FEBRUARY MONDAY 2002
EVERYONE except Ani was assembled on the verandah at the Residence waiting for the new tenant to arrive, and had been like this for at least an hour, sipping whisky from glass tumblers.
Even Manju had drunk the whisky that her father-in-law had given her, though she hated the taste and, when she thought she could do so without either the family or the servants seeing, had poured a little into the plant pots beside the Nandi bull.
‘I can’t think why Ani is so late,’ she said to the Rani now, her esteemed grandmother-in-law, tapping her mobile on her nose ring, a habit that always infuriated Pavna, her mother-in-law. ‘He said he would go the gym after work but he is usually back by now.‘ She tapped it again until Pavna asked her to stop. Both women looked worried.
The Rani – eighty years old but as supple as a grasshopper - hadn’t heard what either had said, and sipped her whiskey impassively, sitting in a lotus position on a wicker chair, watching an old fashioned telephone which was placed on a small table beside her. They were in a large garden in a Jaipur suburb close to the bus station. The house was whitewashed and sat in a compound with armed guards and stone gods dotted around. Incense smoked in the bushes. Despite the noise from the buses it was a strangely peaceful twilight scene. It had once been jungle.
‘Caught in traffic I dare say,’ Pavna told her, though not particularly interested. Though he was still under her roof, it was not her responsibility anymore to look out for her son. Pavna - still beautiful at fifty though slightly worn with family worries – had recently had her hair cut in a bob like Jackie Onassis. It had startled her husband and the Rani hadn’t spoken to her for two days. Her little rebellion – hair was still political in Rajasthan. She pulled now at the invisible crop that had used to fall at her shoulders and found only her collarbone. She had read in a magazine that tapping it had a calming effect.