My grandmother’s cousin today noon arrived along with her two daughters and their two sons (I don’t know whose child was who and, frankly, couldn’t care less). As has always been the case, excursions to a relative house must mandatorily involve a hired drive, preferably a fancy SUV (Toyota, if you please) that has space for eight but, for their sake, will and should carry only five. Petrol, you see, is a commodity whose price affects only their husbands or, for that matter, that insolent bitch of a house-maid who keeps clamouring for a pay hike.
My grandfather has been a brisk man all his life—industrious is a fitting word—and in the time of his retirement, it is only his greatest sorrow that anyone who pays his wife a visit must announce themselves by ringing the calling-bell four times just as he closes his eyes for a short nap. Why four times? Because it’s so much fun listening to the muted sonorous “ding” from on the other side of the door.
The next habit on this list of must-preserve traditions is that of treating everyone else’s property as public property; after all, there is no necessity to address it anyhow else when the government buses smell strangely of all the odours of humanity, is there? Pyols are pushed up against the wall, mats, pillows and blankets are heaved off of it and unfurled on the ground to seat themselves on it, only to complain of backaches ten minutes after and climb back up on the bed, grumbling something about a missing blanket.
As grandma leaves for the kitchen to make coffee for six people, she knows that she is going to draw some ire behind her back for getting the amounts of sugar wrong for each individual serving. Still, she makes coffee because these people did promise to her, a fine day not some three years from now, a trip to some obscure temple; the fear of god is the flame that boils the milk, I believe.
What is it with the children of middle-class faimlies in India who, upon having spotted an air-conditioner, must needs operate it for the purchase of their invaluable silence for the next… two minutes? On. Off. On. Off. I and grandpa look on. The bills! Rs. 0. The bills! Rs. 0, or that’s what I think he sees. I only couldn’t believe his mother was laughing with him at how the lights were being turned on and off.
Doors are slam shut, the warning in the slow creak of the hinges being thrown to the winds, as the dames gather for a commendable session of gossiping, as is due the dutiful housewife who has been showered with enough money by an unsuspecting gem of a husband—picked as he was based on his father’s choice of shoes that afternoon—and then chaperoned for evenings after evenings to movie theaters, music shows, and shopping sprees. I say, cry havoc and let loose the “radical” feminists; I’d like to see what brand of egalitarianism theirs is!
100 chapathis and four bowls of tomato chutney later, they, the guzzling and gorging duly done on the fortunes of those whose benefaction must never waver because—hey!—they’re family, dash all my hopes that they would leave; would more could they need? Food they have received, drink they have received, talk they have received; did they not have all of our afternoon’s peace? Unfortunately, then, the cousin produced two tickets to some movie for the evening: in the cataract-infested eyes of my grandmother, that was two tickets for a visit in the future by the same dollops of humanity that, in all probability, had always seen it only as a deal.
“Fredo, you’re my older brother, and I love you. But don’t ever take sides with anyone against the family again. Ever.”