MY DEAREST FRIEND      

Dr. KB LAKSHMI

 Translation -swatee Sripada

The incessant humming of the phone! I dashed to it and lifted the receiver, “hello”

 “Is it Atulya?” the voice from the other side enquired.

 “Just a minute” without any delay keeping the receiver down, ran into the kitchen turned off both the burners of the gas stove though milk hasn’t yet boiled and the sambar about to boil, filtered the boiling tea kept, aside a minute back into a mug switched on the fan dragged the phone to my side leaning to the sofa sitting on the floor stretching my legs in a relaxing manner tasting the tea, I took receiver into my hands.

 All this is because of Sharvani on the other side of the phone. If she is online it’s not less than face to face meeting. Not only seconds and minute’s sometimes even hours pass by. Conversation with that seventy-seven-year-old lady proffers me happiness, thought, affection, closeness entertainment, knowledge, and so many things. Versatile as a mother, friend, elder sister, teacher, a younger sister, critic and an infant she allures me.

Two years back I met her in Prasuna’s home. Prasuna arranged a small get together inviting literary friends, in memory of her father who was a writer.

 She invited only very close friends familiar to her father. Hardly twenty-five people were there. I never paid much attention to her when the introduction session went on. But I noticed her, as she leaned back to the wall and talked to people, by her side with a smile. I was aware of some charisma in her.

 Prasuna’s father’s photo was garlanded, a lamp was lit, incense sticks were burnt and we all observed a two-minute silence. After that one by one started talking about his writings and his friendship. The last one was Sharvani. Plump and fair, with an enchanting smile started with a Shloka of Gita and went on. When she completed, I could see the entire world in her stream of experiences. “Great lady” I commended heartily. After tea and snacks, Prasuna handed over each one a copy of her father’s book.

 “Within ten minutes the power cut will be on, and then we have to descend the steps of four stories” many hurried away. Sharvani was in them.

 “Atu, please put her in an auto” Prasuna requested. “Ok I too will start I‘ll not be back. My home is too far.”

 Stretching my hand to Sharvani, I walked to the lift.

 Even in the lift, we enjoyed talking, joking and repartee.

 When I was ready to call an auto at the gate, Prabhavathi offered a lift to Shravani as the latter’s house was on the way.

 After her sitting in the car, when I was closing the door, she held my hand and said,

 “Thank you. I have given you trouble. Not because of old age but some weaknesses. You talked so well my dear”

 “Not at all. Nothing is more than you. Ladies only recall again and again their age calling it old age this and that. See men. They jump and jump. If available even they send mischievous looks to the girl of their great-granddaughter” I commented.

 She chuckled with a sound. “Well said, my dear. Give me your phone number. I have to talk to you” she noted my phone number.

 ************************

After that, though she called one or two times I was not at home. By the time I returned it was too late to disturb her and the next day unknowingly I used to go into my routine.

 One evening when I went to attend a literary meeting, standing at the threshold searching for a vacant seat, in the fourth line of the left side in the second seat I saw Shravani waving her hand to me.

 I went to her, greeted and adjusted ourselves in a front row. The program has not yet started. No indication of its commencement also. People started coming leisurely.

 “Thinking that we should be there before the meeting starts, I came before six with an idea of going back before eight.” She said looking at the wall clock.

 “That is not working. Even after receiving something in charity we fail to maintain it. Long back it stopped. For this meeting, you traveled that far in auto spending so much money and strength?”

 “No way. It’s a good program, Very good speakers. I thought of hearing a few good words. Why is this delay? At least they can begin the dance program.”

 “Still they should get a part of the dancer’s dress. When I was coming, at the gate I met her mother and came to know. they might be waiting for it.”

 “Fine. This is the pattern of meetings here nowadays. Chief guests, at a time, perform two-three roles on the stage, they need everything. They‘ll not miss anyone. And we are the victims. I mean people. By the time they complete the programme of honoring, self-boasting speakers hardly get any chance to talk. The presiding person orders to speak briefly, what can they say and what can we listen?”

 Almost every book, every scripture and every myth.”

 “No Atulya, even after reading everything, listening in a meeting is different. Repartees, incidents from their own lives and their sayings on the spur are interesting. Moreover, we could have a look at great people. But now it’s difficult to come, no feeling of coming at all, distance, no observation of proper timings, it’s a waste to spend so much time.”

 The conversation moved on to social, literary and personal levels. The dance programme started, the dance is commendable. She was enjoying it.

 “The girl is good, performing well; she’ll come up in life.” She showed her affection.

 “Already she has given many programmes. Haven’t you watched any?”

 “No. this is the first one. Why didn’t they start the meeting? Why do they want to have so many dance items? Three items are more than enough. The main programme is meeting. Thank god they kept a dance, not a chewing gum mimicry programme.”

 “The chief guest has not yet arrived; he had to attend another somewhere else. After that only he can come here, he is a godfather to this organization, so unless he comes the programme will not begin.” I replied stressing all bare facts.

 Holding my hand she saw the time “ok. The problems are individual. Ok. It is already eight, better to start. Can you help me get into the auto at the gate?”

 “Traveling this far and waiting so much, without attending the meeting….” I felt bad.

 “What can we do? It’s all right. If the meetings are meant for the benefit of the association, they will be this way only. I am very happy that I could see you. I’ll call you tomorrow, tell me the details. Shall we go?”

 “The programme will begin in a few minutes” somebody announced.

 “Will you stay back?”

 “No. if they start now when will they conclude? Ten people are there printed in the card itself, some more might be added. I think Atulya you know these people? Tell them to conduct and conclude these programmes before eight-thirty. Even if the audience disappears do they care? as long as they have people on the stage and the sponsors.”

 I held her soft and smooth hand that was like over-ripened banana skin, circling one hand around her shoulders helped her to walk slowly, the organizers came forward to help but she stopped them.

 An auto was there readily at the gate; I felt lucky and asked the autowala

 “Are you ready?” he laughed and said “I brought her here. And I’ll take her”

 Simultaneously he took out a small wooden stool from the auto and kept it on the floor. Using it as a step, Sharvani climbed into the auto.

 Still holding my hand, she went on –“he stays at the auto stand near my home. He loves books, takes them from me and returns after reading them. Whenever I want to attend a meeting he takes only to and fro charges but waits for me. I don’t know what he owes me?”

 “Don’t flatter me. What I can offer to you and like you people is only this much. This auto is my own. No need to pay rent to anyone. what I get is enough” he kept the stool inside and seated himself in the driver’s place.

 “Fine. This scene is excellent. What is your name?” I asked.

 “Narasimham,” he replied

 “take her carefully. Ok bye”

 “Why don’t you come home ones? Is he, your husband’, coming to take you? Ok bye. Take care” left my hand unwillingly

 Auto moved on… I saw it until it turned the corner and went inside.

 This way the friendship with her turned thick. Soon I started to report what I heard, saw in the meetings. From her home which looked like an ancient library, I was addicted to borrowing old and very old books to read.

 Even after losing her husband, she brought up her children, arranged their own families and houses and without depending on anyone spending her time as she wished, entertains the guests and relatives with a smile. I was surprised to see her if she can, she used to cook, otherwise gives them the kitchen to help themselves. I thought if everyone has the same courage, individuality, and self-respect where is the need for old age homes?

 ************************

 One Sunday afternoon, when I was in deep sleep, the ringing of the phone waked me up. As soon as I lifted the receiver the sleepy mood left me.

 “Atulya what are you doing? I would like to spend today strangely, without attending any programme.”

 “What is your plan?”

 “I don’t know. You should suggest.”

 “Ok by four come to the gate of Ravindra Bharathi. I’ll take you from there to a place. By eight-thirty you’ll be at your home. Ok?”

 “Ok. I’ll be there. I’ll not ask you for the details. I know your punctuality”.

 We traveled to Narasimham’s auto.

 “Nowadays in this mechanical living and speed no relationships at all. They feel as if the kitchen is a great obstacle to their creativity; they say to write and to have their own philosophical life they pay to a mess. that will be sufficient for two times food. settling curd at home, making only coffee or tea, warming up the things in a microwave they peacefully spend the life.” She went on.

 I looked at her admiringly.

 I took her out from auto carefully and opened the gate.

 I invited Narasimham also but he denied and stayed back in the auto.

 Kumuda and Krishna received us warmly and took us inside.

 Kumuda offered cold water. Krishna introduced his mother who was lying on a Divan in the living area.

 Sharvani went close to her and greeted her with a smile. She gave a reply just pressing her hand.

 “She is my mother in law, Annapurna. Eight years older to you nowadays she is not at all keeping well. She is with us.” Kumuda briefed us.

 “What is the problem?” Sharvani inquired.

 “Nothing, in particular, A bit of BP. and Asthma, audibility is reducing; she can manage things on her own. We have a big family, ten children but she refuses to stay anywhere. Kumuda is her nephew and a doctor so she prefers to stay here and feels secure.” Krishna explained with a smile.

 “Atyulya told about you, the best friend. Nowadays she kept old friends aside. It is very difficult to stay like you. People help you voluntarily charmed by your individuality is proof of your success and the society will have an impact of you……”

 “No flattery please, I think you are used to lecturing. Using all aristocratic words” Sharvani stopped her.

 Kumuda looked at me and smiled.

 “When I watch people like you, you and my mother, we are scared, how we will be in our old age. I feel the pain now only” Krishna said seriously.

 Vikas and Varun, their sons, meanwhile, brought snacks in plates in a tray.

 Apple pieces, grapes, biscuits, and mixture. Krishna supplied one to Narasimham.

 “Tell me your names. What do you do?” Sharvani inquired and encouraged them to read well and get first marks.

 “We always get the first rank” Varun replied in a teasing manner.

 “Oh, my child! Very intelligent! Still, you should get better marks”

 They looked at their parents, nodded their heads in agreement and were ready to go inside.

 “Vicky, had your lunch after coming from tuition?” their grandmother inquired.

 “We had” nodded their heads and went inside.

 “See how dare they lie? Vicky just had a banana, and even declined to have milk. Varun had only coke and said not hungry.” Kumuda complained to Krishna.

 “You kept quiet? You would have forced them.” Krishna reacted.

 “Are they paying heed if we insist? No means no. let them eat what they want- some food.” Kumuda was trying her level best to hide the vexation.

 “A mother should convince and pamper them to eat, we should see their stomach, not the taste,” Sharvani said.

 “They never care, Aunty, waste of energy to try” she concluded.

 “We should appreciate your mother in law’s concern,” I told looking at Annapurnamma.

 “It’s true Atulya! I always feel. When we were young, we always used to wait for the meal to be served by the mother and we used to ask also. When grown up and indulged in studies and play, we waited till the mother called us for food, with the hope that she calls us. after that stage, when called, we used to delay. after that, we denied and annoyed at them. Even in old age, in the helpless condition she affectionately inquiries about a meal in time ….

 We reply- we eat don’t worry. Have your food and medicines, sleep peacefully. We know she feels bad but it comes automatically but can’t help it.” Krishna said sensibly with agony.

 “It is but natural, as we grow, we feel what the elders say is trash. We are individuals and the ego of individuality makes us think don’t we know this? Swiftness in life, liberty, unwillingness to joint families causes this. We also reach that stage; our children to behave the same way. Before taking care, time runs fast. No need to search for leave…” Sharvani stopped.

 “It’s true but providing only food, medicine, water, and a cot to mother is not sufficient. Can’t we avoid this pinching attitude?”

 “Krishna, at least you have this realization. So many lacks even this. In the cycle of life, all these are natural. That is the difference between a mother and a child. With selfish motto when a son extracted the heart of a mother and fell while going, the heart said to be careful my son. That story you might have heard?”

 “See this Krishna! He had no other work, brought up such a topic to discuss. She may think that I am not feeding my children properly” Grumbled Kumuda.

 “She can understand everything, don’t worry. No misunderstanding” I too murmured.

 “What are you whispering? What Kumuda are you feeling guilty? Children change with time. It’s all right. If grown-ups sit and talk at least once in a week this way no differences arise. No hurting isn’t it?” said Sharvani.

 “Thanks, aunty. I felt relieved. We think of Pictures, picnics and TV programmes, but meeting with you is a listener’s digest.” Krishna smiled with great relief.

 “Thanks not to me, convey them to your friend. She introduced us. She makes me talk asking questions and giving some vivid topics”

 “That’s what is called brain-teasing,” I said naughtily.

 “Now and then you turn up here ante, at least we will know where we are.” Kumuda requested.

 “You are too smart my dear. How can I travel such long distances at this age?

 Today this is Atulya’s plan. I too love it. I can come as long as I can but you to make it convenient to visit me. Such a small personality like me, alone in a big house. Your friend says coming to me is like traveling to another country. That’s why come for four or five days not for an hour or so. It will be nice, come during the holidays. After all, you are like my children.” With a smile, she invited and stood up holding the sofa edge.

 “Are you ready to go so soon?” Krishna expressed anguish.

 “I forgot to offer tea or coffee. Wait a minute” Kumuda said anxiously.

 “It’s all right we had solid food. Ok see you then” she went to Annapurnamma “as far as possible move here and there. Evenings sit in an easy chair and spend time with your grandchildren. It’s not good for your body getting used to the bed. It will not allow you to sit. Keep your mind in good control. Ok see you” she pressed her hand softly. Annapurnamma laughed.

 They both belonged to the same generation but how different are their lifestyles – I mused.

 As we crossed the threshold, she held my shoulder and said, “This is good Atulya! I loved your variety programme.”

 a bright clarity I could see in Krishna’s face.

 As if we are in a group photo, we spent some more time at the gate talking. I introduced Narasimham to Krishna and Kumuda. We started. As the auto turned the corner their moving fingers looked as if they are in slow motion.

 “I never spent any evening this way Atulya! I felt rejuvenated. At this juncture in life, I need a friend like you.” She cuddled me in her hands.

 “I too” and huddled into her hands.

*****

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