"Get up, we have to rush," urged Manjunath to his wife. They had to catch a bus to Tirupati where they wanted to ask for a son. Silpa was already pregnant for six months, so if they delayed this prayer trip to Tirupati, she might eventually have another daughter. Manju was obviously concerned. Being an autorickshaw driver, you didn't want daughters in Karnataka. Anywhere in India, he consoled himself. "Get up, like now!!"
Silpa was in this blissful state of having had a complete sleep with no hurry to wake up. She had asked for two days off from all the houses she worked in. And today was a paid leave for her and she wanted to enjoy it by waking up late.
"I don't want to go."
Manju pretended not to hear her. He always felt lucky to have found Silpa. She was beautiful, with big eyes and a round face. Her skin glowed like those foreign chocolates the babu's kids eat all day. And she had the best smile. It wasn't sensuous or inviting, but very charming. A little beguiling too because Manju couldn't make out if she genuinely liked him or if it was just an innocent smile. He was always in love with her, so couldn't believe his luck when finally their alliance was arranged by the families. So he pampered her. Dropped her to the colony every morning in his autorickshaw and waited till she and her shadows got engulfed by the huge buildings. Every day he waited for a few more minutes, wishing for her to come out and smile at him again, but she never came out. But that wait had become habitual.
"I said, I don't want to go."
"Come on, just get up and drink some tea, and we can catch the bus."
Their only daughter was with Silpa's mom for a few days and their mornings were usually free. Her mom sent little Usha to school everyday and the next one should ideally be a son, they all thought. Silpa, somehow, never talked about her preference. Manjunath had a sinking feeling that Silpa probably wants a daughter again, but he was too afraid to ask. After all, they had gone to the local temple and asked for a son and now it was time to please Lord Venkateswara. He didn't want to miss the bus today.
"I think I've already seen god, so I don't wanna go." Silpa was feeling the baby in her bump and fondling her. She knew it would be a daughter. And she had lost trust in day trips to Tirupati in the heat. The buses were crowded, the journey tiring, and the queues horribly long. That wasn't what she expected from a visit to god. And what do they say about Him being omnipresent? No, she doesn't want to go.
"I have already seen him."
"What are you talking about?" Manju was getting impatient and now she was talking nonsense. From the time she started working at the house of those North Indians, she's come back with a lot of strange stuff. They are Hindus but don't have any temple inside their house. The lady of the house smokes. And although they had given them an interest-free loan of Rs 5000 and also paid her a lot more than the other people in the colony, Manju didn't quite like them. And now she comes up with this new story.
"Guess what happened yesterday? These guys bought me a new tea mug."
"So what's the big deal in that? We are getting late for the bus, let's please go now?"
"No, no, listen to me first. Guess what happened after that. A new tea mug isn't what am talking about. They kept the mug in the same rack where they keep theirs. Can you believe it?"
For a moment Manju was not sure of what she talked about, but then it dawned on him. She kept talking about how she's treated in most of the houses: she has to keep their footwear in the shoe rack; her tea cup in most households would be a chipped or old one, kept on the window sill; one day an Oriya lady threatened to not let her into the colony for being late by thirty minutes...there were many such stories that the other girls glossed over. They had thickened their sensitivities and carried on. These rich bastards will die of plague one day...was a collective hope among her people. But Silpa didn't like to be treated like the others. She felt bad every time one of her employers raised her voice. Tears would well in her eyes and Manju would have to make do with no dinner those nights. Manju knew what she was talking about.
"They kept your mug with theirs? Are you kidding me?"
"No, when I washed my mug yesterday and kept it on the window sill, sir came and kept it along with theirs, saying 'Silpa, why can't you keep your mug where we keep the other mugs?'
"I don't know Manju, but I could have cried there. You don't know what it means to me."
Manju was silent for a long time. He came and sat on the bed next to her. He had tears in his eyes too. So what if the madam smokes, they are not like the others at all. They acknowledged and smiled at him every time they met him on the roads, they treated them like human beings. He kept sitting there for a long time and heard Silpa say that if there's god, He has to come in human form. And that she has seen him already.
Tirupati didn't happen that day. They enjoyed their weekend, driving to Bannerghatta National Park in his auto. Just the two of them. It was bliss, and forgive me Lord for I enjoyed my time in Bangalore, thought Manju. The next day, Silpa came out a few seconds after entering the building and gave him a smile. It was like falling in love all over again. Maybe she is right about god and his human avatars…Manju thought as he said a silent prayer for the North Indian employers of Silpa.
Arka got Campari from Sri Lanka for us. "I didn't notice the 'bitter' part on the label when I picked it up from the duty-free," he quipped. The sun was setting and we were out on the balcony, savoring the last rays.
"How about some tea? I make a fine Darj brew. Wanna try it?" he offered.
"Awesome...I don't mind the guest making himself useful, but remember not to pick up the green mug."
"Which one, this green one with the flower on it? What's wrong with that?"
"Oh that belongs to our maid. We are a politically correct household, sir, can't you see?"
"Ahha, impressive! That must work wonders, huh? The one with the bump? She's hot, man...I hope the child ain't yours?" Arka laughed even as he suggested it.
"Lower your voice, bugger, Niharika will be here any minute."
It was a good joke that led to another and yet another. Evenings, as I always noticed, have this distinct advantage over days when it comes to turning memorable.