Nalini Iyengar kept gawking at the sketch. She couldn’t believe her eyes and her brain had simply stopped working. How is it possible? Who could it be and what was it doing here? Almost 470 km away from where they lived! They resided in Bangalore and had come to Kodaikanal for a short vacation.
Her eyes were glued to a painting which was put up for sale in the cafeteria, where she and her husband, Maniraj Iyengar, had come to have their evening coffee, after a long walk. The painting which had taken her breath away, was a replica of one of their photographs from their younger days. They were both in their fifties now. She remembered the photograph very well. It was their tenth anniversary and the picture was clicked by their neighbour’s son.
But who had made this sketch? From where did the person get their photograph? Nalini couldn’t contain her piqued inquisitiveness and had to find the answers to all her questions.
“Where was Mani? Why was the bathroom his favourite place in the world?”
She scowled inwardly.
Finally she saw her husband and doubled up to him. Before Maniraj could register what was happening, Nalini held his hand and started pulling him, talking hurriedly at the same time.
“Mani, you must come and see this. I’m sure you’ll be equally shocked.”
His wife’s agitated demeanor confused him, but Maniraj went along. He’d soon find out the reason as to why Nalini was all hyped up.
His reaction was as nonplussed as Nalini’s. With eyes popped out and hands on his hips, Maniraj was completely baffled.
“Oh My God! This is us! But we’ve never got a painting made of ourselves and this is from years back. What is it doing here in Kodaikanal?”
“Who could it be and why?”
Maniraj went closer for further inspection. The signature in the corner said, ‘S.K.Menon’, which didn’t ring any bell from the past or present. The painting was priced at ₹5000/-. He straightened up and said,
“This man is one hell of an artist. He’s done a fine job, no doubt about that.”
Maniraj glanced around and then held Nalini’s hand,
“Let’s go ask the owner of the cafeteria. I’m certain he knows something.”
They had to wait for a while before the man at the counter could give them his attention.
“Hello, I’m Maniraj Iyengar and she’s my wife Nalini. What’s your good name sir?”
Maniraj requested him to come near the painting and began carefully,
“Mr. Kailash, this painting is actually a copy of one of our photographs.”
Maniraj went on to explain a few related aspects and came to the main point.
“First of all, I’d like to buy this painting and secondly, can you give me the contact details of the artist? We’d like to meet him.”
Kailash was equally surprised and confused.
“I only have his mobile number. He comes once a while and keeps his paintings here. If they sell, then I get a commission on it.”
Nalini blurted out,
“Can you give us his number?”
Maniraj thought for a few seconds and said,
“Kailash, can you do us a favour? This artist Menon, may not entertain strangers on the phone. Please call him up and say we have purchased his painting and want him to make another one for us. Ask him to give his address. But please don’t tell him anything about who we are.”
Kailash obliged them. A few minutes later, Mr. and Mrs. Iyengar left the cafeteria with the painting and S. K. Menon’s address. In their resort at night, for long hours the couple kept discussing the painting. Nalini rummaged through her phone gallery and found the same picture. They matched it to the sketch and recollected all the old memories.
Next day, early in the morning, they took a bus to go pay a visit to the artist and find out all about the mystery of their own painting, which they knew nothing about all these years. Menon’s whereabout was difficult to search. He lived in a remote area, with hardly one or two other houses around.
Nalini had insisted they take something for him. So here they were at his doorstep with a big box of assorted chocolates and cookies. Maniraj rang the bell and the couple waited in apprehension, not able to gauge what type of welcome they would receive. As soon as the door opened, the person on the inside looked very familiar, but neither Nalini nor Maniraj could recognise him completely.
Howbeit, the artist did something which totally knocked them out. Menon had a big grin on his face.
“I knew one day we’ll meet again.”
And so saying, he bent down to touch their feet and take their blessings.
The old couple’s eyes became big and shockingly went from each other to the artist. Menon saw their reaction, shook his head and smiled. He said gently,
“Please come inside. I’ll explain everything.”
His house obviously didn’t look like a regular one. It was more like a studio with canvases, paints and easel boards scattered around. He served them water and sat down himself.
“I assume it is you who bought my painting.”
They both nodded in unison and Maniraj said,
“You look familiar, but I can’t recall. Do you know us?”
Menon grinned and said softly.
“Sir, I know you and you also know me. From years back, I am your neighbour, Raghav’s son.”
“Ahhh……Suhas!! Oh My God! Is that you?”
“Yes Ma’am, I’m Suhas.”
Now Maniraj’s thoughts were speeding at 100 km per hour. Ample number of queries had come up in his head. He began cautiously,
“I’m glad to meet you dear and I’m also proud of you. You’ve become a fine artist. Your work is really commendable. Congratulations!”
“Thank you so much Sir. Your appreciation means a lot to me.”
“But Suhas, if I remember correctly, your father’s surname is Pillai, then why are you Menon?”
Suddenly Menon’s outward appearance changed. His nostrils flared, anger burning in his eyes and rage was written all over his face. His voice was filled with a growl when he replied,
“He was a cruel man and I don’t want anything to do with my father. I don’t want his name also.”
A few silent seconds passed between them and the couple sat quietly, giving time to Suhas to decide, as to how much to share with them.
He took a deep sigh and huffed before talking again. His father was an alcoholic. The frustration of his failures was taken out on his family, therefore Suhas and his mother became his father’s punching bags.
“I couldn’t save my mother. She died under his brutality. But when I was old enough to earn on my own, I ran away.”
Nalini could now partially recollect the shouts and screams that used to come from their house. The Iyengars didn’t live in that area for long. It was a rental place and as soon as their own bungalow was ready, they shifted. Maybe that’s why they didn’t know the details.
Nalini reached out, held his hand and said motherly,
“I’m so sorry to hear about your mother. But I’m happy for you. I hope you are doing good for yourself.”
Suhas nodded his head. “Yes Ma’am.”
Maniraj wanted to know some more.
“Suhas, I presume, Menon is the surname from your mother’s side.”
“Yes sir. S. K. Menon. Suhas Krishnamurthy Menon. Krishnamurthy is my nanu’s name.”
“Okay, now tell me what we have actually come to find out. What’s the story behind our painting? Why us?”
Suhas didn’t reply. Wordlessly he went inside and came out with two more canvases. He unfurled them in front of the couple. They were amazed to see two more sketches of them. Replicas of their pictures from other occasions. They were pleasantly surprised and Nalini had a huge smile on her face.
“Please! Please tell us, why do we fascinate you so much?”
“Ma’am, Sir. I always saw you as an ideal couple. So loving and caring. I forever dreamt of having parents like you and when I get married, I wish to share your kind of relationship with my spouse. You have been my inspiration all my life.”
The couple chuckled and didn’t bother to hide their happiness. Their smiles were identical, as they looked into each other’s eyes. Years of togetherness flashed before them and both were filled with renewed love for the other. Maniraj wrapped his wife in a one armed hug and kissed her crown. Tears streamed down her face and Nalini wiped them as she stood up and went to Suhas. She kissed his forehead and said,
“You have given us so many new reminiscences, that we are going to cherish them for a lifetime. God bless you abundantly and I’m sure you’ll prove to be as wonderful a husband, as my Mani.”
Maniraj chortled behind them and his face had turned a deep shade of red with a boyish blush. Suhas smiled before saying,
“I want you to take back the money you have given for the painting. Not only that, I’ll be more than happy to gift these two also to you. After all, they’re yours only.”
Maniraj shook his head in refusal and stood up.
“Thank you so much for the paintings. Of course we’ll take them. But neither am I taking back the previous money, nor are these going to be for free. I will pay for both of them.”
Suhas began to protest, nonetheless, Maniraj squeezed his shoulder and said,
“Son, it’s your hard work and we truly appreciate your efforts. Consider it as a blessing from us.”
Suhas couldn’t deny that and accepted the cheque Maniraj gave him. Nalini handed him their residential address in Bangalore and said,
“Don’t forget to invite us for your wedding. I’ll give your wife some useful tips.”
They all burst out laughing and the couple left with happiness in their hearts and two more of their paintings. As they sat in the bus, Maniraj bantered,
“Who would believe that loving your own wife can be an inspiration for someone else.”