|The second step 3|
In his youth, Brahman had often heard such remarks from English people and had laughed at their ignorance. Little did they know that our Shravan Kumars1 had always borne their old parents on their own shoulders on pilgrimages and left them only at the doors of Heaven. As if on cue, the shades of his parents flitted and vanished before his eyes. Suppressing the guilt of having abandoned them in their old age, Brahman had turned to Lilavati and said, "Have you seen greater fools than the English?"
After he finished his MBA, Amritt Lal Bremen got a good job with an automobile company and rose to a senior position in a couple of years. When his mother died, he was away in Kenya, setting up a new branch. He was shocked when his father gave him the sad news over the telephone. When his father asked whether he could get to London by the next morning to see his motherís face for the last time, he said yes. But then he was also a burra sahib who believed that first things ought to come first. And the first priority was to remain in Kenya and supervise the companyís new project.
There was also this personal project that he could not quite leave midway. He had fallen in love with Margaret Leach, the young widow of an English landowner in the hills. Margaret had just sold her land to an African chief and had to appear in the Land Registration Office in two days. How could he leave her alone at such a time? After talking it over with Margie, he called up his father in the evening to tell him that he could not make it. And he added, "Dad, I am wiring £1,500 to your bankers so that you donít have financial problems in carrying out the last rites." Amritt Lal Bremen knew his mother well. He knew that she was Indian to her bones, and he knew that even after her death her soul would linger, waiting for a glimpse of her son. But Bremen just shrugged his shoulders and said, "What can I do?"
Some ten days after his motherís death, Bremen married Margie. He knew his father would be deep in mourning, so he took Margie and her children for a holiday to Nairobi. Then, in a brief and restrained letter to his father, he informed him of his new situation and said that Margieís children, Sheena and Fred, would be very happy to meet him. He asked his father to get two bedrooms ready for them.
When the family reached London, the house became so crowded that many of the things accumulated over a lifetime had to be thrown away to make room. Brahman wondered why his son did not dump him in the garbage bin along with the other unwanted things. Father and son now shared only a functional relationship. Margaret still seemed to be in Kenya. And her children? They addressed their stepfather as ĎSirí, so how could they call Brahman Grandpa? They could not imagine a relationship with him. Once, Brahman had mustered the courage to invite the children to his room. But Bremen intervened, "No, Dad, I have warned them not to bother you." Brahman did not doubt his sonís concern for him, but he also knew that this MBA son of his would not hesitate to dump all human feelings in the bin for the sake of convenience. If Brahman too had passed away with his wife, the son would probably have found it convenient to take over the flat with his new family and would have thanked God for the opportune deaths. And it was for the same reasons of convenience that Bremen and his family moved into a new flat within a few months. After they left, the house seemed so empty that Brahman felt he was his own ghost, haunting the place in Lilavatiís company.
"So you are laughing, Lilo. What are we waiting for here? Come, letís go away together."
"To the other world, where else?"
"Well, youíre already there ó how else could we be together?"
And then, in view of his fatherís loneliness, Amritt Lal Bremen brought in a lodger, Mrs Wood.
The sound of a conch took him by surprise and he noticed that the television too had lost its memory. The screen now showed the Indian channel and Ramayana was about to begin. Rama has just returned to Ayodhya after an exile of fourteen years. Brahman was happy and wanted to join the rejoicing citizens of Ayodhya in a little jig, but the crazy television set retrieved its memory and the BBC discussion was back on the screen. Before he could switch off the confusion on the TV, he heard the doorbell ring. "Oh! Annie is already back from work and I havenít laid out the tea." He rushed to open the door and found Mrs Wood smiling in the doorway. And she was wearing the dress that he gave her on her last birthday.
"Who? I, or the dress?"
He takes her hand and, leading her to the living room, mumbles in Hindustani: "I forgot to make the tea again today."
"You naughty boy! What do you care?"
"No," he says in confusion, "I shall even cook dinner for you tonight." For many days he has been carrying Lilavatiís ring in his pocket, wondering whether he should gift it to Mrs Wood. He quickly takes out the ring, seizes Mrs Woodís hand and slips it onto her ring finger. Then he gets nervous, wondering if he has done something wrong.
"How sweet!" Mrs Woodís wrinkled face flushes and she kisses him. "Just sit down now, Iíll get the tea."
Mrs Wood leaves the room and the same old Englishman on BBC is trying to convince the other participants, "There is no need for antipathy against these people. Their children certainly donít belong to them, but even they do not belong to themselves any longer, do they?"
Joginder Paul is one of the most captivating innovators in contemporary Urdu fiction.
He lives in Delh