A story by the Delhi-based writer-columnist-journalist whose books include Kashmir: The Untold Story; a volume of her collective writings, Views: Yours and Mine; a short-story collection, More Bad Time Tales and Meer: A Novel
During the long summer stretch we’d spend in my mother’s hometown, Shahjahanpur, one particular couple stood out. For me, the odd couple, though others addressed them as Mr and Mrs Inn. The duo were leftovers from the Raj days; not proceeding to Vilayat, opting to stay back amongst the desi lot. Unaware of the broad backgrounders to them, impossible to grasp the basic facts hovering around their very existence except this vital — after the Partition the two were seen loitering around on the outskirts of this town; with Mrs Inn’s skirt drawing considerable attention. Nah, it wasn’t the typically long flowing Indian skirt. On the contrary, it was short enough to attract inquisitive glances. Her face, of course, more than revealing she wasn’t anyway connected to any of the locals around. Unless a mix and match of sorts. Creamy sperms from one of the firangees creeping their way well into desi interiors! Or else, a daring zamindar fucking one of the gora memsahibs straying towards his lustful gaze. Whatever be the case or combination, Mr and Mrs Inn were unsure how to survive the remaining years of their lives after the Nawab sahib of this Awadhi belt was robbed off his patronage powers, long before his form was dumped in a hurriedly dug grave.
With that, this Vilayati couple bundled their belongings into a cart …carting them around, pleading for a spare room. My mother’s family had offered this couple one of the several outhouses to the ancestral bungalow.
And when I had first spotted them what struck was the oddity of it all — their next door neighbours were the two wrinkled gardeners, the cook and his clan, the hunched chowkidars, the dhobi’s extended family. These families staying in the backyard of our ancestral bungalow, with mango and guava orchards encircling the stretch.
Though it was more than writ large that class difference came in way between this lot and the Inns, but there seemed little choice for the couple. As I’d walk towards the orchards to pluck mangoes and guavas, I could see them sitting on a rickety charpoy, staring at each other’s haggard faces. Somewhat unmoving, wearing the same set of clothes, day after day. He in one of those outdated pair of trousers with an ill -fitting jacket and she in a longish skirt and a somewhat shrunk shirt together with a scarf dangling on her drooping breasts.
One afternoon, I’d been pestering my mother to help me with the school assignments. All too ongoing, till she’d dragged along a suggestion of sorts: I walk towards the outhouses, to the Inns and they could help me complete the assignments.
‘They teach English? ’
‘Of course! Fluent angrezi! Were teaching Nawab sahib’s children, till they had to shift out.’
‘But will they teach now …just now …got to complete all this stuff before we leave for Lucknow.’
‘Papa’s not charging a rupee from them…totally free! Their room and electricity and water ...of course, they’ll teach you…take your books.’
As I’d neared the stretch, along the row of outhouses, the collective lot stood out: The dhobis near a makeshift table, ironing achkans and shervanis. The gardeners pulling gourd from those countless creepers; perhaps, tucking them for the evening supper. The chowkidars snoring close to the chameli shrubs. The cook, in between, peeling garlic pods, throwing about words towards Mr and Mrs Inn. Not too far loitered the cook’s teenaged son, Bagga, clutching the leather collar on the stray bitch he’d adopted; and without any of those frilly frills, addressing her kuttiya.
Seeing me, the Inns turned. ‘Miss you! Miss sit on this murrah. No, not on this cot. Doggy kuttiya…er, Kuts dirtied it.’
‘Amma sent these kebabs for you. Also, got along my English books, if you could explain...er, actually if you help with… ’ Before I could utter more, that bitch grabbing the stainless steel dibba from my grip, dragging it along, before ducking in the camouflaging clasp of the shrubs. Then, straying towards the strays straying close to her. Lustful and playful, licking and kicking, unleashing full-fledged thrusts, amidst high-pitched barks.
I must have been around 13 and not quite grasping it was dogs making love …yes, love-making in full swing! For me, it came across as some sort of a beastly game going terribly haywire! After all, why were the dhobis pressing their heads! Why were the chowkidars not looking particularly alert? Why was Mrs Inn throwing strange glances at Mr Inn and then at that stainless steel dibba, now reduced to a near mess of a strangely twisted sorts? Why was the cook looking lost; no longer peeling the garlic pods but chewing them? Why was Bagga hopping, all too hyper?
Perhaps to distract me and also themselves the Inns decided to take me inwards; into a shabbily done up, dimly lit room. Their dwelling of sorts with just about a takht converted into a cot, and a tin box converted into a dining table.
‘Supper time before we settle down to teach you!’ Mrs Inn announced more to herself, placing well-rounded rotis on a plastic plate, insisting on calling them ‘wheat cakes’, almost simultaneously chopping onions and carrots, ‘freshly tossed salad in home-squeezed mustard oil.’ In all probability, those veggies were uprooted from the garden-patch, before well-sliced and well-dipped into oily drops extracted from the mustard flowers, growing in great abundance in fields across the orchards.
Seeing the dearth of food spread placed on the tin box, I’d decided to run back home, to fetch some more kebabs for them.
And as I stood up, the Inns looked more than surprised, till, of course, I threw the books close to one side of the takht, ‘Just back…getting more kebabs.’
‘Miss, you leaving your books here! But come back soon…we start off teaching you.’
‘Just back in two minutes …got to complete all this before Sunday when we leave for Lucknow. School re-opening on Monday.’
Thunder, lightning, downpour. Nothing coming in way. I kept running towards the bungalow.
My mother at the doorway, ‘Your books?’
‘Left them there ....going back. Give some more kebabs… that dog snatched away that dibba.’
‘Left your books there!’
‘Going back …they’ll teach me now.’
‘Now! In this downpour! You not moving from here till this baarish stops…sure to fall ill.’
After what seemed an hour or even more, the rain fury finally gave way to just about a drizzle. Not letting puddles coming in way, I rushed towards the outhouses. Presuming the Inns couldn’t have possibly ventured out, I stood somewhat unsure, right in frontof the termite-infested front door to their allotted room. Should I go inwards? Yes, why not! After all, my books right there.
Pulling the flimsy curtain, making enough space for myself to get inwards, well-inside that dimly-lit room. There they were. No longer sitting. Lying on the takht, in a strangely complicated way. Atop each other. Mr Inn’s limbs all over Mrs Inn’s bony frame. Nah, she wasn’t screaming or countering any of his moves. Not even, when in the midst of cuddling, he was more than muttering, ‘My beautiful bitch…my Kuts!’
What! He calling her a bitch! And she giggling! There was something or everything bizarre. I could have easily tiptoed out of the door, but didn’t. Stood right there, my feet seemed in no mood to carry me backwards. Unmoving I stood, even as I saw him pulling off the faded skirt on her, throwing aside that semi-torn brassiere, kicking away the stripedpanty clinging to her thighs. His handsall over her shrivelled form, before his fingers could be seen finding an inroad of sorts, right into her, even as she’d moaned in that uncontrolled way.
I stood un-moving. Even as the couple continued moving their hands here and there, on each other’s forms. His hands on her shrivelled breasts. Her hands moved on his frame, nudging and provoking and plodding him to carry on....
Some sort of a lull, before his voice came through, ‘Enough! Too much for my age.’
‘Know what…you a failure!’
‘Don’t move away!Go on holding me! Don’t leave me…nothing else to our lives in this rotten place!’ With that she went berserk; crying aloud, pulling and tearing the scarf flung not too far. He sat up, trying to control her hysterical outburst. Then all too suddenly he began kissing her, intruding right into her, hissing, ‘See, I’m no failure!’
She laughed and cried in some strange way, before throwing about her limbs together with those torn and semi-torn clothes, flinging them towards the door …each one of those near-tatters landing on me, making me shriek in that ongoing way!
The Inns jolted. Up and about, more than sensing there was an intruder.
‘Miss … you! Here!’
‘My books …my books here but …’
Rattled and baffled, I ran towards the bungalow before unexpected hurdles could come in way.
Only to hear my mother’s voice piercing through, ‘What! Still not got the books! Enough of your stupidities…sit! This driver just landed.’ Over with instructing Mushtaq Mia, who besides driving the old Dodge ran odd errands like this one, fetching books stranded in the strangest of situations, she went through my school bag. Pulling out the big fat Biology text book, thrusting it right in front of my eyes, ‘No wasting time…enough! Your Biology book right here. These chapters to be learnt. Here start off. Start off with this chapter on Reproduction…read. Start off!’
Reading aloud that chapter, images of what my eyes had been witnessing earlier that evening continued spreading out.
‘Where you lost! Repeat these paragraphs.’
‘Just seen all this …those dogs, that angrez man and woman!’
‘Just saw the Inns doing all this!’
We couldn’t leave for Lucknow that weekend as the downpour worsened together with offshoots. Flood fury of the worst sorts.
And somewhere in between the downpour, Mr Inn had died.
He was found dead on the takht, with Mrs Inn sitting not too far.
This time his heart had failed.
Failed him and also her!
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