Short Story: The Bureaucrat’s Wife by Ananya Mahapatra


Ranjana is a rummy fiend.

She is eyeing her cards with the smile of a sphinx.

Soon her fingers will wield magic, and she will complete, with a flourish, her fourth consecutive run. Natasha will throw her hands up in surrender. Sara will curl her lips. Mrs. Sawhney, a veteran member of the Prometheus Club, will wink at her, with a rakish grin only a septuagenarian can pull off. Four decades ago, Mrs. Sawhney was pretty much like Ranjana herself, only slightly more voluptuous. The coterie of women in the club yearned to be like her, although they wouldn’t admit it even at gunpoint.

Ranjana, daughter of a celebrated diplomat and wife of the Honourable Commissioner Surendra Raghuvanshi, evoked similar emotions amongst her peers. The genteel curve of her brows, arched over eyes twinkling with an adamantine sheen, her high patrician nose, and her plummy, sophisticated voice made her the mascot of an aristocratic lineage. Surendra was quite a dark horse in his circle. His burning ambitions only added to his boyish charms and pushed him higher up in the ranks at a dizzying speed. Forty-three and at the top of his game already! Everything about him exuded a heady animal magnetism people found hard to resist. He was a connoisseur of art, music, and vintage collectibles. It was no big surprise that he chose a wife as delectable as everything else he possessed. If Surendra was a dark horse, Ranjana was a chestnut gazelle. Her slender frame moved with fluidity and grace. Her kohl-lined eyes were dark as absinthe and equally intense. So was she. Strong-minded and opinionated, men found her airs hypnotic. Women had a more visceral reaction, a melange of awe, envy, and resentment.

“Are we inviting one of those upcoming artists again, for the Gala? The jazz musician last time was horrid. Whoever thought of calling him?” Ranjana’s voice rasps with exasperation.

Sara shifts in her chair uncomfortably and hopes nobody remembers it was her. “He wasn’t that bad. We should encourage newcomers, I feel. Prometheus can jump-start their careers in a big way.”

“Pfft…. don’t we do enough charity already! Speaking of charity, are we planning to donate the proceeds to Little Bells, like last year?”

“Oh yes, let’s do that. Little Bells has such an adorable garden. Not bursting with nettles like those God-awful government schools. Perfect for an al fresco luncheon afterwards.”

“But we do that every year. Little Bells isn’t exactly in need of charity. Can’t we think of sponsoring a health camp for the children of the slums near Ashoka Mall? I know a few NGOs…” A quiet voice cuts through the conversation. It’s Latika, always the one to furnish such scandalous ideas. The women give each other knowing looks.

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, dear. We are a ladies’ club, not the government. And seriously, I don’t think we can survive an hour in those slums without getting Dengue or Malaria ourselves.” Ranjana, being the president, has the final say in such matters. The other members nod their heads in unison.

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