The piercing crow of the rooster shattered the midday silence. The perplexed flies hovering about the backyard buzzed off at the screech. The wake-up call was a good six hours late. This particular rooster was notorious in the village for its sloth. Having slept through the starlit night and the better part of the morning, it now ambled importantly onto the street announcing its dawn with a second screech.
Nobody gave a hoot for its call. The women of the street had long finished with their chores for the day. Some of them had joined their husbands, their knees deep in the lush paddy fields. The others, like the ones on the street, tried in vain to gossip amongst themselves.
For there was hardly anything scandalous enough to warrant a discussion amongst the women. The village they lived in, had been a peaceful place for as long as memory could serve. Robbery, drunken brawls, eloping teenagers, no. The village was too good to be true.
Hence the women had to resort to grandiosity to make their afternoon talk spicy. Like the coquettish girl coming into her own at the end of the street. She, with the wild and incorrigible pallu. The boys of the village who were at the mercy of the pallu. Or the drunk at the other end of the street who came home intoxicated every night to a thrashing from his unforgiving wife.
After a bit of gossip which went nowhere, the women fished around for new bytes. Having found none, they soon fell back onto their usual delightful topic of discussion.
They retold tales of visitors to his ill-fated home, some knowing, others unknowing, who have had to bear the brunt of Sastry Garu. This was common folklore. The women tittered heartily, a couple of them even tut-tutting in pity at the hapless invitees. They were careful though to not make a din. Sastry Garu lived only a couple of doors away. He was in fact out there now, lounging in his armchair, laying siege to his favorite haunt, his own front yard.
The attention of the chuckling women was diverted by the entrance of a stranger onto the street. This was new. No one ventured onto the street unless one owned a house or land on it. This man was certainly an outsider. He even had the look of one. He looked lost, looked like he was searching for someone, a house or probably an address.
They pulled their saris over their faces and looked away in respect. The man walked on. The women waited with bated breath, too tensed to even breathe. The invite would ring out any time now.
“guruvu garu, bonchesara…”
The breathless women let their breath out in chortles. They looked at each other with a twinkle in their eyes. A new story to tell from tomorrow.
The hapless newbie in town replied in the negative. Even as he wiped a trickle of sweat from his brow, he was relieved at the suggestion of an inviting lunch offered without preamble.
The man was eager to introduce himself but Sastry Garu couldn’t care less. He ushered him in, rushing him through the ritual of cleaning his hands and feet.
The visitor was pleased and felt more and more at ease. The host seemed to be as cordial as humanly possible. Sprinting into the house, Sastry Garu called out,
“Subhadra, bhojanam pettu”.
The visitor greeted the lady of the house, Subhadra. She was all grace and poise. But as he greeted her, he sensed something afoot in the way she looked at him. It was only a fleeting expression, something akin to a warning, or was it shadowed pity? Was she trying to tell him something?
A little perturbed at her expression, he sat down at the dinner table. The spread seemed elaborate enough. A large dollop of rice was immediately planted onto his shining steel plate. A colorful plethora of vegetables soon followed. Cooked in glistening oil, the curry looked absolutely inviting. His mouth watering, he was about to dig in, when his approaching outstretched fingers were scalded without warning by a torrent of piping hot Sambar falling from a height. His fingers recoiled in surprise and he instinctively looked at his host, Sastry Garu.
“Tinandi, tinandi, ma Subhadra spesal..”
He finally started on the feast. It was very tasty, he loved the color, the spice, loved every bit of it. Each mouthful started off on a tasteful journey culminating in the delectable after-taste of the Sambar. Alas, he was not allowed to revel in it for too long. His plate was being filled in at an alarming pace. Like a magician’s hat. The spread seemed endless.
The visitor coughed a couple of times with respect saying, “No more, no more”, but Sastry Garu would have none of it.
“Subhadra, Gongura pachadi..”,
Like a dutiful magician’s assistant, she complied with his every order.
The visitor meanwhile was in dire distress. His right hand labored to collect the morsel of rice into a handful. His mouth refused to open up. He could hear all kinds of sounds emanate from the confines of his stomach. Like furniture being moved, like thunder rumbling at a distance.
In despair, he finally clasped his tired palms in obeisance, “Na vallu kadu inka, please leave me alone”.
Thankfully Sastry Garu seemed finally content.
Having found his escape, the visitor got up abruptly only to stagger back to his seat. The additional burden and weight shocked his limbs into disobedience. Gathering resolve, he tried again. Slowly, he made his way to the backyard to wash his hand. He stopped short in shock. The can of water was on the ground. He had to bend down to take it.
The latest serving of the food was still in his throat, defiant. It now threatened to venture out. He was now finding it hard to choke back the tears settling in as well as the food lodged midway in his pipe. He looked up at the afternoon sky in despair. He had been subjected to trauma he never knew was even possible. How was he to escape now? He knew it was humanly impossible to bend down and wash.
He closed his eyes, his face still turned towards the sky, waiting for a miracle that would unburden him.
The splash of water brought him out of his reverie. Subhadra, that angel, she stood next to him, with a mug of water in her hands and a knowing look on her face.
Write Club Hyderabad – 11th November 2017 – Flip It – Turn a virtue into a vice