am clearing them smoothly, one by one. Then I lifted the pigeons like I was lifting the pressure I am under. That is how bodybuilding helps you in everyday life, you know.’
She hands him a banana. ‘So what are you studying for now, beta?’ she asks him kindly.
Gulgul’s eyes cloud over. His bouffant goes a little phuss.
‘Huf,’ he confesses in a low voice and takes a great bite out of the banana.
‘Oh, Huf .’ Mrs Mamta nods vaguely.
‘Hindu Undivided Family,’ Gulab explains. ‘Like us. We are all coparceners in Dadaji’s estate.’
‘Oh, no.’ Mrs Mamta is more confident now. ‘Your Dadaji already divided his estate between your father and your Tauji, Gulgul. All that is done. ’
‘Well, you and the girls are all coparceners in Tauji’s estate, then,’ Gulab says. ‘You’re a Huf.’
‘Sounds like a simple enough subject,’ Mrs Mamta says as she clears the table.
Gulab shakes his head earnestly. ‘No, Taiji, it is very complicated! Look at this question, for example.’ He leafs through his Jhabvala Family Law Guide , clears his throat and begins to read.
‘A, a male Hindu, dies intestate in 1979 and is survived by a widow W. He has three sons S1, S2 and S3. S1 is a cripple with an adopted son S1S. S2 is a lunatic. S3 converted to the Muslim faith, married a Muslim girl S3W, begat a son S3S and then died during the lifetime of A. S1S fell into bad company and murdered the brother of A over a property dispute. Discuss who will inherit the 5 crore property of A and what the shares will be.’
‘How tragic for widow W,’ Mrs Mamta says, much affected. ‘Three sons – one mad, one crippled, one dead and, even worse, Muslim !’
Gulab Thakur clucks reprovingly. ‘The question is not one of tragedy, Taiji, but of legality.’
‘That’s why daughters are so much better than sons,’ his aunt muses. ‘They’re less sickly, too sensible to commit murder and they know there are no gods like Hindu gods, baba!’
‘Don’t you want to know who will inherit how much?’ Gulab asks.
But before Mrs Mamta can reply, Gulab’s mother stumps into the room, her bulldog-like face bobbing bizarrely above her cotton-candy-pink sari. She sees her son and cuffs him behind the ears.
‘Eating egg on Tuesday! And who will eat the atte-ka-halwa I made?’
‘Mummy, I keep telling you, I have to eat a protein-rich diet,’ Gulab replies as he grabs his Jhabvala Guide and makes a rapid retreat towards the door.
‘He came over because of his studies,’ Mrs Mamta says soothingly. ‘Some problem he wanted his uncle’s help with.’
Bhudevi Thakur sits down.
‘I hate her,’ she announces.
‘Who?’ Mrs Mamta asks warily, picking up her embroidery hoop and needle. As long as she can remember, Bhudevi has always hated somebody . It’s what keeps her going. She organizes her life around the object of her disaffection the way other people organize their living-room furniture around their TV set. And like a TV, she upgrades to a new model every few years. In her childhood it was her elder sister, who had apparently been much fairer than her. She died before Bhudevi got married and her irreverent nieces insist it was their Bhudevi chachi herself who bumped her off. After her wedding, Chachiji focused her hatred on her mother-in-law. After her death Mrs Mamta found herself promoted to the spot of Chachiji’s Enemy Number 1, and after spending a few unnerving years in this unwanted spotlight, thankfully found herself displaced by a luscious little item called the Hot Dulari, who is employed as cook at Number 13 and (according to Chachiji) flirts with Ashok Narayan constantly.
‘Oho, Dulari, who else,’ Chachiji replies. ‘She is trying to do jaadu-tona on me.’
‘No no,’ Mrs Mamta protests weakly. ‘Aise kaise? Voo-doo, jaadu-tona, it’s just superstitious rubbish. It doesn’t work. Everybody knows that.’
Chachiji shakes her head. ‘She went off to her village for three
Biren A. Shah, Sabala Mandava