The Man Called Manohar
by Swetha Ratnajothy

Madhulika’s stomach was growling like a tiger. She woke up from the soft feather cushions that were laid down parallel to the carpet, put aside the striking gold and magenta bolster, and walked towards the dining area. “Ma”. “Ma,”. she called out, but got no response…

She lifted the casserole lid and the aroma of Paneer Tikka Masala swiftly drifted into the air. She simply could not resist her temptation, so she quickly lifted the other casserole lids to engulf the swift aroma of the food before her mother yelled at her. Almost all the main dishes were prepared and laid out on the table. From Vegetable Pilau to Gobi Manchurian, Mango Chutney, and Gulab Jamun, it is a “Heaven of delight!” Madhulika’s mother is from South India. Madhulika’s father, Ganeshkumar, fell in love with her at the Arts College in Bangalore and moved to Sri Lanka after marriage.

Her dad’s sister and family were visiting from Vavuniya for a short stay. It has been some time since the pandemic with strictly “no visitors”. 

Life for the past 12 months has been a rollercoaster ride for Madhulika and her family. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, she has been facing a gigantic stride of trouble. Madhulika moaned about the new concept called ‘Work from Home” and the long working hours. “When are they going to send us the PCs and laptops, and pay for data?” “Nevermind.” “Let them sort it out. It is their (HR Department’s) duty to allocate. She brought her triangular silver plate, an unusual shape, but since she was 10, she had been using it. “Who cares?” “It is my favorite plate.” Just then, a flash of an appearance within a fraction of seconds… “Who could it be?” Madhulika thought it was none other than our own Raina, and decided to play a prank. She tiptoed and grabbed her bubble camera and started spraying towards Raina, who was hiding under the table. Raina was surprised by the sudden action and burst into laughter. She had an infectious laugh. It was loud and full of energy. Raina is Madhulika’s five-year-old niece, and lives next door. 

Next, Madhulika opened another casserole, which was filled with soft white idly (steamed rice cakes). She took her plate, placed three Idlys, and poured two spoonfuls of piping hot Sambar (lentil-based vegetable stew), and tomato chutney. Mixing the three, she swallowed a few bites. What a great combination as the flavors melt in the mouth! After filling her tummy, she headed to the kitchen…

As the morning rays penetrated through the windows, she placed the milk on to boil… While it boiled, she was humming her favorite “Aaruyirae song from Guru,” her all-time favorite Rahman. At a distance, she could hear the local news channel on the radio. While preparing a cup of coffee, she hummed the remaining song. She took a sip and sat down, turning the pages of R.K. Narayan’s Malgudi Days. She promised herself she would read one chapter a day.

A sudden shrieking noise broke the silence… Madhulika placed her cup of coffee and ran towards the balcony where the sound came from.

A chaotic situation, as people in the neighborhood ran towards the parked lorry. Lying in a pool of blood was a man…

 

Before two months…

Madhulika’s father worked in the hotel, and Manohar had been the carpenter and all-around person. He was cheerful and talkative. He had been part of the hotel for the past 20 years. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, hotels closed, restaurants closed, and what not? Ganeshkumar thought to call over Manohar to do some work at his residence. 

Manohar was fond of Raina’s playful nature. Raina, too, was fond of Manohar. She moved next door with her parents two years ago. Since then, Raina has been playful with Manohar. He also called her, “Sridevi,” meaning Goddess Lakshmi, because Raina’s face glowed like a lotus. She was fascinated by watching laborers work, and so she would watch Manohar paint and do all the work. There was a beautiful bond between the two, love and respect for each other. Raina knows him as the friendly painter, and Manohar reminiscences her as the god’s lovely child.

One fine day, Ganeshkumar had asked Manohar to come and fix the lamps in the room since his sister and family were visiting. On the way near, Ganeshkumar’s resident, a lorry, hit Manohar, and cheerful Manohar is no more…

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