The Slave Driver
entered her friend’s house and ran into a wall. "Who’s that,’’ she asked.
"Oh! That’s my uncle; my mother’s brother,’’ replied Nikita. "Boy! He’s
huge,’’ stressed Tanyaa. Nikita’s uncle was nearly six feet five inches
tall and large bodied. "Yeah! Ask me about it. I’ve suffered a lot,’’
Nikita said. "Suffered? What do you mean by that,’’ came the question.
"Just forget about it. I’ll tell you later. Let’s just finish the sketches
we are supposed to,’’ Nikita pleaded. The teenagers took art classes
together and intended to pursue it later in life. Nikita wanted to paint
landscapes and Tanyaa was more interested in catching people’s expressions
This week’s assignment was
to try and portray an emotion or a feeling on canvas. The girls began work
in Nikita’s room. Mamu walked in with a request. "Hey, Niki. May I use
your phone? Mine isn’t working. I don’t know why. I think I’ll get a new
phone now; this one’s old,’’ he said. Udayan had a wonderful smile. It
almost made this gigantic young man look gentle and kind-hearted. Roughing
it out for two and a half months on the high seas (he was in the merchant
navy) hadn’t really spoilt his complexion. He was fair and had a mop of
unruly curly hair.
Tanyaa thought he looked
really impressive. "Does he come here often,’’ she prodded. "Well. This is
his transit point. Each time he leaves for his trip and whenever he
returns, he makes it a point to spend about a week with us. It’s a
nightmare,’’ she confessed. "How can you say that? He seems quite nice,’’
"You won’t feel all that
nice if you have to wake up at 4.30 a.m. everyday, including Saturdays and
Sundays, and jog for six kilometers,’’ said Nikita, curtly. "What,’’
shouted back Tanyaa. "Pipe down! He’ll hear you and then, all hell will
break loose,’’ Nikita pleaded. "So, he makes you run…what’s the big
deal,’’ Tanyaa whispered. "Not just that. Once we come back from our jog,
I have to do 50 push ups and 30 crunches. He also makes me hang by the
handle bar in the park, and do pull-ups until my arms ache. I can’t take
it any more. It just kills me,’’ Tanyaa elaborated.
"Phew! That’s a lot,’’
conceded Tanyaa. "Wait. There’s more. He also arm wrestles with me and
gives me neck locks like wrestlers do. He makes me punch the wall with my
bare knuckles, and uses a Taekwondo pad to make me practice my kicks. And,
after all that, he makes me press his feet while he snores away to glory
in the afternoon. My holidays are ruined when he’s around, I swear. Last
but not the least, he even sends me out after dark to buy things from the
near-by market. Can you even imagine that? I wish I could just turn around
and ask him to do that himself… but I dare not do so,’’ Nikita concluded.
"I’m so sorry. You must
really hate seeing him,’’ said Tanyaa, empathizing. "No. Actually, it
isn’t that bad. He just loves me to pieces. He helps me with my studies.
He gets me anything and everything I ask for. He makes lovely sandwiches
for me when mom’s not around. He takes me out for ice creams. He is a
great hit with all my friends. Dad and Mom just dote on him, and it’s just
so difficult to be completely cut up with him. He can be very sweet. And,
when I was a kid, he really pampered me and looked after me. But nowadays,
come morning, when the alarm goes off, everything changes. Mamu becomes a
slave driver. I just don’t know what to do,’’ she sighed.
"Ah! So, that is what you
call him? Maybe, we should abbreviate that and call him SD,’’ Tanyaa
joked. Nikita wasn’t amused. She was quite pre-occupied with her art
assignment, and she was also conscious that Mamu was just around the
corner. He had announced that he would be staying on for longer this time
because Raksha Bandhan was only about a fortnight away.
She was still struggling
with her brush when she accidentally tripped and fell on her canvas and
tore the whole thing up. It was a disaster. All her paints and brushes
were on the floor, and it was already past 7 p.m. How would she get her
assignment ready in time for tomorrow? She would also have to go to the
market now and buy some stuff.
Tanyaa decided to
accompany her. They walked down the narrow lane, and bought the material.
As they were walking back, they felt that they were being stalked. Someone
came and brushed past Tanyaa and another passed a lewd comment. Without
even knowing what had come over her, Nikita turned in a flash and went for
the guy’s jugular; her fingers penetrated deep into his throat, making him
scream in agony. She then jabbed him in the eye, and made him fall by
giving him a hard kick on his knee. He collapsed and did not get up. His
friend attacked her and she gripped him in a deadly neck lock. He writhed
with pain and tried to free himself.
Tanyaa stood there
dumfounded. And then, it came to her in a flash. But for the Slave Driver
in her life, Nikita would have never learnt to defend herself like that.
And, she seemed so strong. Her kicks and punches were almost lethal. The
girls looked at each other, and in that split second, understood the
essence of the moment. "You should give SD a big thank-you hug,’’ Tanyaa
said. Nikita beamed with pride. The girls started running back home.
Sangita P. Menon Malhan,
I am a short story writer, located in New Delhi, India. For most of my
professional life, I was a journalist with a national newspaper. I am
currently a freelance editor and translator. The stories I write are
primarily for children and the youth. Their readership, so far, has been
Indian, and therefore, the stories have Indian sensibilities.