NOBODY LIGHTS A CANDLE
The aroma of spices floated out of the screen door. There was a time when the house used to redolent with such smells. The moment he smelt these spices he used to think that there will be a party tonight because some relatives of bapu’s colleagues from the office have arrived for dinner. A bottle of good whisky will be opened. There will be meat in rich curry with potatoes and hot phulkas will be served to go with it. The memory of those days hit him now. He knew there would be swollen faces inside. Perhaps his sister was here but why would she? She may know that he was going to face an enquiry tomorrow. She had called. She will come when all is done with and over. There was no need for her to come and add to the tension.
Varun was in the sitting room eating karma balls with ketchup. Daulatram was breaking open the fried balls and blowing on them to cool them down before placing them back on his plate.
“Tell bahu that her son is finding the balls very hot, she should fry them a little cold,” said Daulatram.
“Ok, I will wash them in cold water for him,” said Shakuntala.
“Dadaji is joking, don’t wash them,” said Varun pushing his words from his stuffed mouth.
Adhirath was stunned to see such bonhomie at home. Pushpa was frying meat balls in a kadahi, his mother was scooping up the spiced mince meat from the parat to roll them into small marbles. Why can’t a home always be like this?
“What happened? Looks like you have been promoted,” said Adhirath.
“Wash your hands, will give you some hot ones.” said Pushpa. “The list of promoted people is ready but not out.”
“Even then news gets out.”
“All this is for you,” said Shakuntala.
In the afternoon Pushpa had come home early and sat down in front of her father-in-law in the sitting room, something she never did. “Papaji, you know how bad tomorrow is going to be for him. It will be good if there is less tension at home. If you get some mince form the market I could make some koftas. You know how much Adhir likes them. I was about to say this to mummy in the morning but well, could not say it.” she handed over a hundred rupee note to him.
“This won’t be enough,” said Daulatram, pulling on a shirt on his banyan. “I have money. Will get a whole kilo. Arre can you hear me, wash your face and practice smiling, we are all doing our best for your son only.”
The moment he left Pushpa said to her mother-in-law, “had I been in your place I would called the helpline. I am posted there, you know”
Shakuntala said nothing. However, when Pushpa said “Come give me some tea,” she turned and said, “you order me about? Make your own tea.”
“Yes, I used to order my mum about. The poor thing did not live to see that her daughter had married someone in a higher caste. That too without giving any dowry. Even our commissioner cannot perform such a great task. But did I get a medal? No way. Had I even got a mother-in-law who was like a mother I would have been content. Even that is not written in my fate.”
Shauntala was taken aback and kept staring at her face. All of a sudden Pushpa burst out laughing. “Let us play act today, matashree. It is necessary. For your son. Ceasefire!”
Adhirath sat down next to Varun and his father gave him a glass of rum. His son thrust half a kofta in his mouth.
“Done your homework?” Asked Adhirath.
Varun looked at his grandfather.
“He will do it. or else he can have a holiday today,” said Daulatram. “We had been waiting for a long time. Thank god, you came on time. These koftas don’t taste so good when cold.”
After they had polished off the kofta curry with this crisp chapattis Daulatram asked him, “What did he lawyer say?”
Adhirath told him.
“He charged 25 thousand to tell you just this much?” He had begun to stammer. He was drunk.
Adhirath went upstairs. Varun had gone to bed with his grandmother where she had been telling him a story. Adhirath used to carry him upstairs when he did this but today he did not. Today he wanted a carefree night with his wife. He knew after tomorrow the curtain would fall on this happy scene and the dust of reality would cover it once again. Late at night he recalled what Udairaj had told him when he came to see him to the door. Saroj had not accompanied him.
“You can get any number of call girls, why then…” he let the question hang.
“That is true. Women I can find plenty. even then I got entangled with this foul mouth. And stayed entangled”
“Why? What did she do that others could not?” Adhirath was thinking of the simplicity of Saroj and how composed she always was.
Udairaj laughed a silent laughter, almost ruefully, it never escape his throat. “Can’t even begin telling you what a catch she was. She was completely free of inhibition. At times she would dance in the nude, forgetting everything, even herself. Frankly, there was not one fantasy of a male she could not play out. She was so supple, so flexible…you have seen yogis or those girls who can bend anything any which way? Hands this way, legs that way, bending backwards, acrobats, you have seen. She was like that. So flexible…had my wife been like this I would have dumped her the next day, sent her back to her parents, and wanted to know where she learnt all this. It seems Parduman was angry with me. After coming to my bed why would she or anyone go to his cot? But a harlot she was. Some are high class, some are low class, but in bed she was truly in a class of her own.”
“Pushpi, can you dance?” Adhirath asked her.
“Of course. I have danced at so many weddings. Why?”
Adhirath covered her unclad breasts with an arm and said, “ I thought you could dance for me, as you are. Without your clothes. Only for me.”
“Are you mad?” Pushpa asked pulling him over.