Someone pressed the calling bell- ting, tong.
“Who might it be?”, asked my guest.
It was a kind of automated response and he seemed to have forgotten the question the moment after he asked it as he turned his gaze towards the wall painting. May be my taciturn guest had nothing better to speak at that moment.
“It must be the bhajiwali’s husband”, I said gleefully.
My guest seemed to be really interested in the visitor now.
“No body knows his name. There is no need to. He is just a side kick at the Bhajiwali’s shop. But he is a presence, a presence not to be ignored. A presence that has utility. So every one calls him the bhajiwali’s husband.”
“But he has come so soon. It is hardly ten minutes back that you ordered the snacks. Better than the Pizza guys”.
My guest burst into short bouts of laughter, stopping abruptly as if to take stock of the situation and ponder why no one could get at his humour.
The bhajiwali’s husband does not have a name. He may have one, but nobody seems interested to know it.
My guest has a name. He is Raj, my lost and found classmate. We used to be classmates in primary school. Thanks to Facebook, I found him after 24 years and also found that we have been living in the vicinity of ten kilometers for the last five years.
My wife opened the door, settled the payment and after a cursory check of the items inside the packing, shut the door.
After snacks and tea, I suggested to Raj, “ Why not go out for a stroll, leaving the ladies to spin their gossip and the children to settle their tab war.”
“Yes, why not for the old days sake.”
Raj’s house was five blocks away and after school it was our habit to go out for a walk. I do not remember Raj ever playing those childhood games. Most of the time, he would be absorbed in his thoughts. Of course, I never figured out what he was thinking about. During our walks together, he would hardly talk. It is I who would be doing the talking knowing fully well that Raj was nodding his head without being interested in what I was saying.
As soon as we landed on to the street in front my house, we heard loud noises coming from the end of the street.
“That must be from the bhajiwali’s theatre”, I remarked.
“Bhajiwali’s theatre?”, Raj was surprised, But you told she has a shop.
“Oh! Don’t take it so literally. Sometimes, in the evening, it turns into a theatre. Come, we will go there.”
It was a small shop at the end of the street that touched the road surrounding the boundary wall of a temple. There was a grocery shop to one side and in front, there was a liquor shop. Half of her customers were drunk. While two drunks were shouting at each other, the bhajiwali was shouting at them to keep quiet or go away. There were a dozen other customers who were oblivious of the chaos around, may be being used to such spectacles on a daily basis.
The bhajiwali continued with her multitasking activities, putting pakoda in hot oil, settling a customer’s bill, making small balls of mashed potato, while all the time shouting at the drunk customers to behave or at the other shop boy to go and ask the requirement of the newest customer. In spite of being small in stature and very ordinary dressed in a sari that seemed to have been salvaged from a dump yard, she held centre stage. Surprisingly, she never shouted at her husband who stood at a distance waiting for her next instruction.
She called him near and told him something very softly in a kind of respectful way. He dashed off again, perhaps on another errand.
After sometime the situation improved. The two drunks fighting had become friendlier, most of the customer demands had been met. She spotted me from behind the boiling oil in the pan and smiled. It was the smile of a young maiden with a tint of a blush. The old stern matron in her was gone.
“How were todays items sir. If you needed anything you could have phoned me.”
“Oh! As usual the items were superb. For today, it was enough. We are just out for a walk.”
Slowly we stepped away and took the bend by the temple wall to another street.
Unlike the walk of our old days, this this time Raj started the conversation, “Surprisingly, the bhajiwali too does not have a name and I have a feeling that her husband is not her type. I mean they are not of same social status. Did you observe, even though he wears simple clothes- just a light shaded ill-fitting pant and a shabby shirt, there is something majestic about him, particularly the way he carries himself around. ”
“I don’t know how far these are true. There are some rumours”.
Raj seemed to be interested to hear word for word of I what I was going to say, as if suddenly and at one stroke to compensate for his display of lack of interest in my talks during our walks in those childhood days.
“Yes, there are rumours. Ok I will tell you what I have heard. It seems, this lady was a temporary housekeeping staff in a bank where this gentleman worked in a good position. The gentleman had some soft corner for this lady and used to help her financially to tide over her family’s financial difficulties. Some say, the gentleman embezzled money. Some say, he was innocent but had to pay the price for the wrongdoings of his boss who escaped without harm . This guy was suspended and was imprisoned for some time. After this incident, his family disowned him. Then, it is this lady who came to his rescue. This incident happened in another city. They moved in to this city as the lady had some contacts through her distant relatives. Together they set up this shop. Nobody knows if they are actually married. Now nobody bothers to know. Nobody is interested to probe further. They seem to be quite a nice couple and the snacks she prepares are hot favourites for many. “
“Yes, now nobody bothers to know. That is the beauty of it”- sighed my friend as if relieved of some heavy burden.