The Homecoming9 mins 419 9 mins 419
As he waited at the luggage carousel, he could feel the excitement in the air. Diwali time always saw the airport full, people busy chatting, some giving directions to their drivers, some booking cabs, a few standing near the pre-paid taxi booking counter. Karthik was back in Mumbai for Diwali, it seemed ages. As he exited the airport, he could see a swarm of people thrusting placards, waving madly some calling out their loved ones' names. His parents would be there too. Yes, there they were trying to get his attention. Karthik waved to them. His sister Sneha had come too. That was a surprise!
Sneha hugged him tightly. His mother’s eyes glistened. Father just thumped him. The hot and humid weather made his T-shirt cling to his body. All the AC freshness evaporated in Mumbai. As his father drove, actually swerved his way through Mumbai traffic, Karthik got time to think and think a lot.
Home was the same, actually looked more spacious he thought. His one room apartment in New York which was his office, his kitchen and his bedroom all rolled into one seemed far way. Sneha had been chattering throughout their drive home. She had been asking questions and he had tried answering them to the best of his knowledge, he thought. Had he started smoking? Did he drink? Did he have girlfriends? Sneha had always been the inquisitive one.
He had parried them all by asking her the same questions and had somehow changed the topic. Knowing Sneha he knew he would have to face them all gain. His mother had prepared an elaborate lunch for him. The aroma of her cooking pervaded the entire house. He sat down for meal which had the usual sambhar and rasam plus an array of podis and thokkus and pickles. He wanted to just rest now, the jet lag and the drive back home seemed to have made him irritable not tired.
His parents went about their daily routine, little did they bother him. Sneha had gone back to her mobile and was busy staring at it with her headphones on. Next morning he woke up to the sounds of the usual Suprabatham his mother played as soon as she finished her bath. The only difference was instead of a tape recorder it was played from the Alexa. “Karthi, can I get you some coffee?” Amma asked smiling at him. He nodded a yes and went to pick up the newspaper chucked in deftly by the newspaper guy.
She stared at the email message on her computer, her mind racing so fast that the words blurred together and no longer made any sense. Just three lines, but enough to make her life--the life she’d worked so hard and sacrificed so much to build--begin to crumble around her. But she knew she had to be there for him no matter what. She could not leave him just because of ‘them’. No way in her own ways she would let him know how much she loved him and cared for him. She knew someone who Karthi could bank upon. If it only worked. She just logged out of her mail account and walked into the kitchen. A hot cup of kaapi was all that she wanted.She had known about this always hadn’t she? Why did she wait for so long? What she wanted probably would never happen. Never. But she was clear whom to be with. Very clear.
A week passed swiftly. Karthik spent his time either reading or meeting people who turned up to meet him Some of the mamas and mamis wanted him to guide their children. Then the bomb was dropped. It was his father who brought it up one Sunday during brunch. “ Karthik, we have been invited by Kesavan and his family for tea today evening. “ Sneha started laughing, seeing her father’s grim face, she shut up quickly and kicked Karthik’s feet. “ Ouch! That hurt..” Karthik trailed off, realizing his father wanted a response. Karthik asked if he could stay back. His father was insistent that Karthik should join them.
They made their way to Matunga, one of the older residence areas for Tam Brahms. Karthik knew it was not an informal tea, it was a marriage proposal. The Kesavans ‘ welcomed him as if he were a war hero coming back after a massive victory. The simple house had walls adorned with numerous photographs of various Hindu Gods and Goddesses. The house seemed to have a permanent lingering fragrance of incense and fried food.
“ We have been in Matunga more than four decades..”, Kesavan went on. The men seemed to have hit it off very well. Mami, Kesavan’s wife seemed slightly restless, as if something very important was going to happen. His mother was her own quiet self. Sneha was immersed in her mobile. Seriously that girl should be sent to a rehab thought Karthik.
After a few minutes Soumya, the “girl’ he had come to meet was ushered in. She was slim and was dressed in a simple salwar kameez. “Thank God no saree,’ were Karthik’s thoughts. “ we are very modern you see.”Mr Kesavan drawled on. “ You both can chat up’ go upstairs if you want”.
“ Ladies first,” Karhik smiled at Soumya who was clearly as uncomfortable as he was. The terrace was like so many other terraces one could find in India with a number of DTH dishes, a few clothes drying on a make shift drying string and some spices spread on the floor. The evening breeze caressed their faces, Soumya looked even more uncomfortable.
“ So what do you like?’ Karthik asked. “ I have done my Masters in History, want to pursue a course in Archaeology and Numismatics. Have applied in some Universities and have sent a research article to a publication” Soumya seemed to brighten up considerably.” Hmm a true blue academic,” Karthik said Soumya smiled and said “I love swimming, cooking and reading in that order. What are your interests”?
Before he could reply,Sneha came bursting into the terrace, “ Sorry guys, got these for you,” she said giving them each a cup of of coffee. “ Now you can continue” she giggled as she left.
“ I love reading, blogging and hiking. Tried swimming but I don’t enjoy it that much. Ah yes I love attending the music kutcheris during Margazhi”. That makes me a true blue Tamilian. “
“ So do you have any plans to relocate?” Soumya asked. Karthi took a moment before he could reply. “As of now no. but yes if a good opportunity comes up why not?” “ Hmm”, Soumya took a deep breath. “ My research is more suited for India,” she said, “ I have submitted a proposal to study some forgotten ruins near Chennai”. “I understand “, Karthik replied.
“Are you a vegetarian?’, Soumya probed, “ Yes, but I eat eggs. It is easy to cook and is wholesome.” Karthik said. “ Can you cook?’ Soumya was in grilling mode and Karthik decided to humor her. “ Obviously “ have been abroad for almost a decade, “ he smiled” can’t afford to eat out or eat junk food, plus nothing like the good old curd rice”. They spent some more time discussing movies. Soumya preferred rom-coms, and SRK movies. Karthik told her he loved Tamil movies and Vivek’s comedy.
They found that they both loved to eat chaat, spend an evening at the beach and swore on Grand Sweets snacks. Karthik loved Carnatic music while Soumya preferred peppy numbers. Their conversation stopped as they saw Sneha reappear. Time to go down and meet the parents.
More conversation and coffee followed downstairs. No one asked them blatantly whether they liked each other. No. That was not the protocol. They said goodbyes, exchanged mobile numbers and exited.
Karthik met a couple of other girls over the next few days. He kept in touch with Soumya messaging her. His parents had decided that may be he was ready to accept Soumya as his life partner. Karthik was due to leave for US the following week end. Mother was busy grinding masalas, podis and packing his favourite vadams and pickles. He decided to upgrade his wardrobe too picked up some t-shirts, pants and shoes. “ Kesavan says Soumya likes Karthik we can proceed if we want”, Appa said to Karthik as he was busy packing the mountains of luggage. “ Did Soumya say she liked me? I mean is she okay with spending her life with me?” Karthik asked, his eyes twinkling. Appa nodded a yes. “ She likes you she said, it seems you message her “. “ I do message her as she seems sensible. But marriage can wait I am sure. Next time I am here we can discuss it Appa”, Karthik closed the topic in his charming way. “ What do you mean next time? Do we not have any interest in your life? We want you to marry that’s it. Why do you have to deny us this simple joy? “ Appa went on and on. Karthik went about his packing. Amma remained a mute spectator that she always was when Appa took charge.
“Amma you know I cannot decide anything now. Please tell Appa that next time I am here we can do something”, Karthik implored her. “ I will tell him. Don’t worry dear. Carry on with your packing. You do not want to miss out on the goodies I have made for you”, she smiled.
The whole family bundled up into a SUV cab. Karthik’s luggage seemed to have tripled. They needed a bigger vehicle to pile his stuff. Appa remained morose, answering with a mono syllable.
Karthik’s mind kept racing. When would he ever tell his family? When? His courage always seemed to fail him. He could no longer lead a double life. His mobile screen flashed. there was a message from Soumya.” Don’t worry Karthik. All is well. Wish you every happiness. And I am happy that you trust me”. Karthik smiled seeing the message. Yes Soumya would be there for him no matter what happened. She was sensitive and she would be his sounding board he decided. “ Thanks I need it badly”, Karthik texted back.
Through the flight back home. Yes US was home for him, Karthik knew that very well. He would go back to his family once in a while but this was home. He loved his independence, the time it gave him, the luxuries it had and not to forget his love. “ Hey Karthik! Hell I missed you yaar!” Ali’s voice came from among the people who had come to receive their loved ones. “ Me too Ali! So much “ Karthik choked. His love, his life Ali was here with so much of love and care what more could he want. He had come home. Yes this was his homecoming and he knew it.
Elsewhere in Matunga Raghavendra Temple, two women met, one elderly lady looking radiant in a silk cotton maroon sari and the other- a young woman in a pair of leggings and ethnic kurti. “ Aunty, no worries we are both with Karthik and am sure others will join us too.” Soumya smiled. Amma just nodded her head. The devils people created were in their own minds. There was no need to malign someone due to some very private aspect of his or her life. These devils would have to be fought alone. Alone. The temple bell rang and the noise startled a group of pigeons who just took flight into the blue sky spreading their wings.