Vantage point

Friday, May 16, 2003


He kept his eyes on the road, having made up his mind not to look anywhere else. He was afraid that if he looked out of the window, he would again see the building in the desert. Using all his will power he just looked straight, like a horse and kept driving.

The shrink he saw had been perplexed when he told him about the building. Yes, people had mirages in the desert, but what Shashi was describing was clearly no mirage. It was perhaps more of a hallucination. The shrink said it was a surefire sign of stress due to overwork playing tricks with his mind. But Shashi did not agree. Yes, as an architect, he was used to a hectic life with long hours. Till a few months back, he had been neck deep in a big project, and had gone for days without sleep. But now the hard part was over and he had been taking it easy for the last few days.

In fact the first time he saw the building was during a vacation-like trip to Rajasthan. the big project he had been working on was a tourist resort in Rajasthan, and he was visting the site where the demolition of the older buildings had been completed, and the foundation work was starting. His clients had booked rooms for him in five star hotels all over Rajasthan and had drawn a plan for him to visit Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Udaipur...the whole tourist circuit.

He had been driving from Bikaner towards Jaisalmer when he first saw the building. It stood in the desert, a lone building, about 300 metres away from the road. He was perplexed at what a solitary building was doing in this vast sea of sand. He did not give it too much thought then and kept driving. However 2 hours later, as he looked to the left, he saw the same building, same distance away!!

How could that be, he thought. I saw this building a long time back. It stood solitary in the desert. How can there be an identical building standing in the desert here? Maybe it is some sort of a checkpost belonging to the army, he thought and drove on.

After that the building kept making appearances whenever he was driving on the desert highway. It would get closer and closer. Shashi did not share this with any of his friends. He went to see a shrink

After talking about overwork, the shrink asked

"So describe this building to me. It is designed beautifully? Is it big? Is it small? Does it change?"

"No, it doesn't change, it remains the same. And it is not aesthetically brilliant or anything. It is just a regular building. It has 3 storeys, is white in colour, and it is like any of the buildings you see all over our cities."

"Oh, then what makes you so sure it is the same building? Maybe you just see similar buildings everywhere." the shrink said.

"No, Doctor, come on. I know a building when I see one. Besides this one has some peculiarities. Two of its windows are broken. One balcony is painted red, for some reason. There are antennas on the floor in a distinct pattern." Shashi argued.

"And architecturally speaking, it is not remarkable?"

"No, it is mediocre at best".

"Well, so it can not be a design inside your head trying to get out. maybe it is a manifestation of....." blah blah blah the shrink went on saying things which did not make sense to Shashi at all.

He now started dreading this building. It would seem to come closer and closer with every approaching day. He had to keep visting the site in Rajasthan for his work, and he could not possibly tell his clients that he did not want to go there because he saw a 'ghost building' all the time. He told his best friend in the office In Delhi, Jacob, about this. At first Jacob thought Shashi was kidding, but as he realised the seriousness of what was being said, he grew concerned too.

"Do you see the building even when you are with someone?" Jacob asked.

"No, so far I have only travelled alone." Shashi said "The last time I saw it, it was just about 10 metres away from the road. I could see the chipped paint on some of its walls. The detail in which I hallucinate is scary, Jacob."

"Ok, tomorrow when you go to the site, I am coming with you. Let us see if we can get to the bottom of this." Jacob said. "Meanwhile, why don't you make a drawing of the building for me? Maybe drawing it will get it out of your system."

Shashi was up all night making a drawing of the building. He was to leave for the site in the morning and Jacob was going to meet him in the office.

However next morning, Jacob's son had an accident and so he had to rush to the hospital. Shashi had no option but to make the trip alone.

And, as stated earlier he did his best to keep his eyes on the road. However he could not do that long enough and slowly his eyes turned to the left. Sure enough, there the building was. What creeped him out was that even though he was driving, the building was right next to the road. It was as if the building was moving with his car. Shashi started sweating, when suddenly it happened. The car started making strange noises and very soon came to a stop. Shashi had to get out and was standing right next to the building he so dreaded.

His mind was trying to race away from panic but kept running into it. He was filled with a fearsome anticipation of what would happen next. But pretty soon it seemed as if he could not control his emotions. He felt drawn to the building and entered its gate. He could hear a din of children. Taking cautious steps he entered a room and saw that there was some sort of a class going on. The children all seemed to be from poor families, judging by their clothes. He strolled around the ground floor. There were children in all the room, playing with toys, reading books, singing, and yet no one seemed to notice him. He came to the staircase and climbed to the upper floor. Here he saw a lot of women cooking. On closer inspection, he realised they were making papads, senv, etc. In the corner a woman was packing them in sealed pouches.

The whole of this floor seemed like some sort of a "gruha udyog" office. Here too no one paid any attention to him. He climed the stairs to the top floor. Here he saw a lot of old people. Some were watching TV, some were reading, some talking. It was like an old age home.

Shashi was confused. The building seemed to be a school for poor kids, a source of income for poor women and an old age home, all in one. Why did this building frequent his thoughts? As he started reading the messages on the notice board, he wondered if it was all his imagination...

"NO IT IS NOT YOUR IMAGINATION!!!" read a notice on the board.

Shashi was so startled he jumped. Then he looked at the notice carefully. What he read explained a lot to him


Back in the office in Delhi, Jacob came to the office late. His son was not in any danger, but had fractured his foot. Jacob wondered if Shashi was seeing the building again. He walked into Shashi's empty office and saw the drawing of the building. Shashi had obviously taken a lot of effort drawing it, using water colours. Jacob picked up the drawing and was examining it when Sharma walked in.

"Has Mr. Shashi left for the site?" Sharma asked. Sharma was in the engineering department, and he was their demolition expert.

"Yes he has." Jacob answered. Sharma saw the drawing in his hand and said

"Hey, what are you doing with the drawing of Samaj Nivas?"

"Samaj Nivas?" Jacob asked.

"Yes, the red balcony shows that it is Samaj Nivas." Sharma said. "The red balcony is where they sold their stuff from. You know, this building delayed our Rajasthan project a bit."

"Really, how?"

"This building was built by a rich old man for a social cause. There is a school there, some sort of a snacks manufacturing centre for women, and an old age home. The rich old man was a philanthropist you know, he donated a lot of money to this cause."

"So how did this delay our project?"

"It was bang in the middle of our site. The old man had died recently and his son is money minded. He sold the building to us and turned out all those kids and old people. Activists had staged dharnas and all stopping us from demolishing the building. But we had the cops on our side. They physically removed everyone from the building and we demolished it in 4 hours flat."

"So what happened to the kids and the old people?"

"I am not sure. But you know, such places are few and far in Rajasthan. the kids had been rescued from the streets where they worked as beggars, so were the old people. I won't be surprised if they are back on the streets. And the women who worked there, I guess they are back to working in their own houses now."

"Shit, you mean we uprooted a perfectly functioning...." Jacob was horrified.

"Hey, the place was the old man's dream. After he died, his son could've refused to sell it to us. If anything, it is his son's fault. His son made a bundle of money from the sale, and has now migrated to Canada."

"Yes, but still, you demolished it, don't you feel guilty?"

"I was just doing my job. But tell me, why are you holding the drawing of the place? Who made it?"

"Shashi did...OH NO SHASHI!!!" Jacob rushed to the phone and started dialing Shashi's mobile phone.

The notice went -

This building has been sold to a developer. All the rumours you hear of us being turned out are true and not your imagination. Ramlalji's son Kishan is not like his father at all and has sold us out for money. We have to vacate this building by next week, after which it will be demolished and a resort will come up in its place.

We can only express our gratitude towards Ramlalji, for this place was like his soul. If it were not for the architect who planned the resort, the demolition squad which will raze it to ground and Ramlalji's son who sold out in the greed for money, we would all be living here like a big happy family for ever.

When this building is demolished next week, it will be like demolishing the spirit of Ramlalji."

Shashi's throat went dry. He wanted to rush out of the building, but his feet were rooted to the ground. Was this one of the buildings that had been demolished for his resort? Was it his fault?

Suddenly the mobile phone rang. he answered it


"Shashi, where are you? I have just come to know what your building is."

"So have I, Jacob, so have I. I have also....HELLO HELLO??" the phone line went dead. The silence in the phone line made way for a rumbling sound. He could feel the building shaking. He let out a yell as the ground beneath his feet gave away and he plunged......


Two weeks later

Inspector Rathore sat with the report in his hand. He was perplexed. The dead body of the man they found lying in the desert some days back had been sent for examination. The report said that the man had been crushed to death. The doctors thought he had been in some sort of a landslide or a building collapse. However, there was no evidence of that near the body. There were no fingerprints either. Did someone bring his body there and throw it? This was definitely the most mystifying case he had ever seen.


Kishan came out of the Indira Gandhi International airport and got into the car. He had spent the last few months in Canada, buying a house, getting his kids enrolled into school, completing emmigration formalities. Now all he had to do was sell of his remaining property in India. The car was speeding down the highway and in a few hours entered Rajasthan.

Kishan was looking out of ther window when he saw it. He was startled by it and rubbed his eyes in disbelief. Yes, there it was, his father's social service centre which he had sold. What was it doing here? Suddenly the car took a left turn and started driving in the sand towards the building.

"Driver,what the hell are you doing? Where are you taking me?"

He saw that the driver was lying unconscious and the car was moving by itself.....speeding towards the building.


p.s- I thought this story up while making the excruciating 12 hour long Delhi-Lucknow journey in a rickety UPSRTC bus. Any logical irregularities can be attributed to the road. I know it is probably not a good story, but I just had to get it out of my system. :-)