As I waited for Arjun outside the college main gate, I wondered if I am doing the right thing?
I have known Arjun for 17 months. He has never failed to get novels for me from the Eloor public Library. Without me asking he has even brought pickles for me from his home. I knew I can trust him. But trust wasn’t a major issue. Apart from my uncle’s house in Mysore and my family home in Chengannur, I have never stayed in anyone else’s house. I didn’t know how I should behave? What are the things I am supposed to say and do? I was afraid of making a fool of myself.
“Come let us go” Arjun came near me.
“ok” I mumbled
“It will be easier if we take the bus from the junction”
“Ok” I mumbled again.
He started to walk and I followed him
I thought of singing
mumbey gamichidum govu thante,
pimbe gamichidum bahu gokkalellam!! (herds of buffaloes always follow the leader!).
Arjun was walking pretty fast and I tried to match with his pace. He turned to look at me.
“Give me your bag”
“Women! If you don’t offer to carry their bags for them, they grumble, if you ask them to give the bag so you can carry it, then they question your motive!! Why oh Why it is so hard to take care of a woman?”
“I can carry my bag” I held the bag closer to me
“Did I ever say you can’t? I said I will help you to carry it. See this! I got muscles” He pointed to his biceps.
“Where? I can’t see” I pretended to do a closer inspection of the biceps on his upper arm.
“My God, you are too much. I am not carrying your bag for you”
“Did I ever ask you?” I started to laugh
“Why are you laughing?” He asked
“nah.. the ironies of life. You said you can never understand a woman and I was thinking it should be the other way around. The problem is the man. I can’t understand their way of thinking!”
“There you go!”
“Always blame the man!! You are just like my sisters! Always blaming me for everything! Did you know they blame me even when it rains. The moment it starts raining they would ask, Arjun, what did you do? As though I am the lord of rains!”
“Lung” I spoke without thinking much
“Lungs? What lungs?” Arjun looked at me as though I have gone mad.
“nah, nothing. I was thinking something else”
“What? Tell me, what Lung were you thinking?”
I looked at Arjun to see what he would say if I told him the truth.
“Tell me Nina, what were you thinking?”
“When you spoke about the lord of rain, I remembered the story of Lung”
“Lungs? The thing inside our chest? What does our lungs got to do with rain?”
“Aiyyah Lung is a horned dragon, Chinese people believe it is the god of rain”
“How do you know that?” He looked at me sceptically
How do I tell him that I was fortunate enough to have been born in a country that is rich in myths?
“I read a lot”
“Really? What is a dragon?” The look on Arjun’s face clearly suggested that he didn’t believe me.
“Dragon is a creature that has a head like a camel, horns like a deer, eyes like a hare, ears like a bull, neck like an iguana, scales like those of a carp, paws like a tiger, and claws like an eagle.”
“Oh my God! Wow Nina, you do know so much”
“nah, there is so much I don’t know”
We had take 2 buses to reach Arjun’s home. I was getting a bit nervous. what would his parents say, when he brings a girl home?
As we walked towards his home I asked one more time
“Arjun, are you sure your parents won’t mind you bring me to your house?”
“Nina, they know you. I have told them about this mad girl, who skips all the classes and still score more marks than everyone else!”
Arjun’s family home was a 2 story building. The first thing I noticed as we reached his home was the main door. It was wide open. There were couple of kids playing cricket in front of his house
“arey bhaiyya, ye kon hai?” (brother, who is this beautiful damsel??) One of the boys yelled.
“Get lost” Arjun yelled back
Soon there was a ruckus of kids whistling and screaming and some of then women came out to see what is going.
“Come Nina, let me introduce you to my mother and sisters” I followed Arjun
He spoke something in Marwari to his mother
“Ayiye betty, anthar ayiye( come inside)” She looked at me and smiled.
I followed Arjun’s mother and walked inside. I could hear Arjun talking to his sister’s in Marwari. I looked around the room. There was a huge wooden box by the side of the living room with a mattress on top. On it sat an elderly lady wearing a white saree. Her face looked so serene. She reminded me of my Ammachi.
“Nina, this is my grandmother” Arjun introduced
He again spoke something in Marwari to his grandmother. She showed her hand and asked me to sit next to her.
She started speaking to me and I didn’t understand anything. Soon one of Arjun’s sister came to me and introduced
“Hi, I am Preetha”
“Oh Hi, I am..” before I could say my name, she spoke again, “I know it is Nina. Arjun makes me go to the library and get books for you. He is such a lazy fellow.”
“You have been getting the books for me?”
“He never told you?”
“Hey Arjun, you never told Nina that you have been making me go to the library to get books for her?” She asked her brother and in seconds we became the best friends. Preetha introduced me to her sisters, Deepti, Rajashree, Dhanya”
“Do you want to see the baby?”
“Come let us go” She started to walk and I followed her. We went to the first floor and rang the bell
A beautiful lady wearing a skirt and a long dupatta over her head opened the door.
“Nina, this is Divya, my oldest sister” “Arjun’s classmate” She introduced me to Divya
Divya looked at me top to bottom and then she smiled
“Come on in.” she moved aside and allowed me to go inside”
I looked around the room. There were only 2 folding chairs in the living room. I watched Divya going inside her bedroom and bringing her baby for me to see.
“Do you want to hold the baby?” She asked
“hmm” I nodded my head
I haven’t held a baby in my hand for so long. It felt so good to hold a baby in my hands.
“What is her name”
“Oh that is such a lovely name” I touched the baby’s soft cheeks. Why is that my older sister, my beautiful,well educated sister is still not married, when girls like Divya are happily married and settled down? When would I get a chance to hold my niece? Why am I being deprived of all these little joys of life?
Here is a house, with hardly any furniture, yet all you hear is laughter and more laughter. My father worked overseas, so he can provide better things for his children. What would have happened, if we didn’t have all the luxuries? I knew, I would have given up everything that I owned for a moment of happiness with my family! Just one moment of happiness.
Preetha and I sat on the steps and talked. We had so much to talk. I was just so glad to find a friend
“Preetha, ma, is calling” Arjun came out to call us
I walked with Preetha and Arjun.
“Nina, go wash your hands and join us for dinner” Deepti spoke to me. She was sweeping the living room.
I followed Preetha and walked to the back of the house’
“We, Marwari’s don’t have toilets inside the house, it is always constructed outside” Preetha spoke
“It was the same for us Malayalees too! In the olden times, toilets were constructed far away from the house. But now no one follows such rules”
I washed my hands and went back inside
Everyone was sitting on the floor.
“Are you able to sit on the floor and eat?” Preetha asked. If you can’t, I will get a chair for you”
“nah, I am fine” I sat on the floor, remembering all the onam sadya’s I had as a child. Sitting down on the floor and eating from the banana leaf. What happened to my culture? What made my people, who used to sit on the floor to eat suddenly stat using a table and chair to sit? Was the table a sign of affluence? I had no idea.
I had roti, dal and fried okra for dinner. I, the person who never eat Okra, ate every single slice in my plate. Not because it was tasty, but because, until then I never had a meal, with so much of jokes and stories being told, and in that moment of being part of a very happy family I didn’t realize that I was eating Okra!
When it was time to go to bed, Preetha got me a mattress and placed it next to hers on the floor. All the sisters slept in the same room. We talked, till Arjun’s father yelled from his room
“If I hear another word, I will come with a stick”
“shhh. Preetha spoke. “Papa is angry. Let us sleep”
Update: Only after I clicked the publish icon I remembered, today, March 21st is the International day for the elimination of racial discrimination.Today commemorates the 47 th anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre. 69 innocent people were killed for protesting against the ‘pass laws’
I sincerely wish that with our knowledge, skills and common sense, We can look at another person as a human and understand that no race is superior.
Malaysians.. say no to NEP