Our plans changing from minute to minute, we explored, bedazzled by the distractions of gay Bombay, the polyglot music of its streets familiar from “Trade,” the Indian Monopoly–Marine Drive, Chowpatty Beach, Cuffe Parade, Churchgate, Flora Fountain, Apollo Bunder, Malabar Hill. Bombay where we bought a year’s supply of shawls, Punjabi gaghra cholis, churidars, shalwar kameez, jeans, mini, then midi skirts, shoes, nightdresses, and jewelry (for it had India’s widest, wildest range from understated elegance to show-offy garishness).
Bombay, to which all roads led, the country’s delight, excitement throbbing through it like the Bollywood and Beatles songs from little stores with over-the-counter almost-any-food of the appetite’s desiring: north Indian kulchas, south Indian uttapams, western Angels and Devils prancing on Horseback, tiny beads of caviar—and under-the-counter smuggled almost-anything in the warrens of smuggler’s paradises like Bori Bunder or the covered Crawford market, with its Norman architecture, and famous frieze, designed by Lockyard Kipling, Rudyard’s father, into which my mother, without warning, vanished while my father sighed, wry, resigned, “An overpowering desire has seized her.”
Carpe Diem. I got him to let me buy books, second-hand classics I had not yet ticked off the lists of suggested reading at the back of the classics I had read (first oppressions of the heavy weight of unread literature!) while he, liberated, bought the penknives he loved, with a Ripleyesque array of ingenious, just-in-case-I’m-marooned attachments; and inventive kitchen gadgets that never worked for long, and doomed coasters with henpecked husband lamentations, My wife is my life, my life is my wife. What a wife! What a life!
As December unraveled, scruffy neighborhood boys gathered at street corners, singing Christmas is coming; the geese are getting fat; please put a penny in the old man’s hat as they fanned a wavering fire. Pointing at their scarecrow in his faded shirt, they jauntily asked, “A penny for the old guy?” Guy Fawkes, I suppose, morphed into the old guy, the old year.
* * *
Eat, visit, shop, explore. Can pleasure possibly pall? By mid-December, it did.
“Now, let’s go to Mangalore and see my Ma,” my father said with the defiant, tremulous firmness he rarely mustered. When he did however, he was—almost—unassailable.
“Mangalore!” said my mother. She was “a Bombayite,” proud of her citizenship in the metropolis. “Never! I am never going to set footin Mangalore again.” After the Bombay Port Dock Explosion of 1942, which everyone thought the Japanese were behind, like Blitzed London children, the Bombayites who could evacuate did so. No Narnia though. “When we cried in Mangalore and said we missed our Mummy, those Konkani speaking girls asked, ‘And do you miss your Puppy?’ ”
“I am a persona non grata in Mangalore,” my mother said, with a pleased, twisted smile. The Latin, or…? The ill-fated visit. Twenty years ago.
My soft-spoken father, Noel, the longed-for first-born son after “a plague of girls,” five pretty maids all in a row, had returned after eight years in England, with a professional degree: F.C.A., Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, England and Wales; an English accent; rumored romances, never confirmed, never denied; urbanity; high culture—Malcom Sargent’s Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall! Laurence Olivier as Lear at the Old Vic! He’d read Joyce, Woolf, Camus, Gide, and had variegated experience: fruit-picking vacations in Europe; young communist camps in Poland; cricket matches at Lords after which, he said, triumphant West Indians raced onto the field, and tossed their cricket bats in the air, singing, “Crick-et, lubberly crick-et.”
As far as his mother, grandmother, and sisters were concerned, any bride must necessarily fall short of his glory. My mother, dissenting, never returned to Mangalore, nor met her mother or sisters-in-law again, winning the Pyrrhic battles between mother- and daughter-in-law scripted by centuries of Indian tradition by ignoring as thoroughly as she was ignored, a simple, overlooked strategy (if you can get away with it)!
“Pa, I’m going with you,” I said desperately.
“No. No!” my mother said, equally desperately. “Your hair will look like the wild woman of Borneo’s. You’ll wear jeans in which your thighs look like the rocks of Gibraltar. You’ll blab family secrets. They’ll ask “Who do you like more, your mummy or your daddy?’ and you will say my father, and they’ll say why, and pump, and pump, and you are such a donk…”
“I’m nota donk.”
“If the cap fits, wear it,” she sang out gleefully.
“Oh, let her come,” my father said. “Or you two will fight all the time. Next-door cornered me within a day and said, ‘I hear Anita’s back.’ ”
“Well, she’ll be Mary, Mary, quite contrary in Mangalore too. She’ll say, ‘I’m called the naughtiest girl in school.’ And they’ll say why, and she’s such a donk, she’ll explain—proudly–and there’ll be a new series of stories, and…” my mother squawked.
But my father won. My mother and sister remained in Bombay. And he and I–to Mangalore we went!!
Start Date—August 27th, 2012
Completion Date—September 1st, 2013
Word Count Goal-120,000
Words per day Goal—425
Progress (Aiming to write 6 days a week, excluding Sundays)
Day 18—7482—168 words short