[Contd from part 1]
Ravi cleared his throat, took a deep breath, coughed and said "Pleased to meet you. It is a privilege to meet you." He found it difficult to not stare at the wonderful contours her t-shirt made. Just when he was about to thank god, Muniyandi appeared on the scene from nowhere and said "Hello madam, come tomorrow for autographs, sir is tired now."
Ravi felt like a whore in the church. 'Thank you god, that was a nice touch' Ravi thought and turned to Muni and was about say something when she said "Who the hell are you now? His personal assistant or something?"
Muniyandi nodded in agreement and said "Yes, yes. Sorry but you won't know how Chess can make you exhausted..."
"Shut up Muni!" Ravi shouted. Muni was bewildered. Here he was protecting his lord from an unruly fan and lord doesn't even say thanks!
"I am sorry, he is an idiot. He hangs around here all the time and acts like he is everyone's best friend." Ravi told her.
Muniyandi's world blew up. The weight of his master's words took a little while to sink in. When it did, Muni felt like he was mowed down by a speeding truck.
A crestfallen Muni left the hall and lit a beedi and sucked in a lungful. As tears broke free from his good eye, he sat down on the Cement bench in the lawn and mopped his face with a dirty towel that he always carried. His wife was right. She always warned him, 'Ravi saar is from a good family... I know the girl that works as a maid in their house. So don't you get him into any trouble!' He always dismissed her. 'Hey sarthaan podee, I know what I am doing. Thoo nee amma!'
As darkness fell, Ravi emerged from the hall but stopped to talk to Ramanan, the retired Commercial Tax Officer who played lousy chess. That girl was not around; probably, she left? Muni got up from the bench and waited at the gate. In the adjacent, dark lane that bordered with the sub-jail, people were throwing stuff into the cells. The lane was always dark, for people broke the street lamps every time the Electricity department replaced them. So they stopped replacing lamps. The cops knew about people passing on stuff from across the wall, but didn't bother too much... after all it was the petty criminals that were remanded to custody here. Muni felt sad for them and so once in a while he would throw a pack of beedis or some snack like Murukku inside a cell. He would scream 'Muniyaandi gift raaa! Thoo nee amma!' And they always thanked him in chorus 'Namaste annaa!'
He moved away from the glare of the tea shop's Hurricane lamp and waited in the shadows. The 'Pump' stove from the tea shop was going at full blast and a bunch of vadas sizzled in the pan. Muni longed for some tea and a couple of those hot vadas. But he suppressed his craving and got ready to apologize to Ravi.
As Ravi approached the main gate of the NGO Home, Muni became nervous. He stood in Ravi's way and said,
"What sorry? Don't you have manners? It is all my fault. Who the hell are you to tell my friends what they are supposed to do?"
Muni gulped. He didn't understand why Ravi was being so irate.
"Saar, I know how Chess can drain you..."
"What the fuck do you know about Chess? Just because you know how to move the pieces does not make you a player! You don't tell me how Chess works. Enough, I don't want to talk to you or see you again. If you disturb me again, I will call the Police."
Muni bit his lip as tears rolled down his face. He adjusted his glass eye, blew his nose, and mopped his face with the dirty towel again.
"Saar don't say that please... you know how much I respect you and how much I love chess... please saar"
"You love chess? What the- never mind! You claim you can't see half of the board... why don't you go get a job or something? Love chess! Now, leave me alone. Like I said, I will not hesitate to call the police if you disturb me again."
And Ravi left a wounded Muniyandi.
That night Muni visited the Arrack shop near Prathap cinema. He drank like there was no tomorrow and started abusing people around him.
"Thoo theri maaki! Chess theriyumaadaa bosadikey! Chess? I am a chess player. Man of the match in the Penumur tournament. And you, ask me to shut up? Lavadey ka baal! Narikesthaa! I will cut you to pieces and make a side-dish out of you." He told the guy behind the counter. And before long a scuffle broke out. Three guys beat the crap out of Muniyandi and packed him off to the two-town police station. It would have been fine if Muni had shut his mouth with the cops. He called the constable's mother some unspeakable things and opined that the sub-inspector was a 'Kojja' (eunuch).
Muni's wife pleaded with Ramanan, the retired commercial tax officer and lousy chess player to help. Ramanan was also a former office-bearer of the Chess association and he always thought Muniyandi had potential. He spoke to the cops, paid bribes, and got Muniyandi out. But by that time, the cops had had their share of fun. Muni could barely get on his feet. His glass eye was missing. They found it by the water pot in the corner of the cell. They had to carry him to an auto. It took ten days for Muniyandi to get discharged from the government hospital.
It made news in the NGO Home. Some sympathized with Muni. Ravi was not one of them. Most people extracted entertainment out of Muni's misery. They made jokes and laughed out loud. Ramanan visited Muni who was still recovering and gifted him a wooden chess board and a Chess problem book that did not require one to know how to read. Muni cried yet again. After Ramanan left, Muni's wife asked him,
"What the hell is wrong with you? Saithaan!"
"Why don't you go to the Home in the evening ya? Play some Chess..."
"No. I am not going there."
"What happened?" She persisted.
"Nothing dee Kaidhey! Summa iru, nee amma! Thoo!"
That was that. No one saw Muni at the Home after that for more than six months. No one knew what happened. No one cared. Once in a while, someone spotted him in the Jaggery Mandi, unloading sacks.
In the meantime, Ravi's hopes grew. He met Bindu every day. He even went to her house and her father was pleased to meet the Chess champ.
One day after college hours, Ravi and Bindu were discussing a variation of the King's Indian Defense.
"Your birthday is coming up... what plans?" He said.
"It is just another day and I am an adult... nothing I guess?"
Ravi nodded. He could not fathom it. Is she attracted to me? Does she know what I feel for her? He could never tell. She had a lot of guy friends that wrote to her. Ravi was angry but was careful enough to not display it.
'You should meet Pawan, he is such a sweet heart you know?' 'Once Raju, Prince, and I went to the Golconda fort...'
What the fuck was wrong with that city? How could a girl go on an excursion with two guys!? A girl that wore tight Jeans and tighter t-shirts! God! Was she 'experienced'?
These questions swarmed and buzzed around in Ravi's head. His friends also told him how city girls were 'fast' and about how they don't care for 'love' but only for bikes, biceps, and money. Once or twice Ravi decided to not pursue her but the resolution lasted only till he met her next. All she had to do was laugh. Her lustrous, smooth, raven-black hair bounced around in utter glee when she laughed. She clapped when she laughed and looked to heavens. The gentle undulations of her t-shirt added a beautiful touch. And he fell in love again. And again. And again.
The college grapevine speculated: Ravi got her. We saw them kissing in the forest department nursery. They got secretly married. And, people congratulated Ravi. Winked at him. Slapped his back. 'You think she does not know what you feel for her? Get out of here! Women! I tell you. They want you to make the move first.' Ravi was almost convinced that it was only a matter of articulating it and formalizing the relationship. He can ask her to stop wearing jeans and t-shirts after that.
On her birthday he met her at the Durga temple in the morning and gave a bunch of roses and a greeting card. 'I have something to show you... after college?' Ravi said. She was thrilled with the roses he thought. It was all falling in place. They would be just like the Thipsays. The husband and wife chess champs!
Ravi could not concentrate in the class. He waited for the final hour to end. As soon as it ended he ran to the park bench under the Neem tree and set up the Chess board. He arranged a chess formation. It was a Checkmate in five moves problem. But there was more.
She came after a while.
"What are you doing here?" She said, shaking his hands. He shrugged.
"Mate in five. White wins. You think you can crack it?" He said.
She smiled and hunched over the board. After a few minutes she got the solution. It was quite simple. The white queen moved right next to the Black king and it was mate.
He was quiet. He collected his thoughts.
"That's what happened to me too." He said.
"I didn't understand...?"
"Um... You came into my life. And mated... I mean, it was checkmate for my black... I mean I have nowhere to go... I l-love you?"
The afternoon breeze picked up and whistled through the trees. From beyond the ZP quarters a goat bleated.
"WHAT?!" She yelped.
"You love me? God! Now you know why I never tried being friends around here? You guys... Ravi I thought you were different!"
A sledgehammer crashed into his heart.
"Wh-what? I thought you knew it all along... I mean... what's wrong with me?"
"It is not about wrong or right... I don't feel that way... anyway, never mind, it was nice knowing you. Good bye."
And she stormed off his life.(will surely be concluded in the next post)
Labels: chittoor, stories