Just to thank you for taking time out to visit this site, here's a small gift for you - one of the scores of short stories written by Veena Nagpal
A SUITABLE MATCH FOR MY FATHER
My great aunt Bhabho was a very ambitious woman. The moment she realized that her husband Keshav Nath was a shade brighter than his other three brothers and that the family furniture business was prospering largely because of his efforts, she began to urge him to set himself up on his own. And under her constant nagging this is exactly what he did.
My great aunt Bhabho was a very smart woman too. Her shrewd guess that Keshav Nath, minus Ram Nath, Badri Nath and Lok Nath would prosper eve more, proved absolutely correct. Within three to four years Keshav Nath was literally rolling in money. Then Bhabo moved him out of Lucknow.
His family rarely saw him now or even heard from him. Bhabo, it was rumoured used to come to Lucknow occasionally, but it was only to visit her own family. She hardly ever visited her in-laws. Perhaps she was too weighed down by diamonds and by her own flesh to venture much out of her mother’s house for while Keshav Nath had been busy doubling and trebling his wealth, Bhabo had been no less busy doubling and trebling herself.
One summer evening while she was out shopping in Hazratganj, the heat became too much for her. She had drunk a glass of sweet iced lassi before setting out but it seemed to make no difference. At six in the evening the heat waves were still leaping out of the ground, licking at her sucking her energy out. She cursed herself. Why hadn’t she gone to Simla like her other friends? Why was she such a sentimental fool, that every time the children had a holiday she had to come visiting her maternal home?
Suddenly she bumped into someone. Bhabho looked up angrily then her expression changed.
My mother was then a young, lively girl of seventeen with a lovable expression on her face that few could resist. Despite herself, my great-aunt Bhabho hugged her.
“Arree Bachchi, it’s you! I hardly recognized you – so big you’ve grown. Believe me my heart aches to think that years pass before I set my eyes on you children.”
My mother’s eyes twinkled. How aunt Bhabho talked! It was true what they said – she could talk her way straight out of Yamraj’s palace if she so desired.
“And isn’t that your younger brother Ashu over there?” my great aunt went on to exclaim. My mother watched in amazement as the old eyes glistened suddenly with unshed tears. “How time flies!” Bhabho was saying. “He’s grown moustaches even!”
God, my mother was thinking she should have won some film award. Listening to her, one could never imagine that the separation was of her own choosing.
“And who’s that with Ashu?” murmured my great aunt. There was a qualitative change in her voice, an urgent air of expectancy about the question that made my mother look up. “So handsome! Just right for my Kusumi!”
My mother turned to look at the pair who had drifted towards the paan shop to get themselves a packet of cigarettes. When she turned her kajal lined eyes were large and innocent.
“You haven’t met him?” she asked. “Ashu’s best friend – and aunty he’s very rich, fabulously wealthy.”
My great aunt’s eyes were light brown and very small. Now they were sparkling with the effervescence of an iced whisky soda.
“So what are you waiting for, hein? Introduce us, girl,” she whispered.
“Sure aunty. You just wait here and I’ll bring them to you.”
My mother tossed her thick pigtail and walked towards the paan shop.
Bhabho pretended to be buying some knick knacks from the wayside vendor but from the corner of her eyes she was watching. She saw my mother whisper to them. The young man – Ashu’s friend – glanced sharply up. My great aunt immediately lowered her gaze. When she carefully raised her eyes again the young man was shaking his head.
Bhabho’s heard lurched. Was he refusing to meet her? He was shy probably. And maybe Bachchi had told him about Kusumi. God, the girl was such a fool – so big she had grown but in these matters she had very little tact. What was the hurry? He could be told by and by. Once he laid his eyes on her Kusumi everything would work out by itself.
Now she saw them all walking towards her. My great aunt quickly straightened her sari pallav and readied her smile.
My mother introduced them. Bhabho was grinning shyly now like a young girl herself. Lightly she touched her nose. Bhabho had a delicately chiseled nose and was rightfully proud of it. Whether to show off her nose or the large diamond that glittered on it, she had developed the habit of lightly touching it with her middle finger first on one side of the bridge then on the other.
My mother put her arm around Bhabho’s shoulders. “Come Aunty let’s walk together for a while.”
Much as my aunt would have preferred to walk in the company of the young man, she agreed to my mother’s suggestion. No time was to be lost in planning a campaign by which the young man could be made to meet Kusumi.
My mother was chattering away. She had a way of talking rather fast when she was excited and she was very excited now. Her pigtail kept coming in the way and she kept tossing it back as she talked.
“He’s no Tom, Dick or Harry, aunty,” she said as they walked just a little ahead of the men. “You’ve heard of the Seth Khaandaan of Agra, haven’t you? You haven’t? Oh aunty, which world do you live in? Half of Agra is their property. When his great grandfather was alive, their mansion was more beautiful that the Mughal Badshah’s palace and the emperor himself used to come loaded with presents to their house. He’s the eldest son – his father’s favourite. Ultimately all the property is going to come to him. They’re looking for a rich, beautiful match for him and Kusumi would be just ideal!”
Bhabho squeezed my mother’s arm. Her eyes were glistening with genuine tears of joy this time.
“You just get him to agree and you see I - I’ll give you a beautiful set of jewels for your marriage, I will!”
“Oh aunty, you are such a dear!” my mother hugged her tightly. “Listen!” she added in an urgent whisper, “call him to dinner at Volga’s tomorrow and bring Kusumi too. That’ll be it!”
“Why?” my great aunt demanded in a slightly offended tone. “Isn’t our house good enough?”
“Of course it is aunty!” my mother hastened to mollify her. “Everyone knows that with the grace of God you have everything. But you know how it is – young boys these days – they like eating out. If you call him to a restaurant he’ll think you are modern in your outlook and young at heart too!”
Bhabho capitulated immediately and the rendezvous was fixed for the next day.
At Volga’s my mother took charge. She ordered the dishes. My great aunt Bhabho smiled happily through the mountains of food that appeared on the table. Bachchi was a good girl, she was thinking. It was nice to see her taking so much interest for Kusumi’s sake. Amar – that was the young man’s name – being Ashu’s friend, Bachchi obviously knew his tastes by now.
“Don’t worry aunty,” she had whispered just before they had entered the place. “I’ll order exactly what he likes.” From the way he attacked the food, it was obvious that she had.
My great aunt glanced at her daughter. Approvingly she noted that Kusumi was just pecking at her food. That was how it should be. It would never do for a girl to be stuffing herself in front of the boy who had come to see her. Besides maybe the doctor was right – maybe Kusumi did need to lose a few pounds. It was all right for Bachchi to gorge. The boy hadn’t come to see her!
“It’s time you got engaged too,” Bhabho exclaimed in a sudden burst of compassion for my mother. “I must come and speak to your mother about it. After all, you are just four months younger than Kusumi.”
My mother had her mouth stuffed with chicken mughlai and naan. She swallowed as quickly as she could and smiled sweetly at Bhabho. “Must find a nice boy first, isn’t it aunty?”
“That’s true.” Bhabho sighed. “That one gets with kismet only. Now look at Kusumi. No dearth of handsome young eligible bachelors for her.”
She glanced coyly at Amar. He was too busy tearing apart the breast of a chicken.
“Kusumi is lucky,” my mother nodded. “Amar and Kusumi will make an ideal couple.”
Amar choked. My mother’s brother thumped him on the back.
“Did I say anything wrong?” my mother asked innocently.
“Oh no, no!” Amar said quickly. “You are always right.”
My mother smiled sweetly. “What should we have for dessert? Amar loves ice cream sundaes aunty.”
When my great aunt had paid the bill, my mother hugged her and whispered, “Thanks a lot aunty! I’ll tell Ashu to ask him his opinion and I’ll let you know in a day or two. Positively.”
“We’ll have to meet his parents.”
“Yes of course.”
A week passed – then two. When she still had not heard from my mother, my great aunt grew a little restless and decided a visit was called for. So one morning she arrived in a tonga.
My great gramdma was sitting in the open courtyard, slicing areca nuts when Bhabho came and touched her feet.
“Arre Bhabho! When did you arrive, daughter in law?” my great grandma raised her affectionately. In the years that had gone by she had learnt not to expect much from this daughter in law of hers but, because she was her brightest boy’s wife, she still retained some affection for her.
Why don’t you come more often, she wanted to say. Why doesn’t Kesho come - and the kids? Why don’t you people write at least? Not wanting to complain, she restrained herself and asked merely, “How is Kesho? How are the kids?”
Bhabho’s small brown eyes were roving restlessly. “They’re all fine, maaji,” she answered absently. “Where’s Bachchi? And you have a guest staying in the house – where is he?”
“Guest?” my great grandma frowned and the frown lines were immediately lost in all the wrinkles on her face
“Haan!” Bhabho cried impatiently. “Ashu’s friend.”
Bhabho lost her patience.
“Ammaji,” she burst out, “you don’t desire our good - neither mine nor my husband’s nor my children’s. You never have. Why ammaji? What enmity do you have towards me?”
The large diamond glittered as her delicate nostrils quivered in hurt and anger.
“Bachchi was so sweet,” she went on. “The other day she introduced Ashu’s friend to me. Such a handsome young man! And fabulously rich. Just ideal for my Kusumi. But you don’t even want me to see him. You just want that he should slip away from my hand. I know you just… oh there he is – and Bachcchi too!”
My great aunt jumped up with an agility that belied her form.
But my great grandma’s gnarled hands were firm upon her.
“Bhabho, wait!” she hissed. “Don’t be a fool! That is Bachchi’s husband.”
Just then my mother caught sight of Bhabho. She stuffed the end of her sari into her mouth and ran out, trying to stifle her giggles. My father cleared his throat and followed sheepishly behind her.
My great grandma was murmuring explanations about how they had all tried to inform Kesho and Bhabho about Bachchi’s marriage six months ago and how they hadn’t been able to, because Kesho and Bhabho had been away in England just then and no one seemed to have their correct address.
“Bachchi’s mother has kept a sari for you – a very pretty sari,” she went on murmuring apologies and consolations.
But my great aunt Bhabho was hardly listening. She was thinking only of the huge bill she had paid at Volga’s.