"Hello sir...welcome to Coorg" an old but strong looking man dressed in a loose pants and a button down cotton shirt, greeted arnav as he stopped his car inside the bungalow's compound and got down. He peered at the main entrance of the cottage hidden by the overgrown hedges around and took a deep breath, inhaling the crisp fresh air that filled his nostrils gaving him a sense of peace and calm.
He returned the man's smile as he shook hands with him "Thanks...are you the caretaker? Sorry I did not have your number so spoke to the manager on landing at Bangalore" Arnav said to the man, stretching his arms above his head to get rid of the cricks in his back thanks to the long uphill drive.
The man smiled back at him and got busy pulling our Arnav's luggage from the car's trunk "Yes sir, I am Venkateshan Krishamani Rao, but you can call me VK or just Rao...whatever you prefer" he said pleasantly as he kept the bags down and came towards arnav who was surveying the thicket around the place, his eyes flicked back to the old man on hearing his name
"Okay...i guess i'll stick to VK" he said as the man nodded and started picking up the larger of the bags "No wait..thats very heavy..." Arnav started arguing as VK hauled the bag over his shoulder while dragging the other bag with its wheels on the cobbled path "Its ok sir, I can manage...please come this way" he said as arnav gave up and picked up his laptop bag, following him to the second gate, in front of the house.
"Looks like this place has seen better times" Arnav commented as he surveyed the pale ivory color peeling off the outer walls of the cottage...he looked around and grimaced at the overgrown shrubs and wild plants lining the main pathway, while the old creaky gate gave a positively horrific groan...a huge guava tree stood guarding the bungalow in the small courtyard surrounding it.
"Oh yes sir...actually the house has been more or less closed off for over two years now, the last it was used was by an author like you...after that no one had stayed here...even me and my wife used to come one once a week for the upkeep...but now that bade sir's grand-daughter is back here for a few days, she'll be taking care of the repairs and other things.." he said as arnav suddenly halted at the man's word
"Whoa! What? You don't mean she is staying here do you? I was not told about this...I had precisely told them that I wanted the house to myself...I've bloody rented out the entire place!" Arnav said fuming at the thought that he won't be alone in the house as he had imagined if this grand daughter was here.
"Oh...Sir, I understand what you mean...but babyji decided to come here at the last minute...she wasn't aware of your visit since the rentals are overlooked by our estate manager...she too came to know about it two days ago when she got here...and since this is her house..." he said as arnav gave him a stern look
"Look VK...I don't care that your babyji decided to come here at the last minute...my only concern is that I have paid for three months of exclusive use of this house...and if that is not given to me then I will look for other accommodation...the last thing I need is some babyji dancing on my head while I try to work" arnav said with a frown as VK's face turned a slight pink
"Sir...please don't talk like that about babyji...she is very special to us...If you do not wish to live here, I will ask babyji to talk to our manager and return your money...but since its friday today, we can only do that on monday...in the mean time, it will be best if you stay here till then and maybe look at other places for accommodation over the weekend...I will be happy to assist you" he said with a defeated sigh as arnav nodded
He was too tired and exhausted from the journey and felt it was best to discuss this with their babyji at a better time...he really could not believe that he was already speaking about finding another place to live in before even walking into the house!
"Sir?" Arnav heard VK's voice call out from outside...he locked his laptop and got up from the carved wooden table in his room and went to open the door to a pleasant sight...he smiled gratefully as VK came in with a tray laden with hot aloo paratha's, yogurt and lime pickle...there was also a pot of freshly brewed coffee which arnav was dying to have.
"My wife thought you must be very hungry...but since its an odd time between breakfast and lunch, she thought that paratha's and coffee would be a good choice...do let me know in case you want something else" VK said with a warm smile
"No, this is great...how did you know I drink coffee?" arnav asked him to which VK shrugged "the other writers all drank coffee..we just guessed you did too...I can bring you tea if you like..but I do recommend the coffee, its locally produced here in coorg" he said proudly to which arnav smiled
"Oh no...this is perfect...by the way, how many other writers have stayed here before?" arnav asked him as he poured the smooth black drink and added a dash of milk "Oh...about 5 other writers...in fact, one of them used to come here quite often...he is a spiritual writer and finds peace and tranquility in this space" he said gesturing around the room and beyond
Arnav nodded as could not have agreed more...as soon as he had walked into his room...he was astonished by the sheer beauty of the high ceilinged european styled room...the tiles were a warm terra-cotta while teak furniture gave the room an enchanted feel...the fresh linen and soft smell of eucalyptus from the forest outside lent a feel of calmness to it.
He had walked out into the large deck cum balcony, only to be astonished by the beautiful sight of the valleys and lush greenery in front of him, the steady streams of late monsoon waterfalls were a sight to his sore eyes...this really was heaven on earth...and it would be a shame to let go of a chance to live here...he somehow felt that the wily old man had given him this room to dissuade him from leaving the house.
He waited till VK left the room before rolling one of the parathas and dipping it into the cool yogurt...he suddenly felt famished as he remembered the last meal he had was probably last night with Manav...he had not eaten anything from his flight in the wee hours of the morning and then he had driven non-stop from Bangalore airport to coorg.
Once he was done with his food and second cup of coffee...he wandered out of his room in order to find VK...he needed to check with him if there was a LAN connection or wifi in the house so that he could check his mails ...though his phone coverage was all right, he hardly had any data speed...and he doubted that his data card will work due to the high altitude.
He walked slowly drinking in the beauty of the interiors as he admired the wood paneled ceilings and colonial style furniture..large old paintings lined the walls while many different knick-knacks scattered around the house spoke of a well travelled owner. He really wondered which era had influenced this house..since he saw soo many various styles in the construction and design of it.
He had now reached a longish corridor which was leading towards an open courtyard...he continued on making a mental note to take down VK's phone number, he was just about to reach the end of the corridor when he stopped abruptly as he heard a soft voice coming from one of the rooms...he turned back and strained his ears to check if it really was someone's voice when he heard it again
It sounded like someone was calling from the room on his left...Arnav slowly turned the knob and heard a female voice call out from the bathroom for someone that sounded like 'chikappa..' he wondered what the hell it meant as he waked towards the voice and was left bewildered and astonished at the sight that greeted him
Two beautifully long, tanned smooth bare legs were peeking out from under what looked like a humongous sink... "Chikappa...where are you?" the girl said again as she struggled with something on the right side...her hand trying to locate something on the old tiled floor...Arnav quickly walked towards her, his footstep alerting her
"Finally...where were you? Please pass the spanner to me...I just need to tighten this bolt...that should stop the leakage" she said as she held out a delicate hand to him...he bent down and looked around for the spanner and gave it to her as she clasped her hand around it and grunted in exhaustion as she tightened the said bolt
It took arnav a minute to register that she was now wriggling out from under the sink...he wondered if he should stay back or leave...and finally decided that it was best to leave...he had anyways not spoken to her yet...but the smooth expanse of her khakhi shorts clad legs and the flat midriff peeking out from under her t-shirt that had ridden up kept him rooted to the spot.
He heard her curse as she hit her head on the underside of the sink base while trying to slip out, when she was just about to come out, he swiftly turned and walked away from there...he had no idea why he did that...but he felt it was best to not meet someone like this...he should have first only announced his presence instead of ogling at her.
He walked back to his room and closed the door behind him before walking towards the open balcony once again...he was surprised that the plumber was a girl...that too someone who clearly was not a local..at least not in the way she dressed..so was that babyji?
"Chikappa?" Khushi called out to VK who suddenly seemed to have vanished as she slipped out from the bottom of the sink...she got up and dusted her clothes before checking the water that was now running steadily in the sink...she washed her filthy hands and gathered all the tools before zipping up the tool bag and hauling it on her shoulders...where had he gone?
She walked into the storage room off the kitchen and deposited the tool kit on the old creaky shelves before pulling her hair free of the scrunchie holding her bun together...she picked up a juicy apple on her way to her room when she spotted VK cleaning his feet on doormat before entering the living room
"Chikappa! Where did you vanish off to?...you just came handed me the spanner and left...what happened? That mumbaiyya called you or something?" Khushi asked him gesturing towards the new tenant's room...VK had told her how he had refused to stay in the house after he came to know that she was here too.
She really could not understand his reluctance...the house was huge! They won't even meet each other...plus she had too much work around the upkeep of the house to disturb his work...But she did not want to argue with anyone...she had already spoken to their manager to return all his money on monday.
"Me babyji? But I never gave you the spanner...in fact after you got to work on the sink, I left to get some herbs from the garden and am just getting back" he said as khushi gave him a confused look...if VK did not give her the spanner..then who did? That mumbaiyya??