Where Peacocks Fly - Chapter 3
by Prema Sastri
Meera pulled the counterpane up to her chin and stretched her toes. It was early afternoon. The curtains were drawn. The fan made a pleasant droning sound. She came to a decision. There would be no more parties. Ramaswamy had never suggested that they throw a party. It was she who felt uneasy after having been invited to the houses of various friends. The gathering avalanche of unreturned teas and dinners would assume exaggerated proportions. She could never meet a friend without thinking: “they called us to dinner weeks ago. We really ought to have them over.” Such social obligations sat lightly on Ramaswamy. He could visit his friends often without any serious thought of returning their hospitality. It was left to Meera to fix dates and call friends over for dinner.
She looked back and all the agonies of past dinners and lunches wound themselves anew around her. It was like being under a heavy quilt in summer. She looked back at the terrors of impending dinner guests. Would the dessert be ready in time? Would the koftas fall apart? The rice would always appear too soggy, the table half laid. When the guests left she would feel as relieved as she did in college, the day after the examinations were over. She envied her friends who were good cooks. They seemed to be able to turn out tandoor rotis, stuffed tomatoes and exotic salads with ease. She felt that she would be unable to serve anything more than commonplace fare. She had grown up in a house where there were plenty of servants. There had never been any necessity for her to go into the kitchen. Servants, servants….eyes closed could one never think of anything else. How to manage them if one had them; how to do without if one didn’t?
That morning the part time maid servant had not turned up. She never did the day there was any extra work. No doubt she would turn up tomorrow full of details of some peculiar ailment or the other. Meera had dragged herself out of bed early. The coffee was steaming hot when Ramaswamy had come to the table. He had taken a sip and turned his attention to his files. She had put idlis in the pressure cooker. They were ready by the time Ramaswamy had his bath. “I will not be in for dinner tonight,” he said as he left for his office. “I have a dinner with all the managing directors.” He wedged his files into his briefcase and was gone.
The doorbell rang. It was the vegetable vendor. He had brought a basket of deep purple brinjals. There were also some dried looking snake gourd, peas and carrots. “Why can’t you bring some south Indian vegetables like drumsticks?” grumbled Meera as she chose the least dry snake gourd. “We are tired of brinjals and gourds every day.” The vendor was annoyed.
“Memsahib, I bring best English vegetable.” He pointed to the beans and carrots. “Everyone wants those.” As he went off he rang his cycle bell loudly to show his displeasure. Meera went and put the vegetables in the refrigerator. The bell rang again. It was her father
with the children. They burst into the flat and hurtled to their rooms. Her father looked tired.
“Why don’t you stay Dad, and have a cup of coffee? I’m sure the children must have worn you out.”
“No dear. I promised your mother I would do some shopping for her on the way back. The vegetable man has let us down for the last few days. She will be waiting for me. “
“Thank you very much Dad. The children would have been disturbed with all the preparations. They have their examinations soon. It was nice of you to have them.”
“Not at all dear; I must go now. She watched him get into the car and drive off.
The children put away their things and came to the table. “How did the party go?” asked Mangalam sitting on the table swinging her legs. You should have let us stay and help you.”
“Don’t sit on the table dear; you know daddy doesn’t like it.”
“Oh, bother.” Mangalam swung down gracelessly and stretched her leg out across a chair.
“Was there anyone interesting? I’m sure we would have made ourselves useful.”
“Of course, but I did not want you to be disturbed just before your exams. I could not postpone this party as both the Lals and Vishwanathans are leaving next week. They have called us over so many times.”
“They are a boring set of people,” cut in Shankaran. Isn’t there anything to eat? It’s time for us to leave for college.
“Of course. There are idlies ready with chutney and of course, all the leftover snacks. Hurry up. I have packed some bondas and mixture for you to take with you.”
The children gulped down the food in a hurry and ran to catch the college special.
Meera looked at the huge pile of dishes that had still to be done. She had not stacked them in the kitchen the night before. They lay all over the place, an indictment of her negligence. It was past twelve when she finished and scrubbed out the kitchen. She put water on the stove to boil for her bath. She went into the bathroom. She would rub some oil into her hair and have a head bath. She had just rubbed a palmful of oil into her hair when the phone rang. She thought she would let it ring till the caller was tired, but the telephone kept ringing. She washed her hands and went to pick it up.
“Is that Mrs. Ramaswamy? This is Captain Khanna here.” His voice came over the line quiet and unhurried.
The oil had not come off. Meera held the telephone with the edge of her sari. “Hullo, how are you? I thought you were leaving today.”
“My bags are packed and I’m about to leave now. I thought I would say good bye and thank you before I left.”
“You already did that yesterday.”
“What I like about you is your frankness. I’ll be back in Delhi in a couple of months. Can I see you then?”
“Of course. We would love to meet you.” There was a slight pause at the other end.
“I hope you will not have forgotten me.”
“Of course not. My life is not all that crowded with helpful captains, coming to the rescue. Good luck.”
“Bye and the same to you.”
There was a click and the phone began to purr. Still holding the phone through her sari she replaced it carefully on the hook. The water was steaming and hissing out through the edges of the lid. She almost scalded herself as she poured it into the plastic bucket and carried it to the bathroom. To be continued Return to Chapter 2