Chataka Birds part 14

Part 14

Geetha followed Tapathi, with her plate and other dishes. They put the dishes in the sink. Tapathi poured water, added coffee grounds, and sat on a chair by the dining table. Geetha sat across from her and said, “So?”

“Remember what I had said about Emmanuel’s comments before I agreed to marry him?”


“He said I would not have people pestering me with embarrassing questions. He was wrong in that respect. He did not know there is another world, unknown to him.”

“You mean our people? Wherever they go, no change in their attitudes and behavior?”

“I am not saying all of them are like that. Actually, I have seen some among Americans too. They also ask questions, ‘Why did you come here?’, ‘When will you go back?’ and ‘Is your marriage arranged?’ such. They call it small talk, and even say, ‘How would I get to know you, if I don’t ask questions?’ Probably, that is a built-in feature in all humans.”
Geetha said, slowly, as if she was talking to herself, “Is it possible to get to know a person fully by just asking a few questions ever?”

“Then again, it is not as bad when an American asks such questions. I can comfort myself thinking they don’t know our culture, and cannot understand out lifestyles. But, it is a lot harder to take it from our own people. After coming here, our people develop a unique mentality. Just time alone is not enough to understand it. One must have a special kind of experiences, too.”

“Yes, I too have had some experiences.”

“No, not, that. I am talking about a very unique experiences. One has to be very clever to avoid such experiences. You know, at first, I was very friendly with all these people, was always there to help whoever needed help. Probably, it is because of the help I had received from Emmanuel. Maybe I thought it is a way of paying off his debt. In course time, I got to understand that there are several layers within our community. They are not as striking as in our country. Nobody admits them either. They keep chirping the same song, ‘we are all Telugu people’, ‘we should cherish our culture’, ‘we love our Telugu’, ‘we love our country’, on and on; just a show, just lip service. Nobody comes to your rescue in times of need. That’s when you see their real colors. They all are formed into groups, based on their jobs, status, caste, the towns or cities they had come from, and so on. One must have an exclusive knack to merge into one of those groups and settled comfortably. Consider it a gift, bestowed only on a few people.”

Geetha took a deep breath and stood, “Okay. It is getting late. I had better go. Hari will call soon and, if I am not home, he freaks out.”

Tapathi said alright, and followed her to the door.


After Emmanuel left the house to her and left the country, Tapathi settled down and got busy with taking care of the house, and looked for other avocations. One of her colleagues at work was a part-time art teacher. He offered her to teach painting. She was excited to learn painting.

Tapathi usually not much of a party-giver. However, once a year, she would invite a few good friends, meaning those, who did not criticize her lifestyle and who took her for who she was.

She planned a party the following Sunday. While making a list of the invitees, she remembered Gayatri, a woman she had met at one of Bhagyam’s parties. At the time, she learned that Gayatri also, like herself, would not go to many parties, and that for a good reason.

Gayatri and her husband Somanlingam had three children, two boys and a girl. He came to the U.S. 10 years back with the pious hope of obtaining a Ph.D. in Chemistry. For several reasons, it did not go well. His professor was not very supportive, and he lost his scholarship. He started driving a cab for a while. Gayatri learned typing and joined in a bank as a teller. Together, they managed to have a decent family life. Eventually, Somalingam opened a service station.

Their two sons were doing well in school, but the daughter Chitra’s story was different. Gayatri and Somalingam did not realize that until they sent her to school. The very next day, they received a phone call from school. They were told that Chitra was not mixing with other kids; she should be evaluated by a specialist. They also suggested that she might have to be sent to a special ed school.
Money was a problem for them to send her to a special ed school. The decided to keep Chitra at home, and changed their schedules so that one of them was always at home to attend to her needs. They were tired of umpteen stupid questions and suggestions at parties, and so, they avoided parties. If they attended a party, they left Chitra at home with her brothers.

During those days, Tapathi decided to throw a party for her close friends. She invited Gayatri and told her to bring Chitra also. Tapathi understood their situation. In a peculiar way, she identified herself, since she also was unable to deal with similar stupid questions and suggestions. She could relate to the parents’ situation.

Gayatri was apprehensive, at first, but agreed. She had some idea of the rough times Tapathi had been through, and for that reason, she was kindly disposed toward her.

“Okay, we will be there. Please, don’t take it wrong in case Chitra says something or does something.”

“Of course, I understand. I will not say anything that might upset her. Actually, I am inviting only nice, friendly people,” she assured Gayatri.


Gayatri and Somalingam came to the party. Chitra came in behind them. Tapathi welcomed them with a smile.

It was a small party. She invited her art teacher James, a couple of her colleagues, and Geetha.

They all sat down in the living room and chatting. Chitra got up and started walking around. Gayatri called her but Chitra did not care, she kept walking around. Tapathi said it was okay for her to roam, she did not mind.

Suddenly, Gayatri noticed Chitra wandered away. She was nervous, got up quickly and went around to see where the child might be, went into the kitchen and asked Tapathi if she had seen Chitra.

It was not a big house. Both found Chitra soon enough. She was in Tapathi’s den. There was a canvas and art supplies.

Chitra was giving finishing touches to a painting Tapathi had started.

Gayatri panicked. She went to Chitra, yanked the brush from her hand, and slapped her. She apologized to Tapathi profusely.

Tapathi said again and again it was no big deal, went close to the canvas and looked at Chitra’s work keenly. She thought it was interesting.

She called James and showed him what Chitra had done.

Gayatri was confused. She thought Tapathi was asking James to evaluate the damages.

“I am so sorry, really really sorry. I will pay for the canvas, Tapathi garu,” she said, with sinking heart.

“Oh, no, Gayatri garu, don’t worry. It is okay. No, really, I am not upset. I think your daughter is talented. James also thinks so.”

“Yes, she is talented, no doubt,” James said.

Somalingam came into the room, suspecting something bad might have happened there.

Chitra was in a corner curled up and crying softly.

Tapathi went to her and consoled her, “It is okay. Don’t worry. You did nothing wrong. Actually, you have a good job on that art piece.”

“Yes, she is good. You should consider sending her to art school,” he suggested to Somalingam.

Both Gayatri and Somalingam were relieved and were happy about their daughter’s gift. Nevertheless, they were down also.

“Thank you, James. Sending her to art school is out of the question, it is beyond our means,” Somalingam said politely.

Thus, Chitra’s gift had come to light on that day.
Tapathi could not forget Chitra and her talent. She was keen on helping her out one way or the other. She talked to James again; asked him to find a way for Chitra to get the needed training in painting.

James thought about it and said he would be happy to teach Chitra, “No, I will not charge her,” he added. Tapathi was surprised. In her mind, it was a casual comment, and there was no expectation of James offering to help.

She thanked him wholeheartedly. “You don’t know how much it means to me,” she said.

“I think I know,” James said with a little smile.

Tapathi conveyed the wonderful news to Gayatri. Gayatri was happy to hear that; she even thanked both of them but also added that it was not feasible. James lives too far. Chitra could not go by herself, and neither Gayatri nor Somalingam had no time to take her there; their own work schedule would not permit it.

Tapathi ran into another hurdle. She took it to James again. “Oh, no. That’s no problem. I have another commitment in that area every Tuesday. I can stop by earlier and give lessons to Chitra for about 45 minutes,” he said.

Tapathi’s heart jumped for joy. The schedule was set.

“I can never repay your debt, not in the next seven lives,” Gayatri said, with tearful eyes, and holding Tapathi’s hands in her’s.
“No, Gayatri garu, don’t say that. I am happy we recognized her talent,” Tapathi said.
Following Tuesday, James went to Gayatri’s home and started lessons. At the beginning, Gayatri stayed home during the classes. After a few weeks, she felt good about James’s demeanor and let go of her fears.

Chitra showed signs of improvement in about six months.

Her mother, father and Tapathi were elated beyond belief. James was very happy that his attempt was bearing fruit.


Time does not go by smoothly forever. If it does, there is no story.

One day, Gayatri left for work after James arrived. And she returned home, as usual, but did not find Chitra at home, as usual. She anxiously called her neighbors, friends and everybody she could think of and asked if they had seen Chitra anywhere. Nobody had seen her, could not think of any place she might have gone to.

Gayatri called Tapathi. Tapathi was terrified. What could have happened. She assured Gayatri that she would also try to find out what might have happened. She went to James’ section. James was on leave for one week, she found out. Her head started spinning. The thought of James taking Chitra to some unknown place was unthinkable, but that was the only thought that was coming back to her again and again. She should share her thought with Gayatri, but how? How could she say it? But then, how could she keep quiet as if nothing had happened?

She picked up the phone, held it for a couple of minutes, and then hung up. She had better say it in person. She got into the car and headed toward Gayatri’s home. All the way, she was trying to find the words to convey her thoughts. Not a single word came to her mind. One of those times when language fails you. Possibly, Gayatri would blame her for the present situations. And with a good reason. She, Tapathi, brought into their lives. She must share responsibility. Tapathi arrived at Gayatri’s home without a clear idea of what she would say to Gayatri.


(September 3, 2022)

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