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  • Akhila Sriram

Gautham Series-3- Déjà vu

A short intro for those who have missed the previous post.

Gautham, Tej and Bhavana, all aged 30 years, were best friends, who went to the same school but to different colleges. Tej was a Chef de Partie in a branded five-star hotel and Bhavana was an assistant professor of economics at a reputed college, both in Bangalore. They had fallen in love with each other and were married. Gautham was still single and left his job in Bangalore to join his father’s construction business in Madurai since his mother had been unwell for some time.

Déjà vu

I untied and took off my grey Adidas shoes displaying unnecessary haste. Weighing the shoes in my hands, I stared at it, wanting to rip it apart. Don’t get me wrong, those are my favourite jogging shoes but even after a strenuous one-hour jog, it didn’t help me burn my frustration as much as it did my calories.

My father, Chandran, slumped next to me on the sofa and asked, “When are Tej and Bhavana coming? Gowtham, did you see your mother?”

I slid my gaze from the shoes to his face, but choose not to reply. A few days back, I had rambled about my mother’s health to Tej over the phone and thus, the upcoming visit. I was supposed to feel happy, but I didn’t. A Tej in person would be unimaginable in my current state.

“Why this face?” asked Chandran.

A faint sound of approaching footsteps picked my attention. I glanced at the entrance where my nephew Shyam, a boy of eight years, was tiptoeing into the house, eyeing my dad wearily. I bit back a laugh. Shyam was an angel in the presence of Chandran and a brat in his absence. He was my mother’s favourite grandnephew; she adored him and so did I. He disappeared into mom’s room and hearing her talking cheerfully to Shyam, my smile vanished. A few minutes ago, when I visited her, she had refused to talk to me.

Pursing my lips, I answered Chandran, “They should be here anytime.”

An hour later, I was sitting at the breakfast table when Bhavana rushed in, stood behind me and threw her arms around my shoulders. “I missed you…”

Tej ambled towards us and punched my arm as a way of greeting. “How is aunty, now?”

“She doesn’t come out of the room, doesn’t cooperate with the physiotherapist. Why would someone remain bedridden even after a knee replacement surgery? She has been wallowing in self-pity for the past 15 days…But you guys have food first. You can see her later.” I said with despair ringing in my voice.

“No worries… Let me talk to her,” said Tej.

I let out a breath. “Something has been bothering her for the last few months. I mean, she was fine after I shifted here, but soon things changed and now she has stopped talking to me.”

“Why? Because you are stubborn and refusing to get married?” asked Bhavana.

“Partly that. But mostly because I yelled at her for not trying to show her will to recover.”

“Oops… It’s alright. It happens to all of us. Moms are always forgiving, unlike the wives.” Tej took a quick look at Bhavana as he uttered the last words.

Bhavana glared at him, but Tej turned his attention to the food on the table. The cook laid two more plates on the table. Tej grabbed one and went around, trying out the different dishes spread before us.

Bhavana dragged the wooden teak chair back, making a screeching sound and plonked herself on it, turning to face her husband. “When did I not forgive you? Do you think we would have come this far if ----?”

“Ok guys” I interrupted. “One argument, one fight and I will throw both of you out of the house. I don’t have the patience or the mind for it.” I rose to my feet, having finished eating. “I have a very important client meeting that I can’t miss. Make yourselves comfortable.”

Bhavana rolled her eyes, whereas Tej licked his fingers and went back to devouring the food.

“We will be fine…” grumbled Bhavana with a sulky look. And as for Tej, of his five senses, only his olfactory and taste buds were working, the others had taken leave for the time being.

I returned home at 8 pm. Tej’s laughter and my mother’s and Bhavana’s giggles filled the house. Feeling curious, I moved towards the direction of their sounds. My eyes swept across my house, a place that had so many memories attached to it. The antiquity and cleanliness made it inviting and peaceful whenever I stepped in. It was a two-storey bungalow with traditional Chettinad architecture and modern amenities. I walked past the living room, which opened to the dining room that had a staircase to the first floor. Passing through the dining room, I entered my mother’s room. The sight I met there drew my breath away. Manju, my mother was standing, holding the walker, the heft of her arms supported by Tej and the physiotherapist. Bhavana and Chandran were watching her with excitement and glee.

Tej's grip on her tightened as he said “That’s it, aunty! Just one step and you would be walking.”

She took a tentative step forward and whined. “I can’t.”

“Come on! Aunty!” chided Tej.

“No… No.” She stumbled, but Tej’s and the physiotherapist’s hold steadied her.

“No, for this?” He shook his head in disapproval. “Tomorrow you are going to walk to the kitchen and teach me to make those wonderful dishes.”

“Tomorrow?” Manju exclaimed.

“Yep, I am here only for a week. I visited you instead of visiting my parents in Hyderabad. Do justice to it.”

Manju took a few, slow steps into the dining room and fell into a chair. She heaved a sigh. “Why do you torture me like this?”

Tej knelt in front of her and rested his head on her lap. “Won’t you do it for me?”

I wanted to shove him away and take his place that was rightfully mine. My mother was showering all her love on him, forgetting my existence.

Well, I deserve this for yelling at her like that!

“Manju… Stay here for a few more minutes and we can all have dinner together just like old times.” Tears glistered in my father’s eyes and he glanced at Tej with gratitude. Tej’s lips stretched into a charming smile as he rose to his feet.

I reached Tej and whispered. “Hope you didn’t offer me as bait and give empty promises on my behalf.”

He smirked in response. I sneered, and said, “If this is about my marriage, you will pay for it.”

“Someone is turning into a green monster,” chirped Bhavana. “And why is everything connected to your bride hunt?”

Her tone and words irked me. “Bhavs, what did he tell her? Ma, what did he tell you?”

They both ignored me.

“Surprise,” said Tej, and left for the kitchen.

A week passed by, bringing drastic improvements in my mother’s health. Tej and she became inseparable as always. I was left to myself.

Is he my friend or my mother’s?

She was now able to walk with support, was eating well, and cooperating with the physiotherapist.

The last day of Tej and Bhavana’s stay arrived. We were in the living room having tea, all except my father.

Manju’s voice wobbled as she spoke. “You will be gone in the evening? What would I do then?”

I wanted to shout “Hello! Excuse me! I am your son and I am still here, right?” but kept my mouth shut.

“Aunty, don’t cry. I am going to give you a gift so that you will always remember me,” said Tej.

She jerked her head up and tears fell freely down her cheeks. Stroking his head and patting his cheeks, she replied, “I need nothing…”

“Not even a new member to keep you company?” Tej signalled Bhavana to bring something.

“Are you two going to be parents?” I propped up as sheer joy coursed through me.

Bhavana blushed, shook her head and hopped out of the house to bring the gift.

“This has more to do with you. An apt companion for you.” He winked at me.

New member! Companion? Has he got a bride for me?

I eyed him with trepidation. This guy was going to be the death of me. My life was doomed. I moved out of the room to get a bottle of water and almost dropped it when a shriek from my mother reached my ears. I rushed to her and was relieved to see her sitting on the chair. A white ball of fur moving up my mother’s arms fell into my line of vision. It had tiny black eyes, a pink nose and a little tongue with which it was licking all over my mom’s face with great zeal. The exuberance and radiance on her face were irrepressible. An involuntary smile touched my lips.

Shyam squeaked in delight as he entered the house and dashed out to call his friends to see the new pet.

I sauntered towards Tej. “Do you know the repercussions of this? Chandran will skin you alive!”

“When he sees his wife like this, he won’t have the heart to do it.”

“I doubt it...”

“I am speaking from experience.” His gaze locked with Bhavana’s and they were back to staring at each other like fools in love.

Just then, Chandran descended the staircase, looking quizzically at his wife. But when he spotted the puppy, he stopped and stood still for a minute. Then he advanced towards us with a clenched jaw and hostile glare.

“You are dead,” I whispered to Tej.

“Chandru… Look what Tej got for me!” Ma spoke before our encounter with Chandran could begin. “See how cute he is! I can keep him, right? I will never be lonely again. When Gautham and you are immersed in your own world and your business, I will have him for company. I no longer have to wait for long hours for your and your son’s arrival. This little thing would need me unlike you two. He wouldn’t ignore me, like Gautham.” She rested her cheeks on the puppy’s head.

My chest tightened at her words. How many times have I had food outside and never bothered to inform her? How many times have I walked inside the house and never enquired whether she had her dinner? I remembered all those times when she had strived hard to make conversation. I had ignored and avoided her because she nagged me with talks of marriage. I had no right to. She was my mother and had my well-being on her mind.

I stepped forward, removed the puppy from her arms, embraced her and said through tears, “I am sorry.”

What I had been struggling to achieve for over a fortnight, Tej had done it in a week. Was it because he spent time with her, humoured her and loved her? Why did I fail to have that patience with her? Did I take her for granted?

Chandru enveloped Manju in his arms and said, “I am sorry too, Manju. You can have him. Anything for you.”

I returned the yelping puppy to her and strode towards Tej. “Thanks. You have, as usual, come to my rescue.”

“I did nothing. I just made her feel loved and needed. Everyone needs that.”

He should have stopped at that, being a nonsensical person, he quipped to my father, “He is still nameless. Uncle, do the honours!”

At that, Chandran inclined his head to the side thought for a minute and drawled, “Déjà vu.”

“It makes little sense,” said Bhavana.

“It will soon…” Chandran’s eyes sparkled with merriment, making me suspicious because he had always hated pets.

Then Shyam and his gang barged into the house, demanding the puppy’s name and a chance to play with it.

“Déjà vu,” Dad answered them, grinning from ear to ear.

Tej leaned forward and whispered in my ear, “Your dad is flattered…” but before he could finish, Shyam let Déjà vu loose and it ran around the house with the kids chasing and screaming its name, “Teju… Teju…”

I burst into a loud guffaw. Chandran stood up and patted Bhavana, who was beyond recovery.

“Hope it makes sense now...” He left the house.

Still, those kids were screeching the name and running behind ‘Teju’ and Tej, the human one, shut his ears with his palms and leaned against a wall. Soon enough, the puppy was exhausted and cowered behind the sofa trying to get away from the constant loud sounds. That was when my mother did the most unbelievable thing. She stood, walked the length of the room on her own and bent over to scoop the puppy into her hands.

Overwhelmed, I turned towards Tej to thank him, but my voice was drowned by several yelps of ‘Teju’ again. I doubled over with laughter, seeing his chagrined expression.

He might have been a jerk; he might have talked nonsense most of the time, but he had a heart of gold. No one could be as charming and caring as him.

He shoved me away, scowled at his wife, and escaped to his room.

Pencil sketch- Nakshatra Sriram

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