An evening to forget

An evening to forget

The hustle and bustle of the street market could be heard from a distance. Young and old, rich and poor alike flocked to this beehive of activity that sprang to life every evening. Screaming vendors and haggling customers seemed to outdo each other as they exchanged produce and money in the narrow confines of streets bordering a large temple complex. The presiding deities must have been as used to the incessant din as they were to the chanting of mantras.

The most visited of these temples was situated on a granite hillock. Paying obeisance to the Lord at this ‘Temple on the Mount’ before commencement of exams or preceding any happening of consequence in the family was an inveterate part of my growing up.

It was on a chilly Bengaluru winter evening that I dutifully accompanied my mom to the temple on the mount. As we entered the courtyard, we noticed Partha’s wife. She too had decided that her best defence against the chill was a draped shawl that was strikingly similar to the one my mom had worn that evening. Having come to the neighbourhood somewhat recently, Mrs Partha still lived on the borrowed identity of her husband. She was a housewife (or a ‘homemaker ‘as they call these days) but had been moonlighting as a dancer, much to her mother-in-law’s chagrin.

Endowed with histrionic talents too (or so she thought), she dabbled in dramas, taking up small roles here and there. In the conservative middle-class milieu of those days, not surprisingly, all these were seen as quite out of line for which reason she had quickly become fodder for gossip among the ladies. Add to this, she was chatty and seemed to be everywhere, all the time. Quite contrastingly, Partha was seldom seen in public. Such a non-entity as he had suddenly been ushered into the spotlight, courtesy of his new wife and the ‘waves’ she was creating. So there must have been quite a few like me who were curious to see Partha in flesh and blood.

I was itching to have my suspicions confirmed. For, there was a man accompanying Mrs Partha and I suspected him to be Partha himself. After some time, my mom started circumambulating the sanctum sanctorum as part of her temple routines and I followed suit. As we turned a corner, I saw the man at some distance. I seized the opportunity and asked mom, who I thought was beside me all the time doing the rounds, “Avarena Partha?” (Oh, is that person Partha?). Turning to me, the lady replied, “Howdappa, avare Partha, naanu avara hendathi.” (“Yes, he is indeed Partha and I am his wife.”) It was Partha’s wife, who I had mistaken to be my mom. Blame it on the identical shawls they were wearing!

Red faced and speechless, I made a graceful exit from the scene. I sat on the stone steps brooding over my ignominy. It seemed eons before my mom got ready to leave the temple. My sense of humiliation quickly turned to anger as we walked back home, and poor mom was at the receiving end of it. “Couldn’t you have worn a different shawl today?” I growled.

Unbeknownst of the predicament I had just been through, she innocently asked, “Why, what’s the matter?”