The train was on time. Like the other days, Sreedhar boarded the train from Kings Cross. An IT engineer by profession, with quite alluring & appealing perks of its own, Sreedhar's job sector was 3 stations away. Boarding a bus would have been easier (according to his fellow companions) but Sreedhar preferred to travel by train. As the train geared up speed, the scenes & actions of London life appeared like different scenes from Shakespeare's plays being performed at the Globe. These images reminded him of Madras, of the liveliness of the people there.
Rain in London is pretty frequent. Sitting near a window seat, the splashes of rain created visions on the glass. Emerging out of those visions were figures - like grey ghosts from Sreedhar's past, each acquiring hands & legs gradually. They took him back to his origin - to the temples and to the sea-beaches. To waking up early in the mornings, sitting to study and to decorating the entrance with ground rice and water with his mother. To the taste of curd rice or dosa with sambar, to the fragrance of coconut oil and to the lighted up veranda of his house during all festivals - especially in Diwali.
His stop had arrived. Sreedhar stood up. Five years it had been.
Five years since he left his house. Five years since he deserted his parents.
He was the smartest and the youngest of all the kids in his family and thus was the most loved one. History, literally, did not fascinate him ever and when Iyer Sir called up his parents and asked them to meet him, he knew exactly what was approaching.
‘Such disgraceful marks! Not serious! Not serious with his future…’ and Iyer sir continued. How his father's face used to fume & fret! And once in the house, Sreedhar would run along the courtyard, with his father chasing him with the wooden ruler and his family running all over the place to stop the war. Such was his childhood. As the years passed, the nerd turned into a mature and handsome man and got placed in a big IT firm. His family was proud of him. His parents lived his dreams and seeing their son succeed made their chests broader. The day he got his call, he went numb with happiness. He decided to inform his mother first - the person who had stood by him through thick and thin and cooled his temper down when he argued with his father or when he asked for permission to a late night hangout. She was primarily the person to whom Sreedhar spoke his heart out - about his day-to-day happenings, incidents and mishaps. Sreedhar first broke the news to his mother, who welcomed the new phase in her son's life with her special Motichur ka laddoo and Sreedhar was ready to undertake any hardships if he were to be rewarded with this homemade dessert and the end of it.
It was already 5 p.m. by his watch. Ana would be waiting for him at the grocery shop. Since her pregnancy, their house was most of the time filled with presents and guests. The other day, Ana has said, ‘We are running short of few items, the Chukkervertys are supposed to be here tomorrow for dinner. And oh! Sweetheart, the return gift after the baby shower at the Greene's?’
‘Sure honey! Everything is chalked up; don't you worry.’ Sreedhar had confidently replied.
It's not that Ana doesn't realise the extent to which Sreedhar misses his family and the pain he feels when he sees her sharing a well-knit bond with her own family. But Ana doesn't stir him much. She gives him space. When alone at home, she often wonders how to make him feel at home - in Madras- and few attempts at this had been successfully funny. The dosa became a pancake and the sambar tasted more like Subway.
She idolizes a particular dish his mom used to make, something fried and dipped in sugar syrup and rolled into small yellow balls. Some laddoo, some sweet dish popular in India; a must-eat during Diwali, but she is not sure of the recipe and the ingredients - half of which are foreign to her.
Ana always hears the story of Diwali and the grand celebration of lights that it is. She distinctly remembers how the other day Sreedhar was telling her ‘..like hungry puppies, you know, we used to peep in the kitchen to see whether Mom was done with her laddoos or not and the minute she turned her back, I used to crawl and pick up a handful of the sweets, put them in my pocket and run out of the room. Drawing beautiful patterns with ground rice and water was a must, which was followed by the Lakshmi puja and bursting of crackers.’ Sreedhar had paused for a moment and then, he had left the room.
While working on the laptop, Sreedhar had realised that a day was left for Diwali and he again had the same work to do - board the same train, return home early, be with Ana and perhaps attend the Lakshmi puja at the Verma's in their society. It would be yet another year when the floor would not be decorated with designs, the house would not smell of fresh ghee and his mother would not be making the sweets.
Sreedhar often recollects the day when his father did not acknowledge Ana as his wife. Those tears in his mother’s eyes; he had failed to wipe them. There were arguments, throwing of things, extreme passion, anger and disgust. Sreedhar was disinherited. He did not question. He left with Ana and founded a new life. The picture of a happy family broke into pieces in front of him. He heard how his mother was desperate to meet him when she had received the news of Ana's pregnancy.
Time had already drove them apart.
While lying on the bed, Sreedhar felt like home, like in Madras. It were as if he could hear the rumpus in his house created by his noisy cousins. Guests had already started to arrive and all were looking for him. He could smell the fresh ghee and feel his mother’s presence in the kitchen. His cousins were waiting outside for him to burst the crackers together. It felt perfect and he felt happy. He realised that the festival had already commenced, that Diwali had begun.
The ring of the alarm clock was rather harsh. Sreedhar was ready for work. The smile was fake on his face, the pain was real. Ana looked happy and eager. They shared a great laugh at the breakfast table. While getting up from his seat, Sreedhar was presented with a surprise. The smell of the ghee wasn't a dream - he realised now. His wife had made him his favourite dessert.
He was inexplicably happy. He promised her of a great time ahead on this festive day. He promised to light up the house with diyas. He promised to be early. He missed his family, he missed Madras and yet, he was happy. The smell of the laddoos healed his pain. He knew he was not too far from them. He knew his parents thought of him every day. He knew they sought the best for him.
Ana's phone was lying beside the cooker. It wasn’t disconnected, as if waiting to hear the breath of delight. Sreedhar saw that. He had a smile on his face. Ana felt happy for him. Things were perfect and after ages it felt like Diwali in London.
Sketch By: Kislaya Sinha