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Archive for January, 2008

Charu

It was 7.30 in the morning. Time to leave. She adjusted her lipstick, glanced around the house and after ensuring that it was as messy as she remembered it from last week, she locked the door. A short five minute walk later, she was at the MRT station.

A journey of an hour and a half awaited her. Not that it worried her or anything. Why, she didn’t even think twice about it. It was as much a part of her routine now as her ex-morning jugful of carrot-badam juice her mother lovingly fed her till she got married.

The train was crowded. She would have to practise her newly acquired talent of napping, standing. She dreamed of the delicious food at aunty’s place, waiting to be eaten. All cooked especially for her. She couldn’t wait. Walking from the bus stop to aunty’s house (aunty and uncle were visiting their son and daughter-in-law, actually) she was working up quite an appetite. No polite refusal of tea today, she told herself.

And sure enough the moment she stepped into aunty’s house the first thing aunty asked was if she wanted tea. And dosai (with thakkali chutney). After pretending to hesitate for just the right amount of time she nodded her head in the Indian yes-or-no way (that has much of the Western world confused- they need time to get used to it), which aunty correctly deciphered to mean yes. Breakfast in bed is highly overrated, she thought. She switched the TV on, to kalaicholai on Sun. Resting her head gently on the couch, she continued to listen to Gayatri’s rendition of kurai ondrum illai.

Aunty was vacuuming the house now. She dutifully folder her legs on her lap. Inikki chapathi and cauliflower curry for lunch di, you like it no, aunty wanted to know. Oh romba pidikume, Charu assured her. Eh pudhu cooling glasses ah? Enga vanginai? Romba cute ah iruku. Charu smiled. Sankar vaangi kuduthaar aunty. With a veeery good, aunty proceeded with her morning cleaning ritual. Today I want to learn how to make chapathi aunty, so pannumbodhu koopadrela, Charu stated in her most sincere tone. Cheche, you’ll learn with practice di. You do it at home. Ippodhan ingavandhirkiye, naa pannikudukaren onaku. Well, at least she had tried.

Post-lunch found her on the living room couch again, with aunty for company. She didn’t understand why uncle never hung around. He was either washing or drying or taking a walk to the grocery store to buy sugar or milk. Oh yeah, he did spend a significant part of the day following the sun around the house. Hangers (with his son’s T-shirts) in hand, he would first hang them from the living room window. The other three bedrooms took turns housing the clothes later in the afternoon. Paithiyam pidichirku uncleku, aunty wouldn’t fail to say every single day.

Aunty was saying something. She listened for a minute and started telling her about Sankar. Of how he wouldn’t buy a laptop and how she had to take a thirty minute bus-ride to the nearest internet parlour. Aunty clucked in sympathy. Then broke down. Charu was aghast. Had she said something wrong? Why was aunty crying like this, visichu visichu? She brought a glass of water and sat down next to her. Enna aachu aunty? What is bothering you? Aunty then told her of how uncle had resigned at the peak of his career. 8 lakhs pochudi, eight lakhs! En kashtatha nenachupaar, ellarkum avava kashtam. Charu felt better. Aunty was right of course. Everybody had their problems to deal with. She was worried about not having a laptop? What was that compared to loss of eight lakhs?

The two women talked in soothing voices to each other and felt better after kadak chai and thattai that aunty had bought from Grand Sweets. It was close to 4pm now. She would have to leave in another thirty minutes. Aunty naan kalambaren. Iru, iru. Naan rathriku samachachu. Pack pannitharen, eduthindupo. She did not refuse this time. It would be too late to start dinner prep after getting home. Besides Sankar preferred aunty’s cooking to hers. She said bye and left.

Meanwhile unbeknownst to her, trouble was brewing at aunty’s place. Aunty’s son Karthik and his wife Anusha had returned from work. Karthik checked the kitchen shelves as he always did when Charu visited the house, his mother close on his heels to stop him from doing it. He opened the big bakshanam cover. Just as he had suspected. One whole packet of milagu vazhakkai chips had gone missing. Trying to offset the volcano that would undoubtedly erupt, his mother drew his attention to the neatly laid stack of bajjis, knowing fully well that it would only deflect his anger for as long as the plate lasted. Evvalavu vaati solradhu, engaluku vanginduvandha bakshanam indha aathavitu pogokoodadhunu? Evalavu sonnalum onaku budhi varadhama?

Illada, paavamda ava. Romba homesickah iruka. Adhan kuduthen, his mother tried reasoning with him. Homesickam homesick! Nanna daily ingavandhu kottikara. TV pakara. Nee avala spoil panra! 

Apidlam solladhada. Ava appa enaku evalavu help panirkar theriyuma. Naa chinna vayasala irukumbodhu….

Ayyoo! Thiruppi andha kadhaiya aarambikadhe ma! Ungakka vaangikodutha green colour pavadai and pink colour chattaiya avappa Dubai lendhu kondu kuduthar. Adhukaga vazhkapoora avar ponnuku saapadu poda poriya? Adhuvum andha lazybones ku poi! Knowing better than to kindle her son’s anger, she offered to make him more bajjis. Tempers were soothed with food acting as the peacemaker, as usual.

She’s coming tomorow to learn how to make chapathi, da. She must be out of her mind!, thought Anusha. Else why would she possibly want to tempt her son’s ire, again?! Apdiya? Romba chamathu po. Little did his mother know what the next day would bring.

The next morning found everyone involved in the usual hustle-bustle of work day routine. Except for a significant change in theme. Karthik and Anusha had decided to skip work. Ennachu? Odambu seriliya?, asked the mother only slightly worried. Yeah. Rendu perukum romba tiredah iruku, so we’re going to take the day off, her son informed her. She was already speed dialing Charu’s number; too bad the girl didn’t have a mobile. It was 9am anyway, she would be here any minute.

In a last-minute attempt to pump manners, courtesy and general good behaviour into her 27 year old son, she pleaded with him to please chamatha iruda. Are you sure nee inikki office pogapordhillai? She noticed the wicked smile on her son’s usually grim face and knew she was going to have a long day ahead. She turned to Anusha for reassurance. Avanmela oru kanvechikodi, she hissed. But amma, avan chummairupana, Anusha teased. The bell rang. Charu was never late.

Anusha opened the door. And met a semi-frozen Charu’s eyes. Hi, how’re you? Come in, come in. Aunty aathla illiya, Charu wanted to know. I’m doing great, thanks for asking. Kitchenla iruka. Saying so Anusha closed the door and waited for the fun to begin. She turned around to see Charu stare wide-eyed at Karthik. Hi Charu, how’re you? I’m fine. Neenga office polaya. Oh illai, Anusha and I took the day off, we are not feeling very well. Whole day aathladhan, he clarified.

Vaa Charu, vaa. Tea kudikariya? Sure aunty. Anusha, bread toast panrailyo, Charukum venumanu kelu. Karthik had to butt in. Naa kekaren, he volunteered. Charu, would you like some toast? Sure. OK, come let me show you the toaster.

Karthik was on a roll. For every food item offered to her by his mother, he made it a point to let her know that it was simple enough for her to get it herself. At lunch time when he noticed Charu seated as usual in front of the TV, he went to his mother and checked that it was indeed to learn how to make a chapathi that had warranted her visit. So he went up to Charu and said Amma and Anusha are making chapathis for lunch. Heard you wanted to learn too, would you like to join them in the kitchen? Charu wasn’t expecting this. Oh right, sure. She went to the kitchen. Aunty smiled semi-apologetically and said I’ll make a few di, you watch and learn seriya? Saying so aunty and Anusha expertly rolled and baked a few. Turning to Charu aunty said, Onnuvena try panriyama? Charu readily agreed, explaining how she made roti-sabzi for lunch for Sankar to carry.

She should have thought twice before laying claim to that, ’cause the dough stubbornly stuck to the rolling pin, and she seemed cluless about how to proceed. Aunty tried explaining but realized it would be faster for her to do it herself. Soon lunch was served. As was the drama. There were several (easily avoidable) catastrophes. Like how aunty remarked how beautiful Charu was and turned to her son with Illiya da. When he said No, nichyama illa. I don’t think she’s beautiful at all. Or how aunty brought the topic of her high education. MBA, engaponalum velai kadaikum. And Karthik turned to Charu and said But I thought you discontinued after a year? Though Anusha squirmed in her chair at the discourtesy her husband was exhibiting, she knew better than to tell him off.

Unlike other days, Charu wanted to leave early. She would have to forego aunty’s packed dinner today (aunty didn’t ask, too). All that she wanted to do was leave the house. She would come back again, tomorrow. But not before calling in the morning.

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