The night was cold and dry, and the only noise was that of the chilly January wind skidding past the narrow space between the building walls lit by sepia coloured lamps. The round moon was intently looking below as if it were searching for some place to sit and rest its back. The monotonous noise of the large wall clock matched the rhythm of Venu and Prabha’s rising and falling breath.
“Damn it! Not again” it was Prabha who got up first. “Uhh…what?” Venu was not sure whether he heard Prabha’s voice in real or in a dream. The noise of a few street dogs matched the noise, in intensity and pitch, which had effected the sharp reaction from Prabha, and not for the first time.
“Everyday! Every single day. Day and Night! 5 o’clock in morning, at noon, in the damned afternoon, in the evening and always in this bloody hour of the bloody night!” Prabha was almost screaming.
“You haven’t yet got used to it?” Venu wanted to get back to his sleep as soon as possible.
“There is some problem. I tell you. There is some serious problem with these bloody neighbours.” Prabha was wide awake and she put the home lights on.
“Ignore it Prabha. There must be some problem, but it is not our problem” Venu pulled the bed sheet over his face.
“Ignore!! That’s your operative word right. Ignore the dirt on the floor, ignore the stench from the bathroom, ignore the dust all over the house, ignore the leaking geyser, ignore the running out of water and now ignore this bloody noise. Venu, what else should I ignore?” Prabha was unrelenting.
“There must be some problem with them as you say. I wonder though what it could be.” Venu had mastered the art of ignoring as Prabha said and diverting the topic which she wasn’t aware at this moment.
“Yeah! This bloody noise of the washing machine is not driving me crazy as much as the failure to figure out why would they do that all the time. Also, there would be only a few clothes hung out for drying all the time. If there are so many clothes washed everyday, where do they go. Isn’t that strange?”
“They must be hanging them somewhere else”
“This is their only balcony Venu; and people usually do not have a rope inside their house to dry their clothes as we or rather you do!”
Venu wanted to reply that that was only for monsoon, but he gave up, hoping to get back to sleep.
“I think they murder people and wash the stains of blood off their clothes! That’s it Venu”
‘Oh, come on Prabha, get some sleep. Lack of it is not helping you at all.”
“Venu, maybe they have a butcher shop then. That explains the strange smell. I just want to get out of this place Venu. I can’t stay here any more.”
“Not again Prabha. Not that ‘I can’t stay here any more’drama. They are neither butchers nor murderers. They just have the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Just like you. That should explain it better than anything else and you should understand it better than most people.”
“May be he runs a laundry business!” “May be, you should sleep Prabha.”
She didn’t. Rather, she sat upright on the bed and opened her laptop to start a house search over the internet.
his was her way of self-assuring that something was done about the house search, someone was doing something about it, though she knew well that Venu was not that ‘someone’.
Hopeless, Venu soon moved on to the plot of his next short story while trying to sleep and next thing he knew after a few hours, was a telephone call from his uncle in Mangalore. “Can you come to Mangalore for a while Venu?” Venu’s uncle’s tone was trembling. There was fear and hopelessness mingled. “What happened uncle?”
“Your aunty has cancer, it’s preliminary stage but we need to start the treatment soon”
“Uncle, what’s the point of me coming to Mangalore. You book your tickets and come over to Delhi. We will arrange for treatment here.”
“But, we don’t want to bother you and Prabha, Venu. It will be a lot of trouble for you guys.”
“Uncle. At least, lets get check-up and operation at Delhi first, treatment can continue later at Mangalore”
“Venu, you speak to Prabha then and I will call at night” “Uncle, whats there to talk, you book your tickets”
“I will call at night son”
Prabha was up, though still on bed. “Who was that?”
“Uncle, from Mangalore. Aunty is diagnosed with cancer. I have asked them to book tickets and come over to our place.”
“For how long?”
“I don’t know. How can one know for how long? It depends on…Well. I am getting late to work. Can you make some filter coffee. Make it strong please”
“I can’t do anything now. I haven’t slept all night” “You and your obsession with the Washing Machine” “They operated it again Venu, around 4AM!”
“ I don’t want to know, I don’t care.”
Venu got up to make his coffee and put opened his laptop to play Vishnusaharshranamam by M.S.Subhalaxmi. Prabha was back in the bed, but not sleeping, she was clearly thinking about something. Venu knew what was she thinking about.
‘I don’t want to talk about uncle and aunty at the moment. I have a presentation for a new project today and want to focus on that’ Venu thundered before Prabha could say anything.
‘But..I wasn’t going to. Why do you always assume’
‘I know rather well whats cooking in your mind’
‘Don’t assume please!’
The conversation ended there. Venu was thinking about Prabha’s words and her reaction for on his way to work. They had not had an easy start to their arranged marriage. Nothing is arranged by the parents other than the marriage event. The girl is not arranged as per the boy, the boy is not arranged as per the girl. The home is not arranged as per the girl, if she moves in to the boy’s existing home. The home is not arranged to accommodate the girl. The bathroom is not arranged as per a woman, the kitchen is not arranged to handle a
manager-cum-cook (assuming there was no or maid cooking) and the living room is not arranged to be pink or purple. The TV is not arranged to have only sports and news channels, the shoe rack is not arranged to have few more racks, the bed is not arranged to be disarrayed. The books are used to lying around wherever they are, they are not arranged on the bookshelf all the time. The car is not arranged to have a tissue box and so on. Actually, the girl is not arranged or ready to become a wife and the boy not arranged to become a husband.
‘Why can’t Uncle start Aunty’s treatment first at Mangalore?’ Prabha got to Venu, while he was taking off his shoes on his return from work.
‘Because, he is almost illiterate and Mangalore is not the best place to undertake cancer treatment right?’ Venu’s tone was bordering on irritation.
‘When is he planning to come?’
‘The earliest available train ticket was at least after a fortnight.’
‘Why did you not book them in flight?’
‘They have never travelled in air.’
‘They’ll manage. Else, we can coach them to ask for wheelchair assistance. Don’t hesitate, you never know how late it already is’ Prabha took out some snacks for Venu and went inside the washroom and put her washing machine on.
Venu kept looking at Prabha while she continued her dusting and cleaning of the house. Venu called up his uncle in the night and informed them of the flight and instructed them about asking for wheel chair assistance. Aunty agreed only after Prabha spoke to her and assured it will be all okay and Venu will be there to pick them up. Venu went to sleep
thankful and happy about his marriage and Prabha. He remembered telling one of his close school friend that his marriage is a roller coaster. The highs and lows are both essential to make the ride a different experience from a flat ride on a conveyor belt. Each was required to understand the important of the other – the opposite. Even, Prabha teased him often
‘Imagine having a wife just like you. What would be there to discuss, debate and fight. At least, I make your life interesting’
Venu would give a wry smile in return. He looked a Prabha and caressed her hair. She shrugged him off even in her sleep. Uncle and aunty were received by Prabha and Venu at the airport. They got an appointment in a reputed hospital with a good doctor.
The cancer was in the initial stages and required a small operation to remove the harmful cells. Venu was the one who stayed in front of the Operation Theatre, uncle was too perturbed to take any decisions.
He said in a matter of factly manner, ’Whats the point of me being there? Anyways, whatever decision you take will be the right one’
Venu never felt so responsible for a life in the twenty eight years of his life. He waited outside the Operation theatre silently taking deep breaths. He always did that when he was under pressure and needed all his faculties
performing to their best. He remembered his mother. There were many like him. Sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, uncles, husbands, wives who were waiting with him. They were rather all praying. There were images of Guru Nanak, Krishna, Jesus Christ and words of Koran. There were candles and lamps lit in front of these images and people were sitting in front of
them. It was hard to tell who was praying to whom. Many people were pacing up and down the room. Venu sat down in corner with crossed legs and waited for any update from the nursing staff who would come once in a while saying the patients name. Invariably, everyone in the room would be silent, even the footsteps would stop and wait for someone respond to the call. Venu had a detailed chat with the doctor the next morning explaining what was the operation about and what was done. Aunty was discharged that evening.
Uncle and Aunty stayed back for a week more, the doctor advised to check for malignancy after three-four months. They both went back happy and assured that the treatment has started in the right direction. Both blessed
Venu and Prabha from their hearts and made Prabha promise that they will visit Mangalore soon.
While, Venu was returning from the airport after dropping Uncle and Aunty and repeating the instructions about getting wheelchair assistance, he thought about Prabha. She was not only astute in her role of managing the household and providing required support to Venu, she was a source of emotional strength to Aunty who never had a son or daughter. Prabha had managed this well he thought while climbing up the stairs. A familiar sound greeted him – the whirring sound of the washing machine. He could not hide his smile, neither did Prabha miss it.
‘Won’t I wash all the bed sheets and table clothes now. They have been in use for more that 2 weeks now. Also, your soiled clothes have piled up. Why this smirk?’
‘Nothing. I am going to do some work from home. Can’t drive to work now.’
Prabha wasn’t listening.
Venu had the company of the noise of washing machines, of the ‘noiseless’ AC, of two housewives fighting from their balconies, of honking cars and bikes. Venu had to change places many times during all this, Prabha was cleaning and tidying up the entire house. The ordeal ended late in the evening.
‘All Done! Aren’t we going anywhere out for dinner tonight?’ there was a smile on Prabha’s face while asking this question to Venu who was still buried in his laptop.
‘Hmm. Why not! Where do you want to go?’
‘Let’s go to the mall, we can do some shopping and then have a nice Italian dinner. I am tired of sambar-rice now.’
‘Sure. Get ready’
Both of them had some time to each other after two weeks and they bought a few essential and a few not-so-essential things from the mall. Prabha was visibly happy and choose the place to have dinner. It was an Italian cafe.
‘You will certainly like to have Pizza but can we have a little pasta before that?’ Prabha put down the menu with the look of someone who has taken an important decision in life.
‘Would that not be too much for both of us, Pizza and Pasta? Lets’ order any one’
‘Pasta, if you like that’
‘No, order a Pizza’
‘I am not that keen, I am okay with Pasta’
‘Don’t blame me later then.’
‘When did I …okay, let’s go for both. I am really hungry’ They placed the order and were sipping their drinks
while couple of almost the same age as theirs came and sat next to them. Like Prabha and Venu, they were also recently married. They too discussed the menu and after few rounds of agreements and disagreements decided on coffee and pesto sandwich. There was the usual exchange of glances between the two couples – one of the checking out the other and upon meeting of eyes, looking elsewhere or trying to look lost or quickly getting back to the smartphone as a refuge.
The other couple’s order came first and they got on to it in a jiffy. Prabha was about to throw her arms in the air while the waiter swung past couple of tables and got them their pizza and pasta.
Both of them were from BPO industry and were working in Gurgaon. They commuted to work by cabs and faced heavy traffic at least one-way. They were unhappy about their work, complaining about their bosses, comparing salary hikes, planning vacations, calculating leaves, making weekend plans and discussing family matter. In between, they would check out their smartphones, make a face, smile, look at each other,
look at Prabha and Venu, look at other tables, check out a boring cricket match between Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, tear off their sandwich and sip their coffee. Prabha and Venu were too hungry to have any conversation of their own, also, due to the proximity of tables everything the other couple discussed was audible to them and they were happily listening to their talk while finishing their meal. Venu would eat the only way he knew when he was really hungry and food was right in front of him. Prabha gave him a look and shook her head a few times she saw one or two penne drop out of the spoon on to the table mat while Venu was trying to put it into his mouth or the mustard sauce or oregano missed its target while Venu was trying to put some on his pizza slice; Venu reacted in the middle of munching by a look that said ‘its not our home, its a bloody restaurant, table mats are meant to be soiled.’
The couple had finished their food completely: the girl was filling out the feedback form and the guy was waiting for the cheque. The girl was faster in deciding on the ‘levels of satisfaction’ and filling them out. She placed the form on the table and waited for the waiter to collect it back. The cheque had still not arrived for some reason. Meanwhile Prabha was struggling to finish the last slices of Pizza and Venu was struggling with the last few portions of the penne pasta. Someone opened the door next to which all of them were sitting to allow another couple to get in and a gush of wind made the filled up feedback form slip from the table onto beneath the chair on which Venu was sitting.
Venu, as chivalry would demand, bent down and picked up the form and placed it back on the mat. He could not help notice one thing on the form as it had something very familiar
– the address. They were also living in South Delhi, Malviya Nagar, Khirki Extension and the same block. Venu tried to convey this to Prabha in their mother tongue. He could not
make out whether Prabha was happy, upset or simply indifferent to this revelation.
Their cheque finally arrived and the waiter asked
‘Cash or Card Sir’
The boy gave out his credit card replying in a surprised voice
‘Who carries so much cash these days’
The waiter took the card and went back to complete the transaction. The guy looked up at the TV to check back the score. Venue followed suit out of academic interest. A wicket might have fallen at that time, there were a few ads featuring Indian players – one for a bike followed by one for an
inverter and finally one where the cricketer takes off his dirty and soiled shirt and puts it into a washing machine. Venu could not listen what the ad said as the guy gave out a loud cry at the very moment saying
‘At least not here! Leave us alone you bloody washing machine!’
Prabha and even the wife of the guy were shocked.
‘What happened? You can’t shout like that at a restaurant’ she retorted.
‘I am sorry but the very sight of washing machine got to me. After the incessant whirling of the machine of stupid neighbours today and everyday the last thing I would like to see or hear is a washing machine. God!’
‘That’s okay, but you know how they are and they do it everyday. We have got used to it now. Don’t overreact now. Let’s go home.’
The waiter came back with the card, half-scared, half-guilty as he had only heard the guy’s loud reaction but was not sure why that was for. The guy picked up his card and both of them stood up to leave.
‘ If tonight those buggers are going to operate their washing machine again, I am going to get over to their balcony and kill them. I mean who operates a bloody washing machine every
day….’ his voice faded off as he pushed open the door and went out with his wife following him.
Venu looked up at Prabha with a half-smile, half-smirk. She was shell-shocked and looking at the direction of the door from which the couple exited but a persistent look from Venu managed to draw out a big smile from her. She was trying to say something but she could only manage an even bigger smile and would not stop nodding her head till the waiter came and asked
‘Anything else Sir’
‘Yes. A washing machine please!’
Venu said and both laughed their hearts out.
Indian Literature and poetry from the world over…
Indian Review | Literature and Fiction | Author | Parthajeet Das is a New Delhi based management consultant with deep interest in travel, theatre, reading and writing. He was awarded the National Balshree honour for Creative Writing by the President of India in 1997. His collection of english poems – Silent Horizons was released at India International Centre, New Delhi in 2009. His hindi play ‘Ek Aur Trasadi’ on the Bhopal Gas Tragedy has been performed at many placed in New Delhi.