When the news reached us that our aunt Putli was arriving from her village at 8 p.m., for a moment I did not know what to do! Without noticing the burnt chapathi, I was deeply immersed in thought cooking a plan as to how we should prevent her arrival. But we could see the futility of our plan as the bus would have already left her village and within four hours she would land bag and baggage.
If she was like any of our other aunts it wouldn’t have been a problem at all! This aunt Putli was unique. She rarely paid us a visit. But once she arrived she had no idea whatsoever of leaving, making herself comfortable at the expense of throwing the rest of the household into discomfort. She always wanted the best and saw that she got it, not caring a hoot the inconvenience she caused to others. She always had her way whether at home or outside in company.
I suddenly remembered what I was doing and decided to complete the job on hand before making arrangements for her long stay. After finishing making the chapathis, I slowly entered my grandson’s room and broke the news to him. This little fellow of ten was delighted at the news at first but a moment later was full of disappointment when I told him he should accommodate his aunt in his room. This meant removing all his things from there and sleeping with us. Promising a box of chocolates, I managed to bring round that fellow into agreeing to spare his room.
Everything was made ready for her arrival, room and all. Hubby received her and brought her by taxi. She alighted slowly, sideways, carrying her weight of 200 lbs with dignity. “Hello Meera,” she greeted before I could open my mouth.
After a bath, she settled at the dining table, ready for dinner; I had prepared an extra curry of cabbage and two more side dishes, besides rice and chapathis. She took a small bit of the chapathi with a little curry and made a face – all her muscles contracted.
I thought I forgot to add salt in the curry and asked her. “Oh no, the salt is very much present. But how come the curry does not smell of ghee, don’t you use ghee for its preparation?”
“Well, do you know how much one kilo of ghee costs these days?” I wanted to ask, but refrained as it was not good manners.
She took some rice with sambar. I waited for her next remark and it came. “Don’t you all use the superior quality rice?” I told her this was the best quality available in our city. She mumbled something and ate quietly, leaving half of the rice and curry in her plate.
I helplessly stared at her plate and regretted that even the maid wouldn’t touch the food. Meal over, we all retired to our bedrooms as all of us were tired in our own way.
As I was busy preparing coffee the next morning, I heard the tap water at the wash basin going unchecked. I ran to see who was there but found none. I was sure it was this aunt’s job. She very coolly left it open and forgot to close it. Probably she had no knowledge of the water situation in our city. She had her coffee steaming hot and I thought she relished the flavour and I heaved a sigh of relief. But this relief was short lived “Meera” she called, “don’t you get buffalo milk here? Why is the coffee so watery? From tomorrow please add a few more spoons of sugar in my coffee,” she said and went to take her bath.
While having lunch, I told her we bought sugar through ration and it was very expensive in the open market. But my words did not make any sense. “So what! She said.
I thought it was useless trying to explain to her and kept mum. The days passed slowly and the remarks increased so much that I lost count of them. She grumbled everyday saying city life was horrible, everything was scarce and foodstuffs were adulterated. This last was true but I told her we got used to them.
By the end of a fortnight, to my surprise, all my provisions started getting over, just because of one single guest who consumed three people’s food, with her never-ending appetite. We thought if our guest stayed for another month, we would turn bankrupt – what with the rising prices and high cost of living.
As we seriously thought of a plan to send her away, we received a call from some acquaintance of hers saying her son was seriously ill. Poor lady, she was full of anxiety and left for her village by the next available bus.
Though we were sorry for her son, we were happy that our guest had left, at last. It was like maintaining a white elephant. But a surprise awaited us. On the third day of her departure, an auto screeched to a halt in front of our gate.
For a moment I thought I would faint at the sight of the two figures that emerged .All I knew was our plans to go on a holiday would have to wait, didn’t know for how long!
N Meera Raghavendra Rao