Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Stranger

"Flight JW149 TO Brussels is delayed by 2 hours."

Shruthi glanced up and looked at the display board with a blank stare. Disheveled hair, dirty torn jeans, a huge backpack on her shoulders that weighed more than she did - she looked like any other Indian going home for a vacation. But she didn't react to this announcement with groans or any visible dismay like everyone else. Lately, things had a way of not working out for her and this just fit the sequence. She lugged her huge bag and walked towards the counter.

"Amma, my flight is postponed. I will be in Madras..."

She glanced at the young man on the phone. His chaste thamizh with a definite Iyengar twinge seemed to take her home instantly. She closed her eyes and stopped for a moment. She felt like a smoke - the simple act of bringing the light to the cylindrical smoothness of a cigarette would take her places that are universes away from Madras, Amma, Appa and the realm. She often used smoking to rid herself of the Brahmin guilt that she had been brought up on - touching an egg, looking a plate of chicken, drinking, a Bindi less forehead. The guilt that racked her thousands of miles away, and years after she left the cocooned home she was born in.

The woman at the counter told her that she wouldn't miss her connection in Brussels to Chennai. Shruthi walked back to the seat in a trance. Resting her forehead on pillar, she mused on her life. It wasn't so much misery as it was disillusionment. She was tired of life at the ripe old age of 26.

"Shruthi, I have packed some of the rettai-appalam1 that you like. I have put it inside the cooker so that it won't break, remember to take that out when you reach. Apram, I have given a Tussar silk salwar material to the tailor to be stiched. Can you go and get that from him? Remember to wear that for Diwali. Enna da kannu2, I feel so bad that you won't be here with us for Diwali. Appa and I are going to feel so bored. Can't you do your B.E somewhere in Madras, or atleast India? Do you have to go to the US for that?"

"Excuse me, is this seat taken?". She motioned that it was free and took the laptop that had been previously sitting on that seat. She opened it and absently started looking through some old pictures. She opened the folder marked "Freshman year"

"Shroooti, what do you mean you've never had a beer before. Wow!! Ok, you've got to do this atleast now."

She flicked through the album, a picture of her chilling in Miami, with friends at the sleazy bar near the university, skiing in the Poconos. Then she saw picture of Jason hugging her. She smiled when she thought of Jason - her first love, her first kiss. The first guy to notice her and reached out to her breaking the wall she had built, the one who ignored her awkward accent, the one she thought she would love forever.

"Shru doll, we must absolutely do the France thing this summer. Imagine us biking through France for the whole summer. You gotta come with me"

"Hello Appa, this is Shruthi. I don't think I can come home this summer appa. My Professor wants me to do this summer project. It would really be a good opportunity for me to do research. Ille amma, not everyone gets an opportunity like this. I will be come home next year though, I promise"

The break up with Jason was ugly. She couldn't believe that he had cheated on her in the 2 months that she had been to India. She had mourned the loss for an entire year before moving on.

"Passengers of Flight JW149 to Brussels are requested to get ready for boarding."
Shruthi looked up with a start, she hadn't realized that 2 hours had gone by. She gathered her things and her thoughts got onto the line to board the flight.

She squeezed her huge bag onto the overhead bin and plonked herself onto her seat. Her mind picked up the thread from before and she started thinking about about Mike. She had been dating Michael for more than 3 years, and had been living with him for more than a year. She loved his blond hair, blue green eyes, his easy way of talking and the way he made her laugh. They had had an amazing time together in the sunny apartment they were living in. They shared an love for the outdoors and went out almost every weekend. Her happiest day was a few months back, when he had proposed to her on top the mountain they had just hiked on her birthday. She said yes almost immediately and had loved wearing the huge diamond ring.

"Excuse me, I think you are in my seat", it was the thamizh speaking young man she had seen earlier in the terminal. She muttered her her apologies and started to get up. "Oh that's ok, I am not very keen on the window seat, I can take the aisle seat if you want" Shruthi smiled her thanks, and settled back into her seat.

She glanced at her bare left hand and sighed inwardly.

"Shruthi kutti3, you are 26 now. Appa and I are worried about your future. You know you are our only child, we want someone to take care of you after we are gone. Why don't you talk to this boy Sridhar? He has done his BE from BITS, Pilani and his MS from Stanford. He is working for Google in California. It seems California is a nice place with lots of Indians. Appa and I can visit you after your marriage. Just talk to him once no?"

"Hi Shruthi, this is Sridhar here. Your parents gave me your number ..."

"Shruthi, Appa pesaren4. Why did you tell Sridhar that you are not interested? Amma is in a shock ever since his parents called us. You know about Amma's heart, why do you do this ma? The doctor says her condition has worsened and he can't perform the surgery unless her palpitations reduce. "

"This is insane!! How do you expect me to "understand" that random guys call my fiancee with an intent to marry her? I understand that your mother is unwell and I agree that we need to postpone the wedding till when she is better, but only if your family knows that you are engaged. You can't expect me to just lay low and not make any noise in my own home when you are talking to your parents or one of the "guys". I am sorry, When I said I would marry you, I meant it, but this sort of baggage is not a part of the deal. This is over"

"Are you alright? Shall I get you some water to drink?" Shruthi realized that her eyes had welled up even without her knowledge. She wiped her tears off and smiled at him. "I am Akash" he said, extending his hand. She took his hand and said "I am Mythili."

To be continued..

1 - A kind of papad
2, 3 - Terms of endearment
4 - Speaking


Sandeep said...

Interesting story. Very well written! Adutadu enna Mythili ennai kaadali ya?Ozhunga part 2 va seekaram ezhudu?

Adu enna Jason, Michael..Surudi ku desi pasanga sikkave maatangala?!

Jinguchakka said...

Nice story. Nice beginning at the end.

H said...

i second Sandeep...unnoda surudhi indian pasangaloda suthave mattala??? rombaaa thannn...

but great story...me loving it...bring out the part 2 soon !!!

Sudarsan said...

Nice story.. Can you ground their flight as soon as possible...

janani said...

@sandeep and H - Yenna panna, Shruthi is not as samathu as me :-P

@jingu & Sudarsan - Thanks. :-) Look out for the next part same time next week

sFunn.com said...

good one.
good story.
The Fun place.