“Your transfer is approved. You have to report in Bengaluru office the by 22nd ,Monday, next month.”, his boss confirmed.
“Thank you!”, exclaimed Sree.
Sree was happy. He could stay near Harini; meet her frequently; above all could express him well. If not for Harini’s dad, his Uncle, he would not have been timorous.
His uncle had never had a good impression on him. Sree’s mother was the last daughter in Harini’s dad’s family. Sree’s father never had a permanent job, due to which Harini’s dad had to support his sister, her son and her husband’s need. Sree was playful most of times, unpunctual and irregular in schools, slightly below than a mediocre student.
One fine night, due to ginormous piles of debt, Sree’s father decided to leave behind his family and move away. Harini’s father had to clear all the debt to bring him back to his family. Harini’s dad expected Sree to grow responsible and polite. He was, but in his own ways, which failed to impress his uncle.
The fact that his father was not able to support his own family, his uncle’s constant hatred towards his father, made Sree to cloister himself into his own world. He learnt to be independent, he grew as a one. His uncle named him, ‘Just like your father’, he neglected thinking, ‘you are too scathing.’
Harini’s mom had been a great source of encouragement for him. Sree decided to visit her. Before he could join in Bengaluru, he planned to visit Chennai.
He mailed Harini his transfer document and tried her number. It was busy. He tried again. It still was.
“We never imagined you would say this. Pavan came in person and told us.”, her mom spoke in trembling voice.
Harini made out that she was crying and Harini knew why, Pavan had done his job. She put her phone on mute, closed her eyes tight and exclaimed, “Yes!” Her headphone wire dangled severely in her mirth.
“Did you speak to him?”, she asked Harini.
Harini was still on mute. She was happy. She tried to conceal her euphoria.
“Harini, when did you speak to him?”, her mom repeated. As Harini began to speak, she heard her Dad’s voice in the background, coming in as a rescue, as her mom stopped her questionnaire there.
“We understand you child. We are happy you told this much earlier. Else, it would have been difficult. You could have very well told us about this, before talking to Pavan. I am still not sure from where you found such valiance.”, her Dad’s perception in this matter staggered her. “But, are you sure you are fine with what Pavan told us about the wedding?”, he continued.
“Yes, Of course”, came in her gutsy response.
“Can we proceed with what he has told us?, because once we are into it, there would be no room for looking back.”
“Please, Appa. Whatever he had told you is true. It was completely my decision.”
“What made you decide so?”, her dad asked.
“That is because, I care about my future.” she replied, holding her head high, as she had succeeded in an intrepid attempt to call off the marriage.
“Geeeee!!!”, she smiled as Preetha, picked her call up. Harini wanted to share it as soon as she could.
“What is the matter?”, asked Preetha.
“My wedding is called off. Pavan had told my parents about it.”, as Harini completed, her phone buzzed as there was another call waiting.
“Hey, my cousin is calling me, I will get back.”, she hung up Preetha’s call and switched to Sree’s.
“Sree!”, she smiled.
“Hey, Sweetu”, he replied.
“I have a happy news.”, both them uttered in unison.
“You first!”, Harini ordered, for Sree to oblige and he did.
“I am coming to Bengaluru next month.”
“Before I answer, you tell me.”
“Wedding is called off.”
“Wow.”, Sree exclaimed.
“Mom called. She was sobbing that the wedding is annulled. Pavan had told something about what I spoke to him. I am not sure what it exactly was. Dad asked me repeatedly whether I was sure about rescinding the marriage. He was insisting that we cannot look back, once it is called off.”
“Happy for you.”, he said. ‘Happier for me.’ he thought.
“See you soon dear.”, Harini tried to end the conversation.
“Sure. Sree will see you soon.”, he cut the call, listening to Harini’s smile as he played with words.
Sree was sure she would ask him how and why he got the transfer. But she did not. She cared for him; but did not question his intentions. She watched for his actions; but did not follow them; She respected his feelings but did not interpret those.
‘Uff’, Harini let out a sigh of relief. She placed her personal mobile on charger and checked her official number. There were no calls. It implied she had no orders. She slided her window glass, rubbed her palm, folded her hands across her chest and sat cross legged on her chair, resting her cheek on the window pane. It has been a couple of weeks, she had hardly concentrated on her ‘Home away Home’. It needed a push. She had to take it to the next level. Few rain drops fell on her face. ‘Nice and chill’,she thought.
Her doorbell rang.
He did not wait for her to open the door completely. He tilted his head to meet her eyes. Before his enchanting smile or his alluring ‘Hi’, could reach her , her eyes caught his spellbinding look. His sharp gaze made her blush. She had never felt that way before.
“Ms. Chef, Hi.” , Abhi’s impeccable charm poured in.
“Hi, Abhi.”, she replied.
“The gentle drizzle, cool breeze, the pleasant night weather reminded me of you. “ he shrugged his shoulders, pressing his lips together and raising his brows, as if he could not help himself and that was why he was there.
“Excuse me?” , Harini crooked her brows.
“I mean, I ..I. Just came here because I was hungry.”, He nodded his head, gesturing that he managed to correct himself.
“Hmmm.”, she smiled, tucking a starnd of hair behind her ear.
Kumar noted Harini and Abhi as he climbed the stairs up. This was the third time he was seeing him; twice with Harini and once in front of the flat, standing for a prolonged time. He threw a suspicious look and moved away.
“Won’t you invite me in?”, asked Abhi.
Harini still looked at Kumar and nodded with reluctance.
“What do you want for dinner?”, she asked still brooding on Kumar’s scrutiny.
“As you wish, Ms.Chef.”, smiled Abhi.
As he approached his flat, Kumar dialed his friend’s number.
“Hello”, his friend attended the call.
“Hey, this is Kumar. I find one of Harini’s customers is trying to get close to her. I find it strange. I saw him for the third time today. I do not think it is for good. “
“Oh, is it? Just let me know how he was. I will take care.” replied his friend.
Two floors below, Harini packed a serving of Phulka and subzi, which she decided to eat for dinner. She tried to send Abhi away, as quickly as she could.
It was 7 P.M, when Harini was paying her bill at the local grocery store. She had gone for getting some mozzarella. She had three orders for Cheese Pizza. She was happier than ever. Her orders were gradually increasing in number. She had a minimum of 4-5 orders per day. She was just 10 minutes away from home. Saba had gone for a delivery, hence she had to come by walk. It was an order to be delivered near Quwwatul Islam PU College.
As she walked back, she saw Abhi talking to her Apartment owner Somayaji, pointing to her house.
Abhi froze for a moment, as he saw Harini. He quickly completed his conversation and kick started his bike. Before Harini could call him, he drove fast, disappearing from her sight.
Harini threw a weird look.
A couple of hours later, as Harini packed her last order, she heard her doorbell ring.
“Hi.”, Abhi stood there waving both of his hands.
Harini looked at him, taking a deep breath.
“What was it with the house owner in the evening?”
“I will tell you, before that can you let me in?”
She sighed. She opened the door widely, signing him to come in.
Saba was back and waiting to collect the next order for delivery.
“Saba Anna, How are you?”, Abhi asked in a cheerful voice.
‘Why does he has to ask this, when we met few hours ago?’, thought Saba. He still managed to answer, “Fine, Sir.”
“Harini. What is the order that you are packing?”
“Mr. Abhivadan, may I know who you are and what is going on?”
“Oh. Oozy –gooey cheese pizza.”, he exclaimed.
“I guess I asked you something.”, demanded Harini.
“I will tell you. Before that I want you to know something. ” Abhi nodded his head.
“What is that?”
“I know how much are into this ‘Home away Home’. I really feel you should come out a little of comfort zone to expand it and make it popular.”
“Come again!”, Harini stressed every possible syllable in anger.
“I mean to say, why can’t you take few more steps to make it happen?”
“I am already trying my level best to make it happen. I do not want some stranger to walk in and vilify me, who does mysterious things around me. You are just a customer and that is it. You can mind your own business and for now, you can leave.”, she pointed her hands towards the door.
Abhi looked at Harini and then at Saba. He looked at Harini again, for one last time and strode away, without uttering a word.
The next morning was usual than ever. The previous night’s incident did not have any impact on Harini.
She took her bag, locked the house and walked towards her entrance to leave for office.
She saw the girl who lived in her opposite house. She was in her PJs buying milk.
“Hi.”, she, for the first time, smiled at Harini.
“You are such a great cook to own a restaurant?”, she exclaimed.
Harini did not expect her to ask this, at least right in their first meet.
“Hi, I am Harini. Yeah, I do own one, but it is quite small. By the way, how did you know about it?”
“The board says it all.” she pointed to the outside wall of Harini’s flat. Harini turned in a jiffy, perplexed.
‘What? A board?’, she thought.
There was a beautiful board with ‘Home away Home’ written in beautiful cursive. It had her contact number too.
“Thanks.”, she managed to smile.
As she stood there confused, she saw her house owner approaching, heading for the morning walk.
“So you like it?”, he asked. “Your friend came to me last evening. He told that putting up a small board will help to boost your restaurant’s popularity. He was here to ask my permission. “
“Yes. He told some peculiar name; some vadhan. Got it, Abhivadan”, he smiled.
“So happy with it?”, he asked again.
“Yes.”, Harini forced a smile on her face.
‘In just a day, the girl, who had not spoken to me once before, was able to identify me as a good cook. Such is the reach. Oh my god. I had been hasty last night.’ She thought as she walked.
Few hours later, Harini locked her computer monitor as she handed over her ‘Process Hazard Analysis’ report to her Chief chemical engineer.
George, her chief engineer was happy with the way Harini was interfacing with the Japan Team. It was half past 7 in Bengaluru, while it was already 11 A.M in Tokyo. Nobuyuki-San, the chief Analyst in Japan, had sent a note accrediting her flawless work. She was allocated morning shift to overcome the zonal time constraint.
As Harini walked to the cafeteria, to grab a cup of hot coffee, her mind drifted to Abhi. She was thinking about him in the morning. She should not have been so hasty. She could now recollect the intensity those golden eyes had. She tapped the cafeteria table with her fingertips.
‘How would I apologize?”, she thought. ‘When I had the nerve to chuck him out of the house, I should have the courage to repent for my mistake.’ She looked around. She had left her mobile at her work station. She finished her coffee and walked back.
As she grabbed to dial his number, she heard the chief calling her.
“Harini, can you please come here?”, he called. She walked swiftly to his computer.
“The Hazard and Operability Study, and Failure Mode and Effects Analysis columns need more quantitative details. Also, here it is mentioned that there are no toxic or flammable substance. But this proposed reaction releases a lot of impure oxygen. This segment needs correction as well.”, he listed out , pointing to Harini’s report.
‘Disaster’, she thought to herself. She had already been a part of PHA Screening. She should not have let that happen. ‘Where is my focus?”, she questioned herself.
“I will talk to him first, this evening. It is eating my brain. But for now, I will get this done.”, she reminded herself.
“Hello!”, Abhi called out for the fourth time.
All that he could hear was soft breathing.
“Harini, if you are not going to speak, I am going to cut the call. For one last time, Hello?”, he spoke.
Harini was not surprised, that he knew her number. She called him from her mobile which she had been using exclusively for Home away Home.
“I am sorry.” she managed.
“That is ok.”, he replied stern and short.
“Accept my apology, please.” she requested.
“But still, wasn’t it too much to hurl me out, just like that?”
“I shouldn’t have done that. I was hasty. I know it was an impetuous and stupid act. I am really sorry.”, Harini tried to apologize.
“Ok. Ok. Apology accepted.”, Abhi smiled. “But in return, I want to meet you for a coffee this evening.”, he continued.
Harini sighed. She could not avoid.
“Ok, Sure, but not too late. I will have to get back home max by 7.”
“Excuse me? I cannot have a restaurant owner beside and go on a date outside.”
“What? A date? No. It is just a meeting.” Harini corrected.
She heard Abhi laughing hard. “So you did not listen what I said prior?”
“Abhi!”, Harini let out a deep sigh. “Sure, Come home.” she pressed her lips together.
An hour later, he was home.
Abhi smiled at Harini as he sipped his steaming coffee. She sat opposite to him with index and middle fingers of her left hand on her chin. She looked elegant in an Olive green Salwar, hair plaited. As she placed the coffee mug back on the table after a sip, a drop of coffee stuck to her lower lip. She took her index finger and wiped it off her lips. Abhi would not have mind helping her, but Harini would never ask for.
‘Lucky Coffee’, he spoke to himself, a little louder.
“Pardon.”, Harini spoke.
“I mean, I am lucky for this coffee.” He curled up his lips, took the mug in air and showed it to Harini.
“Thanks.” She replied.
“I wouldn’t have bothered if you had not apologized.”
“Then why did you pretend as if you were taking so long to accept mine?”
“You never know how sweet you sound. It is a pleasure listening to you. “, he complemented. “And if not for the prolonged drama, I would not have been here, making this evening a memorable one.” He finished.
“Come on.” Harini threw her arms in air, smiled at him and stared out through her windows.
“Where is Saba Anna?” Abhi asked.
“He has gone for delivering orders.”, she replied.
“Hmm. Okay. “, he shrugged his shoulders.
“So where do you work. Your timing seems to match mine.”, Harini probed her first question that involved a personal touch.
“I work with Netway; SJM Towers. Just 15 minutes from your office.” Abhi smiled.
“How do you know where I work?” Harini threw a skeptical look.
“Do you remember? I spoke to Somayaji regarding the board? I got to know from him that your office was at Cunningham Road.” , Abhi smiled.
“Oh.Ok.”, she replied.
“I am from Chennai. Where are you from?” Harini tried to know him more.
“I was born in Chennai; brought up in Ahmedabad. “ He smiled. “Parents are there.”, he continued.
“So how about you?”, he asked.
“My home town is Chennai, plus dad runs his office there. So parents are there. I came here for my career.” she stopped to look at Abhi.
He rested his arms on the table and cupped his face with his hands and leaned forward.
His gesture conveyed he was keen in knowing more. His eyes were warm and were liquid gold in the evening twilight. It was comforting to look at and it signaled that he would embrace more of her talks.
She continued to talk more.
“Food and cooking are the greatest thing for me. My work and passion both involves food. This restaurant is just a little spark to ignite my dream to land in stars; Starts in the sense, my cook book, my food channel, my own website, where I could couple home food and science behind it. “, she spoke with pride and aspiration beaming in her eyes.
“Hey, so, how long you have been here?”, Harini asked Abhi.
“Uh.. Two years.”, he managed.
“Oh. Ok. Ok.So how many of you in your family?”
“Four of us; Mom, Dad, brother and I.”
Abhi felt Harini had started to question him too much.
“So why this name?” he asked her, on a casual note.
“My dad’s choice. He wanted his daughter to be pure, gentle and prosperous always.”
“I did not mean ‘Harini’. I meant ‘Home away Home’.”, he smiled.
“Hah. Sorry. I am not sure, but I am a strong believer that food is the integral part of not just stomach, but also heart. The sheer magic of food is how long it indulges in your heart. Not just the stomach, but your heart should feel full too, after you eat my food.”, she paused to smile and look at him.
“That is how I wanted to cook for people. According to me, when I think of home, It is just the comforting food and relaxing environment that comes to my mind. I just named it in an attempt to give people, some comforting food , that reminds them of their home. Hence ‘Home away Home’. I was inspired by my mom. She is a great cook. She did it for 6 members in the family. When I try to do it for 6000 people, she claims is it not a dignified profession.” She smiled.
“Wow.”, he exclaimed. “We do not connate the dreams; but, the attitude to achieve them. I am spellbound. Certain people inspire us by achieving; you inspired me by aspiring; they are so lucid.”, he smiled. He felt he could just hug her, gently pat on her shoulders, kiss her cheeks and say he would be there for her always.
But all that he did was putting up a gracious smile, suppressing his thoughts.
He felt it was time to get back to the topic.
“Hey, by the way coming back to business. “ Abhi rubbed his palm, pulled his sleeves back and clenched his fist tight.
“What?”, she asked.
“I have some ideas. They are open. You can choose or deny.” he pointed both his index fingers towards Harini.
Harini thought , she could listen to him. She cannot be hasty every time.
“So you have two different numbers. One for personal and the other for ‘Home away Home’ right?”, he asked pointing to her mobiles on the table.
“Yes.”, she nodded.
“Let’s do something. Let us note all the numbers who have contacted you so far. Let us form a group called ‘Home away Home’ in the texting service App. Have that as a platform to communicate to all members at once. Out of all the cuisine you offer, make one signature dish in each cuisine per day. You could decide it in the morning and plan accordingly. Exactly at 3 P.M when your order line is open, drop in a message in the group describing your menu for the day. It will attract people. They can either ping in the group or separately for placing the order. By making one dish in each cuisine, you can reduce the purchase of Raw materials based on the request, also you could be more organized. Apart from the signature dish, if you have some extra stuff in Pantry, just think what you can make and add them to the menu.” , he finally took a breath.
“I had thought about it. But what if that particular dish is not their preference?”, asked Harini.
“That’s an almost impossible thing. Only when you have a lot of choices, choosing is difficult. You choose it better when the choices are less. The same principle applies here.”, he smiled.
“Sounds great.” she smiled. “Thank you. I will surely do this.”, she assured. Harini was astounded. ‘What an idea?’ she wondered.
“Oh, my time is up.” Abhi grabbed his mobile.
“7 P.M was for me to return if I was out. If it is at home, you can stay longer.”, Harini bit her lip as she spoke.
“What was that?”, he asked.
“I mean, It is already 7, how long will it take for you to reach home?”, she managed to re-frame her sentence.
“Uhh..”, Abhi fumbled.
“By the way, where do you stay?”, Harini asked.
“Twenty odd minutes from here.”, Abhi managed to make up.
“Oh. Vasanth Nagar?”, she asked.
“Yes.”, he smiled.
“Ok. And one more thing.”, Harini tried to continue. ” I thank you so much for the banner. It looks great.”
“Way too early! Reserve your Thanks until you see the reach.”Abhi smiled.
“I have already! I witnessed one in the morning.”, Harini grinned. Abhi smiled back, as he waved her a bye and ran towards his bike.
He met Saba who was waiting for him in the street corner.
“Sir, I am standing here for the past thirty minutes. I would be in big trouble if I get noticed. “
“Don’t worry Saba. It is all until Harini gains my trust. And then..” Abhi paused to smile. “By the way, I thank you for providing Somayaji’s contact number. See you.”, he continued and raced ahead fast.
Saba was not sure about anything. He had kept his staunchness at stake.
Abhi’s messaging app group Idea worked well. It had been one week since Harini was executing it. It was perfect. Abhi’s idea did help in ameliorating her order flow. Harini served a minimum of 12- 15 orders per day. Abhi’s order came in every day. He was her first guest.
As she had the group going on, there was one thing that concerned her. It was Abhi’s absence in it.
She did not fail to ask him why.
“Hmm. Not Sure. Social networking does not interest me.”, he replied with a wry smile. Harini did not look convinced.
“Come on. You can stay in touch with just your fingertips.”, she justified.
“I do not believe in shrinking the atlas, but being a stranger to my own neighbor. I do not want to stay electronically connected through an App. I want to stay emotionally connected through the heart.” , he smiled. Harini found the point valid.
“You make sense.”, she smiled.
“Thanks.”, came in the response.
That day was a lot demanding. She had 4 orders for Pizza margherita, five orders of Cauliflower Pulao. She struggled to put things together. As she wiped her sweat away, she heard the doorbell ring. She still had 20 minutes for her order. She prayed it was not the person for take away. As she opened the door, she saw Abhi standing at her doorstep with a smile.
“May I come in, Chef?”, he smiled.
“Sure.”, she smiled back.
“Looks like a hard day.” He raised his eyebrow.
“Yes. Have a seat.”, she pointed to her sofa and ran into the kitchen.
As she rolled the dough for pizza, she heard Abhi walking into the kitchen.
“How may I help you?”, he asked. “Hey, No. Thanks. I will manage.”, as she replied, she opened the oven door, trying to pull out the Pizza stone with bare hands. “Careful.”, Abhi shouted. He hurried towards her to fetch her glove. She managed to get a box and pack the pizza. She hurried to the stove top to check on the rice.
“You are inexorable.”Abhi looked at her in awe.
She winked and ran to get the Cauliflower florets. Abhi helped her to gather the items the pack things for her.
It was easy and fancy to cook 3 or 4 servings having more than half hour for each dish; but to make 12 servings it required a lot of multitasking and planning.
Abhi felt she was nailing it.
It was around 9 P.M when she packed her last order. Saba was there to deliver. Saba did not fail to throw a skeptical look at Abhi.
‘Ufff’, Abhi felt puffed after completing the last order. He was just moving around, getting things in place for Harini, while she did everything.
Abhi looked at her; for a long time. She arched her body and stretched her arms. It was surprising for him how much energy she had; it was surprising how well she managed; how beautifully she brought out a dish. She was not a chef, she was an artist. She crafted even the minuscule fragment of food with utmost perseverance. He lost himself in her; in her determination; in the way she loved her dream.
He rested his palm on her kitchen countertop and with a low thud, he sat on it.
“Whoa!”, he exclaimed.
She smiled at him.
“You are a monster in the kitchen; A sugary , cute , little monster.”, he smiled.
“Thanks. I take that as a complement.” she laughed hard.
She checked for messages in her personal mobile, placed it on table and excused herself for a short refresh. As she returned to her living room, pat drying her face, she noticed Abhi meddling with her phone.
“What are you doing?”, she asked in panic.
“Just surfing through the messages.”, Abhi replied.
“That is my mobile. How dare you do it? “, She asked, her face reddening.
“Cool down Harini. I was kidding. I dropped it by mistake. I was just placing it back, checking if the display was ok.” he replied calmly.
She looked at her mobile and hit her head. “Sorry.”, she replied, smiling sheepishly.
“That is ok.” he smiled, feeling a massive relief that he was able to pretend as though he did not meddle with it.
Abhi left after a sumptuous dinner. Nevertheless to say, he visited her every day for dinner. He planned so many things to impress her. He was just being impressed by her more by every passing day.
A couple of days later, as Harini hoped out of the bus, she ruminated about the day’s dishes. Corn Avocado Pasta, Mooli paratha,Sago idlies, she thought.
She procured the ingredients and walked home brisk. It was almost a week, since she spoke to her parents. She texted her father a couple of days back, for which she was yet to get a response. So she decided to call them tonight.
She climbed up the stairs , just to see Abhi waiting at her doorstep, with a huge pakcage in his hands.
“Hey.” , she exclaimed.
“Hello!”, he stood up and walked towards her.
As she keyed in her door, she opened it ajar and let Abhi in. He struggled to take the box that was wrapped in a shimmering red paper.
“What is with that pack?”, asked Harini.
“Well. That is my gift to the most enthralling cook I have ever seen.”, Abhi smiled broadly.
“It looks huge for a gift.” she shook her head. She did not expect this. She was not sure why should Abhi gift her something. What did she mean to him? She thought they were developing a good friendship. But what does this going to mean?, she had numerous questions.
“What is there to ponder on it so much? It is just a gift.”, he smiled, as though he read her mind.
“All the hesitation would prevail, just until you open it. Once you do, you are going to love It.” he continued.
“You will play with it like a pro.”, he exclaimed intriguing her further. Red shiny gift wrap, a little oversized box. What would it be?, she thought.
“A Persian Kitten or a Pug puppy?” , she raised her eyebrows.
“Well that would be a nice choie of gifts; but you are going to love this.”, he assured. As she unwrapped, all that her hands could feel was untangled long stripes which ended in a plug. She slowly uncovered the whole gift to see a new branded Oven.
She eyed him with awe.
He was gratified to see the joy in her eyes.
“That is wonderful. Thank you so much.”, she spoke in between her smiles.
He winked at her, gesturing there was nothing to mention.
“You do not have to run and pull out a hot pizza stone with bare hands.”, he smiled. “Hurt less work more.”, he added.
His smile was like the balmy days of the late summer. His presence was so comforting. She felt she could hold his hands and move mountains. She felt, his presence sourced prodigious power to move on and on. She panicked at her own thought. Wasn’t it too soon?, her mind reminded.
‘Sometimes it is just the instincts. Even a fraction of second is too long.”, her heart convinced.
‘Have I fallen for him?’, she asked herself, confused.
“Hello.”, his voice brought her to reality.
“Dreaming about Pizzas and cakes?”, he smiled.
“Yes, I was dreaming.”, she replied.
He helped her arrange the oven.
“You have octopus hands. Multitasking is your greatest asset. I hope that an extra oven will help you a little.”, he complemented.
“I am so excited to use this. Thank you so much.” she exclaimed.
“Please; enough of thanking me. Will I get a cup of coffee?”, he grinned.
She slowly headed to the kitchen, looking at him through the corner of her eyes.
‘You are the one, causing the affable battle between my mind and heart.’ she thought, looking at him, smiling at her own self.
It was a couple of days since he gifted her oven. It did make her life easy.
A minimum of 12 orders came in every day. Abhi advised her to track how many new customers she fed every day. There were atleast 6 of them. She was very happy with the numbers.
“Off late I sense some difference in you.”, Preetha asked Harini, as they had their lunch.
“Really? What kind ?”, Harini tried to understand the question.
“You seem as though you have got rid of your uncertainity, hesitation, anxiety you had about this new place, your restaurant. You seem more confident. ”
“I have got good direction how I should really progress with ‘Home away Home’.”
“Yes. I really see good response in the group.”, Preetha nodded her head.
“Not Just that. Look at this.”, Harini showed her mobile.
“‘Home away Home’ page in a social networking site?”, Preetha exclaimed.
“Yes. It was his idea.” Harini smiled. “He gave this idea; to open a page and slowly invite all my friends to like them. Also, when someone places an order, I would post a pic of it on the page and thanking them for the order. If the member who has ordered is in my friend list, I tag them. By this way the page gets more popular and so my restaurant.”, she spoke in single breath.
“Who is that ‘he’ ?”, asked Preetha.
“Abhi. Abhivadan.”, Harini smiled. Harini could sense how much happiness his thoughts brought to her.
Harini’s smile lured Preetha to talk further. “Where and how did you meet him?”
Harini narrated the rainy day, Aloo paratha order until the gift.
“You are so fascinated to talk about him. What is going on?”
“It is too early for that.”
“I thought you were just attracted to him; but you assumed I was about to talk about love. “, Preetha nudged Harini. “You have fallen for him.”, Preetha assured.
“It is time to get back to work. Come on. “, Harini pulled Preetha by her arm.
She got an answer for the question she had last night.
“Mom, Your message did not reach me at all.” Harini argued for the fifth time. She called her parents that evening.
“No I did reply.”, her mom was not ready to give up.
“Why there is such a juvenile dissension? Just ask her will she be here by 20th.”, Harini could hear her Dad’s voice from behind.
’20th for what’, she thought. She did not ask though. It was almost a month she visited her parents. She had to go to Chennai.
“Harini..”, she heard her mom’s voice.
“Be here by 20th.“
“Ok mom. Fine.”, she sighed.
“Did you hear me?”, her mom asked. It was her parents’ way of re-iterating things.
She checked the calendar.
“Yes Mom. I will come on 20th.” she assured.
She suddenly heard a noise in the kitchen. Her mind diverted. The glasses she had stacked had fallen. As she hurried to arrange them, she sensed her mom was talking something.
“….You have to think how understanding we are. That is why we are calling you on a weekend.”
“God. Same story”, she mumbled.
“Ok, Amma. No worries.”, she tossed a generic reply.
“Ok take care until then. You are living in an apartment, all alone. You never think about asking me to come over. What else is my duty at this age rather than staying with my daughter?”
“Mom, I have told you ample number of times. It is difficult to set in a new place at this age. The climate is totally crazy here. It is freaking cold in the morning. It rains in the evening.”
“I checked with my friend Radha. She told me wearing a sweater would help.”
“Mom, please. Please don’t start all over again.”
She could hear sobs.
‘Just because they have accepted the way I have called off the wedding, does not mean I have to comply with everything that is being said.’ Harini thought.
“Mom please.” She tried not to be offensive. There was prolonged silence. It meant upset and anger.
“Mom, Please. I will come on 20th. No worries. I will take good care; you too, please. Love you.” She pacified her mom and cut the call.
She headed back to Kitchen. She had five orders for cheese corn pizza and two order for Vegetable Paratha on hand . As her mobile beeped, she rushed to check the order.
It was a text; A text from Abhi.
“Sorry. I am out of town for next few days. I will not be able to come over. Happy cooking, see you this weekend.”, Harini read it loud.
She was not sure what he was doing. She could ask. But she was not sure what stopped her. He had been doing so much to her. She was not sure why.
She was not sure about anything related to him; even how she was relating herself to him. She smiled.
She walked to the kitchen. She had prepared the food. She needed to bake it. She gently held the handle of the oven, Abhi gifted here.
‘How supportive he has been?’, she spoke to herself.
How it would be to find someone who would safe guard my dream, more like his own, she thought. He is doing so much for me. What am I going to re-pay with? Before that why should he? Who was he? She wondered.
Why was her mind drifting towards him, she thought. She was not the same until yesterday.
His absence slowly created a void. Her mind drifted to his thoughts to fill the vacuity.
‘Am I missing him already?’, she thought. ‘No’, screamed her mind. ‘Yes’, acknowledged her heart.
Her thoughts were distracted by a strange suffocating feeling.
‘What?’ she wondered as she turned around.
She then realized it was the burning smell of the flat bread which she had left on the stove top. She ran to fix it.
Few miles away from Harini’s house, a car headed away from Bengaluru.
“So how is it going? his friend asked.
“All my actions, so far, are felicitous enough to make her fall for me.”, Abhi replied. “She is just awesome. Looking at her every day is so special. Her food is to die for.”, Abhi smiled to himself.
“Do you love her?” , his friend asked him.
“Of course yes.”, he replied.
“Then why do you have to do this to her?” , his friend asked in confusion.
“It is to make her mind feel exhilarated, unhindered by all her obsession.” Abhi spoke as he pushed back his seat.
“You are imeprilling your love for her, your eminence, above all your future.” his friend warned.
“Future?”, Abhi asked in confusion.
“Yes. What if she lodges a complaint against you?”, his friend spoke as he had an eye on the road. The darkness slowly crept in.
“No, she won’t. She is bold and beautiful. Deep inside her, there is a tender hearted girl, who longs for a person, to support her dream. I will do it for her. I will do anything for her. And then..” Abhi paused to smile.
“And then?, his friend asked.
Abhi punched his friend in his arm and nudged him to drive meticulously through the tenebrous road.
The gleaming brightness of the aurora through the window glass, made her roll over to the other side of the bed.
She covered her face with the quilt and continued to enjoy her morning sleep, which she never got during the weekdays.
She was startled by the sudden ringing of her mobile.
“Hello.”, she answered, her voice evident that she was sleeping.
“Hey, Harini. Good morning.”, the voice from the other side cheered her up.
She rubbed her eyes, trying to open them.
“Did you see the newspaper?”, Abhi’s voice slowly brought her to senses.
“Good morning, Abhi. No I did not.”, she spoke in between short yawns.
Abhi sensed she needed sometime. He cut the call and was waiting for her to call him back.
Harini called him in the twentieth minute.
“Hey!!”, she exclaimed. “I saw that.”, she smiled.
A famous national Newspaper was conducting a Cookery competition in Bengaluru , to promote their newly launched Food magazine ‘Flavors’.
The participants were supposed to post the picture and recipe of their signature dish and panels of chefs will short list twenty members. The twenty members would cook in two rounds at the ‘Flavours’ magazine backyard studio and the winner would get to post their recipes or food ideas or any food related content in their magazine.
The recipes were to be submitted in another week’s time, while the phase-off cooking at the studio was due in a fortnight’s time.
“That’s huge.”, she exclaimed.
“Just think about ‘Home away Home’s popularity if you win it.”, Abhi re-iterated it. “ Now no time to waste. Just work on what the dish you would be sending.” He prompted her.
Harini was both, enthralled and bewildered. Her mind raced. It was a great opportunity. Her mind rushed with ideas. She thought about it all day at office.
Two days passed by.
Abhi felt he should call Harini and check on her progress. As he dialed her number, an excited Harini attended his call.
“Abhi. Can you come over? I have come up with a dish. I just want you to see it.”, she called.
“Hey, that’s great to hear. I am very excited to see it; but I am sorry. I am stuck up in office. Send me the image.”, Abhi replied casually.
“But, you do not use the App that supports Multimedia transfer right? “, Harini asked, her excitement slowly fading. Had he started using without letting her know? She wondered. But did it matter, why should he tell her? she corrected herself.
Abhi bit his lip. He cannot afford to make mistakes at that point of time. Things were coming together beautifully. He was just a step away from gaining her trust.
“Hey, I am Sorry. I was just held up here and sorry little out of mind. “ He managed. “I will be there in few minutes.”, he cut the call.
Harini rubbed her palm, impatiently.
Abhi expected a marvel in front of him, as he reached her home. She opened the door, letting him in, while his eyes searched for the dish.
All that he could see was golden potatoes, a cup of rice, Panner tikka in a skewer and red cabbage and capsicum juliennes.
She looked at his disappointed face. She smiled.
“Wait. The gimmick is here.”, she grinned.
Abhi could see that she was heating a unique looking wooden plate on high flame. After few minutes, she neatly arranged the cabbage leaves. The leaves sizzled.
She carefully plated the rice. The moment the rice came in contact with the hot plate, it gave out a perfect aroma of herbs. She plated her potato wedges and the skewers. Her house started smelling wonderful. The whole dish came together graciously.
Abhi looked stunned.
“Marvelous.”, he exclaimed. “What was that?”, he smiled.
“A sizzling Italian platter with South-indian inspired Chettinad Paneer tikka.”, she smiled.
“Oh my Goodness! It is sure a winner.” He exclaimed.
She rushed in and bought her digital camera. As she zoomed in, she found Abhi raiding his backpack. He took out an enormous looking DSLR.
“Winning dishes deserve much more.”, he pushed her camera to a side and focused the lens onto the plate. He suddenly stopped.
“If you won’t get me wrong, I feel it could have some greens sprinkled. Probably leek or fennel or parsley or coriander.”, he spoke as though he recollected it hard.
“Are you kidding me? You are talking about leek and fennel? Where did you get all these names from?”
“It is not unfair to get a bit of knowledge of something that you have mastered.” He winked. “I know how much you love food and cooking. I thought I would know about it a bit, so that I can understand you better.”
She looked at him in awe. ‘You tried to know it for me?’, she thought.
“Hello? Some green coming up or shall I take a snap?”, he brought her back to reality.
“Just a second.” she ran to the fridge, to see the stock, still not out of the shock.
They posted the best picture captured, along with the recipe. The wait to know the result, which lasted for a week, seemed as though it was never going to end.
To Harini’s excitement and Abhi’s surely-you-will-win attitude, her recipe was short listed.
By that time, the next week, she would be cooking in the city level competition.
Her excited voice filled his earpiece.
“Sure, I will be there in the next 5 minutes.”, he smiled as he cut the call.
She had invited him over to celebrate their first victory.
She sat at her window, the cool breeze hitting her face. She thought about him.
She smiled, how much his presence had impacted her. She could not think of anything else except him , his charm, his attitude, his interest in her passion; the way he revisited every single letter before uploading the recipe; the way he motivated her; the way he assured she would win.
She could imagine how well he would support her, for the rest of her mammoth ambitions. Life would be so much easy with him, she assured herself. He was the one who could understand and love her passion as much as she did, in fact even a little more.
She smiled, ‘Yes, he is the one.’
As he cut the call, Abhi thought hard with a wry smile. He planned to deceive her, but the things that happened in sequence enhanced his chances and encouraged his motives.
“Don’t do this to her.”, his friend, who had been watching Abhi all the while, warned.
“She shouldn’t have done…”, Abhi paused to smile.
His friend shook his head.
“No time for old stories. My present is just more awesome.”, he clenched his fist tight and punched in the air.
“I am reminding you, your whole life is at stake.” , his friend apprised. Abhi was calm.
“You have unnecessarily involved Saba.”, his friend cued up.
Abhi smiled. “Yes, but I know I will win.”, he spoke as he took his bag, heading to Harini’s flat.
Abhi was invited by the cheesy aroma.
“You have taken orders today, too?”, he casually removed his bag off his shoulders and placed it on her bean bag. He walked straight to the kitchen.
Off late, Abhi made him more comfortable at her place.
“Just 5 pizza orders; this is the last one I am preparing; two in the oven; two gone already. “, she smiled. Her smile was warm. Abhi felt he should be the reason behind it, forever. He loved her; he loved her a lot.
As she soiled both her hands with pizza dough for the next order, she sensed her apron knot loosening.
“Oh my!”, she exclaimed. As she tried to support the rope that was unfastening quickly, she heard Abhi’s voice.
“If you don’t mind”, Abhi spoke softly, “I can help.” he continued. She looked at him stunned. How it would be to feel his arms, around my waist, tying the rope?, she wondered. She felt goose bumps all over her body. She slowly closed her eyes.
“Excuse me.”, his voice startled her. He stood there, holding the end of the rope that had just unfastened. It held the apron in place.
“I hope your hands are not wet. Just dust them and tie.” he instructed.
She smiled at herself.
“What?”, he asked.
“Nothing.”, she looked at him, deep into his eyes, smiling broadly at her own stupid thoughts. He was too gentle.
She looked into his golden eyes. She was not sure how long it had been, she would not have bothered even it had been ages that way, lost in his eyes.
She shifted her gaze as the doorbell rang. She knew it was for the take away.
She took out the pizza from the oven, packed it neatly. She stuffed a couple of packets of mixed herbs, Chilli flakes and ketchup sachets.
“You have to be careful with the other famous Pizza shops.”, Abhi spoke as he stood, leaning against the wall.
“I know. But they are professionals. I am just an amateur. I can be inspired by them to make good pizzas, but it is way too soon to consider them as my competitors.”
Abhi smiled. “By careful, I meant, don’t send them home soon. Leave some business for them too. “
Harini smiled. “Well that is an exaggeration. Hey , we have got to give this.”, she grabbed the pizza box and walked to the door.
There stood a guy, waiting for his order.
“Thank you for placing your order with Home away home.”, Harini smiled.
As she handed over the pack, the guy looked around, handing over a card.
“Sorry sir, I do not accept cards.” ,Harini clarified. As she did it, Harini saw him searching his wallet for money. The guy came up with a one thousand rupees note and exclaimed ,“ I don’t have any change.”
Harini walked in to get the change, while Abhi felt something was strange with him. Abhi felt he was just buying time.
“How much was the bill?”Abhi asked, trying to sound polite.
“180”, Harini replied.
“Here is your change Sir. Thank you for ordering with us.” he tried to smile. Harini neared as the guy was about to leave.
“I am Naveen’s friend. He never told me you are married.” , He asked in an attempt to clarify his confusion.
Abhi looked at Harini. She answered him as though she read his mind. “Naveen is my colleague.”
“I am sorry. But I think you have your food delivered. Is there anything we could do to you, related to your order?” , Abhi suppressed his disgust, stressing on the last four words, optimistically ordering the guy to mind his own business.
“No thanks.” the guy moved as though he understood what Abhi meant, not failing to throw a who-is-he look.
Harini smiled at Abhi. His anger towards the guy was evident on his face. She looked at him, realizing how protective he was.
Abhi saw the guy leaving, he also saw an older man looking at him.
Kumar ascended the stair case, scrutinizing Abhi.
“Come” , Harini called Abhi in.
He smiled at her, he smiled at his own accomplishment. From a stranger, whom she hesitated to allow waiting in the corridor to a person whom she thought , would protect her.
“I will bring you dinner.” she walked into her kitchen, grabbing the Apron and the sweet memories it held. It was after twenty minutes, she walked out with hot masala dosai and its accompaniments.
“Wow.” Abhi exclaimed.
She smiled, as she placed the plate before him.
“This is special.” she smiled.
“I can’t wait.” Abhi rubbed his hands. As he grabbed a big piece to pacify his growling stomach, he heard Harini speak.
“You would not ask me, by what means it is special? “
He smiled at her. “What makes it special?” He asked.
“I have added an ingredient; A four letter ingredient, for the very first time.” She smiled trying to hide her blush. Abhi kept relishing the food, not noticing her.
“Salt? But that is supposed to be added to every savory dish right? What else it could be?” he thought hard. “Some more clue.” he grinned.
“Starts with L and ends with E.” she smiled.
Abhi thought for a while. Couple of minutes later, He smiled, as if he knew it.
He looked at her and said, “Got it; Lime.” He grinned.
She sank back into her chair and frowned.
“You are not getting it, do you?” She replied, worried.
She grabbed the plate from him and pretended not to return it until he answered.
“Brain does not work with hungry stomach.” He replied, his face innocent.
She smiled as she handed over the plate back. She looked at him for a few seconds. He was enjoying her food.
“I wish I could cook for you, forever.” she blurred out, words falling through her mouth involuntarily.
He looked up, stunned as if he heard her. “What?”, he asked, suppressing a smile.
“I mean, I wish I could cook forever, for a person who could enjoy as much as you do.”, Harini replied. She was not sure, if it made any sense. She was happy she could at least manage.
“I am thinking hard, but I cannot make it out. What is that four letter ingredient?”, he asked. He lied and Harini knew it.
She looked at him, deep into his eyes.
“You know it. Why would not you tell it?”, her eyes spoke in silence.
“I want to hear it from you.”, his eyes replied.
She sought solace in his eyes.
She lowered her head, swallowed hard and parted her lips, just to say , “Love.”
The moment she uttered the word, his mobile rang, aloud. She was not sure whether he heard what she spoke. He took out a big mobile. It was a smart phone, for sure.
“Abhi, I…”, she tried to talk.
“I am getting a call, don’t you see it?”, he replied. He was tensed.
Abhi was tensed; he did not expect the call now. He can neither attend nor walk away as both might be a problem for him. He quickly finished his meal and left. Harini was not able to talk to him any further.
He thanked her for her meal and bade a bye, not failing to wish her luck for the competition.
She did not get a moment to ask him about what she had told. She was embarrassed. She was confused. He had told her, he never used latest phones. Where did the new phone come from? Had he been hiding something from her? What was the call all about? If it had been a more personal, he could have attended at the least. Why didn’t he attend?
Something was strange.
Two days passed by. The competition was just four days away.
Abhi did not visit her for the past two days.
Harini was confused. What was he doing? Had she been speculating too much? Had she been hasty? His equivocal nature left behind questions, just moot questions.
She could not confirm he was wrong, but could neither assume he was right. She checked her watch. It was 3.15 P.M. Time for orders in ‘Home away Home’. She could not do it today. She held her head. She took her mobile and posted in her group that Home away home was not functioning today.
She sat in silence for an hour. She decided to make coffee for herself. In another few minutes, the entire house was filled with the aroma of the brewing coffee.
Her doorbell rang. She simmered the flame and walked to the door. Stalking few books in hand, that rose up to his face, stood Abhi, craning his neck above the books.
“It’s heavy. Would you mind helping.” he asked. Harini was perplexed.
She was sure to ask him few things, to set them straight.
As she placed few books on her table, she turned towards him. He saw her. She refused to meet his eyes. She knew they would drive her crazy. She knew those eyes would daze the mind and dumb her tongue.
“I know you are angry.” Abhi commenced.
She sat in silence. Abhi sat in the couch opposite to her.
“I am so sorry. I had to leave the other day. It was a call from a friend, who got caught in a small misunderstanding with the police. I had to be there to help him off the case. I was not really sure how would I explain it to you, since it involved cops, case etc. That would cause you unnecessary concerns to brood, when you have big things to ponder.”, he smiled.
She shook her head. He was convincing; but every time he was. She was not ready to believe this time. She still looked away. He got up and slowly moved towards her.
“Abhi.. please.”, she spoke for the first time in the past ten minutes. “I know you have reasons. But just that they are confusing Me.”, she held her head.
“Your actions…”, she paused. “Your actions are either disturbing me and rattling my heart; or confusing me and rattling my mind.” she paused to take a breath.
He knelt down before her and got a closer look of her face, her eyes. She turned away, skipping his gaze.
“Harini…”, he called in a mellow tone. “I am sorry.” He continued. Harini still looked away.
“Harini, can you look at me?” he pleaded. She was still.
“Abhi, can you understand that I am upset?”
“Of course I do. Can you understand I am pacifying you? “
“Stop playing with words. I don’t want you to conciliate me. I want you to elucidate me. “
She concealed her tears. She spoke her heart to him, for the first time; for the first time ever to a guy.It was when he left her. She was not sure if he heard it. Had he heard it and ignored her? Or had he not heard it? She did not know.
She was angry; he was true. She decided not to bring it up again, until he expresses it.
“Harini, look at me.”, he spoke breaking the silence. “I am very sorry for what had happened the other day.” he continued.
She looked at him, trying to stop herself, looking at his eyes. But she could not. She looked at those deep golden eyes.
“I know I should not have left you that way.”, he spoke looking at her eyes.
“It was not about leaving me, but did you…”, she tried to speak, stopping herself, somewhere in between, reminding the decision she took few minutes ago.
She let out a sigh.
“Fine, let us not talk anything about it further today.”, she took her hands to wipe her tears. Abhi stood up. She looked at him. He looked embarrassed.
“Here are some books; few of them are recipes, while rest, of it talks a lot about various unique combinations of spices and ingredients that take a dish to whole new level. With just four days left for the competition , I am not sure if you can finish it all by then. But you can just go through as of now. Read it slowly, they might help you in the long run.”
She still looked down as he took his bag. He walked towards the door expecting her to stop him; but she did not.
As he stepped out, he heard her murmur.
“What was that?”, he asked.
“Nothing.”, she replied looking away.
“I heard you.”
“You know that I am upset and angry. You still shove these books and move away right? Can’t you just make me feel better?”
Abhi dropped his bag, standing at the door step, not sure whether to step in and hug her or step out and run away, for the statement she just made.
He stood there, looking at her.
“Why don’t you get anything, the first time it is said?”, she asked, her face red in anger.
He walked slowly towards her and kneeling down this time. He could see her reddened face.
“Harini, I do not have any fancy words to assuage the chagrin. I don’t even know if I am doing it right or if it is further aggravating your anger. I walked away the other day, with the belief that you will understand me. ” he stopped for her to look at him and she did; into those deep golden eyes.
“We expect someone to understand, only when we really want them to; only when we really do not want them to get us wrong; only when they mean something more important than the others. It is easy to have a wrong assumption; but it needs an altruistic heart to assume that someone was right. Needless to say, you are one such a person.” he stopped.
She looked at him still. He had thought so much about her. Why did not she do that? She was embarrassed. She had tears.
“I just…”, she began, while he slowly signaled her to stay quiet.
“I wanted you to understand and believed that you will; you were angry on me, because you wanted me to tell. I expected you to understand and you expected me to justify. We have started expecting more mutually.” he smiled.
He neared her to wipe away a tear drop that ran through her cheeks.
She stopped him. “I should wipe away my own tears. I am not weak.” she replied, her face stern.
“Ok Madam, but are you strong enough to clean the pot, with coffee stuck to the bottom?”, he winked.
She rushed into the kitchen, with a smile.
The whole night seemed to convey so many things. The books were laid on the table undisturbed, while she stood by the window, thinking about him. She fixed her gaze at a tiny spider web in her window pane and ran his thoughts through her mind. Everytime a wind blew and her hair strands came up in front of her eyes, she came to senses.
For a while she thought where was the relationship with Abhi going? But for the next few minutes she thought who was he? In short she was confused.
If he was just a stranger, why could’nt she banish his thoughts from her mind?
If she wanted him through the rest of her life, why could’nt she affirm it in her mind?
She let out a sigh. She did not like being this way, anguishing about him.
The darker the night, the brighter the stars are.
The deeper she thought about him, the more he shone like the brightest star in her confused, conjectured mind.
She sat on the couch, legs crossed, waiting for the sky to turn bright, and her mind too.
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