The worst thing I came across in the Covid times was the face mask. It not only makes me feel claustrophobic but creates a weird anxiety in me that culminates in a breathing trouble. So often my colleagues complained me of not wearing a mask. But honestly I am not good with masks.
On the contrary my boss Kunal is cool with anything. You will never see him without a mask. Leave the mask, be it any protocol for that reason Kunal is always Mr. Perfect. In the corporate jungle he is one of such achievers whom you can idolize with awe. Being a small town simpleton, joining a multinational company as a fresher, I was pretty nervous and anxious. But all my anxieties evaporated in the warmth of Kunal’s presence. As the HR announced, “Mr. Veer please report to Mr. Kunal Mehra”, I felt a lump in my throat. The fact that I had largely screwed up in my campus interviews and my poor English had dragged my confidence down. I knew there will be a probation period for 3 months & then the company could just throw me out. So I had to impress my boss Kunal. When I entered his cabin, I was sweating and the lump in my throat had become bigger. The harder I tried the more I goofed up. But Kunal was my guiding angle. Not only was he the most considerate boss in the world, he took special care for me personally. From helping me with the salary advance loan to getting an apartment Kunal was my guiding star. Whatever I am today in this corporate jungle I owe it to him. He literally hand held me in my learning phase and I learnt a lot from him. Within three months I was a confident professional and not the scared simpleton. Kunal was a true all-rounder in the truest sense. A super achiever in professional life, an expert tennis player (he played state level), a humorous person, an extremely kind and soft-hearted man. In personal life he had the best family I could imagine. When he invited me to his house for the first time I was reluctant to go. But after meeting his wife Kanika and two kids Kiki & Kiya I really stopped missing my own family back in Bihar. Kanika besides being an HR professional in a leading multinational was an aspiring author, caring mother and loving wife. Their couple seemed too god to be real. They complemented each other in every sphere. Kanika cared for me so much that often I started visiting them for dinner. She reminded me of my own sister and I got very emotionally attached to Kunal and his family. One evening after we had two drinks in Kunal’s 20th Floor balcony I got bit emotional. Kunal & Kanika got busy consoling. Kunal put a hand across my shoulders and said,” Veer all we need to do is maintain the balance. All the catastrophes in this world are created by emotional imbalance. Be it a terrorist or be it a cheating wife. It’s all emotional balance. So you need to do all you can in order to maintain the emotional balance.” I never understood what he meant. I didn’t bother I often did not understand many things. But at that moment I was happy to know Kunal and have him beside me. I presume he is what you call “Good”!!
Maria is a call girl. For me she is “bad”. I mean not for me exactly, for the society at large. I met her on a rainy night. I always found Mumbai rains very depressing. Unlike rains in Bihar, It keeps on pouring. On and On. Generally on such days, Kunal gives me a lift but it was 15th of the month and Kunal goes out for a Tennis practice at 3 every 15th. He plays for 3-4 hours and then has a drink with his friends and comes back after dinner. This was another feature in Kunal. He is so organised and abides by a stringent schedule. Be it his professional or personal he is always in time in the right place. Be it his Tennis practice or be it his daughter’s school’s parent teacher meeting. He is ready with his trademark smile. That’s how good he is. Let me get back to Maria. Actually Kunal is too good to be not discussed.
That fateful night around 9 I got out of the office. I had waited in anticipation of the rain to stop but then when it was 9 I had to take the auto. As the Auto was crossing the Taj Lands’ end she crawled into the auto without even asking. I was surprised and so was the auto driver. But she refused to give in, “Where will I go in this rain? Don’t blabber and take me to the Bandra Station” Saying this she turned to me. “Hello mister I will not eat you. Neither am I infected with any disease. I will pay for the full trip. So don’t create a fuss and let me travel.” The auto driver was looking at me expecting my support in getting rid of Maria. But before I could say anything Maria almost shouted,” What’s wrong!! Hurry up. I will miss the train if you delay this way. ”The auto driver had no options but to drive. I watched Maria as she had plugged her earphone and kept shaking her head. Occasionally when the auto rickshaw landed in the pot holes she kept swearing by herself. She was not beautiful but sultry I guess. The make-up she was using was smudged but she never bothered. She was wearing a short dress where her healthy thighs looked kind of misfit. Also the tight dress clinging her breast seemed to bother her often. She tried fixing it with her hands and in the process kept nudging me with her elbow. Though I found it irritating she never cared. She was foul mouthed and was reluctant to put on the mask in spite of insistence from me & the driver. She seems to be in a rush and always angry. Her hair often fell upon her face and she removed it with disgust. With the rain and the peeping yellow street light for a moment she seemed kind of cute to me. As Maria got down at her destination the auto driver called her a slut. I felt bad. But never the less people who choose such life styles can’t be good at least.
I was not supposed to meet Maria again. But life is often strange. I did meet her. A different avatar of her. Clad in jeans and a baggy shirt with round specs I met Maria Joseph in the Spoken English tutorial at Bandra. As usual she made a bold eye contact and I avoided it. Then she came up to me and warned me, “I will kill you if you spill a word to anyone in the coaching.” All my life I had lived as an underdog but I decided to resist at this. After all. Kunal had lend me some of his confidence for sure. Plus I found Maria cute. “If you care all that why do you what you do at night” I retorted. “You know nothing you dumbass! What I was, how it happened and what I am now.” She snapped back. Before I could gather my thoughts to respond she continued,” but that not important! The important part is what I will become”. With the amount of information I had about Maria I could not make out what she meant and she was in no mood to explain it to me. She just said,” All is not black and white man!! Most of it is grey”
I guess she was correct. I found her bad. Her nature was not all close to anything what I ever liked. Yet I found her cute and adorable. I trust this was indeed a grey area in my life. So eventually we became friends. We used to meet once a week after the classes on Saturday evening and spent the evening together. She was a Panipuri expert and she took me different famous Panipuri joints around the city. I found Panipuri tasty but the ones she ordered were terribly spicy. Literally it made me cry and she as usual rudely laughed. But she was very secretive about her personal life. She had given a disclaimer that we weren’t dating and were just friends, so no point getting personal. All she disclosed was that she was a not a regular call girl and was arranging funds to get out of it. All these equations seemed bit too tricky for me. She was bad or she was grey? Too difficult to judge for a guy of my calibre. But what I could judge was that I started finding cuter by every passing day. I could just spend the entire evening watching her antics and listening to her.
My professional life was in real good shape. Thanks to my good man Kunal that in a year I got a promotion and a salary hike. Now I was able to send a decent sum to my family back in Bihar. Not only Kunal, his entire family took great care of me. Often Kanika invited me for lunch and dinner and for Kia/Kiki their Veer Uncle was very special. Every time I visited they ask me to play video games with them which to be honest I liked too. I started calling Kanika didi and reciprocated by calling me Bhai. It seemed that they were part of my family. One day Kanika told me after dinner, “Hey Veer now you seem settled in your career when is marriage on the cards. Are you dating someone?” I blushed naturally. She turned to Kunal,” What are doing Kunal, can’t you find Veer a nice girl”. Kunal had a drink in his hands. He took a sip and smiled. “Its hard work to find a girl like you Kani. There are no short cuts. Veer has to work his ass out”. They started laughing. I wanted to tell them about Maria. But it was too complicated to explain. So I just smiled and said, ”Didi marriage is difficult, I am not Kunal Sir that I can manage everything so seamlessly.” Kanika made a funny face and mocked Kunal playfully. My sister back in Bihar has a troubled marital life and seeing Kunal and Kanika so happy and content with each other, silent tears rolled down my cheeks.
I finally made up my mind. I proposed Maria. Her reaction was strange. She started giggling. Her reaction was that she was expecting this from long. The best thing I found in her was her nonchalant nature. I knew she used to sleep with men for money but she never felt sorry about herself or me for knowing this dark side of her. What she insisted always was not what her present was but what her future would be. She was looking for a job and pretty confident of getting one. She was cheerful about this being probably her last month in her bad profession. So one evening as we were having SPDP (Seopuri Dahipuri) she seemed in a very jovial mood.” Life is strange!! Suddenly one man you hate most turns your life completely. I tell you Veer life is not white or black. It’s grey.” I blushed guessing she was referring to me. Though I can clearly differentiate between bad and good, still the very fact that I started loving Maria Joseph indicates there is a lot of grey in our lives. But I refused to go into such grave analytics. I savoured the moment. I was happy.
But as they say with power comes responsibility and I messed up. That too a day before a very important meeting I messed up big time. It was 15th and my guiding star was out of office. I was tensed and out of sheer panic called Kunal. It was evident Kunal wasn’t very pleased with my error. But keeping in mind the grave consequences he returned to office. I was very sorry to spoil his day. But Kunal being Kunal was flawless. He finished by 7 and told that he will catch up with his friends around 8 in the Taj. So he drove and dropped me by the Taj. I was supposed to meet Maria today at her favourite Panipuri joint nearby. She promised she would come by 8 but I texted her that I would be little late. She returned with a Thumps up emoji.
There is a strange thing with Maria and Mumbai rains. I have found it repeatedly that whenever I waited for Maria it used to rain. I am not a big fan of the rains as I don’t have a car to enjoy it. But with all stars aligned who knows I may get my own car in next 2-3 years. So I waited patiently.
Maria came around 9:30. I could make out she was not in the best of her mood. This was only the second time I met her after she had slept with one of her clients. The first time I saw her for the first time. She generally avoided meeting me after she visited a client. But now in last few months a lot of things have changed. Now we are a couple. I don’t know it was possessiveness or some other stupid jealousy that I was not comfortable seeing her. I was feeling a rage deep within. Something which I had not being used to feeling. I trust same was going within Maria too. If an introvert of my stature is bothered by it then definitely a Fireball like Maria would be extremely bothered. To add to it see was limping. For a change I knew this time that her attempts to adjust her dress was due to pain and not a mere itch. Maria clenched her teeth and looked at me with red eyes,” Men are dogs!! When they are in bed and they are paying, they don’t mind tearing apart a woman. Heartless creatures! You want all postions like a porn movie but you can’t tell your wife. You have Maria for that. Just pay and fuck! Once, twice, thrice. Her vagina is after all elastic flesh, keep pounding” Maria finished in tears. I could feel the rage in my belly climb up my throat and I had to gulp it slowly. ”Swine” I swore for first time in front of Maria with clenching jaws and hugged her. The melancholy Mumbai rain intensified.
Often Panipuri serves as a good consoling tool for Maria. Amidst all this gloomy thing the panipuri had to be spicier than ever and I had to be in tears. Good thing it at least made Maria giggle. Now she had made up her mind. She will quit this line. She has saved enough to pay her dad’s debt and start life afresh. In fact her interview was good too. In the mean time I had a call from Kanika. It was a WhatsApp call and took it as she enquired if Kunal was late. I updated her accordingly and disconnected the call. Before ending the call she enquired if I had dinner. Truly my didi. As I disconnected the call Maria snatched the phone and looked at the DP of Kanika. It was a pic of Kanika and Kunal. In fact I had clicked it on their anniversary last month. Maria kept looking at the picture like a ghost without blinking. Her face turned unusually white and she clenched her teeth tight. A drop of tear rolled down her cheeks silently.
“The man who changed my life! Its him! My messiah, my angle and my savage rapist” Maria murmured. As the wind made a hustling sound on the tin roofs orchestrated by the rain I could not hear her properly. Even when I did it made no sense to me until Maria shared her secret with me. A secret that is darker than darkness that surrounded my head yet neither good nor bad. Her grey secret!
Two years back her pimp had taken her to a client in Taj. The confidentiality was top priority. In most cases when high profile clients hire prostitutes they have to follow the protocol. This client was strange. He visited once a month and had three girls were assigned for him who had to come turn by turn. He preferred young new girls who had been freelancing. As the payment and tip was such incredible neither the girl nor the pimp complained at the whims of this esteemed client. He was very modest and decent. Maria was reluctant initially but in his very first visit he spoke with her for half an hour and comforted her. He was soft spoken and caring. He in fact suggested her how she get out of this world and get a job. His suggestions were genuine & tips were generous. But after that he took two drinks and got naked. This naked man was a monster who made Maria and all the other girls freak. The sex was brutal and painful. This man used to unleash a savage on the girls and it used to tear them apart. The soft spoken gentleman turned into a lustful beast who was in the quest of fulfilling the most forbidden fetishes of his life. The torture lasted for half an hour to 40 minutes. But he was relentless and merciless during this time. Once he was done, he would give a high tip, get dressed and leave. He would not speak a word, just say sorry once and leave. Though the 40 minutes were extremely traumatising and painful for the woman, but he ensured that he paid more than enough. Strangely he helped the women to get out this life of theirs. This man was Kunal! Believe it or not, Maria made no mistake in recognizing the man who had raped her repeatedly over last 2 years and also suggested her the best suggestions for a bright future. No girl can make such a mistake.
What happened after that does add much of context to my story. For obvious reason this complexity was beyond my understanding capacity. Whether I was angry, sad, bewildered or scared. I don’t know. Probably I felt very bad for Kanika. I had no options but to quit my job. I could not work with my future wife’s rapist. But more than that probably Kunal became a stranger for me from that night onward. My decision to relocate to Delhi with a better opportunity was probably a crude surprise for Kunal. When he tried convince I had to be rude enough to avoid a physical encounter. He must have judged me as ungrateful. But I already told I was not good with masks. I really wanted to ask Kunal Why? A man who has such a glorious career, generous heart, a very happy family, a perfect lifestyle has such secrets in his life. Why?
Probably he would have smiled and said” All is not black and white man!! Most of it is grey”