Standing behind the little jackfruit tree beside her house, Saraswati surveyed the scene carefully. Being a quiet, shy, and secretive person, she did not want anyone to see her tackling the scooter. The very idea of lively spectators accompanied by over enthusiastic commentators, critics, videographers, and photographers scared the living daylights out of her. She just did not want any publicity.
She knew perfectly well that any neighborhood kid who spotted her would loudly announce to his/her mother that “Saraswati Aunty” was doing something to the scooter. The mother would then instantly spring to action and alert all the other mothers, aunts, older sisters, younger sisters, cousins, great aunts, and grandmothers of the neighborhood, who would then send a quick text message to their husbands, brothers, and boyfriends, set aside their cooking, needlework, TV serials, or whatever it is they did when their men folk were at work, and rush out of their houses just to see what she was “doing to the scooter.”
The news would spread like wildfire, and before long, people she hardly knew would be smiling sweetly at her and asking one or many of the following questions:
“Itte scooter budyere barpunde eerek? (Do you know how to ride the scooter now?) ”
“Kode boordar ge? (Is it true that you fell yesterday?)”
“Bokka eerena posa scooter yepa barpund? (When are you going to buy a new scooter?)”
“Waa driving schooluk pothini? (Which driving school did you go to?)”
“Itte budpare scooter? (Do you ride it now?)”
Saraswati broke into a sweat at the very thought of it. Having been born and brought up in Kudla, she knew the difficulties of keeping secrets in neighborhoods. Someone always sees you, someone always tells somebody about something you once did or said, and someone always knows more about you than your mother does. It is amazing but true.
To be on the safe side, she studied the neighborhood for ten minutes. The children (little monsters) were away at school. The aromas that wafted around informed her that the women were getting the rice, rasam, sambar, pallya, and fried fish ready for lunch. She had spotted Agnes D’Souza, her middle-aged next-door neighbor, leaving for a prayer meeting a few minutes back. The neighborhood seemed to be really deserted. She finally decided that it was the right time—it was now or never.
Gingerly, Saraswati lifted the cover off the scooter and set it aside. She inspected the scooter from all angles for five minutes. “Hmm, it doesn’t look that scary,” she thought. “If other women can ride it, why can’t I? It should be easy.”
The scooter was an eight-year-old Honda Activa. Rajesh’s elder brother who had used it for three years before leaving Kudla was its original owner. It became Rajesh’s scooter after his brother confirmed that he would be settling down in Bengaluru. Rajesh was quite fond of the scooter and took good care of it.
Saraswati tried to move it, but it wouldn’t budge as Rajesh had put it on its main stand. Determined not to be beaten by a scooter resting on its main stand, Saraswati grabbed its handlebars and pushed. The thing seemed to move slightly, but not enough. By now, Saraswati had broken into a sweat. She bent over and wiped the sweat off her forehead with her red nightie.
All this time, Saraswati firmly believed that she was all alone and that nobody was watching her. How was she to know that she was being closely watched? It was Sadananda, Kusuma’s 70-year-old, hard-of-hearing husband, who had first spotted Saraswati.
The old man had no intention of watching her, but he just couldn’t help it. His 65-year-old wife had instructed him to stop eating her head and sit quietly near the window for some time, which was exactly what he intended to do for the next half hour. Since they lived on the top floor of the house across the road, he had a very good view of Saraswati’s house and garden. In fact, he had been watching her ever since she stepped out of her house and stood behind the jackfruit tree, surveying the scene. Though hard of hearing, Sadananda had excellent eyesight. He alerted his wife simply because he felt that Saraswati’s behavior was too odd to be ignored.
“Saraswati is out in her garden. What do you think she is doing?” he said. Kusuma was at his side in a second. Hidden behind the curtains of their window, the old couple watched Saraswati as she slowly stepped away from the jackfruit tree and walked towards the scooter.
“What on earth is she doing?” wondered Kusuma, her eyes growing rounder with every passing second.
Her excitement knew no bounds when Saraswati took the plastic cover off the scooter. By now, she had pushed the curtains aside and was nearly falling out of the window, her eyes as wide as saucers.
“I think she is going somewhere on that scooter,” said her husband.
“Where?” scoffed Kusuma. “She doesn’t look like she can handle that scooter. I have never seen her ride. Anyway, people who know riding do not spend such a long time just looking at it. Besides, she is still wearing her nightie. Have you ever seen any woman riding a scooter in her nightie in Kudla?”
“Anyway, it is too big for her,” said her husband. “Why doesn’t she just take an auto if she wants to go somewhere?”
Unaware that her aged neighbors were observing her carefully and analyzing all her moves, Saraswati took a deep breath and pushed hard at the handlebars. She was shocked when the vehicle suddenly came off its main stand, landed on its wheels, and started moving forward. Of course, it had to move forward because the ground beneath it sloped gently down to the gate.
Terrified and sweating profusely, Saraswati grabbed the handlebars tightly and tried to keep up with the moving scooter. The old couple watched her, their mouths hanging open in amazement. The wife almost fell out of the window and the husband gripped the arms of his chair tightly.
Many things happened simultaneously. The scooter struck the gate and fell on its side with a thud. Just an instant before it fell, Saraswati tripped over her long nightie and let go of the handlebars. She then lost her balance and fell over the scooter with a squeal of terror that could be heard at the other end of the neighborhood.
“Ooooooooo devaaaa!!! (Oh God!!!!)” exclaimed Kusuma loudly. “Burundaaaa??? (Did it fall?)”
To be continued …