Aisha was sitting in the kitchen, next to the stove and giving instructions. Anwesha and I were following them and preparing chicken biriyani. Aisha was an expert in cooking. For a long time now, both of us wanted to learn how to prepare Chicken biriyani. So, after many months of pestering, Aisha agreed to teach us.
As we were frying the chicken, Anwesha’s phone rang and this was her end of the conversation;
“Amma tell me.”
“Yes, left from Pipeline junction. Why?”
“Tell me why ma.”
And then a series of things happened.
Anwesha’s squeak, running around the hallway, some unintelligible shrieks and sounds, running into the bedroom, then into the kitchen, we asking what happened, she still squeaking and taking the plate of fried chicken, running towards the washing machine, opening its door,
“Stop! Stop! STOP!”, Aisha and I screamed together and Anwesha stood still looking at us.
“What happened? What did your mother say?”, I asked wide eyed.
“She is coming here.”
I knew what that meant, “Really? Are you sure? Why suddenly?”
“Uh yes! I don’t know. But she is reaching the junction and soon, she will be here. Hurry! Clear the kitchen, the chicken, the eggs and the sausages from the refrigerator!”
“And put inside the washing machine!? Was THAT your solution?”
“Let us argue later. Do something. I’m out of my mind. Help mee! Amma can’t see this.”, she was terrified.
All of us began the hiding process.
“How about eating all the eggs now?”, she asked.
“Anwesha! There are 8 eggs in there. What do you think!?”
“Okay fine Miss thinker!”, she snapped.
The chicken went into Aisha’s cupboard, the eggs in mine and the sausages under the mattress. The fried oil was kept aside in another bottle, again in Aisha’s cupboard. By then Anwesha’s mother had reached the apartment and she went to bring her up. We ensured that there weren’t any traces of unwanted things, sprayed some room fresheners and waited.
As they walked in, she said, “These are my roommates.”
“Hi”, we chorused with our elders-special smile, reserved only for all the elderly people.
“What are your names?”, Aunty asked.
“What?”, her mother looked at Aisha.
“Aishwarya”, Anwesha cut in.
“No. No. She said Aisha. I heard her.”, her mother corrected.
Anwesha had been staying as a paying guest in a Tam-brahm household for the last 5 years. She wasn’t allowed to stay with any other caste people because, they didn’t want her to stay in a place with ‘not much shuddhi’ which implied non-veg food. Sharing an apartment was a big no-no initially. But after months of convincing, they agreed to it, provided she had tam-brahm roommates. She and had been roommates for over 6 months now. Aisha had joined 2 months back and Anwesha hadn’t told her parents that she wasn’t a Tam Brahm.
“Yes Ma, but her real name is Aishwarya. We call her Aisha for short.”
Her mother didn’t seem convinced, but she let it go. She began to unpack her bag and the name, form and smell of vadu manga (Mango pickle), narthanga (Lime pickle), murukku (South Indian Snack) etc began to fill the room. As her mother gave instructions about the expiry of all those items, she began to take a look at the apartment. Anwesha followed her. As she entered the kitchen, she began sniffing around,
“What is that smell?”
Anwesha began to perspire, “Smell? Oh it’s the pickle you brought.”
“No, it isn’t!” *sniff*
“Of course not! It is the sambar we made.”
“Oh! Trust me. It smells nothing like vegetarian.”, she said in a threatening tone and turned around searching, opening cupboards and the refrigerator.
Anwesha began the sniffing since she was out of words, “I don’t get any smell.”
“In fact, I don’t even know how non veg food smells Amma, so how can I discern the smell?”
“Oh come on! I’m a pure Brahmin. I haven’t eaten non-veg either. But I know it.”
I piped in, “Anwesha, Aunty is right.”
I turned to her, “Aunty, the smell must be from the neighbour’s place. Every Sunday, they make non-veg food. We can’t stand the smell. But today, we sprayed some room fresheners and forgot about it. That is why the confusion.’
‘Yes Amma. Sometimes we fight with them and they blow the smell into our house using fans. Terrible people.’, Anwesha was clearly overdoing it.
Aisha indicated with her eyes that she should reduce the exaggeration. Everyone knew that Anwesha was a very bad liar.
‘Just kidding ma.’, she added when she got the signal.
‘Show me your bedroom.’, her mother said and Anwesha joined her.
I went into Aisha’s room and signaled her to come with me.
“Listen, Aunty is taking rounds. She’ll definitely come into your room and the chicken really smells. God! What to do?”, I asked.
“Really? I don’t get any smell.”, she said sniffing.
“You have been eating non-veg all your life. You wouldn’t get any smell! But she will. Now listen. I’ll get some incense sticks and light them here. If she asks you why, tell her you’re on a vrat today.”
“Wait! What if she asks me more questions? I don’t know anything about vrat & all.”
“Then what else can we do?”, I was desperate now. I had heard a lot about Anwesha’s parents that I knew this wouldn’t end well if either of them knew the truth.
“Wait. My mother gave me a room freshener which I haven’t opened yet. We’ll try that out.”, Aisha said.
“But we already tried one.”, I knew that wouldn’t work.
“We don’t lose anything by trying this one too!”
She fished her suitcase for the air freshener and sprayed quite a bit in the room.
“Okay. What about plan B?”, I asked.
That question was never answered for her mother had reached our room, towing Anwesha behind. As she came closer,
“Hmm… that smells good. What is that?”
She asked us both. I looked at Aisha. She looked at the bottle and read out,
“Aunty, this is Ambi pur’s air freshener.”
“Smells really good.”
She turned to Anwesha, “Why don’t you use things like these? Your room had an odd sort of smell. Learn something from your roommates.”
Her mother liked Aisha’s room a lot and spent almost the rest of her time there, sitting and chatting with everyone. Wonder of wonders, the smell of the freshener not only lingered for long, but wiped any traces of the chicken’s smell that was there. After some more, ‘learn something from them’, ‘the smell is very nice’ and Anwesha’s panic stricken exaggerated lies and cover ups, her mother decided to take her leave.
“I am really glad that you both are her roommates. Now I won’t have any tension about her. You must come home sometime.”, she said to us and then,
“Anwesha! Just message me the name of that air freshener. I keep forgetting names.”, saying so, she left.
As she closed the door, Anwesha said, “Phew! That was close! Seriously guys, what was that smell? Wow! I am so marrying that thing!” 😛