Where Peacocks Fly-4
by Prema Sastri
Back to Chapter 3
As she shampooed her hair she thought of Captain Khanna. She could see his brisk movements as he mixed the drinks and got the tray ready. She tried to visualize Ramaswamy helping her in the kitchen. She could not remember him entering it. He had never poured out a glass of water for himself. There was a large earthern pot full of boiled water in the pantry. She had painted it with a colourful design and placed it on an iron stand. A stainless steel glass with a long handle lay across the lid. “Can’t I get even a glass of water in this house?” Ramaswamy would call out, and either she or the children would run to ladle out the water into a glass. It would be nice she thought to have Ramaswamy standing beside her. She tried to imagine him lifting a tray from her hands, his fingers brushing hers, or even bumping against her in the small kitchen. The picture failed to materialize. Perhaps it was for the best. Too many cooks spoiled the broth.
She had her bath and went to the back verandha to dry her hair. The chairs and tables were out of place. She wound her hair into a cloth towel, wrapped it round her head and put the room in order. As she did so she noticed a hinge had come loose from one of the small tables. As she set it down, it broke in half. The leg came off and rolled against the wall.
She pulled the table upside down and put the leg across it.
Another thing to see to. There stretched in front of her all the things waiting to be done, the tap dripping in the kitchen, the broken curtain rod, the grass grown high in the garden. She pushed her thoughts aside and went into the back lawn to dry her hair. The sun beat directly on her. She loosened her long hair and began rubbing it at the roots. As it dried she combed it out and knotted the ends. What a nuisance long hair was. Her arms ached with rubbing it long before it was anywhere near dry. After that she sat in the sun for a few minutes. She invariably had neuralgic pains down her neck after her headbath. How much nicer it would be to have very short hair .. There would be no breaking of combs or rubbing the endless gallons of oil. Still they did not seem any better off. Betty was always concerned about her hair. It was either too thin or too thick to suit the latest fashion. Meera had often seen her wince with pain under the tight curlers she clamped on her head when doing housework. Meera put her towel out on the line and went in.
She did not feel like having lunch. She poured herself a glass of buttermilk and drank it in long slow sips. Should she leave the glass in the sink trusting the maid servant to come in the afternoon? No, better not. She washed out the glass and went into the bedroom. She really ought to dry her hair with a fresh towel, she thought. There were still damp patches at the base of the neck. The bed looked pleasant and inviting. She slipped into it and spread her hair out on the pillow. Every part of her body now began to assert itself. Her feet, legs, thighs, trunk, arms and neck felt as heavy and stiff as a badly joined statue. The thought came back to her. There would be no more parties. No more parties, she repeated and allowed the idea to settle into her consciousness.
The friends she had invited had been Ramaswamy’s. She was determined to be a good wife and a social asset. She had at various times called all the colleagues, his friends and bosses. They seemed to have liked her. Still every party had been at her suggestion. Ramaswamy had taken as much interest in the proceedings as if she had forced him to accompany her on a sari buying expedition.
She suddenly realized that she had not invited any personal friends of hers for years. Perhaps she did not have any. She frowned. Where were her friends? There was Leela who had been her best friend at college. She was in Delhi, in Karol Bagh somewhere. She had rung up Meera a couple of times. That was several years ago. She had suggested that they meet regularly even if it was once a year for lunch at a restaurant. Somehow Meera had never been able to make it. The children were too small to drag around. Ramaswamy worked late at his office. She was too tired. The excuses multiplied and Leela had stopped ringing her altogether. Leela was married to a businessman and had a very busy social life. There was no point in calling her miles away from Motibagh.
There were old family friends, people she had known from childhood, but she had detached herself as neatly as a leaf from a tree. Surely Ramaswamy knew how to manage his life. If he was not interested in entertaining, why did she have to make a fetish of it? She would gladly call his friends if he asked her to, but if he did not, why should she worry and make herself miserable. A great burden seemed to slip from her . She dropped asleep.
She was woken by the doorbell.. It was Mangalam. Shankar came in a little later. As they washed and got ready, she began to roll out the dough for puris. A potato curry had already been prepared and kept aside. Soon she had a plateful of hot puris and smiled. Either they had been too crisp of hard and leathery. It had taken her a long time to learn to roll out the dough to the right consistency. She turned off the stove and brought the puris to the table.
“Good”, said Mangalam, helping herself. “I’m starved.” She was silent as she ate. Meera noticed that top of her pantsuit was unbuttoned almost to the waist. “Why don’t you button that shirt up properly? I’ve told you so many times it looks most undignified like that. Daddy will be furious if he sees you.”
“What a fuss you make.” Mangalam pushed her plate away. “Everyone wears it like that in college. I don’t want to go around like an old grandmother.”
“There’s nothing oldish in being neat and attractive. Your hair looks as if it has not been combed for days. It hangs all over the place and looks knotted. Why can’t you plait it?”
“Go on mummy. Don’t nag. Nobody plaits their hair these days.”
“Well, at least comb it. I don’t see how hair looking like a crow’s nest could be in fashion.”
Shankaran came in. “I bet the keys you lost are tangled in your hair. It is so knotted it could hold a pair of knitting needles without anyone knowing the difference.”
“Shut up,’ retorted Magalam. “Who’s got oil on the back of his shirt? I bet the oil bottle fell on it.”
Shankaran felt the back of his shirt. Yes, a couple of drops of oil had fallen on it. He made a face at Mangalam and helped himself to puris. “You’re just a stupid bourgeois, conforming to the crowd. If they shaved their heads, I bet you would be the first to go to a barber and exhibit your bald pate. You’ve got a stupid bunch of friends.”
“And what about yours? At least mine are human. They are doers. They don’t loll around thinking they can put the world right, by talking. That friend of yours, Harbans Gill-he’s flunked every course he’s attended. You can’t do anything but talk, so talk away.”
“That’s what you think. You don’t know what we are doing. Why, we have got plans that will make you people look silly.”
“That’s enough,” Meera burst in. “Aren’t you ashamed of yourselves wrangling like babies? Go to your rooms. Your exams are coming, and you know how keen daddy is on your getting good marks. He was the first in the Presidency. In the I.A.S exam he was third on the list. He will be very ashamed of you if you let him down.”
............To be continued.../-