Exit Child

Even with sharp objects and fast moving bodies around, a school playground one place people rarely associate with accidents. At least, not anything more serious than a scraped knee or a bleeding lip.

This is particularly true if the phy-sed teacher is around, overseeing the activities of the children, which may look chaotic but has an underlying pattern of building muscles and discipline, a pattern which is designed by the teacher himself.

Such confidence goes even higher when the PT trainer is someone like Ganesh Chandran, who at 35 years of age and just above 6 feet stood at a point in life when he commanded respect not just for his professional integrity but also for being a true family man- someone who cherished his wife and son, an aspect that came through easily in his body language and mannerisms whenever he brought his family to the school on special occasions.

For some reason, the combination of familial integrity and professional acumen never fails to give the people a great confidence in the person- the kind of confidence that gets politicians elected to the highest seats of power, also the kind of confidence which crooks use for their gain.

Not that Ganesh was a crook. Far from it, the love that he exuded to his wife and kid in public was the same love which he reserved for them in the most private  moments. And no one would be more eager to vouch for that than his dear wife, Aradhana and the couple’s only child- the 8 year old darling little boy, Chandru.

Watching the school kids run-in a somewhat haphazard manner-after the ball, Ganesh thought, not for the first time, of the time when Chandru would be joining this school. He and his wife had decided that their son would join the same school where Ganesh taught when the boy moved up from the 4th to the 5th standard. Until then, the school where he went to- the one closer home was good enough. “This way, my dear boy is always 5 minutes away. Let things stay that way for a little while more!,” Ganesh had no qualms about Aradhana’s proposal.

“Hey, those playing the defense stay in that position!” Ganesh called out after giving a blow on his whistle which made a shrill cry. Even as he said it, he couldn’t help but smile, thinking how hard it is to maintain control over kids who were in the second standard.

The principal of the school once told him that he shouldn’t let kids so small play football. They should be allowed to play only such simple games as playing catch and hide and seek.

It was all Ganesh could do to keep from laughing.

The way he saw it, the earlier you introduced kids to more games, the better it would be for them. If nothing else, there would come a time in their life when they would play no more games(usually this happens around the time you land your first job) and they would at least be glad for the opportunity to have played these many games in their childhood.

Five minutes of talk- using phrases such as “important they develop their physique at an earlier age” and “it will also help work up their appetite” was enough to coax the principal into changing his opinion, giving Ganesh the freehand to provide the kids with whatever games he saw fit.

The only thing that the bald pated principal asked was, “If you are giving them such physically demanding activities, make sure that you always have the final hour of the day for your sessions. No teacher is going to like to see their students in class looking dirty and tired.”

Dirty and tired was what the kids were becoming, playing a game of football that was often dotted with comedic complaints. (“Sir, he took the ball away from me!” said one of the boys. “Of course, that’s his job- he is your opponent!” Ganesh could hardly keep the smile from his voice as he called back).

Most physical education teachers whom Ganesh has come across said that the least enjoyable part of their vocation was training the littlest kids. “Beyond a point, you just have to admit that the closer to the cradle they are, the more they are like monkeys!” was how one of the teachers put it.

Ganesh, in that sense, was more of an exception. He was a believer in the old analogy of molding clay, when it came to such things. If the clay is too hardened, it will be tougher to mold. To generate a life-long interest in games and sports, it’s always best to get them early.

“I reckon all the billionaire sportsmen and women owe us! After all, most of the people played as kids, which is how they began loving the sports. And most of them played the games in schools!” one teacher- a friend of Ganesh’ boasted one night when they were having a little chit chat and a round of drinks.

Ganesh wasn’t sure to what extent the boast was meaningful- after all, most kids played more out of school than in the school. But still, he could feel that there was a kernel of truth to what his friend said.

“Alright, now, it’s time to break up!” Ganesh tooted the whistle as the bell rang indicating the end of the hour. The physical ed session was the only one in which the kids have to be actively disengaged even after the classes ended.

Collecting the football and calling out a “Good job!” to the kids, Ganesh walked towards the staff room. He couldn’t wait to change and get home and spend some time with Chandru. Walking towards the main block of the school building, he muttered a silent prayer to God for giving him yet another day on the ground devoid of accidents.

Even if it were something as simple as a scrape of the knee- he hated to see kids getting injured. A sentiment which got only heightened after the birth of Chandru.

Ganesh would blush if anyone were to tell it to his face, but the fact was that his heart was big enough that he could consider any kid- especially one of his student’s- like he would his own.

**

The next day at school, Ganesh had a job slightly more serious than keeping 7 year old kids from getting their limbs entangled while they played soccer.

The annual inter-school sports meet was coming up-just four months away- and Ganesh was training the school’s two javelin players for the occasion.

The training was for two hours. He had already got special permission from the principal allowing the two students to take time out from their academic classes for the special training.

It was a warm day, the sun’s rays cast angular shadows of buildings on the ground which was largely devoid of trees. Not wanting the kids to get exhausted any more than they ought to, Ganesh held the training at a corner of the ground where the western block which housed the chemistry and biology labs blocked the sun from the kids.

In another hour the sun would have moved up enough to render the block inefficient when it came to blocking the sun.

But in another hour the training would be over, thought Ganesh.

What he didn’t know was that in another hour, he would be in a hospital, in critical care, the doctors expressing serious doubt regarding his chances of survival.

**

The two students were committed to improving their javelin skills- an attitude which was more than what Ganesh could have asked for, given how neither of them had any plans to stick with javelin once they had passed their 10th. The two students- a girl with brazes and a boy whose face looked like a feeding ground for pimples were both in the same class, 9th standard. This put them in the 14 to 15 age bracket, which made them some of the oldest students in the school.

Ganesh enjoyed working with older students as much as he loved eliciting a love for sports in the littler ones. He watched closely as the boy made a throw, the pull of the hand and the release a little too forceful to yield the ideal result.

Kids have a way of thinking that applying more force would give a better result. But that’s not always the case.

‘I must ask him to exert a little more control,’ thought Ganesh.

But presently, he didn’t say anything, simply watched the boy’s throwing motion and the flight of the long spear-like javelin through the air. He stood some twenty feet away from the students, his legs planted apart, arms folded across his chest, his heart beating with a pride which he oprnly shared with only very few people- the first time these kids came to him for training, they couldn’t throw a stick at a dog and hit the mark even if the dog were in fact a dummy which stood two feet away.

Now, after three years under his tutelage, not only did they wield and throw the javelin  efficiently(sure, there was space for improvement, but still..) they even won the school a couple of medals in the last inter-school championships.

The girl has improved a lot in the past year, thought Ganesh as he watched the youngster making the run up to the mark from where she must release the spear. A steady yet confident run which ended in a nicely timed release. One could see the flight of the javelin and the spot on the field where it would strike if only one knew how to read the body language of the player during the run-up: the way it is paced, the angle at which the javelin is raised and most importantly, the focus in the eyes.

While the girl did more than decently in all the departments, the boy repeatedly faltered, especially when it came to focusing. Ganesh remembered the boy’s class teacher telling him once about some trouble he faced back home- something about an alcoholic father and the kid’s world plunging into darkness.

Maybe that’s the reason why he is not focused enough, thought Ganesh. Maybe I should take him aside and give him a talk once the session is over.

Ganesh looked at his watch to see how many minutes were left in the session when the boy took the next run. Ganesh assumed that they would have at least half an hour more left in this session and so was surprised to find the minute needle inch close to the 12 mark where the hour needle was already at.

The session ends at sharp twelve.

The boy raised his right arm bearing the javelin, ready to make the throw, but the spear slipped through the sweat soaked palm of his hand.

The hour – close to noon on June day must have been made particularly to punish Ganesh. For at the same time as the javelin slipped through the boy’s hand, the toe of his right leg hit a small rock which made his body  falter as it twisted almost 180 degrees.

He could only watch with an ever widening horror as the white gleaming spear arced through the air towards his phys-ed teacher, missing the fellow student’s nose by mere inches.

By the time Ganesh looked up from his watch, it was too late for him to take any evasive actions. Not that he didn’t try. But he could but move his head just a few micro-inches to his right before the spear thrust through him , immediately above his right eye, passing through his skull with an ease tht made the two students scream, the tip of the javelin jutting out of the back of his skull.

The awkward manner in which he fell down, with the long spear protruded out of the back of his head struck a boy who saw the scene out of his classroom window as comedic.

But a second later, the meaning of what he just saw struck him, and he alerted his teacher who was talking about the human skeletal structure in class just then.

**

When your husband is in critical care, after having went through an extremely complicated surgery, as the doctors say that they are all hoping for the best but they cannot really say what’s going to happen next, the number of actions that a wife can perform becomes extremely limited.

In fact, it’s limited to just two actions: praying and crying, which is what Aradhana did, sitting in the waiting room outside the ICU, even though the doctors advised her to go home and take rest.“We would let you know when things improve,” they told her.

Her parents and also Ganesh’s parents were with her, some of them even more heartbroken than her. They all prayed, most of them cried, but what made Chandru cry was the tears in his mother’s eyes. He knew that he was now 8 years old and mimicking his mother’s tears was something that only younger kids did.

But as much as he didn’t want to do that, he couldn’t help it.

How could he when the tears rose so easy to his mother’s eyes, and how could he when they continued to decline his mother’s request to let them see his father?

But tears don’t have the power to stop the clock, and the clock ticked on, pushing moments from one day to the next, and so came around another noon. A twelve O clock that marked the passage of the two days since the tragic accident at the playground.

Also a twelve O clock which marked the first time since the accident when Ganesh’s mind was lit with consciousness.

When Aradhana was informed of it, she continued crying and praying. But now the tears were those of relief and the prayers, hymns of thanks.

**

Ganesh brought the whistle up to his mouth and gave it a tentative blow, as though he was unsure if some sound would be produced at all. Pleased with the loud shrill result, he smiled, and the students- two 11 member teams made of 2nd standard students began to play ball.

“Welcome back, Ganesh!” said the principal, who has come down to watch Ganesh’s first drill since his recuperation. Patting the teacher on his back, the principal said, “I am so glad, Ganesh. Truly, it’s a miracle!” After giving the teacher’s back another pat, he walked away.

Ganesh turned his attention back to the football match in progress. It was the usual- a cacophony of limbs that sought the ball- never mind that Ganesh asked them to stick to their positions- the centre backs not to cross the half-mark of the small field, or the goalie never to leave the goal area ;almost everyone went after the ball. Even the girls were no exception, mingling easily with the boys, sometimes even pushing someone off to get to the ball.(Since there were just a total of 6 girls in the class, it was hard to make an all-girl’s football teams and so Ganesh put them with the boys).

Smiling warmly, Ganesh walked right into the cacophony. Some of his students looked up at him- they had by now gotten over any fear they had seeing the stitch marks and the somewhat altered appearance of his face since the surgery. Respectfully, the children allowed themselves to be ushered into position by the teacher.

“Remember, the idea is to score goals, not to make a mess!” said Ganesh after once again assigning them spaces on the small patch of ground which he has demarcated for their football match- really, a portion of ground hardly more in floor area than a basketball court.

His remark made the kids laugh- that’s one of the good things about the innocent- it’s so easy to make them laugh.

Hearing the sound of the kids’ laughter, Ganesh thought, ‘It’s good to be back.’

The black phase of recuperation-filled with pain and insecurities which lasted almost four months fell off him like the skin shed by a snake.

**

It was in the second half of the 20 minute match that one of the little boys fell down and started crying. The fall wasn’t hard- he merely stumbled on his own foot and fell-this Ganesh saw clearly enough. So he assumed that there were no injuries involved.

Hurrying to the boy’s side he saw that that was indeed the case- there were practically no injuries, except for a minor bruise on his right elbow- not even a bruise, really, but a scrape. One could even let it go just like that but not wanting to invite the ire of the boy’s parents when they found that their kid was hurt in school but the teachers failed to even apply a band-aid, Ganesh took the boy aside, and walked with him towards the gym where there would be a first aid box.

“Don’t you cry, darling, it’s just a very very minor bruise. Hardly worse than a pinprick,” Ganesh told the boy during the short walk, surprising even himself with the softness in his voice. Not that he would ever be harsh with the kids, and he would be the first to console a child if he fell down. But his words of concern were often limited to, “It’s okay” or “It’s going to be fine!”

Coming in from the heat of the day, the gym felt like a cool cucumber of a place. The AC was on though the lights were not. But there really was no need for lights – the two wide windows let in more than enough light for visibility.

“You sit here for just a while” Ganesh put the boy on a bench. The boy had stopped sobbing almost completely.

Deciding the injury to be too small to warrant the help of the school nurse, he got the first aid box from atop one of the lockers. Before walking to the boy with it, he stopped at the wash basin and gave his hands a thorough rinse, washing it with Dettol.

It was while he was washing his hands that he felt something was wrong.

At first, he wasn’t sure what exactly was wrong. It was more an abstract feeling than a solid fear- much like the way occultists say you sense the presence of a ghost in the room before you see them, tell-tale signs being thrown in the fray, like the skin prickling on the back of your neck.

But this was no ghost which he sensed, this was something extremely biological. He looked down to confirm his suspicion: the bulge on his loin was only too evident, he could feel his penis throbbing against the fabric of the underwear, an erection straining to be freed from the confines of the inner garment.

He took his time closing the faucet in the wash basin, hoping that the erection would have come down by the end of that motion. But that was not to be. Not just that, if anything, the erection felt stronger than before, for a few seconds he even thought that the tip of his dick would comically protrude from behind his trainers, like someone peering out from over the top of a wall.

The sexual anticipation, he realized, heightened at the thought of approaching the child and applying the salve on his elbow. He imagined how the supple skin would feel against the roughness of his palm, how it would feel to pinch the boy’s buttock..

As though he were an automaton controlled by some unseen force, he walked towards the boy, carrying the first aid kit with the red cross sign on it. Once he reached the bench where the boy sat, he knelt beside the boy and put the box down.

Breathing rapidly, he got to work. Dropping a few dollops of the salve in his hand, he rubbed on the boy’s skin, gently, ever so gently, like a breeze ruffling the feathers on a bird. As he felt the oddly pleasurable sensation coursing up from the palm of his hand to the base of his neck, he half-closed his eyes, letting his hand drift, up towards the boy’s armpit, towards his chest, making circling motion with his fingers on the way.

“There is no pain up there!”

The boy’s voice brought Ganesh out of his trance-like feeling. He opened his eyes and when they fell on the boy’s face he felt like he was looking at a mere object which existed for the sole purpose of giving him pleasure. It took a couple of moments for his brain to recall that the object actually was a living, breathing boy and the boy had a name- Rajesh. He couldn’t remember his second name but he did recall that last summer when they started training, the boy came up to him one day and gave him a bar of chocolate on his birthday.

He remembered having patted the boy on the side of his shoulder, muttering “Thanks.” He remembered not feeling any weird sensations when his hand made contact with the boy on that day.

Hurrying through the rest of the motions, Ganesh had the band-aid on the boy in no time. “Go back straight to your classroom,” he said. “It’s almost time for the next hour. Tell the teacher if your arm hurts again.”

“Yes, sir,” said the boy as he got off the bench. Ganesh listened as the boy sniffed on his way out- he had a case of cold.

It took more than five minutes after the boy left the gym for Ganesh’s erection to come down.

**

That night, in bed, Ganesh kept turning around, plagued by thoughts, unable to sleep.

It’s a good thing that Aradhana is a heavy sleeper, he thought. Otherwise, she would have been disturbed by him turning around in the bed like a cat that’s been bit by a bug. Chandru lied in the space between his parents, snoring lightly, with a leg thrown over his mother’s side. Though he took after his father in the looks department- the long forehead, the brown eyes and the crooked nose which ended at a hook, when it came to sleep, it was his mother whom he mimicked.

Ganesh always joked that he wouldn’t be woken from his sleep even if a bomb were to go off in the bedroom.

This night though, he wasn’t wondering about the boy’s capacity to sleep so deeply through disturbances. He was rather thinking about how the unseemly impulse had him under full control at the gym at school today.

On hindsight, it looked more like luck which prevented him from doing anything damaging to that boy.

No matter how much he racked his brain, he couldn’t find a reason for what happened at the gym. Nothing like it has happened to him in the past. And after he recovered from the surgery, he has had sex with his wife on three, no four occasions. At first, he was worried about how well he would be able to perform, but when he saw how she moaned with the pleasure of an orgasm the second time, he knew that as they all said, the surgery was indeed a massive success.

So, what prompted the episode at the gym?

He still hasn’t got an answer by the time he slipped into an uneasy sleep.

**

He saw the boy walking down the corridor with easy strides. The fact that the corridor was ill lit, with the bold light of the day at the end of the tunnel-like corridor framing the boy in a ghostly halo, meant that he couldn’t make out his features easily. But there was no doubt in Ganesh’s mind that it was the same  boy whom he trained for the javelin throw, the same one from whose hand slipped the spear which caused the accident four months ago.

He has watched him train enough number of times to know him by the gestures- by the subtle way in which the boy clenched and unclenched the right fist as he walked, or by how he tilted his head to the left every now and then, as though some recurring thought struck him at frequent interval, making him pause to consider.

“Hello, Arun!” said Ganesh as he came up close to the boy.

“Good afternoon, sir!”

“What are you doing out here? Why are you not in class?” Even though the questions weren’t exactly the ones that any student loved to hear, Ganesh asked them in the most amicable manner possible. He could as well have been asking about the outcome of a cricket match.

“It’s a free hour for us. Our teacher asked me to collect students’ homework and bring them to her. I am just coming back from the staff room.” Arun smiled. A dimple appeared on his cheek. Ganesh has noticed the dimple many times before but never before did he get the stirring sensation that he felt this time.

“There was something I needed to talk with you. Do you think you can spare a few moments?” Ganesh wasn’t aware of the words until they came out of his mouth.

There was only a brief hesitation before Arun nodded.

“I was actually on my way to the loo. Would you care to walk with me, so we can talk?” This time, the words Ganesh said were deliberate, and Ganesh didn’t feel anything amiss about them.

A look of hesitation came upon the boy’s face. The faculty usually used the washrooms in the staffroom- there was one staff room on every floor. Perhaps sensing the boy’s apprehension, Ganesh said, “I don’t think I could last until the staff room.”

The boy nodded and smiled at him.

They walked past two lab rooms- both of which were presently not being used, before turning right and finding the door to the loo with the boys’ symbol pasted over the door.

Though both of them entered the washroom, Arun lingered around the door as Ganesh went to the loo.

“Your bladder issn’t pushing you, is it?” he said as trickles of piss began to fall in the urinal.

Behind him, Arun shook his head and said, “No, sir.”

Ganesh laughed, as though the boy made a joke. Hitting the water button over the urinal, he stepped back after pissing. Putting his dick back in the underwear, he was about to pull up his zip when he thought better of it and left it open.

Turning around, he walked towards the boy with slow steady strides, his face lit with a smile as bright as the sun in the sky.

“You said there was something you wanted to talk with me, sir?” said Arun.

“Yes…yes…I did. I mean, I do.” Coming closer to the boy, he patted on his shoulder. “But before that, how did the inter-school meet go?” he said. He knew that the boy earned the school a second place in the javelin throw.

“It was okay, sir,” said Arun, evidently uncomfortable with the question. “I think I could have done better, but all in all, it went well.”

Patting him again, Ganesh said, “Forget about such things as doing better and all.” He smiled before adding, “Let me rephrase my question. Did you have a fun time at the meet? I heard that there was a campout for the winners afterwards, a two day holiday with a trek thrown in?”

“Yes, sir,” said Arun. He couldn’t help but lower his face, a blush painting his cheeks crimson.

“Yes, sir, what? You mean you had good fun?” said Ganesh, matching the boy’s smile.

Arun nodded. “Yes, sir.”

Ganesh looked towards the washroom’s open door before continuing, “Well, I am glad to hear that you had fun. But don’t you agree that part of the reason-  a major part, I would say-why you were able to have the fun was me? I mean, I did put in a lot of hours training you, didn’t I?”

Arun looked up, unsure what to say to a question the answer to which both of them knew was “Yes.”

“Well, I am thankful for that,” Arun said once the uneasy silence which settled between them lengthened. “I even came to the hospital to see you. I..I brought you a box of chocolates,” Arun added.

Chuckling, Ganesh said, “I did get that box of chocolates, though it was my son who ate most of it. Not that I mind. I actually prefer certain other things to chocolate, and especially given how it was your mistake that landed me in the hospital in the first place, you didn’t really think that a chocolate box would cover things, did you?”

For the first time since he met the teacher at the corridor, Arun felt a sense of uneasiness creep inside him. He felt the cold trickle of sweat beads on his forehead.

“What…what do you mean, sir?”, he said, looking uneasily at the ever-widening smile on his teacher’s face.

“Do you believe in atoning for your sins, Arun?” said Ganesh, without losing his smile.

Arun nodded.

“Being your teacher, I can give you an idea or two on how you can atone…You can consider it another mode of training..training to lose yourself of any guilty feeling you may have inside?” Ganesh grinned.

“I..I don’t understand, sir..” said Arun. “I think I should get back to class now?” he added.

“Worry not. For the atonement will be over in just a few minutes- if you can spare that?” While saying the last part, Ganesh’s grip on the boy’s shoulder tightened, giving Arun the impression that it was not a question but a command.

“But before we proceed,” whispered Ganesh, “I must also tell you that this is something strictly between the two of us.” He pointed a finger at Arun and said, “Between the guilty,” then pointing at himself, “and the victim. Once it is done, it is done, you understand?”

Arun nodded slowly, his breath coming rapidly. It was the first time that Ganesh was mentioning about the accident as a deliberate act. He only hoped that it would be the last.

Ganesh led him to one of the bathroom cubicles. When the teacher asked him to lower his shorts and bow down, he thought that maybe he was going to be given a good spanking. Sure, he was a little older for such forms of punishment, but if that was all the punishment that the teacher was going to give him, he thought he could live with that.

But it wasn’t the touch of a hand that he felt in his skin- at least, it wasn’t just a hand. And by the time Ganesh was finished with him, he was feeling so humiliated, and scared because he wasn’t entirely sure why he felt humiliated, that even if the teacher had told him he could speak about the incident to anyone, he wouldn’t have dared tell anyone.

**

A couple of times Ganesh almost willfully drove into an incoming truck. But there’s a world of difference between almost doing something and doing something- sometimes, the difference could be between life and death.

He was passing Muhamma; just another 20 kilometers or so to his destination- the home and office of Dr. Ankit Kumar, one of his school friends with whom he has always kept in touch. But it’s been a while- at least an year since they have actually met face to face. So, when Ganesh called him the other day to tell him that he would like to meet him in person, Ankit was elated. But when Ganesh continued in a sober-almost sad tone that it was to discuss something serious, his elation turned to a curious apprehension.

“We can meet on Sunday afternoon,” he had said.

Ankit himself came down to open the gate to the house, letting Ganesh drive in. Parking his blue Alto behind a white Mercedes S-class in the garage(alongside a Pagero the side of which bore the scratch marks of a major accident just averted), Ganesh got out and was hugged by his friend. Notwithstanding the thick beard and the glasses, Ankit looked at least five years younger to Ganesh, though they were both the same age. When Ganesh alluded to it, Ankit attributed the fact to “my controlled application of gin and tonic every night.”

He invited his friend in. They took seats on the sofas in the plush living room filled with luxury. Ankit explained that his wife has gone out shopping with her friends. She has taken the kids along with her.

“In other words, you can have enough gin, or something stronger- if you wish, without thinking about embarrassing yourself in front of your friend’s wife,” said Ankit, slapping Ganesh good naturedly on the thigh.

But the expression on Ganesh’ face was far from something that you would expect from someone who has just been offered free drinks.

“Okay, I can see that small talk isn’t high on your agenda today,” said Ankit. Settling back in his seat, he added, “Tell me, what’s wrong?”

And so, Ganesh told him. The words, even though they were hard in coming at first began to virtually flow once he found that he could detach himself from the story, as though he were talking about someone else. By the time he finished, there was a thoughtful expression on his friend’s face. Ankit kept pinching the tip of his beard, pulling it down ever so softly as though trying to gently pry out an answer from it.

Ganesh looked closely at his face for signs of judgement, but he couldn’t find any.

After a few moments of thoughtful silence Ankit looked up. “You say this..such tendencies began after the accident?” he said.

Ganesh nodded.

“And you only ever feel..this way towards boys, never girl children?”

Ganesh nodded, looked away uneasily.

Ankit, once again pulling on his beard said, “I cannot possibly make an evaluation on this. This would require a psychologist or maybe even a psychiatrist. I actually know a psychologist- a very good friend of mine, young- some 40 years old but bright, extremely so. He lives here in Alleppey itself. I think I will refer you to him.” Seeing a worried expression pass over Ganesh’s face, he added, “Don’t worry. Whatever you tell him will be confidential. I know that there are doctors who breach the patient-doctor confidentiality as easily as one would hum a film song in the bathroom, but Mohan Pratap- that’s his name, is not one of them. Also, I assume it would be more comfortable for you to come see someone down here- almost two hours away from your home, than someone in your own town?” Ankit added.

Ganesh nodded. If anyone who knew him were to suspect something,  that could spell the end of him. A family man like him, that too someone with a son of his own..

“So,” continued Ankit, “You say this..tendency hasn’t come on to you since that day you..mistreated the boy in the bathroom.”

Willing himself not to think about that episode, Ganesh said, “I wouldn’t say the tendency never occurred after that. But whenever it arose, it was feeble. Or rather, I was able to control it easily. But I am afraid about when it would become uncontrollable again!”

“Of course,” said Ankit. Leaning forward, he placed a hand on Ganesh’s knee. “Don’t worry, we are going to sort this out,” he said. “I am sure Mohan will be able to help. I will see if I can get you an appointment for the coming weekend. I know that he is not around today as he has gone out of station with his family..otherwise, you might have seen him today itself..”

“That’s fine…,” said Ganesh, “I think next weekend would be fine..” After a couple of seconds, he added, “Oh, wait, not next weekend. There is a function at the school happening on Sunday- a new block is being inaugurated. A minister is coming. I can’t possibly scoot out. And I am sure there would be some preparation on Saturday. I am in the organizing committee, you see..”

“No problem. Then, we would fix it for the weekend after that,” Ankit said with a smile. Getting up from the sofa, he said, “Since you are driving, you probably should settle for just a tea or coffee. But as for me, I think I am now ready have a good drink.”

**

“Chandrukutta, why don’t you come with mummy?” Aradhana crooned to her son one last time before leaving, telling him how instead of staying with his father over the weekend, if he were to go with her, hhe would get to see all the relatives he hasn’t seen in a long time.

Whether Aradhana knew it or not, meeting a whole lot of long-not-seen relatives is never high on the list of things that made an 8 year old excited. So, unsurprisingly Chandrs shook his head, for the nth time. “I think I will ask dad to take me to the movies,” he said.

Aradhana looked up at Ganesh, who stood beside his son with a half-smile on his face. There was something about that smile, as though it had a will of its own and didn’t want to form completely, which made Aradhana frown. “Are you okay?” she said. “I know that you would have liked me to come with you to school tomorrow for the inauguration thing. But you know I couldn’t possibly miss Meenukkutti’s engagement. “

Meenukutty was her first cousin who lived in Pathanamthitta-Aradhana’s hometown.

“Of course, you should go,” said Ganesh. “And if I didn’t have to go to the school, I would have come along too.” That was true as well. He didn’t ever want her to feel that she was going through her life on her own. She sometimes raised complaints about living away from her home-this mostly happened when they had some familial skirmish.

But then again, he was also glad for the opportunity to spend some time alone with Chandru. The inauguration of the new building block would be over by 11 in the morning the next day- Sunday. He planned to take the boy to a movie after that- Chandru had hinted about a new animated film with flying robots in it.

And later in the evening, they would go to the beach, where he would buy Chandru a sherbet- Aradhana never allowed the boy to drink sherbet thinking it’s unhygienic. Ganesh knew that Chandru would love it if he were to buy one for him behind his mother’s back.

“Okay, then, you two take care of each other, won’t you?” she said. Kissing Chandru on the forehead, she added, “I will be back on Monday morning, I will take the first bus.” Smiling a little sadly at Ganesh, she walked out of the gate and got in the autorikshaw that was waiting in front of the gate. As the rikshaw began to move, she waved at the boy and the man in her life.

She saw that the smile on her husband’s face was still not fully formed. As though something was wrong.

But for the life of her, she couldn’t think of what it could be.

**

As part of the organizing committee that was in charge of arranging everything- from the banners welcoming the minister who would inaugurate the new block to the soft drinks to be served to the guests, Ganesh reached the school around 5 in the evening on Saturday.

Parking the car in the tin-roofed parking lot, he walked towards the new block- a yellow painted building that stood on the eastern corner of the plot. Four stories high, it was your standard affair school building- meriting no better a description than “rows of corridors juxtaposed with rows of classrooms.”

The school recently got the permission to have plus one and plus two classes. Though the classes wouldn’t begin  for another 4 months, they were going to go ahead and inaugurate the building now that it’s ready. As the Principal said, “No point in hiding the light under the bushel.”  The principal was a devout Catholic and tended to use lines from the Bible whenever possible.

Ganesh could see a few people standing in front of the block. A few workers were already tying up the banners and decoration, overseen by another staff member who was part of the committee. Seeing Ganesh walking up to him, he waved.

Ganesh waved back though it was just a mechanical action-his mind wasn’t really in it. For as he was passing by the gym, memories of the day when he got an erection at the prospect of treating the wounded arm of a student flooded his mind. More than embarrassment, what came to his mind was fear- for even as he thought about the episode, he felt his penis rising.

“Excuse me, Mr. Ganesh?”

Ganesh was relieved for someone calling out to him. A distraction in the way of some live conversation would be welcome right about now.

He turned around to see a short man with a reed thin moustache in a white jubba. Though Ganesh was sure he was seeing the man for the first time, he couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something awfully familiar about the  face.

“I couldn’t tell if it were you from seeing your back,” said the man who, approaching Ganesh, extended his hand. Ganesh took it. He wasn’t able to conceal an expression of bafflement as the man said, “Oh, I am sorry. How foolish of me! You must be wondering who I am. Of course, you are! I mean, even I have seen you only two or three times, mostly at the sports meets. I would be in the audience, I love to watch my kid play.”

The mention of the sports meet gave Ganesh a sinking feeling in his stomach. He realized who the man was even before he said the next thing. The boy’s face wasn’t an exact replica of his father’s but there were enough resemblances to make Ganesh realize the reason why the man’s face looked familiar.

“I am Madhavan. Arun Madhavan’s father…” said the man. “You know, Arun Madhavan from 9 C?”

“Yes, I do know, sir,” Ganesh said. He released his hand from the man’s grip. His palm was sweaty.

There was a moment of silence in which Ganesh could hear the sound of his entire world crumbling around him. The kind of sound which the Catholic principal of the school might relate to the Apocalypse.

The boy has held back for two weeks, Ganesh thought. But then, the secret became too much of a weight for him to carry around in his chest, and so he told his father. And now, his father has come for retribution.

But to Ganesh’ surprise, the man was smiling, and there was no menace hidden in that smile. It was the kind of genuine smile that one might see on the lips of a character in an animation film for toddlers than on the face of a villain in a B-grade action film.

“My son speaks highly of you, Mr. Ganesh,” he said. The twinkle in the man’s eyes almost made Ganesh look down with shame. Almost.

“He says you are the best phys-ed teacher he has ever had. And I would like to thank you for whatever you are doing for him. You see, when Appu- that’s what we call him at home, was young, he used to get frequently sick- fevers, flu, chicken pox, allergic reactions, you name it, he has had them. Doctors ascribed them to a rather weak immune system. With the parade of diseases he didn’t get to spend much time playing with kids in the outdoors- his fun was the video game and board games he could play with other kids or with us- his parents. And we never thought- not even in our wildest dreams that we would get to see him participate in sports at the inter-school level. It wouldn’t have been possible without you!”

Ganesh nodded his thanks. He mumbled, “I doubt if I am the only one responsible for that. I’m sure his doctors also did a great job of improving his immune system!”

Arun’s father nodded. He laughed, saying how that was also true. Like the man’s smile, his laughter too felt simple, genuine.

Ganesh knew that this was a man he would have befriended under any other circumstance. But when the weight of what he did bore down heavily on his chest , he couldn’t help but maintain a mental distance. Amicable as the man was, Ganesh still couldn’t understand why he would he here on a non-school day.

As if reading his mind Arun’s father said, “You are part of the organizing committee, I think? The principal sir said that staff members in the committee might be here this evening. I came to see the principal sir.”

Seeing the frown on Ganesh’ face, he added, “The minister is a relative of mine- that’s how when the principal mentioned once about having someone to inaugurate the block, I told him I could do something about it. Now, I needed to speak with the principal about samosas?”

“What?” Ganesh’ expression of bafflement was as genuine as the man’s laughter.

“Well, the minister is allergic to coconut oil,” said Arun’s father. “So, if we are arranging samosas, they should be made in sunflower oil, or something like that. I tried reaching the principal on the phone but his phone was not reachable. Do you know where the principal is?”

“He must be somewhere near the block, I think. I am not sure, I just got here,” Ganesh said. The bafflement still hasn’t left him.

The man patted him on the shoulder, said a thank you and walked towards the new block.

The bafflement still wouldn’t leave Ganesh. Samosas?!!

And then there was the erection which still hasn’t gone down.

A turn of his face and another sight of the gym’s door and it got even stronger.

**

Soon as he got home he suggested to Chandu that they went for a movie.

The simple fact was that he was scared of being in the house alone with the child. Scared for the child, scared of himself.

But Chandru, who was hooked on his PS4 playing Fifa 15 wasn’t too keen. “I need to finish this tournament, daddy!” he said, sounding as though the tournament was the sole purpose for which he was born on the planet earth.

Ganesh tried to coax him some more but then, realizing that the pixels that made up the virtual football field won hands down over the pixels that would make up the flying robots in the movie, he left the boy to his devices- or rather gadgets, and went to the bathroom to take a long shower.

Standing under the shower, he masturbated hard, alternately using both his hands, hard enough that one might be tended to think that he had a secret fetish to destroy his cock. But it wasn’t destruction that resulted, but ejaculation.

Half an hour later though, the erection was back up, as strong as ever.

“Pubic hair!” Ganesh muttered under his breath. He was rarely given to profanities, but he did consider this an exceptional circumstance and didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. He was standing in the kitchen where he was about to heat up the food which Aradhana had prepared and left in the refrigerator.

He could hear the sound of the crowds roaring “Viva Argentina!” and the football commentator’s deep throaty voice coming from the living room.

Almost without knowing he was doing it, he reached down and rubbed his crotch. The fabric of his trainers felt like another layer of skin. His eyes fell half closed and his mind converged to a black dot which was all he could see- from the dot spread spurts of images, of cradling the buttocks of a young boy and kissing his lips.

A loud cheer from the virtual crowd went up as Chandru scored a goal for Argentina. The sound woke Ganesh from his trance- at least, enough to make him realize the kind of thoughts and sights that just passed through his mind. He put aside the food he was about to heat- Aradhana had prepared some chicken biryani and the sight of the leg pieces felt oddly repulsive to him.

But, not nearly as repulsive as him thinking about sucking hard on his son’s lower lip.

“No..”, he muttered, his legs suddenly feeling shaky, holding on to the kitchen counter with all his strength. The empty sink gleamed under the bright glow of the CFL. It looked like a great place to puke. He retched.

“Daddy?..” Chandru called out from the living room. No answer. He repeated.

He turned his head to find his father coming out from the kitchen door. The kitchen also comprised of the dining area- and there was no intervening room or corridor between the kitchen and the living room.

Ganesh held a towel in his hand, letting it drip down to his crotch. Otherwise, the bulge there would be painfully visible otherwise.

“Let’s go out for dinner,” he said, steadying his rapid breathing as much as he could, willing himself to focus on the boy’s eyes and not think about how lustful his tender lips looked.

“But, mommy made food for us, didn’t she?,” Chandru said, still quite attached to the game he was playing.

“Yes, but I thought we would have something different- something special. What do you say about prawn fries?” he said. Prawns were Chandru’s favourite and if there was anything that would make him abandon the players who were suspended in mid-motion, it was a well made dish of prawns.

“Okay,” said Chandru.

When he smiled, his lips looked lovelier than before to Ganesh.

He willfully didn’t look at the boy as he walked to the bedroom. “I will bring you your clothes. Go change in the other room!” he called out as he disappeared into the bedroom.

**

That night, once Chandru was asleep ,Ganesh kept circling the boy’s back with his fingers. Before going to sleep, the boy asked him to dust his back with prickly heat powder- the night was hot and he was sweaty. It was all Ganesh could do to keep himself from doing something that he would regret for the rest of the life.

He was glad that, compared to the previous instances, he was able to control his impulse better this time. But he knew that he wouldn’t be able to keep up the resistance for long. Already, as he drew faint circles on the boy’s back with the tip of his finger, he could feel the defenses within him slowly crumbling, like the slow trickle of sand and stone down the side of a cliff. Acutely he felt his chest rising and falling like it was sucking in air with an epic greed. His erection was so hard that it was almost painful.

“No!” he rasped, as his eyes began to close to slits, heralding the beginning of yet another trance. A trance which would steal him of whatever control he has over his own body, his own actions.

Taking in a huge gasp of breath, he drew another circle on the boy’s back, this time pressing his finger much more strongly than before, enough to leave a faint white trace where his nail touched the skin. Part of him hoped that the boy would wake up. He hoped that when Chandru woke and called him dad, the sound of that one word would be powerful enough to keep him from slipping completely into the trance, like using a counter-spell to break a spell.

But of course, Chandrakant Ganesh, the deep sleeper, only stirred, mumbled something and went back to an even deeper sleep.

I must break the spell myself!, thought Ganesh.

He took his hand off the boy’s back like lifting a 20 kilogram rod. Some variant of gravity pulled his hand down to the boy’s body, he thought.

With another massive effort, he pulled himself out of the bed. He felt acutely the way his bottom grazed on the edge of the mattress, making him think for a second how wonderful it would be to have the boy deliver a small bite on his buttock. How extremely sensual the feeling would be, how every pore on his ass would come alive with it…

“No!” rasped Ganesh once again. Grunting, as though fighting a physical force, he kept his eyes closed, afraid that if he were to see again Chandru who lied half naked on the bed, he may lose all his self-control. Taking a few deliberately slow breaths, he stood up and walked towards the door, eyes still closed, feeling his way through with his hands. He kept his eyes closed until he crossed to the door on the opposite side, opened and entered the other room, locked the door and pushed the key out through the space beneath the door, far enough where he couldn’t reach it by any means.

The next morning, when Chandru opened the door to the other room, Ganesh was already up. He was sitting on the bed, looking out at the garden in the front yard through the window. There were quite a few multi-hued flowers out there in the garden which Aradhana tended so lovingly.

But none of them were as beautiful as his son’s face as he looked at him with an open curiosity, he felt. ‘Why did you lock yourself in?’ Chandru seemed to be asking without any words.

Ganesh simply beckoned him, hugged him close as he came to him.

The dark impulses have left him, at least for now. And the world felt sane once again.

**

The only thing in the room which suggested it was a psychologist’s office was an abstract painting of a brain that hung from the wall. It’s the kind of painting that only a psychologist would buy, thought Ganesh. The kind which doesn’t give any clear picture of the actual brain but hints at the various mysteries and secrets that might lurk beneath the various shades- a hint of blue beneath orange, a faint smattering of yellow beside a patch of green.

As for the psychologist himself, he was the epitome of what you expect a psychologist to look like.
A thick black French beard, round goggles, hair in the head looking like what Bernie Sanders might have with imperfect hair transplant, a stern but amicable gaze, the habit of nodding thoughtfully at Ganesh’s answer…all of these facets and more which one might find in the ‘The long list of clichés on a psychologist’s appearance’ could be check marked against.

At first, Ganesh felt uncomfortable sitting in the plush sofa while the doctor himself sat a few feet from him in a stiff backed wooden chair. Somehow, the comfort of the deep cushion, instead of making him feel at ease made him feel the lesser party in the power equation with the psychologist- making him feel like he were a baby that needed to be pampered.

But the discomfort began to lift as Dr Mohan began to gain confidence on him. The best thing about the doctor, Ganesh felt was that he didn’t ask too many questions. Instead, he allowed Ganesh to speak whatever he wished to discuss, as and when he wanted to discuss them.

“The MRI results are in. There doesn’t seem to be anything visibly wrong with your brain. At least, nothing that could be detected with technology in its current stage,” the doctor said at one point. “But you shouldn’t worry. Instead, you should take it as positive news. Notwithstanding the complexity of the human mind, you would be surprised at how, in most cases, it’s easier to train your own mind than to fix a physical problem with the brain,” he added.

Ganesh nodded, hoping that the psychologist was right. He knew that it was only a matter of time before the dark tendencies returned. And when they did, whether or not he was around his own kids or anyone else’ kid, he wanted to be in control of his action.

Yes, he certainly hoped that he would be able to train his mind to do that.

**

“So, how is it going with Mohan?” said Ankit, Ganesh’ doctor friend.

“I must say that it’s going great. Way, way better than what I had hoped for!”

“Yes, I can feel the change in the way you speak,” said Ankit, sounding cheerful himself. “Earlier, you were like someone shouting from under-ground, like someone who were buried underground. But now, you sound like you are standing in a garden, breathing in the fresh air, happy with the sound of birds and the fragrance of flowers!”

“I didn’t know that you could talk this poetically!” said Ganesh, laughing.

“Well, you would be surprised by the poetic sensibility you could develop seeing life in its extreme as a surgeon!,” Ankit said, half-jokingly. “Anyway, let’s stop talking about me. It’s you that I want to hear about!” he added, the tone of cheerfulness stepping back into his voice.

“I know what you wish to hear, Ankit, and I am really grateful that you are being such a true friend…, began Ganesh.

Ankit cut him off by saying, “Now, let’s not get cheesy here!”

Ganesh laughed before continuing, “Well, the good news is that I haven’t had any of the…impulses…since I began therapy with Dr. Mohan. The doctor is everything that you said and more. It’s been more than three months now and so far I am feeling like myself, everything going well, maybe like a bright sky without any dark clouds in the horizon- if I were to speak like you!”

“Okay, now, you are rubbing it in!” exclaimed Akit. He laughed.

So did Ganesh. They talked on the phone for a while more. Ganesh told him about what the psychologist said- about continuing the therapy for another two months or so- before making a final call on the matter. “I am only too glad for that. God only knows I get a guilty pang every time I lie to Aradhana when I leave the house to go to the doctor’s. I tell her that there’s some special training I need to impart to my students at school on the weekend…But I guess a little lie is acceptable if the result is getting myself back,” said Ganesh.

Ankit said that’s so true.

Ganesh told him that there was but one thing which darkens his mood still. “Arun…the boy I harassed that day..I don’t know what to do about it. I rarely make eye contact with him when we pass each other in the corridor or somewhere, and he has stopped coming to the training sessions. Not that I could blame him..I thought about apologizing to him a couple of times, but I can’t honestly see that working, you see..”

Ankit let him talk, never interrupting except to sound the occasional “hmmm”  necessary to inform the other party that he was indeed listening. For a few seconds, Ganesh felt like he was talking to his psychologist.

Maybe all doctors were good listeners, thought Ganesh, like what they say about writers.

“And yes,” added Ganesh, “I am worried…Though no issues have arisen yet, I do get worried that some day, the boy might tell someone of what happened that day. I don’t know if I have told you this, but the boy is in the nineth standard and I have heard that his father- a rather wealthy individual whom I have met but once- is going to move to another city in the next year. Meaning, in three months’ time when the final exams would be over, he would leave the school for good. And though that may not necessarily mean the end of all my troubles, I believe that once he has left the school, he would also try to forget what happened there…..God, do I sound like a bad person for wishing so, Ankit?”

Ankit didn’t reply, just maintained a silence which Ganesh could interpret any way he wished to.

Letting out a long, exasperated sigh, Ganesh said, “The fact is, I don’t know what to do about the boy’s situation!”

Anikt remained in silence for a few more seconds before saying, “I don’t know how I can help you on that front, Ganesh. I am afraid you’re on your own there.” After a few seconds, he added, “But the most important thing is that whatever happened to you is fast becoming part of the past- something like a nightmare from which you are coming out.”

“Yes,” said Ganesh, sounding relieved.

A nightmare from which he was coming out of, that’s exactly how he thought about it. And he felt so glad to hear the same sentiment being expressed by someone else.

After he got off the phone, Ankit made himself another gin and tonic- his second, and last drink of the night: two was the upper limit that was set for him by his loving wife. Break that rule and the wife would turn not-so-loving.

As the warm glow of the drink spread inside his body, he felt happy, not just because of the effect of the drink but also thinking of the remorse that Ganesh expressed about what he did to his student.

Since relating the incident to him on the day he came to see him at his home more than three months back, Ganesh rarely talked about. And Ankit, for his part left it at that- after all, there wasn’t anything meaningful that he could say about it. For a while, he was bothered about the ethical implication of the whole scenario- his friend has sex with a minor, that too his student, and he told him about it.

But Ankit was not his doctor, so he was not bound by the doctor-patient confidentiality.

In the interest of the public, should he inform the police about his friend’s deed?

A few nights of grappling with conflicting thoughts, his loyalty to his friend won over the concern over public safety.

After all, it’s not like Ganesh is a seral molester, he told himself. He was someone who-even in school had an air of maturity around him. Someone who, later when they were in the pre-degree course(in the MG College in Trivandrum), wouldn’t even touch the girls’ hands even though he boldly displayed his palm reading skills, telling the girls’ future as easily as he would tell them the colour of their eyes- It wasn’t that he read the palms of only the girls, it’s just that for some reason, it was the girls who were more interested in knowing the future than the boys(The latter, apparently could be satisfied with knowing the immediate future) .

The fact that he got the taste for young flesh after the accident bordered on the incongruous. And the idea of someone like Ganesh turning into a serial molester, even more so.

Ankit finished the gin and tonic and placed the glass back on the counter, satisfied with the slight buzz that the drink gave him, also feeling grateful to the psychologist, Dr Mohan Kumar for pulling Ganesh out of the darkness.

If anyone deserved a good life, it was Ganesh- a decent man with simple ambition for a small, peaceful family.

**

Psychologist, Dr. Mohan Kumar lived but just two kilometers away from Ankit’s home. Ever since they met each other at a local community’s annual day they have held each other with respect, meeting occasionally for a drink at the Rotary Club where they discussed the various aspects of working in the curing business.

Once the alcohol did its job and lowered their inhibitions, they would be more than candid with each other about the harsh realities of their profession- the dismal doctor to patient ratio, the poor infrastructure, the perennial suspicion with which the public holds the doctors- as though doctors were nothing better than con artists out for making a few extra bucks out of unsuspecting patients, and in the case of Mohan- the stigma of being looked down upon, as psychology is considered by many as a “lesser” profession in the medical field.

But regardless of the various issues they may have with their jobs and the society at large, they were united in one thing- their passion for their profession. Coupled with this their intellectual curiosity about everything from the logistics involved in feeding the entire Starfleet command in Star Trek to solving the waste disposal problem in their neighbourhood meant that conversations between them were always stimulating.

So when Ankit got a surprise call from the psychologist asking if he would be free to meet, he was delighted. But instead of the easy-going manner of speech which characterized such calls, Ankit could detect a certain stress in the psychologist’s voice which for some reason put in his mind thoughts about Ganesh.

“I think we can meet at the club at around 7, if that’s fine with you?” said Ankit. He was at the hospital where he worked as a consultant for three days every week. Today wasn’t a day when he was supposed to be there, he dropped in just to see how one of his patients he has operated on two days before was doing. But now that he was there, he wanted to make use of the hospital records to read about another patient whom he was going to see next week. He reckoned that he should be finished in another two hours. Add a half an hour more and he could reach the Rotary Club comfortably by 7.

But Mohan asked him if they could meet right away. “There is something I needed to talk to you about. And it’s urgent!,” said Mohan.

Ankit informed him that he was at the hospital. Mohan told him that he could be there in 2o minutes. Ankit asked him to please come down.

Fifteen minutes later, Mohan was there.

**

Contrary to his usual calm demeanor, Mohan looked rather flummoxed- he blinked more rapidly than usual and his nostrils flared as he breathed heavily. With the doctor’s customary observation skills, Ankit noticed these aspects in the psychologist.

No sooner had he invited Mohan in than he took a seat and spread the pages of a newspaper he held in his hand. Ankit squinted at the news item that Mohan was referring to. The glasses which he had momentarily taken off, he picked up from the table and put on his nose.

The news item was about a 5 year old boy who was “attacked by a stranger”. The nature of the attack wasn’t mentioned clearly in the article but it was mentioned that the man picked the boy from his backyard where he was playing alone. When the boy’s mother- who was in the kitchen found that her son was missing, she started panicking and appeared at the neighbour’s door asking if they have seen the boy around. But by this time, the stranger had dropped the boy back at his home. The boy later told the police that he was taken in a blue car.

The article, which was nestled between an ad for a garments discount sale and a news about a minister inaugurating a new hospital, was short. But it was filled with enough details to give Ankit a sinking feeling in his stomach.

When he looked up at Mohan, the psychologist said, “This is news from more than three weeks ago. But yesterday, there was a similar report. Another boy. And in this one, it was explicitly written that he was sexually harassed. The boy was returning home from the local grocery shop when a car stopped by him and he was pulled into it. The boy was traumatized enough that he couldn’t remember much about the car- not even its colour. I saw the report just today,” added Mohan. “Even though it’s just two reports, I couldn’t help but draw a connection with Ganesh.”

Now that Ganesh’s name was said aloud, a cold seemed to have settled in the room.

Ankit inadvertently rubbed the side of his arm, as though warming himself against the chill.

“And then there are also the dates and the places where the two incidents happened,” Mohan was saying. “The first incident happened in Muhamma, and the second near Kayamkulam..” He waited for Ankit to make the connection. It didn’t take long.

“Both places in between Alleppey and Trivandrum,” Ankit said thoughtfully.

“Yes,” said Mohan, getting excited now that Ankit has begun to see things his way. “And both the incidents happened on a Sunday. I checked my diary before coming here- I had sessions with Ganesh on both days. I checked the time mentioned in both the articles. Both the incidents happened one to two hours after Ganesh left my office.”

Ankit nodded, not taking his eyes off Mohan’s face. “Yes,” he said eventually, “But…it could still be a coincidence?” he added.

Mohan nodded. “It could be,” he said. “He has shown tremendous improvement in a matter of just a few months. But I would say that that in itself was something that warranted my suspicion- to have such phenomenal progress…no case is that straightforward…” He lowered his eyes, as though ashamed that he didn’t see this coming.

“Maybe your fears are misplaced,” said Ankit though he wasn’t sure if he himself believed that. “I think I will give Ganesh a call later this evening,” he added. He wasn’t sure what, if any, result such a thing would accomplish. But he couldn’t think of anything more substantial than that to do at the moment.

Mohan nodded slowly. “I better leave now,” he said. “I think you have some stuff to finish here…”

Ankit nodded. “Yeah. Will see you tomorrow night at the club?”

Mohan nodded. Both of them had a strained smile on their faces. Both of them found it awkward.

**

By the time Ganesh failed to pick his call after his third attempt, Ankit was ready to go in to a panic-mode. His earlier guilty feeling about not going to the police with the information that he had abused a student, resurfaced. Only, this time the feeling was much stronger, strong enough to make him break the upper limit of 2 drinks one night.

The fact that it was something that he couldn’t discuss with his wife made him all the more frustrated. His explanation that “it’s something about a patient- something which I cannot discuss with you” didn’t improve his wife’s mood much either. His wife, not being in the medical profession(she used to work as a senior relationship manager for Air India before she quit a month before her wedding) could respect the concept of “doctor-patient confidentiality” but not when it made her husband drink and hyperventilate too much.

And when the next morning he told her that he had to go urgently to Trivandrum “regarding the patient I told you about last night” she barely responded, thinking not for the first time that being a doctor’s wife could be fraught with troubles that one may not envision.

**

By the time Ankit reached Trivandrum city it was almost noon. The sun was at its most intense and notwithstanding the AC in the car, just seeing the glint of the sun on the shiny cars around him made him wince. He was glad that Ganesh’ home was within the city itself- even though the roads in Trivandrum were some of the best paved in the whole of Kerala, traffic was still a problem, largely because most roads were too narrow to accommodate all the vehicles easily.

Most of the roads were built at a time when no one really thought that people might prefer taking the car than walking for even going a kilometer.

From the car, Ankit gave Ganesh’ phone another ring . He didn’t expect the call to connect, and it didn’t. In fact, this time around he got the recorded message that the phone was out of range.

Though it’s been some time since he has been to the house, he didn’t have much of an issue finding the house- for one thing it was the only one painted an orange colour in the entire street. Also, there was a Shiva temple right beside the house whuch was hard to miss owing to the giant Shiva statue in front of it-easily eight people tall.

Going into the house- a two storied structure with a tiny yet beautiful flower garden at one end of the front yard and a small bicycle leaning against the wall by the door, Ankit found that the prospect of giving awkward reasons for dropping in was going to be the least of his worries. (So far, the best reason he could think of was, “I was just passing by..”)

Though Ganesh wasn’t home, Ankit found that his wife wasn’t alone. The poor woman was with her mother and father, also Ganesh’s parents- they all reached the place in the morning, as they informed Ankit when they told him that he was a friend of Ganesh’.

“We reached here in the morning, as soon as we heard the news!”

The news in question was horrific and it explained the teary eyed appearance of Ganesh’s wife. She woke up early in the morning to find the bed empty except for her- and a letter, a piece of folded paper, really in which was a hastily written apology for taking the child.

“I have to. I need him! I need to have him!” Those were the exact words.

Driving back, Ankit thought that the next conversation that he would be having with Dr Mohan wouldn’t be exciting.

**

Two days after Ankit’s visit to Ganesh’s home, the cops found a boy’s dead body in a swamp. The body matched the description of one of the persons who have been filed missing with the Kawdiar Police station just two days before. It took just under two hours for them to confirm that the dead child- who was raped repeatedly before death, was indeed Chandrakanth Ganesh.

The police then began the search for the boy’s father- the way the information was related to the cops, the man they were looking for was mentally disturbed.

One day after the boy’s dead body was discovered, they found Ganesh- he was travelling in a bus, on the way to Bombay. One of his fellow passengers identified him from a photo on the newspaper and called the police.

Later when he was questioned, Ganesh swore he had no idea why he got on a bus to Bombay. He panicked, he said, after “killing the boy.” So he ran away, he said, and found a bus which just happened to be going to Bombay. “It could have been a bus to literally anywhere and I would have got on,” he said.

During the course of the questioning, Ganesh conceded that he has sexually abused six boys, but “the little boy” was the only one whom he killed. “The boy kept crying, saying that when he saw his mother next, he would tell her what I did to him. And that made me angry like you wouldn’t believe. And before I know it, I had killed him!”

There was genuine surprise in the man’s eyes when he said that. “And genuine madness,” as one of the cops present at the questioning would later tell a reporter.

**

TheRotary Club was not a place where silence prevailed at all times. Sometimes, someone would go a drink or two over the limit and there would be more fun than anyone had ever hoped for. And you wouldn’t hear anyone complaining about it either. After all, what’s the bloody point of being the member of a club if you couldn’t have some fun away from the family, with your pals, making jokes about the neighbors?

But the gang at the corner table was making an unusual amount of noise tonight- laughing and joking so loud that someone walked down and insinuated that it might be a good idea to keep the volume down.

Insinuation or not, the rumbustious bunch was not all that interested in lowering the volume. If anything, they became even louder with their jokes and laughter.

Ankit and Mohan were seated two tables removed from that table. Usually, too much noise while they discussed something would grate on Mohan’s ear, prompting him to down an extra drink or two and utter a few syllables the kind of which he uttered only when drunk.

But tonight, Mohan felt actually grateful for the distraction of the extra-noise from that a get-together going wild. Sitting where he was, he could hear such phrases as “You grew a potbelly in a few years, not to mention some good money!” and “Hell, I could never stand that guy when I was living here!” rising from the other table.

“What are you thinking about?” said Ankit, seeing the reflective look on his friend’s face.

“Nothing,” said Mohan, downing a shot of whiskey. “Or rather I was trying to think of something and couldn’t come up with anything.” He laughed- the kind of shaky laughter which comes with a mix of drink and nervousness. “I don’t know how to think about Ganesh, you know…I really don’t. From every perspective provided by the history of a practice of psychology, he was showing progress…”

“And yet you had doubts,” said Ankit. “You said you felt something was amiss the way everything progressed so smoothly…”

The look of reflection once again came into Mohan’s eyes. “Yes, a weekly session of psychotherapy…it’s not bound to work as manna from heaven. That’s never the case..But it was just a feeling in my gut that something might be wrong. Never something that I could articulate intellectually.”

Another cannon-ball like laugh thundered from the other table. Mohan waited for it to die down before adding, “Do you sometimes doubt if science could make an accurate assessment of a man- not as a clinical case, but in a general setting?”

There was a look of serious curiosity in Monhan’s eyes as he looked at Ankit for an answer, the kind of intellectual curiosity which made conversations with the psychologist so involving.

After allowing a few seconds to pass, Ankit said, “Don’t quote me on this since as a medical professional I don’t want to sound like I am undermining science, but I don’t think so.” Taking another long sip of the gin and tonic, he added, “And that’s my gut feeling.”

The rest of the evening, both of them mostly spent the time reflecting, lost in their own minds, trying to think a cohesive picture, failing to articulate their deepest thoughts. One thing which kept occurring to them both was the incoming trial of Ganesh.

“Would you testify in the court that he showed every sign of improvement?” said Ankit at one point.

Mohan looked at him. With a veneer of liquid in his eyes, the psychologist looked a little lost. “As I said before, I am having a hard time, trying to come up with cohesive thoughts.” He drank up the remaining whiskey in the glass before getting up. “I might as well leave now. I think if I stayed and drank more, I wouldn’t be able to stop.”

Ankit nodded.

The sound of laughter from the get-together trailed Mohan as he walked out into the night. He wished he could dissolve in that laughter.

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