“My name is Shuktara, you know, meaning the Morning Star”-She introduced herself to Sylvie as she sat beside her in the second last row near the corner.
Sylvie and her friends sat in rows with the desktops placed in front of them. They were all executives, writing contents for different IT companies, some of them were technical writers while others did business contents. Shuktara was newly recruited in the distinguished IT office- a new ID card hung from her neck displaying ‟Trainee Executive”. Sylvie was typing some technical contents featuring LED lights, stopped her work, and stared at her for a moment…she was like an ostrich, skeletal, very tall with unusual long limbs.
After the first glimpse which was quite unimpressive, Sylvie focused again on her work, she had to complete her target for the day-15 pages, she was only doing her 8th one, but then she rolled her eyes, had a quick look once again, this time her eyes met with Shuktara’s. ‟Oh what a pair of beautiful doe eyes God has given her when He gave her shape” thought Sylvie, and those eyes were expressing something, Sylvie could not decipher those bold expressions right at that moment. Office hours were till 6.30 in the evening, however sometimes continued till 8 o’ clock.
Soon after settling down next to Sylvie, Shuktara became a little restless. Sylvie could sense that Shuktara was at a little unease adjusting to the new work environment although the company they were working for had a very relaxing ambiance. With soft music playing on the floors, the ACs were working with full strength, there were refreshments available on the 4th floor, some reclining chairs on the 5th and there was even a gym where one can have a work out after long hours of work. The executives only had in their mind that they have to complete specific targets everyday and though one has to work frantically however at the end of the month they enjoyed handsome packages.
When Shuktara, joined her work and sat beside Sylvie with a dismal look, Sylvie was exploring Greece, her new project on tourism. With developing intolerance all over the globe, tourists are shifting their focus on Greece leaving behind expensive tourist spots like Switzerland, Paris and Brussels. As a result of this, popular websites on travel and tourism were shifting their eyes on Greece, Turkey and even Mexico and Peru…..places like Macedonia and Crete were the hot spots. Sylvie was busy gathering details about hotels, bread and breakfast, local shops and destinations, airfares while doing so she also glossed over the beautiful picturesque Grecian landscapes. Sylvie lost her concentration –Shuktara left her place and went to the Senior Executives room, Sylvie’s eyes followed her silently. From behind the glass panel she saw that Shuktara was having some arguments with Nafiza Mam , then she left the room crying. The next moment Shuktara took her handbag and left the room, logged out of the attendance roll and left office for the day, it was only 4.30.
That was Shuktara on her first day in the office and later became Sylvie’s pal after working some months sitting side by side. While Sylvie was married, working for 5 long years in the company, and was a senior technical writer, doe-eyed Shuktara was young hardly 21, just a graduate, skinny and bonny, vibrant and yes temperamental of course, she had very fast mood swings. As she was assigned to sit beside Sylvie, everyday early in the morning she would come and greet Sylvie very indifferently, “Good Morning Sylvie”, then she would smile at her and start her work without any other words, Shuktara was assigned with non- technical content writing as she was a beginner.
While Sylvie and her colleagues would bring lunch packs from home and sometimes had their lunch in the subsidized office canteen, Shuktara never brought anything from her home. What surprised Sylvie all the more was her arrogant attitude towards her seniors. Not only would Shuktara argue and counter-argue with her colleagues and seniors, she would also smoke cigarettes in the non- smoking zone of the office, and one day she asked Sylvie in the lunch break, “Di, can I have your apple? I am feeling very hungry.”
That day Sylvie brought a red glossy apple for herself and wanted to have it in the short break. And to Sylvie’s shock she never waited for her reply, without any delay, Shuktara got hold of the apple and started gorging it greedily almost like a hungry Hoover.
Sylvie was very possessive about apples because not only she loved them to eat, but she really followed the doctors age old adage ‟An apple a day keeps the doctor away…”. She didn’t tell anything to Shuktara as it would have been very rude of her, but when Shuktara was not present in the room, Sylvie narrated the entire incident to all her colleagues and like a child complained to all of them about Shuktara’s ill manners.
“How can she munch an apple without having my permission?” Sylvie asked again and again to her friends, she was so offended with Shuktara’s attitude that she stopped talking to her from the next day, only she spoke to her when it was an absolute necessity and in general avoided her all the time when they were in the office. But Shuktara was so lost in herself, that she never understood Sylvie’s inner revulsion towards her.
During breaks, when they would stand in the balcony Shuktara would light up a cigarette and start up a conversation with Sylvie, “You know, I do am facing a tough time in my love-life…. I have two soulmates”, she continued…Sylvie never revealed her hidden thoughts, but though apparently she lent a helpful ear to Shuktara’s problem with her beaus she spoke to herself, ‟Hellboys they are! And hell with you! You are a despicable hell-cat, a two-timer !”
Shuktara never had the ability to read anybody’s mind and she continued, ‟You know Di, I love them both Jimmy and Sunny, and both of them are in love with me, believe me Di, they are ready to do anything for me”….
“Pathological liar”, Sylvie spoke to herself… “She’s just telling us a tall story only to get importance. Certainly she’s suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder”.
One fine morning she came to office, took Sylvie to a corner in the lobby and showed her a snap in her mobile phone. Sylvie could see two young guys with Shuktara at the centre. Shuktara asked , ‟Tell me Sylvie, whom am I going to marry?”
Sylvie mocked at her asking, ‟Who’s who? Johnny and Tony?”
Shuktara pointed her finger to one of the boys who had an innocent face, ‟This is Jimmy”, pointed to the other guy with a little mischief in her eyes, ‟That is Sunny. Now you tell me, whom am I going to choose, am soooo….confused, I donno what to do exactly!” Sylvie replied with utmost irritability in her voice, “See Shuktara, it’s very difficult to judge anybody in this way. I can’t tell you who can be your suitable match, better judge yourself. You are a grown up girl, you are pragmatic, smart and enough matured to take your own decision, however if you ask me about my opinion I can only tell you that I believe in the old maxim ‟Marriages are made in Heaven.”
Shuktara refused to listen to Sylvie and went on pestering her, “No Sylvie, you are married, you know the songs of happy married life and besides that I feel you have the ability to judge characters, please tell me about your first impression regarding the two guys, it really means a lot to me.”
Sylvie was in the pickle for the moment. Having no other options to get away from Shuktara , she replied, “See Shuktara, I have got a lot to scribble today, but since you are my co-worker, I’ll not let you down. But please don’t take it by heart; the final decision should always be yours.” Then she looked at the photograph carefully, putting aside her project, paused for a minute, and after a brief observation, she said, “ I feel Jimmy who has an innocent smile on his face will be your perfect choice, because Sunny has some sort of looks of a mischief –maker. But looks can be deceptive; you never know what’s there inside the two boys’ heart.”
Unable to control her emotion, Shuktara, on hearing Sylvie’s words, snatched away the mobile from Sylvie’s hand and backfired at Sylvie, “Who said this is Jimmy and that is Sunny?”
Sylvie was taken aback and faltered, “You only said so a minute before to me,”
Shuktara replied in a harsh tone, “Sylvie, you are a moron , the one with the mischievous smile is Jimmy and Sunny has innocent looks, you don’t remember anything Sylvie, you are simply pooped out with your brain, you forget even simple facts.”
Sylvie instantly understood Shuktara’s tomfoolery and to avoid direct confrontations with Shuktara, she said, “Well, basically you are right my dear, I find it difficult to remember names, and then I am not as witty as you. I am really sorry for my silly comments.”
After this incident, Sylvie completely withdrew herself from interacting with Shuktara.
It was not only an isolated incident with Sylvie, as days passed all the office colleagues started having a hostile attitude towards Shuktara. Though she came up with the story of her two smitten lovers but soon she was head over heels for one of the most handsome guys in the office, who happened also to be Sylvie’s acquaintances. He was Harshit. Shuktara desperately tried to win his attention towards her. Everyday she would bring expensive gifts for Harshit.
One day Sylvie asked her in desperation, “Shuktara, why are you bringing Marlboro packets and Wild Stone perfumes for Harshit almost everyday? What happened to your heart throbs Johnny and Timmy?”
She opened her wide eyes and gnashing her teeth and said, “I deserted both of them because they have been mean to me.”
‟Are you really interested in this guy Harshit?” Sylvie asked.
‟You are a deadpan Sylvie, Harshit is so good looking and dandy, can’t you understand that I am in love with him?”
Sylvie always remained silent regarding Shuktara’s uncouth and impolite comments but she never retorted back at her rudeness, she only asked her one last question, “If you don’t take it otherwise, I am going to ask you one question before bringing an end to our friendship, why were you crying on your appointment day and left office all of a sudden?”
Shuktara puffed a cigarette, blew rings near Sylvie’s face and said, bringing her mouth very close to Sylvie’s ears, “Don’t tell anyone that I have PCOD, you know its Polycystic Ovarian Disease, for that reason I get severe cramps during my menses and that day I was bleeding profusely, so I left.”
Sylvie replied compassionately, “You could have confided it at least to me Shuktara, I always carry an extra sanitary napkin with me and would have given you one right at that moment”.
But Shuktara confronted Sylvie with her usual haughtiness, “I don’t take help from strangers.”
Sylvie was astounded at her vulgarity and was upset that she never understood Shuktara and their friendship already headed towards a dead end. The entire unit in the office failed to understand Shuktara. They only sensed that something was terribly wrong with her so she always saw things ‟upside down”. She carried on with her whims and she lied for little nothings even she would utter the wildest lies needlessly. All those who were close to her, came to the conclusion that most probably she was an over-pampered offspring coming from a shoddy family background.
Days passed by, until one day, Shuktara’s team leader called her inside her room. For long two hours, she was there scuffling and haggling with her team leader, Sylvie tried to keep an eye on the matter, but she had to meet the targets for the day, so after sometime she lost tracking Shuktara. After a long time, she came back with heavy steps and left her cubicle with her hand bag. Sylvie understood that some fresh trouble had brewed up with Shuktara. Shuktara never opened her mouth regarding the matter.
From the next day, Sylvie found that Shuktara’s place had been changed. One new trainee executive started sitting beside Sylvie and to know about the sitting arrangements of Shuktara, during her off-time, Sylvie asked Harshit, “Hi, of late you had been close with Shuktara, do you know anything about the recent developments regarding her?’
Harshit was the first to spill the beans, that all these three months, Shuktara was deceiving everybody in the company. She never did any original content writing, only copy pasted the same stuff again and again. But she did that job in such a unique way that even the software installed in the office failed to detect it. But when all the works were submitted by the company to the client, they caught up the fraudulent contents and returned all the pages and even asked compensation from their IT office.
Sylvie could not utter a single word as she was yet to believe the piece. Only Harshit still cared about Shuktara and said, “She must be having a major trouble in her life; we should not abandon her alone at this crucial time.”
But all other associates in the office Kanchan, Simran, Sohail, Anjum and a host of others showed an adverse attitude towards Shuktara and stopped speaking to her. Even Sylvie felt a sigh of relief that the upside down girl no longer sat beside her.
The other day, when Sylvie was busy juggling with a difficult technical writing, the Skype chat box flashed Shuktara’s message, “Hi!” Shuktara was typing something, Sylvie ignored her. A message popped up in the chat box, which Sylvie opened deliberately, after a few hours. Shuktara’s message blinked, “Sylvie, I’ll tell you something…..these days while I am working on the 5th floor, am missing someone desperately by my side…..”
Sylvie disgusted with her, retorted back , “ ‟Oh yes I know , you are missing Harshit, your soul mate”, with a poke and closed the dialogue box.
The next day when Sylvie opened the chat box she was amazed to see Shuktara’s reply “No, Sylvie, believe me this time, I am not lying at all this time…am not a liar always….am speaking what’s inside my heart ….I am missing you Sylvie….you had been so nice to me all these months…you are like an angel to me Sylvie.”
Sylvie left a short reply for her refusing to believe her, “Please concentrate on your work, or else you’ll lose your job”, Sylvie snapped off the net connection all at once.
Later, at the end of the day, when Sylvie, opened the chat box she found it flooded with Shuktara’s blabberings, “ Sylvie, you were the only one who offered me an apple, you were the only one who offered me sanitary napkin, you had been the right person who warned me against Jimmy and Sunny….she continued and continued. “ What a bull s**t!” Sylvie told herself, and set her status offline as she no longer wished to see any of Shuktara’s pestering messages in her chat box.
The very next day Harshit came and informed his colleagues “Guys do you know what’s on the run?”
Sylvie and her friends had no idea what Harshit was trying to mean. Sylvie could only guess that something has happened to the ruthless girl, it was Sylvie’s intuition. Harshit very coldly said, “She is fired from the office.”
Sylvie nodded her head in assertion and said “ I knew it, anyways, what were the offences in the termination list set against her by the company?”
“She repeated copy pasting despite several warnings, as if she was obsessed with the two keys CONTROL C and CONTROL V.” Harshit responded absentmindedly. The next couple of days Harshit was missing from office, he applied for sick leave for three consecutive days.
The entire atmosphere was rather tense in the IT department for the next consecutive days. The centre of chinwag was none other than Shuktara and Harshit. All the staff stamped Shuktara as a liar, imposter, temperamental, ill- mannered fraudster who not only brought shame and financial loss to the esteemed company but also a life spoiler who trapped a good and innocent guy like Harshit.
“She is in all forms a bi**h”, someone from Sylvie’s row commented. Only Sylvie sensed that something went terribly wrong with Shuktara’s upbringing but she was not very sure about it. On day 4th Harshit joined office and exploded a bombshell, “Shuktara is no more”. He choked unable to complete any further words. He’s eyes were fiery red, puffy, his face swollen. Harshit who was always a happy go lucky guy was metamorphosed overnight to an emaciated stone it seemed.
“What? What are you saying? Are you out of your mind?” Sylvie questioned Harshit in panic.
Harshit said, “No Sylvie, at last she has gone to the place where she wanted to go…she has gone to the Happy Valley, where all troubles of life have a peaceful end.”
“No, no, this can’t be true,” screamed Sylvie, in total desolation. “Shuktara was admitted to the hospital last night. She had 99% burns. She doused herself with kerosene and lit her up with A CIGARETTE LIGHTER.”
Harshit, dropped down motionlessly on a chair uttering these words. Then he continued as if in a trance,
“ The day she was sacked from the office, she went to a nearby pub and boozed until she lost her sense. Then, when she came back to herself she called a cab and reached home at the dead of the night. She switched off her mobile and never called up anybody, not even called up her beloved Harshit. The next day, we met in the evening, and after a passionate kiss and some cuddles, Shuktara confided to me that she was dead drunk last evening and then she moaned very softly, “
I have found a very good live in partner with me. She also confided to me that for the past 20 years her Pa and Mom had a very stressed relationship. Do you know Sylvie what she told me before parting that evening? While sobbing he continued, ‟Shuktara requested a marriage proposal, yes to this Harshit, that she earnestly wanted to marry me!”
Harshit went on sobbing like a child, then after a pause continued, “She wanted to have children and all she wanted to have a happy family of her own, that was her dream, but she never got the man of her life. She grew up in a tumultuous atmosphere among lies and betrayals and never had anyone on her doorstep with whom she can hang on. She confessed to me, that not a single guy in her life had been faithful to her… her beaus and not even her father, each and every man in her life dumped her….and I couldn’t say yes to her proposal, such a wretched thing am I. Do you know Sylvie what a brave girl she was? When her Pa and Mom tried to break open the door when she was in all flames, never did she opened the door, bolted it from inside. She left a suicide note for all of us, it read, “Nobody is responsible for my early departure”. “Her Pa and Mom informed me over the phone about all these, because they knew that all these days I had been close to her”.
Sylvie almost fainted, when she came back to her senses, Harshit told her, ‟Check your e-mail and see what she mailed to you and me before her suicide”. Sylvie opened the mail but all the words were dancing like rows of tiny insects in front of her eyes. She could only decipher some disjointed words from the mail, she read and re-read and finally she could decode the mail. The mail read:
“ Sylvie, last night, I saw this man coming to me while I was returning from the bar after Harshit left, he came to me inside my bedroom, offered me a cigarette, he himself was smoking a pipe. He sat beside my cot on the rocking chair and asked, “Shuktara, do you want to go to Happy Valley, it’s a splendid destination for tourists like you, you can get as many juicy apples as you wish, you don’t have to work tirelessly day in and day out, you can get all your friends there. It’s really an amusing place.”
I said, “Yes Sir, I do want to visit Happy Valley indeed, because I am very tired here in this humdrum, but I don’t want to take all my friends with me, I want to call up Harshit to accompany me. Please hand me the address of the place, and also do me one favor Sir, will you?” The man who was still rocking the chair and smoking the pipe, replied, handing me a bottle of blue liquid , “Aaha, Shuktara, I am already doing you a favor. What else do you need? I don’t like people who ask me a lot of favors.”
I replied, “Please, Sir, I need to inform my buddy cum colleague Sylvie about you and our trip to Happy Valley.”
The guest went on rocking his chair, smoked and smoked, and at last opened up his mouth after an extensive waiting, “If you want to go to Happy Valley, you have to go alone Shuktara, eternal happiness cannot be shared with anyone. And you can inform Sylvie about your trip and your trip- advisor, but only after you leave.” I agreed all at once, and extended my hand to the stranger for the address and other details. The trip-advisor told me “I have already given you that”. I looked at the bottle of Pepsi Cola, that he handed me some time before.
Then only I had a closer look at the content of the bottle. It was a blue colored liquid and not cola. I asked him, “Sir, how do you know, this is my favorite drink, the icy blue Carribean Curacao?” The man replied “You are still a moron Shuktara, it’s not the icy blue Curacao that you love to sip, you will get plenty of those, once you reach Happy Valley. This is the fuel I am handing it to you for your transportation ; you don’t have to pay me any extra bucks for this. It’s very easy Shuktara, only you need to bathe yourself in this aquamarine liquid and light up a cigarette, within 45 minutes, you’ll reach Happy Valley. Believe me. And of course, before having a bath in this blue fragrant liquid, I will give you some time to you to write a mail to Sylvie and Harshit which I can send them after you reach your destination. Tell me quickly your mail id and pass word.”…..
Sylvie, this was my conversation with the trip-advisor. I just accepted his offer; I hope this man doesn’t dupe me, because you know all those bloody men in my life were real bastards. Sylvie, I am writing this mail to you just to infoorm you that perhaps this man swindles me and I don’t reach Happy Valley and land up in some wrong place, and in case by this time this man runs away, please teach him a lesson for life, you are a very strong judge of character Sylvie, you had been absolutely right regarding your opinion about Jimmy and Sunny, only I refused to believe the truth. Bye Sylvie, am in a hurry to visit the place, just now, I saw some little kids clad in white frilled dancing frocks dancing there and singing, they are calling me, Sylvie, there’s an idyllic fountain there….I must leave…..Sylvie…Sylvie…I had so ma…ny things to tell you….my pa…..my mom…my grandparents…my childhood buddies……may be next time….Sylvie…I have no time right now….Sylvie, one last thing …this mail, you see, am scribbling right now, this is….absolutely mine dear….no copy pasting…..you can bet on me.”