Anu Kaur



Anu Kaur


Shrugging Off The CoCoon

Shrugging Off The CoCoon

14 mins

An empty seat, a carelessly tossed jacket, an open book with the seat belt kept on it for marking the page, a black pen suspiciously Mont Blanc – this was the scene that greeted Palak as she strode towards her seat, using the theory of Pythagoras to geometrically incline herself and plonk on the blue base. Her absent co-passenger was definitely male – this much she deduced. Yet the open book resisted her assumption, as it seemed a little out of place in the whole getup. A crumpled daily chronicle would be more suitable here. She wondered where her co-passenger was, as she was eager to know if her conjecture was bull’s eye. 

The plane was rapidly filling up with an assortment of people and a mix of scents. Something in the open book kept drawing Palak’s attention and as she peered closer, she noticed that a paragraph had been circled in a thick black line as if to keep burning in the reader’s attention. She kept peering at it, again and again, delicately balancing between acting nonchalant and snooping. Curiosity got the better of her though she knows that it was a cat’s doom; well, a cat also has nine lives, and so with this belief, she gingerly picked up the book to read the encircled paragraph – “There was a couple sitting in the cafe when I walked in. As the light was low, I didn't know who they were until the woman turned around, and I saw it was my wife.” 

The adrenaline shot of the marked lines was masala enough to rouse the dormant detective in Palak, making the wait for the mysterious co-passenger a trifle too long. The encircled paragraph was surely telling her that something huge was on, otherwise, why would somebody mark this particular part? The lines hinted some kind of a sinister setup and highlighting them meant that they reminded the reader of something unpleasant. The list of sinister possibilities seemed stretched – maybe he (she was sure the reader was ‘he’) was about to dump his cheating wife, or making plans to catch her red-handed. Whatever it was, curiosity drenched her every pore and she was sure this is why the feline has a life afterlife. 

Palak kept scanning the seemingly incessant file of passengers impatiently; ensuring she did it discretely, she didn’t want to lock eyes with any stranger though it was difficult to ignore her glance. Her eye-catching face, huge black eyes, bow-shaped like lips, and a high brow garnered many darted looks. 

Taking a moment off from her surveillance, Palak turned to the window to allow the golden rays illuminate her face. It was then that the most common two words that serve as the beginning of many an alliance jolted her out if her reverie – “Excuse me”- were uttered in a deep smoky voice. Fluttering her eyes wide open only to be locked in an arresting gaze of mysterious smoky eyes, Palak realised her much-awaited co-passenger was here. And she was right of course; her co-passenger was another specimen from the Adonis genre. Her now throbbing investigator's muscle was telling her that his polished looks and impeccable mannerisms were undoubtedly too refined as if to cover an underlying deviousness. She wondered where he had been after depositing his belongings on his seat, maybe to make some calls to his accomplices. 

Her recent little victory was potent enough to make her mind wander through all the proverbial heavens, rife with speculation and theories, before settling on heaven number nine. 

With this jubilation, Palak was sure she would catch her debonair co-passenger in the act and prevent a huge disaster from happening. This was the incentive she needed and her alertness was like a live wire now; Palak had never been so prepared before, not even while cracking the prestigious GATE exam. She was sure he must think she is squint-eyed owing to her continuous furtive glances, checking out his every move. The two-hour flight was really draining and Palak was ready by its end to pounce on him and ask him point-blank about his wily plot. 

Time to disembark – Palak observed that her neighbour was too quick to collect his belongings and step out on the aisle swiftly before the other passengers could crowd it. But he did not step out of the plane rather was busy conversing with the air hostess in hushed tones who only seemed too pleased to chat with him. And following their interchange, she sees them both disappear in the pantry. Whoop! That’s the sound of her low whistle; Palak has managed to phonetically alter her toot from the usual one. Before Palak can step out of the plane, she sees them both emerging with her neighbour carrying two huge disposable paper bags in his muscular hands. 

The plot was getting thicker. There was more evidence now; surely the paper bags contained something suspicious. Palak is more determined than ever to get to the bottom of the ominous matter. She keeps a sharp eye on him; unfortunately, the huge crowd on the airport plays spoilsport and she loses him in the crowd. 

Feeling thwarted from foiling a conniving plan, Palak steps out of the airport disenchanted only to catch sight of him stepping into his vehicle, gingerly balancing the enigmatic paper bags. They did look large enough to carry severed body parts – oh, it was getting too much; she just couldn’t afford to let him go and carry out his demonic plan. Maybe the poor wife is innocent after all. She decides to follow him and with heart beating faster than the revolving door at the entrance, she instructs her driver to tail his car. 

Coincidentally, his car proceeds towards the same village that she is headed for her summer project. Currently doing her fellowship under a prestigious organisation and as part of the course, Palak has to spend a fortnight in a village, implementing a project proposed by her. Her project has taken her to the rural parts of Rajasthan, to a developed-village called Bagar in the districts of Jhunjhunu. Palak is super enthusiastic about her project and her chance of contributing to a village’s development. 

Palak’s GPS is showing that she is on the right track towards the village and strangely, the secretive dude’s taxi is also heading in the same direction. 

After a dusty, dry, three-hour drive, the two vehicles finally arrive at the lush green village; his car has stopped in front of a huge palatial house, and she sees him taking purposeful strides towards the gate, with his paper bags safely tucked in his arms. 

Continuing with coincidences, they turn out to be neighbours. 

Palak‘s aunt is only too glad to welcome her and oddly keeps asking her about the other passengers in the flight. Wondering why that would interest her, Palak gives her a slight description taking care to avoid mentioning Mr X (that’s what she decided to call her mysterious co-passenger). Disappointment clouds her aunt’s face which is quite puzzling to Palak; did she expect her to bump into some celebrity, knowing her aunt’s deep interest in the silver screen? 

Palak sleeps fitfully through the night, dreaming of chasing Mr X through the narrow lanes of the village. It is not long before a beautiful plumage of myriad colours outside her window greets her in the dewy hours of dawn. Palak springs out of her bed to admire the peacock that has come to beckon her. Duty accomplished of rousing her, the peacock shakes her head and struts on. 

Palak wants to make the most of her stay in the village and rushes to the rooftop for the invaluable early morning tranquillity only found in the rural interiors. Invariably, her eyes turn towards the next-door sprawling house, hoping to catch a glimpse of Mr X, either on the rooftop or in one of the windows. Her heart misses a beat as she spots him leaving the gate, garbed in a villager’s attire. Quickly, gulping down her steaming tea, she rushes out of the gate, intent on solving the mystery. She is horrified when she notices an axe in his left hand. Oh! She shouts inwardly that somehow she has to catch him in the deceitful act. 

Breathlessly she follows Mr X discretely though it is tough to keep pace with his long determined steps. He soon reaches an empty field where he starts digging effortlessly, striking the soft earth again and again with his focused strokes. He continues to dig for a long time and his vigilant spectator hiding in the bushes is now impatient. Palak waits with bated breath for a body or for urns of overflowing treasure to emerge from the pit being dug. He continues digging though, sweat trickling down his striking face, making it look even more arresting in the hot sun. 

After a while, she sees a villager comes towards him, carrying the paper bags that Mr X had carried in his arms so protectively the previous day. 

“Aah there is the evidence which has to be destroyed, now he cannot escape”, so thinking, Palak peers closely to watch what unfolds before her. 

Surprisingly, Mr X puts down the axe, wipes his face, and walks towards the village with the bags. “Nothing to bury, he did not open the paper bags, that’s weird” and a thoroughly disappointed Palak trails him to the village. 

On reaching the open village square, Palak spots Mr X surrounded by a pack of dogs. The canines seem to be overjoyed to see him and leap on him, licking his face to show their overflowing pleasure. She is stunned as she sees him finally reach for the paper bags, opening them and fishing out half-eaten buns, distributing them to the four-legged creatures!!! Finally, the contents of the bag are exposed and though Palak is inwardly pleased that her hunch was thwarted, she still cannot bring herself to believe his innocence. 

Next day it is the same routine - this time it is not a paper bag that he brings but a tiffin full of rotis for the dogs. 

Being an animal lover herself, she hates him for being so benevolent to animals – how can such a crafty man love animals and how can the intelligent creatures not recognise his true colours?? 

Palak decides to wobble this compassion and thus, starts feeding the village dogs before Mr X comes so that the canines are already full and don’t go to him. Her act fails and they still hover around him, lovingly licking every inch of his face. Her infuriation amuses him and patiently, he explains the intricacies of animal behaviour to her - once you earn the loyalty of a dog, nothing can shake it off. And despite her resistance, his deep baritone sends every cell of her repelling heart thudding. 

For the rest of the day, Palak is busy with her project of how to use kitchen waste to create compost. Even with a challenging task of demonstrating the experiments to the curious villagers, she cannot get him out of her head. Her work takes her to the different narrow by-lanes of the village where she keeps bumping into him through the day, chatting with the villagers or patting cattle lovingly. Every time, she discovers a twist in his personality and her irritation borders on the rough line of infatuation. 

Palak’s aunt seems to be very curious about her growing interest in the enigmatic neighbour and she throws in her own brand of aunty-masala to titillate her interest even more. 

With just two more days before Palak returns to the city, she is determined to get to the bottom of Mr X’s seemingly compassionate act. Luckily, she bumps into his axe-assistant, who is always around as Mr X digs. Palak gets to the point directly and questions him about his master. The villager’s account about the dude amazes her. Mr X is a prosperous businessman in the city and comes to the village every year for a fortnight to dig, sweat, toil and be grounded. The brown paper bags from the plane contain the half-eaten buns thrown away by the passengers, which on his special request to the crew, are collected and given to him, not to be dumped in a bin but to be fed to hungry dogs. He is definitely not married, so the indication of an erring wife is immediately cancelled. And Mr X has a name now – Yajuvendra Singh Rathod. 

Impressing enough, yet the encircled paragraph keeps coming back to her, shrouded in its mystery. Why would someone mark those particular lines??? They were all forewarning about some kind of discord. 

Soon it is time for Palak to get back to the city and bid goodbye to her aunt whose secretive smiles and expressions strikingly resemble that of a Cheshire cat. Surprisingly, her co-passenger is - yes - yet again – Yajuvendara and this time too, he collects the edible leftovers from the crew in two paper bags. However, the journey this time is different. Palak cannot stop the thudding of her heart and hopes against hope that Yajuvendra does not overhear her erratic beats. 

On reaching the city, Palak joins Yajuvendra in feeding the strays, which soon becomes an every-day affair. Slowly, their mutual animal love turns into something endearing and Yajuvendra and Palak become inseparable. 

Palk decides that it is time to announce to her mother that she has found someone special. Her mom’s reaction, nonetheless, surprises her; it is as if she was waiting for this bit of news. Palak had prepared a detailed explanation to ward off any objection on her parent’s part, which was not needed after all. Her mother seems just too happy to acknowledge her announcement. Her behaviour hints that she has already all the details about Yajuvendra and his family. She has already done her homework. 

Palak is a little disappointed, as she was looking forward to the interesting tête-à-tête where she would use all her convincing skills to persuade her mother. It is then that she overhears the exciting exchange between her mom and aunt with her mom congratulating her aunt on succeeding in her mission. 

Mission?? What mission??? Palak’s investigating antennae are up again and she confronts her mom defiantly making her spill the beans. 

All the coincidences were not coincidences after all – they were all part of a carefully designed match-making scheme hatched by her aunt and mom – her aunt’s announcing of a perfect match to her mom, her mom booking Palak’s tickets in the same flight as Yajuvendra and other incidents that ensued. The air-hostess, who happened to be her mom’s friend’s daughter, was also roped in - she was the one who circled the para in the book and placed it on the seat knowing that Palak would definitely pick it up; she also managed to engage Yajuvendra in a lengthy chat giving Palak enough time to pick up the book and notice the highlighted paragraph. 

Palak’s mom was well aware that the normal routine of boy meeting girl would not work out for her; hence it was imperative to find a way to make Palak notice Yajuvendra and eventually fall for him. Knowing Palak’s detective inclinations, what better way to trigger her interest with a little bit of mystery; and thus followed, the planting of the book with the outlined paragraph. 

All is well that ends well – Palak is secretly pleased with her mom’s and aunt’s successful operation, yet disguising her pleasure under a feigned look of annoyance. 

In the entire hubbub, Palak overlooks that she is to meet Yajuvendra at the coffee shop near his house. On reaching the coffee house, she instantly notices Yajuvendra’s suave reclining pose, the handsome angular face smiling into the phone, and she smiles to herself. 

Suddenly, voices are raised, Yajuvendra yells into the phone – “What? She has left this house and gone to him? Oh, the little bitch that she is!! How unfaithful. Needs to pay for this” followed by devilish laughter. 

Palak is aghast. She nervously bites her lips and asks herself – “Is he finally revealing his true colours? Is there actually a spurned lover in the story? I better find out today once and for all.” Resolutely she steps forward but before she can speak with him, a golden retriever beats her to it by jumping upon a laughing Yajuvendra. 

Palak is pushed back to the background, an onlooking spectator, as the canine licks every part of Yajuvendra chuckling face. After a feeble attempt, Yajuvendra manages to free himself from the love attack of the four paws and turns to greet his friend, Pratap, the proud owner of the bouncy pooch, Rosy. 

Pratap has two pets – Rosy, the golden retriever and Jacky, a huge black Labrador. And the chaos, the raised voices over the phone, the devilish laughter - is all about Rosy shunning the advances of Jacky, the lab and preferring Buzo, the Border collie, staying a few blocks away. 

Haash!! Palak almost faints with relief and smiles to herself jubilantly, thanking her stars and the pets for squashing the silly alarm that leapt to her. 

A tiny yellow bug perched on the flower nearby nudges her attention and Palak is reminded of how the cocoon of mystery was shrugged off layer by layer, to ultimately release a beautiful creature of God, spreading its joyous wings lovingly. 

The beauty of the scene mesmerises her, as she is surprised by the turn of events, how the hard cocoon was shrugged– dismantling all half-baked theories and notions - and how a beautiful butterfly emerged through – signifying the glory of love. 

Smiling and with her heart bursting with love, she clasps Yajuvendra’s hand and orders double chocolate with layers of cool dribbling cream. 

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