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The Waste Land

The Waste Land

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Published by mohansuramya7228
Love of a lifetime...or was it an obsession? A short story
Love of a lifetime...or was it an obsession? A short story

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Published by: mohansuramya7228 on Jul 14, 2009
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10/25/2010

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THE WASTE LAND
My cousin, Noor, and I had met after four years and were unwinding on the terrace of my parents' house. It was evening time and, but for the rotten odour of the garbageaccumulating near the park, all was perfect. I saw Noor scowl at the foulness of thesmell enveloping us and suddenly heard myself saying:"The stench always reminds me of him.""Who?""You remember that short, delicate fellow who always roamed about with his facehalf-hidden under a baseball cap? He was a favourite of all the cats in theneighbourhood.""Mr. Mistry? Yes, I met him a couple of times. But he seemed spotlessly clean. Whatmakes you associate him with the stench of filth?"******Mr. Mistry was 59 years old when he moved into our colony and it took us only a fewmonths to realize that he had nobody in the world to go to and there wasn't anybodywho'd ever pay him a visit. He usually worked in his office till very late and we hardlysaw him. Ma did not like him but could never tell why. Dad was more forthright, "Theman's a shadow." We, Anees and I, had occasionally seen him taking a morningstroll in the park. Seemed sprightly enough and had an intriguing smile on his face. Acouple of times he sportingly retrieved our 'flying disc' from the bushes. I thought hewas ok and used to wave to him sometimes but Anees said I was just being thestupid eleven-year-old girl that I was.I remember when you visited us during the vacs that summer and all three of us hadthat potato-sack race in the park. I won and both of you refused to clap. But he waswatching and he clapped, briefly taking off his cap. Since then, whenever I met himat the local pastry shop, we'd wish each other. Of course, Anees used to keephimself away and Mr. Mistry would smile that smile of his, shrug his shoulders andmurmur something to himself. They say he was smiling when he died. Ma isconvinced he smiled at people, never with them. Well, he smiled with me duringthose brief exchanges we had at the park or in the pastry shop all through myadolescent years. The meetings never used to last for more than two-three minutesbut he appeared to have infinite time on his hands, so casual his demeanour yetsuch an intensely keen look in his eyes. I bet he existed only for himself but, whiledoing so, he knew more about everyone without being a part of any social circle.After his retirement, I often saw him in his balcony with a book. But he was seldomfound reading it. More often than not, it appeared as if he was trying to remember ahalf-forgotten melody of his younger days. Many a times, I saw him tap his feet to
 
some music playing only in his ears and, probably, only for him. Though I was veryyoung at that time, I could feel that this man had known love.Some time before my birthday last year-you remember my writing to you about howAnees searched the market for a suitable gift to celebrate my entry into the club of twenties? – I heard Mrs. Kumar hollering at the neighbourhood, accusing it of turningthe ground behind her house into veritable hell. Well, she had as much to do withthe mess as the rest of us and the absence of a municipal sweeper did not helpmatters either. I just happened to look across the road and saw Mr. Mistry smilingaway. He even appeared to be winking at himself. I never saw a more contagioussmile and two days later, when I woke up to the sound of a small thud around 4:00a.m., I saw him working away at the rubbish heap sporting the same smile. Heappeared quite senile really but I, who had known him for so long, could just aseasily believe that he was being his boyish self ten times over. He finished whatever he was doing around 4:30 and left.But he must have seen me for, the next day, he appeared to be waiting for me at thepastry shop and evidently had something to say. Despite his 69 years, he was agilitypersonified as he jumped from the table to greet me. I was a bit guarded, naturally,after seeing him search for lost treasures in rubbish heaps at four in the morning andhe immediately latched on to that."You are afraid my brains have turned to water, young lady?""No. But one is curious.""And one is right in being so. However, if cats are anything to go by, it pays to becurious but not to stretch it beyond a point."So, next night when I heard the same thud at 3:30, I deliberately let him be aware of my presence at the window and then withdrew. Next day, he met me again and after wishing me pleasantly enough, asked: "How's the cat?""I hate them and have never had anything to do with them""What about the cat within?""Angry at being disturbed at night and then being lectured on being too curious for itsown good""My, my, I love cats and cannot see them angry. Would you care to buy an old mansome ice cream? Who knows, it might be my last?"He was trying to be the irresistible emotional blackmailer of his heydays, I guess. Buthe evidently had something to tell and I was not going to miss out on it. So, I tookhim to the corner ice shop where, to my disgust, he ordered one of those lemondrops that drip away with gay abandon. Then, with his mouth full, he said: "See, shewould never have bothered about that heap of waste had she not dropped
 
something precious in it. Something she has set her heart on. Now that patch of nonsense can only be searched for love or for money."He said nothing else while I waited like a moron for him to go on. At the end of thisten-minute stand off, I could take it no longer."Well, if it is money you are after, Mrs. Kumar shall give you not more than Rs. 20/-for it.""Yes, she is Uncle Scrooge's female version.""So?""So?""So?""So?"We would have continued like this till Judgment Day and he was obviously enjoyingit. I would have none of it, I told myself."Mistry Uncle, you are making me very angry now. What is it that she has lost thatyou are trying to find in that dung-heap and that, too, in the middle of the night whenthere is nothing to guide you, not a street lamp and not even a torch? ""I do not know what she has lost but I am trying to claim back 42 years, 3 monthsand 11 days.”"God, Uncle, what is wrong with you? Has some one told you that girls of my age likelistening to romantic tales and you are spinning one out in my honour? If you are,drop the idea.""You think at my age talking of love is indecent?""Love? What's love got to do with it?"He did not answer but started nodding his head in disapproval. They say men at hisage, if not loopy to the bones and rigid to the core, are wizards at psychoanalysisand mavericks to the extreme. Well, I thought he was sizing me up and I felt moreuncomfortable than I would have had he been a tailor taking down my physicaldimensions a little bit too indulgently."Uncle, are you sizing me up? ""Why ask the obvious? That has been the problem with girls all through the ages.The obvious eludes them, the not so obvious confounds them and the non-existenttroubles them."

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