Upwardly Mobile by Abhijit Chaki

Blue Oculus by Fahmina Israt

The corridors of Channel Ten were a hive of activity.

Tapes to be edited, copy to be written and satellite uplinks to be coordinated all added up to one noisy work environment.

Dev Menon enjoyed his bird’s eye view of the entire proceedings. Nothing like running against deadlines to pump up the adrenaline, he thought.  Dev loved the power rush that his corporate 11 to 11 job gave him.

The network had just upgraded to a 24-hour news channel. The volume of work was huge and had entailed major supervisory expertise. The board had brought in Menon to oversee the entire operation, from hiring to purchasing and from channel packaging to garnering extra advertising revenue. They loved his, get it right the first time, mantra.

The whole effort had earned him a vice presidency. At just 40, that was unprecedented. And, a first for Channel Ten.

Now he took a little time to gloat from his spanking new office on the executive fifth floor. He could see Sheila Mathur below, preparing slides for the weather forecast.

‘God, this one’s a looker,’ he said to himself. For the tenth time.

His thoughts ran back to her first interview.

A comic disaster. She’d been awkward, fumbly with words and altogether not too bright. Mrs Nath had shown her claws right away.

‘Maybe the print media, dear. A page-three column perhaps?’

Paul from HR had written a small note and slid it across to Menon.

‘Look at those breasts. Maybe she should serve tea or just hang around or something. She’d certainly boost morale and improve attendance. Nothing in front of the camera…but look at those breasts!’

And Menon had done nothing but look. Against the run of opinion, he’d hired her as the trainee weather forecaster.

Sheila wasn’t the smartest young lady around but she was determined. She knew her looks were her strength.

Or as Paul said ogling her breasts, ‘She has two great strengths.’

She used it liberally on Maroof, the primetime weather forecaster. He in turn went out of his way to help Sheila, imparting tips and teaching her the nuances of the trade.

The woman who was second to Maroof was soon given an ignominious exit and Sheila moved up the order.

Maroof became an early casualty of Sheila’s ambition. As susceptible to her charms as the next man, he made every effort to hone her limited skill. The payoff, he hoped, would be a show of affection, maybe even the big L. He was an optimist.

 Sheila was an excellent pupil. Within three months she was filling Maroof’s shoes when he was indisposed. Maroof gave her as many forecasts to do as possible. He’d thought they could bond professionally and personally.

He was only half-right.

Once Sheila started doing the forecasts regularly, she went completely professional on him. No more hanging out with him after hours or lavishing extravagant praise on his style.

Maroof noticed her aloofness and put it down to primetime nerves. He broke the impasse by asking her out. Sheila blew him out of the sky.

‘I never mix with people at work.’

And that was that.

Menon had heard stories about Sheila’s inaccessibility. There were others in the office who had propositioned her. They all went the Maroof way.

One of them, Satish, the Chief News Editor, put it succinctly. ‘The brains of a fox, a body made for sin, but a heart made of ice chips.’

That intrigued Menon. It was a challenge, and it’d been a long time since he’d had one. He was thinking about Satish’s words when the operator buzzed him.

‘I thought I said no calls!’ he barked into the phone.

‘Sir,’ a timid voice responded. ‘It’s your wife.’

That was one call he always took, and the operator knew it. Mrs Radhika Menon, his wife of nine years, and the only person who still scared Menon. She had always been the dominant one in their marriage. She was all of eight years younger than him, a whole lot dumber and a helluva lot richer.

Her life revolved around shopping and Mah Jong sessions. Menon had certainly not married her for her intelligence or her warm personality.  A lot of Menon’s privileges had come from his wife’s side of the family including his present job.

And she never let him forget it. A sly word here or a contemptuous glance there would sear humiliation right through his soul. Clenching his jaws and balling his fists tightly he would ride the blows. The fake PR smile, which he flashed to his superiors, came easily with a lifetime of habit.

His wife spoke to him for five minutes in her precise clipped voice. Credit card bills, the Beemer breaking down and his getting home early dominated the conversation. His only contribution to the whole conversation was ‘Hello darling’ and ‘OK, bye darling’, and a lot of ‘uh huhs’ in between.

He toyed with the idea of going home late just to spite her, but discarded it almost instantly. There might be brave husbands who could do that. He wasn’t one of them. He considered himself smarter.

No, his way of getting even was to cheat on his wife. He’d go out of his way to seduce women even if he didn’t find them attractive. Money, influence, power, nothing was too much while chasing them. Of course, he was discrete. At 40, he wasn’t about to give up his lifestyle over, what he regarded as his obligation to good taste.

Dev buzzed the operator and asked her to send up the lovely Sheila Mathur to his office. He found her deliciously attractive and he’d be damned if he didn’t do anything about it.

‘So Sheila, how is work? Liked your bit on Saturday. Good going.’

Sheila gushed effusively. ‘Thank you, sir. It’s only because of you persevering with me.’

‘Nothing to do with Maroof, eh,’ Menon thought to himself.

Aloud he said, ‘Sheila, my name is Dev, use it.’

She blushed like he’d asked her to sit on his lap or something. With a simpering look, she managed a soft, ‘OK Dev.’

Dev loved these power moves. This was going to be easy. Good looking and dumb made for such simple conquests.

He started to turn it on. ‘Anything you need from me, just ask.’

‘Actually, sir…uh, sorry, Dev. Could I do the News at Seven on Sunday? I’m sure I’ll do a good job. Satish also said I would do it well.’

‘I’m sure he did,’ thought Dev. Considering Satish’s intentions were about as noble as his.

‘Listen Sheila, a sixty second weather report is a different ballgame from a half hour news feature. Learn the ropes a little more.’

‘I’ve been practicing, Dev and I’m sure I could pull it off.’

‘And I am having tea with the queen tomorrow,’ a voice chuckled inside Menon.

But he had to phrase himself delicately here. ‘Sheila. The Seven is an important spot. I’d be staking a lot to put you on that seat. Maybe I should get to know you better before I can make a decision.’

Sheila’s adoring gaze turned stony for an instant. Then with a smile she said, ‘I’ll do whatever it takes, Dev.’

And Menon knew victory was close at hand. He’d show everyone how this game was played.

Menon set events into motion quickly after that. He gave her as much quality time as he could spare. A couple of small gifts, a few words of how much her progress had pleased him and in a week he asked her out for dinner.

Sheila accepted without any qualms.

Menon was on familiar ground now. He made his excuses to his wife citing business reasons. The night went off exactly as planned. A safe restaurant, flowers, he knew every turn on this road. He plied Sheila with lots of wine and threw in a whole lot of flattery to get her to thaw. And thaw she did. Way before dessert arrived.

They ended up at her flat by eleven. The speed of events unfolding commented highly on Menon’s prowess. The lovemaking wasn’t magical, but it wasn’t bad either.

When he left at one in the morning, he didn’t have a feeling of triumph. He seemed a touch disappointed instead. Too easy wasn’t much of an ego challenge. But at least he’d got exactly what he’d planned for.

The next day Dev wasn’t his usual self with Sheila. She kept seeking him out and he kept brushing her off. Phase two was now in operation. He pretended she was more or less invisible.

Three days later, Sheila actually sent him a memo asking for a dry run for the News at Seven slot.

He immediately replied that a change of this magnitude was not under consideration as of now. She would be the first to know if such a thing was in the offing.

‘Like in 10 years,’ he thought to himself. Everything was quiet for some time after that. Any contact between them was minimal and purely professional.

 Dev and his wife were shopping at the local supermarket. He had wandered off to the men’s section and browsed for quite some time before heading back towards the grocery section.

His heart almost stopped at what he saw. Sheila and his wife stood in animated conversation. Blood turning rapidly to water, Dev raced across the room, his mind filled with fear.

‘Sheila’s been telling me all about you,’ said a beaming Radhika. At least she was still smiling, thought Dev.

‘She has? Nothing bad I hope.’

He felt like he was going to be sick.

Radhika was still all smiles, ‘You know, I just found out Sheila and I went to the same school. Imagine that! You better take good care of her Dev, you hear.’

Sheila was smiling as well with her hand resting lightly on Radhika’s arm.

‘Oh, you don’t have to say that to Mr Menon. He’s already gone out of his way to make me feel comfortable.’

Dev blanched and looked into Sheila’s eyes and then looked away. Her eyes were as opaque as the darkest night.

‘Call me,’ trilled Radhika as Sheila moved away with her cart.

Two days later, it was Sunday.

And everyone at Channel Ten felt Sheila Mathur had been rather special on her debut as presenter for the News at Seven.

About the Author

  I am 45 years old and live in Pune, India with my wife and two daughters. My father was in the army and my mother a teacher. I have grown up changing states and schools every couple of years. From Sherwood College in Nainital to Kendriya Vidyalay, Southern Command in Pune, it’s taken over half a dozen schools to get my schooling done. My college was in Pune where I did my post graduation with Economics as my major. I also spent 6 months in Dhaka in 1997. My father stayed in Dhanmondi and was the Defence Attaché in the Indian Embassy there.

I am currently staying in Goa and trying to get my first novel published. I am working on my second novel and also like to write short stories on the side.

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