6 January

Neempatta looks at the photos of Ogre, Etcetra and So-On, on the half-wall of my open office cubicle and smiles appreciatively. She points at So-On’s photo

And says: “Any progress with this young man here?”

I shake my head.

Me: “Oh no, Neempatta. He’s my best friend. No ‘boyfriend business’ yet, for me.”

Neempatta nods, but I don’t know whether she is convinced.

Neempatta: “Well, don’t leave it too late. We don’t want you to be a dowdy old spinster do we?”

I look at her, shocked at her choice of words.

Neempatta laughs: “Just joking, Appi. Don’t worry, I haven’t regressed while you were not looking.”

I laugh too, relieved. I don’t know if I can take any tarnishing of my image of Neempatta.

Neempatta: “About your friend, Comma. She told me she’s going to Bhopal to check out the living conditions at the Prospect’s.”

Me: “Yes. Don’t you think it is a good idea?”

Neempatta: “Yes, of course. I’m glad she is more sensible than she normally professes to be. But I still think that you should go with her.”

Me: “Me?”

Neempatta: “Yes, why not? Will there be a problem at home? Should I call Ogre and ask her?”

Me: “No, no, that’s not necessary. Ogre won’t mind. It’s just that, why do I need to go?”

Neempatta: “Aren’t you her friend?”

Me: “Of course, I am.”

Neempatta: “Well then. I just think that you need to be there, to judge for yourself. To be able to give her a second opinion. This is a crucial juncture in her life. And she’s going through all this without her parents. I don’t quite approve of that. Though I agree that it may be best to make a first visit alone. But if you are there, at least we can do our best to make sure she is not making a wrong decision.”

I nod.

Me: “I’m not sure if I’ll be able to make the right judgment.”

Neempatta: “Don’t worry about right or wrong. Just make your own judgment. Anyway, Comma will do what she likes, in the end. This is just from our side, to give her our support. Give her another perspective.”

I agree to go with Comma. I had not expected Neempatta to be so protective of us. She sounds just like Ogre would have under the circumstances.

I come in from work, and find Ogre hunched over the kitchen table, sobbing. I rush to her and put my arms around her heaving shoulders. She cries for a little while more, then making a loud clearing-of-the-nose sound, looks at me. Her eyes are swollen, her face puffed up, her nose is leaking. I think I look very frightened for I have never seen her like this before. She looks at my face and tries to smile.

I manage an ineffectual: “What’s the matter, Ogre? What happened?”

She shakes her head and makes to get up.

Ogre: “Oh, nothing. I’ll make some tea for you. Go freshen up.”

I push her down gently.

Me: “No, you sit. I’ll make the tea.”

I busy myself with my back to her. Somehow, I know she might find it easier to talk if I am not looking at her. I try to think of something that I can ask which will make her loosen up. But nothing comes to my mind.

I have been so used to seeing Ogre as a strong, sensible, no-nonsense person, a worrier where Etcetra and I are concerned, but certainly not prone to emotional outbursts. Perhaps, Ogre too feels the novelty of the situation is such that it cannot go by without discussion, so

She says: “I don’t know what came over me the other day. When I said those things. You know, don’t you, Appi, that I never meant them?”

I turn around with disbelief, and say: “Ogre, is that what you were crying about?”

She nods her head, glumly.

Me: “But why? I thought that was a fight, said and done. I had even forgotten about it.”

She shakes her head and says in a sad voice: “No, Appi, how could you have forgotten it? Was it a small thing that I said?”

Me: “No. Just that I think it was said in a momentary burst of anger. And that anger was justified. Etcetra has been hassling you for days now, months, years.”

She laughs.

Ogre: “And you haven’t?”

I smile smugly and shake my head.

Me: “No, I haven’t. You are the one who keeps telling me that I am no trouble at all.”

Ogre: “No, you are not. Neither is Etcetra. And both of you never have been. Though she’s being a pain right now. But I’ve loved taking care of the both of you. You know that, don’t you? I don’t even remember any longer what it was like to live alone.”

Me: “Oh Ogre, don’t be so formal. I know that. But it must have been hard sometimes, for you, too. And you are allowed to get angry sometimes.”

Ogre: “No, surprisingly, it was never hard. Yes, I had my own life, and it was very different when both of you came into it. Out went the weekend treks in the Western Ghats, or spending entire days in bed reading a book, or partying late at night with friends. But strangely, I didn’t mind it. I thought I would, but I didn’t. Perhaps because both of you were so adorable. And needed me so much. And now of course, you don’t. Maybe that’s what is so hard. And maybe, that’s what bothers me.”

Me: “Ogre. Of course, we need you. Whatever Etcetra says. And if you do go off to look after Dodo, we’ll be at a complete loss. OK, I’ll cook the basic dal-chawal stuff, and Etcetra just might clean up her own mess, but who will make us cheesecakes, and chocolate cakes and plum jam and all of that? Neither Etcetra nor I can exactly afford a cook right now, in our given financial circumstances.”

Ogre: “Glad to know I am of some use. Take down that box. I baked some coconut cookies this morning.”

As I dunk the cookies into my chai, I think of the 1001 questions I had asked Ogre over the years, about The Beautiful One, about Dodo, and how it had never occurred to me to ask Ogre about her own life, what she liked, what she had wanted to do, apart from taking care of us. We’d just taken it for granted that she had nothing else to do besides that.

Even when we looked at old photographs, my eyes and fingers would veer towards the figure of The Beautiful One and I had never given a second glance to Ogre, who would often be hidden behind every one else, only her face reluctantly peeping out, probably because the photographer had insisted on her showing herself.

That’s why I had spoken to Etcetra about the fight, but not bothered to speak to Ogre about what she had felt. I had just assumed that since I had put the incident behind me, she would have too.


3 Comments on “6 January”

  1. ano says:

    Completely hooked.

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