It was August 1984. I was 24 then. Had just joined JNU for M.Phil. and was all alone at home as all other members of the family had gone to Mysore and were not expected to return in the next thirty days.
Before I could think (or worry!) about my alimentary needs, three kind-hearted ladies of the neighbourhood voluntarily took upon themselves the responsibility of keeping me alive till my sister returned. Mrs. Janaki Sitaraman, a Tamilian from Palghat, the immediate neighbour right opposite my door, announced that every morning I would break my fast at her dining table. Mrs. Rama Bhatt, a painter from Shimoga, who lived in the flat, exactly identical to our own ground floor flat, in the adjacent building at Munirks DDA Flats, declared my lunch would be cooked at her kitchen. Mrs. Manorama Rao, a motherly elder from Bangalore who lived in the first floor flat right above Mrs. Janaki Sitaraman’s, softly assured that my supper will be on my table at 8-30 every evening.
Idli or dosa or Appam or Upma, sometimes two or three dishes at a time, for breakfast! Roti, rice, sabzis of myriad variety for lunch!! Plenty of rice, sambar, rasam, pappad and curd for supper!!! Life became so easy. I felt I should go for jogging every morning or else I would grow horizontally enough to prompt my sister, when returned, to wonder whether I was younger to her or… elder!
Days grew wings and flew past at unexpected speed…
A couple of years later, on winter morning, I went to DPS, Mathura Road to write an examination, which one I don’t remember now for I wrote several exams during those years. All my friends had got their exam centres close to JNU and I was the only one in our friends circle to be thrown that far.
The first part of the exam was over at 12 noon and there was a long break of two hours before the second one was to begin. I stepped onto the lawn, walked past several small groups of boasting boys and chirping bevies and a few that had both flavours, and sat at a place far away from all these crowds. I didn’t feel like studying as that was my habit during two exam sessions. I didn’t feel like eating anything either as eating alone is one thing I am uncomfortable with even to this day. I hung my head down, closed my eyes and began enjoying the winter sun.
I heard footsteps close to me, opened my eyes and saw a short and hefty man with a heavy bag slowly walking towards me. I felt he was also a loner like me and wanted to move far away from the noisy crowds that dotted the lawn and expected him to walk past me. No. he did not walk past me, instead came straight towards me with a smile and sat before me heaving a sigh of something that sounded great relief.
He introduced himself first. He was from neighbouring Haryana, married, with two children. Like me he was also here as an examinee and like me again, didn’t know anyone here. I told him, in response to his gentle queries, a few things about myself. He seemed not interested in what I said for he cut me short with a different question: “What about your lunch?” While doing so he opened his heavy bag and pulled out a big packet. I told him that I didn’t feel like having lunch. “How can that be? You must eat something.” He said in a tone laced with gentle insistence. Without looking at me he opened the packet and out came aloo parathas, thick and fragrant. Ignoring my insistence that I wasn’t hungry, he put four parathas on a paper plate, opened a big box full of butter, spooned out and literally dumped almost a quarter kilogram of the thick white substance churned out of the milk of, undoubtedly, the famous and massive Haryana buffalo.
“You shouldn’t stay hungry. Eat eat. This is very tasty, homemade. My wife prepared these parathas for me. She got up early in the morning, very early, at 2 a.m…”
I ate. He was right. The thick butter and the thicker parathas were very very tasty…
Two decades passed. Lot of changes took place in the world around me. The mighty Soviet Union collapsed and splintered away, Cold War ended, Gulf War began and it came so close to home, to Afghanistan… I moved to Pondicherry, got married, got a son…
Arundthati was transferred to Delhi in December 2006. Six months later Aditya and my sister followed suit…
I dropped them in Delhi, returned to Pondicherry…, sat alone silently…
Kamakshi, the maid came, finished her chores silently as it is her nature to be silent… Glanced at me and threw a glance at the stove too and left without a word. I didn’t move from my place.
The doorbell rang in no time. I got up wondering who the visitor was.
There was Kamakshi again. I wondered why she came again as she had finished all the work for the day and looked at her quizzically. She avoided me look, walked into the kitchen without a word and opened the packet she had in her hand.
Soon there was a plate before me with four idlis soaked in sambar….
“Anna (Brother), you shouldn’t stay hungry.” She said.