After struggling for five minutes with the door lock, finally she was able to open the door. Shraddha was still getting used to the new house and everything that came with it. As she entered, she glanced across the hall and on the corner study table sat a Ganesha idol. In spite of the transparent plastic cover that he was draped in, he was beaming in a yellow Dhoti and seemed quite happy. She placed the bag with the decoration materials on the table and hurried towards the bed room. After all, it was her favorite festival the next day and she had lots to prepare.
She stood in her pajamas, glancing across her balcony. The hot ginger tea felt soothing in her throat. There were no Ganapati Pandals anywhere around their apartment building. The air carried no scent of festivity and all she could see was the jammed up Outer Ring Road. She felt her enthusiasm in the preparations for the festival slowly depleting. It was six months since Shraddha and her husband Anirudh had moved in to the new place, yet she had not made any acquaintances in the new locality. Her so called nine hours job, which usually took twelve hours of her day, considering the Bangalore traffic, and the lazy weekends had left her with no friends in the neighborhood. Her heart ached as she thought of her home at Pune, the home where she was born and brought up. The city where she had married the man she loved. Love makes you do things which you never thought you could and the same love had brought her to Bangalore. Both of them were new at their workplace, with fewer vacations to avail, so they had decided to save their vacations for Diwali. No matter how hard she tried to cheer herself up, her mind kept throwing the images of Ganesha Chaturthi celebrations back home. Standing there, brooding at the gloomy sky, she found herself torn between the love for her hometown and the love for her husband. She found it hard to admit but she regretted every part of her decision to move to the new place. A tiny tear drop fell and the warm tea cup felt heavier in her hand.
She dumped the empty cup in the kitchen sink and reluctantly moved to the hall. She looked at the Ganesha idol and she felt like a pair of eyes was looking at her, hoping that she would smile. She decided not to call her parents, until she felt little cheerful. She decided to keep herself busy.
She took her mobile and called her husband.
“Haan Bol Shraddha.”
“When are you planning to come home?”
“Did you reach already?”
“Yeah, I left office early today.”
“I will be at home by eight o’clock. Do you want me to buy some sweets on the way back home?”
“No Ani. Just come home early.”
She kept her mobile aside with a sigh. The fact that Anirudh did not believe in God never bothered their relationship. However, she had never felt the need of his presence in the preparations of the festival, until that day.
The sun had set and the hall grew darker.
“So Bappa it’s just you and I. I’ll prepare your favorite Besan Laddus and later I’ll do the decorations for you.”
She smiled and so did the pair of painted eyes.
She walked into the kitchen, turned on the FM in her mobile and glanced at the kitchen shelves. In next few minutes, all the ingredients were set and the flame was on. The smell of ghee filled the kitchen as it melted in the hot pan. In a different pan she added Besan flour and she kept stirring it, until it was evenly brown. Then she added the melted ghee to the flour and kept stirring it. This was her favorite sweet dish. As she continued stirring, the task felt rhythmical and soothing. Once there was the nutty fragrance of well roasted Besan, she added cardamom. Later she brought the pan down and let it cool for while before adding powdered sugar. Once the mix was ready, she spread it on the plate.
“Left office? I am preparing Besan Laddus”, she texted Anirudh.
She brought the cooled mixture to the hall, switched on TV and started making the Laddus; each one had to be perfectly spherical. She kept occasionally glancing at the wall clock, while the news channel displayed colorful Ganapati Pandals in Pune. The clock ticked 8:00 PM and her phone had not yet beeped with Anirudh’s reply.
A plate full of 21 Laddus was ready. A sense of satisfaction filled her and she felt calmer. She placed the Ganesha idol at the center of the table and started the decoration. By the time she was done, Bappa sat there, full of content. His eyes looked at her, determined, like it was going to be an unforgettable Ganehsa Chaturthi for her.
It was 8:30 and there was no sign of Anirudh. Restlessness crept into her. She called him and there was no answer.
“Where are you Ani? You are late.”
“Hello Babhi, this is Rohit. Anirudh has left his mobile on his desk. I didn’t notice as it seems to be on a total-silence mode. I just saw it blink with your call and realized that he has left his phone here.”
“Oh okay. No problem. He might have left it there in a hurry. Thanks Rohit.”
“I’ll drop by your place tomorrow and give it to him. By the way I heard you guys have got a Ganesha idol.”
“Yes Rohit. We will have a simple pooja tomorrow. Please do come.”
Main door was open and she was pacing across the hall. The restlessness had turned to anger. Her heart blamed that this wouldn’t have happened if they were in Pune. Meanwhile, the cooker whistled in the kitchen for the third time signalling that the rice was ready for dinner.
The anger had turned to helplessness. She felt lost in a strange city. Her mind kept imagining all possible things that might have gone wrong with him. She withheld the desire to call her parents, as they would panic. She hesitated to reach out to Rohit. What if it was nothing and Anirudh came home in a while. She did not want to look like a paranoid wife.
She stood in front of the Ganesha idol and prayed.
“Ganapati Bappa. I don’t know where he is. Please bring him back home safe. I am scared. I’ll prepare extra Besan Laddus. In fact, I’ll prepare it for every year, for your festival. Please bring him back to me safe.”
She sat on the floor laying her head on the sofa. Tear drops rolled on her cheeks and she closed her eyes, assuring herself that God would bring Anirudh back home and everything would be fine in her life. At that moment, it did not matter which city she was in and whether her husband believed in God or not.
She was startled when Anirudh woke her up. She couldn’t believe that she had dozed off. She hugged him tight and thanked her God.
“Hey honey. I am sorry. I panicked you.”
“Where were you? What took you so long? I was worried. How could you forget your mobile at office? ”
“My mobile is at office? Thank God. I thought someone stole it in the bus.”
“Well, now you know. You did not answer my other questions.”
“I left office after few minutes of our call. I had taken the BMTC bus. After a while I couldn’t find my phone and I freaked out. I sort of made a fuss in the bus, assuming someone stole it. Then I went to the police station and lodged a complaint. Then I took an auto from there.”
“You could have called me from someone’s phone and told about all this.”
“Ummm. I don’t remember your number.”
“I am sorry honey. I promise. It won’t happen again. Tell me how shall I make it up to you?”
“Let’s go back to Pune.”
“How about something easier?”
“There’s no negotiation.”
She looked at the Ganesha idol and he seemed to be smiling. She conveyed her secret gratitude to her Bappa and headed towards the kitchen, in an attempt to show her false-anger.
He kept walking behind her towards the kitchen, with an attempt to pacify her.
"I am impressed by the decorations that you have managed to do alone and also the Laddus.”
"Thank you. Shall we start with the Chakli?”
“I am kidding, get yourself freshened up and let’s have dinner.”
“Can I have one of these Laddus? They look delicious.”
“Don’t you dare touch them till tomorrow.”
There in the kitchen shelves, ingredients of Besan Laddu waited for her, to be converted to another set of spheres of heavenly sweetness.