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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Playing with nature

Four people were sitting under a garden umbrella on the beach. It is a private beach belonging to the hoteliers, Toshali Sands in PURI. The beach was almost empty, as it was midday, the sun shining high and mighty, but in January, even at this hour the breeze was cool, the sun not so hot and if you are relaxing in garden chairs, with an umbrella over your head and chilled beer for company, you would rather stay outdoor and enjoy the scenery wondering at the deep sea and its powers to charm and drown you than stay indoors.
Mr & Mrs Ramesh and Deepali Dutta were older of the two couples. Mr Dutta had just retired as a General Manager of R&C . He was short and small, very dark almost grayish with a head full of thick black hair, the colour though belonged to Oriel than to any inherent quality in himself. A closer look however would reveal that he had a pair of very kind eyes. Mrs Dutta, on the other hand looked like a white pumpkin, soft, round and very fair. The half finished beer glass that she was holding some how seemed out of place. A glass of orange juice perhaps would have gone better with her looks.
Mr & Mrs Arun and Shanti Banerjee were relatively young, Arun, a Chartered Accountant by profession was the senior partner of ABC & Co., he was tall, broad shouldered, having thin gray hair which had become thinner at the rear ,making a little bald patch at the back. He had a hooked nose giving him a cruel look, which he was not. His wife, Shanti was a beautiful woman. Mrs Dutta was looking enviously at her perfectly manicured fingers. How could she look so perfect and so fresh at all hours of the day, was a thought that bothered her. There was a suspicious noise from, it seemed to the others, the bottom of Mr Banerjee's chair. Don't do that in public- Shanti was visibly irritated. Her husband's habit of breaking winds in public was one of his innumerable habits that embarrassed her to no end. Mr Dutta cleared his throat unnecessarily and Mrs Deepali Dutta stared fixedly at her beer glass. What a nasty woman. Imagine embarrassing your husband like that. Poor fellow as if he had done that on purpose. Her soft heart melted with human kindness for the now red faced Mr Banerjee. Mr Banerjee, who on his part, however, looked upon his wife with terrible respect bordering almost to awe felt suitably admonished like an errant schoolboy. Arun married Shanti when she was only nineteen a soft and shy baby doll. Arun grew up under the shadow of a domineering and exacting mother and immediately fell head over heals in love with the fresh new thing. After his mother passed away, slowly but steadily he started searching for his mother in his wife. Being childless Shanti, fitted perfectly into the role and with the passage of time know one knew when and how the transformation was made complete.
Mr Dutta broke the silence; anyone wants to take another dip? He asked to no one in particular. Shanti put her glass down and started towards the water without answering. Mr Dutta looked at the others- not me, I am too tired already, replied Mrs Dutta. Arun only shook his hand like a sullen child. Mr Dutta shrugged and the two figures went running into the sea.
Mrs Dutta gave him that wistful look, which have captivated Arun, despite the fact that he had a much younger and a striking looking woman as his life partner. They had come to this place for a week to relax. They were neighbors and good friends for over five years but during all these years Arun had never really noticed Mrs Dutta. She was to him his neighbour's wife, a dutiful wife no doubt and a good hostess, always attentive to the needs of her guests. They came here last Friday and today is Wednesday. They were scheduled to return by Sunday. Mrs Dutta was very possessive about her milk white complexion and she rarely ventured in to the sea and Arun was afraid of the water, he had an accident in his childhood when he was almost drowned and he did not know swimming. This time also he would accompany Mr Dutta and Shanti to the water, stand there at the edge where the waves could reach him only upto his ankle and would come back to his chair, bottle and the company of Mrs Dutta and while chatting with her about nothing in particular, Arun was quite taken up by the simplicity of the woman, so different from his own wife. The way she looked at him or more correctly the way she could not hold his glance for long and would start looking down at her finger nails, blushing would make his deflated ego pump up. This woman seemed to hold him in high esteem and the two of them seemed to agree on most things, while Shanti would invariably go in the right direction whenever Arun was on the left. It was an uneven and unequal short time comradeship between Mrs Dutta and Arun and the attraction, as is in most such cases, was acute from both the sides.
During these morning bathing sessions, most of the unspoken words were said between them through the eyes. Though this type of flirtation was not really new to Arun, for being one to put up with a woman of Shanti's caliber as a life partner, Arun had wondered into relationships earlier also though none of them were big , deep or near enough to trouble Shanti and Arun who considered himself to be a perfect gentleman never went beyond kissing and touching.
Shanti, who knew her husband inside out, read the symptoms and was immensely infuriated and depressed. It is not exactly flattering to know that your husband is having an affair with some other woman and if that some one was someone with whom you have to spend your holiday, who, according to you, resemble more or less an outsized football, would definitely make you angry with everything that you would come across and that was what was wrong with Shanti. Last night at dinner while Arun and Shanti were in the middle of their usual tiffs, Mrs Dutta deliberately interfered and took sides to her annoyance and Arun's pleasure. Mrs Dutta made it abundantly clear that she preferred Arun and disliked Shanti. She did not stop at that, while Shanti was expressing her feelings before going to bed, Mrs Dutta knocked. May I borrow an aspirin Mr Banerjee, I have a terrible headache! She deliberately ignored Shanti who was applying cream on her face & neck. It was not the first night also, for the consecutive three nights Mrs Dutta would knock on one pretext or other before they were ready for the bed. Before Arun could reply Shanti answered in the negative and slammed the door on her face. After giving Arun a thorough thrashing, who vehemently denied having any soft corner for 'poor Mrs Dutta' Shanti fell in to a disturbed sleep. She was up earlier than usual and took a brief run upto the beach. They had breakfast and were into the water for a long time. An exhausted Shanti and Mr Dutta joined the other two on the beach. Shanti took her beer when she thought she was finished for the day, but when Mr Dutta invited, she could not resist and moreover the thought of sitting between the two made her walk towards the water.
Once she stepped into the water however, she felt happy and carefree. The ocean always fascinated her. She was laughing, jumping and playing with the waves to her hearts delight. The ocean on its turn sent waves, one after another, and started drawing her away from the beach. When she realized that she had come a long way from the beach and could see only water all round her she tried frantically to reverse swim, but the beach was no where in sight. The sea, it seemed was aroused by her playfulness and started playing with her with its thousand arms, throwing her body like a straw over the waves and under them making her beg for life, crying for help and loosing her strength. Her cries for help were blown away by strong breeze and drowned by thunderous sound of waves falling on the beach relentlessly. In her dying hours , Shanti had a feeling that the ocean that she loved for so long and so passionately was merciless, deaf and had no heart.
We are going back to the hotel. Are you coming? Mrs Dutta asked. No! Please don't wait for me, I will be in half an hours' time ' Mr Dutta answered back. Everybody seemd to have forgotten Shanti for the moment.
Arun escoted Mrs Dutta to her room. I am sorry for last night, Shanti had been rude to you- he said and looked down at the inviting lips. Mrs Dutta, who for the first time in her life had looked at any other man and was looked at by any one other than her husband, was literally trembling with guilt and expectation when they heard the alarm gong sound.
The day rolled in to a nightmare, Arun with Mr Dutta and the rescue party ran endlessly along the beach searching for her. Every time Arun thought of Mrs Dutta, he suffered a heart attack, sense of guilt engulfing him How could I be such a crass ? Please Shanti come back; it is you and only you. Oh God, give me a last chance, you cannot be so cruel; you cannot punish me this hard for a small lapse- oh no, oh no. Please give her back. But no matter how much we pray or fret nature's course cannot be reversed
Next morning a devastated Arun, sat alone looking at the sea, which had taken away the only thing that he treasured in life. In his mind's eye, Shanti appeared in her youth, hurt by his unfaithfulness, driven to desperation into the arms of death.
Mrs Dutta was talking in a hushed voice to the other inmates of the hotel about how the two always fought and how temperamental and spiteful a woman she was, suggesting involuntarily that it was a deliberate act. With her limited imagination and mediocrity of nature she assumed that Shanti did it on purpose to spite the two. Mrs Dutta, all her life till now, had played the role of mere a wife and mother, who looked after the domestic side, cooked and served. She had never been a friend to her husband in the true sense of the term.
Mr Dutta, with a clearer conscience guessed that may be Shanti should not have gone into the sea alone after a few glasses of bear and that he should not have left her alone in the water.
Nobody knew exactly what happened. For they did not experience how forceful the sea was and how dangerous it is to play with Nature.

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