Chennai to Panchgani

Sheela Iyer posted under Flash Fiction

July month holds a special place in my heart. On 7th July, Rohan and I tied the knot and embarked on our new journey. Rohan is 6ft tall, and I am 4.5ft. He is fair, whereas I am wheatish. But none of these came in our way. We loved each other deeply and still do.  It’s been more than two decades now, but there are many memorable moments that I still cherish. Our family and friends named us the golden couple. They never addressed us, Mr and Mrs Iyer.  Sometimes I wondered if I should change the nameplate outside my door. This thought alone brought a smile to my face, and I often blushed. Over the years, our love only grew despite ebbs and flows. I was at the peak of my career and did exceptionally well. The management offered me a new post and asked me to relocate to Singapore and head the branch. Rohan and I felt thrilled.  But soon, I learned I was pregnant with my first child. I decided not to take up this assignment and expressed my desire to resign. Although they were okay with me working at a flexible time, I felt my current priority was my child. I quit my job soon after Neel was born and looked after my health and him. But when Neel turned five, I wanted to start something of my own. I spoke with Rohan about it, and he gave me his unwavering support.  I occasionally made desserts, which many of my friends enjoyed. Rohan advised me to start small and hire an assistant later on when the business expands. I loved this idea and started on a tiny scale. I shared my digital business card on several WhatsApp groups. People from my society approached me, and soon I started getting repeat orders.   *************    Neel, who is now studying in class ten, is a brilliant student, much like his father. My husband, Rohan Iyer, is a Chartered accountant and a financial expert. Due to frequent outdoor visits on audit, he often came home late. He did not have his meals on time nor slept well. He would hardly get some three to four hours of sleep daily. He never went to the gym or did yoga, despite me telling him how vital exercise is for everyone. It started showing on his health, but he shunned and took things very casually. My in-laws pushed him many times to get his body check-up done, but Rohan never paid any heed. One morning he complained of a mild headache and said he would go late to the office. I closed the door to his room so that he could sleep soundly.  A little later, he woke up and had his morning filter coffee and biscuits. It was his habit to read the newspaper every day while sipping his coffee. But that day, he was in no mood to read. He kept the empty cup on the side table of his bed and headed in for a shower.  But what happened next changed our lives instantly. I was in the room keeping pressed clothing in the closet. Suddenly I heard a loud thud from the bathroom area. I knocked on the door to ask if everything was ok but no answer.  I banged the door again, but there was no response. I frantically searched for the bathroom door keys but couldn’t find them. I called my son and asked him to break open the door. Rohan was lying on the floor. I thought probably a feeling of giddiness caught him, and he fell. Nevertheless, Neel quickly called for an ambulance. On his way to the hospital, Rohan drifted in and out of consciousness and finally fell unconscious.  The doctors examined him and informed us that it was an attack. Rohan stayed unconscious for about two days with tubes connected all over his body. My next concern was paying the mounting bills. We did have a medical insurance policy, but I had no idea where Rohan kept those papers, nor did I know the password for Rohan’s credit cards. I paid whatever I had in my account. But still, a sizable sum was due. I hesitantly called my sister-in-law, Ramaya, for help. It’s not that she would refuse, but, despite having money, I had to ask for help. I cursed and blamed myself for not taking a keen interest in financial matters and keeping track of them. Anyway, she helped, and we returned it soon. After Rohan regained consciousness, the doctor explained what had happened to him. Generally, doctors avoid telling patients about their health, mainly when they have still not recovered.  However, this doctor was different. According to Dr Satish, one should not hide anything from the patient and give him the hope and strength he needs to deal with the circumstance. I was sure his experience spoke, and it did help Rohan and myself to stay calm. After a week, Dr Satish decided to discharge Rohan. He called me in his cabin. The cabin was big enough for six people to sit in. A bright yellow sofa was resting next to the door, and a small coffee table was on the side with magazines and newspapers piled. The floor shined like a diamond. When I entered his room, Dr Satish was seated in a tall and comfortable chair, in his green scrub and had worn a disposable transparent cap on his head. It seemed he had just come after operating on a patient. “Please have a seat, Mrs Iyer.” He said and introduced me to a lady doctor already seated in one of the chairs placed across his table. She was a dietician. I took my seat. He then handed me a prescription and verbally explained when to give those medicines to Rohan, even though he had already done so in the note. As soon as he finished, the dietician took over and gave me a list of dos and don'ts. She wanted me to change his diet and eating habits. I nodded and slipped the list into my purse.  “Ok, doctor, can I take your leave now?” I asked. “No, wait. I need to discuss something important,” Dr Satish said. I sat back again with my hands folded.  “Mrs Iyer, Mr Rohan is now out of danger but has not totally recovered. So I insist that you must give up living in the town. He needs to breathe the purer air of the country if he has to get strong again.” Dr Satish said.  “Oh, ok. I understand your concern, doctor, but Rohan’s job and my son's school are in this city. It is difficult to shift immediately.” I said. “Mrs Iyer, I take your point, but you need to take a quick decision, and I am sure this is not impossible. Today he was hooked to an ECG. Tomorrow he might be on a ventilator. Do you want that to happen?" Dr Satish questioned. He further said, "If you don’t want any such thing to happen in future, I would suggest you borrow my advice and do the needful soon. Don’t take the stress. Go home, talk to your family and come to a conclusion,” Dr Satish said in an insisting tone again. I heaved a sigh and left his cabin, closing the door behind me. As I was driving back home, I pondered about it.  How can I change and go to another city so soon? A sudden change in place would affect Neel’s ongoing education. Will he find a good school if we move to a remote area? There were no more online classes now.  Even if the teacher’s conducted online courses, especially for Neel, would the network be good? Will he face a connectivity issue? To take favour from relatives was not a good idea because it was not for a couple of days. These thoughts bothered me. On reaching home, I parked that thought aside for a while and focussed on Rohan's meals and medicines. After winding up my work, I called my mom-in-law. I shared what the doctor said and my dilemma.  She hung up, saying she would call back in a couple of minutes. I felt strange as she never did that, especially amid some crucial conversation. I was looking at my phone constantly. After thirty minutes, Amma called and said, “Look, beta, I thought over this issue, and I think the doctor is right.” She continued, “The priority today is Rohan’s health. Office and school will find their way. But if his health deteriorates further, we will not be able to do much. I think you should consider what the doctor suggested.”  “Ok, Maa. Let me first talk to Rohan and convince him to take a sabbatical from the office. Once that is taken care of, I will appoint an agent to search for a house.” I said. My mother-in-law added, “Panchgani, a popular hill station is not too far from Mumbai and good for health too. Neel can study there in one of the schools as Panchgani has a few best schools in India. Yes, I know it is mid-term, but if you speak to the principal and explain the situation, I am sure they will consider it. For any emergencies, Ramaya is there to help you. You know we cannot lock the house and come down for months.” “Yes, I understand that very well Amma. Besides, you are right. Panchgani is a good option. I will talk to our local agent and ask him to contact some agent at that place. Maybe I will have to visit once or twice to finalize the house. Good night Amma. I will keep you posted.” I said and hung up. Rohan’s parents stayed in Mundathicode, a village in Wadakkanchery. They have been staying there for decades, away from city life. Most of the senior citizens staying there had Individual row houses. My in-laws had a spacious home with a garden in front of the house. They were fond of plants and took care of them. Roses, Jasmine, Lavender and yellow, and red hibiscus surrounded the place and looked beautiful.  They enjoyed the fragrance, sounds, and touch of nature. During summers, the fragrance of Lavender and jasmine circulated the air and made them feel like an “aroma therapy”. In the backyard, there is a well. It fills to the brim during the rainy season, and the water is used, for multiple purposes, including watering plants. They also have coconut, Jackfruit and banana trees. Apart from this, there is also a huge terrace. After his graduation, Rohan took up a job in Chennai, and my sister-in-law Ramaya got married and settled in Mumbai. Ramaya is a sweet girl, and my bond with her is more like a friend. I was born and raised in Chennai. After my studies, I got an opportunity to work in one of the multinational firms close to my house. Rohan handled finance in the same organisation. That’s how I met Rohan, fell in love and got married. Rohan lived in a rental home before our marriage. We continued in the same house for about two years after which we bought our own house and moved in.   *** I thought it would be arduous to convince Rohan to take a break and relocate. But to my surprise, he immediately agreed. My son Neel was a bit upset, but soon he abided by our decision. Within a couple of days, Rohan's leave application got sanctioned. Neel's school also agreed to give him leaving certificate.  The following morning I approached the local agent, whom I knew, for a while now. He immediately got in touch with one of his friends in Panchgani and asked him to look out for a two-bedroom flat on rent. A week passed. There was no news from the agents. I felt I should talk to more people. I feverishly started house-hunting through online sites and other known people.  One evening I received a call from the Panchgani agent. He had seen a couple of houses and wanted me to visit and finalize. Now it was not one day’s work. I needed at least 2-3 days to finalize the house and close the deal.  I arranged for a tiffin service for Rohan and Neel as I did not want them to suffer in my absence.  I informed Ramaya and reached Mumbai the next day as she, too, was going to accompany me. We hired a vehicle, and by late afternoon we reached the place. Ramaya’s husband, Ramesh, had already arranged for our stay. *** The same evening, the agent showed us a row house though I had categorically mentioned we need a two BHK flat in some society. But then I thought there was no harm in looking at it. So we went. The place was quite secluded with no shops or other houses close.  He opened the Iron Gate inwards, and it creaked. We stepped in. An old-fashioned doorbell was dancing on the left of the main door. He unlocked the main door, and we went in. I collided with an object that seemed vaguely like a box, or that is what I assumed. It was pitch dark. There was nothing warm about that place. It smelled of something evil, and the darkness was surreal.  The agent flashed the torch to find the switch. He finally found it and put it on. There were layers of dust everywhere. Cobwebs were hanging all over the place.  The other two rooms on the right side were also untidy and messy. It looked like the house had been locked for decades. I did not get a good feeling about this house. So we immediately rejected it. We were too tired, mainly me. So we decided to go to our hotel and see the rest of the houses the next day. By 10 a.m., the agent came to pick us up. He showed us a flat in a society. Society looked good. However, when we got there, the apartment was not east-facing. The hallway looked dim, and the warm yellow light barely penetrated in. I experienced a negative vibe. This one was also a resounding NO. “Please show us a good flat with schools around,” I said. “Sure, mam. The house we are going to see now is in a plush area, and I am sure you will like it,” The agent said. He took us to an apartment called Diamond Towers. It was a high-rise building with 30 floors and a luxurious lobby. I found the place quite good.  “Mam, B wing is this way he said and pointed his fingers towards the right. We followed him. But as soon as we entered the lobby, someone from behind patted my shoulder. I looked back but did not find anyone. I ignored it and thought it was my imagination.  When we reached the elevator, I got a strange feeling of someone standing beside me and whispering in my ears. Sweat trickled down my brow, and I immediately turned back to leave the lobby.  “Come, let us go from here. I don’t want to wait a minute,” my lips quivered as I said this.  “But what happened,” Ramaya asked. “Nothing, Ramaya. Please, let’s go.” I said. The agent looked at me and shrugged his shoulders. I am sure he must have thought, I am crazy. “Mam, this was the last flat. There are row houses, but you said you are not keen. Should we postpone it? I will get back to you, and you can probably visit next week.” The agent said and sipped some water from his black-green sipper to quench his thirst.  “Oh no. I cannot keep coming. I need to finalize this today or max, by tomorrow. Ok, take us where the row house is. Look, we are shifting to this place on health grounds. So keep that in mind and show me something good.” I said, and we sat in the car. “Vastu, East-facing homes, negative vibes, all these don’t matter. If you insist on these things, you will not find a house. Moreover, you are going to stay on rent. So what difference does it make?” Ramaya said with a wave of slight anger in her voice.  “No, Ramaya, I don’t concur with you. I am talking out of the experience and not being superstitious. Even if it is on rent, a house can bring good health and prosperity, and a wrong choice can affect our well-being.” I said, hoping she understood my concern.  My phone chimed. It was my mother-in-law. “Hello, did you finalize any house?” she inquired. “No, Amma, not yet,” I replied. “Oh, why, what happened? Did the agent not show you enough houses?” she questioned. “Of course, I saw innumerable houses, but there was something foreboding with all of them. There are a couple of row houses. We are on our way to see those.” I answered. “Ok, great. Do let me know.” She said and hung up. “Mam, though this place is little in the interior, it has the purest air. Yes, you will find the rent on the higher side as compared to other areas, but it is worth the pay.” The agent said, trying to convince me and probably telling me to finalize it. I smiled inwardly and said, “That’s fine, but what about schools?” “Yes, there are good schools. The only concern is, your son will have to ride a bicycle or take a school bus to reach there.” He answered. We finally reached. The main gate was painted black and white. The exterior of the house was painted off-white. Two navy blue Patio chairs and a small centre table were in the garden. The garden flourished with beautiful flowers and plants. The agent unlocked the house, and we entered. It looked pretty new and completely furnished. The hallway had ample space with a kitchen, store room and one primary bedroom.  There were two more rooms upstairs. There was a lot of sunlight that seeped into the rooms. The best part was that the house was east-facing.  “Yes, this house looks good,” I said. “Oh, finally, you liked something,” Ramaya mentioned. “Mam, markets and temple, both are close by and a safe place to stay,” the agent said even before I could ask him as if he knew what question was going to come up next. I paid the token amount and closed the deal.  “When can we do the registration part?” asked Ramaya. “Whenever you wish to,” said the agent. “It’s not possible for me to come again just for registration. What we can do is we will shift to this place and stay in the hotel for 2-3 days and get the registration done. Moreover, this house is fully furnished. So there is no need for me to get all the furniture from Chennai.” I said. “Yes, that makes sense and convenient too, mam.” the agent agreed and dropped us back at the hotel.  I confirmed my Mumbai-Chennai ticket. I then called Amma and Rohan to inform them about the house I finalized here in Panchgani. We decided to leave early morning the next day to avoid traffic. My Chennai flight was at 3 p.m. On reaching Mumbai, Ramaya dropped me at the airport before proceeding home. The flight was on time. After boarding the aircraft, I closed my eyes and relaxed as I couldn’t sleep well last night. “Excuse me, this is my seat, I think,” a voice woke me up with a jolt. “Oh, I am sorry,” I said and shifted. “It’s ok,” she replied and grinned.   She eventually started talking to me. Her name was Mrs Nagale. During our talk, I learned that she is a teacher at one of the prestigious schools in Mumbai and now travelling to Chennai for a seminar after attending one in Panchgani. “Do you stay in Chennai?” She inquired.  “Yes. But soon will be shifting to Panchgani. May I ask you something, if you don’t mind?” I checked. “Yes, sure. Please go ahead,” Mrs Nagale said politely. "We are moving to Panchgani for health reasons, and I have never been here earlier. I just finalized a house for rent but did not have enough time to look into the local schools. In fifteen days, we must relocate. Since you are a teacher, do you know anyone in Panchgani who can help me get through my son's admission?” I made a humble request. “Oh, yes. I can help you as the principal of one of the schools is my friend. Contact me once you move in there.” She agreed to help and shared her contact details.  I was at ease now and thanked her from the bottom of my heart. *** We had 15 days in hand to shift. Only essential things like utensils and clothes had to be packed. There was nothing else that the home needed, not even a TV or refrigerator. Neel’s leaving certificate had to come. However, the school promised to give it to us soon. Only four days were left for us to shift. I called the packers and movers and got things packed that I wished to take and covered all the furniture that we were not planning to take along with us. But destiny had other plans for me. My father-in-law was exposed to Covid and got admitted to the hospital. He already had heart ailments and complained of breathlessness.  Once again, I had to rush, leaving behind my family. Rohan could not accompany me as his immune system was low, and I refused to take any chances.  Before leaving, I met the current school principal and requested her to postpone the handover of leaving certificate as I was not sure when will we shift now. My younger sister, who lives in the US, was travelling to Bangalore for a gathering. I called her to check if she could stay in Chennai and look after Rohan and Neel till I return. She concurred. I felt a sense of relief because I was reluctant to give them outside food. *** I reached Mundathicode. My mother-in-law was struggling with going to the hospital and household chores. Neighbours did help, but she needed someone from the family.  I took over the hospital duty wearing masks and taking other precautions. We had taken a separate room for my father-in-law. Rohan kept calling me to ask about Appas health. He was feeling sad about not being able to do anything.  One morning when I was on my way to the hospital, the agent called and asked, “Mam, have you reached Panchgani?”  “No, we haven’t yet. Due to an emergency in the family, there is a slight change in our plans. I will let you know. Please do not cancel the deal. We will surely shift.” I requested. I closed my eyes and prayed to the almighty not to burden me with more problems.  Appa was improving, and reports revealed negative. But the doctors wanted to keep him under observation for three more days due to heart ailments. Amma felt sorry for me as I ran from one city to another. I felt tired but did not have a choice. Finally, after three days, Appa was discharged. I planned to leave during the weekend but postponed it for a week as I fell sick.     At last, I reached back home in Chennai. My sister hugged me tight as we were meeting after four years.  The emotional turbulence of the last few months left me with little energy to take care of myself. But I had to. I kept reminding myself that this was a temporary phase and that it shall pass. We made up our minds to shift during the weekend. I called the agent and asked him to book a hotel for us. I also requested him to confirm an appointment on Monday morning for registration.  Everything worked as planned. We received Neel’s leaving certificate. I called Mrs Nagle for Neel’s admission in Panchgani. On Monday morning, we went for registration. By afternoon all the procedures got complete. The agent handed over the keys to us. We finally shifted to our new house. Rohan liked the place.  I unpacked the carton boxes and placed the kitchen utensils on the shelves and the clothes in the closet. Neel occupied one of the rooms upstairs, and we stayed down. We spent our evenings sitting in the garden. Both of us felt good, and most importantly, we spent quality time with each other. This place was full of life, serene and beautiful. We went for our regular walks.  Rohan also learnt yoga and started practising it every day. During my school days, one of my teachers always used the phrase 'Better late than never,' and this phrase quite fitted in Rohan's case. With Mrs Nagale’s help, Neel got admission to one of the best schools. He opted to ride a bicycle rather than take a school bus. We were also okay with it, as he was a grown-up boy. Thankfully Neel had two options, French or Marathi. He chose French as he was fluent in it. Since we stayed in the south for a long while, Hindi and Marathi languages were alien to us. Neel, however, did not like this new place and often got irritated. He was missing all his friends with whom he grew up, studied and spent weekends. But gradually, he made new friends and participated in various cultural activities. He embraced this place and did not wish to go back again to Chennai but was in touch with his old friends.  *** It was almost two months. We loved the place due to the pure air, no pollution, no stress, surrounded by nature and pleasant climate. Our neighbours were predominantly Maharashtrians. We waved our hands and grinned whenever we crossed paths. Due to the fact that we did not speak Hindi or Marathi and they were not comfortable with English, we had not yet begun communicating with them. One day when I visited a local temple, I met an elderly lady, and we instantly connected. Amidst the conversation, I mentioned the difficulties we were having speaking Marathi and being unable to interact with others. She recommended a Marathi teacher who could conduct lessons at my house. I immediately contacted the teacher, and she started teaching me. Rohan also joined, and we thoroughly enjoyed learning this new language. Within a couple of weeks, we both picked up and started communicating with neighbours and friends in the vicinity. *** The doctor had asked to get a couple of tests done after three months. Rohan went for all his tests, including ECG and lipid profile. The reports were normal. I shared this with Dr Satish. He was happy to see this report and asked Rohan to continue with his medicines. He also requested I share our experiences, of relocating here to Panchgani. The hospital magazine featured patient testimonials. It was their practice.  Time flew. The six-month sabbatical that Rohan had taken came to an end. He started working from home. However, Work was getting hampered, and he had to visit the Chennai office often. It became a hurdle for him.  So after a deep discussion with his family, he decided to quit his job and start practising in Panchgani. On his subsequent trip to Chennai, he expressed his wish to resign from his post with his superiors. The management did not want to lose him, so they offered him a consultancy job to work from Panchgani three days a week. He accepted the offer and continued working along with his set-up. Many people started approaching him for tax-related issues and other investment matters. I also started my South Indian tiffin service on a small scale. Idlis and dosas became famous. Sluggishly I started making other items like Vada, Kesari, Mysore Pak and many more.  Through word of mouth, my business grew. I gradually started my YouTube channel, and that, too, became a hit. A year passed. Panchgani was a perfect place, and we decided to shift here for good. We intended to sell our apartment in Chennai and get one here.  The homes in Panchgani were big and affordable. However, we planned to extend our lease and continue residing in a rented home until we could sell our apartment in Chennai. Ramaya visited us once a month with her family. Ramaya’s son Manish was of Neel’s age, and they gelled well with each other.  By now, Neel was familiar with all the lanes and roads of Panchgani and took Manish around the place whenever he visited us. Rohan’s brother-in-law Ramesh loved this place and decided to shift base to Panchgani. We were happy, especially our son Neel.  We once again started house hunting. During this hunt, we came across a project in the same locality we lived. It was under construction. Rohan’s brother-in-law immediately booked a row house. After a lot of discussion and debate, we decided to move our ageing parents close to us. So finally we booked two-row houses, one next to another. One we booked for Ramaya and her family and the other row house for my in-laws. We found a buyer for our Chennai apartment within a few months. We were getting a price that we quoted. Hence we decided to sell it and take one next to our family in Panchgani. On getting possession, we all moved in at the same time. Rohan converted one of the rooms into a small office with a separate entrance so that he could conduct his meetings with his clients without disturbing other family members of the house.  We planned a larger kitchen with all modern amenities for my south Indian Catering business, which gained popularity in and around the vicinity. Neel and Manish spent time with their grandparents. In a short span, our lives improved, and the family's closeness deepened. This hill station was a blessing and I will forever be grateful. Thank you, Panchgani.   Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!