Savita was in no mood of listening to her mother’s sermons. Daily her mother keeps telling her daughter to devote some time for lending a hand in her kitchen chores. Savita was not against learning cookery or attending to kitchen chores. Her grouse was why only the women had to do this. As though they were cut for the job. The society had to change. After all, cookery by itself was not a bad option. ‘Why men do not enter this area’ was something intriguing her mind. Her father, uncle, nobody did any kitchen work.
When Savita’s mother called her, she reluctantly responded. “Come on Savita, you need to know all these. When I was of your age, I was handling all the domestic work single handed and was catering to seven members in the family including your uncles and aunties with ease and comfort. I am quite worried about you. After marriage how you are going to manage yourself in your in-law’s place? You need to equip yourself with skills. Unless you are trained, things won’t be easy. All I am asking you, is to spend just half an hour here. Even mere observing will help you.”
Savita promptly replied. “Amma, while placing an ad in Matrimony.com, just add a line more, saying that in addition to education and employment, the groom should be good at cooking also. Another option is, you can reduce dowry and send a cook also with me.” Her mother got upset and did not want to argue further.
“Be practical. Acquiring any additional skill does not mean you will be forced to do it. Does anyone learn swimming only to save oneself from drowning in the future? Does it not help in saving others from drowning? Forget that aspect of drowning or sinking. Is it not a good physical exercise? Good sport activity? Aren’t you excited to jump into water once you see a stream flowing or a serene lake with ripples, in a beautiful picnic spot? Learning a new subject does not go waste.”
Adding to that she continued, “Now you come and do this small thing. Fry these cashew nuts in ghee. Thake care. It should not cross the shade of golden brown. It should not get charred. After that just push them onto the carrot halwa. Remember, this item is for today’s Ladies Club Meeting. About forty people will be there, --- twenty invitees, fifteen club members and five helpers. So be careful in the decoration.”
Every month the Ladies Club was organizing a meeting. Some eminent writers, scholars, noteworthy artists, social activists, or environmentalists would be invited and felicitated. It was intended to be a small token showing their appreciation and encouragement. This time it was decided to invite young entrants selected from their town for joining Indian army.
Savita’s mother was an active member and never missed any meeting. But today she suddenly developed headache. She wanted to pop in one aspirin and lie down and take rest. She knew she would be cutting a sorry figure if she attended the meeting with a splitting headache, dull face and a weary look. She would be unnecessarily drawing everybody’s attention on herself. So, she rang up the committee secretary and told her that she was not in a position to attend and instead Savita would represent her. However, her portion of menu was already cooked and ready for the evening meeting, --- Carrot Halwa.
Savita never liked to attend these meetings. Very boring one and only elderly people would attend. No fun, no entertainment and most importantly she would be the target of many gossipmongers asking many unwanted questions about her hobbies, future plans etc… As though they were probing some information from her in advance, particularly about her marriage prospects. She always wanted to avoid such inquisitive women. Today she had no escape. She had to represent her mother. As a via media, she decided to go there, be there for a while, hand over the Halwa distribution to some aunty and come back early under the excuse of taking care of her mother.
Savita’s mother was willing to go in spite of her headache if Savita refused. She expected a strong opposition from her. But today strangely, with a bit of fuss and small resistance, Savita agreed to be at the club meeting. She advised her mother to take proper rest. She was not aware of who the invitees were. She just dressed up in her own style, neither decked up heavily nor very simple as to be ignored. Just before leaving, she took the small paper her mother asked her to keep with her in case of need. It was the recipe for preparation of the much-acclaimed carrot halwa. Her mother was aware of some ladies with mischievous attitude, deliberately would ask Savita about who prepared the halwa and whether she really knew how to prepare. The piece of paper would save her and allow her to be in readiness to face the situation. Luckily nothing untoward happened.
When she reached the venue there was scanty attendance. Slowly others joined. Many of them inquired her about her mother’s health condition and some with genuine concern. When she saw a few young men coming for the meeting, she was surprised. In her opinion, it was supposed to be predominantly, an old peoples’ get together --- both organisers and the invitees. She alone was going to be an odd one out. No wonder she was quite surprised when she saw young faces that too men, turning up for the Ladies Club Meeting. Ha-ha! Then she learned that they were the real invitees for day. ‘Men in Uniform’ as they were known. They were yet to be provided with their uniforms
Among those invitees, there was one familiar face. He was Naveen. Some years ago, his mother served as a cook in Savita’s place. Many a time she heard her complaining to her mother about the reckless spending by her son. Instead of contributing something to family’s income, he was squandering and splashing on his friends. She heard his mother saying ‘Lavish spending was the bane of his nature.’
Savita was reluctant to invite a man of such a low quality, to be more precise, a spoilt child requiring correction. Even though she knew him, she deliberately did not greet him, nor showed any sign of recognition. But in her inner mind, her thoughts ran differently. The grown-up boy she had known some years ago with a negative image and the young man of today with a good physique, nicely-built stature, with a pleasing smile were not going together. She thought it must be probably due to her general good impression about Men in Uniform. She always held them in high esteem irrespective of their cadre. Their dedicated service and military discipline were always a class apart. ‘But this man? Where to place him?’ She remained a silent spectator.
She was surprised to see that he too did not react to her presence. He moved away as though she did not exist at all. In fact, she was the only young girl in the crew. While others were coming to her and accepting her greetings, his abstinence and distance was noticeable. Afterwards only, she came to know that he thought of her as a head-weight proud and haughty woman who put on airs for nothing. His mother had mentioned that Savita’s mother was a bit worried about her carelessness and carefree behaviour, so common to immature teenage girls. A spoilt child in her family, in a nutshell an arrogant girl full of vanity. Lest he might be snubbed, he did not take cognisance of her presence, nor said hello to her. Of course, he did not have any inferiority complex about himself, though he felt she suffered from superiority complex.
The lady in charge of the club introduced the invitees and asked Savita, being the youngest in the hall to say a few words. According to her she was fittest person to address the young men. Savita was not prepared for that sudden announcement. She had her own stage fears. As she was representing her mother, she had to keep up her prestige.
As she stood up, all greeted her with applause. Naveen also did the same. She speech was small and precise. ‘The young men here, are yet to set their foot in their fields. Hence invoking the blessings of doyens and veterans will be a good start. Serving the country at the frontiers and safeguarding the borders protecting the nation from terrorists alone were not everything. Their brave and remarkable deeds in saving the affected people in times of Natural disasters like floods in Uttarakhand and snowfall or land slide in Nathu La Pass, serving the pilgrims during Amarnath Yatra and so on …. list is endless. Their dedication is incredible and exemplary. Wish you all success. We care for you and we stand by you. Salute to all.’
Needless to say, it was received with a thumping applause. The Organiser-Secretary was happy that Savita did not mess up and spoil the show. In fact, she praised her for handling the stage comfortably and others too praised her. The young men too felt elated by her nice words. Savita was looking for Naveen, when somebody standing close to her said “Nice.” He was Naveen. She instantly blushed for two reasons. She was caught red-handed. He noticed that she was looking for him. Another reason was, all of a sudden, she heard him speak to her from a close distance and that too in a soft voice. Not knowing how to respond, she went back to her stall for serving carrot halwa. He followed her. He took a piece of cashew nut from the halwa and showing it to her he asked, “You did it?” He meant the carrot halwa. She thought he was referring to the cashew nut which he was holding and so she said, “Yes.”
Promptly came the response. “Nice. You have good skills.” Both had cut the ice of silence and the veil of curtain between them also was about to be lifted. Before they could continue their warming up conversations, there was an announcement. The Organising Secretary made a request if anybody from the young men could sing a song and entertain, it would be most welcome and make the function memorable one. Without hesitation, those young men pushed Naveen to the forefront.
The song he chose for the occasion was a melodious song sung by an ex-serviceman Deepak Vasant Sathe, who passed away recently as a martyr. He was Wing Commander and later he joined Air India as ex-serviceman. He was Pilot Captain for the ill-fated aeroplane. The video of the pilot singing this song became viral in social media and in no time became very popular because the singer was no more. Though Naveen explained all these to the audience, Savita thought he deliberately chose this particular song as it had a special reference to her.
“Gharse nikaltehi….” was the song. As per the song, the singer was yearning to share his feelings to his soul mate who was living at a short distance from his residence, but could not do so till now. Then also he was not willing to give up. He kept his efforts going on with the fond hope of meeting her someday and pouring out his pelt up feelings to her.
Savita knew that the cook was living somewhere nearby and used to come walking to her place for work. Occasionally, Naveen would come to pick up his mother. When Naveen chose this song, she could not find out if he was really depicting himself through the song. She asked herself If that was the case then what should be her reaction. She was buried in her thoughts, when the audience roared with applause. Really it was a feast for ears and on top, it was a song sung by one of ‘Men in Uniform … their own kith and kin, alas even if he was a martyr now. Naveen was surreptitiously looking for Savita’s reaction. Suppose she showed her thumps up, then how should he take it? Would that be just for rendering the song or anything deeper than that? Those million-dollar questions still remained in suspense. He came to her and all she said was, ‘Nice.’
What he said to her earlier was returned to him now.
Feast for ears was over. The Organising Secretary pointing out to that, appealed to all to have another feast, the feast for taste buds. She told the young men that all the ladies had put in their best efforts and made a fantastic menu full of varieties, starting from appetisers, soups, salads, curries etc. etc. “So please do a full justice to yourself.”
Naveen took the opportunity and came to Savita. “Being born to an expert cook, I am basically a foodie and I love sweet and in that, Carrot Halwa is my favourite.” She offered him a scoopful first and then added some more for a second time. He relished it and said, ‘Nice.’ Then in a low voice he continued “Both the Offering and the Offeror.”
She heard the first part distinctly. The second one said in hush voice though she guessed it, was not clearly audible. In order to confirm, she asked him ’What!’
He smiled and uttered, ‘Golden words are not repeated.’
She too retorted and said provokingly, ‘I know. You said something abusing. And I must keep quiet. Why?’
It was his turn now. “I know you are a haughty and proud girl. You want to be appreciated and you want to hear those sugary flattering words again and again. I am not used to such lavish spending of words.”
Savita was not the one to give up. “My mother had already warned me to keep away from spoilt children. She knew you well.”
He interrupted. “Oh God! You are simply stealing my words. My mother asked me to be cautious of such persons. Girls with vanity and pride are certainly spoilt children.”
The Organising Secretary who just came by and heard them talk in this manner concluded their conversation going awry. “Those who have chosen to be a part of ‘Men in Uniform cannot be spoilt children of their family. Similarly, those who appreciate noble and good services rendered by gallant and brave men cannot be called spoilt children.”
She took a spoon of carrot halwa and said, ‘It is sweeter than ever.’
Both Naveen and Savita also agreed to the fact that carrot halwa was tasting sweeter than ever. He asked for some more. She said ‘You may have to wait.’ He replied, ‘Ok, no problem.’
Next day morning, Savita’s mother was astonished to see her daughter standing near her in the kitchen. She almost fainted when she said, “I want to lend a hand in your kitchen chores. Please tell me what I should do.”
Savita raised her voice. “I am talking to you and you are going. Where are you running?”
Her mother replied, “I wanted to make sure if the Sun was rising from East. I am sure. He must have forgotten where is East and chose to rise from West. Suddenly you talk of things which I never heard from you.”
“Amma, don’t tease me. Yesterday, so ‘many people’ praised me for the carrot halwa which I did not make. So now, I want to make myself really worthy of it by acquiring the skill.” Savita said in an undertone.
Neither her mother asked who were those ‘many people’ nor Savita mentioned who they were.
By the way, there is no spoilt child either.in the families known to her. Is there any?
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