The Chasm — Shashi Khuranna


“So, what’s new?” He asked casually.

  1. “New?
    Oh….everything…..everyone…like….there….”, he replied equally casually jostling
    his way from the platform.

Nupur was inching her way into the coach
of her home-bound train and looking around for a place. One vacant seat
reserved for senior citizens….no, not for me. She stood on the side, content
that she was inside because the platform kept crowding up at the peak evening
hour and in another twenty five minutes, she would be nearly home. These new
modes of commute were predictably efficient. Nupur began pulling out her phone
and began to message her location and pick up time from the station nearest home.
She smiled as she got a prompt reply from her waiting mother, waiting to take
her home. It was a new experience for mother and daughter—this connect.

Looking up, Nupur turned towards an
emptying seat. Before the train stopped the customary change-over took place.
On got up….one sat…one looked on…another requested…another gave up for yet
another, and so the familiar patter wound and unwound amidst the repeated
ongoing computer recorded messages—with what seemed a sixth sense of what was
coming next. “Almost human”,
Nupur, feeling relieved on being able to occupy a seat next to where she had
been standing. She had removed her dark blue skin tight stockings—mandatory
extension of her uniform in her job as a Relations Manager. It sounded alien.
She wanted to be a Media Reporter. But that kept evading. She wrote for herself
and hesitantly switched to the idea of adapting herself to a Communications
opening, one of the many new job profiles, doing the rounds. How easy it was
for her. “There were so many hopeful candidates,” Nupur shared her experience
with her mother.

“Perhaps, you are cut out for this…or a
doled out start to your Writing aspirations. Good for you,” mother said in an
encouraging tone.

In the Ladies coach, Nupur finally got
the full seat to herself. Without her stockings, she felt comfortable and
relaxed by stretching her legs.

“Did you ask , what is new?”Nupur  overheard. “Look at the first Ladies’
seat….some invite”

Nupur caught the gaze, drew back her
legs and plugged her ears with the mobile headphones.

“The next station is Greenery Park. The
doors will open on the left.” She managed to hear through her plugged ears. The
Hindi version of the announcement ended and she prepared to walk out of the
train. She ‘sensed’ the “New” guys right behind her as she briskly left the
station to where her mother was waiting in the car.
Suman enjoyed the short drive to the
Metro station morning and evening. Most of the day she remained occupied with
various chores and all the time, preoccupied. There was hardly a smile on her
face when alone. Some moments of sunshine would be clouded out , too soon. She
was becoming increasingly obsessed with a range of regrets. Looking out of the
window of her parked she saw Nupur’s brisk figure, backed up and readied the
car for Nupur to step in . The ignition had to be switched off.
  As a matter of precautionary habit, Suman was
inclined to keep the car locked, when sitting alone—a habit cemented because of
the increasing spread of city crimes.

On reaching the car, Nupur opened the
door, stepped in with a ‘Hi’, a semi-hug and a kiss, and the mother and
daughter duo moved out.

“So, how was the day?” Mother and
daughter spoke up almost simultaneously. They were so accustomed to each
other—the silences, the outbursts, the predictable queries, that it was only
age that separated the two.

“Very good, except that I feel quite
desk-bound…you must have spent your day on your toes…did you rest for a while
in the afternoon?”

Suman had grown into a more restless
person after her retirement. What to her was restlessness appeared mobility and
productivity to others. Now a widow and a retiree from what was considered to
have worked upwards to a good position. Yet, Suman began to wonder more and
more about what had been good about her life.

A six-minute drive brought them home.
Through the gate into their housing society, after parking to ascend to the
tenth storey and into the rooftop flat, shared by mother and daughter—each with
a room of her own.

“So, what was new today?” Nupur pouted
at her image in the mirror. “Ah, a new work place, a new little cabin…who would
have thought so much could be done out of a three by four feet rectangular
space, loaded with a wall hanging cabinet, a table for digital devices and some
squeezy stacking space. Most of the space was still empty, “but would be filled
up when I take my Tiffin bag and water flask from tomorrow,” mused Nupur, “and,
of course an extra pair of long stockings to feel fresh,” not liking the idea
of wearing stockings. Such were the new offices for the young recruits, mostly
girls who managed the social media units of BPOs which were brought in by the
new wave globalisation. Males were visible when they moved through the office
in their management roles reporting to higher Managers. Nupur found it
difficult to believe that she had taken on the profile she had indifferently
moved into. The chatty, imaginative aspiring media reporter settling for a
communicator from machine to machine! “Oh, well, it is new and this is
  not the end of the world….right now, I have
the advantage of an accessible work place, a smart uniform and the scope to
make new friends,” Nupur consoled herself compromisingly.

In the fourth week of her job, a salary
in hand, Nupur’s daily life seemed to have cemented to such
  a predictable patten, that she could close
her eyes and with ears open carry on with the assigned order of the
morning….into noon….into evening and night. Before stepping out of office, she
removed her long stockings and felt relieved at the touch of fresh air on her
day-long cloistered legs.

“So, what’s new today?” stressing the
last word , Suman asked her daughter on the routine ride back from the station
and that also became a routine query.

Nupur wondered what was new. “Oh,yes, my
salary message. The payroll is……” Nupur took out her mobile phone and read
out,”twenty thousand and after due deductions Rs.seventeen hundred and five
twenty five/- transferred to your account no. …blah…blah…blah.”

“Take the hard copy of your Statement”
advised Suman with her years of experience as a salaried employee, musing over
the underpaid youth of the day caught in the openings of multiple call centres
and B.P.Os sucking in half educated youngsters laughingly working day and
night, night and day. Some, like Nupur, with a higher qualification moved into
positions with regular 9.00 a.m.-5.00 p.m. routines.

“Oh yes, Ma, as you know the new Metro
line has opened…so, now I can use the other side which is closer to the road
you take.”

“So, how is the new side? Took them
forever to open it, though one got used to all those narrowed diversions and
single file driving. Yet not as bad as when there is a road reconstruct.”

“ The new side is more spacious with the
addition of brand new floor matting, looks clean and slick, what some
  say, ‘world class’“
Nupur had walked through the new side
along with the usual commuters who also seemed to prefer the ‘newer’ side. The
men who had habitually exchanged their bits of talk on, “So what’s new today?”
merged into the canvas of the daily ‘to and fro’. They would follow up to a
point till Nupur stepped out of the newly matted station. “Nice and clean….one
could walk barefoot” thought Nupur.

Weeks piled into months and the Autumn
festive season burst upon the city. The crowds surged, the jostling
increased…the indifference grew…Nupur couldn’t stand it. The silver grey of the
spread mats turned dull and, on the mat leading to the escalator, a stain, like
a coin stamped into it looked up distinctly. Another week of sweeping, cleaning
and commuting, but the stain remained….an indelible symbol of neglect, of
indifference, and an indelible mark of something lost….like a hollow feeling
when looking at the black holes of the cosmos. The chasm kept deepening, as
more and more thronged for space and air, moving between stations and on
trains. Once in the train, multiple eyes darted with heads lowered, with heads
raised. Nupur swung from mood to mood, comfortable only when she could get out
of her stockings and slip into loose fitting clothes, legs stretched across a
chair at the dining table where mother and daughter had a simple quiet meal
with the radio news, first in Hindi, then in English followed by a topical
issue for discussion and analysis. Occasionally Nupur would stay on for the discussion
slot with her mother who would always linger on to listen and offer her
comments. As time went by, it seemed they were both becoming recluses, each in
her own way. When Nupur slipped onto her bed, she felt comfortably pampered.

new Flat in exchange for the old one, which was acquired with such excitement
against years of monthly Instalments. Every year for nearly thirty years of her
work life, Suman had got used to the monthly deduction of Rs.899/- while her
husband had forsaken Rs 1000/-as part of the hire and purchase housing scheme.
So, why did she take that decision of moving away after cremating her life
partner of so many long years. She recollected his stagnant, consistent
routine—going to college as a lecturer with more time spent in the staff
activity room over carrom and chess and less time in the class room and the
laboratory. Students too would happily while away their time.

Nupur liked her new Flat. It gave her
greater anonymity. People didn’t know…she could be herself and yet put up the
façade of a career girl, with a job in a well-known Company and yet live on
with the realisation that she could not make it to the electronic media for
  she had undergone anintensive,
exorbitant course. “Oh , Well,” she thought, “it’s good to be on the move—home,
office coffee break chats and my bed– the commute, the Metro, the jostle, the
fading newness of the New Metro Line, the stained mats, wouldn’t they ever get
replaced, did they ever get washed? The small stains seemed to merge—and then there
was one—amoeba-like blob, which remained conspicuously indelible. “Nupur’s own
days seemed to lie back like an enlarging amoeba. “What’s the marriage scene
like?” she was often asked. “Haven’t thought about it”, lied Nupur. The truth
was that she could not come to terms with the stereotyped norm and yet found it
reasonably acceptable.

Suman had grown weak. She sensed her
daughter’s vacillation over the idea of marriage and waited to broach the
matter. Occasionally, mother and daughter hedged around the subject as though
it was an expected need. Suman couldn’t get herself to open up and say
outright—you have a good place to live in—stick to your source of income, move
on and forget about marriage. “Moving to a new place has heaps of benefits,”
thought Suman and shared with Nupur, ”people are unassuming and if you stay
reserved, you can feel free.”

“Yes, but a couple of not so unassuming
people in the park asked me, ‘Don’t you want to get married? Isn’t mama looking
for a boy?’ I made small talk and moved on. Sweet elderly couple moving
together, morning, evening to the park and back.”

“Yes, yes, also at the Supermarket”
added Suman.

“Is it common for parents and children
to be reticent at home?” Nupur asked obliquely over coffee sitting with two of
her colleagues.

Of course, the new age jobs, night
shifts, odd hours, graveyard shifts—I haven’t seen my brother for weeks now…in
fact, we hardly meet—one coming and the other going. Thanks to Swiggy, I eat
what I want to. Good thing I don’t see my mom much―these days she harps on the
range of C.Vs she has piled up for me to select—but no
shaadiwaadi for me.”
Thinking about the office chat


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