Malini reached her house as Govindan was leaving.
“Hello, my dear. Enjoying your work?” he smirked.
“Yes, Uncle!”, she said, frowning at his familiarity.
“Please don’t call me ‘Uncle’. I am not that old.”
Before her parents slept that night, her mother asked, “What was Govindan talking to you about? Hope nothing wrong with our finances!”
” He is keen on our Malini though he’s 10 years older!” replied Sethuraman, ” I said we have no marriage plans at present. You know I prefer Balu’s son in London.”
“Govindan is not bad but his father, Kalyan Mama is such a fussy old bore. Malini will be extremely unhappy in the same house as him.”
A few days later, Malini reached home dead tired after a difficult day at work to be greeted with a sullen silence. Her parents were angry. She knew all the signs. “What happened, Amma? What’s upset you?”
“Don’t act over smart! This was delivered by that stupid Padmaraj, Kalyan Mama’s driver. He had the cheek to say, ‘Message from the Big Boss! He asked me to check whether your daughter is here or has run away with someone!’ Appa nearly had a stroke shouting at that wretch. See what you have done for us! ” her mother yelled and stormed out, throwing an envelope at Malini’s face.
She opened the envelope fearing the worst. Inside was a typed letter which Malini read slowly. Kalyan Mama was a rambler.
Let me start, as Julie Andrews sang in “The Sound of Music”, at the very beginning…..
I write to you with a heavy heart as our families have known each other for over 40 years and my sister was married to your uncle. Also, being a Chartered Accountant, my son Govindan advises Sethu on your financial investments and plays chess with him. He is excellent in his work, though you may allege I speak as a proud father. But I am a fair man. He is not as good a chess player as he thinks he is.
I am distressed to hear loose talk in our friends’ and family circles which I should warn you about.
Our driver, Padmaraj narrated an incredible story last week when he took me to the Sabha for a concert. He chats as we drive. I don’t mind as he has all the news of what is going on, which I sorely miss as I can’t go about as much as I would like to. Calling him my “eyes and ears” may be a bit dramatic but I do depend a lot on him. He is a good boy though sometimes impertinent. I shout at him when he calls me, ‘Boss’ and ‘Uncle’ which I dislike intensely.
He asked me, “Sir, has Mr. Sethuraman’s daughter a twin sister or has she run away with some boy?”
“What rubbish!” I replied curtly. “His only daughter Malini has been very devotedly brought up.”
” I know her. She is pucca idli-sambar.This one was more fancy, hi-tech. I tell you, Sir, she was a chilli chicken!!.”
He has no sense of decorum, really! Anyway, since I was a bit free, I asked him what on earth he was talking about. This is what he said….
He was driving Govindan towards Palace Orchards, for a wedding reception or some function one evening. Frankly, I don’t remember. As I grow older these details slip my mind. If you don’t mind my asking, how is your memory? And Sethu’s? Of course he is much younger than me, but be patient if he doesn’t pay attention to what you say. These are the first symptoms of being hard of hearing.
Padmaraj said The Incident happened on MG Road. Their car stopped at a signal. He noticed a girl sitting behind a man on a motorcycle. As their car was just next to them, he swears he is not mistaken.
The girl wore, he says, the tightest top he has ever seen. He called her, if I recollect correctly, a “pataka.” When I said the term was new to me, he explained she was like a fire cracker, going on to describe her as an ” atom bomb.” Young fellows get carried away nowadays! But then times have changed. We had strict values when I was a young man.
She was sitting behind the boy clutching on to him as if she would fall of the bike, even when it was not moving. Apparently, it is now considered fashionable to do this. She was leaning on the boy, whispering in his ear. The boy then, I am told, turned around and ( I am embarrassed to say this but I must) they kissed like Shahrukh Khan and Katrina Kaif in “Jab Thak He Jaan”. Not having seen the movie I am not able to furnish details, which reminds me I must ask Govindan to search this out for me on YouTube.
Imagine this happened in front of thousands of people bang on MG Road in peak hour traffic! Would you believe it? Even when the signal turned green they were gazing at each other, quite oblivious to the world around them. The girl by now had wrapped her arms around his neck (the biker’s, not Padmaraj’s as he was sitting inside the car).
In my time, intimate scenes were confined to the bedroom. The Bard of Avon famously wrote, “All the world’s a stage!” Seeing such brazen behaviour he would have had to say, ‘All the world’s a bedroom!” Haha!
When someone honked angrily, the girl turned to stare at Govindan daring him to say something, instead of hanging her head in shame. Her demeanour asked, ‘What’s your problem? Why are you gaping at me like that?’
Govindan naturally maintained a dignified silence. In our family, we don’t appreciate street brawls. Her brazen manner proved she was one of those modern girls out to ruin the name of their families. Here, she was running wild. (This is said figuratively, she was still sitting on the motorcycle). Obviously, her parents had lost all control over her. She was probably used to such behavior or should I say, mis-behavior judging by her arrogance. To cut a long story short, Padmaraj swears she was your daughter, Malini!!!!!
I asked Govindan but he mumbled it may have looked a bit like her, it was getting dark etc etc. He seemed reluctant to speak about the incident. I had to get it out of him by persistent questioning. I was, as you know, an auditor for over 30 years. We know how to find the truth.
Padmaraj has no such doubts.
” I am 100% sure she was Malini,” he insisted. “Otherwise she is a twin daughter who got separated in early childhood. They are hiding this secret from the world.”
” Knowing Sethu and Kamala so well, I have never heard such nonsense in all my 70 + years,” I scolded him.
I would advice you and Sethu to stay away from the Sabha and the temple for a few weeks. You know how people take pleasure in talking about misfortunes of others. They will ask all kinds of questions. Your best interests are always in my heart, hence this letter. Take it in the right spirit.
Typing this letter has left me exhausted. I have typed a little every day over the last week or so. My neck aches with the effort of sitting at my faithful old Remington, but I have done my duty.
There was a huge row after that. She had never seen her father so angry before. Normally her mother was able to control him but today even she failed. Despite all her explanation and pleas, her parents flatly refused to meet Sean or even talk about him.
They felt worse on realising that everyone in the world seemed to know about their daughter except for them.
This was confirmed when a few days later Sethuraman spotted a former colleague Mrs. Hansen at the local super market. He hurried away but she was too quick. He was trapped. “Hi, Seth, lovely seeing you. How’s retired life treating you? ” she called. He hated her calling him “Seth” suggesting an intimacy that was not there. “Your Mellie and our Sean make a beautiful couple. Sean’s father was my brother-in-law. We will be related soon, Seth.” She giggled. He glared at her controlling his temper with difficulty. Telling her anything would be like making an announcement on national television. He took a deep breath, “Mrs. Hansen, what are you talking about?.”
She nudged him playfully, “Don’t lie to me, naughty boy! At the wedding, I am in the happy position of knowing both families. Sean O’Malley is a sweet boy, a talented musician like his daddy Peter who was good on the piano. He was a senior fitter in the Railways. Highly skilled man too. Pity he died so young. Melanie will do wonders for Sean. His mother tries, poor thing, but tell me Seth how much can a widow do these days to control young blood?”
Sethuraman’s head spun. Had this woman gone mad?
“My daughter is Malini and she doesn’t know any O’Malley!”
“She may not, but your daughter Melanie does,” she replied, hooting with laughter. Other shoppers turned to look at them.
He walked away highly embarrassed, remembering Kalyanaraman’s letter. He was sweating profusely.
That evening Malini got a call from her mother, who rarely called when she was at work.
“Appa collapsed five minutes ago. We are rushing him to the hospital. Luckily, Chinna our neighbour’s son was at home. He has arranged for an ambulance. I will speak to you later!”
“Amma, Amma, what happened? Tell me!”, she wailed.
There was no reply. The call had ended.
Stay tuned for the concluding part of “Malini.Vs. Melanie” which will be published on Tuesday, February 7, 2017