Sunday, 10 February 2008

Mr. Belhman

I had the good fortune to work in Ballard Estate for almost more than a decade and they were happy days.

Originally, the building was called Wavell House and the road was called Graham Road, but they had replaced both the original names with unimaginative Indian names which sounded a bit dull and boring. It was a handsome, well-maintained four-storied building, with a quaint, old lift that took a full two minutes to climb up to the third floor which housed our office.

There was no fancy interior decoration, just a large hall with standard issue green Godrej chairs and tables with an assortment of side tables, open shelves and cupboards. There was no air-conditioning, either. Not that we felt the need for it except during the hottest of summer days. Otherwise, the old stone walls kept the office cool and pleasant, aided by the slow moving ceiling fans which were kept squeaky clean by, what I called, Belhman’s army.

Belhman was the office administrator. A dark-complexioned, short, stocky man with facial features that resembled a bulldog in a permanent snarl, Belhman was a terror among the white-uniformed peons and the cleaning boys in khaki shorts, who were always seen either mopping the floor or cleaning the fans or dusting the tables in a permanent state of nervous apprehension. A speck of dust or an accidental spillage of the cleaning fluid was enough for Belhman to fly into a rage and scream curses and threats at his hapless victims and bring the entire office to a standstill.

Although Belhman had a face only his mother could love, it never stood in the way of his always being in a state of sartorial elegance: smartly pressed trousers with matching half-sleeved shirt, tie knotted to perfection and of course, shoes polished to a fine gloss. A freshly laundered handkerchief liberally sprinkled with some awful perfume, completed the picture. Whenever the man took out his handkerchief to wipe his brow or blow his nose, which was often, the entire office would be hit by waves and waves of overpowering perfume that made us giddy and light-headed.

Belhman was a bachelor and fancied himself to be a lady’s man. Prior to my first official trip abroad, Belhman calls me to his table and with the aid of wicked grins and knowing winks, hints at the pleasures that can be had at a price, at a certain suburb called Pigalle, in Paris.

I smile weakly and almost faint.

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Stepping Sideways... by K. Radhakrishnan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.