
Sh: Ok.luv u baby. :)

And they embraced their sweet-sweaty bodily pleasure, the grasping for air and clasping on shoulder, the agonizing scream of joy. The pungent odour overpowered their fear with unknown joy, a devilish delight.  She cried and laughed and wanted for more; for the pain became the cause of joy. He was thrilled and admired himself for his manly abilities, he wanted to hold her and protect, and he wanted to be the only one who could cause pain to her. Eyes half-closed, they were ravishing their tiredness; he caressed her hair and she, captured between his mighty arms and broad chest, was designing patterns on his arm; like it was the most important artwork the world would ever see. He said in a husky voice, “Promise me, you’ll be with me forever.”

 “Ah! I longed that. Only if…” She didn’t care what she was uttering; she just wanted to be tired and half-awake.
With urgency Ashwin sat up, jeopardising her warm comfort. “What do you mean by only if? Is there anything I don’t know?”

Annoyed by the sudden end of her after-sex pleasure she said, “Can we please talk about this later? Come na, baby, let me stay in your arms.” And she tried to move him down on the bed again.
“No! Tell me what it is?”

 Realising the ruin of the lovely languidness she sat up looking seriously at Ashwin; like she was going to say that she was a terrorist. She said, “Ash, you know, that my father is a business man and he abhors you. You are of lower-class; a SC.” Pausing, she searched for some response in his face and finding none, she resumed, “I think it will be in our best interests to forget each other and avoid any bad incident.”

“What!” Ashwin growled as he couldn’t believe his ears and shouted, “This is your solution!” Then mimicking her tone he said, “Let’s forget each other and fuck off to our different lives.” He was breathing rage from his eyes, “I thought we love each other.”
“Of course I love you. But you don’t know my father. He’ll kill you. I swear he’ll kill you. I can’t let that happen. This is not a bollywood film. You must understand.” Patting on his shoulder she said, “We can be friends for our whole life.”
“Friends! Wah! Wah! Great. We can of course be friends.” To calm his sarcastic tone she tried to speak but he stopped her. “Don’t say another word from that filthy mouth. GO! Just go from my house.”
With tears, she walked away from the dark window, clutching her chest with her two arms crossed. He was peeking from the glass pane. Corners of his eyes sparkled.  

 “PLEASE DON’T GO…”Ashwin suddenly opened his eyes being witnessed his life’s biggest nightmare again. He did not know why but tears were overflowing from his eyes. He could taste the salty waters in corner of his lips. He gazed blankly here and there and stayed immobile. He woke up, it was 3 a.m. Then he searched his phone below his pillow but couldn’t find it. Then he recalled that he himself had nearly destroyed it. All the remaining night, sleep did not agree to tie up with his eyes. He tried to sleep; one time he move one side, next time on another side, forming different gymnastic patterns but could not sleep. He, who once felt lucky to have Shruti, now cursed himself, Shruti and their love. To him, it was the ‘gigantic blunder’ of his life and he promised to himself not to fall in love ever again. By consoling his stupid emotional mind the remaining night passed.
Next day, first he went to the nearby electronics shop with the ‘ill’ device in hope of recovery.
“Bro, how many times will you repair this old mobile? This is the fifth time you coming here with your bullshit stuff.” said the store-keeper irritatingly.

“Please, friend, you are my last hope. You know what kind of relation is between me and this ‘bullshit stuff’, also between you and me.”Ashwin pleaded with closed hands as if he was asking for pass-marks to his professor.
The store-keeper softened as he thought himself as a dominating personality in front of an educated officer and stated, “Okay, don’t worry, you are my friend. Leave it here and come tomorrow afternoon.”
“Thank you; you cannot understand how much I’m indebted to you.” For the first time after tomorrow, Ashwin smiled.

He went to his office with bright smile, wished every one ‘Good Morning’ while entering in the office. In his cabin, he was totally occupied by his thoughts that in 48 hours he would get his Champ healthy in his hands, that he could listen to his songs again, that he could read newspapers, check Facebook updates, that he would re-open his secret photos, videos and could recreate his normal life. Everything was dependent on the repairer. Suddenly, a notion struck his mind and he became tensed. If the worker has come to know about the secrets stored in phone memory; then what would happen? My secrets would become public by grapevine. Information is like wind for recent technologies. Then he calmed down his mind saying: Don’t worry, things like that will not happen. Everything will be fine.
“What are you murmuring and to whom?” Rabin was at the door.

“Nothing interesting. Just tensed about my phone.” Ashwin replied with no expression.
“Oh God! You and your phone. Whatever, I shall not say a word about this matter. I won’t understand.” He added with a smile and forwarded a newspaper. “See what came out in this newspaper.”
Rabin gave a ‘Times of India’ with a report like this:
“The Kumar InfoTech Ltd has ranked as highest revenue holder this month and it is expected to double till February.” And some charts, tables were drawn below.
Ashwin exclaimed, “WOW! That’s big news. Where is our celebration? Have you talked to CEO? What from him?”
“Calm down, calm down. Don’t be so excited. Yes, I talked to CEO and…” He blinked mischievously and shouted “We both have been promoted to senior technical officer.”
“Ohoho! What good news. That’s wonderful. Party from me tonight.”Ashwin exclaimed with joy and he was like jumping on the floor.

“Oh sorry! I almost am forgetting. Our boss has asked you to look up this presentation. Bye.” Handing a yellow file, Rabin was striding to door and singing:
“Hip Hip Hurray!
Ashwin has a party to pay.”
This news made Ashwin happier and he was smiling all the time. He was thinking that, once again, his Champ would be with him in his happy moments. He thought that, he could go to the shop on that very evening. Who knew? His Champ might have minor problems and had been repaired by that day. Then he controlled his emotions and decided to wait till the next day evening. He calculated: till tomorrow eve, it would be 26 hours; by sleep 8 hours would pass, 4 hours for party, and 8 hours in office; so only for 6 hours he had to pass boringly. Then, he and his Champ, plus increased salary and lots of fun were to follow. But at that very instant, thought of his emptiness filled his heart. At the end of the day, he had no one to share his good news, this huge amount of money. All the day was went on by creating presentation and swimming in sea of thoughts. The Times of India was lucky for him, as he considered. So, he took the paper with him and put it in his leather bag.

Ashwin did not interested to know, at that stage, where would be Shruti, what was her profession, whether she was married. All these questions had no significance in his life. But he knew one thing; she wanted to be a fashion designer. Once, he came to know via one of his old college friends that, Shruti was married with Rakesh and was a mother of twin boys. First time, when he heard this, he felt once again that he had been deprived of his right, unjustified in court of love.
In the evening, they, Ashwin and Rabin, had a campaign party and he enjoyed that in full mood. Back to home, Ashwin again sank in thoughts of his love, his Champ and the night passed smoothly without much gymnastics.  

He drove to office next morning, day-dreaming whole day and with extreme excitation he came out from office 1 hour earlier. Walking through a riverside and enjoying the smooth breeze, he was experiencing the feelings of waiting for something beautiful, some good news; just like the same he had experienced before having sex. The oscillation between yes and no, the hope for the desired; thrilled him every second. He did not read newspaper for 2 days. He thought he would read the Times of India in his bag, but he reasoned that, he’d read the paper in his Champ which would be in his hand in few minutes.
At last, time for result came; Ashwin was in front of the electronics store, the hospital for his Champ. Slowly, with heart beating fast he moved to the store-keeper. After break up with Shruti, this was second time he was feared so much that he even could not talk fluently.

“Hey, f…friend how is my Champ?” he asked with tons of confusion.
“What? Who is Champ?” the store keeper was trying to recall with wrinkles his forehead.
“Oops, sorry, the mobile I had left here tomorrow to repair.” Ashwin finished in one breath. His eyes became narrow but still, heart beating so fast that it would come out of his body. Praying in mind he opened his eyes for the result, like he was going to check his JEE result.
“Oh the white touch-screen one! Let me check.” The store-keeper shouted to someone Ramu, “Oye! Bring me the slip in drawer. No, not that you stupid. Yes, that one, bring it to me.”
Ashwin noticed a little boy of nearly 13-14 year age with dark complexion appeared and walking slowly, brought a blue slip to the store-keeper. He first looked at Ashwin, then his owner and went back.

“So here it is, Mr. Ashwin.” The shop-keeper observed the slip for some time and then without lifting his head from the paper he announced, “The LED screen is destroyed though can be repaired. But, the main processor is burned completely and several other parts are damaged. Also, the OS is patched. It’s nothing better than garbage.”

Ashwin’s ferociously jumping heart was like stopped suddenly. His ears became hot; he could not see anything except the blue slip and the store-keeper.
“It can’t be. Check it once again. It can’t be.” Ashwin was grasping and his face flourished red.
“Don’t believe me? Check it yourself.” Store-keeper forwarded the blue slip to Ashwin.
Ashwin looked at the paper once and the moved back two steps awkwardly with eyes widened, filled with certain shock. He rotated 180 degrees and was walking back slowly.
“Hey, take your phone with you.” Store-keeper gave the useless phone in a plastic bag and added “Our phone number is printed in it. Call when needed.”

Ashwin took the bag and instead of saying a single word he crossed the exit door slowly.
He was feeling numb, immobile without his mobile. He came to the same riverside at a snail’s speed. All the way, he felt nothing, he did not notice what was happening in his either side nor did he felt bad or depressed. He was walking like a ghost, like a broken cycle. He did not bother if someone slapped him, if he had stepped into a cow-dung, if ice-cool wind froze him to death. The sun was sinking in the river by melting its ochre in water. The dusky sky was emitting scattered rays on Ashwin’s face. His eyes were sparkling, but his chicks were not wet.

“I was living in my own way. No one stood beside in my life. Love rejected me. Still, I did not commit suicide, I did not start hating girls, I did not spare nights fully-drunk. My Champ was my only friend, totally faithful to me. At least there was no fear of a single betrayal, no condition for helping each other, no complain for anything. He did not change himself like seasons. I know, he has no blood, no oxygen, and no pump to flow them but still, he tried to comfort me at his best. What can prove these living beings is better than my Champ? They use others to keep themselves happy. They do not even bother if tomorrow this whole world is destroyed but only they survive. But this simple mobile has his simple rule, you give me energy, good care and I shall give you my service. In my solitary nights, who gave me pleasure by its songs; who displayed its pictures, videos of my past; who allowed me to attend every single call; who reminded me my important meetings, programs and above all, who created the first situation to feel love? Then why is my Champ detached from me? Hey you, the great Sun, the great God, now you are hiding behind the river when I’m demanding my answer. Why do you expect people would have trust on you? Truly speaking, I had enough trust on my Champ than you.” Tears were rolling down from eyes via his cheeks to chin.

Suddenly, he opened the plastic packet where his Champ is kept randomly, like a dead body. He looked at it intently for few moments and then his face contorted; he stood up, ran to the river bank and threw the mobile in to sky with all of his energy he could exert. The mobile made the same trajectory like a dome few days ago in his office, and then dipped into river making a sound which can’t be heard due to roar of the river. It made some concentric circles of watery waves which were gulped by the river waves.

A huge wave of river-wind blew, drying his face, his heart. That wind also helped the newspaper to pop out from his unzipped leather bag and rest 3 feet away.
Returning to his bag Ashwin noticed the paper but was not bothered. As he came closer to his bag he walked to the newspaper instead of the bag. His eyes were becoming narrower when he was moving closer and closer to the paper. He could forget everything but not Shruti’s face. There was news related to Shruti. The report went on like this:

A married woman, mother of two sons, named Shruti Sarkar was found unconscious beside a pavement. Medical report stated that she was raped brutally while she was returning home late-night. Offenders are not arrested yet. The women’s grief-stricken husband stated, “I was at an important presentation in Mumbai for my company ‘Kumar InfoTech Ltd’. Bablu, my son, had fever from tomorrow morning. She went to hospital late-night though I insisted her to wait till morning when I would reach. But when I’m home, everything was over.” Shruti had been admitted to Fortis and is now in coma, totally immobile. Doctors could not find any hope of remedy.

It was not that seeing this news, he became very bewildered and enraged in sorrow. Rather, for few moments, he was happy. He knew, it was not good news but he was feeling light to read the report. Like someone did justice to him; like the pictures, videos and the memories of Shruti in Champ was washed away with the dead phone, with the news report. But in next moment, his throat chocked, head ached. After all, he loved Shruti. The cramped face of Shruti when she was being raped; the sobered face after her destruction; the paralysed figure lying in hospital bed with closed eyes, indifferent to surroundings, with dark red patches on her chicks flashed in front of Ashwin. His hands, legs, fingers, face was cold as ice and solid as wood. He thought whether he should go to see Shruti, but he did not feel like he could tolerate the traumatic scene. He, like Rakesh, also was an officer in Kumar InfoTech Ltd and Rakesh might be from a different branch. The presentation for which Rakesh had to go to Mumbai might be made by him, the same urgent presentation asked him to create by the CEO. This time, Ashwin was blaming himself for the whole sinister incident. He wanted to die there on that spot.

Next morning, no-one saw him in the office; he didn’t buy a new phone. He had become out of contact. No one had a slightest perception about his mental state, not even me. But the crystal glass of the ICU room knew his inconsistent touch, his blur murmuring. The cute-little-boy waiting for his mother to wake up, might wonder about him. The vinyl floor of Fortis Hospital felt his warm, salty tears. The sweeper heard his slow, aimless dragging departure. Smoke from exhaust of his car blurred the transparent dusk. The car roared hard and disappeared behind the gates of the hospital.

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