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AN ENCOUNTER WITH MY EX ON THE HYDERABAD MUMBAI EXPRESS
Fiction Short Story - a Romance By VIKRAM KARVE
From my archives - One of my earliest fiction short stories written almost 20 years ago way back in the early 1990s when everyone loved travelling by train ...
Do tell me if you liked the story ...
I stood on the platform of Hyderabad Railway Station with placid indifference.
It was dark, and the incessant rain made the atmosphere quite depressing.
But I was in a state of elation... the long arduous business tour of the South had been successful and I was keen on getting back home to my family in Pune after a month’s absence.
The couple of beers and delicious Biryani Dinner had further enhanced my joyful mood.
The beer had been properly chilled and the meat deliciously succulent. I felt on top of the world.
The train entered the platform.
I entered the air-conditioned sleeper coach and found my berth.
There were four berths in the small enclosure.
I wondered who my companions would be.
I was a typical middle aged man with a roving eye and a faithful wife.
I was hoping for the best - a bit of flirtation didn’t hurt anyone.
An old lady entered and sat beside me - a disappointing start!
Suddenly, Rajashree entered the compartment.
I am still not sure as to who was more surprised, Rajashree or me?
I certainly hadn’t bargained for this.
We, Rajashree and me, stared at each other incredulously.
I was at my wits’ end when Vijay came in. Now this was too much. The coincidence was unbelievable.
“What a pleasant surprise, old boy...!” Vijay exclaimed, shaking my hand, “Long time, no see!”
“Glad to see you, too,” I stammered, “Make yourselves comfortable. I’ll go out and have some fresh air.”
I looked at Rajashree.
She pointedly avoided my glance and tried to look busy organizing the luggage. No hint of recognition, as if I were a total stranger.
I made a quick exit to the platform and looked at the clock. There were still ten minutes for the train to start.
As I ambled on the platform, I wondered about the situation.
What were Vijay and Rajashree doing together in the same place?
Were they together, or was it a mere coincidence?
Maybe they were just two co-travellers, total strangers, like the old woman and I.
If they were together Vijay would have certainly introduced Rajashree to me.
Maybe he was too busy with the luggage and the porter.
There was plenty of time to get to the bottom of this mystery; it was a long overnight journey to Pune.
Vijay had been a crony of mine, till a few years ago.
We had studied together and later worked in the same firm till he had migrated to the USA in search of better prospects.
He was an unpretentious, soft-voiced man without temper, drama, or visible emotion. He was a fine gentleman and I was proud to claim his as a friend.
“Meet Rajashree, a friend and associate of mine”, he said as I entered the compartment.
I looked into her eyes and extended my hand.
She looked ravishing.
Around her slender neck she was wearing an exquisite diamond pendant which enhanced her alluring charm.
Her low-cut blouse, which accentuated the curves of her shapely breasts, made her look temptingly desirable.
She greeted me with a formal namaste, tinged with a chill reserve. There was not a trace of recognition in her eyes. I kept staring at her. The silence was grotesque.
Vijay had introduced Rajashree as a ‘friend’ and ‘associate’ – a rather nebulous description of their relationship.
Was Vijay playing games with me?
Why was Rajashree behaving in this strange manner, refusing to recognize me?
Well, if they wanted to play a double game, I’d be too happy to oblige.
Let me tell you a bit about Rajashree, my first love.
A man’s first love fills an enduring place in his heart.
Rajashree had been my protégée. Six years my junior, she was a management trainee when I first met her.
Her vigour was infectious, her wit barbed and she was at once stimulating and overbearing. Spirited and talkative, she always wanted to dominate. She was ambitious and her commitment to her career was complete.
I was her senior manger. It was the fourth job of my career and undoubtedly the best job I had ever held.
Rajashree was extremely competent and I mentored her, helped propel her career and she made full use of my patronage.
She thirsted for quick success and her ambition took charge of her.
Her faults entirely arose from her overwhelming ambition and self-centeredness. She was impervious to absolutes and could measure her own success only in relation to others.
Despite her frailties and faults, Rajashree was an extremely desirable woman. I was attracted towards her and she responded with passion.
With the clarity of hindsight, I can now say that she led me up the garden path.
I can clearly remember the day I had gifted her that lovely diamond pendant which now adorned her slender neck. It was Rajashree's twenty-fifth birthday, and after office we were strolling down Opera House intending to have a bowl of zesty Green Chilli Ice Cream at Bachellor’s Fruit Juice Stall opposite Chowpatty, and then spend the evening romancing the sunset on Marine Drive followed by dinner at her favourite restaurant in Churchgate.
I don’t know what made me do it, but suddenly, on the spur of the moment, I took her hand and led her into a posh jewellery shop and grandly asked her to choose her birthday present.
She promptly obliged by selecting a chic, exclusive, gorgeous and most expensive diamond pendant.
My credit cards and cheque book saved the day, but the impulsive birthday gift, which cost me a fortune, almost made me bankrupt.
But then, to me, it did not matter.
That night, for the first time, she made love to me.
Then we became lovers, I was madly in love with her, even proposed to her, she accepted, soon we got engaged and Rajashree became my fiancee.
Meanwhile, right from the beginning of our relationship, the office grapevine was working overtime. The love affair destabilized working relationships in my department.
Suddenly, everything started to go wrong for me at work. My career took a down-swing and I was passed over for promotion.
Rajashree dropped me like a hot potato.
She didn’t want to be identified with a symbol of failure. Rajashree did not care for losers.
Now that I was of no use to her in furthering her ambitions, she abandoned me and ingratiated herself with a new powerful patron.
Her rise was rapid. Within days she became my peer, and soon Rajashree broke the glass ceiling and became my boss.
Just imagine my plight and shame – my protegee had now become my boss.
I accepted our reversal in roles with grace and tried to maintain a cordial working relationship, but Rajashree was ruthless.
It was the most humiliating time of my life and I still smart from the pain of those memories.
Soon the relationship between us had become so demoralized by hate and distrust that it was better severed than patched up.
I quit my job and moved to a new place.
I shed my pique and rancour and rebounded back fresh with zest.
I did well in my new job, got married to a nice back-home-type girl and settled down, and soon was living the life of a happy and contented family man.
The ticket-collector interrupted my chain of thoughts.
I noticed that Rajashree and Vijay were travelling together on a common ticket – so that was it – “Friends”, “Associates”, “Companions” – many nuances are possible in the relationship between a man and a woman.
I decided to go in for the kill.
“That’s a lovely pendant,” I said boldly to Rajashree, “it must have cost you a fortune.”
Rajashree ignored me.
Vijay gave her a canny look.
“You shouldn’t wear such expensive jewellery while travelling,” I added. “It is very dangerous, especially in trains.”
“He is right. You must be careful,” Vijay said to Rajashree.
Vijay was now looking curiously at the pendant, “Rajashree, it is really a very elegant and beautiful pendant. Fantastic diamond – must be very expensive. How much did it cost?”
“No, No – it’s just costume jewellery, imitation stuff,” Rajashree said, “I picked it up in the lanes near Charminar, yesterday, for a couple of rupees.”
“What nonsense,” the old lady co-passenger sitting opposite Rajashree suddenly interjected out of the blue, “That is a superb diamond. And it is certainly not costume jewellery. It’s a beautifully crafted premium necklace.”
“No, No – it’s imitation …I know …I bought it…” Rajashree stammered nervously, trying to cover the necklace with the palu of her sari.
“Imitation diamond – what nonsense – that’s a genuine top-grade ornament...!” the lady said vehemently, “I should know. I’m a trained gemmologist and jewellery designer. Come on, young girl, show me the diamond, the pendant, and I will tell you its true price.”
Rajashree looked nervous. She put her hands over her neck.
“Let the lady have a look the necklace,” I spoke looking directly into Rajashree’s eyes. “I had once bought a diamond pendant exactly like the one you are wearing for my fiancée. I want to know whether I got my money’s worth.”
Rajashree looked dumbstruck, sat still, frozen, not knowing what to do.
Taking advantage, I moved fast, unfastened the clasp, removed the ornament from Rajashree’s neck and gave the necklace to the old lady.
My unexpected action hadn’t given Rajashree any time to react and she looked stunned.
I looked roguishly at Rajashree.
She was staring at me totally bewildered with wide and terrified eyes. Her eyes held a desperate appeal. She had suddenly become small, weak and vulnerable.
I saw tears of shame start in her eyes and her face became so ashen that she looked as thought she were about to faint. I did not rebuke her for her mendacity. There was no need. Her guilt and shame itself were Rajashree own worst reprimand.
As the old lady was meticulously scrutinizing the diamond pendant, comprehension slowly dawned on Vijay.
A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer. Educated at IIT Delhi, ITBHU Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures (2008) and he is currently working on his novel. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories and creative non-fiction articles in magazines and journals for many years before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for almost 14 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing. Vikram lives in Pune India with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.