Strange Happening in the Café

Chapter 1

The call couldn’t have come at a worse time. It was my colleague Ranjan asking for the keys to the office door. How stupid of me to have carried them with me when I left office, I thought to myself.

Exasperated, I smacked my forehead letting out an expletive, alarming my wife who was sitting right across me. “What happened?!”

“I have carried the keys with me when I was supposed to have left them with the security guard at the gate. Now Ranjan is at the office and he has to work the night shift.”

Abhik and Rimi were seated at a swanky Café enjoying a cup of coffee. It was her birthday today and he had just ordered a small cake to celebrate her special day. “Now what?”, she asked with an incredulous expression on her face.

I already knew the answer. I dreaded saying it aloud. I would have to go back all the way to office. There was no other option. For security reasons, few files which could be accessed only while in office, were part of this project and the deadline to submit it was tomorrow.

In fact, Ranjan and me had discussed this already in the morning today. The understanding was since I would be the last to leave work (as was my wont everyday) I would drop the keys with the Security Desk at the entrance to the Office Block. Ranjan after completing his client visit would come, collect it and access work at his convenience.

The office was at least 30-35 minutes away in evening traffic. It would take almost an hour to complete the return trip! With a morose look on my face I started getting up from my chair. I genuinely wanted to spend time with my wife tonight even if it was just the 2 of us celebrating her birthday as an exclusive private affair.

“Wait, I have an idea” interjected Rimi. “Why don’t you call Ranjan and ask him to come half-way? Then at least you could save some time.” Trust women to come up with practical solutions to everyday problems. My mind muddled up due to the long day at work, lit up with this suggestion. “Yes of course. That will indeed help save time!”

I immediately called up Ranjan who picked it up on the 3rd ring. “Dude listen I will drive up to Jaydev Vihar. Can you please come over to the traffic signal there? I can hand over the keys to you.” Jaydev Vihar was only 20 odd minutes from the Café where we were presently sitting. Luckily, Ranjan who was a good sport did not make any fuss about this additional work he would have to undertake. He had his bike handy and agreed to meet me at the designated signal.

2 hours earlier

I was getting late in office. I had promised Rimi that I would be meeting her in The Café to celebrate her birthday with a coffee, cake and dinner before we both head home. It was a newly opened outlet and was located close to her office.

Rimi was always keen to try out new joints which kept popping up in different corners of the city. Be it a fashion store or a dining joint or even a mundane supermarket opening, Rimi had to be there. This exasperated me a few times, but I loved my wife a lot and to please her I would accompany her on most of these ‘LTIO’ (Let’s Try It Out) trips.

On most of these LTIO visits we would rarely purchase anything. Household budgets every month would normally be tight. Yet the fact that she visited a store, explored it and saw what all they had to offer delighted her. It was in this happiness that I found my own.

Rimi’s mood would considerably lighten up and when we reached home the discussions on the various stuff we had seen or purchased could very well carry over onto the next day. We normally had a LTIO trip practically every week.

We had been married 9 years now and next year we would be celebrating a decade of togetherness. How time flies! Like most couples we have had our share of ups and downs but somehow we had stuck together. Our only regret was that we had been unable to start a family.

As a couple we suffered from what the doctor diagnosed as unexplained infertility. Both of us had undergone various tests and declared to be medically fit yet somehow those damned eggs would not get fertilized. We did weigh other options but had not acted on any of those yet, aware that time was running out. It had moved from the middle rungs in our resolution list of previous years, to the top this year.

Children or not, I was genuinely fond of my wife and took extra care to meet her expectations on few of her idiosyncrasies. Celebrating birthdays was also one of them.

Not only was Rimi obsessed with her own birthday but also that of everyone else around her. Even if it was a small get together with a gift or pleasantries exchanged and an evening well spent, it was enough. It need not be a grand affair.

So, when I proposed that just the 2 of us do a LTIO at this new joint and celebrate her birthday, she was more than happy to do it!

Anyways I finally managed to wrap up my work and quickly shut down my system. Rimi had pinged me a couple of times saying she was already seated in the café. I hated to keep anyone waiting. Period.

It gave rise to feelings of anxiety in me. Whether it was a client, my colleague and even more importantly my wife, I simply disliked making another person wait. I valued time and sometimes despite making a best effort I could not stick to my schedule. That really was one of my biggest drawbacks and irritated me no end.

So, it was in this frame of mind that I hurriedly switched off the office AC, lights and closed the door behind me. I took long quick strides, practically cantering to where my bike was and impatiently pulled it out of the parking lot. I almost hit a stationary Scooty parked next to my 2-wheeler and drove off with a sense of urgency gripping my thought process.

Handing over the office key at the Security desk was the last thing on my mind.

Present Moment

Within a couple of hours, I found myself again in a similar position and in a similar state of mind as I raced on my bike towards the meeting point with Ranjan. Traffic had worsened compared to an hour earlier as an unseasonal drizzle had bought chaos on the roads.

Vehicles slowed down considerably and yet everyone seemed to be in a hurry to reach their destinations.

I negotiated the traffic with a mix of impatience and hurling the choicest of expletives under my breath, at my fellow commuters. Whenever you are in a hurry to reach somewhere, time seems to stretch interminably. So, after what seemed to be an unending drive (when in fact it was just 20 minutes since I started from the café) I managed to reach the Jaydev Vihar crossing. I quickly scanned the area hoping to see Ranjan parked somewhere.

But he was not to be seen.

For a moment I was tempted to dial him but knew my friend would be driving in this same dense traffic as well. I had no choice but to show restraint and wait. 

After what seemed to be an eternity, I could finally see a rain-soaked figure driving over cautiously to where I stood. The rain had increased in intensity and under the cover of the raincoat and with a helmet on, it took a few seconds for me to recognise him.

“Man, you owe me a drink for making me come out in this rain. I should have been seated snugly now, sipping a hot cup of tea at my desk. You on a special date with Rimi?”.

If that smirk was accompanied with a wink, I would not have been able to see it in the darkness. “Sorry dude. But thanks a million for coming over half-way. I have to rush back as she is waiting at the café.”

“Ok carry on,” saying this Ranjan took the keys and headed back to office.

Chapter 2Conclusion

Now that the key was handed over, I felt a bit relieved. At least the part of my responsibility towards work was over. Now it was the turn of my personal life. I had to go back to where my dear wife was waiting with her birthday cake.

I knew I had to hurry.

A sense of regret had started creeping in my mind, that if only I had remembered to stop briefly and dropped the keys while leaving office, things would not have come to this urgency.

Though Rimi was a good sport and showed patience unlike some other women I knew, I could not test her any further. I drove a bit recklessly realizing I may have to break a couple of rules in order to cut time short.

Just one more traffic junction to go before the Café and I would soon re-join her!

That thought galvanised me and I was now just 50 meters away from the signal. I saw it was already green and maybe it had been so since the past few seconds. I revved up the accelerator and hoped it stayed open for some more time. It was a busy square shaped junction and If I could beat this, I could easily save at least 2-3 minutes until the signal would complete its clockwise round and come back to green again.

Just before I reached the crossing, the signal turned amber and I knew I would have to take a risk and break it. It was red as I crossed it realizing other commuters on my left, where the signal had turned green had already begun to move.

At first, I did not pay attention to the big, dark object driving towards me from my left. Frankly I did not even see it, as I was only focussed on surging ahead. It was only when it was just a couple of feet away, that a feeling of surprise and shock gripped my heart. The vehicle was moving towards me and moving fast.

When I was almost half-way through the junction, I felt the first impact of the collision.

It sent my bike skidding on the wet, slippery road dragging me underneath it. The front tyres of the SUV made a loud, sickening sound as metal crashed against metal. It ran over my upper torso and for a split second I could feel the air being squeezed out of my body as if a giant beast had sat upon me. The rear tyres of the vehicle crushed my legs and I could feel excruciating pain shoot up throughout my body.

As flowing blood met flowing rainwater, all the noises around me went eerily hollow. It was as if I was being carried away to a faraway land. The final image that crossed my mind was that of my beloved wife sitting alone at the café with her birthday cake waiting for me to arrive.

Then blackness enveloped me completely.

………………………………………

The man walked with a slight limp as he made his way into the café, skirting around the tables filled with raucous laughter and the gay evening mood.

Rimi saw him only when he was a few feet away from her table, busy as she was fiddling with her mobile phone.

He seemed to have moved in silently almost invisible to others.

His face looked pale and he seemed to be walking, as if in a trance.

“Oh, so you are back finally! I have been waiting to cut this cake,” said Rimi.

He merely nodded and smiled. He clapped both his hands softly as she blew the single candle and sliced the knife deep into her birthday cake.

She offered him a bite to eat and then had rest of the slice herself. She noticed he was standing quietly, still holding his piece of the cake.

By now, the family seated next to their table, were looking curiously in her direction.

Somehow a strange feeling of unease gripped her heart and she was not sure why.

It was only when she hugged him in a loving embrace, did she realize that she was wrapping herself around thin air.

She swooned once before she crashed onto the floor unconscious.

The End

This story is not complete without the mention of Ritwicka Banerjee, an awesomely, talented artist! Her painting done in acrylic and oil has been created specifically for my story and gives it a visual imagery.

phantasmicart (her Insta Id) -your creativity is amazing! Thank you so much 🙂

Dear Reader,

When we are on the roads, we must remember to be careful and drive safe. 

For there is always someone, somewhere waiting for us, looking forward to our return.

Do share your thoughts and comments below on the story. I look forward to hearing from you!

Characters Introduction – Part 1

Hello Everyone,

Happy Utkal Divas!

It’s been a while since I first posted the Background and Introductory chapter of La La Land (1st August 2020 to be precise.)

The delay has primarily been in searching for an able digital artist who could do comic illustrations as well. This is because since beginning, I have visualized La La Land to be a blend of text and images which will help create a strong visual impact on the reader’s mind.

I am happy to mention that I finally found a match in young talented artist and an exponent of the digital medium – Mr. Kishor Mistry.

Kishor is excellent at drawing figures, bringing out the true essence of people in their day to day surroundings. You will soon find this out yourself from the below images which have all been inspired from real life people.

So, in a sense he has drawn hyper realistic portraits 🙂

(You can follow his Instagram page kishormistry_ to enjoy some wonderful art!)

So, I come to you today with a brief introduction of 5 characters in this wonderful, mythical land located in Odisha.

This is the first set of characters and I will introduce more to you as we go along.

Happy reading and hope you like them!

Character 1Khiladi Kaka

I am the Sarpanch of La La Land,

Gentle and wise; my decisions given by fair hand.

Resolving villagers' issues is my topmost priority,

Khiladi Kaka is my name and I am sharp and witty!

He is the head of the 5 wise men who form the village panchayat. He is fun loving, friendly and always with a twinkle in his eye. In his younger days he struggled from scratch to set up his business of selling water pipes and made it a success. His son now runs the show.

Khiladi however has one problem – he keeps forgetting things and mixes up people’s names leading to hilarious situations. This is accentuated especially when he pronounces the panchayat’s verdict on any case!

Character 2 – Sizzler Shikari

Quick in my thoughts, even quicker in action,

A master of geography, I can beat GPS to the nearest fraction!

Disciplined by Time, Nature my soul's chingari*,

My best friend is the rifle; and I am Sizzler Shikari!

*chingari – a spark

He is Khiladi’s younger brother and one among 4 siblings. Shikari is a retired cop and and a self-confessed nature lover. He is aggressive, can get angry very quickly (and cools down equally fast!) and a stickler for time.

Yet outside his tough exterior he carries a heart which softens at the slightest hint of love and affection received, especially from children.

He came to be known by this moniker when he hunted down a man-eating tiger single-handedly (by keeping himself as a bait) on a full moon night!

Character 3 – Sadabahar Shami

My hair jet black, my teeth pearly white,

I may be a senior citizen, but still youthful alright!

Adaptable and easy going; I am born under the Gemini star,

Always evergreen and smiling, I am Sadabahar!

She is the only sister amongst the 4 siblings and the youngest too! As such she has been indulged and spoilt for love by her 3 brothers and parents.

Sadabahar derives her name from the flower Periwinkle which is an evergreen blossom! Like the flowering plant, Sadabahar too looks ageless.

More importantly, just like the Periwinkle plant has a host of medicinal properties and can cure multiple illnesses with its’ rich ayurvedic legacy, Sadabahar Shami too with her love, affection and a young heart can melt all your problems away in matter of minutes!

Character 4 – Jumping Janab

With full enthusiasm I jump into each case,

Putting criminals behind bars, brings a smile to my face!

Honest to my job, I wear the police uniform with pride,

Jumping Janab is my name and call of duty my bride!!

The current Thanedar** of the village police station and Shikari’s son-in-law.

He is an enthusiastic cop and cannot stay away from action! He is honest, hard working and is accompanied on most adventures with his trusted subordinate – Halla Havaldar.

Janab is intensely respected by the villagers for his ever helping nature and for keeping the doors of the police station open for them to walk-in with their problems anytime.

** thanedar – Inspector In Charge of a police station.

Character 5 – Sundari Soapia

Born with a talent to act and emote

Give me any dialogue and I will have it by rote!

To be the voice of the village women - is my aim,

Beautiful to look at, Sundari Soapia is my name!

Daughter of a late tribal folk singer, Sundari has made her name in drama and the stage. Like her father she is immensely talented and is a star participant in all the village plays and jatra.

But other than acting, she nurses one secret ambition – to be elected leader of the women folk with the greater aim of making their voices heard in all matters concerning the tribe.

Will she be able to fulfil her aim?

Click below link to read the Introduction chapter –https://thatodiaboy.com/2020/08/01/la-la-land/

With humour, adventure, action and romance; this tale is like a multi coloured garland,

So sit back, relax and enjoy the wonderful ride through La La Land!

Part 1 coming soon!

Jhumka Jhumur – Episode 1

Andaz Apna Apna

Episode Background

Welcome to the opening Episode of Jhumka Jhumur series!

The title is of course inspired by the cult Hindi movie of 1994 directed by Rajkumar Santoshi, but this episode’s essence comes from another Bollywood blockbuster of the 70’s – Andaz.

That movie marked the entry of the successful script writing duo of Salim-Javed into Bollywood as a team and also featured the evergreen hit of Kishore da – “Zindagi Ek Safar Hai Suhana.”

This song forms the genesis of Episode 1 as it revolves around one of its’ antaras.

Ironically, the album of this film was one of the last of music directors Shankar- Jaikishan as the latter passed away in the same year at the young age of 42 only.

So, with this background let us move on to the episode!

Jhumur is having an usual day at home, dusting her son Ishaan’s study room. She is humming this above mentioned song which is one of her favourites!

Scene 1
Scene 2
Scene 3

Scene 4
Scene 5
Scene 6
Scene 7

The End

Dear Reader,

Scene 4 holds the crux of this episode. Also request you to kindly read the Introductory chapter ‘Jhumka Jhumur’ (If you haven’t already!) posted here on 19.03.2021 (https://thatodiaboy.com/2021/03/19/jhumka-jhumur/)

This is my maiden foray into the world of digital comics! I would love it if you leave your valued thoughts and feedback on this comic strip in the comment section below.

I look forward to hearing from you 🙂

Comic Illustration by Tulika. You can follow her Instagram page ‘Verfkwast_’ for more amazing art!

Thank You!

Jhumka Jhumur

Background

Jhumka is a 40-something middle aged homemaker. She defines the quintessential woman we see in our homes – modern yet rooted deep in her customs, aspiring and yet keeping family above self. She could be our mother/ wife, our mausi, an aunt or even our friend.

She stays in typical cosmopolitan surroundings – In a multi storeyed apartment with multiple neighbours around. It is part of a larger housing society which in turn is one of million such societies which comprise the larger urban jungle that we all are part of!

Her 2BHK flat which she calls home, can be in any of the metropolitan cities in India. Along with her husband, her family comprises of 2 kids – an elder son Ishaan who is preparing for his school Boards (IX) and a younger daughter Ishani, who is in class VI.

Inspiration

Though this is a work of fiction, the character is inspired in real life from one of my school classmates. She seems perfect for this adaptation because she espouses exactly what I am looking for – a woman not afraid to speak her mind and never hesitating to take the lead in managing the day to day family affairs.

She does her best to keep a semblance of sanity around her and the house, as this is 365 days a year job!

More importantly she is always ready to take on headlong the problems life throws at her with a brave and sometimes funny face.

Soft at heart, she is ready to sacrifice time and ever willing to compromise on her aspirations/desires for the greater happiness of her family.

Maybe she could have pursued a far more rewarding career at work but she could not.

This could have been due to marriage, motherhood, or martyrdom – we do not know. But what we do know is this is how she regards life – that happiness and being content is more important than materialistic success.

She serves her in-laws, husband, kids (and even her own parents) with dedication and expects only love, respect and attention in return, because these values have been instilled in her ever since childhood.

Yet she hates being taken for granted by anyone in her life!

Presentation

The story will be told in simple narrative style about the day-to-day situations which we all face in our lives. It will be presented in a digital comic format in multiple episodes.

Hence the artist working with me on this, is an equal stakeholder in the story telling.

It gives me immense happiness to mention that Miss Tulika Kumari from NIFT Bhubaneswar, will be collaborating with me on this series. She is a dedicated student and creativity is her soul food.

So folks, presenting the 21st century woman, Jhumka Jhumur in various avatars– modern yet traditional, bold yet respectful and serious yet funny at the same time!

Episode 1 releasing soon!

The Black Stockings

They stretch lazily from the tip of your toes, through the angle of the ankle, caressing your legs gently all the way up to your knees and ending somewhere beyond where the mind’s eye is loath to wander.

Their black colour is the colour of night. They lovingly wrap around the white glow of your skin, as if distilled moonlight has been enclosed by the night sky.

They were just an opaque pair of stockings in the shop where you purchased them from. To be worn by any random shopper.

However on you they take on a different form. As if alive!

They glide across your legs without a wrinkle like second skin until they stretch languidly and disappear under the edges of the short black skirt you are wearing.

At the other end, the stockings dip and end inside the pointed high heeled shoes you wear. Needless to say they too are black in colour completing the head to toe coal black look.

It is bewitching.

Silk of fabric meets silk of skin and together they create a sensuous effect. You cross your legs and sit alone on a bench striking an elegant pose.

You look gorgeous!

In my mind, I have already walked a thousand miles and stop to soak in this mesmerising sight. I sit down on the bench next to you and look into those beautiful eyes which reflect the image of the person who loves you intensely.

I end up kissing your lips to start a flame,
As if a black magic spell has been cast in my name!


An awesome attire can change the entire game,
For igniting my crazy feelings - your black stockings are to blame!

‘The Black Stockings’ Illustration by ishanixart.

(Main Insta – whozzishani) A talented NIFTian. Thank you so much Ishani 🙂

The Kiss

What is romance without a kiss?
Each time the word brings a smile to my lips!
You see it is a subject close to my heart,
For a kiss is not just science, but an art.

If you have ever been a lover,
You can vouch for its fervour!
A kiss is so heavenly, so divine,
When lips meet, they intoxicate more than wine!

It is the beginning of something so intimate,
To pleasures of mind and body it opens the gate.
If the windows to the soul are your eyes,
A kiss is the door to passion, say the wise!

For a woman a kiss is full of emotion,
For a guy it is like magic potion!
When both meet, sparks are bound to fly
The euphoria it gives, is hard to deny! 

So kick start that dopamine in your brain,
Make it sweet like sugar in the sugarcane.
Lock your lips even if it is Lockdown,
Bring on the smile and remove the frown!


Hold your beloved's hands and soak in the bliss,
Just close your eyes and plant that kiss.
Forget time; let your lips do the talking,
I say kissing keeps you high & totally rocking!!


‘Trees of Heart’ Illustration by expert_spork. You Rock !!

(Main Insta – whozzishani) A multi talented NIFTian. Thank you so much Ishani 🙂

Wealth Management

I was introduced to this term for the 1st time in my life when I started my Banking career with ICICI Bank in the Gulf. Prior to that I had worked in the telecom sector in India and all that I was familiar with until then was GSM/ CDMA technology, activation of SIM cards and what charges one would incur while making and receiving outgoing/ incoming calls.

(Remember that was the era in early 2000’s when you had to pay even to listen!)

So yes, I had arrived at Muscat International Airport in Oman on a bright sunny afternoon in Aug 2005 in what was a journey with many firsts attached to it.

It was my 1st step on foreign soil, my 1st overseas job stint and of course my maiden foray into Wealth Management*.

(*In layman terms you are a Relationship Manager for High Net Worth Individuals who want to park their money with you, in anticipation of returns higher than what a normal savings account or FD would yield)

As I made my way to the airport’s Immigration counter with the luggage in my hand and mixed feelings of hope and nervousness in my head, the glass doors with bold Arabic letters said, ‘Marhaba!’ (meaning Welcome)

Those doors suddenly opened up a whole new world for me. It had fascinating terms and complex instruments like Shares, Bonds, Derivatives and Private Equity. Yet I found that I managed to slip into the shoes of a Relationship Manager with consummate ease. It helped that my immediate boss Anupam and other colleagues were very supportive in this regard.

Very soon I was meeting NRI’s who had been settled in Oman for varying number of years. Some had come in a decade ago, others 30 years back and few astonishingly had even been born there! It was this diverse spectrum of their stay abroad, that astounded me.

Of course, there were some newbies too, like me who had flown in only recently (within 1-2 years). We did not spend too much time meeting them because we understood they would not have sufficient savings yet to invest with us 🙂

For me, however the real wealth lay in the narrow lanes and by-lanes of an area called Muttrah. This was the corniche area for Muscat city. Wikipedia defines the Arabic meaning of Muttrah as darkness because in the crowded stalls and lanes where the sunrays do not infiltrate during the day, the shoppers needed lamps to know their destinations.

It was more than 200 years old and it was here that I found light.

Muttrah area with its famous Souq (market) was a hub of activity. From local shoppers to expatriates, from travellers to taxi drivers, from wholesalers to retailers – everyone was here.

Cruise ships travelling halfway across the world, laden with tourists would dock at Port Sultan Qaboos nearby (named after one of Oman’s most loved and revered Kings). Then bus loads of them would visit Muttrah- for shopping and sightseeing.

The shops themselves were as varied and innumerable as the crowd visiting them. With common walls they were interlocked with each other like a chain, on both sides of a narrow lane. The sequence of shops was broken only when the lane would end abruptly at a passageway leading out to the main street.

The shop owners sold everything – from exotic frankincense (perfume extracted from a tree) and silver khanjars (the dagger is a National symbol of Oman) to ordinary dishdashas (ankle length garment) and the locally sourced nutritious dates.

It was here in the shady confines of the souq, sitting on soft mattresses on the ground with their hands on a wooden desk in front of them, were my most beloved clients’ – the NRI trading community from Gujarat.

For some of them, their families had been based in The Sultanate of Oman for almost one hundred years! It was their grandfathers/ great grandfathers who started their journey in a boat from the Gulf of Kutch in Gujarat. They crossed Karachi and before landing in Muscat, had a stopover in Gwadar. In fact, Gwadar was part of the Sultanate of Oman until 1958 when the Pakistan Govt. purchased it for a sum of USD 3 million.

Throughout this adventure the boats would keep getting heavier as they added spices, silk and their dreams onto them.

These gentlemen formed a significant chunk of my client base. From them I learnt how wealth is made – baiza by baiza, rial by rial and the effort that goes into creating it. (1 Omani Rial =100 baizas) For, before one can do Wealth Management one must create wealth first.

Day in and day out they would sit in their shops, their eyes radiating humility and greeting every customer with a smile. I was amazed at the way they had ingrained adaptability to foreign conditions as a personality trait.

For the country they operated in, is starkly different from India in so many ways – in culture, climate and the community. Yet they had learnt with ease a foreign language as difficult and alien as Arabic, and switched it effortlessly with Gujarati when needed!

One of the top grossing items was confectionery. Never before in my life I had seen such a fantastic array of candies and toffees as I saw in these shops. They were placed in glass jars and in boxes by the thousands. They were imported from countries as far and varied as Turkey and Malaysia.   

I would patiently sit on one of the chairs provided for customers. Retailers from the interior regions of Oman would flock to these shops and purchase stock in bulk. Accounts were still being maintained in hard bound paper registers though the computerised era had already set in. Yet our Gujarati brothers kept the digital age at abeyance – they believed in their ability and trusted their brains more than MS Excel!

One of my most beloved clients would always greet me with a cheery, “Jai Shree Krishna, Wasim bhai!” and wave me into his shop. He could rapidly calculate a page long of prices in a jiffy even at the ripe age of 65 and took immense pride in it. I once challenged him with my mobile calculator but he came out trumps, smiling like a school boy who had topped his Math class!

Keeping things simple and clinging onto age old traditions was the unwritten mantra here.

On the other end in the spectrum of my NRI client base was of course, the more in-the-eye and visible executive segment. They were the senior management of the various firms that made up corporate Oman. These gentlemen had started from the middle ranks to rise over the years to occupy the posts of GM’s and CXO’s. They held significant clout over the running of their respective businesses and their Omani partners/owners accorded them immense respect.

I worked and stayed for about a dozen years in the Gulf. During this time, my personal wealth started accumulating too. Money gave me a lot of freedom and the choices to fulfil most of my aspirations. Gulf countries do not tax individual income; so, whatever amount was on your offer letter, the same was credited into your bank account each month.

Hence, I could travel, buy my dream SUV and go on exotic holidays once a year. I could shop for expensive suits, wear a TAG on my wrist and even could afford to plant the odd Mont Blanc pen in my shirt pocket. Such were the riches offered by God!

I started thinking of investments in property, gold and stocks. In the strictest sense possible I was doing my own personal wealth management, in addition to my professional side too.

But all along I always remembered what the guys in Muttrah Souq had taught me – to stay humble, to stay grounded even if wealth had propelled you from economy to business class.

However, like all good stories mine too had to unravel at some point. I do not know what triggered it, but in time I started feeling stagnated. Both in life and at work. Suddenly my posh office with its’ high ceilings and low-slung executive chairs began to bore me. They lost their sheen. Work became a chore and the monthly targets a drag. I found myself unable to cope with both.

After giving it much thought I decided to resign and come back to India. I was no longer doing justice to my employer. Not just to India but I came back to my hometown Bhubaneswar- to my parents’ house. A place where my innocent childhood days had metamorphosed into the exuberance of youth.

A place I had always called home.

Then life dealt me a shock which was totally unexpected and an eye-opener. I entered into a prolonged period of illness which literally was a gut wrenching experience. (Refer my post –Tropic of Cancer)

Somehow the illness altered my view on wealth and its importance. Yes, I could pay my hospital bills because I had money. But it’s use was up to a certain extent only. I realized the hard way that not only with a snap of its fingers, life could make you disappear but also the money you made could ground to dust.

The adage “Health is Wealth” that I had learnt and forgotten all those years ago in school, now came back as a large sized poster in my hospital room (and life) from which I could no longer keep my eyes away from.

Along with this realization I started seeing other things too in the sea of life. When I was sinking in my boat, objects which had submerged with the passage of time were gradually coming to my notice.

As I started collecting them one by one, they started surfacing in the sea pulling me up along with them.

  1. Catching up with those long forgotten friends from my Botany Honours days in college and refreshing those wonderful memories; Meeting some of my school friends I didn’t even know existed!
  2. The joy of having breakfast with my ageing parents who were relieved I was back after almost 20 years;
  3. Spending evenings with that uncle and aunt of mine who took me for holidays to places like Srinagar and Sikkim while I was a teenager; and who now suffered from the ‘empty nest syndrome’. (both their kids reside outside Odisha)
  4. Going for cycling early in the morning and again visiting all those back alleys, I frequented in my youth.
  5. Reading story books and newspapers with my feet propped up on my balcony and simply soaking in the roadside views.

Suddenly all these small things started giving me immense joy. They started propping me up and boosting my immune system which had started flagging in my later years abroad.

Then out of nowhere came COVID. Ironically in all the chaos caused by the pandemic, I further settled into this cocoon of comfort. Happiness started sprouting for me in small measures.

  1. A teaching assignment that I had lost out at a prestigious Institute (If you follow my blog closely you will guess its name) came back to me. This was because the staff from New Delhi could not travel in the lockdown.
    • I dived into my online assignment with full gusto. At the end of the semester, when I received messages from some of the students that how much they had enjoyed my classes, it gave me a new high!
  2. At the same time I started focussing on this blog which hitherto was lying unattended, like a neglected child. Soon, compliments started pouring in from people that how much they were enjoying reading my posts.

So, yes life seems to have come a full circle for me. I now realise it comes with its finite moments carrying infinite possibilities with them. It is up to us how best we utilise and ‘live’ them.

The 2 sides of Wealth Management

It makes me look forward to each day with a bit of greed as to how much returns I can extract from time- the most valued asset class in Wealth Management.

I have also realised the more I express my gratitude to God for giving this ‘other wealth’ in my life, the more I receive it. Unlike my financial assets this intangible wealth does not have any NAV*. It cannot be measured for there are no units to measure it. Yet I realize it enriches me, enlivens me!

(*NAV = Net Asset Value. An unit to measure various financial instruments like Mutual Funds)

This realisation also brings forth the responsibility of managing it well, just as one would manage financial assets. It adds a different dimension to my concept of Wealth Management.

I have stumbled a few times in the effort, but I now understand that I have to handle them with care right up to the finishing line.

For when I will finally switch off the light at the end of the day and go to sleep, it will be this wealth in my inner savings account that I will carry along with me and not the Cash and FD’s in my bank account.

(Concluded)

Both Illustrations by phantasmicart (her Insta Id) -your creativity always impresses! Thank you so much Ritwicka 🙂

Reader's Corner

Dear Reader, would you agree that the intangible wealth is equally important as the tangible wealth in our lives? At this particular moment in your life, where would you place both of them on a scale of 1 to 10. 
(1 being least important and 10 most important)

Do share your thoughts below on the subject. I would love to hear from you!

The Breeze

“Are you feeling good?” It asked. I gave my nod of affirmation.

“Am I cool?” It probed further. I smiled and said yes.

“How come I can feel you, yet you remain unseen?” It was my turn to ask a question.

“Perhaps I am a Lite version of God.”

Saying this, it nudged the clouds out of my sight and ruffled the tall grass to my right.

And then it ceased as suddenly as it had sprung up.

Maybe that is how even life is.

Strange Happening in the City – Part 1

Sunday, 6pm- Dubai

It had been an unusually long day, thought Jubilee as she took the elevator to the 3rd floor of her apartment. It was located in Bur Dubai- historically one of the oldest parts of dazzling Dubai.

The area was on the western side of Dubai Creek. It always seemed bustling with life as residential buildings jostled for space with 24×7 stores, hotels and street side joints serving anything and everything – from dosas and samosas, to biryani and kebabs, to the more local Middle Eastern cuisines including falafel* and the delectable shawarma** coupled with hummus.

Most of the country’s expat crowd lived in box life apartments stacked next to each other. If there was ever an example to be given for a cosmopolitan cocoon, this would be it.

Your neighbours in the adjoining flats could be as diverse as the colours on an artist’s palette. They could be a Pakistani family, a Lebanese businessman or even a group of Russian girls peddling their services as escorts in the innumerable night clubs across the city.

Jubilee who had celebrated her 38th birthday a few weeks ago, was an attractive looking lady. Marriage and motherhood had only enhanced her beauty over the years. She was tall, dusky with an impish smile! Right now she was wearing a beige coloured skirt with a slightly darker shaded brown top, the sleeves of which extended up to her elbows. All this was matched with fawn coloured sandals, giving her a sleek fashionable look.

Jubilee’s family had moved here only 2 weeks ago as this locality was much closer to her kids’ school than the previous one. The school bus stop was just 100 meters away from this building. Moreover, the metro station was simply a 10 minute walk, ferrying her husband daily and depositing him almost in front of his office. Oh, to have such convenience in a city like Dubai was indeed a blessing!

The elevator door finally opened on her floor and she took quick strides to her apartment and unlocked it. The cool waft of the AC welcomed her arrival into the empty flat. She dropped her handbag and plonked herself on the sofa.

It felt good to be back in the pleasant confines of her house. Temperatures above 40 °C scorched the desert kingdom outside. She had been outdoors most of the time today.

The school bus of both her kids was off the road. The school authorities had simply texted a terse message in the morning to all parents informing them of a breakdown in the bus engine. So, could they ferry their wards today, both ways? It simply ended with an apology for the inconvenience caused.

(Middle East follows a Fri-Sat weekend schedule)

If that was not enough, it coincided with her weekly shopping excursion to the supermarket. Later both kids, post lunch had wanted to spend some time at a common friends’ house. So, she had dropped them there and as agreed would pick them up a couple of hours’ later.

Jubilee was a proud Mom to 2 daughters – the elder Luvena and younger Solaina. While the younger was the sober one, Luvena was a live-wire and handling her sometimes left Jubilee exhausted! Yet there was no other happiness on Earth just to spend time with them and hug them to sleep with a bedtime story.

So yes, here she was finally with some moments for herself. That was also essential; to have some me-time, when she could just chill and relax on her own. Her hubby would return from work only around 8 pm. That made her check the time on her mobile phone screen. It was closing in on 6 pm.

So, she had a good 2 hours to unwind before she needed to start cooking dinner, pick up the kids and invest in some family affairs.

It would also be almost 7.30 pm in India now. (India is 90 minutes ahead of U.A.E) This made her think about her ageing parents in Bhubaneswar and she wondered what they would be doing. Most likely her mother would be having her evening snack- a bowl filled to the brim with ripe succulent slices of papaya, to take care of her constipation and her father would be tuned into the evening news.

Jubilee did not want to be disturbed for the next one hour at least. First, she decided she would take a nice relaxing shower. Then maybe she would watch some Tv. The thought of the cold water hitting her body reinvigorated her as she quickly got up from the sofa and proceeded to her bedroom.

Same Evening -Sunday 7.30 pm, Mumbai

The bedroom was in complete darkness. Sarita woke up with a start. Oh God! I have overslept, she thought to herself. She had planned on taking a short nap but at some point the exertion of daily life had taken its toll.

Thunder rolled in the distance warning of impending rain. It must be that sound which woke me up, thought Sarita.

She got up quickly from her bed, feeling around for her mobile in the darkness. She found it and turned on the torch app. She stepped out into the narrow corridor which led to the spacious living room cum dining hall.

Why was the entire house in darkness? She flicked on a couple of switches and realised there was no power at all.

Sarita who was in her early 40’s was an effervescent personality. Whoever came in contact with her, could not help but fall in love with her cheerful, bubbly self. She was a typical Aries – passionate, energetic and confident at almost everything! She was a bit chubby and that only added to her overall cuteness factor.

Her family had moved in only a couple of months ago into this building. It was a very old one- dating back to almost 2 decades; but her reason for moving in were almost the same as that of her friend Jubilee’s- proximity to her hubby’s office as well as to their kids’ school.

With the ever increasing traffic in the Maximum City, daily commuting had become a burden. This move meant sacrificing their previous modern furnished apartment but on the flip side this gave them more time to pursue activities other than just their work.

Being the home maker she knew there were no candles left in the house. She had intended to purchase some since the past week but each time it had slipped her mind or she had simply procrastinated leaving the errand unfinished.

Sarita changed her slippers into her walking shoes and stepped out into the foyer. There was a small convenience store just across the street.

She let out a sigh of dismay as she realized she needed to walk down and then back again over 6 flights of stairs.

A sudden roll of thunder brought a sense of urgency in her and quickly closing the main door, she stepped out.

She glared at the closed steel doors of the elevator in mock anger; which in turn stared back at her, standing like a cold, silent spectator to her obvious discomfort.

………………………………………………………………..

By now, Jubilee had collected her towel and change of clothes for the evening from her bedroom closet and headed for the bathroom.

She pushed open the bathroom door, but it would not budge. Surprised she looked at the bolt securing it from the outside. It was locked. She smiled and pulled it back.

She tried to push it open again. It refused to yield. This time with her palm open and her body weight on the door she pushed against it with force but the result still remained the same.

It was then that she realised that the door had been locked both from the inside as well as outside.

………………………………………………………………..

Sarita huffed and puffed her way up the stairs and back to her flat. The exercise yet again underscored the fact that covering any distance on flat ground was starkly different to covering the same over a flight of stairs.

Her husband, Shirish with both their kids – an elder son Shlok and daughter Ira, were at her in-laws’ place. He had gone to catch up with his parents’ well-being and the three of them would be back only post dinner.

Her reasons for not going were dual – Not only was she feeling a bit under the weather today but also in no mood to meet her in-laws and especially face her mom-in-law’s acrid tongue. So, she had decided to stay back and catch up on some sleep.

She lit up a couple of candles in the hall and got hold of the emergency lantern from the wooden cabinet. The lantern was a delicate hand-made glass piece crafted with intricate artwork and purchased during one of their exotic holidays to Turkey a couple of years ago.

Clutching it in one hand she started walking back to her bedroom.

Even as she approached it, she could feel something was not right. She slowed down her steps and realised the bedroom door was shut. Did she close the door when she had left her flat a few minutes ago? She was unsure. She never did that normally.

Gingerly she shifted the lantern onto her left hand and placed her right hand on the door knob and turned. It stayed put. She tried once more, a bit harder this time. It did not yield.

With her uneasiness growing she realised that someone had locked the door from inside.

………………………………………………………………..

Jubilee stood perplexed. How was this possible? The door had been alright when she had left the apartment a few hours earlier. She again tried pushing it open, this time with more force thinking that maybe she was missing something.

Just as she was about to step away, she thought she heard a sound coming from within the bathroom. As if someone was moving a chair around. It was a scraping sound; wood against floor.

A chair was being dragged on the floor! But why? And by whom? But for herself, there was no one else  present in the house.

With a growing sense of alarm she stood in front of the door watching it, unsure of what to do next.

………………………………………………………………..

Sarita felt sure that she had left the bedroom door open when she had stepped out  a few minutes earlier.

Yet the door was now closed. Not only that, it was locked too. Had there been a strong gust of wind which had shut the door? Yes, that was possible. She had seen the weather turn for the worse when she was outside.

A storm was building up. Not unusual at this time of the year in Mumbai. The monsoon was in full force!

Just as she was about to step away, she thought she heard a distinct sound from behind the door. She quickly put her ears against it.

Someone was moving around in her bedroom! The sound was unmistakable-shuffling of feet on the floor. But who? But for herself, there was no one else present in the house.

Suddenly she heard a slow sobbing sound from the room. A girl’s voice! Whoever it was, she seemed to be in pain- heart wrenching sobs cloaked in deep anguish came from within.

Sarita felt herself going cold.

At that instant, a sudden stroke of lightning and thunder surprised her. She stepped back hurriedly and thudded against the wall behind her dropping the exquisite lantern onto the floor.

The crash made a deafening noise in the empty flat with the glass breaking into a hundred pieces.

She stood trembling as darkness engulfed her once again.

To be continued…

Falafel* A deep-fried patty made from ground chickpeas, fava beans, or both. Falafel is commonly served wrapped in a pita like a sandwich.
Shawarma** is a dish consisting of meat cut into thin slices, stacked in a cone-like shape, and roasted on a slowly-turning vertical fire spit.
Hummus*** is a dip or a spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas blended with olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic.


Strange Happening in the City – Part 2

Jubilee was trying her best to quell the rising sense of panic. Everything inside the bathroom seemed to be still now. She held the door handle again and furiously tried to yank it open. To no avail. It stayed locked.

“Who’s in there?!” she shouted, banging on the door a few times but all her calls were met only with a stony silence from the other side.

She strained her ears to the door again. All was quiet. She breathed a bit normally. Maybe she was just imagining things.

Just then she heard someone hum. A female voice! Jubilee stepped back abruptly as if an unseen hand had slapped her.

It was a sad melancholy tune and the person humming it seemed to be in some untold grief.

The voice drifted out slowly, wrapped in mystery and Jubilee could feel the hair on her arms bristle and stand erect.

………………………………………………………………..

“Ira, is that you?”, cried Sarita in alarm. No sound came from behind the door. Teenagers sometimes behaved in a weird manner. Did her daughter have a fight with someone at her in-law’s place? Or had she been bored and come back early? If that was so, then where were the others?

“Ira, open the door for God’s sake!” she almost yelled in the empty flat. She thumped the door a few times, with an unknown fear increasing its grip on her with every passing moment. “What happened sweetheart, why are you crying?!”

For a moment everything went absolutely silent. The rain seemed to be falling at a distance and even the thunder had gone quiet.

Then just when she thought the crying had stopped, it started again. This time it was louder, more painful and heart wrenching. Who was it inside in so much agony?

An involuntary chill passed through her body, making Sarita shudder and go absolutely still.

………………………………………………………………..

Jubilee stood in the hall now where she was relaxing only a few minutes ago. She had run away from the bathroom door, no longer able to withstand the fear.

A dozen questions were slamming her head from all directions. Who was inside the bathroom? From where had a chair come inside it? She cast a quick glance across the hall and then the bedrooms. No piece of furniture seemed missing.

The drifting voice had instilled a sense of fear in her which she had never experienced before. There was so much sadness in it, yet it was chilling. She quickly remembered to dial her hubby’s mobile. A beep and then an engaged tone greeted her. He must be busy at work. Damn!

She gingerly started to step back towards the bathroom again. Her hand trembled as she got hold of the wall for support.

Just then she heard a loud thud come from behind the door. It was as if a chair had been toppled onto the floor with a crash! In the empty flat the sound reverberated like a bullet shot.

A sea of blackness swept over Jubilee as she fell unconscious to the floor.

………………………………………………………………..

The rain was pelting now. It had reached a crescendo and was being punctuated in between with shards of lightning and thunder.

Sarita could not hear a thing. She nervously put her head against the door again trying to catch any sound. By now she realized it was not Ira. Her daughter would not behave nor sound like this. Moreover, she could not have come back alone without her father and brother.

So if not Ira then who was it? Just as she moved to collect her mobile from the hall to call her hubby, a blood curdling scream pierced the night trailing off into the wet darkness.

Involuntarily Sarita put both her hands onto her ears and even as she stood in shock disbelief, the enormity of the fact hit her squarely on her senses.

(tap to play)

The girl had jumped off from one of the bedroom windows to her death below.

One Year Earlier;  Bur Dubai, 6 pm

Surubhi was humming her favourite tune as she dragged the chair slowly across the bathroom floor.

This tune was a song which both the sisters had learnt from their father. They had grown up hearing it countless number of times until it had been imprinted on their minds.

When they were kids, Surubhi piggy backed on her beloved father’s shoulders and younger sibling Suruchi clasping her hand in his, walked alongside.

He would take them to the nearby park and along the way he would be humming this tune. The only difference was Surubhi always had happy memories associated with this melody.

Now as she hummed it, the strains had a ring of deep sadness around them.

This was because her best friend and her soulmate – her dear father Mohan had passed away under the most shocking circumstances. He used to run a shelter home for destitute women and their children back home in India. It was named Sewa Ashram. This year the local MLA had been invited for flag hoisting on Independence Day.

It was then that trouble started for her father and his sacred Institution.

The resident women of Sewa Ashram had recited the National Anthem and presented a short skit on the Independence struggle. Some of the children had presented a colourful song and dance routine. Overall, it had been a satisfactory affair. This was followed by a short speech from the MLA in which he praised Mohan Babu’s shelter home and the noble work he was pursuing.

What he did not mention was that he had already noticed a couple of women who had caught his fancy. His roving eyes had quickly taken note of their physical attractiveness and their mental vulnerability.

When her father had been away for a few weeks- he had spent a fabulous holiday with Surubhi and her children in Dubai- the shelter was left in charge of a Manager.

The Manager had been easily bribed by the henchmen of the politician. Initially it started with a couple of the women being forcibly taken away to a nearby guest house and dropped back the next morning. However, the carnal temptations of the politician and his coterie were too deep and their desires limitless.

Soon this started happening every night, leading to a chain of physical abuse and mental agony for the women until one of them gathered enough courage and called up their guardian Mohan Babu in Dubai. He had immediately taken the next available flight and landed at Sewa Ashram.

Police cases were filed and soon the shameful events were all over the media. Despite knowing he was up against powerful forces, Mohan knew he had to stand up for his inmates and bring them justice.

However he watched in dismay as not only the MLA managed to pull strings and get away unscathed but also the Manager pleaded not guilty shifting the entire blame onto Mohan. Some of the women inmates, threatened of dire consequences to them and their children by the MLA’s henchmen, became hostile witnesses turning against their beloved Mohan Babu.

His entire life’s dedication and hard work to a social cause lay in shambles. His own neighbours bayed for his blood. News reporters went after him demanding the strictest punishment possible.

On the morning of the incident a large mob had gathered outside the shelter home. A by-stander recorded the entire event on his mobile phone and it was soon viral on all leading Tv channels. Both sisters watched in shock and agony as their father was dragged out of his home by the crowd and beaten mercilessly. Who could dare to reason with a mob that had lost hold of their senses?

By the time the police had arrived and taken a bleeding Mohan to the hospital, he had suffered internal haemorrhage and was declared dead on arrival.

It had not even been 48 hours since her father’s death, that Surubhi’s husband had spoken of divorce. His family no longer wanted to be associated with a daughter-in-law of such ill repute. She had to pack her bags and leave Dubai. She had to sever ties with her only child too.

She knew life would never be the same again.

………………………………………………………………..

Now as Surubhi balanced herself on the chair inside the bathroom she closed her eyes for one final moment. She paused before taking the next step. Her father had gone the same place two evenings ago; she would follow him there- into the darkness, into oblivion- until she would meet him. Then there would be light.

Created by phantasmicart!



She pulled the red dupatta around her neck and tightened it against the hook on the bathroom’s ceiling. This was her guillotine. The hang man was ready.

The humming stopped as the chair swayed once before crashing onto the floor.

………………………………………………………………..

One Year Earlier;  Mumbai, 7.30 pm

Her elder sister had promised her it won’t hurt. It would be like entering into a dark tunnel but there would be light at the end of it and soon she would be re-united with her entire family- Surubhi, their mother and above all her beloved father!

Suruchi stood almost on the edge of the window ledge. City lights twinkled far below her and when she looked up stars sparkled gently in the night sky above. Soon, she would be there.

She had celebrated her 19th birthday with her college friends last week. There was a double reason for celebrations as in the same week she had landed an Internship at a prestigious firm where she would learn her craft. Life could not have been more perfect!

She had excitedly shared her happiness over phone with her dear father. During her birth, their mother had passed away. She no longer remembered her. For Suruchi her father was not only both parents, but also their buddy in whom she could confide all her fears and happiness.

How had their entire world come crashing down in the past 48 hours? Her father was gone; she still found it difficult to believe that. Surubhi would soon be gone too. Both sisters had agreed upon a common time to exit when they had spoken over the phone today.

Yes, she had to go now. The time had come. She was the youngest and they would all be waiting anxiously for her above.

Her mind was numb as she took a step forward balancing herself on the 6th floor window ledge of her Mumbai apartment. She had a mini statue, carved of sandalwood of her favourite deity on her study table. Suruchi whispered His name once.

She closed her eyes, took in a deep breath and jumped.

Present Day; Mumbai

Sarita lay slumped against the wall in front of her bedroom. The storm had subsided. The rains were gone but they had left behind tears which now welled up in her eyes.

Even as she watched, the bedroom door slowly and silently swung open, revealing the darkness beyond.

Concluded

Reader's Corner

1) Do you think Surubhi's and Suruchi's spirits would appear every year on the same day and in the same rooms where they took their lives?
2) Would the killers of Mohan would ever be punished? If yes, would both sisters get the redemption they deserve? Do leave your comments and thoughts on the story.

This story is not complete without the mention of Ritwicka Banerjee, student of NIFT, Bhubaneswar. Both her sketches done specifically for my story add heft to it. I hope you will agree.

phantasmicart (her Insta Id) -your creativity is amazing! Thank you so much 🙂