Author Archives: Nidadavolu Malathi

Chataka Birds part 13

Part 13

Hari had a conference in Philadelphia. He was worried about his wife. Could she manage by herself for a week while he was gone? Or, should he ask one of his friends to stay in their home? He asked her the same question.

Geetha could not answer one or the other. Hari was right; she had the same question. She had never been alone in a home ever. To be frank, it was impossible in India to be alone. There were always people all around, in the house and in the neighborhood. Here, it is anything but being in company. No certainty anybody would be around if she really needed help. Everybody was submerged in their lives; no different from living in the woods.

Hari took her silence as an assent, and said, “I will ask Tesh or Gnanesh. They are busy with their jobs in the daytime. I am sure one of them can come and sleep at night here.”

As soon as Hari left, Geetha was depressed, tried to convince herself it was no different from any other day. Was she not alone in the daytime even when Hari was in town? There was not a single day when he was home in the daytime? How is today different? But she could not take it easy. She kept pacing up and down in the apartment entire day. In the evening, Tesh called and said he would be coming home late, possibly by eight, and that she should not wait for him.

Hari called her as soon as he landed in Philadelphia, again during lunch break, and told her he would call later in the evening. She kept saying okay, okay during the entire conversation.

Tesh came home around 10:00 pm. Geetha welcomed him and set the table for two.

Tesh felt bad. “Oh, no. I have told you not to wait up for me, go ahead and eat,” he said, feeling bad for her.

Geetha was equally insistent that it was no big deal, she was not hungry anyway.

Next morning, it was still dark, went into the kitchen. Geetha was preparing batter for rava dosa[1]cream of wheat pancake. Tesh woke up, came into the kitchen, said ‘hello’ to Geetha, and poured himself a cup of coffee.

“Did you sleep well,” Geetha asked. Yes, he had a great sleep, and apologized for rushing to work.

“I am making rava dosa,” Geetha said.

“Sorry, I have to go. I am already late. Please, don’t make any such things specially for me. Sorry, that is the way my work is,” he kept apologizing as he stepped out.

Geetha was alone again. For her, he did not seem to be at home at all. She could not understand what was the point of ‘his being’ in her home. Not that she held it against him; it is just that feeling that somebody is there for her is not there. Getting through each day was a struggle. She did not even feel like eating lunch.

Hari called. He asked her if she had lunch. She said yes. She wanted to cry her heart out but did not. What’s the point–lately the phrase kept coming to her mind over and again.

She called Tapathi.

“Hello.”

“Me, Geetha.”

“Hi. I was thinking of calling you.”

“Really?”

“Really. What are you doing?”

“Nothing.”

“What do you do usually at this hour?”

“Good question. I don’t know what I do. Just sit around, I suppose. The day goes by without much effort on my part,” Geetha said, laughing vaguely.

“Come over. I haven’t had lunch yet. We can chat while eating lunch.”

“Sure, on my way,” Geetha answered quickly, as if she was waiting for that invitation. She hung up, picked up her handbag and left.
***

Tapathi’s house was on the outskirts of town. It was a small house, but gives a homey feeling with flower, fruit and vegetable plants.
Tapathi was waiting at the door. As Geetha parked the car got out, Tapathi approached her and extended a warm welcome hand. It was a feeling of reuniting with a childhood friend for both of them; far from seeing a friend met only a few weeks back.

“What would like for lunch? Upma or rava dosa?”

“I don’t mind rava dosa if throw in some cashew.”

“Cashew in rava dosa? Never heard of it but, if you want it, you will get it. If it doesn’t turn out right, that is on you.”

Tapathi served rava dosa and red chili chutney on two plates, handed one plate to Geetha, and said, “Let’s go.”

Geetha was confused. “Whereto?”

“Into the backyard. We will have party in our Brindavan[2]A famous Botanical garden in Mysore under the tree.”

She also brought a blanket to sit on and spread it under a maple tree at the far end of the yard. It reminded Geetha of the lunches she and Satyam used to have in her college days.

During the lunch, Geetha asked, “You are so friendly toward me, how come you’ve got a bad name. Why do they say you are clammed up, would not talk to anybody?”

Tapathi laughed. “Is that language yours, or, borrowed from another high brow?”

“Language mine, views stolen. Tell me, are the good? I will file for copyright,”Geetha said. A thin film of moisture glimmered in her eyes.

She turned away from Tapathi and said, “It is just like old times,” without mentioning what was on her mind.

“True, especially these two months, July and August. Mild warm sunshine makes you drowsy and you won’t know where you are–in India or U.S.” Tapathi said, and continued, “By the way, you have not told me how you ended up here. What brought you two together? Is he cousin or something?”

“No relationship. Airlines brought us together,” Geetha laughed.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you know. My friend Satyam said many a young man would refuse to get married while in India, then come here, learn that they cannot handle the chores, and rush back to India, looking for a bride. Now I understand the truth in her words. Funny thing about it is, there is no such thing as inauspicious month or inauspicious day. There is always a learned pundit to find any day the most auspicious,” Geetha said, with crafty smile.

“You sound like you did not like it.”

“No, it is not that. I was just being frivolous. In fact, my mother asked me to think carefully.”

Tapathi decided not to harp on the subject anymore. She knew better; she knew there could be so many other factors that figure into the equation.

After a while, she started slowly. “Earlier you asked me why I don’t mix with the people here. At first, like everybody here, I too ached for our people, the sound of our language, and taste of your dishes. In fact, it looks silly for me now. Do you know what Emanuel said when he asked me to go to the States with him? He said, unlike in India, people in America respect each other’s privacy, and that, nobody there pester me like crows.”

“Who is Emanuel?”

“Oh, haven’t told you about him yet. He is the super-hero, who saved me from our gossip-mongering social nitwits and transported me this haven.”

Geetha noticed a vague streak of pain and kept quiet. Her heart cringed. No need of words for one heart to reach out to another.
Tapathi resumed, “That is a long story; actually two. How I ended up here is one and why I could not mix with local community is another.”

***

Tapathi continued her story.

Tapathi’s landlord, Gurunatham, was a reputable businessman in Vijayawada. Because of his business dealings, sometimes foreigners also visit him. Emanuel was one of those business partners. His trip was scheduled for 3 weeks, but he most of his time traveling to other cities such as Chennai, Bombay and Delhi. He barely stayed ten days at Gurunatham’s place.

Nevertheless, he had a chance to spend time with Tapathi. In that short period, he had developed an interest in her and her activities. Gurunatham also contributed to his goodwill. He told Emanuel that Tapathi was smart and good-natured.

Tapathi was giving music lessons to young women in the evenings. Emanuel went and sat there listening to the lessons during that time. After a few days, she asked her to sing her favorite song and listened with great interest.

“You have such a beautiful voice. Do you do concerts?”

“No, I am not that talented.”

That was about it as far as their friendship went.

One day, she was sitting on the front porch, helping her son, Vasu, with his math homework.

Emanuel came and sat a few feet away from them. Tapathi looked at him, smiled, and asked if he needed anything.

“No, I will not disturb you. You go ahead. I just came, having nothing else to do,” he said.

Tapathi could not ask him to leave. He had been a perfect gentleman all along. Never said an inappropriate word or behaved in an unseemly manner.

“How are you?” she said in a matter-of-fact tone.

“I am fine. Thank you. How are you doing?” he said.

It was awkward for both of them; both were silent for a few minutes.

“How did it go in Chennai; done good?” Tapathi said, breaking the silence.

“Yes, it went well,” Emanuel said. Then, added slowly, “I am leaving on Sunday.”

“Back to the States?”

“Yes.”

Vasu finished his homework, closed the books and left saying, “May I go to Gopi’s home to play, Mom?”

Tapathi nodded yes.

Silence again.

“I need to talk to you,” Emanuel said.

“Okay, talk,” said Tapathi.

She was quite used to this phrase, “Can I say something?” At first, she was puzzled, wondered, “What about?”, and “Why me?” Eventually, she concluded they all wanted was to talk, and her presence was nominal. They picked her since she just sat there with her mouth shut. It did not matter to them whether she listened or not.

Emanuel looked straight into her face and said, “It is not about me.”

Tapathi shook her head.

“Gurunatham garu told me about your situation,” he said, as a preamble.

She did not ask what did Gurunatham garu say. She had a general idea of what he might have said. That too was normal for her.
Emanuel took a few minutes to rearrange the words in his mind. “Come to America with me.”

Tapathi was startled as if she had hit by a lightning. She stared at him, wondering if he was joking. No, it was not a joke. He said it in all seriousness; he meant it wholeheartedly.

***

(Continued)

August 13, 2022

References

References
1 cream of wheat pancake
2 A famous Botanical garden in Mysore

Chataka Birds part 12

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 vaaralu[1]A 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.”

“Ah?”

“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.”

“Okay. When?”

“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.”

“Oh.”

“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 Bajji[2]Potato 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?”

“Bajji.”

“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!

***

(Continued)

(August 6, 2022)

References

References
1 A tradition. A custom of a family feeding a poor Brahmin boy on one week day, on a regular basis, while he is in school
2 Potato slices dipped in Besan batter and deep-fried

Chataka Birds part 11

Part 11

Hari and Geetha went to Bhagyam’s home on the said Sunday. As she stepped in, Geetha felt like she was in a totally different world. As they say in our country, the house was as a big as a small island. Bhagyam said they had gotten it built and moved in recently. She added, “There was no room to set up our deities in the previous house. I used the broom closet as Puja Room, but I was not happy. We are making so money, enjoying so many amenities, and all that, by the grace of God only, right? How can we not have a room for our deities? It kept pricking at heart like a thorn. I pestered my husband until he agreed to have this house built with a separate room for setting up our family deities.”

In our families, a room for deities gets priority, and here, it is a room for broomsticks. Each culture has its own priorities! The thought amused Geetha thought.
The entire house was overflowing with the items brought from India. Pictures of several deities adorned the walls. It was hard to say whether they were displaying owners’ devotion to the gods or their taste in art. Stereo system was playing Baba devotional songs.

Geetha looked around. All of them were doctors, engineers and professors. In a country, where ‘all men are created equal’ supposed to be the commanding tenet, the subtle nuance of discrimination was strikingly obvious.
Besides Hari and herself, there were a few. who appeared to be in their 30s and 40s. They gathered in one corner of the living room. They were talking about movies, music, and their struggles with local culture. Rest of them were in their 50s and 60s, well-settled in their jobs. Topics of their conversations included kids’ education, cultural conflicts in raising the kids as “Indian kids,” while grooming them to be successful in America, their marriages, and their own retirement plans.

“Market may not recover anytime soon. Wonder if Greenspan waves his magic stick and get the market going.”

“20% loss.”

“Paper loss.”

“Your son graduates this year, I suppose. Where is applying for?”

“He applied to Brown University. 60k per annum. Kids’ education is a killer.”

“My son has full scholarship, luckily.”

“Really! In Yale?”

“No. He will go to Georgetown. I don’t understand how this system works. Only the kids know.”

The women gathered in the kitchen and dining room. Their chats were about India trips, the things they were planning to take from here, and bring from there, sarees, jewelry, etc. In between, recipe exchanges and local news. Also, some gossip about women that were absent at the party.

“I haven’t see Gowri in a long time. Is she out of town?” a woman, wearing in a flashy blue silk saree asked.

“No, she has not gone anywhere. I saw her yesterday in the grocery store,” another women in Kanchi silk saree said.

“Me too. I tried to talk to her but she was in a hurry. Actually, I saw her daughter in the West Town Mall, with an American boy. I think they were dating.”

“My boys don’t to entertain such games. Both told me clearly that they would marry whomsoever I and their dad suggest,” the first woman, who asked about Gowri, said.

She was proud of her accomplishment.

A lady sitting by the wall said, “Come winter, I will be going to India. I am thinking of bringing a grinding stone. We don’t get authentic chutney taste with the lentil chutney made in the blender.”

Geetha noticed a woman sitting away from all these women, and tried to remember where she had seen her.

That woman looked at Geetha and smiled vaguely. Geetha remembered now. It was the same woman she had met the grocery store a few days back. Geetha smiled.

Bhagyam asked the guests to move to the family room, where the puja event was to take place. Slowly, the entire group gathered in the family room. Five or six men remained in the living room.

The puja and bhajan songs took about an hour and a half. All the guests received prasad and blessings. The food was served in the basement. Geetha was speechless as she saw the dishes spread on the table tennis table. She could not believe a single woman could cook so many dishes for so many people.

Tapathi was sitting quietly in a corner in the dining room. The woman, who had inquired about Gowri earlier, approached Tapathi and asked, “I haven’t seen your husband in any of these events. He doesn’t like our folks?”

Tapathi smiled and turned away, as if she was looking for somebody.
The woman would not let go. “Is it true your son joined the army?”

Tapathi nodded.

“You are one tough cookie. The fear of what might happen any moment will kill me,” another woman commented.

“Well, your son is doing medicine. No worries,” Tapathi said.

“What is your daughter doing?” another woman asked.

“We don’t yet,” Tapathi said, stood and walked away.

“Remember I told you about a second marriage? That is her.” The words came out loud and clear.

Geetha felt a little jab at heart. Now it is clear why Tapathi would not go to these functions. She sighed, got up and stood by the patio door, watching the flowers and trees in the garden.

The garden was full of beautiful flowers and fruits, hanging from branches. Geetha pushed the screen to a side, walked out and closed it again, in order to prevent bugs from entering the room.

Bhagyam’s interest in gardening was strikingly obvious. Besides the usual Hibiscus and Jasmine, there were several rare plants.. At the far end of the yard, there was a huge Magnolia tree in full bloom. The palm-size dashing white petals with rosy tinge on the edges were amazing. Geetha stood there staring at those gorgeous beauties. Her heart chirped like a kid at a sight of his favorite toy. On one side, a Hibiscus plant displayed two fully-blossomed flowers. The plant brought back memories of the plant in her backyard in Vijayawada. Without thinking much thought, she extended her hand to touch it. A line from a popular song by Karunasri came to her mind. As she was humming chivaluna komma vanchi goraanedunantalo, she heard footsteps behind her and stopped the song quickly.

Tapathi was standing there with a little smile and twinkle in her eyes.
Neither of them could think of what to say. Geetha looked at the people on the other side of the patio door. The distance was only 10 feet but what a huge difference in the atmosphere!

Tapathi looked at the Magnolia tree and said, “What a gorgeous flower. It has only a short span of life, literally yet display such a regal beauty.
Geetha looked at the tree again. The tree was covered with magnificent splash of pure white color.

“The blooming period does not last long. However, such a beauty and such a fragrance make it unique, like fireworks. You remember the Sun chariot we draw on the front yard during the Sankranti festival? That is what comes to mind every time I see this tree.”

“True,” Geetha said.

Tapathi was quiet for a few seconds and then said, “It seems you sing.”
Geetha said, “Oh, no, just. You know too. There is no girl in our families who cannot hum some lyrics.”

“How far you have learned?”

“Not much really. Sarali swaraalu, janta swaraalu,(first steps in learning classical music) and the next one is called swarajathulu. That’s all. My music lessons ended there. After that, I picked up some from listening to All India Radio.”

“You have a good voice. You should continue.”

“Here?”

“What do you mean? You mean ‘here under this tree? Or, here in America?”

“No, I mean where can I find a teacher here in America?”

“I can, if you like.”

Geetha hesitated for a second. It would be nice to learn to sing, a good pastime. But then, did Tapathi mean it, or just it was a casual conversation? She could not make up her mind.

Bhagyam came into the yard. She came to check who preferred coffee and who liked tea.

***

(Continued)

(July 25, 2022)

Chataka Birds part 10

Chataka Birds part 10

10

That settled it. Now I am outside, I might as well take a walk, she proceeded.
She walked a few blocks and turned around. Walked a block; it looked unfamiliar. She turned left, turned right, went back, and turned right …
She realized she was lost. Oh, God, what am I going to do now? She looked around, hoping to find somebody to guide her in the right direction. Amid fast-moving cars and bicycles, she found none. She started walking again, hoping she might stumble upon her home by chance. After all, she did not go too far, she thought.
She kept going round and round without a clue where she was. Then she saw a gentleman walking toward his car. She quickly approached him and asked if he could tell her where the Rennebohm store was.
“There are half a dozen stores in this area. Can you tell me which one you were referring to?”
“The one closest to Randall.”
“Randall court? Randall street? Randall blvd? Which one?”
“I don’t remember.”
She needed to be more specific. She had no idea how to be more specific. He understood that Geetha was new to the place; he sincerely wished to help her. He asked her a few more questions but got nowhere. Finally, he asked if she was staying with a family? Friends? Or, any other person she could name?
“I am married to Harinarayana Murthy Pullabhatla. He works here.”
Ah! he was stunned by the name but did not show it.
“Is that the name in the telephone directory?” he asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Does he have any other name he goes by?”
“No, um, I don’t think so.”
The gentleman played with different parts of the name, and finally found one, Bhatla, HNMP. He noted down the address, and said to her, “You’ve come long ways. Come on, I will drop you at your place.”
Geetha hesitated for a few seconds. She remembered all the warnings Hari had imparted to her dutifully. He is sure to go bonkers if he knew that she accepted a ride by a total stranger. But then, this is not the time for dithering. Her anxiety to get home was greater than the fear that her husband might get mad at her. This gentleman was her only hope at that point. She got into the car and put on her seat belt.
That gentleman dropped her at her doorstep. She thanked him profusely. He said, “You’re welcome,” and drove away.
Geetha took a deep breath, walked up the stairs and stood by the door. No keys to go in. She saw the building manager in the front yard. She quickly went to him, introduced herself as Hari’s wife, and explained her situation. She asked him to open the door for her; she was desperate.
The Manager felt bad for her but he was not in a position to open the door; the rules do not permit him to open the door except for the lessee and emergencies.
“This is an emergency,” Geetha argued.
“No, ma’am, this does not come under the category ’emergency’.” Fire, plumbing problems are emergencies. This is just an unfortunate situation.”
“I am his wife, ‘better half’ as you put it. I swear I am married to him. I think I have a right to have your service,” she tried to persuade him.
“I am glad you are married, ma’am. Congratulations. But I cannot open the door except for the person who has signed the lease. If I do, I will lose my job.”
“Thank you. I understand. No, I don’t want you to lose your job.”
Thus, they both spent some time feeling sorry for each other, and hoping and praying to find a way to resolve the situation.
Their prayers were answered. Hari showed up. He said he called home a few times to see how Geetha was doing. Nobody picked up the phone and he got worried, and came home to find out if she was okay.
He was relieved to see Geetha at the door. Manager conveyed his best wishes to both of them and left.
“What happened? Why manager is here?” Hari asked as he opened the door.
Geetha was delighted to see Hari. Her fear was gone. She was even amused. He recounted the entire story and laughed, “I must give it to you, your name is a great story in itself. That gentleman said even the FBI would not be able to find you.”
Hari also laughed. “True. My colleagues at work call me A to Z Harry. Anything to eat? I am hungry,” he said.
“I can make rava dosa.”
“No, not much time. I’ll have rice with pickles, and go.”

**

Geetha was getting in the groove, almost imperceptibly. No plan, no logic; things were just happening to her, and she did not resist to the change.
She began to go to the nearby store alone to get milk and vegetables. One day, she saw a Telugu face in the store. Geetha looked at the woman keenly. She was fairly tall, of captivating complexion, striking facial features; impressive stature and demeanor. That lady also looked at Geetha. For a few minutes, both played with the thought of saying something.
“New here, I suppose,” the lady said.
“Yes. About 4 months,” Geetha said.
“I thought so. It takes sometime to acquire an NRI face,” she smiled.
Geetha was not sure what that meant, but let it go. She wanted to continue the conversation though. “I am Geetha,” she said.
“Oh, okay. My name is Tapathi,” the other woman said, as she handed her credit card to the checker. On her way out, she said, “Nice meeting you.”
Geetha kept thinking about her all the way home. She told Hari about her encounter with Tapathi.
“Tapathi garu? Strange, she never talks with anybody,” he said.
“I don’t know. She was fine with me.”
“It must be your charming looks.”
“Ha, ha,” Geetha said, squinting playfully.
***

Bhagyam garu called Geetha to invite the couple to a puja at their home on a Sunday, two weeks from now. She added that it was their wedding anniversary.
Geetha congratulated her, told her she would tell Hari about the event, and let her know whether they could attend the puja.
“Yes, tell him, please. I hope you two will come, I look forward to it. You can meet other friends, too.”
Later that evening, Geetha told Hari about the invitation. She added that she does not believe in puja.
Hari smiled. “I don’t have such beliefs, either. But her Pulihora and Vada are talk of the town. Most of the people don’t want to miss her cooking. Frankly, it is just a get-together. You will find out soon enough this is the only way we get to see each other, I mean our Telugu folks. Tell her we are coming. You can see for yourself how it goes,” he said.
Geetha called Bhagyam and told her that they would be attending the event.

000
(Continued)

(July 15, 2022)

Chataka Birds part 9

9

Time was moving by at a snail’s pace. Nothing in new in Geetha’s life. That is, until a phone call came from Siva Rao, giving her a jolt.
Siva Rao called Bhanumurthy and told him that a young man came from America in order to get married, and Geetha might be a good match for him. He added that there was not much time, and that Geetha needed to be in Guntur on the next Saturday with her parents.
Geetha did not like the idea but, out of respect for Mamayya and Atta, agreed to go along with her parents.
Siva Rao and Kanakam were elated to see Geetha. “How are you? How is your job? Everything going smoothly?” Siva Rao asked affectionately.
Kanakam’s face lit up like moon. She asked, holding Geetha’s chin in her palm, “How’re you doing? How is the job? Hope not troubles.”
Geetha was touched by the warmth in their voices. She replied to their queries appropriately.
Siva Rao told them about the groom. “Hari came from America to find a bride and get married. If both the girl and the boy could agree on the proposal, the marriage will take place right away.”
Siva Rao and Kanakam kept it very simple. Geetha wore an ordinary cotton saree and jasmine flowers in her hair. After a few minutes, Siva Rao asked Paramesam to follow him into the library. Kanakam stood and said to Kamakshi, “Come, vadina garu. I will show you our house.”
Hari and Geetha were left alone in the living room.
Hari started the conversation. “The whole thing is sudden. Let me know if you have any questions.”
“Questions about what?” Geetha said slowly.
Hari laughed. “I don’t know either. When I left America with the intent of getting married, I thought I would just get married and return to the States. Once arrived here, everybody has a girl to introduce me to, and I am as much in a daze as you are now. Never mind. Just tell me what you are thinking now about this arrangement.”
Geetha felt relieved as he spoke candidly.
“I feel the same way. They dragged me here saying, ‘come, come’, and I came. I don’t even know what to think anymore.”
“Okay, I will start. You stopped your studies with B.A. Is it because you are not interested to continue?”
Geetha hesitated to reply. She was not sure how he would take it, if she told him she had to discontinue because of her father’s financial situation.

Hari said, “That’s okay. I was only trying to find what your interests are. There can be any number reasons for someone to do or not to do something. Let’s forget that. Tell me this. How do you feel about moving to America?”
Geetha took a few seconds and asked, “Are you settled there, or, will you return back to India?”
“I can’t say one way or the other yet. You know our lives are where our jobs take us to. Probably, I would have to say for now yes I will stay in the States. You will have to resign your job here.”
“So many people are struggling to land a job. How can I a leave a job on hand?”
“That’s also true. How about taking a leave of absence without pay for one year. We can see later how things go,” Hari suggested a compromise.
They chatter this and that for another half hour. “My mother forgets time in company. Do you mind asking her to come here,” Hari said.
Geetha smiled and went in to escort the three women back into the living room.
She started to think seriously. She was very pleased with his demeanor. He addressed her with ‘meeru’, a polite form of second person singular, and asked for her opinion in each instance. She was impressed.
“What do you think?” her mother asked.
“Seems like a good person,” she replied.
Hari’s mother said, “I know it is rushing but he is hard-pressed for time. We don’t know when he can be back for the ceremony. The marriage has to be performed tomorrow.”
Paramesam and Kamakshi were startled. “In two days? How can we arrange that on such a short notice?”
Siva Rao assured them he would take care of all the arrangements. He called a few friends, used all his clout and had the ceremony finished reasonably well.
Paramesam and Kamakshi were grateful beyond words. “I am her father in name only. You took care of her education and marriage, too,” Paramesam said to Siva Rao, with moist eyes.
“Oh, no. Never say that, not even think like that. You are her birth parents and will always be. Kanakam and I are always Mamayya and Atta to her; and we are happy to be so. Geetha means as much to us as to you,” Siva Rao said fondly.

***

Geetha was reveling in the memories of past until the phone rang. Telemarketer. She said, “Not interested,” and hung up.
Phone rang again. She picked up and was about shout, “Again,” but Hari said hi from the other end.
She was thrilled to hear his voice. “Are you coming home?” she asked enthusiastically.
“No, Geetha, not yet. In fact, I called you to tell that. There is something I need to finish. Don’t wait for me. You eat, and go to bed. It could be quite late by the time I come home.”
“Okay,” she said. Disappointment in her voice was obvious.
“I’m sorry. I know you are bored. I am disappointed too. What can I say? That is the way things are here. Lot of work, very little time. I will try to come as soon as I can,” Hari tried to appease her.
“Yes, I know. I understand,” she said and hung up.
She looked around. Suffocating loneliness, not one human face anywhere to see. Devastating boredom. Thoughts of friends back home got to her again. She sat down to write to Satyam. She filled four pages describing Hari and his job, her cooking, about the vast space, and the small populace. Waiting for similar letter became a past time for her for a while. No letter came. Um, our Indians, she grouched and let it go.
She turned to her life in America. Everything here seemed to be diametrically opposite to what was in India.
We say keep left, they say keep right. We turn the light switch down, here it is up. We take a bath first thing in the morning, here they do in the evening. At home, mother always used to say, to get home before dark. Here life starts in the evening. Everything, big and small, is different. It is almost like what is wrong in India is right here. The thought made her smile.

She thought of what Radha had said. She was right, I must adjust to this new environment, Geetha told herself. I jumped into the ocean, knowing full well I had not learned how to swim. Now, I am here; I had better start flapping my arms and legs, call it swimming or not.
She made a strong coffee and finished in a couple of minutes. She opened the front door and stood in the doorway. What harm could happen if I just went out, and kept on the same street? she thought. After all, how could she get lost if she went on the same street and turned around walked back on the same street? She stepped out. The door closed shut behind her.
Oh, my God! Hari had told her quite a few times that the door would close automatically. What can I say, she did not remember, that’s all.

(Continued)

(July 8, 2022)

Chataka Birds part 8

8

For the next ten days, Geetha shivered each time the phone rang. Various emotions beset her each time the postman stopped at their door or passed on. She was too shy to ask about it but hoped Mamayya or Atta would call her parents and find out if there was any news. She was annoyed that the two families were acting like she had nothing to with it.
The following week, she received a letter from her friend, Saroja.
Dear Geetha,
We all are doing well here. Hope you are doing well. Life is moving along. Students don’t care about what the lecturers teach; and, the lecturers don’t care that the students don’t care. Days just pass by. I wish you were here. A few days back, I ran into your brother at a store. He said that you came for the weekend. Why did you not come to my home? Anyway, the real reason for this letter is, my marriage has been fixed, rather unexpectedly, on the 15th of this month. The groom is a distant relative. We used to play in our childhood days, says my mom. I don’t recall any of it. He came from America to get married. So, there is not much time. You must come.
Yours affectionately,
Saroja.
Geetha read that letter ten times; felt like Saroja was talking with her in person. Feelings of Joy, low spirits and inscrutable emptiness filled her for a few seconds. She told Atta about the news, and that she would like to go to the wedding. Atta agreed to send her and suggested that Jagadeesh would accompany her. But Jagadeesh refused. They had no choice but to let Geetha travel alone. Siva Rao put her on the bus, and assured her that Babayi would come to the bus stand in Vijayawada and pick her up.
Geetha nodded.
000

Saroja’s parents performed the wedding beautifully, despite lack of time for preparation. The groom’s parents and the guests were impressed and gave their heart-felt blessings to the newly-weds. “Your turn next,” one of the guests teased Geetha.
“I can find a groom for you in the States, if you like,” Saroja’s husband said, teasingly.
Saroja smiled. Geetha was embarrassed.
“Probably, it is not in my destiny. I think I will die without watching your wedding ceremony,” Bamma said, dabbing tears.
Saroja left for Chennai with her husband to spend a day with him before he left for the States.
Geetha was uneasy to stay at home and told her mother she was going back to Guntur the next morning. Kamakshi tried to persuade her to stay for one more day. Geetha insisted that she had to study for the upcoming exam and left.
Kanakam was very happy that Geetha returned earlier than expected. She thought Geetha was feeling at home in their house.
Geetha got very busy with her studies. She also kept her distance from Syam. Kanakam was perturbed for a few days but she got it right, understandably. She was even discussing family matters with her, now and then.
Geetha had grown up mentally. Now, for her, all the boys of Atta looked the same as Chitti.
000

After summer break, Geetha returned to Guntur to study B.A. During her absence, several things had happened. Mary married another Christian boy, she had met in her church, and went away to Calcutta. Satyam put a full-stop to her studies. Geetha also learned that Siva Rao suggested to Satyam’s mother that Satyam be given in marriage to Syam. It was still in the negotiation stage, but the chances of its happening looked good. The whole idea, however, was confusing to Geetha.
She went to see Satyam. She ran into Syam at the street corner. He smiled vaguely and avoided her.
Satyam was sitting on the porch and embroidering flowers on pillow covers. Geetha approached her from behind and blew on her neck. Satyam was startled, shouted ah as the needle pricked her finger. She was excited to see Geetha.
“After so long,” she said, taking Geetha’s hand into hers. Geetha was equally exhilarated. Her face lit up like the moon on a full-moon day.
Both sat next to each other without a word, for a few minutes, enjoying the pure joy of seeing each other after a long time. It was sheer poetry. As the poet had said, friendship is the sweetest thing in the entire creation.[1]A line from a popular song, srushtilo teeyanidi snehamenoyi
“So, tell me, what is new?” Satyam asked.
“You tell me,” Geetha said, squinting playfully.
“You know what is happening in my life. And I know you know that. So, only you can tell if there is anything new. What did you do during the holidays?”
Both were quiet for a while. Both sat there staring down; heavy thoughts filled their hearts. Each felt some kind of solitude in the company of the other. It was a unique experience.
After a few minutes, Geetha opened her mouth, “It seems your mother was hesitating to accept Mamayya’s proposal. Why?”
Satyam nodded.
“Well, you know, dealing with the rich.”
“Why?” Geetha asked again. She could appreciate her mother’s concern, yet, she wanted to hear it from Satyam.
Satyam laughed gently, smacked on Geetha’s head, and said,”That is cute. You asked why my mother would not accept it, and again, asking me why I would accept it.”
Geetha, too, laughed. “What can I say? I am perplexed by the whole thing.”
Satyam took some time to reply. Then, she spoke slowly, very slowly, “Geetha, you are smart but not worldly wise. You are like a little child. You eat when you are hungry, and sleep when you are sleepy. You don’t think beyond that. It never occurs to you that to think how the food got into your plate, or how things get done if you sleep.”
Geetha sat there, listening to Satyam’s words. She thought Satyam could be right. She had always felt distant to everything. Ever so often, she stood aloof, thinking things would happen without her intervention, and watching things happening without her intervention, as if she was an audience, and she had no role in it.
Satyam had two older sisters and two younger brothers. Her father died when Satyam was eleven and the last boy was two. Her mother, Papamma, was lived with dignity; never approached others for help. After her husband died, she managed the household by doing odd jobs at others’ houses in the neighborhood. Her mother also lived in the same house. She spent her time by reading the epics like Ramayana and Maha Bharata for other women in the neighborhood. Eventually, she had a small group of devotees. They would bring fruits, vegetables, and occasionally, a saree and blouse pieces, and sometimes, small cash.
Together, the two women were getting by.
Some people in town blamed Papamma’s brother for not coming to her help. Tired of the accusations, her brother one day paid a visit to Papamma. He said, “Look, in stead of doing odd jobs in the houses of others, why not stay with me and do the same?”
Papamma said, “I don’t think that is a good idea. When I work at other’s place, if there is a disagreement, I can walk away without thinking twice. If that happens, because of our relationship, we would just squirm; we could not walk away as in the case of outsiders. I understand your dilemma. But it is better this way.”
Satyam recounted this story and said, “I have no expectations like my mother could find a groom, comparable to Lord Rama, for me. I am just being realistic. Siva Rao Mamayya garu and Kanakam Atta garu are highly regarded people. Syam is all talk but immature. Plus, he respects you. And, you care about me. That is good enough, I thought; don’t you think so?”
Geetha felt like a great burden was off her chest. “Alright, I agree I am a dim-wit.”
“Oh, shut up,” Satyam gave a little smack on her head, playfully.
Satyam and Syam were married within a month, and moved to a new home. Siva Rao Syam put him in his business and started to train him in business matters.
***

Geetha completed B.A. and Bachelor’s degree in Education. She joined as a teacher in the same school Paramesam was working. Both her parents were losing hope of getting Geetha married.
***

(Continued)

(July 1, 2022)

References

References
1 A line from a popular song, srushtilo teeyanidi snehamenoyi