We split our Decembers between holidays in gay Bombay with my mother’s family, and, leaving my mother and sister in Bombay, my father and I visited Mangalore and his family, neither of which my mother cared for.
Travels with my Father
Bombay to Mangalore. “Pa, Pa, look!!”: black-faced langur monkeys, a slender lori. We slid backwards in time through the ancient hilly rain forests, luna-moth-green valleys and hairpin beds of the Western Ghats.
We took a “deluxe” bus, air-conditioned, but, alas, every air-conditioned coach was also a “video coach.” By day, by night. So while my father and I played interminable, determined games of “Twenty Questions,” or “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, Thing,” widows wailed, abandoned women in white wandered, listlessly singing mera jeevan gora kagaj, “my life is a blank page,” and coquetteish brilliantly clad nymphs, high-pitched sopranos, darted around trees fleeing from shaggy satyrs called Amitabh or Rishi–all the while singing.
We practiced for school quiz competitions. My father quizzed me, in the style of B.B.C.’s Mastermind: “Who painted “The Persistence of Memory?” “Salvador Dali.” “What is Bob Dylan’s real name?” “Robert Zuckerman. He called himself Dylan in homage to Dylan Thomas,” I added gratuitously. “Whose epitaph was Here he lies where he longed to be; Home is the sailor, home from the sea, And the hunter home from the hill?” Later, in an embarrassing epiphany, I suspected my father asked facts he suspected I knew.
Then we practiced debating, my father setting me topics like those in school–“Which is better, newspapers or television?” “An arranged marriage is better than a love marriage,” and five minutes to scribble an introduction, body, and conclusion, and then, certain he’d be unutterably impressed, over the raucous screen, I declaimed my speech.
* * *
Every few hours, the bus pulled into a wayside restaurant, undoubtedly pre-arranged, pre-bribed. And since my father spent money in a hay-making, mouse-playing way in my mother’s absence, no matter the hour of the day or night, I ordered ecstatically: puri pallya, round deep-fried flatbreads with spinach; masala dosas, crisp golden, stretching far beyond the plate, stuffed with yellow oniony potatoes and oozing mustard seeds; and kulfi falooda, almond ice cream floating with red jelly, and vermicelli in a rose-syrupy pink milkshake—until even the waiter suggested desisting.
My father ordered coffee. The waiter, beaming, cooled the coffee by letting the fragrant steaming ribbon cascade from one stainless tumbler to another three feet below; not a drop was spilled. “Coffee-by-the-yard,” my father explained, sotto voce.
“Order something, Pa!” My father grinned, “I’ll see what you leave, then I’ll order.” “Oh, I’m ravenous!” I gourmandized. Ten minutes later: “I’m full!” Satiety hurt. “Eat some more.” “I just can’t,” and my father emptied the almost full dishes, saying as I knew he would, “Wasting! When I was a student in England during the War, there were billboards everywhere showing a plate of half-eaten food. The caption said: ‘If you didn’t want it, why did you take it?’” At least I was spared the usual sour cliché: “her eyes are bigger than her stomach.”
Then I was sent to the bathroom, and returned stricken. “Pa, the squat toilet wasn’t flushed. I felt like throwing up.” “Okay,” he said, “Hurry. We’ll find bushes.” We walked into the scrub by the side of the road with him on guard duty. “You see the advantages of being a man!” he grumbled, as I again squealed, “Pa, is anyone coming?” “I can pee standing up, with my back to the road, and no one will guess what I’m doing.”
As if I needed convincing! “The poor parents!” my father’d say when he heard of the birth of a girl. “Girls are a terrible thing. A terrible responsibility.” “If bandits come up to you and say, ‘Your money or your life,’ always say, ‘Take my money.’ ” “Huh! And what would you say, Pa?” I asked. “Take my wife,” he grinned.
A rambunctious medical student from Manipal Medical College distributed sugarcane he’d snatched through the bus window from lumbering bullock carts. I crunched the nectary stalks with delight– which faded when my father said the load would be weighed at the journey’s end, and the driver, who sat oblivious, switching the magnificent white beasts, would be fined for the short.
The student organized the English-speaking passengers into Canterbury riddle-askers, joke-tellers. “Knock, knock.” “Who’s there?” “Amos.” “Amos Who?” “Amos Quito.”
Or a favourite joke: “A Sardarjee went to Bombay craning his neck at skyscrapers. A city slicker says, ‘That’s my building. Give me a rupee for every storey you looked at.’ The Sardarjee later says slyly, ‘I gave him fifteen rupees, but actually–I looked at the whole building.’”
Just before the bus left Maharashtra, policemen, rifles in their holster, boarded it, searching luggage. Our heart stopped. The Scotch. Illegally procured as gifts through an army friend (the army had access to choice and subsidized liquor) but contraband in Maharastra which was “dry”–perennial, laudable, doomed social experiment.
A drunk man yelled at the officials, who yanked him off the bus. Suddenly sober, he realized he had been arrested, and wept and pleaded with them, touching their feet. “They’ll take every paise he has,” my father said. “What a terrible thing it is to be drunk!”
Start Date—August 27th, 2012
Completion Date—August 31st, 2013
Word Count Goal-120,000
Words per day Goal—435
Progress (Aiming to write 6 days a week, excluding Sundays)
Sept 17th Day 19—8353 words written (88 extra)