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The Checklist
by Arpita Banerjee (Prose - Short Story) | Published On: 11-Nov-2014

Meeyaaowww!!!

Yowling in pain, little Minnie raised all of her 3 inches tail stiffly and turned her soft woolly fur into a prickly ball. Then, baring her barely-there canines, she spat with all her might at the hate-at-first-sight Red Taloned Toes.

Little Minnie had just been investigating the golden stilettos, that kind of towered over her; not exactly nibbling or chewing at them.  The way the ill-mannered Red Taloned Toes actually poked at Minnie’s sensitive rear in an unladylike manner, one would think that poor Minnie was actually devouring down those inedible towers!

Spitting out her disgust, Minnie retreated into the safe confines under Ajji’s saree and settled herself between the revered feet.

Isn’t it a daahling….. Trilled Ms. Tamera, Srini’s latest pocket-burner and Ajji’s current moksh-tester.

Mercifully, she was on her way out and couldn’t be less bothered for any response or the absence of it.

Even a month old kitten has enough brains to identify a nutcase, sighed Ajji, her deft fingers freeing peas from pods. Wonder what’s the duration of the vacation taken by Srini’s brains this time!  Shivaa, Shivaa…you found yourself one Parvathi. As your faithful devotee of last 80…err…70 maybe…years, why do I have to settle for this nutcase?

Ajji, Ajji, returned Srini, straightening his crumpled shirt front and patting his hair. What are you muttering? He sat besides his first and only consistent girlfriend of thirty years, his grandmother, and gave her a bear-hug.

Eyes twinkling mischievously, Ajji turned to grin at him. Some crunchy-tasty good bye that must have been, eh!?!

Silently Srini sent up a fervent prayer to keep his Ajji like this always, while he made sure his face met hers with a wicked look.

Officially, Ajji was 80 years, but for all practical purposes, she could put to shame any of his string of girlfriends. Particular about her regular salon sessions, albeit from homemade concoctions, Ajji’s self indulgences included regular 4 a.m. yoga and 4 p.m. walk-around-for-an-hour. It was a common knowledge that Ajji never hesitated to use even the airport lounge if her travel schedule clashed with those sacrosanct hours. Unlike her peers, Ajji’s prayer hours were strictly short and private. No social gatherings in the name of prayers, no day-long confinements inside the prayer hall and certainly no fasting or gastronomic sacrifices. And Yes! She loved parties, especially card parties!

Presently, Ajji was on her routine annual visit to her favourite grandchild. Her yearly visits were equally divided amongst her two sons, three daughters, their children and her other relatives. Srini was preferred by virtue of being her first grandchild. I was just a mother. You turned me ‘Grand’, she would keep saying. And, predictably follow that up with, Shivaaa…. When will Srini promote me to ‘Great-Grand’???

Notwithstanding her preference, Ajji was the universal darling of her entire clan and each of her wards left no stone unturned to ensure a grand welcome and a comfortable stay for her.

Ajji, Tamera is sweet. You should hear her croon. Even you would swoon. I swear, this time I am not hurrying into a relationship. I am ticking off the pointers you had listed….once all are ticked… …err…maybe…not all…but MOST… then only ….Shiva-promise!

Srini’s entreating voice drew out the sympathetic Minnie from under Ajji’s shelter. Srini picked her up and tickled her throat. Minnie purred in delight.

Will your sweet Tamera allow you to keep this ‘daahling’? Ajji asked slyly, eyeing Minnie, knowing very well that she had hit a sore point.

Srini had been the only –lonely child of Ajji’s eldest born, Dr. Rao. The busy physician had been resolute about not providing Srini with siblings. He was pretty sure that his busy schedule would not do complete justice to a big family and whatever personal time was allowed by the blood-sucking private hospitals, was just about enough to cater to one wife and one child, and of course, one mother! Dr. Rao’s conviction led to a pretty close-knit family life, but Srini couldn’t help missing another co-conspirator at home to team up with on those various discipline-defying missions.

Srini was born in Bangalore and the Raos lived in a sprawling bungalow there. To combat his moody tantrums stemming from boredom, both Senior and Junior Mrs. Rao had resorted to providing Srini with a string of pets, one after another, right from love-birds to tortoise via dogs and fish. However, Dr. Rao moved to New Delhi when Srini was about eight years. The upmarket flat was sprawling, but, then …it was just a flat. No pets were allowed by the society. An initially miserable Srini Mowgli,(Ajji’s nickname for Srini) mercifully made ‘human’ friends soon enough and the pet issue was resolved. However, an occasional stray dog or cat always got lucky if they were found by Srini and they could enjoy a king’s feast for that time.      

Now an adult Srini, leading a possibly-soon-to-end bachelor’s life in Mumbai, had managed to become the benefactor to a cat and her litter of four kittens. The pregnant feline-in-distress had surreptitiously entered Srini’s pad about a couple of months ago through an open veranda. Her prayers for shelter and security were heard and she delivered in an environment of safety and comfort comparable with the best of the birthing chambers in the city. Post delivery, like all precautious feline moms, the cat had relocated her kittens elsewhere. However, for some reason known only to her mother, Little Minnie was left behind. Thus, the birthing chamber had been converted into a creche’ cum play school for Her Royal Highness Little Minnie S Rao.

Srini would have made a marvelous veterinarian had he not been waylaid by the charms of singing.

Ajji, come on….I might be a bit of Mowgli…I know… caring for distressed felines sometimes, but am an urban Mowgli…so give me a wild female any day! Srini winked and growled wickedly, carefully avoiding a direct response to Ajji’s dig.

Oh! I see, laughingly Ajji got up and headed for the kitchen counter. Srini Mowgli has finally become Srini Manly! Shivaa…Shivaa…finally, I can hope of becoming ‘Great Grand’!

Not so soon Ajji, not so soon. Dousing her rising hopes, Srini disappeared into his den and soon Ajji could hear the sounds of his full throated riyaaz, reverberating through the apartment. While opening the fridge, she noticed, to her glee, The Checklist sticking right on top of the freezer door. Tamara dearest has garnered some three ticks. Not bad. Chuckled Ajji to herself.

The List had some good fifty pointers and had been drawn up in desperation by Ajji herself, during her last visit, following Srini’s nth-relationship going kaput. Srini had drawn a column next to the pointers and titled it as T. Taking a pen Ajji added another column besides T and titled it S. She hastened to finish cooking the dinner. Srini would be leaving in a couple of hours for a late night recording and she wanted to ensure that he had his favourite pea’s pulav and paneer curry before he left.

The Rao clan, for generations now, had one or the other child taking to the career of music, if not the default choice of medicine. Dr. Rao himself was an ardent fan of all forms of Indian classical music and an impressive singer himself. His wife had enamoured him with her near perfect rendition of Deva Devam Bhaje at a social gathering and their marriage had been fixed, if not almost solemnised, by the time she finished her rendition.        

Srini took to the musical path after years of serious training and was currently one of the most sought after playback singers in the country. He had based himself at Mumbai but frequently travelled across the country on professional commitment to sing in other regional languages.

Having completed his riyaz, Srini freshened up and hurried to the kitchen-cum-dining area. The mouth watering wafts of pulav worked as an aperitif and he drew up his favourite high-stool near the kitchen counter.

Srini…the table! Ordered Ajji. I cook painstakingly not to have you eating like you are at some roadside vendor stall!

Meekly, a ravenous Srini complied. Normally he ate while clearing his cooking vessels. His erratic work hours and frequent travels, not to mention frequent eat-outs did not permit employing a proper maid. His decent sized apartment was spartan in terms of décor; hence cleaning was effectively accomplished by the vacuum cleaner on a weekly basis. Being a bachelor and privy to various damning dramas at peer households, he preferred a maid-less life. Barring Ajji, he did not have any long-stay visitors. His parents preferred to meet him at vacation resorts; that way they spent real quality time. Also, Srini’s celebrity status created hassles if he chose to visit his parents at their flat. Whenever Ajji stayed her one month quota with Srini, he ensured that he had no out-of-town engagements and then also the least possible number of in-city commitments. That way he ensured that Ajji did not spend her vacation doing house chores behind his back.

Ummmmm….Ajji…they don’t create females like you anymore…I swear!...Your culinary skills will soon become extinct and much, much later, maybe a 1000 years from now, a topic of international research!

Between mouthfuls came Srini’s praises.

Why? Why do you need ‘females’ like me? Just to feed you? Why don’t you learn yourself, while I am alive and kicking and preserve this about-to-become-extinct-skill?? As males of 21st century, you like to enjoy the rights to check-out and live-in with uninhibited females but treat them like your 16th century counterparts when it comes to cooking! Shame Srini!

Placing the required serve-wares and cutleries on the table, Ajji pulled up a chair and settled down to supervise her grandson’s intake.

Eh? Et tu Ajji? How come you are on the high horse of feminism? Last time you were lambasting Priya for delaying conceiving and running pillar to post pursuing her promotion prospects. Where was your female rights banner then?

Ajji knew her grandson had been deeply offended by this stance of hers. Priya, barely two years younger to Srini, was her grandchild off her second son and Srini adored her most amongst all his cousins. Living in New York, Priya was a financial analyst married since last six years to another financial whiz kid belonging to the same community as Raos. Their common acquaintances had conveyed to Ajji that Priya’s in-laws were unhappy over their past-due status of grandparenthood.

Hello! I am no front runner of feminism. Shivaa knows I enjoyed my ‘feminine-hood’ utterly! No complains there. Five children to prove that! And, believe me, what you all actually know about feminism is only…how do you say it…yes…bull shit! I can give you a thousand proofs of disillusioned feminists hankering to turn feminine.

Ajji was dangerously close to warming up to a favourite debate topic. A snatched glance at the wall clock clearly discouraged any further encouragement to Ajji.  Srini, regretfully, polished the pulav at a disrespectful speed and jumped up to clear the table and proceed to washing the plate and tableware.

Betaa….leave the washing….today is my turn.

Srini did not argue. He was running late. Heading out of the kitchen, his eyes caught the newly added T to his checklist. Raising his eyebrows but reserving his comments for a later hour, he simply hugged her saying Okay Ajji…..next two days are my turn…mind you! And made a dash for his car; alerting his driver over the intercom.

The following weekend, Srini hosted his routine Ajji-special party. Every time Ajji came, one weekend was dedicated to all these friends. Barring his reigning lady-love, all the others were regulars to these parties. To her credit, Ajji would remember some anecdote or some detail about each of them and thus she would be forgiven for unpardonable offences like forgetting their names or mixing up their parents or, worse, lovers!

All his friends and their friends had turned up to hover around Ajji and clamour for her attention and out-of-turn extra helpings of her delicacies. Ajji had been busy the past couple of days sourcing grocery and preparing savouries for the poor-poor-away-from-home-kids. Srini, not without some pride, kept wondering how all these otherwise emotionally-indifferent lot were drawn like moths to the flame named Ajji.

Tamera had also been invited, but, she declined politely citing indisposition. In fact, she had studiously avoided Srini’s apartment ever since she sighted Ajji for the first time. This development was glaring given the fact that she had practically moved in to Srini’s apartment barely a month back. Srini had decided to give their relationship some more time before pulling the plug. He was not exactly on the right side of thirty and increasingly looking forward to settling down in a marital relationship. Perhaps, that explained his tolerance towards the more-than-occasional instances of thoughtlessness of Tamara.  

She wouldn’t want to forego a Saturday club night to playing the hostess for a tame house-party. Cattily observed one of Srini’s close buddies, while loading his plate with an array of lip-smacking delicacies, prepared by Ajji.

Then, she can forget Srini! Ajji is his life. She better reorganise her priorities.

Opined another plate- heaper.

So you come only to remain in Srini’s good books?

Ajji had entered the kitchen to surreptitiously remove the ‘check-list’ from the fridge door.

No Ajji…of course not! Vehemently denied the unlucky duo. We come to meet you and yes, honestly, to savour these. But Ajji, someone who aims to be Srini’s partner would have to place due importance on things that are important to Srini. Right?

Hmmm…is that how you all sum up your lives?  Ajji counter-questioned.

The duo looked puzzled. Couple of other boys and girls who had veered into the kitchen for second helpings also hung on out of curiosity.

 If I like someone and that feeling is mutual, then logically, the next step is getting, as per your jargon, ‘hooked or hitched’ , right? Ajji asked around. A couple of heads nodded, unsure of what would follow next. Gradually, many more had moved towards the kitchen area, including an apprehensive Srini. He wasn’t sure whether someone had triggered Ajji’s fiery temperament. He arrived mentally preparing to douse the flames.

So, continued Ajji, why should either of the partners put up ‘shows of solidarity’ to ‘ensure’ partnership? Solidarity or the urge to be together at all times would come automatically, right? At least, I and Srini’s Ajja always felt that way. It was so difficult to keep us apart! That in turn ensured that we accorded due respect and concern for each others’ family and relatives. Nobody had to force us or never did we feel insecure about our relationship if we committed mistakes along the way. But, when I look at you all, I find that, you resemble warriors heading off to some battleground! Win at any cost! Strategies to get married then redraw strategies to exit marriage!  

 Ajji took a dramatic pause. Srini suppressed a grin, but did not interrupt. He was enjoying the rapt look on his otherwise boisterous gang of buddies.

Am I to understand that while you all spin dream themes of true love, sacrificing love, everlasting love for the ticket paying masses, each of you personally believe in conditional love or maybe, materialistic love? You show solidarity where some end or goal is to be ensured? No wonder each of you are so lonely and hop from one party to the next.  

Another pause and look around. Not one head moves. Minnie peers out from under the couch at the sudden silence, hoping to see an empty house, but hastily retreats upon sighting numerous pairs of feet.  

By now, the entire gang had somehow fitted itself in the small confines of the kitchen-dining area, all eyes dreamy, deeply introspective and generally presenting a sight any seer would have envied!

Feel secured in a relationship. If you feel insecure, better bail out. As it is, there is too much insecurity in all your lives. Why add more in the name of love? Well, I do not intend to waste the evening on a lecture, especially when I am dying to empty your pockets over some rounds of ‘Teen Patti’!

With that, Ajji dismissed her captive audience much to their disappointment. Ajji winked at Srini who wagged his index finger knowingly. How many times in the past Ajji had deliberately peaked his intrigue and then abruptly veered away only to drive home her point at a later unanticipated stage. Shaking his head in amusement, Srini went about setting the stage for a whole night of ‘Teen Patti’.

                                                                 ************

Monday morning, a forlorn little Minnie wandered through a silent apartment, her bowl of milk and plateful of biscuits lying untouched. She was not used to an empty house ever since she was born and she went about searching those comfortable revered feet to nestle in. She had woken a while ago but had hid under the couch when someone, unfamiliar smelling, had entered the kitchen and poured milk into her bowl. That stranger had soon left and once sure that no one was lurking, Minnie went on her feet-finding mission.

After what seemed like many kitten-hours, Minnie again heard the sounds of the apartment door opening. She scampered to her hiding place. To her relief, she sensed the familiar smell of Srini. The couch pressed down as Srini flopped on it and Minnie came out to nuzzle against his feet. Srini picked her up and tickled her but absently. Minnie purred her delight in spite of Srini’s lost self.

A little while later, the mobile phone vibrated and Srini put down Minnie gently on the floor to receive the call.

Yes Ma, the flight was on time. No Ma, I was not able to accompany her inside the lounge. No..No..She messaged me that the attendants had seated her comfortably. Okay. Message me once she reaches home…I may not be able to take a call. I have a recording scheduled early today. I will call once am out of the studio. And…hello!...Ma…any news of Priya? Good. Okay Ma. Take care. Shivaa will take care of everything.

Srini hung up and then called up his neighbour to thank him for the morning help of pouring out milk for Minnie. Finishing some more calls to his friends, Srini got up and switched on the coffee-maker. Absently, he reached for the morning paper, then a glance at the clock galvanised him to the bathroom, coffee forgotten. If there was one thing that Srini never compromised upon was that of commitment. Being a doctor’s son, he had grown up in an environment where the entire household revolved around ensuring that Dr. Rao was never late for his commitments. Every second delay resulted in erosion of the precious Golden Hour. How many times Srini had heard his father reiterating that, whether to his family, staff or patient family! So, he might not have become a doctor, but Golden Hour existed for Srini as well; unbeknown to him, his numerous fans included his producers and directors for this very quality of his.

Snatching a doughnut from the fridge and pocketing a few almonds from the kitchen cabinet, Srini dashed out of the apartment and jumped onto the chauffer-driven car and within seconds was on his way to the recording studio. Srini preferred to have a driver while heading to the studio as city driving left him unnerved and that had a direct impact on his voice quality.

Today, in particular, he was grateful for not having to drive, although the 3 a.m. drive to the airport to drop off Ajji had been undertaken by him. He was in no fit state to drive. He only prayed that his voice did not fail him at the recording. Easing himself onto the car seat, Srini laid back his head and closed his eyes, trying to stop his mind from wandering to the events of the past few hours. He especially couldn’t forget Ajji’s last caustic comment while being driven to the airport.

Beta, Priya has not attempted to embrace martyrdom in the battle of life. She has taken a coward’s way out because in her lifetime record of achievements, this is her first failure and her ego couldn’t accept that.

The Saturday night party had ended somewhere close to 4 a.m. Unnoticed amidst the merry-making, Ajji had quietly slipped off to bed and had her sleep. Armed with her yoga mat, she had reappeared in the drawing room dot at 4 a.m. and that was when the half asleep invitees bid their good-byes. Srini had somehow brewed up some coffee for Ajji to have after her yoga and filled up Minnie’s bowl with milk and then made a beeline for his bed. 

By the time Srini woke up to the world, it was way past his lunch hour. Groggily he made his way to the drawing room. It took a while for him to register that Ajji was sitting statue-like near the veranda while Minnie was hovering around her feet as usual. Unusually, Ajji was not playing with her. Rubbing his eyes and drinking some water, he moved near her.

Ajji?

Srini! To his utter shock, Ajji turned towards him and fell into his outstretched arms crying. Priya…stupid…stupid girl…. How could she do this!?! Srini was speechless; what had Priya done? Typically, he assumed the worst; did that strong-willed girl do something cowardly? Srini sat down near Ajji’s feet, still not trusting himself to speak. He knew that Priya was scheduled to visit her in-laws at Delhi along with her husband next month. In fact, as per queue, Ajji was supposed to visit her next and it made perfect sense for Ajji to join Priya and her husband on their return leg so as to travel to New York with escort. What un-Godly activity had Priya committed to cause Ajji so much of grief?

Ajji was valiantly trying to compose herself. Her phone rang. She gestured Srini to take the call. Srini saw that his dad was calling.

Appa?

Srini….where is Amma?

Er…She is here….hands occupied. Appa…what has happened? Any problem with Priya?

Well, sighed Dr. Rao. Apparently, she had conceived, but developed some complications and miscarried. There were some bitter arguments with Mohan over this matter. Possibly, she went into depression thereafter and now has taken an overdose of anti-depressants; presently hospitalised. Beta, I have booked our, I mean, Ajji and my, tickets for Wednesday to fly to New York. I have booked her on the first morning flight to Delhi from your place on Monday and emailed her flight ticket to you. She would need a couple of days to regain enough strength to undertake the long haul to US. Pavi would be leaving today along with Mohan’s parents. Your Ma has gone to help her pack. Ram is already on his way from Kuala Lampur. Look, I need to meet the administrators at the hospital and organise stuff before I leave…it’s pretty sudden for them too. I shall talk to Ajji later. Tell her that all the tickets are done and we won’t be too late.

Dr.Rao hung off and Srini shuddered Too late!?! For what Ajji?? Why are so many people travelling to Priya and Mohan? And that too, Appa? Miscarriage can be that serious? No wait…Appa said overdose…It dawned upon Srini that Priya… she attempted suicide?? Ajji…please tell me…!!

By now, Ajji had suitably composed herself. She got up and headed to the kitchen. Srini followed her, prodding for an answer.

Did Priya and Mohan have marital discord, Ajji?

Ajji started warming the lunch and setting about the table. Srini knew she would talk only when she was calm enough. Such were the times when her being 80years became visible.

No, No…not any. Their common interest was scaling the skyscrapers of achievements in their respective careers. To that intent, both became blind to reality. Had either one of them been alert, discord would have happened much earlier, but possibly got sorted out as well. Here, the discord will start now and would be difficult to settle. Ajji paused to serve out the lunch. Srini noticed that even she had not had her lunch, another departure from her usual routine.

Priya had always been an academically bright child. How well Srini knew that. Naturally, Ram, Pavithra and the rest of us kept egging her on….go ahead…achieve more …sky is the limit…weren’t these very words written in all the congratulatory cards throughout her academic life? She soared and how! Wasn’t that the very reason that Mohan liked her immensely? So what started as a simple joy of achieving good grades turned into a battle of acquiring more accolades, more honours, more , more, more….nothing less than the top spot…

Srini lowered his eyes. Ajji’s description was applicable to him too! His apartment walls had so many awards, medals and certificates on display. Yet there were as many empty show-cases waiting for more.

Such was the lure of achievements, that like the great Alexander, she embarked upon a journey that had no point of return. You were angry with my scolding her earlier, reminding her to focus on family and press the pause-button in her career. Srini, I told her this and I shall tell you the same. Do not marry if you cannot commit your time and energy to the marital life. Do not involve another person in your life if you cannot prioritise your relationship over all other things. Do not view marriage as a means to an end….using your partner’s resources to further your interests. Your partner may be doing the same thing. The result can be nothing but separation and heartburn.

Ajji paused to drink water. Srini grasped the moment to butt in with a But, Ajji, in today’s world, all of us are so busy; no one has the time to dwell upon such things…does that mean we have no right to fall in love or marry?

But of course! Ajji hijacked Srini’s topic.  Today’s generation is so busy; I wonder what is causing all this busy-ness- No foreign rulers to drive out of country; no fanatic governments to topple over; no famine to get over; no inherited loans to repay; no line up of sisters to marry off; no illiteracy or poverty to tide over- so what’s making you all so busy? So busy that you decide that you can throttle the life of your first child whilst it is in the womb and no one can legally accuse you of murder?

Srini gasped. He had been unaware about these details of Priya’s marital life. Ajji continued, without pause,

So busy that you repeat the same act again?  And then, alas! You taste your first failure when you decide to conceive and the child refuses to be born off a murderous duo!  One failure and you decide to empty the medicine bottle down your throat? Not for an instant you remember your life-givers? Your Ajji? Your family? All those who had contributed something to your childhood, your education, your career? Not for once do you find it worth a second try? For the sake of all those who had rejoiced and blessed your union? Where does your faith in modern medicine and medical miracles vanish? Those same arguments that justified your earlier acts against nature’s way are now non-applicable?  And what is wrong in her in-laws being upset about the postponement of parenthood? If the so-called highly educated children fail to register the perils of multiple abortions and the complications of late pregnancy, it is but natural that the old-fashioned parents still in their senses have to step in to hammer sense!  

Ajji’s agitation surfaced in her action of mixing the rice and curry on the plate and putting some of it into her mouth, while spilling some outside. At any other time, she would have been mortified with such a show of sloppiness.

A silent Srini realised the justification of Ajji’s fury. Although, in no mood he forced himself to eat, while noticing that the checklist was back to its display spot. He eyed the list and registered that Tamera had managed three out of fifty ticks in the last eight months of their relationship. Punctual, Similar interests, Organised. The first-item, Sensitive/not sentimental was yet to be ticked. He remembered that he intended to ask Ajji about the ‘S’-column. Perhaps later.

Yes. Keep referring to that list. Srini Mowgly, the ‘S’ on the checklist is for you. Srini looked up from his plate and raised his eyebrows by way of ‘Why?’

In any relationship, it is not enough to have a one-sided matching. Would it suffice if your songs were liked by your producers but they did not find out or match your remuneration expectations? So, if you put a tick mark for your partner being sensitive, ask her to assess you as well on the same parameter, or against whatever parameters she considers important.

Giving Srini a piercing look, Ajji asked Did you eye Tamera because of her family-managing abilities or for her singing talent? Did you think that you two would spend the rest of your lives bonding over common likings or did you imagine her hosting your social parties for the rest of her life?

Srini managed to put in another query,

What if there are hardly any matches? What if I still like her? Desire her?

Well, first you must settle down on what you want out of that relationship. Desire is transient. Checklist can burn for all you care. Desire fades after the first few blazing displays. If you want to spend the rest of your life with her, then the checklist will help you to identify matching areas and let you decide how much you are willing to adjust or what you would not want to accommodate for the mismatched areas. Ajji wiped the table and finally grinned at Srini. Informed decisions…Priya’s pet phrase…Pity she forgot those for a crucial few days.

Ajji ruffled Srini’s hair and took away his empty plate. Srini immediately sprang up and snatched back his plate.  Ajji, enough! You need to rest a while and then we shall pack your bags. I will definitely demand a longer stay whenever you plan your next stay. This time I was short-changed!

For a change, Ajji did not argue, but proceeded to rest only after ensuring that little Minnie had her bowl filled with food.

After a couple of hours of resting, Ajji delegated her packing to Srini and went about sprucing up various short-cut savouries with available ingredients for Srini. She felt bad about leaving him before time. Soon Srini joined her in the kitchen. Minnie wouldn’t be left behind. The heavenly aromas from the kitchen had pulled her out of the cosy under-the-couch napping spot.

Srini spied a sheaf of papers amidst all the pots and pans strewn on the kitchen counter. He pulled out the sheaf and Ajji smiled sheepishly at his discovery.

I forget some of the recipes. These were compiled by me over the years from various relatives. I keep it with me always. My preventive measures from extinct-hood!  She chuckled.

Srini grinned, Shivaa promise, I will not tell anyone. But, promise, you will gift this to my wife on our wedding day.

Ajji groaned, I knew it! Scheming Srini, You do not want me to put your wife to any culinary test, right? But won’t I love to see red talons mixing the dough!!! Ajji cackled in laughter.

Srini burst into laughter as well.

Sirjee, we’ve reached. Srini’s reverie broke. He went inside the studio building and returned a half smile to the good morning cheerios of the receptionist and the liftman.

Once inside the studio, he took a deep breath and plunged whole-heartedly into his recording session. Although everyone noticed, but nobody commented that he kept clutching at something inside his trouser pocket all the while that he was singing, as if he was drawing strength from that object.

The recording went off without any debacle, but unlike other days, Srini did not linger around. He checked to see if Tamara was free, not really wanting to head to an empty home; but the lady was engaged other-wise and he was not in a mood to meet his boisterous gang. He thought of messaging Mohan but couldn’t figure out what to say to him. Obviously, there was a slim chance of Better-luck-next-time; at least not with Priya, if Ajji guessed right! The battle lines are clearly drawn. Ajji had observed. Mohan would never get over the humiliation of answering to the intrusive and insinuating interrogation of the doctors and police. His parents would add to the ‘told-you-so’ pile-up. Pavi and Ram would rally in support of their daughter and her choices. So, do you foresee any possibility of reconciliation and redemption?

Srini had given a wan smile, You are going. So is Appa. So I guess, some attempts would be made.

His phone beeped with messages, one each from parents and grandmother, informing him about the safe arrival of Ajji to the Rao household in Delhi. He decided to call them only after freshening up and thus headed straight home.

The silent, curtain drawn dark interiors of the empty apartment did nothing to improve his sombre mood. A miserable Minnie apprehensively approached Srini, and then moved towards the kitchen mewling in hunger. Grateful for the kitten’s company, Srini hurriedly drew apart the heavy curtains and lit up a few lights wherever the natural light was not reaching. He filled up Minnie’s bowl with milk and crunchies. Switching on some light instrumental in the drawing room, Srini headed for a rejuvenating bath.

Feeling decidedly better after his bath, Srini brewed himself some coffee and helped himself to some of Ajji’s savouries. Sighting the bare spot on the fridge door, he remembered that the checklist was still inside his trouser pocket. He took it out and with his coffee in one hand; he settled himself on his favourite couch and studied the fifty pointers on the checklist. Tamara may have earned three ticks; he seriously doubted he would get even one!

What a difference in perception Ajji had made by simply adding one more column with his name on top! Till then, he had been studying Tamara in relation to the checklist. Now he couldn’t help scrutinising his own self. Would he deserve a tick against Sensitivity? Rather, would Tamara or some other female consider him sensitive enough? Likewise, would he earn ticks for any of the other items? It dawned upon him that this was exactly what Ajji had intended; self analysis, introspection, critical analysis of his being. How could he assess others if he himself fell short of these qualities? How could he blame others for failed relationships? How could he ensure that he lived upto each of these parameters that cumulatively defined a successful relationship?

Unknowingly, the checklist had already become a part of his being. Ajji’s sudden departure this time had a powerful impact on him; more than any of their previous good-byes. Without realising, he had carried the checklist talisman-like to the recording studio and kept feeling it all the while, as if reassuring him of his Ajji’s presence, her words of wisdom, her wicked teasing and gleeful cackling laughter.

Shaking his head in amusement over Ajji’s subtle intrusion in his romantic ventures, Srini headed to the kitchen to fix a quick lunch, further postponing his calling up home. He was even more amused to catch sight of the sheaf of Ajji’s recipes, neatly placed on the kitchen counter. Attached on top was a small note saying Dough-it together!!! Srini exploded into a bout of laughter and Minnie woke up from her nap with a start. A quick survey ensured that her realm was unharmed and she returned to her favourite pastime.

This time he did call up his folks. His mother picked up and after an exchange of affectionate queries and assurances, Radhika gave way to Ajji.

Hello beta! Sorry, I couldn’t fix your lunch before leaving. Did you eat?

No Ajji, am going out to find someone to bring home and dough-it-together!

Hohoho! Do that. Shivaa promise, the love that you would feel would eclipse all desires!

Yep Ajji. On a serious, how is Priya? Is she back home?

Yes. Shivaa’s blessings. Although, personally I would have wanted her to remain hospitalised till at least I reached and contrived ways to drag back all the parents to India with me. The last thing that ought to happen now is for all of them to stay under the same roof and trade bazookas! I just hope I do not reach too late to attempt a peace –treaty.

Don’t worry Ajji dear. Victory shall be yours.

Ahem, Srini, I thought you said that you are going out to find someone to dough together. So should I not trade my diamond encrusted bangles right now? I had noticed that her palm span was too big to slide my bangles. I was planning to get a couple of sizes bigger.

Srini almost fell from the couch with laughter. Trust Ajji to assume the most innocent of voice, yet probe like an ace cop!

Ajji, your checklist has given me some serious low-self esteem problems. Tamara is too good to be mine. I plan to keep the checklist away from my sight but safely, nevertheless, as an heirloom for your great grandkids. As I said earlier, I now intend to dough-it-together with someone who would dough-it-with-me. So am on my way out Ajji, wish me luck.

Muaaah my Srini Mowgly…err …Srini Manly! Go ahead at God speed and turn me Great before I become Late!!!

                                                     ***********************

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Author
Arpita Banerjee

Arpita Banerjee

Written: 3 Stories

Member Since: 03-Nov-2014

Country: India

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Emotional Touch