Saturday, December 24, 2011

[Anbu Kathegalu] On the way home

Anbu opened the window, as Malvika watched on worriedly. They are on their way to Honnavara, Anbu's hometown. Malvika is new to this part of the country. She's going to spend a few days of her end-semester vacations at Anbu's place. The bus has halted somewhere near Sagara, for an early-morning tea/toilet break. It's freezing cold outside, especially by Malvika's standards, as it has always been towards the end of December, in this part of Karnataka. The cold air, that suddenly hit their faces, as the window was opened, literally sent chills down Malvika's spine. She got goose-bumps. On the other hand, the cold air gave Anbu a warm feeling. She's a child of this chilled air, after all, that envelops the gorgeous Western Ghats. She's feeling home already. She got goose-bumps, too, albeit for a different reason.

The fog outside is pretty thick, and hence the bus-driver has decided to extend what was supposed to be a ten-minute break. Malvika forced Anbu to close the window. But, she realized, yet again, how tough it is to be Anbu's friend. Anbu forced her to go out to have tea. Opposites, pretty much, are these two. A very stubborn and impulsive character, Anbu is known to be, in contrast to Malvika, who is quite balanced and well-composed, in general.

The tea there is made out of locally grown tea leaves, Anbu informed Malvika. Malvika thoroughly enjoyed the steaming hot, and what she thought was the best she ever had, tea, while Anbu had to have a barely warm cup of tea, as she was busy telling Malvika what the most interesting things about her homeland are, which she can look forward to.

As they got engrossed in the moment, sitting on the swaying wooden bench at the tea-stall, enjoying the beauty of the fog-filled, lush-green surroundings, the lingering taste and the refreshing odour of the tea, the final bit of warmth left in the tea-cups, and a conversation about wonderful things, a small kid, who looked like he could barely push through the thick fog, walked up to them, asking them if they would want to buy a newspaper. Anbu never reads newspapers. Malvika, though, checked what newspapers he's selling. The kid smiled, until she told him she's looking for an English newspaper, which he does not have. Malvika cannot read Kannada. The kid soon disappeared into thick fog again.

The driver got back into the bus. He started the engine and honked, signalling the passengers to get back on. All the passengers got into the bus soon, except Anbu and Malvika. Finally, they too, quite reluctantly, made a move. They returned the tea cups to the vendor. "Yeshtu amma?", enquired Anbu. Eight rupees, she was told. Anbu gave her the three two-rupee coins and two one-rupee coins she had with her. As they turned to walk towards the bus, Anbu spotted a jack-fruit vendor close by there, faintly visible through the fog. The driver started moving the bus, slowly, to bring it on to the main road. Anbu ran across to the jack-fruit vendor. She found out that its the kuzha type of jack-fruit - her favourite. After some keen examination, she chose pieces worth twenty-rupees. They made the bus wait for ten-minutes already, and the driver's fuming for that. Malvika briskly pulled out the required change and paid the vendor, and, with that, they ran out of coins and notes of denomination less than hundred, she thought. They quickly ran across, got into the bus, and occupied their seats. Within a moment, Anbu opened the window again, to have another glance at the lovely place, before leaving.

The kid, the one who was selling newspapers, is back there. He is standing at the tea-stall, looking for someone. As soon as he spotted Anbu, she understood whom he is looking for - herself! He ran upto their window. "Madam! Engliss Pyapaar!", he shouted across to them, and even before they realized, he rolled the newspaper and threw it into the window of the moving bus. "Driver anna! Ondu nimisha", he screamed across to the driver. It shocked Malvika, that that kid could shout so loud. The driver looked back at them, and his expression read "what now?".

"3 rupees madam" the kid said, and started wiping the sweat on his forehead. Yes, he's sweating in that weather. He had to do a bit of running to get the engliss pyapaar for them. Anbu understood that. She also observed that the kid considered the job done. He counted the three rupees in his earnings for the day. He's not even looking at Anbu and Malvika anymore. He's looking around, for more buyers. His mind's thinking of the next task already.

"Change ..", Malvika began to signal to the kid, that they don't have change, and held the newspaper out of the window. By then, Anbu already pulled out three rupees from her coin collection, which she is carrying with her, to deposit in the bigger repository she has back home. These are special currency coins released in India, commemorating various special occasions. Anbu has had a hobby of collecting those, right since her childhood. And, Malvika knows how serious she is about it. During their initial days at hostel, there were occasions when both of them ran out of money, and Anbu went to sleep hungry, and, even worse, made Malvika do that too, when she could have used a few of those coins to buy some food. Since then, Malvika has stopped considering those coins as usable currency. Hence, what Anbu has just done, came as a big surprise to her. Those coins were too valuable for her, to buy something else using them, she thought. But, for Anbu, those three one-rupee coins had never been as valuable when she had them with her, as they have become once she gave them away to that kid. She felt quite good about that.

Malvika began to wonder if Anbu has changed a bit in a semester's time. Three and half years of hostel-life ahead. Seven home-coming occasions. Malvika has begun to look forward to those, already. The bus whizzed past the little kid. Malvika couldn't get a final glimpse she wished to get, of him. She then looked at Anbu. Anbu, too, looked at Mavika, and smiled, very faintly, but with her eyes lit up. She couldn't make eye contact with her anymore, at that moment. She rested her head on Malvika's shoulder, holding her hand tight. Malvika let the window be open. And, their journey continued.