black-beauty
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The Black Beauty – 2

Followed from Part 1.

Nauheed touched my arm, and I was back to Bangalore. She said, “You didn’t answer anything I asked. You don’t remember me?” The innocence was still intact. I told her that it was impossible to forget her. I had drifted for a while to the city that never sleeps. I enquired about how she had reached Bangalore. She said, “I will tell you. Tell me why did you leave the city? You liked it a lot. What happened?” I smiled, and answered, “I found another job here.” She asked, “A better one? I came here for better work too.” The downpour was increasing, and I pulled Nauheed closer to me in the umbrella. It had been a fifteen-minute wait, and there was no sign of the cab. I called up the driver to enquire about the delay, and realized there was going to be further postponement to the commute. “For whom are you waiting, madam?” she asked. I wiped the rain droplets falling on me from the tips of the umbrella, and said, “Why are you calling me madam? Has Bangalore instilled pretentiousness in you?” Nauheed answered, “No Didi. I think I have developed it as a habit after working at the salon.

I have to address all the clients as madam.” “You work at a salon now. Where?” I asked. Nauheed told me she worked as a masseuse at a local salon. After I had stopped travelling by our common route to my work in Bombay, Nauheed told me a group of goons had looted their house in the slum. A gang bout out broke and things turned ugly. She had managed to elope with her younger brother to her village in the outskirts of Bombay. A man in her village runs an agency for people to find work. He had arranged for her to find work here at the salon.

The mild downpour had stopped by now, and yet my cab had not arrived. The driver called, and said that another cab will be coming. “What will you do madam, sorry, Didi, if the cab doesn’t come? Will you take the bus?” I shrugged, and said, “I will just go back home. Going by the bus is absolutely a waste of time now. Actually, I am thinking I might as well go home now. It’s late already.  Do you want to come? It’s getting cold. I will make tea.”  Nauheed said, “It isn’t that easy to go home madam.” I was perplexed at her answer, and asked, “What do you mean by that?” She diverted from the question, and said that she was waiting for a friend. They both were travelling to Belgaum today.

A few seconds later, Nauheed’s friend Leela arrived. She was clad in a sari, and decked up with makeup and flowers in her hair. Nauheed introduced me to Leela as her ‘Didi’ from Bombay. Leela glanced at me, and asked, “How much do you earn in a day? You don’t put makeup to work?” I didn’t quite know how to answer that.  My mind started calculating my salary per day. After a moment I held back my mind, and asked myself, “Are you seriously thinking of answering that?”

By then Nauheed had nudged an elbow to Leela. I could see that she was fuming, and whispered mildly something to her friend. Her words seemed to vaporize into the moist atmosphere. I tried to read her lips but in vain. She told me, “Sorry madam. She didn’t mean it like that.” “Like what?” I asked.  Nauheed diverted again saying that Leela’s home is in Belgaum, and they both are visiting an ancient shrine there. “Oh is it? Which shrine? I have read about Belgaum. I’ve heard that it’s beautiful” I told them. Leela lost no time to answer, “Have you heard of Saundatti and the temple of Yellamma there?”  I had read about it in Nine Lives, one of my favorite books by William Dalrymple. My mind was thinking a thousand thoughts now – Saundatti, Yellamma, Devdasis, servants of the goddess, concubines, and the thoughts were endless. The whole world occurred to spin around me.

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