It is now July and if she had been working, schools would have been busy preparing for quarterly exams. The heat from summer is yet to subside and it is too hot to venture out anywhere during the day. “They have started holding Sai Bhajans in a flat in D block on Tuesday mornings”, ventured her neighbour Kamakshi one day, “I thought you may want to go, now that you are free.”
Kamakshi is a year younger than Padmaja and was one of the first people to buy a flat in the block nearly eighteen years ago. She lives with her retired husband who devotes the remaining years of his life solely to the purpose of following cricket and writing letters to the editor of all major newspapers. Her two grown sons lived in different parts of the world leaving Kamakshi to sort out other people's lives for them.
So it is settled that Padmaja will go for Sai Bhajans two mornings a week. Despite her deep-seated reservation of communal worship of any sort, Padmaja decides that she would give it a go. She has no trouble finding the flat. She could smell the agarbathi all the way down in the ground floor. The door has been left open and she lingers at the entrance for a few seconds before a tall, young woman in a striking black and gold saree welcomes her in. She directs Padmaja to a large dining area which had been cleared of chairs and tables to make room for straw mats laid out to cover the entire floor area.
A small chair sits at the top of the room holding a picture of a man with a beatific smile. This is the person, Padmaja assumes they were going to be praying to. She shuts her eyes and tries to concentrate on the whirr of the ceiling fan. She tries to ignore the pins and needles on her feet from sitting cross-legged and instead focusses on the discordant singing. There are six others in the room and each of them seems intent on singing a different song. She is reminded of a straggle of primary school children on their way to class every morning. On days like today, she senses a cavernous hollow in her body, an emptiness no amount of religious worship can ever fill.
She realises with a start that the singing has now stopped and has been replaced with a quiet clamour of bags being fetched and sarees being smoothed as people get ready to leave. She thanks the tall woman for her hospitality and promises that she will be back on Thursday. She will have to think of something plausible to explain her absence in a couple of days' time. Or she will simply have to avoid running into the tall woman anywhere in the apartment compound.