The kitchen was a total mess but, in a good way. The multi-colored counter was not less than those festive streamers and confetti which Mrs. Suhani Khanna loved to decorate her house with during Diwali or any other festival. The yellow, orange, red and green bell peppers looked so vibrant and their rich aroma when Suhani tossed them in the pan with butter is mesmerizing. The chicken pieces which were resting overnight in the fridge getting an exclusive treatment with hung curd are now ready for the Big-day. A pot full of milk is kept on the stove for boiling. “Kheer” is Suhani’s forte. She used to prepare kheer on every occasion especially on the birthdays of all the family members. She says “preparing kheer and eating on birthdays is very auspicious as it extends the life line of that person.” It doesn’t work that way. Isn’t it? Well!! That’s another story. Suhani is cleaning the rice for preparing that life-savior ‘Kheer’. The flavorful aroma of rice boiling in milk with powdered cardamom is spreading like a wild fire in the entire neighborhood. In between frying the salmons and stirring the penne pastas in the pot Suhani made a ginger- cardamom tea for herself, which she will savor sitting on her favorite chair near the window, staring the roses, sunflowers, jasmines and her favorite forget-me-nots in her garden. She saw Mrs. Bannerjee walking in straight towards her door. Suhani waited for the door-bell to ring. She finished her tea and walked sheepishly to open the door for the most annoying lady in the neighborhood.
“Hello Suhani, the aroma from your kitchen is driving me crazy!! What are you up to? Invited guests today? Or wanna have it all alone?” said Mrs. Bannerjee with sarcasm.
“Come in have a cup of tea or a fish fry perhaps?” Suhani reluctantly invited her in.
Mrs. Bannerjee ran straight to the kitchen and gave a really loud scream. “So many stuffs you are cooking Suhani? There’s pasta, there’s chicken, fish, my favorite kheer and can’t believe biryani is almost done! The aroma is magical Suhani. Can I have a bite of everything? No I mean just wanted to taste.” She stood smiling with a witty face.
Suhani took out a plate for Mrs. Bannerjee when the door-bell rang once again. Suhani stood speechless watching Mrs. Bannerjee peeping in every bowl and sniffing like a police dog. Suhani smiled and ran to open the door. There was standing another neighbor Mrs. Gupta with a broad and stupid grin.
“Is she there?” said Mrs. Gupta trying to peep from all the sides.
Suhani stood blank and she was about to open her mouth to answer when Mrs. Bannerjee came running from inside with great zeal and enthusiasm. Mrs. Gupta pulled her out and said “Riya you should come to my place I need to tell you something very interesting.” And she almost dragged Mrs. Bannerjee and soon they were out of sight. Suhani took a great sigh of relief standing clueless by what happened right now. She shut the door and went in. It’s time for preparing the naan (Indian bread) now.
(Meanwhile, at Mrs. Tulika Gupta’s house.)
“What’s wrong Tulika? Why did you drag me from her house?” Riya asked in wonder.
“Nothing. Just wanted to have tea with you.” Replied Tulika plainly.
“Suhani is master chef, the way I saw her preparing the dishes! Wow!! Is she having any special guest tonight or she’s going to eat them all alone?” Riya asked scoffing.
“She’s cooking for someone else. You are new in this neighborhood that’s why you don’t know the story of Mrs. Suhani Khanna. And that’s the reason I dragged you here.” said Tulika.
“What story?” asked Riya with big round eyes full of curiosity.
“Then tea won’t work I think you will need wine.” Tulika winked and began the story.
With the end of dusk Suhani turned on all the lights of her house and her garden. Every corner expressed the joy of welcoming the most awaited guest tonight. Suhani has dressed up like a queen. She looked zealous and marvelous. The dining table is well groomed with a solid beige color table cloth, perfectly placed crockery and wine glasses. Vases are blooming with the fragrance of roses; just a few more minutes and Suhani will start plating the dishes. She was feeling the chills all over her body.
“There you are Arjun. It’s been ages I haven’t seen you.” Suhani said with wet eyes and a pink smile.
Both of them embraced each other in a long tight hug, never to be parted again.
“I was there all the time watching you doing the stuffs. Didn’t you notice me?” said Arjun with a clever smile.
“Stop kidding Arjun. Come let’s break the bread. Food is getting cold. Have a look. All your favorites are here.” said Suhani sitting on the chair and ready to serve the delicacies to her beloved husband Arjun.
Far away from a distance, Mrs. Bannerjee stood perplexed and watched Suhani eat, talk and laugh aloud. She looked astounding.
Mrs. Bannerjee couldn’t believe on Tulika’s cooked up story at first but now she believes it all.
Mrs. Suhani Khanna came to this locality, in this house as a newly married bride of young, handsome army officer Arjun, 25 years ago. They were an epitome of a perfect, so-much in love couple. They were very friendly and humble to their neighbors. Whenever Arjun returned from a long out-station duty they organized a grand feast and Suhani used to cook each and every item with utmost love and perfection. People used to envy their compatibility and unconditional love for each other.
One day, everything turned down drastically. Their beautiful world fell apart, shattered in pieces. It was their third wedding anniversary and Arjun was making his come-back after 4 long months. Suhani was dressed up like a queen with her red salwar-kameez and she was laden with glittering ornaments. That day she prepared all of Arjun’s favorite dishes all day long and waited eagerly for her husband to return.
Arjun returned but in a coffin wrapped in Indian National Flag. He was now a martyr. Two decades have passed but Suhani never accepted Arjun’s death. Few initial years went depressing and devastating for Suhani. She had to undergo a psychological treatment for few years. She recovered completely, except the fact that she still believes that Arjun is alive. So, every year on their wedding anniversary Suhani cooks and dresses up and waits for her husband. People in the neighborhood have seen her talking to nobody, eating all alone, laughing and giggling on her own. The next day she is normal again but she doesn’t come out from her house much now and she doesn’t like any visitors anymore contrary to what she was earlier.
Mrs. Bannerjee was still standing like a pole, dumbfounded. She didn’t even notice the tear drops rolling down from cheeks slowly, very slowly.