Khush, Shom and everyone there was glued to the large screen at Winks bar, eagerly awaiting Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s arrival that was overly delayed at the Wagah border. Everyone in the bar had their own take on this. Women were apprehensive about a terrorist attack to kill him immediately after he crossed to the Indian side, and the Indian army being blamed for it. The wait was so long that the men went back to enjoying their drinks.
Khush’s phone rang, it was Harry on the line. Khush was eager to break the news of Aneesha, but this wasn’t the time, he thought. They talked about Shom and Anita instead. With Anita and the others having a good time in Calcutta, Harry asked them to join the party. He talked to Shom too, but neither of them was enthusiastic about the invitation. Khush had Aneesha on his mind and Shom wanted a long break from Anita.
They wanted to know Harry’s take on the damage caused by the aerial bombings. Harry thought that it was not easy to assess the magnitude of damage. “These are surgical strikes; how will you see widespread demolition? We are surgeons, not butchers.”
He thought it was going to be a long-drawn affair to extract the maximum possible mileage. Both sides would post their version of events on social media. “Pakistan is winning the war, not on the battlefield, but within India. Because we Indians are washing our dirty linen in public.”
To reduce the threat from Pakistan, India would have to look at making Sindh and Baluchistan independent nations, thereby leaving Pakistan landlocked. India’s weakness was its politicians, who failed to forge unity at this critical juncture.
Seeing Harry get excited about the current situation, Swapna, Natasha and Anita wanted to change the topic. They asked him to recall his memories of Cindy and Dilip. They settled down on the couch as Harry began to speak.
Cindy and Dilip met at the Park Circus ground where Dilip and his friends were engaged in a football match with a team of Anglo-Indians. Cindy was there with her students from the girls’ school where she was a teacher. A brawl broke out and many of the footballers were taken into police custody. Dilip whisked Cindy off to the safety of a nearby building. Initially, she thought that he was trying to make advances. When things settled down, both took a rickshaw to the police station to get the footballers released.
Cindy glared at the boy beside her in the rickshaw. Too shy to look directly at her, she knew that he had been trying to steal glances from time to time. He appeared to be a sensitive lad from a decent background, but perhaps a victim of a dysfunctional upbringing. She looked at his innocent face and big eyes. Suddenly, she began to see him as her own son, a 3-month old infant, being nourished by her. Shocked at her thoughts, she quickly looked away, Cindy’s son had died 18 years ago. She was young at that time and it had taken her several years to overcome the trauma. Dilip had brought back those sad memories. She was unable to keep her eyes off him. Thoughts of taking him in her arms left her befuddled and confused. How could she associate someone like Dilip – a ruffian and a rapist – with her dead son? Life could be baffling, she thought, but everything had a reason.
Dilip would settle his gaze on Cindy whenever he found her immersed in her thoughts. He would retract immediately whenever he found her looking at him. He found her attractive and detested the fact that she was his mother’s age. She undoubtedly had the wisdom and maturity of his mother.
Dilip’s attempt at getting the footballers released from police custody were answered when he met a well-connected benefactor on the way. He was relieved that none of Cindy’s girls was injured. The crowd broke into an applause for him, but for once, Dilip chided them. Something in him had changed. He had sobered down a lot, following the encounter with Cindy. She thanked him and introducing herself, extended her handshake. Dilip was dazed as he politely shook hands before Cindy left with her students.
Cindy was an emotional wreck. A 36-year old Anglo-Indian beauty, she was the result of a handsome young captain’s romance with a beautiful Indian girl. The girl’s parents had been helpless. The couple were devoted to each other and Cindy was a love child, a perfect cross between the two. The colonial rulers had made these marriages illegal towards the end of their rule in India, contradictory to their initial encouragement of such alliances, when it had helped them establish their hold over the country.
Cindy was a brilliant teacher of English literature and a popular model. She was a passionate lover and had been through some torrid courtships, both before and after her first marriage. She loved her husband and they got along well. He was a nice man but a down-and-outer and an alcoholic. Inept in financial matters, the onus of earning a livelihood had fallen upon Cindy, who did everything to rid him of his addiction, but in vain. He died of cirrhosis of the liver, leaving Cindy devastated and heartbroken.
Cindy had subsequently had a fling with Bert, an Anglo-Indian Physical Training teacher and colleague, who was big-built, with the physique of an athlete. The pair was the talk of the town and eventually they married, with the entire school attending the wedding. But their relationship hit the rocks when Bert turned out to be a narcissist. He was brutal, while she was a giver and did everything possible to keep him happy. Inconsiderate to the core, he would spend all his money on himself, not expressing any words of appreciation for the woman who took utmost care of his all material needs. This dispirited Cindy, especially since Bert least cared about keeping his infidelities under wraps from their social group.
Our Lady Queen of the Missions near Park Circus was a co-ed school up to class V and a girls’ school for higher classes. Older boys from neighbouring schools such as St. Xavier’s and La Martinière used to hang outside to flirt with the attractive Anglo-Indian girls there. Some of the girls would sneak out to be with the rich boys on motorcycles. The boys would return at school-closing time. The little school boys would get their kicks out of pushing aside the motorcycle boys and the pretty girls.
A ten-year-old boy, Haresh had to pay for this mischief. One day he was cornered by three big boys on motorcycles, who threatened to run him over. Terrified, the kid ran to the nearest building. The bikers followed and pinned him down. He was up against the wall, pleading for mercy, terrified by the growling of the old army bikes. Just then, he heard a loud authoritative voice calling out to him, “Horesh, Horesh”.
“Dada!” answered Haresh as his face lit up. The bikers turned back, quite shaken as they looked at Dilip Dada’s smiling face. Their engines went dead. Dilip Dada had quite a reputation. A law unto himself, he had the knack of being at the right place on the right time.
Worshipped by some and dreaded by others, he had once picked up a groom in the midst of a wedding ceremony and replaced him with the bride’s lover. There was a pin drop silence all around. Dada’s gang ensured that no one left the premises while the ceremony was in progress.
Dada and Haresh were residents of Mushtaq Mahal building and good friends. Being eight years older than Haresh, Dada was protective towards him.
“Is this the best you have here?” he enquired, glaring at the boys and pointing to the one on the red bike. The boys were too scared to speak. Dada picked up the boy on the red bike, lifted him high and threw him towards the other two, bringing all of them down with their bikes. “Horesh, esho, bosho ekhane,” (come, sit down here) said Dada, pointing to the rear seat of the red bike before driving off with the jubilant kid.
Dilip’s thoughts were fixated on the Anglo-Indians and how they must hate his guts. But Cindy having turned out to be from the community, he bore no animosity towards them. He was completely enamoured of her. What he could not see was the affection for him in Cindy’s eyes. All he wanted to do now was to get her address and woo her. Given his connections, the address wasn’t difficult to obtain. He set off for Buckingham Court, 113B Ripon Street, off Park Street. Her residence was a two-storey, circular colonial structure with an inner courtyard the size of a football ground.
Dilip went there twice in quick succession but was careful not to be seen. He didn’t see her either. Had Dilip witnessed the scene in her apartment, he would have burst with anger. Bert and Cindy were in the middle of an argument. Bert was physically abusive and though shivering with rage, Cindy was no match for his strength. He kept pushing her till she fell on the bed. “Just leave me alone, I’ll give you two tight raps,” she exploded.
“You’ll give? Ha, I’ll give you one jhaap (slap), you’ll go flying, you know where? Up there, where your first husband is.”
“Don’t you dare talk about him! He was an angel, too pure to be remembered by a brute like you!” shot back Cindy, crying.
“Angel? Shaala, such a bloody buzzard! Kookoorer baachha, shaala.” (Son of a dog, bastard)
Cindy ran out of the room boiling with anger, banging the door behind her. “You have no business to be here, I’m going to throw you out of my house.”
Once the envy of the entire community, this was what the marriage had come to.