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Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Henchman


‘Looks like there is no other option’, I declared somberly. 

The words had a magical effect on my audience. Some of them started to sway in delight, while others giggled in nervous anticipation.

Sound of silent laughter rang through the house. Laughter that only I could hear.

***

I was alone in the living room, surrounded by my collection of indoor plants – palms, crotons, cactus and ferns. Everyone except the cactus seemed terribly unhappy. The palms were the unhappiest of the lot. The one near the sofa, once beautifully framing the stand lamp and the madhubani painting on the adjacent wall, was wailing aloud.

‘Just look at this’, she extended her frayed branches ‘Look what that tormentor has done to me’. Once lush green branches now hung drooping – the leaves shriveled and dried up. The wailing stirred up the croton sitting on top of a terracotta planter, which rustled its tattered maroon leaves incomprehensibly. 

Then the big fern started sobbing from the mezzanine floor overlooking the living room, it’s dried up leaves raining down on the floor that was already strewn with collection of fresh leaves and branches from other plants across the house. It was mayhem!

Just then, a pair of shining eyes appeared across the hallway. The eyes cautiously examined the surroundings – the feline gray form of the owner crouched close to the floor lay camouflaged over the gray grains of the light green granite floor. Then there was a streak of stripes across the hallway as the scream of my indoor ficus was drowned in the collective wailing of all the other plants. 

The kitten jumped up and ripped off a perfectly healthy branch from the plant and before I could blink my eyes, it had dashed back across the hallway and into the kid’s room with its kill
.
 ***

The trouble started two weeks ago. My son had come back from his science tutor who lives in the same gated community as us, with a four week old kitten. ‘Her mother does not like her’, he had said taking the kitten out of his back pack ‘So I brought her with me’, he was trying to match the cute expression of the kitten he was holding. My daughter shrieked in delight as she wrestled with my son to hold the kitten. Both me and my wife shrieked in alarm.

We later found out from Mrs. Arora, the science tutor, that the mother cat would visit her house every year to lay her litters. She would host the cat in a corner of her backyard until the kittens were grown enough and the new tabby family dispersed. This year, surprisingly, there was one kitten that had apparently fallen from favor of the mother. The kitten was getting weaker – unfed and unattended. So when my son volunteered to look after the kitten, she gladly took up the offer.

I remained apprehensive as I saw the kitten winning over my family. They named her Cookie. My wife, a confirmed zoo phobic who would jump at the sight of any un caged animals (and sometimes even caged ones – to the amusement of onlookers in several zoos), would now sit working on her laptop with Cookie sprawled comfortably across her lap. The kids would return from school, rushing to feed the already overfed kitten who would be cuddled the rest of the day by the doting siblings.

And then it started. A nip on a leaf here. A tug on a branch there. And within a week it was complete mayhem! The feline was killing plants at a rate that would put any man-eating tiger of the yester years to shame.

‘Why don’t you move the plants to the backyard’, my wife had suggested. I had given her a scornful look.

Today my wife had taken the kids out for a birthday party so I was alone in the house. ‘Looks like there is no other option’, I declared somberly. The words had a magical effect on my audience. Some of them started to sway in delight, while others giggled in nervous anticipation. The sound of silent laughter rang through the house. Laughter that only I could hear.

The image of my kids flashed in my mind. ‘I will tell them that that the kitten ran away’, I assured myself. But I would need someone to catch the kitten as she would always dash away as soon as she saw me approaching. I needed a henchman to carry out the task.

Just than the doorbell rang.

****
Manjunath was a dark lanky man around thirty year old. He always wore impeccably washed and ironed dazzling white shirt and white pants that gave eyes a shock from the sheer contrast from his dark face. A crisp mustache cut across his face.  

He was my driver, and among his many talents, I would say his driving skills would stand as one of the lowest. His favorite hobby was to bump my car into moving and stationary objects. Bumps and dents would appear around the car at remarkably predictive intervals. ‘I pay to fix, Saar’, he would say apologetically and in the three months he had been employed, he had already raked up a tab that was close to his salary for that period.

But ask him to run an errand – he would complete it at a speed that would put speedy Gonzalvez to shame. Even as one would finish articulating the request, Manjunath’s eyes would squint menacingly. It took me a while to realize that the squinting was his way to assimilate information.

The task could be as simple as catching a six feet viper that had wandered into our compound from the nearby lake-marsh. Or as complex as catching hold of a five and a half feet lineman of the state run telephone company to get our broadband connection fixed.  “Done Saar”, he would say and disappear – only to reappear shortly – task completed. Errand done. “Done Saar” , he would say one again to seal the confirmation of a job well done.

Today I articulated my request, silently endorsed by the maimed indoor plants. His eyes squinted menacingly. “Done Saar”

Manjunath was running around the house in hot pursuit of the kitten when a draft of wind opened the front door and the kitten and his pursuer dashed out of the house. I could hear kitty hisses and meows from outside. After giving enough time for things to settle I peeped out of the front door.

****
Manjunath lay sprawled beside our car parked in the driveway, prodding under the car with a stick. The kitten had disappeared under the car comfortably, hidden in a secure nook behind the muffler. The henchman prodded, cajoled, screamed, meowed, purred for one full hour. The kitten would drop down from her nook every five minutes, wave her tail mockingly and climb back again. The henchman was finally tired. He stood up and took out the car keys out of his pocket. There was a wicked grin on his face as he opened the door and put the key in the ignition. I looked at him in horror.

‘Stop’, the words came out involuntarily as I yanked the keys from the ignition. There was a sudden rustle around my legs. The evasive kitty was rubbing herself on my feet looking at me with a cautiously alert gaze. I reached out and picked her up. She was surprisingly light. And small. And kind of cute.

‘How Cute!’, my thoughts were interrupted by the familiar voice of my son’s science tutor Mrs. Arora. ‘And look how much has she grown – the cute Kukkie!’. She was passing by our house, walking her todder son’s stroller. I pasted a grin on my face , my man Friday was standing behind me smiling even more innocently, his white teeth giving his not-anymore-white shirt run for its money.

‘She has become quite n-n-naughty’, I fumbled for words, ’How is the mother cat? I am sure she misses the kitten …’

‘Don’t you know!’, Mrs. Arora’s expression changed from bright and sunny to downright gloomy.

’Two stray dogs entered the colony yesterday – jumping over the fence near the lake’, she mumbled. They then jumped into my backyard’. I stared at her shocked as she described the mother cat’s futile attempt to defend her kittens … and herself.

We stood silently as Cookie lay cuddled in my arms purring softly unaware of the cruel fate she escaped. Twice.

 ‘We need to get the dogs out of the colony before they do any further damage … I spoke with the association members but they don’t think it is urgent … and the security men don’t know how to catch dogs it seems … ’, Mrs. Arora’s cold  voice cut through the silence.

‘Manjunath’, I looked at my henchman.

His eyes squinted menacingly. ‘Done Saar’

*****

Epilogue: 

 ‘Who moved all the indoor plants out into the backyard!!’, my wife rushed into the study, ‘and where is Cookie?’, she asked suspiciously.


I typed in the final line of the story, looked up at her and smiled. Cookie gave a lazy gaze from my lap. Then she got up, stretched, yawned and jumped onto the key boarddddsqtdyaq`5qo zlk

7 comments:

Narinder said...

Prithvi, what does one say after reading such a story? You are mellowing in your story telling just like that precious wine in the cellar!
Really enjoyed this one.
;-)

Varsha said...

You have to wait for 7 more attempts before you can put the plants back indoors!
A well told story!
By the way puppies & kittens have this habit of forcing people to like them.

Monica said...

Hey,
Loved it! It was a family reading time..we just loved it! Needless to say, Cookie has become more famous now :)
Sampada too kept adding her comments.
And, the next time I see Manajunath, I am definitely going to pause and contrast his shirt and face :).

Monica

Nisheeth Srivastava said...

Awww. She is really cute for sure. In good time it will be time for you to move the refrigerator out to the backyard too. Done saar.

satyendra verma said...

I read this story with the kitten in my sight and the author meditating in the other room. They make quite a pair so the plants can continue to live dangerously !!
Now let me checkout the color contrast of manjunath and his teeth. Right Saar ?

triloki nagpal said...

Loved it - Cookie cooked your goose :)

rachna said...

Cute :)Read the ferret story on the sidebar; it's depth moved me again

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