Full Circle ( Part 2)

The Birthday Dinner

Related imageChitra gazed at herself in the mirror. Yes, she did look nice in these black trousers and the bronze coloured  silk kurti. But she was not so sure that she wanted her hair left loose like that. And wasn’t her lipstick too bright? And ohwhy had Pammi insisted on so much of eye make up?

“Come on lets go.. ! We will lose our reservation otherwise” said Pammi walking into the room, her high heels clicking and her lovely brown hair swinging behind her like a model.

“Pammi, I am not sure that I should go out looking like this” said Chitra getting cold feet at the thought of being seen in public in her new “made over” self.

“ Don’t be silly.. you look gorgeous” said Pammi pulling her along.

Chitra picked up her handbag, only to have Pammi grab it from her.

“No you are not taking that huge thing with you. It looks like you are going to buy vegetables! Here take this” she said pulling out a smart clutch purse from the cupboard.

“But it is too small Pammi,  I can barely fit in my wallet into it.. and  look,  there is no room for my phone or my glasses” protested Chitra.

“Just put some cash and your credit card into it, forget your glasses and leave your phone behind. Anyways, who is going to call  you now? Both your husband and son have already wished you happy birthday in the morning” said Pammi

Chitra realized it was pointless arguing with her now. So she picked up the purse, straightened her shoulders and followed her friend out of the door.

When they reached the restaurant, Chitra found she need not have worried so much about her appearance because most of the others there were very young people who were dressed far more “outrageously” than she considered she and Pammi were.

Chitra picked up the menu and squinted through the fancy lettering. She was now convinced that Pammi had deliberately made her leave her glasses behind so she wouldn’t be able to read the menu and know how the price of everything.

Pammi seemed to have a different looking menu in her hand.

“What is that in you are holding?” asked Chitra

“ That is the drinks menu darling. I am ordering some alcohol for us” said Pammi laughing at Chitra’s horrified face.

“Two bloodymarys” said Pammi to the waiter.

Chitra was now seriously worried.  “What is this bloodymary thing?” she asked Pammi

“Vodka and tomato juice.. remember the geography lessons .. potatoes, Russia vodka ?” said Pammi with a wink.

The drinks had arrived and Pammi was now raising her glass and toasting “To you Chits.. my best friend”.

Chitra took a sip and screwed up her face in disgust..! “Don’t look like that my dear…you are not drinking some medicine” said Pammi taking a delicate sip out of her glass. Now it was Pammi’s face that became creased.

“See, what did I tell you…? You  don’t like it either!“ said Chitra triumphantly

“ I don’t like it because I think these cheats have put very little vodka into this. They must have thought that we are two middle aged  women and so we wouldn’t notice” said Pammi angrily picking up both their glasses and making her way to the bar.

Chitra could see her talking to the , bartender, directing him to put in all kinds of liquids into  two fresh glasses

“She is behaving like she is dealing with some chatwala at Lajpatnagar” thought Chitra with amusement.

Pammi was back now, carrying two glasses with contents that promised to be a more potent version of the earlier concoction.

“Cheers”! she said clinking her glass with Chitra’s.

“Definitely more potent” thought Chitra as she took a sip and then another. By the time she had taken the third sip, her head was beginning to feel lighter .

“Pammi you know, you should get married again” she said leaning across the table towards  her friend.

“ But who will marry a fifty one year old widow?” asked Pammi

“Wasn’t it you who said only this morning that  age is in the mind and not in the years? And anyways widowhood is no longer a stigma” said Chitra angrily

“Yes but I don’t know any man who would want to marry me” said Pammi

“ Why not? You are so beautiful and so kind hearted” said Chitra.

“But I am not as qualified as you are. Remember I never even finished college” said Pammi.

“ Don’t be silly!  Clearing a CA exam and doing up balance sheets does not make me more qualified. You are a successful business woman. Anyways a man at our age would be looking for a life partner not a business associate. And any fifty plus fart should count himself lucky if someone like you even looks his way”  Chitra angrily!

“ You want me to marry a fart?” asked Pammi with a grin

“ Idiot! You know I don’t mean that. It is probably this  drink speaking now! What I meant was, you are a beautiful woman who has always attracted men. Remember those boys from our teens? How many of them used to queue up for your attention” said Chitra, pushing away her near empty glass.

“But the boy I liked did not even look at me. He used to only talk to you” said Pammi sadly

“And who may I know was that?” asked Chitra, wondering seriously whether she was so drunk now that she was imagining this conversation with Pammi.

“ That boy who used to come for maths tuition at Archana Madam’s house near C R Park” said Pammi raising her voice a decibel higher.

“ Who..?  Oh that Bengali fellow  whose mother used to  drop and pick him up?” asked Chitra laughing loudly

“ Yes!” said Pammi

“Look you deserve someone better than that tongue tied fool… What was his name now? “ asked Chitra

“Aditya Chatterjee”  said Pammi gazing into her drink

“ Aditya.. yes!!! But his mother used to call him Babla” said Chitra giggling loudly

“Chitra, don’t laugh. I am hurt” said Pammi pretending to look sad before bursting out laughing.

People in the tables around them looked up  as they heard the loud laughter.

“Shhh! We are talking too loudly” said Chitra putting her finger to her lips

The live band was getting ready to play. Pammi walked up to them and whispered something into the ear of the lead singer who nodded before taking up the microphone and announcing

“ Good evening ladies and gentlemen, please join me in wishing Mrs Chitra Srinivsan a very happy birthday”

The waiters were wheeling in a cake on a trolley and Pammi was raising her glass in another toast as Chitra cut the cake. Her eyes were brimming with tears as she fed Pammi a slice.

Pammi was taking some selfies with her phone as the lead singer sang “Happy Birthday”

When the song got over Pammi went up to the singer and grabbed his mike making an announcement

“Ladies and Gentlement , I now request my friend  and birthday girl Chitra to sing for you. You know she sings Asha Bhonsle numbers as well as Ashaji herself. Come on Chits… !”

While a part of her was shocked and embarrassed at all the attention that Pammi was drawing towards them by making the announcement, another part of her was very excited. The excitement inducing part won the tussle of emotions  because Chitra  suddenly found herself swaying towards the stage and taking the mike from Pammi. The lead singer of the band was clearly unhappy as he prepared to give up his moment of fame to this unknown competitor.

“Ladies and Gentlemen I dedicate this song to Babla- my friend Pammi’s secret crush from our school days” announced Chitra . The audience was clapping loudly.

Bechara dil kya kare” sang Chitra clearly without any accompaniment. In her mind, she was back in  school participating in a talent show.

The lead singer was now seriously annoyed.

As Chitra finished the song, the audience went berserk giving her  a standing ovation! The poor singer  had to wait until people settled down again before he started belting out his rehearsed numbers.

“Chits you were wonderful” said Pammi giving her a hug

“ You know I felt like I was back in school once again” said Chitra returning the hug.

“Poor Babla! Wonder how he would have felt had he been here today” said Pammi laughing loudly.

“He would have pushed his specs back on his nose and gone back to solving calculus problems” said Chitra grinning.

“Well he used to look cute with those glasses” said Pammi defensively.

“If you say so…” said Chitra closing the discussion.

The dinner they had ordered  was ready to be served now. Chitra was not really hungry now because both the alchohol and the excitement had gone to her head. Pammi seemed like a veteran in comparison as she ate the full dinner and the cake despite all the drinking she had done.

“Finish your drink. Remember what our parents used to say? Don’t waste anything” said Pammi, pushing the glass towards her friend.

“ I don’t think I can finish this. I am going to ask them to pack it for me along with the cake” said Chitra

“Good  idea” agreed Pammi as she called for the bill.

When they finished paying him, the waiter brought them the packet with the left over cake. But he was very uneasy about the second item that these ladies wanted packed. He had never encountered such a request earlier. He went in and called the manager who realized that both the ladies were high as kites.

“We will have it sent over to your place” he said suavely as they thanked him and made their way to the parking lot.

As the cold October air outside hit them, Chitra’s head cleared a bit. She was glad that Pammi was not driving them home. But Pammi obviously did not realize that they needed to take a cab back because she was rummaging through her purse for her car keys dropping things from there on to the pavement.

“Pammi you silly girl, stop dropping all this stuff like this. We came by cab and were  planning to get back by cab” said Chitra as she bent down picking up the odds and ends that had fallen out of Pammi’s purse.

“Oh yes.. but I think I dropped my phone along with the rest of the things” said Pammi shaking her empty purse at Chitra.

“Where could it have fallen” wondered Chitra looking through the hedge around the pavement in the darkness, all the while trying to prevent Pammi from putting her hands through the shrubbery in that crazy manner.

God alone knew how they were going to get back home. She should have insisted on bringing her own phone.

Pammi was just getting ready to go back into the restaurant and ask if the management could call them a cab when they heard a voice behind them ask “Can I help you ladies?” A distinguished looking man with grey hair and  French beard stood behind them.

“Yes my phone has fallen somewhere here and I need it to call a cab so that we can get home” said Pammi.

“Okay give me your number, I will call from my phone and we can track your phone when it starts ringing” said the man.

Pammi rattled off her number as he keyed the digits in and hit the dial button on his phone. It was a relief to hear the familiar ringing sound and see the flashing light on the screen. Pammi pounced on it, picking it up from the bush.

“Thank you” she said looking at the man gratefully.

“Please wipe your phone. It is stained with mud” he said extending his handkerchief towards her.

“ If  you can now give me your address I will call you a cab” he said.

“ It is okay we will call a cab ourselves” said Chitra defensively.

“No ladies, my conscience will not rest in peace until I have put you both into a cab safely. Besides, if I book a cab from my phone I can also track your ride and make sure you are safe” he said with a smile.

“ Yes you are right” said Chitra as she gave him Pammi’s address.

It was minutes before the cab arrived.

“Thank you very much Mr…” said Pammi as they got into the cab

“Chatterjee… Dr Aditya Chaterjee” he said with a smile.as the cab drove away

“Aditya Chaterjee…. Pammi do you think….?” asked Chitra about five minutes later.

“ I can’t think anything now my dear… my head is spinning” said Pammi

As they got home and crashed into bed, Chitra could not resist peeking into Pammi’s phone and checking for missed calls and messages.

Her guess was right. There was a message from an unidentified number sent in a few minutes ago. Should she read it  she wondered ..? She decided to go ahead and read it anyway because the suspense would otherwise kill her sleep

“Pammi, If only you knew how much I wanted to talk to you those days. But I never had the confidence- Babla”.

Chitra was tempted to respond on Pammi’s behalf but decided that would be taking too much of liberty. She wanted Pammi to see the message in the morning when she was clear headed and respond. She lay down next to Pammi on the bed and gave her a hug.

It had been a memorable fiftieth birthday for Chitra!

Around the same time, somewhere not very far away at Vasantkunj, a fifty year old man was sitting on his balcony and looking at the sent items i folder on his phone, wondering if he had been too impulsive! But then over thinking everything had always been his problem ..

“Probably one of the reasons I am still single at fifty”  he said to himself  as he put his phone down.

 

 

 

 

 

Full Circle

Part 1

Re Connecting

Chitra was feeling very nervous at the way Pammi was pressing down on the accelerator. She checked her seat belt. Yes it was fastened securely. So no likelihood of dying if the car crashed into another vehicle!

“Stop being so nervous Chits… learnHand drawn two schoolgirls friends with backpack Vector sketch to enjoy the ride” said Pammi with a laugh!

Chitra looked at her friend in exasperation… Pammi hadn’t changed. She was still that careless teenager from school. Who would believe she was fifty. Okay, correction, Pammi was actually fifty one. It was she, Chitra who was fifty as of today. Pammi had been one class older than Chitra at school but given her general disinterest in studies had to repeat a year in the eighth standard and that was when they had met and become the best of friends.

This visit to Delhi had been something that Chitra had been looking forward to for some time now. As a chartered accountant who worked along with her husband in his firm, she rarely got an opportunity to travel out of Chennai where she lived now. Seenu, her husband, handled all the out of Chennai assignments while she was left to deal with the maama and maami accounts (as she referred to them privately)! And the maximum distance they had travelled for a holiday was to Ooty. Her Chennai born and bred husband was extremely nervous about going anywhere beyond the Deccan Plateau.

It was sheer providence therefore that had got her to deal with this assignment in Delhi all by herself. Seenu had to travel to Bangalore on some urgent work on the same date and since the Delhi assignment had been planned well in advance and couldn’t be cancelled, she Chitra Srinivsan had travelled all alone to the city of her childhood and youth! The three day business trip had been extended to five including the weekend.

That she would be staying with Pammi was a non-negotiable.  What with Pammi constantly hounding her on WhatsApp and Facebook there was no way that she could visit Delhi and not have Pammi know about it.

Not that she minded… She was actually loving it except for those times, when Pammi decided to get behind the wheel of her Maruti Wagon R and drive her best friend around Delhi. It was bad enough when she sped down Lodhi road like that but it seemed worse when she drove at a similar speed around the by lanes of Lajpat Nagar…

Pammi stopped at a traffic signal and lowered her window with one hand to buy something from a street vendor. Chitra’s nervousness surfaced once again….

“Chits look some Jamuns for you… You used to love them” said Pammi extending a paper bag filled with the dark purple fruit. Chitra felt overwhelmed!! Who would have thought that Pammi would remember these small things?

But remember she did. Every meal that she had eaten at Pammi’s house in the last few days had proved that. Pammi had taken care to cook all that she liked… She had taken her shopping around their old hang outs at Lajpat Nagar, Connaught Place and bought her gifts.

Pammi was so full of warmth and love… It was pity that she had no husband or children to lavish it upon. Her husband had died within the first few of their marriage and after that Pammi had moved back to her parents’ house. A natural entrepreneur, she had started a small business selling salwar suits which had now grown into a boutique in South Extension.

Chitra wondered how on earth they had become friends. She the nerdy, shy, nervous introvert South Indian and Pammi the carefree, gregarious, extrovert Sardarni!

But they had hit it off from day one! They had travelled to school together and back and sat next to each other in class. They did that for five years after which college and higher education took them their separate ways. But they still managed to meet on weekends until the academically non inclined Pammi dropped out of college after a couple of years and got married.

Chitra still remembered a beautiful Pammi dancing at her own wedding. She had seemed so happy .. Daljeet her husband was a businessman. It was clear he adored Pammi. To Chitra who had attended their wedding it had seemed like something out of a Mills and Boon romance.

Their lives had taken different directions after that. Chitra’s father had retired and their family had moved to Chennai where she got married. Delhi and Pammi for Chitra had by then had become a happy past as she began  dealing with a challenging present-  studying for her Chartered accountancy exams, coping with her in laws, helping her husband with his work and a couple of years later, bringing up her son Anand.

Address books and school albums with their teenage photographs got lost somewhere. The odd friendship between Chitra Venkateshwaran and Parminder Kaur had buried itself under the demands of day today life.

It had been Pammi who had reconnected with her. She had traced Chitra through a common friend and they had reconnected a few years ago. Chitra had been saddened to hear about Pammi’s loss but Pammi herself seemed to have come to terms with it and moved on in life. She had also lost her parents over the years and now lived alone in her parents’ house. Her two brothers had immigrated to Canada but she had decided to stay on in Delhi. A brave girl… life had toughened her but had kept her inner core soft thought Chitra her eyes welling up with emotion.

“Chits, don’t let those tears fall down your cheeks while eating the Jamuns. They will mingle with the purple colour and ruin your beautiful pink chikan sari” Pammi teased her with a grin.

Chitra pretended to punch her… And they started laughing!

“Tell me something. Why have you taken to wearing only saris” asked Pammi.

“Well, there was no option. After marriage, my in laws did not like me in salwar kurtas and Seenu did not have the guts to tell them to stop interfering in our lives” said Chitra.

“So I guess they will not approve of you in trousers either?” asked Pammi with a wink.

“Are you crazy!’ exclaimed Chitra looking shocked.

“No I am not. I was just thinking how nice you will look in trousers. You are still so slim and petite” said Pammi

“Okay, keep thinking. No harm in that “said Chitra crossly, looking out of the window

“Chits… don’t be an idiot! You are only fifty years old. Your hair thankfully is not very grey and is still long and beautiful. Why do you dress and behave like you are seventy?” asked Pammi

“Pammi, it is expected of me as a wife of a leading accountant in Chennai and mother of a twenty two year old boy to look and behave in this manner” said Chitra.

But the moment she said this she felt like biting off her tongue because she realized that Pammi neither had a child nor a husband.

“Sorry Pammi” she said.

“Not enough if you say sorry. You need to make amends” said Pammi winking at her.

“Amends”? Asked Chitra wondering what was coming up next.

“You must allow me to give you a makeover this evening and take you out for your birthday dinner” said Pammi laughing loudly

“Okay… but nothing drastic” said Chitra doubtfully

“Drastic or not is a matter of perception. And you, my dear are not going to look at this like some Aunty. Look at it like how you would if you were in school once again” said Pammi

Chitra laughed..! Alright, why not.

(Ater all it was her fiftieth birthday today! Golden Jubilee of her life on this planet.

“Give me a hi five” said Pammi letting go of the steering wheel for a moment

“Hey watch out” said Chitra laughing as clapped her hands with Pammi’s

Both of them were now excited about Chitra’s Birthday Dinner

( Readers please stay tuned and  join in the Birthday dinner in Part 2).