Many places, many people



When as children, we had these rambling walks in shady woods, we often picked up things to add to our collection – beads, seeds, shells and ordinary grey/black stones with some white or cream designs on one side which made them extraordinary objects, arousing awe and wonder.

In my many travels as an adult, working in different places, I have found among most ordinary, every day people, an extraordinary story.

We called him Zodiac.  We – meaning, two of my friends and myself – young stenos, clerks in the same office building.  Our packed cold lunches were spiced with juicy gossip about various people in and around our workplace.  Zodiac had a small office on the first floor.  His staff consisted of a couple of boys and a beautiful secretary who often arrived and left with him.

Zodiac – distinguished-looking, beard-and-tie – exactly like the Zodiac model in days of yore, often stood in the compound, leaning against smoking a pipe and looking pensively at nothing in particular.  He never smiled or spoke, thus becoming the ideal protagonist of many of our stories.   One story, we locked to finality and reality over many episodes, went like this –

A much-married man, he was having an affair with another woman, his secretary.  He was a predator.  (In the present-day scenario he would have been in the ‘me-too’ list). Even his office boys knew it and as young girls from respectable families we should keep away from him, not talk to him, not even return his smile (not that he ever looked at us!)  We should never join his firm or recommend any of our friends should there be a vacancy.

Time passed and our interests shifted to other newcomers in the premises. Soon, we were scripting our own lives, looking for promotions, marriage, better jobs and moved on.

Quite some years later, I was into some ongoing training programmes and seminars.  Here, a very pleasant young man joined my circle and to my surprise, he told me that he had seen me earlier, when, as a boy, he used to visit his father’s office.  He was Zodiac’s son.  He had heard nice things about me from his father.

When I resigned from my job and was moving to another town, Zodiac sent me an invitation for a farewell dinner through his son.  Putting aside those old stories, I went to their house and what a surprise I had!  There were two women – Mrs. Zodiac 1 and Mrs. Zodiac 2 – beaming ‘welcome’.  Mrs. Zodiac 2, I recognized as the erstwhile secretary, now pleasantly plump.  Both had a son each and the boys got along pretty well.  So, did Mrs. Zodiac 1 and Mrs. Zodiac 2, and the evening went off enjoyably, with both of them cracking jokes, mostly at Zodiac’s expense and he, complaining good-naturedly that he was always one pitted against the two.  I kept my curiosity in check, but later on, through common friends I joined the dots and pieced the story together.

Zodiac, in his college days, was in love with a classmate but his mother was bent on his marrying a girl of her choice.   At her death-bed he promised obedience and married according to his mother’s wish.  Life picked up, but some years later he found that the girlfriend had decided to stay single and cherish their happy memories.  It was then his wife who persuaded them to get married as she felt he might spend his life in nostalgia and guilt.  Illegal? Social impropriety? Compromise?  Large-heartedness? – Why pass judgement, when all the stakeholders are in a love-all situation?

Ordinary people, extraordinary lives.

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