Subbanna screamed at seeing me. ‘You here? Thought you were in Vijayawada!’ The whole street was startled.
‘How long have you been in Mysore?’
‘One month! You didn’t have the time to come and see me!’
‘I didn’t have your address.’
‘But you could have come to my office!’
‘I was planning to.’
‘Where are you staying now?’
‘At a lodge.’
‘Criminal! All right. Come home with me.’
‘Some other time, Subbanna.’
‘Nothing doing. You are coming with me.’ Subbanna dragged me by my hand to his place. Subbanna’s flat was a small one but looked very elegant.
‘Parvathi! Look who has come.’
Subbanna’s wife welcomed me with a smile. She was always a cheerful lady.
‘You are having dinner with me.’
‘Some other time, Subbanna. I have bought a monthly meals ticket.’
‘All the better. You can buy your next ticket a day later. Have you brought your family?’
‘No. My daughter can get her school transfer certificate only after her exams. So, maybe, May.’
‘You are having your dinner with me now. No excuses.’
Not only that. Subbanna made me promise I would have my lunch with him on all Sundays and holidays until May.
It was a simple meal but an excellent one. I told him that it was the best dinner I had since coming to Mysore.
‘Ah, don’t I know you? You are always generous in praising imaginary things.’
I took leave of him. ‘Don’t forget! Next Sunday!’
But I forgot. I remembered only on Monday. So the next Sunday, I went to his house. ‘Ah, what a surprise! I thought you had left town to escape from my wife’s cooking.’
I didn’t argue. Again, a simple lunch but an excellent one. Subbanna was apologetic. ‘I will give you a special lunch next week.’
‘What’s wrong with today’s lunch? One must be lucky to get such food day after day.’
‘You are incorrigible. You find virtues where there is none.’
Again, I did not argue with him.
I went to his house the next Sunday. And the next. And the next. Subbanna’s wife had magic in her cooking. Whatever she cooked was unbeatable. But Subbanna would not allow my praises. He always said I was too generous.
I was getting tired of his contradicting me every time. I felt I should stop going to his house for lunch, but I was afraid of the following Monday. He might come to my office and raise a big row for not turning up for the customary lunch. So the following Sunday I did go to his house — for lunch.
His wife had served sambar. I mixed it with rice and took a mouthful. Then I sat up.
‘What is the matter? What is the matter?’ Subbanna asked, raising his voice.
Before I could proceed, Subbanna exploded. He shouted at his wife. ‘What is this wretched cooking? Can’t you prepare the sambar with a little care! Do you know the value of our guest? Serving him over-salted sambar! Get out! Get out of my sight!’
Subbanna’s wife was shivering with fright and confusion. The whole atmosphere had become unbearably oppressive.
After an unending minute or so, Subbanna tasted the sambar. He looked uncertain. ‘The sambar doesn’t seem to be over-salted, sir,’ he said.
‘Who said it was over-salted? It is excellent as always.’
‘But you seemed to say something about sambar?’
‘No. You never allowed me to complete my sentence. You always brushed aside my appreciation. You kept saying I lavish praises over imaginary things. See what happened now.’
It was very unpleasant but it freed me from having to go to his house again. But Sunday after Sunday, I missed the home-cooked lunch.
About the Author
Ashokamitran (September 22, 1931 – March 23, 2017) was the pen name of Jagadisa Thyagarajan, an Indian writer regarded as one of the most influential figures in post-independent Tamil literature. He began his prolific literary career with the prize-winning play “Anbin Parisu” and went on to author more than two hundred short stories, and a dozen novellas and novels. A distinguished essayist and critic, he was the editor of the literary journal “Kanaiyaazhi”. He has written over 200 short stories, eight novels, some 15 novellas besides other prose writings. Most of his works have also been translated into English and other Indian languages, including Hindi, Malayalam, and Telugu.