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Where Peacocks fly-16

by Prema Sastri

Back to - Chapter 15

Chapter 16

The search for pickle bottles was harder than it seemed. Meera had so far collected only twenty of them. She scolded herself for getting involved in Betty’s activities. She thought she would distract herself with a visit to Mrs. Menon. She owed much to the kind couple. She went to the Motibagh market to get an appropriate offering. She settled on a basket of fruit. Apples, pears, grapes and bananas were in season. They made a colourful display of red, green, yellow and purple contours. Meera wrapped the basket in silver paper with a bow on the handle.

The Menons lived near the Ramaswamys. Mrs Menon opened the door. She beamed when she saw her visitor. “Do come in. I am so happy to see you.” She ushered Meera to a cushioned armchair. Meera proffered the fruit basket.

“This is for you. I am grateful to Wing Commander Menon and you for all you have done. You have been a great help and support to us.”

“Not at all. It is the least we could do. I am glad Sankaran is well. My husband was anxious about him. Thank you for the fruit. It was not necessary to take the trouble.”

“If it was not for the Wing Commander we would not have sent our son to hospital in time. It must be a relief to have a doctor in the house.”

“He’s hardly ever in the house. As a doctor he keeps late hours. He often goes out of Delhi to small cantonment towns. I feel so alone.” Her face drooped.

“I’m sorry. Do come to my place whenever you feel lonely. I am by myself a good deal of the time, in spite of my teenagers.”

“You are lucky to have them. My Gopal lives with my mother in Trivandrum. He left only yesterday. I miss him so.”

Mrs Menon wiped her eyes with the edge of her sari. I musn’t bore you with my woes.”

Meera felt sorry to see her friend in pain.

“I would love to hear about him. He must be a fine boy, having such wonderful parents.”

Mrs Menon spread her plump frame on the chair. Her fair, round face creased into a smile. Meera settled down to listen to the glories of Gopal.

“He is in the twelfth standard and is the school captain. He is good in sports, as well as in studies. Just a minute.” Mrs. Menon took down a framed photograph from the showcase. “That’s him.” Her voice was full of pride.

She handed Meera the photo of a boy who looked like her. Meera studied it. “A handsome young man. I am sure you must be proud of him.”

“I am. I wish he were here with me. It is time for my elevenses. You must join me.”

She went to the kitchen and returned with cups of tea and a plate of Kerala chips. Meera drank the tea. It was hot and sweet. She relaxed. Mrs. Menon munched the chips. They crackled under her sharp teeth.

“Tell me about yourself. What keeps you busy?”

Meera told her about the impending fete, and her promise to supply fifty bottles of pickles. “So far I have been promised only twenty. I don’t know where to go for the rest.”

“Is that all your trouble? I can give you two bottles of Kerala prawn pickles. Through our air force welfare society I can get you another ten bottles of different types of pickles, I can also collect empty bottles from our members.”

“What a relief! Thank you ever so much.”

“Your maid Chotu’s mother does odd jobs in various houses. She makes pickles and sells them. If you get the ingredients she can make them for you at home. Limes are in season. They are cheap.”

Mrs Menon, you have come to my aid like a Goddess.”

“Call me Mohini. And you are?”

“Meera! Mohini, you have taken a great burden off me.”

“Service wives get these responsibilities all the time. Glad to be of help.”

Chotu was happy to call her mother, Sadhvi. Sadhvi seemed to be experienced. She offered to go with Meera to the market. After rolling limes several times between her fingers she selected a hundred and twenty of them. She managed to persuade the shop keeper to add ten more. When they reached home she made lime juice. Meera felt cool and refreshed after the drink.

Sadhvi and Chotu got to work. The limes were cut, covered with salt and placed in a large jar. Sadhvi took her leave.

“Chotu will keep the jar in the sun for two days. After that I will come and add the masala.” In three days the pickle was ready. Mohini sent twenty five empty bottles. They were filled and the labels provided by Mohini pasted on them. The cost of the pickle was far less than Meera expected, including the tip she gave her willing workers. The promised pickle bottles arrived in time. Meera found she was looking forward to the fete, which was a week away……….

The great day arrived. The pickle bottles had been packed in a large cardboard box. Mohini was to take her to the grounds in her car, as the welfare association had a garment stall. At the last moment a volunteer dropped out. Mohini was taking her place. Meera was able to contribute garments that Sankaran and Mangalam had never worn, thinking they were not suitable. Mohini picked them up. “This is exactly what we need.” She arrived well in time. The cardboard box was stashed in the boot. The back seat was covered with garments which had just come in. There was an assortment of them, ranging from baby bootees to lacy underwear.

The fair was organized on the lawns of the Y.W.C.A. Participants were already setting up their stalls. There were stalls with toys, dry fruits, sports items, games of fortune, handicrafts, drapery, home decorations and carpets. Every second stall seemed to be a food chest. They displayed puris, chutneys, spicy vegetable curries, bhelpuri, chaat, cutlets, vadas, idlis, dosas, samosas and other delectable snacks. There was no need for anyone to go home hungry.

Meera and Mohini parted ways to go to their respective stalls. Betty was already at the Indo American unit. She was spreading brightly coloured table cloths on the tables. Meera took over the job. There was a vase of roses in a corner. She placed it on the front table. She took out the pickle bottles and displayed them. There were jars of cookies, brownies, chocolates and cakes. She arranged them to the maximum advantage. Betty was hanging coloured paper streamers and Chinese lanterns. She got down from the chair and surveyed the effect. “It looks good. Meera, you have done a good job. Thanks for coming early to help me.”

“It’s my pleasure. I think the chief guest has arrived.”

The chief guest, a well known social worker and recipient of the Padma Sri award, could be heard inaugurating the fete. Later, she was escorted by the organizers round the stalls. She was wearing a white khadi sari. As she passed their stall she stopped to express a word of appreciation.

Nita arrived in a pink salwar Chamise with silver sequins. She wore a generous coating of make up. She hurriedly arranged her pickles.

The crowd started trickling in. There were youngsters wearing jeans, slit skirts, coloured pants and other trendy outfits. They made a beeline for the food centres. The adults walked around, eyes peeled for a good bargain. They drifted towards the gifts, garments, household items and white elephant areas.

To be continued.....

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