Thought

Eloquence of electricity

The Other Woman

I tried not to cry. I cried, not a lot, only a few tear drops. I didn’t think he was worth more than a few drops of tears, but I loved him. How could he? I heard the door knob rattling just then. It was time to wipe away my tears. I was not going to let myself be played with. I had to be worth more than that to him. I hoped so.

“Honey, I am home”, his ugly voice dirtied the whole house.

I walked out of our room to where he would be - on the couch watching the game. I should have known that his constantly spending time with the TV, more than he did with me, was a sign. It had been that way for the whole year I had known him.

I moved listlessly towards him, his head bobbed above the couch’s backrest. Remembrance of past love was the only thing that kept me from breaking the vase on the table on that head - that head which was shaped like a potato with all its bumps.

“Emily, honey, where… oh! There you are!”, he found me standing behind the couch, “What’s wrong? Have you been crying?”

He got up off his seat and rushed to my side, as he always did. That was one of the things I loved about him - his genuine care for what I felt, but I was not sure if it was genuine anymore. As his hands rose up to give me a hug, I fought all my urges, to move away from him. I could feel my lips forming the words, “I hate you”. There! I had said it.

He looked at me, puzzled. Did he realize that I knew? Probably not. He had taken enough care to keep me in the dark. He gave me a few moments, as was his way of getting me to calm down during our fights, before he said, “What did I do today, Emily?”

“I know about her. I know you’re cheating on me, you … you piece of shit.”

I lost it at that moment. There was a part of me that died, when I realized I was expecting him to deny my accusation. I was hoping that he would act surprised and all was going to be well again. Thankfully, he did not. I hated myself more than I hated him. I had to yell at him. I wanted to never stop.

“You know what?”, I started, “I think your mother should have gone ahead and had that abortion.”

With that, I stepped out of the house, I needed to regroup myself. I was a self-respecting woman. I had flaws but was still an amazing person. I was not going to let myself dwell in his lies.

It had snowed the previous night. I realized I had forgotten my coat in my hurry to get away from him. I was strong, I did not need a coat. I walked as fast as ever, my indoor shoes surprisingly good in the ice. I was not in the mindset to notice the difference anyway, for I was busy tracing the last few days of my miserable life.

My suspicions had started with those text messages. Eight months into our relationship (I remembered the very hour he and I had met), I had stolen a look at him reading a text he received on his phone. He had smiled. I had dismissed it back then as a one time incident, but I had been wrong. They continued. Several text messages and calls he “had to take outside” later, I had made up my mind last week to investigate.

I shook out of my memories as a car on the road honked loudly. The driver had been waiting for me to cross the road. The walk symbol in front of me looked like a man. Why did it have to be a man? I had never noticed it was man. I felt a sudden urge to punch the traffic light - another venture I knew I would fail at. I crossed the road, my rage still safely tucked inside, just like the memory of the moment I found out the truth.

I was a good looking girl, probably not what men would call a bombshell, but I have looked at myself in the mirror and I think I look better than most women out there, even the one that just walked past me. I was more than he could ask for. She was not that good looking.

I had found them the previous afternoon, walking hand-in-hand into a house. I had considered waiting for a few more days to be sure but his car was parked in the driveway. His car. In another woman’s house. My mind had filled itself with images of his car driving up there every afternoon, and every day of the week he said he had to fly up to meet a different client. I had noticed the color of the curtains at every window. They were the exact same ones as my house had - his favorite pattern splattered all across the window. I was not a fan of it. What had given it all away, however, was the one window without the curtains closed and the two topless bodies embracing eachother inside it. I had made up my mind at that moment.

I reached the railway station. Did I remember just enough to keep me engaged as I walked to the station? I would never know for sure. I let myself in at the turnstile, and walked without purpose towards the platform. I was not sure why I was waiting for a train. I did not have to wait too long. The men getting out of the train looked like walking abortions to me. I shuffled inside along with the thirty other people who were waiting, and dutifully took a seat inside. I was not sure where I was going.

“You wanna sit on my lap?”

At first, I thought it was something I had misunderstood, but then I heard it again.

“Are you going to the club? It’s cold. Why are you wearing no underwear?”

The man was drunk and he sat right opposite me. The woman he was so respectfully addressing was standing right next to him. She wore a transparent red top showing off her bra and a mini skirt I wished I had the courage to pull off. Her hands holding the bar above her, were trembling. He spoke again, “Don’t you feel cold down there? I can help you.”

She moved away from him and came next to where I sat. I noticed the scar on her thigh. It disappeared inside her skirt. I shuddered at the thought of what may have caused it. The drunkard was still at it. He kept mouthing off at the girl and none, absolutely no one on that train cared. We were still waiting for the train to start.

“Can’t a girl have a peaceful life in this world?”, I shouted at him, “She does not appreciate what you are doing. Leave her alone.”

I felt good. I had not expressed my rage but I had stood up for someone. I was still mildly shocked that none else had come to her aid. The middle aged man next to the drunkard was busy removing the knots on his headphone wire. He clearly did not have time to help out a girl. Neither did the man who sat on the other side reading what seemed like a science fiction book.

“Oh, so both of you want to suck my…” He did not finish the sentence. I got up off my seat, walked forward and punched him in the face. I dragged him by the collar out of the train and yelled for help. Two cops showed up in no time and I reported the crime.

“Ma’am, we need you to stay and-” he was cut short by the announcement that the doors were going to close. I ran inside the train. I did not care if the man was going to be charged with assault.

As soon as I got in, the girl shook my hand and said, in her broken English, “Thank you. I want be brave like you”. I smiled at her, fighting off my tears. I knew where I was headed.

Forty eight minutes later, I was at her doorstep. It was time to confront the woman who had stolen my man from me. For seven months or more, I had him hooked to me, and she had swooped in and stolen him away. I wanted to look her in the eye and feel her fear when she realized that I found out. I pressed the buzzer.

The door opened and I saw a beautiful living room. The place was decorated just like how I would decorate a house if I owned one. In front of me stood a little girl, who I guessed was no more than six. I felt my legs shake. She had his eyes. I looked around the house in shock. My eyes finally found what I had not even fathomed - a picture of him, much younger than he was, with the woman, and a baby in their hands.

The little girl looked at me curiously. Her eyes had tears too. May be she missed her father. Just then, the voice of my lover’s wife rang through the house as she asked her daughter,“Claire, who is it?”

I was the other woman.

The Quest - 2 : The Solace

The desert winds lashed at his face. He stood firm, unperturbed by the force. He had crossed many an obstacle in his journey and he knew this wind could not stymie his progress.  The Stallion looked at the large and barren desert in front of him and whinnied. This was going to be smooth.

He took a deep breath and put his feet forward hoping to touch the heat of the brown sands in his fore but he felt cold, a biting cold that ran a shiver down his spine.  He had not readied himself for the change. He had, for long, expected it to be different. He was afraid, uncertain, his thoughts obfuscated by the cold of the brown sands, his mind shaken by the absence of warmth. He waited for a sign.

The Stallion waited for a sign.

She had embarked on the journey days after Him. She was slower but she had the will of the feminine, driving her past the swirls of the oceans, as she delved deeper into the forests. She stood face to face with the largest of seas, boiling in pleasure as her heart writhed in agony. She knew not how to cross but she knew she could not stop.  The Mare was faced with a choice.

She took a deep breath and put her feet forward in the coldest of seas and the icy calm of the ocean was disturbed. She had come to a place none else had come to. Her eyes welled up in fear as uncertainty crept inside her. The cold pleased her body as her mind wished for His warmth. She did not shed her grace. She was no more the delicate soul that was now crying inside her. She was stronger. She had a purpose now. She was no more a princess. She changed. She was His Queen.

The Mare neighed with determination and raced across the sea. Her feet graced the water, as she fleeted past the currents, the swirls that willed her to stop, setting them afire as her eyes blazed with lust for His warmth. Her grace remained with her like the memory of Him, making her remember her beauty. She could resist herself no longer and she looked at the water beneath her.

The eyes shone. The ears reddened and her long nose rose in pride. She blushed the color of His blood and was ready. She was ready now, more than ever to get back with Him. It was time. Her feet moved faster than ever. Her knees felt the pressure no longer. She arched her back, pressed her forelegs hard on the surface, thought about her Stallion who waited for her.

The Mare rode on.

He lifted his head as the earth shook. Here was the sign, a sign for him to proceed. The destiny that had driven him to leave his Mare in pursuit of glory was now speaking to him but he could not move. Something pulled him back – a Memory, from a distant past.

It was raining. The lands were wet. The drops of water damped his forehead and fell close to his eyes as he saw the world through them. In all the dark, She shone. Her back turned to him, she was walking away from him. He did not want her to go but he knew she had to. He looked down at the cold earth and looked up again. She was there, no more.

The Stallion looked down at the cold desert and looked up.  She stood there in the horizon beyond his reach. She was looking at him, breathing heavily. His heart began to tremble as reason lost its meaning. He turned to look away. His eyes stared into nothingness as his thoughts raced past his memories. Words escaped him as tears escaped her. She looked at him, changing in the horizon. His forelegs moved now, like before. His eyes narrowed in concentration. She knew what he was going to do.

The Mare had made her Stallion ride again.

Crishnanum Koozh Contractum

Ashley stared at the glowing seat-belt sign, without looking at it. In her hand was a beautiful boy. He had a round face, tiny eyes and cheeks that made them look smaller. His name was Krishna and he was one year old. Ashley was woken up from her reverie by the sudden crackle of a microphone and as she slowly regained full awareness, a heavily accented voice of a woman surrounded the place.

Few seconds later, an air-hostess came towards Ashley with the seating for Krishna. This was the first time she was flying with him and she was nervous. Her voice concealed her anxiety as she asked the air-hostess, “Is this safe for him?” The lady smiled back at her and patted her arm reassuringly. Ashley knew she was being too nervous but she could not avoid it, even when the lady said, “There is nothing to worry, dear. He is going to be just fine. Babies travel on flights all the time. He will be alright.”

An hour later, Ashley was watching as the same lady played with Krishna, with a smile on her face that she did not know was there. He had not even cried as the flight took off. His eyes had bulged a little bit, probably from the shock of the moment but he was alright in a few seconds. It was as if he was used to flying. She watched him, now, as he tugged at the hair of the air-hostess who matted his bushy black hair, again.

Sometime later, she glanced at the monitor in front of her and the flight was already flying over the Atlantic. Time was not flying as fast, as she returned back to her book. The book was not as interesting as she thought it would be but she had to keep reading it, to avoid worrying about what was in store for her when she reached India.

Next to her, Krishna was asleep, his tiny eyes closed and his hairy head leaning on her arm. Just like his father.

                                                                                        ******

“Namma Shree poi rendu varusham aapordhu. Ipo en varaa?”

Alamelu was thinking aloud, completely conscious of the fact. She had been shocked beyond her wits after the phone call she had received the day before. It was a shock to her not because of the suddenness off the call but because her daughter-in-law had the courage to talk to her, and worse, to say she was coming to their home in a couple of days. She went on, knowing full well that her aambadayan will listen.

“En pullaya enterundhu pirichadhu poradhu nu? Konjam manasula bayam irundha enkitta pesuvaala ipdi?” Her voice was starting to quiver, and the next words came in between sobs, “En kozhandha mugatha kooda paakala na naan.”

Parthasarathy got up from his easy chair and sat down next to his wife. He looked at her admiring her looks. She was looking beautiful in her blue nine-yard saree and maroon blouse that complemented her fair skin. The diamond mookuthi was glittering but not much as the tear drop now clinging to her cheek. He wiped the tears from her eyes and laid her head on his shoulder. He knew that was the easiest way to comfort her.

“Inga paaru. Ava modhalla inga varatum. Enna irundhalum nammaathu maatuponn ava. Porumaya irundhu papom. Dhideernu inga varaanna edhavdhu reason irukum  (“Neengalum en avalukku…”) Pch. Avaa culture la idhellam thappu kidayadhu. Nee kovapatta Shreeram mela dhan padanum. Avan virumbi dhane pannindan. Ipo adha nenachu kozhapikadhe. Varatum. Kepom.”

Just like every other time in the last thirty years of their married life, Alamelu felt comforted by her husband’s words and his assuring touch. He was now smiling at her, his thirunaamam accenting his wonderfully calm face. She smiled at him through her tears.

“Nanna iruku po. Ithana vayasaagi kozhandha maari…”

                                                                                          ******

“Yei, inna kozhandha pullaingala ittunu vandhu scene podre? Onnu uttenna avlodhan!”

Muthu had not even flinched at the sight of the four guys standing in front of him. The numbers game was clearly not working on him. His dark skin was more accentuated by the hot summer shine bouncing of his white and crumpled shirt and dhoti. He meant every single word of what he had said, without an ounce of fear and Selvam knew it.

Selvam was new in the set of people who had been trying year after year to stop Muthu from leading the temple fundraising committee, to put in local terms, aatha ku koozh uthardhuku kaasu vangra sangam. Muthu was a well-off individual with political backing and for years, he had been controlling the temple function funds and just like so many others before him, Selvam did not like Muthu. He had decided to, literally, beat Muthu out of the race but he had chosen the wrong people.

“Dho paarunne! Nee dhan varusa varusam saaptella. Ipo naanga pathukrom nee kelambu. Vayasaana kalathla ..” Selvam stopped midway because Muthu had gotten up suddenly, at the mention of his age. The three guys, along with Selvam, took a step back.

The two ladies who were chattering meaninglessly near the water pump, now slapped their heads and murmured “Aramichutanungala?  Dhardhram dhenaikum sanda.” They took their kodam, placed them on their exceptionally large hips that showed despite the pots they were carrying, and walked away. One of the three men turned and looked at the two women till they reached the corner and did not hear any more of the argument.

“Dai Selvam. Ungaathava enuku theryum, adhan ivlo neram ninnu pesikinurken. Poiru.  Prachna venan poiru”, said Muthu and Selvam noticed how the kungumam on Muthu’s head gave him a menacing look, complementing his voice that had, without Selvam’s intentions, convinced him to turn and leave.

Selvam walked away with two of the men. The third guy was still staring at the street corner. Muthu raised his voice to an “Aaaei” and that was enough for the guy to start running. His thalaivan had left and he had not business staying there anymore.

But Selvam was not leaving forever.

                                                                                         ******

“We are now boarding passengers travelling with infants, passengers who require special assistance and business class passengers”, came the voice over from the loudspeaker. Ashley got up and walked towards the gate. Krishna lay in her arms, asleep. In the last half hour of the first flight, he had cried a lot. Apparently, the descent was not something he enjoyed.

Ashley did not smile back at the gate attendant, who gestured her towards the bridge. Ashley’s mind was set upon her destination, her thoughts constantly wavering between the different possibilities that beckoned her there as she unintentionally balanced herself as she walked in that suspended bridge.  At the door, the two men in suits allowed her to go forward. In five minutes, she was settled in her seat and Krishna was safely tucked away in the seat next to her.

It was only then that the gravity of the moment completely hit her. Memories flooded black in a hurry and her eyes welled up. The ascent began and she slowly fell into the hurtling flow of emotions. Her eyes were clouded and she could not see the monitor in front of her clearly. Her tears veiled what was in front of her eyes but they did not conceal the memory of Shreeram’s face.

Shree and Ashley had met in graduate school when they worked on a project together. What started as going out for dinner when working, slowly grew into an indispensable relationship for both of them. Three months into their official relationship, Ashley had introduced him to her parents and they had warmed up to him very easily and Ashley knew it was because of Shree’s impish charm. They had continued to go out till the end of school and decided to part ways as school ended. For the next three months, they had lived in different countries and that was when it hit them.

The day Shree landed in the USA, he had driven up to Ashley’s and proposed marriage to her. She had agreed and six months later, they were married. Shree’s parents had refused to come because his mother was not happy with her son’s choice. Ashley had never understood why Shreeram did not worry too much. He had been able to call his parents every week and talk to them without anger, or sorrow, or even guilt of disappointing them. But suddenly one night, he had hung up on his parents in anger and cried. Ashley had not questioned him when he said, “It’s over between them and me.”

Nine, months later, he had spoken about his mother.

                                                                                        ******

“Thaaye karumaari”

Muthu fell prostrate in front of the goddess. A minute later, he got up and saw two women approaching him. One was old, her hair graying and her teeth stained red from tobacco. She was dragging the other one by her arm. The second one was a young lady in her 20s. She looked worried and had tears in her eyes. Muthu felt it had something to do with the one holding her.

“Muthe, nee innum evlo naaliku ipdiye senjunu iruke pore? Chinna pullainga dhan pantu potume. Inathuku sanda valichukinu?” asked Kumari.

Muthu looked at her with a sarcastic smile and replied, “Enna ka? Un pulla unnanda vandhu azhuvuraana? Aathakari vandhu pullaiku vakkalathu vangre? Seri idhu yaar pudhusa?”

“Idhu en modha pethi. Selvathuku moraponnu. Adhan Muthu, en ponnu  Dhanam illa?”

“Dhanathoda ponna idhu? Aama, dhathnoonda irukasollo pathadhu? En ponne kattaayam panni kalyanam panrangala? Poyum poyum andha loosa poi kattikapore?” laughed Muthu and stopped when Selvam’s mother slapped his arm.

“Niruthura. Inga paaru en pullaya indha oru varusam panna udu. Appaala avane uttu poiruvan. Ipo enna perusa kettu povapodhu?”

“Akka, unage theryum aatha ku thiruvizha na naan dhan munnadi nu. Un pulla kalyanathuku vera innnaa vena kelu. Seiren. Aana idhu mudyadhu”, he shook his head at the fake plead of Kumari and added, “Mansa sangada paduthadheka. Kelambu. Vela iruku enaku” and walked away.

Kumari dragged her to-be-daughter-in-law once again and walked towards a telephone booth outside the temple. She dropped a coin and dialed her son’s mobile.

“Dei Selvam. Avan seri vara maatan. Nee maama va aal anupa solliru. Lachumi ingutu dhan iruku. Apram pesikalam..aaan…vechurren. seri.”

                                                                                           ******

“Uncle Sam needs me badly, Ashley. I have to go to DC today. I will call you as soon as the meeting’s over,darling. Ok?  I will be back tomorrow evening. Bye. Love you two.”

Shreeram’s voice had sounded pleased but Ashley had known he did not like it one bit to stay away from her. He had tried everything to keep away from travel since she had become pregnant. She had been in her third month of pregnancy, then and that was the first time Shree had left her since they heard the news.

Ashley knew now, as she sat in the Lufthansa flight to Chennai that she would never ever forget that night and that call in her life. This time, the memory of the call did not bring her sorrow. It merely took away from her mind, all worries of the impending. She knew that nothing she was going to face in the next few hours was going to be nearly as close to what she experienced that night, alone in her room, locked away from the rest of the world. She would have killed herself when she heard of the bomb blast but she was responsible for her yet-to-be born child. She was glad that she did not do anything stupid. Shree would not have liked it and she would not have Krishna.

The seatbelt light came on and the voice on the mic crackled, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have now arrived at the Madras International Airport. The temperature in Chennai is 35 degrees and the local time is 5 PM. We hope you enjoyed the flight and we wish you a very good stay in Chennai. Thank you.”

As the plane came to a stop, and all passengers got out, Ashley knew it was time. She took Krishna in her arms and walked to the city that Shree had spoken so much about, the city that he called, the best in the world.

                                                                                          ******

“Na, ondra varusham munnadi indha maari oru sanikizhama dhan ava phone panna.”

“Hmmm…” Parthasarathy replied automatically.

“Yeno therila na? Shreeram ponadhu enaku appo azhave thonala. TV news la ellam kaamichale appo kuda azhuga varla. Neenga azhudapodhu kooda varla. Aana dhukkam thondaya adachudhu. Apdi ipdi nu avan nenaipe varapdadhu nu irundhen ipo ava aambdaya vandhu nikka porale?”

“Yen di Alamelu, un maattupon varalame Americalendhu? Solalvella pathiyo?” Jeyam maami questioned her from the window next door.

“Neenga summa irungo maami. Naane enna seiyardhu nu theryama muzhichundruken. Yen na, eppo flight nu sonna?”

“Adhellam enga di sonna? Innaiku varen nu sonna. Avlo dhan theryum. Engayavadhu velila hotel la room eduthu rest eduthutu varuvaa. En avasara padre?” Parthasarathy, too, was starting to get anxious.

“Naa onnum avasarapadale. Sadharnama keten avlodhan.”

After an awkward silence, Alamelu spoke again, “Na, avaa oorla marukalyanam ellam pannipaale? Andha maari evanayavadhu izhuthunda vandhanna?”

                                                                                       ******

The airport staff member dragged her suitcase in front of her, as she followed him with the pram. It was, just like she had expected. Freakishly hot. The man walked towards a taxi hire office as she waited outside, looking around at the hustle and bustle of loads of people at the departure gate.

“Madam. You please wait near that railing. Taxi will come in five minutes. The driver will help you with the luggage. Number is 4343.”

“Thanks a lot, sir”, Ashley said gratefully and waited for her cab.

Few minutes later, a black and yellow and cab pulled up next to her. A smiling, face looked out the window and noticed the luggage. The driver got out in a hurry and ran towards her, the smile still on his face.

“Good evening madam. First time India? Your baby madam. Very beautiful.”

“Yes. Thank you. Can you help me with this…”

“Don’t worry madam. You sit. I will manage”, said the cab-driver and started loading her luggage into the back of the car.

Few minutes later, they were on their way to Triplicane. As Ashley looked outside at the mess of the roads, she wondered what could have made Shree tell her that this was the best city in the world. As if he had read her mind, the driver said, “In Madras, roads always like this madam. All politics. One party putting road. Other party digging road.”

“Hmmm”

“This is called Kathipara fly-over. Very costly bridge madam. In weekday, lot of traffic. Today Saturday, so less”, said the driver and Ashley noticed a sense of relief in his tone, but she could not understand what he meant for, even as he spoke, there were at least twenty vehicles around them. The fly-over looked fairly well designed. Several roads were merging in now.

Once again, the driver seemed to have read her mind because he said, “In Madras, this is only light traffic madam. Here…Waatha…Paathu po maate”.

The sudden change of language and loss of temper in the driver was a result of a yellow three-wheeler which had more people cramped in than it seemed it could hold. The vehicle had cut across them in a flash and Ashley knew it was more dangerous than she thought, for the driver was still fuming aloud.

“What was that?”, Ashley asked him.

“Auto drivers only main reason for accidents, madam. In Madras.”

                                                                                       ******

The auto sped down the Kathepara fly-over. Selvam was on the phone.

“Mama, pullaingallam sethachu. Ipo kovilaanda dhan poitruken. Inga orey traffica iruku. Innum paanju nimisathla poirlam. Ennada poirlanla? Aaan aan Maama. Nee onnum kavala padadhe. Indha vaati kaandi avan othukala. Angaye podhachura vendi dhan. Pause. Onnu  panna maten mama. Somma naalu thattu dhan. Bayapdadhe. Aan vechurren”

The heavily built guy sitting right next to Selvam enquired, “Thambi, enna prechana? Annan edho prechana pongada nu sonnaru. Naangalum kelambi vantom.”

“Adhelam anga ponadhukappala pathuklam. Ipo pothikitu vaa. Oruthana thatnum avlo dhan.”

“Adhan pa, yaara thatnum? Edhuku?”

“Sonna summa vara mudyadha, adhan..”, Selvam changed his tone as he saw the expression on the man’s face become harder, “periya matter ellam onnum illa. Oruthan enta wrong pantan. Adhan oru thattu thati vekalam nu.”

                                                                                     ******

“Yaaro kadhava thatra! Alamelu, kadhava yaaro thatra. Yaarunu paaru.”

Alamelu opened the door. She knew who was on the other side before even opening it but she had expected one person less. At her doorstep stood a foreign lady who had married her son and she was holding in her hand, what was without doubt, her grandchild. Any and all thoughts she had against her daughter-in-law disappeared that very instant.

“Hi, I am Ashley.”

“Hi hi.. Ulla vaa ma…I..Come inside”, said Alamelu and offered to take her luggage. She started walking in and beckoned Ashley to follow her. She was beaming positively as she entered the hall and Parthasarathy got up to welcome his daughter in law. In a matter of few seconds, his expressions changed from a smile to a puzzled look to tears and he spoke.

“This is my grandson?”

“Hi uncle. This is Krishna. Yes, he is your grandson.” He and his wife, instantly, sobbed. Tears flowed and he moved to take the baby from her. Ashley hesitated for an instant before handing Krishna to her father-in-law and simply stood there as her husband’s parents took turns with her son. She was happy to see them happy. It was much better than anything else she might have expected.

“Kozhandha porandhadha kooda sollalaye ma engakitta? Oru vaartha sollirukalame. Unna enthana dharava kovathla thitirupen. Perumale.”

Ashley did not understand a word of what Alamelu had said. She did not care what it meant.

                                                                                      ******

“Idho paarra, nee enna sonnalum kekka mudyadhu. Avalo kenjinenla, kudthiya? Otha ipo vaangu”

Muthu was crawling on the floor, blood staining his white shirt. His lips were torn and his face marked with scars now dripping blood. He spoke, in a faint hoarse voice.

“Selvam. Thappura. Saami vishayathla idhelam paanakoodadhura”

“Yeei adi vangiyum kekka maatiya neeyi? Innum aaru maasthuku yendhrika mudyadhu. Ennatha panre nu pathurlam? Maaple, indha varusam contractu endhu dhan di. Varusa varusam nee kaasadichella? Ipo moodtu orama paduthu keda. Aathaku oothra koozha naanga saapadrom indha mora”

He kicked Muthu’s face one last time and walked away from him. Selvam had beaten his rival and the powerful Muthu. This time, Aatha and the koozh belonged to him.

                                                                                          ******

“Saathamadhu oothudi”, Parthasarathy directed his wife, and turning to Ashley added, “This is less spicy. You should like it.”

“Shree n I ate Indian food every day, Uncle. I like your food. I even cook Indian dishes.” Ashley could not resist her smile as she saw the pleasantly surprised look on her in-laws’ faces. They were, by the second, getting a better impression of Ashley.

Parthasarathy suddenly gestured his wife something with his eyes. She responded with a glare that had refusal written all over it. Her husband would not give in and narrowed his brows, egging her on. Eventually, Alamelu gave in and cleared her throat. Hesitation and doubts writ all over her, she asked Ashley.

“Please do not mistake me. Why did you come here after all this time?” and quickly added, “We are happy to have you but we do not know what to think.”

Ashley looked at them for a few seconds. Her mind reeled back to the day Shreeram had mentioned his family months after hanging up on them and refusing to talk to them anymore. She remembered the earnestness in his voice as he had spoken about it. He had said that it would be the perfect way to reconcile with his parents and that, like them, he believed it was important too.

Before Ashley could answer, Alamelu said, “You forget that questi..” and she stopped midway. Her mouth was agape. Her husband’s had stopped half way across the table, with the appalam in his hand. They had wondered why, had imagined all sorts of reasons for the sudden visit of their daughter-in-law but this, this was not something they could have even dreamt of.

“Shree wanted Krishna’s head to be tonsured in…Ti-rru-peati. You know, mottai?

                                                                                    **********

Amaichar Varaaru

“Machi, ava oru thevdia da. Sure-a naalu peraavadhu potrupaanga.”

Ravi was not sounding angry. He was confused. The girl he had started dating, incidentally his first was a heartthrob and he could not believe his luck when he got her. But then, the image of his true self would not allow him to let him be any less confused. He started getting hints and ideas of his girl being involved with other “better” guys. In essence, Ravi was a typical Tamil insecure middle class college graduate, with relationship issues. He was working as a free lance photographer because he could afford only a “velaku pudikra velai” as his friends called it.

“En da naaloda niruthite? Innum rendu moonu sethuka vendidhane. Yaarra ivan”, replied Jagan, another college pass out and long time friend of Ravi’s. Jagan, unlike Ravi, was now much more stable because he had been in a relationship long enough to understand how confusions usually happen at the beginning and how after two or three sessions of meaningless confrontations with the girl and her crying would change everything.

Ravi and Jagan were walking around Spencer Plaza, a mall in Chennai that was slowly getting outdated, thanks to the hip and happening malls coming up around the city. Normally, they would not have come here but now they needed to do some foreign exchange and Spencer Plaza was the place to be, for aspiring MS students going to the USA if they needed US currency.

“Dei, unaku theryuma ennaku theryuma? Naan avala pathruken da. Adhanala dhan doubt vandhuchu. Illena kuda apdi nenachuruka maaten”, Ravi justified his beliefs, “Anniku Rajesh sonnanla poda poda dhan pinnadi perusaagum nu. Apove yosichurkanum da. Thapu panten.”

“Waatha dei, vaaya moodra. Poda poda dhan perusaagum na Heels poda poda nu artham. Somma, edhedhayo kettukinu saavdikran. Ipdi oru figure kedachudu nu sandhosa padama – sorry boss theryama patruchu – kedacha figure a anubavikama sandhega pattu en da saavare?”

Ravi was still not convinced entirely. He wanted to think that something was up because it gave him a sense of control over his girl. Jagan, as if reading his mind, said to him, “Machi, apdi dhan da irukum startingla. Idhukellam tension aavadhe.”

They reached the board with the list of all the shops in the mall and started looking for what they were looking for. Ravi was still muttering to himself.

                                                                                          ******

“Selvi, en boots-a enga thooki veche?” shouted Manickam at his wife, who was in the kitchen. In response came an annoyed voice which sounded like a squeak, “Enga ellathakum enniyaa kathreega? Angitu dhan sofa ku keezha kedakun.”

Manickam strained his pot belly to bend down and check. The shoes were right under the sofa. He sighed and bent further to reach for the shoes but his oversized belly would not let him stretch and he was beginning to get up, when Selvi, his wife came running-walking to him, quickly bent down and took out his shoes.

She was a thin, middle-aged house wife. She was wearing a flower patterned blue cotton saree with a red blouse that showed more than Manickam would have desired others to see. Her face was sweaty from the heat of the stove and she was holding in her hand, a tiffin box for her husband. Manickam was a head-constable in the 1000 lights F-4 police station. He was a man of few words.

“Imbutu perusa udamba valathu vechukitu enniyaa en dhan koduma paduthreegalo? Idhula kalangaathala ezhundhu samayal vera”, Selvi’s irritated rant continued.

Manickam took his lunch from his wife, sighed and said, “En di kathra? Oru naal samaika unaku valikudha. Unna poi katnen paaru. Purushanuku samaika aluthukre. Idhu enna di jacketu. Idha apdiye potutike veliya povadhe. Avan avan vaya thorandhu potutu nippaainga.”

She quickly covered herself with the saree, replying, “Seri seri. Maathikiren. Neenga kelambunga.”

Manickam corrected his belt, hoping it was in the right position and trusting his belly to hide it if it was not.  He was not going to the station today. He had a different duty assigned to him for the day and he did not like it. He took out his TVS Champ, started it after three tries and drove away. The tyre of the bike was flattened at his weight.

As he drove away, Selvi quickly brought her mundhaanai down and once again, more was seen.

                                                                                           ******

It was a fiasco at Minister Rajapandi’s house. It was the last day of the assembly before the councilor elections and he had to attend today to address some important issues. He had never been keen on answering questions but he did not have a choice. He had to, to remain in office. He was admiring his moustache in the mirror, standing in his room wearing a bunyan and a pattapatti trouser when a hefty man dressed in white came in and announced that the car was ready.

“Irungada varen. Anju nimisam”

He slowly took the dhoti, white and spotless, and started tying it around his waist when his wife came in. She was fat, adorned with more jewels than necessary and was wearing a pure silk saree. She had in her hand, a gold plate with a burning camphor piece, some vibhuthi kungumam which was clearly meant for him. She came to him, gestured the flame to her husband’s face, applied the kungumam to his forehead and walked away without a word.

Fifteen minutes later, Rajapandi came out of his room and was greeted by about twenty men who were all dressed in the same costume as he was. After the chorus of vanakkams, a man walked up to the minister and said, “Ayya, naalanthedhi kuppathuku poitu vandhurlamya. Anniku vita apram time kedayadhuya ungaluku.”

“Serra serra. Nee newspaper ellam ready panni vei. Pathukalam. Ganesanta oru vaarthai solliru. Apdiye CM ayyata permission vaanga solliru.”

“Ayya, time airuchu ya. Porapadlam”, the same guy who had called the minister from his room, said. Rajapandi nodded and left the house. Just as he was about to enter the red Qualis boxed in the front and back by four white Ambassadors, his wife said from behind him, “Yenga, pullaingala pora vazhila ciricket coachingla utrungalen.”

Before he could reply, the two kids, dark complexioned and fat like their mother, ran into the car ahead of their father. Rajapandi muttered something before getting in after them, that strangely sounded like, “andha seata kuda kaapathirlam indha seata pidika mudiayala.”

                                                                                           ******

“Ammmmmmaaaa”, screamed Renganayagi. Her water had just broken and the labour pain was starting to get severe. She was expecting it that day as the doctors at GH had said it was due that day. Kumar, her husband who was checking his knife-sharpening machine outside the hut, came running in at the sound. He was wearing a green lungi and wearing a black shirt that had the top button open. For a man who was usually strong willed, he suddenly turned very nervous. He had just seen his wife, lying on the ground, holding her large stomach, with some liquid all around her.

“Iru aatha. Auto kootiyaaren”, he said and ran outside. Renganayagi heard him call out to their neighbor Muniyamma as he ran and in a jiffy, Muniyamma was with her, helping her up, saying, “Aatha Muppathamma, ellam nallabadiya nadakanum. Rengam, nee onnyum kavlapadadhe. Vaa Kumaru auto kootiyaara poirkan. Vaa.”

They had walked past two huts when an auto-rickshaw came to a stop next to them. Kumar got out of it and helped his wife inside, thanked Muniyamma who replied, “Government aaspathiri dhane. Saaindharam naanum en purusanum varom. Neenga ponga” and added in a hushed tone, “Avala edhum kathadha. Nalla pudichukune po.” He got into the auto and it rolled away.

Renganayagi screamed again.

                                                                                            ******

“Yov Manickam thalaivar kelambitaru. Pathu nimishathla Greams road la traffic nippatu. Andha aal vera kazhutharupu thaanga mudila”, sounded the voice of the local Police Inspector and Manickam replied in the affirmative. He relaxed from his tense posture on hanging up and started buttoning up his uniform. He was never good at traffic duties.

He began reminiscing the younger days when he used to be adept at catching any thief. No one could outrun him. Now, he was old and more than well built and so he had to be satisfied with duties that he did not really like. This was a mere hold-the-traffic duty but it was painful because of the heat. He had just finished his lunch (“Peedai, indha thayir soruka avlo kathuna!”) and took the lathi from the side of his TVS champ.

Duty called.

                                                                                                ******

“Dei nee innuma da niruthala. Ipo enna da prachana?” Jagan asked unable to understand how his friend could still be pondering over the issue. They were returning home from Spencer and two minutes into the bike ride Ravi had started his blabber again. Ravi continued as if he had not heard Jagan.

“Jaga, ava paera pathiya. Adhulaye enaku doubt vandhurukanum da. Paere villangamanadhu. Nalla ponnu illada ava. Valli nu paer irukum bodhe yosichrukanum da naan. Otha emathita da.”

“Ennada olarre? Valli ku oru purushan dhan da. Muruganuku dhan da rendu pondati. Valli nallavanga da. Nee Kandhan Karunai padam paathadhe illaye. Adhula Sivaji oru nada nadapparu…”

“Dei loosu ku, Kandhan Karunai padam paathiye andha Rajini thathava nadicha Valli padam pathrukiya? Adhula andha heroine ennalam seiva theryuma? Sevapu color la saree katikitu avalum andha mokka herovum panra attoozhiyam iruke. ‘A’ padam da adhu”, Ravi stated his point, with seemigly flawless, unquestionable logic and Jagan was stumped.

As Jagan searched for a way out of this incredibly awkward and stupid situation, controlling himself from uttering the worst words about his friend, a policeman with an unusually large belly gestured him to stop his bike. Jagan obliged and asked, “Enna sir venum?”

“Minister poraru. Vandiya niruthu. Iruvadhu nimishathuku endha vandiyum povadhu.”

Jagan read the name tag on the policeman’s uniform, and in a fake grown-up guy tone said to him, “yov, un paer Manickam-a? Enga appa yaarnu theryuma. Phone potta enna…” , stopping midway as he saw the look on the policeman’s face. Just then an auto-rickshaw sped past them in the opposite direction and Jagan piped up his voice one again, “Sir, enna sir? Avangala mattum vidreenga?”

The next auto-rickshaw driver that came in the direction would have wished he had not, for Manickam literally crashed into the auto to stop it and started shouting at him.

“Dei inga oruthan kuthukallattam ninnukitruken enga da pora? Niruthuda”, and without looking, he shouted at the screaming woman inside, “Nee en ma kathre? Summa iruma. Pathu nimisham dhane” and walked away.

Kumar, unable to see his wife struggling, urged the driver to move to which the driver replied, “Iru saar. Anju nimisam. Sarrnu poirlam.”

                                                                                              ******

“Appa appa, coach thitivaru pa. Late aidchu pa”, the kid nearest to Rajapandi said.

“Dei un coach vandhurukave maattarra. Appa varentu traffic ellam niruthitangalla adhula avarum maatirparu. Onnum prechanai illa”, replied Rajapandi and turned the other side, hitting his forehead in frustration. His phone started to ring.

“Hello Ayya. Sollungayya. Pause seringayya. Senjurlangayya. Pause rightya. Pause. Kandippayya. Ok. Vechurrengayya.” As he hung up, Rajapandi wiped his phone on his white dhoti and placed it in his pocket. The car came to a halt and the kids got out. The coach was waiting right outside, with a particularly furious expression on his face.

“Appa appa, coach vantaa…” Before his son could finish the sentence, Rajapandi closed the door and said, “Ottra. Seekram vandiyedra.”

The car sped forwards as Rajapandi muttered, “Indha kudumba kattuppadu karumatha senju tholaikanum. Bayama iruku”

                                                                                              ******

“Machi, kadasiya solren, Valli nalla ponnu dhan da. Enaku avala patha andhamaari ponnu nu thonala da. Illena ava en da unna love panrennu solla pora?” Jagan asked Ravi earnestly.

“Adhe dhan da naanum kekren. Avlo super figure en da naan propose pannappo othukanum? Andha Poojalam evlo nalla ponna naan sonna udane azhudhukitte odna. Iva apdiya? Sonna udane adutha naale ‘Enakku Ok Ravi. I love you too Ravi’ nu ilichukune vandhalla. Adhuku enna artham? Vallinra paeru dhan da prechana.”

Jagan could not understand how Ravi could even hold his certainty for that long. So, he chose not to answer and looked at the policeman who was now arguing with a shabbily dressed man. There seemed to be a pregnant woman in the auto and the guy in the lungi seemed to be her husband. He was trying to convince the policeman.

“Ayya ayya kenji kekren. Pullathachi pombalayya. Presavathuku poitrukomya. Indha pathu roova vechu..”

Manickam’s face became an unusual color. For a second, Jagan thought he looked a lot like Vijayakanth, with his eyes red. Any sound coming from Ravi was totally drowned out by the outburst of the policeman. No honking or chatter from the vehicles around him could be heard over the sound of the policeman’s voice. Manickam shouted, again.

“Dei policekaaranuke lanjama? Muttikumutti thatiruven unnayum un pondatiyayum. Enna pechu pesare? Minister vara time illena station koottu poi benda nimithirpen. Poi vandila ukkarra. Poda. Thev..”

There was a sound of cars. He received a missed call and that was the signal.

                                                                                              ******

The two ambassador cars raced past the waiting traffic and just as they were about to cross, the red Qualis came to a halt. The minister got down from his car, looked around at the held up traffic, at the policeman who was standing in attention. Rajapandi thought he looked like his kids. He tightened his dhoti and heard the wailing of a woman from the auto rickshaw, as a shabbily dressed man ran to it.

Four uniformed men got out of the car in front and came running to the minister’s side, armed with guns. Jagan and Ravi were right in front of the traffic jam, next to the policeman and the minister seemed to be walking in their direction. Jagan started hyperventilating as the minister got closer and said, “Dei, Ravi. Vaaya moodra. Nethu Facebookla potta status edha paathutaana therla indhaalu. Padikamaatan nu nenachu edhedho ezhuditen. Ipo kandupidichu correcta vantaan.”

Manickam could not believe his eyes. The minister had got out of his car and had started walking towards him. He wondered if he had noticed the pregnant woman and wished he had let that auto go. He did not dare take his hands from the attention posture, even to wipe the sweat off his forehead. As he turned to glance at the auto, he noticed his belt hanging by the side of his two-wheeler and remembered having removed it during his lunch. He could have sworn his heart beat was audible. “Muppathamma nee dhan kaapathanum”, he prayed silently.

“Muppathamma” said Rajapandi loudly and joined his hands in prayer. Everyone turned to look at where the minister was looking. Right behind where the policeman was standing, was a small temple that anyone would have missed unless they were looking for it. The minister walked past Manickam and stood outside the small gate behind which was a little stone. On the wall, above the gate was written, “Devi Muppathamman Thunai”

Rajapandi prayed for a minute before turning to his guards and saying, “Padhnanju vayasula inga dhan newspaper vithutrundhen. Appo dhenamum kaalela kumbtu kumbtu dhan inniku amaichar airken. Palasa marakka koodadhula.” As the minister walked away, Kumar ran from the auto and fell prostrate in front of the stone and ran back shouting, “Saami therinjudhan di Rengam sodhikudhu.”

Manickam was still shell-shocked, as the minister’s car and convoy left the Greams Road signal. His mobile phone rang again. Two minutes later, he gestured the traffic to move.

Renganayaki was not screaming anymore as she realized the goddess’s wish. Kumar’s eyes were wet with tears of ecstasy at being tested by his kuladheivam. Ravi had started talking about a song in the movie Valli in which the heroine, apparently, had sex wearing a saree. Jagan flinched under his helmet. Manickam started wearing his belt.

                                                                                             ******

Ten Days Later…

“Thannalamatra Thamizh singam amaichar Durai Paandi”

“Yov, Rajapandiya”, corrected the guy who was contesting the local councilor elections.

“Thannalamatra Thamizh singam Rajapandi” shouted the same man to which a huge crowd of followers said, “vaazhga!”

As the shouts and the chants of the crowd continued, the minister, his men and the party candidate walked in the kuppam  carefully avoiding the dirtier routes. Rajapandi nodded and gestured at people standing outside each hut. He periodically joined his hands in a fake greeting at one or two elderly people standing on the side of their path, to which they bowed. He made sure the cameraman was able to take a clear photograph every time and when none was looking, he would say, “Thambi, naalaiku pathrikaila photo olunga varnum.”

Suddenly, a couple ran towards the minister with a baby. The minister stopped in surprise when both the man and the woman put the baby at his feet and fell prostrate in front of him. Rajapandi bent down and lifted the man by his shoulders and urged the woman to get up and added, “Chinna pullaya poi roadla podriye ma. Arivilla? Kozhandaingallam kadavul madhiri. Enna venum ungaluku?”

Kumar could not control his happiness as he said, “Engaluku pathu naal munnadi dhanya indha potta pulla porandhuchi. Neengadhanya en pullaiku oru paera veknum. Yei Rengam, kozhandaya kaatri ayyakitta.” Renganayaki came closer and showed the child to the minister. The minister bent down, kissed the child on both cheeks, removed his gold necklace, winked at the photographer and placed the necklace in the baby’s hands.

The sound of the applause that followed was deafening. The ‘Vaazhga’s became more real than they were two minutes ago. Rajapandi, beaming, raised his hands at the crowd gesturing them to stop. The photographer came closer to cover the minister and the family of the baby properly, for that would make the perfect picture for the morning paper. Rajapandi thought for a few seconds before he spoke.

“Nalla paerdhane. Indhayya engaatha paeraye vekren un kozhandhaiku. VALLI.”

The couple held the baby closer in glee and thanked the minister profusely. The crowd applauded again as the party continued to move. Rajapandi walked towards his car. Standing by the side of the car, Manickam took out of his mobile phone and started speaking into it, “Ettayya, Minister ingerundhu poraptaru. Pathu nimishathla anga vandhuruvaaru. Trafficca nippata sollirunga.”

 Just before getting in to his car, he called the photographer up and asked, “Photo pudichella? Naalaiku varanum. Paeru epdi seriya irundhucha illa maathidata? En na paperla podrappo correcta irukanumla.”

Ravi, shocked that the minister was actually asking him for his suggestion,  nodded and shook his head at the same time, and said, stuttering, “Sir, Illa sir. Super paer sir. Valli. Idha vida nalla paer irukkave mudyadhu sir.”

                                                                                         ******

The Heming Way

Cursing, Draupadi let her hair loose.

                                                                   ******

Church: It’s geocentric.

Galileo: Yeah, Right!

                                                                 ******

Amaravathi runs in at Song-99. Finish!

                                                                 ******

"Sentenced to death for predetermined murder."

                                                                 ******

Tortoise: Hey Hare, I use Shell ;)

                                                                 ******

Aha! I have the last word.

                                                                 ******

August-3, 1945. Hiroshima, Japan. The End.

                                                                 ******

Jobbs promised. Revolutionary improvement. iMerica launched.

                                                                 ******

God: Is this mirror not working?

                                                                 ******

Newton: Hey Gravity, stop throwing apples.

                                                                 ******

Gandhi’s son: Pledge?!!? I said nothing.

                                                                 ******

Freud: Women love eating carrots because…

                                                                 ******

Shhhhhh! If he finds us— BANG!

                                                                 ******

Incredible India! Can you believe this?

                                                                 ******

Grain by grain, the cookie crumbled.                         

                                                                 ******

Johnny, Jesus and Santa are different!

                                                                 ******       

Hitler’s Mom: Son, finish the juice!

                                                                 ******

Vani held her bloody baby, crying.

                                                                 ******

Sita held her bloody baby, smiling.

                                                                 ******

This post is inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s favorite short story and the shortest one of his which has so much said through so less. This is his story:

                                                           ”For sale: Baby Shoes. Never worn.”

Real Fun

It was as if they were all waiting for the music to start. Their legs pounded on the asphalt before the sound of percussion even reached their ears. Not caring about the mess they were creating, their shirts stinking with a mixture of sweat, tears and wine, they danced. People around them were beginning to stare, some walked past disgustedly and some looked at them with pity. But none of these mattered to them. They needed to dance. They could not control things anymore. The music grew louder with every beat, with every step they took as they danced their way forward

The black Maruti Omni crawled after them.

At a Stone’s throw

Her eyes were closed. She did not have an option. There was no other way out of this situation. She had to do one thing and one thing only. With her eyes closed, she played out the entire scene in her head. It was all etched in her mind like a blue print. She had helped design it. She knew everything one could know about it. But since then, a lot had changed. People had walked in and out. There was no way of being sure if she will be doing it right. But it was now or never. She knew she had it in her to get past this hurdle. Her desination was just a stone’s throw away.

Trusting only her instinct and memory, eleven year old Pandiamma, her eyes closed, took her first step forward and asked, “Right-a?”

Eyes Wide Shut

He was nervous. His blind eyes searched in their darkness for that silence to be broken. Everyone in the hall had been silent in the past few moments waiting for what he dreaded. He could hear his son muttering to himself angrily but chose to ignore him. Whatever happened today was going to decide the fate of his family. He could sense it.

Suddenly, it became quieter, if such a thing was possible. Silence became a lack of sound. Then, as fast as it had become quiet, it became an uproar. The crowd was cheering, applauding. He knew it was happening, for he heard his step-brother’s voice. Over all the din, he could still hear the firm footsteps. He knew only he could, for the footsteps were fast and nimble, as light as feather grazing the air as the eagle flies across the sky. He knew his family’s destiny rested in the hands of the man who had walked into his house.

He rose up and greeted the guest, with as much bitterness as possible, none of which showed in his tone. The man had believed him and thanked him. But he knew very well that the guest was to be respected more than usual, today. He held his wife’s hands in fear and anxiety - one he was sure only she could understand. He had, for long, mistreated her but she had remained loyal to him. He knew she would not betray his confidence. He expressed his fear with a touch of her hand.

The hall was silent once again. He hesitated to say the first words. He knew his colleagues were thinking the same for none of them spoke first. It was his son who broke the quiet, this time. As he heard those words, he wished the bitterness in the tone would have been overlooked. He cleared his throat and knew that his son had understood what it meant, for he tried to make proper conversation.

As the chatting and smiles continued, his anxiety grew. He smiled weakly at the jokes of his guest, who seemed awfully polite and at home, in his house. Then came the dreaded moment. The man who his son had addressed “Brother” keeping the distant relationship in mind was now trying to strike a deal for his cousins.

The moment the topic started, all hell broke loose. People who had been holding their tongues decided to lash out. He had to say he was enjoying the humiliation the guest was starting to suffer, at the words of his family and friends. His claim was fair but that did not mean he had to give in. His son too thought the same thing, for he blatantly turned down the deal and challenged the stakeholders to do what they can to change his mind.

Somehow, the guest seemed to have expected it. After making sure twice, he agreed to take up their challenge. The authority in the man’s voice brought back the anxiety he had forgotten momentarily and he remembered the day he knew that the fate of his lineage was no more in human hands. It was all resting in the hands of this one man and they had turned down a simple request he had made.

He knew it was a mortal sin to have insulted he who had chosen to live among them. He shook his head in disbelief at the misfortune they had piled upon themselves. He had been blind all his life, filled with insecurity and lust for power and constantly lived in fear. Today, for the first time, he experienced sheer horror. The blind eyes did not have the foresight to guess this was what was going to end all of his dreams. He realized he should have taught his sons, differently.

Alas, when his eyes were opened, nothing could be changed. He had lived blindly, far too long.

Fight

“No way, Lakshmi. I am not letting you do this. Appa will not like it either”.

Janaki was furious with her daughter. She had worked so hard to ensure her children were good mannered and well behaved but her daughter was now spoiling everything. She could not help but wonder how Usha and Meena would react if they came to know of this, not to mention the elders in the family who are always scrutinizing the youngsters.

“But, Amma, this is what I want to do. I do not care if you don’t like it”, Lakshmi replied weakly to her mom with no inkling of the lack of care she was talking about. Janaki noticed it without realizing it and raised her voice, like a good mother whose sole purpose was to discipline her children.

“What did you just say? Wait till Appa comes home. You won’t listen to me if I talk softly to you. If you want Appa to find out and scold you, so be it, “ Janaki warned her daughter, “You  should know that Appa has been trying so hard to be nice to you people but you take advantage of it. This is not good”. Janaki stopped talking but her eyes were still saying a lot of angry words. Suddenly, her face eased and she looked towards the door. Her son had just entered.

“Amma, I am so hungry. Cook something.”

“Just a second da kanna”. Janaki had started running into the kitchen before she even finished saying it, with Lakshmi at her heels. “Amma, if he asks, you allow everything. He comes home and tells you that he loves a Christian lady and you accept it immediately. But, you stop me from doing what I want. Imagine what will happen if Reena’s parents were like you. What will you do then?”

“I don’t know, pa. It’s between you and your dad. I am not going to interfere”, Janaki said as Ramesh entered the kitchen, still wearing his shoes. “Dei, remove your shoes. The Pooja room is here. Have some respect.”

“Yeah. Today he will wear shoes inside kitchen. Tomorrow he will eat non-vegetarian, remove his poonal and convert to Christianity”, Lakshmi frowned at her mother. She was not even looking at Ramesh when she said this, who stared at her curiously and mouthed, “What?” when she looked up. Lakshmi shook her head from side to side, smiling, and pointed to the bags in the living room.

“What did you just say? Dei Ramesh, will you do such things? I will kill you. Being born as a Brahmin is a privilege. You cannot just throw such things away”, Janaki was fuming at Ramesh, who shrugged and said, “Amma, Don’t try to impose your rules on me. In this age, everyone has stopped respecting Brahmins. What privilege is there? We do not even get good seats in college. Just stop talking about stuff like religion, caste, women should be this, that and all. If Lakshmi loves a muslim, she should be allowed to marry him. It is her right.”

“I will kill the two of you. Po da. Go and sit in the hall. I will get your food. Do not talk like you know everything. Learn to respect the elders”, said Janaki. Ramesh did not budge. He continued to argue back. Lakshmi opened her mouth to join him but fell silent at his look. “Amma, look, you are saying all this because you are worried you will be blamed for your children’s flaws. But then, these are not flaws. Definitely not in today’s world. You taught us to be free and do what we want to do. Why would you want to change it now? Both she and I have equal rights. We can do anything we — ”

“What are you going to do?”, came a calm and firm voice from the next room. Ramesh fell silent instantly. His father had arrived and he was suddenly afraid but he knew he was not saying anything disrespectful, so he continued, as his dad walked in to the kitchen, “I was just telling mom that both Lakshmi and I are free to do whatever we want to do”.

“OK, do what you want to do. But do not expect me to agree with whatever you do. You youngsters rush into all decisions, get into problems and then come back to us, crying. Why should we agree with your decisions if we know it is wrong? By the way, why are you guys discussing this now?”

“Nothing na, you go wash up and come. I am making pakoda”, said Janaki trying to delay the worst. Sriram clearly had not recognized the fear in her voice because he replied, “Pakoda? Great. I am coming”. Janaki patted his hand away and motioned him towards the washroom. Sriram walked away muttering something that sounded like “Neelambari”.

Fifteen minutes later, they were sitting in the hall, watching TV. Neeya Naana was playing and the topic was something to do with inter-caste marriages. The atmosphere in the room was a bit uncomfortable but Sriram broke the tension by saying, “Dei Ramesha, why don’t you go to such programmes? You do talk well.” Ramesh did not reply.

Sriram looked at them suspiciously and asked, “Janaki, what happened? Why are you guys scowling at each other?”

Janaki looked at Ramesh nervously before shaking her head but Ramesh said, “Mom has a problem if I want to convert. She thinks being born as a Brahmin is a boon. I refuse to accept such trash. If you two have a problem with my decisions, or Lakshmi’s  for that matter, I suggest you keep it to yourself”. 

So many things happened in that moment. Ramesh was holding the arm of his chair, slightly afraid of whatever he had just said to his father. Janaki looked from Ramesh to her husband and slowly walked towards Sriram. Lakshmi looked at all of them and disappeared from the room. No one but Ramesh noticed her. Janaki started scolding Ramesh.

“Dei you have no right to talk to Appa like that. He has worked so hard to get you whatever you want and is this how you repay him? Learn to behave like a good son. Do not spoil the name of your parents. Look at Anand. He is such a good boy, accepting the girl who his parents found. You searched one for your own satisfaction. You did not even think about us. Did we not accept that? Now at least show us some respect.”

Sriram patted her arm and said, “You keep quiet, Lakshmi. Dei Ramesh, you do whatever you want. I knew right from your high school days that you were going to become a disrespectful son. I do not care. But if you start talking about conversion and such things, I will chase you out of the house. I have given you everything you want without your asking me. Remember that. Do not say we are wrong, idiot”. Ramesh expressed his anger by furiously switching channels, but only one word came out of his mouth.

“OK”

Just then, Lakshmi walked into the room carrying in her hand, two plastic covers that read ‘GLOBUS’. She had changed into a slightly brownish tee shirt which was too tight and came barely down to her navel. She was wearing three-fourths made of something too flimsy. Ramesh thought it was more like a body suit than a pair of pants, but all the same he thought she looked stunning in them. He smiled at her but she was not looking at him.

“Appa, how is this? I know it is too modern but all my friends bought such clothes. I bought three sets. Do you like it? Amma said she did not like it but I told her I only care about what you think”, said Lakshmi in a tone that was so obviously fake. Everyone in the room knew it but they were all too keen on the problem with Ramesh.

Despite this being what he wanted, what he had planned everything for, Ramesh was shocked when his father said, “You look super di kannamma. All the guys are going to look at my girl only” and made her sit on his lap. Lakshmi obliged cheerfully, hugging her dad. Janaki playfully touched Lakshmi’s head. Neither Janaki nor Sriram noticed either Ramesh’s thumbs-up or Lakshmi’s wink. Suddenly, the commentator roared on TV, “Straight down the ground..”

Sriram let go of his daughter and asked, “Dei Ramesha, Sachin how much? No internet at work today.”

Bridesmaid

There were people on both sides of her. Indra walked down the aisle, fully aware she may never get to do the walk in her life.  She did not really care anymore. She was not resigned to her fate but was simply accepting the reality of her being. But may be things will change, she sometimes hoped. Being a bridesmaid can cause strange desires.

"Now, now, there is no need to be nervous, Geetha", she assured her friend as she walked next to her. Love marriages are funny, she thought to herself. Having gone through worse than walking down the aisle, Geetha was expected to have become tough but no, she still was nervous about her wedding. Indra could not fully understand why Geetha was so nervous instead of positively beaming with joy, and then she told herself the age old excuse of not being girly enough to understand these things.

Indra was lucky to have great parents. Parents, who she knew would readily agree were she to fall in love with a guy, or a girl for that matter. But despite her very obvious attractiveness, curvaceous features and charming face, she was never asked out. Indra used to feel left out once in her life. But having grown up in a society like hers had matured her enough to not worry about sour grapes. Putting aside her momentary grievances, she reassuringly pressed Geetha’s hand and felt her own hand being squeezed. She smiled to herself.

Nine minutes later, Geetha was kissing John, happily married. It all seemed to happen too quickly. Indra did not exactly know what made her cry but she knew she was very happy for Geetha, who had stuck with her through thick and thin. She could not help recalling that incident from her childhood when she met Geetha for the first time. She had no idea back then that they were going to be best friends.

Indra had just joined school. It was her first venture into the new world, alone, unprotected and unguided by her parents who had always told her what do to until then. The world can be cruel to a 4 year old by throwing the toughest of choices at her. Now, standing in front of the wall, staring at the two doors presenting a choice which she was afraid to make, Indra was biding her time, waiting for a miracle. No miracle happened. But Geetha did. She was walking past her when she stopped abruptly, turned and looked curiously at Indra. Then, without a word, she dragged her by the hand towards the door on the left. Somehow, that day, Indra’s life had been decided.

Now, today, she saw Geetha’s hands holding that of another person, a guy and she was sure that his life could only be better from that point on. As John dragged her through the applauding crowd, her long white wedding dress trailing behind her, Indra sighed deeply. She wanted to call out to her friend and hold her hand, one last time but could not bring herself to do it. She remembered Navneeth.

Navneeth, with his thin moustache and sweet voice, was the only person she Indra had fallen in love with. For a long time, she had believed it was Geetha she loved but the day she saw Navneeth sing, Indra had lost her heart to him. But the part of her that was not woman enough kept her from expressing her desires. Her love never really took flight but now, as she saw John and Geetha, Indra could not help wishing life could have been different. Indra could not help wishing she could have been less different.

She needed a place to be alone, to cry, to remember, to smile and to let go. Nobody was looking. She walked towards the restrooms and there, once again, after all these years, she encountered the choice. A choice that was forced upon her. A choice she wished she did not have to make. She felt alone. She hated that she was different. She did not like that she did. Tears welled up in her eyes as someone walked past her.

Indra felt that person stop and turn to her. She felt herself being dragged. Geetha was walking ahead of her, dragging her towards the door on the left, making it all easy once again.

"I figured you would need a hand", she said.