Saturday, April 19, 2014

An Apology And Other Stuff


Later, the weather would be blamed.
It had been a sultry Sunday afternoon. Low-lying dark clouds added to the pressure-cooker situation, promising little relief after days of relentless heat and humidity. The doors and windows had to be shuttered by four to keep out the mosquitoes. By five, the stench of burning plastic and rotting garbage from outside seeped within, suffocating, the dial of some claustrophobia meter turned to high.
At quarter to six, a man stepped out of his house, sweating profusely, breathing heavily, muttering as he drove the car out, ‘The beach, that’s what I need.’
The car a/c wasn’t working. He kept the window down. He enjoyed the rush of air. He had barely gone half a kilometer when it started raining quite heavily. He had to raise the window. He did not mind getting soaked but the inside of the car was getting drenched. Without the a/c, the glass got foggy, visibility was bad and the car quickly turned stuffy. At the next junction, he, clearly ill-tempered, decided to return home.
He did a u-turn, quite carelessly, and nearly crashed into a car that had silently turned up from behind. He braked and sat still, eyes closed for a while.
When he opened his eyes, he saw that the other car had halted. It was still raining. He could not see the driver clearly but the dark form seemed to be gesticulating angrily at him. The passenger-side window then lowered and the driver’s wife glared at him before delivering an opprobrious sermon.
‘What an ugly mug,’ he thought. He saw the driver step out, looking angry, ‘poor chap… to have a wife like that!’
He too stepped out, in the rain, and approached the driver.
‘I am extremely sorry,’ he said.
The driver seemed mollified by that, for a while. His wife’s harangue continued in the background. It was probably that that made the driver mouth some abuse at him, or his apology had seemed too easy.
‘I said I am very sorry,’ he said again.
This time, the driver decided that it was enough and turned back.
‘Wait,’ he said to the driver. The driver turned to him. ‘How should this end?’ The driver looked puzzled. ‘Do you think I deserved to hear all that crap?’ Even then, the wife was going on, clearly in no mood to be pacified. ‘We can’t end it like this, can we?’
He gave a slow smile and uncertainty crept into the driver’s eyes.
‘Does your wife know that she is going to be a widow or the wife of a killer?’

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Love & Luck


I believe in the haphazard.
No, I haven’t surrendered
To that, but I do believe.

Take life, that drag
Through muck of tedium,
A rare jig, if one’s lucky.

I met her at a party
With too many guests,
She sat alone at a table.

I too sat alone (that’s not new,
So I did not think of luck)
Not at her table, but I got there.

You can guess the rest.
Movies, music, war and love  
We talked, from nine to three.

I took her to her place
And left with the promise
To have breakfast together,

The next Sunday, at the café
Near the church, where lovers meet
For sin, I mean, for appam and stew.

She knew what I meant
And brought a chaperon,
It was a tight fit at the table for two.

A quiet smiling character;
With no talk of movies, music, war
Or love, from nine to three;

We shared appam and stew (the other had something).
She made me aware of blue balls and red roses.
A tight fit it was, of lust, love & luck.


Friday, April 11, 2014

My Mother's Village


Some kids get to play with building blocks, dollhouses and train sets. I got my mother’s village. My father never took me there. But, not a week went by without dredging or touching up that past.
‘It’s four hundred and seventeen steps from your mother’s house to the river,’ he said, and I paced those in some rain-washed fantasy, feeling my toes curl away from sharp stones or sink into mud. I played spy-games, a spook in a spooky double-life, familiarized myself with the shortcuts through paddy fields and rubber plantations, the best spot to swim and the people, at the market, at the temple, my family. His stories invariably revolved around my mother, even when he talked about the other woman who could have been my other mother. Instead of fairytales with knights and monsters, I grew up with the demons he faced there, the uncle who stole from my mother or the man with three ears, and the many-headed ghosts that banished him, us, from that place.
A month after my father died, I went there. Violating the tacit agreement to leave that past alone was not easy. But, the vacuum left by him, or the depressing loneliness, made me want to reclaim that part of me I never had.
My father was in his mid-twenties when he was transferred, as a junior officer, from the city to the village’s lone bank. He married my mother in his second year there. 
‘Ours wasn’t a love affair in the strict sense,’ he admitted. Could not have been a strictly arranged affair either – his pedigree hardly matched with hers. I am not sure if they even talked to each other before marriage. But, he was hopelessly besotted with her.
‘I behaved like a love-struck teenager,’ he recounted with a shy laugh. ‘When I went past her house, I walked on tiptoes, peering over the compound-wall, just to catch a glimpse of her. Every evening, at the temple, I shamelessly stalked her, pretending to pray to every God that wasn’t there.’ He gave me his boyish grin before adding, ‘How I was tempted to follow her to the river when she went swimming… but I did not.’ I would not be surprised if he was being less than candid with me. We were indeed close but he was painfully prudish when it came to discussing such matters with his daughter.
Luck came his way through hard times brought on by a bad monsoon. My mother’s father faced a severe cash-crunch because of a few trades gone wrong. He approached the bank’s manager for a loan. As expected, the manager was not keen on disbursing loans then when default seemed certain. My father took an active interest in the loan-application, managed to convince his boss that there was sufficient collateral and facilitated timely loans to my grandfather. He gained the trust and respect of my mother’s family, and eventually, got her too. Only her eldest brother, the uncle who later stole my mother’s share, opposed the match but his protest did not amount to much then. A year later, my mother died giving birth to me. Her death plus mounting financial losses left my grandfather shattered. My uncle quickly assumed control of family matters and we, my father and I, became outcasts.
My father requested for a transfer and, left the village with me and his meager belongings. The details of the days that followed are sketchy. We lived with his relatives or friends. My father struggled with me, his job and, correspondence courses on corporate finance and portfolio management. When I was five, he got a job offer from an investment bank in Singapore. Our life became a lot easier. We moved from south-east Asia to Europe and then to the US, further and further away from my roots.
We lived comfortably. He could have left me in the capable hands of nannies and other support staff. But I had his clumsy housekeeping and awful cooking. I had to tuck in that tired storyteller who slept before me, and put up with ill-tempered tennis games which neither of us liked to lose. He came late for PTA meetings and stood like an errant schoolboy in front of my teachers. They were actually quite fond of him and also admired his efforts as a single father. I did not realize that he was burning too much fuel. I should have noticed the slouch and the breathlessness in the last few years before his early and sudden death at fifty.
I am twenty three and I feel lost without him, without his deep rumbling voice to comfort me, without him to lean on. I miss his stories, his quirky ways and intriguing contradictions. He claimed to be an atheist but he prayed after bath every evening. To or for what he prayed I never knew. I did wonder if he was praying or reliving an old memory. He was pragmatic and quite rational but, at the same time, he refused to keep photographs or diaries.
‘Nothing like the brain to store stuff,’ he said.
He did not have photos of my mother or her village. Whenever I sulked about that, he gave me a bear-hug and said that I look a lot like her. I think he was just trying to make me happy.
He hardly talked about his family. His parents died when he was in his teens.
‘You got half that trait from me,’ he mentioned in some wistful moment. ‘My side isn’t into marrying, and most are single and anonymous in nameless places.’ I think I have that trait too. My mother’s family is the exact opposite – large and attached, with all its flaws, but still attached. Maybe, that is why I went there.
I hired a car at the city-airport and stayed in a hotel the first day. I hardly slept that night. I got up early the next morning, forced myself to have a muffin with two cups of strong coffee before leaving at half past seven.
I got to the village junction around nine. I did not have to ask for directions. The market looked the same. I spotted the changes – half a dozen brightly painted houses, a hardware store, a reading room and couple of rubber traders. The old ration shop has become a large provision store. Otherwise, the junction seemed as it was twenty five years back when my father was there. The teashop’s ancient glass case displayed thick dosa, banana fritters and puttu. The ‘fancy’ store exhibited bangles, stationery, dresses for kids, buckets, plastic and aluminum vessels. Only the plastic covers for mobile phones that hung over the counter indicated that the shop has moved with time. The Muslims still live near the market, by the roadside, on the border of my mother’s family property. I wondered if the tension between those two sparring parties has reduced with time. My father had tried to be an intermediary. He told me that the fight started when a cow strayed from the Muslims’ side to the other property, and that the situation had worsened with a dispute over a common path. The Muslims were, in fact, the first customers he roped in for the bank. That’s also how, and when, he met that other woman. ‘That wasn’t easy at all, but I tried…’ He did not elaborate. That crush lasted for a few months, till he was totally crazy about my mother. 
I turned left at the junction. People stared at me and young men on the road took their time to make way. My mother’s family property at one time stretched, for a mile or two, from the junction to the temple and to the paddy fields lying further to the south. To the east, it extended till the river and the boundary to the west was the village school where my mother studied. The market area too used to be theirs. Some generous grand-uncle or great-grand-uncle gifted that land to the village. With each passing generation, as the family-tree grew dense, the family property got partitioned and sub-divided. The dependents and the workers were also given their share. Every house on that route must belong to some relative. I was tempted to stop the car at each house, step out, introduce myself and gather relatives. But I stuck to my plan, to be a tourist there to visit the temple.
I parked the car near the temple. I had taken care to dress in a traditional churidaar outfit, with just an inconspicuous bindi and a simple gold chain, leaving behind my nose-rings and ear-rings. I did not want to attract attention. I entered the temple. I am not religious and prayers have never been a part of my daily routine. There, I prayed the way my mother must have done, a pose my father had often imitated and not too difficult to copy.
I was startled when I felt a sweaty palm on my arm.
‘Sarasootty…’
I recognized the half-wit who helps at the temple. He has aged but the thick lips and the kind puppy eyes of my father’s portrayal were unmistakable.
He repeated, ‘Sarasootty…’
He got agitated and his hands jerked nervously. He then left my side and ran towards the temple’s office. I was watching him when another voice addressed me from behind, from within the temple.
Kutty (kid), where are you from?’
My father used to fume about that query, ‘Do they want to know who I am or can they figure that out if I tell them where I come from?’ I had tried to reason with him that they just wanted to know his roots, to figure out his lineage. ‘Is that the sum total of who I am?’ I could understand his frustration – without a recognizable lineage.
I turned around to face an unfamiliar middle-aged temple priest. Earlier, I had thought that the mumbling from within the temple was part of the morning prayers. Seeing him tuck a mobile phone at the waist, in the folds of his mundu (dhoti), I guessed that that prayer had been to a terrestrial subject.
I said, ‘A friend told me about this temple, and since I was passing by this village…’
‘Is this friend from this village?’ he probed.
‘I think so. She lives in the city. We work together.’
‘Lots of people from outside come here these days. Even I am not from here,’ the priest said.
‘How long have you been here?’ I asked.
‘Two years.’
The half-wit returned with a large dollop of payasam (sweet offering) on a banana leaf. He offered that to me, still chanting, ‘Sarasootty… Sarasootty…’
‘Hey, stop that… what has got into this fool?’ the priest scolded the half-wit, ‘Whenever he sees a woman he likes, he goes on like that…’
How could I tell him that ‘this fool’ Achu, short for Achuthan, used to call my mother ‘Sarasu-kutty’ or ‘Sarasootty’? Her name was Saraswathi. Achu was a few years older than her, son of one of the maids, and he grew up in my mother’s house. I held Achu’s hand. He looked thrilled. I too was very happy, to be mistaken for my mother. I barely managed to hold back the tears.
I left the temple after a few mandatory rounds around the sanctum sanctorum. I took the steep downhill path towards the paddy fields. The other road to the east would have taken me to my mother’s ancestral house. I was not yet ready for that. While walking, I had the payasam, eating straight from the leaf, unabashedly licking it clean.
There are no houses near the temple, around the upper part of the path. That area must still be with my mother’s family. They gifted the land near the paddy fields to their work-force, long before my father’s time in the village.  I am not sure if the workers returned the favor with loyalty. With land of their own, electricity connection, television, mobile phones, other modern appliances and, most probably, a family member in the Middle-east, old allegiances must have been easy to forget.
The situation was a lot different a century back, when the upper-castes on the other side of the paddy fields controlled the area and the workers were landless laborers. Those upper-castes’ days were numbered, thanks to their lavish lifestyle, imprudent ventures and senseless in-fighting. Creditors fed on them like vultures and they had to sell their property cheap. My mother’s family was one of the few who did not try to benefit through such ‘cursed’ deals. But only when they were destitute did the upper-castes visit my mother’s house. They still sat like lords, refusing to drink or eat, but took home ‘gifts’ of rice, coconuts and other produce. They borrowed jewelry from my great-grandmother for rituals and festivities they refused to give up.
‘People will never change,’ my father commented, ‘they will always find someone to bow to, someone to trample on.’ He told me that, even during his time, the workers, though they were treated very well, never entered my mother’s house and had their meals served outside the house. Without any background to boast about, he too must have been an outcaste or outcast by way of caste or class, till he turned out to be useful for my mother’s family.
I walked past those workers’ huts and took a path that cut through the paddy fields. Kids stopped their games to watch me. Their parents must have paused too. Maybe, one or two must have said to each other, ‘Who is she? She looks so familiar.’
I made way for a group of women who crossed me on the same path. They smiled and I reciprocated. I could make out the curiosity in their eyes. I am sure that their first question would have been, ‘Did you come here today?’
My father used to list the villagers’ rhetorical questions. Near the river and with a wet towel in his hand, they asked him, ‘Have you been swimming?’ Close to the market, carrying a bag of shopping, ‘Did you go to the market?’ When he got off the bus, after a trip to the city, ‘Did you come back by bus?’ Though we laughed at that, I could sense that he was not making fun of them, just sharing happy reminiscences of my peculiar lot.
I followed a path eastwards towards the river. A good part of the paddy fields has been reclaimed for tapioca, banana, rubber trees and houses. How long will those green swaying fields last? Farming must be difficult even for my mother’s folks, without their old loyal workforce. I daydreamed about returning to my roots, to be one of those tech kids who fashionably shift to farming. I nearly laughed out loud.
At the periphery, an old lady sat outside a house, hunchbacked with age, watching me closely as she made a betel quid for herself, expertly handling the betel leaf, tobacco, slaked lime and arecanut. She called out to a person inside. An old man came out, looking quite fit for his age, smoking a beedi (local cheroot). They looked at me as if they had seen a ghost. I recognized them. They are cousins of my grandparents. He used to have a tea-stall, and played volleyball with my grandfather. I smiled at them and walked away quickly. I did not want to hear them call me, ‘Sarasu…’
I took a muddy path, opposite that house, leading to the river and then walked upstream along the bank to the stone steps at the old bathing spot. The river seemed strange. It has receded a few meters, as a result of illegal and indiscriminate sand-mining, and the once-serene flow seemed treacherous with rapids, undercurrents and unknown depths. Instead of the old sandy bathing spot, I found an ugly mound of rock, weeds and wild grass. I watched men pile sand from the bottom of that ravaged river on to a boat. Even the plot next to the bathing area was not being spared, excavated for clay, and left looking like an ugly pock-scarred face. I remembered that that property belongs to the man with three ears, the brute with whom my father had a big fight. He controls the sand-mining business in that area. I took a few photos, with my phone-camera, of that sad wretched place. I wish I had photos of the paradise it once was.
Two men on that boat shouted at me. I ignored them. I sat on those steps, head on my knees, lost in my thoughts. I thought about my father and mother swimming there.
I was brought out of that reverie by those two men. They had taken a route through the property of the three-eared man, circled behind my back and caught me by surprise.
‘What are you doing here?’ one of the men asked harshly. Both looked like thugs, bare-bodied except for a lungi (colored dhoti or sarong) worn low at the waist, the lower part folded up and obscenely hitched high till upper-thigh. They came closer.
‘What are you photographing?’ the other asked.
‘Nothing,’ I said.
‘Give that phone to us. Let us look at your nothing.’ They reached for my mobile. I moved backwards.
‘What’s going on here?’ a voice interrupted their advance.
I turned to that side, relieved. But that relief did not last long when I realized that I was staring into the mean eyes of the man with three ears. I stared at that large, dark, sweaty face. True to my father’s description, his ears and nose were similar and incongruous on that head – small, round, puffy, like cauliflower florets. That’s why my father called him the man with three ears.
‘What are you two up to with this girl?’ he asked.
‘Sir,’ they drawled, ‘she was taking photos.’
‘Let her take, no?’
‘She must be a journalist. A troublemaker…’
‘And, what if she is? Are you going to throw her in the river? Now, get lost, you two…’ The thugs went away sulking. The man turned to me, ‘So, are you a journalist?’
‘No,’ I replied. I knew that journalists and the police hardly bothered him, having politicians and the local administration in his greasy hands.
‘Who are you then?’ the man asked.
‘I am a tourist,’ I said. He seemed amused. I wanted to wipe that smile off his face. ‘Someone told me that this used to be a beautiful place.’
‘Yes, it was,’ he admitted, and even looked sad for a brief moment, before the old cunning look returned, ‘So… who is this someone who told you that?’
‘My father, Rajaraman,’ I said. I wanted to remind him of a person who stood up to him. ‘He worked in the village bank, about twenty five years back.’
‘Are you really Rajaraman’s daughter?’ the man asked, smiling broadly.
I nodded.
‘How is he?’
‘He died a month back.’
‘Really…? That’s sad.’ Strangely, he sounded earnest.
‘He told me about you…’ I said.
‘Did he…? Lovely chap he was… so full of life. He used to come here every day. We used to have swimming races, you know. He swam well…’
I nodded. I knew what he was up to – whitewashing the past.
I gathered courage and prodded, ‘He told me that you had started your business just then.’
‘Hmm… that’s right…’
I decided to disrupt his pensive mood, ‘Didn’t he argue with you about this?’ I tried a dramatic sweep of my hand to indicate the sad state of affairs.
He spoiled the act, still refusing to be the villain, ‘Oh yes, not just him, everyone was against this project at first, even me! Everything seemed so uncertain then. But, people quickly realized that they could earn in a year what they could not dream of gaining through decades of farming. Lots of people in this village benefitted, you know… what’s the phrase? Ah yes, climbed ashore instead of drowning. Your father was always after us, to open accounts or to put fixed-deposits in the bank.’ He laughed. ‘We used to run from the scene whenever he showed up. But, he was a jolly chap, and straightforward. People here really liked him.’
I should have felt proud and pleased, or disgusted. I did not like the way he had airbrushed history. I excused myself from that man’s company and left the spot, running up those stone steps and not stopping till I was on the road, panting, breathless. I could see my mother’s house from there, about four hundred and seventeen steps away.
According to my plans, I was not supposed to visit them on that first trip. But the meeting with the three-eared man somehow made me feel a need to enter my mother’s house.
The house has been renovated. But the cowshed was still there, to the left, at the back, behind the well, even though there are no cows now. My mother had a calf she called Unni. There was no one outside. I opened the gate, went up to the door and rang the bell. I heard slow footsteps. The door opened and I knew, without a doubt, that I was looking at my uncle, the one who stole from my mother.
‘Yes…?’ he asked me. He was tall, fair and fit. He must be my father’s age. He stared at me, unblinking, like a serpent.
I did not know how to introduce myself. I tried a partial truth, ‘This is my first visit to this village. A friend told me about the temple and that I should meet you.’
I should have said, ‘I am Saraswathi’s daughter.’ But, I did not want to be chucked out without a chance to enter my mother’s house.
‘Come in,’ he said kindly. I felt uncomfortable with his courtesy.
I entered my mother’s house. An elderly lady and a younger one came to the drawing room. I recognized my aunt but not the cousin. They smiled and remained silent. My cousin went back within. My uncle took the old armchair that used to be my grandfather’s. He showed me to a sofa. My aunt sat next to me. He mentioned some details about the temple. I hardly heard what he said. My cousin returned with a glass of lemon juice and plates of savory. I thanked her. She smiled shyly and stood next to her mother.
I blurted out, ‘I am Rajaraman’s daughter.’
He looked surprised, and sounded confused, ‘Rajaraman…?’
I wanted to shout, ‘Yes, the brother-in-law you chucked out.’
I managed to say calmly, ‘He was a junior officer in the bank. About twenty five years back…’
He pretended to think for a while. ‘Oh yes, I remember Rajaraman.’ He slapped his lap, and laughed, ‘How can I forget him? Where is your father now? Still with that bank…?’
‘No, he died last month.’
My uncle lowered his head and remained silent for a while. I think my aunt let out a sigh, or a low moan. I saw my cousin shake her head sadly. My uncle said, ‘He was here for two or three years. Twenty five years back! How time flies…’
Having decided to unsettle the man without any delay, I asked, ‘Was the village facing a tough time then because of a bad monsoon? My father mentioned that he had to arrange large loans...’ and, after what I considered to be a pregnant pause, I added, ‘for everyone…’
Loans…? I don’t think we ever needed that.’ He looked smug and slightly irritated too. ‘I thought the manager dealt with loans. Wasn’t your father a junior officer then? I don’t mean any disrespect, of course…’ That, of course, sounded as if he meant the exact opposite. He quickly added, ‘I remember that period very well because we celebrated my sister’s wedding on a really grand scale… and, we wouldn’t do that with loans, would we?’
I wanted to stop him and ask him about his sister.
But he continued, ‘You see, I was a young man then, studying in the city and gave two hoots for this place. Whenever I came here, during vacations, my father exhorted me to learn from Rajaraman. Your father was absolutely in love with this place, so fascinated by everything. I think he knew each and everyone in this village. We used to joke that he knew the village better than us… though, that’s probably true… we really don't give a damn about each other.’
I wanted to scream, ‘Stop this nonsense. I know what you are trying to do. Do you really have to block us out… totally?’ I remained silent, nodding my head as if I was taking in all that he said.
‘He and his camera were inseparable,’ I heard my uncle say.
I thought of replying, ‘Don’t you know that he hates photos?’
‘Come, see these photos,’ he stood up and pointed at some framed photos lining the wall. I got up too, feeling a little faint but still holding on. ‘He took these… he was quite a good photographer…’
He pointed at a photo of himself, another of a wedding, and then, that of the lady in the wedding photo, standing alone. Next to that were photos of my grandparents. The last three had fresh garlands around the frame, like bouquets on a gravestone.
‘Who is that?’ I pointed at the third photo.
‘That’s my sister, Saraswathi,’ he replied, ‘she died a few months after her wedding.’ His voice was choking. ‘I think your father was here then.’
I looked at the wedding photo. That lady was putting the wedding garland on some man I could not recognize. The lady did not look like me. Or maybe, she did.
‘How did she die?’ I asked.
‘There were some complications during pregnancy and her blood pressure shot up. We didn’t get her to the doctor fast enough.’
‘And the baby…?’ I asked.
‘My sister died in the fourth or fifth month of pregnancy.’
I could not take any more of the falsehoods. I remember sitting there for some more time, the man discussing whatever. Then, I left that house. In the car, staring blankly at the closed temple, I wondered about the lies that floated around me. How can they change the past like that? Did she die in the fifth month or after childbirth? Who was the father of that child? Did my father leave the village with that child? Even to me, that sounded like the plot of a B-grade movie.
I decided to make one final stop in that village. I drove to the junction, and turned right. I ignored the same old curious stares, feeling less friendly towards the whole lot. I stopped at a house after the market. I had to meet that other woman who could have been my other mother.
I knocked at the door of the old house. A lady in her fifties opened the door. She was Jasmine’s mother, a jolly character, talkative, very curious and asked lots of questions. I told her that my father used to work in the village bank and that he had talked to me about Jasmine and her father. I got to know from her that her husband died a year after Jasmine’s wedding, and that, after marriage, Jasmine lived in her husband’s house further down the road.
We were standing outside, in the courtyard, while we talked. I noticed with interest that there were breaches on all sides of the compound-wall.
She followed my stare and remarked jovially, ‘Our cow keeps going there. Now, how can you tell a cow not to break a wall, huh? And, whatever the dumb animal does, they have to do too… to go to the market, they say… as if there’s no other way but through here. First, them on the right…’
‘But, those are Muslims… aren’t they?’ I interrupted.
She laughed, ‘Why… they can’t be stupid? They were the first. Then, the others joined in…’ she pointed towards my mother’s property, ‘all copying our stupid cow. What can one do? That’s been going on for ages, even when Jasmine’s father was alive. Ah! That’s what neighbors are for, is that not so?’
She laughed again. Put that way, I could do nothing other than laugh with her. When I took leave, she cautioned me about Jasmine’s husband and mother-in-law, ‘they are very strict and orthodox’.
I walked to Jasmine’s new home. I covered my head with the dupatta (scarf). Her mother-in-law was haggling with a worker. When I asked for Jasmine, she dismissed the worker and called for her son who later called for his wife after I explained to them that my father used to be a friend of Jasmine’s father. Jasmine came outside. She looked young, more like mid-thirties rather than the mid-forties I had expected. Her husband and mother-in-law stood on either side of us.
I asked her if she remembered her father’s friend, a young bank officer. She shook her head at first. Then she went inside and returned with an old steel box. She took out a bank passbook from that, and handed it over to me.
‘That’s my first passbook. My father opened that account for me,’ she said shyly.
I opened it. I recognized my father’s signature within. The passbook also mentioned that Jasmine was a minor at the time of opening the account, and that her father was the guardian of the ten-year-old. Then, Jasmine took out an old photo. It was that of Jasmine, a cute young girl with pigtails and a bold smile, sitting on her father’s lap.
‘The bank officer took this photo,’ Jasmine said.
‘He was my father,’ I told her.
‘Oh, really?’ that’s all she had to say. I had exhausted my questions. I thanked them.
I returned to the car and left my mother’s village.