MIND THE GAP – Subhashish Banerjee

Winter was creeping in; a pall of thin smog hung over the surrounding concrete – jungle. Brig (Retd) Brij Bhushan Rathore sat on the balcony of his flat in Dwarka Delhi, reading the newspaper. His pet Capitan, a German Shepherd, relaxed at his feet. Brij Bhushan, Brij to his friends, still maintained a regular physical routine, and though he had retired 3 years back sported a physique as fit as he was in his days of an infantry officer in the Indian Army. Below his congenial disposition he was as tough as his nails.

    Capitan lifted up his ears and looked towards the door as Anu came in like a spring breeze with the freshness of a flowering winter rose. “Good morning Daddy”, she beamed as she stepped towards her father. The old war horse’s face was full of a warm fond smile. He looked up from the paper, and tilted his head. “Good morning, Beti”, he said. Anu bent and planted a kiss on his cheek. Brij gave her a peck and held her at his arm’s length. “Wear a pull-over Anu. There is a nip in the air”, he said as if inspecting his troops. “OH! Dad” Anu said exasperatedly, “Am no longer a baby, Dad”. “Certainly you are Anu.  My baby” Brij said with a benign smile. “Am already 5 mins late”, Anu said rushing out.  Brij got up folding his paper and with Capitan at his heels walked to the balcony railings. He waited. Anu drove out, stopped at the gate and waved. Brig waved back with all his fatherly love. He turned back, and as he was nearing his chair, his wife Bharati, walked in with the morning-tea tray. Events in the Brig’s house ran to a precision as if it was a Military Academy.

Just as Bharati was pouring tea the phone rang. Brij picked it from the tea table, and looked at the caller name.

Brij > “Good morning Sir”. He answered the call. His body stiff, as he sat up.

He listened to the voice at the other end and responded in a pleased tone.

Brij >“It’s an honour for me to play with such a good golfer, Sir. I will be at the Army Golf course at 1 PM sharp. Sir”.

He put down the phone and looked at his wife who was waiting to hand him the tea cup. Bharati’s face was not pleased.

Brij >“ That was Gen (Retd.) Khullar. He invites me to play golf with his friend and his son who is a single handicap golfer”. He said looking for some admiration from his wife

Bharati stayed cold. An uneasy silence hanged between them.

Bharati >“ Its time you give your golf-addiction a rest and think of Anu’s marriage, Brij”. Bharati said in a no-nonsense tone catching Brij on his wrong foot. He remained silent and a bit guilty..

Brij >“Yes.” He said with a sigh. “Am scared after the failure of Renu’s marriage”.

Bharati>>“ What do you mean Brij?” and after an icy pause, “ You give up! What kind of a solider are you?! You discard your uniform after one battle is lost. And it was not our fault either’. Brij felt a sledge hammer hit him. His jaws tightened, and grimly he walked away; Capitan following.

         Bharati stood pensively on the balcony and watched the sun set beyond the tall surrounding buildings. Having spent most of her life in green & clean cantonments, Dwarka choked her. She looked at her watch and wondered why Brij was so late. As she noticed Brij’s car drive in, she went to the kitchen to prepare his sandwiches and coffee.

Brij came to table with a beaming redoubtable smile; as if he had won an Olympic Gold. “I made 2 birdies” he said with the joy of a child. “2 birdies !”, Bharati said with a degree of askance, serving him a plate of assorted sandwiches. “Yes, 2 birdies” Brij beamed, “A bunker shot into the hole on the 5thgreen, and one in the air”, giving her a mysterious look.  Bharati said exasperatedly “OH! Come on Brij. Please don’t talk in parables”.

Brij>>“ Gen Khullar’s friend, Manjit Dhaliwal is a hotelier. He and his family own properties in Chandigarh, Simla and Chail and they are coming up with one in Manali. He is a suave intelligent gentleman. His son Vickie, apart from being an excellent golfer is handsome, polite and smart. I think Bharati, we may explore him for Anu’s hand.” Bharati pondered for few seconds and says “There is no harm exploring, Brij. But, remember Anu has a firm mind of her own. She is so wedded to her career.”

Brij>> “Lets first explore this. I will talk to Gen Khullar and find out more.” Brij answered, and added, “I liked that boy a lot. Am sure the General won’t have a riff-raff as his friend. Keep this between us till issues firm up.”

            Gen (Rtd) Khullar proved to be a very eager match-maker. When Brij mentioned his proposal to him discreetly, he became very enthusiastic. “Brij !” He said in his baritone voice, “I have seen both Anu & Vickie as toddlers. I have seen them grow up to be matured youths. I think they will make a beautiful couple”. Brij felt he had touched the heavens. Sipping coffee in his garden, the Gen added, “We must plan this in detail Brij. I will tap Manjit and his wife, and then if they are willing we will go ahead —–.” After a pause he added with a smile “ Pareeniti, Manjit’s wife is a lioness”. Brij added “All wives come in as lambs and turn into tigresses”. They both broke into a hearty laugh. Composing himself, twirling his handle-bar moustache, the Gen added “Jokes apart Brij; we need to ensure the two lionesses support your proposal”.

            Events moved fast. Manjit Dhaliwal extended his stay and requested his wife to come to Delhi. Vickie had to go back to Chandigarh on business matters. They played golf regularly and the sundowners at the 19th. Hole became longer. By the weekend Brij and his wife met the Dhariwals and invited them for dinner along with the Gen and his wife. “So far so good” ,Brij told the Gen. “Let’s keep our fingers crossed, Brij.” The Gen cautioned. “I think you should now brief Anu and get her opinion.”

            Bharati, one night after dinner walked into Anu’s room, and briefed her totally about the developments. Anu listened to her patiently. “What is the hurry Mom ?”

Bharati responded “You will be 25 this coming Aug. Anu, and its time you get married. Moreover, it’s difficult to find a good family and a good groom. They are well known to Gen Malhotra.”

Anu : “ I have just started my career as a fashion designer. Let me settle down Mom”

Bharati:“You can pursue your career after marriage Beti. Am sure that won’t be a problem”

Anu kept quite thereafter. As Bharati got up to leave she kissed her forehead and added “We will do our best Beti, but ultimately it’s your decision we will honour”.

        Two days prior to her honoured guests’ dinner, Bharati started planning and preparing. With no “orderlies”, after Brij’s retirement, she worked propelled by a motivated joy, and with some day-time domestic help. Brij ensured that his bar was well stocked.

        The Gen and his wife arrived sharply at the appointed dinner time. Anu stepped up to pay her obeisance to the elderly couple, Gen Khullar restrained her as she bent down. “Bless you peace and happiness Anu-beti”, he said. After the usual pleasantries they settled to normal banter. The Dhaliwals came in about 20 mins later. Brij, Bharati & Anu received them with folded hands and Namastes. Pareeniti gave Anu a quick look over, touched her cheeks and said “What a sweet girl”. The gents retired to the balcony where they were served their drinks and other starters. The ladies occupied the living room; Pareeniti next to Anu, and politely started her searching questions. When Anu told her that she graduated from FITI at the top of her class she was floored.

        In between golf and other current affairs, Brij stated “Pardon me Manjit, before we move forward with this relationship, I would like to say that me and my family are dead against dowry”. Dhaliwal blinked. Before he could respond the General said “ Manjit yaar! Cut that Dowry demon out. If we educated stick to such putrefied norms, how do we say we are modern!”. Manjit excused himself and went in. He and his wife conferred in a corner for some time and he came back with a smile. “It’s OK with us” he said with a beaming smile, “Pareeniti has liked Anu a lot”. He paused to see the effect on Brij, and added “What’s next?”.Brij thanked him and said “I think now Anu and Vickie can meet and get to know each other. After all it’s very important that the would-be couple who will spend their whole life together form their opinions.”. “That’s a good idea Brij. I will ask Vickie to take Anu out for dinner. Let me talk to him when he can come down from Chandigarh and spend some days in Delhi” Dhaliwal said. Dinner was announced.

        After all had left, Bharati and Brij asked Anu about her opinion about the Dhaliwals. Anu thought for a moment and stated phlegmatically, “I think Mrs. Dhaliwal’s dress sense is garish. Did you look at the way she was flaunting her jewels, Mom? The parents kept quiet. Anu was a bit agitated, she added, “The way she riddled me with questions, I think she has a feudalistic mind” . Having said that she walked into her room.

        The following week Vickie came over. The Rathore’s welcomed him, and to make it informal, they sat around their dining table; Anu besides her mother. Vickie was dressed in expensive designer shirt and pants. The sleeve on his right hand pulled back a bit to exhibit his expensive Rolex wrist watch. After the usual preliminary banter, Vickie asked for permission to take Anu out for dinner. . Brij and Bharati bade them good wishes, and hurried to their balcony to see a black Mercedes driving out. They awaited time for Anu’s return enthusiastically.

        Brij was wheeling away time watching golf on his lap-top, while Bharati watched serials on TV. The doorbell rang and both scurried to open. Anu stood at the door with a grim face. She walked to a chair without making eye contacts with her parents. “Mom” she said in an exasperated tone, “Please get me a chilled Coke”. While Bharati went to the fridge. Brij pulled a chair near her and asked “Why didn’t Vickie come up?”

Anu>>“ I dropped myself at the gate” she said with a cold tone.

Bharati handing Anu a glass of Coke – “Where did he take you for dinner?”

Anu – “Bukhara”

Bharati – “What all did you two talk about?” she asked in a tone to ease Anu.

Anu – “OH! We talked a lot”. She had a cunning smile – “He talked most of the time. He talked about his expensive cars, holidays to exotic locations with his friends, and all the big people he knows.” Taking a sip of Coke Anu added with a smile “His name dropping didn’t include Obama, Tony Blair and Amitabh Bachan”. She broke into a sarcastic laugh.

Brij – “Anu, most Macho men talk about such things. They feel it peps them up”

Anu – “I don’t know Macho-Shacho Dad. He is just like his mother a show off”

Bharati – “Didn’t he ask about you, and your plans beti?”

Anu – “He didn’t get the time, I suppose. In between when he was gulping his Kababs, I queried his cinema tastes. He likes Salman Khan he said. And when I asked about Shyam Benegal ! he said OH! That cricketer!!   I choked on my soup”.

Brij — “You are prejudiced Anu. A boy from such a rich family; he will have expensive hobbies! ”.After a pause he added “4 hotels in exotic towns and 2 more coming up. You have no idea what that means”

Anu – “Dad, you are only looking at their wealth. Did you ever ask what Vickie’s contribution is?” She took a big gulp of Coke and added “These people have wealth but no class”.

Brij – “Manjit told me Vickie is being groomed to take over, Anu.”

Anu — “My foot ! He has no clue” She stood up visibly angry and started walking to her room. She stopped at the door and said in a very affirmative voice “I will not marry such a skunk” and slammed the door.

Brij and Bharati sat dumbfounded. Brij wearily got up and walked to his bar cabinet.

For the next 3-4 days Brij was depressed, he didn’t even take Capitan out for walks. He felt hurt and dejected. His drives and putts on the course became wayward, and his drinking increased. There was a chill air in the house. Bharati tried to console him saying “Why do you feel defeated on this issue. We said that ultimately its Anu’s decision. And now that she has made her mind known, we should respect it, Brij.” But Brij kept brooding.

One Sunday morning Brij took the Metro to go to Rajiv Chwok. He thought that by getting away he would find some peace. He found a seat and tried to look inwards; trying to find logic to his predicament. At the Rajouri Garden station, as the doors opened the intercom announced the station and said “DOORS OPENING, MIND THE GAP”. The words nudged his thoughts. That brought him back to reality. At the next station, “DOORS OPENING, MIND THE GAP” penetrated his thinking. He sat up. He tossed those words in his mind, and an awakening stirred him. “Mind the gap” took a larger meaning. “YES YES!” he muttered in his mind. “Why had I never understood the deeper ramifications of those words? Gaps between people arise because of age differences; education, upbringing, attitude and parentage. There have always been gaps between him and Bharati; between him and his boss; between him and the soldiers he commanded; and certainly between him and Anu. I have bridged those gaps in the past ; honoured and respected all opinions and faiths.” he thought. “Sometimes by persuasion and sometimes by submission”, A thought-chain unwound in his consciousness. “With Anu I must honour that gap. I just cannot let my ego spoil her happiness,” he concluded.

He looked at his phone and noticed that there was no signal. He got down at Karolbagh station, walked out to the road, and rang Bharati,

Brij – “Bharati. I have had a realization riding on the Metro. I will honour Anu’s decision not to marry Vickie.”

Bharati was pleased, she responded with a joy in her tone, “Am so happy Brij that you realized, am so happy”

Brij – “Am coming back. Let’s call on the Gen and the Dhaliwals and convey Anu’s decision”

Author: Subhashish Banerjee: Retired mechanical engineer. Short film & Documentary film maker, photographer, traveller, writes short stories and poems. Now studying for a Masters degree in Economics.

Image reference: https://www.forbes.com/sites/joshlinkner/2016/02/08/mind-the-gap/#787c439477dd

© Kothabriksha 2020, All Rights Reserved.

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