Monday, 9 December 2019

Fishy Chronicles 47: Bon Voyage. À Amritsar!

Golden Temple 
(Photo Credit: A. Peter)
I was searching my bag for my identity card and air ticket when I felt the hard bulge in a side pocket. I stood in the queue at T2 airport and waved to Genie, smiling. I was finally going to Amritsar and he had a lot to do with it, with a fair amount of pestering from my cousin Roma and Fish. 

Fish were quiet this morning when I said goodbye. Pervez and Penaaz huddled in a corner of the fish tank and watched me. I knew they would stay tense until I returned. I felt sorry for them, but, in a freakish way, I felt happy too – someone loved me and was waiting for me to return. 

I located a kiosk, keyed in my PNR details, grabbed my baggage tag and walked slowly to another queue, this time a long one. I thought about my trip. It was going to my first one alone and I was beginning to feel tense. Would I make it safely to my hotel? 

Last night Fish went through a long list of dos and don'ts with me. They insisted I return to my hotel before dark,  installed a safety app on my phone and showed me how to use it and told me to hold my purse tightly at all times  at which Genie jokingly suggested I put my cash in my bra instead.

                                             ******
This is a fictional series about a 30-something Mumbai woman, her former pet fish and her parents former manservant Genie. 
The narrator is going on a holiday alone for the first time. A surprise awaits her at Delhi Airport.
                                             ******
In any case, the lecture on safety did nothing to soothe my nerves. Plus the headlines every day of rapes and murders. Roma visited us yesterday and told me to read the newspaper. She spoke so oddly and in a roundabout fashion that I was not sure what she wanted. 

But when I opened the paper, I felt ill. An inside page was full of cases and how none of the victims had found justice. 

“You know, Genie, Roma was acting so weird. Told me to read today's newspaper, especially page 12... but it's full of stories of rapes that weren't solved or cases that are stalled in court. Why did she want me to read it? So urgently too...”

I knew the answer before Genie formed the words. “Roma doesn't want you to go... now. She's afraid for you. That's why she rambled so much.”

I was having second thoughts too. Things were never going to change for women here. There had been a recent rape-murder that was highly publicised. Worse, the victim's name and other details had been published, which was an absolute no-no. 

My thoughts went immediately to my early working years. I was returning home past 11pm one day and jumped into the first class compartment of a moving train, only to find it empty. It was a super fast train and was only going to stop at the big stations. The compartments next to this one were general and a number of men leered at me through the thick metal mesh separating the first class section from general.

I stood at the door, trying to stay out of their sight. At Charni Road, I thought about getting off and running to a second class ladies compartment. But the train started moving – I had procrastinated too long. 

Suddenly a man jumped in and my heart nearly jumped out of my mouth. “This is a ladies compartment,” I said, hoping he wouldn't see my fear.

“Yes. I know. I'll get off at the next station,” he winked and flicked his head back to budge the oily cowlick out of his eye, but it stayed put. He was thin and dressed in drainpipe, stressed jeans, frayed at the heels and slim fit light blue shirt. He turned to look at the guys behind him in the general compartment and let out a short shrill laugh. It made me uncomfortable and I moved into the compartment and sat down. My heart began to race. 

I prayed God would protect me. How foolish was I to enter an empty bogey. This first class bogey was usually deserted at this time of night. I felt panic when I saw him come towards me... smiling. It was not a calming smile. 

“Stay away!” 

“What? I'm your friend, let's talk. Want some sweets?” He  lunged and I screamed in terror, but couldn't avoid him. I screamed and screamed and one of his hands grabbed my neck and squeezed and the other covered my mouth. 

I punched his solar plexus and bit his shoulder and refused to let go of his flesh. I heard him scream and we struggled wildly. I felt a whack across my face and he pushed me hard across the compartment. I fell heavily on the ground, feeling dazed. 

He pulled out a knife, his face red and twisted in a rage. I screamed and screamed and jumped on the seat and over it to the next and pulled the train’s chain. Nothing happened. 

I jumped off the seat and ran towards the men on the other side and screamed for someone to help me. But all I heard was frantic babbling from the men.

He lunged at me again. I remembered Papa telling me to bash the nose, dig my fingers into the eyes, punch the solar plexus and knee the crotch. “Hard, mol, hard!

I stilled my thoughts. I could hear the men behind me urging me to jump off the train. I waited for the man to come closer. He was running towards me snarling, blood on his shirt where I had bitten him. I had a sudden thought – would I get an infection from biting him. 

When he was about two feet away I let out a blood curdling scream and leaped at him, punching upwards as hard as I could in the direction of his nose. He was stunned for a fraction of a second, then howled in pain and fell backwards. 

I jumped over him, but he caught my ankle and I fell heavily on him. We wrestled and I bit him again and he cried out. I jabbed my fingers into his left eye and he howled. I felt sick at inflicting so much bodily harm on someone but I was drowning in terror. 

“Stop screaming, you idiot!” I screamed at myself, managing to free myself from his grip and running to my bag on the floor across the compartment. 

He stood up and I tore open my bag and grabbed the canister. He rushed towards me and I cowered on the seat, spraying and spraying and spraying, my face turned away and screaming in terror. He screamed, now begging me to stop. I ran after him, spraying all the while. He scratched at his eyes and I saw the lights of the next station loom in to sight. Dear God. Help was at hand. I ran to the doorway and screamed hoarsely for help. 

I prayed the platform would come to me faster. I heard the men next door shouting at me not to jump. When the train slowed into the station, I screamed for the police. People stared but no one budged. 

I waved at a police man screaming that I was being attacked. Some men from the next compartment jumped off and ran into mine. But the man had jumped off from the other side of the compartment and we couldn't see him in the dark.

Someone gave me my bag and told me to go and file a police complaint. I sat on a nearby bench and burst into tears. Some women came towards me and patted my head, trying to console me. 

After a long time, I called my friend Jasmine in office, who spoke to our boss Leonard who had just put the edition to bed. 

“If you go to the police it will take forever and they'll only try and fob you off,” Leonard said.

I felt sick and incredulous at what Leonard was suggesting. My parents were out of town and there was no one at home. If I called them they'd be sick with fright. 

“Er, er, but he attacked me... I think I should be filing an FIR,” I said, crying.

“Not a good idea. Everyone will come to know, police won't do much and for all you know that bastard will be waiting for you at the station tomorrow. You wait there. Jasmine and I will be there in 25 minutes. Don't go anywhere.”

They did come for me, but I was a mess. There was not a soul I could tell that time of night, so when I reached home I called up Anjali and burst unto tears. 

She was furious I didn't file the FIR. But we talked and she hung onto the phone until I dropped off to sleep. At 4am, my doorbell rang. I sat up, feeling every part of my body ache. I felt fear course through me and sat transfixed. 

Then there was a frantic knocking. “It's me, Anjali! Open the door. Open the door!”

I flung the door open and threw myself into her arms and started bawling. Anjali pulled me into the house and onto the sofa and we held each other tightly. When I was done, she cleaned my wounds and I told her the whole story again. 

“Do you need to see a doctor?”

“No.” Everything ached, but I was sure I'd be sorted in a few days. 

“When do your parents return?”

“Next week.”

“What are you going to tell them?”

I was silent. I was safe now. There was no point in telling them. Besides, I could think of more serious consequences for me. If my relatives came to know, I'd be forced to leave my job. Or, worse, get married. Plus, I was sure I would be blamed for what happened because I was out so late.

“Nothing,” I said, not looking at Anjali. It was strange. I didn't do anything wrong, but I felt guilty. 

Anjali's arm came around me. By the time my parents called, Anjali and I had cooked up a story. My parents believed me when I told them that I had stayed late in office the previous day and had fallen asleep as soon as I reached home, forgetting to call them.

I strapped myself into my seat. I never told Roma about that incident. I still feel a frisson of fear in dark places and never enter an empty bogey. I haven't seen the man either.

                                              ******

At Delhi airport I walked slowly to my boarding gate. The connecting flight was delayed a couple of hours and I tried not to worry about getting to my hotel at night. Genie had told me to take an Ola/Uber taxi just before getting out of the airport. “That's fairly safe.”

I stopped in my tracks near Gate 42B. I could see long black curly hair and men staring at a woman who was immersed in her book. My feet moved faster, until I was next to her. There was a knapsack in the seat beside her. 

I kicked her foot and her head whipped up angrily. The beautiful face crinkled into a smile. “I was waiting for you, babe. Our flight is late.” Anjali jumped up and hugged me. “I missed you!”

“Where are you going?”

“Amritsar. We were supposed to go to the Golden Temple together, remember?”

With Roma. Part of a wild pact we'd made in our late teens – which involved hot Punjabi men, booze and food and, of course, the Golden Temple. We'd managed none of it because Roma and I had married early.

“What about your deadline?” Anjali was in the middle of writing a book. She lived in a small town in the Himalayas, preferring the quiet and peace there to Mumbai. Mostly she hated big city humanity. She wrote literary fiction and smut. Her literary fiction couldn't find a publisher for years. But side by side she wrote romance novels filled with sex – Roma and I had read all the first drafts and were hooked. The sex-filled romances had made Anjali money. The success of her “rabid romances", as I called them, had also been the reason her publisher finally published her literary fiction. 

"I thought I'd take a break."

After talking for what felt like ages, I opened my bag to look for the bars of chocolate Genie had bought me at the airport. “Did Genie know you were coming?”

Anjali smiled. “And Roma. She's feeling miserable she's not with us.” 

“Where are you staying?”

“With you. We'll can move to a double room. I checked with the hotel.”

“I rented the room at a big discount. We may not get the discount.”

“We'll swim that moat when we get to it. Now, let's get something to eat.”

“Er, wait.” I unzipped the inside pocket of my handbag and pulled out the pink, wrapped roll. A whiff of kebab hit me. I unwrapped the bundle, covered in Fish's favourite writing paper, and stared at the wad of cash in my hand.  

“Whoa! That's a lot of money. Who's it from?” Anjali said.

I smoothened out the paper and my heart turned to mush.

“Dear Ducky, 

A little something to enjoy Amritsar with. We don't want the ‘something’ back. Eat well, stay safe and send us pictures. 

Call us everyday at 11.09pm.

Your biggest loves, 
Fish

Anjali read the letter. “Why 11.09pm?”

“Last night they watched James Bond – a Sean Connery one with a lot of under-cover-of-darkness calls.”

My heart felt full thinking of my dear big hearted Fish’s sweet gift and my best friend with me on a trip that we'd always planned but never attempted. I was finally here. And, I wasn't alone.

Monday, 25 November 2019

Fishy Chronicles 46: Appams And A Lot More


“What are those?” Genie asked.

“Place card holders. I found these in one of Uncle Nigel’s boxes. I wondered if I’d ever have a chance to use them, but now I think they’d look classy on this table.”

“Why now… exactly?”

“Oh, I can’t remember when such a large group came over.”

“I remember many occasions… with Papa and Mummy and all your friends.”

I nodded. Now it was like walking a barren land. My friends were in different places, with young families and no time. My office friends had slowly stopped calling. I was now a statistic of the forlorn.

I felt Genie lean into me. “You should stop thinking. Period.”

I wrote out the names on little cards and stuck them on their stands. Six were tall, brown hills with conical tips, flanked by smaller, round hills. There was a slit on the top of the tallest peak for the cards to sit in place. The short hills were covered in dark brown grass. I suspect the place card holders were custom made. The designs were at once creative and extremely fruity. There were a couple of other holders designed as men and women playing or picking flowers in tall grass. Genie took up the three different place card holders, there were 18 in all, and looked at them carefully. He slowly turned them about and then put them back on the table. How lucky was I to have these. I’d found them in a large filigree box in an old trunk, but had never thought of using them. Until now.

I had a sudden thought. “I haven’t looked at most of those boxes in the loft, Genie. Would you help me go through them? I feel overwhelmed whenever I take a look.”

“Sure, we can look at the boxes together.”

                                                        ******
This is a fictional series about a 30-something Mumbai woman, her former pet fish and her parents former man servant Genie. Fish and Genie have returned from their travels to spend time with the narrator. 
The narrator's friends and family arrive for lunch. She attempts to pay back Genie for inviting Zeba, but karma intervenes with a resounding karate chop.
                                                        ******

“You haven’t put out the place cards,” Genie reminded me when most of the guests had arrived. 

I was surprised to see Arief. He looked at me in shock, “Jeez, what happened to you!”

He touched my eye, which was now open but still black (read about it here). There were other bruises on my face and I had asked my cousin Roma to prepare her children for it. Aditya, my little nephew, had cried until I assured him and his brother Aarav that though my bruises still hurt, my wounds were healing fast. They hadn’t seemed convinced, but felt a little better when Genie pulled up his shirt and showed the boys the bruises on his midriff and arms. Their father Georgy was almost pop-eyed at the display of naked, hard, toned flesh and stood in front of Roma to protect her from the view. Genie gave Roma a winsome grin and winked at her, pulling down his shirt very slowly. Georgy’s arms rose higher involuntarily. 

“The bust up at the bank. Didn’t you see it?” I told Arief.

Arief looked shamefaced. “Sorry, I left as soon as the mob turned violent. I didn’t think you’d get hurt… you were with Genie…”

I opened my mouth to say something, but what was the point. I’d always think of him as the guy who ran when the going got tough. No point crucifying him for it. None of the churchwallas had hung around to see if we were fine. They now avoided me on the street, acting as though they didn’t see me.

“It was reported in the news,” Arief said.

“Er, what was?”

“Police turned up and arrested some of the people and the guy who drove his car into the bank.”

“Yes, it was crazy. Genie and I were arrested and marched into a police van…” I straightened the table cloth.

Arief caught my hand. “What?”

“Yes. Well, I climbed into the van and then was ordered out,” I lied.

Arief looked shocked. “And then?”

“Then Genie’s connection – a sub inspector – let us go. He ordered us to visit the police station for questioning.”

“Oh!”

I moved around some of the cutlery – a housewarming gift from my father’s cousin. My mother used them every time there were large family gatherings or virinde chor*. Even in the age of Google, I hadn’t researched the different forks.

I felt a nudge, Arief was talking to me. “So, what happened at the police station?”

“Eh? Police station?”

“Yes. At questioning?”

“Oh. No one called us. I don’t know if we’ll be summoned. SI Jeevan seemed to be good friends with Genie.”

“Oh!”

I could see Arief opening his mouth to ask more questions. “Can you get that big brass vessel, please? The one on the kitchen platform.” Arief hesitated. “Quick!”

He moved into the kitchen and struggled with the big brass urali (traditional urn). I hid a smile. Usually, Genie and I lifted and moved it about together. Today it was half filled with fragrant jasmine and roses. I pointed at the marble window seat. “Set it over there.”

I watched Arief struggle and felt guilt strike. I went up to him quickly and helped him carry it. We placed it in the middle of the seat and I filled it with water and admired my handiwork.

The next guest was Zeba, our next door neighbour, who clasped Genie tightly and tried to kiss him on the mouth but got his jaw instead. I am not sure who was more pleased, Zeba or the group watching, which included Aunty Glory and Uncle John. They were beaming.

Ashok and Eva came in soon after with Nidhi. They brought with them a bottle of Australian wine, which I considered forward for Syrian Christians. 

I looked at my makeshift dining table. I was able to extend it with the help of another table whose sides could be unfolded. I had borrowed Aunty Glory’s chairs and now my beautiful light lemon yellow table cloth was stretched across both tables and the crockery and cutlery were laid out. From a diffuser in the corner, lemon grass fragrance gently wafted out into the room, making it feel restful. I had fed Fish shrimp earlier in the day and they were sated and lounging about the tank, watching and waiting for action. Last night, I overheard Penaaz tell Fish, “With that crackpot group, tomorrow’s going to be like the Republic Day fireworks going off in our balcony.”

I quickly set the place cards on the table, listening to Zeba lead the conversation. But when there was a sudden lull I turned around. Genie had got up from the marble seat near the window and was murmuring in Aunty Glory’s ear, and was now balanced on the armrest of her chair with his arm around its back. I could see all the women watch Genie carefully and the men look at the women and at Genie. In the chair next to his wife, Uncle John’s eyes twinkled.

I dragged my sight from the group and wondered what was wrong with the holders. They looked odd, at once pleasing but something was off. I turned to look at the group again. Genie smiled broadly and nodded. That was strange too. He had been watching me for a long time. Was he worried I wouldn’t treat Zeba or Nidhi well? Humph.

Roma joined me in the kitchen and we set appa chattis on all four burners and started making the first batch of appams. Roma had told Genie to sit at the dining table and that she and I would serve the guests. When he had refused, Roma told him that Georgy would be upset if Genie stood in the kitchen with us. Genie hadn’t quite believed her, but hadn’t argued more. Genie got the guests to sit and then came into the kitchen. “There seems to be a mistake in the seating arrangements.”

“Really?”

“I’m next to Zeba,” he said. I could hear irritation.

“Okay.”

“Are you playing games with me?”

I whirled around. “Oh! I wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Then why did you do it?”

“Didn’t you tell me a few months ago that she was a beautiful and interesting neighbour and that you were keen to fraternise with the enem… er… her?”  (see story)

Genie’s eyes bore into mine and finally one eyebrow rose. “Really?”

“Really! Be a dear and talk to her. I don’t want her to feel we’re neglecting her. Nidhi can be a dragon.”

“Nidhi’s sitting on my other side... not that you didn’t know, considering you placed the name plates.”

“Oh,” I tried not to smile and turned back to the appa chattis. I removed the appams and poured in the batter. I could feel Genie staring at me. After a while he left.

Roma peeped into the dining room and asked me, “What’s going on?”

I handed her the plate of appams and followed her into the dining room to serve the chicken stew. I worked quietly and quickly and returned to the kitchen without making eye contact.

“I believe you are playing with fire, my dear,” Roma said as soon as she returned.

“I’m at the stove. Playing with fire, for sure.”

Roma pinched my ear hard. “Ouch! Stop that,” I pressed my ear to the side of my head, willing the pain to stop.

“You fooling around with Genie that way isn’t a good idea.”

“What do you mean?”

Roma glared at me. “Genie strikes me as someone who will retaliate.”

I felt fear creep into my being, but shook it off, and stacked four appams on the plate. I peeped into the dining room again. Both Nidhi and Zeba were talking to Genie. Aunty and Uncle hung on to their every word. Arief had tried unsuccessfully to have a conversation with Nidhi, who sat next to him, and darted Genie a few hard looks before turning his attention to Eva, Ashok and Georgy. The latter was forced to serve his children and watch his wife, and his food grew cold on his plate. My eyes moved involuntarily from Genie to Arief and back. Genie was smiling and enjoying the attention. While Arief was handsome, Genie looked rugged – like he wrestled wild bison and chopped large blocks of wood with one hand to keep his home fires burning everyday… and yet took the time to groom himself.

He looked up and our eyes connected. I moved back into the kitchen and wanted to bang my head on the wall. This was tit for tat, I told myself. The day he issued the invite to Zeba (refer to), he had invited this on himself. But why didn’t I feel happy about quid pro quo. And how was he enjoying himself so much with both women?

A few minutes later I heard Georgy talking angrily to Aditya, and his little son wailing, and Aarav trying to explain but being told to shut up. There was an angry exchange between Roma and Georgy and Aditya cried louder.

I rushed into the dining room and Aditya jumped off his chair and held out the place holder. Georgy looked magenta and I picked up Aditya. “What is it, my darling? Why is Daddy angry?”

Aditya took his wet face out of my neck and showed me the place card holder. “I told Daddy it looked a peepee and kokums. But he wouldn’t listen. See…” He pushed the holder into my face and now I understood what had bothered me for so long. Little Adi, being a doctor’s son, had got the anatomy right but the pronunciation wrong. Aarav came towards me and handed me the other place card holder. I almost dropped Aditya in shock. It wasn’t two people looking for flowers, but two men being intimate in the tall grass. I closed my eyes trying to rein in my shock. I dreaded looking closely at the third set.

I opened my eyes and saw Genie’s eyes laughing at me and his mouth in a broad grin. The rest of the group were in deep shock and all of them were looking at their place card holders carefully. I could see looks pass between Arief and Ashok, and Nidhi giving me a dirty look. Judging me!

Georgy burst out. “The filth in your house! It’s amazing you would put that shit on the table.” Shit was a strong word for the ultra-pious Georgy. He raged angrily, until his cousin Ashok told him to pipe down, while trying to keep a straight face. But his wife, and my cousin, Eva was not so amused.

I felt angry listening to Georgy mouth off his indignation. But I could see Roma ready to burst and I stood between Georgy and her. Uncle, Uncle, Uncle! What a sly, crazy man you are. Were. I love you. I love your crazy gift. I just wish I’d looked at them long enough before I set them on the table. I smiled involuntarily, making Georgy even more angry.

“Shush, son, shush!” Uncle John said. Georgy wanted to rage on but was too taken aback by the gentle remonstration. “Can’t you see she had no idea what it was? Did she willingly want to corrupt your children? Absolutely not! Calm yourself.”

Aunty Glory reached out and plucked the third card holder out of Nidhi’s hand and stared at it. She and Uncle John leaned into each other and started to giggle. Then they started to laugh loudly, rolling about, pummelling the table and crying with the entire effort. Shit, shit and double bloody shit!

My eyes settled on Genie. He was laughing too, as were most of the guests seated. Genie had known all along and yet he had let me place the name plates on the table. And I, in my haste to exact revenge, hadn’t noticed what I was handling. The universe was giving me a royal kick in the rump. I saw the prepubescent, but precocious, Aarav explaining to Aditya what the third placeholder was about when Georgy reached out and smacked the older boy across the head.

All hell broke loose. Roma screamed at Georgy and lunged at him. I, standing between Roma and Georgy, crashed into Georgy and we fell onto the table and rolled on the ground. When I was pulled up, Genie was between us, making Georgy and me sit and ordering us both not to get up. I glared at Georgy for making Aarav cry. His mother was holding him, but he was stiff, with silent tears rolling down his face. Next to him Aditya wailed bitterly. Genie picked him up and grabbed Aarav by the hand and pulled him along.

“Not my sons, you don’t!” Georgy shouted.

“Sit down!” Ashok roared.

Georgy jumped up and ran into the bedroom. He stared at the scene in disbelief. I was right behind him. Genie was wiping away Aarav’s tears and handing Aditya tissues to wipe his face. All through he murmured, but Aarav stayed sullen.

I felt Georgy open his mouth to shout, but Aunty Glory said, “Please keep quiet, Georgy. You could have just explained things to the boy – the birds and the bees in advance. What makes you think Aarav doesn’t know what those card holders are about anyway?”

“It’s all your fault, putting little sculptures of private parts on the dining table. Corrupting my children!” Georgy turned on me.

“Stop it, Georgy, that sounds gross,” his cousin Nidhi smirked at me, enjoying my discomfort.

“I wondered where I saw them… at Mr Poonawalla’s!” Arief grinned at me.

“It’s called erotic art. Can find its way into everyday ordinary household articles,” I tried to justify, involuntarily thinking of how Roma, my best friend Anjali and I had sniggered over household articles that were made in the shapes of fornicating couples at the Kelkar Museum in Pune and later in a market on a trip to Jaisalmer. 

I went to Aarav and hugged him. I rubbed his hands and kissed them. “My darling, people are obsessed with sex and it is a natural thing between people. Those place card holders are erotic art. Some people love them and can fill their homes with them.” I heard an angry Georgy being ordered to shut up. I sighed and pushed Aarav’s hair off his forehead, “Maybe not the ideal thing to put out on the dining table at a gathering with children.”

“Genie Uncle said they were a gift to you… from  Nigel Uncle. Is it true?”

“Er, yes. They are mine now.” I wondered what else I’d find in my loft.

“We really should have a proper look at those bits of art, shouldn’t we, John?” Aunty said.

“Yes, my dear.” There was an instant rush to the dining table.

Roma held out her arms to her sons and they went to her. She shielded them from their father, who was still angry. I went back to the dining room to find everyone examining their name holders. Some were staring at them in disbelief, others were sniggering. I could see grudging respect from Zeba, which stumped me. She smiled and nodded.

“It’s quite beautiful... in an aesthetic way,” she smiled fulsomely at Georgy. His eyes slid from her smile to her cleavage and he looked up to see Roma looking at him without expression.

I listened to the buzz around me.

“Do you think this is in someone’s likeness, Glory?”

“Something’s likeness, you mean.”

“Put these away right now!”

“Shhh, Georgy! You’re killing everyone’s fun!”

“So what!”

“… definitely hippy era…”

“How can you tell?”

“Maybe there’s some information on the bottom.”

“His or her bottom?” 

Roma said to me, “You said these were in the boxes Uncle Nigel gave you, right?”

“Er, right.”

“May I look through them with you?”

“Roma, you have children!” Georgy burst out.

"Apparently. May I help you sift through the boxes, baby?" Roma was at her most appealing.

“Is it okay if I join too?” Uncle John asked.

“Er, can we come too, Aunty?” Both children were on their feet, looking at me eagerly.

“No,” I said.

“Why not?” Nidhi asked.

“They’re gifts from Uncle. I don’t want people laughing at them. He gave me his art and things close to his heart. I hope it is because he thought I was evolved. I can’t stand the idea of him being the butt of someone’s jokes. So, I respectfully decline all offers of help to go through his boxes.”

There was a long silence, until Uncle John broke it. He stood up and put his hands on my shoulders. “Of course, my dear. You are right. It’s not appropriate for us to go through Nigel’s things. Glory and I were charmed by Nigel and thought very highly of him. Are we offended by the card holders? Of course not! He’s made an otherwise dull day come alive.”

Uncle kissed my forehead. I knew Uncle John and Aunty Glory had known what the holders were as they had made a beeline for the dining table as soon as they came in. The erotica that had masqueraded as place card holders had been the icing on the cake for them. 

Bless you, Uncle Nigel. You livened up this lunch, and now I’m not going to feel bad opening all those boxes in the loft. 
                                                                    
                                                      ******  
* Virinde Chor - Traditional meal offered to newly weds by close family.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Fishy Chronicles 45: Genie Gives Gyaan

“What's happening to your Amritsar plan?” Genie opened the lid of the big pot and drew the aroma deep into his lungs. I could see his mouth water.

“If you wait 15 minutes, you can have the chicken stew with bread,” I told him.

“Trying to change the subject?” he said, putting the lid back on the pot.

“What subject?”

“Your trip to Amritsar."

I shrugged and shook my head.

“Do you know, you're not a good liar.”

“I don't know what you're talking about.”

“Okay. Let me put this in perspective for you. A few weeks ago Roma told me your tickets to Amritsar were booked, including hotel stay. This was before the bank collapsed. Yesterday she asked me if you were all packed.”

“Couldn't she have asked me?” I felt angry at my cousin Roma. I had fobbed her off a couple of times regarding my finances, my trip, etc. I felt I had to face up to everything on my own. Plus, I didn't want to hear sanctimonious lectures from my relatives.

“Do you remember giving Roma a straight answer?” Genie asked. I turned away and sliced some Madras onions for the final seasoning. Roma and Genie tackling me together seemed like an onslaught. Whose side were they on?


This is a fictional series about the narrator, her former pet Fish and former manservant Genie. The narrator is preparing lunch for her Lonavala group (refer to FC 27 and FC 36) and Genie advises her to continue with her sabbatical and travel plans despite her current personal setbacks.

Genie nudged me and continued to do so until I was pinned to a wall. “Pushing me about is not going to work, Genie. It really is none of your business.”

“Aha! So Roma was right. There is an Amritsar trip all planned and paid for. So why aren't you going?”

“Ask Roma!”

“I'm asking you!”

“I don't have the money now.”

“I'll lend it to you.”

“You've done enough. Besides, how long will you subsidise me? Do you know that some of the money in the bank was your back wages that I'd consolidated and put into a fixed deposit. How many times have I tried to give it to you!” I felt my temper rise. I felt sudden panic. What if Genie asked me for the money.

He put his arm around my shoulders, “Once and for all, I am not going to take that money.”

“Why not?”

“I never asked for a salary.”

“But Papa said he paid you!”

“We had an arrangement.”

“Sorry. I don't buy that.”

“Well, it has nothing to do with you.”

I pushed Genie, but nothing happened. I felt pain in my side, a combination of my bruises resulting from our ill-fated day at the bank (read about it here) and being pressed into the wall now. “Can you stop pushing me? My body is aching.”

I felt him laugh and glared at him. He smiled, “When is your trip, my dear?”

“Why?”

“I'll lend you the money... only because you will gain nothing out of backing out of the trip. You might as well go and enjoy yourself.”

True. I wasn't going to get a refund. And I had to get used to the idea that the world hadn't stopped moving and that I had to move on. My parents had lost money this way and history had repeated itself despite me knowing better.

But the other thing was I needed to stretch the little I had and didn’t want to borrow until I had no choice.

“If you feel badly about it,” Genie's voice interrupted my thoughts, “you can pay me back.”

“I don't have money, remember.”

“It's a temporary situation. You'll get a job eventually. No point wasting an opportunity to travel.”

“Yes, but what if I don't get a job or my money...”

“Silly girl! How did you become so pessimistic. It's a setback – one of many. It’s only a matter of time before it will stop affecting you.”

I knew that was true. Hard times don't last, Papa had said even when things were bleak.

Genie looked into the vessel again. “Shall I make you a few appams... before the guests arrive, Genie?” He contemplated the contents. Genie and I always waited till our guests had eaten until we had our meal, so I said, “Just a couple so that it keeps you till the guests finish eating.”

He shook his head, slowly – a rare moment of indecision for Genie. I immediately put two appa chattis on the stove to heat.

“No,” Genie said, feebly.

“Why stay hungry.”

“But we should wait till the others have eaten... what if we fall short?”

“Hah!” I had made enough batter for 14 people times ten appams and some more in case there were surprises. One could never tell when appams and stew were on the menu... as I had cause to experience.

I rolled the batter gently around the sides of the chatti and Genie took out his plate and had another sniff of the chicken stew.

Friday, 15 November 2019

Fishy Chronicles 44: Bust-up At The Bank

I could feel Genie raise himself to look at the chaos unfolding. There were people screaming and crying and running about for cover.

I pushed his elbow off the back of my head and raised myself to stare in disbelief.

Some moron had half-heartedly driven his car into the bank's shutters.

I say half-heartedly because the bank's shutter over its main entrance had caved, but not given way. People were picking themselves off the ground and a mob was now trying to open the door of the car.

When it didn't open they started kicking and banging the car. I looked for Kuriakose Uncle. He was in a distant corner – Aunty and he staring at the scene with some distress. Near them a group of churchwallas were trying to lift them off the ground. I saw people running.

When we were able to compose ourselves, we got up from the ground and stared at the scene unfolding. The crowd rocked the car and people screamed and shouted.

Genie strode into the crowd and I ran after him. I knew he was going to try and save the bugger in the car. 


This is a fictional series surrounding, Genie, Fish and the narrator. The narrator has lost most of her money in a bank scam and is at the bank waiting for RBI* officials to turn up and explain the next course of action (Fishy Chronicles 43). However, an upset depositor drives his car into the bank's entrance and is set upon by an angry mob.

I grabbed Genie's arm and was dragged someway ahead until he shook me off. He plunged in and was pushed about by the angry crowd when he managed to get close to the man whom some of the crowd had managed to pull out of the car. They had smacked him about. There was blood on his face and he looked disoriented. I jumped into the crowd and felt terror immediately. I was pummelled and pushed violently and someone squeezed my right breast. In a rage, I poked a man in the eyes and everyone else within my flailing reach. I felt strong arms pull me towards the car. People rained blows on us and the motorist who started it all crawled into the car and sat dazed in the driver's seat. 

Genie pushed me into the car and I fell on the man's lap and his hands held me down involuntarily, instantly making me anxious again. I wriggled out, looking for a weapon in the idiot's car. I saw a magazine on the dashboard, rolled it and threw myself into the crowd again, hitting whoever I could reach with the makeshift stick.

Only, now, there were policemen beating everyone with sticks. We were pushed into the car's sides by people trying to escape the lathi charge. I felt the unbearable press of the bodies and screamed in pain feeling the door handle of the car press into my lower back. I punched, scratched and tore wildly at the people in front of me and I felt them move backwards slightly. But the police had them sorted. They thrashed everyone within reach and soon the crowd pushing us started thinning. 

I was pulled roughly and thrown to the side. Everyone was babbling at the same time, but the police were oblivious. They lunged for the man in the car and pulled him out. One policeman waved his lathi and hit a few more people before the space in front of us widened. I was pulled off the ground roughly and pushed in front. I tried to protest, as did the others, but we were thrashed some more and a while later we grew silent. 

It is amazing how quickly the sight of men in khaki can disperse a crowd. Even the chaiwalla had grabbed his kerosene stove, vessels and stand and disappeared. I couldn’t see any of the churchwallas or the Kuriakoses. Trouble had turned everyone's feet in to wings and they had miraculously transported themselves elsewhere. 

I heard a sharp barking in Marathi and I was let go immediately. Genie grabbed my arm, tucked it in his, nodded, smiled and shook hands with the Sub Inspector. I could hear the man say that Genie would be called in for questioning, but the SI smiled all through that threat and Genie started moving away.

“But, but...” I turned and saw people being herded into a large blue police van with strong grills on the windows. I couldn't see the car's driver.

“Shhh. Hurry up!”

“But...”

Once out on the road, Genie walked fast towards our car, opened the passenger side door, pushed me into the seat and shut the door. He immediately got into the driver's side, started the engine and took off.

“But... we're going the wrong way!” I said.

“Okay.” 

“Genie!”

“Didn't you notice the police vans and barricades blocking the road back there?”

“Er.” I waited a few minutes to ask a vexing question. “Arief?”

“Yes?”

“Where did he go?”

“No idea.”

Genie's white t-shirt was ripped, it was dirty and his hair was messed up. He had a bruise forming on his left cheek and blood from his split lip had dripped onto his shirt.

He saw me staring at him. “Are you okay?”

“Yes. Stop somewhere and I'll look at that cut on your lip.”

“Mouth to mouth?” Genie's mood suddenly lightened.

I boxed his arm and he groaned. I felt bad immediately. “Sorry!”

“That's okay.” He parked near a building and turned to look at me. He turned my face towards him and gently touched my jaw. I winced. “We'd better go to a doctor.” 

“Yes. Best,” I said glumly. My left eye was shut, swollen and painful. My body was sore and my right side hurt. Besides, someone had pulled a handful of my hair and I felt blood on my sore scalp. 

Genie started the engine and slowly moved out on to the street.

“How is it you were able to get the SI to let us go?” I prodded Genie.

“I told him what happened. That we weren't involved.”

“Huh.” From the corner of my eye I saw Genie look at me and turn away his head immediately. “But... the let-off seemed inordinately quick,” I said.

“Maybe.”

“Perhaps if I was alone I'd have been on that van.”

“You were lucky today,” I saw the corners of Genie's mouth turn up.

“How do you know that policeman?”

“We've had chai together.”

“Interesting. How come?”

“Wouldn't you have wanted to be a fly on the wall then.”

“Indeed.” I waited for Genie to elaborate, but the silence stretched. “Well?”

“What can I say,” Genie shrugged his shoulder slightly. “It was a happy coincidence... for us... that Jeevan was there. Once he understood that we were protecting the driver, he let us go... with the proviso we'll present ourselves at the police station whenever we are asked to.”

“He didn't ask for our details.”

“He knows our address.”

“Convenient!”

“Yes,” Genie grinned.

“You're pulling a fast one on me, Genie!”

Tchah, tchah, tchah! So distrustful even after knowing me so many years.”

“Bullshit! Don't make it about me!”

“What's there to say. I know him. We go back a long way. He knows where to find us and it was our lucky day,” Genie was grinning, his eyes firmly on the road ahead.

I glared at him. I was going to get to the bottom of this. Hopefully. Someday.

Genie stopped the car and pushed up his dark glasses. I was surprised it hadn't got crushed in the melee. Or perhaps he had never taken it out of the car. I couldn't remember. He leaned towards me, forcing me to press backwards into my seat, and opened my door. He turned his head, too close for comfort, and murmured, “Go in. I'll be right there.” 

I was annoyed and didn’t respond. I got out shakily and turned towards the clinic. I held back, groaning silently. There were women standing up in the open area of the waiting room. Some of them started to smile. I saw some Peaceful Society ladies staring after the car and not taking their eyes off Genie.

Suddenly the day seemed endless. Luckily, no one was interested in me. As soon as the sexy Genie stepped into the waiting room, a seat became vacant, he was pushed into it and women began to fawn over him. 

“... oh dear...”

“... are you hurting?”

“... the wound looks painful...”

“... which idiot would dare lay a hand on you!”

“... you poor, poor, poor thing...”

I wanted to vomit. I closed my eyes tightly to block out the sight and sounds. Ugh!

I felt a body sit next to me. I opened my eyes and Genie grinned. He answered all their questions patiently. Soon, the other patients graciously waved us into the doctor's chambers.

“Oh my God! What happened to you!” Dr Sharma said. He immediately started looking at my eye, while Genie gave him a swift, sanitised version of today's events – minus our brush with Sub Inspector Jeevan X. 

“Well,” the doctor said, after working swiftly on us, “going by your injuries today and what I've just heard, both of you were very lucky. I'm giving you painkillers. Get these x-rays done and show them to me today. Off you go. Next!”

We said goodbye to the other patients and set off towards the car. Hopefully, the day would seem better after a painkiller. We gulped our respective doses and went off to the hospital. 

*RBI = Reserve Bank of India