Something more [2/5]
Author’s note: The second in a five part fanfic based on an alternate universe version of Jai and Vennela from the Telugu movie Mirchi. In ths universe, Jai and Vennela are part of the same extended, joint family. The rest of the plot remains the same, this story focuses more on Jai and Vennela and their relationship.
I own nothing – all characters belong to their respective owners and I make no money off this. (Please don’t sue me.)
On with the fic! Read Part 1 before you start.
The next day dawned bright and clear, and Vennela was still no closer to a plan to get her Bava to come visit.
All she knew was that he had to come see Deva mama—but how? None of the emotional tactics she had in mind would work, she had tried plenty of times to get Bava to admit that he wanted to come home, but it had never resulted in an actual visit. And asking him to bring atha for a visit because Vennela missed her aunt was no use. It had just resulted in an invitation for Vennela to come visit them in Hyderabad, instead.
No, this called for a new tactic.After all, as Adi mama kept telling her, “If you want something to happen, you need a proper plan. You can’t just sit on your hands and hope for it to happen, you need to make it happen.”
Time to take page out of her younger mama’s book: if Bava wouldn’t come home and Deva mama wouldn’t invite him, Vennela had to make Bava think it was his decision to come visit.
Nodding her head, Vennela smiled. She’d gotten rid of all those men who’d come home for an arranged marriage with her, couldn’t she figure out how to get her Bava home?
“Wow, that smile spells disaster.”
With a laugh, Vennela turned to face her friend, Nandini. As the Telugu teacher to grades three to five at the school, Nandini’s schedule often intersected with Vennela’s day. As the only two teachers in the school from the same age group, Nandini and Vennela had become fast friends.
Now, Nandini linked her arm through with Vennela’s arm as they walked to the teacher’s lounge. “Alright, time to tell the truth. I know what’s behind that mischievous smile! What are we up to today?”
Vennela laughed, wiggling their arms together as they entered the room. “I don’t have anything planned! You’re just too suspicious.” Dumping her purse and a load of notebooks on a table, Vennela sat down.
Raising her eyebrow, Nandini did the same. “Hmm, let’s just see! I think you have something in mind, you just don’t want to tell me!”
“Ohhh, up to mischief already, you two?” Mrs. Murthy said with an indulgent smile, nodding at their greetings as she looked up from her seat at the table next to them. “Still the same, eh, Vennela? Always the back bencher, up to no good?” The older woman shook her head as she looked at Nandini, her glasses sliding down her nose as she took a sip of her morning tea.
Mrs. Murthy’s glasses chain glinted in the early morning sunlight as she tilted her head, and Vennela sighed. She knew the stories that would follow. As one of her teachers in the eighth grade, Mrs. Murthy had an annoyingly perfect memory for all of Vennela’s youthful pranks.
“I remember when she locked the principal in the bathroom—poor Mr. Satyanand, he kept knocking on the door—the only reason we knew he was in there was because Jai opened the door.” Mrs. Murthy sighed, her eyes far away. “Such a good boy! So nice to see him doing so well—Architect of the Year!”
Vennela stopped herself from her rolling her own eyes with effort. This was the problem with working at the same school where she had once studied. The teachers had long memories, and to them, she would never be Vennela Kanaparthi, colleague—she was forever and always naughty Vennu, the troublemaker.
It was nice that Bava was remembered so fondly, though.
Which gave her a thought. And the beginning of a plan.
Now, all she needed to do was make sure the principal thought it was all his idea.
Sure enough, when the man walked in twenty minutes later, Vennela had a plan to put it all in motion.
As Mr. Satyananad did his rounds of the room, greeting everyone and wishing them a good morning, Vennela waited until he was at the table next to hers, his back to them. She waited until there was a gap in the conversation between the princi and the other teacher before turning to Nandini.
“You know, one of my B.Ed. classmates was telling me, the chief guest for her school’s annual day was a famous actor who had studied there. They asked him to come for the ceremony, and he was a great guest! The function had the most number of attendees in history!”
“Um, okay,” Nandini said, looking a little puzzled at the new topic of conversation. “So who was the actor who attende—”
“And it brought so much fame to the school, that their ex-student was such a famous person!”
“Okay, so which school is this—”
“It increased admissions for the next year, as well!” Vennela went on, ignoring her friend’s increasingly puzzled glances. “Everyone agreed, it was a great idea from the principal of the school.”
“Sounds interesting, Vennela,” came Mr. Satyanand’s voice as he broke into their conversation. “Tell me more about this annual day function.”
And that was when Vennela knew her plan was a success. Smiling widely, she started to explain.
As Jai took out his phone to check his messages, it buzzed again. An email.
“I am pleased to invite you as the Chief Guest to Bala Mandir High School, Rentachintala, for this year’s Annual Day celebrations on July 7, 2017. I hope you will come and speak a few inspiring words for our students. It’s a very proud moment for us that one of our ex-students is the Emerging Architect of the Year.”
Frowning, Jai read the words on his phone screen with increasing confusion. Chief guest? Him?
“My god, what a scary face.”
Startled, Jai looked up, only to see his friend’s face inches from his own as Vikram read the email off his phone, as well.
“So you’re going as a chief guest?” Vikram said as he settled into the empty seat across from Jai. “Not bad, you’re moving up in the world ra, bava!”
“I was invited to be chief guest,” Jai corrected, as he moved his half empty coffee mug out of the way of his friend’s fidgety hands. “I don’t think I’ll actually go.”
“Whaaat?” Vikram said, stretching the word out in disbelief. “Why not?”
“Forget that,” Jai said, putting his phone down and looking at his watch. “Tell me why you’re late again.”
“Work, man.” Vikram sighed dramatically. “The boss was being a pain and wouldn’t let me leave early.” He looked around the table, picking at the coffee cups and paper bags on the surface. “What did you order, bava? I’m starving.”
In the beginning of their friendhsip, Jai had been surprised at Vikram’s inclination of calling him ‘bava’ – brother-in-law – instead of ‘dude’, or ‘buddy’, like others, but it had quickly become clear that it was a habit of his. To Vikram, close friends were ‘bava’, and no one was as close as Jai.
Picking up Jai’s sandwich now, Vikram took a huge bite. “Also, I cabbed over, so you’re dropping me home, ra.”
Jai sighed and glared at his long-time friend. “Twelve years and you haven’t changed.”
Grinning around a mouthful of Jai’s sandwich, Vikram said, “Hey, order me another one, na? We still have half an hour before the movie, don’t we?”
As they drove home after the movie, Vikram said, apropos of nothing, “So why don’t you want to go be the chief guest at your old school?”
Jai said nothing, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel, in time to the beat of the music.
To those who didn’t know him well, Vikram seemed like a flighty kind of guy, always joking and talking incessantly, but there was a sharp mind and a strong memory beneath all those smiles, like he had proved just now.
“It’s not so much the school as it the place,” Jai finally said with a sigh. “I don’t know if I can just go back there for some school function, as if nothing had happened.”
He slanted a look in Vikram’s direction, to see his friend looking uncharacteristically serious.
“I know what you mean,” Vikram said, and that was that.
Because it was. As one of his oldest friends—as the first friend he had made in college—Vikram had known Jai from the days when he had been homesick and wishing he hadn’t applied to an engineering college so far away from Hyderabad, even if he had wanted to get away from his mother and her refusal to go back home to Rentachintala.
The only son of a widower, Vikram had had his own issues, and as two lonely boys far from home, Jai and Vikram had bonded quickly. Their friendship had lasted ten years, and in that time, they had had plenty of experience in dealing with each other’s emotional wounds when it came to their single parent households.
Vikram knew all about conversational dead-ends, born of pain that one didn’t want to discuss, even with one’s best friends.
Now, as Jai pulled up in front of his house, Vikram fixed steady eyes on his best friend. He also dropped the ‘bava’ from his speech, a sure sign that he was serious.
“Look, Jai, I’m not saying you have to go. But now that you have the excuse—why don’t you? This way, there’s no pressure on you or Aunty—you’re going for a school function and not to actually meet anyone. You can stay or leave as early as you like. And Aunty doesn’t even need to accompany you if she doesn’t want to go.”
“Yes, but,” Jai sighed, and stared out of the windshield into the darkness of the night, unable to meet his friend’s eyes. “What if I go…and he doesn’t like me? Or even want to meet me?”
No need to tell Vikram who he was.
“You’re being stupid, ra,” Vikram pronounced, pushing his glasses up his nose with a frown. “Take it from me—if you have a chance to meet your missing parent, you grab it with both hands.”
He blinked, staring hard at Jai. “And what’s all this nonsense—of course, he wants to meet you – and of course, he’ll like you. What’s not to like? You’re awesome!” He coughed, quickly pulling on a smile to diffuse the heavy emotion in the air. “Sadly, not as great as a living legend like me, but then we can’t all be perfection personified.”
Rolling his eyes, Jai got out of his car, slamming the door on Vikram as he drew breath to go on. “Come on, idiot. Uncle will be wondering why we aren’t back yet.”
In a few minutes, Vikram’s father was seating Jai at the sofa, asking him if he wanted tea.
“No thanks, Uncle, it’s getting pretty late, and I should be going. I just had to make sure this idiot reached home safely—sorry to wake you up!”
“Rei, bava, enta maata!” (“Such sharp words, bava!”)
“Go home, Jai,” Mr. Ravella said, waving a hand with a paternal smile. “I’m sure your mother is waiting for you to return.”
With a wave and a smile of his own, Jai bid Vikram and his dad goodbye. As he turned away, Vikram was already joking with father, trading his customary quips at the older man’s expense. Mr. Ravella had told Jai once, that Vikram’s mother had been similarly quick witted, and that in those moments, Vikram reminded him almost painfully of his lost wife.
As Jai drove back home, his best friend’s words came back to him: “Of course, he wants to see you.”
Vikram was right. He had an opportunity to meet his father again—after years.
Would he be able to live with himself if he didn’t take it now?
‘So, you’re coming?’
Even after her bava’s WhatsApp message that he would be attending the school’s annual day function, she still couldn’t believe it.
‘V, tell me the truth—you didn’t have something to do with this, did you?’
‘Me? How could I, Bava? The principal saw you on tv with your award. Plus, he’s Deva mama’s old classmate, so it’s ob why he invited you.’
‘So when are you coming over? I’ve just sent you the WhatsApp location, you can just set that in your Google maps and drive down easily.’
‘If I come, I’ll drive down the week before. Don’t tell mama and atha yet, though. I haven’t yet decided for sure.’
Vennela mashed the buttons on her screen so hard she almost lost her message, but she didn’t care. After all her work, Bava was thinking of not coming?
She’d practically had to beg the princi to invite Bava to the annual day. Even her mention of the architecture award hadn’t been enough to sway the old goat—in the end, it had been the fact that Jai was Devraaj’s son that had swung the balance in his favour.
And now, after all that begging, he wasn’t going to come?
‘Bavaaaa, come onn! You have to come, please!’
‘I’ll TRY, Vennu. Pls.’
Vennela stopped bugging him at that. From experience, she knew when Bava started responding to her WhatsApp texts with short forms, he was getting annoyed.
‘Ok. Goodnight, Bava.’
Connecting her phone to the charger, Vennela collapsed back onto her bed with a sigh. Ugh. What was wrong with Bava? It was like he didn’t even want to come visit.
Pouting unhappily, Vennela realised that she had to let it go. She had done all she could, if Bava was going to come visit, he would. There was nothing more she could do.
“An invitation to Rentachintala?”
His mother said nothing else, but Jai saw the look on her face—the pursed lips and the downcast eyes. He saw how carefully his mother didn’t look at him, how she visibly stopped herself from saying anything in response.
She turned away, busying herself in tidying up the table after their dinner. He’d finally plucked up the courage to tell his mother about the invitation to Rentachintala, choosing to do it over dinner.
“But—Rentachintala?” she said, staring at him with wide eyes. “Who would invite you there—and why?”
Jai heard the words she didn’t say, the fear in her heart that he would leave her, and return to his father’s side—leaving her all alone.
“Amma, the school called me as chief guest,” he said now, laying a hand on her arm, forcing her to face him and sit down again. “It’s the least I can do to attend the function. There’s no nice way to refuse. It’s my duty as a student. He’s my old principal…and it’s nice of them to remember me and recognise me this way.”
Jai spread his hands helplessly. “And I admit it, I want to see everyone again. I want to see Vennu, and atha, mama, babai and pinni—and yes, I want to see my father, as well!”
His mother looked up at him with sad eyes, and Jai said again, “I want to see Nanna. Please.” He caught her hand in his, and squeezed. “I promise I’ll come back. I promise I’ll return home to you. But please, I have to do this.”
“Alright, Jai,” his mother said, sighing. “I have no right to keep you away, not any more. Go visit. As long as you don’t forget about me—I’ll be fine.”
That had been last week. Now, as the date for his journey drew nearer, his mother hid her anxiety by shopping for gifts for all his family.
“This saree is for Lakshmi vadina,” she said, packing a pink saree in a box. “And this peach coloured half-saree is for Vennela. It doesn’t look too pink, does it? It’s not too matchy-matchy? They are mother-daughter, though, so it should be fine, right?”
“Oh, and this jewelry set is also for Vennela. And this remote-controlled car is for Chinna. Make sure you put in a set of batteries for it! And here, take this T-shirt for Nagullu—he should be about your age by now!”
“Amma!” Jai said, bemused at all the preparations. “Just because I’m driving down, it doesn’t mean you have a free hand to fill the car with so much luggage! I’ll only be there for a week!”
“Just because it’s a week, it doesn’t mean I’ll be sending you empty handed!” his mother said, glaring at him. “You’re going there after so many years, you need to do things properly!”
Bowing to his mother’s wishes, Jai said no more, and let her continue with her preparations.
Finally, the day of his journey dawned bright and clear. Setting the destination in his GPS, Jai set off for Rentachintala—for home, and for his father.
This was going to be fun. He hadn’t told Vennela he was finally coming to visit. How would she finally react when they met again, after fifteen years?
He was looking forward to finding out.
It took only a few hours for him, driving at his usual speed, before Jai was nearing the border to Rentachintala.
It took him a while to realise that he was driving slower, the closer he got. On the surface, he might have been excited to visit his relatives—and his father!—again, but the closer he got to his destination, the more his anxiety flared up.
He wasn’t expected. His relatives wouldn’t turn him away, but surely they would be taken aback by his sudden visit. And most important of all, how would his father react?
As he followed the GPS’s directions to his father’s house, Jai nibbled at his thumbnail. Just ten more minutes, if the GPS was correct. Ten more minutes, and he would be standing in his old house, surrounded by his family, with his father…
His thoughts came to a sudden halt at the sight of a man, waving his car down.
“Ugh, Amma! How could you arrange a marriage match for me without telling me!”
“What?” Her mother gave her a smack on the back of her head. “What do you mean, without telling you? I gave birth to you without telling you, sent you to the best schools and colleges without you asking me, and now, I need your permission to do what’s best for you?” She caught Vennela’s ear and pulled, hard. “Sit quietly and get dressed—none of your antics now!”
Sticking her tongue out, Vennela agreed to be treated like a doll, and silently got dressed in all the finery her mother, her atha and her pinni could imagine. Finally, when they had pinned the last pleat of her half-saree into place and tucked the last flower into her hair, Vennela stood.
“Amma, I’m going to go to the temple to pray before the groom comes home to meet me. If he comes home before I do, tell him to practise a song so he can sing for me—I’m very fond of music!”
Dodging her mother’s swat, Vennela ran for the door. Searching for her moment, she grabbed the keys to Nagallu bava’s two-wheeler. The man himself was helping Satti put up flower garlands all around the room, talking all the while.
“Come on,” she told him, pointing to the door. He shook his head, his eyes going to her relatives as they laughed and joked at the dining table. It was obvious Nagullu was staring at Adi mama in fear.
“Come on,” she insisted, catching the stool he stood on and giving it a shake. Finally, with threats and glares, she got Nagullu to sit behind her on his scooter, as they took off for the only access road to Deva mama’s house.
Five minutes later, they were parked right in the way of any oncoming car. No way would they miss the idiot groom when he finally arrived. They were all the same, these potential grooms. Just because she was from a village, they thought she would be a naive little girl, ready to follow her husband in everything, like a little Vennela doll they had purchased.
Heh. She had driven away five of those idiots so far. Today would make it six.
As a grey compact car drove down the road, she pushed Nagullu to flag it down. Looked like the idiot was here.
As he stepped out of the car, Vennela had to admit this new idiot was easy on the eyes. But something about him seemed so familiar…
Nagullu was already spinning his story when it all finally clicked for Vennela.
“Bava?” she cried, taking a step forward. “Bava, you’re really here!”
Her bava whipped off his sunglasses, and his smile was bright. “Vennu, is that you?” He caught her as she came forward, his hands going almost naturally around hers. “Wow, you look even better than your photographs!”
“Hold on, hold on!” Nagullu leapt forward, knocking their joined hands aside. “What’s all this about photographs? Vennu, you know this prospective bridegroom?”
“Bridegroom?” Jai said, looking at both of them in confusion. “Wait, who are you? Vennu, who is this?”
In the middle of their conversation, a car drew to a halt, and a young man got out. “Hey, what’s all this? Why have you stopped this car in the middle of the road? I have a very important appointment to get to, and you people are making me late!”
“You’re going to Deva garu’s house to see a girl, right?” Vennela said, snapping at the idiot for interrupting her. Couldn’t he see she was busy? And completely uninterested? “Well, sorry to tell you, city boy, but you need to go back home. The girl you were going to see has eloped with her bava. Bye!”
Pulling her bemused bava along, Vennela got into his car. “Come on, I’ll show you the rest of the way home!”
As her bava started the car, Vennela rolled the window down, and tossed a set of keys to Nagullu.
“Here, bring the scooter home—and make sure this idiot goes back! I’m going off with Bava!”
And with a final wave, they were gone.