Sunday, 10 May 2020

Sudha Viswanathan, Prose 500, 2020, Shortlist

Chameleon

Subramani got down from the bus, with a young boy in tow.

“Who is this, Subramani?” Keshavan, who sat under the banyan tree near the town bus stop from dawn to dusk queried.

“He is my new assistant, Balaji. The dishes he prepares are all lip smacking. I tasted them yesterday. His presence in my team of cooks will be a feather in my cap.

No sooner than I fixed him as my assistance, my wife called to tell me that we have bagged the catering for Sub Inspector Parashurama Iyer’s sixtieth birthday function. I must say, Balaji is also my lucky mascot.

Keshavan rolled his eyes. “Lucky You!!! I heard that the guest list will be running to two thousand. This boy is indeed a messenger of luck. Vishu is going to die of envy.” He chuckled.

Subramani one of the famous caterers of Palakkad, a town in Kerala, walked with pride hearing this.

Vishu was his professional enemy. Both vied to get the best catering orders in town. Subramani seemed to have trapped a golden fish now. Once the next function becomes a hit under the auspices of the new recruit, no one can stop him from being the numero uno.

His mother was waiting at the porch with a broad smile on her face. “Kittu maama had come; he has booked your catering services for his daughter’s wedding this month and son’s wedding the coming month.” Her words jumbled in enthusiasm to convey this.

“Both the weddings are grand. They want the menu to be the talk of the town. Nearly thousand eight hundred invitees for both occasions!”

Her glance fell on Balaji, “Oh, this is the boy you spoke about. He is indeed a lucky mascot. Come in.” He was given a royal treatment with a variety of snacks and coffee served by Subramani’s wife.

Balaji was in a stupor. An orphan, he had taken to cooking at small functions when he was hardly sixteen. This was the first time that someone had taken him as an assistant under his able wings in these five years. He was more than overwhelmed to know that he would get a permanent shelter over his head and two times square meal. The remuneration part didn’t really matter to him.

But as destiny had planned, by evening news spread that the country is going to go on a lockdown from the following day on account of the pandemic declared due to infection caused by the deadly corona virus. No functions could be conducted on a grand scale in the near future. Everything would be shut.

“We are doomed. No work for days to come. This boy has stepped in with ill luck.” Subramani threw a derisive glance at Balaji.

In a few minutes allegations were ruthlessly thrown on the poor orphan by everyone who had called him a messenger of luck.

‘How men change colors like Chameleon!’ Sighed the boy as he walked aimlessly in pursuit of a job.

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