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ISSN: 0974-892X


January, 2017



Under God’s Canopy

Dr. Shobha Diwakar, Rtd. HOD of English, CP Mahila Mahavidhyalaya, Jabalpur M.P.

Rhea was lazing in bed. The curtains were drawn so the merry smiling sun was hidden behind. Surely, it must be time to get up and rush off for her morning walk, she reflected. She threw aside the curtains to welcome the morning sunshine, then slipped into her bedroom slippers; peeped into the mirror to check the after effects of a late night movie with friends, and freshened herself up for a nice cup of piping hot tea and oats and cornflakes, which were her favorite. However, she spied just a sunny side up (fried egg), laid on the table with her tea that looked miserably cold and detestable.

Rhea was a spoilt brat hailing from a rich background. Her father was a business tycoon with fleets of cars, servants, chefs, and attendants to dance to her merry tunes. Today there was something wrong. No one, not even her mom was to be seen around. Her dad had already left for his office and her ‘little big’ brother was at school or so she presumed.
Even as she seated down to gulp down the insipid tea and egg, her mind meandered here and there wondering what the matter was. Her spell was broken when she heard someone say, “Do you need something else?”  She swirled around to find a bright new attendant with a question mark on his face, quizzically staring at her. “Yes why is the tea cold, and my favorite breakfast missing?”  “I am newly inducted and am not aware of your choice. This is what others ate, so I prepared the same for you.” That was enough to spoil Rhea’s mood and she flung the cup on the floor. “Go and make me another cup and next time don’t act too smart. By the way next time address me as ma’am.”

The attendant picked up the cup saying, “Yes ma’am,” and walked towards the kitchen. He soon returned with a fresh cup of tea but by now, Rhea had changed her mind. She would now have a hot cup of coffee with chocolate cream. The attendant retraced his steps and hastily placed the demanded coffee before her majesty. Rhea sulkily sipped it and left the breakfast untouched. She looked up at the attendant… there were so many of them running little errands in the house that she did not know his name so she said “Hey, what is your name?” “My name is not hey, madam. You may call me Vishvas.”  That was tit for tat.

To Rhea it sounded a good name. “That’s a nice name,” She stated. “Do you understand the significance of your name?” The fellow stood still with no comments. His face remained expressionless. Rhea pushed the chair. Elegantly stood up and walked back to her room. Vishvas cleared the table, dumped the cups into the dishwasher and scratched his head wondering what next to do. So far, he had received no orders for what was to be done or what was to be cooked.  Just like any other young inquisitive fellows of his age, Vishvas decided to explore this towering mansion flooded with all sorts of curios brought from around the world.  He quietly slipped into the next room, which was ajar. There were beautiful statues, ornamental decors, polished brass, chandeliers “My God these must be priceless,” he softly whistled, then swung around to see if anyone had caught him tramping. He was just looking around perhaps for a minute or so when suddenly he stopped. For a moment, he stood still as he felt a gentle touch on his shoulders. He wondered who it could be because he was sure he had seen no one enter the room. The house was like a jigsaw puzzle. There was Belgium glass mirrors in different corners of the hall, which reflected the screaming lights and the glare was so intense it could, Vishvas felt, blind you. Despite the fact, he had not seen anyone entering the room.

“What are you doing here?” Someone queried sternly. Vishvas was aware he had trespassed. He turned around to find an old man keenly observing him through his horn-rimmed spectacles. His grey hair vouched his seniority and position in the house. “Oh, I was only looking around as I had nothing else to do,” said Vishvas hesitatingly. “Well, if there is no work go and sit with the other attendants. Don’t gossip or listen to any, if you do, you won’t last long.” Saying so, the man disappeared just as he had mysteriously appeared.

Vishvas was a handsome young man in his late twenties. He had lost his father in an accident when he was barely five years old. His mother had brought him up the hard way as best as she could and given him a good education until twelfth. Now it was his turn to support his mother. Since his credentials were good, he applied for the position of an attendant in this household, and luckily got the job on condition that he would cater to the wishes of the inmates and do, whatever work was demanded of him.  Today was his first day and curiosity had killed the cat. He was lucky no one else had spied him or he was sure they would chuck him out instantly, and all his dreams to help his mother would have drowned in despair. Reluctantly he climbed down the stairs to sit in the outside verandah where all helpers were ordered to sit until called.

Rhea had got up late, had had a late breakfast, and was actually not interested in anything particular. The dozens of attendants were there to fulfill her demands at the ring of a bell. Once back into her room she sulkily dumped herself lazily into her chair, turned on the TV to listen to some jazz music, tapping her toes to the beats. She recalled the last time she had danced at the disco with Amrit and how they had whispered sweet nothings into each other’s ears. It was a long time since they had met casually at a friend’s birthday bash and ever since the two were in constant touch. However, she suddenly realized that was quite some time back and of late, Amrit seemed to be avoiding her. (He was unaware that Rhea knew he was her half brother).  She picked up her mobile and dialed his number. The ring ended. Amrit did not receive the call. This irritated Rhea. She redialed. Again, there was no answer.  Rhea disgustedly chucked aside the mobile, opened her luxurious wardrobe, chose a delicate chiffon dress, the latest designer wear, put on her shining heels, swung her branded purse on her shoulders and stepped out of her room ringing the bell for the car.

A well- dressed chauffer drove the car out of the garage and Rhea sitting in the back seat ordered him to drive to an apartment--- a little outside the vicinity where she resided. Though the driver was taken aback, he pretended not to show his surprise and drove on the highway as ordered. The roads were clear, traffic was low so it did not take much time for Rhea to arrive at her destination. She got down yards away from where she wished to go. She did not want the chauffer to be a witness to her rendezvous. She took the lift to the third floor and knocked at flat 15. No one answered.  The bell was out of order she was aware, so this time she knocked persistently. Still no one answered. After what seemed to be a lifetime, Rhea knocked again saying, “Please open the door.”

No one did. She pushed the door and lo! It was open. “What a fool I am,” she whispered to herself and stepped inside the living room, he… Amrit was not there. Surprised, she peeped into the bedroom, Amrit was not there too. She looked again into each of the two bedrooms, but the boy seemed to have just vanished leaving the flat unlocked. What was she to do? Rhea panicked. Then she desperately thought of checking the bathroom and so she knocked. No one answered. She pushed the door and paled with fright. There was Amrit lying prostrate upon the floor. “Oh God now what do I do?” She stammered. She could feel the cold sweat trickling down her spine. She stood as a statue cut in alabaster. There was no help except for the driver and he was not anywhere near. If she called anyone, there would be a showdown, and her reputation? What was a girl doing in a bachelor’s apartment? What about the media?  Her family? The media would string them up as it usually did, especially if something fishy triggered around some well- known tycoon girl.

Rhea hastily closed the door and stepped out. She decided to call another friend once she was in the lift. What a day! All lines were busy so she could do nothing. On second thoughts, she realized the driver could help. She got a shock when she found him waiting for her right outside the entrance. Rhea had no time to ask why and how he found his way there. Her priority was Amrit. Hurriedly she went up with him, tried to lift the boy, laid him on the bed and phoned for an ambulance. Within a few minutes it came shrieking and the boy lifted to the nearest hospital. Rhea now called up her father. All this while she had quite forgotten that that was the first thing for her to do, but better late than never. Her father rushed to the hospital (and as always happens with VIP’s), Amrit was immediately placed under the specialists’ expert hands.

On their way back home, Rhea sat by the side of her father while the driver tagged her car behind. There was pin drop silence between them until they reached home. The car braked into the garage and immediately, Rhea rushed into her room, threw herself on the bed and burst out crying. Her father peeped in but went past without a word.  Her mom was yet not home and her baby brother was playing carom with his friends in the lounge. After a while, she was up, freshened herself and stepped out of her room. Her father was waiting for her in the hall but said not a word. Rhea sat down looking more composed. He rang the bell, Vishvas emerged it seemed from space and was ordered to bring tea and snacks.

Just then, the bell rang and in walked her mom all dressed up. Seeing the two sitting at the table, she too sat down to have a cup of tea. Rhea looked at her slyly wondering where she had been all this while. She did not forget her lonely breakfast in the morning. Suddenly she said, “Mom where did you go? I woke up and no one was there. I missed you this morning. I had a lousy breakfast.” Mom looked at her. She did not like to be questioned about her whereabouts. Her husband never did, and here was her own daughter demanding to know her absence since morn. Putting up an acid smile she said, “It’s none of your business.” Rhea sulkily left the table. Mom did not show any signs of calling her back to finish her tea, together the husband and wife finished theirs. After a brief silence the husband narrated Rhea’s call, her dilemma, how Amrit (supposedly Rhea’s friend as her mother understood), had been shifted to the hospital. Mom passed no comments.

Back in her room, Rhea again burst into tears. How could her mother be so rude and insulting? She questioned herself. She wished to confide her secrets, share her problems, take her guidance on tender moments of life, her dream boy, her passions, her hopes her goals, but mom had no time for her. Whom should she lean upon? Her father was more concerned about her welfare, yet she could not share all her longings with him.

There was a knock at her door. She opened it to find Vishvas standing with a hot cup of coffee topped with chocolate. That was just what she needed to cool her off, but how did he know? Was he standing there listening to her conversation with her mother and how she was snubbed? He entered the room, and placed the tray on the bedside table and asked if she wished to have something else. She shook her head and Vishvas retired, but the next moment he reappeared with delectably baked ginger cookies fresh from the oven. They smelled so delicious Rhea nibbled them up. Vishvas withdrew with the tray as soon as Rhea finished her coffee and cookies.

This happened every day. Vishvas seemed to read her mind and attended to her ungrudgingly. In fact, he became her personal attendant. Gradually they exchanged their views on matters related to social life, friends, movies and anything under the sun they could think of. Little did they realize that these flimsy conversations were actually drawing them near to each other? Neither were Rhea’s parents aware of their intimacy. Sometimes Rhea took him in the car accompanied by the driver so as not to raise suspicion. Gradually the driver was dropped and Rhea herself drove to the amusement park along with him. Here they spent many a happy hours together.

Amrit was fast on way to recovery and Rhea often visited him along with Vishvas but no one knew about this at least mom was kept out of the secret. If anyone knew, it was her father. Vishvas was puzzled he wondered what was the secret until one day he dared to ask Rhea about it. At first, she hesitated but since he was more of her confidante than an attendant now she confided.

“You know this is a hush thing. Don’t repeat what I am telling you. Amrit is my half-brother.” Even as she blurted out the truth, she felt Vishvas’ eyes staring at her. She continued…, “This is a secret dad and I share. Mom has no idea about it. Though she is my mother, she doesn’t care for me, which makes dad sad though he makes no mention of the fact. You see my mom suffers from some stupid complex for which she has undergone a sort of treatment for the malady but she remains all the same.  She is only interested in cards, kitty parties and adorning herself with diamonds to display her high status. She is just empty inside.” Suddenly Rhea realized she had spoken much and immediately sealed her lips. Vishvas made no comments. He seemed to be carried away into a remote world. Here he was struggling to  support his mother who had sacrificed her whole life for him and here was a mother who had no wish to take care of her own daughter and was oblivious of the fact she also had a son, albeit not her very own ! What an irony of fate.

They drove home in silence, dad was home and she passed over the message about Amrit. He was happy the boy was recovering fast. Now he decided that once he was discharged he would send him abroad for further studies and would be away from wary eyes. He gave a pat on her back and Rhea made an attempt to read something in her dad’s eyes but by then he had strutted off. Vishvas was in the kitchen preparing hot chocolate coffee for her and would later take it to her room. Ever since mom had snubbed her, she had retreated and avoided being with her during tea- time.

Days passed by, Amrit grew stronger and a few months later he had safely flown abroad to pursue his studies. Rhea missed him as the two shared many happy hours together. Now certain loneliness halted her life, her gaiety disappeared, she missed her half brother and time hung it seemed in mid air. The clock ticked ever so slowly that Rhea grew desperate. Her father sensed her loneliness and began to take her for drives to pacify her loneliness, yet the pain did not subside.  Despite the outings Rhea struck a deeper friendship with Vishvas of which her father was quite unaware and of course, her mother had no interest in her life except for her own kitty parties.

As time flew, Rhea withdrew into a shell. Her father worried about her welfare but the pain did not subside. Her mother failed to notice anything wrong until one day she fainted, and was rushed to the hospital. The unfathomable secret was discreetly revealed to her father… Rhea was carrying….

Stunned, the mighty tycoon could hardly believe his ears and almost collapsed with shame. He faltered…

The news was confirmed. There was nothing he could do about it, except to take Rhea into his confidence and delve into her secret love life….

Too late Vishwas had disappeared, faded and melted into the oceanic crowd.