Shashi Modak comes to the Qualisilks show room to make some purchases. Lucky is the salesgirl who is besotted by this handsome rich man. Desires spring up in her heart and mind as she thinks,
‘Wouldn’t it be fun to have him as a customer instead of these old fogies who come here every night?”
There, Shashi is also thinking about her even after he is back at work.
So, is something brewing?
Madam Shakil’s business flourished behind the façade of a respectable Girls’ Hostel. Her customers were selected and screened with utmost care. She was so good at her business that all attempts by the Law to trap her proved futile. It was suspected that she was merely a cog in the wheel of a powerful syndicate that made its lakhs through the flesh trade all over the state. The police had been trying in vain to storm her bastion and then brow-beat her into exposing her employers. But the wily Madam was no match for them.
‘The Law comprises a bunch of nitwits,’ she told herself, “They’ll never beat me at my game.”
Shashi Modak was in a restless mood. The girl at ‘Qualisilks’ had been on his mind since the time he met her.
‘Enchantress,’ he thought, ‘I have to see her again.’
She was standing at the bus stop, fresh and perfumed even after a long day’s work.
“Would you like a lift home?” he asked, “Come on, hop in.”
She pretended to hesitate, then got into his car.
“So glad to see you again,” he said, “You brought me luck. I made a wonderful deal yesterday.”
“I’m glad,” she said in her low husky voice.
“Are you fromBombay?” he asked.
“No, I’ve been here only for four months. I come from Shillong. But jobs there are difficult to find. A good friend of the family helped me get this job as a sales girl.”
They were turning intoMaddox Street.
“Stop the car please. Aunty is old fashioned. She wouldn’t like me getting lifts from strangers. I’ll walk the rest of the way. Thanks a lot.”
She was gone and Shashi felt an emptiness within him.
The following day he was at the bus stop on the dot of five.
“Let’s stop at Coffee Bar for a cup of coffee. Then I’ll drive you home.”
They sat opposite each other in the air-conditioned restaurant, sipping iced coffee and talking of things in general. Soon their evening sessions became a daily affair. Shashi knew that he was falling in love with the girl. Lucky felt she was getting too involved, but couldn’t stop enjoying his company. She went about her work in a daze. At home, she was silent and moody.
“Dreaming of Prince Charming?” Madam asked one day, “Have you seen him again?”
“He came to buy more cloth, if that’s what you mean,” said Lucky elusively.
Meanwhile Shashi grew more demanding.
“Why don’t you come out with me to the movies? Honey, I wait for you all day, and before we can get down to talking, its time for you to go home. Why don’t you let me come over and speak to your aunty? I’ll let her know that my intentions are honourable. Haven’t you guessed how fond of you I have become?”
“Oh Shashi, don’t talk like that. I’ve hardly known you for two weeks. You couldn’t have grown that fond of me.”
“It took me less than twenty fours to know that you’re the girl for me. Are you ashamed to take me home? Or don’t you reciprocate my feelings?”
“I do like you very much. But don’t ask me to take you to the hostel. At least not yet.”
LuckyRoywas no more the bright young girl Shashi had first met. She knew she was falling in love. But what happiness could it bring? She was afraid that sooner or later he would stumble on the truth. Then his love would turn to hate. She was in no mood for work the next day, and decided to call in sick. She continued feigning illness for two days more.
When Shashi didn’t see Lucky for three days, he decided this was the best excuse to call on her. After an early dinner, he stopped at the florist’s to buy a bouquet of flowers. Then he drove toShakilMansion.
He was ushered into a plush drawing room that was carpeted from wall to wall. The curtains were of rich maroon velveteen, and the interior décor was done with taste. Madam Shakil emerged in a black georgette sari spangled with gold dots.
“Good evening Madam. I’m Shashi Modak and Lucky Roy is expecting me.”
“From the Import-Export business are you? Well. Well …How do you do?”
Shashi had expected resistance and was surprised by her friendliness. She asked a maid to show him to Room 16.
“If the girl uses her brains and her charm as I’ve taught her to do, she’ll make a packet tonight,” thought Madam.
For once, her greed made Madam throw caution to the winds. She had let in a visitor without proper screening.
Lucky sat on the edge of her bed toying with the end of her blue chiffon sari. The white stones on her necklace glistened like a million stars. She looked more beautiful than ever. But in her heart was a deep gnawing pain that refused to go away. She didn’t bother to look up when the door opened.
“Lucky,” he called.
She jumped up with a start and the colour drained from her face,
“Shashi why did you come here? You promised you wouldn’t visit me.”
He pressed the bouquet of roses into her hand.
“What a welcome! I thought you would be overjoyed to see me.”
What was it about this girl that set his heart aflutter? In that diffuse lighting, with those twinkling jewels in her ears and around her neck, she looked irresistible.
“You were expecting someone else? I guess I better go..”
She came to him then, tears glistening in her eyes.
“I love you,” she said, “So much that it is making me mad. But you should never have come here.”
He drew her into his arms, wiping away the tears from her eyes. She knew that this must be the end of their friendship. But he pushed her towards the bed as though he would take her. She broke away saying, “Wait. There is a little formality. I warned you not to come here, but you didn’t listen. The establishment charges are steep. It will cost you a thousand rupees for an hour of fun. I guess it won’t make a dent in your rich pocket.”
He thought her crude words would burst his ear drums. He threw his wallet at her.
“Help yourself,” he said, and there was an edge to his voice. The veneer of her innocent face showed ugly cracks. Shashi felt remorse for what he was going to do.
Lucky slipped two five hundred notes from his wallet. Then her eyes fell on the red identity card that was sticking out from under the notes. She pulled it out and her eyes bulged with fear.
“Inspector Shashikanth Modak of the Vice Squad.”
Almost simultaneously the door flew open and two men entered, with a photographer in the rear.
“Who are these men?” she asked angrily.
“Inspectors Sanghvi and Mahtre also of the Vice Squad. This is a raid.”
Her dark eyes flashed with anger and hatred.
“Judas!” she shouted, “Liar……how I hate you….hate you.”
Her voice was almost a wail.
“Calm down Lucky. I had to do my duty. It is not you we are after. Not even Madam Shakil. We want to get to the bottom of this sordid business, and find out who is your real boss. Some day you’ll thank me for rescuing you. If you cooperate with the investigations you will get off lightly.”
Shashi’s heart ached for the girl. Love had come to him unwanted and unbidden.
The Vice Squad had ripped the façade off Madam Shakil’s hostel. She was apprehended just as she was making a sly exit through the back door. Almost a lakh of rupees was found on her. She was taken into custody for interrogation. The six young girls were sent to the Remand Home. The Vice Squad celebrated their success. But Shashi Modak was the saddest man that walked the earth.
The case came up for hearing within a fortnight. The Magistrate, a fatherly old man conducted the proceedings in an informal way.
“How did you get involved with Madam Shakil?”
Lucky stood with eyes downcast.
“My father and step mother are both alcoholics. I have two younger brothers and a sister. We were literally starving in those days. With the help of the Don Bosco fathers I got my siblings admitted to orphanages in Shillong. I had to find a job to support myself and also pay part of their expenses. The advertisement in the Statesman was too good to ignore. It said,
“Wanted a young cheerful girl as companion to a middle aged lady. No special qualifications required except a willingness to learn. Remuneration high. Free board and lodging.”
Madam even sent me my train fare. For once I had everything a girl could want. Good food, beautiful clothes, and a room to myself. I only came to know that I had sold my self to the devil many weeks later. But beggars can’t be choosers. If I left Madam I would be out on the streets….. There you have my story.”
She burst into a torrent of tears.
“How old are you?”
“I will complete seventeen in June.”
“You will be well off in the Remand Home until you complete your eighteenth birthday.”
Lucky was led out of court by a lady constable. Shashi caught up with her at the door.
“It won’t be so bad Lucky,” he said, “A year will pass very soon.”
But she bent her head lower and went towards the waiting van.
Life in the Remand Home was no bed of roses. She hated the dismal prison-like atmosphere, and all its inmates. The house-mother was an intolerable sadist who invented all kinds of chores to bring tears to her eyes. Shashi called every week with a box of chocolates and flowers. But Lucky hid from him and distributed the sweets among the ravenous inmates.
A year dragged by and on her eighteenth birthday she was released. She stood at the corner of the street, with a small bundle of clothes in her hand, timidly looking up and down and wondering where to go. She was a shadow of her former self. Her face looked pinched. Those beautiful eyes had lost their lustre.
A car drove up to where she was standing.
“Step in,” said a familiar voice as the door opened. She looked up into Shashi’s face and panic gripped her.
“No, no….. Not again.”
She bolted up the street, but Shashi was out in a flash and soon caught up with her.
“Lucky my love, come with me. I will not hurt you again.”
He took her hand gently and led her back to the car. He drove without speaking and she sat with her head bent low and arms folded in her lap. They stopped at a small cottage with a beautiful garden, a long way from the centre of town. An old woman rushed out to greet them.
“Welcome,” she said to the girl, with arms outstretched.
Lucky drew back in fear. Was this another trick life was playing on her? Could this be another Madam Shakil in disguise?
“Don’t be afraid. She is my mother. She will take care of you until you’re ready to face the world.”
Turning to the old lady he said, “Mother I must leave now. Take good care of her.”
To Lucky he said, “Don’t run away. I will not bother you. When you feel ready to see me, call me at this number.” He handed her his card.
Shashi waited for more than six months for that call. But his mother reported to him regularly on Lucky’s progress. She was kind and soft-spoken and made herself useful to the old lady in many ways. However, she was timid and refused to meet strangers. The mother knew nothing about Lucky’s background, except that she was a friend of her son.
Shashi stubbed out his umpteenth cigarette. It was nearingmidnightwhen the telephone tinkled. He thought it might be from his office.
“Hullo! It’s me Lucky. When will you be coming home?”
“The first thing tomorrow morning. I had almost given up hope.”
There was a song in his heart as he drove home. She was on the porch to greet him.
“I’ve waited and dreamed of this day for a very long time,” he said, pressing his lips to hers. There was hardly any response. Was that a shiver that ran through her body? But he was undaunted. He would bring the colour back to her cheeps and a smile to her lips.
“I have news for you. I’m going to marry you.”
“No, that will never do,” she protested.
“We’ll build a new life together. Just trust me.”
For the first time in months her heart lifted.
“Could there be a greater love than this?” she wondered.