Chataka Birds part 12
Tapathi and Geetha followed Bhagyam back into the kitchen.
“I’ll help you,” Tapathi said.
“No, what’s there to help. Just boiling water and milk,” Bhagyam said.
After a few minutes Geetha looked for Tapathi.
“Where is Tapathi garu?” the woman, who had asked Tapathi about her husband earlier, asked, rolling her eyes disapprovingly.
“She has left.”
“Hm. I don’t understand. What is wrong with her? She never comes to any parties; and if she does, disappears just like that. Why can’t she stay and chat with us, enjoy the party? Weird, if you ask me.”
Ugh, Geetha wanted to scream. To her, the reason Tapathi avoided those parties was strikingly obvious.
On the way back home, Hari asked Geetha, “How is the party?”
Geetha was ruminating over the people at the party. “Reminded me of some people at home. Just like back home!” she said evasively.
Hari noticed a trace of disappointment in her tone. “What do you mean? I thought you would like meeting Telugu people, Telugu food and chatting in Telugu. Wasn’t it fun?”
Geetha asked him straight, “They all are here for so long. I would think they have picked up some local manners and customs. What is all that cheap talk and annoying questions?”
Her question startled Hari. “What? Who said what? somebody said something to you?”
“No, not to me. I am talking about Tapathi garu. Some of them were so annoying. I am at a loss. I don’t know what to think of them.”
Ah. He was relieved; took a couple of minutes to respond. “Maybe that is the reason she does not come to these parties. How would I know what happened in women’s quarters? She is a relative of Bhagyam garu, or something like that. She goes to their house, that too, only on special occasions. Probably, she showed up today because it is their anniversary.”
“I don’t understand. She was fine with me. She even offered to teach music to me.”
“Well, as I have said before, it is your charming face.”
Geetha kept thinking about Tapathi for a long time.
In the next three months, Geetha and Hari attended a few more parties–six at the Indian homes and two at American friends’ homes. She did not see Tapathi at any of the parties.
Geetha was getting used to the new lifestyle slowly; also, trying to notice the subtle nuance in the American culture and how Indians were imbibing it into their lifestyles. That was quite an education for her.
One evening, Radha called. Hari picked up the phone. Radha invited them for a potluck at their house.
“Sure, we can be there. Any suggestions? What should we bring?” Hari asked.
“Geetha is still new to this kind of things. We will leave her alone, just for this once. Tell her that she need not bring any dish,” Radha said.
“No, no. She may be new but I am not. I will make something,” Hari said.
Radha laughed, “Okay, it is up to you. We will not hold it against you, if you don’t bring it.”
Hari, too, laughed and hung up. He told Geetha about the potluck at Radha’s house.
Geetha was losing interest in meeting Telugu people after her experience at Bhagyam’s home, especially the way Tapathi was treated.
“What is all these parties? Feels like doing vaaraluA tradition. A custom of a family feeding a poor Brahmin boy on one week day, on a regular basis, while he is in school.” Geetha said.
“I told you; we feel lost here. Most of the time, we are drowned in our jobs, no time to interact with our folks. This is the only way for us to see each other. Never mind that. This crowd is different. It is not like the one at Bhagyam’s home.”
“The guests there were from the 50s and 60s, and well-settled in this country. Their worries are different. The crowd in Radha’s home are all young and bubbly. These folks don’t care about the things those senior generations care about. Let’s go. You can see it for yourself.”
“Actually, you have met some of them. Remember? The day after you’ve arrived, they came to visit us; actually, to see you. Tesh, Vishu, Sumati, Gnanesh etc. A few others may also join us.”
“Tapathi garu also may come.”
“Yeah? Will she, really?” she asked, sounding skeptical.
“She is a distant relative of Radha, aunt, twice removed, or something like that. Since Radha has no other relatives here, Tapathi plays the senior aunt for her. Besides, like I said, the crowd here doesn’t care about Tapathi’s personal matters. She doesn’t have to deal with the dimwits like those you’ve seen in Bhagyam’s home.”
What a relief. “Alright, let’s go,” she said, “What do you suggest I make?”
“Radha garu said you are a new bride still, and so, you are excused for this once.”
“What new bride? I feel like I have aged two decades. How about Bajji? Easy to make.”
“Green pepper BajjiPotato slices dipped in Besan batter and deep-fried?” Hari said.
Geetha shook her head, an emphatic ‘no’.
Geetha and Hari arrived at Radha’s place by about 5:30 in the evening.
It was a 3-bedroom ranch on the far east side of the town. Usually, homes in that area were a little cheaper than the south side. One’s social status was defined in that manner also. The house was small yet tastefully decorated. a 24×36 picture of Lord Venkateswara and a couple of kids’ photos adorned the walls. Furniture was speaking for the modesty of the owners. In all, the look and feel of the rooms were pleasant.
By about 6:30, all the guests arrived. Geetha made potato Bajji. Sumati brought drinks. Tesh brought a cake, and his professor brought mung beans dal. Radha made fried rice, white rice, sambar, raita, and eggplant curry. Bhagyam garu was a master chef when it comes to pulihora. Nobody else would not even think of it, if joined the party. Other items like chips, crackers, cheese, and drinks were also set on the table.
Each picked up a plate, helped themselves, and got into chit chat. Just like Hari had said, all the guests were in their early 20s and 30s, except Bhagyam and her husband Hanumayya garu. The younger folks’ talks were not about retirement and children’s marriages but movies, local politics and jokes about their professors and/or bosses as the case might be. Cost of education, life after retirement, and kids’ marriages were not the subjects on their minds. They were bubbling with enthusiasm; each of them was acting as if he/she was like prince charming.
Bhagyam garu was struggling to mingle with them. Hanumayya settled down with the professor in a corner.
“Dal is super. I need your recipe,” Tesh said to his professor, holding the beer bottle in one hand and the dinner plate in the other.
Professor, staring into his plate keenly, said, “Let’s see. I took one cup of shelled mung beans, soaked for 2 hours, and cooked in the pressure cooker until 3 whistles …”
Geetha was amused by the way the process was described. She would have said,
“Boil the mung beans, add salt, and throw in some cumin seeds. That’s it.”
Measurements and timings never figured into her preparation. At best, she would have said, a handful of mung beans, a pinch of salt and two pinches of cumin seeds. Of course, the tempering at the end was a must. The professor skipped that part. He had learned it from books by a North Indian. Tempering was specific to South Indian dishes. She was surprised to see Tesh listening to the lesson with equal enthusiasm. Well, that is part of the game, she told herself.
Bhagyam garu was struggling to mingle with the guests. They were worlds apart. She turned to Geetha and asked, “What did you bring?”
“Oh, they are so tasty. My husband hates potluck dinners. He says we should take the time to make the dishes ourselves when we invite them to our home. We are old-timers, you know.”
In their village, they were respected royaty. The entire village was at their beck and call. Her father settled disputes. That status was obvious in her words and actions. She could cook for 30 people and the number of items would fill one ping-pong table. She always cooked the dishes the same day. She said it would not be appropriate to offer a day-old food to God.
They all finished eating by the time Tapathi arrived. Radha took her hand lovingly, and said, “Come in. Glad you came,” and escorted her to the dining table.
Geetha’s face lit up at the sight. Tapathi went near her and said, “Radha told me you were coming,” turned to Radha and said, “I am not hungry, late lunch.”
“Have a bite, please. I was hoping you’d test my expertise in culinary art.”
“I am sure they are delicious.”
Radha took her into the dining room. Tapathi helped herself a few items, and returned to Geetha.
“You told me you would learn music. You didn’t call me, why?”
“I did not say I’ll learn. You said you’ll teach.”
“But you didn’t say you will not learn.”
Both had a hearty laugh.
Geetha noticed that Tapathi was using informal singular, nuvvu, in addressing her. That made her feel that much closer to Tapathi. Chatting with Tapathi thus, freely and openly, made her very happy; it was like old times, back home in Vijayawada or Guntur.
“I don’t have your phone number,” Geetha said.
“I thought Hari has it. Okay, here it is, note down.”
After a few minutes, Bhagyam and Hanumayya left, saying they had work early next morning. Soon, Tapathi followed suit. Before leaving, she held Geetha’s hand, squeezed it gently, and said, “Call me, I’ll be waiting.” The gesture was inviting, no doubt .
Hari, Pani, Gnanesh, Sumati and Vishu sat down to play cards. Radha and Geetha moved to a corner.
It was past midnight by the time Hari and Geetha got home. That was the first time in her life to be awake or away from home past midnight!
(August 6, 2022)