Thursday, December 26, 2019

Happy Birthday

Doraiswamy asked his son Raghu for the fourth time when was Independence day.
” Appa, it is tomorrow. I have told you three times already. You are forgetting. Why do you want to know?” asked his son with some irritability.
Doraiswamy wanted to keep the purpose a surprise and said, “Just wished to know. No specific reason.”
Raghu looked at him quizzically and went to his room to get ready for office. “Sumathi, appa looks tired. Take care of him,” he said before leaving. He was worried that his dad was forgetful more and more of late and repeated the same questions
It was around 11 am when Sumathi came to her father-in-law and said,” Appa, my friend rang up to say her mother fell down in bathroom and broke her hip bone. She is admitted in the nearby hospital. I will see her and return within an hour or so. please do not go out. I will be back very soon.”
“Do not worry. Take your own time. There is no hurry,” the old man replied.
After she left, he took the small paper from his pocket to see it and added something in what was obviously a list. He wore a shirt and felt the pocket for the keys before he left for the shopping complex in the locality.
The first shop was to the bakery where he ordered a big eggless truffle cake and gave instructions on what is to be written on it, He also added to the order a dozen each of chocolate, snickers and vanilla cupcakes, paper plates, balloons, happy birthday banner to be hung on the hall, a crate of assorted soft drinks coke, sprite, mango and pineapple for delivery next day at 8am.He also asked for delivery of flower bouquet from the adjacent shop. Satisfied he took the paper to check he had not left out any. He rushed back to order paper tumblers and some festoons. He bought some small kachoris and jangris from a Rajasthani sweet shop.
He quietly returned home within an hour and hid the edibles from the Rajasthani shop inside his almirah. He found some urchins playing in the colony compound and asked them to come to his place at 10.30 am along with other children for the birthday party
He kept it a secret from his wife every year as he was always wont to spring a surprise on her. They were loving couple with each doting on the other. Their bond grew closer after his retirement. Each would feign sleep waiting for the other to sleep and often break into smile when they opened their eyes together. He drew a good pension and his son and daughter-in-law were affectionate. What more would one want, they would often say and be grateful to God for His grace. Sadly, she fell sick frequently for the last two years but the bond and affection only grew stronger than before.
The next day around 7 am Raghu and Sumathi well-dressed came to Doraiswamy and said, “Appa, there is independence day function arranged in our park. We will be back by 9.30 am. Take care,” before they left.
Promptly around 8 am, the bakery shop and the flower shop delivered the things ordered for. He asked two of the colony’s security men to help him in tying festoons, balloons and banner in his spacious bedroom. After they left, he arranged the cake and the other edibles on a table. He surveyed the scene and smiled happily at keeping things a total secret.
Raghu and Sumathi returned at 10.15 am. The whole home was fragrant with smell of sandalwood from joss sticks. Raghu looking confused looked at his father wearing a smug smile. Meanwhile Sumathi who had gone inside shouted, “Raghu, come to appa’s room and see for yourself what he has done.”
 He rushed in to see his mom’s photograph on the table with a bouquet placed in the front. The room was decorated with banner, balloons and festoons.
“Appa, what is all this? Are you in your senses?” he asked in a sad tone.
 “Raghu, don’t you remember it is your mother’s birthday today and she likes to be surprised and pampered. I have been doing it for years since you were born and you are asking as if it is something new to you.” He replied
As Raghu’s eyes became moist seeing the pitiable figure before him, he heard the loud knocks at the door. He saw a dozen beaming young boys and girls excitedly entering looking for their uncle. Doraiswamy came rushing to welcome them to his room. The children were puzzled to find no birthday person save a photograph on a table.
Doraiswamy asked the youngest child to light the candle and others to sing “Happy birthday to you” The children dutifully followed by loud clapping and laughter.
Raghu went near his father and put his arm around him and softly said with tears flowing from his eyes,” Appa, amma died a more than a year ago. You are living in a world of hallucination. Come out of it for your own good.’ Sumathi too came near the old man and held his hands with concern.
Doraiswamy did not seem to hear them but said with a gusto, “The children are waiting. Let us distribute the cakes, sweets and other snacks” He turned to them.” and said,” Enjoy to your hearts’ content. Grandma will be very happy.”
After the children left, he was reclining morose on his easy chair with a muddled look. Raghu was caressing him gently with concern, when his dad asked him, “Did you say, your mom passed away a year back. You never told me,” and then started weeping inconsolably.
"The best thing to hold onto in life is each other."

Sunday, December 22, 2019

An affair

The cash counter at Target was looking deserted with no line of customers at this part of the day. I had paid the bill and collected my things quickly and was slowly pushing the cart towards exit when I heard a voice from behind.
” Madam, can I have a word with you?”  I saw the counter assistant beckoning me. She was looking at me with concern just like my mom did when I did something she did not approve of.  The assistant at the counter could be a Mexican, less than 50 and did not seem very tall, as she craned her neck over the counter. Her face was familiar as I visit this branch frequently being close to my house.
Surprised I went near her and said, “Hi, how have you been? I hope the day is good.”
“Yes, thank you. Would you permit me to talk something personal of interest to you?”
“Why not?” wondering what personal thing she could tell me as my contact with her was nothing more than some pleasantries before paying the bill at the counter.
“Excuse me if I am wrong. I have been seeing you visiting this branch for the last one year or even less and sometimes along with your husband,” she said and added,” I have a daughter of your age working in another city close by.”
“You wished to tell me something personal. What is it about, Madam?” I prodded.
“Call me Linda. I am telling this only out of concern for you though it is none of my business to poke my nose. But I could not resist telling you as you look very much like my daughter,” she said.
“Cut out the preamble please. Tell me quickly what is it you wanted to tell me,” I said with some urgency
Linda pulled herself straight and said, “I have seen your husband many times along with you during your visits. But I saw him a week before coming with another young woman of about your age and I did not like the way she was behaving. That is why I decided to mention to you.”
“What is wrong if my husband comes with a colleague of his or wife of our neighbor? What is it that you did not like about her behavior?” I asked.
 “I agree with you it can be a colleague or someone from your community. But not in this case when a woman in public place cozying herself like a newlywed, always holding his hands or snuggling too close to him for comfort or jabbing his chest in mock anger and giggling all the time. But this guy happens to be your husband and I thought I should warn you as I have a liking for you for your polite and smiling ways of interacting with me always. Excuse me if you did not like my sharing with you what I saw. I was actually hesitant, “Linda spoke in an apologetic tone.
“Not at all. I appreciate your concern for me. I am married for the last two years and he has been very nice and affectionate to me. I can never associate him even in my dream with cheating on me. Since you say, you have seen him a week before with her and he was supposed to be busy at a conference in his office, I am confused. Can you describe her in detail? Is she an Indian? Did the man address her by any name?” I asked.
“Excuse me, will be right back in a couple of minutes” she said as she hurried to attend a customer who luckily had only one item to be billed. She came soon and said, “Sorry, they spoke in their native language and that too not much. She is brown, I am sure. Could be a Pakistani too. I was not also paying attention to their conversation. But, believe me, she is a beautiful woman, taller than you, putting on an appearance of coyness and had a captivating smile. Frankly, I must confide in you that I did not like her a wee bit.”
Some worry crept into me and suddenly an idea struck me.” Please note down my number. I am Vandana. The next time you see them here together, please give me a ring or send a message. I will be here within five minutes to catch them red handed. But I am hundred percent sure my man is not like that, “I told her.
Nevertheless, Linda seemed skeptical about my confidence when she said,” I hope to ring you soon. Mark my word.”
The whole night I could not sleep turning on the bed restlessly with some uneasiness. My husband was sleeping well snoring softly. His face was so innocent, I cursed myself for doubting him before dozing off to sleep.
The next morning when we were having coffee, I asked him gently, “Had you been to Target last week or so? The assistant at the counter told me, she saw you.”
“No, the last I went there was about three weeks back with you for buying some AA and AAA batteries and you had even remarked why I bought so many of them. Why do you ask?” he asked in surprise.
“Forget it. She was casually mentioning obviously mistaking someone else for you,” I replied.
It was Saturday morning a week later and my husband had gone to Super cuts, when I got a call from the Linda from Target. Could it be a ruse on the part of my husband to go to Target as it was adjacent to Super cuts, I suspected when I was on my way to Target.
When I reached the counter, Linda said in a whisper, “They are inside one of the aisles looking for something. She is in a colorful Indian dress and looks very nice. Please hide yourself on the chair over there. You can see me. When I see them coming to counter, I will signal you.”
After a long wait of 15 minutes, Linda winked at me. I remained where I was seated waiting for them to come to counter. When I saw the couple with the woman’s hand circling his hip and him placing the things on the counter for billing, I could hardly suppress my laughter. I closed the mouth and messaged hubby to come to Target immediately only to see him rushing in with a neatly cropped hair.
When we both went to the counter and stood by the side of couple, Linda was half confused and half baffled seeing the two men talking animatedly. I broke into laughter when Linda asked me who was my husband as they seemed to her completely alike like a photocopy. I explained the men are identical twins and my brother-in-law and his wife recently relocated to a town 30 miles away and must have visited Target on their way to our house. I assured her that to trained eyes, they are vastly different and I can identify my husband a mile away.
I requested both the brothers to stand side by side and requested Linda to spot six differences amid peals of laughter from my sister-in-law and the two brothers.
Linda threw up her hands and joined in our laughter.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Grandma's last wish

I read this story of mine by chance today and liked it very much.Most of you would have read this earlier and had a smile at the end.I have posted again for my new blogger friends and I am sure you would enjoy reading this again as I did.

My dad worked as a teacher in Town high school Kumbakonam. He had let his lands in the nearby village for tilling to the farmers who gave him a portion of the proceeds. We lived in a house in a street that ran parallel to one side of the school. That was my school too and my memory is still vivid of my scaling the short wall opposite my house instead of walking to the gate.
My maternal uncle’s house was next to ours. He lived with my grandmother, his wife and a daughter three years younger to me. I do not remember what my mama(uncle) did for living except that he went early to the big bazaar street daily to work in a shop and came home late doing some additional work in some other place. He had no landed property to fall back. They led a frugal life but never looked to us for any support. My dad sent them a few sacks of rice after harvest, but I suspect my mom ordered extra provisions each month and gave them to my aunt when mama was not there. She did not give the entire provisions at one time but in installments lest she refused in embarrassment. My dad knew it, I believe, though no word was spoken about it.
My mother went daily to see her mom in the afternoon while mama came occasionally to our place. Even on Sundays, he would be doing some errands for extra income.Bhooma, my mama’s daughter, who studied two classes lower to mine was a school topper and well known in the school for distinguishing herself in varied activities like sports, essay writing, debate and music competitions. I used to be jealous of her when she repeatedly appeared on the stage to receive cups and medals from the President of the school while I rarely went up the stage. She was popular among her friends and tended to dominate the group with her loud laughter and banter.
I was an introvert seeking comfort in the company of story books and mostly my patti (grandmother). She was very fond of me and relished telling me about various temples, lives of alwars and their hymns.
I still remember the day when Bhooma in my presence told my grandma, “Patti, you are making Sarangan an useless guy telling him, as if he is a child of five years, mythological stories and slokams. He can as well read them in Chanda Mama. He is not doing very well in studies. He is also shy, walking always  with his head bent and rarely talks to me in the school, let alone my friends.”
“Keep quiet, you silly girl. He is not loud mouthed like you but is quite intelligent. He can recite easily from memory entire Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam without faltering and knows many hymns of alwars. Be respectful to him as he is older to you by three years. He is a good boy and is naturally unwilling to talk to unknown girls..“Bhooma left in a huff jabbing her shoulder on her jaw in contempt.
”Ignore that brat, Saranga.I will tell her father to reprimand her. It is not good for a girl to be so egoistic and proud” consoled my patti as if I was hurt by her remark.
“It is Okay, patti.She told the truth only as I am shy by nature and also not a topper like her. She means good” I replied
“May be. When she gets married, she must learn to be respectful. Anyway I leave it in the hands of Lord Oppiliappan” I could surmise even at my young age patti’s secret desire that I should marry her and relieve mama of much expense towards marriage.(In our parts marrying maternal uncle’s daughter was very much in vogue)
I have never spoken to patti about Bhooma or what I thought of her. Though tall with lustrous hair falling up to hip, she had a bulbous nose with a shrill voice. Dominating and outspoken by nature, she did not endear herself to me though I held her in good esteem for her attainments in many fields. We often argued on petty matters and she ascribed this to my jealousy of her.
Years flew by and I had finished engineering and was working in a leading IT company at Pune.Bhooma had finished her graduation on scholarships and topped the university. She was selected in the campus by a reputed bank and was waiting for the offer letter. I had not visited home for nearly three years. Meanwhile there was a family function which my mom insisted that I should attend mainly for seeing my patti who was keeping indifferent health. She had grown old, very weak and was falling sick often. It seemed she expressed a keen desire to see me at the earliest.
The day I reached my home, my mom took me aside to the kitchen after the initial pleasantries, and told me”Saranga,I wish to share with you the piquant situation I am in before you meet your patti.She is not keeping well and doctor says that she may not live for long. She has been insisting that I promise her to have Bhooma married to you. I told her that this is a matter concerning you and that I cannot assure her anything without discussing with you. It is not that I have anything against Bhooma but feel both of you should warm up to the suggestion. Now that you are here, she may ask me again or even talk to you directly. I mentioned to your dad and he said this is something to be decided by you. What is in your mind?”
“Amma, frankly I have not thought about marriage at all and I am certain that Bhooma is not someone whom I would like to marry. Do not make any promise to patti. You can tell her the truth in plain words. If mama wants financial support for Bhooma’s marriage, I can pitch in some amount along with appa.I will certainly not marry her” I said
“I understand but remember patti is my mother and I cannot be as blunt as you are. Again you have not seen Bhooma recently in the last two years. She has changed a lot into a beautiful maiden and has turned very soft in speech. She has been selected for a nice job. You may even change your mind, if you see her. I am not trying to influence you. Anyway be prepared for patti’s query on this. I would not accompany you when you go to meet her” she replied.
When I went next morning to meet patti, the front door was ajar and she was alone. Mama as usual, had gone out and mami to a nearby temple.Bhooma was not to be seen. Patti sat up with difficulty and hugged me with affection and said” Saranga, I am extremely happy to see you and was really worried whether I would be alive to see you again. I have only one desire to be fulfilled before I shed this coil. I spoke to your mom but she is dodgy. I rely only on Lord Oppiliappan to open His eyes and your willingness to carry out my last wish.”
I grabbed the short pause as she was catching her breath and told her”Patti, I know your wish and I am sorry to tell you that I cannot fulfill it. If it is Bhooma’s marriage with me, let us not talk about it. If mama needs financial help, I can offer it to him. Sorry for being blunt. Please do not mistake me. I love you very much”
Her eyes became red with anger and she shouted “Who needs your financial help? Your mama is not a beggar to take it from you. Bhooma would earn enough for her marriage. I had lot of affection for and hope in you but never knew you were disrespectful to elders. I would not like to see your face again till my last breath. Please go away immediately from here.”
As I lingered and said “Patti, please listen. You cannot impose”, she cut me short with a scream  “Get lost now” and fell down on her side with her face turned away from me.
It was then I saw a shadow fall upon me and I found Bhooma entering the room from the hall. I could see her eyes moist.”Please leave her alone, Saranga.She is really sick and tension is the last thing she can have” she said softly. I knew she must have heard our conversation.
I could not believe my eyes how beautiful she had transformed in the last two or three years even as I stood transfixed before her.
”Saranga, please go away immediately. We cannot afford another hospital trip” she pleaded.
It was barely 30 minutes after I reached my home, we heard the front door being knocked repeatedly and loudly. It was Bhooma crying aloud that patti had breathed her last and her mom is yet to return from temple and that someone should send word to her dad. With utter disbelief and shock, we rushed to her house. Patti’s face looked as if she was under some pain and I knew who had caused it.
“Patti, please open your eyes for one last time. I wish to say that I would carry out your wish wholeheartedly. My disinclination to marry Bhooma stemmed from my inferiority complex as she always excelled me and my fear she may want a better person. I am sorry I displeased you at the fag end of your life. Please, will you open your eyes once? “I pleaded
Meanwhile a doctor was fetched by someone and after examination, he said “She had only fainted, may be due to weakness. Who said she had breathed her last? I have given her an injection. She should be okay soon. Please give her some warm beverage. There is nothing to worry”
From the corner of my eyes, I could trace a mischievous grin on Bhooma’s face and a much relieved amma. The tightness in Patti’s face seemed to have vanished. I could not resist the wicked thought whether Bhooma, patti and amma had in unison enacted this drama.