The aroma of mouthwatering bonda and vadai from the jannal bajji stall in Mylapore wafted across the alley, and mingled with the tantalising whiff of filter coffee from the neighbouring houses. Oblivious to all this, Bhairavi stood on her balcony, eyes closed. A faint smile hovered over her lips. Her head bobbed in a steady rhythm. As she tucked away a tendril of curly hair behind her ears, her AirPods came into view. Somewhere, Suprabhatam in the divine voice of MS Subbalakshmi reverberated. But for Bhairavi, her morning had already begun on a euphonious note. Raja Rajathi Rajan Indha Raja… went the song on her phone. Like every Tamilian worth their raagam, she swore her eternal loyalty to Ilaiyaraja. What was life without his music?
And how could she have met Anand?
Her mind wandered to that afternoon she had spotted him at a keyboard store. She had finally mustered up the courage to approach him, and had raved about him like a starstruck teenager.
“I am also a fan of Raja sir!” she had added.
“What’s your favourite Raja number?”
His abrupt question had caught her off-guard, but she had recovered in time.
“Raja Raja Chozhan Naan!”
He had extended his hand towards her. “I like your taste in music. It’s my favourite song too.”
Bhairavi placed her coffee mug on the small table, and sat down on a cane chair. The maestro indeed had brought them together. How else could a bond have developed between a talented upcoming singer and a nerdy girl with an almost negligible training in Carnatic music?
Strings of an invisible guitar sent her heart aflutter. She got up and started to pace the balcony like a nervous cat.
Did I goof it up?
Memories of that wonderful evening would forever be etched in her mind. They were returning home after a concert. His Harley Davidson zoomed past the streets of Adyar, and her mind had been racing like a bull let loose during Jallikattu. As his bike halted outside her house, she could feel her legs turn to jelly. But he had caught her hand.
Sending a silent prayer to God, she had looked him in his eyes. “Anand! I don’t know what you feel about me, but I have fallen in love with you!”
A moment of uncomfortable silence ensued.
“Oops! Did I jump the gun?” she had wondered, hoping the inky sky would open its infinite mouth and gobble her up.
In response, Anand had kick-started his mean machine. “Can we discuss this tomorrow over a cup of coffee? Meet me at five p.m. at The Brew Room, Savera. Ok?” And with that, he had sped off.
The blaring horn of an autorickshaw broke Bhairavi’s reverie. She shook her head. “I am thinking too much! I think he also has feelings for me. As he caught my hand, he didn’t release it immediately.” After having consoled herself with this observation, Bhairavi picked up her coffee mug and went inside.
As Anand rode the Harley Davidson, it assumed a life of its own and raced towards his hideout, which was the top of a small hillock far away from the hustle and bustle of the city. He parked his two-wheeler and started walking slowly towards the edge.
He perched himself on the rock that had formed a perfect seat. His haven of peace!
Except for the chirpings of a few birds, there was silence all around. The city lay sprawling yonder. Anand closed his eyes, as his thoughts took flight into his past.
Winning that keenly contested music reality show, watched with bated breath by the entire state, had made him a popular figure. His tall, sinewy frame, and his wavy hair falling over sparkling dark eyes helped too. The girls swooned over him, sometimes taking things to an embarrassing level.
Just the other day he was at a pizza joint. A group of teenagers had recognized him and had rushed to his table, requesting a selfie. He had posed patiently with each one of them, with a fake smile plastered on his face.
And then it had happened!
He looked up at the mobile camera. He could see a girl with violet-coloured spiky hair holding it with one hand. The other hand came sneaking up to rest on his chest. Anand froze in embarrassment. The camera tilted, and the girl made sure both his face and her hand on his chest were caught on camera.
Being the polite gentleman that he was, Anand had left the joint. Why did he have to put up with this kind of transgression? So what if he was a male? Doesn’t a man have feelings?
That’s why I need to think hard now!
The view from the hillock brought out a feeling of sublime peace. Anand let the cool breeze envelop him for a while and luxuriated in the tranquillity.
The question came up soon and his mind searched for the answer he sought.
Should I say yes?
He did not believe in the clichéd ‘love at first sight’. Moreover the misgivings plaguing him could never let his feelings turn into love. He examined his emotions critically. Was he being impulsive? No! He did not think so!
He smiled to himself. If it had been a few years back, he would have jumped and said yes to her.
But of late, he had begun to feel the need for a companion who could be his anchor, and with whom he could shed his celebrity image, and be his true self. He yearned for the stability of marriage. A girl for whom he would be just Anand. Not the sensational heartthrob!
In a way, becoming a celebrity had matured him, helped him gauge himself and his true feelings. And they were saying an emphatic NO to her.
With a steely resolve, he got up, sat astride his Harley Davidson and kicked it to life.
Bhairavi parked her Honda Activa outside the Brew Room and took off her helmet. Looking at her reflection in the rearview mirror, she ran her hand over her curly hair. Her kohl-laden eyes stared back at her.
“Why does he have to prolong the suspense?” she wondered, as she entered the coffee bar. Anand had already reserved a table at the remotest corner. Bhairavi took her seat, and gestured to the waiter that she would order later.
As usual, I am before time!
Her meandering musings took her down memory lane and placed her inside the pizza joint. She had just bitten into the delectable Veg Supreme, savouring the briny black olives, when a few girls had squealed loud enough to choke on her sinful delight. Pausing to catch her breath, she had grabbed the Bisleri and wolfed down its contents in one go. It was then her eyes fell on the sinewy guy. Her eyes sparkled with joy as she recognised him. She had always rooted for him ardently, and had been on cloud nine when he was adjudged the winner. For someone who had experienced a meteoric rise in fame, he seemed to have a good head on his shoulders. He acknowledged the greetings of his fans with a graceful wave of his hand.
“Should I shake hands with him?” she asked herself.
A voice inside her whispered, “Hey! That’s too much. You hardly know him. A simple hi is enough!”
In the meantime, people had ditched their pizzas and had started to take selfies with him. Bhairavi sighed. How she hated this new trend! Whatever happened to good old autographs?
It was then she let out an inaudible gasp. What was that girl thinking? Her face reddened, as she saw the fan getting too close for comfort with Anand. Bhairavi then shook her head and chided herself. Why should she feel ashamed for some random girl’s obnoxious behavior?
The perfect gentleman he was, Anand had just smiled. But his eyes had revealed a different story. Discomfort was writ large on them. Muttering something, he had exited the pizza joint.
“Damn! There goes my chance!” She was sure Anand hadn’t noticed her. And why would he? She wasn’t a celebrity!
However destiny had been kind to her. On spotting him alone at the keyboard store, she hadn’t wasted the opportunity handed to her on a platter. Ilaiyaraja’s magic had done the rest!
“Penny for your thoughts?”
That mellifluous voice brought her back to the real world. Her eyes locked with Anand’s, and again, for the umpteenth time, the beats of the mridangam did a jugalbandhi with the rhythm of her heartbeats.
Outside the Brew Room, Anand took out his mobile, and started to type in WhatsApp. He felt that it was better to end the relationship through a message, even though propriety demanded that he does it in person.
This will hurt her! But wasn’t love and life about being totally honest?
He read the note again, changed some words, and checked for the umpteenth time that the tone was respectful and sensitive. Finally, with a satisfied look on his face, he sent the message to Tanya!
A heavy load seemed to have lifted off his chest. He felt liberated and at peace.
Tanya was the daughter of a famous Kollywood music director and had been smitten by him ever since they had met at a party. Anand too had been initially flattered by her adulation, and the razzle-dazzle of the film industry had swathed him in its glitz.
A few days ago
The rooftop of Sunset Grill bustled with customers. Tanya looked stunning in a silver sequinned short dress, and her luscious pink lips glistened under the lights.
She took his hands in hers and whispered, “Anand, I love you! I can't live without you. I think of you all the time! Let’s take this to the next level. I have already told my parents about you. They like you too.”
Anand freed his hands gently. He wasn't sure how to react.
“Tanya! Let's take this slowly. Shouldn’t we know more about each other before committing?”
Tanya didn’t hesitate in responding, “Anand! My parents want me to get married soon. You know your singing career can reach greater heights with my dad’s help. Your looks, your talent and your popularity amaze me! We will make a great pair!”
Anand kept mum. Tanya grabbed her purse and got up. “I will wait for your answer. But don't forget! I have no dearth of admirers!”
Anand had been in two minds about Tanya. He realised that she was shallow and superficial. The glamorous world of the rich and the famous had lost its charm soon.
It was then he had noticed this quiet, unassuming girl in an obscure corner of the pizza joint. He had been intrigued by her sober personality and serious mien. But by a stroke of misfortune, with all the unwarranted attention from the fans, he had to make a hasty exit.
But her face would keep popping up in his mind at all hours. Where could he find her again?
Lady luck, however, had smiled on him. He had recognised her instantly at the keyboard store. As if that was not enough, she was an Ilaiyaraja fan too, and her favorite song was ‘Raja Raja Chozhan Naan!”
It was destiny!
Since then, they had met many times, and he had fallen in love with her. He was in awe of her modest and uncomplicated persona. He enjoyed debating with her about politics, cricket, and movies. He admired the depth of her emotions, her liberal generosity, and her unwavering principles.
When she had proposed to him, he was elated. But he did not want to embark on a new relationship until he had ended the half-hearted one with Tanya.
He saw Bhairavi waiting for him at the café. With a spring in his step, he strode towards her. For some reason, the song Konjanaal Poru Thalava in the raag Anandabhairavi kept playing on a loop in his mind, and filled his heart with joy.
He whispered softly to her, “Penny for your thoughts?” and her love-filled eyes locked with his.
Bonda & Vadai – Fried fritters
Jannal Bajji Stall – A famous stall selling fritters from a window in Mylapore
Jallikattu – Bull taming event in Tamil Nadu
Anandabhairavi – A melodious raag of Carnatic music
Raja Rajathi Rajan Indha Raja – A peppy song by the famous music director Ilaiyaraja
Raja Raja Chozhan Naan – Another sweet soulful song by the maestro
Konjanaal Poru Thalava – A song speaking about waiting for your love, by Deva. It’s in the raag Anandabhairavi.
Narayani V Manapadam (Bhairavi)
Sudha Ramnath (Anand)