Husk Rochefort was a regular enough journalist. Or that’s what he told himself as he flitted in and out of numerous cabins answering summons to assortments ranging from paper clips to printers.
This morning it was serving coffee with 12 lumps of sugar to his boss Navin aka Neon Polaris who was the chief correspondent of their weekly ‘The crispy Gazette’ which rounded up the ‘tangy, crisp stories over the week that would quench your gossip needs and fill your heart!’
‘Polaris’ because he was a deft manipulator of people in telling him interesting gossips, Navin was a terrible boss to work under. Apart from reminding him twenty times a day that he was a ‘good for nothing’ ‘odd job man’, Husk was put to use in ‘journalism’ by making him pose as a ‘jerk’ fro luring people into conversations, or acting as a camera stand or sometimes even as a watchdog for their equipment van.
Husk walked past the spacious clearing in the centre of their editing headquarters- The Pentagon where their top correspondents Havoc, Ariel, Strom, Thunderbird and Petra worked. Resourceful and clever, these five produced the maximum cover stories for their newspaper ‘Revive Daily’ and were regarded as the ‘Big Brains of their newspaper.
But resource and brains aren’t everything, thought Husk angrily as they called names after him; apart from writing eye-catching and jaw-dropping stories, their favourite aim-to-be-achieved was pulling his leg.
Blinded by his irritation, he banged into someone at the corner, spilling some coffee. He quickly dropped a biscuit in the victim’s mouth when he discovered it was Banshee, just as she opened it to shout at him. Banshee, Ariel’s assistant was a terror when it came to haggling and true to her name had a voice that could split ears.
Husk ran before she could get a chance to exercise her vocal cords and nimbly stepping into a cabin announced, “Your coffee Polaris”
He was surprised when the tall frame turned towards him; it wasn’t his boss at all, rather, it was his SUPER boss- The Xorn.
Xorn or Rishabh Xavier was the youngest editor-in-chief of their editing team. Shrewd and intelligent, Xorn had a knack of guessing what exactly went on in people’s minds and was a heavy manipulator, justifying his name perfectly.
Apart from being strict and perfection seeking, he was also slightly eccentric. Who in the whole wide world after all would insist his journalists were named after the X-Men?
“Husk. Precisely the man I was looking for. I was just about to call you myself. But you were bound to turn up sooner or later, carrying something” he looked down at the coffee cup in his hand and smirked.
Husk’s hands started sweating instantly.
I’m fired. That’s it. Out of this place before even a word I had written was published. But how the hell could Xorn know about that?
“Xorn. Believe me. It was none of my fault. Polaris kept on insisting the height for the camera wasn’t enough and forced me to bend down. And I swear I would have stayed put if an ant wasn’t crawling up my waistband…” he faltered away as his boss held his hand up indicating him to stop.
“So are you trying to tell me that the camera broke?” his eyes narrowed.
“Does that mean… does that mean… you didn’t… know?”
Shit. He got himself busted voluntarily. Great.
“Now I do. Which makes my task even easier. Listen Husk,” He said sternly “Polaris is out for this week unexpectedly. All articles are up for weekend but one popped up unexpectedly. Lakme is launching a brand of sun screen products and how people would be spending their summer seems to be the hot topic up for grabs. They have a competition for bloggers regarding the same too. Since Polaris is out and no one is free to cover this… I have no other option than to give this assignment to you. Go around, interview people- especially girls and their parents and I want an article on how ‘teenage girls intend to spend their summer this year’ by Friday. Is that clear?”
Rochefort could hardly believe what he was hearing. He continued gaping and blinking like a bouldered troll as Xorn asked again impatiently “Is that clear?”
“Y…Yes…. Yes sir. Of course Sir. It will be a pleasure sir. An honour sir….” He stammered.
“Right, show me what you have got in yourself and you are saved. With you breaking our camera and all, I have now every good reason to fire you if this article goes wrong.”
Again, Rochefort couldn’t believe his ears. Surely he had not just sealed his goodbye from the world of journalism himself?
“I can’t afford any photographer with you at the moment. The spare one has gone with Magma too.” Magma was another of their gem reporters whose stories certainly blew off the minds of her readers.
“So grab a handicam, and get moving from here” Xorn said and walked away briskly.
Confused about whether he should be thanking his luck or cursing it, Husk Rochefort ‘got moving’ from the safe abode of his office into the scorching heat. His first most-obvious stop was the beach and after a few feeble attempts in interviewing the young girls about their plans for a summer vacation, Husk sat dejected on the sand mopping his brow.
None of the squealing, chattering girls had been impressed by the professional looking camera slung on his front or by his identity card.
How the hell am I supposed to know what these damned girls want to do for their summer vacation if they won’t tell me! He thought, punching his clipboard in frustration.
Ruefully he thought of Neon Polaris, who had apparent ease in making people talk, especially girls. As he stood there clueless about how he should save his job, a brilliant idea struck his mind.
“Kyra. That’s the Lakme girl. And surely she is based on a real, living character? Why don’t I just skip to their headquarters and interview the prima-donna! ‘Lakme girl Kyra shares her idea of a summer vacation’!!” he got up hastily in his excitement thinking “that’s SPLENDID! Why didn’t I think of it before!”
Gleeful and excited, Husk scarpered off to his destination when he tripped and fell over a plastic bucket. It was lucky that the sand cushioned his fall; else the camera would certainly have been broken, sealing his fate.
Trying to shake off the tons of sand that made home in his hair and eyes, he escaped from the beach.
Standing at the gates of the magnificent headquarters, Husk wondered how he should get inside. In answer to his unasked question, a guard appeared at the closed gates and asked “Kya chahiye?” unimpressed by the ID Husk shoved under his nose.
On repeating what he wanted, the guard simply stared at him up and down, assumed a scornful expression and told him to shoo off.
Rochefort couldn’t blame him, looking down at his sand encrusted, filthy clothes and tousled face with a day’s worth of stubble; he admitted he had been in a better condition before.
Dejected again, Husk started walking down the street, glancing woefully at the boundary walls.
Pathetic Husk. Pathetic. Named after an X-man who could change his appearance and personality depending on the situation, you won’t even try one more time before giving up? His inner voice seemed to be saying.
They call me that because I simply come into use as one thing or the other every day, he told his inner voice but felt determined all the same.
There is no other option than to climb the wall Husk. Come on, live up to the name of ‘Rochefort’ and do it, he told himself.
After a painful 15 minutes of scrambling and hauling himself up the wall, he finally felt his foot touch the ground on the other side of the wall. He didn’t get a minute to bask in the glory of his success when he felt a sharp pain at the back of his head followed by darkness…
When the darkness started to clear a bit, Husk tried to open his eyes. At first everything seemed just like a badly tuned TV channel accompanied with dull throbs of pain somewhere at the back of his head. But as his eyes got adjusted he could make out the forms of… three GIRLS.
Husk blinked. Standing before him were three exquisitely beautiful ladies. And one of them was holding a heavy bat in her hand…
“Vous allez bien?” Are you alright? A small, petite blonde girl asked him. He thanked his training under Cypher who true to his X-men name was a multi lingual and could speak various foreign and Indian Languages.
“Don’t be so lenient towards him Darcy, he was trying to trespass our property after all” the black haired girl with large, reproachful eyes said.
“He doesn’t look like a burglar though” the third girl spoke. Husk felt his breath catching in his throat as he looked towards her. She was a brunette with waist length wavy brown hair and a slim, perfect figure with a pale yellow summer gown clinging to her curves, with bright blue eyes that looked into his own as if trying to unravel the mystery of his sudden appearance; she was a perfect reincarnation of the sunshine girl Kyra…
The French girl Darcy looked at him with her melancholy hazel eyes and said “Il est le paparazzi!” He is the paparazzi!
The black haired Indian girl tsked impatiently and said “this isn’t France Darcy. In India the paparazzi don’t climb building walls so pathetically…”
“One second Minal,” Kyra said “maybe we should give him a chance to explain himself”
Husk could almost have kissed her that moment. Hastily, he started explaining his story, hoping to stand a chance in his quest for saving his job.
After 15 more minutes Darcy squealed out sympathetically “Pauvre garcon. Toujours l’opprime, il est!” Poor lad. Always the underdog, he is!
“Don’t be so quick with sympathies Darcy.” Minal said assuming an air of stern interrogation.
“Considering your boss’s inclination towards X-men name, we can understand your pseudo-name Husk. But why the Rochefort? As far as my memory permits me, there is no Rochefort in the X-men team yet!”
Damn, thought Husk, here comes another X-men freak!
“No madam, Rochefort is the surname I chose for myself. Inspired by… erm… The three musketeers” Husk said embarrassed.
“Aha! He speeeaks of the fringant Orlando Bloom!” Darcy squealed.
By then all three of them were looking at him with softened expression on their faces.
“So what is it that you seek here? An interview with me I suppose?” Kyra asked him, smiling.
“Yes” Husk said eagerly “I thought it to be splendid if I interviewed the Lakme girl herself about the summer vacation plans for my article”
“That is the dumbest idea I have ever heard” Minal said flatly.
“Hush Minal, don’t be so harsh. Husk,” Kyra said “even I think it would be better if you take the opinion of the girls themselves and not interview us directly”
“But they won’t talk to me about it!”
“Well then there seems to be only one way then” she said, eyeing her other friends. Darcy looked excited with some secret prospect and even Minal looked grudgingly pleased.
“Lie back” Minal ordered as Darcy flitted into the adjoining room and came back with something that dangerously looked like an electronic helmet of some sort, like the one you see Charles Xavier wearing when he enters the Cerebro. Terrified of being abducted or even worse Husk did as ordered. “N’ayez pas peur cher” Dont be scared dear.
“The best way to know how girls want to spend their summer …” Kyra said
“Is to be a girl yourself” Minal finished her sentence, smiling enjoyably. They were placing the helmet on his head… adjusting some switches… there was a flash of blinding headache once and as he felt himself drifting off, he could hear Kyra speaking for the last time.
“One thing I would tell you is this- don’t forget to get yourself a Lakme sun-expert before going out.”
There was a brief sound of three voices mingling in delightful laughter before Husk was enveloped by darkness again…
HOW WE WOULD SPEND OUR SUMMER- GIRLS’ PLANS TO BEAT THE HEAT Summer is back to town with its sweltering heat and scorching rays. But this heat isn’t going to have any effect on the girls armoured with Lakme’s new Sun-expert that would save them from summer blisters and tan. As I go around strolling on the beaches of Mumbai I am met with a pleasant sight of scores of girls enjoying their summer with friends and family undaunted by the summer heat. “This year I am going to have full fun in my holidays” says Anjali, a class 10thstudent. “Summer vacation was the only bright spot for us when we were getting tired of giving the board exams and the tension that succeeds it” chirps her friend. Purva of Navi Mumbai is of another opinion “I want to utilize these 50 days for studies as much as possible. My seniors have told me that this gap after 10thboards is most crucial to cope up with the vast syllabus of the higher secondary. So yes, after this brief hanging out at the beach, I would be back to studies” Moving on from fun seeking to studious teens I meet another group of chattering girls who are planning for a seemingly exciting vacation. “We are having a sleep over at our friend’s this summer. Her parents will be out of station for a meeting and so we are going there to keep her company. But the thing we are looking forward to is watching a horror movie in the dead of the night” says Aisha gleefully. On asking which movie they are going to watch, they debate over ‘A nightmare on Elm street’ and ‘Grudge 3’ finally standing by the opinion that they should watch both of them. “That is”, Ruhana winks “If we survive one nightmare” Leaving the girls plotting their nightmare for themselves, I wander off to another corner of the beach where a group of girls were huddling over taking notes and walking barefoot on the beach. On questioning they reveal that they are working on a school science project which invites innovative ideas every year. “We are trying to investigate how the volume of wet sand changes under pressure” says Kalpana, a class 11 student of KV IIT Bombay. “This project got started with a faint observation we made on day at the beach. If we notice carefully, there are some cool patterns to be seen around our footprints when we walk on the sand. This implies that the pressure our feet exert has effects far outside just the footprints.” She explains to me patiently. “The main principle behind this is the incompressibility of fluids and hydraulic pistons would definitely work to get what we need but how we are going to build a simple machine like that is the challenge that awaits us” quips Prerna, a member of their group. Guessing that the summer heat probably goes unnoticed when it comes to evolution of fascinating ideas through a simple walk on the beach, I stroll towards a family with two young girls. “We are learning to surffffffffffffffffffff” squeals the younger of the two and splashes into the water with excitement. “We are taking the girls for a holiday at Gold Coast in Australia which my husband claims is the best spot for surfing” says the smiling mom Vineeta. On asking if she wont be afraid to face the mighty waves, Sara, the younger kid tells me bravely “Oh no… I LOVE the water and daddy will save me from any such miteyyyy waves!!” she squeals as her dad swings her in the air. I leave the happy family making most of the beach and wander off towards a most obvious pair of love-birds. “Nitin has promised to take me to ALL the beaches in Mumbai this time and a souvenir from each of them” Neha smiles enchantingly towards her boyfriend. All I pray for that guy is that he doesn’t go bankrupt in a matter of few days! Priya of Matunga has entirely different plans for this summer. In a grave voice she tells me that she is going to devote her time learning to cook. Looking at the tiny girl saying something so seriously, I couldn’t help asking the reason why. “I have been studying all my life till now. If I don’t learn how to cook, I won’t get married!” she replies gravely. It was lucky she scrambled off to join her mother because my sides were already aching with my effort to stop myself laughing out loud. So these are the interesting stuff the girls have saved down their pockets this summer. And on asking how they would be beating the heat, I was met with a common answer- “Ice cream, Cokes, beach volley and not to forget the Lakme Sun-Expert to rescue our skin from the scorching sun!” I leave the girls to their own exercises to enjoy the summer and walk back with only one thing in my mind- Girls DO land up with something interesting to beat the heat!!
“Hmmm” Xorn observed as he finished reading the last line of Husk’s article. “Hmmmmm...” his voice grew more pronounced as he re-read the few lines that he grudgingly liked.
“Well Husk, you certainly have done a good job over this.” He said as if surprised to hear himself saying it.
“In fact,” he continued after a second glimpse through the words, “you have done VERY good job over this!”
Husk smiled in pleasure as his boss looked visibly pleased. “But,” he said, looking keenly at Husk, watch his momentary smile vanish “reading this, it doesn’t seem as if you ACTUALLY interviewed these many girls. I mean, you would hardly find so many interesting stories in ONE place that too in” he glanced at his watch “in hardly 3 hours”.
Husk paled a little beneath his boss’s gaze but regained back his confidence on seeing his obvious confusion.
“But do tell me,” Xorn asked curiously “how the hell did your article turn out this good?” he said not bothering to hide the astonishment from his face
Husk merely smiled and muttered “Why won’t it be good if a girl writes it?” Patting his pocket with the recently acquired Lakme Sun-Expert, Husk left the cabin grinning broadly, sure of the fact that Xorn for once, won’t be guessing what was on his mind...
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to find out more about the X-Men and their powers and have fun like I did!! :)
to read more about the fascinating project on effect of pressure on wet sand!