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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

When the coward wins

The post man had just delivered a bi-monthly English journal; the editor of which had requested Manasi for a short story.
Manasi stood before the mirror holding the magazine in her hand, studying her reflection. Yes she was attractive and why attractive, to be frank, she was beautiful, with a heart shaped face , a straight nose, dark , frank and big eyes, a head full of shiny black hair and a dimple on each chick, on the other side of 35 , mother of two , she still looked young enough to be mistaken as a college student. She dresses beautifully and had the curves at the right places. Yes she was very attractive to the other sex. But was that a crime?
A host of conflicting emotions were crushing against the closed walls of her tender heart like waves of blue and salty water that the ocean within her held, that should have been pouring out through her eyes. But she hated tears and she hated to cry in self pity even more.
She joined the Eastern India Regional Office of a renowned educational institution about ten years back and had with the passage of time become extremely attached to both her workplace and her colleagues. When she joined, she was the only lady staff in this office comprising of meager staff strength of about thirty staffers and three officers and a handful of class-IV employees. Most of the employees came from the suburbs of the city of Kolkata and to be frank; in the beginning they eyed her with distrust and a fair amount of disdain. With a typical male chauvinistic mentality they held the view that women were best suited at the kitchen or at most in schools and colleges and definitely not in offices rubbing shoulder with the men folk. Not only they held this opinion in their head and heart but they made it a point that such opinion reached her through their emissaries, the peons who liked Manasi a lot as they did not have any hang-ups. Manasi never really minded , considering the back-ground they came from, it was only natural there should be some resistance in accepting a convenient educated, well dressed, well groomed upper class lady among themselves as their colleague and superior to them in rank. Manasi joined as a Junior Apprentice Officer. Manasi was by nature jovial a good talker and without and by any standards, extremely good looking.
In the beginning many of her colleagues had mistaken her outspokenness and free mixing and responded in manners that she found both embarrassing and insulting but she tided over these situations with so much élan and ease that her colleagues, in spite of there reservations, started admiring her and approve of her demeanor. After all, men would be men and having such a beautiful young lady as their colleague it was but only natural that ultimately all their resistances would be broken. In these ten long years Manasi had been accepted warmly into their fold, sharing their pains and pleasures alike, both in the office as well as at their home front. But it was also true that many of he male colleagues nurtured secret romantic crush for her in different phases of her career and at times it was difficult even for Manasi to overcome such advances without being offensive; but some how she managed, as she was a warmhearted and a genuine person and never held their weaknesses as weapons against them. They were her friends and she accepted them as they were. Excepting a few rough elements Manasi was generally at ease with most of her colleagues.

A few months from now a new Manager had joined their organization and Manasi was placed directly under him. Mr Abhoy Roy Chowdhury, the new manager, was quite attractive and quite young but a little overbearing. Any way Manasi hated to be dominated and she tried to be at her ease. While comparing notes Manasi would look up feeling his eyes on her a little too insistent and she would look back hard and would be surprised to find faint hint of amusement in his eyes. Manasi would find him too near behind her back to be comfortable while helping her take out a file from the closet. But she could not be sure as otherwise he was very courteous. This gentleman, Manasi found, was much too flamboyant for her liking. Although he was a few years junior to her in age, officially he held a much more senior post and Manasi could not deal him as easily as she dealt with her other colleagues. After a few weeks though, Manasi became accustomed with his ways and even started liking him for his forcefulness and for his ability to take decisions, for his ability to manage difficult situations. He appeared to Manasi, as having a very strong masculine aura about him, which she found vaguely disturbing and at the same time drawing her towards him. The employees regarded their new Manager with awe and respect.
Abhoy was a picture of English etiquette, offering a lift in his own car whenever Manasi had to stay back for office work , opening the car door for her or handing over the flower bouquets to Manasi which he would be receiving in his own capacity while they attended meetings and seminar. He would always offer Manasi a seat first before taking his own. In many other small matters Manasi was highly impressed with his thoughtfulness and curtsey. But lately Manasi started feeling slightly uneasy with Abhoy. Manasi could not be sure, but she felt his eyes following her all the time even in a crowd and strangely enough she was increasingly finding it a pleasurable experience. She felt guilty inside . Abhoy had an extremely masculine voice and when he talked Manasis , could not but appreciate his tone and temper. Whenever alone, Manasi would try to analyse her own feelings towards him. Manasi was a happily married woman with two lovely kids. She wondered what was it that was drawing her towards him ! Manasi was on the other side of thirty and at this age any woman would feel flattered if such a young and attractive man started paying her extra attention. It was simply satisfying her ego, so she thought. And she could not possibly be angry with any one for openly admiring her, she argued.

The employees were busy organizing the biggest day of the Institution, viz. Silver Jubilee celebrations to mark twentyfive years of its existence. It was a Sunday and quite a few employees had reported for duty, though not all, as it was otherwise a holiday. At about 1 O’clock, when most of the staff was resting after a lunch provided by the office, Abhoy called Manasi over the intercom. “Manasi, could you please come over to my chamber. I would like to show you a few corrections that I made in your design for the souvenir to be distributed among the paper-writers.”
What happened there came as a l thunderbolt to Manasi. Manashi went and Abhoy showed the corrections that he would like to be made and handed over to her the file. As she was about to leave the room , she felt his eyes on her and she looked up and saw him giving her a slow and deliberate wink. He was sitting upright and rigid in the chair and with a fixed stony eye he kept on looking at her, the other eye closing ever so slowly, giving an impression of a sadistic maniac. She had never seen anything like it before. Even to Manasi, a wife and a mother, not exposed to the filthy world of lust and degeneration, it was plain and clear that he was trying to convey something lousy and nasty! She stood routed to the ground, not believing her eyes, and then turned back in disgust almost running out of the room. Once seated in her place she took some time to compose herself. What should she do now? How could a gentleman , a person occupying such a high chair, could stoop so low! What was there about her that prompted the beast to take her to be a woman of questionable moral values! And she thought he was a true gentleman and was so long felt so elated that he held her in high esteem to shower her with so much attention before all. How wrong she was, how very vain not to recognize lust at its lowest degree. How foolish she was to take his attention as flattering while it was just the opposite. She now understood that he was so long, trying in various ways to lead his newest prey to his lair, or otherwise why should he try to flirt with a much married woman. But vanity made her blind to the obvious and she tried to believe that he liked her for her looks and her qualities and held her as his equal. This was no gentleman and he belonged to that hateful category of male population who treated all women, excepting their own wives, mothers and sisters, as an object of sexual gratification.

She could not take this insult lying down, she must protest, how cunning how obnoxious, how demeaning. But she had to satisfy herself that she was not mistaken and next time she chose to enter his chamber when there were others present and he tried to behave normal as if nothing has happened but Manasi could see he was not at all at ease. He deliberately avoided making eye-contact with her and when she asked him about a particular point that needed his explanation, he tried to clear the point with his eyes glued to the paper on the table and she noticed he changed colour visibly to a shade between ashen blue and purple; making it amply clear that he had realized that he had blundered and his ploy had misfired. It was no doubt he was a habitual flirt but why should he pick on her, was she a flirt, was she cheap? Manasi brooded over it the whole day and the day after telling nothing to anybody not even to Bipin, her husband. After two days of mental agony Manasi, determined to make a protest, even if belated, went to his chamber. He looked up from the file that he was studying and looked at her. Manasi mastered all the courage she had and blurted out
“Why did you wink at me the other day?” The next few minutes were nightmare Manasi wanted to forget. He stood up from the chair, towering over her and shouted
“Winked? How dare you tell lies. I have never done any such thing in my life. What is behind your mind Mrs. Ghosh? Have you gone mad. I warn you to be very careful in future. I won’t let go …. making accusation…. , get out of my room at once, I say.”
Manasi came out of his room drenched with humiliation and anger, an utter fool.. Once outside she realised everybody was looking at her, they have obviously heard the Manager shout. Manasi looked at them and said •
“You must have heard what he said but I will tell you what happened. The day before yesterday he winked at me slow and steady like I have never seen before, quite simply like telling me ‘I Want to …. You.’ I came to protest , won’t you support me and ask him to apologize” she pleaded but her heart sank even before her appeal fell flat, she saw most of them looking down.
Mainak. A relatively new incumbent, said
“But Mrs Ghosh, how do we know you are telling the truth. We have seen him dropping you home quite a few times. If he was that type why did you allow him? You have never said anything about him. How do we believe he has become a lecher all on a sudden and how do we know that you have not led him on?
How typically mean & foolish - Manasi felt like slapping him.
“Shut up Mainak. Think before you speak” said Jibanda and added “Manasi. You must have been mistaken”
“How could any one be mistaken on such a matter Jibanda!” Manasi wailed. “Why should I accuse him of such an act if it was not true; what do I stand to gain from it, tell me?” She added fuming.
Mainak murmured “It is your problem; you should sort it out yourself. Why drag us into all these vulgarity?”
Atin chipped in “This is the problem with women; they create complications anywhere they go. When walking along the street, often bad elements make nasty remarks. Is it not true? Do you fight with them? Why make a hell of a noise on such a small issue, that too in the office floor.”
“What rubbish!” Manasi exclaimed. “A rowdy in the street and a manager in the office are not the same thing, you fool.”
“Then go and tackle him. You can’t expect us to stick our necks out on such a flimsy ground. Winking at you indeed in the office,.. not a soul is going to believe I tell you. Where is the proof that he did so !”

Manasi looked at others but every body avoided her eyes. She could not believe her ears, these men were her colleagues, and they had worked together for almost 10 years now. The manager had joined for 5 months only and still they were not to take her words against his. How could it be possible! And she even quarreled with her husband for these spineless creatures. She believed they were her friends. She regretted all her association with them, all their togetherness, and friendship seemed loathsome to her. What a fool was she, believing that she and these people were like minded! What a stupendous error of judgment on her part to have faith in them.
What would she do , where does she stand, now that she had been befooled by the Manager, betrayed by her colleagues, should she fight for justice and make him apologize - if only there was an inbuilt camera- she thought. The manager was a coward and not man enough to be bothered about and her colleagues were a herd of sheep and Manasi would have to accept the situation as it was and go on working under this beast and go on mixing with her colleagues as before but she could never be the same person embracing all with an open heart; believing in the inherent goodness of things. She realized none was going to risk his neck for her sake and draw the wrath of the Manager. Who knows, may be in their heart of hearts, they were all guilty of nurturing some kind of unhealthy desire for her! She did not trust any body any more. What a situation to be in ! But should she have remained silent? Could she have respected herself if she did ? Not all her humiliation could have made her remain silent, even if it happened twice in her life.
She had to speak out even if people never believed her; even if her colleagues made fun behind her back for her foolishness; even if the management blacklisted her for the rest of her tenure in the organization for daring to speak against one of them. She wanted to speak about it just to clear her inside of the black and venomous fume that was instilled there by the men she trusted and cared for. Atleast she can warn other young girls entering into this world of vultures to be always on their guard and never trust the attentions from the opposite sex as mere show of respect and regard. She was so utterly devastated emotionally that she made the typical mistake of judging all men with the same yardstick, which was though, quite natural in her present state of mind.
Manasi thought of the proverb that the pen is mightier……and decided she should write about it………

1 comment:

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