Chataka Birds part 21

Part 21
Geetha was apprehensive when Tapathi said Sunada had been visiting her frequently, once a month, at least.
“What do they talk about?”
“I don’t know. I did not see them talk at all. She paints and he sits there watching her and singing. Each seem to be living in their own worlds and, at the same time, enjoying each other’s company, too. Strange creatures.”
“And, you did not mind?” she asked.
“Why should I mind? Chitra is enjoying his company and he likes it, obviously.”
“Obviously.”
Tapathi noticed a streak of suspicion in Geetha’s voice.
“Do you think it is a bad idea?”
“I am not sure. You don’t want James story repeat, right?”
“This is not the same.”
“I agree it is not the same. But, you have to be careful, too. You and I may not be as judgmental, but the world out there could be cruel.”
“Since when you’ve gotten so smart?” Tapathi tried to make light of it.
“What did Gayatri garu say?”
“I didn’t tell them, not yet.”
“What? Why? Doesn’t it sound like you have some doubts, too?”
Tapathi was silent for a few minutes. “I think I am afraid of losing Chitra. I have been watching them closely and see only two pure artistic souls just enjoying music and art. Those two are unique in their own ways. I do not want to disturb their happiness in any way.”

***

Chitra’s younger brother offered to help her without the unsavory fanfare of a businesslike sales pitch. He created a simple website for her artwork. Tapathi scanned the paintings and he posted them on their site. Visitors were free to download them. If anybody wanted to buy the originals, they could do so. A few paintings were sold, and he sent the money to Tapathi. She opened a bank account in Chitra’s name and deposited it in the account.
Six months went by. One day, a local store owner liked one of her paintings, bought it, and hung it in his store.
Sunada saw that and told Tapathi. “If you don’t mind, I would like to show it to Chitra. I can drive her there, show it and bring her back,” he said, and as if on second thought, added, “it would be nice if you could come with us also.”
Tapathi told Gayatri. Gayatri had heard about Sunada and had come to terms with it. Chitra was happy and seemed to be even doing better, and that was good enough for her. Gayatri agreed to go to the store with them.
They all went to the store. Gita’s painting was hung prominently in a highly visible place. The store owner said several customers paid compliments to the painting.
Chitra’s face glowed. That glow was worth a thousand gems. The entire family was elated to see Chitra respond to the compliment.
Tapathi thanked Sunada.
“What for? Her brother made her paintings available to the public, and the store owner displayed them prominently. You should thank them,” he said.
“You don’t have to thank me either. I bought it because I liked it,” the store owner said.
His wife said, “Our son also is a special needs child. He turns 7 next month. We have consulted several doctors but no use. We don’t know what else we can do.”
“I am sorry, I don’t know really. We did not plan anything. It just happened. I am sure you will find his talents soon,” Tapathi said.
***

One day, Sunada asked Tapathi if he could take Chitra to a special ed school.
Tapathi was not sure. “What for?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I just thought she might enjoy watching others like her. May learn a few other things to do. I just want her to mingle with others, that’s all. If you don’t like it, that’s okay. I won’t bring it up again,” he said.
The store owner’s wife’s words came to her mind. “We tried everything,” she said. Maybe, this is not a bad idea, she thought. Who could tell what is in store for whom? She told him, it’s okay, he could take her to the school.
Sunada talked to the School Principal and scheduled an appointment. On the said day, he and Chitra went to the school.
Chitra appeared to be enjoying it. She walked around, watched a young boy paint. She held his hand and showed him a few strokes with the brush.
The Principal saw that, quickly went to them, and told Chitra gently to watch the other children’s work.Chitra nodded and moved to the next kid. Sunada apologized to the Principal. She smiled and said that was okay, she understood. She had been dealing with the mentally challenged students for years.
Sunada told the incident to Tapathi and said, “Maybe, she can teach to the kids.”
“How? She has no degrees. I don’t think they will take her in.”
“What do you mean she has no degrees. Geetha garu said she had run a school in New York. And now here, her paintings are selling well. What else would they need?” Sunada said.
He prepared a resume of Chitra’s qualifications and experience and took it to the Principal.
Principal said she would look into it. After two days, she called Sunada and said, “You are saying she has a unique talent. We don’t have funds to hire new people. How about she acting as a volunteer? We will see where it takes her to.”
“That is great,” Sunada said, “All I want is some meaningful activity for her.”
Sunada called Tapathi and gave the good news. Tapathi was amused by his enthusiasm. She became a bit apprehensive, too. Was he taking too much interest in Chitra?
She asked him, “I am impressed. I never thought you would do so much for her.” She tried to be evasive, but it did not help. Sunada got it.
He cooled down and said, slowly, “I know what you mean. I know about James, too. I promise, I have no ulterior motives. I will be done with my school next Summer and then , will go wherever my future takes me to. I just want her to be happy, that’s all.”
“That is so thoughtful of you, thank you,” Tapathi said.
“Send her, Tapathi garu,” he said again.
“Let’s see. There are other practical issues, you know. Transportation is one problem. Secondly, we will also consider the possibility that they may never want to pay for her services, once she agrees to do it free. And then, there are her parents to think about. I have already done so much without actually consulting them. I need to slow down, I was telling myself.”
“I think you should allow her to work there,” he said one more time before hanging up.
Tapathi thought about Sunada for a while. In general, he had always been quiet, naive and distant. In that sense, his interest in Chitra was strange. Of course, he said he had no ulterior motives and, probably, he was telling the truth. She contemplated for a while, and decided to leave it at that. She had seen enough people to believe that some people do good deeds, for no other reason than just to do a good deed. She had trusted Emmanuel in the past, why not trust Sunada now?
She talked to Chitra’s parents and told Sunada that Chitra could volunteer once a week for a starter.
***

While Tapathi and Geetha were chatting, the party at Geetha’s home came up. Geetha said, “It was so nice. Achala’s mouth-watering dishes and Sunada’s heart-warming singing, I missed India so much; I wanted to jump on the next plane to India.”
“Speaking of India, we will have ‘Ma.Te. Veshaalu’ (A Telugu People’s Meet) soon. Are you going?”
“What is Ma.Te. Veshaalu?”
“Short for maa Telugu samavesaalu. We shortened it to reflect it’s true nature. Basically, a show.”
“In the process, you have changed the meaning, too,” Geetha said, laughing.
Tapathi also laughed. Well, it is more of a show than a service to Telugu literature. Telugu elite, singers, stars and other grandstand seekers get together and discuss mostly business investments, children’s education and marriages.”
“In English, I guess.”
“Of course, naturally.”
“Are you going?”
“No. I attended once. That did it. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You two should go. You will learn a lot. Once would be a good experience. You can also meet your favorite writer, Anantham garu. He is invited this year.”
Anantham was a reputable writer, had been writing for over 5 decades and highly regarded by Telugu readers, young and old alike. The mention of his name got Geetha’s interest. Meeting him in person was one of her long cherished dreams.
“My cousin from India will be there too. Maybe you know him, Ranga Rao. He is also from Vijayawada.”
“Sure, I know him. After graduating from high school, he said he would go to America. Actually, he also suggested to me the ways to go to America. Funny, not in the manner he suggested but I did end up here. By the way, I did not know he is interested in literature,” Geetha said.
“This conference is not specifically for literarians. People from all walks of life attend it. I think he is a businessman.”
“What kind of business?”
“I don’t know. Export business, I believe; moving things around, from here to there and from there to here. Go to the conference. You can ask him yourself.”
That night Geetha asked Hari about the meeting. “It seems there is a conference of Telugu people. Shall we go?”
“I don’t think you will like it,” he said.
“Why do you think so?”
“Well, I’ve been watching the way you react to our people here. You don’t think much about our folks.”
Geetha was ruffled. “When did I say so?”
“You don’t have to say it in so many words. On one hand, you say you are trying to understand their psyche; on the other, you dismiss them for not retaining our Telugu culture and traditions. You complain they all are so much into American culture and customs and disregard our culture and traditions. When they talk about you, you are annoyed. But you don’t think that they may be annoyed about you and Tapathi garu interfering in Chitra’s life.”
Geetha sat there, listening to his comments and wondering. She never knew he was observing her that closely. Her first instinct was to find fault with his argument. Soon, she realized that there was some truth in his comment. True, she could not appreciate the manners and mode of living of local Telugu people. She, however, did not dismiss their entire lifestyle; she was trying to make sense of it. That was what she said to him. “I am not blaming them. I am just trying to understand the change that has taken place in their lives and attitudes. Let it be. All I am saying is maybe, if we go to places like this conference, I will have an opportunity to meet more people and see things in a different light. Besides, you’ve said you had attended only one conference. Why didn’t you go to other conferences?”
“I can’t afford to confine myself to my home, my family, my language, and all that. I came here to achieve something in my field. I need to stay focused on that. In the past, we had devoted our lives to please the British lords. Now we are devoted to please American lords. Besides, during that period, we were on our own soil. Here, we do not have even that. So, we have to work that much harder.” Hari finished his speech and laid back on the sofa, feeling exhausted.
Another reason Hari did not articulate was about the attendees at the conference. Most of the attendees were parents, whose interests were raising children, their education, and their marriages in the case of adult children; and retirees, whose interests were about their lifestyles and investment opportunities or playing golf. Hari did not fall under either category.
Geetha noticed the despair on his face and dropped the idea. She did not mention it again.
After two days, however, Hari brought it up himself said, “Let’s go to the conference.”
He had called a few old friends earlier and found out four of them were attending the conference. That was good enough for him. “Iron your silk sarees. Polish your gold jewelry. Work on your singing skills. We are going to the Telugu Conference,” he said to Geetha.
“What about my dance?” she said teasingly.
“We skip that for now,” he said with a smile.
*** *** ***
(Continued)
(November 5, 2022)

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