By Savitri Narayanan
“What to cook for lunch tomorrow!” thought Minal as she cleared the dinner table. The last piece of a pumpkin and half a bottle gourd which they had was cooked for dinner. With only some carrots and a cucumber left, the fridge needed quick attention. ‘How far is the vegetable market? How to go there?’ she thought as she washed the dishes.
In Gurgaon, where Kunal was posted earlier, life was easy. Their housing complex was walking distance from the mall so shopping was not an issue. A bunch of coriander leaves, a hair clip, and a packet of biscuits – anything was a reason to go to the shopping mall!
Next morning, as Kunal left for the office he said, “No clue back by what time, don’t start worrying!”
“Keep in mind the cooking gas connection,” Minal reminded as she closed the front gate.
Hazratpur was totally new for both of them and they were still to find their feet. Kunal was transferred there just a week ago. The company had helped them find accommodation. It was an independent house with a small garden in the front. There was a tiny backyard too where they could dry the clothes. About a kilometer off the main road, it looked like a quiet and friendly neighbourhood.
After seeing off Kunal, Minal returned to unpacking. In a couple of hours, the kitchen things were more or less in place. ‘Let me take a break before opening the suitcases of clothes,’ thought Minal as she settled down with a cup of tea in the front verandah.
“Namasteji! Welcome to our neighbourhood!” two middle aged women, out on some errand, paused at the gate to chat, “Where have you come from?”
“Oh! Gurgaon? That’s where my daughter-in-law’s elder sister lives,” said one of them.
“Arun’s uncle also stays in Gurgaon,” added the other lady, “They’ve been there for so long!”
“Will you have some tea?” asked Minal.
“Not today, but when you settle down,” she said and pointed at a house, “That’s my house and that one with the blue gate is hers; call out if you need any help!”
Minal got back to unpacking. ‘Will sort out and arrange the bedroom cupboards before lunch,’ she told herself turning to the suitcases. A neighbour or two walked in, off and on, to introduce themselves and offer help. “Give a call if you need anything!” they had said passing on their phone numbers.
By evening the unpacking was more or less done and things were in some order. Minal swept and swabbed, took a shower and came out into the garden. She liked the row of marigolds near the gate.
Two middle-aged ladies passing by paused to chat.
“Coming for a walk with us,” said one of them, “Will show you around!”
“May be tomorrow,” said Minal, “My husband will be back any time; he’ll be hungry!”
Dinner was usually the time when they exchanged news and compared notes about family and friends and things in general.
“Looks like we are in a good place; good people around,” said Minal. “While I was unpacking, quite a few came offering help! Milk packet, maid, shopping – ‘just give a call’ they said! So helpful!”
Next morning, Minal planned to walk around the neighbourhood with the hope of finding a vegetable shop. It was exciting in a way to start life on a new page, to uncover a new neighbourhood! She did the breakfast dishes and tidied up the kitchen.
Just then the phone rang. It was an unknown number.
“Namaste ji ! Come to my house, have something to share with you!” said the caller. There was something warm and affectionate about the voice. As Minal fumbled for words to respond, the voice laughed aloud, “How foolish of me! You don’t even know who I am! Across the road, the second gate on the left – the one with the bougainvillea, that’s my house!” she said, “Bring along a bag!”
This was getting interesting. Minal tried to guess who it was. Out of those who had walked in to introduce themselves, who was calling? Or was it one of those evening-walkers who had stopped to chat like those two middle-aged aunties? Who was this inviting her with a bag?
Minal picked up her shopping bag and locked the door. As she crossed the road and approached the ‘house with the pink gate and the bougainvillea’, Minal noticed two ladies coming out. Both carried something in their bags. Another lady came out of the front door, again carrying a bag of something!
“Come, come!” came the greeting as Minal approached the front door, “Come right in! Welcome to our new neighbour!”
There were lots of vegetables around in tubs and bags. Carrots, tomatoes, beans, turnips and gourds- a feast for the eye!
“From our family farm in Chanderpur,” said the lady in green sari responding to the question in Minal’s eyes, “Please fill your bag, whatever you like!”
“This is God-sent! The search for the vegetable-seller stops here!” thought Minal as she filled her bag with beans, turnips and lots of carrots. How thrilled will Kunal be at the sight of ‘carrot halwa’!
Minal looked around for a weighing balance or someone whom she could make the payment. “Take some more, bhabhi,” cajoled the lady in the green sari, “Don’t you like bitter gourd? Or do you need a bag?”
“I picked up so much already; such fresh vegetables!” said Minal, “So kind of you to call me; How much?”
“Enjoy cooking and eating! It’s our honour to share with our neighbours!” she said.
“But how can it be? How can you give all these free? Let me pay something!”
The old lady seated on the floor, apparently her mother-in law, spoke up. “’Beti’, the world doesn’t run on money! God has blessed us with so much, can’t we do at least this much for our neighbours?”