I woke up hearing someone praying. Arjun’s father was ringing a bell and singing a prayer. It reminded me of Ammachi’s morning prayer at Chengannur house. Two different religions, two different cultures, yet so similar.
One by one Arjun’s sisters got up, folded their mattress and placed it in the corner of the room. I too did the same.
By the time I came out of the bed room, Preetha was already sweeping the rooms. As soon as Preetha finished sweeping the room, Deepti came with a bucket full of water and a towel and started to mop the floor. This would have never happend in my house. Maria would have said her arms are aching, Liza would have said, she has to do some other important chore and I would have done the sweeping and the mopping all by myself! What makes these Marwari’s so different? They do everything together.
I walked to the kitchen, hoping may be I can help making the breakfast. There was no sign of Arjun and everyone was busy doing so many things at the same time.
Arjun’s mother was in the kitchen and as soon as she saw me, she pointed the tea kettle. I understood that the tea is ready. I took a cup from the cupboard and poured a cup of tea.
“Ma, Can I help you?”
“Help?” Kya help?”
She started to laugh and I was trying to figure out if I committed some serious blunder
Arjun’s mother came towards me and held my hand. She started to walk towards the living room. She spoke something to her mother who was sitting on the huge wooden box/bed and both of them started to laugh.
Preetha was outside sweeping the courtyard and I called out to her
“Preetha,Why are your mother and grandmother laughing at me?”
Preetha came towards the door and after a quick chattering in Marwari, everyone started to laugh. I felt so small.
“Can you please tell me, why are you laughing?”
“Oh Nina, first of all, you are our guest, you are not here to do the cooking, second of all, my mother made the breakfast an hour before you woke up, so there is nothing to help. My mother was laughing because, this is the first time, she had a malayalee girl coming to her kitchen and asking if she could help”
“Why is that funny?” I asked
“It is funny, because according to my mother, even her own daughters never bother to ask her if she needs help in the kitchen. So my mother was very touched!”
“Oh!” Arjun’s mother was looking at me and smile
“My mother thinks we are all lazy!” Deepti spoke
I didn’t say anything because I knew one another mother who thinks her daughters are lazy!
“Where is Arjun?” I asked Preetha
“Oh He is having his royal sleep. You will be lucky, if he wakes up before lunch”
“Really? who is going to take me to the clinic?”
“Me” Preetha answered.
“Oh ok” It felt so good to be with Preetha. She was becoming the sister I always wanted.
I sat on the wooden box/bed with Arjun’s grandmother. She was talking to me in Marwari and each time she laughed, I laughed too. I knew I really looked like an idiot, but Arjun’s grandmother was really enjoying talking to me and it didn’t really matter that I didn’t understand anything.
Every now and then one of Arjun’s sister would come and ask us to get up from the box. She then would roll the mattress to one side, open the lid and take lentils, rice, etc from the wooden box. I was expecting the grandmother to scold the grand daughter for disturbing her each time. But she didn’t. Everyone in Arjun’s house seemed to know the meaning of tolerence.
Unlike dinner, the family didn’t eat the breakfast together. Deepti ate first, she then took some food in a plate and was on her way out, when she the puzzled look on my face.
“My cousin’s wife has gone to visit her parents, so I am taking breakfast for him”
Preetha and I ate breakfast together. We had poha cooked with potatoes.
“What about Arjun? Doesn’t he want breakfast?” I asked
“Oh, someone does think about Arjun eh?” Preetha was grinning
“Aiyyah, not like that” I didn’t know what else to say.
“Yeah, yeah” Preetha nodded her head.
Around 9.30, Preetha and I got ready to go to the clinic.
“Is the clinic near here?” I asked Preetha
“Yes, 10 minutes ride”
“I only have 100 notes, how much do you think the auto will costs?”
“Auto? What auto?”
“We are going in my Luna”
“Huh? You have a moped?”
“You know how to ride a bike?”
“Of course. Why Nina? Why are you surprised?”
Preetha was looking at me stunned. I didn’t know how to explain to her that girls in Kerala were never really allowed to ride a bike. In fact when Liza was in school, Amma went to the school headmistress and asked permission for Liza to use a bicycle and the headmistress scolded Amma saying
“this is a reputed convent school meant for girls from reputed families, not for maramkeris (tomboys)”
“Do you know how to ride a bike?” Preetha asked
I shook my head and said “No”
“I will ask Arjun to teach you” She replied
The clinic was in Basavangudi. I had an Appointment with Dr. DG.
The Dr was a chubby cheerful lady and as soon as She saw Preetha She asked
“How is the baby?”
“She is doing well, Doctor”
“Your sister is still breastfeeding?”
“Good” She then turned to me and asked,”So what is the problem?”
I explained to her the history of my irregularly irregular periods.
She asked me to lay down on the examination table. Only then did I notice the huge machine by the side of the table. I have heard of ultra sound machine. It was the first time I saw one. I watched the Dr, placing the probe on my belly. I looked at the screen. I couldn’t figure out anything. I was so afraid what the Dr is going to find! Tumors everywhere? I looked at the Dr’s face to see if there is any changes in her expression. A sure sign that she found some cancer.
“I don’t see anything abnormal. We will do a blood test” She put the probe back.
The relief I felt that moment was beyond explanation. I knew Appa would be relieved to learn that his Karma isn’t that bad!
Arjun was still asleep when we returned from the clinic.
“Nina, what time do you have to be back in the hostel?” Preetha asked
“Do you want to go for a movie?”
“There is a Micheal J Fox movie, called secret of my success. You want to go?”
My sister lives in Bangalore and I never got a chance to go for a movie with her, a stranger wants to take me out for a movie! This must be part of my fate!
I wanted to ask What about Arjun? But I didn’t want to start another session of teasing.
“I will ask Arjun, if he wants to join” Preetha spoke
Half an hour later, Arjun, Preetha and I was ready to go for the movie.
“Are you coming with me or you want to go with Arjun?” preetha asked
“huh? Are you not coming?” I asked Preetha
“I am. I asked, if you want to follow Arjun on his bike”
That is when I noticed, Arjun was starting another moped parked by the side of the house.
“I will follow you” I felt a bit shy to follow Arjun
It was the first time I went to watch a movie in Bangalore. Arjun bought popcorn, Torino and a bar of chocolate for Preetha and me. Preetha sat in the aisle seat, I sat next to her and Arjun sat next to me. All through the movie, I knew Arjun was looking at me. It made me uncomfortable, at the same time my heart was feeling a bit funny. After the intermission, Arjun reached out and held my hand and I stopped watching the movie, rather I was staring at the screen, but my mind was elsewhere. I was so afraid, what Preetha would think if she saw that her brother was holding my hand.
After the movie was over Arjun asked
“Do you want me to drop you to the hostel?”
“No” I shook my head. I didn’t want to sit next to him on his moped. “I will take the bus”
“Do you know how to go back?” he asked
I came back to the hostel around 5.30. Both my room mates weren’t in the room. A part of me was so excited, a part of my still liked beautiful eyes and I remembered what someone write in my 10 standard autograph
“Snehicha hippiye kittiyillenkil, kittiye kashandiye snehikkuka“( can someone please do justice to this sentence and translate it?). I needed to take a shower and hopefully that would clear my head.
I opened my cupboard to take a change of clothes. I stared inside. Everything was wrong. I keep my clothes following a particular order. RGB, primary colours together. My white colour clothes were in the middle of red and green colour clothes. That is impossible. I always kept the whites separate. I quickly checked the money that I usually keep underneath the newspaper lining. It was there. Nothing else was moved. Did I make a mistake? Did I accidentally keep my white colour clothes along with the coloured clothes?
I must have made a mistake.Who would want to go through my clothes? Besides if someone was trying to steal the money, they would have noticed the money underneath the newspaper lining.
But something wasn’t right. I looked at my bookshelf. My books were still in the same order, but someone had moved it. Because I keep everything in a straight line.
I opened my desk drawer. All my papers, letters were still there. But the negatives were missing.
Appa had given me a camera before I joined the medical college. Because I was the only one in my class to have a camera, I became the official photographer.
I had kept all the negatives in a cover, so I can send them to Appa to get more prints.( because it is cheaper to do so in the middle east than in Bangalore). Even Dr. Rajesh had been asking for a copy of few photos and I have been planning to send all the negatives to Appa soon.Now the whole bunch of negatives were missing. What am I going to tell all my professors? How am I going to get them the copies? Who took all my negatives. I had to find out.
I went out to the corridoor and shouted
Soon she came out from one of the senior’s room in the third floor
“yes Nina, What is it?”
“Can you please come here, I need to ask you something”
When she came down to our room, I asked
“Who took all my stuff?”
“My negatives that I kept in the drawer?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t take any of your stuff”
“Who opened my cupboard?”
“I don’t know Nina. I was with the seniors. I didn’t see anyone opening your cupboard. Who would want to open your cupboard anyway? Besides, you should always lock your cupboard”
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t lock because I had nothing to hide, but now I knew I made a mistake.
But I still didn’t know who wanted the negatives. Shylaja couldn’t have. She went home on friday itself. Who else??
On Tuesday after the dissection, I came back to the hostel and I heard someone shouting my name and saying
“Nina, you have a phone call”
I ran to take the call. Is everything ok at home? Nobody calls me at this time of the day. may be something happend. I picked up the phone and said a very nervous
“it is me, Amma. I have send the car already. I am staying at the officer’s mess. I spoke to your principal already. I expect to see you in the next 30 minutes”
“Huh? What is going on Amma? is everything ok?” I asked amma
Amma didn’t even answer. She just slammed the phone down.
I stared at the receiver in my hand. What exactly is going on? Why is Amma in Bangalore? Which officer’s mess is she staying in? How do I know this call isn’t a trap? What if my uncle is trying to kill me?
“Nina, someone wants to see you” I heard someone else shouting.
A part of me wanted to run, but it was too late. parked right in front of my hostel entrance was an unmarked police car. The driver was already standing outside looking at all the students. The driver was the same guy who drove us from Bangalore to Mysore. He saw me and opened the passener side door.
I looked at the students crowding around the entrance. Everyone wanted to see who was my visitor. I wanted to run, but I just couldn’t. There was no place to run.
I got in to the car and the driver started the car. As we crossed the canteen, I saw Arjun standing near the entrance. He was speaking to someone. I wanted to run to him and ask him to help me, but the car was already zooming.