This is a fond tribute to all the microscosms of colonial design and demeanour/ architecture and attitude that continue to faithfully roost in various cities across what was once the coveted Jewel in the Crown.
I’m having a day that’s making me feel More sterile than a beetle on its back I’m walking on the thin side Of breaking down, losing sight Of my psychedelic, privileged life I need some of the forgetting tonic That Pir Buksh so expertly whips up That makes me happy, schizophrenic With every sip and every glug I drink the potion, and I duly grow My Abs synth-esizing my lost bravado
Suddenly they’re all like flies On the periphery of my eyes They cease to make me wince and curse They cease to be a part of my universe I sit back, bark an order In Bloodhound, German shepherd tones Throw a carcass, throw some bones Throw a tantrum for good measure The club becomes a pyramid I’m at the top, the very apex Those hoisiting it upon their shoulders The club like a majestic boulder Matter not, they sit there Like a pile of boring underwear They’ve seen it all but you don’t care They keep it all precisely together The erstwhile jewels in their imperial leather
“One more!” I shout in thundering tones “Absinth me up quick bartender!” Before I lose the precious threads Of the delicate lace of elegance Pir Bukhsh gives me some more manna From the counter in the shadows And I swallow and I glide In the throes of happy amnesia The absinthe in the Ab-sind club Makes me feel so damn superi-a Heavens be praised I’ve had a day Like I’m lord of a castle in the UK Indeed, the last few hours have made me feel Like a hero in a Bollywood reel.
A haiku is an unrhymed Japanese poetic form that consists of 17 syllables arranged in three lines containing five, seven, and five syllables, respectively. A haiku expresses much and suggests more in the fewest possible words. Trying my hand at the lithe and sinewy art form.
Some gladness, some strife Mixed in with some love and hope Faultless slice of life.
It opens again Haltingly, poundingly, my Newly love-drenched heart.
The light shone, my soul Soared. The monitor too glowed In final farewell.
The pane shudders, shakes In the wind. The pelting rain Renews, whets the pain.
The old men sit snug In their fortressed halls waiting Out the raging storm.
She lay down to rest The crickets were still. There were None six feet under.
The breeze kissed my face Whispering, praying we would Never meet again.
Tea with buttered toast A little sip, a bite, my Broken heart revived.
The wind pulled at him The kite pulled at his laughter Heart in hand they soared.
This is my Alice in Wonderland type of journey through my bowl of salad. Some trials (including of the dietary variety) are best undertaken up close and personal! Also thrown in some existential angst for good measure. The title of the piece is a play on the phrase “Caught red-handed”.
I pick my way through little bits Of bright green, the shade Of fresh cut grass I then pass A scarlet flower the size of my head It sits on the ground like it’s dead Or perhaps waiting Anticipating Food? Me? Like the Venus flytrap? I shudder and go on It agitates me that I’m alone
I look up There propped On a frilly green tree I see A brown green dome Velvety on the outside Is it a temple? A den? A ploy to lull the senses Full of pretenses Of warmth and safety Waiting slyly for unsuspecting prey? I shiver and go on
I’m borne on fogs Of peppery wet air I stop and stare At uneven bricks of black and white Stacked haphazardly Here and there Are these stairs to heaven? alien art? remains of ritual sacrifice? I can’t tell … but oh the smell! As I step through a hole Soft and pliable, the pong Makes my eyes water I falter for a bit It it a giant fungus? A virus? A disease? I step through gingerly —
“Good afternoon ma’am. How’s the salad” I’m startled, awakened from my reverie I look down at my bowl Where I had been traipsing Thumb-nail small In a fearsome fantasy That my despairing mind had woven In garden salad tapestry
Lettuce, tomatoes, olives and cheese Untouched, unloved, salt-pepper doused Waiting for a forkful raised to my mouth Sit patronisingly, self righteously In the bowl, staring back at me.
* ICARUS: One of the most famous tragic figures in Greek mythology, his story highlights the dangers of excessive pride/ fixation. Although he was warned by his father not to fly too high, Icarus became overexcited and flew too close to the sun, causing his wings (made by his father,from feathers and wax) to melt and leading to his untimely death. This is a bit of satire on the old Greeks of mythology.
There was once a young woman She had this special thing One can’t call it love you see The Sun was her heart’s king
She’d look up at the sky all day In spring and then in summer Winter woes came down in throes Not seeing him was a bummer
But she’d then glue her sun-sick eyes Upon the tele-vusion Watching classics and Sci-Fi Of beaches and nuclear fusion
(Fission, I admit, is a grander term But it’s a small explosion Through staid old Fusion doth the sun Make Helium from Hydrogen)
One day on her 60th birthday She’d had it with long distance She put her crafty hands to work She wasn’t losing one more instant
She made herself some silver wings With aluminium and nylon string And then up to the roof she went To flap, flap up to her king
It was probably mind over matter that Got her five feet above the roof The Sun finally said “Icarus in your 35th Incarnation, you’re still a goof”.
Qayum Alam: (smiling at his wife’s uncharacteristically mysterious manner) “Where are we going Bats? The suspense is killing me”
Batool: (Awash in a wave of overwhelming anticipation) “Oh, you’ll soon find out. I can only tell you that it’ll be the surprise of a lifetime”
Qayyum Alam (smiling to himself, thinking he wasn’t the only one, after all, who’d been busy lately)
[At the KILLA office]
Qayum Alam: “You!”
Madam J: “Hain*!”
Inamullah K: “Allah khair*!”
Chaddu: “Ji, ji! Bismillah*!”
Batool: (Pointing to Masood Khan who was sitting comfortably in a chair) “What is he doing here?”
QayumAlam: (To Jahanara who was also sitting comfortably in a chair) “What are you doing here?
Madam J: (To Qayum Alam while adjusting her billowing chiffon dupatta and releasing a petrichor of roses that engulfed the room) “What in the world are you doing here?”
Inamullah K:(Sweating profusely and looking around like a caged hare) “Please sit down. Everyone, please. Let me explain. There was a mistake. A little error … Chaddu sb, will you tell?”
Chaddu: (Standing unobtrusively in a corner, shaking his head vehemently; no he would not)
Batool: (Refusing to sit down and glaring at Inamullah Karamat) “Inamullah sb, is this some kind of a sick joke?”
QayumAlam: (Sitting down in a chair) “Bats, what is this place and why is Madam Jahanara here?”
Madam J: “Masood Khan and I have arrived just a few minutes ago. To get to the bottom of all this. (Turning to Inamullah Karamat while the bracelets on both her wrists jingled briskly)
Madam J: “So, Mr. Inam is it? Why has your colleague there been taking photos of the guard at my apartment building, Masood Khan here? Not once, not twice but a few times now. Are you planning on launching a modelling career for him or are you voyeurs of some distasteful variety? Hmm? Masood Khan caught him today getting into a rickshaw outside my apartment building and brought him to me. He wouldn’t say much except that there was a meeting today. So we came to see what the fuss was all about”.
Inamullah K: (Still sweating profusely and mopping his face with a large red handkerchief) “I … the thing is madam …” (looking towards Chaddu for some helpful interjection) “Chaddu sb ___?”
Chaddu: (Still standing away from the group, still silent as a tomb, looking studiously at the ballpoint in his hands).
Batool: (Taking matters into her own hands and turning on her husband who was now sitting near the other man) “I know you’re having an affair QA!”
QayumAlam: (Perplexed and confused) “What? Have you lost your mind Bats?”
InamullahK: (Having given up trying not to sweat up a storm, the perspiration now flowing in sopping rivers down the front of his shirt) “If you will just let me explain __”
Batool: (Reddening with frustration and indignation) “I have photos! (Turning to the sweating sleuth) “Inamullah sb, the photos!”
Inamullah K: (Pulling on his suspenders, unconsciously facilitating the even flow of his secretions down the entirety of his shirt) “The thing is Mrs. B … the thing is that the photos are definitely of this guard whom your husband used to sit with. Yes! there is no mistake there”.
Inamullah K: (Losing steam and looking desperately around for inspiration and courage to continue. Catching sight of Madam Jahanara’s beatifically smiling face) “The thing is Madam, your .. err … Mr. B sat with the guard waiting for Madam Jahanara to finish her morning classes. Singing classes. So he could get his singing lessons. She’s a great singer!” (Smiling foolishly while pulling out a second handkerchief, this one white, like a flag of surrender, and mopping his face again, looking just a tad hopeful about this nightmare ending).
QayumAlam: (Throwing up his hands in exasperated defeat) “There goes my anniversary surprise!”
Batool: (Still standing rooted to the ground and still red and wrathful) “What singing classes? What about my husband having an affair with the guard? (Pointing to a bewildered Masood Khan) “With him!”
QayumAlam: (Finally shocked and stupefied) “An affair? With Masood Khan?!” (Now watching his wife for signs of a mental breakdown) “Bats my darling have you finally lost your marbles? (Then looking around) “What is this place?”
Inamullah K: (Having finally stymied the outward flow of his life force) “Sir respectfully, we are KILLA. We have been private investigators and settlers of truth for …” (looking at Qayum Alam’s darkening expression and deciding it was a good time to let the situation play itself out while keeping his marketing spiel and his investigative findings to himself).
Madam J: (Tinkling like bells while raising a pudgy hand to hold it daintily under her chin while looking at Batool, her whole posture one of barely contained mirth) “An affair! Oh dear!” (Laughing now full throatedly while the scent of roses floated delicately around her).
Qayum Alam: (Also seeing the comedy of errors, joining in the laughter).
Inamullah K: (Attempting a few sporting grins but each time being almost masochistically drawn to Batool’s face which had morphed into a Mughal battle field complete with stampeding elephants and red eyed soldiers with murder on their minds. Immediately tamping down on any lightness of spirit he might have called upon, and looking straight ahead with mouth pursed as if about to painstakingly whistle).
Batool: (Finally sinking into a chair. With Masood khan forgotten, now looking at the diva sitting in front of her, unsure for probably the first time in her life of what to say) “The messages! The texts! Laila!”
QayumAlam: (Placing a hand on his wife’s arm, still looking for her missing marbles) “Laila?”
Batool: (Collecting herself) “The laila with whom you wanted to do your dil diyan gallan!”
QayumAlam:(Looking stunned for a moment, then placing both hands on his wife’s indignant shoulders) “Those were the songs I was rehearsing for our anniversary. Madam Jahanara was coaching me. It was a surprise. I was going to sing them for you. Layla by Eric Clapton and Dil diyan gallan by Atif Aslam”.
Batool: (Lost for words again. Then instinctively) “You spelled it L.A.I.L.A. That’s L.A.Y.L.A …”
QayumAlam: (Trying hard not to laugh) “I never was good at spelling darling” (then looking at his wife’s face as she slowly, hesitantly changed mental gears and began fitting the offending blocks of information into their non offending places. The laughter that had been bubbling up in the pit of his belly came booming out again, pulling at his tear ducts on the way).
Madam J: (Chortling along gaily).
Chaddu: (Still standing in the shadows chuckling abashedly).
Inamullah K: (With its intended purpose served, pushing white-flag handerkerchif back into the pocket of his trousers) “What a blessed ending. What a blessed ending”.
QayumAlam: (Standing up and pulling his wife into an embrace) “Oh darling bats, dearest darling, batty bats!”
The thing about love is that it makes you do the strangest things with the best of intentions. Old love like ours; young love like in the movies, in the face of adversity (real or imagined) it all rallies in the same way. I would not call what happened a misadventure, I told QA. No, it was an irrefutable testament of my loyalty and devotion to our marriage of 40 years, and counting.
Speaking of money, Inamullah Karamat offered me a 50% discount seeing as how fictitious his “facts” had turned out to be. I was very much of the mind to retrieve the original 50% too but QA thought it was a fitting 40th anniversary gesture of magnanimity. I hrmphed noncomittally, letting my husband have the last intelligible word this time. He had earned it.
The annivaerasy party is 3 days away and QA has persevered with his singing lessons. I insisted of course; it’s not important how you start an enterprise, but how you finish it, as someone has so aptly said.
Of course, I can’t speak for the croakiness he might visit on the world when trying on a melody. Time will tell, because his audience definitely will not … thankfully. That reticence would be yet another wonderful social foible: being compassionately tone deaf and unfailingly appreciative of the host. At least to his face. I too will probably have to keep what my ears hear, to myself; after all, he is going to be giving Eric Clapton and Atif Aslam a run for their money just for me.
But when all is said and done, we will have been together for 40 years and nothing on that day could spoil that abiding fact.
That dear readers, is how this story ends, quite fortuitously and for the betterness of all. (I looked it up – that is in fact a word, and what a charming word it is).
I, Inamullah Karamat have been a private investigator and settler of truth for twenty years now. I help people find out what is really happening with their loved ones. My only condition is that the subject of my inquiry be a close family member of my clients. I will not investigate strangers for reasons that are now as stringently professional as the repurcussions were once painfully personal. It is also for this reason that I do not openly or conventionally advertise my services. The Karamat Investigation & Lead Location Agency (KILLA) clients are all referral based from my loyal set of customers and even some transgressors-turned-customers.
I charge PKR one lakh for intra-city investigations and PKR two lakhs plus food and board for out of city work. KILLA has been at the forefront of bringing many knotty and frustrating cases to their final rest.
I first got a call from Mrs. B a few days ago (we never use the full names of our clients). She was a referral from another very good client of ours, Mrs. J. (I had done a bit of sleuthing for Mrs. J not so long ago on a nurse who is now settled in Sahiwal).
Mrs. B was going to explain her entire case to me on the phone but I firmly stopped her. Sharing initial information on any digital medium is against my professional credo. I insist on meeting in person. Complete and utter discretion is what I always encourage. Until end of case. Then I hand over a copy of all evidence to the client if they so wish. The agency maintains the record for a period of five years and then destroys it, upholding secrecy, reputation and space optimization.
Today, Mrs. B will be coming to my office.
I had to look for a dupatta in my wardrobe. One that matched one of my current suits of shalwar kameez. I myself am not a regular wearer of this garment. I find it gets in the way of so many things including my patience. I found a black one with enormous orange flowers, a vestige from an old suit that had lived the course of its natural life in my wardrobe at least a decade ago. I matched it to a sober black outfit that had burgundy paisleys on it. I was going to meet the private eye today and I had to look the part of the chaste woman who had been wronged. That avatar is important in our blessed homeland; to stave off conventional conjectures of how it might have been the woman’s fault, starting from the way she is dressed. I was in two minds about putting the dupatta on my head. I decided against it and instead wore gargantuan dark glasses, another yesteryear token in my wardrobe that had bested the trends of time.
I called Inamullah Karamat for the exact location in Aabpara market. He told me to meet him near the Jallandar Burger stand. I knew where that was.
I had just arrived at the rendezvous point when I saw a large man, obtrusive in the belly that perched unreservedly in front of him and the bright red suspenders between which he emphasised it. He was standing near the burger stand with his hands in his pockets and looking casual but also very conspicuous. The scene did not look promising for enterprises of the undercover variety. I myself do not usually judge a book by its cover (or suspenders) but I have to say that when I saw Inamullah Karamat, lead investigator, I felt somewhat anxious about him being the agent of my covert and cautious venture.
Assalam alaikum Mrs. B., he said. Aap fikar na karein. Is guthi ko ham suljha kar chorain gai (1).
I looked at the man, not knowing exactly how to respond to this salutation full of committment and promise. He didn’t even know my issue yet and he was already assuring me of success. I was impressed. My drooping confidence in the investigator who was going to unearth difficult but essential truths for me, was resurrected once again.
I returned his greeting with a smile full of gratitude and encouragement.
We went to KILLA’s office.
Last night, I felt a strange inclination to look at my husband’s phone. I would never do that normally but I felt compelled. (In retrospect, the karmic hands of the universe were guiding me). There was nothing strange in the call list. I opened up his messages and that’s where I found probably the most damning evidence of his infidelity. Oh QA! why at this stage in our perfectly harmonious lives are you stirring that pot of luv shuv! There it was, the second last message from someone he had saved as MJ; the one just before the meme he had sent me of getting a bottle of medication for joint pain and then ironically not even being able to open the bottle.
Sun le meri dil diyan galan (2)
The two messages glimmered back at me baring their incisors full of venom and the imprints of a woman called Laila. I was livid. And so upset. It suddenly hit me how much I loved QA and also of my now shattered bubble of confidence that he loved me back. I mean we were going to be celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary soon. 40 years! And he’s telling another woman of the state of his wretched heart! I decided that I was definitely more livid than I was upset.
I shared the messages with Inamullah sb*. (He had offered that I call him Inam bhai* but that just sounded awkward for a man I’d just met, and especially one I was paying to spy for me).
He said that he would soon have something concrete to share with me.
Inamullah Karamat, Lead Investigator:
My colleague, Chaddu sb, started shadowing the subject after the visit from Mrs. B and payment of the 50% advance. After three weeks, we had collected enough evidence to formulate our conclusion. It was a tricky situation and one that I had not expected. How my client would react I could only guess at with apprehension while also calling on the blessings and forgiveness of the Almighty. (Toba! Toba!* Sometimes my work did heave up absurdities and enigmas that shocked and awed). We had established beyond a shadow of doubt that the subject, Mrs. B’s husband was going twice a week to the West Breeze apartments in Golra and meeting Masoom Khan the guard. (The J in the MJ saved on the subject’s phone was a ploy to mislead). They would sit together outside for close to an hour after which they would then both disappear inside the building. There they would stay for another 45 minutes. After that the guard would emerge (looking refreshed and happy – this was Chaddu sb’s personal observation and appears relevant to the case). 15 to 20 minutes later, the subject would emerge (with a spring in his step – also Chaddu sb’s observation).
Please note that we only put down prima facie observations, commonsensical deductions and facts into our case files so my personal thoughts on the propriety or impropriety of people’s behaviour are not relevant and therefore will not be made a part of this narration. The conclusion was that Mrs. B’s suspicions were indeed correct and her husband was having an affair; with the guard at West Breeze. Laila was the subject’s term of endearment for Masood Khan.
As I mentioned, informing the client of our findings is an event always fraught with emotion: incredulity, disbelief, shock, screaming denials and sometimes even a barrage of invective hurled at me for being the barer of facts. Finally there is either seething anger for the subject or copious tears for oneself. (Given that the clients already know that something is going on, the slew and intensity of emotions nevertheless pour forth thick and heavy. I have trained my ears and my nerves for this onslaught and have learnt early on not to take it personally). I was expecting nothing less in this case especially given the particular nature of the affair. I prepared to call Mrs. B to inform her of the facts. I would also request a final meeting where I will formally hand over the completed case file to her and receive the balance payment.
What rubbish! Have you lost your mind?!, the loud and berating eruption was out of my mouth before I could quite catch at the magma that went coursing through the ether to attack Inam Karamat’s ear at the other end. Immediately after, I capitulated to the best of my ability. He was just the bearer of the offending information.
I asked him if he was completely sure; that this was very unlike my husband. I mean, there had never ever been any indication to suggest that he was … not heterosexual.
Inam Karamat said that unfortunately he was was quite sure and that he had photo evidence: three sets of pictures of three separate occasions confirming the fact. To establish pattern be-yaand shedo of dowt, Inam Karamat added in English, thus endowing the otherwise implausible information with the absolute certainty that conclusions delivered in english tend to do.
I mean the affair was bad enough but to have it with another man! Somehow I couldnt even at my most uncharitable (or broadminded depending on how you approach the situation) imagine my husband involved in a homosexual relationship. Agonisingly, I was also overcome by the conundrum of whether QA’s pronouns were still he/ him or whether he now entertained an altogether changed identity. One thing I was sure of though – his adjectives: nasty and sly. Outrageous and shameful. Crazy as a March hare!
I asked Inamullah sb if he could send me a photo of the other man. He obliged. I took one look at the grinning face and was overcome with bewilderment; that changed to seething fury quite quickly.
Tomorrow I’m going to KILLA for the final time; with my husband. I haven’t told him where we are going of course. He deserves the humiliation of having his not so secret, sordid affair revealed to the world. Well… to the employees of the agency at least. I have to admit, the fact that they already know, has significantly watered down the catharsis of my retributive thoughts. Still, I don’t consider myself a vengeful woman, so this “catching out” scheme will have to do.
Something is up! I can feel it in my bones and in the whiffs of strange perfume that I get off and on from him, my husband. It is becoming more and more difficult to deny that he is having an affair. I, Batool Alam, 63 female, have been married to Qayum Alam, 65 male for forty years. In this day and age of fluid gender identities and unexpected unions and myself being a person of broad mind and zero judgmentalism, I wanted to clear who I am. My pronouns are she/ her. And despite all this other confusion and torment visited on me by his (most probable) affair, I am sure that QA’s pronouns have always been he/ him.
I teach English and Music at one of the leading international schools in the capital city of Islamabad. I also think it is pertinent to mention that Islamabad is considered one of the most beautiful capitals in the world – among the top five I think. That bit of aesthetic cum patriotic information by its very rarity, is essential to place in this narration in case it finds its meandering way beyond our borders. I am an ardent believer of the fact that in this day and age of passport strength being a thing, and us being among the hapless five bringing up the global rear of that hierarchy, that one must always grab opportunities to be an ambassador for one’s country.
I teach both, eastern and western music. I prefer the film and musical theatre melodies of the 70s and the 80s but I must add that I do allow the occasional Adele and Ali Sethi tunes to be performed and discussed in my class. I am tolerant like that. Open minded.
So as I was saying, my husband is, in all probability, cheating on me. I have sorrowfully but with great sangfroid (that’s one of my favourite words) made a list of all the evidence that has presented itself over the last month or so to arrive at that unhappy conclusion.
The first damning clue was the fact that after twenty years, Qayyum Alam made an excuse to not attend the fortnightly poetry recital at GAB Center. The Ghulam Abbas Baabul centre is the generous endowment of a connoisseur of the arts. Our benefactor is an entrepreneur who lives in Yucca Valley in California. He comes twice a year to Pakistan and then the best poets and playwrights of local and international renown grace the centre and enthral us all with their creations. I myself like poetry that has rhyme and meter – it shows skill. Free verse like a free range chicken just goes all over the place even if the end result is wholesome and salubrious. Give me a rhyming couplet even if it is of obscure meaning with only a passing nod to semantics. That is poetic license; arguably the best kind of license they have given out to date.
So as I was saying, my husband is most definitely having an affair. The Attar-e-Gulab* is the undeniable second clue. I myself prefer lighter, floral fragrances but each to her own I suppose. I just wish QA had let both the scent and the dame be rather than dousing himself in one while carousing with the other.
The third clue is his distractedness of late. I have not heard the satisfied hmmm after his first sip of afternoon tea. He has been gazing into the distance and just downing the cup like it was water rather than a potently brewed pot of ceylon tea. He has been wearing odd coloured socks; the only other time he did that was when he sat for his CPA examination forty five years ago. I wasn’t there of course but my mother in law (may she rest in peace) used to cackle when she used to tell the tale of Qayyum Alam’s mismatched socks being the third time lucky charm. You see, he had twice before failed the exams and had to resit them. These clues (subjective and circumstantial thus far) have been wafting around me for the past six weeks now, peri-confirming my suspicions. That just means one substantive evidence short of being fully confirmed. (Like peri-menopause. My experience with that peri phenomenon is a whole other story).
The summer holidays have begun for us teachers too about a week ago, so I have had a lot of time to hone in on the many indications of my husband’s recent waywardness. I myself am not one to wash my dirty linen in public but I had to talk to Jasmina Khan about it. She’s an old school friend. We barely see each other but our relationship is practical with none of the painful fluff of endless pleasantries and the ego hassles of unrequited social visits. I have to admit that I sometimes do feel a pang of guilt for not visiting her after she comes over to my place – (she does lives a forty five minute drive away and doesn’t work. I wouldn’t say that to her face though). Jasmina however, has never stoked my guilt into the dogged competition of who gets visited most. That is a quaint side effect of the hospitality of us South Asians: Guilting people into developing entirely new personalities and social lives. It is not always a bad thing, having multiple personalities to do justice to the various social commitments, but it is tiresome. I myself tend to fall somewhere between the hermits and the butterflies of the societal demographic. I think most people do. But i digress. This is about my husband; and his recent case of infidelity.
I called Jasmina and asked her for advice.
Batool, she said, rein him in at the earliest. Men sometimes like to go to other pastures. Not because they are greener but because they are elsewhere. And that is the enticement: the otherness. Not the betterness.
She told me about this private investigator, Inamullah Karamat. His office is in a small, nondescript building in the heart of Aabpara market and is difficult to find, for obvious reasons Jasmina had said. Getting caught out is not something people aspire to be and so there have been instances where the malefactors (the spied-upon) have taken the law into their own hands and tried to ruin and even beat up I. Karamat for uncovering the bitter truth. No, people don’t like being found out Jasmina had said, especially if they’re cheating, thieving or simply just eating too much. She told me of a friend who had her son followed to see what and how much he ate. He had, on discovering the spying enterprise (which was initiated solely for his betterment), unrestrainedly applied the full force of his 300 pounds on the ill-fated Inam Karamat. The investigator had come away with two broken ribs and a hairline fracture in one of his wrists. I was amazed at the dogged determination of the detective – it takes a man of courage to voluntarily and unflaggingly lead the charge in other people’s affairs. (It has to also be said that it takes a rich and guileful cuisine like ours to drive people towards breaking their calorie resolutions and their scales).
Jasmina gave me the number of Inamullah Karamat the proprietor and lead detective of the agency. I had a lot to think about (including whether in fact “betterness” is a word).
Jasmina’s pithy advice reverberated in my head and my chest the whole of that evening and the next day. She always knew what to do about some of the most convoluted and stigmatic issues; things people usually kept to themselves until they had fermented body and soul into a bitter soup. I had already decided that I wasn’t going to be one of those sad, soupy types.
I am quite clear and determined about what I have to do.
It was Wednesday afternoon. Bano was done with bridge and Adar had come back from the stock exchange. With their greater purposes of the day done, they rendezvoused at one of their oft frequented coffee shops. Bano ordered tea and cakes; Adar ordered a latte. The foamy brew always fortified him in the presence of his wife. He was up to any conversation then.
“He’s such a show off”
“He come to the cafe in his father’s mercedes. You know the one in that strange yellow colour – like a sick canary. It’s the only one of its kind in the city ….”
Adar looked up, ears prickling with a mixture of curiosity and indignation. It was Giallo Modena, the colour! He and Farshad had especially had it custom-painted. He shifted in his chair but the occupants of the table behind him remained infuriatingly out of sight.
“We had decided to meet up at The Veranda. You know, that new cafe. Well everyone else was there too! First of all he walked in late -“
“Don’t say that. That’s also my X’s name … ugh!”
(A giggle from the next table)
“Anyway, he then insisted on taking ten minutes before he finally made his lumbering way to me. You know how he walks – like he’s holding a 40kg bag in each hand”.
(More giggles from the table)
Bano looked straight ahead, stlll, statue-like. Her outraged ears had taken centre stage on this occasion, their lack of tongue notwithstanding.
“Why’d he take ten minutes to come over?”
“Because he had to stop and talk to Aliya and Maham. These two are always desperately in his way. Uff!”
“Anyway, he came over and gave me a kiss. No, three. You know, I think he was making sure everyone saw it. Like marking his territory”
“Like a doggo”
“Farshad the grey hound in the cafe!”
“Farshad the poodle around you!”
Adar shifted to the right. He was riveted. If only he could get a glimpse of the conversationalists. Bano continued to stare straight ahead with the stillness of the ocean just before it roars into a tsunami. Between the couple sat a pause so pregnant that the tea brewed twice over, creating two or three increasingly caustic versions of itself, and the latte simply collapsed into a tattered frill around the inner edges of the mug.
“Then what happened? Tell me na, is it lurrrve?”
“I don’t know. I can’t tell. I mean he’s so full of himself. I can’t tell whether I just make him love himself more or whether I figure in there somewhere too”.
“So he’d gone to get his visa and apparently he’d told the consular off at the American embassy”.
“She’d asked him how long he was going to the US for and he’d told her for far shorter than she’d been resident in his country”.
(Laughter from the next table)
Bano’s lips twitched in an indecipherable expression. Adar grinned in spite of himself.
“…so arrogant, like he’s god’s gift to everyone!”
“…. yeah … but he’s good looking!”
Bano turned her face ever so slightly towards the next table. There was the faintest hint of appreciation for that bit of sensibility that had trickled into the otherwise unfiltered barrage of adolescent angst.
(More giggles from the other side followed by a request for the bill and finally an exit).
“It’s your fault you know. You spoil him”.
“Don’t you start with me Adarmard. I’m not in the mood”, said Bano uncharacteristically, turning her face away from battle and from her instigating husband, to look again at the display cabinet of cakes. The pineapple upside down in a curious way, reminded her of her own state of mind at that moment: displaced, askew, jangled. She sniffed haughtily as if one last vigorous whiff of the ambient unpleasantness would turn things the right side up again. She hadn’t even glanced at the girls in front of her who’d been describing the Unwala scion in those … pedestrian terms; making him seem flawed and reduced. The art of knowing is also knowing what to ignore, someone had sagely said, and this unpleasantness which had already been denied her sight, was also going to be steadfastly put out of her mind. She sniffed again for good measure and took a long, cleansing sip of her tea.
Adar Unwala looked at his wife for a while as a panoply of emotions skipped across her face, each dealt with and dismissed in quick succession. Then she had looked away and detached herself from the entire episode leaving him with the hatchet and the axe. The thought that she may retrace her steps later to retrieve them bared its teeth unkindly in the back of his mind.
He sighed at his wife’s erstwhile profile, turned studiously away from him and also from any exchange that might have been had to let the air out of the bloated atmosphere that once again sat between them. He blinked once, twice and wheezed into a napkin, clearing his mind and bolstering himself with the din that ensued from his vocal chords. After a little while he smiled widely and wondered if he should have another latte.
“Why did you have to tell Imtiaz we have a penthouse in London?” questioned Adarmard Unwala, red faced and wrathful.
His inquiry was shot like an arrow at his wife’s back which was turned towards him as she sat facing her dressing table mirror. He generally made these aft-aimed assaults because then he could say what was on his mind; or at least as much as he dared get away with. His wife, after one of these musters of initiative from him, quite completely usurped the offensive and let him have it back ten times more ferociously. She was then relentless, focused and quite triumphant in reducing him ego and all to his precise 5 feet, 5 inches. These backside jabs always seemed like a bad idea in hindsight. But Adar Unwala was the eternal optimist and he rallied with the buoyancy of a helium balloon in the prime of its flatus. Reduced and brought to heel for the moment, he would smile blotchily at his enraged wife, handing over the battle axe into her expert hands. Tajbano Unwala would deliver a final withering blow to his already chastised ego and then fling both axe and pique into the far corner of the room. There they would lie until the next time he picked them up, wobbling and mottling under their weight until he once again handed them gratefully back to her.
It was a good thing that neither Bano Unwala nor her husband held spousal grudges, or the end of their quarrels and the ebb and flow of life in general would have been worse than medieval torture. Quite entirely for Adar Unwala that is, who would have early on joined the ranks of the vanquished and deceased husbands who live on epileptically in the memories of their robust better halves. Bano would have prevailed of course and lived to tell the tale of her unending patience and fortitude.
So it was fortunate indeed that the couple quarreled in such perfect accord that while one gamely tossed up both their shares of invective and unholy suggestions into the fray, the other graciously fizzled all out. It was a match made in heaven … well, somewhere close to the cosmic limit of things.
Bano Unwala was a ship of a woman – 5’8” and magnificently girthsome. She carried her 150 kilos with the grace of a swan: bulbous limbs treading awkwardly but invisibly beneath yards of delicately billowing silk and chiffon. She was also the queen of her social realm and took full credit for all the fortuitous happenings in and around it. Whether it was a friend’s triple bypass that had gone roaringly well while she was resident at their home or the happy spell of rain that fell in the parched deserts of Dubai when she was visiting her sister, she was the unrivalled trustee and bequeather of the universe’s kindness in her environs. If the gentle patter of rain one day, however, was followed by a dust storm of epic proportions the next day that uprooted the shed and the dog kennel, sending them careening into the Arabian desert, well, that was squarely due to some faltering in the moral and ethical compass of her hosts. Something they had done to deserve this unholy wrath of which she too gamely and graciously partook with them, she would smile with moist eyes. Karma was quick and relentless she always said knowingly.
Adar had over his two decades with Bano, perfected his unreadable face: one which absorbed all but gave away nothing. For to pay attention was expected, but to disagree with his wife in company was tantamount to betrayal and would be dealt with likewise when he and Bano were alone. And so he would listen to his wife who in turn would enthral and terrify their friends and family with declarations of celestial favours and also of brimstone and hellfire. It was an oft performed, much loved scene delivered with queenly aplomb every single time. Bano didn’t socialize; she held court.
Adar Unwala was small and retiring. His life had been devoted quite entirely to being the second shadow of his formidable wife in the event that her own defected from under the sheer thunderousness of its owner. He was also the in-house punching bag and the inescapable other half of their marital equation. Adar Unwala cheerfully shouldered these various burdens, the optimism borne more out of habit and a tenacious will to live, than any obscure masochistic inclinations. He did in another lifetime, before being encircled in the hefty arms of marital bliss, have his brash and bold moments. But with time and the unflagging force of Bano, he had become quiet and wry. The former state of being made the latter quality especially prominent and entertaining. Adar Unwala didn’t have conversatons; he performed them.
Adar was also an avid reader. He was often driven to reading poetry which he discovered, was surprisingly effective in dispelling the clouds of gloom and doom that sometimes overtook him. It was not so much the substance of the verse, but the rhyme and meter that would slowly file off the sharp edges and bit by bit, let the sun into his soul again. His favourite genre however, one that he read when he was in full possession of his composure and his serenity, was memoirs of rags to riches industrialists and business tycoons. He read these tomes not so much to gain pithy insight into how to get rich. The Unwala coffers had been quite copiously overflowing for the past many generations. No, it was almost a catharsis in reverse psychology – how it would be to have nothing; to not be identified as one of the Unwalas or as Tajbano’s husband but simply as Adermard. His keen and extended perusal of the books to date however had led him to believe that most men liked being in the clutches of influence and power, and the occasional matriarch. As kismet would have it, he had gone into the sweeping embrace of the latter and had quite completely given up any delusions of the former. He had continued to read other men’s stories nevertheless, more for the occasional nuggets of bizarre personal eccentricities and foibles they sometimes threw at him. These he would then mull over with angst, awe or amusement, filling his time and his thoughts with existential what-ifs and wild imaginings. He loved his story time.
Bano and Adar had been together for twenty one years and had produced a happy hybrid of themselves in their son. Farshad had his father’s grey eyes and his mother’s unremitting gaze. He had also inherited his mother’s stature but by dint of hard work, had extricated himself from the legacy of her bulk. Still, he tended to carry himself like there were two of him. He was intelligent and self assured like his mother with a tendency towards an almost happy cynicism like his father. Everyone remarked about how he had won the DNA lottery.
Farshad Unwala hadn’t grown into adulthood; it had metamorphosed to fit him.