“Hi! Is it Geeta?” A distant voice asked
I wondered who it could be calling me up at this unearthly hour. Half awake, half asleep I was on the verge of giving the caller a piece of my mind.
“Hello, can you hear me,” the voice at the other end asked.
“Yes, well who are you?” I asked
The anger, the indifference in my tone was conveyed so I felt because the very next moment the tone was apologetic.
“I am really sorry, I did not realize it is night there in India,” the caller said. “Anyway I will call you up tomorrow.” Before I could say anything the call was disconnected.
Wide awake by now, I was curious as to who the caller was. No cue. I racked my brain trying to identify the voice but finally gave up and went off to sleep.
Next day 8.30 am
The phone rang incessantly. I ran from the kitchen but before I could pick it up the call was disconnected. I looked at the number. It was the mid- night caller. I went back to my job in the kitchen but with the phone well settled in the pocket of my dress.
Exactly 10 minutes into my roti making the phone rang once again. The same number flashed on the screen. I picked it up.
“Hi! Geeta, this is Tarun speaking.”
“Which Tarun?” The words left my mouth before I could hold them back. “Oh! Did I sound rude,” I asked myself aloud not realizing that the call was connected and the mobile kissing my ears.
“Oh no,” The voice at the other end said. “I don’t blame you for being cheeky. After all it’s more than forty five years since we last parted.” That had me curious. Ears cocked up I waited for the caller to speak further. He read my mind.
“Hey! Don’t you remember me? I am Tarun your erstwhile neighbor, the one who used to always pull your leg, Varun’s brother.” Ah! Now I remembered
“That thin wiry boy with golden hair?” I asked
“Oh! So you remember me?” He asked
“Of course, how can I forget you and Varun, two devils in human body?” I said
Now for a brief introduction–
Tarun was my neighbor of two years when I was just five. He was of the same age as me. His younger brother Varun was my sister’s age. The two ruffians gave me a tough time. But then as always it was my lil’ sis who protected me from their clutches. They dared not touch me when she was around. Her nails were sufficient to draw the blood out of their skin.
So here I was talking to Tarun the ruffian of yester-years, now a successful engineer in the States. After exchanging notes over the phone we disconnected promising each other to keep in touch. The roti and tawa were the victims of our long and excited blabber.
Throwing the remnants of the charred roti in the dustbin, I put the red hot tawa aside. I turned around to find mom by my side. The happiness and excitement on my face made her raise an eyebrow as if to ask me the reason for my sudden burst of excitement. I told her about Tarun. In the next half hour, the two of us relived those days when the Sharma’s were our neighbours.
Sharma Uncle was in the same office as my father. In fact he was my father’s subordinate, reason enough for Sharma Aunty to see red. Now Sharma Aunty was of the same age as my mother but except for that there was nothing similar between the two. She was on the heavier side while mom was slim and trim. Always sporting a scowl, she was the most unpopular lady in the locality. Her acid tongue and “I told you na,” attitude undid any virtue that she might have been blessed with. We children tried to keep out of her sight as far as possible. But I must admit here, that Sharma Aunty did have lovely eyes. Eyes that could keep you mesmerized. But the sad part was that those eyes were often on fire thereby forcing the beholder to cower. If only they were calm and serene, heads would turn I am sure.
“Mom,” I asked. “Do you remember how Tarun dropped that brick on my toe crushing it?”
“Sure, how can I forget that? You were so scared that Dad would take you to task for being careless, that you sat in the bathroom washing the wound for about half an hour. It was only after a lot of coaxing and cajoling that you were ready to face Dad and get the wound dressed.”
That incident reminded me of Sharma auntie’s reaction when mom confronted Tarun. She was red with anger, would not admit that Tarun could do any wrong until the cat was let out of the bag by none other than Varun and that too in front of mom. Hand raised she was about to give Varun a piece of her mind for having humiliated her in front of us. But then mom quickly took charge of the situation and asked us to take Varun away. She assured Aunty that she was not angry with Tarun but only wanted to know the reason for his misdemeanor. Matter settled, mom invited Aunt for a cup of tea which she willingly accepted.
There were many such khatta- meetha incidents in those two years we lived side by side. But as usual it was always mom who took care not to let the situation go out of hand. The able administrator, the simple soul in her got the better of Aunt’s temper and acid tongue. It is another thing that Sharma Aunty got along only with mom. The other neighbours looked the other way whenever she was around.
“Do you know mom what we used to call her?” I asked “Kanjus – makhichoose.”
Mom looked at me admonishingly. I laughed. Mom knew the reason for the pet name. Sharma aunty was a miser in every sense. But what put us children off was that she never fed her two devils proper resulting in their often siphoning off the delicacies mom placed in our lunch box .
“Mom, remember the day you met with an accident and Sharma aunty decided to have us in since you were in hospital?” I asked. She nodded.
“You know what happened. She served us only two small rotis for dinner. My, how hungry we were. Do you know what she said when we asked for an extra helping? ” Reminiscing the incident, Mom smiled.
“Chote` bachhe do roti se zyada nahein khate. Badhazmi ho jayegi (Small children should eat maximum two rotis only. If you eat more than that you will land up with an upset stomach).”
Mom laughed and said, “And you retorted, meri mummy kehti hai chote` baccho ko bhar peth khana chaheye. Tabhi to takat ayegi . (Small children should have stomach full. Only then will they be strong.).”
Letting out a loud laugh I said, “Not one to give up easily I told her your nuskha for badhazmi. You remember that lemon and sugar one.”
“Yes I remember that. Mummy kehti hai ki shakkar mein nimbu ras lene se badhazmi chalee jayegi. Takat na hone sei padhayee ka hee nuksan hoga. (Aunty, an upset stomach can be treated with a mixture of lemon juice and sugar. But lack of sufficient strength will lead to fatigue which in turn will have an adverse effect on studies).” Mom mimicked the child me.
“You should have seen Sharma Auntie’s face when I said that,”
Even till this day I remember the look she gave me. Stumped by a six year old, she had no words. She quickly got us to finish off dinner and retire for the night.
“But inspite of all her flaws, she was a kind soul,” I said. “You remember that year’s Diwali,” I asked mom
“Yes,” she said. “Your grandfather had expired and dad left for his funeral. Since you were having classes and train reservations were also not available, we stayed back. That day when the whole world was celebrating Diwali we were in mourning.”
“And you would not allow us to wear the new clothes you had stitched for us nor light diyas in front of the house,” I said
“And both of you were weeping because I would not let you do so.”
“Then Sharma Aunty came and convinced you to allow us wear the new frocks. She said it was a day of happiness and that our grandfather’s soul would be sad to see his tiny darlings sad and in tears. You finally agreed.”
“She dressed you up and then took the two of you to her house. That day the mother in her overtook the miser. She loaded the two of you with a lot of chocolates and sweets. That night I discovered another side of hers.”
Breakfast ready, the two of us sat together and ate in silence. It was only after the meal was over that I broke the news.
“Tarun is coming over to meet us in two weeks time. Sharma Aunty is also coming along. Tarun said she has been speaking of you only, since the past few days. It looks like her life has stopped there. She remembers only those days when we were all together in Kanpur. All the rest is erased.”
Is it a tear I see rolling down mom’s cheeks? I am not sure. But the very next moment mom was her old self excited with the impending visit. Planning started; she rushed me off to the study room to get a diary and pen.
Mom has been suffering from exhaustion since the past few weeks yet what I see here? She is infused with new energy. Sharma Auntie’s impending visit has recharged her sagging health. She once again seems to be her old self – energetic, enthusiastic and bubbly.
Two weeks later
Sharma Aunty came as promised, accompanied by Tarun. Mom rushed to the door to greet her with open arms. But what struck me as Aunt stepped into the hall was the change. Gone was that stout, plump, aggressive woman I knew. Here was a frail and smiling lady. Gone were the embers in the beautiful eyes. Calm and serene eyes met mine.
Roti – Indian bread made from stone ground whole meal flour, Tawa – Flat griddle made of metal,
Kanjoos- makhichoos – Miser, Khatta- meetha– Sweet n Sour
Do you love chocolates? Then let me just tell you, I had one just before I sat down to write this. Helped tickle my brain.
Inviting you to also visit my other blog i.e. CANVAS
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