By Neel Anil Panicker

The girl stepped off the pavement. With measured steps she made her way past the rush hour crowd of morning office goers mindful not to bump into anyone barring, of course, the not so infrequent brushing against the shoulders by male species of all ilk, the opportune act immediately followed by a quick mumble of an apology  ‘sorry’, or even the audacious ‘sorry ma’am’, invariably followed by a sheepish, impish smile.

Not that she minded that too much.

To her it was all par for the course.

For all girls, that is.

It came with the territory.

Especially for one as beautiful as she.

A straight gait, thick flowing luxuriant jet black hair that swayed seductively from side to side as she walked sanguinely carrying a lithe and voluptuous frame, employing her endlessly long as the great Nile legs to good effect__legs that looked as if it were born and bred in a high end gym.

She breezed through three impromptu traffic intersections; at the last, stopping just in time, to allow a speeding monster SUV with tinted glasses to pass by. And then, as if she spotting something, made a mad dash, sprinting past the everyday humdrum hustle and bustle of life.

Within seconds she reached her destination_ the entrance of ‘Delights_ the cafe with a heart’.

Her arms locked into his and she gave him the full benefit of her luscious lips. The delectable spectacle lasted a good two minutes much to the amusement of awe struck onlookers among whom included suited and booted and crested young and old executives besides other similarly affected, infected and afflicted specimens of the male variety who gaped, gawked, and then vigorously nodded their heads in appreciation, which soon after turned morphed into exasperation.

Or, was that frustration?

Why? And at what?  Or more appropriately, for what?


As the two lovers walked, arms entwined, hands claspe, and hearts united, Raghav watched it all from the skies, high above four floors, from a barren broken down window of the hospital building that was his temporary abode for the past one week.

His eyes stalked them through the betel stained glass windows as the two moonstruck love birds once again locked eyes and lips and arms, each guiding the other as the two ambled past near empty tables; their bodies, so young and frothing with desire, as it swayed back and forth in synchronous fashion like little baby-white dahlias teasing and whispering sweet nothings to one another come springtime.


Can life be this idyllic?  Can two people be ever so happy with one another?  Is it possible, this love and its wanton display? But more importantly, is this sustainable?

And then the question: if so, for how long? Does love come with an expiry period as with all other perishable commodities.

Is it then,  a much hyped dystopian mirage that people, at least  some of them, consider an Utopian fantasy__ simply aspirational, and thereby possibly achievable?

A plethora of such questions bombarded Rags frail brains.

It didn’t leave him even much after he had stubbed out the Wills Filter Kings cigarette (his third of the day and inhaled much against the kindly doctor’s advice; ‘You must stay away from alcohol and cigarettes completely if you are looking for a quick recovery’ were his stern warnings) into the apology of an ashtray that rested on the stool beside his bed that overlooked the busy street below.


Yes, life can be this idyllic. It had been so for him once though long back in time. Or that was what he had thought so when he married Archana and came to Mumbai two decades ago. True, initially, at least the first couple of years, they were happy.

Life, back then, with his newly minted bride, was all about going on long walks by the beach, even holding hands, at times eating out in far off exotic restaurants, attending music concerts, catching the weekend blockbusters either in classy single screen theaters, or when not in the mood for any external outing, in the comfy air conditioned comfort of sweet home.

All was great but then, he recalled, things started deteriorating.

First, it started with the usual everyday bickering that are pretty much a part and parcel of any couple trying to come to terms with the fact that a child of their own, of their own blood, may not come to fruition.

Soon the as the frustrations piled up so did increase the frequency of the fights, nonsensical all, at first over trivial issues such as tea not being served in a steel glass or over whose turn it would be to fetch groceries or milk or the monthly provisions and also whether rice with sambhar would be ideal for the entire month or should there be a change of menu every other day, and if so should it be vegetarian or the occasional non vegetarian.


Raghhav, being the meek one, couldn’t keep pace with the fast turning acerbic nature of the bickerings which in the next few years soon turned into full blown verbal spats.

Busy as he was with increasing work pressures what with the University adopting the dictum ‘perform or perish, Raghav, too entrapped by all this unforeseen official rigmaroles, failed to see that the once beautiful woman he had married and loved to distraction had slowly but surely turned into a psychosomatic nut, a raging bull, a hot virago with the loosest of tongues from which escaped the choicest of street filthy invectives.

The past two decades had been a hellish existence and as he sat alone, all forlorn, and virtually discarded and uncared for by all_known and unknown, near and dear as well as far and wide__, Raghav, the once kindly professor of humanities wondered how long would the cruel hands of fate play along with his life that had turned all so inhuman.

Wiping off nonexistent tears he picked up the remote and witched on the television set.

The small 14 inch black and white screen came alive with grainy images of Kashmir.

‘When, why and how did beauty end up this ugly?’, he wondered.


( chapter 21 of  ongoing novella A FAIR AFFAIR)


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