Friday 15 September 2017

Short Story 2017 Featured Salman Sowdagar

A Subtle Epiphany

She was nervous but equally confident about nailing it. After all, she aced academics. Moreover, she had been preparing for it for a long time. Still, like all others at that place, she too was going about her last minute preparation. 

The day had finally come when Vaani Jha would be attending her first interview for a job. And it was an important one. The company visiting her college that day was a premier Indian MNC any engineering graduate would die to work for. Vaani was no exception. She had successfully cleared the written test and was looking forward to the technical round. 

She had dressed up perfectly for the day. She wore a light-cream salwar kameez as it was the prescribed dress code for the interview. Even on normal college days, Vaani preferred to wear only simple clothes in contrast to her friends who wore western. And they wore not to show off to boys as there were none, but to each other. 

Vaani studied in a girl’s college in Patna. She lived with her parents who were very protective of her. Her father worked as a bank manager and her mother was a homemaker. She was their only child.
"Vaani Jha?" called out one of the coordinators. The awaited moment had arrived. Vaani collected her folder and walked briskly towards the interview room. She opened the door and stood at the threshold.
"Please come in," said a male voice.

Vaani was surprised to see only one person on the interview panel. What surprised her more, was the gender of the interviewer. 

"Please be seated Ms. Jha," said the interviewer, in a polite tone.
Vaani sat down hesitatingly and with her sat down her confidence. It became dormant and soon nervousness took over her. But it wasn't just nervousness that troubled her. Coupled with it came a fear that started gnawing her.
The interview commenced as the interviewer started throwing technical questions at her. Vaani knew the answers to all the questions that were being asked. But the problem was that they were not making their way out of her mouth. And when they did, they were clumsy enough to make the interviewer feel that Vaani lacked etiquette. With each passing question, Vaani was losing her hope. She was out of her self. She could not make sense of what was happening to her. 

Towards the end of the interview, the interviewer said, "You seem to be intelligent, and your grades also show that. But you are not opening up. Any problem?"

Vaani started trembling. She tried to answer but her voice cracked as her throat was parched. Her eyes began to wet. She picked up her folder from the table and got to her feet. She turned around and walked out of the room.
"Hello? Ms. Jha?" the interviewer called out but she was already gone. She quickly made her way to the college cafeteria avoiding all the puzzled looks and incessant questioning from her classmates about how the interview had been. A close friend followed her a little distance but then stopped as she realized that Vaani was upset and wanted to be alone. Also, she had her interview to attend. 

Vaani found a corner table in the cafeteria and sat down. She buried her face in her hands and started sobbing.
When Vaani reached home in the evening, her parents could see the sadness on her face. On being asked, she told them all that had happened.
"Vaani, it's been six years. You can't be still stuck onto that," said her father sadly.
"Yeah dear, it's high time you move on. You can't let it affect your future," her mother said and hugged her with teary eyes.
Vaani spoke very little throughout dinner. She just responded by nodding to all that her parents had to say. They tried to convince her that she was their strong princess who could fight against anything. 

After supper, Vaani retired to her room. She lied on her bed. She was feeling better with all the motivation from her parents. But, the darkness of the night soon brought back to her memory the gloomy past. She tossed and turned trying to sleep. She closed her eyes.
SHE opened the door and stood at the threshold. 

"Come in Vaani," said a male voice.
"Good evening Sir," Vaani said to her Maths teacher. Prakash Kumar was an expert in his subject.
Vaani had come to his staff room to get a doubt clarified. The quarterly exams of her 10th grade were just a week away and she wanted to score well.
"Yeah Vaani, tell me," Kumar said, looking down at some papers on his table.
"I had a doubt in differential calculus Sir," said Vaani. 

He took the book from her hand and studied the problem. He wrote the formula and asked Vaani to substitute the values given. "You can sit here and do the problem so that if you get any further doubts, I can clarify them then and there," he said, pointing to the chair on the other side of the table. Vaani sat and started solving the problem.
After two minutes, Kumar got up and went to check on Vaani. She was stuck in the middle of the problem. He started offering a little help. In doing so, he casually put his right hand on Vaani's right shoulder. Vaani felt uncomfortable. She did not understand what she should do. So, she moved in her chair hoping that he would remove his hand. But he tightened his grip on her shoulder. In the next minute, he glided his hand over her right arm and before she could realize what he was doing, his hand was on her chest. 

"Sir!" Vaani yelled as she stood up in reflex. Her face turned into a fiery red.
"I will give you full marks in the coming exam. Any problem?" he asked, with a wicked smile.
Vaani pushed him with all her force. He fell on the floor. Vaani ran out of the room forgetting her books on the table. She sped towards the girls washroom. All the way she was feeling dazed and was continually looking back to see if he was following her. There was no sign of him. On reaching the washroom, she locked herself up and broke into tears. She felt nauseous. It took her some time to get back to her senses and figure out what had happened. 

That evening, when Vaani reached home, her parents sensed that she was not her usual self. Usually, she would bring in a lot of energy with her every day when she returned home. She would narrate the day's happenings to her mom. She would get angry if there were no tasty snacks to eat. She would play music at full volume. In a nutshell, Vaani was a bubbly girl who knew how to enjoy life. 

But that fateful day, she was very quiet and looked sick. When first asked, she lied that she had a headache. But when her mom kept asking her repeatedly, she poured her heart out to her parents. They were shocked to hear the news of their daughter's molestation in her own words.

Vaani's mother started weeping and her father became furious. First, they decided to approach the police. But, soon they realized that it would serve no purpose as they had no evidence. Even if the police took any action against the perpetrator on the basis of the victim's statement, it would only be a minor one and the culprit would soon be let off. That would only put their daughter's life in danger as the guilty may try to retaliate. The absence of stringent laws in our system for such crimes made them back out their decision. 

Also, there was another factor that not only stopped them from contacting the police, but also from approaching the school authorities. It was the fear of their daughter's image getting spoiled in the public as people would start talking bad things about her. They knew our society had this dirty habit of pointing fingers to the victim instead of to the guilty in cases such as these. 

Therefore, it did not take them long to reach the conclusion that they had no viable option. Their daughter was molested and they could not do anything about it. The only thing they could do was to keep quiet and forget about it as a bad dream. 

And that is what Vaani's parents did. They told Vaani about their helpless state. They asked her never to mention that incident to anyone and to try to forget about it as soon as possible. They knew that it won't be easy for her. 

Vaani did not go to school for two weeks. She even skipped her quarterly exams. Her parents shifted her to another branch of the school as other schools would not admit her in the middle of the year. They took her on a tour of south India for a change.
All these things helped Vaani get back to normal. But nevertheless, that incident left its impacts on her in the long run. She developed androphobia. She stopped going to places crowded with men. She sought admission into a girls college for her engineering. She always moved with a bunch of girls. 

But the effect that was most evident was the change in her nature. Vaani was no more the same bubbly girl. She had lost her spark. She stopped opening herself up. That fateful incident took away her vaani.
VAANI suddenly opened her eyes. She sat up on her bed. The clock in her phone showed 12:42 AM. The only sound was that of the chirping of crickets. She had a sip of water and then lied back on her bed. 

She thought about how her past was still haunting her even after six years. She was vexed with herself for letting it screw her first interview the previous day. It was not the first time though. In the last six years, there were times when her past had affected her behaviour on different occasions. Though she had become a quiet person on the outside, there was always a tumult inside her which led her mind connect the things in her present with her dark past. And this was leading her to a bad future. 

Vaani was lying on her right side and so the tears from her right eye were directly landing on her pillow. They formed a spot at the place they fell. Vaani observed it from the corner of her eye. She raised her head to get a better glimpse of it. But then, what seized her attention was not the spot but a small hole in the center of that spot. She wondered as to how her pillow had got a small tear. She had never seen it before. 

As Vaani was not getting a wink of sleep because of her disturbing thoughts, she started playing with the tear in her pillow. She started pulling the fabric from the sides of the hole. Soon, the hole enlarged. Now Vaani was able to put her finger inside the hole. She felt the soft material that the pillow was stuffed with. She loved that feel. So, she continued with her merrymaking activity. Within five minutes, the hole had become big enough for Vaani to put her five fingers and take out the polyester. She switched on the light in her room to have a better look at the pillow stuffing. The pure white polyester was very fluffy. She felt good looking at it and feeling its texture. 

But soon, Vaani, who had become a slave of her habit, made a connection between herself and the pillow. She started comparing her life with that of the pillow.
The next moment, Vaani picked up her phone and unlocked it. She opened the diary app where she wrote all her feelings which she thought were significant. She started typing.
How beautiful is the life of a pillow! Filled with everything good, it is as beautiful inside as it looks from outside. In fact, more. Unlike the lives of human beings, which appear to be good on the surface, but internally are not. Inside, they carry the baggage of their past. They have worries that eat them up. They have problems that drain them out. But a pillow? It has no problems. It has an ideal life. I wish I too had...
Vaani stopped typing and saved the entry. She did not know what she should do next. Sleep was nowhere close to her eyes. So, she picked up the pillow and again started digging out polyester from it. After a minute, she noticed something strange.
The freshly dug polyester had a spot in it. On examining it closely, Vaani realized that it was a tiny bug. She was surprised at the discovery. She immediately took out a scissor from the bedside table and slit the pillow. She started taking out a lot of polyester and as she went deeper, she was shocked to find innumerable bugs. The polyester was no more pure white with all the bugs in it. Vaani assumed them to be dead as they did not stir. She too sat there frozen; in contemplation. 

After five minutes, she moved to open her phone diary. She made a new entry.

A pillow is no different. It's just like me. Its life is the same as that of a human being. It has its own problems. It has its own past. Probably, my pillow had a dark past with the bugs when they were alive. But, it was strong enough to kill them. Nevertheless, the bugs will always remain with the pillow, but only in a dead state. In the same way, I may not be able to go back in time and change my gloomy past. It will always remain where it had occurred and how it had occurred. But, what I can do is kill the negative thoughts that come from there. What I can do is throw away its stinking baggage into the trash. What I can do is completely stop its affect on my present and future. If my pillow can do that, why can't I? I can. And I will. In fact, I already see that bubbly girl rise from the dark hollows of the past; ready to walk on the beautiful road of the present and take her flight into the bright skies of the future. Yes, she is back. Vaani Jha is back!!!
Vaani saved the entry and titled it 'A Subtle Epiphany'. A smile came up on her face as she finally unburdened herself of her dark past. Her heart felt light. She switched off the light in her room. She threw the slit pillow and its stuffing onto the floor; took another pillow and slept like she never slept before.

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