Arun woke up to a well-constructed symphony of cutlery noises that made Megadeth sound like an S.A. Rajkumar refrain. He glanced at the clock and let loose an expletive. He quickly got ready, with one eye on the calendar, randomly hoping it would turn out to be a Sunday. The calendar remained unmoved and he came to a brilliant conclusion – hope is not random. Which is random, anyway.
He made a ceremonious entry into his wife’s kingdom where she was sweating it out at the sink. To her, he might have as well been Torres scoring a goal; she did not acknowledge his presence. He looked around and gave a despairing look at his plump son who was hurriedly wolfing down a sandwich, lest it evaporated.
“Parvati, I will eat at the canteen. Where is my lunch?”
“It’s on the table. I have made your favorite brinjal fry. Try to come early; we have to go pick up my parents from the airport”.
Arun picked up one of the two yellow lunch boxes from the table and thought for a second.
“I will be late today; you better call them a cab”, he rudely spat and rushed to the car. His wife walked out of the kitchen, drying her hands on a towel.
Hari unfolded the morning newspaper as he drank his coffee. The sun rose with a marked disrespect for the moon, even if it was only temporary. Accident, rape, IPL - the more journalists bored into a news-piece, the more boring it became. He folded it back and scratched his stubble, trying his level best to ruminate deeply. He went about four feet, before he gave up and ambled away to get ready for office, after giving a cursory glance at his wife who was sweeping the front yard.
As he knotted his tie, for the 365th time, he wondered what mortal sin he had committed in his previous life. Did he run away with a Raaja’s daughter? No, not Bhavatharani. Did he shoot an arrow into a sage’s rear while the sage was meditating on the economic affairs of Greece? Everything had gone downhill since his parents pointedly rejected the love of his life, called him a nincompoop among other derogatory animal names and got him married to this simpleton. She was lifeless and for some reason, too shy for comfort. His love had a rebellious spirit that sent a stallion riding up his spine. His wife on the other hand, was a female Manmohan Singh at best and probably sent only a drunk mosquito up his spine.
He packed up the steel tiffin box and marched out of the house. From the periphery of his eye, he saw his wife motion to say something, but stopped herself. He disregarded her and walked towards the bus stop, trying to cross the four feet mark.
Venkat stood in his lungi, as he recounted office gossip to the maami, who stayed opposite his house. She quadrupled up as his Landlord, Clothesline Advisor, Neighbor Relationship Consultant and High Court judge of Domestic Affairs in general. He had fallen back on two rent payments and was sweet-talking his way to buy some more time. As he kept bowling short balls, both of them heard a wail inside. Quickly delivering a premeditated wide, he made a strong but gentle promise to pay the rent next week and retired into the house for the next two months. Take a cue, Sachin.
As he got ready for office, he nudged his wife awake. She had been up all night, watching the baby. He had a strong feeling the baby possessed alien genes, most probably inherited from his mother-in-law. His wife got up, rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and walked straight to the cradle.
Gathering up the Tupperware box on the table, he strolled to his bike and started it. He heard his wife say something about vegetables, but he drowned it in the revving sound and sped away.
I was sweating rivulets of sweat, as I ordered a hot tea. The heat was unbearable and the tea-shop owner gave me a look that made me feel I would fit better in a retarded ward. I picked up the tea and sauntered to the shade of a nearby tree. I sipped. Bliss reigned supreme.
Having skipped breakfast, Arun was famished. His eyes meandered around and spotting an empty seat, made way to a table at the corner. So did two other people in the cafeteria. All of them converged on the table and looked at each other with nervous glances not different from three men, who had just winked at the same girl and were too ashamed to admit it. They sat down with sheepish smiles and opened their boxes. They swore in unison. There was beans fry in each one of them. Arun knew it was his mistake, but he blamed it on Parvati. Hari slapped his forehead in disgust. Venkat quietly fumed. They dumped their lunches in the dustbin and went to order at the counter. None of them liked beans.
A crow flew down to the dustbin and started pecking at the beans.
Arun was driving when he called his wife and told her, "Dress up. We are leaving for the airport as soon I reach home. We will eat out today…. Yeah… Work got over, early… No, I don’t have rabies or fever… Ok... Love you". As she replaced the phone in its cradle, Parvati smiled.
Hari stepped off the bus and started walking back to his house. He spied a jasmine seller and bought a foot of sweet-smelling jasmine flowers. It was the one thing, he knew, his wife liked. He smiled.
Venkat hauled up the groceries and strung them on either side of the bike. He was tired, weary lines creasing his forehead. He just needed to hug his wife and son. He looked forward, earnestly.
Having had its fill, the crow took off. Mid-air, realization dawned that it probably should not have eaten so much without Dr. Batra's pills. It flew around in torpor, with Chennai's sun beating down. After almost 4.32 hours it landed on a branch, cursing. It was time to let go. And let go, it did.
It so happened, I was standing under that selfsame tree, when I heard a plop in my tea and something floated to the top of my tea.