In the 22 years that I've lived in Bangalore, I have crossed the thresholds of only 2 houses. The first one, I stayed in for about 18 years. After having lived in the second one for about 4 years, it was time for me to get going from home. First it was the job @ Mangalore and Bhubaneshwar (!) and then came Lucknow. Summer internship after the end of the first year was something I was keenly looking forward to. The location - Mumbai.. I'll avoid the cliches describing it.
My personal take on going into a new place, is that there is so much to be discovered, that all you need is to hear from someone that it is a great place to be in. The rest should be discovered and felt by you, only on reaching - be as underprepared as one would want to be.
After a short drive in one of the many dark Mumbai cabs, that reduced the weight of my wallet significantly, I was left facing the entrance of the hostel.
Excuse my grey cells for not being able to remember the hostel's name. Day 13's sun rose and with him he brought his call for the rest of Mumbai to wake up. I turned to the right and noticed that it had already been 2 days since I started paying host to Sandy. Shortly, we would undergo a short 2 month transformation into paper characters from Steinbeck's 'Tortilla Flat' - Sandy would be Pablo and I would be Pilon!!
I guess its time to introduce Shanthamma now. Shanthamma would turn up every day only minutes before the sun's direct rays hit my face. She would bring along with her, the little ones of hers. I had no complains. Though there wasn't much work to do in the mornings (she preferred to work when both Sandy and me had left for office), the room sure could use some help regards churning the airs. And that's precisely what Shanthamma did, apart from bringing in small little piles of dust into the room while making vain attempts at cleaning that which was already inside.
The chemistry, or the lack of it really, was clearly visible from the first day she started coming. The chemistry between her and Sandy! Even the few minutes that she tried to exist in the room had to be interspersed with Sandy's constantly grumbling and asking her to maintain distance when in the room. The initial feeling of irritation at being disturbed by such noise in the morning, from both sources, gave way to a more motherly-in-law feeling in me. Shanthamma, inspite of being a mother was still young. I mentioned that to Sandy and tried reasoning with him the possibilities that he could look into between him and Shanthamma. No such attempts did I try when it came to her. I thought that she had to be clearly shown her place around me. I wasn't going to speak to her so easily. Days went on. Sandy continued to come early, I continued to go late, and Shanthamma did her usual stuff every day.
Things took a bad turn between Sandy and her, on one not-so-fine Sunday. The dust that she had raised got a little too close for Sandy's comfort and he stood up in anger. Shanthamma hadn't seen him in such form earlier. What they shared before was only bad chemistry I thought. There was more to it than what the eye saw. Should I intervene and tell Sandy that though I didn't speak up for Shanthamma, she still deserved respect, I wondered. The mind is a slow thing at times. Had I reacted, I believe there could have been a better ending to this story, a happier one! It wasn't to be! Veiled under the morning's grogginess, waiting for the previous night's high to ebb away, I took too much time to react. Shanthamma was faster. In a jiffy she decided never to return and took flight from the room. The quickness in her, and the drained fullness in her eye conveyed it all to me and Sandy - she would never return to Room 341 of that hostel.
And as she left the room, all that Sandy and me were left of her, were a few feathers, wrestled out of control from her wings, by the ceiling fan close to the window. They say that a dove symbolizes peace. If that's even partly true, all that Sandy and me, the paisanos of room 341, were left with were a piece of what Shanthamma symbolized.