06. Biryani | Patoli and Biryani

August 16, 2020 Sujay Sarma

I arrived to find Meeta sitting by the door, alone and sad. She stood up when she saw me approach. “I am sorry I didn’t answer or call…” I started to explain. She rushed to me and hugged me and started to cry. “It’s alright. I am here now.” I said, trying to console her…

I arrived to find Meeta sitting by the door, alone and sad. She stood up when she saw me approach.

“I am sorry I didn’t answer or call…” I started to explain.

She rushed to me and hugged me and started to cry.

“It’s alright. I am here now.” I said, trying to console her and pull her away. I thought she was crying because I had been missing all night.

She just grabbed on to me harder and cried more.

“I got this letter, you know. From one of the jobs I had interviewed for a year ago. They finally offered me a job. It is great pay and all. I was confused. So, I slept in the park…” I rambled on.

I lied about sleeping in the park. For some reason, as I told that lie, I actually felt guilty about it.

But she did not appear to listen to any of it.

Finally, she pulled away and looked at me, still with tears in her eyes. Her eyes searched my eyes. For something. And did not find it.

“You don’t know, do you?” she asked, finally.

“Don’t know what?” I asked, reducing the grin on my face. It was not her happiness to see me that had made her cry. There was something else. Something was wrong.

“Rajan…” She began, tearfully.

“What happened to Rajan?” I asked, taking a step toward her.

“Torch man… he… Rajan…” the girl stammered and broke down crying again.

It took a few minutes, but I finally pieced together that Rajan and Torch Man had got into an argument, a fight over something. And Torch Man had killed Rajan. But she did not seem to know anything more than that. She had heard the story from somewhere else.

“Where’s Rajan now?” I asked, looking around.

“With the police. They will give him back after the post-mortem they said.” She sobbed.

I stood up. “I’ll be back.”, I said, heading out.

“Where are you going? No! Stop!” She begged.

“Don’t worry. I’ll be back in ten minutes.”

She sank to the floor by the door, crying.

On my way home, I had spotted Torch Man gambling with some friends at a nearby shack. I went straight to find him. Somehow, he had guessed that I would come. Even as I approached the shack, he stood up and stubbed out the half-burnt cigarette and looked straight up at me.

“I knew you would come.” He said. He was glum. “I am sorry.”

“What happened? I have no idea what happened. Tell me!” I begged, grabbing his shirt.

Around us, it started to rain again.

He did not resist. He told me. He told me everything.

He was a hitman for a local don. He was coming back from a ‘job’ when he spotted Rajan headed the opposite direction. Rajan had seen him too. But going a little further, Rajan had discovered the Torch Man’s latest doing and Rajan had returned quickly and confronted him and an argument had broken out. Somehow, it had escalated into a physical fight on the pavement. As Torch Man tried to push Rajan away from himself, Rajan had fallen onto the road and been run over by a passing truck.

Torch Man had not exactly killed Rajan. In fact, he had bundled Rajan into his cab and driven him to a hospital. But Rajan had already died on the way.

At least that was his side of the story.

“Look, I can go surrender to the police and all.” He offered. “But either my boss will have me out in no time, or he will have me killed in custody for fear of what I know about him. That will accomplish nothing for his wife or you.”

I considered that for a while.

“You are not my prisoner. I will need to talk to her.” I told him.

He nodded.

I walked away and returned to Meeta.

She had stopped crying and was busy in the kitchen. I went in and sat on the floor and told her what transpired between the Torch Man and me.

Puliswala kuch ni karna.” She waved the stick she was using to roll out the dinner rotis. “I have nothing to gain by pursuing him in court. Rajan’s gone. I have to move on.”

The next morning, as she served me breakfast, she suddenly said. “You have to accept that job. Call them right now. It has been too many days since they wrote to you already.”

“What?” I stammered.

“I don’t want to live here anymore. Too many memories.” She shook her head, pouring another ladle of curry for my rotis. “Take that job. Let us move away.”

“What do you mean, ‘us’?” I asked her.

She blushed but didn’t say anything.

It had now been almost two years since the tragedy. On Meeta’s advice, I had accepted the job and we had moved across Mumbai to a well-to-do apartment, on rent. Meeta had wanted to get married sooner, but I had kept putting it off, feeling guilty. Rajan had been a close friend. Six months later, it seemed silly not to get married. She was now pregnant with our first child. We had a down-payment on an apartment that was being constructed.

I was returning from office one night when I stopped at a local restaurant to pack some biriyani. Meeta loved the biryani from this particular eatery. And now that she was pregnant, she ate a lot more. As I stood waiting for the order, I felt a touch on my shoulder. I turned around to see Chameli standing there. She was looking at my transformation and beamed.

Nayi shirt, Nayi pant, Nayi boot…” she laughed, quoting a popular TV advertisement. “So, you took the job! Good for you.”

“Yes.” I smiled back. “How are you? How have you been?”

It turned out that Chameli had got married as well. A long-time customer of her’s had proposed to her and fought with the thugs of the area and taken her away. She nodded into the restaurant at a man.

“That’s him. Poora filmy ishtyle!” She whispered and blushed.

“Only one sad news, though.” I said, dropping my voice. “Rajan is no more.”

Hai Ram!” She cried, her hand instantly to her lips. “What happened?”

I told her about how he had been killed.

“What happened to his wife?” She asked. “Meeta, right, her name was?”

“Oh, Meeta and I married. We are together now.” I said. “Expecting our first child too!” I added beaming with pride.

Shaabash! You dog! Good for you!” She teased me.

I looked at her confused. I had expected some form of an admonishment. She seemed to have accepted it too quickly and easily.

Suddenly, Chameli turned serious. “You know, that last day when you came to see me?”

I nodded.

“After we had sex, you passed out. You were mumbling ‘Meeta… Meeta’…”

“Really?” I asked, shocked.

She nodded in earnest. “I meant to ask you earlier. When you said she had called you a hundred times during the night and rushed off, I put the question by for the next time.”

The End

About the author:

Sujay Sarma is an IT industry veteran, about 43 years of age. He has spent 25 years in the IT industry and has done it all, and seen it all. Now, his passion is writing [blogs, stories, novels] and music. He has his own YouTube channel called "Sujay Sarma's Musical Adventures" where he posts his covers and originals, and a Podcast named "Interesting People Interesting Stories".