“Have you ever seen Appa getting angry at Maa? He is so cool and loving towards her. I have never seen him, or Maa for that matter, getting into quarrels.”
Ananya and Arjun were driving back home after watching a movie with friends.
“You know,” began Arjun, his eyes focussed on the road ahead, “last night, for some reason, I heard Maa screaming I can’t bear it anymore and huffed into their room. You know what Appa did? He went near her and just chided her with Ogo… shono na… and that was it. Maa then slapped his arm with a why do you irritate me so much and Appa replied who else is there? But I did not understand what she said after that.”
“What did she say?”
She said something like “Po da ingenthu. And hugged Appa like nothing ever happened. I have heard Appa say that to Maa sometimes too.”
“What??? She actually said that to Appa?” exclaimed Ananya covering her mouth with both hands.
“Yes. What does that mean? You are the expert in Tamil. Tell me, na.”
“It actually means Get lost. Da is used for male and Di for female. Unbelievable. At this age, they still say that to each other.”
“So, next time you irritate me, I will say Po di ingenthu, right? Hey, I am driving, didi. Don’t do that.” Arjun laughed as he ducked Ananya’s punch.
“Hey didi, let’s ask them how they met and got married. Appa is Iyer and Maa is Bengali. It must have been so difficult to convince our grandparents. I can use some insights, you know.”
“Bhai, don’t start again. You have tried many times in the past, but you never can open your mouth in front of Maa. You know, I had tried to make Dadu talk, but he only said that their pre-marriage love lasted ten years. Before he could say anything more, Maa came in and I never got another opportunity.”
By then, Arjun had pulled into their driveway and the two walked up to the door.
“Ten years? Wow!” As Arjun rang the bell, he heard footsteps behind and looked back.
“Arey, Appa! Where have you been?”
“Our chess game lasted too long, I guess.” Ramanathan smiled. “How was your day? Seems you two enjoyed the movie,” and walked into the house as Debashree opened the door.
“Didi, did you tell him?” Arjun turned to Ananya dumbfounded. Ananya shrugged claiming innocence and walked in. Arjun followed.
“Dinner is ready. Wash, change and come to the table quickly, everyone.” Debashree’s voice was loud and crisp.
“Didi, open the door please.” Arjun tip-toed into the room as Ananya opened the door and shut it behind him.
“What is it, bhai?” Ananya was clearly irritated with the intrusion. She never liked Arjun coming into her room.
“Didi, tomorrow is their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. You have to ask Appa how he and Maa met and got married. Better than tomorrow, let’s ask them after dinner.”
Seeing Ananya hesitate, Arjun continued. “Didi, you are his favourite. He cannot say no to you.”
“Ok,” Ananya took a deep breath. “After that, we ask the difficult question about tonight.”
“Hey Byomkesh, stop spying on our kids, will you?” Debashree yanked Ramanathan from the door and pulled him towards the dining table.
“Arey, do you know? Your son is roaming around with someone for quite some time now. I think they are in love.”
Debashree looked at him. “Your daughter is not far behind, ok? Last Sunday, I saw her with someone at Bedouin Roll Centre in Gariahat while coming out of Adi Dhakeshwari Bastralaya.”
After a brief silence, Ramanathan chuckled. “It’s in their genes, isn’t it?”
Debashree smiled and leaned back. “They are old enough, but I think we should speak to them tomorrow.”
“You know, tomorrow they plan to ask us how we met and got married. What do they know about love, today’s kids? Love was…”
Debashree interrupted him. “Was?”
Their eyes met. They smiled and walked to the balcony.
With his arm around her shoulder, Ramanathan looked up to the sky. “The moon is shining as brightly as that night, isn’t it?”
Debashree nodded, sniffing. Memories came back. It was going to be a long night for all of them.
“Excuse me… Mr. Ramanathan? A crisp female voice interrupted Ramanathan as he was typing away on his keyboard and he looked up.
“Hi, I am Debashree. You must have got the audit schedule already. My team and I would like to sit with you for a discussion and start the process. Are you free?”
Ramanathan’s skills had ensured that all due processes had been followed since his joining. In the days that followed, there was very little that Debashree’s team could point out as a major flaw. Both of them being chartered accountants, it was natural that they gelled well with each other. Soon, both were seen sharing lunch, chatting in-between work and sometimes, walking out together after close of the day.
One day, Ramanathan offered to take her out for coffee and during the conversation, Debashree had expressed shock on how a successful and handsome man like him did not have a girlfriend. Their conversation had become personal after that, jokes and jibes flew across the table. On their way back to office, as Debashree gazed at handbags outside a store, Ramanathan had offered to buy her a handbag of her choice. Let’s see whether I can select a good bag for a lady – he had said. Much to Debashree’s surprise, he selected a very beautiful bag and insisted on paying for it. Relax, we can be just friends, ok? Debashree had allowed him to pay and when they came out, she had commented – Ram, you are special. You will definitely make someone happy. Once audit concluded three days later, Ramanathan, as per company’s practise, had invited Debashree and her team for dinner in a plush restaurant during which he asked her to dance with him. Initially, she played along, but retreated halfway into the dance. Ramanathan had also backed off sensing her discomfort. As they parted ways after dinner, Debashree had bluntly told Ramanathan not to have any ideas about her as she was seeing someone. In the next year, Debashree changed her audit assignment to another company and Ramanathan accepted a transfer-cum-promotion offer to Chennai.
“Whoa! Wait, wait, wait! You told the DJ to play Time of your Life?” Arjun interrupted his father before he could go further.
Ramanathan and Debashree were sitting on the sofa while Ananya and Arjun were sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of them. After dinner, they had agreed to narrate their story to the kids.
“Come on, she said she had taken dancing lessons, and I also could dance well. So, I thought, why not?”
“My God, you definitely blew it, Appa. Ananya shook her head, dejected.
“Hey, I never had bad intentions. Your mother knew it, that’s why…” He turned nervously to Debashree. “You knew it, right?”
Debashree just smiled and got up. “You continue. I will get some water bottles. This is going to take a while, it seems”, and walked away.
“See, this is the problem. No matter how much I open up, you cannot get much out from your mother. Anyway, should I continue my side of the story or you want to hear your mother’s side now?”
“About her someone?” Ananya made a face. “Well, it is clear it did not work. So, you continue.”
“Ok then,” Ramanathan sighed. Here goes.
In his new role, Ramanathan was in-charge of company’s offices across the country. While on a trip to Kolkata three years later, he called the auditor’s office where Debashree and asked for her. Since she was in Jaipur at that time, he collected her residence landline and spoke to her father. It was then that he learnt about the untimely demise of Debashree’s mother. He took out time the next day and visited her father and paid his respects. During his next meeting with her father, he had opened up to him about that night and how there was a misunderstanding. Debashree’s father had been very jolly. He revealed that Debashree had broken up and could be approached again. Both had a good laugh after which Ramanathan ensured that he would meet him during every trip to Kolkata. Both had also agreed not to let Debashree know about their meetings.
“Don’t tell me! Maa, you never knew?” Arjun had disbelief all over his face.
Debashree just smiled.
It was seven years later that Ramanathan had decided to approach Debashree. Her father informed him that she would visit Indian Silk House in New Market on Sunday. Ramanathan took the morning flight and went straight to the store. Just after the store opened, he had requested the manager to show a couple of sarees to be shown to Debashree. She had come around noon and selected a beautiful cream Muga silk with red floral patterns among others and had just paid the bill when Ramanathan called her.
“Appa, how, in heaven’s name did you manage that? I can’t even …” Arjun bit his lip and fell silent.
“You should have seen your Appa that day. Branded jacket, shirt, jeans, shoes, watch, aviators, gelled hair – he was looking so handsome – he was looking nothing less than a film-star.” Debashree glanced at Ramanathan and covered her smile.
After the initial greetings, they had sat down for lunch at Pizza Hut where they had gone back in time, recalling every famous joke on Debashree’s then boss and his secretary, their juniors and peers. Twice, they were interrupted by the waiter and Ramanathan had ordered something or the other. Finally, at 5pm, as they took a taxi to The New Kenilworth Hotel, Debashree suddenly asked him what he was doing in Kolkata on a Sunday, and what was his source to her phone number. It was then that Ramanathan had revealed about his closeness to her father all these years.
“Weren’t you mad at him, Maa? I can’t believe you picked the same sarees which Appa selected for you in the store.” Ananya giggled.
Debashree sighed. “Well, as his revelations came one-by-one, my curiousity increased. So, I just played along, I guess.”
As they approached the hotel, Ramanathan had invited Debashree to join him for dinner as there was a live ghazal performance in the lawn that evening and he would arrange for a vehicle from the hotel to drop her home. Debashree had agreed and had changed into the Muga Silk saree in his room while he waited in the lobby. After the performance and dinner, as both had sat down in the lawn admiring the full moon and clear sky, Debashree had asked him the question.
“Wait, wait.” Ananya interrupted. I want to know verbatim. Ask him in the same words and Appa, please reply as you replied that night.”
“Why Ram? Why have you approached me after all these years?” Debashree turned to look at Ramanathan.
“I just wanted to say sorry.” Both laughed while the children laughed and applauded.
Ramanathan then had arranged for a car from the hotel’s travel desk while Debashree went back to the room to bring down her bags. After keeping her bags in the car, she had asked him to accompany her home. As they cruised by Shakespeare Sarani, Ramanathan had asked the driver to stop, pointed to a shop and asked Debashree if she remembered. As she brought her bag forward, he realised that it was the same bag he bought for her ten years ago.
“That was the moment, when we both realised that we reciprocated each other’s feelings.” Ramanathan reached for her hand, as Debashree smiled and turned her face away. “That was it. I proposed as soon as we got down outside your mother’s house.”
“Same handbag for ten years, Maa? I throw one away every three months!” Ananya was clearly shocked.
“I will show it to you tomorrow. It is still the same as if it was bought yesterday.”
“Well, you can imagine the rest, I believe”, Ramanathan got up from the sofa and turned towards their room, but stopped immediately when he looked at the wall-clock.
“Ogo… shono… Happy twenty-five.” Debashree smiled with “same to you”, but remained seated.
After Ramanthan had gone in, she called Ananya and Arjun into the kitchen.
“He thinks I don’t know anything. Your dadu told me all he would say during his visits to our house. I knew he did not have bad intentions during that dance. After your dida left us, I was surprised and amused how your father tried his best to impress your dadu, but never got the courage to see me. I knew he was of pure heart, that’s why I allowed him to do all he did that day. Don’t tell him, ok?”
All three of them turned in shock to see Ramanathan standing just outside the kitchen door.
“Twenty-five years later, I come to know that I was a sitting duck!” he exclaimed and burst into laughter and the three joined him into a huddle.
“Tomorrow’s celebration will be huge Arjun, Ananya, if you want to invite anyone special, don’t hesitate, ok?” Ramanathan winked at them.
“Dad, ha… have you been spying on us?” Arjun stammered, backing off.
“I don’t call him Byomkesh for nothing. He knows everything about you two. Call them, both of you. We will have a good time.” Debashree patted her kids and bid them good night.
As they lay down in bed, Ramanathan sighed. “So, you finally had the last laugh, eh?”
Debashree rolled over and placed her head over his chest. “Remember what I told you after coming out of the handbag store?”
Their hands met. It would be a long while after which they went to sleep.
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