Rukmini saw the red brake lights in the distance and scowled. Nothing seemed to be moving on the road ahead. She came to a grudging halt, placed her hands impatiently on the steering wheel, observed her nails and then cursed. If traffic was held up this far away from the intersection it only meant that an accident had happened, and a drama with all involved must have ensued. She only hoped that the accident did not involve the summons of an ambulance or a tow truck because then, she might as well hop over to the beauty parlour on the side and get her nails done. The vermin like two wheelers were still moving; trying to occupy every available lacunae between cars. It incensed her even more. She was going to be late and she didn't like it. The bar would have to open later than usual.
Luckily her ire was short-lived. Shortly after she had exhaustively tested every available frequency on the FM radio for decent music or news, hand brakes were released, ignitions turned on and traffic started to snake ahead. Indeed, it was an accident that held up things. A tomato truck had over turned and created quite the scene; “One bloody Mary” would probably have been Murugan's quip at this point.
Ah, Murugan. Rukmini was not a wistful woman so she didn't prolong the sigh of thought that threatened to slip into a vortex of nostalgia. Murugan was her husband, now dead.
At 20, mid-year through college, Rukmini decided that she didn't want to follow the preordained path that defined women in her family - marriage, children and death. How this came about remains a mystery to her and everyone around her. In her orthodox Brahmin home she quietly but steadily rebelled, with the winning play of marrying Murugan: college union leader, 2nd Class BA graduate and out of caste. Doom. That's what her family foretold. Rukmini on the other hand saw opportunity and at that time, love. Murugan and she set up a small home separately, ostracised by both families, but content in their own company. Three years of marriage flowed past, but before Rukmini could identify the monotony, Murugan was run over by a truck.
Her family rallied around on their own terms: not abandoning their “I told you” stand yet insistent that she should now come back to the fold. Surely a older brahmin man, perhaps divorced but with children could use her? Murugan had left Rukmini some money and more importantly, confidence and self-esteem. She decided that she would celebrate Murugan's memory by setting up a bar since he liked drinks and he liked people. And that is how, the bar was born. The name too was important to her. While with her family, many people stopped in to pay condolences but actually to pass judgment and pity. The older ladies would tut-tut when her mother recanted the story of Murugan, the elopement and subsequent death. When informed that Rukmini intended to start a bar, they would touch both sides of their cheek and exclaim, “Shantam pappum”.
Rukmini started her business with gusto. She bought a small place, decorated it modestly, invested in music and to create a niche, decided that her bar would be for women exclusively and serve vegetarian food only. At first it was slow and hard to break even. But as word spread about her service, the privacy afforded and the piping hot vadas, clients became regular and she started to do well. The bar kept her happy, occupied and focused. Not in the least because she always had stories to tell and stories to listen to.
As predicted, Rukmini was late opening the bar that evening. Couple of clients and her staff were already at the door. They greeted her with warm smiles as she unlocked the premises and turned on the warm lights. Music started to filter through, a string quartet she enjoyed and Thangan had begun to heat up the oil for the vadas. It was Thursday so she didn't expect a crowd. She settled herself behind the bar and watched life unfold around her.
NB: N and I were driving to a restaurant in Hyd and lamenting that our destination probably would not serve alcohol since it was "Pure Veg". Why is that this combination is so prevalent? Are drinking and being vegetarian of equivalent "moral" value in our society? If one were to look at it biochemically alcoholic drinks for the most part are pure veg. Think of the ingredients of beer: Hops (flowers), malt (fermented barley), yeast and more barley. Yet killing another being and drinking an alcoholic beverage in the restaurant business is equivalent sin! Go figure.