So we were eating our lunch. My namesake and me. Tenth standard lunch break. Underneath a mango tree. Two squirrels and a pesky black crow for company.
I call her with her initials (like the rest of the school) Mini T.A., and she calls me back Mini. We have a daily deal. I get to eat her grandmother’s mango pickles and she gets to pick from whatever edible stuff my mother cooked(haha). The curry is always better on the other side of the tiffin box.
We are the best of friends, giggling over every heart ache and gossip; with a weakness for romantic Malayalam poetry and generally being there for each other.And so we started discussing the latest love affair in our coeducational school.
“ Pah! She is so pretty-how come she fell for him?” I ask, shooing away the crow which turned its head and looked at me with a loud caawwwww.
“ Come on , look at him through her eyes”, advises my wise friend .
“ Through her spectacles?”
“ You are too brutal . Listen, sometimes love happens.”
“ Pah! And half of them end up hanging themselves like that poet friend of Changampuzha’s. The original Ramanan.”
“ Shall I tell you a story? The reason behind your mango pickle?’
“ Huh? What has a pickle got to with love?” I ask taking a delicious bite.
And here is what a mango pickle started, one hot afternoon, some 26 years before.
It was a horrendous evening. The rain lashed around like a raving mad elephant on the loose- trampling over houses and trees, converting roads into streams and rivers. And then suddenly, from a huge house near the road came a woman’s scream. The huge Pala tree, standing in the front of the house had admitted defeat in front of the rain and had let go of its thickest branch. The front portion of the house almost caved in, and there was total darkness.
Inside the house, two inmates were shivering in cold and terror. An old man of around eighty, who was running a high fever and a pretty woman of around eighteen, crying in desperation.Another crackle of thunder and another branch falls with a great sound. The girl screams again, in absolute fright.
Scene changes: We see a handsome young man, around twenty four, walking vigorously, cursing the water and the winds, on the road in front of the house. He sees the Pala branch suffocating the house and wonders at the damage. Then he hears the unmistakable sound of a woman’s scream. Without hesitation he starts running towards the house and with great difficulty manages to find his way inside amidst the rubble.
“ Your mother makes good avial,” says my friend, with a twinkle in the eye.
I could not care less about the avial- which is made of all the left over vegetables in the household.
“ Tell me what happened next,” I am totally her slave now.
He rushes in and finds the tragic scene of the old father burning with fever and the hapless damsel in distress.
“ Do you have jaggery and tulsi? Make some tea for your father”, he orders the girl. She gets up, forced to stop crying in front of the firm voice of the helpful stranger.
So the old man gets his tea, the young man gets a cuppa too and the girl starts crying again.
“ Cannot get a vaidyan(traditional healer) in this rain. Why don’t you just stop crying? As it is the thunder is bad enough,” says the young man, not very sympathetically.
The girl is spirited, she gets the message. She wipes her nose, and gets up.
“ Isn’t there anyone else here?” he asks. The answer becomes obvious as the tears again start threatening the girl’s eyes like the rains.
The school bell rings signaling the end of the afternoon break. I am yet to finish my mango pickle.
“ Come on, History now. Did you do the homework?” asks Mini T.A.
I cajole her with great persuasion for revealing the remaining story. But that stubborn girl keeps grinning throughout the history class. ChandraGupta Maurya simply doesn’t interest me. Neither does Chanakya, who was usually my hero.
“ Describe in your own words, the cultural glory of the Mauryan empire. Take out your rough notes..,” says the teacher.
“Then what?” I whisper anxiously.
“ Then ChandraGupta built a glorious empire,” giggles my horrid friend, enjoying my agony.
“ Shadddup, pleaaase..that love story..”
“ You see, in short words, that is how my great grandfather met my great grandmother. He stayed the night looking after the old man and got a doctor the next day. Then he came back on the third day and asked the hand of the pretty girl in marriage.Then he got a shock.”
“ Hey, you two-what is there to laugh over in the Mauryan regime? ” The teacher queries with a raised eyebrow.
We glare unanimously at the spoil sport teacher. What did he know-when life and death were battling it out for love?
“ He got to know that she was a widow,” whispers my friend.
The history class ends. My rough note has the silhouette of a pretty couple instead of a short note.
My friend’s note book has two lines-none too coherent either.
“ In that era, widow remarriage was totally taboo. But my great grandfather stood firm. For him, only one woman-the pretty woman in the half demolished house. Of course, he married her in the end. And their daughter, my grand ma, has prepared your favourite pickle,” she says.
I feel tears pricking at the back of my eyes.
“ Can you show me your copy?” asks a girl from the front row. She wears glasses and is very pretty. A boy whistles from across the class. This was the original Romeo Juliet pair whom I had been mocking earlier in the day.
“ Sure- but, can I borrow your glasses for a moment?’ I ask with great humility, ” I just want to take a look around.”