‘Hey Ranjit, are you online? This is Amar here.’
‘Hello Amar, long time no see. What’s up?’
‘Was a little busy, sorting out a minor problem.’
‘What problem? The usual?’
‘Yes, one of those things. But it’s fine now. Taken care of.’
‘My friend Casanova, as they say you are surely like a dog’s tail. Can never be straightened.’
‘It’s nothing but karma. And its consequences. Makes me more experienced too.’
‘Let me guess, the last one perhaps was Sheela. Your twelfth affair. Right?’
‘Thirteenth. But who the hell is keeping a count?’
‘Tell me, what happened?’
‘The same old story. A bit of carelessness and the bull is hit! Ironic, isn’t it? OK, to cut the long story short, she got knocked up.’
‘Oh my God, how could you?’
‘Blame it on my virility and her fertility. And perhaps on the safe period calculations.’
‘Or may be she wanted to trap the slippery Sam.’
‘May be. But you know me. There are always the escape routes. When convincing fails, there’s intimidation. When these fail, the wallet comes to your rescue. Well, it took some efforts, but finally good riddance to bad rubbish. Hospitalisation costs and a fat compensation. That’s it.’
‘You bum, you will never improve. It’s high time you find a life partner for yourself and settle down. At least before you burn out totally. Save yourself from avoidable stress.’
‘No my friend, my palm has a strong life line, but no wife line. I am fine the way I am.’
‘Alright then. You are not a kid. Perhaps you know better about yourself. Now tell me, how I may help you.’
‘Do you still have your bungalow at Jalapahar?’
‘Yeah, what about it?’
‘See bro, I have a business meeting at Darjeeling, next Monday. I need a place to stay overnight. The hotels over there are full to the brim. They have been fully booked for the delegates of an International Cardiologists’ Conference. I was wondering if your bungalow is unoccupied and if I may be accommodated there.’
‘No issue. We hardly use it. I would have disposed off it long ago. But we still keep it for sentimental reasons. It was my father’s favourite hideout. He wrote almost all his novels there. We have a caretaker called Thapa who lives in the outhouse. I will message you his number. You call him up a day before. He will keep a suite ready for you.’
‘Thanks Ranjit. As they say, a real friend walks in when the rest of the world walk out. You are a life saver.’
‘My pleasure. You take care of yourself. Don’t get into any trouble. By the way are you travelling alone or you have already found your fourteenth victim who would be accompanying you?’
‘Ha ha, I am travelling alone. Who knows I may find my next one at Darjeeling itself!’
Amar rented a car from Bagdogra for the duration of his stay and drove down to Jalapahar. He reached the ornate gates of a beautiful colonial style bungalow around noon time and honked. Thapa, the caretaker, a diminutive man in khaki shorts and a blue T shirt opened the gate. He drove in and stopped in the porch. Thapa closed the gate and came running to welcome him inside. Amar entered a tastefully done up hall spelling heritage, grandeur, luxury and opulence. He parked himself on a comfortable and plush sofa opposite the fire place and scanned around in awe. There was a huge bay window at one end of the hall overlooking a lush green lawn. In the corner, a marble bust of Venus was kept on a tall tripod. On the other end was the dining space and a compact bar. The dining space extended to a passage leading to the bed rooms. The flooring, wall panels and the furniture were mostly made of mahogany and teak wood. The upholstery had a suede finish. The entire ensemble was a combination of maroon and beige. A matching Belgian carpet in the centre complemented the cushions and curtains. A huge glittering chandelier hung at the centre. The walls were adorned with crossbows, daggers, swords, khukris and antique guns on one side and stuffed and mounted heads of two tigers and two bisons on the other. Amar was in admiration for the taxidermist who would have created his works of art so life like. It appeared as if the animals were peering down at him and he was under their scrutiny. There was only one painting over the fire place, which looked somewhat familiar. As he was trying to remember the painting, Thapa appeared with a mug of chilled beer and told him that lunch will be served in an hour. He also mentioned that he had put his baggage in the master suite next to the dining space and he might like to freshen up whenever he pleased.
Amar was racking his memory to identify the painting. The artist had used soft warm shades from golden yellow to brown to paint a voluptuous female form, reclining on a luxurious bed with a canopy. With her upper torso bare exposing her firm bosom, and a thin gauze like material covering her lower body, her hair fanned over the pillow, she was the perfect picture of beauty and sensuality. It appeared as if the woman had just woken up, awakened by the shining golden rays of the sun beaming through the window, her eyes half closed looking almost like slits. Suddenly the penny dropped. Amar remembered Rembrandt’s famous nude Danae which he had seen in the Hermitage museum at St Petersburg last year when he had visited the city while on a pleasure cruise. This painting appeared to be a replica, painted by some local artist, who had perhaps forgotten to affix his signature. He googled for the masterpiece and compared the original with the one over the ingle. The texture and colour scheme were almost similar. But the face here was more oriental looking with higher cheek bones, slanted eyes and darker hair. Another glaring difference was manifested in a predominant ear top which did not exist in the original. The ear top with a huge turquoise circumscribed by glittering red rubies literally stood out. In fact it appeared to be grossly out of tune with the overall painting. While his mind was busy analysing the painting, he suddenly realised that Thapa stood there silently while watching him curiously.
‘Saab, do you find the painting interesting?,’ asked Thapa.
‘Yeah. What do you know about it?,’ countered Amar.
Thapa pulled a stool and sat down opposite Amar. Then he narrated the story of the bungalow from the day it was built and commissioned by a rich zamindar from Kolkata named Rai Bahadur Tanmoy Majumdar, way back in 1940. Ranjit Saab’s father purchased it from the Majumdar family sometime in the early fifties. Tanmoy babu lived in Kolkata but always came here to spend the summer. One day he happened to see a school girl returning home after school hours. It was love at first sight for him, despite the age difference. He was besotted with the beauty of the local girl and befriended her. She was Manisha, the girl who had posed for the painting. After knowing Manisha, Tanmoy babu started spending more time here. He wooed her, showered gifts on her and declared his undying love for her. Manisha finally moved in with him. Tanmoy babu divided his time between Kolkata and Jalapahar. Though their union was not solemnised by the formalities of a marriage, they lived together as a couple, whenever Tanmoy babu paid a visit here. His lawfully wedded wife at Kolkata had no idea about her husband’s indiscretion.
Tanmoy babu spent quite some time and a fortune for the interior decoration of the bungalow. He professed himself as a native Britisher and wanted to create a typical colonial ambience. He in fact wanted to procure Rembrandt’s masterpiece Danae for the space above the ingle but couldn’t manage it. Then he struck upon the idea to recreate it. He commissioned a local artist Faiz to paint an Indian version of Danae, with Manisha as the model. Faiz was a known name amongst the artists who had created many replicas of various masterpieces by great masters from far and near. Faiz was given a room in the bungalow and soon the work commenced. One bedroom was specially designated as the studio. Manisha turned out to be a very willing and obliging model and never complained about the prolonged sittings, which sometimes stretched into four to five hours a day. As the days passed the blank canvas came to life in instalments, bit by bit with the deft brush strokes from the magical fingers of the artist. Tanmoy babu was quite satisfied with the progress. Just before the painting was complete, he had to leave for Kolkata to meet some urgent business need. During the last sitting, just before Faiz put his signature on the right bottom corner, something happened that should not have happened.
A half clad Manisha was lying supine on the bed. Suddenly Faiz came charging like a tiger, lust and lechery writ large on his face, and pounced on her. Before she could realise what was happening, she found her hands pinned down and his lips firmly planted on hers. Manisha had no chance to protest and defend herself. Faiz was too strong and powerful for her. When the heat of the moment subsided, she gathered her wits to realise that Faiz had forced himself unto her. With a mixed feeling of rage and shame, she groped at the side table and picked up a brass wine jug that was kept for effect. As Faiz pulled himself off her, she hit him hard on his head. Blood gushed out of the crack on his head and he fell down on the floor whimpering. Manisha gathered herself and saw Faiz breathing his last. And then she picked up a hunting knife from the drawer and slit her wrists.
On return from Kolkata, Tanmoy babu was totally heart broken and devastated. He hung the unsigned painting above the fire place, the only one in the entire bungalow. He would sit in front of the painting with his drinks for hours together. He had stopped speaking to any one, even to his retinue staff. Then one day he packed his bags and left for Kolkata, never to return. After about a year of the incident he died of heart attack. The bungalow remained locked for a long time. One housekeeper was engaged to take care of the estate. After it changed hands, Ranjit Saab’s family used it as a holiday home. Almost once or twice a year the family came here for vacationing. The view of Kanchenjunga from the patio was perhaps one of the best that one could have in this area. Sometimes the family let their close friends avail their hospitality here.
Having narrated the story, Thapa served Amar lunch. There after he retired to the master suite that was allotted to him and took a nap, while recalling the fascinating history of the bungalow. He got up from his slumber to a gentle knock on the door. Thapa was there with a tray carrying tea in a pot along with an assortment of biscuits.
‘Hey Thapa, tell me about the social life here. Are there any Manisha’s still around?’ Amar asked with a wink.
‘Saab, there is nothing here at Jalapahar. But you can have an evening out in Darjeeling. Who knows, if you are lucky you may find your Manisha here,’ Thapa replied mischievously.
‘Tell me, what are the nice places in Darjeeling where I can enjoy,’ asked Amar.
‘Saab, there are nice pubs and clubs. You may try Joey’s Pub or the Buzz. Nice food, plenty of drinks and good music. But don’t expect late nights at Darjeeling. They entertain you at best till 10,’ offered Thapa.
‘That sounds good. Let me go and explore.’
‘Saab, please keep a set of keys with you. I will wind up early since you will not have your dinner here.’
Around seven in the evening Amar got ready for his adventure. There was a very light drizzle. He checked about the route from Jalapahar to Darjeeling and set off in the rented car. It was just about 15 minutes drive time. As he turned the bend to get on St Mother Teresa road, he spotted her holding a colourful umbrella standing alone under the shed of a bus stop. He slowed down the car and pulled over near her and rolled down the glass. The girl was in her late teens it seemed, with a bob cut hairstyle, smartly dressed in a black evening gown. Amar found her very attractive and his heart beating loudly in anticipation, he asked her if she needed a lift. She agreed and entered the car.
‘Hey, how do you do? I am Amar. Amar Chauhan.’
‘Hi I am Anita. I live close by. I was going down to Darjeeling for an evening out.’
‘Oh, that’s fantastic. I am actually from Kolkata. I own a small IT company. I have come here for a business meeting scheduled tomorrow. I am staying at ’7th Heaven’, the red brick bungalow round the bend.’
‘I know the place. It’s a nice British type bungalow.’
‘Tell me which place in Darjeeling are you heading for? Do you have a date with someone?’
‘No, I am on my own. Just going out for some good music. May be drinks and dinner if I get the right company.’
‘What a coincidence! I am also looking for a nice evening out. Why don’t you suggest a place where we can go together? Of course only if you feel that I am the right company!’
‘You seem to be alright. Let’s raid Joey’s Pub.’
Amar patted himself on the back mentally thinking that his charms surely were irresistible. After a while they reached Joey’s Pub, which was considered the nucleus of Darjeeling’s nightlife. The quaint building with a small front porch having a triangular roof had the authentic looks of an English country home. It appeared as if Anita was a regular at this club. She led Amar to a cozy corner with comfortable cushioned chairs in a cluster around a low centre table. They ordered their drinks and settled down. Anita asked for a vodka with orange juice and Amar asked for scotch on the rocks. Dimly lit by candles in soda bottles, the lounge gave a magical feeling. The DJ was playing the choicest music as requested by the guests. It was a cocktail of music ranging from old school jazz of Nat King Cole to the latest rock music of Coldplay. The Pub didn’t serve any formal dinner but the snacks were more than enough. Anita was rather reticent while Amar garrulously talked about his childhood, his education and entrepreneurship. Around ten the Pub took the last orders for the day. Amar was a little high and as they exited the Pub he whispered, ’Hey sweetheart! Your place or mine?’
Anita gave him an enigmatic smile and said, ‘whatever you say.’
They drove all the way to Jalapahar in silence. The drizzle had not stopped. Amar parked the car in the porch of 7th Heaven and opened the door with the key Thapa had given him and proceeded to his room. Anita demurely followed him.
‘Hey baby, I got to take a shower. Don’t feel nervous. Take it easy. Just relax in the bed. I will join you shortly.’
‘Sure. I feel at home.’
Amar was humming a romantic tune under his breath as he entered the washroom. Few minutes later he emerged from the washroom and stopped short at the foot of the bed. The room was bathed in an ambient golden hue. Anita was lying supine on the bed in the buff and looking at him invitingly. He stood frozen there and discovered that her hair had fanned over the pillow, one of her ears exposed showing a conspicuous turquoise ear top circumscribed by glittering red rubies. He could almost hear his heart that was beating hard against his rib cage.
Before he could say anything or do anything, Anita raised her arms in an embracing gesture and tried to reach out to him. The arms slowly telescoped out to cross the length of the bed and then her fingers wrapped around his neck.
MAY 2017 / JAN-FEB 2019 AUTHOR OF THE MONTH at Spillwords.com
Dilip Mohapatra (b.1950), a decorated Navy Veteran started writing poems since the seventies. His initial foray into the world of literature was through poetry workshops in college and inspirations from his teacher Jayanta Mahapatra, an acclaimed poet in contemporary English. His poems have appeared in many literary journals of repute and anthologies worldwide. Some of his poems are included in the World Poetry Yearbook, 2013 and 2014 Editions. He has six poetry collections to his credit published by Authorspress, the latest being Dewdrops of Dawns, which has received raving reviews in multiple literary journals globally. Currently his latest, a Professional book titled Campus to Corporate which is a career navigation manual for the students aspiring for a successful corporate career and for newcomers to the industry to survive and succeed has become a best seller with more than 10000 copies sold. He lives with his wife at Pune, India.