Authors: Sudha Murty
Sudha Murty was born in 1950 in Shiggaon in north Karnataka. She did her M.Tech. in Computer Science, and is now chairperson of the Infosys Foundation. A prolific writer in English and Kannada, she has written nine novels, four technical books, three travelogues, one collection of short stories, three collections of non-fiction pieces and two books for children.
Her books have been translated into all the major Indian languages and have sold over 300,000 copies around the country. She was the recipient of the R.K. Narayan’s Award for Literature and the Padma Shri in 2006.
Other books by Sudha Murty
The Magic Drum and Other Stories (Puffin)
Gently Falls the Bakula
Wise and Otherwise
The Old Man and His God
How I Taught My Grandmother to Read and Other Stories (Puffin)
TO MY SISTER JAISHREE
It gives me immense pleasure that my book
is being published by Penguin. The original book,
written in Kannada, has been translated into Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Hindi, Malayalam and Gujarati, and has also been prescribed as a textbook for undergraduate students in some Karnataka universities.
This story can happen in any part of India but I have set it in Karnataka, the region most familiar to me. I hope the book will show some families that love and affection can be more important than money.
ith growing impatience, Chandra Shekhar stood on the platform, waiting for the Rani Kittur Chennamma Express. The train left Bangalore in the night, went via Hubli and Dharwad, and terminated at Kolhapur in Maharashtra. The rake had not yet arrived on the platform. He had come to the station too early. His younger brother Girish, who had come to see him off, had gone off with a hurried, ‘I’ll get you some magazines, be back in a couple of minutes’, half an hour ago, and was nowhere to be seen.
That was Girish, easily distracted, fickle, almost irresponsible. He had probably met some friends and lost track of time. Chandru on his part was a sharp contrast to Girish—punctual, organized, thorough, systematic and ahead of time in everything. Chandru kept glancing at his watch. Finally he saw the train approaching the platform. He relaxed a bit, but something was bothering him. Born and bred in Bangalore, he had hardly even been to nearby Mandya or Mysore, and certainly never to this place, Dharwad. To him it was only a spot on the map of Karnataka.
Had he been a computer engineer, he would not have had to leave Bangalore. In fact people from all over India came to Bangalore for software jobs. But he was a civil engineer with a very reputed company in Bangalore and now, because of his efficiency at work, he had been specially selected to supervise a project in north Karnataka. He had accepted this transfer rather reluctantly. On his way to take up his duties in an unknown place, among unknown people, he felt like a newly-wed bride leaving her beloved parental home with mixed feelings of joy and apprehension.
Just as the train pulled in, Girish appeared from nowhere. He picked up the luggage and said, ‘Don’t worry, Chandru, I’ll put the luggage inside. You take your time.’
Deep in thought, Chandru followed his brother into the compartment.
‘Okay, Chandru, goodbye. Telephone us when you reach,’ said Girish, and jumped off. Chandru looked around at his co-passengers cursorily, and then turned his attention to the magazine Girish had bought for him. Soon the train began to move. Chandru looked out of the window at waving hands and people shouting goodbye and final pieces of advice. He had no one to wave out to. Girish was long gone. With a sigh, Chandru stared out of the window. He was travelling by train after a long time, and was not familiar with the sights along the railway track. It was quite interesting to identify the areas the train was passing through. He realized that his co-passengers were busy in their own conversations.
Chandru did not understand some of the expressions they used because, though the same language, the Kannada spoken in Dharwad has a very different accent and intonation. Perhaps because Dharwad is five hundred kilometres to the north of Bangalore and had been, for ages, part of the erstwhile Bombay Presidency. But Chandru understood the gist of their conversation. They were talking about music and the weather. Naturally. Because Dharwad was an important centre of Hindustani classical music.
Suddenly, an old man sitting next to him asked in a friendly and familiar manner, ‘Where are you going?’
‘To whose house? Are you going on duty? Are you travelling alone?’
Chandru was taken aback by the flurry of questions. Being a rather shy and introverted person, he answered briefly, ‘I will be there for a few months,’ and left it at that.
When his office had instructed Chandru to leave for Dharwad within a week’s time, Chandru had been extremely upset. He was quite happy where he was, and did not look forward to any disruption in the routine of his life. Seeing his long face and his reluctance to go, Girish had tried to cheer him up. ‘What’s the matter with you, Chandru? It’s only another part of our own state, and you will be away for just a few months. Look at our Kitty. He too was reluctant when he was sent there on deputation for a year, but now he has settled there for life! He has become a typical Dharwad-kar, doesn’t even bother to visit Bangalore during holidays.’ Krishna Murthy was a good friend of Girish’s. He was an officer in a bank and had promised Girish that he would take care of Chandru and make his stay comfortable. ‘Chandru can stay with me as long as he likes,’ he had said, adding, ‘and my mother, a great cook, will be happy too have him. She has also picked up some local dishes, so Chandru can enjoy both varieties of food.’
In spite of these repeated reassurances, Chandru was determined not to spend more than a couple of days with Kitty. His thoughts were interrupted by the old man. Unfazed by Chandru’s abrupt answer earlier, he said most cordially, ‘Come, join us for dinner.’ As politely as he could, Chandru refused, but that didn’t deter the old man. He kept starting up a conversation on one pretext or another.
As Chandru stared out of the window, marvelling at the hospitality of the old man, he heard a beautiful voice from the adjoining compartment.
In the lush green forest, the koel proves to sing
Shunning in contempt all the powers of the king.
It was indeed a sweet voice and captivated Chandru completely. Even the other passengers, engaged in having their dinner, were immersed in the magic of the unseen singer’s voice.
When the song ended, he heard a round of applause. ‘Once more Vinu, please,’ he heard some young voices clamouring for an encore. So, the girl with the golden voice was called Vinu, short for Vanita or Vineeta, he thought. He wanted to get a glimpse of her, but inhibition held him back.
‘Vinu, we knew that you would bag the first prize in the competition. The judge was nodding his head in appreciation while you were singing.’
‘Maybe, but that won’t make me sing another song now. We reach Dharwad early in the morning. If we oversleep then we may land up at Londa. All right, in the college ladies’ room tomorrow I will sing for you. Go to sleep now,’ Vinu scolded her companions gently.
Chandru concluded that these young college girls had taken part in a music competition in Bangalore and were now on their way back home. The thought that they were getting off at Dharwad cheered Chandru up somewhat.
‘Excuse me, this is my berth. Can you please vacate it? I want to sleep.’
Chandru recognized the voice instantly. Vinu. He turned to look at her. She was fair with bold and beautiful black eyes, a straight, sharp nose, and long, thick hair braided into a plait. She seemed slightly flustered to find someone occupying her seat.
Chandru stared at her shamelessly. She was wearing a simple cotton Ilkal sari and no jewellery. He had not expected the girl with the golden voice to also be such a beauty.
‘Could you please get up? This is my berth.’ She sounded a little impatient.
This brought him back to reality. ‘No, no, it is my seat. You are making a mistake.’
He showed her his ticket which said G-28.
‘But see, my ticket is also G-28,’ Vinu countered.
Chandru read the ticket: Vinuta Desai, F, 19, G-28. Obviously both of them had been allotted the same berth.
From the name on the ticket Chandru learnt that Vinu stood for Vinuta.
The clerk who was responsible for this confusion was probably sleeping soundly in Bangalore, leaving these two young people to sort it out. Chandru went to the ticket examiner, who dismissed it as an oversight and promised them that he would arrange for another berth at the next station. He requested them to manage till then.
Quite courteously Chandru told Vinu, ‘You take this berth. I will wait till the next station.’
‘Thank you. I am sorry for the trouble,’ Vinu said softly.
‘No trouble at all.’
Vinu settled down in her berth while Chandru went and stood near the door, waiting for the next station. The cold breeze sweeping his face heightened the unexpected pleasure he had experienced when he had encountered the golden-voiced beauty.