Unspoken Wish: Anantha's short story set in Bengaluru is an affair to remember

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Unspoken Wish: Anantha's short story set in Bengaluru is an affair to remember

Short fiction by Anantha

“Come, Krishna, have your coffee. It will get cold”, asserted Amma from the kitchen. I got up from my bed and walked sleepily towards the hall. The beautiful French window, the highlight of our small two-bedroom apartment, opened up to a mango grove. The sunbirds and the parrots added more charm to the picturesque view which greeted us every morning. I sipped my hot filter coffee inhaling the fresh air in the small balcony.

These were the little comforts of life I missed. Life abroad has its perks, but I missed my home; I missed Amma pampering me, my intense cricket discussions with Appa, and those little fights with my sister. I missed the mango grove, the French window, Amma’s food, and the morning local newspaper.

The doorbell rang. It was the milkman.

“Don’t forget Rajanna, next Wednesday, I need 10 litres of milk,” Amma reminded him.

“How many times will you tell him?” Appa nudged.

“He needs constant reminders. Otherwise, he will forget. Then I will have to run to the parlour in the middle of the entire hullabaloo”, Amma shot back.

“You are making a big deal of a small gathering”, Appa shoved. I grinned. We both knew what was coming next. Amma launched into a long tirade about Appa’s lack of interest in the proceedings of the upcoming event, my sister’s engagement.

My little sister, Gauri, who is four years younger than me was about to get hitched. The groom was her colleague from work. He had proposed to her, and they had promptly approached my parents for their consent.

My parents were overjoyed and were keen on announcing their engagement to the social circle.

“You are her only brother. You have to come”, Amma had insisted and I had to fly back home in the middle of my overseas assignment. The date was marked for the coming Wednesday, five days from now.

“Do you also have someone in mind? We will finish both the engagements together”, Appa joked.

I choked into my steel tumbler. My coffee spilt out. “Are you okay?” he asked looking at the sudden change in my expression, “You look as if you have seen a ghost!”

“I am fine Appa. I just remembered something I have to attend to.” I hastily got up to take my shower.

The hot water came pouring on my head. I closed my eyes to feel it. I thought about Appa’s words. They could have turned true if not for my cold feet!

Memories came flooding back.

I had run away from Saroja like a coward.fast-food favourite.

“Marriage is too big a commitment”.

“I am not sure what I want to do in my life”.

I had given her feeble excuses when she had hinted about our future together. We were sipping coffee that evening in Maiya’s restaurant in Jayanagar. The waiter had served Mysore bondas on the banana leaf.

“Why?” she had asked, with an innocent expression. “Do you not like me?”

I do not remember what I had answered. But when I had replied, I had not looked into her eyes. I had abruptly ended the conversation, paid the bill and walked away. I was distraught. I did not meet her after that meeting, nor did I try to contact her. And that is the last I ever saw her or heard of her. A few months later, I got an overseas assignment, and I had left.

I came out of my trance and finished my bath. I dressed up and went for a stroll. I walked past our quiet lane into the busy lively roads of Jayanagar.

My family lived in Jayanagar. To be more precise, 3rd Main, 4th cross, Byrasandra Extn, Jayanagar 3rd Block East. Bengaluru perhaps has one of the longest address descriptions in the country. It is a humongous task for a newcomer, labouring through these mains and crosses, to find a home based on an address in Bengaluru.

I walked past Cool Joint, a fast-food restaurant, which used to be my favourite hangout place in college. I crossed the Jain temple and walked towards Maiya’s restaurant.

The Varasiddhi Vinayaka temple, where I was headed to, was on the opposite side of the restaurant. I could hear the temple bells from a distance. It is a quaint little temple, with a simple dome and a small inner shrine, but it has been gaining a lot of popularity of late because of the splendid innovative decorations done to the deity. Lord Ganesha was decked up with creative decorations each day. We witness the transformation of the deity decked up in flowers to heaps of butter the next day, dry fruits the day after and expensive gold and silver ornaments on the fourth.

I have spent most of my childhood in the surroundings of this temple. Amma was one of the committee members and was deeply involved in the temple proceedings. I knew everyone there, right from the street vendors to the head priest.

It was not yet 7:00 in the morning. Somu will be there opposite the temple selling coconuts and flower garlands. Lakshmamma will be in her little shop arranging lemons and garlands for the vehicle pooja. Shivanna Gouda would come at sharp 7:00 AM daily with a packet of Nandini milk for the abhisheka. He sought blessings from Ganesha for his daily real estate deals. Uma aunty would be there with one dozen bananas and marigold flowers as an offering. She will leave exactly at 7:15 AM to catch a bus to her school in Banashankari.

Lost in my own thoughts, I reached the temple. After the courtesy talks, I enter. I have never seen a more composed man than the head priest, Chinnadevaru, in my whole life. He did the aarti and blessed me.

“How are the engagement preparations going on? Amma asked me to oversee the event”, he asked.

“Amma says there is a lot to be done”, I smiled.

My eyes trailed to the entrance. “Perhaps she will come”, I hoped.

I had met her the first time in the temple. Our acquaintance grew in the temple premises. She would come every morning at 7:00 AM before she left for the bank where she worked. Her simple looks and calm demeanour had appealed to me. Her love for books had impressed me even more. “We would have been together by now, had I not chickened out”, I thought.

“Did you see Saroja recently?” I took the liberty to ask Uma Aunty.

“It’s been a while, Krishna. Their family has shifted to Malleshwaram. She does not come here often”, she replied.

I thanked her and walked out of the temple. Perhaps I will never get to meet her again and apologize to her, I thought with a heavy heart.

I sauntered down the unusually quiet alleys of Jayanagar 4th block. It was 7:30 in the morning. I saw a couple of city buses driving past me. Traffic will pile up soon, and these serene roads will turn unruly with loud honks of bikes and cars huddled at every signal. I walked past the Co-optex showroom. On my right, was the Jayanagar Complex. The complex is a flea market with small shops which sell an eclectic mix of goods from daily routine items to luxury products. They say one can shop for almost anything under the sun in Jayanagar both inside the shopping complex as well as from the roadside shops. It looks like an old worn-out concrete building from outside but is massive from inside.

Few shops were already open, but nothing like the commotion we witnessed in the evenings. The shops were lined next to one another and ran into multiple alleys. As you manoeuvre through the tangled maze, you figure out there is actually a pattern.

Party shops selling decorations, return gifts and birthday banners are huddled in one alley. The second alley is filled with shops which make and sell beautiful sculptures, pottery and other artwork at a reasonable price.

The third alley is dedicated to spices, condiments and confectionaries. The next alley has toys, bags and dress shops. One entire alley is dedicated to household goods. As you exit the complex on the other side, there is a vegetable and fruit market. Farmers from nearby towns sell fresh vegetables at throwaway prices. It is the murkiest corner of the complex; the vendors spread the vegetables on a gunny bag or a newspaper, which are bound to spill over to the floor. It is a common sight to see smashed vegetables everywhere in that area.

Adjacent to the vegetable market is a small colourful flower market. Different types of roses, jasmines, chrysanthemums and marigolds adorn the decorated carts. Amma would buy garlands for the temple frequently here, and as a child, I used to hang out with her in this market quite often.

I exited the complex towards the main road to head back home. Amma must have prepared breakfast and might be waiting for me.

I reached home. Amma was already fussing over the delay in the arrangements. She had plans to go to Gandhi Bazaar today.

“The daughter of the house is getting married and your Appa is not even bothered”, she fretted.

“It is just an engagement. Not marriage. Don’t make such a fuss about it.”, Appa retorted.

“What do you know? We have to make sure the guests get proper treatment. You know how people talk behind the back,” Amma was angry.

“Relax. We still have time”, I said, “Did you finalize on the caterers?”

“Yes, Raghavendra uncle said he will arrange for the food”, Gauri answered.

We have known Raghavendra uncle for years now. He was more like family. He ran a catering business.

“Alright, I will pull the car out. Let’s go to Gandhi Bazaar”, I offered.

“Where will you park there?” Amma and Gauri asked in unison. “Let’s take an autorickshaw. It is easier. You will not get parking anywhere in the vicinity of 1 Km and I am not walking in the hot sun”, Amma said firmly.

We all headed to Gandhi Bazaar in an auto-rickshaw. As the market place came to sight, past memories came flooding back.

Gandhi Bazaar is one of the oldest shopping areas in Bengaluru south. Filled with the cacophony of vendors, coloured with vibrant hues, this marketplace represented the spirit of old Bengaluru. I am familiar with every nook and corner of Gandhi Bazaar thanks to Amma’s obsessive love for shopping.

Our first stopover was Subbamma Angadi, our family’s favourite snack shop.

The story about the proprietor and founder of this shop, Subbamma, is very inspirational.

A mother of three children and a widow, Subbamma, had started a revolutionary trend in 1947 when she had decided to use her culinary skills to sell spicy condiments door to door. She did not fear any social restrictions, her spirit was recognized and the place, where the shop stands till this day, was rewarded to her.

Amma bought Hurigaalu, chakle and kodubale, which were our favorite snacks. Gauri and I started munching from one packet each. She also bought condiments and sweets to offer to the guests who will be coming for the engagement.

Then we headed to Satish stores, which sold a wide range of decorative items, religious trinkets and an exhaustive variety of items required for any ritual.

We purchased everything required for the engagement ceremony. Amma and Gauri walked into Vittal dress to buy clothes and accessories. I continued to wander in the market until I saw Vidyarthi Bhavan on my right.

Vidyarthi Bhavan is one of the oldest and most cherished eateries of Bengaluru. It looked deserted, a very rare sight to behold.

The last I had come here was with Saroja one evening.

There was a mad rush outside the hotel. After an hour, we got a seat in the hotel. We both had asked for Saagu Masala Dose. “Ivaga idly, Vada, masala/plain dosa maatra”, the waiterr with a dhoti had said. “Saagu Masala Dose is served only in the mornings”. We were a little disappointed but had ordered all the items he had mentioned.

We both ate like gluttons that day. After we finished, we had ordered three more plates of rave vade.

Saroja had said, “When you come to Vidyarthi Bhavan, you forget about diet restrictions.”

I smiled thinking fondly of her. “Where could she be? Will she even talk to me if she sees me?” I wondered.

Amma and Gauri joined me near the hotel. We all went in and ordered the Saagu masala dose, which was readily served in small steel plates. A waiter poured the chutney for us. Ghee was dripping down the dosa. Gauri was eyeing it with suspicion.

“When you come to Vidyarthi Bhavan, you forget about diet restrictions. Inta thindi sigakke bardukottirbeku?” I repeated those words from Saroja like a parrot.

Gauri and Amma laughed out loud. “You will make me fat right before my engagement anna”, Gauri playfully reproached me. Nevertheless, she devoured the dosa all the same, along with us.

We returned home late afternoon and took a nap.

“Happy now Amma?”, I teased.

“Saree shopping is still pending. We will go to Chickpet tomorrow”, Amma said.

“You haven’t bought sarees for yourselves yet?” I asked in surprise.

“Ayyo silly! Our sarees are ready. This is for the groom’s mom and his relatives”, Amma said. “You should also buy a fine silk sherwani for yourself”, she added.

“Amma, spare it for the wedding”, I chortled, “I have enough clothes for the occasion”.

“Looking at the way your mother is spending money, I am thinking of finishing both engagement and marriage on the same day. No choultry cost. I am spared,” Appa teased.

I and Gauri laughed out loud. Amma got up and went into the kitchen to avoid any further arguments with Appa.

The next day early morning, Gauri and I walked to the temple. We stopped by Cool Joint to have breakfast. We both ordered Veg grilled sandwiches.

“Are you in touch with your college friends, Raghu and Ravi?” Gauri asked casually taking a bite. She knew this was our favourite hangout spot, all four years of our college.

“On and off, I haven’t messaged them that I am here”, I answered.

“How about Saroja? Have you both patched up?”. Gauri was the only one in the family who knew about her.

“No.”, I replied curtly avoiding her eyes.

“Did you at least try contacting her?”

“No.”

“Do you want to contact her?”

“No.”

“Do you want to forget her?”

“No.”

“Do you want to get your head fixed?”

“No.”, I halted abruptly and looked at her.

Gauri was glaring at me as if I was a crack-pot. It is partly true when it comes to Saroja. My brain stops working whenever I think about her.

“The problem you see is that I am still not sure.” I tried to explain.

“Cut the crap, Anna. You are making a big deal out of nothing.” she retorted.

“What do you mean nothing? It’s my life at stake”, I exclaimed.

“So, what exactly is your problem? At least talk to her once”, she said as if that was the simplest thing to do.

“Forget it”, I said drinking my mango milkshake. We both quietly walked back home.

Next day, Amma and Gauri were getting ready to go to Chickpet to buy sarees. “You both go ahead. What will I do in saree shopping?” I tried to excuse myself.

“Who will carry all the sarees we shop?” Gauri mocked.

“Come Krishna. I will be happy if you come”, Amma requested, “Your Appa is anyway least bothered. At least I know I am not alone in these preparations”.

“Who gifts sarees for engagement?” Appa was adamant,” I am not siding with you for this unnecessary extravaganza”.

I had to accompany my mother and sister to Chickpet.

“Look what all you are making me do for your grand occasion”, I teased Gauri.

“I will do the same for yours too. Promise”, she winked with her hand on her head.

The three of us took an autorickshaw and arrived at Chickpet.

Chickpet, in short, is Bengaluru’s real budget shopping paradise, renowned especially for silk sarees. One visit here will erase all your memories of Commercial Street. It is a huge maze of shops. We passed through the hawkers selling earrings on the road, shops selling lights, party supplies and plasticware. We entered an age-old establishment which specializes in silk sarees. The shop had kanjivarams and other curated silks neatly stacked in shelves, convenient to browse. Amma and Gauri were spellbound at the sight before them. I suppressed a laugh thinking what Appa would have said if he were here.

I told them to call me once they have finished their shopping and meandered in the market area. I wandered around the Avenue road, filled with book shops which displayed neat stacks of books, from the latest bestsellers to college books, especially the engineering books. This was the place to come to purchase second-hand books or sparsely used books in excellent quality at a very reasonable price. I entered a book shop and started browsing through the collection. I saw The Kite Runner from Khaled Hosseini on one of the shelves. Saroja loved this book. It was one of her favourites, I mused.

All she ever wanted was a book in her hand and someone to talk to. She did not care about fancy dresses or jewellery. She did not like going to lavish restaurants or luxurious salons.

A call from Gauri interrupted my reverie and I hurried back to the saree store, where my mother and sister were waiting for me to carry the loaded bags filled with colourful sarees home.

“Are you done spending or should I apply for a loan? The bank officers will mock me if I say I am mortgaging my house for my daughter’s engagement”, Appa’s derisive remark in the night did not go well with Amma. They did not talk to each other until the day before the occasion.

The festivities began, as planned. We started decorating the house with flower garlands. Amma had initially planned to go to Malleshwaram to buy the flowers but one sharp glance from Appa settled the matter. We went to the Jayanagar complex to buy flowers. Raghavendra uncle came in the evening to set up the food arrangement.

Appa and Amma made a list of all the customs and rituals to be followed for the occasion. We decorated the house with different kinds of flowers. By Wednesday morning, our house looked like a decked mantapa.

The groom and his family arrived the next day. Amma welcomed them with aarti. My sister looked resplendent in a green kanjivaram saree. Bedecked with jewels from top to toe, she looked like a bride to be. Chinnadevaru came on time after his morning pooja at the temple to perform the ceremony. Everything went according to plan.

We all went to the temple to seek the blessings of Ganesha. Today, he was decorated with fruits. His body and hands were decorated with green grapes. The ears and the neck were adorned with pomegranate seeds. The crown was ornamented with a stack of fruits, each piled upon another, grapes, peeled orange slices, black jamuns, unpeeled Mosambi, uncut apple, uncut chikku and pomegranate seeds on the top. He looked out of this world, magnificent in the attire. No wonder people hoarded to get one glimpse of the Lord in this little temple despite the commotion of the noisy lanes of Jayanagar traffic.

Shivanna and Uma aunty had come to wish Gauri. Will she come? A part of me was longing to see her. If wishes were granted so fast, then the world would not be the same.

Chinnadevaru did an elaborate archana and blessed the couple. We all sat down on the floor in the temple premises. Lakshmamma gave the couple free garlands to exchange. Somu served us all coconut water. Gauri was beaming, Amma content with the function proceedings. Even Appa shed a few tears of joy.

I looked up at a slight movement. A familiar figure came from nowhere and stood near Gauri. I thought I was hallucinating. I strained my eyes to get a closer look. Saroja was standing in front of me.

She was looking vibrant in her blue saree. With her red elongated bindi and dangling earrings, she looked like a bride herself. I was ogling at her without batting my eyelids.

She hesitated, and then greeted Gauri nervously. Gauri stood up and flung her arms around her. “I am so happy you have come, Saroja”, she said, loud enough for me to hear.

“My dumb-witted brother will do nothing but sulk. You will have to make it work”, she implored Saroja holding her hands.

I kept gawking at her. I still could not believe that it was her. She was visibly embarrassed. She looked around, uncertain. Tears coursed down my cheeks, unchecked. I tried to wipe them away, but I could not hide them. My emotions failed me. I stood there exposed, my eyes speaking the naked truth which my heart refused to admit. She looked at me and smiled.

I do not remember what transpired next. I was over the moon, elated beyond words. The same moment kept playing in my head again and again. The memory of us together again, with Lord Ganesha bestowing his blessings on us, was etched in my heart. The Lord of the beginnings had given my life a fresh start. He had listened to the song of my heart and had benevolently granted my unspoken wish.

***

Anantha is an IT Professional. Writing is her passion. She writes short stories, book reviews, movie reviews, small stories for children, and play scripts for the theatre. She regularly conducts storytelling workshops for children.

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