“It is decided Rahul and my decision remains final. There is no change. You are going to do as I say.”
Rahul slammed the door in frustration as Nikita said these words. He did not want to go anywhere, especially nowhere that lead him away from Nikita. He knew Nikita wanted that too. She could not stay away from him even for a minute. Every time that he was away, she would wait for his calls as pre-decided, 03 times a day. Morning 8am, afternoon 4pm and night 10pm. They were never long conversations, just the usual catching up on the happenings that took place in the small gap between one phone call to another. Then why was she doing this? Why was she sending him away?
Rahul and Nikita were living in Apple Woods, House Number 18 in SoBo, the newly formed residential township in the ever expanding city of Ahmedabad. It was a cosy 03 BHK house that the two of them had together made into a home.
Nikita a beautiful, hazel eyed Punjabi woman, though in her mid-40s, she could easily be taken for someone 10 years younger. Rahul, her tall and handsome son, all of 19 was the only reason people had to believe the number of years that lay behind Nikita. But neither her looks nor her son could give away the experiences that Nikita had at a young age and the battles she had fought in bringing Rahul up.
“How hollow and barren this place seemed when we first came in. Remember Rahul? said Nikita with a look of awe and accomplishment in her eyes as she looked out from the window. Weekends were always special when Rahul returned home from his hostel, once in a while.
“Yes Ma. For me the most vivid memory is of the day Daizy came to be with us and the ruckus it made in the garden.”
Daizy their beloved Alsatian dog was barely 12 months when it was gifted to the Mehra’s by a friend as a house warming gift. Rahul was 08 years then. Nikita had asked the gardener to mow the lawn and put fresh soil the same day. The garden was still soggy with the renewed treatment, when Daizy in all its excitement ran across the area smashing it to smithereens. Nikita was never in favour of the idea of a pet in the house with her running a busy schedule and this behaviour had further fortified her opinion but only temporarily.
It was the instant attachment that Rahul had for the four legged monster that made Nikita come to like it initially and eventually fall in love with as it became a part of the family. In one such instance, Nikita was at work when Rahul was about 13 years. An ever experimenting child, Rahul decided to experiment in the kitchen that day. When Nikita returned from work, she could smell something burning. She rushed to the kitchen to find 03 buttered pans, turned near to charcoal on the gas, broken eggs and softened bread on the kitchen platform and Rahul surfing the iPAD for cooking for beginners. Daizy greeted her excitedly at the door and the reason for its excitement was all the experimental delicacies by Rahul that were being passed on in its plate. Little did Nikita know that Daizy would be the reason to hold on to for Nikita in days to come. God does everything for a reason.
Finally Rahul was able to develop a piece to his satisfaction which was presented to Nikita with the utmost innocence and nervous excitement. “How is it momma?” His big eyes widened as Nikita opened her mouth and took the first bite of the egg roll Rahul had made from Roti, eggs, some sauces and some spices. To an outsider it may have seemed a half-hearted effort by an adult, but to Nikita it was yet again a reiteration of what she had realized when Rahul had innocently told her years ago “Mom there are more carrots in this Gajar Halwa. Next time please put fewer carrots” Everyone had laughed at his innocent statement that day but to Nikita it was the instant that marked Rahul’s bent towards the art of culinary. From then on, Rahul and Nikita cooked smaller simpler dishes together regularly. The kitchen became alive with Rahul’s gradual yet steady learning of simple everyday food. First with buttering a bread, cutting an apple, chopping okra, moving on to Oreo Pops and the like of gasless cooking and gradually progressing to preparing Masala Tea, Maggi, Pasta and making roti in a perfect circle, it all came so naturally to Rahul as if it was destined to be.
Rahul followed both his academics and his hobby which had by now clearly become a passion with an equal and innate rigour. In his free time too Rahul would watch cookery shows on TV. “FOOD FOOD” by Sanjeev Kapoor was his favourite and his never ending questions and ever enduring desire to explore this art made Nikita realize that he had to be channelized in the correct direction to make his dreams a reality. By the time Rahul was in college, he had won several small to big accolades for his culinary skills from society to school to city to state to national level competitions and from radio to television to the fast emerging online platform where Rahul had his own website http://www.passionatechef.com.
Despite his studies, friends and the time discovering various varieties took up of Rahul, he and Nikita were always connected. Sometimes this attachment worried Nikita. She knew that eventually Rahul would have to be sent to pursue his dream further. All these years there were several occasions when she was tempted to move to a city where Rahul could explore more outlets for his work but the strings of her past, the love for their home Saahas and her work had compelled her to stay put at Ahmedadad. Nikita was at a stage in her career where she could not leave the job as it would lead to her losing her retirement benefits. Every time she discussed the idea of Rahul moving to a different city his response was always the same. “What’s the need mom? People eat here too. Restaurants run here too. Chefs find jobs here too.”
Nikita knew better. The time had come now. She picked up the phone to call Ketan her friend and confident at Noida. “I want you to call up Rahul and share with him about the upcoming contest at the International Institute of Culinary Arts, New Delhi. He will listen to you and come to participate. You know how capable he is and its time he saw a world beyond mom and Manek Chawk”.
Rahul and Nikita visited Delhi that year. Though it wasn’t the first time, this time was different. Nikita and Ketan showed Rahul all the possible places where he could explore his dream. Ketan introduced him to some of the best chefs in NCR and convinced Rahul to move to New Delhi for the contest.
The rest of the months went by in a jiffy. Rahul entered the contest and cleared the finals. Nikita became all the more unwavering for Rahul’s happiness which she knew was in moments when he adorned the chef cap – Toque. She was determined to ensure Rahul pursues his next degree in culinary arts from a reputed institution at India.
Five years later…
** It was the first thought that came to her as she woke up. He was gone. And, soon, this bedroom, the house in whose eastern corner it sat, and the tiny garden outside with its gnarled old red hibiscus and the half-grown mango tree they had planted together, all those would be gone as well. It was the strangest feeling ever.**
Nikita went to the kitchen and had a glass of water. In no mood for breakfast, she still opened the refrigerator more out of habit than anything else. She pulled out the pastry Rahul had made the day before he left for Delhi from his work visit, placed two tiny pieces on two plates, one for her and one for Daizy and sat on the sofa with her phone in one hand.
Daizy lay quietly as Nikita waited for Rahul’s call. The pet too seemed least interested in the sweet in absence of the person who had made it. The calls from Rahul were less frequent now as he got busier with each passing moment running his Café Brunch till late hours of the day and working as head chef with a well-known multi cuisine restaurant and bar till wee hours of the morning. The hours in between were spent with Kaahini.
Rahul and Kaahini, his girlfriend since 03 years, tried several times to convince Nikita to move to New Delhi but she changed the topic each time saying she’ll help them officially move into a bigger and a better home as one, indicating them to become lifelong partners and join the institution of marriage that she firmly believed in but had chosen not to re-enter for Rahul’s sake.
Nikita had decided to gift Rahul and Kaahini a beautiful apartment at New Delhi on their wedding but for that she would have to sell off this house and with it move away from all the dots that connected her to her past that was filled with Rahul and memories of his growing years. Nikita swallowed the pastry as if to pull together the courage for bearing the loss of proximity to Rahul and now all touch points filled with memories of his innocence, her sacrifices and their endurance.
The doorbell rang. Nikita answered it as Daisy dallied in the background. The real estate broker had come with the Sharma couple to finalize the deal on the house as they were eager to move in.
“Hi come in. where is your little boy today?”
“Oh he is in the car waiting. He is getting his birthday present today; a Dobermann Pinscher and he can’t wait to move in to his new home with his new friend!”
Nikita smiled as she signed the final papers and visualized history repeating itself. She now had 02 weeks to vacate the place.
She put on her shoes and called out “Come on Daizy. Let’s go for a walk in the garden. I know you have memories here too.”
(c) Bijal Mehta
Note: ** Paragraph originally made available by author Jaishree Mishra for the Times WriteIndia contest April 2016.