Wednesday, September 13, 2017

My Lovely Muse – Story of a Lazy Hot Afternoon in Mumbai

MY MUSE
STORY OF A LAZY HOT AFTERNOON IN MUMBAI
Short Fiction  A Leisurely Romance
By  
VIKRAM KARVE

“A Lazy Hot Afternoon in Mumbai” is a romance story I wrote during my unforgettable Mumbai days – the 6 best years of my life – my last stint in Mumbai – from 2000 to 2006.

Many of my readers think this is the best short story that I have ever written.

So  let me delve deep into my Creative Writing Archives and pull out this story for you. 

I wrote this story almost 12 years ago, in January 2006, when I lived in Mumbai. 

This short story features in my book  COCKTAIL  my anthology of short fiction

Like I said earlier – many of my friends say that this is the best short story I have ever written. 

So – here is the story – abridged, revised and suitably edited for reading on the digital screen. 

Dear Reader: 

Please read this rather old-fashioned leisurely romance  and do tell me if you liked the story. 

Remember – I wrote this story nearly 12 years ago in January 2006 – during the days of the IT Boom – when Techies were pampered – and – things may have changed now – and – maybe – the IT Sector is experiencing a slowdown – and Techies may not be pampered as much as they were then.

Even Mumbai has changed now – and – some of the places mentioned may not exist today – and – some may have relocated. 

So you will have to go back in time almost 12 years to the year 2006 – when you read the story...

A LAZY HOT AFTERNOON IN MUMBAI  A Leisurely Romance by VIKRAM KARVE

Mumbai Circa 2006

What is the best way to kill a lazy hot afternoon in Mumbai...? 

Or  to be specific – what is the best way to spend a lazy hot afternoon in South Mumbai...?
 
You can go window-shopping on Colaba Causeway.

Or – you can enjoy a movie at Eros or Regal.

Or – you can loaf aimlessly around Churchgate, Flora Fountain, Gateway of India or on the Marine Drive.

Or – you can leisurely sip chilled beer at Gaylord, Leopold, Sundance or Mondegar.

Or – you can browse books at the Oxford Book Store or in the Mumbai University Library under the Rajabai clock-tower or see secondhand books on the pavements near Flora Fountain (now known as Hutatma Chowk)

Or – you can watch cricket sitting under the shade of a tree at the Oval Maidan. 

Or – you can visit the Museum.

Or – if you are an art lover – you can admire the works of budding artists on display in the numerous art galleries in the Kala Ghoda art district. 

That’s what I decide to do.  

At 11 o’clock in the morning I stand at the entrance of the Jehangir Art Gallery at Kala Ghoda in Mumbai. 

I walk into the exhibition hall to my right. 

The art gallery has just opened and I am the first visitor.  

Standing all alone in placid relaxing hall, in peaceful silence, surrounded by paintings adorning the pristine white walls  I experience a feeling of soothing tranquillity – a serene relaxing calm – and for the first time after many hectic, harried and stressed days  I experience an inner peace and comforting silence within me  and  at that moment  I know what it feels like to be in harmony with yourself.   

I leisurely look around at the paintings. 

I see a familiar face in a portrait. 

An uncanny resemblance to someone I know.  

The face on the canvas stares back at me.

Comprehension strikes like a thunderbolt.

It’s me... 

Yes – it’s me...

Yes – it is my face in the painting.

I look once again – carefully – just to make sure.

No doubt about it – it is ME in the painting... 

Someone has painted my portrait – my own face
 
I look at myself on the canvas. 

I like what I see. 

It is a striking painting, crafted to the point of the most eloquent perfection.  

I am amazed at the painter’s precise attention to detail – my flowing luxuriant black hair, delicate nose, large expressive eyes, even my beauty spot, the tiny mole on my left cheek  the painter has got everything right.  

Never before have I looked so beautiful  even in a photograph. 

In the painting  my face looks so eye-catching that I can’t help admiring myself – like Narcissus. 
 
I look at the title of the painting on a brass tally below – My Lovely Muse 

Muse...? 

I have never modelled for anyone in my life. 

So  who is the woman in the painting – the woman who looks just like me...?  

Suddenly – I notice a wizened old man staring at me. 

He looks at the painting – and then he looks at me  and he gives me a knowing smile.   

“Excuse me, Sir...” I ask him, “do you know the artist who painted this...?   

“I am the painter...” a gruff voice says behind me. 

I turn around – and I look at the man. 

With his flowing beard, unkempt hair and dishevelled appearance – he looks like a scruffy scarecrow. 

At first sight – he is totally unrecognizable.

But  the yearning look of frank admiration in his eyes gives him away. 

No one else has ever looked at me in that way – and I know that he is still desperately in love with me.   

“Do I see the naughty boy I once knew hiding behind that horrible shaggy beard...?” I say to him. 

“Do I see the bubbly and vivacious girl I once knew hiding inside the beautiful woman standing in front of me...?” he responds. 

“You look terrible...” I say.
 
“You look lovely – like a flower in full bloom...” he says.   

I feel good. 

Aditya may be in love with me  but there is no pretence about him. 

I know the compliment is genuine.  

“Come, Anu...” he says taking my arm, “let me show you my work.” 

And – as we walk around – he explains the themes, nuances and finer points of each painting.  

Here  in the art gallery – I feel a sense of timelessness – a state of supreme bliss. 

I wish this were my world  sublime, harmonious, creative.

I wish I had stayed on. 

I wish I had not burnt my bridges. 

Or have I...?  

“Let’s eat  I am hungry...” Aditya interrupts my train of thoughts.   

“Khyber...?” I ask.   

“No. I can’t afford it...” he says.
 
“I can afford it...” I tease.   

“The treat is on me...” he asserts. 

Aditya pulls me gently  and he says to me: 

“Let’s go next door to Samovar and have the stuffed parathas you loved once upon a time.”  

“I still do...” I say – and soon we sit in Café Samovar – enjoying a lazy unhurried lunch  relishing delicious stuffed parathas.   

“What time do you have to go...?”   

“I’ll collect the visa from Churchgate at four and then catch the flight at night.”  

“Churchgate...? I thought the visa office was at Breach Candy...”  

“That’s the American visa. It’s already done. The British visa office is at Churchgate.”   

“Wow...!!! You are going to England too...?”   

 “Of course. US, UK, Europe, Singapore. Globetrotting. The next few months are going to be really hectic. It’s a huge software development project.” 
 
“Lucky you... It must be so exciting. You must love it...”   

“I hate it...!” 
 
“What...?” 
 
“It’s unimaginable agony. Sitting in front of a computer for hours and hours doing something I don’t like.”   

“You don’t like it...? Then why do you do it...?”   

“I don’t know,” I say. “Aditya, do you know what the tragedy of my life is...?”
 
“What...?”   

“My biggest misfortune is that I am good at things I do not like...” 
 
“Come on, be serious! Don’t tell me all that.”  

“I hated Maths, but was so good at it that I landed up in IIT doing Engineering, and that too Computers.”   

“But you are damn good. A genius at computers. That’s why they are sending abroad aren’t they...? The youngest and brightest project manager...! You told me that.”   

“Being good at work is different from liking it. You know, the thing I despise the most – sitting like a Zombie in front of the monitor for hours, discussing tedious technical mumbo jumbo with nerds I find insufferable. It’s painful, but then I am the best software expert in the company, the IT whiz-kid...!”   

“Yes. I know. It’s true. It is indeed a great tragedy to be so good at something you hate doing. That’s why I quit practice and am doing my first love – painting. I don’t know how good I am but I certainly love doing it.”  

“But you are so good. You must be minting money, isn’t it...?”    

“Not at all. I told you I couldn’t even afford Khyber... I barely make my ends meet...”  

“I thought artists make a lot of money. The art market is booming.”  

“Only the established ones; not struggling types like me.” 
 
“Come on, Aditya. Don’t joke. Tell me, how can you afford to have your exhibition here in Jehangir...?”  

“There is a patron. An old lady. She encourages budding artists like me. She’s given me a place for my studio.”  

“Just like that...?” I ask, quite curious.
 
“Yes. There are still a few such people left in this world. I present her a painting once in a while,” Aditya pauses and says, “But today I am going to be lucky. Looks like my painting My Lovely Muse is going to fetch me a good price. Thanks to you.”  

“Thanks to me...?”  

“You were the model for this painting. My inspiration. My Muse...!”   

“Me...? Your Muse...? But I never modelled for you...!”   

“You don’t have to. You image is so exquisitely etched in my mind’s eye that I can even paint you in the nude.”

“Stop it...” I say angrily, but inside me I blush and feel a kind of stirring sensation. 

“Tell me about yourself, Anu...” Aditya says, changing the subject.  

“I told you. About my painfully boring work. And you won’t understand much about software. Spare me the agony. I just don’t want to talk about it.”
 
“You still paint...?”   

“No. I stopped long ago. At IIT.”   

“Why...?”   

“No time. Too much study, I guess. And – the Techie crowd.”  

“You should start painting again. You are a creative person. You have got a natural talent.”  

“It’s too late. That part of me is dead. Now  it’s work and meeting deadlines. An intellectual sweatshop.”  

“Come on Anu, cheer up. Tell me about your love life...?”  

“The company is taking care of that too...! They are trying to get me hooked to some high flier Project Manager in my team.”   

“Really...? What’s his name...?”  

“Anand.”   

“Wow...! Anu and Anand...! Made for each other...!”   

“You know – they set us up as per their convenience – they facilitate working together all the time  they encourage office romance  and – thet even give us a dating allowance...”
 
“Dating allowance...? Office romance...! It’s crazy...! Just imagine - Paying people money to fall in love...!”   

“Marriage of co-workers helps reduce attrition – that’s what they probably feel – that it makes people stay on in the company. Nerds understand each other better – they can cope better together  at work and at home. That’s what they say. Smart fellows  those guys in HR  they try and team us up as it suits them. They are dangling carrots too – like this trip abroad. They have even promised us a posting together to Singapore on a two year contract  if things work out between us.”  

“It’s great...!”  

“Great...? Are you crazy...? Just imagine living full-time with a boring number crunching IT Nerd all my life  doing nothing but being buried in software  day in and day out. I shiver at the very thought.”  

“Tell me  who would you like to marry...?”   

“I don’t know.”  

“How about marrying me...?”  

“Come on  be serious.”   

“I’m serious. We could paint together  we could do all the creative stuff you always wanted to do. We could live a good life together.”   

“Let’s go...” I say, changing the topic.  

“Anu. Remember. If you love flowers  become a gardener. Why are you curbing your creativity...? I read somewhere: A lifetime of having to curb the expression of original thought often culminates in one losing one’s ability to express...” 

“I have got to go, Aditya. It’s almost 4 PM. The visa should be ready by now.”  

“Wait. Let me give you a parting gift to remember me by.”   

Aditya calls the curator and tells him to gift wrap and pack the painting titled My Lovely Muse.  

“Sir  we will get a good price for it. I have already got a very good offer for this painting...” the curator says.
 
“Well  now – this painting My Lovely Muse is not for sale...” Aditya says, “This painting is a gift from an Artist to his Muse.”  

I am overcome by emotion at his loving gesture. 

I look at Aditya. 

It is clearly evident that Aditya is really deeply in love with me. 
 
And me...?  

Am I in love with Aditya...? 

Tears well up in my eyes. 

My throat chokes. 

My heart aches.  

I find myself imprisoned in the chasm between the two different worlds – Aditya’s creative world – and my material world.  

But soon  the rational side of me takes charge  and  as we part  Aditya says to me: 

“Bye, Anu. Remember  if you can do something well, if you enjoy doing it and you feel proud of doing it  then  that’s your perfect métier. There’s no point living a lie. You have got to discover yourself...”   

I hold out my hand to him.  

Aditya presses my hand fondly – and he says to me: 

“Start painting. You must always do what you love to do. That’s the highest value use of time – time spent on doing what you want to do.”   

“And – what is the lowest value of time...?” I ask.   

“The lowest value of time is doing what you don’t like  just because others want you to do it...”  

“Or maybe doing something for money...!”  

“Money...?” Aditya asks. 

Then – he looks lovingly into my eyes and says to me: 

“Anu – please don’t destroy your talent by not using it.”  

I get into a taxi and drive away from his world. 

I drive away from my dream-world  into the material world of harsh reality.   

In the evening  I sit by the sea  at the southern tip of Marine Drive – and I watch the glorious spectacle of sunset. 

As I watch the orange sun being gobbled up the calm blue sea  and crimson petals forming in the sky  my mobile phone rings.

It is Anand, my Project Manager, with whom my romance is being contrived” – he is speaking from the airport. 

“Hey, Anuradha. The flight is at 10 PM  check in begins at 8 PM – you make sure you are there on time. Terminal 2A...” Anand says.  

“I’m not coming...” I say.   

“What do you mean you’re not coming...?” Anand shouts from the other end.
 
“I mean that I am not coming...” I say calmly.
 
“Why...? What’s wrong...? Did someone made you a better offer...?”   

“It’s nothing like that. I have discovered my métier. I am going back to the world where I really belong...” I say.   

“Where are you...? How can you ditch us like this at the last moment...?” he pleads.   

I know that this is the defining moment of my life. 

It’s now or never. 

I have to burn my bridges now  so I take a deep breath and say to Anand: 

“I have made my decision, Anand. I am not coming back. I have to discover my true self – I have to do what I want to do – I want to be happy from the inside. I am sorry, Anand. I am sure you will find someone else  your soul-mate  at work and for yourself. Best of luck...!!!”  

I switch off my mobile phone. 

Then – I look at my mobile phone. 

My mobile phone – the last of the manacles...!!!

Deliberately  I throw my mobile phone into the Arabian Sea.   

Then  I begin walking towards the place where I know I will find Aditya. 

And once I find him there  I will return to the world where I really belong  to realize my true metier. 

I want to be my own Muse.

VIKRAM KARVE
Copyright © 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.

Copyright Notice:
No part of this Blog may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Blog Author Vikram Karve who holds the copyright.

Copyright © Vikram Karve (all rights reserved)

I wrote this story nearly 12 years ago in January 2006 and I have posted it online a number of times, in my various academic, fiction and creative writing blogs, like here in my Creative Writing Blog in the year 2006 at url: http://creative.sulekha.com/a-lazy-hot-afternoon-in-mumbai-a-leisurely-story_62673_blog  and  http://creative.sulekha.com/a-leisurely-romance-a-lazy-hot-afternoon-in-mumbai_488150_blog and http://karvediat.blogspot.in/2015/11/a-lazy-hot-afternoon-in-mumbai.html and http://karvediat.blogspot.in/2016/12/lazy-hot-afternoon-in-mumbai.html etc
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