The Devil’s Workshop – 1

Clouds - Bill Hunyh

Photo by Billy Huynh on Unsplash

As I announced on my social media profiles, I shall be uploading in a serial form a novella that I wrote when I was 19 and still in college. If you find the writing raw or amateurish in certain places, bear in mind my age and almost zero experience in writing at the time. Starting today, I shall upload part by part the whole novella. Tonight, I start with the prologue.

Kaushal S. Inamdar, Mumbai, 31st March, 2020 – While in a Lockdown during Covid-19 Pandemic


The time is 6:00 PM. And there is still no sign of Nikhil. That really does not surprise me. Nikhil’s sense of timekeeping has ceased to be a novelty long ago. Punctuality is certainly not one of his virtues. That, I have learnt from experience. So, whenever he tells me that it will pick me up by 5:30 PM, I start getting ready by six. That is exactly what I am doing today.

            First, I have to take a bath. I take my towel and go to the bathroom. As usual, I sing in the bathroom and as usual I get carried away. Suddenly, something reminds me that I have got to get ready. Ah, it is the siren of the mill! I hurry through my bath after which I feel fresh and stimulated.  I move towards my cupboard. I choose the best of my shirts (I have ten to choose from) and spend considerable time in choosing the appropriate trousers (out of eight). Nikhil always complains that I take a lot of time to arrive to a decision. He has over a hundred shirts and an equal number of trousers, but he does not take half a second to decide. I remind him that choice is always difficult for the more imaginative.

            The dressing up part of it is quick, though I give some thought to my hairstyle. I remind myself again that if I have any intention of remaining in this world of civilised people, I must get a haircut soon.

I spend another five minutes gazing in the mirror, trying to scrutinise my face from all angles.  What I see in the mirror does not please me. There, I see an individual called Anurag Waman Kher, of around 26 years of age. He is tall but extremely thin which has resulted in his rather awkward posture. His eyes are expressive, but the dark circles beneath them camouflage that fact. He would have been handsome but for his slightly incongruous nose. That fellow in the mirror was not exactly my idea of myself but we must make do with some things. I try to alter my image by suitably combing my unruly hair and applying the Davidoff that Nikhil gave me on my last birthday. It is strange how we always try to alter our image and never ourselves. Anyway, that is just an observation that I have made, and I don’t really boast of practising what I preach.

There! Finally, I am ready now. I look at the clock and let out a sigh. It is now 6:45 PM. And Nikhil has still not arrived. I sit in my favourite armchair (that’s the only luxury in my otherwise modest apartment.) I turn the TV on but only for a short period of time. Who was it who said that TV is chewing gum for the eyes? That chap must have been enlightened. The television, as always, is a consistent source of boredom. I shut it off in a matter of five minutes and pick up the Times of India. There is nothing new.

25 people killed in Assam by ULFA extremists.

13 killed in a road mishap when a truck collides with van on the Bombay Goa highway.

A reporter of the Times retires after 38 years of yeomen service.

I wonder where this word ‘yeomen’ has come from!

Opposition walks out of the Parliament over some debate over some rise in some allowance for MPs. 

I am sure that has nothing to do with the Nation and wonder why this news ever made it to the front page. I wonder why most of the news they print ever makes it to the front page!

Reading the newspaper has become as boring as watching TV! It’s the same news every day. The figures and the scores change, but the content remains the same. You wouldn’t know if the same newspaper is delivered every day! But then, I suppose, reality is a bit boring.

Now here’s something interesting.

Professor in a city college turns out to be a Pakistani spy.

Now isn’t that interesting! Why the hell would a professor want to be a spy? I wonder if my life will ever be as interesting as that.

Here’s another bit of interesting news.

Wife kills paramour with the help of her husband.

Strange news. Usually, it is the other way round, isn’t it? It is the husband who should have been murdered. Now I am certain that something is amiss here. I wish I could solve these murder mysteries ‘sitting in an armchair’ the way Monsieur Poirot does!

That is my passion. Murder mysteries! You see the shelf there? It is loaded with murder mysteries. Agatha Christies, Perry Masons, Sherlock Holmes, Dorothy Sayers… you name it! Fiction is fascinating. I am willing to bet whoever said that truth was stranger than fiction didn’t know what he was talking about. Truth was sitting at home and waiting for your best friend to pick you up half an hour ago. I toss the newspaper aside and let out a sigh. Even news seems fiction. These things don’t happen. Not to us anyway.

The telephone rings. I pick it up after three rings. Never pick up the phone on the first ring. If it turns out to be a business call you seem too eager.

“Anurag Kher speaking!” I announce, rather pompously. I do possess a deep, baritone voice. It certainly makes up for my appearance and I am proud of it.

It is Nikhil on the line.

“Sorry pal! Flat tyre. I am speaking from Chembur. Will be there in half an hour.”

“Somehow I knew it. But do you know that you used the flat tyre ruse the last time? This is the second time you are using that excuse.”

“Did I now? Think of this as the first time, will you? Haven’t the time to cook up more imaginative stories. Or think of something else. You are the more imaginative anyway! Do that. I’ll be there in the mean time!”

“Ciao!” I keep the phone down.

Now that Nikhil won’t be arriving for at least the next half hour, I decide to prepare myself a nice, hot cup of tea. Tea is something I can never do without.

I make the tea with great love and care, as I usually make it and then come to the window and look outside. It is the month of August. There is a gentle breeze outside and at any moment now, the sky will give in to the rains. My house is by the sea side and I can also watch the sun dissolving into the sea and turning the sea into gold. Whoever says alchemy does not exist!

A steaming cup of tea, a setting sun and ah… now even a slight drizzle. Such a romantic atmosphere is the nearest thing to bliss. If this is not paradise, then what is?

I pull my armchair to the window and stare dreamily into the sky which now basks in innumerable shades of yellow and grey. For a long time, I stare at the clouds. Slowly the clouds start taking shape…

To be continued…

Photo by Billy Huynh on Unsplash

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