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The Slave Driver

'Tanyaa 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 on paper.

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,’’ Tanyaa protested.

"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. 

Contributing Story Teller 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.

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