VULNERABILITY GONE WRONG – X

Next morning as Shaloween put her alarm on snooze, still wanting to catch up those last 10-15 mins of sleep, she heard her phone ring. It can only be her mom to call her at 6 am, she picked up and lazily said – “Good Morning ma, I hope all is good with you.”


“Hi Shaloween” came a male voice from the other end.


She woke up straight on her bed and looked at the phone in utter surprise. It was Shekhar Chandra. She was at loss of words and just managed to utter “Hello…. Sir?”


“Listen I am sorry for what I did. I am feeling quite ashamed. You are right, this is indeed harassment. I am not entitled to behave this way with you. Please understand that my intentions were not wrong. I genuinely like you and would like to be a part of your life. However, if this is not something that you want – I will go away and not bother you again.” Said Chandra apologetically.


Shaloween was shocked. She didn’t expect this turn of action. She was almost prepared to shout out a few nasty words at him but he is really apologizing.


“Ok”, totally at the loss of words, she could only say this.


“So, are we good with each other now? Let us just keep our conversation professional from now on. I promise that I won’t come in your personal way now unless you want me to. If ever you change your mind and want to come into my life – you have my number. I would really love that.” Said Shekhar Chandra in a flirtiest tone.


“Sir, I hope you are not going to let any of this have an impact on my work. I have really worked hard in this project and I was thinking that you might just push all my due credit down the drain. I really hope that you won’t do this.” Said Shaloween a bit doubtful.


There was silence at the other end.

“Shalu, I am not that kind of a person. I feel hurt that you thought that I would stoop down to this level.” Said Shekhar in a low voice.


“I am sorry Sir. I hardly know you, I can only judge by little interactions that we have had.”


“Didn’t I tell you earlier – you like to judge me, isn’t it? Well, let us meet in a few hours at office.” Shekhar said without letting her complete the sentence.


He hung the phone. No goodbyes.

That felt really weird. Shaloween opened the letter she had composed for ICC. She read it multiple times and felt guilty about it. “Did I judge the guy wrongly? Maybe he is genuine person wanting to be my friend and I just… anyway. I am glad that all this over, hopefully it would be a normal day at work. I am tired of having these eventful days now.”


Was this episode of her life really over? 

VULNERABILITY GONE WRONG – IX

Shaloween locked her mobile screen, gathered herself and went on ahead to Mr. Sikdar’s chamber. She handed over the data and excused herself out. It was almost lunch time. She dropped a text to her superior and took a half day leave citing health issues and left for home.

Her head was throbbing. She quickly ate the lunch that she had packed on her way and lied down on the couch unable to get the happenings of the last few days out of her mind.

The ring of her mobile startled her. She opened her eyes only to realise that she had dozed off and it was almost evening.

Shaloween picked up her phone, read Shekhar Chandra’s message again and took the bold step of texting back.

“This is downright harassment. I have told you I am not interested in having to do anything with you outside the office. Please leave me alone. You are my officer, and I have to report to you in the office; other than that, I don’t need this from you. Please focus your sexual energy elsewhere.”

She pressed the send button and went to take a late-night stroll in her lane to clear her head. She played with the dog walking along with her and played fetch with him with wood. The dog followed her home, and she placed a bowl of milk and break in front of him in a plastic container. The dog lapped it up, and Shaloween watched him, enjoying the simple pleasures of life.

The dog slept at the foot of her bed and left her around the following day till she boarded the metro to go to work. She laughed at him as he wagged his tail in goodbye and decided to adopt that dog. She named him Bhaskar.

She reached the office and headed straight for her office. At lunch, she saw Chandra eating with Mahem, Singh and Sikdar in the cafeteria as she sipped a Coke with her meal. Chandra gave her a tight-lipped, stoic expression.

She ran her palm on her hair to show she was wearing her hair in a tight bun. The message was clear, ‘She was not interested in his advances and was ready to take a stand.’

Later, as she left the cafeteria, she saw Chandra say something to the other officers, which made the trio look her way with a distasteful expression. Her heart sank as she made her way back to her office.

She knew Chandra would get back to her, but he didn’t know that she was prepared. She took a clean sheet of paper and wrote a letter to the internal complaints committee (ICC) about harassment, abuse of power and a hostile work environment. She worded the letter strongly, signed it and placed it in an envelope, placing it in her bag.

She was resolute, one more inappropriate message, one more instance of office politics or one more incident of power abuse, and she will make Chandra pay.

VULNERABILITY GONE WRONG – VIII

Shaloween kept tossing and turning in bed for a long time before she finally fell asleep.

She woke feeling a bit relaxed yet quite disturbed. She looked at the Cuckoo-clock that hung on the wall in her hall. It was 7 A.M. – a little late than her usual waking time. However, she didn’t mind much. Just after she had finished her morning prayers, her phone rang. As she picked up the phone from the table to answer the call, she was perplexed to see the name of the caller. Shekhar Chandra it was!

A few seconds went by with the mobile still ringing in her hand before she took the call.

“Hello . . . Good morning, Sir”

“Very good morning . . . I hope you are awake or did I disturb your sleep?”, came the voice from the other end.

“I’m awake, Sir”, said Shaloween politely.

“That’s good! I need you to work out certain things before I reach office today. I will mail the details to the official email id so that you can access them”, said Shekhar Chandra as he went on to explain the nitty-gritties of the work before hanging up.

The urgency of work soon took over Shaloween as she rushed into her household chores in an attempt to leave home early that day.

“Shiva, I need piping hot ginger tea today . . . a lot of work . . . and my mind is in shambles”, she said to the office boy as she opened the door to her chamber.

“By the way, for how many days have the supervising officers been deputed to our office . . . any idea?”, she asked a seeming-to-know-all type subordinate who had just come in.

“They’ll be here for a couple of days more, probably. Earthquake assessment is almost over and with not much damage, there isn’t really a lot that they have to do here”, came the reply.

“C’mon, just focus on work Shaloween! Shed off your baggages . . . you have to perform for your office . . . Shekhar Chandra would leave . . . your work will stay . . . don’t let anything bother you”, Shaloween pepped herself as she started working.

It was a sultry day and with the air conditioning not working, Shaloween was sweating profusely as she worked. With no one in her chamber, she let her hair hang loose to the left side so as to let some breeze from the ceiling fan pass through the damp hair roots. She was so engrossed in work that she got startled when the door to her chamber was thrown wide open and in walked Shekhar Chandra.

She fumbled a “Good morning” as she hurriedly fixed her hair before he would get a chance to look at her properly.

“Is the report ready?”, asked Chandra matter-of-factly.

“Almost done, Sir”, replied Shaloween.

“Well, then I’ll wait in Mr. Sikdar’s room till you are done with it”, said Shekhar as he left the room with a bang of the door without much expression.

Shaloween heaved a sigh of relief. Alone in her room, she could focus better. The events of the last few days had been extremely unsettling for her.

“What do men think – single women are easily available for their perversions? Being single doesn’t make a woman an easy game for men to entertain themselves with. Doesn’t this fellow feel remorseful behaving the way he does? Huhh!!”, she had thought a while back in between the work.

Interactions with Shekhar Chandra had been purely official that morning. She thought to herself victoriously, “probably this fellow has realised that he cannot get his way through to me!”

It took two more hours for Shaloween to complete the task. She got up from her chair to show the report to Sikdar, Mahem and Chandra carrying her mobile and the pen drive with the data.

Walking her way along the corridor, she flipped open her mobile to view the unread messages. She hadn’t got the time to check any messages since the time she turned up to work that day.

“You look gorgeous with your hair open. I hope you won’t disappoint me!”

“Not again!”, yelped Shaloween in her mind as she stopped short of her steps, feeling weak in her legs.

That was a message from Shekhar Chandra.

VULNERABILITY GONE WRONG – VII

Shalloween had been rearing the thoughts of Anubhav for last many years and had never allowed herself to think about anyone else all these years. After his accident and death, she became extremely vulnerable regarding the topics of love, marriage and boyfriend even though she is well aware of the fact that she can’t live her life like this till the end. Yet, she really doesn’t like discussing it any time. She knows, Anubhav can’t return back to her and she can’t feel his loving touches. She knows his comforting words can’t soothe her anymore yet she has been haunted by his thoughts every time she is emotionally weak or down. It is only her work and the passion to do well at her workplace that had kept her away from those thoughts. But this man, Shekhar Chandra and what all that happened with her for the last two days literally made her unstable, vulnerable and haunted her with Anubhav’s thoughts.

Shalloween, I feel there’s something which makes you vulnerable and I think if you can talk it out to someone you can trust and feel close to, you’ll feel better.” Shekhar Chandra suggested with a gentle smile on his face.

‘Close? Trust? This man?’ Shalloween thought and scoffed in her heart but suppressed her feelings within herself. This man was seriously getting on her nerves with his creepy and cheesy behaviour. But out of courtesy and thinking about her position in regards to this man, she simply nodded and said, “Sir, I had someone close whom I lost in an accident. And that incident has literally shaken my life. Otherwise, I have nothing else that can make me underperform the tasks assigned to me.

You always take things very seriously. I have seen you at work, Shalloween. You never underperform. But are you not underperforming now, being with me for a night out?” Mr. Chandra grinned as he replied to her.

Shalloween smiled gently and politely replied, “Night out? Are you serious? I would prefer night outs with my own friends and family members, Sir.”

“So you don’t consider me as your friend?” He pretended to be upset and then grinned wickedly saying, “But I won’t mind going much ahead of being just your friend, Shalloween. And what’s wrong in this? Are we not both singles?

That was a big lie and a joke that this man always said to everyone. Even his colleagues were not aware of the fake information which he had provided in his facebook account. He is a man above 50 years and about his marital status no one knew much. But Shalloween still believed that he was single though she didn’t like what he said. She literally got upset though she controlled herself.

Sir, I respect you as you are a high official and much senior to me. Because of that respect and since it is your birthday, I agreed to keep your invitation. I am a little different from others and I don’t like such complicated statements. Please if we can keep our conversations professional I will be really grateful to you.” She gently and politely placed her feelings in front of Mr. Shekhar Chandra who was still wearing that wicked grin on his face.

I know Shalloween, you are different. That is the reason why I fell for your charm and intelligence. And I am not shy to express myself“, he responded as he waved his hand towards a waiter to come over to their table.

Shalloween could not believe her ears and what he just had told her. She now started to feel uncomfortable in this man’s presence. She realised she made a terrible mistake by coming to this restaurant keeping his invitation. She took time to gather herself as the waiter came to their table and to her surprise he ordered two glasses of whiskey. She could not take it anymore but said, “Sir, I don’t drink and I won’t like it if you drink in my presence, so please let’s keep this dinner simple or else I will make a move now.”

Have I not supported you in the office when your own bosses were against your report? And don’t you know, it was because of me, they kept their mouths shut and no one dared to speak a word against you? Why? Because you are a good woman and deserve the best in life. And I can give you the best which no one else can give you… Can’t we be…just… I mean.. Do you understand what I….” Mr. Chandra paused as he bragged about his power and how helpful he was to her while he attempted to get into Shalloween’s inner circle and seat on the throne of her heart which she has kept it empty for years.

I am very grateful to you, Sir. I will always be grateful to you for your support. But please don’t expect anything in return apart from work assignments. I think, it’s already very late and if you don’t mind, I will take your leave.” She was blunt and polite at the same time when she made that statement as she stood up to walk away from that restaurant.

Mr. Chandra could neither force her nor tried to compel her much, but requested her to finish eating before walking out. He thought he had to find a way to trap her on a later date, not today for sure.

That evening, when Shalloween returned to her flat, she wept holding her pillows thinking about all that she had to go through and how lonely and vulnerable she felt. She regretted accepting the dinner invitation and tried her best to sleep as soon as possible instead of brooding over all that happened that evening.

VULNERABILITY GONE WRONG – VI

He got up from his seat and walked towards the envelope glass of the office building. The view is of a park which also had a pond. There were few kids in the play area. Chandra turned around, “This park brings back lot of memories, very close to my heart. This was my favorite place, or rather it still is” , he smiled.

Shaloween is watching the reflection of Chandra on the glass. 

He carried on, “When I first moved to this city, I was feeling lonely. I don’t have that feeling anymore”

Their conversation was interrupted by a knock on the door. 

Chandra, what are you doing here? Let’s go. We are late for the meeting” – It was Mr.Mahem. 

“I will be there in a few”, replied Chandra to Mahem, then he walked closer to Shaloween and whispered in a low voice, “Let’s catch up  for dinner tonight!”

Shaloween is totally taken aback. “Why is he behaving as if we are friends. We hardly know each other and dinner. Ridiculous. He didn’t even ask me. What does he think of me?”

Shaloween was angry. However, she was clear she is not accepting such absurd catch-up requests. She wanted to tell him that she won’t be joining him for dinner. The whole day she couldn’t find him. She finished her work, returned home and was relaxing. “Mr.Chandra, Ooh, there is something about you. I can’t stop thinking about you. In one way or the other it is disturbing me. I need to put an end to all this“, she thought. Her phone buzzed in the meanwhile. It was a message from Mr.Chandra, with the location of the place for dinner with a smiley. 

She is extremely irritated. Anyway, she wanted to put an end to all this. In such a case, the best way to do it is out of office. She wanted to utilize this dinner invite for that. Instead of having dinner with him, all she wanted to do was to request him to stop bothering her, by hook or crook. She wore a casual dress with a touch of her favorite body mist, she looked like nothing one would dress up for a dinner.  She took the car keys and started driving towards the destination. It took her 20 mins to reach there. The place was almost empty.

She walked towards the reception to check if there was any booking. Before she could talk to the receptionist, there was a voice from behind, ” I am glad you are here. This way Ms.Shaloween”. Both Chandra and Shaloween headed to their table. 

As soon as they were seated, Shaloween said, ” Mr. Chandra, there is something I want to tell you”

Mr. Chandra: “Sure, but let me go first. I have a lot to talk too”

Shaloween: What is there to talk between us. I find it extremely unprofessional ….

Mr. Chandra: Please, don’t be angry. There was no time. I should have made the request a better way. Please execuse me for that. 

Shaloween could not say anything.

There was an awkward silence for sometime. Mr.Chandra resumed the conversation, “I fell in love with a girl. She is the most beautiful girl I’ve ever met. She is intelligent, meticulous and hardworking. I love how she carries herself as an independent woman. With dark eyes and a vibrant smile, she is a charmer”, said Chandra. Shaloween is a little relieved, “Thank God, he has a girlfriend”

He continued, “It was love at first sight.  I have never been so sure about anything”

“That’s nice, Mr. Chandra”, Shaloween acknowledged. 

 “If you don’t mind, you may call me Shekar”, said he. 

“You must be missing your girl friend on your birthday”, said Shaloween, then she bit her tongue and said to herself, “Damn, can’t you keep quite Shaloween. Why do you care if he misses his girlfriend or not? Stupid you. Remember, he is a higher official..”

“Well, yes, that’s true, and that is why I am here”, he smiled with a hint of naughtiness

Shaloween is now totally perplexed  thinking what was he trying to tell her. 

VULNERABILITY GONE WRONG – V

Five years since she last held his hand, talked to him, argued with him, touched him. He was such a foodie; she learned to cook for him. They used to go for long drives on his motorcycle in the middle of the night. He loved his bike, and the bike ended up killing him.

She was with him for five years, and it has been five years without him. But the love he gave her in their short eternity was enough to last her a lifetime. Today was his birthday. She spent the day doing things he loved in his memory, but she will have to go to the office as the assessment team will expect her, and she can’t afford a leave.

She thought about Shekhar Chandra again. She went over his profile again, on FB, on Twitter, in LinkedIn. She dug deeper this time and realised he was single. Except that there was nothing more on him apart from a few reshares. He looked much younger in a couple of pics on his social media in a stylish tee, running shoes, sans his glasses, suit, and salt and pepper hair.

She picked up her darts and looked at her dartboard. She saw the ugly face of Mr Mahem and chucked one dart; it missed the target. Next, she imagined Mr Singh’s face in the dartboard, another miss. Mr Sikdar followed, and she missed his face by the width of a hair.

She sat up straighter and saw Chandra’s face in the dartboard and let it fly. It was Bull’s Eye. She punched the air, whooping in delight.

She was mulling over and over about what Shekar Chandra said to her in the lift, “YOU LIKE TO JUDGE PEOPLE, DON’T YOU?” What was about the cryptic words he said? She was sure there was a hidden message for her in there, but she couldn’t decipher it. She wasn’t judgemental as far as she knew.

She racked her brains but couldn’t tell when or who, or why she had wronged anybody. She slept for more than a couple of hours before she woke up, got ready and left for her work. But the first thing in the morning she simply distributed Anubhav’s favourite Chocobar ice cream to poor kids on the streets and ate one herself on her way to her office.

She went straight for her desk and got to work when she noticed a rose tucked away in one folder on her desk. She opened it and picked the red rose when a thorn made her finger bleed. She used a tissue to wipe the blood and was sucking her finger to stop the bleeding when she saw a note on the file.

Don’t be sad. What’s gone’s gone. You are not alone. I am here.
Remember, I am watching you.”

She read the note; it was Anubhav’s handwriting. She had goosebumps erupt all over her skin, and she called her mother. “Mom, Mom!!!” she cried. “Avi Mom, Avi…” she said and heard a knock on her door. Shekhar Chandra was standing at her door with an odd sneer on his lips.

She hung up the call and closed the folder with the rose and the note inside it, stood up from her seat and nodded for him to come in.

She turned around and wiped her eyes on a tissue, and composed herself. She didn’t want to seem weak in front of this man. She turned around and saw him sitting in a chair opposite her.

She managed a weak, welcome smile. “Good Morning Sir,” she said.

A perfect morning to you too, Miss Shaloween Duggal. How are you this morning?” he asked, swaying in the chair, left to right to left again, while fiddling with a pen.

Very good, Sir, thank you for asking. How are you, and what brings you to my chamber?” her tone was polite but firm.

He leaned on her desk. “Today is my birthday. You can wish me if you like.” He wasn’t kidding; his tone was solemn.

She swallowed. It felt like someone had just tainted her purest memories with something sinister. The taste in her mouth went bad.

Happy Birthday, Sir,” she said with a pale smile.

Thank You”, he said, and a peon came in with a tray with two coffee mugs on it. He laid it on the table.

I hadn’t ordered coffee, Shiva,” she told the peon who looked at the man sitting in front of her.

I did,” he said, lifting one mug and offering the other one to her. He crossed his right leg over the left one elegantly.

She accepted the coffee, and he dismissed the peon. “I thought I could start my day on a lighter note”, he said, pulling out a packet of Marlboro from his pocket and holding one between his teeth.

Shaloween gave a disapproving look as he clicked his lighter. “Forgive me; I have a very habit of having a smoke with my coffee.”

Anubhav, too, had this irritating habit of having coffee with cigarettes.

What coincidences are these?

VULNERABILITY GONE WRONG – IV

The day started good, went to bad, then worse and ended on a fine note. Shaloween cleared her desk for the day and was leaving for home. She stepped inside the lift, and just as the double doors were smoothly sliding shut, someone jammed a foot in the door. Shaloween looked up with an offensive expression, but her features softened upon seeing Shekhar Chandra.

He stepped inside and gave her half a smile. She smiled back, and he pressed the parking button. Shekhar Chandra stood with his hands deep in his pockets and sighed. Shaloween couldn’t decide if she wanted to thank him or confront him. The silence was awkward.

She cleared her throat. “Thank you for showing faith in me back in there“, she said.

He looked at her as if he just realised he wasn’t alone and blinked. “Oh! Don’t mention it. I rarely form an opinion on someone too soon, unlike some people.” He winked as he emphasised the word ‘some.’

She gave a sheepish smile and tugged a loose hair tendril behind her ear. She didn’t realise, but she was sweating. “It was very unusual what happened today. My work is usually impeccable“, she said, trying to sound modest.

He gave her a beaming smile as he turned to her. “Look at you, eager to earn a cookie point and redeem yourself.” His tone was condescending.

Shaloween was suddenly simpering with anger. What the hell he wants? One moment he is rude, then nice, then rude again. It was getting hard for her to discern him, and that made her mad.

She carefully chose her following words, not knowing if he was a friend or a foe. “I don’t need redemption. The error wasn’t from my end. I took the heat for nothing.” She was breathing fast. “And have we met before?”, she asked, looking straight at his face.

He turned to her, and a corner of his mouth curled. “You really can’t reach a decision about me, and that’s killing you; you like to judge people, don’t you?” his voice was polite, gentlemanly, yet it was cold enough to send a shiver up her calves.

She opened her mouth in protest, but he went on. “And No, we have never met before,” he said.

Shaloween was about to ask about the text he sent her when the lift doors opened, and he stepped out, heading straight for his car, without a word or backward glance towards her.

She went home in a sour mood and kicked her shoes as soon as she was inside her house. Her head was heavy, like a watermelon balanced on her neck. She drank a gallon of water from her fridge and ordered enough food to feed a family.

While waiting for the food, she made some calls. She scolded her brother, Mohit, for not reverting to her, shouted at her maid for not coming for two days, yelled at the Zomato delivery guy for not finding her address and lastly cried out in humiliation and anger.

When the food arrived, she ate ravenously. She ordered much more than she could ever eat and kept it in the fridge for the next day. Night, she lay in her bed and jumped from OTT to OTT to find something suitable to watch. She settled on Arya and forgot her troubles, losing herself in Arya’s troubles.

After crying for Arya when she watched Tej die, she closed the TV and knew sleep would not be coming tonight. She was too listless to sleep. She opened the book she was reading these days, titled ‘Fountainhead‘ by Ayn Rand. She pulled out a picture from the book she used as a bookmark and looked at it for a long minute.

Anubhav smiled at her from the picture. She ran her fingers on the photo, longing for him to hold her hand, just like he used to, pulling her close to him and hugging her tight despite her trying to get away. How many times in one lifetime are you blessed with such unconditional love, she wondered.