Balakrishnan Nair hadn’t slept the whole night. It was too normal for him to squander nights sleeplessly. It was not that some imperative thoughts occupied his intellect, which kept the sleep miles away from his eyes. Ever since his elder daughter Divya called two days back, he barely slept. Now, hardly few hours to the morning, he turned yet again to the side of his wife Valsala, in sound sleep, looked longingly and wondered how she did it so naturally.
He looked towards the window, it was still dark. He was sure it wouldn’t be more than 4 in the morning. He focused his torch, which he hid below his pillow, towards the golden Ajantha Wall clock. He had guessed somewhat accurately; just fifteen minutes off his guess.
He rose slowly from the bed; for fear that he could wake his wife. Walking past the kitchen he headed towards the bathroom. He loved the chill when the water touched his bare body. He shivered in the cold, and then wiped his body with the towel. It was his idea of luxury; what else could life provide at this age. He wondered with a contented grin.
It was still cold at 5 am as he opened the front door after a brief struggle. His wife and daughters derided him for fixing so many latches, but in such matters he listened to no one. He plainly smiled over such derides.
It was fairly dark when he stood at the veranda and stared at the gate. His mind raised several queries: when should he leave for the airport, what time he should reach; what special should he provide his son-in-law for lunch. He walked towards the porch and looked at the Maruti Wagon R.
“Can’t pick Manoj in this, I would get a Qualis on hire.’’ He muttered to himself and walked towards the gate to collect the newspaper.
It was at six that Valsala woke. She walked towards the veranda and noticed her husband read the newspaper. She beamed at him.
“You bathed?” She inquired, well aware from his unsullied appearance. He nodded his head to confirm.
He looked at Valsala again and she inferred the reason. She headed for the kitchen to make the morning coffee for him.
At eight, Balakrishnan Nair put on his shirt, white dhoti and leather Sandals and headed for the fish market. Ever since his Son-in-law mentioned his liking for fish; he made sure to treat him with the best he could get from the local market. He knew Pomfret and shrimp were Manoj’s favorite. He hoped that the market would have good fishes.
He walked hurriedly towards the Market, which was few kilometers from his house. He liked to walk, in the mornings. His wife often reprimanded him for his walks, yet he preferred it over the car.
She would say, “ You are not that young man anymore. Don’t stretch yourself. Take the car.”
He would smile at her, and she would nod sarcastically at being un-complied.
He walked past the stall of fishes, till the end. He got himself an idea of the choices on display and returned towards the middle stall, which sold Pomfret.
“How much are Pomfrets for?” he inquired the bidi smoking man, sitting behind the counter and before he could nod his approval, the man started weighing a large fish.
“Take this home. The freshest pomfrets money could buy. Local not foreign”, he bawled at Balakrishnan Nair to make him heard in the cacophony.
“Rs.240 kilo, reduced from 280 of yesterday. Take this home” he shouted, as if reading his customers mind.
Balakrishnan Nair pointed towards two large fishes and the man lifted and weighed them.
“Two and half kilos, enough?”
Balakrishnan Nair nodded in approval.
He pointed towards the shrimps and asked the man to pack a kilo.
Walking back home, he stopped at the fruit stall and bought fruits; Apples, oranges and water melon. He hoped that his son-in-law would like the food. He remembered his wife mention about Biriyani. He turned and walked towards the Chicken stall. He was certain of his wife’s skills at making Chicken Biriyani and had secretly observed his Son-in-law savor it during his last visit. He selected two medium sized broiler chickens and bought a pack of ‘Everest Chicken Biriyani masala’ from the grocery story and walked towards home.
Valsala heard the screeching sound of the gates open, and walked towards the front door to greet her husband. She had forgotten to mention Biriyani Masala and wanted her husband to take the car and return again to the market. She grinned clumsily and collecting it, searched the plastic bag. Finding the masala powder pouch, she grinned again and he returned his smile as if pleased with her consent.
He hurried towards the wash basin, washed his hands, and walked towards the telephone kept next to the dining table. He called the driver for a Qualis.
“huh, I forgot to tell you. Divya had called. She was saying flight is delayed by an hour. Don’t go early and stand at the airport. Go late.” His wife shouted from the kitchen.
He walked towards the Sofa and switched on the TV. He sat holding the newspaper and now and then, looked towards the TV. Election news fascinated him.
He was served breakfast at nine and after hurriedly eating few Dosas, he went to the lawn and watered the plants.
He was dressed by ten in his shirt, white dhoti and leather Sandals and the Qualis arrived at ten minutes past ten.
Balakrishnan Nair sat in the front seat beside the driver and the Qualis sped through the narrow road towards the airport.
Few men, who were dressed like him, waved and he flashed his languid grin as a customary greet. He knew if he stopped, he would be questioned at once, as to where he was headed so hurriedly in the morning. Men were ever inquisitive about each other; it was as if their moral rights to know what happened to their fellow men that they asked their whereabouts. Most men grinned customarily, but they knew his grin came from the heart.
It was only after they crossed two villages that He began to lighten up. The driver signing the mood switched the FM radio on and chirpy voices of women fluttered in the air, like sprayed fragrance from a can of room freshner. The Driver looked at him again and looked back puzzled. He wondered if the old man sitting beside him would like the music; it was hard to guess from his face. Balakrishnan Nair appeared lost in profound thoughts.
He was thinking back a few years, when Divya had telephoned from Bangalore to announce her marriage to Manoj. He had never experienced a shock of such magnitude in his life and for few days he was in and out of despair. It appeared Valsala was the badly hit, but he knew it was his inability to cry in open. He wished he could cry like her so that he could feel better. He remembered how he felt hearing the news of his elder daughter, clandestinely marrying an unknown man. He had never spanked his two daughters, but on that day he felt, he wanted to plant a tight-slap on her face. Now, after four years, he thanked heavens for making her telephone him, and not come face-to-face with him. Hitting his most loved daughter would have been a terrible mistake. He had a faint grin on his face, almost infinitesimal.
Balakrishnan Nair knew life wouldn’t get so unfair to him. He had never hurt anyone in his life, at least knowingly. But that day, he felt as if life was awfully cruel to him. All his life, he had had his first meal only after the morning prayers. It appeared to him that gods were playing a nasty prank on him. He thought of discontinuing his age-old habit, but somehow couldn’t. He smiled again, now a visible grin and looked towards the driver. Driver grinned at him, pleased with his decision to switch-on the radio.
Balakrishnan Nair has had several tender moments with his wife when they planned the wedding of their daughters. They would find a good match for their daughter once she finished her Engineering degree; or so they planned. They had saved since she was born, for the day when they would send her off to a new family. No matter how well he was respected, his daughter’s marriage would be the ultimate appreciation of his social standing.
The news spread like wild fire during high wind. People ridiculed him for his upbringing of daughters. Some said, “Look at that girl, what she has done to her family. She has disgraced her entire family. Now, wonder who they would get to marry their younger one.”
“Don’t worry, she too would find someone. Younger one can’t be far behind the elder” Someone said chuckling.
Their residence resembled an ominous household; they appeared as if they were moaning someone’s death.
The sorrow and gloom lasted for a week, when it was decided that what happened had happened. “What is the point now, accept the bride groom”, it was told.
A small-key function was arranged, at their house, to welcome the bridegroom and a ceremonial reception was planned.
The Bride groom arrived the next day in the morning flight from Bangalore and Balakrishnan Nair sent his younger brother Radhakrishnan, to receive them at the airport.
Soon as the bridegroom arrived; ladies in the family welcomed them with an ‘Arathi’, and flowers and rice were sprinkled over their head, to the amusement of the smiling crowd. Balakrishnan Nair moved ahead to greet his Son-in-law and to his downright astonish, the boy suddenly shocked everyone by his sudden plunge onto Balakrishnan Nair’s feet. Balakrishnan Nair bent himself to catch him and hugged him after lifting him forcefully from his feet. While in a tight embrace, the groom said softly to Balakrishnan Nair’s ears, “Sorry Achchan, There was no other way. Please forgive us and accept me into your family”.
Balakrishnan Nair looked into the eyes of Manoj and passed a joyful grin. Very minute drops of tears formed in his eyes, which went unnoticed between the hurried ceremonies.
The driver looked at him and said, “Sir, If you don’t mind, I would fill some Diesel. It would just take 5 minutes.”
Balakrishnan Nair nodded. They still had ample time before the flight. The qualis took an abrupt left towards a petrol station and came to a halt. He got down from the car and stretched his hands over his head and yawned. All of a sudden, he felt a strange sensation and felt darkness enveloping his vision. Uncontrolled, he fell to the side, on the concrete floor and hit his right elbow hard on the jagged floor. He felt the ground spinning and darkness cover his eyes. He felt he was drifting away, into a profound sleep.
Balakrishnan Nair woke with a sharp pain and looked at the nurse. She was preparing an Injection, felt his vein in the arms and inserted the needle.
He moved his head and found the driver standing next to him, carrying a petrified expression. He smiled at him, to convey his wellness and turned to look at his watch.
“Eleven? The flight would have landed already”, he shouted at the driver and started getting from the bed. A nurse came running and said, “Meet the doctor before you go. He wanted to meet you”.
He was shown the way. He went in and sat on the chair next to the doctor.
“ Balakrishnan Nair? Age 65?” the doctor said, looking through the top of his reader’s glass.
He nodded his head.
The doctor wrote something on a scribbling pad tore the page and passed it to him.
“Your sugar lever is very high. And also the BP, I would like you to admit here for further checkups”.
Balakrishnan Nair looked at the driver, who was standing behind him and said. “Admit? I would come later, Doctor. My daughter is coming today and her flight would have just landed. Let me go now and I would return soon.” he tried to smile at the doctor but cut short after finding an austere expression on the doctors face.
Doctor wrote again and passed the paper towards him.
“Take these tablets and come back in a week’s time. We will have checkups; Control sugar please and no Oil in food. You also have cholesterol.” Doctor continued in his bleak expression.
Balakrishnan Nair hurried towards the door and walked briskly towards the exit door. He signaled the driver to rush, which made the driver run towards the Parked Qualis. The Vehicle sped towards the main road and in the direction of the airport.
It was at twelve that he reached the airport and was informed that the flight had landed at eleven and the passengers departed.
He searched for his mobile phone and found it to be missing. He tried hard to remember if he had carried it, but couldn’t recall.
He looked at the driver and he appeared to mirror his disappointed expression. They drove towards home.
Balakrishnan Nair pushed the gate snappily and it screeched before opening. When the vehicle stopped at the porch, he looked at the driver and frowningly said, “Dare you tell what happened to anyone. It would be the last time you would be called. Do you understand?”
The driver nodded with a terrified look and he got out of the vehicle.
As soon as he stepped onto the veranda, he heard laughter and thunderous banters being exchanged between his wife and Divya, and grinning, he set his foot towards the hall.
“Huh, achchan has come? Nice man you are. We waited for you all this time at the airport and you never came. Manoj and I caught a taxi and came home. Where did you disappear? “Divya squealed in her shrill voice.
Balakrishnan Nair smiled awkwardly and looked at Manoj. He too carried a discontented face.
“acha, next time send a driver. He would come on time. You don’t come to airport, Understand?”
Balakrishnan Nair nodded and walked towards the bathroom.
Once bare, he turned the shower and stood below the cold stream of water splattering all over his body. A sudden burning sensation spread and he noticed several brushes on his elbow and knee. His elbow started bleeding and he washed it, feeling a severe burning pain. The pain brought tears in his eyes and mixed with the water and rolled down his cheeks.
He wondered if he should go to the doctor next week. He grinned gleefully as he heard the loud shouts from the hall.