The cuckoo-clock on the living room wall has just struck three on a sultry Delhi afternoon. The Bhattacharjees are engrossed in a round table conference. Dada is on the withering armchair – its repair-work delayed in lieu of more important things on the platter – while Dadi sits with her tired hands pressing her temples. Their only daughter, we will call her Mom, awaits the roar of an engine, anticipating motor-wheels blowing up dust at every hint of a thud in the back lane.
Dada clears his throat and looks around at the party.
…”Been a while hasn’t it since we called last?”
Dadi looks at the clock and nods.
…”Yes… It has precisely been ten minutes and eleven seconds. Twelve, as I finish that.”
Dada rocks his chair some more, making it creak. His thighs hurt when kept still for too long – evident in the frown his eyebrows form themselves into.
“…And to think I cancelled my physiotherapist when the dear guy was all suited and booted.”
Dadi snorts. Dada needed but an excuse to cancel his sessions. Though he could reasonably be let off this once, his previous track-record was too ludicrous to let go without comment.
“I truly sympathize with the poor guy. Do you remember the time he had to be put off when that mosquito bite on your thigh hurt beyond human comprehension?”
Mom, who had walked to the window to keep a lookout, buts in.
…”and what about the time you were so sleepy you claimed the food had been drugged?”
Dada coughs again, not enjoying the way he is being grounded.
…”I am sorry to see that all you two can do in this hour of crisis is nag at an old man worried beyond measure.”
Shaking her head, Mom raises her hands dramatically in the air.
…”I have always told you to take things more easily. Nothing functions like clockwork in this country. The roads could be crowded; the vehicle may have broken down.”
“For all we know,” Dadi adds slyly from her chair, “there could be other stops on the way to the house.”
Mom looks askance at her, her brows furrowed.
...”Do you really think so? But how could that be?”
Dadi shrugs her shoulders, non-committal and casual.
…”You never know what the world’s coming to dear. I don’t mean to,” she pats Mom on the back, “trouble you as such, but it could be a fair possibility.”
“I hardly think so.” Dada is adamant, refusing to entertain such foreign notions. “I hardly think so”, he repeats for effect.
Mom takes a deep breath, tired of keeping a watch at the window.
“You make me tense with all this hoopla ho. I have left all the chores aside – there’s been no clothes washing, no floor sweeping, no plant watering. All I have been doing is waiting.”
“He will soon be here my dear.” Dadi assures her, a little guilty of the tangent she has sent off the party to. “There will be a knock at the door and a rev up of wheels and before you can blink -“
“I am here!”
All three heads gleefully turn in the direction of the voice that comes from behind them. At the open doorway, with two big briefcases and a laptop-bag, stands a rather tanned Papa, wearing his trademark smile.
Pleased at the reception he is getting, Papa keeps the baggage down, inspecting the lit up faces closely.
…”I am sorry about being a little late but you know how the traffic is in this city. Moreover, I just stopped to get a little something for D…”
Even as he finishes, the lit up faces fall. Dada turns around, back to his previous position in the armchair and Dadi goes back to massaging her temples. Mom looks resigned, glancing in the direction of the refrigerator hesitantly.
Papa is alarmed at the awkward change in demenaour.
…”Why does everyone suddenly look so downcast?”
“But naturally we will!” Dada begins peremptorily. “Staying away on a tour exempts you from a lot of emotional stress.”
“Emotional stress?” Papa is now even more puzzled, his expression betraying a mental debate about coming back to India.
It is now that Mom, who had regained her position by the window, lets out a little squeal. “I believe,” she announces with a grin, “that our much priced stress buster is finally here.”
Papa watches spellbound as the back lane resounds with noise. A large and mighty vehicle stealthily makes its way to the house. Pipes are swiftly laid down and buckets are ferreted out from all nooks and crannies.
Faces light up with an unprecedented glow as the Delhi Jal Board water-tanker parks its bulky body and the water-guy begins to pour into the Bhattacharjees’ tank – litres of blue wonder.
Quite a Delhi-freak otherwise and adapted to staying in the extremist city for most of my years, I hate the capital when it starts displaying its summery airs.
Water plays hookey from homes for days at end and you need to book tankers to refill your aquatic needs. They issue only a meagre amount to every house and to get more than your legal share, you need to let those coins jingle elsewhere. Things can get so rotten that water is The Most Talked Of subject in all dinner-table conversations and no arrival is as anticipated as the one of the Delhi Jal Board beast.
Water’s very precious people. If you dare deny it, you may be rushed into the stinking world of dry-cleaning showers before you can mutter an apology.