Making Melody Part 3


It was 3 o’clock ! About four hours since the music had stopped. The clanging of the school bell every three quarters of an hour gave a pretty good idea about when the school was likely to get over for the day.

The sound of the bell was now followed  by that of children getting ready to leave for the day- As squeals and shouts of young voices, filled the air, she closed the door to her flat and made her way downstairs towards the school.

Standing outside the school gates she watched the children coming out. She wondered if she should go inside the campus to look for him.

After about fifteen minutes she decided she would go inside. It was unlikely that she would get any worthwhile information about Madhav from the watchman at the gate.

“Excuse me sir, can you tell me the way to the school administrative office?” she asked the old watchman.

“ Go straight down and turn right. First room at the corner” he said waving her inside.

She walked down feeling rather conscious about herself. It had been ages since she had left school. Unlike other women of her age , she hadn’t rediscovered it as a mother yet.
Why, she hadn’t even discovered motherhood ….! She shook her head, bringing herself back to the present.

The administrative office was dotted with people- the staff, some teachers, parents and students. Padma stood outside wondering how she should go about asking her question. Mustering up some confidence she walked up to a woman seated behind a desk and said.

“Hi, I would like to admit my child in this school. Can I have a prospectus and an application form?”

“ Admissions for the new academic year start from next month. Please pay Rs 200 for the form and prospectus” she said depositing an envelope in front of Padma.

“Thank you” said Padma pulling out her wallet and taking out a Rs 500 note

As the woman was looking through her drawer for the change she asked casually. “ Do you have music classes for children here? My child is interested”

“Yes of course, we do. Madhav sir comes here twice a week to teach the children to play the flute” said the woman fishing out the change.

“Madhav…. Do you mean Madhav Menon ?” asked Padma carefully.

“Yes. Do you know him?” asked the woman looking at her .

“Oh .. a little bit! He was in my college. When did he start teaching music here ?” asked Padma

“I don’t remember. May be two to three years ago. I have been working here only for a year now” said the woman.

“Do you have his contact details?” she asked, her heart beating loudly.

“We do. But then we cannot give it out to anyone like that” said the woman.

Padma turned around to leave, trying to hide the disappointment on her face.

“Madam, please wait . You can leave your name and address here. I can pass it on to him if you wish” called out the woman, extending a small notepad towards her.

With shaking fingers, Padma wrote out her name and address. There was no telephone number yet that she could share.

As she started walking out from the room towards the gate she heard a young voice call out to her. It was a  boy, about twelve years old who had been standing outside the office overhearing her conversation.

“Aunty, I have Madhav Sir’s phone number?” he said.

Taking a notebook out of her bag she scribbled down the number. She smiled at the little fellow and thanked him.

“Aunty, Sir is a very nice person. He pays my school fees here” said the boy looking at her seriously.

She nodded. No one needed to tell her that. His passion to help less privileged people was almost the same as his passion for music.But he rarely spoke about it. Like everything else about him it was camouflaged behind his unorthodox exterior. A facet of himself that he revealed only to those who he considered close.

She had been one of those few who had seen and experienced that side to him. But sadly, it hadn’t given her the courage to follow her heart..

( From Shuddh  to Teevra  next )


Making Melody Part 2


Going to a co ed college had been a big step in Padma’s student life. But considering that it was the best college in the country, it was also a rare honor for her. No one in her family had ever been there.

Coming as she did from a traditional family, Padma stayed in the shadows of the college campus trying her best not to draw attention to herself in her cotton salwar kameeze. She came in and left the classroom and the campus quietly. Nobody noticed her and she was glad that it was that way. She couldn’t imagine what she would have done if a smart boy or girl on campus had tried to speak to her.

It was two weeks into college, one cloudy afternoon, as she was sitting unobtrusively by a window inside the library that her entire life changed!

She heard the most divine melody wafting upwards from the quadrangle below.

Someone was playing Raag Malhar on the flute! There was no mistaking it !

She tried to drag her attention back to the seventh edition of “Advanced level physics by Nelkon and Parker” lying open in front of her. But try as much as she could, her mind refused to focus. It was as though someone or something was trying to take it over.

She bent over from the window trying to see who it was. But the musician remained out of sight.

Her mind was in a turmoil. She felt someone was calling out to her desperately. She wanted to know who was playing something so divine.

She shut the book and put it back into the shelf and started running downstairs.

The quadrangle was empty. Under normal circumstances she would have avoided cutting across it and drawing attention to herself. . But this wasn’t normal. There was something supernatural that was calling out to her.

The dark cloud in the meanwhile, unfolded into shards of lightening. But the rolling thunder did nothing to drown the divine sound. She watched him mesmerized as the first drops of rain began to fall.

His eyes were closed as his lips and fingers worked magic on air columns. His shoulder length hair was flying in the wind!

Even after fifteen years, that was the image that came to her mind every time she thought about him.

She did not know how long she had stood around like that. It was only when he had stopped playing that she realized where she was.

“You are completely drenched ” he had said opening his eyes and looking at her for the first time.

She shivered. Not so much from the cold dampness of her clothes but from the heat of his gaze.

“Come here. It is dry “ he had said indicating a spot next to him.

She had gone there as though drawn by an invisible string.

“Hi I am Madhav. Are you a fresher?” He had asked.

“Yes” she had nodded.

And thus had begun the most unusual relationship !.

Padma Srinivasan- B.Sc First year Physics, nerd of the first order, with the confidence of an ant and Madhav Menon, B.A Final year English , mysterious , loner with the conversation ability of a rock became what could only be called the “Odd couple” on campus.

He waited for her outside the lab or the library while she stood in the corner watching him complete his practice session with the college band.

Sometimes he played for her under the Frangipani tree in the corner of the campus. He often walked her to her bus stop and once they had walked all the way together to the end of her street in complete silence.

People didn’t know what to make of the relationship.

“Be careful. He is a crazy fellow. He probably does weed” said one of the girls in her class.

But Padma did not care. She lived for those moments that they spent together

The Aroh has just begun)

Making Melody Part 1


Padma could hear it distinctly!!

The sound of the falling water from the shower or the traffic outside her balcony did little to drown it.

But then how could she forget it? This melody was etched in her memory since the first time she had heard it. How many years was it she wondered as she reached for the towel to dry herself.

Fifteen ? Sixteen?

She quickly emerged from the bathroom and rummaged through her suitcase to find some clean clothes to put on before tracing the source of the song.

It was only yesterday that she had moved into this flat. Her luggage was still to arrive. All that she had with her now were a couple of suitcases and a few cartons of books.

Putting on a pair of sweat pants and a T shirt she stepped outside into the balcony. There was no mistaking it! It was Hamsadhwani – her favorite Raag ! And there was no mistaking the instrument – the flute which had haunted her dreams for the last decade and a half!

And dared she hope it was those same lips and fingers that were affecting her senses like this?

Her ears and eyes sought the source. The song was coming out of the school building next door. She wanted to go there and find out if it was indeed him who was playing it.

But a saner part of her told her that it was  crazy  to just barge into a school building and ask who was the musician playing the flute. She wanted to ignore that sane part of herself. However she knew that was a battle she would lose. That part of her had always ruled her decisions.

That same “sane” self… which had always made her do the “right” things in her life- to focus on her books when she had wanted to sing, to stay indoors when she had wanted to dance in the rain, to keep her thoughts and emotions hidden behind an impassive face when she had wanted to let go and scream them out aloud!

“Has it all been worth it” she wondered as she made her way back inside the room.

To the world it probably seemed like it had but she knew that it hadn’t been that easy.

Doing the right thing was okay as long as you knew what was right for you. The problem with Padma had been that she had allowed everyone but herself to define what was “right” for her.Her parents had wanted her to pursue a career in science and so she had. She was a Ph.D in Physics from a reputed university. They had wanted her to take up teaching as a career as it supposedly enabled a very happy and peaceful married life for a woman. She had agreed.

Everyone was happy when she agreed to marry the successful Wall Street financial whiz selected by her family. It was within their community and in all aspects a “match made in heaven”

But making everyone happy had made Padma tiered. And the match was far from being made in heaven!! She shuddered as she thought about the hell that she had left behind.

The melody has ceased. The silence seemed deafening. She decided  she would go to the school a little later in the afternoon and find out!

She wanted to start doing what was right for her. Looking for Madhav seemed to be the best way to do it.

Madhav…… how was she so sure it was him?

But it had to be!! No other person could create magic out of a bamboo tube like that!

( Wait… listen to the complete “Sargam” )

Between now and forever

Arjun got down from the train and looked around. It was a small station in the middle of nowhere.
He looked at his watch – 5.00 AM! Almost an hour since the train had halted there. He wondered what the matter was. There were others like him – irritated co passengers from the train who were also pacing the platform.

“What seems to be the matter?” he asked a middle aged man standing outside the next coach.

“There has been a derailment up ahead. A goods train” said the man rubbing his eyes sleepily.
Arjun made his way to the station master’s room. There was no one there. He looked around for someone who could tell him how long they were going to be stranded here.

It was chill. His breath clouded mistily around him. He needed to drink something hot. The jacket he was wearing was meant for the AC inside his coach and not for a roofless railway platform in the middle of the ghat section in the South Western railway sector.

He headed for the sole tea stall, a few yards away.

The stall owner was doing brisk business as a crowd of passengers had already gathered around it. He was also giving out some informal updates on when the train was likely to start. “Not for another two hours. The emergency rescue team reached the derailment site only an hour ago. The area is a ghat section. Not easy” he said cheerfully as he passed around paper cups filled with hot steaming tea.

Arjun paid for his cup and turned around to walk towards a less crowded spot. The people around the stall were suffocating him. Balancing his cup in one hand, he tried to put his wallet back into the pocket of his jeans. Not easy.. some of the liquid split out!

“Ouch! Please be careful. You have spilt hot tea on my feet!” said a woman’s voice angrily. Words of apology quickly rose to Arjun’s lips and froze!

No ! It couldn’t be !

He walked a little further away and turned back to look at her. The morning light was creeping out of the horizon and enveloping the platform in a soft golden glow. And in that golden light, he saw the face that had etched itself in his memory.

She had changed. Her face was thinner and she had cut her hair short. But the same determined chin thrust out of her face!

How many years had it been her wondered.. Four? Five? Five he realized after he did the calculation in his head.

He watched her as she sipped the tea out of the cup, holding her palms cupped over the rim. An odd mannerism.. almost childish! He had commented about it the first time they had met.

He had not wanted to meet her. He did not believe in arranged marriages. But after thirty two years of waiting around for his dream girl to waft into his life, he had allowed his sister to bully him into meeting a “girl”.

He had been distinctly uncomfortable as he had sat around at a Bangalore coffee shop waiting for her. He had seen a photograph of hers. A rather ordinary looking girl, neither dark nor fair. A sharp nose and a chin that thrust itself forward. A face that would easily be lost in a crowd. But then neither was he a film star!

However everything changed the moment she walked towards him. She had a smile that dimmed the world around him. It enveloped him in a warmth that made him feel very special.

“Hi I am Riya” she had said extending her hand briskly as he had stood up uneasily. After the initial awkwardness he had settled down. She had done most of the talking while he had listened quietly, nodding his head at appropriate intervals. Her voice was like honey and her eyes danced as she spoke.

She worked for a NGO. She had easy air of confidence that came from knowing who she was. A rare quality, he had never observed in any other woman. She was dressed simply and wore minimal make up. He was thankful for that because, women who were all dressed up irritated him.

They had talked for a couple of hours. The liked the same books, the same kind of music and the same movies. Unlike other women who wanted to know about his “prospects” as an astrophysicist she did not ask him the inevitable question about why he was working in India or why he had no interest in going abroad.

He was almost certain that she was the girl for him. It was when he was about to ask her about meeting again and getting to know each other better that she asked him something startling.
“Arjun, I have a request. Please don’t say no” she had said gazing into his eyes.

He shook his head smiling. She probably had some views on dowry or the marriage ceremony. Or may be she wanted him to shave his beard. Whatever… he was ready to agree to anything that she was going to ask!

But what she did ask for, left him stunned!

“Can you please tell your sister that you are not interested in me? Say I am not fair enough, or I am very opinionated… whatever” She said pleadingly.

“But.. why? I really like you” he had stammered.

“Arjun, it is like this. I am involved in another relationship. He is married. We are waiting for him to get a divorce. If my parents get to know of it they will be very shocked! I have been trying to reject all the marriage proposals that they have been coming up with. But yours will be a difficult one to say no to . If you refuse on the other hand, I can buy some time at my end” she had confessed.

He had been in a fix. To say “yes “to her would be saying “no” to his hopes.

But yes, he had said. He had told his sister that he had found the girl “most uninteresting”. A lie that had haunted him through the past five years .

He stole a glance in her direction. She was standing outside the door to her carriage. He wondered if he should speak to her. Would she remember him? Was she married to that chap now? Was he on the train too?

To hell with it!! He decided he had nothing to lose. He wanted to speak to her.

“Riya” he said softly walking up to her.

“Hello.. Arjun isn’t it?” she said as a  smile suffused  her face.

There! She had remembered his name. It was a good omen.

“How are you?” He asked her.

“Good. And you? I hope you are married to a nice girl now” she said with a soft laugh.

“No …! Haven’t found anyone yet. What about you? Are you married?” he asked

Her face clouded over. Did he imagine it or did she  avoid looking at him.

“No Arjun. I have started my own NGO. It requires a lot of my time. I don’t think I can manage marriage and my work together. So I have chosen to stay unmarried” she said softly.

“What does your NGO do” he asked her.

“We work with Tribal communities along the Western Ghats on health and livelihood issues” she said, her eyes lighting up in the way that he remembered from his dreams.

“Let us sit under that tree there. You can tell me more about it” he said pointing to one end of the platform.

“Okay” She said walking along with him.

They spoke for two hours or may be more. Dawn gave way to morning. Packets of idli and vadas followed the cups of tea. They almost missed hearing the clanging of the bell at the station announcing the departure of the train. They just about made it to her coach as the engine hooted!

The coaches were not connected. His coach was further down. He wondered if he could make it as the train started pulling out of the station.

“Hey Arjun, get on this coach for now” she said pulling him inside.

For now.. yes certainly!

It was a long enough journey

Between now and forever, there were immense possibilities!

(This story is for my friend Anu. She complains that most of my stories have unhappy endings. )

The End

Image result for silhouette handsome gangstersHe was the most charming rogue ever! A combination of Rhett Butler and The Highwayman, he cared little for anything or anyone besides himself. Taller than the average man, he had thick curly hair, deep set eyes, a cleft chin and a dimple! Women were drawn to him like moths to a flame. The attraction being to the aura of danger that he exuded.

A man who lived life in shades of grey, he walked the tightrope between the legal and the illegal.

But he had not always been like that. An orphan from his childhood, he had had an Oliver Twist style of existence until he had decided to strike out on his own as an “Artful Dodger”. A life shrouded by crime in a crime ridden city, each one more serious than the previous , he had just about managed to remain out of the clutches of law. She wondered if there remained any traces of that young boy in this thirty five year old man? There had to be…. But how was she to find it? Was it too late now?

She sometimes regretted the role she had played in his transformation. May be, she could have avoided pushing him into those difficult situations? Each encounter however, had sharpened him and made him sexier , more attractive and irresistible.

But did he care for all those women who found him attractive? Though one could never accuse him of abuse, she knew for a fact that he cared two hoots for any woman except for ….

The girl sold flowers on the pavement. She went to college during the day and minded her mother’s flower business in the evenings. He had met her while waiting at a traffic signal for the lights to change.

She did not know if it had been right to introduce the two of them. But by then matters had gone out of her hand. They had met, fallen in love and the girl had become his vulnerability.

She felt very guilty every time she thought about the way she had extracted her  out of his life.

“The only ray of sunshine that had managed to penetrate this dark well of my life has now gone leaving me alone in the abyss.” he had sobbed .

She had wanted to reach out and comfort him. But he was beyond her now! His life seemed to be following its own trajectory. She was unable to rein him in. He plunged deeper into the dark world he lived in.

She felt helpless about the way things seemed to have taken shape. In all those  days that she had  lived with him, she had never imagined that he would turn into something like this. She wondered if they could retrace their journey so far.. May be some incidents could have been averted.

But she did not know if that was possible now. Where was the mischievous rogue? All she had now was a hardened man blinded by his own power. Where was this going to take him?

Was he going to plunge towards his end? After all certain things cannot be sustained forever.

Her eyes closed as she began to think about it.

It could not be suicide or murder. He was not weak. Accident it had to be…..!!

Her fingers shook as the scene unfolded in front of her. He was driving fast on the highway, his mind preoccupied with thoughts about his life. Did he regret anything? No, no.. he had lived life “King size” as they said in the advertisement. A sharp curve, a screeching of brakes, a car that turned turtle and hurtled down the cliff!
It was over…!

Image result for silhouette  of a woman writingShikha looked at the clock at the bottom corner of her computer screen. The time was 1.00 AM.

She felt drained. How was she  going to live her life now ? He had filled her mind and made her senses come alive like no one else!

A man like him was not easy to forget .. even if he had been her own creation

A Feast

Deepti looked at the kitchen counter in frustration!! It was in a coImage result for thiruvathirai kalimplete mess ! There was a measuring cup, a rice container, a chopping board and some badly chopped vegetables littering it. The mixer and the gas stove, only signs of some modernity in this ancient kitchen seemed to stand by gazing apologetically!

It had all seemed so romantic six months ago in New York when Kalyan had told her about having inherited an ancestral house in Chennai. Deepti , an architect, had fallen in love with it after she saw the photographs sent in by the relater who was managing it. She had nagged Kalyan about moving back to Chennai where she could restore the house so they could live there.

As second generation Indians living abroad neither of them had any real experience of India. To them it was a place they went to for holidays, However the idea did not seem unappealing. So many of their American friends were restoring old houses and moving into them. To them as a young couple it seemed exactly what they should do – get in touch with their roots and draw nourishment from that again.

But two weeks into “Shobha” and Deepti was not so sure if it was the right decision. The process of settling into an old uninhabited house was a challenge that they were still dealing with. For starters, she was unable to find any domestic help. No one was willing to work in a house which they felt was too old and difficult to clean. And then there were rumors about it being haunted. Neighbors said that they sometimes saw smoke coming out of the chimney.

After a week of waiting for someone to come and work, Deepti had decided to take matters into her own hands. There was a limit to this!! She had bought a broom and learnt to sweep. And two weeks of eating out of restaurants and take outs had made her decide yesterday that she would start cooking. She had gone to the market at Mylapore to buy vessels, a stove and a mixer. This morning she had gone back there for some vegetables. The plan was to surprise Kalyan with lunch!! He had said he would be meeting a business associate for lunch and would get something packed for her. But she had grandly announced to him that he should bring his associate home for lunch!! Considering that her culinary skills did not go beyond packaged , ready to cook foods he was not sure if it was wise. However she felt very confident after she had scoured the internet for some traditional Tam Brahm recipes.

Unfortunately, reading about cooking something and actually cooking it were not exactly the same! She looked at the sliver of white pumpkin and wondered how to  peel the skin without slicing off most of the pulp. The coconut was the next challenge. She had seen how the priests in the temples dashed it lightly against a stone to crack it open. But when she had tried it on the grinding stone in the back yard she had crushed her finger and had run inside crying. And there was this huge chunk of jaggery in front of her!! She was not sure why she had bought it. But it had seemed so enticing sitting on the shelf in the shop. She remembered all the “payasam” she had eaten as a child and had thought she might like to try it . And now she was stuck with two hard things that she could not break!

She felt that the neighbors must be laughing at her attempts and gossiping among themselves. As it is, the milk man gave her curious looks whenever she came downstairs in her pajamas to collect the milk.

The clock in the living room stuck ten! Only two hours more!!!
A delicious smell was wafting in from the neighbor’s kitchen. How she wished it were from her kitchen she thought as she attacked the yam with the knife. She struggled to get the knife through the vegetable. But the blade seemed to have got stuck somewhere in the middle. As she struggled with the blade she felt a sharp pain hit her hand.. she had sliced her palm instead of the vegetable! She let out a scream and ran to the tap in the wash area her eyes filling up with tears of self pity.

“What a fool I am ! How stupid of me to think I could manage this” she said aloud as she sobbed into the kitchen cloth.

“Now now don’t cry my child” said a kind voice.

Deepti started..! Who had spoken? Was her mind playing tricks on her now?

“ Put something on that wound. I would suggest ground turmeric but you only have turmeric power I think” said the voice again.
Deepti looked around her. The kitchen was empty except for her.

“Look here” said that voice . Deepti’s eyes followed it. There it was…. a silhouette of a form!

Was it a play of light she wondered. But no, the form was becoming clearer now. A translucent figure of an elderly lady!

“ I couldn’t bear to see you so unhappy” She said coming closer. Deepti moved back in fear.

“No, you don’t have to fear me. You are my great grand nephew’s wife. I am your Atta Pati” she said with a smile.

“What is your name?” asked Deepti trembling.

“ My name is Seetalakshmi but you can call me Lakshmi Pati” she said kindly.

“Kalyan’s great grand aunt. You mean you are a ghost?” asked Deepti doubtfully.

“Yes. I am an atma. I loved cooking so much that my entire life was spent inside this kitchen. So my soul is trapped here” she said by way of an explanation.

Deepti could see her clearly now. She was wearing a traditional nine yard sari. Her ears were glittering with diamond studs and both her nostrils too. Her silver hair was pulled back into a bun and on her forehead was a big red dot. But what was most attractive about her was the bright smile that lit up her face.

“ Tcha!! Is this the way to slice and chop vegetables ? ” she asked moving to the counter and looking at the mess.

“I have never cooked like this from scratch” said Deepti in a small voice

Image result for thiruvathirai kootu“But it is never too late to learn is it? After all you are young girl” said Lakshmi Pati as she started bustling around the kitchen taking out vessels.

“Did you know today is Thiruvartharai?. A celebration of Lord Shiva’s cosmic dance? It is a big festival in my husband’s place –Chidambaram”

Deepti stood back and watched as Pati removed an old aruvamanai from the loft and gave it to her to wash.

“Now get me some vessels filled with water so that we can put the cut vegetables into them” she said as she squatted down on the floor to slice the vegetables.

Deepti watched in fascination as the vegetables began to take on the shape and form that one saw in the curries.

Image result for thiruvathirai kali“We will make some Kali and Kootu today” said Lakshmi Pati as she finished up the chopping.

“Now measure out the rice into this vessel and roast it ” she instructed Deepti.

Deepti had no clue what roasting rice involved. So she stood next to the burner wondering what to do.

“Here, you stir the rice until it turns a golden brown. Make sure you don’t burn it ” said Pati as she went back to the vegetables, rinsing them in the wash area.

The roasting rice had a nice aroma.

“Ah that is enough. Now we have to grind it” said Pati.

Deepti plugged on the mixer and ground the rice feeling useful for the first time in the last half an hour.

“Aha, what a wonderful invention!!. Wish it had been there during my days” said Lakshmi Pati looking at the mixer in awe.

Feeling more confident, Deepti asked her “Pati you said your husband was from Chidambaram, have you been to the temple there”

“ I lived there for five years my dear. Our lives revolved around the temple. But unfortunately I had to come back to my brother’s house after that” she said her eyes misting over.

Pati, please why are you crying…? What happened?” asked Deepti trying to hold her hand.

“My inlaws sent me back because I could not bear a child. They said they did not want a barren daughter in law” she said wiping her eyes with the end of her sari pallu.

Image result for thiruvathirai kootu“ After coming here I tried to make myself useful to my brother’s family. My sister in law was constantly ill. So kitchen duties fell on me. And that is how I perfected my cooking” she said with a smile.
“Okay now come on. We can’t waste time chatting. Let us get the Kali made. We can do the Kootu after that” said Pati.

Deepti watched as Pati broke the coconut effortlessly and taught her to scrape it in the old scarper. The Jaggery seemed like child’s play in Pati’s hands. Deepti stood near the stove, slowly stirring the syrup.

“ We will need some ghee. And where are the cashews and cardamoms” asked Pati bustling around.

“I will run across and get it from the shop down the road” said Deepti going towards the front door

“Make sure you get cow’s ghee” called out Pati from the kitchen.

As Deepti was coming back she felt proud when a neighbor stopped and asked her “ Thiruvatirai kootu smells really good. You must give me the recipe”

Deepti nodded and went inside. The Kali was almost ready. The Kootu was simmering on the other burner. The copper vessels on the stove were gleaming.

“Ah there you are ..!. Now go to the back yard and cut some fresh plantain leaves for the lunch” said Pati.

Deepti could not believe her eyes when she laid the table. It looked like something out of an old illustrated historical novel. She looked at Pati with gratitude.

“Oh Pati, I don’t know how to thank you”.. she said in a voice filled with emotion.

“Don’t be silly. You do not thank a teacher. Cooking is just a skill. You have practice it enough to hone it. Since you are going to be here restoring our house and kitchen to its past glory isn’t it my duty to ensure that the food that is served here is close to what it used to be ? And before you think I will be doing all the cooking let me clarify, I am here only to teach and transfer the skill. It is more than a house that I want transferred to my descendents. What I would like to pass on is the tradition.” She said pinching Deepti’s cheek playfully.

A girl who had lost her mother very early in life, Deepti had never known her love. She realized now what she had missed.

“Now don’t stand here crying. Do you want to greet your husband and the guest looking tiered and sweaty? Go and change into something nice” she said pushing Deepti out of the kitchen.

“Tomorrow I will teach you to make Pavakkai Pitlai” called out Pati from inside the kitchen.

Lunch at 12.30 PM

Image result for thiruvathirai lunchKalyan was very nervous when he helped Mr. Ananthakrishnan out of the car. He had not realized that he had once been a resident in this area and had known his grand uncle. He had been full of memories about times spent here in the house with his friend. He wished he had persuaded Deepti to allow him to bring in food from some traditional Brahmin caterer. Much as he loved his wife he was not sure about her culinary abilities. He was tempted to go through the back door and warn his wife about the arrival of the visitor. He was sure there must have been some disaster out there.

But he need not have worried. The woman in the blue pattu sari with flowers in her hair who opened the door for them was his Deepti.

“Please come in” she said greeting Mr. Ananthakrishnan with folded palms.

“Aha..!! What a nice girl” he said nodding with approval as he took off his shoes.

“Please wash your hands, Lunch is ready” she said moving towards the dining room.

Kalyan was trying to desperately catch his wife’s eye. The table was set beautifully like something out of a culinary magazine.

“Psst where did you get the food from” he whispered to her as the guest went to wash his hands in the backyard.

“It was cooked here” she said with a wink.

Mr. Ananthakrishnan was impatient to start eating. AS he settled down on the chair and took his first mouthful his eyes closed in bliss.
“You know there was only one other person in this world who could make Kali and Kootu like this.” He remarked opening his eyes and looking at Deepti.

“Yes, I know.. Lakshmi Pati. This is her recipe” said Deepti with a smile.

Kalyan continued to stare at his wife puzzled. But she  seemed to be looking beyond her husband at the end of the room. And visible only to Deepti was an elderly lady in a nine yard sari  flashing  a smile brighter than the diamonds on her ears and nose!

( Though not much by way of  a cook or even a foodie,  I feel sad about the way traditional recipes are getting lost over generations. Kali and Kootu are my favorite dishes and bring to mind my childhood in my grandparent’s house. This is a tribute to that generation of women to whom cooking was a sacred duty)


The light from outside was blinding me!! I wanted to pull those windows shut against me. And more than anything was the sound of the child –screaming, crying and kicking up havoc. The baby is now four months old There never seemed to be silence in the house these days. It was either the child screaming or its mother speaking to it loudly in some crazy language.. She seems to have come to terms with living alone with me now.

Image result for images of Indian women cookingShe is in the kitchen now boiling milk. There is one more maid in the house these days. She comes in during the morning and leaves in the afternoon. Between the three women there seems to be a lot of chattering going on. One of them is sitting on the steps leading to the attic. I am shocked!!! No one had ever approached the attic without a sense of  fear in the old days.  They seem to take me so casually.

I want to make my might known! I decide to bang shut the door leading out of the kitchen area into the room where the child now lay.

She jumps as the door shuts with a bang.

“How did that happen I wonder” she asks the others.

“ I don’t think there was any wind. Why don’t you people put the stopper on the doors ..” she grumbled as she walked out to open the door.

I waited for her to reach the door. This was my moment! She tries to pull the door open but it refuses to budge. She braces her knee against one of the doors and tries to pull the other one. I laugh inwardly … It would take her more than that to pull an unyielding door open inside my four walls.

She calls out to the two others. All of them try to have a go at opening the door. They take turns and then pull at it together. The door knob comes out in their hand. I am hysterical with laughter. How were they going to open the door now without a knob?

The sleeping child wakes up hearing the noise and starts wailing. It causes her to panic. She starts banging on the door and pulling at it.

“Bring a crowbar from the store room downstairs.” she instructs one of the  maids. Neither of them want to go. They are scared of the dark rooms downstairs.

“Okay both of you go. I will wait here” she says angrily.

It is mid afternoon and the sun is beating down. Her face is bathed with perspiration. She continues trying to pull at the door with her hands. Her nail gets caught in the gap between the door and the frame and the finger starts bleeding. In sheer frustration she starts banging on the door.

The child is yelling loudly now.

The maids are here with the crow bar. She starts using it to pry open the door. With one knee braced against the door frame she uses all her strength to try and pull open the doors. Shoulders heaving she moves the crowbar and suddenly it opens with a bang as she falls sprawled on the floor. The maids run inside and pick up the wailing child.

As she takes the child from them she looks at my walls with sheer hatred. She raises her foot and starts stamping on the floor as though to injure me. I am amused. Did she really think that her stamping would have any effect on me ? The maids are trying to calm her down but she continues to stamp.

I begin shaking with laughter. But strangely the shaking continues, even when I stop laughing and  when she stops stamping.

“Did you feel something shake” she asks the other two women.

“No it was only your anger …” said the younger girl.

“No “ she says quietly.

I agree. It was not her stamping that had caused the shaking.

It starts again. This time more vigorous…!!

“Oh my God we are having an earthquake” she exclaims as she picks up the child and starts running downstairs. The women followed her screaming.

IImage result for images of earthquake damaged houses stand helpless. I do not know why I am shaking like this. It seems like there is some force that is trying to dislodge me from the depths of my foundation. The cracks on my walls deepen as they begin to bulge outwards.   I do not know what to do. I can hear parts of me breaking and falling.

So, this was an earthquake..!!! Did that mean my end was near? I refused to give up without a fight. My floors caved inwards but I held steady. I was not going to crumble and fall like a pile of rubble. The trees were now falling on me. I could hear the women scream and run about in the compound.

It was then that I made that decision. If I was going to die I was going to ensure that the humans who had planned for my destruction went down with me.

But rooted as I was to the ground I was no match for the mobile humans who had now moved far away from me. I could see them run towards the open playground on the other side of the road.

I got ready for death as each part of me began to be wrenched out piece by piece until I began to crumble downwards. The ground seemed to swallow me as I fell down into the same saline earth which had held me up for so many years.

I had lost the battle.

Even nature had turned against me…..!!!

Post script

The massive earthquake that had rocked the city was the front page story in every newspaper the next day.  Thankfully .Anita and her son were spared as also the two maids. Shyam who had rushed in from his assignment found them a week after his arrival , huddled together in a refugee camp. He sobbed with sheer relief.

When the aftershocks subsided and it was safe to travel, they moved to another city , far away from here. Shyam sold what was now a vacant plot of land to a construction company who wanted to put up earthquake resistant buildings in the city. There was no litigation regarding the land. You see, the other claimant to the property along with his family had perished in the terrible earthquake.

Today Anita is a very happy woman. She lives in the small house with wide windows and a tiny garden. Both the maids, live with her now. The younger one has  completed her school leaving exam as a private candidate and has enrolled for a vocational course. The older lady helps Anita bring up little Aditya who is now a happy toddler. Shyam has invested the money he has obtained from the sale of the land in a lucrative business . He does not want to ever leave his family alone –even for a single day!

( Concluded)


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