SBI Colony, Pedda Waltair
Divya opened her eyes, slowly. Her head was still spinning. She could not pull herself together for close to a minute. It felt as if the last few hours of life were not accounted for. She had no clue as to where she was. That room was not hers. She heard the door open slightly. Warm breeze filled with humid moist hit her face.
“Good that you are up” Mr Reddy said as she walked in, smiling.
Divya smiled back and tried to make sense of the situation. She felt fuzzy. The lady handed her a mug containing warm milk.
“You passed out in your living room” Mrs Reddy said, sitting down on a chair next to the bed. “Ratthaalu saw you lying on the floor and called out to me for help”
“Oh!!” It was all coming back to Divya. The last time she remembered was watching TV in her rented house downstairs. It was her off the previous night. Clearly, night shifts were taking a toll.
“Thanks Aunty” she stammered, looking sheepish. Clearly, being a 25 year old young woman and passing out to be rescued was a little too much to take in, especially by a stranger who was also her land owner.
“I’m really for all the trouble” Divya said, looking around the room “When did you say I had passed out?”
“That I guess it must be in the morning” said the lady. “We carried you upstairs together. No trouble” She paused and went on. “See, please tell me you feel alright. Else we will take you to the hospital next door. Me and uncle are always around and looking for some excuse or the other to get out of the house” Mrs Reddy laughed in a friendly way.
Divya stared as she laughed. This was her first move to Vizag on the job. There was a stark difference in everything. Place, weather, people and yes, that exciting urge to stroll on the RK beach every now and then. However, nothing was known about how the local residents perceived the new incoming night shift employees. Divya looked for signs of judgment on Mrs Reddy’s face. Draped in a yellow cotton Sari, her land lady looked far from that.
“I feel okay, aunty. Have to get going. Think you have been bothered enough” Divya quickly got up from the bed to head to her house. Right side of her head still ached. But there was absolutely no need to escalate the same. It was easier to handle things alone, especially while still in the senses.
“No, where are you going?” Mrs Reddy instantly stopped her on the way. “You have to eat lunch and go. Come on. Don’t tell me you will go and prepare food now in this state. That is absolutely ridiculous”
Divya felt embarrassed. She had moved in to this house nearly a month ago, and never even bothered to communicate with her landlords except while paying rent. They were a fine couple, she thought. Both Mr and Mrs Reddy looked to be leading a happily retired life. She was curious about them but there was no time to pursue such musings. Night shifts were killing. All Divya did was come back to the base every day and crash. She wondered if they had any children.
“No aunty, I can manage” Divya gushed, while still pondering over thoughts.
Mrs Reddy would not hear of it. She made Divya sit on a sofa in the hall and switched off the running TV.
“We know that you city girls are daring warriors” she said, talking in a typical Vizag Yaasa. “However, you are like our daughter, especially now that you live with us and we have a responsibility towards you. I think you are not eating properly. Have a proper meal and head down to sleep. That will be better. Otherwise you will be low on blood sugar again” she said with concern.
Too much of warmth there, absolutely too much. Quantities that Divya was not even familiar with. Having lived in Hyderabad, she has seen people helping each other in certain ways. But this whole familiarization and calling a complete stranger a daughter was something new. There was too much affection pouring in. Surprisingly, every word from Mrs Reddy felt genuine. Diva smiled.
“Do you have children?”
“I have three sons” Mrs Reddy replied. “All of them are with Merchant Navy. So I and uncle are always left to ourselves, bearing each other and watching movies on the weekend or doing some stuff. We have been married for God knows how long. Still, he needs to listen to me first. He can put on a show outside. But this is my house” she went on and on, chatting, smiling, laughing.
Divya looked at her as she spoke, and a smile broke out on her lips. She began to love the first rendezvous with the true locals of Visakhapatnam. She had heard stories about the place and people. But this was a first-hand delightful experience.
“By the way. I have been talking too long and you seem like a great listener. But that’s not going to work. Tell me about yourself and your family”
Divya’s smile started fading, slowly. That mention of family brought back the last nasty fight that she had with her father. Moving to Vizag was not really approved back home, but Divya fought for her share of life and freedom all through. Hailing from a conservative background comes with a lofty price to pay, especially if you are an independent woman with a career in mind.
Whatever it was, Divya had to cut the story short. She gave a brief introduction about the parents and her brother. She explained her reasons to move to Vizag.
Mrs Reddy listened to her attentively. She then put her right hand on Divya’s head.
“You are such a brave girl” she said. “I should talk to your parents and say hello”
Divya hesitated. She smiled and nodded.
Mrs Reddy shook her head. “No, not sometime soon. Now itself”
Divya was appalled. There was no way she was going to give her the landline number in Hyderabad. Mrs Reddy will come to know of the ongoing tensions in her house.
“Not now, aunty. But I promise, sometime soon” Divya said.
Mrs Reddy went across the room and picked up the cordless. “Give me the number, Thalli. I just want to say hi. That’s all”
Divya decided that it was time to tell Mrs Reddy the whole truth.
“Actually, I am not in talking terms with them” she said, eyeing for the reaction on Mrs Reddy’s face. Will the affectionate lady with friendly demeanor now start judging the city bred BPO girl? Or will she continue on to chat away over things? Divya waited.
Mrs Reddy did not reply for a while. Then, suddenly, she broke out into a loud laugh.
“This just reminds me of the fight that I had with my father back in my 20s” Mrs Reddy laughed “I was trying to run away with the boy next door to Rajahmundry. We even schemed on getting away when my father came directly to catch us red handed at the railway station. Can you believe that?” Divya stared in amusement as her owner lady went on with the story, concluding how she was made to marry the same man in an arranged ceremony.
“So, you were in love with uncle?”
“The hell I was” Mrs Reddy laughed. “He could not even elope with me properly. And this happened when there were no high paying jobs for us girls. No prospects. I had to make a choice from where I came from. I’m glad it was uncle” Mrs Reddy tried to catch up on her breath as Divya looked on with a smile.
“Now, the number. Girl, you have no idea how rebellious we coastal girls can get”
Divya was relieved that there was somebody in Vizag who did not judge a single woman like her. Already, the non-locals were creating quite a scene in two of the pubs that operated in the city. There was a growing hesitation among the residents to rent out to BPO employees. Mrs Reddy, however, was quite amazing.
Divya had a decision to make. And it was an easy one. She went across the room, took the cordless from Mrs Reddy and dialed the number. She handed back the phone to her.
Mrs Reddy spoke to her parents. She praised what a brave girl Divya was, chatting away, discussing the weather, other things. She finally gave her parents the address where Divya was renting.
“You can come this weekend and we will take you to the beach and other attractions” Mrs Reddy concluded in her booming voice.
“I spoke to both your parents” she said while hanging up. “I think they miss you and love you a lot. That’s why they fight for your safety”
Divya gave it a thought. Mrs Reddy was right. She could not see the hidden affection and caring behind her father’s intentions.
“I will give them a call tonight before the shift begins” Divya said
“Excellent” Mrs Reddy was delighted at her response. “And now, let us eat. Do you eat chicken? You are a pretty girl Divya. Pick one among the three. I will not even ask your father for dowry..Ha ha..”
The warmth and hospitality of the Vizag residents is usually beyond words.