Editor: Read Chapter VII here.
Rajesh woke up bright and early and called Anjali.
‘How do you feel today?’ he asked her.
‘I’ve decided to forgive you. It’s not really your fault. Let’s make the best of this week,’ she said. Rajesh was relieved.
‘Honey, I’m so glad you understand. Listen, I’ll come over there and…’
‘But don’t you have to go to work?’
‘Yes, but I’ll come there around eight and we’ll spend some time together and then I’ll go to the office,’
‘What about lunch together?’
‘I think I can manage that. I’ll come back by around twelve and I’ll take you home. I’ve asked the maid to cook something you like.’
‘Brinjals? Oh, you’re so nice and I’m so nasty.’
Rajesh grunted with happiness, his breath coming out quickly, a knot on his forehead as he racked his brains for something nice to say. The shock of having Anjali at Gadchiroli had worn off and he was looking forward to enjoying the rest of her stay.
‘How’s the Professor?’
‘She’s really sweet. I mean, she doesn’t know me at all and yet she’s been so very kind. I’ve been put up in the best room and she didn’t let me do any work in the kitchen and, we talked and talked late into the night.’
‘What did you talk about?’
‘Well I guess she is very lonely and she couldn’t stop talking and she told me how she never got married and I ended up telling her how we know each other and everything.’
‘But you barely know her.’ Rajesh was shocked.
‘One thing led to the other. She is also very curious, but in a nice, considerate sort of way. I told her how we were classmates at ITN and we were together for a bit and then we broke off and I stayed single and then how I went around with Waman and…’
‘You told her about Waman? But you hate discussing that episode even with me!’ Rajesh was astonished.
‘Well, I had to tell someone!’
‘Yes, it was so easy to talk to her. So, I told her that when I started working, I started dating this older man who seemed to be very nice and sweet and then turned out to be controlling and even occasionally violent, and then after I became single once again, I was determined to stay single when I ran into you at an ITN alumni reunion a year ago.’
Rajesh was silent.
‘She also said, in a nice roundabout way that it’s good you’re a little bit fairer than me, since the children have a chance to be fairer than I am.’
‘She actually said that?’ Rajesh asked.
‘Yes, but she meant well, so I’m not upset.’
‘Phew! I…’ Rajesh started to say something, then changed his mind. ‘I’ll see you soon,’ he said and hung up. He quickly brushed, shaved and got dressed. The cook and the maid would be in by seven-thirty, but today they didn’t have to make his breakfast. There was lots of time for them to get the house in shape and cook something nice for lunch.
His phone rang. ‘Yes, hello?’
He listened to the speaker and then burst out angrily, ‘Damn! I need at least a dozen! Eight won’t do. Isn’t there anyone else in this blasted town who could sell me a dozen roses?’ Gadchiroli did not have a florist, but surely someone cultivated roses. It was unbelievable that he could not get hold of a dozen red roses.
‘Didn’t you say that he also has chrysanthemums? I’ll take some of those. Yes? A bunch, a big bunch,’ Rajesh added. ‘How long will he take? Please ask him to get here as quickly as he can. Yes, I will pay him an extra fifty rupees.’
Soon, a man arrived on a bicycle and at Rajesh’s signal, the guard standing by the gate allowed him in.
‘Saab, roses and chrysanthemums for you,’ the man said, lightly touching his turban, but not taking it off. Was he just a delivery boy or was he the actual flower seller? The man didn’t look like a landlord, but then, neither did he resemble an errand boy. He stood there in his traditional dhoti, one end of which was tucked up. His turban was very dirty but he wore earrings that suggested some affluence. Rajesh didn’t care. Without asking any questions, Rajesh took the cheap polythene bag which the man was carrying and peered inside eagerly and looked back up at the man in shock.
‘What have you done! Why did you do that?’
‘Do what sir?’ the man looked confused.
‘How could you, I…’
‘Do you have more roses?’ Rajesh asked, looking a little distraught.
‘At home? No sir, I’ve brought you everything I had.’
Rajesh took a deep breath and asked, ‘How much?’
‘Hundred rupees saab. Fifty for the flowers and fifty extra as you promised.’
Rajesh gave him a hundred rupee note and walked over to his jeep. He got inside and drove over to the Professor’s house, the polythene bag by his side.
Professor Bina Morkar opened the door even before he rang the bell.
Obviously, Bina Morkar thought it was incredibly romantic for Rajesh to come over early in the morning to meet his fiancée, but it was equally clear that she did not believe the young couple needed any privacy.
‘It’s the thought that counts, right?’ Rajesh asked Anjali, preparing her for the roses.
‘Why? What happened? What’s in that bag?’
‘I was trying to get you some roses,’ he explained.
Anjali took the bag from Rajesh and put her hand inside. Her brow furrowed in confusion.
‘Hello! What’s this?’ She extracted a red rose, its stem no longer than an inch.
‘When I asked for a dozen roses, I assumed I would get a few inches of stem at least,’ Rajesh said ruefully.
Professor Morkar burst out laughing. ‘People here have no clue about giving flowers. Where did you get it from?’
‘One of my men asked his neighbour to deliver some roses. Since he didn’t have twelve roses, I asked him to put in some chrysanthemums as well.’
‘Never mind, I’m glad you got them,’ Anjali smiled. She emptied the bag on the table to reveal twelve roses, each one cut very close to its base and a dozen or so chrysanthemums, all of which had been subjected to the same treatment. But as she looked at the flowers, her expression changed. ‘How could anyone do this to a rose?’ she wailed.
‘But this is how you would cut a rose if you wanted to wear it in your hair or if you want to place it in front of God,’ Professor Morkar explained.
‘God?’ Rajesh and Anjali asked Professor Morkar in unison.
‘Yes, God. Out here in Gadchiroli, we don’t keep flowers in vases. Either we wear them, or we place them in front of God. Go on, pick one flower,’ she prompted Anjali.
Anjali poked around and picked out one. ‘No, take one more. You might as well wear two roses.’ When Anjali took out a second rose, Professor Morkar disappeared for a second and returned with two hair pins.
‘Here, stay still for a second.’ Holding one of the hair pins in between her lips, she used the other to pin a rose to Anjali’s hair, just above the left ear. The second pin was taken out from between the pursed lips and used to pin the second rose to a spot above Anjali’s right ear. Rajesh cupped his mouth to hold his laughter and Anjali’s eyes and mouth widened as she gently touched a flower with each hand.
‘Now, the rest I will offer to God,’ Professor Morkar said, sweeping up the rest of the flowers and taking them away to her pooja room.
‘You look like an actress from the 1960s,’ Rajesh complimented her as soon as Professor Morkar left the room. They kissed swiftly and moved apart before Professor Morkar could return.
‘I’m sure actresses then were fairer.’
‘I’m watching a black and white movie.’
Anjali promptly punched Rajesh in the gut, prompting him to double over in mock pain.
They soon sat down to breakfast.
‘That looks delicious,’ Rajesh declared as a big heap of fluffy pooris was placed on the table in front of him.
‘You are a lucky man. Your girlfriend is so pretty and cute,’ Professor Morkar complimented him. Rajesh smiled and looked at Anjali. Yes, she was very pretty, though he wasn’t sure if ‘cute’ was an accurate adjective since Anjali always had a serious face. She had a slightly severe look about her, unless she smiled of course, which made her entire face light up. Right now, Anjali was smiling.
As he started his second poori, his phone rang.
‘Yes, Inspector Makarand?’ Anjali frowned.
Rajesh leaned back in his chair and lifted up his left elbow as if it would help him hear better.
‘What? Say that again?’ The excitement in his voice was obvious.
‘And then? What did you do?’
When Rajesh put his phone down, his nostrils were flared with excitement, but there was also a forlorn look on his face, as if he was now beyond redemption.
‘Honey, you know the big fish I’ve been telling you about?’
‘Yes?’ Anjali’s eyebrows furrowed in concentration.
‘Well, we have information that he might be passing through a particular place in the jungle later today.’
‘So?’ Even as she asked that question, Anjali’s face clouded.
‘Well, I have to go there. With luck, we’ll catch him and I’ll be back by evening, or tonight at the latest,’ Rajesh said eagerly, trying to make her understand the import of this news.
‘Which means you won’t be able to take me to your place for lunch today, right?’
‘But that’s fine, I understand. If you manage to catch this man, then it would mean something for a lot of people. Even for me. Maybe the Maoists will lay down their weapons and there will be peace in Gadchiroli and in the rest of the state and that peace will spread to the rest of the country. We might even have world peace from tomorrow if you manage to catch this man. What did you say his name was?’
‘Etayya,’ Rajesh said guiltily, but by then, Anjali had fled the room in tears.
Feature Image (Cover): Nisha Joseph
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