The technician smiled at me, ‘all seems fine, but the doctor will give the report’.
I got down from the examination table; she had wiped off the medicine from my body mandatory for an ECG. I was relieved, and let out a sigh, as I bent down to put on my sandals. Just at that moment my mobile rang. I looked apologetically at the technician, Sujata, she just smiled and said take the call.
Thanks, I replied.
It was Kaaka.
Are you home, he asked me.
Actually not, where have you been? Haven’t heard from you in eons.
Am in Radisson Hotel, Gurgaon, have a meeting with a client at 12pm. What time will you get home?
Are you coming over…?
Yes, would like to meet you.
Fine, I too would love to catch up with you. I shall be back home by 12pm.
I got into my car, and asked the driver to drive to the nearest market. I picked up a few green coconuts. September is pretty hot in NCR.
I almost bought some bitter chocolate, burst out laughing, keeping it back on the shelf of the take away store at the petrol pump.
I was home by 11.30am, cleaned up the drawing room; put some fresh towels in the washroom arranged a bunch of Rajnigandha in a vase.
Decided to make a light lunch- rice, whole moong dal, raita and some fresh salad.
I was really excited. I had met kaaka 50 years back. His family had taken our annexe on rent. It was just one room set, with kitchen and a common toilet.
I remember I was barely 12 years old at that time.
The family moved in. There was an old couple, kaka and his young sister, younger than me, Munni.
He was the only person alive who knew my family, more so my elder sister, Anita, whom I had lost when she was just in her late teens.
I was looking forward to his coming, talking with him about our life in Ambala, our family bond, escapades and frivolous banter. I had been feeling weighed down by everydayness of life for some time.
He was in the first year of college, studying civil engineering. It had become evident in the first week after they moved in, for some reason, his father, a dyspeptic, constantly belching loudly, detested his son. He was forever cursing him, accusing him of all his problems. Kaaka never retaliated, but then I am talking about 50 years ago. Today, there is a possibility his father would have been arrested for child abuse, or more than likely, they would have had a fist fight. Kaaka was 17 years old then.
At night, summer or winter, his father ordered him to leave the room, as the light disturbed him. Kaaka would pick up his heavy books, which he borrowed from the college library, leave the room, shift to the kitchen, light a candle, sit on the floor, and do his calculations in utter concentration. At times, when sleep deluded me, I could hear him pacing up and down, reading out loud from his book probably to drown his insomniac father, ranting and raving. Those thick books couldn’t dampen his resolve in spite of all odds. There was a spark in his eyes, he moved with the agility of a doe. One could see, he was confident like the protagonist of ‘Fountainhead’.
His mother doted on her son. She always said to her husband, just you wait, this boy of ours, will turn our fortunes. She would hug Kaaka, and tell him to ignore all his father’s accusations. The old man would grunt, wave his hand, bellow out, go get me a cup of masala tea, forever you are babbling. His younger sister expressed her devotion to him in many small ways. She was younger to me, very restrained, and had grown up fast, just a hint of smile, luxurious hair, which her mother would oil, massage and wash on weekends. She used to follow him like a puppy quietly.
I was in 7th grade at that time. On sunny afternoons in winter, we would sit on the veranda overlooking the kitchen garden, shell peanuts, blow the husk, and eat with jaggery. I would take out my books to finish my homework. Algebra used to really test my patience. One day, Kaaka looking over my shoulder blurted out, you have got to learn the basics first.
“Can you help me,” I pleaded.
Yes, I would as long as you don’t run around teasing me, calling me Maharaj Krishna.
But that’s your name, isn’t it, I would laugh out loud and grunt, where are your gopis by the way?
My pet name was Guttu, he would pull my pony tail, tease and call me names- gutter, and insist I sit down and concentrate.
One day, I gave him a piece of bitter chocolate. He turned it over in his fingers, asked ,what is it.
Try it, take a bite, you’ll come asking for more.
Hesitantly he took a bite, and immediately spat it out. Pulled my pony tail, so now you are bent upon poisoning me, you ungrateful girl.
I screamed, this is chocolate, ultimate sweet dish, at that time I didn’t even know it was packed with anti oxidants and had health benefits.
I am quite happy with homemade sweets, he retorted.
Ok, next time, I shall give you a bowl of carrot fudge; no one makes it better than my mother. Wait until Diwali. We shall feast on it.
I used to get chocolates only once a year, when my uncle Vijay, major in the armed forces came to spend his vacation with us.
You know what; you need a good beating, always up to pranks. One day, am going to beat you with a stick from the guava tree you so love, always plucking baby guavas, and then complaining of stomach ache, driving aunty and uncle crazy with your complaints. Your dad is so worried about you. You are just a naughty tom boy.
On Sundays in winter, after a hair wash by my mother, who bathed me, would rub some medicine in my hair to kill the lice. She would get frustrated and give a sharp tug to my hair, and mutter between her teeth, how dirty you are. Old enough to have a clean bath by yourself. What will I ever do with you, God help me.
After a nice scolding, I would pick up my history books, and climb up the stairs to go on the first floor. Due to lack of funds, my father was not able to finish it. There were half raised brick walls, no roof. I would sit in a sunny corner, which protected me from the whistling north wind. And then began a tussle- memorising dates of battle of Panipat, names of Mogul rulers and inviting, distracting fluffy clouds. Of course, the clouds won hands down. I would give them names in accordance with their shape and size. Recite some lines from Daffodils, to my utter delight.
At times Kaaka would join me, talk about his dream of doing his M.E in structural engineering. I have till today, not seen such a determined look in any one’s eyes. Then we would both quietly watch cloud patterns
“You love solitude, that’s why you come up here, isn’t it”?
I finished my studies. He too became a structural Engineer. He got a well paid job in PWD. The family moved to a bigger house. By then his father had died during a surgery for gastric ulcer. Kaaka took him to Chandigarh PGI for best medical treatment. He seemed pretty lost for weeks after his death.
I got married and moved away from Ambala. Kaaka was there for my wedding, looking at me in a strange way.
Years turned into decades. Whenever I visited my parents, they would tell me about Kaaka, his marriage, two kids- a girl and a boy, his posting in Nigeria on deputation and how unhappy he was there. He had written to my father, ‘This is like life sentence’.
One day my younger sister called me and said, “ Kaaka’s married daughter had poured kerosene on her body and died of burns.” I felt really sad. I had his phone number, but was too numb to call, wondering what I would say.
Life took some strange turns. In the autumn of my life, I found myself alone. I was trying to come to grip with it, gather myself. One cannot start all over again, just pick up whatever is left, summon courage, and show up.
In time I developed a kinship with birds that for some reason came to nest on my terrace- weaver birds, doves, pigeons- they monopolised my cloth line, wall mounted fan and terrace ledges.
Mind has tremendous capacity to adapt, adjust to adversity. I began to enjoy bird calls, didn’t feel abandoned. My morning ritual became to fill the pot with bird seeds, and fresh water after attending to call of nature.
The door bell rang. I wiped my eyes, put on a smile, and opened the door. There stood Kaaka. We hugged and I invited him in.
“How are you doing, now that you live alone”?
“Am fine, getting on”, I smiled.
“It’s better to be alone, than to be lonely in company”.
“How are you? How’s Anita”?
“She is not doing too well. She has a lumbar problem, is bed ridden”.
“How about your son”?
“He’s well, married, settled in Singapore”.
Then he looked me in the eye and said, “You know you were very cruel to me”.
“Why, why do you say that”?
“You know, I wanted to marry you. I even spoke to your father”.
“What pray did he say”?
“She has a mind of her own. Besides, I shall never make this crucial decision for her”.
But I always looked upon you as an older brother. Why are you bringing it up now? It’s ancient history.
But the look in his smouldering eyes, said it all. For a moment I thought, he was going to lash out at me or burst into tears.
I looked out, tried to change the conversation.
“How about some coconut water or a cup of tea, I asked
“No, am just coming from the hotel”.
Then he stood up, and said, “I have to go now”.
“But I made some light lunch for us”, I protested.
“No, not today”, he turned at the door, and suddenly blurted out, “you have a missing tooth, still gorging on bitter chocolates…?”
“Yes, I know”, I replied and laughed.
“Why don’t you get it fixed”?
“It costs Rs 30000/-“I rolled my eyes.
“Do get it fixed, it spoils your smile”.
“Oh, am in the autumn of my life”, I said in mock sobriety.
“You are timeless”.
On that note, he left.