"Which way to go saar? To the left or to the right?" – asked the auto rickshaw driver as he negotiated through the crowded street of Mandi Mohalla.
"Straight you go?then stop near the market. I’ll ask someone and confirm which way to go." I was not sure where exactly the house is located.
He stopped near the main entrance of the market that looked like a big arch in typical Indo-Sarcenic architecture. I got down from the auto and entered the market.
I knew where I could find the person I wanted to talk to. I reached the second shop in the right wing and gazed inside for him. He was not there!
A small boy filling edible oil into a can from a big drum looked at me with boredom on his face.
He lifted his chin and asked me suggestively what I wanted from him.
"Sheik saab is not in?" I asked with little uncertainty in my voice. Something is missing here, I thought.
The boy nodded in affirmative and indifferently announced ? "Died 5 years ago."
"What about his family?"
"I don’t know saab. You better ask the owner of the house where they used to stay.
Go ten yards, turn to the right, take the first left and find the second house to your right.
Knock on the door before you enter. The owner is very strict saab. Three grown up girls at home saab. Strangers are not allowed inside before the girls go to their room!"
He explained to me as if I am on my way to the jungle for hunting a lion!
I nodded my head and came back to the Auto, paid his fare and started walking towards the house.
High compound walls with a 5 feet high door painted dark green greeted me. I picked the thick chain hanging on the door and knocked on the door thrice.
"Coming…! Give me two minutes." A hoarse male voice assured me that I am not unwanted there! Sighed a deep breath of relief and waited.
After five minutes, the door opened and a bearded man in his mid fifties wearing pyjama and kurta stood there looking at me.
"Yes janab?" He was trying to know who I am.
"I am from Mangalore. My name is Rameshchandra Sharma. I work for a Nationalised Bank. I used to stay in Mysore 20 years ago. May I come in please?" I was charring in the scorching summer heat.
"Oh yes janab. Please come in. What can I do for you janab?" He saw my appearance and must have been convinced about my good intentions. He offered me an old wooden chair with carvings on it and he himself sat on a wooden stool.
I asked him – "20 years ago, one Sheik saab used to live here with his wife and his two children. I heard that Sheik saab passed away five years ago. Do you know the whereabouts of his wife and children?"
Now he looked little disturbed and he asked me with a little harshness in his tone ?
"They don’t stay here anymore janab. I don’t know their whereabouts. Why do you ask me about his family? Soon after Sheik saab died, they vacated the house and moved to some other town. Some say they shifted to Ram Nagar. Some say Mandya. I am not aware of their whereabouts. By the way janab, have they taken any loan from your Bank?"
"No. I was close to their family. I just wanted to say hello to them. Now that you say you don’t know about their whereabouts, let us not go deep into details. Thank you."
I was about to move out when he stopped me and asked me to sit back. He called out loudly ? "Arre begum sahiba! Please get a glass of cold water for our mehmaan."
I started looking around the place as he continued ? "Janab, please don’t feel bad.
After Sheik saab died, many people came in search of him and most of them were pawn brokers and money lenders. Sheik saab owed atleast 2 lakh Rupees in the market. Poor man had TB and whatever he earned was not sufficient for his medical expenses!"
"What about his wife’s income? She was a teacher, right?" I asked as I sipped the cold water with the flavour of cloves.
"Yes janab. But you know how poorly they paid the teachers those days. They got their daughter married and spent a great deal of money on her marriage. Very difficult times they had janab, very difficult!"
I was shocked to hear that! A small girl of thirteen getting married!
Then I realized that she was thirteen years of age twenty years ago. Now she must be 33!
I felt ashamed at my own ignorance!
"Do you know her whereabouts?"
"Well janab??all I know is, she was married to a decent household in Hyderabad."
I don’t know if they keep in touch with her or not! She has never seen the family after her marriage, nor did the family see her!"
Suddenly I felt as if I am going through an earthquake and that I am falling into an endless pit where I could hear her calling for help ? "Bhai jaan?.! Help me Bhai jaan?.! Only you can save me…….Bhai jaan!"
The next moment, it was total blackout and I could not hear a thing!
The train came to a halt at Chamarajapuram station exactly at 7.30a.m., though it was a Monday morning. Most of the people from Mysore who work in Chamarajanagar who stay the entire week in Chamarajanagar normally spend their weekend in Mysore and return by the first train on Monday morning. I quickly scanned through the rusty rods of the windows with half hanging dirty glass shutters that were coated with a thick layer of dust and coal powder and cinder mixed with dried saliva and paan droppings, to see if any seats were vacant in the last two compartments. I normally avoid the front compartments for the simple reason that the heat and cinder are too intense in those which are next to the engine. Third one is an all ladies’ compartment with guard van within.
I found Sunderrajan, my colleague in the Bank sitting with Sheshadri, who was the manager in a Bank in Kavalande. Though I hated Sunderrajan for his sarcasm and megalomania, Sheshadri was a friendly person with lots of jokes and anecdotes up his sleeves! I didn’t know why his subordinates called him ‘Thindi Poata'(Ventripotent)! He was no doubt on the fatter side but I always felt, just because he talks about good food most of the times, one need not brand him like that!
I stepped into the compartment and sat next to Sunderrajan. It was a compartment with four sections, three general and one ‘Ladies only’. Ours was adjacent to the ‘Ladies’. The wooden seats were not as dirty as the windows. Strong smell of cow dung and mulberry leaves filled the compartment as usual because quite a few farmers and sericulturists travel by this train.
Sunderrajan was commanding and always wanted the window seat! Since he and Sheshadri catch the train at the starting point, they always got the seats of their choice.
Other passengers were mostly men and women workers in Sericulture department in Thandavapura and a couple of social workers going to Nanjangud. Next section had interns from Mysore Medical College posted to a rural place near Nanjangud. A few others were returning to Chamarajanagar after they spent the weekend with their families.
The train moved at a steady pace and we went on talking about what we did at the weekend. I’d always start about washing the clothes, having my cold water bath and going with my room mate Naidu to the nearby Viswa’s Caf? and eat six Idlis with butter and chutney followed by a Bisi Bele Bhaat(Spiced Vegetable Rice with Lentils) and wash it down with Vishwa’s deadly concoction called Kaapi(Coffee)! Later during the day we’d normally go for city beat, hang out near K.R.Circle or Sayyaji Rao Road, have lunch at Raghavendra Prasanna and go for a matinee at Shalimar or Sterling. Sometimes I start early in the morning and go to Mandya to see my doctor friend Mahesh, spend the day with him, relish the best Ragi Mudde(Millet Dumpling) soaked in Avrekaai Saaru.(A kind of Bean preparation)
Sheshadri normally would start with the story about his son pestering him to take him to KRS and have Bhelpuri near Town Hall. He also would mention about Udupi Krishna Bhavan in Balepet Bangalore, where Masala Dosa and Bisi Bele Bhaat are ‘First Class’!
His speech would end with him inviting us to his own home to taste the Bisi Bele Bhaat prepared by his beloved wife!
Sunderrajan as usual would talk about money matters and share market. He would tell us about the joints where cheap idlis are available in Mysore and how many times he has visited Chamundi Hills.
A little bored and soporific Shamanna (We used to call him ‘Reelanna’ because he used to spin imaginary yarn about people and try to convince us that what he told us was true!)
Would say ? "When I woke up this morning at 4.30A.M., taf water was too cold, but I managed to take my bath, cooked my food and walked all the 5 K.M.s to the Railway Station to catch the train! If the Manager asks me to clear the fending Inward Bills today, I will ask him to tell his father to do it! Don’t we need some rest?!" Yaaaaawn….and he is off to sleep again!
…Suddenly I felt as if I am going through an earthquake and that I am falling into an endless pit …..
Malladi Sathyanarayana Rao, originally from Andhra, also my colleague in the Bank used to talk in his own exotic language! He used to quote the Bank form numbers while referring to people! Nevertheless, he used to keep us all amused and he always wore that innocent smile on his face! I have tasted excellent pure coffee at his home, probably the only coffee roasted and powdered at home and no chicory added into it! This day, his main topic is about a Telugu movie called "Devudu Chesina Manushyudu"! We all enjoyed his dialogues in Telugu with translation in Kannada!
Someone said, Nanjangud Station has the outer signal on! We all cursed our luck! That damn Chamarajanagar Mysore train has reached the station much before ours!
Some people got down from the train and sat on the grass landscape on the sides, few of them hung to the doors and watched the signal go green again, while I started to feel hungry, thinking about the hot idlis at Nair’s Tea Stall in Nanjangud Railway Station!
After 5 mins, the train started moving and gained momentum. We passed by the Sujatha Textile Mills on the right, FCI Godowns on the left and finally reached the Nanjangud Railway Station.
I jumped off the train on to the platform and hurriedly reached Nair’s Tea Stall. Nair was busy serving piping hot idlis. I ordered four idlis and a coffee. As I started to eat the idlis, I suddenly caught a glimpse of the most beautiful girl in my life!
I was also hit by the first thunderbolt in my life!
‘Noorie’ had been released in cinema halls just a month ago and the movie was a sensation those days.
I thought I just saw real Noorie at Nanjangud Railway Station in the train going to Chamarajanagar!
Yes! She was as beautiful as Noorie and she was watching me eat the idlies hurriedly, as if I was starving for years! Looking at her, I got little nervous and dropped a piece of that idli on my pants! She couldn’t help laughing, and she laughed and laughed till her mother peeked through the window, looked at me and joined her daughter in laughing!
I felt annoyed and let down. I went to the water outlet on the platform and cleaned the mess off my pants. Went back to Nair’s stall, sipped my coffee, paid the bill and lit a Capstan small and like a hero released circles of smoke into the sky, while eying that girl in the train with an ‘I Don’t Care’ look!
She grimaced, turned her face and never looked at me till I threw the cigarette butt away!
Whistle blew loud and clear and we all ran to catch the moving train.
When we reached Chamarajanagar, I was the first one to get down from our compartment. I walked majestically over to Station Master Puttaraju standing there with the flags, patted him on the back and greeted him, walked with him to the gate while eying the girl getting down from the train with her mother, her small brother and a couple of wicker baskets and steel trunks! I stood still with Puttaraju when the family came to the exit gate to hand over the used tickets. The girl didn’t lift her head till she moved out, but when they caught a Jatka (Horse drawn cart); she turned back, looked at me, gave a beautiful smile and got into the cart.
The second thunderbolt!
The horses happily galloped into the misty air and disappeared.
I sighed heavily and told Malladi Sathyanarayana Rao ? "I don’t know what to say now. I’m lost!"
Two Mondays later, after searching the whole train for that girl, I desperately seeked the help of Sheik Sadulla a dignified and well educated man working for Taluk Office in Chamarajanagar, about her.
Sadulla was little serious as he warned me about the girl and her mother. He told me that they are an orthodox family, mother working as a senior teacher in the local school and the daughter studying in 8th standard in the same school. They have their house in Mandi Mohalla and the teacher’s husband has edible oil business in the Mandi Mohalla Market.
Sadulla warned me that people living in those places are highly orthodox and that I stand a threat to my life if I go near that area!
I wondered why! Have I done anything wrong? What has my genuine curiosity about that innocent girl got to do with it?
Two days later, Sharath Kumar, my colleague told me that he knows Chandrakanth, a teacher working with that lady in the same school. Sharath introduced me to Chandrakanth and Chandrakanth immediately recognized me and told me ? "You are the Amitabh Bachhan of our train whom they associate with that ‘Chand ka Tukda’, our madam’s daughter?!"
I was shocked to hear those comments from him, for I had never thought about that girl with any other intentions than meeting her and her mother, talking to them and knowing them! The very thought of that girl studying in 8th standard was enough for me to understand that she was also anxious to make friendship with me and nothing more!
I asked Chandrakanth about the feelings they have for me for which he said ? "My friend, both madam and her daughter like you very much and they are anxious to meet you and talk to you!"
I asked him – "What does your madam think about me?"
"She says, you are handsome, straight forward and friendly looking too! She has asked me to introduce you to them this Saturday, but you must wait till evening to catch the train to Mysore. Don’t catch the bus in the afternoon and vanish just like that!"
My heart was thumping with joy and I was the happiest man on earth at that moment!
Within one glimpse the girl and her family are so close to me!
(To be continued)
In Part 2, Rameshchandra Sharma meets the girl and her family. Now the story takes a different turn. Don’t miss the Second and concluding part to read all about it!
About the Author:
Author: Rajanikanth Shenoy- Mangalore