Saturday 15 August 2020

Usha Srikanth, Short Story 2020 Featured Writer


Triveni stared at the soft board, like she usually did. The staff room was resounding with laughter as her colleagues discussed about each others' weird habits in a lighter vein. She continued staring at the board and wanted to disappear inside it. She knew that so much laughter around her was harmful. They were mocking at her, she could feel it. It was time for her to vanish and come back empowered the next instant. A repartee to the party that would put this party to a gloomy end.

She was tall, with a creamy complexion, the hair stuck to her scalp and looked well oiled. She always plaited it. A bindi always clung to her forehead. A six yards saree could not quite complete the roundness of her broad frame. Her worn out and faded bra was an old inquisitive hag that always peeped out of the blouse. It was metaphorical of Triveni's own character. She masked her curiosity behind a flimsy cloak of false divinity. She hid herself in shlokas of the Hindu Gods. But right then in the midst of happy people, she felt out of place. Her soft board told her to be creative enough with the repartee. Too much happiness did not suit her. She thrived on sympathy.

'Sympathy' yes this would be it again. Play on these cords with the boss and the brownie points start rolling in. She looked at her side, her eyes narrowed and gave her a good view of her colleagues Ritu and Sneha.

Ritu had her hair cut upto the shoulders. It fell softly with light curls giving her rounded face a youthful, joyful look. Triveni loathed Ritu's existence. She reminded her of everything that she had longed for. Smartness, elegance, friendly attitude! She shifted her gaze at Sneha. She was slim, tall and graceful. Her quick wit tickled everyone's funny bone. The male colleagues too joined in merrily.

She ran down her check list of making Ritu appear small and unimportant. In the past eight years that they had worked together she had used every trick in the bag. The memory flooded her and pumped her adrenaline.

She recalled the day when her chat show was telecast on TV in the local channel. She remembered the huge effort she had put, to keep the opportunity clandestine. The letter was still with her! The invitation was official. Yet, she was careful in concealing it. Ritu had questioned her about leaving late for home. But she had managed it well. The day arrived, she wanted to see Ritu's face. She'd imagined the despair on it and had rejoiced. But Ritu had walked down the corridor coolly and congratulated her. Triveni had never felt so dejected! The telecast did not give her the pleasure that she longed for! Everyone always became friends with Ritu. But this time she had chosen her words well! The staff room became sober as Ritu , Sneha and a few more of them left for their classes.

The male colleagues remained seated. She checked her tone, tuned it to sound doleful and said"Mr. Hari, you seem to befriend only well - dressed women."

Hari was taken aback by the brusqueness of this remark. He smiled and retorted "Ms. Triveni why don't you too dress up well? I don't see the point in not doing so."

Triveni was thrown off guard. This melodramatic dialogue of hers had won her the expected sympathy many times. She was successful in depicting Ritu as arrogant and she'd dropped hints to portray Ritu as a bossy snob. She decided to try her luck some other time. Sitting on her chair, she stared at the soft board. Again her eyes looked up and centre, bringing back the days when she used to be the Principal's assistant.

Twenty year old Triveni, clad in a faded salwar kameez wiped a tear. The Principal of the school watched her from a distance, she wanted her to. Later she was summoned to the cabin for questioning. Her eyes and lips concocted a story of utter desperation. The story highlighted her marital life which was filled with misery.

"My husband is infirm, hence cannot sustain a job for long." She said. "The burden of his parents is thrust on my frail shoulders," She continued "My salary is hand to mouth, my colleagues snigger at my pathetic sight," seizing this opportunity firmly she lamented further. "I am the most diligent worker. I go hungry for long hours and work . Many times, I complete my colleagues' share of work too."

The lady Principal was overcome with sympathy. There was another school which was supposed to commence from the next academic year. If she played her cards right, she knew she'd land herself in a new job.

"There's another school being built nearby, I have contacts there. A new job, a new designation as a teacher with a better pay packet will be yours. Don't worry!" She knew that this would head in exactly the same direction as planned. So, here she was!

In these years, she had eked out a comfortable life style for herself. But was careful to dress in the sloppy manner that was so her! The biggest achievement was buying an apartment. her confidence too had manifested into a hugely blown chauvinism. The new school, as she remembered was quite accommodating of her in-capacities. Her influential entry had secured her position. Her lacuna in talent, subject knowledge and the incapacity to be a team worker had all gone unnoticed. Her uncanny ability to find scapegoats for covering up her lacuna had always excelled. Until,the school expanded and brought in newer and younger employees. If at all there was some threat to her job, it was from Ritu and the others. With the entry of Ritu in her department, Triveni's existence had paled. She had a general appeal that fused with the others. However, Triveni was repulsed.

"Hey! Are you okay?" Asked Sneha who pulled the chair beside her. "You seem lost in profound thoughts!" Said Sneha in a jovial tone. Triveni bolted back to reality. "Why? Don't I have the right to think?" She retorted in a loud, icy tone.

Her garrulous nature took charge. She stormed out of the place. Sneha shrugged off her feeling of contempt and returned to her place.

Triveni hovered near the Principal's cabin. This was where she loved to be most of the times. It was very important to look busy in front of the boss! She created an opportunity to enter the cabin and wiped her eyes with the pallu of her saree. With moist eyes she said "My colleagues are the most insensitive lot, I haven't had a morsel to eat since morning, I was busy with a lot of exclusive work. They find pleasure in mocking me. It's impossible to be in peace there."

She finished her stretched monologue without gulping even one breath of air. The Principal was flabbergasted! He knew she was a complaint box, a pack of lies personified but was helpless. There was no rule in the book which stated that liars, manipulators,trouble creators should be shown the gates. He blocked her out of his mind and told her that he would look into the matter.

She emerged out of the cabin and made sure that she wasn't seen. She was aware of the reputation that she held. The reputation of marring others' reputation, the reputation of presenting herself as an extraordinarily talented personality, the reputation of contradicting what she ardently read in the hymns of the Hindu Gods. The sweet smell of corn wafted through the air. This aroused her buds which salivated profusely.

The stairs led down to the canteen. She took them one at a time.

A five year old Triveni appeared before her. The steps led down her memory lane. Her cousin Priya skipped alongwith her. "We'll race grandpa, the winner should get a chocolate." Said Priya. Grandpa adored his granddaughters. They ran gaily , like two daisies prancing in the wind. Priya won the race. She was turning around to shout out to grandpa, when Triveni fell beside her, ripped off her own skirt and started crying. Priya stood rooted to the spot. Grandpa approached them and carried little Triveni, wiped her tears and consoled her. The chocolate made its way from his hands to Triveni's bawling mouth. Priya's victory was buried in the dust. Triveni handed out a piece of the chocolate to her cousin. Victory was hers! Chocolate was hers! Mm.... it tasted so good!

she descended another step, a twelve year old school girl passed by. Triveni envisioned herself in her uniform so many years ago, when she twelve and in the seventh grade. The final exams were fast approaching, she cast a look at her brother who was working out sheet after sheet of algebra. He was a hardworking boy. Mama adored him. "Sharan will make the family proud." Mama always said. He was in the ninth grade. Triveni paced around from the room to the hall listlessly. Hardwork was for donkeys! She thought this over and smiled. Days went by, the exams were over . One day Kushali, her brother's friend ran towards her. She wore a bright smile across her face. "Hey Triveni, your brother's topped the class this time too. He's broken the record in the quiz too. You're a lucky girl to have a bro like him." "The PTM is three days away, he plans to surprise your parents. So, don't spill the beans." Three days, thought Triveni.

Brother and sister reached home. Mom served lunch. "My stomach's aching, I can't eat now." Said Triveni and pushed the plate away. Later she sneaked into her parents' room to sleep. She also sneaked into papa's wallet and helped herself to some money. In the evening, she told her mom that she needed to meet her friends and helped herself to a bakery. For three days she didn't touch a morsel at home. Mom grew worried. She told Papa about their daughter's strange intermittent stomachache. Sharan declared that the PTM was the next day and that it was compulsory. The next morning, Triveni wouldn't leave the bed. The house was frantic with worry. No one was interested to visit the school. Sharan went all alone. The parents took her to a doctor, who was baffled by the nature of the ache. Various tests were recommended and performed. By evening she was discharged and was told to be kept under observation.

Sharan displayed his marks sheet and trophy proudly,but Papa was only disheartened at Sharan's lack of sympathy and insensitive attitude! The stomachache continued for two more days and finally vanished alongwith Sharan's happiness and glory. No one bothered about her poor scores, they were thankful that their daughter was fine. After that all that mattered was her good health.

She neared the door of the canteen now. She saw that various fruits were on display. Bright red apples, yellow sweet limes, pomegranates and many more. Food had always been her weakness. She placed an order for apple milkshake. The cook put the fruits in a big jar and placed it on the electric mixer. It made a loud swishing noise. This loud noise took her back to the noise, a soft humming one of the monitor that displayed the pressure of blood and heart beat. Her father had met with an accident. He was crossing the road when a bus had hit him. Locals had admitted him to a hospital. Triveni was seventeen. It was already a week since the mishap. Doctors gave no hope of Papa moving out of bed. He had gone completely numb.

Only the eyes moved and cried every now and then. Relatives poured in, bringing with them delicious looking fruits and bakery items. Triveni couldn't resist them. But Mama maintained her stoic hunger. Sharan was even more exasperating as he tried to feed Papa and Mama the goodies. She couldn't fathom the idea behind feeding people who didn't deserve to be fed. Papa couldn't eat anyways and Mama wouldn't eat. No one noticed the juices inside the fruits except her. They were adamant on shedding futile tears for a juiceless body that was her father's. She also realized that the relatives consoled and showed concern for the bereaved wife. The only way in which she could contribute to this situation was to help herself to the goodies and wail!

The relatives continued to pour in but their attention was shifted to her. Fruits were brought in especially for Triveni. For Triveni lamented the most! That was the best summer ever. This thread of memory brought a triumphant smile on her lips. She relished a plate of corn manchurian alongwith the milkshake.

The place was filled with young faces, few of her colleagues stood with filled plates at corners. Each face was lit up with happiness. Smiles and hugs greeted each other. She hated so much laughter! Triveni's smile too crawled up her lips. It sneaked up to her eyes and they glistened. After all, if and when she wished to, she could strip these faces off , the ornament that they so proudly displayed. She was happier than happiness herself! She derived mirth from misery.

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