Arka felt a shiver along the left side of
his chest. It was slight to start with,
then gave two medium size shakes and then stopped. Arka felt his chest and
looked up. Hope nobody noticed anything. No. Everyone worked silently along the
rows of tables.
Heart palpitation was not a good sign in a
twenty six year old active man. It would be a cause of worry. Hope nothing was
wrong with his heart! But Arka felt more irritation than worry. He frowned. It
wasn’t his heart; it was his cell phone in his pocket! He had kept it in the
vibrating mode. So if he got any call, it would not ring, just vibrate. At this
time it could only mean that Utsa was trying to call him. If he didn’t reply,
she would keep calling. As if she was in a grave danger. This was her habit.
Yet, today, before leaving home, he had
repeatedly warned his wife, “Please don’t call me, Utsa.”
Utsa was nestled on the sofa reading some
magazine. It was about some women’s make up. Since her marriage, she had been
spending a lot of time with these magazines. Each issue dealt with different
topics. Some with hairdos, some with hands, or lips. Today she was reading
about eyelashes. How to keep your eyelashes wet for a long time. The writer had
a sense of humor. Right in the beginning he said, “Crying is the easiest way to
keep those eyelashes wet. Crying makes your eyes look deep and mysterious.
Remember as modesty is a woman’s adornment, crying is the adornment for the
eyes. But for those who can’t even do this easy task, let me give some tips…”
Now she looked up from the magazine, “Why
can’t I call you?”
Arka was buttoning up his shirt, “Cell
phones are not allowed there. We have to keep all phones outside before
Utsa was amused, “Why? Is it like a school?”
Arka stopped himself from getting irked. It
was not a good idea to get mad at one’s brand new wife. Of course he wouldn’t
be able to get mad even when she got old. Because Utsa, though not exactly
beautiful, was a sweet natured girl. It was hard to get mad at sweet soft
people. So he said in a quiet voice, “No, not a school, Utsa, it is a
laboratory. And we work with sound in the lab. That’s why it is prohibited to
bring in any external sounds.”
Utsa was wearing a dressing gown on her
nightie. Very pretty gown. These outfits could cover a body as well as reveal
it. They didn’t show overtly but gave enough hints about the body underneath.
With Utsa, it indirectly accentuated all the curves of her slim body. Arka
looked away. That body had gotten him in enough trouble. It had made him late
for work for at least three or four days. The car came and honked downstairs;
still Arka undid his shoes and ties.
Utsa never refused her husband’s overtures for sex, but would never let
him get in bed with shoes and ties.
Utsa raised her arms and stretched, “But
yesterday you picked up the phone when I called, why not today?”
“I did it illegally, Utsa. I kept it in
vibrator mode. When you called I made an excuse and went to the bathroom to chat
“Do the same today too.” Utsa laughed
showing her beautiful pearly whites. “Then we can chat. That will be fun.
Bedroom to bathroom chat. Me in the bedroom and you in the bathroom.”
impulsiveness was very attractive. It resonated in Arka’s mind all day long,
even in his dreams. Still he tried to sound serious, “I can’t do illegal things
Utsa was quiet for a few moments, then held
him and pouted, “You think our chats are illegal?”
Arka tried to undo her grasp, “God, no!
Chatting with you is not illegal; entering the lab with cell phone is illegal.
Besides, even the slightest sound gets amplified in there. Be it my cell’s
vibration or your chats. Our machines can catch all sounds.”
Utsa widened her already wide eyes. “Oh my
God! You catch sounds? Do you tap phones too?”
Arka smiled, “No no. Why should we tap
phones? Our job is even more complicated. We undo the tangles of words and
Utsa was amused, “Really? How strange!
Tangles of words? How can that be? Are chats like our hair that you untangle by
soaps and shampoos?”
The car for the office tooted from
downstairs. This was a pain in the neck. One was forced to be on time. Arka
sometimes wished he could let the car go and drive himself. But that wasn’t
possible. After their marriage his car became hers. Utsa needed it to visit her
family, go shopping, or go to the movies with her friends.
But Utsa never planned her outings.
According to her the sudden excursions were more fun. Even simple shopping
seemed like an adventure. Arka quickly did up his shoelaces, “I’ll explain the tangles
and snarls some other day. Now I’m off. The car is calling me. And please don’t
call me today. I’ll not carry the phone in the lab, I’m telling you beforehand.”
Some beauties are like quick flowing streams;
some are like quiet and deep rivers. Utsa’s beauty was like an ocean. She knew
how to create waves in her body. Now she did that in her bust and belly and
stood up to smile at her husband, “And what if a burglar breaks in? I am all
alone in the afternoon. What if he ties me up and… heehee! Even then I mustn’t
Arka seriously considered leaving the phone
outside the lab, but at the last minute he remembered about Utsa’s ‘burglar’.
Of course she was kidding. But he was amused. All new wives kidded like that.
He put the phone on vibrator mode and hid it in his pocket. Then he donned his
apron, rubber gloves, and masks covering his nose and mouth. On the head he
wore a cloth cap. He looked almost like a surgeon. But instead of surgical instruments,
the lab had laptops, sound boxes, headphones, sound editing system and many
other unrecognized complicated machines.
On the first day even a smart guy like Arka was confused.
Not only the instruments, the work itself
was confusing too. Last month when they moved Arka to this new research wing,
Arka was quite surprised. When professor Soham Talukdar explained his
assignment, he had exclaimed, “Are you serious, Sir? That actually happens?”
Professor smiled faintly, “Before, the
problem was mostly in the other countries, but now it is happening here too.”
Soham Talukdar was highly educated. He
taught and was taught in many renowned foreign universities before returning
home. Now he was deeply involved in the real nature and properties of sound.
He also was in many important advisory committees of various corporate houses.
They too valued his opinions and had donated tons of money to make this state
of the art laboratory.
Arka had asked, “How did the problem start
“We are still trying to figure that out.
Perhaps because we are chatting too much.”
“Chatting too much?”
Grey haired, handsome Soham smiled again,
“No? On the street, in the buses, trams, cars, and houses, now there are
incessant chats. Non-stop, endless talking going on. If you could count, you’d
perhaps find more than a million sentences being uttered every second. Even a
few years ago, it wasn’t so bad. The air struck by these sound waves has their
limits too. Imagine the number of cars in a street suddenly increasing. There
would inevitably be traffic snarls and jams. That is exactly what is happening.
The sentences are jamming up in mid air. One party can’t hear what is being
said at the other end. Part of what we are saying is getting stuck midway in
“They are getting stuck?” Arka was more
“What else? One sound wave is getting
superimposed on another. We may not realize it and think that we heard all that
was said and the other party may think the same too. Who keeps track of what
got messed up in the middle? That is our job. We have to tackle these snarls
and get them straightened out.”
Arka still felt confused, “Is that even
“Don’t know yet, but we have to try. In the
first part we have to catch these snarls by the antenna. Then how we release
them is a problem for later time. First we have to clean up the snarls.”
“Interesting!” Arka had said, “Highly
Talukdar said, “Lots of countries are doing
research in this field. But we are the first in India. As we deal with other
people’s conversations, everything has to be highly confidential. You will not
find much on the net or in the journals. We too must maintain strict secrecy. I
have brought some good software from abroad, untangling software. Arka, I have
seen in your file that you were a brilliant student in Physics. I would like
you to leave management and join our research.”
Arka sat up straight. “Of course Sir. How
can I not join such exciting work? And I have always been interested in
research. The management job was mainly for career…”
Arka adjusted the heavy headphone and leaned
forward. He started a program on the laptop. A shadowy indistinct ball appeared
on the screen. Like a ball of yarn. The strands were all tangled up one on top
of the other. The entire ball was trembling on the screen. He went on ‘sound’
option and clicked his mouse. Now he could hear cacophony of hundreds of
voices. Like a busy market. He could not hear anything distinctly. As if all
the words were trying to be separate but just couldn’t. They were all shivering
like animals caught in a net.
Arka again felt that vibration near his
heart. For a second he thought of turning the phone off but again remembered
Utsa’s imaginary burglar. It was true that she stayed alone in the apartment
all day. Nowadays one heard of all kinds of stories about burglaries, rapes and
murders, Arka put down the headphone and stood up. Ranjan at the next table
also looked up at him. Arka gestured ‘restroom’ and went outside through the
glass doors. Going behind the wall in the hallway he quickly called Utsa back,
“Lots of things! I’m missing you.” Utsa laughed.
Arka was relieved at her words and laughter.
Thank God everything was fine. Still, he tried to sound irritated, “Utsa, I
told you so many times not to call me in the lab, even then…”
Utsa ignored his peeve, “Hey, tell me, are
you still working with those tangles of chats? Could you hear anything
interesting? Do tell me.”
Arka realized he was enjoying talking to
her, he made his voice low, “These are secrets. I can’t tell you about somebody
else’s chats. We have ethics. My professor will be very upset if he knew.”
“Am I just a ‘somebody else’?” Utsa sounded
hurt, almost tearful.
“No, no! Did I say that? Dear me! How can
you be ‘somebody else’?”
“Go away! You don’t have to say anything to
me. Not yours, mine or anybody else’s.”
Arka moved closer to the wall. In front of
him was a huge glass window. From ten floors above the road of the Sector Five
glinted in the afternoon sun. Cars and people were running every which way. But
from so far above one could only see the movement, not hear the sound. It
looked like a silent movie. Arka was relieved at his wife’s laughter, now he
felt proud at her feeling hurt. Of course she would feel hurt. He smiled and
whispered, “Ok, ok, I’ll tell you. Why do you get mad so quickly? If you act
like that how can I concentrate at work?”
Utsa removed the hurt from her voice,
“You’ll make mistakes and get punished. It will serve you right.”
“I managed to open up one snarl today. It
wasn’t anything special. Just ordinary conversation. It had male, female,
young, old all types of voices. Like, ‘I really can’t make it today. Got stuck
in the office, too much work.’ Or, ‘Do visit the market before coming home
dear’, or ‘don’t forget the notes on political science.’ There are others too,
about bids in the share market, booking tickets at the multiplex, leaders
threatening their underlings, bosses yelling at the workers for being late, all
kinds of nonsense like that.”
Utsa asked in a low voice, “Well, anything
about love or affairs?”
Arka glanced at the hallway and covered the
phone. “Not today, but yesterday I did hear something. Just the sound of
kissing. No words, just sound. Like this…now I must run. Boss is coming this
Before Utsa could say something, Arka hung
up and went back to his seat laughing to himself. Couldn’t he really find
something about love? It would be fun if he could. Then he could tell Utsa with
much embellishment. He didn’t go out any more since their wedding. Friends,
clubs, nothing. Not even to his parent’s place in Kamardanga. He often thought
about going but just couldn’t get around to it. Actually he didn’t want to
leave Utsa. He felt a bit embarrassed at the realization.
He turned up the volume of his headphone. He
must find something for Utsa. Not anything boring, but some exciting love
chats. Could he really find something like that?
He did come across something, at the very
end. It was almost quitting time. The large tangle on the screen had opened up.
Only a few knots were still present. Arka tried to undo one knot when he heard
a musical female voice in his headphone---‘ When will you come? No, not at one,
two o’clock… I never nap after lunch, you know that….No, silly! He is far away
at that time…in his laboratory… heehee, you are a naughty one…if you come to my
apartment and tie me up…heehee…!”
Arka’s heart skipped a beat. He was very
familiar with that voice and laughter!