She looked at him earnestly, noting the intent in his eyes. She hoped for a positive response. The job was desperately required. Mansi had just finished college and was looking for a career break in advertising. She had applied as a copywriter trainee in a local advertising agency that worked for some of the bigger names in the industry. Time and opportunity were of paramount importance and Mansi wanted to embark on a promising career path. Youthful and dreamy, with the potential to work hard and succeed, Mansi’s resume was backed by a good college education.

Mansi sat up straighter as Prabhat, the advertising agency proprietor and her interviewer, cleared his throat. “Have you ever thought of any other career stream?”

“Well, yes and no. With my academic qualifications, I can get into the teaching profession, but I want to indulge my passion for writing and creativity. I want to pursue a profession that satiates my desire to create. Advertising is a happening field. I can see myself doing well here.” Mansi oozed confidence as she firmly put her thoughts into words.

Silence. The air heavy with the burden of thought and the load of anticipation! Mansi waited. Her concentration and confidence wavered. She was unable to permeate the veil that held back Prabhat’s decision.

Prabhat self-consciously cleared his throat again; Mansi remained slack in her chair. She had suddenly withdrawn from the interview. She wanted to get over with it and was waiting for Prabhat to say something like, “We will revert in a few days.”

It took a few minutes for Mansi to register what Prabhat was saying because when his lips moved to speak she had expected a different set of words. When she realized he had not ended their meeting as yet, her ears pricked up. “If you would like to talk about the proposition I have, we can talk further.” Prabhat’s voice was trailing.

“What proposition?” Mansi had no choice but to ask. She had not paid attention to what Prabhat had been telling her.

“You see, I have separated from my wife and have two small children, who are living with me.” Prabhat began awkwardly.

Mansi squirmed in her seat not sure where this conversation was heading to. She just nodded her head.

“I need someone to help my children with the home work and cater to their basic needs of affection, discipline, companionship and the other aspects of the lives of a four-year old and a seven-year old.” Prabhat continued.

Mansi held his gaze. She was thinking of what to say to stall this conversation then and there.

“So I am basically looking for a governess. A young and enthusiastic, well-educated, lady like you can give the best to my children. And I am looking for a long-term association because I would need to prove to the court of law that my children are taken care of well, when the divorce proceedings start. The children don’t have a grandmother; else this wouldn’t have been necessary.”

Prabhat allowed the words to seep in and then continued slowly. “I would compensate well, much more than you would get as a trainee. You will also get free accommodation and meals. A driver and car will be at your disposal. You will take the kids shopping and for recreation. And as a perk, you can work on a few copywriting assignments, while the children are in school or during weekends.” He increased the stakes, as he sensed the reluctance in Mansi’s mind. He wanted her to accept his offer. He could hire another copywriter for the position that he had advertised but finding a governess had been the most daunting recruitment task he had faced in a long time.

“Why did your wife leave you.” Mansi was surprised at her question. She became embarrassed at the insensitivity of her words. But she had to ask because she needed to know the real intentions of Prabhat. He seemed a decent person, but by bringing in personal aspects into a professional interview, he had raised doubts.

“I was, rather I am, in a relationship with someone else. My wife and I separated mutually after the relationship came out in the open. I will marry Kirti after the divorce comes through. It’s a matter of a few months, may be a year. The children’s life will get back to normal. But till then I need someone to take good care of them. They are at a very vulnerable age. They need to be kept happy and involved while I tide through this complicated phase of my life.”

Okay, so he is not hitting on me. Mansi thought. He is caught in the web of circumstances. But then why is he trying to ensnare me in his web. Governess, my foot! And what do I know about handling and managing children. Thoughts whirred through Mansi’s mind. She suddenly felt discouraged and gloomy. The interview had ended as far as she was concerned.

“Mr Singh, I am sorry to know about your predicament but I want to only take up a career in advertising. Teaching and caring for children is not my vocational calling.” Mansi put her thoughts, succinctly.

“Mansi, I understand what you are saying but I am requesting you to consider this as a temporary arrangement for a year. I will ensure that the time you spend associated with my children, you also get to learn about advertising. I will give you an experience certificate and a good recommendation at the end of it all. You will not lose professionally.” Prabahat was talking business.

“No, Mr Singh. I have made my decision. Please consider me for a copywriting position, if you have one, else we should end this discussion.” Mansi was adamant.

“I appreciate your viewpoint, Mansi. I will ask my HR person to get in touch with you, but I also request you to consider my proposition.”

And so ended a strange interview with strange consequences!

Mansi did not want to join the company but with trainee copywriting positions hard to come by specially soon after college results are declared, she had to accept the offer that Prabhat’s advertising agency rolled out, a couple of days after the interview. She put their first meeting at the back of her mind and started working with diligence in her new job.

Prabhat’s children resumed school after the summer vacations. The driver would first drop the younger one, Aditya, in the office, and by 2:00 p.m. bring in the older boy, Surya. The children would eat with their father in his office and sleep on the office couches. They would lounge around in the office and while Aditya needed monitoring, Surya would spend time playing on the computer. Prabhat would help the children with the homework in the evening. But mostly, the homework remained untouched due to lack of time.

The staff had initially enjoyed having the children around but soon the novelty had worn out. They had become an unnecessary diversion and their presence was not conducive to a professional environment. Many times a staff member had to take out the children for an evening walk or ice cream treat, while Prabhat handled client calls and meetings. For most of the part, the children were cooped up in their father’s office, leaving for home with him—tired, cranky, hungry, and sleepy. Prabhat’s standing with his co-workers had also taken a dip as the secrets of his troubled personal life tumbled out of the closet. Sympathy for his situation was hard to come by. Prabhat was in a turbulent phase in the choppy waters of his life. He needed a calming wind to blow away the storm clouds.

Mansi stoically watched the daily events. Prabhat didn’t take up the matter with her for some time, but after a month, as Surya’s unit tests approached, he requested Mansi to help Surya with the test preparation and Aditya with some writing practice. Mansi obliged, albeit reluctantly.

The evening tutoring sessions helped blossom a cute bond between the children and Mansi. The children were starved for affection and attention and they quickly got attached to Mansi. The evening lessons were an instant hit because both the children tried to give it their best in order to please Mansi. The lessons continued even after the tests were over and Mansi started taking the children to the garden or to the mall, every now and then. Prabhat was a tad relieved and he even gave Mansi a hefty raise in the first quarter since her joining. While Mansi knew that the raise was on account of the time she was spending with the children, this was never discussed with her employer. The acceptance of the pay hike, however, morally bound her to a daily routine of spending time with the children. As much as Mansi chose to ignore, she was stuck in an intricate web.

Nature forbids permanence and hinders simplicity. The smooth rhythm of life that Mansi, Prabhat and his children had accepted and embraced, was soon derailed. Surya got a bout of chicken pox and he needed rest and care. Mansi suggested that Prabhat send Surya to his mother’s house but he wouldn’t hear of it. He didn’t even want word of the illness to reach his alienated spouse. He was afraid that the broken bonds may be renewed, especially of the mother with her children. He, however, did request Mansi to move into his house and spend time with the child during his convalescence, and illness. Mansi refused but relented when Prabhat brought a weak, fever-ridden child to spend the day on his office couch.

Mansi knew the child needed homemade food, good rest and also had to be quarantined lest the contagion spread. She agreed to spend a three-week stint at Prabhat’s sub-urban villa with the sick child. Prabhat already had a full-time maid taking care of the house, cooking and cleaning for them. Prabhat’s aged father occupied the ground floor, spending his time reading and gardening.

Mansi moved into the guest room and began the ardent task of nursing a cranky, pox-ridden, child who definitely missed his mother. A week later Surya was doing better, but Aditya displayed symptoms of the infection.

Mansi now had two sick children in her care and she became the mainstay of the nursery in the house. From three weeks to a month and then another, time flew past and Mansi became ensconced in the role of nurse, companion, friend, mentor, tutor of the two children. Whether it was convenience or complacence, but she stopped going to office and remained within the four walls of Prabhat’s house, working on small assignments from home, but largely fulfilling the responsibility that Prabhat had envisioned for her.

The transition was unobtrusively accepted by all in that peculiar cobweb of affairs.

What may seem as altruism on the part of some, can be perceived as ulterior motives by others! Mansi realized this on the day of Aditya’s eighth birthday. Prabhat’s sister helped with the birthday preparations and they arranged a small get-together of Aditya’s friends from school, on the terrace of the house. The children were accompanied by their moms and in some measure the birthday party reminded one of a kitty party!

Mansi was as excited as the children and she helped around, and played games with the children while Prabhat’s sister played hostess. After the cake was cut and distributed, the evening snacks started doing the rounds and Mansi took an overwhelmed Surya with his snack plate in to a quieter corner, behind the gifts counter.

“Is she the one Prabhat is going around with?”

“No, no! She is the governess, but probably also a treasure-hunter.”

“Could be? I wouldn’t be surprised. After all she made a straight dive from Prabhat’s office to his house. And now she has a hold on the children also.”

Giggles. “Seems like she is cleverer than the other woman, who is waiting for all the paperwork.”

“And what was Prabhat thinking when he hired her as the children’s governess? One would think she is too young to be managing two kids on her own.”

More giggles. “Well, Prabhat wasn’t thinking the way you are. He had something else on his mind.”

And the laughter and the gossip continued, unaware that Mansi was sitting just behind the tattling group of women, unnoticed behind the pile of gifts.

It was only Surya’s innocent face that helped control her tears and anger. She carried the resentment and the shame to bed that night!

Some traps are of our own making and some entrapments are managed by others. Mansi was in a unique situation because she had walked into the snare knowingly and had failed to make a retreat when the gates were still open. When Mansi had cried her heart out and shouted and screamed at Prabhat, blaming him for her predicament, he kept his calm and allowed her to get rid of the vitriol. But when she told him she wanted to walk out of this entanglement, he beseeched her in the name of the children and sought some more time to make more feasible settlements. He, however, asked her to resume office in the first half of the day. He thought she was feeling cooped up in the house and needed to get back to work.

Mansi stayed on, confounded by the situation, unsure of how to break the barriers. The seeds of resentment had been sown and were slowly breaking ground in a heart, now moist with tears and frustration. Taking care of the children became a burden. The time she used to enjoy with them became wearisome. The playful banter and the childlike innocence of their role plays became toil and trouble.

The children sensed her withdrawal, especially Aditya, who was growing up fast and was sensitive to the fact that his family was not normal. He started questioning Mansi about his mother, bringing home snippets of gossip about his father’s affair and Mansi’s role in their lives. As her allegiance to the children diminished, the chasm between her and the children widened. Mansi wanted to break free and was contemplating another round of discussion with Prabhat.

As if on cue, the next morning, Prabhat summoned her to his office. He looked weary and uncomfortable. She stood stiffly without much empathy for his situation. He nodded her to take a chair and prepared coffee in the electric kettle. The atmosphere was unsettling and even though she wanted to discuss about giving up on the role of governess, Mansi just sat there, waiting for him to start the conversation.

He cleared his throat. She suddenly reeled with a sense of déjà vu. Sans the coffee, the setting reminded her of the first time he had interviewed her in this office. The feeling made her all the more uncomfortable.

“Mansi, I want you to know that this is very difficult for me to bring up with you and I am especially concerned for the children, but my lawyer has advised me against having a young girl as a governess in the house, while my divorce case is in the court. It could lead to complications with alimony and I am worried that it will bring a bad name to you.”

Mansi allowed the words to sink in and realized he was letting her go. She should feel happy, she told herself but the sense of relief eluded her.

“You did not worry about my reputation when I told you that people were gossiping about me. Why today.”

“I am not bothered what society says but here we are talking legal implications.” Prabhat explained but his voice betrayed latent truths and potent lies.

“Is it the legal that worries you or is it the personal?” Mansi interrogated, surprised at her own impudence.

“Mansi, you are a mature girl. Kirti also has certain reservations about you staying in the house and she fears that the attachment that children have grown to share with you may be hard to dissolve. She is afraid of them not being able to accept her when the time comes.” Prabhat explained and he felt a load lift off his chest.

“But, where was she when the children were unwell and on all other times when they needed her.” Mansi accused.

“I am sorry that you feel this way but a man must go by what the woman in his life tells him to do.” Prabhat smiled weakly making a wry attempt to lighten the atmosphere. He became serious when he saw the tears in his eyes. “I know you are hurt and you will miss the children as much as they will miss you, but I also believe that this is what you also wanted.” Prabhat summarized.

“Yes, I wanted to move on and concentrate on my career but I wanted to move on with dignity; not asked to leave because some one got jealous of me…” Mansi bit her lips and became very quiet as if thinking deeply.

“…Or felt threatened by me! This is about Kirti also thinking that I am a treasure-hunter and of her being wary of my intentions.” Mansi got up in a huff, flustered by the realization. She gave him one long look of hatred and disbelief that he did not stand by her, and for her. She left his office, never to return again.

It’s been quite some years since she that meeting. Prabhat had sent her stuff and a pay cheque with his driver to the local address in the office records. She missed the children a lot and she wondered what Prabhat had told him about her sudden disappearance. She stayed in the same city and crossed his house often but she never caught glimpse either of the children or of him. They seemed to have disappeared from her life, just as her confidence and self-esteem had dissipated in that episode of her life. She often contemplates on how she had let herself be in that situation at the expense of her time, career, ambition and reputation, only to be saved in the nick of time.

She had been the prey of her womanly instincts and it had taken the hunting instincts of another woman, to unleash her from her own entrapments.

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2 Responses to Prey

  1. Sanjukta says:

    Feel bad for Mansi, how come the children never came to meet her… and men are such cowards and spineless…

  2. Opportunists may be a better word!

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