Malini Vs. Melanie: Part IV

Sethuraman loved to relax in his favourite easy chair looking out of the balcony. This evening he was disturbed. A cow rummaged at a pile of garbage on the road, mainly banana leaves with strands of dried flowers after the recent festival. Normally he would have grumbled about the lazy road cleaners but today he was quiet. Your Mellie and our Sean make a lovely couple. We will be related soon, Seth.” Mrs. Hansen’s words echoed in his head, hurting him like poison-tipped arrows. He felt strangely lethargic. He didn’t shout, as he usually would, when a passing dog sniffed at their gate and let loose a long stream of urine to make a puddle nearby. “Brazen” and “Running wild” was how that old fool Kalyanaraman had described her. The searing pain that hit him in his chest left him breathless. The last straw was that idiot of a driver asking if she was still at home or had run away with someone!! His daughter Malini, the apple of his eye! He broke out in sweat, clutching his chest as another bolt of pain pushed him back when he tried to get up.
The next thing he remembered was gaining consciousness in a hospital bed. There was an air of sterilized silence about the place. Crisply uniformed nurses swished past working with quiet efficiency checking the various tubes that fed him precious blood and medicine. “ICU- Intensive Care Unit” read an illuminated sign above the door. Why was he here? Where were Kamala and Malini?

Continue reading “Malini Vs. Melanie: Part IV”

Malini Vs. Melanie, Part III

Malini reached her house as Govindan was leaving.
“Hello, my dear. Enjoying your work?” he smirked.
“Yes, Uncle!”, she said, frowning at his familiarity.
“Please don’t call me ‘Uncle’. I am not that old.”
Before her parents slept that night, her mother asked, “What was Govindan talking to you about? Hope nothing wrong with our finances!”
” He is keen on our Malini though he’s 10 years older!” replied Sethuraman, ” I said we have no marriage plans at present. You know I prefer Balu’s son in London.”
“Govindan is not bad but his father, Kalyan Mama is such a fussy old bore. Malini will be extremely unhappy in the same house as him.”
A few days later, Malini reached home dead tired after a difficult day at work to be greeted with a sullen silence. Her parents were angry. She knew all the signs.  “What happened, Amma? What’s upset you?”
“Don’t act over smart! This was delivered by that stupid Padmaraj, Kalyan Mama’s driver. He had the cheek to say, ‘Message from the Big Boss! He asked me to check whether your daughter is here or has run away with someone!’  Appa nearly had a stroke shouting at that wretch. See what you have done for us! ” her mother yelled and stormed out, throwing an envelope at Malini’s face.

Malini Vs Melanie, Part II

Malini’s parents were relieved that her Company would arrange transportation for her.  “I am happy but be alert!! Make sure you sit next to another girl.  Stay awake. Don’t doze off,” warned her mother. Her parents insisted on seeing her off at the appointed place only five minutes away from her house. The bus drew up. Her mother hugged her as if she was leaving for good and not to work. She looked nervously at the faces staring down at her, sniggering at the sight.
“Amma, Appa, I don’t want you to come to the bus stop ever again. It was highly embarrassing for me,” she said that evening. “We won’t come every day,” said her father. “We only wanted to see the arrangements made. After all, you are our only child.” She then told them about her first day at work. There was so much to say about her new colleagues, the wide choice of food in the food court, the gym, and the beautifully done up glitzy high-tech office. It was such a wonderful place!
She didn’t tell them the jokes at her expense. When she was getting off, a guy said, ” O.S. Malini, your Mom hugged you when you boarded the bus. Let me hug you when you get off! Will you say, “Oh, yes!, Malini?”  Many laughed and one shouted, She won’t. She’s oh, no! Malini!.”
A few weeks later work pressures made her return home much later than scheduled. It was raining that night.. Approaching her bus stop, she saw two figures sheltering in the doorway of a grocery store. Her parents were waiting for her, with an extra umbrella, though she had called to say she would be late. Malini was angry with them when others noticed this, but something also tugged at her heart. Amma would have insisted. Appa would not have let her go out alone! 
On the first day of training, Manny, ( his real name was Mani) their Voice & Accent Coach who perpetually wore shades even in the office, advised them, “You must not only speak like the Americans, you must learn to think like them, indeed behave like them. Here, we want you to think of yourselves as being Americans yourself with American work names. So Krishnan, you will be Chris. Malini, you will be Melanie!
Four of them formed a team at work. Sally, a chirpy girl from Shillong, had two years experience in the company. The green-gray eyed Sean O’Malley was more experienced than Sally. The other two were Malini, and Krishnan, another newbie like her.
Sean sat next to her at work, often talking about life beyond the office. She remained distant and he shrugged his shoulders. His smile was attractive though, she thought.  Sean Victor O’Malley sounded very Irish. Some ancestor may have been Irish long, long ago. The closest he had been to Ireland was when he had gone to Bengaluru International Airport to see off his aunt when she migrated to the UK.
Soon, Malini found herself terribly attracted to O’Malley who was everything she wasn’t. He in turn had never come across anyone like her before. A database error brought them closer. Some clown keyed in her name as, “Melanie O’Sethuraman,” listed just after “Sean O’Malley.”
Sean smiled, “So the secret is out! There is good old Irish blood in you, Ms. O’Sethuraman.” She burst out laughing thinking what her parents would have to say. 
Over the years, her clothes, tastes in life and all about her changed. At first, her parents were shocked, “Her clothes are getting shorter and her work hours longer,” her father told her mother. ” Can’t you advice her to dress properly. I  tried once and you saw what a scene she created, even threatened to leave the house for ever!”
“These are new times.Things are not like the old days. Besides, her colleagues are not like yours in the Government. Most of them are young and some of the stories she tells me about them…” she trailed off knowing she was getting into dangerous territory.
She continued brightly, ” Don’t worry! Her behaviour has been impeccable! No whisper of any scandal. Besides, her emoluments have grown so rapidly. She is getting far more than they we ever imagined. Remember, we are much better off than we were a few years ago!”
” Money is not everything!” snorted her husband.
In more ways than one Malini, in a manner of speaking, enjoyed being Melanie.
She often remembered her first date with Sean.They were at a party at a pub where he DJ-ed from time to time. Sean held her close. Each new experience was exhilarating. Malini thought she would faint in his strong arms. Her mother’s irate image briefly flashed in her mind but this was swept aside by ecstasy as his mouth found hers. His searching hands blocked out all thoughts from her mind except for one. She wanted him to do this and more.
They became a twosome after that. She went out with Sean after work and on weekends for parties, to the movies and to discos. She told them at home that the workload had increased substantially. She initially felt guilty lying to her parents but was carried away by what she was experiencing for the first time. Her new-found freedom was indeed heady. Besides, almost all the girls at work were paired off with one guy or another. The forbidden fruit, about which her father had warned her, had turned out to be quite delicious! 
The years flew past. Sethuraman had now retired. Fortunately, Malini was doing extremely well at work. He remembered how he had opposed her joining that BPO firm. Since then, she had got promoted twice. These days he couldn’t recognise her, his own flesh and blood.
It was about time he got her married, he thought. To a boy from their own community, of course.
His wife complained, “When will you arrange for your daughter’s marriage? After she becomes 30? I am worried that it may already be too late.”
” Don’t worry! We must get the right boy. I have someone in mind!”
“Naturally he should be of our own caste. Maybe in the IAS. Shanta’s son-in-law is from IIT. Ours should be from IIM after IIT, ” said his wife.
She smiled, dreaming of their relatives and friends admiring their accomplished son-in-law.
Ramalingam, his friend’s son, a doctor in the UK would make a perfect match for Malini, felt Sethuraman.
From childhood, he had fawned on anything British. He often dreamt of Malini living in England with her husband.
He told her, ” Imagine us visiting you in London! We would watch a cricket match at Lord’s and have the legendary strawberries with cream at Wimbledon!” She sighed knowing what would come next. Getting carried away, he wondered if there was any possibility of his son-in-law getting knighted some day or was that asking for too much?
” Do you know there is a Lord Bilimoria and a Lord Desai of Indian origin? Seen them on TV debates. Some day, could there be a Lord Ramalingam? You could never say in this day and age. He is doing extremely well in his profession. You know Balu’s boy. You could contact him through your Bookface.”
” It’s Facebook, and I will not contact him just because you know his father!”
“You can see what he now looks like. You last saw him many years ago!”
 If Ramalingam was knighted, would his Malini become Lady Ramalingam? How wonderful! Would they be required to curtsey to her or was that reserved only for Royalty? He had seen this on the courts of Wimbledon. On television, of course. To be precise, on the large-sized Sony Bravia that Malini had bought after her first promotion some years ago. 
His wife shattered his dreams, “Are you deaf or pretending not to hear? I have been calling you for the last 10 minutes. Smiling to yourself, acting as if I didn’t exist! Who will remove the junk you have left on my dining table?.”
He was compelled once again to shelve his dreams. 
Meanwhile, Sean made the first big move, “We should get married now. No point skulking around, meeting like fugitives any longer.”
She sighed, “I would love to, but how do I tell my parents? I can’t bring myself to talk to them. You know how they over react!”
Despite their constant nagging, in her own way, she loved them. They treated her at 24 as if she was still in middle school. She half expected Appa to ask if she had studied her portions or Amma to ask if she had washed her hands on coming in from outside.
Late one evening, when she was with Sean on his bike a car stopped next to them at a traffic signal. Someone in the car stared at her open-mouthed. Her heart sank. This was Govindan, a family friend who often played chess with Appa. She locked eyes with his, daring him to say something. He didn’t. Sean chose that moment to kiss her before the traffic lights changed. He liked to do these things, saying, “We love each other. Who cares what anyone thinks?”
She feared the worst but no one at home spoke about her being seen with Sean.
“I must have wronged Govindan. He isn’t that bad after all. I guess he too was young once!!” she told Sean a few days later.
“I wouldn’t be too sure. He looked a slimy sort. If he creates any trouble, I can take care of him! ” he assured her.
His confident smile chased away her fears.
However, later at home, seeing Govindan talking earnestly to Appa she wondered, “What moves is this chess player making in my real life game?”.
Part III of ” Malini Vs. Melanie” will be published on Tuesday, January 31, 2017.

Malini Vs Melanie: Part I

As as she grew up Malini had often envied friends with more liberal parents. She liked the way they dressed, their glossy hair flowing down to their shoulders while hers, shining with oil, had to be tied tightly in a long plait. Her friends enjoyed Western music which her father considered utterly decadent. “How can this be called music?” he barked when she listened to a popular hit. “Some noisy, mad fellows yowling!”

Continue reading “Malini Vs Melanie: Part I”

Serial Fiction: An Update

On December 21, 2016, I had written with much excitement about  Serial Fiction, this being something new to me. As you may have seen, I then took the plunge as it were and wrote a short story called, “A Day In The Mall”.

This was serialized over four days with sequential installments culminating with the last on Christmas Day. I had to do this as the story had Christmas, the festival of giving, as the backdrop.

I was quite happy with the response this got and aim to publish more of serial fiction in this new year. Continue reading “Serial Fiction: An Update”

Concluding “A Day In The Mall” – Part 4

Shalini hurried to the first floor boutique. The guy who stitched her dresses said,  “Madam, why so late? They were ready a month ago! I even called to remind you.” “I am here today. Look, pack them for me. I’ll take them later. Got to run!” she said and rushed back to the ground floor. From her vantage point on the staircase she had spotted Bhagyashree in the distance .

She decided to stand there and watch what happened from then on. One of her favourite authors, Toni Sorenson had written, “Christmas is about giving from the heart more than giving from the store.” She chuckled to herself. She was trying to do both!!

She could only hope for the best. She had meant well after all.

Bhagyashree saw the boy with the red balloon. A man held his hand and took him towards where his mother waited. Clearly this must be the father as the boy looked so much like him. The same nose and eyes. Indeed, the little fellow was a miniature version of his father. “Hello, young man! What’s your name?” she asked. “Pintu,” replied the boy smiling broadly. “How old are you?” “Seven years,” he said, confidently. “Did you have a nice time in the Mall?” she asked. He hesitated for a moment and that broad smile came back, “Yes, I did. My sister, too!” he said. She patted his head, “Good boy!” she said and walked off. The father’s heart swelled with pride on seeing his small boy confidently respond to this stylish lady who made him feel quite diffident.

The father and son reached the spot where the mother waited anxiously. “Why did it take you so long? I was getting worried. Did you lose the way or what?” “Of course not, there was a big crowd and I had to wait like anyone else”, he lied because he had actually lost his way and wandered around looking for the rest room. He didn’t want to admit that. “I am glad you have come, the girl is getting fidgety. Let’s get home as soon as we can. She is tired and so am I. I hope the children had a good time, though,” here she hesitated and went on “we didn’t buy them anything.” “Of course we knew things would be very expensive here,” he replied. “It was just for the experience. I am sure they had a nice time.” She couldn’t stop herself from blurting out, “Let’s hope so. I hope someday, when they grow up, they can afford to buy many things here.” A small tear emerged at the edge of her eye.

It was about 6.30 p.m. and becoming dark now. The lights were on. Fancy lights that transformed the place totally. They walked towards the exit when the PA system boomed, “Attention please! Master Pintu, please report to the Customer Service desk on the ground floor. Shopper Master Pintu, could you please meet Miss Bhagyashree at the Customer Service Desk? Paging urgently for Master Pintu. Wherever you are, please contact Miss Bhagyashree at the Customer Service Desk for an important message.”

Shalini saw the boy tug at the father’s arm and say something. They spoke amongst themselves for a minute. The mother looked doubtful but he was gesticulating towards the loudspeaker. The father supported him and asked the mother to join them. They found the Customer Service Desk easily enough. Bhagyashree said, “So little fellow, we meet again.” The father looked anxious, “What is the matter? Why have we been called here?” True they hadn’t bought anything but surely they hadn’t done anything wrong. The boy had picked up a balloon at the fourth floor but if he hadn’t someone else’s kid would have. That wasn’t a crime. He was a child after all. Surely, they didn’t know that he had lost his way to the Men’s Rest Room and almost entered the one for the Ladies?

He couldn’t believe his eyes when the lady bent down and gave Pintu a brightly wrapped parcel. “What is this?” he asked. “Sir, we have a scheme where once in a while we choose shoppers at random to receive gifts from our store. Today happens to be one of those days and little Pintu happens to be the winner because he was the 5000th person to enter the store today.”

People in the vicinity clapped and cheered when the gift hamper was presented to the boy. This had never happened to him in all his life. He jumped up and down in excitement. His father rapidly told his mother what had happened. Magically, her tense face relaxed and broke into a wonderful sweet smile. She was, like all mothers, very happy for her son’s sake. The little girl had woken up and wanted something from the gift hamper. She grabbed at it. “Open it and see, I’ll have it packed again for you,” said Bhagyashree. Their joy knew no bounds when they saw the chocolates, the aeroplane and the doll. This would rank as one of the happiest days of their lives. Many in the crowd smiled good-naturedly. The joy on the boy’s face was there for all to see. The crowd moved on and the family was left alone to enjoy the moment.
In his excitement, the boy had let go off the red balloon. It flew off caught in the swirling breeze. Maybe some other kid would pick it up, thought Shalini. She felt so gratified. She came closer to see them enjoy their moment of joy. Her eyes met Bhagyashree’s. There was no need to say anything. She smiled in thanks and walked away. As the balloon floated up she hoped the next person to find the balloon would be as deserving of happiness as little Pintu and his family.

On her way back home riding the Metro, Shalini felt so content. Not full with the burger, the French fries and the Diet Coke she had had some time ago, but full of happiness. Seeing another girl carrying a packet of clothes reminded her with a shock that once again she had forgotten to collect her dresses in the mall. Her mother would have much to say.

That was alright. She was happy that she had brought some joy into the lives of those kids. That was reward enough for her. Their sparkling eyes and beaming smiles had made her day.

A Day In The Mall- Part 3


Shalini moved to call out to the family to join her but stopped short. They had just bought a pastry to silence the girl who was whining with tears in her eyes. The mother broke it into two equal pieces and gave them to the kids. She furtively licked off the cream that stuck to her fingers. Pulling out a bottle from her bag, she drank a few swigs of water and passed it to her husband. No words were spoken. It was implicitly understood that they would not spend anything on themselves. Continue reading “A Day In The Mall- Part 3”

A Day In The Mall – Part 2

“These folk look so different from most others here today,” thought Shalini as the family walked in, almost hesitatingly, into the mall. The man wore flip-flops popularly called “Hawaii” slippers. His frayed but clean clothes bore the tell-tale signs of having been washed innumerable times. By habit, she began to analyze them. Was he a junior employee in the Government? Perhaps a school teacher from a nearby village? She studied him more closely. He looked the strict type. What brought him here and who were the others with him? Continue reading “A Day In The Mall – Part 2”

A Day In The Mall — Part 1

Shalini gasped as she entered the mall, by far the biggest in this part of the country.

This happened whenever she came here though she had lived all her life in Bangalore. It was as good as any she had seen abroad which was a compliment as she had been to several countries. With innumerable boutiques, shops, food courts, gaming booths, theaters, kids’ play areas, and parking facilities spread over many levels, this mall had something for everybody.

Continue reading “A Day In The Mall — Part 1”