It was a PG hostel for about 100 girls who were pursuing engineering degrees in different private colleges in the city and Krishna was the matron appointed by the owner and director. He had a lot of confidence in her and would always consult her while discharging his day-to-day responsibilities. Given due importance in the management of the hostel, she always felt elated, her radiant face portraying the pride she felt whenever called for consultation.

Having worked here for more than two years, she was acquainted with its smooth functioning, solving all the intricate issues while managing the other women employees and the two watchmen, one for the day and the other for the night. Both had been appointed under her recommendation, as always happened because of the trust she enjoyed from the director. 

For over a year now, Mahesh, the day watchman, had been working with sincerity and commitment, having replaced his predecessor who used to be drunk while on the job and had been terminated under Krishna&’s advice. It was apparent that she was the real boss and she would prepare staff performance reports on a day-to-day basis and, if adverse, termination would follow. Since she had direct access to the director, every employee was bound to obey and follow her orders.

Krishna was a 35-year-old widow, having lost her husband in a road accident 10 years ago.  Her only son who had been staying with her while pursuing a diploma in computer software had left for Hyderabad upon finding a job. He had been gone for six months now and of late she’d been feeling a bit single, even footloose at times. She was good looking and her small pointed nose, well-endowed body and girlish voice were attributes that were not missed by anyone she talked to. She also had a sharp memory and could narrate matters, incidents and happenings threadbare and was talkative and good at conversation, all of which attracted the director&’s attention the moment she appeared before him for the post and was promptly appointed.

Since the death of her husband, Krishna&’s high school friend, Ajit, kept in touch and from time to time dropped in at the hostel – naturally, in the presence of the watchman at the gate. She would enquire after his wife and two children and then offer him a cup of coffee she would prepare in the room under the staircase that faced the gate. She would then send him away on the plea that she had to attend to something or the other.  She intelligent enough to realise that involving herself with anyone married would lead nowhere save to invite uncalled for problems and misunderstandings. Nor did she wish to stand in the way of any married woman and interfere in their lives. 

Mahesh the watchman had been observed Krishna minutely and was convinced she was very crafty. She never cared to even offer him a cup of tea or coffee but would entertain visiting parents, ignoring him all the while. He was a 30-year-old bachelor, quite active and smart, with a good physique and the get-up of an ex-army man but the reason for her indifference perhaps lay in the fact that he never fell line with her nor did he oblige her, however much she tried, as he was unyielding, if a bit eccentric and short tempered, never hesitating to call a spade a spade whenever he observed any behaviour or conduct that was awkward and abnormal among the girls or, for that, the matron.

Of course, Mahesh had no say in hostel matters because the director took for granted whatever the matron decided. Indeed, a watchman had little say in any matter other than security of the hostel, for which reason he had been detailed at the main entrance. Since Krishna had kept every employee at a distance and since everything had to be routed through her, Mahesh considered it futile to poke into others’ faults and shortcomings.

When he had taken up the job one year ago, Krishna trained him and tried to bring him round so as to be under her control, but she felt he was a hard nut to crack. He maintained a distance but discharged his duties with the utmost honesty and responsibility. He refused to yield to her, maintaining a composure and steadfastness towards his job, without any loose talk. She, in turn, felt it was beyond her dignity to go after him and so she also maintained a distance thereafter.

Whenever parents visited their daughters on Sundays or other days in the event of an emergency, they would give her small gifts and packed food items, given how she was the custodian of their daughters and looked to their safety and security in the hostel. In turn, Krishna maintained a good rapport with them and this is how she kept herself busy, forgetting her loneliness amidst the girls after her son had left.

But confined to hostel life, Krishna had an eye on Mahesh, who was quite young and dark complexioned while she was 35, good looking and smart. The director, aware of her attributes, would stop by every alternate day for a couple of hours and Krishna would offer him coffee with biscuits, much to his delight.  Mindful of this, every alternate day she would wear tight salwar-kameez, saris with blouses that were cut low in the back and front, the effect of which was not lost on the director. It so happened that as the days rolled on, he relished having tea, coffee, breakfast and lunch Krishna prepared and was always in high praise for her.

Mahesh was only too aware that Krishna was quite powerful and literally controlled the director, who was obviously enchanted by her, using every trick in the book to keep him close to him. What could Mahesh do when their relationship turned intimate and intense? It was futile on his part to find fault with her. At times, he felt it would be better if he maintained a silence, but the very next moment he would revolt and decide to act according to his conscience and not be submissive to her, like the director was.

Meanwhile, on the other hand Krishna&’s one task was to trap Mahesh and so she hatched a plan. She knew Mahesh drank in the evening before he went to bed because the other employees had told her on many a time. She was determined to wean him away from liquor and became a “normal” person.

Krishna recalled how her late husband was also fond of drinking and that was how he lost his life while driving a motorbike in a drunken state. She’d failed, however much she’d tried to persuade him to leave drinking. But once drunk, he would become submissive and docile, under her complete control. From her experience with her late husband, Krishna knew that in a drunken state people would come out with candid comments but would revert to being cunning and crafty once back in their senses.

Her one aim was to catch Mahesh while drunk so that she could make him do as she wanted, but he never gave in at any point. She sometimes tried to engage him in gossip, narrating stories about the students and their personal lives, but there was little change in his emotions. He was quite stiff and answered and behaved with her as much as he was required to. Never once would he share with Krishna any special emotions of love — the doorway to a relationship.

Once Krishna asked Mahesh, “Why are you still single? Why don’t you get married? Do you have any such plans?”

“Why do you ask such tricky questions?  Who should I marry?’ he shot back.

“Well, it is time you thought of marriage,” she suggested with a smile.

“No, sister. I don’t want to get married,” he replied firmly.

Krishna gave it serious thought and didn’t pursue the subject. She left him immediately on some urgent work she had to attend to.

The next day, Mahesh started spreading talk of how Krishna had tried to trap him and behaved like a temptress. Instead of minding her own business and responsibility, she interfered and meddled in the lives of others for no reason. She had a tricky design in mind. Soon afterwards, others started whispering that Krishna had commented on why Mahesh was still a bachelor and why he was not getting married. His conduct hurt Krishna, as though, as per the others’ version, she was compelling him to marry her. This was anywhere but near the truth, but she felt hurt nonetheless, disappointed and humiliated since Mahesh was clever enough to link her to himself through no fault of hers.

The director noticed there was something unusual and wrong with Krishna. Most of the time she looked absentminded, diverted from her main responsibilities in the hostel. Seeing the no change in her, he asked, “What is the matter with you that you look disappointed and depressed? Is anything wrong, Krishna?”

Krishna replied, “Look, sir, Mahesh is spreading something bad against me. I don’t understand why. He comes to duty drunk. He is a drunkard. Why should he say ill of me? It has hurt me very much.”

The director consoled her and said,  “Don’t worry. Stay calm and don’t get disturbed. I’ll take care of Mahesh.”

The next day without even asking him what had transpired between him and Krishna, the director removed Mahesh from his job, clearing his dues immediately.

“What wrong have I done, sir?” Mahesh asked. “You’ve removed me and it is injustice, sir.”

“Mahesh, don’t argue. You’re a drunkard. You drink on duty,” the director cautioned.

Confused and worried, Mahesh looked at both the director and Krishna and then left the hostel. Sooner or later, he consoled himself, he would get a job. On the way home, he thought about Krishna&’s behaviour and the affair between her and the director started working in his mind. But what could he have possibly done as an employee in a private hostel? He felt he had been simply victimised and rued the horrible situation he had been made to undergo.