Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Blog Fiction - SHENANIGANS IN MYSORE

BLOG FICTION

SHENANIGANS IN MYSORE
A Love Caper of Romance, Suspense and Mischief
By
VIKRAM KARVE
  
From my Creative Writing Archives:
 
Here is an abridged, revised and updated “online” version of one of my earliest short fiction stories, written by me long back, more than 20 years ago, in the 1990’s, after a visit to Mysore, and my favourite place over there - The Brindavan Gardens.

I hope you will like this old fashioned spy” thriller ...


SHENANIGANS IN MYSORE – a love story by Vikram Karve

  
The Mysore race-course is undoubtedly the most picturesque racecourse in India.

The lush green grass track, the verdant expanse right up to the foot of the rugged Chamundi hills which serve as a magnificent backdrop with the mighty temple atop, standing like a sentinel. 

The luxuriant ambience is so delightful and soothing to the eye that it instantly lifts your spirits. 

And on this bright morning on the first Saturday of October, the atmosphere was so refreshing that I felt as if I were on top of the world.
  
“I love this place, it’s so beautiful,” I said.

“And lucky too,” Girish, my husband, added, “I have already made fifty grand. And I am sure Bingo will win the Derby tomorrow.”

Girish appraisingly looked at the horses being paraded in the paddock, suddenly excused himself, and briskly walked towards the Bookies’ betting ring.

I still can’t describe the shock I experienced when I suddenly saw Dilip, bold as brass, standing right in front of me, as if he had appeared from nowhere.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” Dilip said.

“Yes? You want to speak to me?” I asked him, trying to hide any trace of recognition.

“I think you have dropped this ticket,” Dilip said.

In his hand was tote jackpot ticket.
        
Dilip was looking at me in a funny sort of way, neither avoiding my eyes nor seeking them. 

I understood at once.

I took the tote ticket he proffered, put it in my purse and thanked him. 

Dilip smiled at me.

Then he turned and briskly walked away towards the first enclosure of the spectators gallery of the race-course.

I felt a tremor of trepidation, but as I looked around I realized that no one had noticed our quick encounter in the hustle-bustle of the racecourse. 

As I waited for my husband to emerge from the bookies’ betting ring, in my mind’s eye I marveled at the finesse with which Dilip had cleverly stage-managed the contrived encounter to make it look completely accidental.
        
It was only after lunch, in the solitude of my hotel room that I took out the tote jackpot ticket and examined it. 

I smiled to myself. 

It was the simplest substitution cipher.

Maybe Dilip thought I had gone rusty, so he had used a last minute improvisation for urgent emergency communication.

That meant Dilip wasn’t shadowing me.

He hadn’t expected me at the Mysore racecourse. 

But having suddenly seen me, he desperately wanted to make contact. 

So he quickly improvised, and contrived the encounter, and left further initiative to me. 

The ball was now squarely in my court.
  
I scribbled the five numbers of the jackpot combination on a piece of paper. 

For seasoned punters, racing buffs, it was an unlikely jackpot combination that hardly had a chance of winning.

And now that the day’s races were over, the jackpot ticket was worthless. 

But for me, hidden in the ticket was some information, since I knew how to decipher the secret code. 

To the five numbers, I added the two numbers of my birth-date. 

I now had seven numbers.

From each I subtracted Dilip’s single digit birth-date.

Now, in front of me, I had a seven-digit combination. 

I picked up the telephone and dialed the seven numbers.

(Remember, this happened long back, and at that time, Mysore still had seven digit telephone numbers – I wonder what it is now)

It was a travel agency – a nice cover for his clandestine work. 

I did not identify myself but only said, “Railway Enquiry?”  
        
“Oh, Yes, madam,” a male voice answered.

I recognized the voice at once. 

It was Dilip, probably anxiously waiting for my call. 

“You are booked on our evening sightseeing tour. Seat No. 13. The luxury coach will be at your hotel at 3 in the afternoon. And don’t carry your mobile with you. We don’t want to be tracked,” he said.

I looked at my watch. 

It was almost 2:30

Time for a quick wash. 

I tore up the jackpot tote ticket and scribble paper and flushed it down the toilet. 

It was too dangerous to keep them around once their utility was over. 

And should the ticket fall into the wrong hands, anything was possible.

You should never underestimate anybody.

And we all know that human ingenuity cannot concoct a cipher which human ingenuity cannot resolve.

The tourist bus arrived precisely at 3 o’clock and soon I was in seat No. 13, a window seat. 

I had barely sat down when Dilip occupied the adjacent seat No. 14. 

He was carrying the ubiquitous tourist bag, but I knew what was inside  the tools of his trade-craft.
         
“Thanks for coming, Vibha,” he said.
        
“I was scared you’d do something stupid and indiscreet.” I scolded him, “And Girish…”
        
“You haven’t told your husband about us?” Dilip interrupted.
        
 “No.”
        
“Why?”
        
 “I don’t know,” I said.
       
 “Tell him now. There’s no place for secrets between husband and wife,” Dilip said.
         
“I can’t. I don’t want to. It’s too late now,” I said.

I was getting a bit impatient, so I said, “Listen, Dilip. This is dangerous. What do you want? Girish, my husband…”

“He’s gone to Ooty. It’s a four hours’ drive. He should be half-way up the hills by now,” Dilip interjected looking at his watch.

“He is coming back tomorrow,” I said.
         
“I know. He’ll be there in time for the Mysore Derby. Your horse Bingo is running, isn’t it? It’s a hot favourite too!” Dilip said.
        
“How do you know all this?” I asked.
       
“It’s common knowledge. Besides I make a living prying into other people’s lives,” Dilip said.

Dilip paused for a moment, and said to me: “Don’t worry, Vibha. The races start only at two in the afternoon. And the Derby is at four. We have got plenty of time together  the entire evening today, and tomorrow morning too. He won’t know. I promise you.”

The bus stopped. 

We had arrived at the majestic Mysore Palace .
         
“Come, Vibha. Let me take your photo,” Dilip said, taking out his camera.

“No,” I snapped.
       
“Okay. You take mine. I’ll stand there. Make sure you get the Palace entrance in the frame,” he said.

Then Dilip gave me the camera, and he said, “Have a look. It’s a special camera. I’ll focus the zoom lens if you want.”
        
I pointed the camera in the direction of the palace and looked through the viewfinder. 

But the palace was nowhere to be seen in the frame. 

The camera had a ninety-degree perpendicular prismatic zoom lens. 

I could see the tourists from our bus crowding around the shoe-stand about fifty meters to my left, depositing their shoes.

“Dilip, tell me, who is the Target?” I asked.
        
“Lady in the sky-blue sari, long hair. And the man in the yellow T-shirt and jeans, still wearing his Ray Ban aviator,” he said.

I happily clicked away, took a number of photos of the unsuspecting victims.

Of course, the young target couple, never realized that it was they who were in my frame  as my camera was pointed in a different direction, towards the palace.
       
“I don’t think they are having an affair,” I said, once we were inside the cool confines of the Mysore Palace , admiring the wall paintings of the Dasera procession.

“Why? Why can’t those two be lovers?” Dilip asked.

“The boy looks so young, mod and handsome. And the woman  she’s middle-aged – a shy, timid, unadventurous, stay-at-home type. And just look at her face, her looks so pedestrian – it is a most improbable combination.”

“Yes, a most improbable combination  that’s why their affair is flourishing for so long!” Dilip remarked.

I gave Dilip a quizzical look.
        
“Three years,” Dilip said. “It’s going on for over three years. The woman is a widow. She gets a huge monthly maintenance from her in-laws’ property – in lakhs. It’s a wealthy business family. They want to stop giving her the monthly maintenance.”

“I don’t understand,” I said, confused. 
       
“The right of a widow to maintenance is conditional upon her leading a life of chastity”, Dilip quoted matter-of-factly.
       
“What nonsense!”
       
“That’s what their hot-shot lawyer told me. The one who commissioned this investigation,” Dilip said.

“So?”

“So – they will probably confront her with this evidence and coerce her into signing-off everything. She may even have to give up her children,” Dilip said.

 “What if she doesn’t agree?”
       
“Then we’ll intensify the surveillance. A ‘no holds barred’ investigation. Two-way mirrors with installed video cameras, bugs with recording equipment,” Dilip paused for a moment  and then he said, “In fact, in this case I am so desperate for success that I am even considering image morphing if nothing else works.”

I was shocked, and annoyed – so I asked Dilip: “Isn’t it morally disgusting? To do all these unethical dirty things. Extortion? Blackmail? To what length does one go?”

“Once you have the right information, the possibilities are endless,” Dilip said softly, “It’s not my concern to worry about moral and ethical issues. I never ask the question ‘why’. I just state my fee. And even if I do know why, I have made it a policy never to show that I understand what other people are up to.”

“And, what are you up to, Dilip? And why me?” I asked.
        
Dilip did not answer. 

He just smiled and led me towards our bus. 

I was glad I had not married Dilip. 

I had never known he could sink to such depths of depravity. 

I hated him for the way he was using me. 

He was taking advantage of my fear – the fear of my past with Dilip which I had hidden from my husband Girish.

Dlip was exploiting my helplessness. 

Filthy emotional blackmailer. 

Shameless bully. 

I looked at Dilip with loathing, but he just grinned at me bald-facedly like a Cheshire Cat.

Nalini, my elder sister, had been right about Dilip. 

Thanks to her for saving my life. 

But for her timely intervention, I would have married Dilip. 

Maybe even eloped with him. 

I shudder to think what my life would have been like had I married Dilip.

It’s beautiful,” Dilip said, looking at the famous painting  ‘Lady with the Lamp’ – at the Mysore Museum.

“Yes,” I answered, jolted out of my thoughts.
       
“Remember, Vibha. The last time we were here. It’s been almost ten years,” he said.

I did not answer, but I clearly remembered that day. 

It was our college tour. 

And Dilip had quickly pulled me into a dark corner and kissed me on the lips. 

A hasty inchoate stolen kiss. 

My first kiss  the exciting tremors of electric trepidation I had experienced. 

How could I ever forget?
       
“Vibha. Tell me honestly. Why did you ditch me so suddenly, so mercilessly?” Dilip asked.

“Nalini told me not to marry you,” I said involuntarily, instantly regretting my words.
        
“And then she forced you to marry Girish, your brother-in-law?”
        
“Girish is not my brother-in-law. He is my co-brother,” I said.
        
“Co-Brother indeed! He is the younger brother of your elder sister Nalini’s husband. So he is your brother-in-law also, isn’t it?” Dilip said sarcastically.
       
“So what?” I snapped angrily. “It is not illegal. Two brothers marrying two sisters – it’s quite common. And it’s none of your business.”

“Business...” Dilip said, “That’s it. Business! Two sisters marry two brothers. So it’s all in the family. The business. The money. The tea estates and coffee plantations. The industries. The property. Everything.”

“So that’s what you had your eyes on, didn’t you? My father’s property!” I blurted out. 

I knew it was a cruel thing to say, and I could see that Dilip was genuinely hurt. 

I realized that Dilip was still in love with me. 

Maybe he was jealous of my successful marriage, my happiness and probably my wealth, my status in society and that’s what had made him bitter. 

But seeing the expression on his face I knew that Dilip would not harm me, for he was indeed truly in love with me. 

“I’m sorry, Dilip. Forget the past and let’s get on with our surveillance,” I said, looking at the ‘target’ couple.

And so we reached the magnificent Brindavan gardens, posing as tourists in the growing crowd of humanity, stalking the couple, surreptitiously taking their photographs as they romantically watched the water, gushing through the sluice gates of Krishnarajasagar dam, forming a rainbow admits the spraying surf.

After sunset we enjoyed the performance at the musical fountain sitting right behind the ‘couple’. 

Suddenly, the lights went out, everyone stood up and started moving. 

Trying to adjust our eyes to the enveloping darkness, we desperately tried not to lose track of target couple, as they made their way, in the confusion, towards Lovers’ Park – yes, the amorous young couple was walking hand-in-hand towards Lovers’ Park.

It was pitch dark. 

I looked through the camera, switching to night vision mode.

Through the lens of the night vision device I could clearly discern two silhouettes, an eerie blue-green against the infrared background. 

The images were blurred and tended to merge as the two figures embraced each other.

But that did not matter since I knew that the infrared camera would process the signal through an image intensifier before recording, rendering crystal-clear photo quality pictures.

I was immersed in recording the antics of the couple, trying to discern the blurred eerie infra-red night vision images.

Let’s go,” Dilip whispered.

We stealthily negotiated our way out, but in hindsight, there was really no need to be clandestine about it, since we were just another couple ostensibly having a “good time” in the darkness and dense foliage of “Lovers Park”, as it was known.

Pondering over the day’s events, I realized how right Dilip had been taking me along. 

Surveillance involves hours of shadowing and stalking training and tracking your target, sitting for hours in all sorts of places like hotels, restaurants, parks, cars, hanging around airports, railway stations, bus stands or even on the streets, waiting and watching. 

A man and a woman would appear for less conspicuous than a single man, or a pair of men. 

And if they look like a married couple, it’s even better for the cover. 

And we did look like a much-married tourist couple.

I wondered why I had agreed to do all this. 

Maybe because I felt a sense of guilt, remorse, a sort of an obligation I owed Dilip. 

Any girl always has a feeling of debt, a guilt-complex, towards a decent man who she has ditched, and brutally dumped. 

Or maybe because I wanted to find out what life would have been like had I married Dilip. 

Or maybe because I was scared and fearful that Dilip would blackmail me. 

Dilip was the only secret I had kept from my husband – a skeleton I wanted to keep firmly locked away in the cupboard. 

Or maybe it was because a woman’s first love always has an enduring place in her heart. 

I guess it was a combination of all the above reasons.
        
The tourist bus reached my hotel at precisely 9.30 PM. 

Before getting down from the bus, Dilip handed over the bag containing the infrared device, special cameras and all paraphernalia to a non-descript middle-aged man sitting right behind us.

“Who was that man?” I asked, after the bus drove away, with the mystery-man still sitting inside.

“Never mind,” Dilip said, leading me into the foyer of the hotel.
        
 “No,” I insisted, “I want to know who that man is and why he was in that bus. Was he also following the target couple?”
       
“No 
– that man was not following the couple – he was following us. It is sometimes important for an operative conducting surveillance to put himself, his own self, under observation,” Dilip said nonchalantly.
       
At first the sentence sounded innocuous, but gradually comprehension began to dawn on me, and as I realized the import of those words I experienced a chill of panic. 

All sorts of thoughts entered my brain. 

Photographs of Dilip and me. 

Oh my God! 

The man may even have bugged our conversation. 

The possibilities were endless. 

I looked at Dilip. 

Didn’t he have any scruples? 

My impulse was to run to my room and lock myself up. 

But when Dilip invited me to have dinner with him in the restaurant, I knew I dare not refuse. 

I had no choice. 

Dilip had me at his mercy. 

He had his manacles on me. 

The only way to escape Dilip’s clutches was to tell Girish everything. 

But could I? 

Especially after today! 

I shivered with fear when I tried to imagine the consequences.

After dinner I invited Dilip to my room for a cup of coffee. 

I knew it was suicidal  but I had decided to give Dilip what he wanted  and then get rid of him, out of my life, once and for all, forever.

The moment we entered the room, the phone rang. 

It was for Dilip  a man’s voice  it was probably the same man sitting behind us in the bus.
        
Dilip took the receiver from my hands and spoke, “I told you not to ring up here... What...? But how is that possible...? Oh, My God! I am coming at once.”

“What happened?” I asked him.
        
“We got the wrong couple on the infrared camera in Lovers’ Park. Tell me, could you not see properly?” Dilip asked me.

“No, it was dark and hazy,” I said, “I could see just blurred images.”
      
Instinctively I rushed along with Dilip to his office-cum-laboratory. 

He emphatically told me not to come, but I did not listen  a strange inner force propelled me to go with him.

I looked at the blurred images on the large workstation monitor. 

Then, as Dilip kept zooming, again and again, enhancing the magnification and focus, the images started becoming clear.

And as I watched, something started happening inside me, and I could sense my heartbeats rise.

Oh, My God! 

I could not believe it! 

It was Nalini and Girish. 

Or Girish and Nalini. 

Whichever way you like it. 

It doesn’t matter. 

Or does it? 

In a nutshell – they were making out in Lovers’ Park.

Nalini, my darling elder sister  the very person instrumental in arranging my marriage to Girish. 

And Girish  my beloved ‘faithful’ husband.

Their expressions so confident, so happy, so carefree. 

So lovey-dovey. 

So sure they would never be found out. 

So convenient. 

How long was this going on? 

Living a lie. 

Deep down I felt terribly betrayed. 

I felt as if I had been pole-axed, a sharp sensation drilling into my vitals, my stomach curdling as I threw up my dinner.

For a moment, I went blank.

It was extraordinary how clear my mind became all of a sudden. 

“Listen, Dilip,” I said emphatically, “I want a full-scale comprehensive surveillance. Two-way mirrors, bugs, photos, video, audio  the entire works. A no-holds barred investigation. And dig deep into the past. I want to know everything.”

“No, Vibha !” Dilip said. “I can’t do it.”
       
“You can’t do it? Or you won’t do it? Or you don’t want to do it?” I asked.

“No, Vibha... ” Dilip said, once again.

I said to him with a most assertive voice, “Listen, Dilip. You have to do it. I want you to do it.”

“Why, Vibha. Why?” he asked.

I smiled and said, “Dilip, remember what you said in the afternoon about your professional credo and motto: You never ask the question why. You just state your fee.”

I paused, and then I said, “So, my dear Dilip. Don’t ask any questions. Just state your fee. And do a good job 
– I want a complete dossier on the shenanigans of my darling husband Girish and my dear sister Nalini.
        
“But, Vibha. What will you do with all this information?” Dilip protested.
         
“Remember what you said, Dilip: Once you have the right information, the possibilities are endless’ – do you remember?” I said.

I almost licked my lips in anticipation, as I could feel the venom rising within me.

Dilip did not say anything – he just kept looking at me in silence.

After some time, I looked at Dilip and said: “Yes indeed, the possibilities are endless. Tell me Dilip  they say that information is power, isn't it? Just imagine what all I can do to them once I have all the information about them. Oh yes, the possibilities are endless – aren't they?”
      
Yes, he echoed, The possibilities are endless.
    
I intertwined my arm in Dilip’s arm, and said amorously to him, “Come on Dilip  lets go to Lovers Park!


VIKRAM KARVE
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Disclaimer:
This story is a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the story are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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