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 dosacream 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.
“Hi. I was thinking of calling you.”
“Really. What are you doing?”
“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 BrindavanA 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?”
Vasu finished his homework, closed the books and left saying, “May I go to Gopi’s home to play, Mom?”
Tapathi nodded yes.
“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.
August 13, 2022