I have already published three of my books through Amazon.com:
I intend blogging the first few sample chapters of the novel for everyone to read. Every alternate day, a new chapter will be released through my blog. Avid readers may please read and send me their comments.
I would appreciate if readers can indicate their preference about using their comments as part of the book
Here you go with the chapter 4.......
Thanks to the mobile cellular technology. The Mani Shankar’s cell phone was handy. Gone were the days when one had to wait for long hours to connect a call, out of the town. Mani Shankar talked to Gowri in U.S.A, the next morning and told her everything, without omitting any detail – including the one relating to Sharmilee sleeping on his bed. Gowri was a person of details, as usual, and naturally, she had a number of questions. And, she was very magnanimous and understanding, as usual.
“I know you very well, Mani. Unfortunately, the world is not as magnanimous or large hearted as you are. You can run into problems. So, be careful. Take care. Best thing, take the girl to some Home for the Destitute, and leave her there. We can take care of her expenses there, if warranted. Anyhow, keep me informed,” Gowri said.
Mani Shankar met Gopi in the restaurant. “Can we talk?”
“About Sharmilee, the destitute girl….. You know her…. You have been offering food to her.”
“Yes, what about her?”
“How much do you know about her?”
“Very little. I sympathize with the girl. Whenever she passes by, she looks pathetic. She is very innocent. She is not communicative. Yes, I had offered food from our previous day’s kitchen. My owner is quite strict about the revenues to the hotel. I can’t be seen giving away even the previous day’s food freely. I am accountable to him……. The girl looks repulsive, I am sorry to say, with her dirty clothes and unkempt hair. But, I hadn’t seen her since the day before yesterday. I didn’t get time to check on her, too.”
“Why are you interested in her?”Mani Shankar was direct. He noticed that Gopi showed keen interest in his conversation about Sharmilee. Gopi turned his head away as though he didn’t want to face the truth.
“She is in my custody now,” Mani Shankar continued.
He looked perplexed. “Why? Is there any problem?”
“No, she is fine. You must see her now.”
There was curiosity in his look. “Where is she now?”
“Are you free anytime today?”
“I can go with you this evening.”
Mani Shankar was quite puzzled by Gopi’s interest in Sarmileel.
‘Could he be the one?’
He didn’t appear so.
They met in the evening. Mani Shankar took him to the lodge by walk and they talked on the way. They found enough time to share their loneliness and their stories.
Gopi’s father Pandarinath lived in the far off Roorki, beyond Hardwar. He was a mithaiwala and had plans to start a restaurant in Joshimatt, the base camp for the pilgrims to Badrinath, an abode of Lord Narayana. There was no decent vegetarian restaurant in Joshimatt and the potential for a hotel business was tremendous. But Pandarinath had no manpower support to manage a business in two different places. He had a rich father in law, but no issues at home. Pandarinath was growing older and his wife was desperate to have a child. During one of his visits to Joshimatt in connection with starting a restaurant over there, Pandarinath chanced upon a young widow with a young boy, around seven or eight years old. The boy, Gopi, was cute and lovable. Somehow, Pandarinath fell for Sugandhi, the widow and developed a relationship with her. His visits to Joshimatt increased and he spent time with Sugandhi and Gopi. He developed a liking for Gopi who didn’t fully understand Pandarinath’s relationship with his mother. Soon, Gopi took Pandarinath as his father. Pandarinath started his restaurant at Joshimatt and Gopi, at a very young age, became the de facto owner and employee of the restaurant. Unfortunately for Gopi, his mother fell ill with some sudden serious illness. Pandarinath could have easily taken her to Hardwar or Roorke for a good medical treatment, but he was afraid of getting exposed in front of his wife and the rich father-in-law, whose patronage he couldn’t afford to lose. Local medical attention didn’t help Sugandhi and she died. After his mother’s death, the relationship between Gopi and Pandarinath went through some metamorphosis. Pandarinath’s visits to Joshimatt reduced, though Gopi continued to be the trusted employee and a remote son. Gopi couldn’t complain. He had a decent life with some freedom and responsibility to engage himself in. He liked the restaurant business and his association with it 24x7. He never went to any school for his studies. Occasionally, he too felt very lonely, but was helpless about it. He was already wedded to his work. His restaurant and his guests there were his greatest companions.
“I am so sorry, listening to your story.” Mani Shankar empathized with Gopi. He could realize how lonely Gopi should be feeling right now.
‘I am not the only person on this earth, to feel lonely‘…………………………………..
“Did you say anything……?” The Gopi’s question brought back Mani Shankar to their conversation.
“I wanted to say that I was not alone on this earth to feel lonely. In my case, I am the one who had sought loneliness and still feeling bad about it.” Mani Shankar then told Gopi briefly about himself.
Sharmilee had spent most of her time that day, sleeping in the comfort of her warm room, under the blankets. When they reached the lodge she had just got up and was sipping some tea.
“Oh, she looks terrific.” The Gopi’s comment came loudly.
Sharmilee recognized Gopi instantly, with a broad smile. She extended the cup with tea to Gopi. Mani Shankar looked for any unusual expression or body language from Gopi. There was none, except a natural curiosity from a young adult about a charming girl. That was interesting.
“How, uncle? What a transformation? How could you do it?” Gopi had suddenly felt closer to Mani Shankar and started addressing him ‘uncle’.
Mani Shankar explained. “She is going to be in my custody for some time. I need to find a proper place to put her in – maybe some orphanage. She also needs to be treated for her mental illness. She is not a normal girl. I have to find some long term custody for her.”
“Tell me, uncle, what I can do to help you? I really pity this girl. Now, with her changed appearance,……… I don’t know what to stay.”
But Mani Shankar understood what he would have liked to say. The boy seemed to love her.
‘Is she in a position to reciprocate?’
They engaged in some small talk and went for a walk, down the valley, along a narrow path.
“There is a small temple down this valley, an exquisite place, surrounded by a very beautiful garden, full of wild flowers. I can take you there, if you would like. But not now, maybe, in the morning.” Gopi explained.
Mani Shankar, Gopi and Sharmilee appeared to be developing some intimate bond between them. Sharmilee, for the most part, was either silent or responded with just one or two words, but she seemed to be enjoying the company.
“Uncle, for the first time in the last several years, I feel having some company, today,” Gopi mentioned, towards the end of their meeting that day. They ate some simple dhal and roti prepared by Savithri Devi, the old lady, looking after the lodge.
“What a delicious food I am eating,” Gopi commented. Coming from the hotelwalah, his appreciation of the food was understandable.
After all the small and serious talk, Mani Shankar gained no further knowledge about Sharmilee. He wasn’t yet prepared to discuss everything about Sharmilee in detail, with Gopi.
Mani Shankar religiously relayed what happened that day, to Gowri, who grew more apprehensive, though she didn’t express it much. This ritual continued in the days to come too.