Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Paul's gift

Paul was hurrying to meet Stella his elder sister in the hospital. His sister had some major surgery and was recovering. The young boy was attached to his sister but never liked the smell of a hospital .The family members took turn to be in the hospital. He was required to spend two hours in the evening till his mom relieved him. He brought a couple of times flowers for the vase by Stella's bed. The sight of colorful flowers made her happy. Paul would relate to her all the happenings in the school and about her pet dog that had turned quiet and morose after she came to hospital.
He had to pass through a general ward to reach Stella's cabin. There was a row of beds with all of them occupied by patients of different ailments in different stages. Some with tubes attached for drips or oxygen, some with heavy bandages on their raised legs, some moaning in pain and many weak and drowsy. The nurses were always seen busy tending to some patients. During visiting time the scene resembled of a market place with visitors milling around each bed.
Paul did not fail to notice every day only one bed bereft of visitors. A young girl of 13 years lay with her head raised by lifting the head of the bed in a reclined manner. The girl though wan and sickly in look was attractive. There was certain sadness in her eyes and looked lost and lonely. While Paul had an aversion for the sick ambience and rushed through the ward in a hurry, he used to linger at the girl's bed for a moment or more. One day to his surprise she smiled at him. Unsure of himself he smiled back at her and hastened to his sister's room. He parried his sister’s question when asked why he seemed happy.
The next day as he crossed the ward, he stopped at her bed and smiled. When she smiled back at him, he noticed a faint nod suggesting that he come near her. Paul went near and said “I am Paul.I come daily to visit my sister. I don't see anyone with you on any day"
"Sophia is my name. I have no one. You are my first visitor" she said and giggled. The two tiny dimples on her cheeks enhanced her charm.
"Don't worry, you will have one daily henceforth" he said laughingly."I must hurry. Will see you tomorrow"
It became a routine for him to spend a few minutes with her and regale her with happenings at the school. He never asked her about her personal details after she said she was from an orphanage. But this not dampen his warmth for her, rather he spent more time with her impelling his sister to ask why he was late of late.
It was a Thursday and it was more than a fortnight since he bought flowers for the vase in the cabin. He bought a bunch of tulips in pink, yellow and blue on the way to hospital from his pocket money. As he stopped by the side of girl, she smiled and cast a surprised look at the flowers though she did not ask him anything about it. It was on an impulse that Paul thrust the bunch of flowers in her hands.
"Is it a Valentine gift on Valentine day?”she asked.” I am so happy as it is my first gift in my life. I am sorry I have nothing to give you except a warm  handshake" she said
"Frankly I didn't know that today is special. But I am happy that I could be your Valentine and hope to be so always" he said and warmly shook her hands. Sophia gently wiped the tears of joy from her eyes. She was no longer a lonely soul and her eyes sparkled.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Whose kitchen?

Meenakshi, Meena in short, nearing 70 still has in her face unmistakable traces of her beauty of her younger days. Gifted with a very fair complexion and a permanent smile in her eyes, she radiated warmth and cheer. Though her hair had turned silver gray, the body bent with age and her legs pained a lot, she was active. God has his inscrutable ways. He gave her the beauty and the good nature but found it fit to snatch her husband while she was in her twenties. She had her aged mother to take care of. But the mother too soon departed to her heavenly abode unable to bear the misery of her only daughter. With no education or wealth to fall back, she was taken under the kind shelter of an elderly and well to do cousin of her dad, Cheema as he was known. A kindly man, he asked his wife to take care of her as one of their family. It was a big family with many members including children.
Cheema’s wife Lalitha did not take kindly right from the beginning to Meena coming but her husband overruled her. A stodgy woman with plain looks and overbearing nature she was not comfortable with a beautiful young woman staying with them. Her sons were a few years older and married. Without revealing her dislike openly, she started harassing the poor destitute in myriad ways. There was a cook working for the family for long years and she picked an unnecessary quarrel with her and sent her away. Lalitha told her husband that she and Meena would manage without difficullty.But actually the entire burden fell on Meena with Lalitha just overseeing and finding fault. The poor thing slaved from early morning to late in the night without a frown in her face.Cheema knew the situation and suggested they find someone to help Meena in the chores. Lalitha taunted him for his excessive concern for Meena and asked him to leave things to her that are in her domain.Lalitha ensured that she alone served the food for her husband. Meena took care not to come in the presence of Cheema uncle or speak to him unless spoken to. Cheema’s sons and daughters pitied with Meena but were afraid of their mother’s foul mouth.
Years rolled by and the girls in the house got married and went abroad. Out of three sons two left for US while the youngest Siva continued to live with parents. He was employed in a multinational company in a good position. His wife Rachna with a doctorate in economics was in a private bank.An extremely good natured lady she was aware of the bad treatment meted out to Meena. Whenever she went to buy dresses for herself and her daughter, she never forgot to get Meena some nice cotton saris. On one occasion as she was giving a packet to Meena, Lalitha was irked and commented “Rachna, I know when to buy saris for Meena. You don’t have to buy and start a new practice”
“Amma, I think it is best for you not to interfere in what I do. Gifting someone known and dear to me is my prerogative. I don’t need your approval” Rachna replied brusquely
Taken aback, Lalitha kept quiet and screamed at Meena “.Don’t be standing here. Go and soak one litre of rice and half litre of urad dhal to prepare batter.”
“She will go after I have finished with her. Meena mami, let us go to my room”. This infuriated Lalitha all the more and she stomped out in anger.
On a Saturday, Rachna came to the kitchen and said “Mami, I have seen you having pain in the back since yesterday. You could not even walk. I intend to give you total rest for two days. I want to cook. What was the menu you were contemplating? Do not think I cannot cook. My mom had taught me everything”
“No, no please. I don’t need any rest, Rachna. I am fine. Let me do.Mami will get furious. Please allow me to do my job” Meena pleaded
“I am not inhuman watching you struggling. I will do the cooking come may what. Leave it to me tackle”Rachna said.Meena’s eyes became moist at her concern and compassion.
Lalitha over hearing the conversation barged in and asked “What is the insinuation? Who is inhuman? You can be direct in your accusation. This is my kitchen. I don’t want you to meddle. You will pamper her and spoil the smooth routine in these two days and go to office thereafter.Meena will cook” thundered Lalitha
“No, I have no intention to go. I will take voluntary retirement and will be at home henceforth. We two will take charge of the chores. I have as much right to the kitchen as you have”
Lalitha screamed calling “Siva, come here for a moment with your father. I want this matter to be set right here and now”
Siva and Cheema rushed hearing her shouting and asked “What is the matter? Why are you disturbing us?”
“Your wife is spoiling the discipline in the house. She says she will cook and let that Meena take rest and that I am inhuman and torturing her. When I asked how long you can cook with your office work, she says she will take voluntary retirement. She threatens that the kitchen is hers and that I keep out of it” wailed Lalitha
Rachna turned towards her husband and said “Meena mami has acute back pain and suffering since a few days. She is in no condition to work. I will not allow it under any circumstances. I offered to cook and your mom is objecting and tells it is her kitchen”
“Rachna, what is all this unseemly scene? Take mami to a doctor. Let her take complete rest. These two days you can cook. I know my mom would not object” Siva said
“Why are you standing like a pillar? Your daughter in law is defying me and Siva shamelessly supporting her. Am I a door mat to be trampled by all and sundry? That wily Meena is setting one against the other” Lalitha shouted at Cheema
“Daddy, I am taking voluntary retirement unless we employ a help for mami. She is no position to work whole day. I have made my position clear”
“Amma, I agree with Rachna.Mami needs rest. There is no financial constraint to employ a help. If this not acceptable we are leaving with mami to a separate house. Make your choice” said Siva
“Lalitha, gracefully retire from household burden and spend your time profitably. Leave everything to Rachna. She is smart and can manage well. This is my wish and I am sure you will listen to me” said Cheema.
Lalitha realized everyone was against her and Siva and Rachna were determined. She quietly took the bunch of keys hanging at her hip and gave it to Rachna. Siva hugged his mom and said “Sweet mummy. Do not be afraid. You are still in total charge but learn to let go as you age”
There was a loud laughter and Meena quietly went towards kitchen followed by Rachna.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The missing egg

Raju's house was close to the maidan abutting the market. An eight year old boy, he heard the beats of a drum and ran out to see where the sound came from. A lean and lanky man was setting up in the ground a tripod with bamboo poles and a woman, presumably his wife, was playing on the drum loudly and at great speed to attract attention. There was a young girl in colorful dress and a monkey with a cap on its head held in tight leash by her. There were assorted things near the tripod, a couple of steel rings, black cloth, a skull, a mud flower pot and a few other things that Raju could not decipher. People started coming one by one and stood there forming a large circle
The magic show did not start waiting for the crowd to swell. Meanwhile the girl danced with the monkey aping her with its own dance movements sending the watching crowd into splits. The monkey did some acrobatic tricks including jumping through a burning ring. Raju was sitting in the front row watching with keen interest the tricks. With enough crowd assembled, the magician got into a ring that was hardly a foot in diameter and extricated himself with great difficulty and dexterity. He planted a mango seed in the mud inside the flower pot and covered it with a basket promising to show a mango plant with mango fruit a little while later.
He called a short man from the crowd and hypnotized him after making him lie down on the ground. He covered the man’s face with a red cloth and asked the man to tell whatever he was indicating. He touched a bald man's head and asked what it was and the short guy correctly said "vazhukkai Thalai"(bald head).He touched a police man's shirt and asked who he was. The short guy said a policeman. The magician held a woman's hand and asked whether the man is wearing white shirt or blue one. Flash came the correct reply that it is a woman in green sari to the great merriment and applause of the crowd.
The magician lifted the basket that covered the flower pot and lo there was a tiny mango plant with a small mango hanging. The crowd clapped its hands in utter disbelief. The magician called any one from the crowd who would volunteer to be part of magic. Raju who always wanted to be the cynosure of all eyes  stood up and lifted his hand. The man led him near the tripod. Meanwhile the girl and the monkey in tow with a tin container in hand went around collecting the coins and notes that the onlookers offered.
The woman beat the drum with gusto for a minute or two. The magician announced that the boy will soon lay eggs to the great amusement of the crowd and embarrassment of Raju. He wished to return to the crowd but was shy of backing out. The magician lifted his bare hands for the crowd to see and patted the shorts of Raju to show there was nothing inside. He uttered some mumbo jumbo as he walked around Raju to the great anticipation of the onlookers. He then passed his hands on the back of the boy and lingered at his bum for a few seconds more as if he was pulling out something. When he opened his hands there was an egg! The crowd broke into raptures as they witnessed Raju with a shy smile on his face. In deference to the wishes of the crowd he retrieved another egg and said that he was not taking out the third egg. Raju started crying pleading with him to remove it too but the magician smilingly refused. Meanwhile the girl and the monkey had completed the round collecting the money. The crowd slowly dispersed. Raju lingered longer and the magician told him to go home and not to worry. Raju was not convinced and was still sobbing.
When he returned home later, he narrated the events to his mom and asked her to feel his stomach and bum for any egg. She laughed hysterically after passing her hand and said how gullible he was in believing such nonsense. She said it was all some illusion created by the magician turning the attention of the crowd to something else. But he was not convinced.
Raju wished to make sure and went into the toilet. As he sat on the WC, he heard a plop sound. Anxiously he looked down and found a white egg floating. He screamed for his mom who came rushing that something was amiss. He said “Look here. I told you but you didn’t believe me. It is there See the egg. "  She looked into WC and said "You are imagining. There is no egg .Do not go to such magic shows and offer yourself. Go to the dining table and drink the drinking chocolate. It is getting cold."
Raju stood confused when he saw no egg this time in the WC but ran his hands over his tummy.