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Spiderman’s New Shirt

About Tapan Mozumdar

Tapan is an engineer by training and a real estate builder by profession. His interests lie in poetry, short stories and now, in photography. Caught between disparate pulling forces, he finds his balance. Writing is catharsis for him. Voyeurism, too! He is 50 now and live in Bangalore with parents and wife; his son is 20 and studies digital design. Recently, Tapan had been shortlisted for Star Writer’s Programme, a national competition for writers organised by Star TV.

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Prologue

The clock struck twelve. There was a Neem tree abutting Mohit’s study room. After Manvi switched off the TV, he could hear through the open window the crickets chirping. Bengaluru nights in November could get quite chilly. Mohit closed the window, walked out and tried to listen through the bolted doors of Neil’s bedroom. He could hear only the ceiling fan whirring at high speed. The lights were on.

Manvi had switched on the lights in their bedroom and lied down on the bed browsing her mobile. Numerous Whatsapp groups kept his wife busy. When Mohit went inside to pick up a shawl, he saw her smiling. Could be a joke. A new, black shirt peeped out of a packet from Megamart, hanging at the edge of the table by her side.

He checked his iPhone. It was 2 minutes past 12. He came back to the study room, settled in his chair and logged into his laptop. Neil’s Facebook account had two messages. Both were from his school friends in Kolkata.

He had suggested Neil’s first password for Gmail. Neil was twelve then. He checked in Neil’s mailbox. The password still worked. He couldn’t find any clue in Gtalk or emails to understand the reason behind Neil locking himself up into his room since evening.

He sent a message to Neil through Whatsapp. The message was not delivered. Then, Mohit sent a regular SMS.

“Happy Birthday, son! May God bless you!”

“Your god has blessed me enough! He can spare me now.”

Mohit was expecting such a reply.

 

Part 1

In the last two years, after Neil scored ten points in his CBSE secondary, Mohit could never convince his son about the need to pray. “People with no confidence pray”, Neil would retort.

Five years back, their family had visited Tirupathi Devasthanam. Chased by a pet Great Dane, Neil had fallen down and broken his Radius and Ulna, the bones in the forearm. The trip was to thank the Lord for his successful surgery and recovery.

Push by the long queue and pull by the rogue caretakers had hurt Neil’s arm. The wounds were healed, but the steel plated connections needed more time. Neil screamed with pain, “Bastards!” Mohit saw red and shouted at Neil, “This is a temple! A very alert God lives here, what’s this language!” Together, they had created quite a scene.

Since then, Neil always wrote ‘God’ with a small ‘g’.

“Oh! There are so many of them! It has to be a noun more common than proper”, he would reason, “Basically, the gods were mutants with superpowers. I have never seen Marvel using capital M for the mutants!”

After his class 12 exams, Neil had gone to Ukhra, his mum’s ancestral home. “That was one place where I really wished I had some superpower and send those guys to Krypton or somewhere”, he declared on return, “I mean, if Darwin has to be believed, the poor should not have survived evolution!”

“That’s cruel!” Mohit and Manvi had known in the last two years that silence is the best response to Neil’s rants. But that would have irked Neil. A measured couple of words were good enough to keep the conversation flowing.

“Oh, it sure is! What’s crueller than to live dependent on some insensitive god and his happy, rich bhakts, anyway?”

Mohit and Neil had a thirty year age gap. Mohit ran a large project division of 50 odd professional engineers and accountants in an MNC. Yet, there were moments when the father would become a wonder-eyed fan of Neil’s logical faculties.

In the past two years of his Higher Secondary school, several times Neil had come close to failing the courses. He didn’t study hard as he couldn’t concentrate. Books would lay open on the same page for hours together.

“He has a B12 deficiency. D levels are marginally low as well.”

The friendly doctor knew Neil well and had his trust.

“What do I have to do for that?” Neil was googling about the deficiencies in his mobile, as he asked.

“Nothing. Just take the medicines on time”, Dr. Chowtia had said, “These vitamins are essential for concentration and memory.”

This had happened about six months back. “You will soon be alright”. The doctor had predicted. With time, B12 levels improved. His attention didn’t.

“Focus on chemistry, Neil. Stop doodling cartoon characters, tests are near.” Pleas, threats, sanctions – Neil grew immune to the cacophony of routine around him. TV animation series and character sketches had replaced Trigonometry and Chemistry exercises. Before he could realise, his brain’s right side had tamed the left.

The knob on the door of Mohit’s study was carefully turned. Someone was trying to be silent. But a mild swoosh, that followed the opening of the door against air pressure startled Mohit. It was Manvi. Mohit had just opened a porn site. He quickly swapped windows on his laptop.

“Did he reply to you?” Mohit often slept off on his study table. Manvi had tiptoed apprehending that.

“Who?” Mohit was irritated.

“Neil, who else? You didn’t wish him on his birthday?”

“Ah, he may be sleeping now. We will wish him tomorrow.”

“What did you get for him?”

“Whatever I get, he won’t like. Let him say what he wants.”

Neil had become an adult a few minutes back. The day before, when Mohit had transferred ten lakh rupees to Neil’s account, consent from the ‘minor’ was not required. His gift lacked the fizz of champagne. It went unnoticed.

 

Part 2

“I saw the black shirt on the table. Has Neil seen it?”

“It is quite lovely, no? Very modern design, Neil showed me a picture of a character in his video game, Fall Down. This design is quite like…”

“Fallout.” Mohit interrupted.

“What?”

“The correct name of the game. How do you manage to tell wrong names for everything? Strange!”

“After putting up with your shit for 20 years, it’s a miracle that I can tell anything sensible at all!” She left the room in a huff to avoid altercations.

Mohit felt wronged. He rushed after her to their bedroom. “Yeah, twenty years of sweat and blood to earn a living and feed you and your son.”

“Don’t be pompous! Not even a single tour abroad till date, and you flaunt having done your duty.”

They didn’t realise that their pitch had risen. “Yeah, I was enjoying life all this while! Who handled Neil when he had a breakdown? You?”

“And who let the situation come to that point? Did you ever understand what Neil needed? He needed you when he was growing up. You were always travelling and working.”

On Neil’s tenth birthday, Mohit had purchased a Physics toolkit on his way back from Bhilai site. It was never opened.

“I was expecting a Bumblebee that day.” It was a yellow car which could change into a Transformer. Much later, during one of his depressed rants, Neil was foaming at his mouth, “You never asked what I wanted. You just shoved in what you thought would be right for me.”

“That’s what the fathers do! Do the right things.” Science games, branded tees, alarm clocks… Mohit always brought practical gifts.

Manvi was in no mood to let go, “Go and chat with your girlfriends! Leave my son and me alone as we are. One has already become mad, I will go the same way soon.”

Manvi hadn’t noticed Neil. Hearing the commotion in his adjacent room, he had come out and was standing near their bedroom door.

“So that’s the truth, you think I am mad?”

Neil was staring down Manvi ominously. Manvi got very scared, “Happy Birthday, Betu. I am angry with your father. He has got you no gift today. Sorry, I was careless…” Both of them had mastered the art of acting normal in front of Neil. The psychiatrist had warned them of dire consequences if their feud ever happened in Neils’ presence.

There was a glass jug on the side table, half-filled with water. Neil picked it up. He could smash it anytime, “Shall I show you what’s carelessness?”

He threw some water at Manvi. She ducked. Mohit knew that he was not physically strong enough to try and contain Neil. He used his training, “Neil, calm down.”

Manvi tried distracting Neil, ”See, I have got such a nice shirt for you.” She pulled out her gift, “Such lovely embroidery on the Chinese collar! Remember what you showed me in your game?”

Neil’s face stiffened and twitched into a smile. He put the jug back on the table.

Just when Mohit thought that the storm was averted, Neil snatched the shirt from Manvi and tore it in the middle with the brute force of his bare hands. “Not… what… I wanted.” He tore off the left hand, “You understand? Peter Parker doesn’t wear black shirt”, off went the right hand. “Nothing happened. Parker’s luck, stupid god, I got no super power at 18!” He began to cry and kept tearing the shirt into smaller pieces till he could do it no further. “No magic ever happens to me. I will never become Spiderman.”

He threw away the last pieces on Manvi’s face, went back to his room and slammed the door shut.

“Neil, have some dinner, Beta, you will get hungry…” The door was locked from inside. The lights went off quickly after.

The parents had a long night to themselves to argue who was more responsible for getting the wrong costume for their dearest Spidey.

The clock struck twelve. There was a Neem tree abutting Mohit’s study room. After Manvi switched off the TV, he could hear through the open window the crickets chirping. Bengaluru nights in November could get quite chilly. Mohit closed the window, walked out and tried to listen through the bolted doors of Neil’s bedroom. He could hear only the ceiling fan whirring at high speed. The lights were on.

Manvi had switched on the lights in their bedroom and lied down on the bed browsing her mobile. Numerous Whatsapp groups kept his wife busy. When Mohit went inside to pick up a shawl, he saw her smiling. Could be a joke. A new, black shirt peeped out of a packet from Megamart, hanging at the edge of the table by her side.

He checked his iPhone. It was 2 minutes past 12. He came back to the study room, settled in his chair and logged into his laptop. Neil’s Facebook account had two messages. Both were from his school friends in Kolkata.

He had suggested Neil’s first password for Gmail. Neil was twelve then. He checked in Neil’s mailbox. The password still worked. He couldn’t find any clue in Gtalk or emails to understand the reason behind Neil locking himself up into his room since evening.

He sent a message to Neil through Whatsapp. The message was not delivered. Then, Mohit sent a regular SMS.

“Happy Birthday, son! May God bless you!”

“Your god has blessed me enough! He can spare me now.”

Mohit was expecting such a reply.

In the last two years, after Neil scored ten points in his CBSE secondary, Mohit could never convince his son about the need to pray. “People with no confidence pray”, Neil would retort.

Five years back, their family had visited Tirupathi Devasthanam. Chased by a pet Great Dane, Neil had fallen down and broken his Radius and Ulna, the bones in the forearm. The trip was to thank the Lord for his successful surgery and recovery.

Push by the long queue and pull by the rogue caretakers had hurt Neil’s arm. The wounds were healed, but the steel plated connections needed more time. Neil screamed with pain, “Bastards!” Mohit saw red and shouted at Neil, “This is a temple! A very alert God lives here, what’s this language!” Together, they had created quite a scene.

Since then, Neil always wrote ‘God’ with a small ‘g’.

“Oh! There are so many of them! It has to be a noun more common than proper”, he would reason, “Basically, the gods were mutants with superpowers. I have never seen Marvel using capital M for the mutants!”

After his class 12 exams, Neil had gone to Ukhra, his mum’s ancestral home. “That was one place where I really wished I had some superpower and send those guys to Krypton or somewhere”, he declared on return, “I mean, if Darwin has to be believed, the poor should not have survived evolution!”

“That’s cruel!” Mohit and Manvi had known in the last two years that silence is the best response to Neil’s rants. But that would have irked Neil. A measured couple of words were good enough to keep the conversation flowing.

“Oh, it sure is! What’s crueller than to live dependent on some insensitive god and his happy, rich bhakts, anyway?”

Mohit and Neil had a thirty year age gap. Mohit ran a large project division of 50 odd professional engineers and accountants in an MNC. Yet, there were moments when the father would become a wonder-eyed fan of Neil’s logical faculties.

In the past two years of his Higher Secondary school, several times Neil had come close to failing the courses. He didn’t study hard as he couldn’t concentrate. Books would lay open on the same page for hours together.

“He has a B12 deficiency. D levels are marginally low as well.”

The friendly doctor knew Neil well and had his trust.

“What do I have to do for that?” Neil was googling about the deficiencies in his mobile, as he asked.

“Nothing. Just take the medicines on time”, Dr. Chowtia had said, “These vitamins are essential for concentration and memory.”

This had happened about six months back. “You will soon be alright”. The doctor had predicted. With time, B12 levels improved. His attention didn’t.

“Focus on chemistry, Neil. Stop doodling cartoon characters, tests are near.” Pleas, threats, sanctions – Neil grew immune to the cacophony of routine around him. TV animation series and character sketches had replaced Trigonometry and Chemistry exercises. Before he could realise, his brain’s right side had tamed the left.

The knob on the door of Mohit’s study was carefully turned. Someone was trying to be silent. But a mild swoosh, that followed the opening of the door against air pressure startled Mohit. It was Manvi. Mohit had just opened a porn site. He quickly swapped windows on his laptop.

“Did he reply to you?” Mohit often slept off on his study table. Manvi had tiptoed apprehending that.

“Who?” Mohit was irritated.

“Neil, who else? You didn’t wish him on his birthday?”

“Ah, he may be sleeping now. We will wish him tomorrow.”

“What did you get for him?”

“Whatever I get, he won’t like. Let him say what he wants.”

Neil had become an adult a few minutes back. The day before, when Mohit had transferred ten lakh rupees to Neil’s account, consent from the ‘minor’ was not required. His gift lacked the fizz of champagne. It went unnoticed.

 

Continued in Part II

“I saw the black shirt on the table. Has Neil seen it?”

“It is quite lovely, no? Very modern design, Neil showed me a picture of a character in his video game, Fall Down. This design is quite like…”

“Fallout.” Mohit interrupted.

“What?”

“The correct name of the game. How do you manage to tell wrong names for everything? Strange!”

“After putting up with your shit for 20 years, it’s a miracle that I can tell anything sensible at all!” She left the room in a huff to avoid altercations.

Mohit felt wronged. He rushed after her to their bedroom. “Yeah, twenty years of sweat and blood to earn a living and feed you and your son.”

“Don’t be pompous! Not even a single tour abroad till date, and you flaunt having done your duty.”

They didn’t realise that their pitch had risen. “Yeah, I was enjoying life all this while! Who handled Neil when he had a breakdown? You?”

“And who let the situation come to that point? Did you ever understand what Neil needed? He needed you when he was growing up. You were always travelling and working.”

On Neil’s tenth birthday, Mohit had purchased a Physics toolkit on his way back from Bhilai site. It was never opened.

“I was expecting a Bumblebee that day.” It was a yellow car which could change into a Transformer. Much later, during one of his depressed rants, Neil was foaming at his mouth, “You never asked what I wanted. You just shoved in what you thought would be right for me.”

“That’s what the fathers do! Do the right things.” Science games, branded tees, alarm clocks… Mohit always brought practical gifts.

Manvi was in no mood to let go, “Go and chat with your girlfriends! Leave my son and me alone as we are. One has already become mad, I will go the same way soon.”

Manvi hadn’t noticed Neil. Hearing the commotion in his adjacent room, he had come out and was standing near their bedroom door.

“So that’s the truth, you think I am mad?”

Neil was staring down Manvi ominously. Manvi got very scared, “Happy Birthday, Betu. I am angry with your father. He has got you no gift today. Sorry, I was careless…” Both of them had mastered the art of acting normal in front of Neil. The psychiatrist had warned them of dire consequences if their feud ever happened in Neils’ presence.

There was a glass jug on the side table, half-filled with water. Neil picked it up. He could smash it anytime, “Shall I show you what’s carelessness?”

He threw some water at Manvi. She ducked. Mohit knew that he was not physically strong enough to try and contain Neil. He used his training, “Neil, calm down.”

Manvi tried distracting Neil, ”See, I have got such a nice shirt for you.” She pulled out her gift, “Such lovely embroidery on the Chinese collar! Remember what you showed me in your game?”

Neil’s face stiffened and twitched into a smile. He put the jug back on the table.

Just when Mohit thought that the storm was averted, Neil snatched the shirt from Manvi and tore it in the middle with the brute force of his bare hands. “Not… what… I wanted.” He tore off the left hand, “You understand? Peter Parker doesn’t wear black shirt”, off went the right hand. “Nothing happened. Parker’s luck, stupid god, I got no super power at 18!” He began to cry and kept tearing the shirt into smaller pieces till he could do it no further. “No magic ever happens to me. I will never become Spiderman.”

He threw away the last pieces on Manvi’s face, went back to his room and slammed the door shut.

“Neil, have some dinner, Beta, you will get hungry…” The door was locked from inside. The lights went off quickly after.

The parents had a long night to themselves to argue who was more responsible for getting the wrong costume for their dearest Spidey.

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