I was chilling in the Officers’ Mess, when I got my first call on the sarkari phone. I didnt know if I was supposed to answer it. “CO madam baat karengi”. My tongue went dry for some reason, like I had committed treason. I was pretty sure I had messed something up. The husband didn’t help, “I don’t know why she has asked you to come over.” I called my friend and we examined every minute detail of the previous evening to see if I had, by any chance, done something I wasn’t supposed to. “You are so screwed”, she had said with absolute finality.
I couldn’t run or hide, so I put up a brave face, dressed well and knocked at her door way ahead of time. Turns out she had invited me for some tea, good ol’ chai. We spoke at great lengths about her work, hostel, books and her folks back home. Things were going well until she mentioned “welfare meet tomorrow morning”. Now, here’s the thing, I have heard stories about such meets. Also, I have stage fright. Period.
“Let’s meet at 11 tomorrow, we’ll go together”, she kindly said to a confused me.
Morning came and while I was getting ready, I got three reminders to be on time, two from the husband and one from a well meaning bhaiya who knew I was new to all this. I threw a tantrum at the husband the second time around, “Don’t worry, I’ll reach early, set up the shamiana and lick the place clean”. “All that’s been taken care of”, he’d said. I don’t think he understood sarcasm at all.
Rough morning, I must say. Anyway, we met at 11, as promised. Mrs CO was dressed in a beautiful saree, she looked elegant. I had thought of wearing a saree but remember I made the husband pack and he believes in traveling light, obviously, if all I needed was two sets of uniforms, I would have breezed around the world.
We reached the venue, it was so prim and proper that I was scared to touch anything out of sheer fear of breaking them. We were to meet the families of the men of our unit, I was to be formally introduced to them, and as they had planned, they were to put up little performances. It was heartwarming to be there.
Every gathering here seemed to be an elaborate affair and food was indispensable, varieties of pakoras made out of unidentifiable vegetables, kinnu juice (know kinnu here), and endless number of beverages (warm water included). Someone whispered in my ears, “Are you on a diet? Don’t bother, this place never allows for diets”. At that point in time I could only think of a very dear friend who could eat like there was no tomorrow (no he didn’t hog, just loved food) and still managed to look like he lived only on a moderate supply of oxygen.
As the meet was coming to closure and people were thanking each other and applauding the performances, I heard someone at the dais ask for Mrs Satyam. She was to say a few words. She was called for twice. I was wondering why Mrs. Satyam wouldn’t go. Sure as hell she was rude or probably dead. Someone nudged me out of my stupor, “Satyam ma’am aapki bari hai”.
Yes, me, Mrs.Satyam/Satyam Ma’am. New place, new name.
I was to sing a song. I wanted to faint, feign sickness and bury myself. I don’t sing, not even when I am alone. Never. And this was on stage in front of hundreds of people.
It was only divine intervention that saved me from this embarrassment. I made a small fancy speech and ran for my life (read gracefully walked out with a warm smile).