They would come go out smiling, with bowed heads like obedient children reveling in expected tantrum of a lovable senile elder. Some would telephone tenants to keep an eye on her and keep them informed of her well-being; their only purpose of troubling them, they would never forget to state. Every one tried to be sure that they would be the first to know and beat others, to be with her in last defining moments.
Indra picked the red plastic mug from the blue bucket of cool water and wet the brush. The cap less toothpaste tube laid crumpled and squeezed flat of its contents. Indra put the index finger on its orifice and squeezed hard at the neck. The effort reluctantly produced a small crusted bar of dry paste with a soft tail, enough for his present needs. He started to rub teeth carefully, not to let the crumb of dry paste drop on the darkened, cracked mosaic floor.
‘No, I don’t believe you at all. He may be a fool, but a fine boy, an artist. They are a different lot and prone to brood over certain important social matters late in night. Don’t you see his name and photograph appear in newspapers regularly? It requires lots of talent to have your activities mentioned, so frequently. These newspaper people are not fools to write about activities of vagabonds and wastrels. For us, our name is in print only after deaths in small obituaries columns. I know how boys are, of his age and temperament. So many things trouble them. Kamal was just like him, an artist. You foolish man, you won’t under stand theses finer things at all. Didn’t you assure to find a reliable tenant for the room at ground floor? Have you done any thing about that bloody promise of yours or not? So don’t try to impress me by telling such crazy things, get lost and mind your own patty business of adulterated cooking oils.’
Indra stopped rubbing teeth and tried to go over, what Ganga Bai has said so eloquently to that crafty rascal. It would have been indeed a treat to watch his crestfallen ape like face.
Therefore, the cat is out of the bag.
He resembled her late son, also an artist.
Suddenly things looked quite brighter. Perhaps he can look forward to take little liberties with her. Like late payment of rent, use of her secluded roof top for rehearsing his lines and may be for an impending rendezvous with Prerna. It too seemed like an old, stale movie scene, repeated millions times over by the dream merchants of Bombay . He decided to find a tenant for her and beat crafty Chauthu.
‘What happened, Tai?’
He could recognize the husky voice of Prerna. The attractive and bright elder daughter of Ghaasi Ram Meena, an office superintendent in the lucrative public works department. Indra felt attracted to her husky voice, large eyes and dusky complexion with well-endowed body. Prerna reciprocated his attempts to find her alone and talk about art and theatre. He has helped her act in a few plays to get over her stage fright and improve public speaking skills. Indra was amazed at her carefully organized and well-planned life style; in contrast to his happy go lucky ways. Whenever his name and photograph appeared in the newspapers, she would send her kid brother to wake him up from his drunken stupor and have a look.
She selected in the state administrative services. Primarily because of her talent and to some extent her birth, which surely must have come handy to score over, equally, placed general candidates. She has already started to behave like a pompous civil servant. Moreover, no body protested for obvious reasons. They were all too happy to have a pushy young civil servant in their crumbling old building. She has organized that the street and open over flowing drains taken care of properly. It was a rare thing to happen in the narrow back lanes of the old city.
Indra, not impressed by her selective indulgence, teased her a lot and punctured her pomposity occasionally, and that may be the reason to set him apart from the fawning, adoring crowd around her. She listened to him and talked about various common interests.
‘Saab, He is still sleeping. I wonder---.’
Chauth Mal addressed Prerna with utmost caution, being aware of her friendship with Indra. Lately she and liked ‘Saab’, an expression of masculine power and authority.
‘So….. what? How are you concerned about him?’
Prerna’s curt and sharp authoritative tone was music to Indra, and it produced an abrupt silence out side.
‘No. I mean-------- I said----No I didn’t mean to-- Saab--“.
Indra smiled, he could picture a fumbling Chauthu with relish. Every body wants to develop and maintain good relations with a civil servant. You never know when it will come handy to further own interests, business and god knows what not.
The silence out side was broken by Chauthu’s inglorious exit from the scene. His new camel skin shoes made sharp creaky noise. Sheepishly he must have bowed his head and carefully climbed down the narrow, darkened, and worn out winding stairs. Such occasional insults would not change him a bit in his crafty maneuvers and would surely try to hit back and evict Indra from his cheap, centrally located room, who has powerful friends in Prerna and Ganga Bai. Chauthu was indeed fighting a battle he will perhaps never win. Nevertheless, there was other more compelling reason-he didn’t like Indra talking so frequently with Shanno, his wife and daughter of the richest man of his village. Shanno ignored his objections with contempt and continued to be friendly with Indra. It was a rumor that she had been hurriedly married off to Chauthu, to put an end to the troubles created by her. She was prone to vanish from home at night with her various paramours. Many village elders have made their disapproval known to her father, rather meekly due to his stature and money. Her troubled father had to find a suitable match fast before she could bring further infamy and damage to the fragile family pride. The tedious job entrusted to a reliable barber Naththu, famed for fast results. He quickly produced a befitting match, a poor but promising prospective groom for a rich man's wayward daughter. Greedy Chouthu and his foresighted, deaf mother were too happy to overlook her past for a sizable dowry of cash, house hold goods and a motorcycle along with a well stocked oil shop in Jaipur. Shanno was excited to live the in the famed PickCity .
‘He never slept so late.’ Ganga Bai’s concerned voice assured Indra further. He continued to brush silently and listened carefully.
‘He is up and brushing teeth.’ It was Prerna’s kid brother.
‘Pintoo…. too bad,… you should never peep in any one’s room.’ She snapped at her mischievous little brother. Whose investigating eyes must have found an uncovered hole or a crack in aged wooden door?
‘That’s bad Beta, we all are so worried and you didn’t say a thing to assure us, that you are up and all right.
‘Thank you- auntie. I am all right. Let me have a bath please. And Pintoo, you can come after half an hour, OK! I have a surprise gift for you.’
The message to Prerna was communicated.
‘What’s it? Tell now? …. Is it a comic book or a chocolate bar?’ Pintoo was eager.
‘Oh now come on. He said half an hour. Didn’t he? Come on now, complete your homework first.’ Prerna was tough with her naughty young brother.
‘No. No. No. I want that chocolate now.’ Pintoo’s protesting voices and tantrums trailed off. She must have dragged him upstairs. He might have made usual veiled threats of exposing her gory secrets. Nevertheless, Prerna surely knew how to deal with her mischievous young sibling. He was the sixth and latest offspring of her parents, who went on producing five daughters, every time desperately expecting a male child, the heir and lighter of their funeral pyres, assuring their place in heaven.
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