Thirty-three

I haven’t written for one full day almost and there’s alot to say about it. After watching our country spokesperson slay Pakistan with incredible mix of words and after working out on the internet surfing for what it takes to become a spokesperson at the UN so, someday even I could see myself appear on the headlines of an Indian express. And after my mom seemed to have finished with all the phone calls from her sisters, her newphes, her brothers and nieces for a while and after the sun went across East and drizzles touched down the land, I think I’m ready to go for another round of storytelling. I’ll pick the family politics this time. You might like it, you won’t?

The cute little white car that we had hired started it’s engine, with my dad in the front seat next to the driver boy while mom and I at the back. It drove past the Salethur junction, past the only church, deserted areas and newly built houses. Divided farms in lush green and passing streams under the bridge roads. With not many vehicles of all wheelers in the journey of about 11kms, we drove.
11kms covered and Vitla arrived. My dad’s face hadn’t changed it’s expression, it was still frowned. Reasons could be many. Could be because I turned deaf when he asked me to hurl a shwal over the kurtha I was wearing which I felt was stupid and that my dad needed some serious lessons on appropriate dressing. Or it was just his regular stomach upset issues that he would begin every early in the morning with. We stopped opposite the KSRTC bus stand that hadn’t begun to get crowded yet. Aunt Prema’s house had no road going to take vehicles directly to her gate. Only a very narrow trail just enough for the humans and creepers to pass through was all that was established. And not the broad roads that make way to the heavy vehicles down to your home. Her house was packed in the middle of mostly rooftops and one or two terrace like that of Aunt’s. So whenever she had visitors or guests, they’d drop their vehicles by the KSRTC bus stand, where we had on this day, or somewhere where they felt their vehicles would be safe and then take a short walk of 5 mins from there till Aunt’s gate. And this would make Aunty feel so isolated that she admired houses at the roadside but at the same time stayed determined that the government is working out on making a road for them.

It had been two minutes since we reached and there was no sign of Aunt nor the cousin, her son. My mom asked me to give them a call.
‘No answer’
My dad’s dark face was turning even darker. In sometime Aunt was in the car with us but the cousin was still on the way, said Aunt. He opened his eyes beyond his usual time this morning, she added. I remembered how my dad used to call him ‘lazy’ for not having a job in hand. By the time he had made it too, my dad’s face had turned coal black.
Mom, Aunty, cousin and I -The four of us stuffed ourselves at the back, squeezing our asses through one other’s. Yet I managed to wave at my cousin a hi and he waved back too. I was wearing a long kurtha. It had black antique designs against the white milieeu which ran down and ended with a thick red border. A push up pant, matching with red. I had painted my lips with light pink and lined my eyes with Kajol. My hair was oily from last night’s quick bath. Mom was in saree, Aunt was in saree, dad was in pant and shirt, the cousin too was in the same. And oh! Even the driver boy had worn almost the same. I guess these boys don’t have anything more than a pair of pant and shirt.
The engine growled.

Aunt couldn’t keep her mouth latched even for a minute and I totally knew once mom and I were home, my dad will have to mention about it. Somewhere on the way before we reached Puttur, my dad climbed out the car and waved at us a happy journey. Cousin shifted to the front seat and the happy journey, as per dad’s wish continued. Before we reached Puttur, several houses had been covered. Houses that I was not well acquainted with. One such was a doctor’s where my mom would take me to when I’d fall sick and when my memory was not developed because I didn’t remember seeing the doctor’s face in my lifetime. The house was more like a palace with scintillating lights in the hallroom and a beautiful garden outside. Damn rich doctor, I thought. The doctor was short, fair, humble and ever smiling. His wife bore almost the same features, except for the fairness. She came with a tray balancing four glasses of orange juice. We drank and talked perching in their expensive chairs. Before leaving, the ladies handed over the wedding card to the doctor, saying ‘You must come! On both the days’ to both him and his wife.
And them in return ‘Oh definitely!’ opening the envelope ‘When is the wedding’
No it wasn’t a question.
While I was following my mom and Aunty out the house, the doctor’s wife walked close to me, put her hand over my shoulder and asked me with a warm smile, ‘What’s your name?’
‘Sheethal, Aunty’ I smiled.
‘Lovely name. All the best Sheethal’
‘Oh thank you so much, Aunty. Bye’
‘Bye’ she waved standing at her lavishing lobby as our car drove back.

It was my elder cousin, Aunt’s elder son’s wedding and we were on an occasion of inviting families and friends for the wedding. My joining date for the company was nowhere close so I decided on accompanying them, in meeting the families I had known, never seen.
24kms, read the carved rock on the way as the car sped past Puttur. I sat leaned on one side, watching nothing new from what I had seen back in my hometown. It was another small town after the Puttur city, with cross breeded with urban and rural lifestyle. My mom was on the other side while Aunt flumped in between us talking every five minutes. The driver was doing just his job and my cousin was turning left and right the stereo playing lame songs.

Dodda Aunty’s house was more like that of ours. Dodda in English means eldest. We children are used to calling her that way since we’ve known her. It seems she herself insisted us on calling her so because she didn’t want to be called as Dodamma for that would make her feel very old, hence Dodda Aunty, Style Aunty. Though she was eleven years elder to my mom, she looked like my mom’s younger sibling. She’d apply heavy make-up, wore pearl necklace, owned dozens of nail paints and bindis. More over gave us plenty of food to eat and pampered each one in the family, elders to babies like her own.
The dining table was covered with tiny bowls just enough for each egg to fit in, steel glasses hovering yellow juice of some kind, piles of sweet flatbread on a plate, rice noodles and vegetable sambar in two big vessels, and in another not so big vessel were chopped pieces of banana dipped in sweet milk. While our tongues savoured from one item to the other, Dodda Aunty came over with a steel box which had varieties of sweetmeat and homemade snacks. From which she picked a ball of rice cake and handed it to me.
‘Your favourite’ she smiled.
‘Yes, Aunty. Thanks’ I grabbed it off her hand and ballooned at one side of my mouth. And my eyes were let to follow my Aunt’s back as she moved out the room, down to her stove where Horlicks was getting boiled in the shallow pan.
After almost emptying everything and while my cousin was taking off bananas from it’s bunch, the ladies settled into gossiping. Of the never ending family conflicts.
‘Do you even know how much he owes to me… I’ve looked after his… Ha-ha he too has.. but.. ‘ and a pause arrives as the speaker breaks off while controlling her tears and others simply look down at the table.
‘Ya I agree. He shouldn’t have done that…. Ya ya.. God is taking care, let’s leave it all to him… Hm uhm.. the other day Uncle Sanjeev told me.. Ya… I called Daya and told him not to talk.. he didn’t listen.. ya.. you’re not wrong either’
‘I have lost my husband at an early age. There has not been happiness to me… I don’t know what I’ve done to him… I don’t know why they didn’t come for the engagement… What we done.. My two sons are all that I have.. they come to ruin his marriage also.. ‘
‘Calm down.. Prema. It’s ok.. God is taking care, let’s not fret. Yes, you have his blessings… ‘
And it continued for quite sometime.
We were standing outside, about to leave.
‘Aasmi would have love it if you stayed till she came in the evening’ ‘Aasmi was Dodda Aunty’s granddaughter. Only great granddaughter of my late grandmother.
‘Will come again sometime when she’s there’
‘Tell Bhava, Shammi and Anitha that we missed them’
Shammi (pet name) was Dodda Aunty’s only son and Anitha his wife. Bhava means Brother in law. And we left. The driver boy was sitting outside in the couch. He placed his drained glass of juice on the seat of porch and walked behind us. He hadn’t accepted anything else offered by Dodda Aunty except for the first glass of juice. He was a Muslim and perhaps they didn’t eat much at a Hindu’s house. We found him at our place after learning that he drives his car for others.

There were two other houses to be covered at the same place. Aunt’s husband’s two of brothers. Entered and left with almost same fashion. My mom had been visiting these houses from as a little girl so they had a lot to talk about the good old days of theirs. Laughter was brimming.

We had lunch at a small hotel in a town. Simple veg meals. And a quick shopping at the famous Sanjeeva Shetty clothing center. And another quick entry and exit made to a jewellery shop next to the former. When we pushed open the door behind us, the city was getting soaked in rains. We stood under the roof of the shop until our car, which was driven somewhere by our driver, arrived. On the road opposite sat a flower vendor with fresh evening yellow mari gold pyramid in his wooden basket. A metre away from him was another vendor selling hot corns spooled with masala which was alluring several people passing on the way, thanks to the weather.
We drove through the streets of Puttur, past the ‘popular’ sweets stall where Sam and I would buy egg puffs from when in tenth, a golden painted temple standing tall from the rest, small store houses and groceries. I raised my window shield till no more and watched the city, it’s red and yellow lights through droplets covered glass. It was a beautiful evenfall.

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