Mrs. Gupta was a woman obsessed. Obsessed with the damned K serials that had flooded the idiot box. Depressed. That’s what her family was. With this barrage of nonsensical idiocy being thrown at them each night, it wasn’t strange that she was eventually left alone infront of the TV set as the rest of the family retreated to their chosen abodes. Mr. Gupta, on the bed in his freshly ironed kurta pyjama, next to the incandescent table lamp, reading a book of short stories. Sahil the son, out for a walk in the park outside, smoking his last cigarette of the day. Parul the daughter, diligently studying for her board exams in her room, convinced she wasn’t going to end up like her mother.
Mrs. Gupta was usually the last one to sleep. She’d put her daughter back to bed from her study table, switch off the lamp by her husband’s bed side and sit by the drawing room window overlooking the building on the opposite side. She had difficulty sleeping some nights and found this habit quite interesting, unconventional. The building had been recently constructed so not all the rooms had been occupied. In fact, at night there were just two rooms where the light would stay on till at least midnight. The one on the third floor, which she could look down into and the one on the sixth which she had a partial view of. While the one on the third floor was an old couple, quite boring I must say, the one on the sixth was an enterprising young lady. Once divorced, she was a lawyer with the High Court, had a nasty temper and frequently entertained guests at night. While the latter was a matter of observation for Mrs. Gupta, the former was known through the many housewives residing in the building. Word spreads around very quickly in such societies.
It was on one of those nights that Mrs. Gupta, while sitting by the window, saw another woman in the sixth floor flat. Curious, she thought. She hadn’t ever seen another woman alone in her flat before. She could hardly make out much, but from what she saw she figured this wasn’t some relative of hers. The conversation seemed quite animated with both of them laughing away to glory. Old friends probably, thought Mrs. Gupta. Before Mrs. Gupta could begin reminiscing her old days, the guest grabbed the lawyer by the head and kissed her right there, by the window. Mrs. Gupta, in absolute disbelief by now, had her head glued to the window trying to make sense out of what she was seeing. She knew what she’d seen but couldn’t believe it. She’d heard about such things with all the marches and the rallies these days, but this was happening in front of her.
Curiosity, like always, got the better of her. Making sure that her family was asleep, Mrs. Gupta quietly tiptoed out of her apartment and headed towards the roof of her sixth floor building which had a much better view of the scene of action. She felt like one of the many characters from her K serials, about to discover an explosive piece of gossip and eager to possess it, because with it came the momentary happiness that comes along with owning fresh gossip.
Just as she reached the roof side overlooking the lawyer’s apartment, the curtains got drawn and the view, much like her curiosity, got blocked. By the way Mrs. Gupta was pacing the roof side you could tell that she half expected the curtains to open so she could get some substantial gossip. What she saw wasn’t enough, she needed more details. Disappointed with the no show, she went down to her apartment and lay down on the bed. There wasn’t going to be any sleep tonight.
In the morning she packed Mr. Gupta’s and Sahil’s lunch just like she’d done for the past two decades. Parul didn’t go to school. She had holidays for her Pre-Boards coming up. Mrs. Gupta went to the kitchen and started preparing lunch. The maid, Rukhsana, couldn’t help but notice how fidgety Mrs. Gupta was acting today. She went about her job and in the middle casually remarked how she felt there was something bothering Mrs. Gupta. Mrs. Gupta, as if waiting to erupt, told Rukhsana everything that had happened last night. Rukhsana, equally amused, listened in absolute excitement of yesterdays affairs. Mrs. Gupta strictly told her to keep it to herself, and Rukhsana assured her that she would. She gave Rukhsana a plate with a few rotis and rajma to take to Parul’s room and sat down on the table, feeling a little lighter now that she had shared the piece of gossip with Rukhsana.
Parul told Rukhsana to enter and put the food by the side of the bed. As Rukhsana was about to leave she blurted out, “Did you hear?”
“About the lawyer lady in the opposite building”
“No, what about her?”
“They’re saying she has a thing for women. She keeps bringing girls up to her apartment every night.”
“Are you serious?” asked Parul, looking quite amused.
“Why would I lie? I only tell what I hear. Ask your friends Rahul and Shweta, they live in the same building, right? ” Parul, a little lost now, had stopped listening to Rukhsana, who by now was out of the room.
Being busy in household chores during the day evening came quite soon for Mrs. Gupta. Sahil came back from college first, hungry and tired as usual. Mr. Gupta, an hour later, much in the same condition. Dinner was served which was followed by the daily round of K-serials for Mrs. Gupta. The rest of the family retreated to their abodes and was asleep in no time. Mr. Gupta did wake up once though, around one in the night, only to find Mrs. Gupta not in bed. Disinterested, he’d gone back to sleep. If he’d bothered to check he’d have found her sitting by the drawing room window, staring outside.
The next day ran as usual with a slight change in plan for dinner. Parul was going for an evening study session at one of her friends’ and Sahil had a birthday party to go to, apparently one that didn’t just have the standard cake and Happy Birthday song. Both of them had decided to stay over at their respective friend’s place which Mrs. Gupta didn’t mind. The same routine followed that night, with K-serials accompanying dinner and Mr. Gupta dozing off to sleep with the book in his hand. Mrs. Gupta, who’d been diligently sitting infront of the television till now had just been disturbed by a break at a crucial point in the serial and as a result had drifted off towards the window, her eyes gazing upwards at the sixth floor. Nothing. Darkness. Disappointed, she returned to her serial and was let down by the plot twist at first, but something far more interesting came up soon enough.
As the last serial of the night reached its crescendo, the clock struck 12 and she knew they would leave it at the climactic last line. Sure enough, that’s what happened and Mrs. Gupta, like a million other housewives, was left wondering what the twist might be. She switched off the lights to the drawing room, and decided to go to bed when her eyes inadvertently glanced upon the sixth floor window. The room light was on. Sure enough, Mrs. Gupta assumed her position by the window staring at the sixth floor. Meanwhile, Mr. Gupta was now awake, a little uncomfortable with the twisted sleeping position he had drifted off in. He looked around to see his wife missing again. He got up to look for her, convinced that she’d be glued to the idiot box but instead found her staring out the window. He walked up to her without disturbing her and followed her gaze to what seemed to be the sixth floor window of the opposite building. Curiouser and curiouser!
“What are you….” “Ahhhh!!!”, shouted Mrs. Gupta obviously surprised to hear her husband’s voice out of the blue, especially when she was least expecting him to be awake. “What’s wrong with you? Why would you scare me like that?”
“Wrong with me? What are you doing up at this time staring into people’s windows?”
Mrs. Gupta now realised that she’d been caught in the act and there was no easy explanation. She decided to go ahead and tell him the truth. She never could lie to him. Surprisingly, he took it quite well. She’d expected him to tell her to stop this nonsense. Instead Mr. Gupta had been quite amused by what had transpired in the last couple of days. She told him about today, how the light had just been switched on suggesting that someone had just come to visit her. She urged him to come to the roof with her, she needed to be sure. He tried to dissuade her, telling her that she was invading into that woman’s privacy but Mr. Gupta knew his wife’s insatiable curiosity and figured that as long as they were discreet no one would know.
He followed her up to the roof, constantly reminding himself that it was a stupid thing to do but at the same time excited by the turn of events. He definitely wasn’t sleepy anymore. Mrs. Gupta led him towards the edge of the roof where they had the best view of the sixth floor flat. They crouched by the edge staring into the flat opposite. Nobody.“This is ridiculous. There’s nobody here.”
As soon as he said that, they saw 2 women entering the room. One of them was the lawyer, the other they couldn’t see very clearly. She was much younger than the lawyer. “See, I told you! Just wait for some time. I want to see who the other woman is”
They waited there for a few minutes after which both of them abruptly got up and started going down. As they were returning you could see that both of them were visibly shaken. They quietly entered the flat without saying a word to each other. Mr. Gupta went to the bed and sat there, staring into nothingness, clearly not sleepy anymore. Mrs. Gupta, now seated at the kitchen table, had her phone in her hand. She dialled his number. The phone rang thrice. “Sahil?”
“Yes mom, what happened? It’s quite late. Is everything okay?”
“Don’t worry. Everything’s fine. I just wanted to ask you, at which friend’s place is Parul staying today?”
“Oh! You had me worried. She’s staying at Shweta’s.”