That dark route leading to the well lit, tree lined Panchayat Road was only some meters away. Suddenly, the street lights went off. Raman, who was already petrified, didn’t turn back to look at who was asking him for betel-nuts. The heavy fragrance of the jasmine flowers accompanied by the jingling of anklets kept coming nearer to him.
Raman stood frozen. Sweat forming on his brow was now pouring down on his face. His heart started beating faster as he felt a soft yet firm hand touching his left shoulder.
“Boo”, said the sweet musical voice & Raman fell on the ground almost twisting his neck. Scrambling he looked up to see a laughing female figure dressed in a dark red Bharatnatyam practice costume wearing traditional anklets and holding a big bag of jasmine garlands in one of her hands.
His eyes widened to adjust to the half moon lit darkness. Getting up, he got closer and recognised the laugh and the face with relief. It was of Malati Radhakrishnan – his school mate & neighbor in the same lane.
“Malati!!!!! Why? You gave me a heart attack”, said Raman. Malati’s twinkling laughter pierced through the silence of the night. “What Raman – you thought that the yakshi had come??”, asked Malati laughingly as she came near him.
“How are you, Raman? Since when did you come back?”, Malati enquired walking alongside with him. Raman replied fondly, “I came from Palakkad office yesterday evening. How are you doing Malati? What about your dancing troupe?? And be careful while you come down, it’s a steep way!!” He offered his left hand for her to hold and climb down the stony road.
He watched her while she balanced to come down. Malati was just like he recalled – big doe shaped twinkling eyes, straight nose, dusky smooth skin, small face, straight long hair in a loose plait and a slim gait. And yet, there was something new in her that he could not identify!!
They walked chit chatting in general on the still dark but moon lit shady Panchayat Road and then turned together towards their lane. “It seems that power failure still happens”, said Raman. “Oh yes, it is an every day occurrence here, “replied Malati.
They almost reached the gate of Raman’s house. He said,’’ Come in. Amma would be really happy to see you.”
Smilingly, Malati said, “Some other time. And, I had already met her few days back in the temple. I have to rush home as Acchan is waiting for me. Its already very late”.
Raman responded, “ Okay. I will wait here till you get into your home”.
“You don’t have to…..but thank you!”, Malati said. She gave him a small wave of her hand and smilingly turned towards to go to her home. Raman waited till he could see her dark silhouette opening the gate of her house. She waved again and he waved her back.
Turning to open the gate of his house, he could see his mother peeping out in the courtyard anxiously with an oil lamp in her hand. “Raman is that you??, she asked
“Whom were you talking with?”
“Malati. She was coming back from her dance practice it seems”, said Raman removing his footwear at the sit-out entrance
“What? How can it be?? You must be mistakened.
Malati has been hospitalised & is in a ventilator at the Town Hospital since yesterday! Poor thing!! Her Father did call me last night to tell me this.
But today morning, when I tried calling, he did not reply. So, are you sure its Malati?????”
Follow PhotoStory section of this blog for more such photography stories and perspectives from our authors on various photographs.