I had some urgent work at my village near Kumbakonam and had to take a bus as ticket by train at short notice was not available. It was already 11.15pm and the bus scheduled to depart at 11 pm showed no signs of urgency. Some seats were still vacant. There were murmurs of impatience from passengers but there was no one to take note of them. The conductor was outside soliciting passengers and the driver was seen smoking at a distance.
A fat man hurriedly boarded the bus and sat by my side. The bus too commenced its journey soon after. It was a deluxe bus with ample leg space and a two-seater coach. I turned to look at the man who seemed my age with a bulging paunch. He was bald with silver hairs on his temple and had thick glasses. When he turned towards me, I smiled at him and said “You ran the risk of missing the bus had the bus started in time.”
He smiled back showing his pan stained teeth and said “Yes, I know.But I travel frequently and they start only after about 30 minutes unless the bus got full.“After a pause, he asked “How far are you travelling?”
“I am going to Kumbakonam.I will take a cab to a village nearby” I replied.
“If I am not inquisitive, can I know which village? I belong to that area and know all the nearby villages” he said.
“Not at all, Naduvakkarai, a small village, close to Ammachatiram.Have you been there? There is an old temple of Sri Rajagopalaswamy in the village” I replied.
“Do you live there? I travel frequently between Kumbakonam and Chennai and I have never seen you. From your dress and appearance, you do not seem to belong to the area” he said
“You are right in a way. I live in Delhi and have no reason to visit the place as I have no relatives there and the land and house have been sold long back. But I spent my younger days in the village and studied at Kumbakonam.It is decades since I came to these parts”
“Oh oh!.What brings you here now? Do not mistake me for asking this” he asked
“Not at all. I am going to meet an old friend of mine. We studied in school together, but lost contact with each other after I left for Delhi”
“Wow! How nice of you to go all the way to the village to meet a friend whom you have not met or been in touch for decades. You two must have been intimate friends” he said with a smile.”
“Not really. In fact he used to be a selfish fellow and often picked up quarrel with me on our way to school. I did not like him much. Anyway I am going to meet him for a specific purpose. I have only faint memory of his face as a young school boy. He must have changed in appearance over these long years and hopefully in his behavior too..”
“True, some age quickly while some retain youthful look for longer periods. It depends on varied circumstances. Anyway, the purpose of your visit must be an important one” he said obviously to ferret out more information.
I felt my co-passenger was an inquisitive fellow, but I did not mind conversing with him to while away the time.
“Yes, it is an important matter. I have a son in USA.He went to study and took up a job there. He fell in love with a lady who was junior in the university. I did not know this till I broached recently about his marriage. He confided their mutual love and their decision to get married preferably after a formal approval from parents. The girl’s father, I could connect from the details given by my son is my old friend. I hope to renew my friendship and get his endorsement for the alliance” I confided.
“Who is that gentleman in Naduvakkarai? I know most of the people in the village. What is your good name?” he asked
“I am Chellappa. My friend’s name is Rangabashyam. We called him Rangudu..Would you know him by any chance?” I asked eagerly.
“Do you know his father’s name?”
“Yes, Srinivasan. He was the trustee in the temple those days” I replied
“Is your father’s name Sampath?” he asked with urgency
“Yes,,how do you know?"I asked him with surprise
“My god! Chellappa, don’t you recognize me? I am the same selfish 'Rangudu' whom you did not like much” he said with loud laughter to my great embarrassment.
When I mumbled my regret in shame, he put his arm around me and said “It is okay. We were young boys then, petulant sometimes but with no malice. Forget about it. Let us rejoice now at the prospect of an alliance” in assuaging tone..