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Many Fish to Fry

While her son Amit was getting dressed, Reena sat with Amit’s friends around the rectangular dining table. As old as her marriage, the table had lost its virginal lustre, but its scratched and pitted surface showed it had survived the test of time.

“We are lighting a bonfire and drinking rum and coke tonight, Auntie,” said Pradeep, “Best for cold winter nights.”

I have forgotten the taste of rum, so used to whiskey for years.” Reena’s husband was a whiskey drinker. “Given a choice, I like vodka more.”

“I don’t like vodka much,” Shruti wrinkled her nose. She was plump, big assed, and confident.

Pradeep grinned. “You do like it. You make this pataakhaa, fire-cracker drink, with slit green chillies, remember? What do you call it? ”

“Oh, that I can have any time. No name, yet. I make it with vodka, slit green chillies, lemon, and Sprite.”

“Sounds good, call it ‘Firecracker’,” said Reena. “You make it for your mom too?”

“Tauba, tauba, God forbid, Auntie, she doesn’t know I drink!”

Reena rolled her eyes. Then shrugged. Too bad, kiddo, she thought, bet your mom and the ideal Indian woman are a tight fit. Pradeep chimed in, “Auntie, everyone’s not like you. My mother… I shiver and shake in front of her. You know, we can’t sit and talk with our mothers the way we talk with you.” He put an arm around Reena.

Shruti suddenly looked lost, no longer sure of herself. “My throat would be slit if mom found out that I drink…and smoke. Actually, I have been away from home for six years, living in a hostel while I was studying, and then working in Gurgaon.” Her face clouded, “My mom and dad just don’t know much about me anymore. And I can’t tell them.”

“Don’t worry, Shruti, I can’t do the same in front of my parents,” said Pradeep. He blew smoke rings in the air and watched them disappear.

“Boys are okay, I mean, I can get friends over who are male, so mom is not all that…” Shruti’s voice faltered.

“I can’t get my girl home to meet my mom, its that bad for me. So Shruti’s parents are quite cool, Auntie,” Pradeep’s eyes crinkled. “But no one is as chilled as you.”

“Yeah, mom’s chilled.” Amit stood behind Reena now. “Let’s go, guys,” he said. “Mona is in the car waiting.” He gave her a passing hug. “Don’t wait up, mom, I’ll let myself in.”

Sure thing, Reena thought. She was so chilled, she would freeze. Her hands pressed hard on the table for support. She heard the front door shut. Reena did not have to wait up for anyone anymore. So to keep the blood moving in her veins, she would make herself a drink. A firecracker of a drink. She moved her index finger over a deep scratch on the table, then covered it with the palm of her hand. 


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