It was 4.30 in the evening. Meghna asked, "Amma, what shall I make for tiffen?"
Tiffen? I thought. I have to enrol into a gym the minute I get back. Tara unknowingly came to my rescue.
"Paati, its time for my walk. I dont want tiffen."
"Tara, you are not going out alone. Appa(father) cant go to walk with you today." said Meghna.
"I agree, its not safe. Is almost evening. Meghna's right" said paati.
"appa?" Tara said.
Both Paati and Meghna looked expectantly at Aakaash. "Uh...' he stuttered.
Tara quietly pointed at me. "Kavya can go with Tara. There wont be a problem. Tara knows her way. she has been going there for years now. I think it will be fine. You can go Tara" Aakaash smiled.
Paati grumbled something inaudible and walked into the kitchen followed by a very quiet Meghna.
We got ready to go on the walk. The whirlwind was put on a leash that was held by Tara, along with a white walking stick.
Paati came running. "Tara, do you have money with you, your phone? Don't be too long. Be back before 6.00. Before the evening puja. Its friday, remember?"
We rushed out of the house. Tara said, "I thought you might want to know how I move outside the house. How I travel to college everyday. How I go for a walk every evening."
I smiled. I was getting used to Tara figuring out what I Thought.
As we reached the gate, she said "Turn left"
"I walk with dad every single day. Its our time together everyday. Watch out for that ditch kavya." she said. I had almost stepped into it. I was quite amazed. "I know this route pretty well. And how well our corporation works too. We need to take a right at the small tea stall in the corner. I travel to college every day by bus. My dad used to walk me to the bus stop every day till I got used to the route. I take the same bus every day and the same time. My best friend comes with me every day. The days she does not turn up the regular people at the bus stop help me out with the bus numbers. The driver and conductor know me too. I quite popular don't you think.". she laughed.
Our whirlwind seems very well behaved. He walks with us quietly, not distracted by all the movement and chaos around him.
"I love the ride. The wind on my face. I hear both familiar and new voices every day. People who take the same bus every day just like me. The sounds of the market as we cross by it. The voices of the vendors selling there wares, women bargaining, school children chattering excitedly as they go to school and the weird smell of damp vegetables."
We reached the park gate. Tara stops. "Here we are. come on in."
And we enter a not very large park but a neatly maintained one nevertheless. There are several people walking already. Few kids playing in the play area and their mothers sitting by on the bench watching them chatting.
"The bus then stops at the junction. When there is a whole lot of car horns going off, I know the signal turned green."she smiles, "We take a right at the junction around the fountain. I can hear the water and feel the bus swerve. We then cross a hospital zone where the no one uses the horn. My college is not very far off fortunately. Its just two stops from the junction."
"Hello, Anand uncle, on time as usual?" Tara asks a gentleman as he crosses us.
"Hi Tara..of course..never missed a day! how are you doing today?" he asks.
"Fine as always, say hi to aunty for me." says Tara and we move on.
I see a bunch of guys with their motorbikes laughing. I feel uncomfortable walking towards
them. As Tara and I cross them, one of them says, "Hello, ma'am'
Tara says, "oh, hello rahul, you guys were not here for the past few days"
"College tour, just got back, we had an awesome time." Said another.
"That is wonderful..good for you." smiles Tara "Bye guys, got to go"
"Bye', holler for us if you need anything" Rahul says.
"What was that about?" I asked.
Tara laughed, "They used to tease me till I showed them a small demo of the karate I knew"
We both laughed. We passed by the play area. "Hi Tara' Called one of the ladies sitting on the bench. We walked over and all the children came over to pet mr.whirlwind. And to my surprise he was quite the gentleman. Tara let him off the leash and play with the children.
We sat down.
"I have not traveled out of town much. Paati once did take us to Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple. It was a wonderful experience. The station, the train, the ride to my paati's house, and the Temple itself was just amazing"
"The aura in a Temple is second to none. Its simply divine. The chant of the mantras. The smell of camphor, fresh flowers and holy ash. The feel the granite as we walk around the temple. The heat that it radiates. The taste of the prasad. The only thing I did feel bad about was that I could not take tigger inside the temple. I felt an elephant for the first time at that temple. It was exactly the same feeling you had when you touched him yesterday" she laughed as the whirlwind ran back to Tara, put his head on her knee wagging his tail furiously.
She takes a bowl out of her bag, puts it down, opens a water bottle, felt and put a finger in the bowl while pouring out the water so she knows when to stop. He laps up the water urgently and Tara gives him a few biscuits. She then packs the bowl and bottle in a plastic cover before putting it back in the bag. The then uses a sanitiser on her hands. I am impressed.
"Lets go, Paati panics perpetually, poor paati." she sniggered, making fun of me.
I laughed. We walk back home after a number of good byes. We laugh and talk all the way back. As puja gets over, I request to go back to my hotel room.
"Not a chance. you cannot leave on a friday. That too at evening after the lamp is lit in the house." said paati vehemently.
After much discussion and bargaining, it was decided that Aakaash would drive me to the hotel to pick up my stuff.
We were back right in time for dinner. I sigh. Paati is worse than Meghna. I overeat. We then sit down for a game of anthakshari. I had a beautiful time. Paati was brilliant with songs of yester years while Tara seemed to know songs from several languages. Time passed easily and it was time for bed. There was some confusion about the sleeping arrangements and I offered to sleep in the hall so Paati can sleep in the room I used.
"Amma, Kavya can sleep with me. It will be fun. We can listen to music. We can talk all night Kavya. I will tell you all about school and college. About all my friends and everyone. It will be like a sleepover. We'll have great fun." Said Tara.
"That is a good idea. Let me get out the spare matress."said Aakaash.
I sat down dreading the idea of sleeping in the same room as him. He was watching me as always. This time his tail wagging.
To be continued....