The Red Diary

“Hmmm. Where is it? Did I leave the investment file in my office desk…” pondered Kumar, while he emptied the drawer contents on to the floor. Old cassettes, CDs, Srivallis recipe books and a red 1984 diary were all strewn on the floor. There it was…the file. Was stuck way at the bottom. “Phew. Got it at last” thought Kumar. While putting back all the strewn stuff into the drawer, the red diary seemed to beckon to him to open.

Curiosity piqued, Kumar gingerly lifted the diary, recognizing it as Srivalli’s from her college years. Their bond of thirty-five years had long banished any notion of secrets between them, and he felt at ease delving into its contents.

As he skimmed through mundane accounts of Srivalli’s college days, one entry caught his eye—an entry titled “Oh my God, oh my God.”

The date was March 12 1984.

“Amma had warned me that they might just land up at college to have a look at me! It was a prospective groom from USA. The family was a politically influential one and they were looking for a good looking English speaking bride for the ‘boy’ settled in Maine.

The boy’s aunt was known to our HOD, Mrs. Sundaram. And amma had a feeling that before the formal bride seeing event at home, they might just land in college on some pretext to see me. Just as I feared, at 11:20 am, while the History ancillary class was going on, the peon whom we called Amitabh came into class and announced to the lecturer, Mrs. Geetha, that the principal wanted to see Srivalli.

I was faint with fear. I had already confided the possibility of someone visiting college to see me, to my close friends. Shridevi sitting next to me whispered, ‘Good Luck. Speak confidently. You look pretty today. Good I did your eyebrows only this morning.’ (Shri was learning to thread and we all happily allowed her to practice on us) I was wearing my new blue cotton copper sulphate blue churidhar, which had a matching cotton dupatta. I looked at Shri who gave me a reassuring smile and walked out towards the Principal’s office.

Mrs. Sarala Devi, the Principal, asked me whether my father’s name was Balasubramanian.. I nodded. She also asked whether I knew Bharathnatyam…before she could wait for my reply, she told me to go into the adjoining room where Mrs. Sundaram, our HOD, was there and seated with her was another lady whose eyes were busy assessing me…I stood there like a sacrificial goat, wearing a silly smile.

Mrs. Sundaram said that she wanted me to play Veena at some lions club event. It was obvious she was making it up. I replied back conscious of my English as I knew the other lady was listening intently…saying I would be happy to play the instrument. The whole meeting lasted for 10 minutes. Was relieved when Mrs. Sundaram said… you can go back to class…

I walked out and ran all the way to the 1st floor and went back to my desk knowing that my close friends were dying to hear what happened at the Principal’s office!

Soon word spread and I was the most talked about person in the Economics Dept Staff Room. All the lecturers wanted to know who Srivalli was. Mrs. Renuka called me to the staff room and said.. ‘Bring your Dutt and Sundaram textbook.’ While I went back with the book, all the lecturers were looking at me intently!

Uma found out why all the lecturers seemed so interested to know about me. I believe the Principal herself was enquiring the staff, whether I was a good student. Mrs. Savitri called my classmate Chitra, also the class leader and asked general questions about me…Of course, Chitra praised me sky high! Thanks Chitra…so nice of you to do that, without having a clue of what all this was about”

Kumar eagerly turned the page to read what happened next, but the next 10 pages were empty. And the following pages had nothing about this incident.

He smiled to himself. Will ask Srivalli tonight. He remembered vaguely about her mentioning about prospective grooms during her college days.

He took his file and walked to the car to drive to his office.

“Maine’s loss is Madras’ gain!” He chuckled to himself thinking that he must book a table at ‘Sunday’s’ the new swanky restaurant in the neighbourhood to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary. Must ask her what happened to Mr Maine…

To be continued…

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