The day was so stupendously well spent that when the night began, the spirit of the day did not reduce. That was when she entered the scene.
Niece of S-mama, Lalitha used to come visiting during her holidays. She lived in Thirukodikaval, a serene village on the banks of the river Cauvery in the fertile rice belt of Tanjavore District. It seemed that whenever she came, she carried the fragrance of the paddy fields with her.
Neyveli suddenly became beautiful whenever she arrived. That was what I felt then.
The time of her arrival was always kept a secret. When I returned from school, if there was a whiff of jasmine fragrance in S-mama’s household, it should have been Lalitha’s arrival. At that moment, my heart usually skipped a beat.
Then the wait would start. I would anticipate her arrival at our house with bated breath. Those days, I would ensure that I was in my best dress.
As she usually came around twilight hour at around 6 PM, I would be eagerly expecting the shout of ‘Maami’, her calling card that she used to announce her presence to my mom. When the sound hit my ear drums, my heart usually increased its beats and pump more blood.
That day, she was dressed in her characteristic green top and a yellowish green long skirt ( pattu pavadai in Tamil ). I caught a glimpse of her from the orifice in the door and hid myself behind the door of my room.
Usually after the customary chat with mom, she would start looking for me and at that time too she began to toss her looks around the hall. I knew she was looking for me but I wouldn’t announce myself.’Let her search,’ I thought ‘she kept me waiting until now.’
The door of my room opened slowly and I was inhaling the fragrance of the jasmine flowers. Her movement was so elegant and swift that, before I noticed, she was in front of me but facing the other side, looking for me. As was the practice, I shouted ‘BOOOM’, surprised her and enjoyed her laughter. The movements were well rehearsed and both of us knew this as we had been do this for the last many years.
After the laughter died down, I took her to the backyard to exhibit my manhood. Or was it boyhood? I carefully opened the perforated box under the gooseberry tree where I had imprisoned a yellow butterfly for the last 2 days as a present to her.I let the butterfly on her plait where she had worn the jasmine flowers.
Never did I know that was the last time she would come to our house. For the next couple of years, she had come to S-mama’s house but had chosen not to visit us. However I could see that she was stealing some glances at me whenever I passed in front of S-mama’s house.
After a couple of years, I had tried to ask S-mama in an indirect fashion when Lalitha would come. He never gave me a direct answer.
Twenty years later, while on a visit to New Jersey, I was surfing the channels in my hotel room when in one of the channels I saw a lady explaining the anatomy of a butterfly to some school kids. The lady seemed familiar.
Half asleep due to jet lag, I strained my eyes to look at the name on the screen. The tag read Dr.Lalitha Goldberg.
Was she the jasmine girl?
I don’t know to this day.