“Hello, don’t forget, you have an appointment with the eye specialist at 9 for your glaucoma follow up review,” yelled Sujata from the Kitchen.
“Oh, I had forgotten. Just a moment, let me check if any eye hospital is offering any package deal,” replied Sujit.
“You and your package deals! I don’t know when you will really come out of your middle class mentality. I want no compromise when your health is concerned. Only the best for you. You slogged the whole life. Brought up the children in the best possible manner. They are all settled now and are on their own. And I think we have saved enough for our sunset years. Why scrounge and live miserly now?” chided Sujata.
“Oh, you will never understand. Let’s be practical. It’s Christmas time now. Come, I shall show you variety of online deals that are going on. We would be foolish if we don’t take advantage of that. Filipkart, Amazon, Myntra, TataCLiQ… each is trying to outbid the other,” interjected Sujit while browsing the net, “Hold on, here is a great offer. It’s high time you throw your old walking shoes and go for a new pair. I also would like to change mine. There is an offer from Fila: 70% discount for two pairs bought together as against 30% on one pair. Hold on, let me just complete the transaction,” said Sujit and clicked the payment button on Amazon.
“You are incorrigible. Even you expected my parents to offer you a package deal: marry one and get one free. How I wish you got that deal. My sister would have really put you in your place. Look at poor me, I rave and rant, I request, I pray, I threaten to leave you for good but finally I just hang around and keep tolerating all your nonsense.”
“Hello madam! Just imagine what a great threesome we would have made! Nothing to beat a package deal.”
Sujit and Sujata celebrated their golden wedding anniversary last year. In a small gathering of family and friends, their two daughters screened a video that they had compiled from old photo collages augmented with catchy captions and message clips from near and dear ones. It was a trip down the memory lane for both: how they first met in the college corridor, how they fell in love and got married against their families’ consent, how they started their professional lives: Sujit an officer in State Bank of India and Sujata a teacher, how the children came in due course to enrich their lives and grew up to stand on their own legs, and how they finally settled down post retirement in a modest flat of their own in Pune. Sujit considered Sujata a complete package: a perfect blend of beauty, brains and boldness, an ideal life partner and Sujata always felt incomplete without Sujit. They were so very different yet so very compatible: while individually, Sujit was like the high octane, effervescent Atlantic and Sujata in contrast was equally calm and composed like the deep Pacific, their life was not as turbulent as the Drake passage where both the oceans meet. Together they formed a necessary paradox, not a senseless contradiction. People said that he was toast to her butter.
As a gift to the parents, the girls offered them an overseas vacation at a place of their choice. Sujit spent considerable time browsing through multiple travel and vacation sites till he could manage to locate a package deal to Venice, Prague, and Budapest. Sujata was keen to see places in India that they had not experienced. But Sujit promised to do that later and convinced her the ‘value for money’ aspect of this package deal, since the offer included free upgrades of economy class flights to business class, four star hotel accommodation to five star hotels, free breakfast and few free visits to places of interest in the European cities. When they returned after a delightful time abroad, they had to undergo two weeks quarantine since the entire world was reeling under the onslaught of Corona virus. Soon came the enforced lockdowns. Although they were used to staying indoors after their retirement, this imposition appeared like imprisonment. They had to accept the norms of the new normal. Within no time Sujit got used to online shopping of daily essentials. He was seen spending considerable time with his laptop exploring the best deals from online suppliers for day to day essentials like groceries and fresh food items. What started as a compulsion, soon became an adventure and then an obsession. Sujit loved exploring the virtual corridors of Flipkart, Amazon and many such online dealers offering their ware. He discovered sites like Lootdeals, Dealsheaven, Snapdeal, etc. to gain knowledge of the best deals of the day. To start with, he compared the price offers for various brands of hand-wash and sanitisers and picked up the one with the best discount. The next item he ordered was a set of cleaning gear consisting of a plastic bin, a mop with a handle and a brush. During the lockdown, the house helps were not permitted to enter the housing society and Sujit had offered to help Sujata out in the household chores. Floor cleaning, mopping, and bed-making came to Sujit, while Sujata took charge of the kitchen and bathrooms. To make them more efficient Sujit kept looking for improved technology in all household items. In fact, some items and commodities not only came with a discount but along with a free gift. While he could understand the combination of 5 kgs of Basmati rice discounted by 31% with 1 kg of free sugar, he couldn’t figure out why a mosquito repellant was paired with a free gift of Hershey’s Milk Booster or an OTG of a popular brand with 29% discount came with the free gift of a Stayfree Dry Max All night XL Dry cover sanitary napkins. But soon he got used to such absurdities and continued to look for the best package deals. Sujata had to designate a new shelf in the store room for all the free gifts which had no use for them. Sujit sometimes couldn’t resist the temptation of heavy discounts offered on some items like sneakers and walking shoes and soon his shoe racks were bursting at their seams.
“Hello, will you please leave your laptop for some time and listen to me? You wanted me to remind you about your Life Certificate,” Sujata said while patting Sujit on his back to draw his attention.
“Just a moment, I was looking for a delicious offer from Dominos. Here, look: ‘Avail Domino’s Everyday Value Offers and get 2 Regular Pizzas starting at Rs.99 each or get 2 Medium Pizzas starting at Rs.199 each. Chips and dips free. Try the new Paneer Makhani Pizza or the Chicken Tikka Pizza, the latest additions to the Domino’s Menu. View all the Everyday Value Offers & Pizza Deals below. T & C apply.’ Tell me what should I order?”
“I have already cooked lunch. We can order something on Sunday. Now get ready and go to the bank to sign your Life Certificate. Otherwise, your pension will be stopped. The last date from 30 Nov is extended by one month. It’s approaching soon. By the way, why don’t you send your Life Certificate online?”
“Oh, I tried but failed. My current thumb print doesn’t match with my ten year older thumb print stored in the Aadhar data base. Now that the lockdown is relaxed, I will go to the bank and sign it physically.”
“Looks like they want to make sure that you are alive and kicking.”
“Kicking? Yeah, during these uncertain times, who knows when one kicks the bucket! Who knows next year you may not need my Life Certificate but perhaps the Death Certificate. By the way let me show you something. I just worked on my will and compiled some details of information that you will need in case something happens to me. Look here, all that are inside this folder on the desktop. I have named the folder Sujata01.”
“How are you sure that something would happen to you before something happens to me?”
“Hello sweetheart, don’t be sentimental. Let’s be practical, just in case. Someone sent me an interesting message today. It reads ‘After a whole year of stress, we now have a strain!’ With the new mutant strains of Corona virus on the horizon, one never knows. We should be prepared.”
“Alright. As always, you are right. But tell me what is this second folder named Sujata02?”
“Oh that? Please promise that you will open that folder only when I am not there. Right? Not before that. I can only give you a hint. You always told me that I look for the cheapest package deal for my middle class mentality. This contains a surprise package deal for you that would disprove your hypothesis. Open it only when I am not there. ”
Sujit downloaded the Life Certificate, filled it up and started for the local branch of State Bank of India which disbursed his pension. Sujata saw him off at the door and rushed back to the study. She muttered to herself, “He told to open the second folder only when he is not there. Let me interpret it to my advantage. Right now, he is not here. So it won’t be wrong on my part to open the folder.” She drew a deep breath and double clicked the folder marked Sujata02.
The folder contained a link to a website: pathtoheaven.com. Her password was also indicated. Her heart pacing faster, she entered the password and clicked on the link.
The home page featured a logo showing a path from the earth to a bright halo marked as heaven. It’s basically a funeral service provider. Amidst some modern graphics to depict souls from the lower rungs of the ladder transcending to the higher supreme source, a drop down menu showed a total of five packages of services offered. Sujata clicked on each option one after the other.
The first and most expensive option was the Platinum package. For an investment of ₹ 5 lakhs, it offered an embroidered silk shroud and a mahogany casket for the body, a Mercedes hearse, a digitally controlled crematorium with an air conditioned lobby, tulips, and orchids for decorating the body, prayer meeting with professional Bhajan singers, embalming and professional mortician’s services. The second package was named the Gold package priced at ₹ 3 lakhs offered similar services but with muslin shroud, Tata hearse, an ordinary electrical crematorium with no air conditioning of the lobby, rose and marigold flowers for the body decoration, prayer meeting with amateur singers. The next in line was the Silver package for ₹ 1 lakh, which provided plain cloth shroud, marigold flowers, a tempo for transporting the body to the municipality crematorium, and a feast for ten Brahmin priests. The last was the Terracotta package which was priced at ₹ 50000 and offered four pall bearers to the Hindu funeral ground, wood for the pyre, marigold flowers, cotton shroud and feast for five Brahmin priests. The special package, the 5th one was named Terracotta Double Bonanza and offered all the ones offered by the Terracotta package for two bodies simultaneously at the cost of ₹ 70000.
Sujata checked the status to discover that Sujit had booked and paid ₹ 5 lakhs for the Platinum package. She paused a while and found the ‘modify the package’ option.
Sujit was waiting in the bank lobby to complete the Life Certificate formalities. Suddenly his mobile pinged to give the message alert. He clicked the message folder to find an alert message from Pathtoheaven.com which read, ‘Your package has been modified from Platinum to Terracotta Double Bonanza by one Sujata, authorised by you to access your account. An amount of ₹ 4 Lakhs 30 thousand being credited to your credit card account.’
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.