I am afraid I will say things like I hate you and you killed my father to my mother if I see her again…
I really didn’t want to go home this Christmas. It wasn’t even as though we ever celebrated it as a family even though my sister and I were dazzled as kids by this fantastically mercenary festival that seemed to have been created with children in mind. It even came with its moral of sorts as we pointed out unsuccessfully to our unimpressed parents, citing dozens of Archie comics where the power of Christmas undid great harm in the faraway town of Riverdale, USA. Our parents turned out to be cannier than we suspected, indisputably arguing that comic book events were not convincing arguments in the real world in which we lived. Besides, they said as an afterthought, there isn’t any Santa Claus.
So we never got a Christmas tree – come to think of it, where would we have found one in Delhi? – but we did get to pay the Gymkhana Club’s emaciated Santa Claus a visit and receive presents we’d chosen ourselves the week before. As for holiday cheer, it was brought on by the prospect of a short trip to a destination of our choosing. My sister Mini and I invariably chose the sea so every year we ended up in Goa (and once in Kerala) for the aggravatingly short Christmas break.
Those trips South were truly special. At the time Mini and I didn’t dwell on it much, too overcome by the excitement of meeting up with our vacation friends in Panjim, where our parents eventually bought a house, and basking in the glory of sunny days on the beach gawking at the drug-hazed antics of all the hippies we were strictly warned to keep away from. In retrospect though, those short breaks were the golden moments of our youth because in those two weeks we were a real family. Ma, Pa, Mini and I with no one but old Ayah for company. Ayah, of course, was and remains indispensable.
Life in Delhi was largely spent in the company of strangers – servants, deputies, security guards and visitors. Ma tried to make it all seem fun by starting up a Book of Weird, in which we recorded all the strangers we met in a day. And when I say we, I mean the entire family, up to and including old Ayah who’d learnt to write alongside Nani, our mother’s mother, in whose house she’d worked since the age of six.
Everyone came under the purview of The Book – the daughter of the woman who swept our floors, come as replacement for her sick mother, “sick” being an euphemism for “beaten up black and blue” by her drunken lover; the pretentious Mrs. Batra, the bane of Ma’s life and the acknowledged leader of the Kitty that governed the social circle in our neighborhood; the foreign diplomats who came accompanied by discreet bottles of liquor to “talk things over” with Pa and ended up by staying half the night, drunk on fine conversation and better whiskey; the journalists who actively tried to develop either Ma (the power behind the throne) or Pa as “confidential sources” for a dozen slanderous articles and wouldn’t leave until they’d inveigled an invite to the party being thrown next week; the old uncles who cluttered Parliament, badly in need of deodorant and addicted to pinching one’s cheek in smarmy affection and so on.
As time went on, Ma or Pa would naughtily add a friend or two of ours to the list, drawing howls of protest when the entries were discovered. We’d get our own back by slipping in a visiting cousin or even our grandmothers and watch their faces turn all colors of the rainbow as they tried to hide The Book. But those were the days before every politician was hated enough to rate a dozen armed guards and the ‘assistants’ who hovered over Pa were only too happy to help the two babas find The Book and once again leave it open in plain sight. Until Ma got wind of what was happening at least and chased us around the garden with its overpowering roses and tenacious bougainvillea equipped with a walking stick she’d unearthed from Pa’s study.
Our life in Goa was the complete opposite. Here, we had access to our parents at all times – there was no watchful chowkidar guarding our father from us with the words “Sahib busy hain” and no telephone to shrilly command our mother’s fractured attention. The Book of Weird was never opened in Goa: it was a creature of Delhi and it remained there, carefully placed in the center of the exquisite marble table our great-grandfather had bought a century ago, until the day our father retired and brought it to Goa for the first time. In some more years, when our children are old enough, Mini and I will drag it out and tell them the stories of our childhood as explained by a bound leather book that once lived in a room that saw Mughal opulence wedded to English austerity.
In a way The Book symbolizes everything that went wrong for us as a family. It is a testament to the quality of our life together and the amount of time we spent in each other’s company. In the viciously funny passages penned under meticulously maintained dates of The Book, you will find the names of people who knew each of us more intimately than any of us knew the other. Mrs. Batra, despised and mocked endlessly by all of us, was positively a confidante of Ma’s compared to the rest of us except, perhaps, Ayah who never strayed too far from her side. Roshan Gulati, of the mohawk and undying punk fixation, who kept our parents up nights worrying about the kind of company their twin daughters were falling into, has information on our late teens that would’ve curled our parents’ hair.
Our friends used to marvel at the relationship Mini and I shared. Unlike other sisters we knew, we hardly ever fought and when we did, were quick to make up and forgive each other. People generally attributed this to the supernatural bond twins are supposed to share in all the best traditions of malarkey. The truth was much simpler and harder to fathom, especially for us. When it finally dawned on me, I picked up the phone and dialed her in the god-forsaken part of England she had made her home.
“Good morning to you too,” she yawned.
I winced. “Oh, is it just morning there?”
She sighed. “What, Uma?”
“Sorry – listen, I just figured out something.”
“We have an unhealthy dependency on each other.”
“Hmm,” she said.
“What do you mean, ‘hmm’?” I asked, disappointed by her reaction.
“All right, all right, go back to bed and call me later – I’m at home by the way.”
“Surprise!” she said super sarcastically to writer and housewife me.
She rang off without another word, a habit I’m inured to but can’t help wondering again how that must affect her patients. Mini is Dr. Rukmini Stewart, GP of Tiny Perpetually Snow Laden Village where her husband milks cows. Well, he does a lot more things with them (ha!) but that description always gets Mini going. And that is a beautiful thing.
She called me back just when I was sure she’d forgotten. I’m sure she did that deliberately.
A good bit of sisterly chat and laughter later, we agreed that the dysfunctionality, for want of a better word, of our childhood was long behind us. We’d somehow been able to create lives away from each other. Neither of us liked to remember how hard it had been for us to make that decision to separate or the pangs of debilitating anxiety that had rendered the ensuing few years hideous, but we had emerged victorious if not unscathed from those years and in retrospect it seemed a remarkable achievement.
“And to think it might never have happened if not for Dev,” mused Mini.
“Yeah, Dev – whatever happened to him?”
Dev Sarkar had been Mini’s boyfriend, the one who’d convinced us that our destinies lay on different continents. He’d lectured, cajoled, negotiated and held our hands through that period when we’d applied to universities on either side of the Atlantic and found out that Mini’s first choice lay in England with Dev, while mine lay in America. Unfortunately, he hadn’t survived the emotional holocaust of our separation from each other and in a few short months had completely slipped under the radar, unnoticed by either of us. And in his story you could find the echo of a long list of love interests, both Mini’s and mine. In fact, for the longest time, neither of our husbands had been able to believe that they weren’t shortly about to enter the ranks of our discarded lovers. The edgy jokes flirting with the sad fates of our ex-lovers had taken a long time to die, especially after Colin and Paul (then her fiancé and my husband, respectively) had met for the first time and apparently compared notes behind our backs.
“God knows,” said Mini now, dismissing Dev summarily. “Another thing, did Ma call you?”
I was immediately, instantly, idiotically on the defensive. “No.”
“Relax. Have you checked your messages?”
“No.” I hated checking my messages because I invariably picked one up from someone I particularly did not wish to hear from. Like Ma.
“I thought so. Well, she wants us to go back to Goa for Christmas.”
I could almost hear her shrug. “Maybe it’s the season for nostalgia. Or maybe she’s dying and she wants us to gather by her bedside in the dusk of her life.”
I blanched. “She’s dying?”
“No, no,” came the quick reply. “Idiot! I was playing ‘Maybe’.”
‘Maybe’ was a game we had invented as children to save us from trouble as children. You know: I didn’t eat those chocolates you told me specifically not to eat – maybe the Shoemaker’s elves relocated to our kitchen and now steal our food. That sort of thing. As the years drew on, the scenarios had turned a bit more macabre and violent than before. It completely put my husband off sometimes. I told him I didn’t understand why, as the only person I played it with was my sister. He didn’t have anything to do with it.
“Stupid,” I commented.
“So are you coming?” she asked, ignoring my interjection. “I won’t go if you won’t.”
“Great, thanks for dumping this on me.”
“You’re welcome. You talk it over with Paul and let me know.”
And as usual, she hung up before I could say anything more. I really didn’t want to go but I felt I had to. Oh, Mini was evil and she knew exactly which buttons to push. Far back as I can remember, I never felt that amazing connection with my mother, so idolized in pop culture. No cookies, no milk and as for kissing it all better, she would have thrown up first just thinking about touching her lips to all the blood and grime. No, she was never what we considered a “proper mom”.
A proper mom was one who first and foremost looked the part. She wore faintly dowdy sarees and was an excellent cook. She didn’t intimidate every single friend one had but she was allowed to intimidate as many teachers at school as she wished to. She was willing to spoil us but wouldn’t insist on coming along to parties to first check things out or in dressing us according to her outmoded ideas of how little children were supposed to dress.
Unlike our rosy imaginings, the mother God had seen fit to bestow upon us was short-tempered, stylish, very concerned with all the trappings of life that philosophers and self-help gurus assure us are completely useless (“What crock!” Ma remarked scornfully. “If it was all so useless then why are they out there writing books and appearing on chat shows so they can make money and get everything they despise so much?”) and drove Mini and me insane with her constant clarion calls for perfection in everything. Adding to our insecurity as teenagers was the fact that our mother was a very beautiful woman and didn’t hesitate in letting us know when we fell below her visual expectations.
Of course there were moments when she came up to scratch. She always knew just the right thing to say when something went horribly wrong, like a boyfriend who turned out to be a weak, spineless noodle when you’d been dreaming of He-Man. She taught us how to apply make-up and did it better than most of the women we saw on the big screen. At the end of the day, she was still the only person within whom we’d resided for nine months, at thing that Ayah would not let us forget even had we wanted to.
The biggest strain on that bond was not our adolescence spent in Delhi’s wild farmhouses or our determination to get as far away from our parents as possible once we reached adulthood. No, the problem between our mother and us twins was our father.
Pa was a tall man, in stature as well as height. He seldom spoke and never raised his voice within our hearing but when he spoke, the world stopped to listen. You think this is the daughter in me speaking but it certainly seemed that way when we were growing up in Delhi and our house was constantly filled with a stream of Very Important People all deferring to Pa in the most flattering way. As a Member of Parliament and that too one who’d never seen the need or the desire to compromise his personal integrity by stooping to the levels he constantly witnessed around him, Pa was that increasingly rare specimen – a statesman. His father had died fighting the British, leaving behind a young widow and three infant children in the care of his own proud but grief-stricken father who’d never let Pa forget a simple lesson: a country worth dying for was a country worth loving. Pa loved his country and his constituency with a fierce passion that had sometimes pushed even us, his children, to the side.
We had not minded. It was impossible to grow up in a home like ours and not be convinced that Pa was in the right when he never turned up for parent teacher conferences, annual day functions, dance recitals and birthday parties. He had work to do. Idolizing our father, however, left us with only one parent to handle angst meant for two. For better or for worse, our mother got the job and we never let her forget it.
I can’t say my twin or I were much concerned with how she felt – in fact it never even impinged upon our consciousness. The fights only got worse as we got older and wilder and by our sixteenth birthday she was convinced that the only solution to our never-ending mischief was to send us to boarding school. Unfortunately for her, the posh all-girls school she chose had a great reputation for academics and a greater but better concealed one for the wild antics of its students. We left it two years later better versed in some of the more dangerous forms of life and an excellent academic record, having struck up several friendships guaranteed to see us well on the way to financial and moral ruin if nothing else.
By the time the results of our final school examinations were published, everyone had decided that the best option would be for Mini and me to go away somewhere. Ma tried to push for a finishing school she’d attended in the dark ages (a French convent for the mercy of heaven!) but Pa, with an eye on the last time he’d taken Ma’s desires into account in mind – politely but firmly declined her suggestion. And in no time at all, Mini and I were headed for London, there to study under the benign aegis of one of Pa’s old friends, now a don at Cambridge.
We graduated three years later with Firsts in hand and still no clue whatsoever of what to do with the rest of our lives. Ma believed that the answer lay either in marriage or in further education and urged us to go back to school for our Masters or back to India for some suitable boys but we caviled at the thought of more years spent in study or tranquil (read boring) domesticity. After eighteen years of continuous and intensive schooling, we felt we’d earned a break much like our English friends and prevailed upon Pa to spring for a year off, to be spent traveling the world.
That year was possibly the best of our lives and in the course of long letters written to update friends and family of our slow but fascinating progress around the globe I found myself writing a book about our experience. Today, it lies ignored on a shelf, accusingly opposite my editing table, but I tell myself that one day I will go back and rework it to publish my recount of that magical year in which Mini and I discovered the earth at first hand and uncovered our individual passions – hers to save the world and mine to write.
We were in America, in the fag end of our journey when we heard about Pa’s heart attack.
Mini and I were impossibly cool and collected as we made the arrangements to return to India. The time to cry and be terror-stricken would come later, but at that moment there were too many things we needed to do. First on the list was to get to New York, our previously determined point of departure. Since driving up there from the part of Maine we were in would have taken too much time, we hopped a series of puddle jumpers which flew us to La Guardia in a “mere” three hours. Once in New York, we began calling every airline we could think of to find seats on one that was leaving that very day – our original flight only flew once a week and that meant a wait of three precious days. By dint of pressing upon everyone we called that this was a medical emergency we finally found seats on a plane that would take us to Delhi in roughly thirty-eight hours. Faced with no other choice, we bought our ridiculously expensive tickets and rushed to JFK where we caught the Concorde to Paris and then kicked our heels for ten hours at de Gaulle before boarding our Middle Eastern connection to Bombay via Dubai.
In Bombay, we faced a wait of another four hours before our flight to Delhi could take off. Lost in my brown study, I surfaced a little while later to find a pair of blue eyes fixed unblinkingly on me. At the time I felt faintly indignant that anyone would have the bad taste to make a pass, no less evident for not being verbalized, at a time like this even if the man had no idea of it. Later, Paul told me he had stared so hard because he’d never seen anyone look more like hell. Our first meeting will never make it to the annals of famous romances but he secured my undying gratitude by helping me a little later, miles above the earth, when Mini finally broke and began to hyperventilate.
The airhostess, a silly cow if ever there was one, was of absolutely no use and seemed to regard it as something Mini was doing on purpose. Paul was wonderful as he dealt with Mini and held my hand comfortingly, and even though he was a stranger in my country and my city, managed to get us to our house safe and sound, us having forgotten to inform anyone of our time of arrival and being in no condition to deal with anything any more much less the jostling taxi drivers lined up outside the terminal.
Miraculously we found Pa in good cheer and sitting up bright as sunshine. The attack was a mild one according to the doctors, a whole team of them from the best hospital in the city. My pent up feelings found relief as I yelled at him for not taking better care of himself. Mini cried and Paul drank cups of strong tea by himself, out in the drawing room. Ma was shaken but serene and typically fired the first salvo when she asked, Is that hippie going to stay here long? referring to Paul who was anything but.
Any sympathy Mini or I might have experienced for her quickly evaporated in the battle that immediately erupted between Ma and me and without Pa to shake some good sense into us, everything soon reached epic proportions and a lot was said that day that might have been best left unsaid. Pa had only retreated from our lives for a short while and already the cracks had begun to appear. We didn’t know it then, but it foreshadowed what lay in store for us.
Against strict medical advice, Pa was determined to last out the current session of Parliament because, he told us, he disliked the look of the Opposition, especially in his constituency, and he was damned if he was going to hand his people over to a bunch of thugs. No, he was going to wait until the next general elections rolled around in two years before he stepped down and maybe in that time he could persuade one of several young men he had his eye on to run for his seat. I think he would have liked either Mini or myself to evince some interest in his seat but neither one of us was politically inclined and being the man he was, he saw no reason to burden us with a legacy we did not want.
Mini and I were stuck in limbo in those days, unsure of what the world was coming to. Somewhere deep within us we had been convinced that Pa would die in harness and the thought of him as a retired public servant, for that is how he would view himself, seemed very alien to us. In retrospect Ma was undergoing much the same emotions on a larger scale but we were too taken up with Pa and ourselves in those days to spare her any attention. Whenever we did run across each other the three of us would always end up skirmishing. Increasingly her rancor was directed at Paul, who by now was firmly established as my boyfriend. To complicate Ma’s life further, Pa had taken an instant liking to Paul and was further impressed when he found out that Paul was in India as part of the Doctors Beyond Borders program and had bumped into me as he traveled the country in the wake of the completion of his assignment.
Now when I remember those days, I hug the knowledge of Pa’s approval close to my heart. Mini has always said that part of the reason I married Paul and love him so much is because I know Pa had liked him and however faulty my own judgment may be, Pa’s could never be faulted. I think there are times when she feels a tiny bit envious, knowing that Pa had met and liked my husband while he never even heard the name of hers. It is not something I can ask her, however, so I have never discussed it with anyone.
Once Pa had recovered, not fully but enough to stare down the doctors and Ma when they clucked about his increased activity, he insisted that Mini and I make a decision as regards our life. All of this took some three months from the date of our arrival in Bombay and by then I knew that Paul had to get back to the States and at the time it seemed unbearable that I never see him again. Therefore I proposed to Mini that we move to his native Boston where she could go to medical school and I could attend writing courses. To my shock Mini had other plans and at the end of that year, for the first time in our lives, we went our separate ways.
When we informed our parents, Ma glared at me and said, I hope you’re satisfied. The implicit idea being that I was condemning Mini to a lonely existence for my hippie boyfriend. I might have backed off then if Pa and Mini hadn’t got together and rubbished that idea thoroughly and instantly. Ironically, Dev Sarkar, the man who’d first convinced Mini that she ought to go back to England and then bullied me into compliance, had Ma’s complete approval. Sometimes I think that’s why he didn’t last eight months.
None of these events in any way improved my relationship with Ma. Mini – the younger, less rebellious twin had an easier time of it, especially since Ma was convinced for a long time that she was going to marry Dev and live a respectable (and rich) life as a doctor. My proposed bohemian career choice coupled with my defiant relationship with a foreigner had set the cap on my supposed iniquities as far as she was concerned.
There are times when I wonder if our relationship isn’t some kind of giant self-fulfilling prophesy – I keep thinking she is going to be disappointed by or vitriolic over something I do and then she usually is. Mini and Paul tell me I should try cutting her some slack. Perhaps, but whenever I meet her the child in me comes to the fore and cries, her first. It looks to be an eternal wait.
Finally we all left our parents alone to wind up their lives even as we prepared to begin ours. In those first months, Mini and I burned up the transatlantic telephone wires more than we called anyone else. Gradually the panicky feelings of abandonment and separation faded and we settled in enough to throw in a few dashes back to India.
The first time back, we arrived just as Pa had finished introducing his constituency to the man who would eventually take over his job. The second time was Pa’s last session in Parliament, marked by an endless round of parties signaling the end of that part of his life. The third visit was to Goa where my parents had moved into their new home and were both thick in the midst of their teething troubles. It was the first time they had been alone together and spent so much time in each other’s company in… well, forever and neither was adjusting very well. These things seem so apparent in hindsight but back then all we saw was our beloved, ill father being imposed upon by our bossy, unbearable mother. Tempers were short and peace in short supply that holiday.
The fourth time we went back, Pa had another heart attack. We didn’t understand how or why he should have one, not when so much care had been expended in keeping him fit and stress-free. Mini and I, immediately and without any further thought, decided that it could be somehow traced back to our mother. I think Mini wasn’t too comfortable in making up her mind so quickly, in fact I am almost certain of it, but I had no such scruples and where I led, Mini would eventually (if reluctantly) follow. Not because I was the boss twin but because she couldn’t bear to see me stand alone.
For the first time in our lives, we gave Ma the silent treatment. We simply had nothing to say to her. We were ashamed at times at our behavior even though Ma never addressed our actions but we never let up. Once Pa was better, i.e. out of the hospital, Mini and I left after extracting a promise from him that he would take things easy and call if there was the slightest problem.
We never saw him again.
The end when it came was peaceful and sudden – he simply went to sleep one night and didn’t wake up in the morning. It was scant comfort to three women who still relied upon him to make the sun come up in the morning.
Mini and I went back for the funeral, a simple affair attended by a number of his old friends and distinguished colleagues but what touched us most was the presence of several people from his old constituency who’d made the trip in their hundreds via dusty trains and cheap buses to pay their last respects to an old man who’d spent the majority of his life in their care. One young man came up to us and told us he’d arrived by airplane. We didn’t understand the significance until he explained that the only reason he could afford it was thanks to Pa’s efforts in sending him, the son of a subsistence farmer, to one of India’s foremost educational institutions. We’d had no idea that tears could flow without stop even when eyes were swollen shut.
Empty of Pa and the presence of his mourners, the house outside Panjim was a building devoid of life and energy. The three of us would sit facing the sea, either alone or in a huddled group for hours on end. Had Ayah not been there still, we would all have died of starvation like the Hindu widows of yore.
Between Ma and us yawned a gap that seemed unsurpassable. Mini and I had barely gotten over our tumultuous feelings of eight months ago when Pa had died and left us shattered once more. We desperately wanted our mother in those days, longed to fling our arms around her and hug her close, to never let her go. Instead we held on to each other and watched her from wary eyes as she ghosted about the house. We didn’t know if she still remembered our behavior of all those months ago and even had she forgotten it, its memory still clung tenaciously to our psyche, coloring everything we said or did around her.
The problem with words and thoughts is that they never leave you, unlike a physical blow that the brain and your body gradually erase from sight and mind. Mini and I could never forget that we had once blamed our mother for our father’s ill health and the longer we failed to solve that issue the more it festered in our minds until it had finally assumed the proportions of an emotional Mount Everest.
Mini was somehow able to move beyond it – perhaps her medical training stood her in good stead when dealing with the greater human tragedies. Even though Ma and Mini were soon, in a year or so, able to once again pick up the bonds of a mother-daughter relationship, I remained estranged, aloof to my mother’s presence. Ma detected this vast gulf between us and somehow realized that I must be the one to bridge it.
I never asked, either Mini or myself, if Ma also understood the reasons for that emptiness. I was afraid of the thoughts that raced through my brain whenever I remembered her and was afraid that they would all come tumbling out if I ever let my guard down. Even though I knew logically that Ma had nothing to do with Pa’s death, the memory of my jumbled thoughts in that period following our return from the world trip still haunted me and pressed at the back of my throat every time I saw her. I was afraid that I would meet Ma again and in the luxury of resuming our normal relationship would let the words out my mouth the first battle we fought. And it was a given that we would fight if we met. We were simply too entwined in each other to live in bland peace.
So it was with a hammering heart that I got off the plane in sunny Goa that December morning, with Paul at my side hardly able to get a grip on the luggage trolley because I’d refused to let go of his hand since boarding the connecting flight in Bombay. Paul had finished arguing with me – the children were beginning to get disturbed and his throat was so sore it wasn’t funny. Now, he was quiet as he let me lean against him all the way to where Ma was waiting for us.
It had been three years since I had met her face to face. Last year she’d paid Mini and Colin a visit and had planned to come on to us in Boston. But with a cowardice amazing in a child of my parents, I’d begged off citing a fictitious conference which Paul had to absolutely attend… in New Zealand. Mini had later sent me dozens of photographs that Paul had insisted on sorting through, both of them diabolical in their desire to see me once again the Uma of old and not this craven creature who refused to look her mother in the face because of inconvenient memory. The woman in those photos had been an older version of the mother I remembered – stylish, beautiful, with flawless makeup and erect spine, the kind of woman who brings conversations to a standstill even twenty years past her prime.
My two babies, blissfully asleep in their pram, had never met her and I wondered how she would react to them – if her attitude towards Mini’s little girl was any indication, she was going to be a far better grandparent than mother. Mini stood in direct view, holding little Ana next to a severely handsome woman of indeterminate age dressed in a handloom saree. I noticed this much before that woman spoke in my mother’s voice,
With a rush I remembered all the things that I had pushed to the back of my mind for so long. The feel of Ma’s hands as they smoothed my brow when I was burning up with fever; the smell of Dior that permeated our house even when she was not present; the little faces with which she used to sign off letters sent to us in our gilded cage of a school even though we protested that we were far too old for that kind of silliness; the impromptu dancing lessons held on nights the three of us were home and Pa was still out; the card games she’d taught us to cheat at when we were five; the blasting she’d given our second grade teacher for raising a hand to Mini for some piece of mischief – the good things that had formed the basis for our unquestioning acceptance of her as nothing more and nothing less than Mother.
“Hi, Ma,” I said and the tears came up unbidden as I leaned in for a hug and smelled her perfume once again.
“My baby,” said Ma, blinking away tears. “Come here.”
The words that arose in me in were so natural, so right, there was no way to keep them in. “I love you, Ma.”
“I love you too, darling.”
Straightening up, I grinned like the happy fool I was at the two other people in the world I loved as much as I loved this tall woman I held in my arms. Mini grinned as she and Paul stood arm in arm, watching us. Little Ana ignored us as she studied her little cousins.
“If you’re done creating a scene, the car’s out front and probably getting towed away,” Mini said.
“Don’t be silly,” said the Ma I know and love, looking up from her inspection of the two grandchildren she’d yet to be introduced to. “They wouldn’t dare. Come on, come on, I don’t like the smell of this place.”
I let myself be towed away by her, discussing the children as Mini helped Paul with the luggage behind us. It was a beautiful day in Goa, sunny and clear with a tiny breeze to cool everything down as the tourists swarmed in for the season that would culminate shortly in drunken New Year’s Eve bashes.
Ma leaned confidentially towards me. “By the way, darling, have you put on some weight?” she asked, poking my tummy.
[Originally published at Chowk, 2005]