When My Neighbor Returned Home…

(Contd.)

Part 4

In our family of three, it was rare that we gathered together at the table for dinner; the dinner was usually remnants from morning warmed up and served with an occasional supplement of papad, podi or vadams. I went for it early in evening when ‘News’ interrupted the TV serial or the movie; for Maha, it was after half-past nine when her favourite serials wound down; and Divi, if and when she felt like.

Maha loaded the thali (food plate) for me and I took it to the hall to watch the evening news which presently dwelt on how the price index had inched up – some inch, I thought. Only the day before, I flinched from buying snake-gourd at 40 rupees a kilo at the neighborhood shop. Just when the news reporter moved on to the prices of lipsticks, shampoo and other essential items, Divi barged in wearing a broad smile on her face and holding up a familiar object in her hand.

Divi had this habit of rummaging the shopping bag whenever I returned to see if I bought her some eats or magazines that she had not asked for. She had ‘unbagged’ the ‘Yoja’ before I had figured out a way for its introduction into the household.

‘How nice of Arun Uncle! He gave you a second bottle, Appa? I must thank him when I see him next.’

With the last ball of curd-rice loaded with pickles filling the mouth, it was easier done than said. But I managed to set the records straight quite intelligibly: ‘Don’t. It didn’t come from Arun.’ And there was no hint of peevishness.

’So you bought it for me?’ her eyes saucer-like with incredulity.

‘Yes, my dear. The gleam in your eyes this morning was like of a diabetic receiving sugar-free chocolate bars – I thought of getting another one for you from me.’

‘Dear Appa, now, you’re doing right! Keep it up!’

This injunction was to be taken as an effusive daughterly appreciation.

Now she looked at the package more closely.

‘Oh, Oh, Appa don’t you know, I don’t use the Lavender – doesn’t matter. May be I could give it to Renu. No…can’t do that until you’ve gone out abroad again and returned. mmm…I know what to do. Where did you buy it from?’

‘From Sharma’s shop outside the (Railway) Station.’

‘At ‘Youthfully Yours’?’

Here, it would be quite distracting to include an account of the exchange that ensued; suffice to say it was finally and conclusively established that Sharma’s shop and ‘Youthfully Yours’ were different noun-phrases referring to the same business entity.

With that detail out of the way, the parentee’s (pardon the neologism) inquiry of the parent proceeded relentlessly.

‘How much did you pay for it?’

‘Why? The initial offer was Rs 200 and not a rupee less. It took all of ten minutes to beat him down to Rs 165 and not a rupee more. Sharma made such a face, but gave in at the end, on the promise of future purchases. So please do buy at his shop’ After that modest presentation of my bargaining skills, a word of parental wisdom was in order: ‘See, you must never be taken in by the tag-price at the shops.’

‘Appa, only this afternoon I traded in this Lavender bottle for a bottle of my choice, ‘Yoja Jasmine’. And this shylock conceded, after a lot of backing and forthing, to a generous credit of Rs 55 for this very bottle. See the little mark here on the label at the bottom? I had noticed it when Raji Aunty gave it to me this afternoon. I can pick this bottle easily from a crate-full going by this mark.’

This unforeseen development caught me totally unprepared and left me at a loss to satisfactorily conclude the evening. A prolonged spell of silence followed – one could hear the thermal noise (that’s the swoosh of electrons in their atomic orbits, in simpler terms). A sense of being squarely in the cross-hairs of some lethal weapon was coming over me. And suddenly the animation was unsuspended quite unexpectedly by the chiming of the door-bell setting us wondering who it could be on the other side of the door at that hour. I unlatched the door to find an apologetic Raji with a small plastic bag in her hand asking for Maha and Divi. I invited her in and quietly withdrew myself to the sanctuary of our bedroom with ‘Now, what else?’ apprehensions filling my mind. Wodehouse had a very apt line for it: ‘He looked like a cat that was hit by a half-brick and was expecting another shortly’ (or something to that effect).

(To be contd.)

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