Priyanka received a phone call. It was an unknown number. First, she hesitated. Then she picked up the call. The lady on the other side of the call introduced herself as an old friend from Yashoda Hospital and she reminded her about Priyanka’s blood donation stunts. Priyanka remembered the incidence and recollected the lady. She told her, “It was not any stunt Aunty. I genuinely donated blood at that time. Though it was not used for the patient you were referring to. By the way I am not seeking any fame or remuneration for my deeds. Neither I keep boasting about myself. Just because you mentioned on that day the patient, Mr. Shukla needed blood, I happened to mention about myself. By the way how is he? You said he is your neighbour. More than that let me ask you first. How are you and your daughter? Hey how foolish I am! Given a chance, I keep blabbering on and on. There must be some urgent matter and that is why you called me. May I know what I can do and how I can help you?”
Aunty on the other side of the phone whispered something to someone by her side, which was not quite audible to Priyanka. But she could guess from the way it was whispered… what must have been uttered. “She is still the same haughty head-weight girl. She thinks of herself to be a saviour or what and anybody with any problem would seek her help. How coolly she is asking me, how I can help you.” Instead of telling her all those comments, Aunty confined herself to the main purpose of her phone call. “My dear Priyanka, I am inviting you to my place to join us tomorrow for lunch. My daughter’s marriage is fixed and we want to share those happy moments with you. More than me, my daughter is insisting.”
“Oh! How nice of her! We hardly met each other. At least with you, I had a few words. I was in touch with you for two days. With your daughter, I had less contact and did not even speak to her. Please convey my hearty congratulations to her. By the way, you people have a big heart in extending the invitation to me and include me for your special lunch. Thanks for the offer. But please excuse me. In my personal opinion, engagement ceremony is generally confined to close relatives of both the families of girl and groom. I think, I am an outsider in this close circle. Of course, marriage is a different occasion where friends are also included. I sincerely wish your domestic ceremony to go on well. Once again I extend my greetings and hearty congrats to your daughter.” She was about to shut the phone. But Aunty continued.
“No. No. You are coming for this occasion. This is not a mere formal invitation. I told you that my daughter was particular about inviting you. So, do not make excuses. Do come without fail. We will be looking for you. Now you can hang your phone.”
Without further arguments, Priyanka agreed. She noted down their address and timings.
‘India is fast developing. All Metro cities are developing far and wide. The cities are expanding very fast on their seams. Many suburbs have long been included as part of main city. So many colonies and so many high-rise apartments have sprung up and recently gated communities are catching up very fast. All newspapers carry advertisements of these apartments and gated villas on their front page and full-page ad is the neo-normal and has become a routine affair.’ Priyanka noted this special feature of prominent cities. She was very confident this phenomenal growth of real estate was mainly due to banks offering loan facilities and granting easy EMIs. Her uncle was one such beneficiary of bank loan and he had already acquired one apartment and moved into it. The colony where his apartment was situated was quite near to the address she had noted down for today’s luncheon. When she heard about the place of venue for lunch, then itself she was reminded of her uncle. It was long time since she met him. She decided to meet him also enroute her visit to Aunty’s place.
She told her parents about the invitation for lunch by a lesser-known acquaintance. Since they insisted on her to be with them, she had to go. Now that she was going for the occasion, she decided to take her parents also with her and drop them at her uncle’s place. From thereon, she could proceed further to her destination. She thought that it was a great idea. She could let her parents meet her uncle and spend quality time with his family members. Another big advantage was using this opportunity for twin benefits --- like meet uncle’s family and also her special hosts who were staying at a nearby place, -- all covered in one expense of to and fro conveyance. One more advantage was, she could avoid going late for lunch as she would be waiting at her uncle’s place only and proceed to meet Aunty just in time. In Metro cities traffic jam would eat away all time and posed a big compelling threat to anybody’s punctuality. She openly told all these factors to her parents. They said only one thing. “First inform your uncle and get his approval. They may have planned some outing or shopping for themselves. We should not be forcing ourselves upon them by visiting them without prior notice. Don’t give a surprise visit.” She rang up her uncle and informed him about their arrival. Of course, she did not tell him about her going elsewhere also. He was happy in receiving them. In these hard times, people had almost forgotten to keep their contacts alive with their own kith and kin. It was a rarity that people think of visiting others without any rhyme or reason and just for the sake of casual meeting.
At uncle’s place, it was an informal meeting for the relatives. Hence reaching Taambaram even if it got delayed, it did not matter. The family get-together was really great and heart-warming. In the course of conversation, Priyanka was left with no choice than to expose herself by telling them that she had to go to another place also and visit them, that too on a lunch offer. She told her uncle that the host and her family were not in her close friends’ circle and yet she was asked to join them. Both uncle and his son laughed at her.
“Can you not perceive? There is something more in inviting you, specially you. Either the groom knows you or someone in the girl’s family or groom’s family or somebody in their circles knows you – a little more than mere acquaintance. Either your blood donation camps, or some other good quality in you has appealed to them. When you said the bride-to-be insisted on your coming, can you not guess that she wants to introduce you to someone special. We hope when you come back, you are sure to share some good news. All the best and advance congratulations.”
Priyanka smiled and kept silent. Then she told them. “If any such thing happens, Uncle, please note, first thing, I will call you only. You will be informed. Not even my parents.” All had a good laugh. Priyanka was about to leave. Her cousin guided her about the route. The place she had to go was within walkable distance. She reached the place well in time.
Aunty came rushing to greet her. “Nice you came. The way you hesitated, I thought you will give some excuse and stay away. Meet my daughter Girija. You may have seen her earlier though.”
“Hello, Girija, hearty congrats and my best wishes for the new bonding in your life. Where is your fiancée? When is your marriage taking place? By the by, how did you hook him?” Girija silently warded off the array of questions thrown on her. Aunty ushered in. “It was not Giri who hooked him. He was the one who proposed first. We thought Girija was interested in Shukla and we waited for him or Giri to cut the ice. Then we learnt Shukla was not interested. Nor Giri. His friend was the one asked for Girija’s hands. Then we analysed the prospects of this new guy, made formal enquiries about him and then accepted the proposal. Do you know how it all started? He has been coming to this Apartment to meet a friend of his. In one such meetings, he had seen Girija and fell for her. Then he made frequent visits to his friend. But could not see Girija in any of his further visits. So, he straight away asked his friend about Girija.” Before she could continue and say that the friend was none else than Shukla himself, there was a knock at the door. All eyes were fixed at the door. Priyanka expected the groom and his family members. But Girija was not disturbed nor showed any sign of excitement.
Priyanka simply exclaimed at the visitor. “Hey! You Shukla! What a surprise! I thought of meeting you in a while, after meeting these people. I know you are their neighbour. Okay. How are you?”
Girija was all smiles. She welcomed Shukla and pokingly taunted him. “Hello sir! Why are you so late? We have been waiting for you for quite long.”
He too said in same tone. “Why not? You must be expecting your would-be to come along with me. But just now he said that he is not joining you today for lunch. A sad disappointment for you.”
Aunty said, “She is not disappointed. She has a bigger offer. He is taking her tonight for dinner. Exclusive offer. Today’s guest of honour is you, yourself. You are the special guest for today’s lunch. And of course, your good old ‘foe’ – Priyanka.”
Shukla quipped, “So, it is a planned meeting!” But in his mind-voice he said, “Thank you Aunty.”
Girija did not want to play anymore game of hide and seek of unspoken words. She openly asked Priyanka about her opinion. “I know my friend Shukla has a crush for you. I also know that you both know each other from childhood. But I want to know from you. You can be frank and free.”
Shukla also looked at her keenly and said, “In case you are interested in someone else, please do not hesitate. Let me assure you. I shall take it in good stride and I will not be a stumbling block.”
Now it was Priyanka’s turn to roll the ball further. She said, “My parents had long ago strictly warned me that I should not have any contacts with you.”
Aunty instantly cut it. “But you broke it when you met him at the hospital You were even ready to give blood. Next day again you went to him on your own and assured him that you were his friend and not a foe. So, where is the question of your parents objecting?”
Girija who was arranging the dining table for special lunch called everyone. “Hi and yes! All is set. Come on, all of you. Let us start with sweet.” Aunty reminded her. “Don’t forget. Double sweets.”
Priyanka told them. “Please wait. I have to make a phone call.”
Her uncle lifted the phone and before answering, he deliberately winked at his sister.
He knew who called. Parents also knew.