Brothers & Sisters

Arguments. Games. Grappling on the floor. Insults. Secrets. Humour.Tease.Laughs. Scheming against mom n dad. Confidences. Conversations. Shared dreams. Fights.Goofing off…

Doesn’t the mention of your brother or sister bring all of this to mind & more?

My brother & I have a special thing. I mean, wouldn’t you, if you had walked him, when he was but a lil baby & would grab your finger with complete trust ? Or the way he would follow you like a shadow wherever you went & not allow you a single moment alone with your friends? Remember the time during a Raksha Bandhan long ago when he gave you 1 Re as a gift , that too borrowed from dad? Or that time when you & he travelled all by yourselves on the train?

When you recorded songs together & couldn’t stop laughing ? When you could bully him into submission when he was little? And then you couldn’t really risk it anymore once he grew up to be bigger than you ? What about the time you broke the news of your intention to marry a non Tam Brahm, the first in the family to know? The times you shared your excitement about a new book or a movie? When you made up nonsensical stories together? When you simply talked nonsense which only the both of you could understand?

All this & more I share with my brother…. Now that he s been here for an all too brief two weeks , am amazed that its actually been almost ten years since we lived in the same house together. Growing up does have its side effects…

But then it does have its advantages too …as you gradually grow into a relationship based on more than just silly arguments…where you can be friends more than siblings, and where he suddenly  overwhelms  you with his grown up ness . I remember we had a pact in childhood – that no matter what happens or how much time passes or however far away we might be – we will never let anything come between us….I hope!

Today he is done with his student days & about to embark on his career , and I cannot but feel immensely proud of him.  All the best da…. (and remember to keep the dollars flowing in… especially since I have eulogised you in public 🙂 )

I really must thank my parents for having the courage to have a second child even after having me  🙂 Otherwise, I never would have known & shared all the quirky & wonderful memories  I share with him.

Siblings are the best, aren’t they?

Baba Ramdev ya Gabbar Singh?

Baba Ramdev  is holding the country to ransom.

And our weak government , already scarred by the furious popularity  enjoyed by the Anna Hazare fasting campaign across the country, sends top ministers to go haggle with him and to appease his ,well, hunger…?  Sort of like the tales of our mythology where the Gods sent the heavenly apsaras to distract  the penance of the Maharishis … Though by no twist of imagination can Pranab Mukherjee be seen as Urvashi ..!

But seriously, we are a democracy after all .Democracy is …. a Rule of the people?  So a Baba Ramdev can threaten a fast & bring the government to its knees. Anna Hazare can fast & arm twist the government to agree to pass something as dubious as the Lokpal Bill. MNS activists can cause  riots against non Marathis & cause damage to life and property , & pass unscathed. A Shiv Sena student can allege that a certain book contains opinions which are broadly insulting of Bal Thackeray & The Sena, & an institution as old & reputed as Mumbai University promptly bans the book without stopping to see if the claims are verified.

Yes, we are a democracy.

True , it is incorrect to club in the same camp the hooligans in the Sena (both of them) with people like Anna Hazare & Baba Ramdev   – but aren’t they essentially doing the same thing? While one is using its political clout & sheer hooliganism to get away with anything, the other uses the emotional clout it enjoys amongst the vast majority to get the government to agree to its demands. Who is  to decide what is good & what not? Or which method is more acceptable? We are debating the appropriateness of bringing the PMO’s Office & The Judiciary under the Lokpal, but what of these elements who hold the entire  system to ransom with abandon? What of these blackmailers?

So yes, we are a democracy. But do we deserve to be one?

I believe there is a basic  unsaid  premise of a democracy, which is a government of (mature) people, by (mature) people, for (mature) people. You can’t expect the freedom & therefore the responsibility that comes with it, to be appreciated & upheld by people who are, basically, immature. Therefore we have people like our politicians who can’t see an inch beyond their own immediate power & monetary gain, a media which can’t seem to go beyond increasing their TRPs & their circulation figures by simply pandering to whichever news is more juice worthy… and we, the public at large , who just can’t seem to cast away our apathy, mired as we are in our own selfish little worries –rise in prices, kid’s education, new job, child’s wedding  et cetera et cetera.

Baba Ramdev & Anna Hazare are loved & respected by millions of Indians and have the enviable position of being close to ordinary citizens while being in a position of influence. They would do well to engage with the government & the people  in a mature manner to bring about sweeping change.

Mutton Mughlai Dum Biryani

About a year ago, I wrote a post on this blog announcing my intent to catalog recipes that have existed in my family for generations… and like most hopeful outbursts of good intent… I never really did much about it. Yes I did end up noting down a recipe for Vanilla cake… a post that still draws a surprising number of google hits… but that was pretty much it.

However, like good karma… a recipe for Biryani as fabulous as the one I recently managed to lay my hands on is of no value unless it is shared with the world.

You see… the mothers in my family, were exemplary cooks ( just like most mothers in most families I guess). As long as they were around, most of us were happier enjoying the fruits of their labor rather than worry about noting down the ingredients in their various proportions…

Thus, when you come to know that a sister somewhere knows exactly how the family biryani is made… you thank high heavens and give her a call and beseech her to share the recipe…

And share she did…. Thank You So Much Sona Didi !

So here it is… A Mutton Mughlai Dum Biryani made in our traditional north Indian kayastha way…The recipe that follows has been written by Sona Didi ! This biryani is influenced by the two cities our family is deeply connected with.. Lucknow and Allahabad.

Mutton Mughlai Dum Biryani

This biryani is prepared by cooking rice and meat separately till they are nearly done and then finally assembling them in layers before being put on ‘Dum’.

Ingredients for meat:
1 kg Mutton
3/4 medium sized onion, finely chopped;
4 tbsp ginger/garlic paste;
1½ tsp coriander powder;
chilly powder, salt (as per taste);
2 teaspoon garam masala powder;
1 teaspoon whole garam masala (green cardamoms, black cardamoms, black pepper, cinnamon and mace);
3 tablespoon oil

And here is what they look like together… nice !

Ingredients for Rice
1 kg rice (can reduce it to 750 gms also)
Some whole green cardamoms, black pepper, clove and star anise
4 medium sized onion thinly sliced
½ tsp saffron soaked in water or milk with ½ tsp of kewra essence

Method for cooking meat:
Heat oil, splutter whole garam masala, add finely chopped onions, fry them till golden in colour like so…

Now add all the other ingredients , except garam masala powder, along with the meat.
This is what the meat should look like at this point…


Pressure cook it till almost done (this takes about 20 minutes under pressure). After opening the cooker bhuno the it till it is almost dry. In case the meet is fork tender already and you still have a lot of liquid in the curry, fish out the meat pieces and simmer the liquid till most of the water is gone. This is what it should look like…

Method for cooking rice:
Fry thinly sliced onions till they are brown and crispy. Take time while doing so… cooking the onions on low heat makes them very crispy.

Place the fried onions on a paper towel/newspaper ( I used both) to drain the excess oil…


Soak rice for at least ½ an hour (take good quality long grain basmati rice). In a large container boil 2½ ltrs of water with two heaped tsp of salt, few peppercorns, staranise, clove & green cardamom. Add a tablespoon of oil to prevent rice from sticking. When water starts boiling add soaked rice & let it cook till the rice is ¾ th cooked. Strain the rice in a strainer and immediately put cold water over it to stop cooking.

Layering the biryani:
Take a thick bottomed pan smear some ghee, now spread a layer of rice, on top of it put 1/3 part of cooked meat, some fried onions, few drops of soaked saffron with some kewra essence or orange food color diluted with some water and kewra essence, one tbsp of ghee, repeat this process two times.

You do not need too much food color, a few drops in the milk should suffice…

Top layer should be of rice and before closing the lid put some fried onions and few drops of kewra-colour mixture. This is what the layer should look like…

To seal the container you can use atta dough or you can also use aluminum foil. Put the biryani on very low heat and cook it for at least ½ an hour.


Once the biryani has been cooked, open the pot and give it a good stir. Your Biryani is ready !

This recipe makes enough biryani to feed half a dozen people or more…

Thanks to the Helper Monkeys at WordPress :)

So wordpress summarizes the performance of each blog at the end of the year… this is how ashishandradhika.com did this year !

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 5,300 times in 2010. That’s about 13 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 14 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 98 posts. There were 11 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 358kb. That’s about a picture per month.

The busiest day of the year was September 16th with 115 views. The most popular post that day was A few dusty books…. (a story).

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, samvedg.blogspot.com, orkut.co.in, orkut.com, and myprivategarden-sapling.blogspot.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for ashishandradhika, sussegad, candle, ashishradhika.com, and diwali candle.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

A few dusty books…. (a story) September 2010
41 comments and 1 Like on WordPress.com,

2

A job more important….. (a rather short story) September 2010
22 comments and 3 Likes on WordPress.com

3

An ode to my cubicle… March 2010
15 comments

4

About Us ! February 2008
5 comments

5

Imagine… June 2010
12 comments

A Sunflower in a Coriander patch…( A story)

I found my way to the verandah and sat on the footsteps leading into the house. The sun was bright and sunny, the warmth of the sunshine embraced me as I emerged from the shady interiors of our house. Three bedrooms, one kitchen, one hall and a verandah…all wrapped together by a piece of land we called our garden … vegetables planted in the back and flowers grown out front.

Sometimes, Sunflower seedlings would sprout amongst the coriander sprigs at the back…

“They are shy” Amma used to say,” They do not like to be seen by everyone but only the family, if you take good care of them, water them everyday, they will flower soon”

And believing her I would take special care to water the shy ones, the ones who were resplendent in private, whose beauty was known to only those who were allowed to walk over all the way to the back of the house…who managed to get past the hall filled with heavy wooden furniture, the living quarters strewn with rumpled bed sheets and text books covered with brown paper and a kitchen fragrant with spices of a meal in the offing…

A sunflower in a coriander patch… how incongruous, how endearing…

“Can you come back to Kanpur tomorrow? Beta, mummy is not well. Beta, just come”, said my father before breaking down over the phone…
I had to call my uncle to get the sordid details… an internal infection, a high fever, a sudden failure of the body organs, and suddenly, my home seemed so far away from Mumbai….

A frantic search for available flights and a flurry of calls later, I found myself aboard a 3.5 hour long flight back to Kanpur…

How many times have you said goodbye to your mother?

Each day, each morning, she would drop whatever she was doing to see me to the door as I left for school. I waved back too… am sure I did. Or did I? A thousand inconsequential farewells…

And then there was the day I left for my engineering college… my parents dropped me at the college and helped me complete the mountains of paperwork colleges in India demand before you are given a room in a hostel and a roll number for the next 4 years. I was scared as my parents waited for the cab to take them back to the railway station. She turned and gave me a big hug and held me till I squirmed with embarrassment. Her face covered in tears she went away, waving from the window…

I missed my family terribly for the first few months at college, writing long winding letters and making anxious call home each weekend… I cannot really pin-point when was it that I moved on from being home sick to falling in love with my college life.

“Can’t you get a job in Delhi, its closer to Kanpur? Why Mumbai?” She had asked, just once. I was too filled with pride at my newly acquired job to notice the hint of sadness in her question. I packed away my stuff making sure that I carried some of my favorite books along. She helped me clear up my book cases, absent mindedly flipping the pages of some books that she had bought with me together over the years.

They waved as I entered the airport… standing next to our old family car… and I waved goodbye never to look back.

The flight was now circling over Kanpur… I could see the blue crescent of the Yamuna river as it sliced the city into two…

“This is where I come from” I thought to myself, “And this is where they remained”

The cab ride to the hospital was a blur… The entrance to her private room was crowded with friends and family…

“Your father is inside, they just brought her from the ICU” Someone said between hugs and greetings and somber smiles…

I found him sitting by his side. My burly father seemed even larger sitting by her tiny frame. She seemed asleep, and he was talking to her, in a voice so filled with love that I nearly cried. He turned towards me and looked at me with eyes rimmed with tears. My own eyes stung as I bent down to touch his feet, and in a voice not completely my own I said

“Don’t worry Papa, everything will be fine”

We sat by her side through the night… the medical equipment blinked and beeped and her breath rattled in her chest as it strained its way through her tired body. The needles and tubes running in her body, her matted hair against the pillow, and eyes slightly clenched as she slept. In the morning, after a spell of disturbed breathing, she passed away.

The next few days were a blur of ceremonies and rituals… all I remember are snatches of conversations, grieving faces, all of us pouring a blend of ingredients into a holy fire. Amongst all of this, I found myself tearing up each time I saw her picture laden with garlands.

That picture, is now hanging in the hall. Next to the oil painting she painted years ago… facing the window. “This is a good location for hanging my paintings” She used to say, “The sun light makes everything in the picture glow”

I lit up a cigarette and breathed in the smoke, and smiled wryly as I remembered how much she hated my smoking. Well, some things are hard to let go of I guess. I walked all the way round to the back of the house… our vegetable garden needed to be weeded. I could almost see her bent over the rows of plants, using tools improvised with kitchen utensils to hoe the soil, uproot the weeds and trim the dry branches…making space for the fruits to grow… making sure that the fallen leaves, did not hold back the young saplings.

I treaded carefully amongst the rows of plants, trying not to get too much mud on my leather loafers… and then I saw it, nestled amongst the sprigs of coriander, a tiny sunflower seedling.

“What is that?”, I turned to find my six year old nephew standing beside me…

I pointed a finger and said, “That’s a sunflower plant”

“But it does not have any flowers !”

“It will flower if you water them”, I smiled as I stubbed my cigarette..

“Trust me….they always flower. ”

A job more important….. (a rather short story)

“Do you know what I did for a living?”

Papa asked in his somewhat annoyingly pompous way, his eyebrows arched as he peered at me over the rim of his glasses.

“Of course I do Dad ! I mean, what do you mean whether I know what you did for a living”

“No really, do you really know what I did for a living?”

“Oh come on Dad what do you mean?” I snapped..

It had been one of those beastly Mondays at work… the early morning conference call turned out to be useless since most of the key people invited decided not to join in. The mid-day review meeting was a disaster with each of the project parameters being in the red, and the end of the day was capped with an excruciatingly drawn out 2 hour long commute to cover a distance less than 15 kms.

And on top of that, she has not been taking my calls since our argument on Sunday night. I mean I know I was the one who missed out on our date, but what do you do when your boss tells you to deliver something like, Now? But yeah, she does not want to understand. She is hurt, she says, and well, I am not going to call again.

Women…

So I come back to my apartment and joined my father for a drink… hoping for a much needed respite from my day. And he asks me with a drink in hand, if I knew what he did for a living !

“Sheesh Dad, you were a banker. That’s what you did for a living. Everyone and their uncle knows that !”

“Right. So I am sure you remember the award for best employee I was given in 1977 when I was posted at the Jaisalmer branch?” Asked my father, in the still slightly patronizing way I so detested…

“Dad, I was not even born then, how could I remember that?”

“Fair enough… then what about the time when I was so stressed out at work that I was working late nights for a promotion that did not work out so well… this would have been at Aurangabad… you would have been 16 then”

“You seemed to work late nights pretty much all the time Papa, Mama used to make us go to bed even before you returned home on most days”

“Aaah, right. You were asleep most of the times when I came back from work.”

“Do you remember Mr Kapoor, my colleague?”

“Kapoor Uncle? Sure, he worked with you at the Mumbai office”

“You remember how he kept me in the dark about the training at New York and booked a spot for himself?”

“How would I know what happened at your office Dad? In any case these things happened more than a decade ago!”

“And yet you say; that you know what I did for a living”

I remained quiet… not really sure what my father was driving at.

“Am sure you did not know who were the guys I competed with, compared myself with. Or whether I was a good employee, or a bad one at that. Or whether my appraisals were glowing testimonials to my efficiency or the complete opposite of that!”

I shook my head and shrugged…

“When a son does not bother what his father really did at work, do you think anyone else really gives a damn? I see you come home each night consumed by something or the other that happened at work. You compare and contrast and think of nothing else but how dissatisfied you are with your job.”

“I am selling my spirit for money you say !” Exclaimed my father raising his glass.

“Ten years down the line no one will care what you accomplished on the job today… not even you. Do you even remember what your great grandfather did for a living? He was a very successful lawyer just so you know. Do you think that mattered to you ? Ever ?”

“We spend our whole lives building careers that no one really cares for except us. And then we convince ourselves that we do it for others? That our success makes us better for our family, for our kids… Really?”

“I may have been a banker or a politician, but at the end of it you would still not have cared… and we would still be drinking together at the end of a long tiring day”

“Had you been a politician, we would have definitely been drinking better stuff than this rum Dad”

My father smiled as he got up…

“Think about it…Do you need a refill?”

“Sure” I said as I scrambled to get up from the bean bag , “I just need to call someone before that.”

“Work?” He asked me, with that famous arching of the eyebrows again.

“No” I smiled as I dialled her number, “Something more important that”

A few dusty books…. (a story)

HIM

He stopped the car… “ I need to take a break, my back is sore”

“Shall I drive?” She asked…

He shook his head and got out of the car. He stood there looking at the vast expanse of the dusty Sahayadris. The hills seemed barren, devoid of life, vestiges of vegetation burnt by an unforgiving summer sun.

“This place could do with some rain”, he thought, “Something to cool things down a little. Heck, we all could do with something to cool things down a bit”

He got back into the car and revved the ignition as he stared straight down the road. Dive Agar was still a good 2 hours drive away.

He still could not believe that he had agreed to this trip.

It was insane. She had been unusually silent for the last few days. She did not say much anymore anyways. They were both well into their thirties and the marriage had lasted a decade… A house and two kids, great careers… they were living the Indian middle class dream….

Not that the dreams amounted to much these days…

Three days ago she came to him as he watched TV after dinner and said, “ I want to go to Dive Agar this weekend. With you. Just you. We can leave the kids with my parents. If you are ok, I will check at the Prasad Homestay if they have any rooms available.”

“Dive Agar? Prasad Homestay? Are you crazy?” he retorted ,“That place probably closed down years ago. And do you really want to go there? Let’s go to Goa instead, if I am going to drive for half the day I would rather have a beer at the end of it !”

She looked at him, her eyes on the verge of tears, “Please….. lets go.”

He began to say something, but stopped short as he saw the look of longing on her face…

He knew that look… and thought he knew why it had to be Dive Agar…

“Ok, if that’s what you want.” He shrugged as he went back to watching the news.

They had left Bombay early in the morning and headed to Dive Agar. A sleepy coastal town in the Konkan, 6 hours away by road. A silent journey except for the incessant music on the radio…

“How did we come to this?” She thought to herself.

HER

She remembered her wedding, in all of its excruciating detail. Her trousseau, all red and gold and silks… the lavish wedding feasts, his crinkly silk kurta and the moment her hands were placed into his, covered with betel leaves and showered with grains of rice.

She hardly knew him then… even though they had been brought up in pretty much the same neighborhood all their lives. Their fathers had been friends, and decided that marrying off their offspring was the logical thing to do.

They did get a chance to meet before the wedding was finalized. He had arrived at her home with a troop of relatives, who had then left the two of them alone in a room to talk.

She smiled at the memory. The two had sat in silence for ages, before he asked her, “So what else are you interested in?”

“Nothing much” , she had replied, “ What about you?”

“I like reading, and I like writing too, but I have a bad handwriting”

They had both laughed. More with relief at having something to laugh about rather than anything else…

Her father had seemed immensely satisfied when his family called up in the evening to confirm the match. Her mother congratulated her, beaming with pride at the fate that awaited her daughter.

She had gone back to her room trying to understand what she had committed herself to. A fifteen minute chat with a stranger had lead to a commitment for life. Her mother usually spent more time browsing through saris before deciding not to buy any.

Was marriage so easy, so inconsequential, so trivial?

HIM

My father had decided even before we went to her place that the two of us were going to be married. And as usual, my father got what he wanted. I had just started working at Bombay then, my training with the bank had been over but a month ago. The days would rush by filling up inane forms and tallying up numbers, the evenings would leave me wandering alone on the streets of Bombay.. wondering what happened to my dreams of becoming a writer, publishing books and articles and chain-smoking my way through the day. Now my life seemed submerged in processing loan applications and in a two hour commute on the Bombay suburban train…

At least I still had the fucking cigarettes…

And then, my father decided that my mother needed a daughter-in-law. I tried to reason, but my father went into one of his interminable silences… till the time I agreed to get married. And before I knew it, I was set to be married to a girl from my town, a girl I barely knew.

I hated it all. The ostentatious wedding, the unnecessary relatives, the relay race of photographs at the wedding reception. After a whirlwind of a week, I found myself headed to Prasad Lodge at Dive Agar dreading the thought of spending 10 days with a person I barely knew.

HER

It had been a long dusty journey to Dive Agar. His father had loaned us his green Ambassador for the journey. He drove so well. I kept sneaking peeks at him sitting next to him. It took us four hours before the Prasad Lodge came into site. It was a single floored wooden structure. Green coconut palms and betel nut trees huddled around the house in an intimate embrace whispering secrets to the gentle breeze. The wind carried a promise of rains and the evening was punctuated by the low roar of the waves on the nearby seashore.

Prasad Anna, the proprietor showed us to our room. A large airy room with a teak wood bed and a sprawling desk facing a window. The window opened into the orchard outside.

“There is not much to do at Dive Agar”, said Prasad Anna, clearly amused that someone should have chosen to spend their honey moon at his lodge.
“The beach is beautiful but it gets too warm to stay out in the day”, ..”You can go to the Ganesha Temple, but how many times will you go there? Unless you are religious like my neighbor who goes there twice a day I don’t know why !”
“You must tell me in case you are not planning to eat here, otherwise the food will go waste… and be careful in the evening, there may be snakes in the orchard. They don’t come inside usually, but you never know.”

“And yes, If you really don’t find anything to do, take the keys of the library from the chaukidar. He has them. Just be careful with the books please…”

I started to unpack our luggage while he lay back on the bed exhausted. Before I knew it, he was fast asleep.
It was barely lunch time, and I could see the play of lights among the leaves from the window. The orchard looked cool and inviting. I stepped out for a look.

It was so quiet. The birds seemed to be subdued by the afternoon heat and warbled quietly in the shade. The sound of a slumbering sea was ever present.
The grass was cool under my bare feet, a warm fragrance of ripe jackfruit wafted in the air. She walked all around the old building… examining the low verandah that surrounded it. She sat on the steps to the verandah and savored her first true moments alone since the madness of the wedding carried her away.

“Am I selfish to cherish my time alone when I have been married to him for barely a week?” “Or perhaps, getting married had been the easy way out. Everyone is happy about the match. Who knows, we will figure out a way to be happy too”

I walked over to the small door where a wooden plaque stated ‘Library’ rather grandly. The door was open and I stepped inside.

The room was strewn with books. Some on the ground, some on the wooden ledge running along the wall, a few on the chairs and then some piled on to the shelves. The corners of the library were fighting a losing battle with cobwebs and a patina of dust overlay everything. In the center of the room, Prasad Anna sat engrossed in a book, immersed in a languid pool of yellow light underneath a green lamp shade hanging from the ceiling.

She bent down and picked up a book lying next to the doorstep… “Pride and Prejudice”… its cover torn and dusty, the pages falling apart.

“Jane Austen”, Prasad Anna exclaimed as if the two words were answer enough for any questions she might have asked. “ I have all her books, I am just not sure where they are”.

“Are all these books yours?” She asked, somehow a treasure trove of English classic literature seemed incongruous inside a rural Konkan cottage.

“Yes, they are mine.” Said Prasad Anna as he walked over to take the book from her and opened a page and read aloud…

“Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always continue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have their share of vexation; and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life.”

“Funny, Jane Austen might just have been talking to me…” she thought. “ Anna, can I ask you something?”

“Sure”

“Do you mind if I clean up your library a bit? This is such a wonderful collection and it will be a shame if I don’t help you sort them”

Prasad Anna seemed a bit taken aback, and then gradually looked around and said… “Well this place can do with a bit of cleaning up I think… strange, now that you say it, I should have kept it cleaner myself. I really am getting old ! “

“Wait, I will get the brooms” he said as he scampered away.

For the next 2 hours she swept and cleaned the small room. Gathered the books in piles and placed them in the center of the room. She made a list of supplies… brown paper, glue, labels, needles and twine and sent Prasad Anna to the small market to fetch them before the shops closed at sundown.

HIM

He woke up to the sounds of flocks of birds returning to their nests…hundreds of them, chirping noisily as they raced each other back.

“Well all of us have a noisy commute”

She was not in the room. He thought he should go looking for her, but hesitated. “What will we talk about even if I do find her? Accha hai.. at least I have some time to myself finally”

He walked across the orchard to the main house… it was a structure made of brick and wood.

“Not a bad place to retire at… away from the teeming masses of Bombay, just like Prasad Anna”. He knew Prasad Anna had sold off a family business in Bombay before settling down here.
“No family, no liabilities… some people have it all figured out!”

He walked purposefully to the library he knew so well. Having spent hours there during his earlier visits.

The door was ajar and the room inside was dimly lit.

She sat hunched over a book, her legs drawn up on the chair. Wisps of her hair set ablaze by the overhead lamp, a eye brows knit together in utter concentration… she barely noticed as he walked up to her and peered over her shoulder to see what she was reading…

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

“You are reading Pride and Prejudice !” He exclaimed, surprised to find her reading Jane Austen.

“Yes” She said, delighted that he could recognize her favorite book.

“Elizabeth is perhaps my favorite literary character… don’t you think that strong women are so much more interesting to read about? I mean look at Lady Macbeth” He asked

“Look like the innocent flower, But be the serpent under it..” She said with a with a wicked smile.

Prasad Anna walked back to the cottage with bags in hand. He stopped short at the library listening to sounds of laughter and animated conversation.

He smiled to himself, his eyes gazing at a distant memory as he turned back and returned to his room.

THEM

They spent hours together over the next 10 days, browsing through the books. Selecting favorite passages to read aloud, cataloguing the books, lining the shelves with paper. They glued back the torn pages, covered and labeled them. He crafted the labels while she wrote the titles in a cursive hand…
Book by dusty book, the library came together again. The books were arranged simply and neatly, the floors clean, the walls white-washed and the room lit up with new bulbs.

Finally they stood back, and admired their first endeavor together.

On the 11th day, as they were ready to make the long journey back to Bombay, Prasad Anna gave them a bundle of books.
“Your wedding gift… sometimes , the real gifts take a bit of waiting for.

HIM

“Damn these roads !” He exclaimed as he clutched the steering. “Well we are almost there”

The gates came into view rather abruptly as they rounded a bend in the road.

“It still looks just the same!”

The new caretaker came to greet them as he parked his car. Prasad Anna had passed away 3 years ago and his caretaker now had the run of the place.

Their bags were taken to their rooms. And he went to take a shower.

She was gone when he returned to the room. And he had a feeling that he knew where she was.

He found her sitting in the library, her hands in her laps, her eyes glistening with tears. The library was in disrepair, termites covered many books, cobwebs darkened the corners and the glass windows were so covered with soot that they barely let in any light.

Ignored, uncared for, unloved, the library was dying… much like their own marriage.

The books were the same, a bit tattered maybe but they can always be fixed… the room was dirty, but that could always be cleaned up, and then there were the two of us. Could we somehow ‘fix’ us also? Burnish our memories so that they shone again with memories of happier times ? Wash away the tiredness and frustrations of bringing up a brood of kids, managing a career and preserving your own sense of self? Or maybe, just paste a new label on a shining cover and turn the page to embark on a fresh adventure together.

He looked at her again. She was staring straight at him, the tears in her eyes made him wonder how they had fettered it all away. The money was important, so was taking care of family.. the business trips that kept him away for months.. they were important too.

Or were they?

He pick up a book off the floor and dusted it with his handkerchief. He held out the book to her and smiled, “Come on now, we have a job to do…”