The morning after Cousin S was married, Banoo Bilimoria waited until the respectable hour of 7.14 before shuffling across the corridor and pressing her gnarled, arthritic finger to the bell. Her myopic eyes took in the vivid colors of the chowk designs that had taken Sanobar 4 hours to create yesterday and she expertly pushed back the phlegm in her throat. She waited one minute, then four, then seven. Silence reigned in the Pardiwalla household. Even the maid hadn’t stirred. She turned back, the sound of her sapaat scraping the mosaic-tiled floor of building number 14 in Soonawala Colony—a green, quiet haven of Parsi existence amidst the bustle of South Bombay.
Back in her immaculate two-room flat and many cups of choy later, she hovered by the door until Jai Singh arrived. “Kachra-walo!” he’d announce on each floor, in an accent of indeterminate origin, and the denizens of number 14 would, on cue, pop out with their garbage bins and subject him to their pidgin Hindi, never mind that he was Gujarati. She waited until she heard the Pardiwallas’ maid undo their latch and popped her head out in a hurry. “Nahin bai, they’re not up,” said the maid shortly, before Banoo could ask her usual question, and shut the door behind her.
“Marere,” Banoo mumbled, feeling slighted and unsure about what to do next. She had missed out on the wedding reception the night before, thanks to a resurgence of gout, and could feel curiosity burning a hole through her faded housecoat. Silloo Damania on the other side of her had been to the celebrations and would gladly share details if asked, with the superior air of Those In The Know. As she stood in the hallway, dithering over her next move, the Damanias’ door opened and Silloo Samachar, as she was fondly known, called out her name.
Back in Silloo and Burjor’s elegant flat, where a shiny black grand piano held court, Banoo was informed in breathy undertones about the Flat in the Suburbs that the newly-weds would have to live in—in (gasp) remote Andheri East. Apparently, the boy’s mother had refused to let her son and his bride live in with her in the colony since the day both women had squabbled over who would sit in the passenger seat of his car. “Suburb maan?” Banoo repeated blankly, her eyes widening at this novel idea and her brain frothing with more questions than it could queue. She had been to the suburbs once—on a picnic to Vihar Lake in 2nd grade. They had even packed sandwiches for the journey. And now, Cousin S (mine, not hers,) was trundling off to a place where the Tata Electric Power Supply Company held no sway—and of course, everyone knew that pelo Reliance is a muo chor.
An hour in good traffic, replied Silloo, who had got this nugget of information on good authority from another clueless guest at the wedding. Yes, only rickshaws ply there, poor things, but they will take the car. I know, so far from aapru Parsi General and Doongerwadi, and not even a good naatak on Navroze, she responded to a group that had burgeoned to include Dolat and Persis from the ground floor and Dara and Roshan from building 7. The merits and demerits of modern, marble-floored apartments versus pothole-ridden streets were analyzed to an inch of their lives, and stinking politicians and “all these immigrants” verbally flayed for their role in inflation, population, corruption and Rodabeh’s bad breath, and the questions and concerns came faster and thicker, until the Damania home was in the throes of raucous agitation.
“I’ve heard you get everything there now,” chimed in the gentle Roshan, who had made the mammoth move from building number 4 to 7 when she married her chaddi sweetheart. “Cinemas show English movies?” asked Dolat skeptically, as Banoo wondered aloud whether the couple would splurge on a First Class railway pass. So far away from their parents, cluck clucked Dara, whose foray into adulthood had meant moving into the room down the passage and ended there 34 years ago.
More cups of tea and consolation were passed around, and there we shall leave them, fielding questions and cooking up answers, as the Pardiwalla family blissfully slumbers on, their daughter curled up in the arms of her sweet colony boy, ready to take their first big step into the harsh sunlight of the world outside the leafy, familiar lanes of Soonawala Colony.