Love Chakri A Short Story by ROSALIA SCALIA
Part IV -
A Prem Kahani
Continued from yesterday …
Weeks of work on the Nail Factory flew by with Razzy making a point of stopping by the job site as the renovations progressed.
He admired Naveen’s work in the overall industrial motif of the whole project. In the salon area, he noticed a concrete wall divider that featured a mosaic of different colored stones, the wall separating the two areas without compromising the airiness of the space, only to later discover the wall was not concrete but just a series of tiles giving the illusion of heft.
The bakery’s industrial designs proved more subtle, with garage style glass doors that had to be custom built to accommodate the size and to open in the opposite direction so that the door itself became a roof over the outdoor area.
Genius! The wall of glass enabled sunlight to bathe the bakery’s interior, giving it an inviting, open appeal.
No wonder Naveen won so many contracts, he thought, appreciating her extraordinary use of design elements.
All of the retail spaces in the Nail Factory shared the industrial style in motif, but each space also held an individual look through color and unique design elements that required customized creativity to solve problems. He could see how Naveen’s architectural background enhanced her design abilities and the Nail Factory looked fresh, a retail destination that he knew the architects and designers at Architecturals couldn’t match.
No wonder she’s the Ball Hawker, he marvelled.
He began waiting outside after gatka class to see her when she picked up Mini, but Naveen swooped in and out, as elusive as the Himalayan Yeti, and he missed seeing her for a month of Wednesdays.
Then after the last Wednesday night gatka class in the month, as he was stuffing the gear into the closet, Mini pulled at his tunic and handed him a small envelope. He opened it, her childish scrawl in an invitation card to her 11th birthday party on Saturday.
Her smiling face peered at him. “Mama said I can invite any friends I want, so I’m giving one to you, Veer-ji. I hope you’ll come!”
Razzy lifted the child to him and hugged her. “Mini Mouse, I wouldn’t miss it for the world! My best student! What do you want for your birthday?”
In his arms, she shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said. “I didn’t think about that part. I was just happy Mama said I could have a party at our house. It’s Saturday. Sorry for the short notice. I’m afraid some of my friends won’t come because it’s such short notice.”
Razzy set her down and squatted so that he was eye level with her. “I’ll be there. You can count on it!”
* * * * *
Naveen’s house sat on tree-lined street just north of Johns Hopkins University in a section of town unfamiliar to him. As he drove through the area looking for a parking space, Razzy couldn’t help notice the mixture of architectural styles, mainly Tudor but with a uniformity of four-foot tall hedges, the brick exteriors, slate roofs, and shutters, giving the area a decidedly serene European feel.
He parked on Canterbury Road, the same street Mini had scrawled in the invitation. Invitation and birthday gift bag in hand, he walked slowly up the street searching for Naveen’s house number before realizing that the house with a bunch of helium-filled pink and silver mylar balloons marked the spot. He rang the doorbell, and within seconds an exuberant Mini opened the door.
“Veer-ji! You came! You came!” she shouted, hopping up and down like a coil.
“Maaaaaa, Veer-ji came, too!” she called. “I was so afraid no one would come because of the short notice, so I gave out all the invitations in two packages and everyone came! Everyone!” she shouted.
Razzy stepped into the house where chaos ruled. More than two dozen children, many of whom were his gatka students, and others he didn’t know, raced around the entire first floor of the house. The boys bounced from the middle of the stairs onto the sofa to the love seat to the chairs, chasing the girls.
The doorbell rang again, even before Mini had shut the door, and she squealed as she ushered in three more children.
In the kitchen, Naveen was wrestling a pizza out of the oven, pushing a second one into it, her lips compressed, tightened and inrolled into a thin line. Her hair hung half in and half out of a haphazard bun.
“Damn!” Naveen said. She burned her hand on the oven rack, running to the sink and thrusting it under cold water.
“Mii-iiiin-niii-iii,” she called, but the child did not come. “Manreet Kaur. In here now!” she shouted, but perhaps not loud enough for Manreet to hear through all the shrieking and yelling already in progress in the livingroom.
“Looks like you can use a hand!” Razzy said, smiling broadly.
She looked up from the sink, her eyes filled with surprise. “Rasbir! What are you doing here?”
Razzy held up his invitation and gift bag. “Mini invited me!”
Naveen rubbed her eyes and temples. “Who DIDN’T Mini invite? I bought extra invitations in case she made errors writing 10 and would have to redo them. I think she distributed all 30 invitations. Parents are dropping their kids off and leaving. Look at them running all over the house like little monkeys.”
She pushed a tendril of hair away from her face.
“You and I are the only adults here!”
Razzy’s heart skipped and he roared a big belly laugh.
“My entire gatka class is here! How many pizzas you have there?”
“Four large ones. I told Mini she could invite whomever she wanted up to 10 children, so I have extra for 10, but not enough to feed this mob.”
Razzy had never seen her frazzled, so not- in-control and, Waheguru! he was grateful for the gift dropped into his lap in the form of a kid’s birthday invitation.
“Let me handle the kids. You have a back yard?”
“Not a big one,” Naveen said, gesturing out the kitchen window.
Razzy peered through the window at the green, lush, cozy yard. “Big enough!” he said.
“Perhaps you can order pizzas to be delivered. What about ice cream?”
“One of the grocery stores delivers, too. I’ll call for the ice cream and for every cupcake they have. I do have a birthday cake, but not enough for all these kids!”
“Don’t worry Naveen-jio, we got this!”
In the living room, Razzy positioned himself in the room’s center and crossed his arms, stood silent as a statue. Understanding this gesture signaling that their Veer-ji wasn’t playing, the gatka kids immediately went quiet, and shushed the others into silence.
“Ah, so much better!” he told them after silence fell. “Mini Mouse, who are your friends? Let’s have some introductions here,” he said, and children he didn’t know began calling out their names.
Max, Brenda, Dolly, Robert, Jimmy, Rose, Erin, Sophia, Kelly and so on, Razzy made an effort to identify each name with an item of clothing so he could remember them.
Manreet introduced all the shy children who did not call out their names, some of whom were from her gymnastics class and others from her middle school, and then once he had their attention and names, he herded them all out into the yard where he shouted, “Spin the lathis!”
The kids from his gatka class immediately knew to find twigs and sticks and started spinning them, mesmerizing the other children. He suggested that gatka students demonstrate how to spin the lathis and teach the technique to the kids unfamiliar with their training. Within no time, his gatka students were performing all their training feats and teaching the others, who wanted to learn how to do the panths.
“The most important thing to do is footwork,” he told them and soon, all 30 kids were practicing the panths.
Naveen appeared. She covered the round table in the yard with a plastic table cloth decorated with red lady bugs. She carried a stack of red plastic cups and an ice bucket to the table and also set three clear-plastic decorative drink dispensers filled with water, lemonade, and red punch.
Razzy called for a break so that the kids could hydrate themselves and using his gatka students as mini-teachers, he managed to occupy them for another hour after which they played other games such as Freeze Tag, Red Rover and Dodge Ball; he aimed to tire them out.
A smiling Manreet radiated happiness as she played the games with her friends.
“Pizza’s here,” Naveen called from the window.
Razzy asked the children to line up “like in school,” and they entered the kitchen in an orderly fashion.
“What do we do before we eat after we’ve been playing?” he asked them.
“Wash up, wash up!” they shouted.
He and Naveen each took a group of kids to separate bathrooms to make sure they washed their hands. In the kitchen, Naveen arranged the boxes into three piles on the counter, vegetarian, cheese and pepperoni, and stacked lady bug plates and napkins next to them. He saw that she had also created and arranged 30 party bags for the children to take home with them and wondered how she managed to get them together.
The pizza disappeared in no time.
And then, it was time to sing Happy Birthday.
Naveen and Razzy managed to get the candles lit. Manreet blew them out amidst cheers. The cake was cut in tiny slices, cupcakes and ice cream served. With just hand and eye signals, he and Naveen managed to communicate over the heads of the melee what the children needed and made sure each kid got to the restroom in time.
Juice spilled, cake dropped, ice cream melted and ran. The children helped Manreet open her presents. Strips of wrapping paper and bunches of ribboned bows flew in various directions and Naveen gave up her efforts to keep the cards and gifts paired.
Razzy led the children in an endless game of pass-the-potato, until finally, by the fifth hour, parents began arriving to collect their children from the party.
The house looked like a combat zone. Once the last bundle was picked up, Naveen ushered an exhausted Manreet up the stairs to get cleaned up and into her bed clothes, lest she fall asleep in her party clothes, and Razzy collapsed in fatigue on the sofa, his energy spent by the effort of keeping the kids entertained.
Moments later, Naveen returned and surveyed the house, littered with gift wrappings, ribbons, cupcake papers, empty lady bug plates, cake crumbs … She too collapsed on the sofa, her hair a dark, a haphazard mess around her face.
They peered at each other, and suddenly they burst into spontaneous laughter like silly giggling idiots … laughter born of fatigue.
“We survived an invasion,” she said, still laughing. “But look at the house! I should be crying! My poor house!”
“Mini was so happy! I’ll help you clean up,” he said, still amused, looking around at the debris.
“It’s my fault. I should have looked more closely at what she was doing.” Naveen said.
She leaned toward him and held his hand. “Singh-saab, thank you! I couldn’t have survived this party without your help. I can’t thank you enough.”
Razzy squeezed her hand. “Naveen-jio, I can’t imagine being anywhere else. I’ve been trying to tell you for weeks now ... That --”
Naveen shook her head. And looked at him for a couple of long moments. “I know. But, it can’t work between us. I’m 12 years your senior, and I don’t want to ruin your life --”
Razzy held up his hand, palm toward her. “Stop. I’d rather be fighting with you than kissing someone else.”
“What happens when your mother will ask you why you want to attach yourself to someone who’s divorced, older and has a child. You know how restrictive things can get. Our relatives, our families will never accept this,” Naveen said.
Razzy placed his finger over her lips and pulled her toward him, which felt right inside him. He didn’t care what his mother or anyone else thought about his feelings for Naveen. He didn’t care she was older. He didn’t care about the future when he knew full well that life offered no guarantees, no matter what. He realized that he loved her, and he also loved Mini and wanted to matter to them both. He had come to realize that he didn’t care about any of the social implications because the only thing he cared about was being with Naveen.
“I’m not going anywhere, Naveen. So you’d better get used to this face,” he whispered. “And you’d better get used to watching Mini perform,” he added.
She smiled, stroked his beard and outlined his eyebrows with her finger.
“I’ve admired your beautiful face, Singh-saab,” she said.
There on the sofa, surrounded by the party detritus intermingled with the all of Mini’s gifts scattered across the room in the aftermath of the kid invasion, Razzy, with the confident courage of a gatka warrior and claiming his victory, finally did what he had wanted to do for weeks.
He kissed her.
July 11, 2013
Conversation about this article
1: Arvinder Singh (Plainview, New York, USA), July 11, 2013, 6:36 AM.
Exquisite ending. Love knows no boundaries. Exhilarating love story told so beautifully, Rosalia. Kudos!
2: Taran Kaur (California, USA), July 11, 2013, 8:20 AM.
Loved it! It would be wonderful to have more stories from your pen. They are so utterly delightful.
3: Harminder Singh (Jalandhar, Punjab), July 11, 2013, 8:49 PM.
A well written and wonderful love story. Thanks, Rosalia, for this and will like to have more such stories from you. Wish you all the best.
4: Taranjit Singh (London, United Kingdom), July 12, 2013, 2:34 AM.
Rosalia! Marvelous theme of love expressed with stellar cast of words. Enjoyed all parts so much! Looking forward to more stories. Also, I hope one day someone can frame these fictions into short films or serials, and take modern Sikh romantic lore to a higher level.
5: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), July 14, 2013, 5:06 PM.
Vaah! Wow! The kiss sealing a love story the likes of which would shake the boots of all traditionalist Punjabi folks but make true Sikhs and all decent humans so happy! Thanks, Rosalia Scalia ji!
6: Amanda (Baltimore, Maryland, USA), November 07, 2013, 9:22 PM.
A beautiful story! With a beautiful ending. Thanks for a beautiful read, Rosalia.