Banganga Tank, Bombay Stories, Fictional curry

The Tank

“…And then I saw you, and my soul whispered, ‘doesn’t she look familiar’. I said, ‘she does’, but I couldn’t place you from this time or place. So I asked my soul, ‘if it knew since how long back had we known each other’? And it replied, ‘since forever’.”  
“Since forever.”
That’s what he first thought when he saw this woman sitting on the jagged, moss-infested stone steps of the tank.
Her blue cotton skirt was partially inside the green pool of water so he didn’t know where her feet ended. He gauged from the length of her back and the broadness of her shoulders that she was tall, probably taller than what was just normal.
The morning sun glistened and shimmered like sparkling stars on water. He saw it, even as he saw her observe it. She was smiling; beaming helplessly. It made her feel happy and he could not tell why.
They were at a considerable distance from each other – he standing and she sitting, both on different angles of the rectangle – enough for her to not notice that he was noticing her.
Rukshad was a photographer, an amateur one. He didn’t love Mumbai, as much as his parents did. But today, at the tank, beauty had snatched hate off some of its glory.
Banganga – it was a beautiful place. Here, it seemed like another world from another time had not only been preserved, but had continued seamlessly, undisturbed and unaltered, even as everything changed or manifested into something new. The stoned stairways on all four sides led deep down to a bottomless pit from where a natural spring drowned each step as it rose, disappearing layer by layer. Legend had it that Laxman, the brother of epic hero Lord Ram, had shot an arrow on this earth, eons ago; water sprung soon after to feed the thirsty elder brother. Some claimed that the arrow was shot after Sita – Ram’s wife – had sought pure water for a temple offering.        

Rukshad’s friend had told him of the tank.  
“Very few know about it,” he was told. “Go visit it, you may get some good photographs that could land you that job,” the friend had advised.
He wanted to intern at the photography magazine desperately, so he came here. But now, he was more than just stunned by the magnificence of the place. And then his eyes fell upon her, and he did not know what had left him more spellbound – the tank or the girl sitting by it.
It was strange, this attraction he felt for her. She was ordinary to look at, not somebody anyone would take to on the first glance. Her hair was tied up messily in a hasty bun with strands falling carelessly on her face. There was something about her very presence though, that felt familiar.    
So while he toyed with his SLR, shooting aimlessly, his mind kept travelling back to the woman. But he parried his view the moment he thought she had become aware of his presence. She was still sitting there. And he realised that the water had risen a bit, because her skirt was now hidden knee deep.  
She looked at him, first casting him a nervous stare, but then smiled. It was a very knowing glance. Before he could pull himself together, she was waving at him, asking him to come hither.    
Rukshad didn’t have time to think of what was happening, so he quickly walked to the other side, down the slippery steps, carefully towards her.   
“Photographer?” she asked.
He nodded, fumbling with his words, struggling hard to give a reply.
“You want to take my picture?” she asked questioningly.
If that was the excuse he would have to give for those stolen glances, he had no other choice. He sheepishly took the bait. “Yes.”
“Okay…go ahead,” she said, and pushed her hands behind, to hold herself back in a tilt, as if readying for a pose.
After fiddling with his lens, Rukshad took a couple of photographs. She smiled and posed without complaining.
“Thank you.”
“No problem,” she said. “What will you use this for?” she asked.
“Job interview.”
“Oh! I hope you get it then,” she said.
And, as if no conversation had happened between them, she went back to treating her eyes to the green of the waters. Her face looked calm, but lacked the curiosity that he had for her. There wasn’t an ounce of emotion, to reveal what was on her mind. She hadn’t even bothered asking if there was a way she could get hold of the copy.     
Rukshad moved back quietly, not knowing whether it would be polite to ask her, her name.
He left Banganga soon after, taking the steep stairway that was butted by old homes and temples on either side. It was only when he had climbed up to the exit that he realised he had forgotten his lens at the tank. It was an expensive zoom lens and he remembered asking the young woman to hold it, while he busied taking her pictures.
He rushed back to the tank. As he walked down, a slew of thoughts ran through his mind. Rukshad saw it as a sign; a sign that they weren’t over as yet. May be, he would gather some courage, and ask for her name or probably, her number. They would meet again, and then…

Were they meant to be?
The last thought struck him when he just reached the tank. He immediately looked in the direction where he saw her last. But there was no one there who resembled her. He glanced around the tank, assuming he probably got the spot wrong. She had just been here five minutes ago.
For a moment he thought that she had followed him to return the lens. But he knew deep down that she never really would. She had appeared to be in a daze, not to be disturbed or stirred. 
From the distance though, he could see something cylindrical, a few steps above where she had been seated. His lens had been waiting there, beside a pair of red sandals. She was nowhere around. He sat there till dusk, hoping she would return to take the shoes that he presumed were hers. She did not.
He got the job the following week. It was her picture that did the trick.

He would remember this woman “since forever.” 
Bombay Stories, Fictional curry, Marine Drive, Mumbai

The Bay

Marine Drive 

Her laces were worn out, duller than the pale blue of her shoe. She looked at them in disgusted haste, reminding herself that she needed to save up to buy a fresh pair soon. This time she would opt for a black one, so that she wouldn’t have to bother spending on a new one again.

The darkness of the black would hide the harsh wear and tear that her shoes were being put through each day. If life could reveal anything blacker than black, it would have to be hell. And Lekha wasn’t going down there yet.

Yes, she was ageing with day, had retired years ago and currently, found it hard to make ends meet; but unlike her friends, who had already suffered a handicap or two, she could still walk. And that’s what she did every morning, sharp at 5.
Lekha would leave home daily, skipping the ginger tea made by their Maharaj (cook). She loved tea, but giving up on what she enjoyed most, seemed like a piecemeal offering to her son, who would time and again remind her that she owed him for the roof above her head.
They were a rich family, but not her. She lost everything when her husband died. Now, it was just the measly pension that kept her going. Lekha never asked her son for money, he never bothered giving. He fed her twice a day, and his job ended there.   
She rushed out, just five minutes before 5. In October, the sun rose a little later than it did in August. It reminded her that winter would be here soon.
A few hurried, rapid steps and she would get there. Their home was just a stone’s throw away from the bay. They couldn’t see it from their window, but its salty breeze found a way inside always, corroding their cast iron shelves. It was a nice home, she thought; it had come down to her husband from his father, and all these years, she had nurtured it well.

It barely took ten minutes to get to the seaside. The flailing waves of the Arabian Sea were welcoming, more welcoming than the home, she had once cared for.

When she reached the asphalt stretch, she persevered, dragging her feet with quickened pace. They would be waiting for her opposite the monstrosity of glass and concrete – the InterContinental, an odd spectacle on the stretch of simple, yet telling buildings from Bombay’s past.
She wasn’t late. They were still there when she came. They wouldn’t go anywhere for the next one hour. But it always felt good to be on time. One of them – Kerson – was in a wheelchair and his servant brought him here everyday; the others could walk fairly well, though Shradha complained that arthritis was getting the better of her. And Domnic wore knee pads now; every time they asked him why, he would say in his typical Goan English accent, “Looks cool men. Don’t you think?”
When Lekha arrived, the circle was complete. They didn’t ask her much and instead joined hands. Shradha, who lead the group, chanted something, and they all bent forward; soon enough they were all howling, laughing heartily.
The passersby looked unperturbed. It was a regular scene, played out at the bay daily: Old people having a merry time.
The constable had picked on them the first time they did it. But Shradha had interrupted, “Laughter yoga…you can’t take us to jail.”   

An hour later, they were done. Some left for home, while a few like Lekha would head down for a walk on the same stretch. She would only go back home at 8, after drinking tea at a stall near their house.   

Today, Kerson stopped her.
“Lekha, can you drop me home. Raju won’t be coming, so I would need help.”
Kerson, a 75 year old Parsee, lived in her neighbourhood. They rarely spoke at the yoga sessions and even otherwise, so Lekha was amused that he asked her for help.  
“Please,” he requested again.
Since they lived in the same compound, it would just seem wrong to say no. So, she agreed. 
The drive by the street was smooth, though she had a feeling that people were throwing them curious glances. Two old couple, one on a wheelchair, the other one happily driving him along. She was probably just conscious, so she ignored them.
“I see you drink chai at the stall daily,” Kerson said, breaking her thoughts.
“Yes, I like the tea there,” she said, sounding more than just curt. 
Kerson realised that he was infringing upon some unspoken territory. They did not speak after that.
When they reached his building, she saw Raju stand outside anxiously.
“Sir I was worried,” he said. Kerson beamed a calm smile.  
Raju politely took over from Lekha, and pushed the chair up the slope that had been specially built for Kerson. Lekha stood there awkwardly, not knowing whether to say bye or just leave.
When Kerson made it to the platform, she silently moved ahead.
Noticing her leave, Kerson called out, “Lekha, wait.”
“Raju’s made piping hot ginger tea…” he cast a knowing look at his servant, and hesitantly added,“…for both of us.”   
Fictional curry, longing, Love

And we moved on

On the night you came to my house, I thought something really bad had happened. My sister opened the door, and told me you were standing outside, crying.
I rushed to the entrance and when our eyes met, you held my hand and I remember you saying something very silly.
“I got married…,” you said, stammering, “…today”. It sounded silly because I obviously refused to believe that. I was right. You were drunk and so drunk, that you imagined you had attended your own wedding, instead of your friend’s.
We laughed about it the next day. But even as I was pulling your leg about the incident, you interrupted and said something sweet.
“You know why I cried?” you asked.
“No.” I was still laughing.
“I couldn’t have imagined marrying anyone, but you.”
That’s what you said, or that’s what I thought I heard. We were still just friends then, so I couldn’t hide how shocked I was. But I ignored you because it just seemed like the right thing to do.
Months later, I remember us sitting at your table, playing a game of scrabble, and you looking perplexed.
I asked what happened, and you said, “I don’t have great letters.”
“Yay! I think I have my dibs on a win here,” I said.
You were very engrossed though, either staring at your letters, or at the board, going back and forth, refusing to give up.
Minutes later, you smiled. You threw one glance at me, and then back at the letter board. You added a “Y” above my O, and “U” below my O. My letter was LOVE.
“I stiindexll beat you to the score,” I said.
“But I managed to Love You.”
I can’t for the life of me remember who won the game, probably that’s how lost I was. Never until then, had scrabble blown me away.
After that game, nothing of real consequence happened. Seasons came and went. Three summers just died, so did the winters, one bitter and many bland. I had forgotten about that incident and even about you.
You went somewhere, and said you were not hoping to return. I was with somebody else, and he really wanted to marry me. He was probably waiting for me to say “yes”. But, despite all that, we were going fine.
And then I saw you at the supermarket one day, scanning through pickles, along with a friend. She was petite, but had surprisingly broad shoulders. Your long hands wrapped her arms as she picked up some bottle. Her face was pleasing and beautiful, and she did not look anything like me.
Your presence riled me, and I could not tell why.
I was about to walk away, when you happened to see me from the corner of your eye.
It was stupid to behave like we didn’t know each other, so despite feeling awkward, I came towards you.
“Hey…long time,” you said.
I did not think you deserved a Hi, so I instead blurted, “I am getting married.”
I lied. And that was such a shame.
“Oh!,” you muttered.
You reached out for my hand to congratulate me, but as soon as you held it, I realised that you weren’t letting go.
“Your palm feels so cold,” you said looking intently into my eyes. “Are you okay?”
I released my fingers from your grip and tightly held on to my dress as if trying to hold on to the lie, wary of being exposed and stripped naked of this farce.
Suddenly, my eyes welled up with tears. I wish I had held myself together because your friend or may be your girlfriend was looking at me. She gave me a reassuring smile, so I did not feel too bad.
I walked out of the store, thinking of what you had once said:
“I couldn’t have imagined marrying anyone, but you.”

arranged marriages, Fictional curry, Love

Arranged affair

Bijith Nair furtively tossed a sugar cube into his insipid tea, and tilted his head towards the right, from where he could get a clear view to the door of his kitchen.
He could see the slouched back of his wife; her round figure taking up every inch of the viewing space that the doorway allowed. The way her arms and elbows moved in measured swings, he predicted she was chopping something.
Noticing she hadn’t been keeping an eye on him, he quickly added another white lump to his tea and stirred it delicately, ensuring that the spoon didn’t hit the bottom or the circular-frame of his ceramic cup. The clanging would draw her attention.  
Somehow, today, he did not want her to know that he was finding it difficult to resist this sweet temptation that diabetes had long denied. Sugar reminded him of love and may be that’s how he felt now, but she didn’t need to know that, not yet. 
He was about to reach for his cup, when she called out to him, “Biju! Should I give you porridge or cornflakes for breakfast?”
“They both sound hmmm…,” Bijith struggled for a word, and after a few seconds of vacuous thinking, came up with “…very delicious! I can’t decide. Why don’t you choose my poison?”
It was meant to be sarcastic, but it almost, came across as complimentary. Why else, would she mutter a polite “Thanks”.
Krishna never got his sarcasm, but even after 42 years of marriage, Bijith hadn’t stopped trying. It made him feel accomplished and more involved in the decision-making at home. If Krishna ruled the house with an iron hand, Bijith liked to believe that he ruled the house with sarcasm, one that was mostly lost to her and his kids’ untrained ears. Nonetheless, he had made his point, and to Bijith that seemed more important. 

Now, sipping into the sweet concoction, he was reminded of the heady days of his youth, when love was not singularly bestowed on any one woman. Though most of them had either ended tragically or comically, except for the arrangement his parents had fixed with Krishna. Their marriage had always seemed like an amicably agreed upon deal. Nothing of real consequence, especially romantic, had ever been exchanged between Krishna and him. Suresh and Shiva happened to them during those rare occasions when they were overcome by passion or call it lust. Love was a word only hanging in the air; it all felt more like comfort. And yet in all these years, she had been the only one who mattered. Though, something always felt amiss. And until yesterday, he had never figured out what.
He smiled and got up from his dining seat, moving towards the large French window, which opened to his balcony.
Bijith never drank his tea at the table; it was always outside from where he could see the compound. And because his building shared space with a school, the ground was always home to children running amok either during PE class or recess.   
“What happened? Why exactly are you smiling to yourself?” Krishna asked, interrupting the string of thoughts running through his head.
“Nothing…just remembered something amusing,” he said, his mind straying again.
“Since yesterday, I have been noticing you…suddenly behaving strange.”
Krishna was sly, he knew. She could read him easily, or probably, he gave out too much. This time around, he had to act with caution or he’d risk letting her know.
“Stop over-thinking,” he said, “Breakfast ready? I need to step out in a while.”

Walking on the jagged pavement of Mumbai’s Fort area, inside the arched stone-walled gateway, Bijith thought of what happened yesterday. He met Sharda right here, while he was out on a stroll, like he was today. Sharda looked just like she had when he last saw her over 40 years ago. They had dated briefly, before she was married to an Army man. Though it had been a long time since, meeting her hadn’t felt strange at all. It all still seemed so familiar and fresh. It was hard not to draw comparisons with Krishna. Especially since the two women had once been close friends in college. Unlike his wife, whose skin fell into lose folds on her face, Sharda’s was still taut. The passing years had barely done her any damage. Only the silver strands that intermittently emerged from the long black of her hair, told the story of her ageing. She had been widowed five years ago, and lived alone in the city after having lost her only son in the battlefield.
They had promised to meet again today. He had been anticipating this moment since last night. She would come. They would smile. Somethings would be exchanged. An untold story would bloom again.

Sharda hadn’t disappointed; in fact, she had come before time.
“Hi,” he said. She could make out that he was nervous; Bijith was toying with his own hands. “I have been thinking about us since yesterday,” she said.
“So have I,” he muttered.
“Strange…we met again.”
“There’s always a reason,” he interjected.
She handed him a small note.
“This really helped me,” she said, “but I don’t think, it was meant for me.”
“Thank you Sharda.”
They hugged awkwardly. “Hope to meet you again,” he said, before they parted one last time.

That afternoon, when he got home, he slipped the note into a book that his wife had been reading. She would find it later; he cared little about her reaction. He just wanted her to know something that he himself had forgotten.

It was dated July 19, 1971. It read:

Dear Sharda,
Thank you for the wedding invitation. Am glad you are moving on, and marrying that Army guy. I hope you have forgiven me for breaking your heart. I was so foolishly infatuated with you, that I had forgotten what it was to love. It’s funny how my wedding was eventually fixed with a friend of yours, who I didn’t bother to give a second glance while in college. We have been married for a month now and for once, I think am really in love. 
Am just saying that love happens, and mostly when we least expect. It doesn’t need to happen the way we would have wished it to happen, nor does it have to feel like how we want it to feel. I am so comfortably in love that Krishna doesn’t even know. May be, she might never know, but does it matter. I hope the same for you and your husband.   

Best wishes,
Bijith (and Krishna)

Fictional curry, Rains and emotions

Paper Hearts

It’s 2’o clock in the morning; too late to hit the bed, and too early to rise. Outside, water from tonight’s downpour drums the aluminum awning of my balcony, jarring my weakened ears.
There was a time when I spent the wakeful hours of my night watching the rains from across the balcony; now, I liked staying in bed, even if I was sleepless. Because I feared that if I stood on the rain-wet mosaic tiles, I would probably fall. Old-age had killed small joys.
My neighbour, this ravishing woman, loved the rains more than me. When we were kids, she would knock on our door on rainy evenings and plead and beg mother to allow me to come down with her.
“Aunty, aunty…Michael promised to sail paper boats with me. Please let him come,” she’d say.

My mother agreed, though reluctantly. She knew that I would catch a fever soon after, but “if the rains bring you both closer” she’d tell me, “let the fever be the sacrifice.”
“Someday Tracey and you will get married and I will be a happy woman,” she’d joke.
“Lady, stop messing with my son’s head,” my father would butt-in, “The D’lima queen wouldn’t allow such a union…over her dead body.” My mother always ignored him.
You see, Tracey was “aspirational”. Her father, Dr Ralph D’lima, was a renowned doctor during my parent’s time; one of those, just short of having a street named after him. His stories of bravado and kind-heartedness were told to children as bed-time stories. The local hero, he was most remembered for saving scores of dying men during the plague that hit Bombay in 1897.
Mother never spared a day reminding me how Dr D’lima had once made room for plague-ridden patients in his own house – much to the disapproval of his wife Linda – when there was a shortage of beds in the hospital. Mother’s brother David was one of those who had found refuge in the D’lima home. He died soon after, nestled in the arms of Dr D’lima – it was a good death, she claimed.
His wife Linda, on the other hand, was the local anti-hero. One belonging to the crème de la crème of the Goan society, and boasting of lineage to a mayor in the city, she kept to herself and never once indulged in empty conversations with her neighbours.
The only time she spoke to mother was to reprimand her, when she thought I had kissed her six-year-old daughter.
“Keep his filthy lips off my daughter’s,” she had warned mother, after she had seen Tracey scribble something in her Math book. “Michael + Tracey = Kiss,” she had written.
“Is this what you teach your son Mrs Coutinho?,” Linda had asked mother.
My mother was unaffected. In faboatsct, she considered it a personal victory and later, gifted me a chocolate bar for hastening her plans of seeing me as a D’lima son-in-law. “But I didn’t kiss her,” I clarified.
“Son, let Linda believe that you did,” she said.
Though after that incident, I really saw very little of Tracey. Except during the monsoons, when her devil mother escaped for a break to her hometown in Calangute. That’s when her father allowed her to play with me.
As far as I remember, monsoon is the only memory I have of Tracey. We sailed paper boats, and Tracey almost, always won. My boat would drown somewhere, mid-way, causing her to break into peals of laughter.
“Loser!” she yelled. I wouldn’t say anything in retort. All I did was to muster a smile, which I knew, kept her from teasing me further. But she got so nervous that she’d quickly add, “Stop smiling will you…I hate your smile.” That girl couldn’t even lie with a straight face.
Post monsoons, Tracey and I would behave like we didn’t know each other. When our eyes locked briefly at church during Sunday service, she’d put her head down immediately. Whom were we appeasing? Linda, I presume.
Then, in the summer of 1909, Linda suddenly vanished with 12-year-old Tracey. Nobody knew what happened.
A rumour doing the rounds was that Linda had found love again, in a local Goan musician, and the couple had eloped to England fearing wrath from family. Dr D’Lima never denied or confirmed the rumour. “It could be true,” he casually told me once, when I innocently asked him, while trying to fish for information on Tracey’s whereabouts.
Nine years later, when Dr D’Lima died of a cardiac arrest, Tracey surprisingly returned home. This time with a young man Luis and an infant. She had been married for two years. I smiled when I saw her. She didn’t react. Since then, Tracey has been living next door. We never smiled, we rarely spoke.
My mother, before dying, thanked her stars for not praying too hard for a union between me and “that Linda’s girl”. “She turned out to be just like her mom,” my mother said, “She would have left you one day…I swear on Jesus Christ, she would.”

But Tracey wasn’t anything like her mother. Why else would she stick around with a drunkard-of-a-husband for 45-long years. Luis died last month. I didn’t attend the funeral, so I don’t know whether Tracey cried. But word has it that she did. Her daughter, who lives in Australia, hadn’t come on the occasion. And poor Tracey grieved alone, I was told.
Why am I telling you all this? No idea.
Because had I known that Tracey would knock on my door a little while later, this would have seemed like a perfect prequel to the end, right?
“Can we sail paper boats?” she asked, when I opened the door of my flat.
“Now! This late in the night?” I was shocked, but could do little to hide the smile.
She looked at me nervously, her hands fiddling with the few lose sheets of paper she had brought along. “I hate that smile of yours.”
“We can go on lying Tracey….we can go on lying.”
Or,” she interrupted, “…We can sail paper boats

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Fictional curry, longing, Love

The inevitability of possibilities

While sipping into my mug of coffee, I wondered how it would be to see you, right now, in front of me, like you used to be, in the world that was five decades younger. I spared a moment to feel how you felt, when my fingers reached out for the strands of your wispy brown hair; I remember then, how your pale skin would redden; but was it blush or an embarrassed glow, you didn’t tell.
A geriatrician holds the hand of an elderly woman with arthritis.But then you didn’t say a lot of things. I probably, always assumed you said them – often imagining them to be good – because it made “me” happy and “us” seem perfect.
I forgot that every coin has an another side, one that I, out of habit, rarely flipped to see. So when you didn’t show up one day, I had to go back to the coin, you once gifted me. “It was a rare one,” I remember you telling me. It had a lion’s emblem on one side and it just seemed like anything ordinary. That day when you left, I turned it around…It was blank. Only the copper base was slightly roughed up, as if someone had on purpose, hammered the image that had been embossed. It was rare, I joked to myself. And you were so foolish, I wondered.
It’s been such a long time since it all happened. So much water has flown under the bridge of time. So much water, so much…that now, you seem like a memory so vague that all I can think of is your brown hair and the white of your skin. I don’t know nothing, otherwise; not even when we first met. May be, if I knew when exactly you came into my life, it would have been easier to remember when you walked out. But this “may be” was only a “possibility”, something I had stopped believing in after you went, until she came.

Now, when I see her feed me the last sip from my mug of coffee, I know the inevitability of possibilities. I want to reach out to her hair, but my hands have given in…aah failing nerves. But when she observes the way my waisted hand moves restlessly on the arm-rest, she lifts it for me, cups my fingers in the palm of her hand, and then slowly slides them into her greying strands. They are not as soft as yours…that I know. She does not even redden enough for me to discern. But another miracle happens, and only, I have seen. The wrinkles on her face disappear, and I can tell you, it is out of an odd pleasure. The pleasure of loving and being loved. This is rare, rarer than your battered coin.

Fictional curry

Did she call?

It was two hours since his eyes had escaped sleep, but it was still too early for dawn. Walking restlessly in the woods that encircled his home, he saw darkness recede slowly. The sky had taken on a deep purple hue, a colour he had never witnessed before, despite having lived here for over 25 years. It was strange, he wondered, how the village opened itself to its people. Here, there was something new everyday; something of which he was yet to see. Now, it was the colour of the sky, tomorrow it could be the manner in which the rains poured from above. He amused himself as he strolled, trying hard to keep his mind away from what was disturbing him. But even as he forced himself to think otherwise, those thoughts kept interrupting him in flashes.

Like that day when it had poured incessantly. His son hadn’t taken an umbrella, so he rushed to school on his cycle, caring little about himself. When he arrived 20 minutes later, he was soaked and trembling. His son was dry, having nestled himself under an awning. He ran to him, covered him in a tattered jacket, placed him on the top tube of the cycle and took him back home. That day, he was running a temperature, and a bad one that too. The family doctor had suggested taking him to the hospital, if it got worse, but he recovered a week later. Then, he remembered how his son came to him, hugged him and said innocently, “Dada…when I get rich, I will take you in a car, so that you don’t get wet or sick.”

Today, his son was rich and had a car; and though he got drenched a time-too-many, no car had come to his rescue.
“What are you doing out there?” his wife yelled from inside the home.
“Am checking if the mangoes have ripened,” he lied.
“I know exactly what you are up to…come back right away. It’s only 5.”
“Not sleepy.”
“Oh…then come, I’ll sing you lullaby,” she teased.
He walked back quietly; he knew that she was disturbed too, but was tough as a nutshell to show it.

At breakfast, he finally brought it up.“Will she call?”
“Who?” she asked casually.
“Our son’s daughter.”
“I don’t know.”
“She should right…after all, we are her grandparents. She should take our blessings.”
“I don’t know,” she said again, pouring coffee into his mug. And then as an afterthought said, “Your son never told us about it. Don’t expect the call. Don’t think about it…please,” she requested.
“She’s getting married today. How can I not think about it?”
“We weren’t invited.”
“Because, he thought we were too old to make it for the wedding.”
“Don’t defend your son,” she said immediately.
“Should we make the call?”
“Don’t add salt to injury.”
He rose angrily from his chair, “Don’t do this…don’t do that…don’t…don’t..don’t…is that all you have to say.”
“Yes, because I am your wife, and I do not want you to be hurt,” she said calmly.

They did not raise the issue again, not until late in the night when they were lying down on their bed, staring vacantly towards the ceiling. Each thought the other was sleeping. But sleep was hard to come by, not today at least.
Why weren’t they told? They wondered. What had they done? They had just one child, a son. He may have lived continents away, and never bothered to reach out to them after he left India 20 years ago, but now to learn about his daughter getting married from another relative in the US, tore them. Over the years, they had come to terms with their loneliness, but they had thought little about being neglected. Today, after having been denied this small happiness, they felt lonelier than they had always been. Their eyes welled up, but they tried hard not to whimper lest they stirred the other.
At around 2 in the night, after hours of restlessness finally took its toll and pushed them to sleep, a phone call woke them up. The old man nervously rushed out of bed and went to answer the call…his wife was anxious too, but did her best to contain it.
On the other end, he heard the sound of a man; it was a voice too familiar to forget, a voice that was their only connect to their blood, a voice, which now ached in drunkenness.
“Did she call?” the man on other end inquired, his voice stammering. “Did she call?” he repeated.
“No,” he said, a little perplexed.
“She did not call me either,” he said, sounding equally disturbed.

He looked at his wife who was standing beside him, earnestly waiting for a reaction. His face that had grown paler today, was slowly gaining colour. She saw his lips widen and curve into a wicked smile. 
“Is it her?” she asked.
He handed over the receiver to her. She could here faint sobs on the other end. It was her son.