Over the last few years, Chaitanya had lost both his high paying job and his patience. He couldn’t understand why his sister Meera had insisted on having dinner at some old restaurant across the city. He couldn’t even find it on Zomato! But even though they were both in their forties, Chaitanya knew that on certain occasions it was best to agree with what his elder sister wanted him to do. Because no matter how they old they grew, she would always be a little older. And never afraid to kick his ass, a voice in Chaitanya’s head whispered.
So struggling to breathe and keep up with Meera, Chaitanya grumpily walked towards the end of the street. There it was - Adarsh Veg & Non-veg Corner.
A small place for small people, another mean voice inside Chaitanya whispered. Maybe this really was the kind of place he deserved after having lost his job during the pandemic, Chaitanya thought. With Meera’s help he had been able to find another job. But the failure had hurt. It had never stopped hurting really.
Chaitanya looked more closely at the restaurant and suddenly something shifted inside of him. The faded green paint, the electric sign with the ‘A’ of ‘Adarsh’ flickering. All of it was so familiar. This was the restaurant they always came to! As kids whenever Chiatanya, Meera and the rest of the gang came back from their cricket matches, this place would always serve them a glass of water.
Looking at him now, no one would have believed it. But Chaitanya had once been a great fast bowler and an even better fielder. And Meera? Chaitanya smiled and recalled that she had always been the star batsman.
Chaitanya was in his usual attire of a formal white shirt and black trousers. But Meera had gone for her faded jeans and a loose shirt. She casually walked into the restaurant and chose a table right under a fan. Chaitanya managed to fit in across her.
For a moment the both of them just absorbed everything happening around them. Waiters were running furiously and no customer was wasting any time. Meals were quickly served and finished, and the next customer would soon get in.
This was the way it had always been. The restaurant hadn’t changed but Chaitanya knew that his life certainly had. From those days in the chawl to now living in a high-rise apartment, Meera and he had come a long way.
A waiter approached their table and veered towards Chaitanya.
“Ha sir, kya lenge?”
Chaitanya gestured towards Meera.
Meera smiled at the waiter and ordered.
“Two pav bhaajis with extra pav please.”
The waiter nodded and rushed off.
Fidgeting in his chair, Chaitanya noticed that Meera looked content.
“Hey what’s up with all this Tai? Why are we here really?”
Meera rolled her eyes and sprinkled some salt over Chaitanya.
“How can you forget Chaitu? Think now!”
With an annoyed expression Chaitanya flicked the salt away. The waiter came to their table and served the two plates of pav bhaaji.
The wafting aroma again shifted something inside of Chaitanya. He remembered. His sister was right. How could he have forgotten?
With a softened expression, he nodded towards Meera.
“I remember now Tai.”
Meera reached out for his hand.
After all, this wasn’t just the placed that served them water after their cricket matches. This was also where their mother Manda brought them on scoring well in exams. On a few occasions, she brought them here even when they didn’t do so well. Through those years, they’d always order the same thing – pav bhaaji.
Chaitanya recalled a teary Meera in her 7th standard looking shame faced. Manda was kindly running a hand through her hair.
“Aai I…I almost failed in maths. I d…don’t deserve this.”
Manda gazed fiercely at Meera and spoke slowly.
“Remember this Meera – we can only try. And if we fail, we must be kind to ourselves. Always. Got it?”
A nervous Meera nodded her head and began eating.
Coming back to the present moment, Meera and Chaitanya looked at the empty seat between them. After a while, it didn’t feel empty. It felt like she was with them. That she had always been with them.
Nervously, Chaitanya then tasted the pav bhaaji. The hot flavours melted in his mouth and he quickly grabbed another piece of the buttered pav. Across him Meera was also immersed in her meal.
Soon they ordered another round of pav bhaji. For the first time in a long time, Chaitanya truly believed that everything would be all right.