Raudram | Mala’s Marina
The Marina beach on this humid Saturday evening is a sea of people, with islands of constantly shrinking sand. This sea threatens to take over, as more people arrive and hardly anyone leaves. Children shriek with delight, through mouths sticky with cotton candy and ice-cream. Lovers whisper secrets. Old people relax on blankets. Occasionally, boisterous groups of friends pass by. Evening breeze blows the bright kites high and playfully snatches away bits from the jabbering voices. It billows Mala’s full skirt and she hurriedly tucks it down.
Mala has to concentrate on the orders, as hungry customers return from their walk to the sea. A family dressed in their shiny best, demand quick service. She has all that she needs at hand, arranging everything meticulously according to how her mother would do it. She draws the sign of the almighty on the sand, says a prayer and sits within a circle, enclosing her and the sign.
Onion, cauliflower, chilly and potato are the varieties of bajjis she offers. She quickly cuts or grates as she makes. This way there is no wastage. The deep pan that she uses is constantly boiling with oil and she dips the vegetables in the batter, frying them until they are golden and crisp, as she mentally queues the orders.
Onion, cauliflower and then potato or was it two plates of potatoes?
She hurries and some hot oil splashes on her hand. Wiping it away with hardly a wince, she serves the bajjis in aluminium plates covered with newspaper and hands it to the customers for ten rupees a plate.
As dusk approaches, lighted ships bejewel the plain horizon. A flower seller attempts to entice Mala into buying jasmines for her braid. She lights the lantern, knowing that she must never buy the jasmines, irrespective of how fragrant or cheap they are. They stole them from the fancy mausoleums of famous and departed leaders further down the beach and would bring ill luck, mother had warned.
Mother had been the bajji seller and fourteen-year-old Mala had helped after school. Mother sold soups too, making them out of the leftover vegetables. It had been a cool December morning when mother loaded the piping hot, mixed vegetable soup on her bicycle for the last time. Mala heard her moving around, but shut her eyes tight, as mother might call for help if she saw Mala awake. She must have gone to her usual place and the customers would have come. The early morning joggers and the children who skated or learnt karate, all lining up. Maybe, it had some members of the laughter club, tired after laughing loudly together, for good health. Then, without a warning, the queue was shattered by the ferociously angry predator, the marauder of the Marina, the sea that rose in a huge wave, diluting mother’s soup, making a salty mess. For days, the orphaned Mala searched for mother amongst the dead fishes that filled the beach. She never found her.
It is 10 pm and time for Mala to wind up and go back home, to sleep alone and dream of mother’s warmth. She never once questions the unwarranted wrath of the sea or the unfairness of it all, but only prays to the sea to let them be. Tomorrow would be another day of early morning soup and evening bajji selling.
Hāsyam | ‘Mismatched’
“No, I can’t let you marry him.”
“At least meet him once. He is waiting outside.”
“Every day, I see him talking, laughing and gesturing wildly. Mad fellow. ”
“I shouldn’t have told you that he passes our house on his way to work. Getting a little carried away on one’s hands-free doesn’t mean anything. I am calling him in,” says Lydia.
Her father sighs, thinking of how his pampered, motherless daughter always gets her way. Not this time, he decides and juts his chin out.
Outside, Lydia whispers threateningly, “Shut your phone, Arun.”
Her scrawny, spectacled boyfriend nods and fiddles with his phone.
After Lydia introduces Arun to her father, her father stares at the blank wall. She tries to start a conversation, but gives up when her father pretends to be deaf and even Arun doesn’t answer her. In a short while, she excuses herself and goes in to make tea.
At first her father doesn’t notice Arun’s discomfort, but when Arun swings his hand, he is puzzled by this strange nervousness. Arun’s fingers creep up to his pocket but he holds them back by swinging them up and down and sideways as if he is exercising. Mala’s father is amused when this charade continues for a while and he becomes smug when the lower body shivering begins. He almost anticipates it when Arun runs out without even excusing himself.
Lydia follows Arun with the tea tray and the fleeing figure of Arun calls back,
“I cannot do it. I just can’t.”
Once out of the compound wall, he stops and fingers his phone lovingly, enjoying the beeps of the incoming messages as he shifts from vibration mode to normal.
“I hate you. How can you, Arun?” fumes Lydia, but there is no one to hear.
Her father tries hard to hide his glee as his daughter walks in. He guffaws and puts a hand to cover his mouth but can’t stop himself as his whole body shakes.
“You are so mean,” she says, but soon she too can’t help but smile.[facebook] [/facebook] [retweet]Tweet[/retweet]