‘The Halwa you make, Ram Bharose, sometimes I feel Lord Krishna himself comes down to savor it! It is exceptional every time, and the taste has been the same, for the past 20 years!’ exclaimed Vishnu, as he relished yet another spoonful of the golden yellow halwa from his silver bowl.
‘RB, I lurrvvveeeee your Mathri’s with that pickle, Dude!’ said a voice from behind a thick book, ‘…and your Besan Ladoos, yeah!’
‘RB? What is this RB?’ Vishnu turned toward the book, which was lowered to reveal his daughter Pia’s face.
‘RB is Ram Bharose, Dad. I call him RB, so much cooler! shrugged Pia, and the book covered her face again.
‘RB? What nonsense is this, Pia! RB, er I mean Ram Bharose is close to my age, he is an elder, speak to him respectfully!
‘No problem, Vishnu Bhaiyya. Pia baby is of new generation. Please let her call me what she wishes to.’ smiled Ram Bharose. A thumbs-up sign went up from behind the book.
‘No, Ram Bharose. This will not do. You have such an auspicious name, Ram Bharose – meaning Lord Ram will help. How can she just shorten it to two alphabets? RB?’
‘No, Dad-wad! People of our generation were named after the Gods so that others could invoke the Gods by taking their names on their lips. I wanted to name you Parvati too, but your mother would have none of it!’
‘Dad! Thank God Mom put her foot down! I love my name!’
‘Just as Ram Bharose loves his! What is this RB? I am sure his parents are Lord Ram bhaktas, hence he was named so. And here you are shortening it to some RB!’
‘Ram Bharose, is my khaana (food) ready?’ called out Mataji, as she tapped her silver stick on the floor.
‘Ji haan, Mataji, please have a seat and I’ll fry you hot puris’, Ram Bharose pulled out a chair for Mataji.
‘Don’t forget to give me the halwa too and remember not to give it to Babuji’, said Mataji as she took her place at the dining table.
‘The fragrances coming from the kitchen tell me that Daadi (grandmom) is having vrat ka khaana (fasting food), RB?! Is she? Pia tossed her book aside, unfolded her long legs from under her, and walked to the table, sniffing the air as she did.
‘Yes, Pia Baby. Today is Mataji’s Friday fast, so it is vrat ka khaana.’ beamed Ram Bharose, as he pulled out a chair for Pia. ‘You sit, I will serve Mataji and then serve you, she hasn’t eaten a thing since morning.’ Ram Bharose hurried towards the kitchen.
Very soon the table was laden with dishes looks and smelt tempting. Ram Bharose served Mataji a little of everything on the table, even as he rushed into the kitchen in between, only to emerge with a plateful of puffed-up Puri’s.
‘God, these brown puris defo taste better than they look!’ Pia rolled a piping hot puri and took a big bite. ‘Heaven!’ she exclaimed. ‘RB, why are they brown, btw?’
‘It is Singhade ke aate ki puri. Mataji, what do you say in English?’
Mataji paused her chewing to think, ‘Singhada… singhada…’
‘Never mind, I’ll look it up myself’, said Pia as she began googling on her phone while munching on her puri.
‘Oh, My God! Singhada is Water Chestnut. I didn’t even know Water Chestnut could be turned into flour! It is gluten-free! Perfect for my diet! No wonder I love it so much! You’re the man, RB!’ Pia fist thumped the air.
‘Kya Pia Baby? I didn’t understand’ Ram Bharose looked from Mataji to Pia.
‘Nothing, RB. Just a big thank you! said Pia, as she walked away with a Puri in hand.
‘Thank you for the sumptuous dinner, Ram Bharose. You make fasting worth the while. Please do my pooja ki tayyari for tomorrow, it is Sharad Poonam…’
‘…and the Chawal ki Kheer will be ready, Mataji.’ Smiled Ram Bharose as he helped her get up from the chair.
‘I would not know what I would do without you, Beta. Bhagwan tumhara bhala kare (God Bless You) Mataji put her hand on Ram Bharose’s head as a sign of a blessing.
‘Here he comes, everyone’s fabrit (favorite)!’ smirked Manohar as Ram Bharose walked into the kitchen, his hands laden with dishes.
‘Manohar, please go and clear the table’ he said, setting down the dishes carefully in the sink.
‘Call me Rocky! I have told you before also! My name is Rocky!’ Manohar/Rocky looked at his reflection on the kitchen cabinet and ran his hands through his hair, blowing a kiss at his reflection.
‘Also, please wash your hands, Manohar. You’ve run your hands through your hair again. I have told you so many times, to maintain hygiene in the kitchen’ sighed Ram Bharose.
‘Rocky! My name is Rocky! And stop ordering me like you are the maalik (boss)! You are a servant like me, understand!?’ Manohar wagged a finger at him.
‘I am not the maalik, but I work for them and it is my duty to do my best for them, whether it is in front of them or when they are not around.’
‘Oh, there you go again! Preaching like a teacher! This superior attitude you have, is what makes us all hate you!’
‘Superior? I am just doing my work, and expect you all to do yours too. If that is what gets me hated, I can’t do anything about that’ Ram Bharose shrugged, as he began rinsing the dishes in the sink,
‘Please get the dishes from the table, Mano…Rocky. Sharda will be here to wash them soon.’
‘Manohar!’ bellowed Vishnu Bhaiyya from the living room.
‘Aaya, Bhaiyya!’ replied Manohar.
‘I am going to show this smug bastard! What does he think of himself? Always showing us that we are lower than him’ grumbled Manohar as he walked to the living room.
‘What problem does this boy have with you, Ram Bharose, Bhaiyya? He is against you from the day he joined work.’ Asked Sharda as she walked to the kitchen. ‘I heard him talking so rudely to you.’ she tucked her saree into her waistband and turned on the tap at the sink.
‘Maybe some unfinished business in our past lives, Sharda.’ Said Ram Bharose as he went about his work.
‘Imagine if Mataji comes to know that our Manohar is now Rocky because he has converted!’ laughed Sharda.
‘He has what?’ Ram Bharose turned towards Sharda.
‘Yes, He has shifted loyalties from Jagannath to Jejus’ Sharda laughed at her own joke. ‘He even wanted me to. Covert. Tried to tell me the benefits of following a God who listens. I told him, my God does not listen to me but I will always listen to him only. Bas! He got angry!’
‘Who? God?’ mumbled Ram Bharose.
‘Arre Bhaiyya you are funny! Not God, Manohar, urf Rocky!’ laughed Sharda. ‘Now Imagine if Mataji and Babuji come to know of this. Mataji will use her walking stick well for a change, as it will be Manohar’s back and Mataji’s stick.’ Sharda was laughing so hard, that she had to turn off the tap.
‘But Mataji and Babuji have never been this way, Sharda. They are high caste Brahmins yes, but they love all religions equally,’ said Ram Bharose as he counted out the silverware before stacking them in the drawers.
‘No doubt they are good and they take care of us like we are family, but tell me Ram Bhaiyya have you seen any non-Hindu working for them?’ asked Sharda.
There was a long pause before Ram Bharose said, ‘Now that you mention it, I have not. at least not in the 23 years that I have been here.’
‘See, that is what I mean. They will be comfortable with people of their jaat (caste) only. We all would be. And then this Manohar goes ahead and changes his! What was the need?’ grumbled Sharda as she began rewashing the vessels. ‘There is a great comfort knowing people who are of your kind, that is most important. And even though we work for them, I wash their vessels, you cook their food, others clean their house and drive their cars. They pick and choose people they feel they are similar to.’
‘But how do you know that people are who they are?’ asked Ram Bharose, ‘and what if someone who is not like you is not harming you? How does jaat matter then?’
‘Dekho Bhaiyya, this is your goodness. You are just like Lord Ram, always thinking well of others. Even now you are siding that Manohar, even though he openly hates you.’ Sharda turned off the tap and turned to face Ram Bharose. ‘keeping something from someone who trusts you is still giving dhokha (cheating) to your employees. It is his duty to tell them, and after that they, and even we can see what step they take. Hai ki nahin? (is it not?)’ asked Sharda.
‘Arre, Ram Bharose, I heard your family is coming to the city?’ asked Mataji, her tulsi mala rotating bead by bead through her fingers.
‘Ji, Mataji. They are.’ replied Ram Bharose, standing respectfully next to Mataji.
‘You know in all the years we have known you we have only seen your family through the photos you share. You go to your village once a year and see them. It would be nice to meet them now that they will be living with us.’
‘Nahin, Mataji. They will not be living with us; they will be living with my cousin.’
‘Kyon bhala? (why though?) they are coming to the city for the 1st time. Which is why they should, and will, live here. Bas.’
‘No, Mataji. It is my cousin’s daughter’s engagement. Why should we burden you? let them stay with my cousin and enjoy the family atmosphere.’
‘But Ram Bharose, I want to meet your wife and children. I want to give them gifts and blessings…’
‘Mataji, you have thought of it, that is good enough. My family is typical villagers…’
‘…and this Shehri Babu (city boy) is going to be ashamed of them, Mataji’, Manohar walked in with a cup of Tea for Mataji.
‘Really, Ram Beta? Is that the reason?’ Mataji looked at him.
‘No, Mataji! Yes, Mataji! I mean…’ Ram Bharose stammered.
‘See, I told you, Mataji. He has become too big for his boots! He is ashamed of his family!’ Manohar smirked.
‘Nahin, Manohar. Ram Bharose is not like that. He is a very self-respecting and respectful man. See how well he cares for us? Someone who can care for others will be even more caring towards his family.’
‘Arre, Mataji! I am telling you…’
‘Chup kar ladke! (shut up, boy!) Your mustache hasn’t grown fully yet and here you are teaching me about humans and life, eh?’ Mataji replied as she picked up her tea cup.
‘Mataji! I am all of 23, I am a grown-up man!’ came Manohar’s indignant reply.
‘Then behave like one!’ reprimanded Mataji. ‘Always picking on this man who keeps quiet and allows you to! Do not take advantage of someone’s silence!’
‘Ram beta, do not think that we will be judgemental of your family and their ways. They will likely be overwhelmed as it is their first time in the city. Let them stay here and be comfortable, they can always attend the wedding at your cousin’s house and spend those days there. See to it that the outhouse is accommodated for all their needs.’ Mataji sat back with a contented sigh.
Manohar was sneaking a quick smoke behind the garages when he saw Ram Bharose open the back gate of the compound and walk out. Where is he going so early in the morning, Manohar wondered, before he remembered that Ram Bharose had said he would be picking up his family from the railway station today.
Before the household woke up, he was back, alone.
‘Where is your family, Ram Bhaiyya?’, asked Murli, as he shone the car to a shine.
‘They missed the train, Murli,’ replied Ram Bharose, as he washed his hands and feet in the tap outside the house.
‘Oh, ho! How come?
‘They had way too much luggage, and couldn’t reach in time.’ Replied Ram Bharose.
‘When will they come now? Isn’t the wedding only a few days later?’
‘Yes, it is. I hope I can manage to get them on the train again, and they get here in time for it.’
‘Yes, or you will have to attend it alone.’ Murli resumed shining the car.
Manohar’s sneaky morning smokes gave him the ‘pressure’ he needed to complete his morning ablutions. It also gave him a chance to sneak glances at Gauri in the next house who came up to water the plants and did not know of Manohar’s existence. Just as he was stamping out his beedi, Manohar say Ram Bharose quietly opening the gate and stealthily walked in.
‘Where is this man coming from so early in the morning and why is he sneaking in like a chor?’ wondered Manohar. However, before he could question him Ram Bharose hurried into his quarters.
Two mornings later Manohar happened to find Ram Bharose coming in early again. Now he was intrigued. Where is this guy going? Where is he coming from? He acts like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth all day and look at him! I always knew he was twisted, beneath that holier-than-thou exterior, Manohar thought to himself.
‘Arre Rocky Bhaiyya, as a man don’t you realize, men have ‘needs’ too.’ Murli winked and made a lewd gesture. ‘Ram Bhaiyya is old but he is also a man. He must be having some chamiya (slang for a nautch girl) hidden away’ he laughed. ‘You saw him coming home in the early hours of the morning now, who knows from when he has been doing it? Why are you taking tension?’
‘Mataji!’ Manohar called out from the ground floor.
‘Kya hua badtameez ladke? (what happened, you rude boy?) Why are you shouting like this?’, asked Mataji slowly coming down the stairs.
‘Aayi ye Mataji, baithiye. (Come, Mataji, sit) said Manohar softly, holding Mataji’s hand and leading her to her favorite chair, next to a snoozing Babuji. Sorry, excitement control hi nahin ho raha!’ (I can’t control my excitement)
‘Hua kya?’ (what happened ?) asked Mataji, again.
‘Kyon cheekh rahai hai subah, subah?’ (why are you screaming so early in the morning) asked Vishnu as he came out of his room, looking around the living room ‘Why is everyone here?’ he asked aloud, to which Pia just shrugged.
‘Sit, Bhaiyya, sit, pleej!’ Manohar pulled out another chair.
Ram Bharose walked in with a tray laden with cups of Tea and a glass of Lemonade. He stood there, puzzled, looking at Mataji, Babaji, Vishnu, and Pia all sitting there.
Manohar took the tray from RamBharose and began serving everyone their beverage, ‘Aap bhi ayiye, Ram Bharose ji’ (Join us, Ram Bharose ji ) he grinned, with an extra emphasis on the ‘ji’
‘Arre ho kya raha hai?’ (what is happening?) Babuji asked as the first sip of tea invigorated him instantly.
‘Kuch bolega bhi, ya…? (will you say something or?) asked a terribly annoyed Vishu.
‘Main bolunga nahin, dikhaoonga!’ (I will not speak, I will show) Manohar’s grin got even bigger, as he whipped out his mobile phone. He quickly punched a few buttons and the screen came alive with a video. He paused it, enlarged it, and turned his phone to face the family he switched in on.
‘Yeh kya bakwaas hai, much nahin dikh raha mujhe,’ spat out Vishnu as he craned his neck to see the screen.
‘Manohar bhaiyya, why don’t we attach your phone to the TV, that way all of us could see what you are trying to show us?’ suggested Pia.
‘Phuntastik idea, Pia Baby! Phuntastik!’ it looked like Manohar’s grin would split his face into two.
Pia deftly attached the phone to the smart Tv and asked Manohar to switch it on. He did.
The shaky recording showed a group of burkha-clad women and men dressed in skull caps walking together. Their walk led them to a Masjid that was festooned with glittering garlands. and a wedding party waiting outside. The women hugged each other and together they escorted a bride inside. The men stayed outside and chatted with each other, presumably waiting for someone.
Then the camera panned in on one particular face. It looked familiar but very different. This man was wearing a skull cap and a sacred thread around his neck. As he continued talking to the other men a little boy dressed similarly came up to him and said something. The men turned out and walked a little distance to welcome the Groom and his family and lead him inside the mosque and the others followed. The shaky camera followed behind to see the group disappear inside the mosque.
‘Why are you showing us this? Who are these people?’ asked Mataji.
‘Who was that man in the close-up shots?’ asked Vishnu.
‘Let me introduce him to you, our very own, Ram Bharose ji!’ Manohar put his hand on his shoulders and led the ashen-faced Ram Bharose to the family. then he re-winded the mobile clip and paused on the image of Ram Bharose’s face.
‘Ram Bharose! You!’ Vishnu looked from the screen to Ram Bharose and back again, and again. If not for the deafening silence, that gesture was almost comical.
‘I can explain, Mataji’ Ram Bharose collapsed to the ground in front of Mataji, hands joined together. ‘I had run away from my village! I needed work! I was outside your house looking for work when your gardener saw me and took me in! When you asked me what my name was, I panicked, and seeing your big bindi and the photo of Lord Ram behind you I told you my name was Ram Bharose…’ his words tumbled over each other.
‘What is your real name, Ra…then?’ asked a bewildered Vishu.
‘RAHIM BAIG!’ said Manohar, in an exaggerated tone and manner.
There was a collective gasp all around, as Ram Bharose hid his face in his hands and let out a piercing cry.
‘Still RB!’ shrugged Pia as she got up from her seat and walked away.
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