Saturday Story 3: Dil ke Armaan
The table was laid out as always – dal, two sabzis, salad and raita. Just as Apoorva liked it. The days of craving for exotic foods were long gone, ghar ka khana was all his heart desired. Birju emerged from the kitchen with a hot phulka, smothered with ghee. But as Apoorva took in his first few bites, he knew something was wrong. Terribly wrong.
“Bharte mein namak thoda zyada nahin lag raha hai?” he asked, tentatively.
His wife Manisha raised an eyebrow, as if to say – think before you speak. Ek to they were lucky enough to have a cook in these Covid times. Look at my friends, all constantly moaning about the housework and preparing their own meals. Na baba, jo mil raha hai kha lo. These delicate hands were made to be manicured, not for kitchen duty.
Apoorva swallowed the meal in silence. But that evening, was a repeat performance. The dal was so teekha, there was fire in his nostrils. He gulped down some dahi, for cooling effect, and got through the ordeal. The next morning, however, matters came to a head. Manisha’s egg-white omlette was burnt. She could no longer ignore this… something was wrong.
Her mother would have summoned the cook and given him a piece of her mind. But wo zamana alag tha. Today, shouting and screaming was okay with husbands. Wo sun lenge. Helpers, you treat with kid gloves. At the hint of naaraazi, they simply pack their bags. Hamari bhi koi izzat hai, bhai. Naukri kahin aur kar lenge…
So, it was with genuine-sounding concern that memsahib inquired, “Birju, tumhari tabiyat theek hai?”
The man did not speak, just nodded his head. There was an ineffable sadness in his eyes. Maybe, he was missing his family, his own ma ke haath ka khana. So many cooks and helpers had gone home, in buses and Shramik Express trains. Of course, Birju’s hometown was in Nepal, which made it all the more difficult.
Manisha tried to recall how long Birju had been acting oddly… Why, just last Sunday, he was pretty cheerful. They’d given him the evening off, as always, and he left the house with the ostensible goal of ‘eating some air’ (‘hawa khaane ja raha hoon’). In fact, she was slightly amused with his flowery shirt and gel-slicked hair.
Oho, ab samjha, ladki ka chakkar hoga. It was a common pastime in the neighbourhood – falling in love. Drivers and maids, was the usual combination. Wonder who he had found. Dekhne mein theek thaak hi tha, some might say he had a resemblance with Salman Khan. With shirt on. Well, time was the only marham-patti for a broken heart.
“Birju, aaj main Swiggy se order kar loongi,” said memsahib. “Tum jao, aaraam kar lo.”
The young man sighed and went to his quarters. Manisha made herself chamomile tea and sat in her balcony, overlooking Worli Seaface. The sky was a spotless blue, thanks to the never-before Air Quality Index. Well, at least something good had come out of this lockdown. Now if only a dolphin or two would show up in her line of sight…
“Manisha, I know what’s bothering Birju Maharaj!” exclaimed Apoorva, emerging from the bedroom, waving his mobile phone.
Dear Apoorva, in his 2-day stubble, and faded boxer shorts, bought on a long-ago trip to Las Vegas. He is the last person in the world to decipher anything was wrong, with anyone. So lost was he in the world of Unix programs and data stacks. But okay… let me see… what Mr Sherlock At Home has discovered.
He thrust the One Plus into her face, and clicked on the forwarded video . Manisha’s eyes widened in surprise, and then she nodded vigorously. Yes, yes…. it all made sense now.
Tik-tok star ‘Seaface Salman’, with 1.1 million followers was in deep depression, following the sudden announcement by the Indian government.
“59 apps have been banned, including the popular video-sharing platform Tik-Tok.”
Somewhere in Koramangala, a team of twenty-somethings is toiling all night, to create a new social media app. So that Birju can be more than a bawarchi, for a few, brief moments.
Because escapism is everyone’s birthright.
Don’t miss the audio file: Inside the Author’s Mind – Why I wrote ‘Dil ke Armaan’.