Wednesday, August 3, 2022

OORU KUTCHERI


Ignoring the ringing mobile in my hand, I checked my handbag for the umpteenth time to see if the train ticket was there.
My husband reminded me about my water bottle.
Wiping the sweat on my brow I replied, "Ya, I think the watchman has kept the bottle in the car."
The mobile rang again, it was my mother.
"Amma, emiti? what?"
My mother asked in a hurried tone, "Gayathri, neellu theesukunnavaa? Trainlo emi thintaavu?" (Did you take drinking water? What will you eat in the train?"
"Amma, don't worry, we are eating in Woodlands on the way to the station."
"Be careful, call me as soon as you settle in the train."
I assured her, " Okay Amma, I will...."
She cut me short, " Did you pack contact mike, Veena strings and ..."
I was impatient, "Amma, please... I have to rush, I will call as soon as I board the train, I promise!"
My mother continued, "Don't forget to call."
"No, I won't Amma."
"Saab bula rahe hain." It was the watchman. My husband was in the car, waiting.
Hurrying to the pooja room I quickly prostrated to Sri Vidyaranya Swami's idol. I stood in front of the Venkateswara Swami's photo and Ranganatha Swami's photo to pray quickly.
Rushing out of the house I pulled the door shut.
My tension started to build at the thought of carrying my Veena safely through the crowds in Chennai Railway Station.
Getting inside the car I declared to my husband, " I won't accept anymore outstation concerts. Simply fed up, can't take this tension of carrying the instrument in all that crowd. Had enough!!"
My husband drawled, "This is what you tell me everytime you go on a concert tour."
I sighed and mentally started counting the hours till I get back home. 40 hours including 2 nights in train!
Thank God, it was not a long trip.
Our car entered Central station. I anxiously eyed the chaotic scenario inside the railway station. Amidst loud horns and chattering of people, vehicles were lining up near the entrance to drop off passengers and luggage.
Getting out of the car I looked around for a porter who seemed qualified to carry a divine instrument like Veena. Health issues did not allow myself or my husband to carry weights, that too walk while carrying them.
"Hurry up, what are you looking for?" My husband asked impatiently.
"I am searching for a pious-looking porter. I can't give my Veena to someone who's reeking of tobacco or alcohol!!" 
My husband said cynically, "That'll be a wild goose chase."
Fortunately I found a smiling and cultured porter who fitted my bill.
I instructed the porter anxiously on the method of carrying the instrument.
"Don't worry Madam, I know how to carry a guitar as well as a suitcase in both hands."
Momentarily confused I realized that he referred to my Veena as guitar.
Not bothering to correct him I exclaimed, " No no you can't carry both the Veena and suitcase together!!"
I scanned the surroundings for another porter to carry part of the luggage.
The porter highhandedly bent down to pick up the Veena while holding the suitcase in his other hand.
I was horrified. "NO!!" I shrieked and tried to grab the Veena from the porter.
"Ayyo Madam, why are you so worried?! Last week I carried a guitar for an old lady along with 2 suitcases, all by myself. I know how to carry, just leave it to me."
Watching helplessly I winced as he bent down to whisk the instrument in a swift movement. He placed the trunk of the Veena above his right shoulder.
Trying not to shriek I said firmly, "You shouldn't place the instrument on top of your shoulder!! You either carry the instrument the way I tell you, otherwise give it to me."
The porter grudgingly agreed to following my instructions.
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed my husband smiling at my demonstration on how a Veena has to be carried.
Walking through the crowd, the porter tried to chat me up.
"Do you play guitar on TV?"
I hated chatting about myself or my profession.
"No" I replied tightly and tried to move away in order to avoid further conversation.
Unmindful of my hint the porter adjusted his gait towards me. He asked persistently, "Do you act in TV serials?"
Suppressing my irritation I answered, "No". Trying to divert his attention I added, "Be careful, don't drop the instrument."
The porter replied carelessly, "Don't worry Madam, I won't drop it."
After some thoughtful silence the porter turned towards me. His eyes mirrored his surprise and pleasure as he exclaimed, "I know who you are!! You are a TV newsreader! I think I saw you reading news last week!!"
I smiled in reply, allowing him to think he was right, at least that would put an end to his questions about me.
The porter placed my luggage on the platform.
My eyes were inevitably drawn to a huge hoarding displaying a collage of passport size photographs of petty thieves and criminals. The caption in bold letters read-"BEWARE OF PICKPOCKETS AND THIEVES."  I was suddenly reminded of my mridanga-vidwan-friend's joke about it and I controlled bubbles of laughter. This vidwan is well known for his sense of humor. A well-known music organization in the city advertised their performing artists' passport size photos in a similar fashion (layout and design etc). The mridanga vidwan joked that due to the similarity the posters could create confusion in general public, (between the music organsation's advt. and the hoarding of petty thieves displayed by the railway station).
The mobile rang again. Chuckling to myself I reached for my mobile.
It was the same mridanga vidwan on the other end. He asked, "Hi, are you in the station?"
"Yes, where are you?"
"On my way to station. I just now finished a concert."
"Oh, what about your dinner?" I asked.
He replied that his wife had packed some food.
"Oh, good, we will meet tomorrow morning."
"Okay, Bye!"
I replied, "Bye, good night!" 
As we walked towards our compartment another porter passing our way teased my porter, "Hey, when did you start playing sitar?"
My porter retorted, "It's not a sitar, it's a guitar!"
Rolling my eyes upwards I paused near the name chart to search for my name and berth number.
After settling the luggage and paying the porter my husband got down from the train.
He came to the window and pressed my hand, "Call me as soon as you reach. Take care, bye."
I waved bye to him. He suddenly made a U-turn and came back to the window, a smile on his lips.
"Emiti?" I asked him curiously.
Laughing, he said, "Some people asked me for my autograph."
My eyes widened in surprise, "Why?!"
"I think they saw me carry your Veena in between. Probably because of that they thought I am the artist. And you know what??!! They thought I am Chittibabu!" 





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