Where Peakcocks Fly - Chapter 2
by Prema Sastri
Meera had put a vessel on the stove. She poured out the contents on a plate and sprinkled it with grated coconut which she took out from a bottle.“It is Channa. I forgot all about it till now.”
Captain Khanna picked up the plate and looked at it appreciatively.“It looks very appetizing, but I have never seen gram made like this before. Even the appearance is different.”
“That is how we make it in the south. It is known as ‘Shundal’. Taste it and see how you like it.”
She poured some of it in a saucer.
Captain Khanna tasted a spoonful, then looked up. “Jolly good, but…”
“The salt, I forgot to add the salt. I really am in a muddle today. The maid servant didn’t turn up this afternoon.” She quickly added salt and garnished the dish with chillies. “Thank goodness you tasted it first. I would have felt so humiliated, if I had served it like that to the guests.”
“Why should you? After lying in a trench without food for weeks it seems strange that people should fuss over lack of a little salt. That’s civilization for you. Are we all set to go?” He looked around. “Hadn’t we better try to get that mark off your sari? I shall feel pretty guilty about it otherwise.”
“I thought that life in the trenches had put you beyond such trivialities.” They both laughed. Captain Khanna took out his handkerchief and held it under the kitchen tap. “Try that.”
Meera took the handkerchief and rubbed the stain. “It should go with that. I won’t feel sorry even if it doesn’t. I never liked this sari much.”
“Why not? You look pretty good in it to me.”
Meera blushed, but Captain Khanna had already picked up a tray and left the kitchen. She
adjusted the folds of her sari to hide the wet spots and followed him.
He had placed the tray on a side table and was returning for another. He soon had the
trays laid out on side tables. Meera rose to hand trays around, but he stopped her. “Help yourselves, everyone; self service center open.” He picked up a glass and plate and was soon back at her side.
“This is for you. You look done in. I ventured to choose Coca Cola to match that purple sari.”
“Are you always as resourceful as this?” Meera took a sip from her glass.
“Yes. The army teaches us that much.”
“I would love to hear more. I don’t know any people in the services. Most of the people I know are teachers or administrators. What made you join the army?”
There`s been a Khanna in every war that`s been fought in India.. The army seemed to be a good way of life to me. I joined the National Defence Academy and have been knocking around the country ever since.”
“You must have seen a lot of places.”
“I have. I’ve been in Poona, most of the foothills of the Himalayas, with a spell or two in the plains.”
“How did that happen?”
“I was an infanteer.”
“Oh. Have you been transferred to Delhi recently?’
“No. I am just here on a short holiday with Nita. My present posting is in N.E.F.A.. How did you get friendly with Nita? She doesn’t look your type. His glance rested on Meera.
“Her husband and mine are colleagues. They once prepared a joint report on education.”
“Nita knows her way around. She was always bossing us when we were kids. Still, her parents have always been kind to me. I used to go to their home for holidays. I lost mine when I was quite young.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Nita’s not bad. She’s not malicious.”
“No time for that. She is too busy making eyes at the men.”
They looked across the room at Nita talking to a tall man wearing a baggy suit. She had wrapped her red chiffon sari tightly about her hips. Her shoulders were thrown back and her bottom curved out like a temple fresco. The man was looking, his eyes peering through black rimmed glasses, were fixed on the curve of her throat.
“Who’s that she has got her hooks into?”
“Suresh Kapadia. He’s an industrialist.”
“Doesn’t he press his pants?”
“He doesn’t have to. He uses them and throws them away. Half the members of the parliament have been elected on his money.”
“Lucky man. It’s a pity his money hasn’t put a crease in his trousers. Who’s the fortunate wife?”
“That one there in white.” Her fingers fluttered to indicate Savitri who was with a group talking to the president of the Ramakrishna Mission. They were looking expectantly at a thin woman in pink with long hair let down in a loose plait. She was making half-hearted gestures of refusal.
“I am afraid they are asking her to sing.” Captain Khanna wore a glum look.
“She`s Rukmini Krishnamurthy.She sings well; the only trouble is they won’t let her stop.”
One of the members of the group looked around. “Silence. Mrs. Rukmini will now give us a song.”
Rukmini sat on a chair with her eyes half closed. She began to sing. The group around her clapped their hands and swayed to the music. She started with a well known bhajan and was prevailed on to sing another.
“Count me out,” said Captain Khanna. “Let’s see what’s doing outside.”
He propelled Meera firmly to the door. On the way out they almost bumped into Betty. “What lovely music. Isn’t that a lilting melody?” She ran in.
Outside it was dusty and unpleasant. The Gul Mohar tree in the corner of the lawn was still. Ramaswamy had disentangled himself from the Railway Board member and was now talking to a group of admiring young officers.
“After I was a year in the department of defence production, our turnover has more than doubled. Take electronics, for instance. Foreigners think that the electronic industry is still in its infancy in this country. I am glad to say that under my guidance we have set up three new units. We have stopped granting licences to the private companies. We shall soon knock all the foreign firms out of business in India.” There were murmurs of interest and admiration. Ramaswamy
looked up and noticed Meera. “I think we need a few more snacks. The bondas could do with more salt. “
“Yes. I’ll get them for you. This is Captain Khanna, Nita’s cousin.”
Ramaswamy looked up in a vague acknowledgement and continued with his recital.
A few drops of rain splashed on the table. The Gul Mohar leaves began to rustle. “Let’s go before it really comes down,” shouted one of the men. There was a rush inside with people picking up chairs and glasses. Inside,Rukmini Krishnamurthy was singing “Hari bol, Hari bol,” Her song was cut short by the crowd. At the door there was a flurry of goodbyes and thank you’s. Cars started. Windscreen wipers whirred. The cars crawled out one by one. A few stragglers remained. They had called for taxis and waited silently as they watched the rain lash the windows.
Meera was surprised to find Captain Khanna still at her side. “Haven’t you gone yet?
Sorry, that’s one of those stupid questions.”
“Did you think I would go without telling you? Thank you for the lovely party. It was nice of you to look after me even though I was a gate crasher.”
“It was nice having you, and you were a great help. Come again, any time.”
“Do you mean that? I’m leaving tomorrow but I’ll see you the next time the packet comes in.”
“It’s a plane.”
“I’ll be very happy to see you. Here’s Nita.”
Nita fluttered in murmuring apologies. “Mr. Kapadia insists on taking us in his car. It is very kind of him”
The four of them got into the car waving goodbyes.---------