Prose - Short Story | Ass you like it | Devraj Singh Kalsi
Several top-notch PR firms had already failed to impress her. Their presentations did not contain a single big idea around which she could spin an aggressive campaign to reinvent herself. She stormed out of the meeting room when the last agency in the fray also let her down. Pat urged the servicing head to crack the brief differently. It was all over in less than ten minutes.
Pat joined Miss Lily in her chamber where she sat sulking over a mound of files.
“You shouldn’t have left like that. We can’t afford to offend more people,” Pat reasoned. He was the only person who could talk to Miss Lily without deference. Her husband, Mr. Seth had fled to Dubai on a fake passport when the Indian investigating agencies started tracking him for money laundering acts, leaving her behind to manage the mess and oversee a sagging tyre company. Out of disgust for the business magnate who wrecked his business, she stopped calling herself Mrs. Seth. Miss Lily gave her a sense of freedom and youthful vitality, a kind of release from the burden she had been carrying all these years.
Had it not been for Pat, the photographer friend who lived with her and offered emotional support, Miss Lily would have ended her life long ago. He had carved for himself an image of a dependable man though he was much younger to her.
Mr. Seth often called her up in the middle of the night and abused her for destroying his goodwill, threatening that he would hire contract killers to bump off Pat who was enjoying everything that belonged to him. Unless the ruling dispensation lost power, he could not return to India. So all he could do was get drunk, pick up the phone and start hurling expletives.
An abundant shower of kisses brought Miss Lily in the mood. Pat lit a cigarette for her. Taking a drag, she blew rings, half-closed her eyes and poured forth, “I just couldn’t take the crap being delivered by that booby Kirmani who behaved as if she had the best strategy in place. She deserved every bit of it.”
Pat did not listen since he was more focused on his progress. His hands were exploring her nape and further down. The trilling of her mobile phone stopped his sensuous moves. He picked it up reluctantly. As he went near the window for a better network, she stood up and buttoned up her dress.
“Call from home. Roshni’s father has come, wants to see you now,” he said and switched it off.
“Oh, that dhobi is here. Must have come seeking advance. Anyway, let’s go home. Don’t feel like staying here either.”
Pat stubbed out the cigarette while Miss Lily stashed important papers in her cabinet. She hobbled out of the office with Pat in tow. The entire office knew the authority he exercised.
Their association was more than a decade old; Pat had joined the fashion magazine as a lens man in which she appeared in a bikini for the first time. Mr. Seth, the high-flying corporate honcho had spotted her at a glittering party where she was smitten by his unabashed wealth and he by her gorgeous looks. Pat, in those days, was surrounded by a bevy of lissome beauties dying to have him shoot their portfolios. Moreover, Pat was no marriage material. He, too, did not care two hoots for Lily as she was just one of the several upcoming pin-up models waiting to be laid.
It was the sudden closure of the magazine coupled with his lack of financial planning that landed him in deep trouble. That’s when he realized the need to be stable and started wooing Lily once the grapevine had it that her husband had deserted her. He needed a rich lady in his life to fund his liquor bills and luxurious lifestyle that he could not afford any more. Miss Lily was happy to spend the lonely phase with a skilled and charming lover. He captured Miss Lily – his solitary muse – in various stages of undressed and diverse moods. She was glad that she had grabbed the interest of a virile hunk ready to spend all nights by her side. On account of exemplary service, he was rewarded with access to passwords of her bank accounts and secrets of a hoary past which he could use in writing her biography.
“Baba wants to see you and go back in the evening, but I don’t know the matter,” Roshni informed Miss Lily.
Pat rushed upstairs to have a quick shower. Miss Lily sat in the drawing room.
“Send your father in quickly,” she said, resting her legs on the marble-topped table.
Roshni scampered away to bring her father, Madan Lal who had come from Meerut, which was also Miss Lily’s hometown. Madan Lal had washed her family’s clothes for decades. She was the only member alive in her family; her parents died in a car accident near Badrinath just after she had married against their wishes. That was the last time she had gone there for cremation and that’s when she brought Roshni whom Madan Lal gave away to her.
Madan Lal came running from the servant’s quarter where he was taking a nap. He fell at Miss Lily’s feet and bemoaned, to stoke subdued feudalistic proclivities, “Only you can save me. Bhaichand, that farmer who troubled your father, has usurped a portion of my land and says he will not return it. He claims your father had given him three acres but your kind father gave me an acre beside his plot. He has only two acres. The problem is I did not register the land when your father died so my position is legally weak. Only you can make the bully bend and sort it out. He will start fencing the entire land and then I will lose everything. Kindly visit the place and save my land.”
Tears welled up in his eyes as he beseeched her to act fast.
Miss Lily heard him patiently. She knew that Madan Lal was not lying.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Miss Lily said with composure.
Madan Lal touched the ground near her feet to express gratitude.
Miss Lily ordered Roshni to serve him lunch and also give him train fare.
When Pat came downstairs, Madan Lal could neither establish the young man’s identity nor gauge his relationship with Miss Lily.
“He is a good friend of Madam who stays here and looks after the business,” Roshni told her father while coming out of the room.
Madan Lal rested in the servant’s quarter, ate lunch prepared by Roshni. She told him how well she was taken care of, that she had learnt English and dance, that she was about to do a beautician’s course. It warmed his heart to hear his daughter live so happily. When Roshni took the utensils away for washing, he went upstairs to thank Miss Lily for taking good care of his daughter.
The door of her palatial room was kept ajar. He was startled to see Miss Lily and Pat engaged in a passionate embrace. Having understood it, he tiptoed down.
Madan Lal packed his bag and left early to catch the train, trying to shrug off the amorous scene and reminding himself that it was not his business to be concerned about what the rich people do. When Miss Lily came down and enquired about Madan Lal after some time, Roshni said that she had just returned after packing him off in an auto-rickshaw to the railway station.
Miss Lily asked Pat to join her for lunch. He came down wearing shorts. Roshni was leering at his chest and Miss Lily noticed that. She sent her to the kitchen to eat and started serving herself.
“We’re not in the bedroom where you can wear whatever you like. Be decent when there are people around,” she hissed like a possessive wife.
This advice was ignored by Pat who began eating pulao. Changing the topic of the conversation, Miss Lily said, “We have to go to Meerut tomorrow morning. Madan Lal is in trouble. The matter has to be sorted out. This short trip will be a good break.”
Pat nodded in agreement while chomping Chilly chicken.
Next morning, he was ready. Miss Lily had a bath and dressed up conservatively for the journey to a small town. It was followed by a hurried breakfast of omelette and brown bread which Roshni had prepared.
“We’re going to help your father,” Miss Lily updated her, “so take proper care of the house and do not give our details to any caller.”
Though Roshni was glad that Miss Lily was going to solve her father’s problem, she was not happy about Pat accompanying her. She could have seduced Pat to do her portfolio during the weekend, which he had promised to shoot. For the last two months he had been dithering on it because Miss Lily did not want her to pose for him. She considered her too young and unfamiliar with the ways of the fashion world.
They reached the town and then the remote part some ten miles to the north where Madan Lal lived. He was delighted to have her there, though the presence of Pat was an eyesore for him. Realizing that they had come down to help him, Madan Lal took them to Bhaichand’s field adjacent to his plot and pointed at the labourers fencing it with barbed wire. Bhaichand – the farmer turned landlord – recognized Miss Lily hovering near the boundary and invited her to cross the porous border. He asked his acolytes to bring some chairs in the garden and ordered tea.
Without exchanging pleasantries, Miss Lily exploded like a tinderbox: “I was compelled to come here urgently because of this land grabbing. You know very well I was present the day my father gifted you two acres. Why are you grabbing Madan Lal’s acre?”
“Calm down, Madamji, calm down. It is shocking to hear a dignified lady speak so much so fast. Your ears have been poisoned by this Madan,” Bhaichand alleged, flanked by his two able-bodied sons.
She spoke on behalf of Madan Lal, which tested Bhaichand’s patience. After deliberations with his sons, he justified his annexation, “I’m a God-fearing man, taken just a little since I’m contributing some portion to the public road that will be widened next year. If you have an objection, then all right, as you say…you are the daughter of this town and your father was a man of virtue who donated a lot, so I am conceding your demand. But we know your position in the higher society has become weak after your husband escaped. Anyway, I’ll tell my boys not to fence the area belonging to Madan Lal. This is the last time I will compromise. Do not take it as a sign of our weakness. We also have contacts in Delhi.” Bhaichand made it sound as if he was doing a favour.
Pat stood watching everything. Now that the problem had been solved without much trouble, Miss Lily drank elaichi tea and thanked Bhaichand for the respect shown to her late father.
“Just make sure you do not do anything that compels me to come again,” she said with a thrust while throwing the paper cup beneath her chair.
Madan Lal stood in a distant corner. As they walked out of Bhaichand’s territory, he thanked Miss Lily from the core of his heart and said, “Your presence itself scared Bhaichand into submission and he did a complete U-turn.”
Miss Lily did not take credit for it but hoped that the matter was resolved forever. It would have been rather difficult for her if the landlord had adopted a jingoistic stand. Madan Lal would have seen that her contacts were not strong now.
Miss Lily had sold her ancestral house to sever ties with her past. The endurance of memory is painful. Madan Lal took her to the ghat where he still washed clothes and among many things that Miss Lily got to see, she liked the donkeys that were carrying the burden.
Madan Lal claimed to have four.
“Could you give me one to take home?” Miss Lily asked.
“Take all,” Madan Lal replied generously.
“No, no, just one, the brown one will do,” she replied.
He placed it in her jeep and tied its legs with a thick rope, urging the animal not to misbehave, not to give trouble.
Pat was clueless.
Miss Lily looked satisfied and said, “My worries will end now.”
Taking leave of Madan Lal, though he was eager to serve lunch at his modest home, she drove back at great speed as if the future she was seeing was very near. On the bumpy road, the donkey brayed a lot and Pat kept raising queries that were lost in the din.
“Tell me why the hell are we carrying a donkey after all? Is it a trophy to celebrate the bloodless coup? What do you mean by worries coming to an end? And why did you cut short the trip?”
“No PR agency has been able to deliver anything like this,” Miss Lily quipped while negotiating a sharp bend, still not revealing her master plan.
“I don’t get you,” Pat said as he failed to excavate further details. The swish of the donkey’s tail was a source of constant irritation. He kept glaring at the donkey who was also not feeling comfortable – bout of nostalgia mixed with nausea perhaps – inside the vehicle.
“Let’s reach the city first and I’ll tell you all,” Miss Lily said to pacify Pat when he began to verbally abuse the animal with his relentless f**k-f**k. She had not been so upbeat ever since she was possessed by the urge to arrive with a big bang.
Miss Lily pecked the donkey’s slender nape as soon as she reached home. Roshni pulled its ear and named it Bhola. She thought it was her father’s gift to her.
Seeing Miss Lily drool over the donkey, Roshni asked, “Father sent it for me, no?”
“No. I brought it here for a special purpose. I will adopt it. Now give it something to eat. You know what it likes. I will freshen up first,” Miss Lily said, stroking its back.
Pat was unable to understand why she needed to adopt one.
“Adopt dogs or street kids. What on earth can a donkey deliver?” Pat hollered, jabbing his sneakers on the tiled floor and went upstairs.
As she peeled off one piece of clothing after another standing near the bathroom door, she gradually revealed her plans with energy. “You will be surprised to know that I am going to launch a national campaign, to set up a club to ensure the safety of donkeys, protection from exploitation and abuse, basically to drive home the point that the donkey is not a dumb animal. It is all our perception. So bust this myth. Assign any task and it does it well. In fact, it has many qualities that we need to adopt.”
Pat got rid of his stinking, dirty clothes and joined her for a shower. She grabbed the opportunity to share further details of how her plan would take off. Though Pat did not share her enthusiasm, he did not dampen her spirits.
When she resumed office, she roped in an agency to do her bidding and inserted a confidentiality clause in the agreement. Pat was now busy shooting the donkey’s portfolio – up, close and personal – as per Miss Lily’s guidelines. Harsh lights made the animal close the eyes or wink at times. It was the worst – and the most – challenging assignment of his life.
Roshni was furious to see the donkey’s snaps lying on the dining table one afternoon.
“What pleasure did you get shooting this? Don’t you think you deserve to see something better?” she asked Pat coyly.
He was speechless. When he looked up, he saw her standing topless behind the reclining sofa. An invitation he found irresistible.
Miss Lily decided to throw a lavish party at her farmhouse on her fortieth birthday, where she would launch the revolutionary movement. Media personalities had been invited – lured with vintage wine and gourmet food. The mission had been kept a closely-guarded secret. Suggestions poured in from the agency as to how the strategy of identifying with the donkey would suit Lily’s personality. She short-listed some of these. Tee-shirts, caps, posters, masks, stickers and similar stationery accessories – meant to educate about donkeys – were designed. Help-lines and donkey adoption schemes were planned. She was eager to educate the nation about the virtuous donkey – always ignored and insulted so badly. The hour had come to reverse it. Donkeys, over the world, would get saviors and well-wishers. That’s how she structured the communication this time.
Friends, enemies, competitors, well-wishers, acquaintances, warts and all, had turned up in full strength because of the curiosity factor. A glut of celebrities from the field of sports, films, business and politics had gathered to witness the mega event. Foreign dignitaries also made their presence felt. The suspense was finally over when the former supermodel arrived in style - riding atop a donkey painted red and white. She wore a designer outfit – in red and white – with generous display of her cleavage and held a placard with the slogan: Save my ass.
The assembled crowd was in splits.
One foreign consulate quipped fairly loud, “Wow! Miss Lily has a lovely ass!”
She enjoyed being the centre of attraction and blew kisses rapidly, wriggled her ass after disembarking from her seat. Shutterbugs went on a clicking spree and urged her to ride her ass once more. She quickly jumped on top of it and brandished a tiny mike tucked in the donkey’s ear.
Touring the well-lit poolside, she demanded attention: “Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to remember this is no ordinary ass. It is the best, the brightest and of course the loveliest. There is more to it than what you can actually see. I urge you to have a good look at it and realize its true worth. It can do wonders. Understand you also need a good one. Keep it well like I have done. It is big and rocking. Cheers! Hip, hip, hurray!”
Miss Lily enthused and patted her ass. The crowd was impressed with her entertaining speech and wanted more of it.
She got down to serious business and appealed in a deep, resonant voice that seemed to come straight from the heart. With her painted hand resting on her cleavage, she rallied forth: “Friends, your attention, please! I am going to launch a big mission, all across India, to change the image of ass. Adopt it, do something for it. You will soon get details of how my new company, Ass-pire. I have embarked on something unique for our society. Your support for the noble cause is solicited.”
The first part elicited an encouraging response. Pat had not imagined she could pull it off with such grace. The next day’s dailies were full of big pictures of the raving party. There was also an editorial on her. A whole debate had been raised. It was followed by an online poll for readers to comment on how socially useful the drive was. Miss Lily had catapulted to celebrity status overnight. The leading ladies featured on Page 3 were awestruck. Miss Lily had grabbed attention in one masterstroke. Donkey business had indeed become a serious issue of discussion as it had entered college canteens and coffee house chat sessions. People wanted candid opinion about the whole affair, wondering whether our stereotypical thinking would change now. The conservative class, however, dismissed it as a flimsy pursuit lacking merit, an exercise in futility. An ass, they felt, would remain an ass as it cannot substitute the racing horse. The response was so heterogeneous, widespread and emotionally driven that the government officials were seen discussing how a corporate house had managed to go this far, that the government should also pitch in with all possible help. A classic example of public-private partnership! The grand, fanciful plan had taken off successfully and paid rich dividends to Miss Lily who was dying to get an image make-over.
Scribes pressed her for interviews. The agency was flooded with requests for a story with Miss Lily and her ass, which somewhat edged out Pat. He wasn’t happy to be left out of the frame since he had been a pillar of strength for her, having seen her lows. Media reports made him feel miserable and jealous of the donkey. Miss Lily was riding the crest of popularity and enjoying every moment of it. Snubbed, Pat sought refuge in alcohol.
The donkey did not gel with Pat since he often pulled its tail or poured whisky on its flanks, which burned a lot and the poor animal hopped around the house, turning many things upside down. Pat stood on the porch and enjoyed its crazy run. It was his sweet revenge for driving a wedge between him and Miss Lily. Roshni sometimes managed to save the beast from Pat’s maniacal outbursts by keeping it tied in the servant’s quarter for the entire day where it felt lonely and isolated.
One fine evening, Miss Lily came early from office and noticed the ass braying a lot as if writhing in pain.
“Who asked you to keep it there? You can’t restrict its freedom like that,” she burst forth.
“I thought it was a good solution to save it from Pat who ill-treats the animal in your absence,” Roshni retorted with visible disgust, “why don’t you blast your lover instead?”
Miss Lily had to discuss this issue with Pat. He refused to listen to her. She smothered him with kisses and tried to pull him out of the bed. Her advances were discouraged as he was not in the mood after having had a quickie with Roshni on the kitchen sink in the afternoon.
“If press guys, welfare organizations get to know or see that we keep the animal in bondage or torture it, my cause will be ruined,” Miss Lily explained politely, “so I hope you understand we haven’t come this far to damage it ourselves.”
Pat lay curled up in the bed while Miss Lily stroked his mass of hair only to locate a fairly long jet black strand trapped in it.
That night, after dinner, Miss Lily and Pat were relaxing on the balcony. She was trying to repair the relationship with sweet, gentle words. She was all over Pat to arouse him. He came in the mood all of a sudden with animalistic rage and thrust Miss Lily against the railing, going down on his knees to enjoy her. When she began to groan loudly, the donkey charged headlong, probably thinking that there was an attacker inside. Like a good pet, it went straight up in defence and thrust its head in Pat’s abdomen. Before Miss Lily could stop the frenzied beast, Pat had lost balance and toppled over. He lay unconscious on the cobbled path below. There was blood spattered all over. Roshni rushed out hearing the loud noise and raised alarm. Miss Lily hurried downstairs and rang up an ambulance service. He was taken to the nearby hospital.
Roshni seemed to have lost everything. Miss Lily took her aside in the parking area, and grilled, “Tell me how the bloody ass reached my room upstairs? I suspect it is your mischief.”
“Why are you blaming me? You said that the donkey should be free to move around everywhere in the house. If it climbed up the staircase, why are you holding me responsible? You have a lot to explain instead, Madam. It could be your foul play, you trained it to attack Pat,” Roshni alleged.
“What nonsense? We were just standing there when it attacked us from behind. I had no clue about this,” Miss Lily clarified as if Roshni were a judge. “Before I could do anything I saw Pat there…”
Her eyes were moist to recollect the gory scene.
Roshni left her company to chase the nurse for the fresh update on Pat’s condition. The doctor stated his condition to be critical. To be kept under observation for 72 hours. Miss Lily and Roshni stood in the long corridor, on opposite sides, praying for Pat’s recovery.
The media would invade the premises and launch a trial in the morning. Miss Lily saw all this coming inevitably while sitting in a corner. Only Pat could reveal the complete truth. But she wondered whether he would see her role in this conspiracy and identify her as a culprit. That would be worse than his staying comatose.
Quite predictably, flashbulbs were trained on her the next day. The only difference was that she was not happy to be the cynosure of eyes. All sorts of questions were raised about her relationship with Pat, about the uncertain future of her donkey project.
The cops arrested Miss Lily on grounds of suspicion strengthened by Roshni’s statement. She was a crucial witness whose declaration made a significant contribution in putting Miss Lily behind bars. She was deeply hurt that Pat, whom she truly loved, was on a life support system because of Miss Lily. When doctors said that Pat had slipped into a coma and it was difficult to say when he would recover, Roshni lost hope. Miss Lily’s goodness to her and her father were easily forgotten as she proceeded to spill details about her employer’s illicit relationship, how she forced him to do many things against his will.
Seeing her life in grave danger, Miss Lily blurted out the truth. But there were no takers for her version. The sleuths said that it is not a predator, rather a meek, timid animal. Hence it was difficult to accept that the donkey did it all. It was dismissed as her desperate bid to wriggle out and find a scapegoat instead.
Miss Lily’s bail was granted after three months of detention. Mr Seth arranged a battery of lawyers. The media crew posted in front of the jail premises remained hungry for Miss Lily’s comments and photographs. Click, click, click the cameras went as she emerged. Questions flew thick and fast. She maintained a stiff upper lip and looked away, hiding her eyes behind dark shades, unable to take the glaring light of the flashbulbs that had lit up her face just a few days ago.
Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His stories and articles have been published in The Bombay Review, Earthen Lamp Journal, Open Road Review, Deccan Herald, Readomania.com, The Pioneer, Tehelka, The Assam Tribune and The Statesman. His debut novel, PAL MOTORS, is getting published this year