HER KIT HAD LAUNDRY, NOT TENNIS RACKET; SHE REALIZED THE FARCE

Sona and Ganesh were in Sunwal House, Sona having her breakfast at the dining table and Ganesh, busy leafing through a small booklet by a cupboard, in the dining hall.   “Why don’t you take this Manual for Injuries and Treatments along, Sona?”  

Ganesh, holding the booklet in his hand, walked to the dining table where Sona sat eating bread pakora. The cover of the half-inch thick postcard size booklet, showed a coloured pattern. Ganesh stopped by the table still leafing through the booklet. Sona told Ganesh about his tea getting cold and urged him to eat the spicy pakoras she had cooked; and Ganesh reproving her for gorging herself with spicy stuff a day ahead of her tennis tournament. He sat by her, still leafing through the booklet. Ganesh wondered how he had missed that during his visits to Sunwal House so far. Sona informed him about stumbling on that while fishing for one of her manuscripts a publisher had asked for a re-write; and that she was yet to get the intended manuscript.   Ganesh had said that it was no wonder the booklet was brimming with silver fishes and flocks of cockroaches had turned its cover into a barrack lavatory. His comment earned him a rebuke from Sona for talking such trash at breakfast table.   

“Is anything fruitful coming out of your manuscripts?”  

“Nothing much has happened yet. Things, however, appear turning for better. Twinkle Twinkle, the children’s magazine, published three of my pieces in the last six months. They, however, pay peanuts. I am looking for publishers for my novelettes. Those books shall pay me better, I hope. One publisher looks positive. Trouble is, I can’t find that manuscript, now.”    However, Ganesh, absorbed in the booklet, was hardly listening to Sona. As she began moving the plates and cutlery to kitchen, Ganesh said that the booklet’s illustrations could be of good use to handle on-court injuries like abrasions, blisters, bruises, cramps, stiffness, and mild ankle issues in absence of competent medics; and she could brush up precautions she had to take. And then, as Ganesh lifted his head to tell her additional features of the booklet, a handi loaded with rasgullas that Sona placed on dining table, shocked him.  

After a bit of arguing if glycogen loading was good or bad before a tennis match, Ganesh said, “Don’t you have to report to the airport an hour and half before the scheduled departure?”  

“It’s actually two.”    “You have surely packed your things?” 

Sona said she had, and then, requested Ganesh to have a look at her tennis kit which he did. 

“You have packed three tennis rackets,” Ganesh said after having looked into the bag. “I think that should suffice. You have also taken two boxes of Dunlop balls. You never know the scheme of things in little known tournaments. It pays to be ready for eventualities.”  

Sona asked if she should take any other tennis accessories. “I don’t think so. I must leave now,” Ganesh said. “I have to take Mom to her dentist.” 

Ganesh bade goodbye and left.

*

A taxi stopped at the airport terminus, and Sona stepped out. She loaded her WILSON tennis kit and suitcase in a luggage trolley, placed her black ladies purse in its wire cage, and moved to the entrance. She was wearing a pair of blue jeans, white embroidered top, dark goggles, and steel gray Nehru jacket. Her hair, donned in a bun, looked gorgeous. The pair of blue sneakers matched her attire. The sparkle of the golden nose ring contrasted with her dark glasses. Her nails wore bright blue nail polish and lips, a natural gloss, the burnish so subtle, most would miss it. She showed the tickets to the entrance guard at the gate.   

“Air tickets, madam,” the guard said. Sona was zipping her purse closed so she didn’t realise the guard was addressing her. 

“Madam, tickets please!!” the guard had to shout, nearly. 

She definitely noticed him, then. 

“Why, that is the one! Is there any problem?” 

“You have given me the wrong paper, lady. This is an electricity bill.” 

He returned the paper. 

Sona looked at it. 

That, indeed, was an electricity bill. 

Guard asked her to move aside to let others behind her to come in and asked, further, which flight she was taking. 

“9W – 371 Kalia – Karimganj. I am travelling to Palda.”

The guard told her not to worry as there was enough time because of the flight’s delay. Sona remembered keeping the tickets in that pouch and wondered what had happened to that. She moved to a vacant seat to check.  

Sona placed her purse on the seat next to her. She scrambled through her things and bumped into the Manual for Injuries and Treatments. 

How Ganesh had insisted on me to take this Manual along, she thought. I did bring it. Nevertheless, what had gone wrong with my tickets? Where did I leave it? On dining table? In sitting room? Where? Flight was delayed enough for me to go get my tickets and be back to catch the plane. However, how can it go wrong? How did it? I had checked it several times over before putting them in my purse; hadn’t I? I haven’t searched it thoroughly yet, perhaps. 

Sona rummaged through the contents several times over. She unfolded each piece of paper. She opened each envelop. But she couldn’t find the air tickets.   

She called Ganesh. The ringer of her cell phone was very loud. She had to move that away from her ear. He didn’t pick up the call. She called again. 

“Where are you Ganesh?” Sona asked when a response came. “I am at the airport…” 

Ganesh’s near-scrambled ‘hello’ came through the ringer and Sona had to shuffle herself for better signal. 

“Ganesh, didn’t you tell me to take along the Manual for Injuries and Treatments?” 

“What? What Manual you are talking about?” 

Sona repeated the name. 

“I haven’t heard anything like that.” 

“I mean, when you visited and spotted silver fishes in that.”

“What fishes? Please come again. Hello? Hello!” 

“I mean when you visited my place. We had bread pakoras and rasgullas together; and you read from the Manual about treatment of injuries…” 

“Which Manual, which injury, which bread pakora, and which rasgullas are you talking about, woman?” Ganesh interrupted her. “I can’t make out any head or tail of it.” 

‘I mean when you visited Sunwal House today and left saying that you have to take your mother to the dentist…” 

“I reached Chennai day before yesterday for my Mom’s health check-up,” Ganesh disrupted Sona again. Then he described about their travel to Chennai and hotel in which they were staying. He informed Sona that Marina beach was the longest urban natural beach of the country and that that was also the world’s second longest beach.

The fact that Ganesh was not in Mangari that day, numbed Sona. She was too shocked to listen to what Ganesh was saying. 

“Hello, Sona, are you there?” 

“Yeah, Ganesh, I am listening.” 

“You seem lost somewhere, woman.” 

“I am listening.” 

“You said you are at the airport. What are you doing there?”

“First, tell me how your mother is. Has her health check-ups gone well?” 

Sona avoided his question. it relieved her that Ganesh had picked up the lead. He had begun burbling about medical check-ups there in Chennai. 

When he hung up, Sona stood dazed. 

She unzipped her tennis kit after laying it across her lap. She wanted to see if she had kept her air tickets there by mistake.

 It contained no tennis rackets and no tennis balls, just waste scrap of clothes. She dug her hands deep inside. It contained nothing else. 

Sona sat shocked, unmoving, pensive, and unblinking. She realized the farce. 

Tennis obsessed Sona as much as botany obsessed Dasharath Sir. She couldn’t live without loving tennis, as Ram Bahadur couldn’t live without loving forests.

“Am I going mad?” She murmured. Her eyes were glistening with tears.

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