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Where Peacocks fly-26

by Prema Sastri

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Chapter 26

Meera looked for a good time to talk to Ramaswamy. One day he came home early. He sat in the living room reading the newspaper. Meera sat opposite him.
“I need to talk to you.” She told him of how he was soon to acquire a son in law. As she foresaw her husband was angry.
“I will horse whip the boy. Mangalam too.”
“I wouldn’t do that. Surinder is well connected. He will put a case against you. Think of the scandal.” Ramaswamy calmed down. Mr and Mrs Singh want to meet you. It’s better if you have a talk with them, before you do anything you regret.”
Ramaswamy agreed, though she could see he was fuming.

Mr Singh phoned up and invited them to tea at Nirulas. He and his wife were accompanied by an old man. This is my father Harbinder. He is the first Singh.”
“I am Paramjit. He extended his hand. Ramaswamy shook it, reluctantly. His wife folded her hands before Meera.”
“I am Manpreet.”
“I’m Meera.”

Their host led them to a reserved table. The women sat side by side. The men talked desultorily on various topics. Inflation, overcrowding, changes in Delhi. Meera wondered whether they would ever discuss the reason they had met.
“I came to New Delhi as a refugee” said the senior Singh. The verandahs in Connaught Place were full of them. I lay in a corner not far from our shops on an old bed sheet. It was cold. I had nothing to cover myself with.”
You have come a long way.” Ramaswamy looked at the speaker.
“I walked all the way from Lahore. We had to leave without warning. Each of us was allowed to take one small item. I chose my stamp album. The women took jewels. A lorry had been arranged to take us to Amritsar. As the vehicle was ready to start, I jumped off to answer the call of nature. The lorry moved. It was the last I saw of my family.”

“That was tragic.”
“I panicked. I had my stamp album under my arm. I gave it to the nearest bystander. I started walking.”
“You had a long way to go.”
“Yes! It was a long walk. Most of the time I had nothing to eat. The land in which I was born and raised had suddenly become enemy territory.”
“It must have been a terrifying experience.”
“I was anxious to reach Punjab. At last I came to Amritsar. Houses had been set aside for people like me. They were crowded, but I was met by willing helpers. Messages were sent over the radio for people who wanted to get in touch with their families. I never found mine.”
“What happened then?”
“I came to Delhi in a lorry filled with refugees. The local people helped us. The government gave us aid. I collected old newspapers and sold them. I worked in a restaurant as a waiter. I was only ten. Gradually, I built up a business. I got married. I lost my wife. You know the rest.”
“I am impressed. My life seems to have been one of luxury in contrast.”
“This is the first time I have spoken about the past before strangers.”
“We are not strangers. Very soon we are going to be family.”

Meera was amazed at Ramaswamy’s reaction.

Paramjit Singh intervened. “Our children have brought us together. Let us consult them and see what they have to say. I think my father is tired. We will meet the day after tomorrow.”

Meera turned to Manpreet.
“You must come to our place. We will be delighted to entertain you.”
“Thank you. We will call you to fix a time. I am happy we could meet and get to know one another.”

They parted with smiles and acknowledgements on the way home. Meera and Ramaswamy were silent. Ramaswamy did not go into his usual diatribe. He was lost in the thought. Meera had seen a side of him she had not encountered. It was not surprising that his colleagues and superiors respected him. She had spoken very little to Manpreet. She appeared to be kindly and warm hearted. She expressed happiness with the alliance. She sat back on the car seat. Everything was going to work out better than she had expected.

Paramjit and Manpreet visited them two days later. Manpreet gave Meera a bouquet of exotic flowers entwined with ferns and wrapped in silver foil. Meera thanked her and saw that they were seated. Ramaswamy greeted them and offered cushions to make them comfortable. It was a Sunday morning. Everyone was relaxed. The children had been warned to stay in their rooms until sent for.

Mr and Mrs Singh looked around, at the bright mirror work cushions, cane sofa sets and scatter rugs. Wall hangings added a colourful touch.

“What a beautiful room.”
“Thank you. It was put together over years.” Meera did not say the furnishings were as inexpensive as possible.

Ramaswamy turned to Paramjit.
“You went to Oxford. How is it you did not send your son there?”
“I was not happy at Oxford. I was thrilled and happy to be there but my personal life was unpleasant. The English do not welcome foreigners. My turban made me conspicuous. I had many acquaintances, but no friends.”
“What about the other Indians?”
“They were trying to be more English than the English, putting on false accents and, running down their own country.”
“That is disgraceful.”
“In spite of that they did not fit in.”
“I longed to go to Oxford, or Cambridge. I am glad I did not. Presidency College was good for me. I still have many of the friends I made there,”

Meera was surprised. She did not know that Ramaswamy had any friends. She had never seen them. We had not mentioned his desire to go to England.
“I did not want my son to have the same experience. At Oxford he would have become a clone, and forgotten his roots.”
“That would have been a pity.”
“We’re lucky that Surinder is happy where he is.”
“What about coffee?” Meera rose. She declined Manpreeth’s offer of help. Soon she and Chotu returned bearing plates, napkins and bowls of snacks. Meera had made puris and channa, besides iddlis and vadas along with mint chutney. Her guests chose the south Indian fare and sweets.

Manpreet finished the last morsel on her plate. I love south Indian food. This coffee set is exquisite. Where did you get it?”
Meera laughed. “From your shop.” She told them how Surinder helped her to choose it.” At the time I did not know who he was. Nor had he met Mangalam. He recognized my name because he made out the receipt.”
“I made him start on the shop floor. He did not have any privileges. He got the same salary as every one else.”

After praising the filtered coffee the group settled down. The young people had given their views. The elders worked on them. There was to be a civil ceremony attended only by close relatives. After that the Ramaswamys would host a lunch. In the evening the Singhs wanted to have a reception at the Maurya Sheraton. The Ramaswamys would pay the expenses for the wedding ceremony and the lunch. The cost of the invitations would be shared by both the parties. The events were to be completed within seven days.

After the talks the children were sent for. They greeted the visitors respectfully. Mangalam had already met her future in laws. They seemed happy to see her, and made her sit near them. They were eager to know more about Sankaran and his activities. Meera held her breath. To her relief Sankaran gave polite answers. He did not look as if he resented being questioned. When the Singhs left the family saw them off at the gate.

Once inside the house Sankaran laughed out loud. “I pity our to be in laws. They don’t know for what they are letting themselves in for with Mangalam. All the Singhs put together will not be able to control her.”

“They don’t know the worst.” Mangalam moved towards him. “ Sankaran is a devil.” Sankaran ran out of the room. Manhalam, remembering her condition did not chase him.

To be continued.....

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