Ripped into headlines………….

Sumi balanced herself on the footstool,her face hidden behind the curtains, lest she be visible to the girl gang outside.She sighed as she saw them displaying their flairy,flowing  outfits. It was five in the evening and the girls had gathered for a session of teen gossiping. Sadly, Sumi was not a part of them.

She did not fit into the “hep” terminology of teens-with her oily hair composed in plaits, her shoes showing no signs of elevation,her lips way away from being glossy,her skirt touching her ankles and then her undemanding and straighforward orientation-all these just diminished her chances of being a part of that group.When those teens swayed to the rhythm of Salsa,she learned the mudras of Bharatnatyam.When they huddled for burgers at Mc Donalds, Sumi’s only source of entertainment was the inevitable Doordarshan.

Monetary or for other reasons,she never catched up with her teenage community. The only days when she would be seen hand in hand with the members of the girl gang was when exams were creeping forward,sending chills down their spines to beg help from Sumi. On other days,they would not even acknowledge her customary call.

Sumi got down from the footstool. She was tired. The last two days of the week which were eagerly awaited were consumed by the labourers who came to fix the communication device. After all the cleaning and mopping,Sumi’s back refused to calm down-it pained badly.

Monday morning dawned to find Sumi down with fever.

However she bundled herself up to face the Unit test.It was seven in the morning when she stepped out and Chitra aunty called out to her.She felt she heard three other calls.

She looked up at Chitra aunty standing in the balcony.

“Congratulation!!!Sumi”said Chitra Aunty. “I saw the workers.”she said.

Mrs Khanna and Mrs Chaudhary from the other block wished her as well,though usually they address her as Madrasan in their whispering tones.

Sumi hurried towards the her bus stop,to find three members of the girl gang standing there and smiling at her.

“Oh!Sumi they said,so you have left us all behind.You are the heppest of our lot,ain’t you?” and they hugged her.We would love to be friends with you.

Sumi laughed.

At school,her class teacher congratulated her.

Sumi’s fever titptoed to a  corner,as the day passed.Wishes had arrived enmasse.

All this for the telephone installed Sumi thought?The telephone connection at our home is the breaking news today,she told mother when she got back home.The one good news is that I am in the girl gang now.

“Yes,my dear child,the neighbourhood is happy and proud  for the lone telephone connection it has.”Mother said.

The little red and white communicator had ripped into headlines.

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She hard her mother open the door to Mrs Chaudhary.She wanted to make a call to her distant relative.

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The normal…………….

Srini huddled to a corner,sobbing.

“I am not going to part with my share,” she thought. She knew that when Amma (mother) comes to know about their fight,she would pounce upon her,bestowing the lion’s  share of thrashing,reserved  as return gifts to their daily fights.

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Srini  though was fond of her little brother Sree but when it was the question of mangoes, her  yearning taste buds annulled her decency and entered into squabble with dearest brother. Amma came running to the wails of Sree. He yelled and shrieked for the small slice of Mango squashed in Srini’s palms. She  smiled at the triviality of their locking-horns and went about scheduling the events of  the upcoming wedding of her youngest brother-in-law. She did not  care to nullify the push and pulls of Srini and Sri.

Srinidhi (aka Srini) and Sreejit (aka Sree) where the youngest in a Hindu undivided family.Their father had three brothers ,two were elder to him and the house stood illuminated like a bride for celebrating the matrimony of the youngest.

Srini was scarcely eight and she had been a witness and spectator to the daily bickerings of the fifteen odd members of their family. The day started with the morning clamor of bed tea by the mail members of the family-the otherwise morning call of the rooster subdued and mellowed. She could hear her elder brothers and sisters howling at each other for the occupation of washrooms. She was the onlooker when conflicts erupted for hair bands, clips ,ribbons……………kohls  and endless beauty aids which could animate a female face. She spied the usual altercation in the kitchen –that “ I “  (whosoever it may be) was more burdened than “She” ……….the “I” and  “She” however played hopscotch and changed places every week.She delighted in the mayhem that was a usual feature at the breakfast table-where “My wife” was praised over “His wife” for culinary skills, while the kids thrilled at the fact that every week introduced them to new flavors. Srini felt ghastly when grandfather was served spicy food and he would roam around teary eyed throughout the day, for the fact that his daughter-in-law who took turn to cook for the week had a piquant taste.

Patience and peace inhabited a faraway land and wisdom drowned in the nearby pond.

Srini gobbled the mango slice and slipped into deep slumber.

Today she woke up to the recital of “Suprabhatam” . “Oh! today is the wedding day.” A voice echoed in her heart. She climbed down the stairs to find everyone decked up.

An hour later, dressed up in Pattu pavada(read silk skirt and top) Srini saw the bride and the groom, hand in hand  circulating around the sacred fire. An array of rituals followed before Srini grabbed a moment to chat with the new bride.

“Why did you marry Uncle? He is always fighting” said Srini. Her aunt looked up amazed and asked “What on earth does he fight for?”

He fights for the toothpaste in the morning,for towels after his bath,for rice and pudding during lunch,for an extra share of mangoes,for ev…vvveeerryy thing,emphasized Srini and her aunt burst into peals of laughter.

“Srini” whispered her new aunt-Chitra aunty,  “I am a magician,I will spell magic on him and he will never fight.”

Srini laughed heartily.

Days and months saw Chitra Aunty as an impeccable manager lending an ear ,an  advise and a sympathetic nod to every confrontation.

She was allocated the last week of every month to display her culinary skills. However she managed to sneak inside the kitchen for helpful tips to her elder sisters-in-law and was graceful enough to let them enjoy the appreciations awarded for delicacies articulated by her. She convinced the ladies of the house to cater to the taste buds of their old and ill father-in-law .She reminded them as to what would they have done if it was their own father.She moulded the children of the house to inculcate the sense of kinship and sharing among themselves.She nudged them at right places and coaxed them to be branches of one tree rather than scattered weeds.She gave “herself” to them ,rather than being a coy new bride,she held the bridle to redirect ways and to churn out positivity and peace.

Srini now heard the morning call of the rooster.The brickbats which displayed ‘normalcy’ to her had gave way to ‘peace’.The morning tea was not preceded by yells,neither the morning abolutions and the mayhem at the breakfast table gave way to consideration and adoration to serving hands.

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She wondered how being normal differed from place to place and individual to individual.Even her normal self had changed-from craving for an extra mango slice to feeding that extra slice to Sreejit.

What is being normal Srini thought?

Every man to assess for themselves,she concluded.

Or is there anything by the name of “normal”

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Unwillingness…..

Twentry years she lived an life -that fragmented her every single moment to act as someone she disliked,bonded and confounded in relationships which never binded her soul,knots that the inmitable one had stiched into her life,tangles that trailed with her always………………………..Her unwillingness to welcome her new family to the corridors of her heart,left her bereaved and bereft….

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Solitude and loneliness became her sole companions.Any knock at the locked doors of her heart met with resentment the clutches of isolation and found elation .She felt she had championed to garner pain for others.The man who took the seven santicified rounds around the sacred fire was not offered an opportunity to account for the self-imposed withdrawal of his wife from the wordly prespective.She subdued herself to the clutches of destitution……………… She herself had written her verdict…………

condemning her wretched……………………..life………………….

for her Unwillingness…………..to be alive with heart and soul……………………..

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Serene face…..

Siddharth and Indu proceeded towards  the quarantine ward of the renowned hospital……….

Every step forward seemed to be snatching Indu’s forbearance……..a  story of misfortune and msihaps seemed to be few yards away………

It was ten in the morning.The hospital staff went about their chores attending to patients.They stood outside the ward with bold letters in blue which said “QUARANTINE WARD.”

Indu struggled hard to maintain her composure.For the past one week Gauri chechi had been admitted to this hospital……reason being……..the swine flu……..but that was just one part of the story…………

The story went back fifteen years,when she had got married to Siddharth’s Uncle ,much of which was unknown to Siddharth also.But he had agreed to take her to the hospital so that she could get a glimpse of the serene face……………….which had deluded her for years………

A ward boy………came up to them,”Sir,you cannot met her but can have a look from the window.”

Indu tiptoed towards the window……………….

A lady stood on the window,at the other corner of the ward,Indu wept……………

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“She does not utter a word……………..her eyes longing gor somebody,her gaze melancholic………..

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Quarantine…….

Indu found out Siddharth’s number from Amma’s mobile……

A strange feeling engulfed her heart,she oscillated between two emotions……….on which garnered the effervescent feeling of love and the other that flamed her heart as to what happened to her dearest one…..

She thought………….was Siddharth actually talking about Gauri chechi…………or did he mean something else?

Several times she dialled those ten numbers and then swiped the disconnect button.Everytime she picked up her black phone,the last dialled number stared and frowned at her,as if asking,”””do you really want us to stay here?you start our journey and you abruptly end it.What is the use of sitting like a glutton?press the deleted button to dump us…..

After two days of dialling and disconnecting,engaging and disrupting,pondering and haltering…………….Indu dialed Siddharth’s number.

Her heart thumped hard as she heard his voice.

“Hello! Siddharth…….this is Indu.”

“Hi!….she could sense his elation!!, So how do you do?” asked Siddharth.

“Siddharth….I want to ask you something personal……..don’t get it wrong,its not about our marriage….but something else.” Indu put pauses in between,it was awkward for her…..but the apprehensive ‘ASYLUM’ had been playing havoc in her mind.

“Siddharth,…..you know where your Uncle’s wife is…………? I mean Gauri Lakshmi………”

You mean my aunt who is in quarantine…………….

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Persistence paid………..

Next day……………..her cute communicator travelled to the remedial centre of its parent company.Indu got a call……that it would take about fifteen days for it to be rectified……..kay

So now she was back to square one with no whereabouts of Gauri chechi……

She decided to call up Ammamma (grandom) again.

“Ammamma……..”

“Yes dear” Ammamma was sounding low.

“Ammamma,are you okay?”Indu was concerned.

“Nothing,child……did you get to know where Gauri is?

“No, ammamma,…………I just goofed it all up…….

“Ammu…….few days back……..Viajyalakshmi and her son had come….didn’t they?You know Gauri was married to Vijayalashmi’s brother?

Indu quivered,quaked and shook.

She remembered the last words of Siddharth when he had hanged up………….

“Ammamma,I thinkI have got it now.”

to be continued………….

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