“So, when is the party?” Radha asked.
“Let’s wait,” Geetha replied. She was not overly excited about facing the crowd yet. Thoughts like being alone for the first time in America, on one hand, and leaving her job, on the other, threw her into a quandary.
“No, no. We won’t let you off so easily. Don’t worry about the work. We all are here to help you. Or, we can call Achala.”
“Who is Achala?”
“A student at the local community college. She has undertaken the catering service to support herself.”
“Oh! Isn’t it customary for us to do the cooking ourselves? Sometime back, Gayatri garu told me that her husband would not have it if she bought anything, not even sweets, from the store.”
“Well, things are changing. They are still acting like from old school, but our generation is changing in many ways. Don’t worry, Hari won’t object and I will make sure he will not,” Radha said with a little laugh.
“Okay, give me the number.” Geetha, however, was not comfortable with the idea. Achala also came to this country, like any of us, with hopes and aspirations. It felt unfair to take advantage of her unfortunate situation. But then again, it could also be viewed as helping her. She called Achala later in the evening.
“Sure, Auntie, I can help you. When?” Achala asked. She sounded happy on the phone.
“Not coming Sunday, but the next. About 30 guests give or take a few. Some of them are Americans. So, the items can be spicy, mild, sweet, savory, and so on.”
“No problem, Auntie. I will take care of all that. I am quite used to these kinds of parties. You just tell me the menu and leave the rest to me.”
“Then, tell me how much you charge and what do you want me to do.”
“For now, give me the list of items. We can take care of the charges.”
“No, no, Achala. This is new to me. Therefore, I need to know what is expected of me.”
“It depends on the items. I usually give 10% discount to the new customers. I will give you 15%. Okay?”
It surprised Geetha. “Oh, no. I am not asking discount,” she said quickly and apologetically.
A few seconds, there was silence.
“Our people ask for discount, Auntie,” Achala said slowly.
Geetha said she would check with Hari and get back to her later.
The thought of so-called “our people” haggling for discount left a bad taste in Geetha’s mouth. She was disconcerted. They all had good jobs, were making 60 to100 thousand a year, and they haggled for a few dollars with a young woman who was alone and putting herself through school by running a catering service? It was not like she was making tons; what was wrong with these people? The thought gave chills to Geetha. She was so disgusted with “our folks”, she decided to keep the party simply, glaringly simple.
She said the same thing to Hari. He did not think it was a good idea. “Look, this is our last party. It does not look good if we skimp on this one. Besides, fewer items means less money for Achala. Do you really want to do that because you are angry with somebody else’s attitude?”
The last point made sense to her. She called Achala.
“Let’s include all the items you usually make for a big party. I have no idea what the menu could be for a party of this size. This is all new to me. Since you have been doing this for a while, you tell me what would be a reasonably good menu. Tell me how much you charge. Forget the discount, just give me the usual rate.”
In all, went well, a huge success. Several guests complimented Geetha. She said the credit should go to Achala.
“But for her, you would have gotten plain rice, dal and, maybe, charuTamarind water, cooked with tamarind, salt and spices like powdered cumin seeds, coriader seeds and black pepper, similar to French onion soup in texture.,” Geetha said, playfully.
Achala made them all happy with a wide range of dishes, which were palatable to Americans, Indians who had gotten accustomed to American food, picky Telugu folks, kids, and all. She skipped the meal, though.
Geetha noticed it. She went in put a few items on a plate and went to Achala, “Here, you too should eat.”
“It’s okay, Auntie. I will eat later. Don’t feel like eating right now,” she said.
“Well then, I will have to invite you another day for dinner.”
Achala smiled, “Okay.”
“I like you,” Geetha said as she handed the check.
Achala returned the compliment, looked at the check and said, “You have me more than I asked for.”
“Keep it. You have done a wonderful job. I could never done without you.”
Tapathi brought Chitra to the party. She, Achala and another young man moved to a corner and got into a hearty chat.
“Who is he?” Geetha asked.
“He came with Gnanu. They are roommates I believe. He is doing M.S. at the university.”
Geetha looked at him with curiosity. He was thin, of fair complexion, and he had feminine features. It was like he would make a good actor for a princess role in Sanskrit plays.
“Ask Sunada to sing. He is a super singer,” somebody said.
Tapathi looked around, wondering who that Sunada could be. It was the same young man, who was sitting in the corner next to Achala and Chitra, and chatting with them , she realized.
He was embarrassed and insisted he was not that great a singer, but his friends would not have it. They kept insisting he must sing, and dragged him to the center of the room. He sang a well-known lyric. It was about a young devotee saying she had seen in her dream an exquisitely handsome, lotus-eyed lord. The song came to live in his voice. Audience were spell-bound, and asked for more songs. It continued for an hour.
Chitra’s face was glowing. Tapathi noticed it. Glad I brought her, she thought.
“Where did you learn music?” Geetha asked him.
“No, I did not learn, I mean, not systematically. My mother is an excellent singer. Had she given concerts, she would be on par with M.S. Subbalakshmi and M.L. VasanthakumariTop-ranking singers of South Indican classical music, also known as Carnatic. I have 4 sisters, all of them are well-trained in CarnaticSouth Indian classical music. Well-known composers are Thyagaraja, Muthuswamy Dikshitar, and Syama Sastry. music. They sing on All India Radio and at public concerts. The doors and windows in our home exhilarating musical notes, not the usual crackling noise. You know, like the pillars at LepakshiA famous temple in South India, known for its amazing architecture and paintings. temple. It was ingrained into my head; I didn’t even know until I started singing myself,” he said, smiling.
Geetha, too, smiled and said, “The name is perfect for you.”
“Actually, that was my father’s idea. He wanted name me after the seven notes, sa, ri, ga, ma, pa, da, ni, sa. My mother thought it was too long and curtailed it to Sanida. I don’t know how she selected the three notes. In course of time, it became Sunada. Sometime back, a Telugu pundit said Srinatha is a Sanskrit term and Sunada is its corrupt form. Either way, I am stuck with it.”
Geetha liked his sense of humor. Chitra was watching him keenly. Geetha had a nice talk with him. He said he had brought several tapes of Carnatic music from India, and also talked about the differences between the South Indian music and the North Indian music.
“I am not that knowledgeable in any style of music,” Geetha said.
“Did you hear of Kishori Amonkar?”
“She is a great North Indian Classical singer. I will bring her tapes for you tomorrow. You listen to her singing, you will know right away what a great artist she is.”
Geetha said okay. As she got up to mingle with the other guests, Tapathi joined them. Since she was also a musician, they got into more serious aspects of Carnatic music.
It was 11:00 by the time all the guests left.
Within a week, Sunada called Geetha and said, “I said I would give you Kishori Amonkar tapes. I can bring them now, if you are free.”
“Sure, come over,” she said. She was surprised, though. Usually, people say things casually and then forget it. Hari was not home, and so, she thought Sunada’s visit would be a good pastime.
Sunada brought the tapes and started playing them. He talked about various aspects of the song and the singer. Geetha watched him curiously; the actual music went way over her head. Nevertheless, she enjoyed the session, and asked him to stay for lunch.
“If it is not too much of a botheration for you.”
“Oh, no. No botheration at all. It is not like I have to make special dishes for you. I will make rice. Curry and sambar from last night, if you don’t mind.”
“No, I don’t mind at all,” he said, laughing.
After that, their meetings became routine. Hari was home a few times, but he did not mind it. He kept himself busy with his own work.
With Tapathi’s lessons and Sunada’s sessions, her music skills were getting better. She mentioned it to Tapathi. Tapathi said he was visiting her too. Just like Geetha, Tapathi was also surprised at first. “Actually, I thoughtit is a kind of strange that he is not interested in movies, games, and other activities like others of his age.” He seemed to be enjoying Tapathi’s company more.
His first visit happened in a rather unusual way, too. She was pulling weeds in the front yard. She heard a car stop and looked up. There he was! Sunada got out of the car, walked up to the gate, and said, “Sorry, Tapathi garu, I was driving by and saw you. I just stopped to say hi. I can come back some other time, after asking for your permission.”
Tapathi said there was no need for permissions and invited him in.
He, sitting on the edge of the sofa, said, “When I am bored, I grab a few tapes and drive around on country roads, listening to the music. That is my best pastime. I know you live around here, but hesitated to stop by for fear you might not like it. Geetha garu has talked about your musical skills a lot.”
Tapathi assured him it was a pleasure to have his company and that he could stop by anytime he felt like. She also said his idea of having good time was the best.
They went in. She asked if he would have some coffee or tea. He said water was fine, looked around and asked, “Where is Chitra garu?”
“She is on the back porch. I will get her,” she said and went to fetch Chitra.
“No, it is okay. Maybe she was busy.”
“Let’s see. We both can go there and see what she is up to.”
Chitra was sitting on a lawn chair and watching the birds. She heard the noise behind her, turned around, and saw Tapathi and Sunada. She smiled, barely noticeable. Tapathi couldn’t help the incident at the party at Geetha’s home. She went in for something. After 15 minutes or so, she returned to find they were not in the yard. She went into Chitra’s room.
There, Chitra was painting something and Sunada was humming a lyric in a soft tone. He stopped as Tapathi walked in and said, “What a great gift. Amazing. One thing I noticed is a pair of eyes that seem to be staring at you, piercing through straight in your heart. It certainly is a gift of God.”
The last line startled her. Previously, Geetha also had said the same thing, a mysterious pair of eyes! Maybe, one should have god-given eyes, too, to notice those eyes, she was bemused.
(October 27, 2022)
|↑1||Tamarind water, cooked with tamarind, salt and spices like powdered cumin seeds, coriader seeds and black pepper, similar to French onion soup in texture.|
|↑2||Top-ranking singers of South Indican classical music, also known as Carnatic.|
|↑3||South Indian classical music. Well-known composers are Thyagaraja, Muthuswamy Dikshitar, and Syama Sastry.|
|↑4||A famous temple in South India, known for its amazing architecture and paintings.|