“For God’s sake, switch off the light! I’ve to go to office tomorrow.” Bitter-half grumbled audibly.
I seethed within. What was he implying? As though, I did not have to go to work the next day. I shut the book in my hand with a bang and switched off the lamp. I also pulled at the sheet with unnecessary vehemence. Just a few pages more and I’d have known the identity of the listener to whom Changez was speaking. Could it have been Chris? Perhaps not really dead….
Dear Readers, it is a truth universally acknowledged that just when you are desperately close to unraveling the mystery in a book, then - precisely at that particular point - the entire universe conspires against you from finishing those last few pages.
Well, there I was, immersed in Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Not an Agatha Christie with murderers at large in sleepy old villages, not a Dan Brown with its Biblical mysteries, yet holding me in its thrall right then.
The beginning had been slow and I’d not really enjoyed the narrative style till the mystery of the listener began to grip me. And now just when it was so tantilisingly close, I had to shut the book. I listened to the snores of hubby dear as he waded through dreams and hoped maliciously that they would turn into nightmares.
My restless night ensured that the next day I was late in getting up. A hurried breakfast (“again toast!” – Humph! Had he not noticed his paunch? I couldn’t be like his mother to pamper him with paranthas), a quick packing of tiffins and then we were locking the door and walking out.
The Metro, I smiled to myself. Yes, I could finish the last pages while traveling to the college. My smile died as I looked at the throng on the platform. Everybody, it seemed, had decided to travel by the Metro. Well, good for the Metro people, I thought sourly a few minutes later as I stood sandwiched between two ladies, but it’s absolutely ridiculous the way they don’t add new coaches or increase the frequency of the trains and why, why for the love of God, is Delhi so overcrowded….
Okay, I thought to myself, smoothing down my crushed salwaar-kameez as I alighted from the train, there is one free period that I have today, I’ll finish the book then. Two classes thankfully over, I went to the annexe of the Staff-room, asked the peon to give me a cup of tea, and was opening my bag when…..
I looked up. One of my former students beamed at me. She, of course, had to choose this very particular day to come and meet me and, of course, she was so confused about which course to pursue and could I just help her….
Feeling not like a beacon but more like a fused bulb, I answered her queries nevertheless. At my back, Time’s winged chariot rushed by…
Enough is enough, I thought grimly as I glared at the students, I am not going home till I finish the novel. This was my last class and after that I was gloriously free.
“Hey, the meeting is in the Seminar Hall” Dr. Bhushan, my senior colleague, remarked as I was about to enter the Staff-room.
“Mee…Meeting?” I sputtered.
“Of the Art and Culture committee.” Amongst his other accomplishments, Dr. Bhushan, let it be known, is also the convenor of the Art and Culture committee.
“But…but there was no notice.”
“Yes I know,” he said. “This is an emergency meeting. There is a cultural program that the college is organising so….” He lifted his shoulders in apology.
His apology did little to appease me as I sat miffed through out the meeting, snorting and smirking at suggestions and passing snide remarks. In short, doing a Snape.
Once again it was the Metro. Thankfully, it being afternoon, it wasn’t that crowded. But just as I was taking out the book from the bag, the mobile rang. Not mine, but of the girl sitting next to me and for the rest of the journey I had to listen to inane talk of insensitive boyfriends, narrow-minded parents, over-weight problems…in short all the angst that our young generation is so full of. I entertained myself by inwardly reciting the choicest abuses in Punjabi.
Home had never seemed as sweet to me as I unlocked the door and walked in. Hastily splashing water on my face and changing my clothes, I settled in the cushy armchair….
It was the friendly neighbourhood aunty who had prepared dahi-bhallas and had so very thoughtfully brought a bowl for me. Despite her protests ( rather feeble, I thought sarcastically), I prepared tea and made polite noises as she complained about her daughter-in-law, her maid, her relatives….
As I saw her off, my maid walked in with a sunshine-bright “Namaste Bhabhi.” The day became overcast for me.
For the next forty minutes, she mouthed an oft-repeated tirade of her mother-in-law, her other mem-sahabs, (“Not you bhabhi, you never do khich-khich” – I plastered a smile on my face) her husband…. even as I tskd-tskd at appropriate intervals.
Shutting the door after her, I heaved a huge sigh of relief. Not a moment to lose! I rushed towards the book…..only to be arrested in my movement…..the phone was ringing - sharply - a tone that suggested that it could not be ignored.
It was the chatty colleague, who had taken leave for the day and thus wanted to know all that had transpired in the college. Dejected and dispirited, I recounted the things. Needless to say, she found it her moral duty to regale me with her opinion about each and everything. I thought despairingly of Changez walking in the dark with the Mystery Man….
“Bye,” she said chirpily as she hung up.
“Bye,” I said in a dead voice. Changez and the Mystery Man had already disappeared in the darkness.
• The Reluctant Fundamentalist is easily available in book shops. However, I borrowed it from Delhi Public Library, opp. Old Delhi Railway Station.