Amma and I

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Amma and I

Venu

Tandi Sadak@Dhikala

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Tandi Sadak @ Dhikala final

ROSE

                                   

Art By Victoria Gardner Cornwall, UK

                                                                                                     

A wisp of fresh air blew across my stubborn curls as I set my eyes on you. As the class watched on, you glided in with that bright smile. I stood in the middle of the classroom, blocking your path. Mocking.

Oh! The bully – was the expression on your pretty face. You gave a courteous, ‘excuse me’ kinda smile and walked in, squeezing between the desks. As you stumbled over the third-row benches, one of the corners of the benches made a little tear in your pink pants. We all guffawed.

I admired you during those few fleeting moments; baby cheeks, jet black hair adorned with a red rose, light silky tresses travelling from the earlobes down to the nape, slender neck on delicate shoulders, gorgeous hands. Lips quivering a bit.

I felt a tug, but did not want to reveal this soft side. I acted over smart and even started to catcall.

One day, while trying to get your attention, I directed some red ants from my pencil onto the back of your neck. That caught you off guard.

Sometimes, ice cubes found their way into your shoes while we were playing on the sports field. They would even land up in your lunch box and soggy rotis would be the flavour of the day. You knew it was me doing all that mischief.

Over an argument in the corridor besides the wash rooms, I pushed you into the boy’s toilet and bolted the door. Hearing those terrified shrieks, we boys felt super thrilled as if we had achieved something great.

Our English class teacher promptly punished us though and we were made to kneel down outside the class room. Curious onlookers gave us a ‘good for you, you deserve it’ thumbs up sign.

I saw your face from the corner of my eye, you caught me looking. Coming over gingerly, you knelt down with your face almost touching mine, pleaded sorry. Offering to be my best friend.

“Dekho yar, we can really be great friends, I know that you are genuinely sweet. You are just trying hard to act like a bad boy. Let’s show everyone that you are not a bully, but a top student, proficient in studies and sports, gentle and humane.”

I was touched by your sincerity.

You then went across to the teacher, requesting a pardon. We got mercy, but not before we suitably got lectured with dire warnings of grave consequences, the next time we did something like this.

After the incident, we got on well like milk and honey. I started calling you Rose. You were really sweet and innocent, while I enjoyed all the unbroken attention. I would simply hold your pretty hands under some silly pretext. You would take it as a pally gesture.

I wouldn’t wash my hands for hours and would steal your hanky almost every other day. You were perplexed on how they kept disappearing, while I put on a rather surprised, innocent look. My mom wondered whether I had turned into a professional thief in a ladies’ used merchandise shop!

We would study together, conduct lab experiments for our science projects. Time moved swiftly the next few months. My love grew deeper and more profound, I would write your name a hundred times in my Chemistry book.

Luckily, my studies were not affected. I still remained a top-ranking student. I was also great in sports, representing the regional side.

I hid my feelings though. You never got a whiff of it, being the joyful, fabulous fifteen-year girl, you were – care free and unconcerned.

Love and longing

The famous Kone falls class excursion loomed large. The teacher’s meticulous planning got us kids excited. I made my own plans in tandem. Yes, the natural landscape would be an ideal setting to profess my love.

It was simple enough. I would say, “Look here Rose, sweetie, we both are young, made for each other and would marry soon after our studies. What’s more – our vibes are similar.” It was that straight forward. Really. A walk in the mountains, actually.

The excursion day arrived; we were jumping about uncontrollably in the bus. Laughing and enjoying ourselves. Happiness reverberating through our young minds.

We reached the picnic spot. The scene looked ethereal, as if out of a picture book. We ran around the rocky slopes, feeling the misty sprays from the falls.

The torrents fell into a mesmerising blue lagoon, bright and crystal clear. Perfect for a dip and for splash around. The children dived in, squealing and prancing around. Glee writ large on our faces. Most of the girls turned into instant mermaids, while the boys transformed into life guards, eager to save a drowning damsel.

I was pleased to see Rose enjoying herself, coming to me several times to play and giggle about. She looked like a forest fairy, amongst the tender green shoots that reflected the evening sunrays. Her face was glistening in exuberance.

Her twinkling eyes pierced my heart with tender emotions. Gosh! I didn’t want the beautiful day to end. But I did not get a chance to propose then.

We boarded the bus for the return journey. I reserved the last two seats in typical Chennai style, throwing my handkerchief and, of course, her stolen hanky. She was thrilled to find one of her lost hankies! Rose sat beside me, and recounted all our antics, laughing non-stop.

Half the journey flew by. I decided that this was the perfect time – she was euphoric and the time was ripe.

My young, inexperienced heart was fluttering and spurting like my dad’s old Vespa scooter. The words would just not come out of my lips. I mustered enough courage to put my right arm around her. It received a million-watt shock. I heard some anxious gasps from friends, but she seemed oblivious; chatting nonchalantly.

After a few minutes, she asked me why I had gone mute. I tugged at her and pressed her closer to me, gently giving her a hug. I held her a bit longer than was needed. I felt her stiffen, slowly. She remained still, despite the jerking bus and reckless driver.

Eyes puzzled, almost in a trance, she tried to get up. But I held tight. Volcanoes exploding in my head, while a tsunami raged in my stomach. My heart forgot to beat. My palms went clammy.

She whispered, “Please release me.”

I let her go. I respected her feelings and knew that I had to accept her decision.

Rose got up gingerly and moved forward, holding the pole. At the second row, she turned back and gave me a bewildered look. “Et tu my dear bestie”?

The kind of look that will last me a life time.

A significant part of me stayed back in that Ashok Leyland bus; frozen in the time warp of a haunting micro second.

Venu Rao

12th June 2021.                                                                       

This is a work of pure fiction.

 

Walk in the tunnel

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Walk in a Tunnel- 6 minutes read…

MY MOTHER, THE MOHINI

 

Mom was full of life, exuberant to the very core. No matter what happened, her happiness quotient would never waver – even when she was thrown out of gear for a few minutes. Life’s little miseries just didn’t seem to stop her at all from being gleeful.

The tears wouldn’t even have dried up yet, but the smile would bounce back on her playful face. She would giggle and squeal – so much like a joyful, carefree child!

She was a source of tremendous inspiration for all of us – beautiful inside, and out. Her luscious curly hair would cascade down her slender shoulders, caressing the well-designed, homely blouse. Her dressing sense was immaculate and elegant, yet simplistic. The crisp cotton sarees would do complete justice to her overall persona.

The bright red bottu (sindur, red bindi) sitting pretty between the eyebrows, lent an ethereal touch to her delicate face. Much like a Devi. The deep, jet-black eyes always had a mischievous glint.

People flocked to her just for a chat, for she was that endearing always. She was only twenty-four when I was in class five, more like a bindaas college student, a happy-go-lucky girl and definitely not a mother of four!

Mother Mohini’s obbattu

One day we sat listening, enthralled, to our Hindi Teacher, Shanti Varma Miss narrate her story about Swami Vivekananda. It was mesmerising to hear about his iconic photographic memory and his gentle nature.

Suddenly, someone peeped through the door, with an affable, dimpled smile, seeking permission to enter for a minute. It was Mom! Shanti Miss was amused at this smart, incorrigible parent and nodded yes.

She walked in like a beauty queen, with finesse, waving at all of us kids. The children were pleased with this cute diversion and waited with enthusiasm.

“Namaste Miss,” Mom said. “I just wanted to wish you. I have been hearing a lot about you from my Venu, about your great teachings and disciplining. Here is an obbattu- sweet chapatti – made lovingly for your good self. I assure that it’s the best handmade ‘Telugu Polee’ you will ever eat.”

The class burst out into synchronised clapping as if Shanti Miss had just won a Grammy. I was embarrassed, yet immensely proud of Mom, walking in and winning hearts so effortlessly.

Under the Banyan tree

Mom comes to the school every day with the lunch boxes. Our primary section is located in the Shantiniketan Buildings, old army barracks which were converted into the tank factory central school based at Avadi.

That day after the class room episode, she spread the mat under the large Jamun tree, our favourite. Mom was elated at having met Shanti Miss. As she arranged the containers, she happily chuckled to herself.

We were perplexed. The kids sitting a little away with their moms dishing out yummy tiffins were also looking curiously and asking what was keeping aunty in such super spirits? Their moms were equally quizzical.

Mom called them to join us on our mat to hear the story unfold. We listened in rapt attention as she narrated it in her unique style.

“I crossed the garrison building just before the private railway tracks. The sun was high and mighty, and so I had to carry a crimson umbrella.

As I walked past the CSD canteen, some of our neighbours waved hello while waiting in the lengthy queue. After that, is a lonely stretch, around a kilometre long, which leads up to the primary block. The heat was getting to me, so I decided to stop for two minutes under the big banyan tree.

The roots from the branches were in sync with Mother Earth, transforming into trees themselves. The tree, and its several branches, shimmered in the midday heat rendering the whole setting an eerie feel, much like the Vikram and Betaal comics.

I put my tiffin bag on the ground and sat, staring at my spotless white saree pallu fluttering away in the breeze. Beads of sweat were running across my red sindoor bottu, smudging it. The kajal dripping from my eyes added to the psychedelic effect.

He was cycling towards me. As he neared, I felt his intense stare searing me. His look was curious and searching.

I gave my signature smile to ease him a bit – maybe he was scared or lost. And, what harm could a friendly smile do. He stopped about ten feet away and stared hard again – this time giving a rather penetrative look. He made me quite uncomfortable, indeed.

I returned his stare, but more subtly. He seemed to misread that and grew bolder. Making a pouting, half kissing, face, the stupid chap came right up to me. In a second, I knew what was on his mind.

My mind raced, I was all alone. I put my head down, racking my brain furiously for a strategy that would work. He smelled trouble for sure and I could see his evil shadow closing in.

Slowly, I moved my head up, inch by inch as if in slow motion. My tongue hanging with tiny droplets of RED, thanks to the red sindoor from my bottu. My hair tossed up. I let out an ear-piercing scream, and bent my knees at 40 degrees turn. I brought the rounds of my ankles to the fore as far as possible. Lifting my saree sleeves by a few inches, I pointed my forefinger towards my ankles. They glistened in the bright, hot Sun.

He turned white and froze, believing that he had just encountered the ghostly Mohini, with her feet turned backwards! Letting out a piercing scream, he bolted, never looking back for a second.

My tongue was parched as I had kept it out for so long. But I did not care as I danced happily, letting out sounds of victory.”

As Mom recreated the scene, we rolled on the ground, clutching our little tummies, the morsels of food spurting out of our mouths as we laughed in sheer delight.

Venu Rao

17th April 21

 

 

Bittuful Sweety

BITTUFULL SWEETY

Sketch by author

He could not resist the next-door beauty, aptly nicknamed Sweety. After all, the teenage blood and hormones were raging! She was eighteen and a senior at school too. Many concerted efforts and failures marked the babyish love proposals that Bittu made.

On his knees, falling flat, bending backwards, et all. But, the dusky siren was a tough cookie to be wooed. He was at his wits end. One final try was to offer his slit wrists in front of her classmates.
He carried a new Erasmic blade, prominent in his white shirt pocket.

She noticed him and started to think. He had been occupying her thoughts, day and night. Poor chap, following her everywhere like a lamb, throwing flirty, yet furtive, glances.

His heart seemed to be in the right place, even though the actions seemed stupidly sincere. He was just a boy, for that matter. She relented and fell into his embrace behind the Chemistry lab.

They held each other, with all the love they could muster. The silent rendezvous went on unnoticed by many, though I was privy to the secret meetings.

Promises of an ever-after

The puppy love grew by leaps and bounds. One day, Bittu announced “Sweety, my life is incomplete without you. There is no point in meeting like cowards. Pyar kiya tho darna kya? Let’s run away to get married at Hyderabad’s Birla Mandir, atop the hillock opposite the Hussain Sagar lake. The whole city would be witness to our tender love. If someone stops us, we shall jump into the deep lake.”

The hormones hijacked the bodies. Sweety swooned like a midday swallow while he swept her off her feet. The plans were executed, quick and how.

Enter 007: Name’s Bond

Commotion prevailed at both the houses. The parents were clueless. His mom, our neighbour, turned to me for some leads, but I was equally dumbfounded. How could he not tell me? I was his best friend and classmate!

The late seventies was a different time altogether, calling the police was taboo and a black blob on the family prestige, for sure. Search parties were quickly formed and sent out in various directions. I was made an impromptu James Bond by Bittu’s mom with her younger son, Chintu, as my sidekick. We nicknamed our new boss, Eva.

The next day we set out to Jollarpetai, about 70 kms away. Somehow all the runaway kids from our school seemed to land up there for some unknown reason. A high-level Intel report coming straight from the White office informed us that the couple was seen in that remote hilly town.

We combed the chrysanthemum gardens and popular military spicy biryani eateries, but to no avail. Sad-faced we made our way back home. The lack of GPS satellite tracking, WhatsApp groups and Facebook, was definitely a handicap. Maybe, the next intelligence report would be more accurate.

A few more plans were hatched.

Two days later, we got another intel from a close relative who was a bus depot controller. He had many of his conductors plying on the city routes.

The love birds had been seen in Hyderabad, hand in hand. Stars in eyes.

Eva dispatched us promptly at 8 pm the same day. We were suitably armed with chilli powder, pepper spray and loads of homemade masala murukkus. Eva did warn us against the use of blades, though catty remarks were allowed.

We slept well in the bus, woke up fresh at 8 am.

But then, we rubbed our eyes in disbelief.

The Krishna river was flowing majestically under the bridge. We had spent the whole night in the bus! Damn, the bus had broken down and we hadn’t even realised it in our blissful sleep. So much for talented spies.

We finally reached mission city, Hyderabad, at 6 pm. We rushed to Suleiman lodge where they had set up the little family nest. The garments welcomed us at the corner room on the first floor, sweetie’s pink slippers were a definite give away. She would always leave it outside our doors while she visited our homes.

Sketch by author

Nerves of steel

Sweetie froze into a candy on seeing us. She flung onto Bittu’s arms, amidst an avalanche of sniffles and wails. She begged us.  “Let them not parts us, for we are one entity, darling. In the name of God, have mercy on us and quietly go away, pretending that you have not seen us here in our cosy world. We assure everybody that we won’t be a problem to anyone. In fact, he has managed to get a temp office boy job while I have enrolled as a trainee nurse. We will be financially independent now.”

Not bad for a Tech start up, I thought.

She fell on her knees and pleaded pathetically. I felt I had grown older by forty years older in those ten minutes, feeling more like her grandfather. My heart melted. She was my friend too; I wanted to help her, but damn the catch 22 situation.

I could not desert my boss, Eva. Moreover, I knew that self-control should reign supreme in a spy’s life. There is no place for attachments, for work is worship was my strong brief. Karmanya phalesu ma kadhachit.

“See Sweety my pet, I am bound by the parent’s instruction. Let’s go and beg them for your union, it’s not safe here for you,” I said sagely.

Bittu resisted tooth and nail. “OK, in that case, I will have to call the controller uncle who is ready with the police party at hand. The choice is yours.” He tried his luck, blackmailing me emotionally.

When that strategy collapsed, some serious bribes of money, a watch and a gift of the new cycle he had got on his last birthday were offered.

However, The Bond doesn’t get carried away by such inane lures, you see.

I dug my heels in.

The look in Sweety’s eyes was unforgettable; even to this day after four decades. The pleading doe eyes were rapidly destroying my steely will power. She clutched my hands and wept so hard on my shoulders. My sleeves and eyes were turning moist.

Giving her a loving hug, I led her gently to the waiting auto rickshaw, promising to speak to Bittu’s mom. It was one of my most distressing and lost moments in life.

We reached the Hyderabad bus depot besides the great Musi river. I sat, looking out from the super express bus window at the flowing muddy, but serene waters, wondering what’s in store for the young tender lovers.

Turbulence or a calm repose?

 

Venu Rao

5th March, 21.

This is a work of fiction.

 

DAD AND HIS BOX OF MERRY MEMORIES

Dad was in a pensive mood one fine evening a few weeks ago. looking out at the light drizzle, he said, “Venu Baba, just lend me Rs 250, I would like to open a petty pan shop. How long do I have to depend on you my dear son? I need to survive without anyone’s support.”

I smiled and stroked his hand reassuringly, “Is that enough? I can give you Rs 20,000 or even more if you wish. What would anybody do with a mere Rs 250?”

“Are you mad, we are getting your sister married in a few months, it’s just a pan shop, I say!” He thundered!

How do I tell him that a fancy fire pan costs Rs 500, nowadays?

The Alzheimer’s had taken a big toll on him, ever since he fell down a few years ago. His once robust health and memory had taken a big beating, and was declining steadily.

A good eighteen years of active retired life had been blissful; all of us so relaxed. He was always engaged in numerous activities. He would attend to all the home repairs personally, be it plumbing, electrical or tinkering around with the vessels. Never did he once complain that he was bored!

He would clean all the vegetables and the non-vegetarian food, ensuring everything was perfectly mis-en place. The Wife was forever happy. He would take a book at 3 PM to the JP Nagar mini forest, read till 5 PM and start his leisurely stroll with his walking buddies. They would all reminisce the bygone eras. He would tell some of their stories at the dinner table, our TV tucked away. Aabana and Bagi didn’t complain as the entertainment from him was far superior to the silly soap operas.

His life now is a clean slate, flickering every half an hour to one episode from his eventful life. He would point a forefinger to his head trying to think or remember when asked. If he gets it, he would promptly forget it in few minutes, but the smile and affection are never out of place.

Poor Mr Amjadulla

Amjadulla uncle was a close colleague of dad’s during their Avadi HVF tank factory days. He has been staying with his son since his retirement. Each time he would meet me, he would say that he wanted to visit dad. I would reply, “Uncle please don’t take the trouble of travelling so much, dad doesn’t recognise any one nowadays. There is no hurry, your health is also important.”

One morning, uncle turned up despite several attempts of me trying to evade him. “Oh my goodness dear Amjad, what a stupendous pleasure to see you pal. Do come sit, tell me which shift are you in.” Dad went on nonstop.

Uncle gave me a killer look. I felt my face going red with shame, barely managing to utter an honest apology. This dad can be a real danger.

Many stories were narrated, along with anecdotes of the bosses who were absolute tyrants. How these young technicians gave them a hard time with their mysterious pranks.

They laughed and joked for a good hour or so. Dad fell silent thereafter, reminiscing.  Suddenly, he looked up. Pointing his forefinger, he asked, “Who are you man, what do you want here?” I ran out of the room clutching my stomach, not wanting to offend uncle Amjad. Clean bowled situation. Amjad uncle came to the living room, guffawing till his joyful tears rolled out.

Of forgotten memories

“Venu, go to Kerala to fetch your mom back here to Bidar. She fought with me, being a new bride!” “Daddy, she died 25 years ago and we are in Hyderabad now, not Bidar where you grew up.” I replied with a tinge of sadness.

“Oh! Is it? Lucky lady, I shall join her soon enough so that we can fight nice and proper in heaven,” he winked conspiratorially. “She used to cook so well, you kids used to eat out of her hands, licking the fingers dry,” he added.  

Dad fell into a deep thought for a few minutes. He then raised his hands, “I am so hungry, haven’t eaten for a month. Get me few measly morsels. I have to manage with little food, now that you have turned into a super stingy miser. Can’t even feed your old dad, what days have come to pass. Kaliyuga, I say. After wards, I want you to finish your homework, or else the teacher will give you a good whack, mind it,” he went on and on.  

“That body builder maths master, Mr Thyagarajan really hits the kids and pulls them up by their side locks as if he is practicing dumb bells. Tell you, I must invite him for a combat one of these days.” He showed his biceps menacingly.

 “Oh dad, please don’t hit him, you have such rippling muscles, my master will die with just one punch. Have mercy, please,” I begged him. He moved his arms in a pardoning flourish and said, “As you wish my son, but do give him a strong message from my end”.

Whenever anyone visits dad, the first thing he asks if they have had food. He would then instruct our caretaker, Venki, with a warm smile, to get lunch.

“Let me go buy chicken from the market, see he came all the way from Avadi. I must take care of him,” he tells seriously and sagely. He would then get up purposefully, looking for the bag and walk till the bath room. Standing there, a bit confused, he would mutter, “Nowadays these markets have only toilets. Wonder where the butcher’s shop has gone?”  

I would lead him back to the bed, “You wait here, let me buy the chicken from the shop near the loo and come back quickly.” Smiling, he would lie down on the bed, content that his guests are being taken care of.

Gentleman dad

Dad is hilarious to the core, yet can be a handful sometimes. He hates anyone touching his stomach. Zip, the hand raises to strike. Mere mortals run, in fear of the aggressive eyes and raising temper. He has even hit the caretaker a couple of times, who is only wiser nowadays. “Sir, Babu is in a bad mood when woken up,” he would say, fearfully.

I asked dad, “Why are you so harsh and hitting him always?” “Oh Beta, when did I ever beat him. I treat him so gently as if he is an ant. Isn’t he the gentleman who feeds and bathes me? How will I do such an atrocity.”

The caretaker, who can’t comprehend the inherent Oscar talent at play here, shakes his head mournfully. He then goes into the kitchen to infuse our famous Hydrabadi Pona milky tea. I nod in tandem to dad’s musings, thinking about all the strong whacks I had suffered during my school days, mostly for all the mischief I would commit.  

Once I had placed red ants in his neatly pressed trousers, as he would always order us to press those ever-tired legs. My kid brother got it in style that day. But when the truth surfaced, it was my turn to face all the tsunami.

The saviour in a white coat

On a recent trip to Max cure hospital, Dad was watching the traffic keenly. He started counting the trees passing by. So joyous. “Are we going to Bidar to see my dad Mr Bidar kota Venkanna? Hope you are not leaving me behind to finish off my pending Urdu home work! Dad is so strict, he beats me always, but he is a great hunter.”

When he suddenly realised that his father had died long ago, he raised a big din wanting to go back home to sleep. All our persuasive tactics were failing, but we somehow managed to pull on with our special food offers, till we reached the hospital porch.

I told him that he is home now and can go to his own bedroom. Happily, he got down. But by the time we reached the doctor’s room, he started complaining that the food was not served and he was so hungry.

“Daddy, see this gentleman with the white coat is a good chef, he is preparing your favourite Hyderabadi biryani. Meanwhile just lie down on that bed to rest for a while after your long drive. We will draw the green curtain for your privacy,” I calmly told him.

Satisfied he closed his eyes with a smile just like a little boy trying to play hide n seek. “The chef will bring his plate any time now … yippee!” were his happy thoughts!

Venu Rao

1st Feb 21.

 

DIAMOND RING

The 7 am journey commenced with the hope to reach Hyderabad in 8 hours to see my ailing dad. The drive was cosy and comfortable as we took leisurely stops on the scenic high way. The grand bridge on the majestic Krishna was an awesome spectacle, the muddy turbulent waters gushing underneath, with copious rains from the September monsoons. We stopped at the bathing Ghats adjacent to the ancient temples. So, we went some thirty meters to get a quieter place. There we saw two fisher boys were busy throwing nets in the water. I smiled at them and asked, “How’s the catch today”? He shrugged his head in dismay and said,” Not one from the last one hour since we started! “Just walk ahead about 20 meters more and throw the net next to the tiny whirlpool over there”. I pointed to the spot. He did that with mute belief and tugged the nets out after 5 minutes, what a sight to behold; full of shiny carps, about a score actually? Glinting in the sun and looking quite confused. He was thrilled and asked me if I was a fishing expert. “Nope” I replied. “It was just a gut feeling and sheer luck of prediction!! To give him a little more happiness and  motivation, I bought two kilos for my sister Padma who is an expert cook such that most of the industry chefs would fade away in front of her culinary skills. 

The next two days were blissful in dad’s company!!! His health and dementia did fail him for sure. Nevertheless, it didn’t deter him from the sweet moments of life.  He is someone who is always cheerful when awake or in “our world”. Rather, A frail bundle of super energy in pursuit of happiness. “Oh you have come back early today, drop your school bag, wash your face and feet thoroughly. Wait I shall give you cocoa milk and chocolate biscuits in a minute, but look at your dirty white PT shoes? How long I spent cleaning them up this morning to give a white shiny coating! You are getting too naughty my boy”. So no milk today! We all guffawed and he was perplexed for a second, giving these children never really learn kind of ‘learn sigh’. I remember my primary school days, when he used to draw those difficult world maps on the chart papers so well, given to us as Geography home work. I could never get the complex country contour shapes right; each map I drew would be round and sound. I had gathered a quite a lot of rounds in the form of zero marks. It was a great relief, yet with a tinge of sorrow to see him in that state, but thankful that his memory is now a clean slate, living by the minute. Just eating, sleeping and living joyfully. More or less, little boy in an exuberant state!!

Padma’s Sunday brunch treat was a royal feast! It was the Krishna river carp curry that was the center of attraction for all of us. Her father in law was overjoyed , getting into a great reminiscent mood and told us stories from his early days. He was born in a field near the Godavari River where his mom was working; that prompted his parents to name him Gangaram. That’s why the word Ganga has a strong influence on him till this day. As a result, he performs puja daily on Ganga Maa. He retired as an executive engineer in Hyderabad municipal corporation who was pioneer in those days adding great contributions to the city development.

 

It is said that all good things must come to an end!!! And so did our stay in Hyderabad with my dad. With a heavy heart, we dropped in at Padma’s home at 7am to say our goodbyes. She was up to her usual culinary tricks; an array of wonderful dishes neatly packed for the day including dinner! “Anna please stack these containers carefully into the big blue bag. I did follow her instructions carefully, placing my hands deep inside to ensure the containers are sitting snug. Our breakfast point was just after Kurnool, while lunch stop was a lazy one at Chickballapur. I selected a serene gentle swaying corn field. A sight drizzle, looked awesome on the tender young corn hobs which were effervescing with gleeful sublime joy. There was quite a sweet bon appetite confusion while opening the dishes, veggie kootus, vala thandu poriyal, pessarattus (Andhra green gram crepes), avakai kichdi, egg podimas, royyala vepudu and chicken gongoora. The taste buds were dancing and tingling, elevated with the cool and melodious tweets from a hundred different birdies, all rightfully dressed with a mirage of rainbow hued feathers.

We reached home earlier than thought, all thanks to the Coronavirus!  Nevertheless, traffic less Bangalore was giving an odd ghostly feel. A hot bath was all that was needed, suddenly; I was in for a shock as I soaped my hands with the hot water.  My diamond ring was missing!! My mind quickly raced down to all the events of the day; toilets and tea breaks, car seats et all. Then,I called up the driver to check and even ran down to the basement alighting point. I checked with Padma too.  But, No luck there at all! It was a precious twenty-five mini diamond studded elegant square ring which was getting slightly loose on my finger over the last few months due to its woven interlocking system. Must have slipped off on the way for sure!!! I kept procrastinating to remove it or twine a thread, but somehow missed doing it.

Bhuvana, our maid cum cook made some fresh soft phulkas to compliment Padma’s designer curries, which were curated for dinner. She is a warm and hardworking lady with two young children, taking care of our needs diligently. Her husband works as our building security guard. Smiling forever and going about her chores cheerfully, she enjoys a great rapport with my wife Bagi. During the current pandemic, she is such a blessing covering few outside jobs too, never gives a sigh when she is given mundane tasks.

She later scrubbed the entire home, saying that a week’s absence of cleaning made the house glow less. With her super addictive qualities imbibed from wife Bagi. Bhuvana makes sure to turn all the household items upside down even to dust them superficially, while the clothes are reversed inside out for a wash!! Many a time, I get pulled up by Madam for leaving currency notes, nuts and chocolates in my pockets. She was told to hold the cloth washing for the next day, so obediently soaked them up and left for the day. I kept thinking of the ring, more of an emotional loss rather than a financial side. Nevertheless, I slept well!

It was a bit busy day at the office, I get a call from Bagi, “ Amendi , mee ring neeli bag lo zaari unnadhi ” which means  The ring had slipped into the blue bag, Bhuvana found it while washing the bag! This was music to my ears!! Thanks to Corona, the bag was also getting a great scrub or else it would have sat in the balcony for ages!!

I got into the process of planning an incentive for Bhuvana……What a sparkling diamond girl!!

 

Venu Rao

28th  November 20.

 

Passport

I landed at the Dubai airport, setting foot on a foreign land for the very first time.
Back then, the visa had to be collected from a special desk – not exactly the simplified visa -on-arrival that we have now.

My sponsor was supposed to send the visa directly to the immigration desk. So, I walked up to the young lady to enquire. But, as luck would have it, the passport hadn’t arrived by mail on time. She checked with the New Delhi office while I waited patiently for the next two hours, anxious about my colleagues who were waiting outside at the arrival lounge. There was no way of letting them know, as mobiles were a great luxury then!

I was worried I would have to go alone, if they went away. I had gone for the Dana Beach hotel pre-opening assignment, representing my management company, RMS. The hotel was on Corniche Road at Ajman, a good hour’s drive away.  So, crossing my fingers, I hoped that General Manager Ivan and chef David would be endowed with tons of legendary Emirati patience. Finally, the visa was issued and I headed to the conveyor belt to pick up my stuff.

Missing!

Maybe it had taken a leisurely walk having got bored stiff while taking too many trips on the merry-go-round! The helpful Emirates Airlines staff took me to a huge hall with big mounds of neatly stacked luggage. Alas! All the suitcases looked like perfect clones! How would I trace mine?

They were moving the pieces to felicitate easy identification. After another hour, I found it. There it was smiling smugly, having played hide and seek for so long. I then decided that from my next trip onwards, it would certainly wear a colourfully pompous doggy collar.

Of cheerful welcomes and disappearing acts

I came out to the bright sun, squinting, searching for my pals. Sweating profusely in a thick jacket. There they were, waving at the only person walking out, pretty certain that it had to be me. The paging board displayed a lovely message – ‘Welcome Mr Rao’. Their cheerful smiles erased the long drama I had to undergo.

The chef kindly took my bags and heaved them into the dicky. Ivan offered me the front seat, while he slid into the driver’s seat. It was getting really hot, so I stepped back before getting in and removed the jacket. The front seat was cool and comfy. The AC was just right.

“So, you had some fun visa entertainment inside with those Arab beauties, eh? Am sure they didn’t want to let you go, Mr Curly Hairs. Hope they stamped your passport.” Ivan teased.

I replied. “Yes, the sponsor issued the visa in a different company name, while the pretty woman was searching for Dana Beach! Sweet confusion.”

Hearing the word passport, I remembered having shifted it to my jacket from the front shirt pocket. I touched the front pocket to be doubly sure. Not there! I then fumbled in my jacket pockets to ensure that it was there. Not there, either!

I broke into a cold sweat this time. Ivan was looking concerned, he enquired if all was well. The road ahead was a steely mirage.

Slowly I turned my head to the left side. What I saw on the curb was a heavenly sight. My passport’s leaves were fluttering in the gentle simmering breeze, pure and white in the sunlight, while the wallet was spread eagled on its two sides. A few shiny Dirhams were trying to escape from its clutches…

 

Six more shots, please!

My first trip abroad was looking quite exciting already. I got into the car once again, wondering what was in store ahead.

It was an interesting day at the Dana Beach Hotel. Mr Chris Gardner, my CEO introduced me to the dynamic team.  The owner, Sheik Rashid, Justice Minister of UAE, was very courteous to me. All strategies were discussed for the grand launch, with Ivan compiling the minute details.

Ivan sneaked up to me; wondering if he had earned a treat for the long wait at the airport. I said yes gladly, despite being so sleepy after the overnight flight. We ordered two beers at the popular Wafi Pyramids near the creek promenade, relaxing for a nice evening ahead.

“Sir, six of my friends from Golden Circle, the marketing company, would be joining us soon. You can order for them too; they are really nice chaps.” He said sweetly. I gave him a surprised and bewildered look, but agreed reluctantly. Half my trip expense budget would be wiped out in a single round.

The beer tasted flat! Anyways, I endured, hoping to have a good conversation with his friends. Ivan was singing my praises of the great job in India, listing all the resorts I had assisted in launching. It sure felt good to hear, despite the big hole that was being burnt in my pocket.

Ivan raised his glass for the bottoms-up ceremony and said, “Gentlemen, Venu is so gracious that he is going to orders us another round! Along with some exciting short eats this time as a bonus. How cool is that.  So, cheers to him.” There were yays and hoots. A volcano erupted inside me.

I didn’t explode, but calmly replied, “Ivan, great idea, but would honour your request on one condition. Promise us a great sumptuous dinner at the Shangri-La post this second round as your treat?”

There were some yeah yeahs for that proposition too from the suave South African marketing team! Ivan twitched and twirled like a limp squid, losing all his colours instantly. He was thinking deep; I could almost hear the turmoil.

Slowly, he said in a measured tone, “Look guys, let’s not waste his precious Indian money on the second round. We go to a Donor kebab joint next door on the company account and call it a day. Venu is tired, we need him afresh tomorrow.” He looked like a Himalayan sage in a meditative mode.

My boss, Chris, had a hearty laugh when I narrated this incident the next day. He commented, “I must say that Ivan is incorrigible, no wonder he takes so many smoke breaks during the meetings. Guess he must be always thinking about a drink or food.”

Thank God! My near bankruptcy had been saved by the sudden brilliant flash.

I didn’t budge from the hotel for the next whole week, lest some more sunshine surprises sprout my way like desert cacti.

 

Venu Rao

17th October 20

  

FAMOUS FIVE CAPTS

The cook out party was in full swing along with the spiritual flow.  During that time period, Manoj Mathew’s uncle had a huge bungalow off Cunningham road in the quiet by lanes.  However, if one travels to Cunningham Road in the present times, you would spot the Fortune Cosmos Hotel in place of that bungalow.  Realizing the family was away for a while, we seized the opportunity to have a ball of a time! Sandy Nayak was enjoying the tender succulent pork pieces from the famous Pandi curry, cooked expertly in a mud pot by MG Ravi. He is from Coorg and learnt the perfect recipe from his mom. He was a popular steward in our Southern Comfort coffee shop at the Taj Residency. We were the budding hoteliers, still learning the ropes, having been recruited after the Cat colleges. It was our off day; somehow we conspired and managed to take it on the same day. We four boys were roommates living at Viveknagar near post office, having rented a two-bedroom house at a princely sum of Rs 250. There was the Kashmiri handsome hunk Harish Rangroo from Memories of China restaurant, Nicky, Banquets, Manoj, Jockey Club, hero Sanjay Goel, the look alike of Ajay Devgan from coffee shop. Sandhya from Cake shop and myself under room service. All key outlets represented.

The morning was spent in leisure, the usual haunt was Brigade road, we were parading up and down the stretch with helmets in our hands like big racers. Little did people know, that we owned pidly mopeds which always struggled to start and got defeated easily by a speedy cycle! Thereafter some chilled beer at Church street Pub owned by one of the regulars at Taj, Mr Ashok Sadhwani.  Lunch was at the Kohinoor mappila restaurant known for its kuska and chicken kebabs clubbed with matthi meen fry. By four I had a brain wave, “Let’s go to our Taj cake shop boys, Sugar and Spice where everything is nice”. Harish said, “Sala, kyon Sher ke mooh Mein shir dal rahe ho, if MK see us, your day will be made”. The beer took the effect already, it emboldened us four boys adequately to shoo him away! We promptly landed at the cake shop with our Chests puffed up of course!  Sandy’s reliever Anita Fernandez was watching helplessly while we gorged on yummy pastries, raising a ruckus. “What does he think by putting us on 15-hour shift, bonded labourers? “Someone asked. Every one nodded in agreement with their mouths stuffed, making hmm/ ha sounds. As a result, mutiny and revolt plans were hatched at that specific moment. None of us noticed the warning signs from Anita, slowly a voice came from the door.

“Hey boys, good fun eh? great to see every one relaxed! How come all five caps are off on the same day? “Said Ms Jacky Bond, the assistant manager, Banquets. I instantly remembered -Spy who loved me, the famous blockbuster. We ran for life to the Kamadhenu hotel opposite the Taj with laser lights under our heels. Zip. Ordered masala dosas with extra kempu chutney in dire straits. Finishing them in a second, we lit our ciggies at the pan shop, puffing and huffing. Calculating the next day’s Mis-En-Scene (read preservation strategies).

Back to the cook out party scene, we fine-tuned our plans over some more beer. It was my turn to drop Sandy home at Malleswaram. My Avanti Garelli moped didn’t have GPS, so promptly got lost for about two hours, mind was already stressed on the impending fire crackers show the next day.

There was a furore at the morning F&B meeting, each of our outlet managers were dressed down, neatly filleted, and gently broasted. Spitting venom, my own immediate manager Aziz Athiculla gave me a ‘look’ and said. “Well super Cap Venu, your weekly offs stand cancelled for a month. When they resume, we will make sure that none of your pals will be giving you company at the cake shop. All weekly offs charted out already. German precision at work, I swallowed hard and tried to resist, but failed. The stewards were having a free show and I didn’t like it one bit. Especially from that naughty waiter Kenneth Andrews; grinning slyly. He was my ever tormentor, would purposely delay tea orders since I wouldn’t give him fat dinner trolley orders. A-ha, the spy lady did accomplish the espionage mission quite successfully! I was planning revenge- should it be dish wash chemical, perhaps steaming oil, or a blunt bent room service dinner knife? Slow torture.

Just then the big boss PKMK waded into the room service area amongst the din. I was ready to scoot once again. All the 1857 great mutinies vaporised in a flash. He smiled at me sweetly, patting my shoulder and enquired of the morning rush. “I am very happy with you, there were zero complaints past one week, keep up the nice work”. I lost my colour, knew he was mocking, but thanked him with a guilty shy head nod. He moved on few steps, turned back with a glint in his eyes; asking casually, “BTW hope you enjoyed chef Prasanna ’s yummy Choco chip pastries”.

Venu Rao

22nd  September 2020.