As I kick off my shoes in the foyer and wander into the house, my conscience slowly awoke to the strains of Ustad Vilayat Khan. I closed my eyes and stood still, soaking the melody in through my every pore. Raag Malhar with tabla in teental. Nothing more beautiful that the Aftab-e-sitar and Sampta Prasad playing together.
Suddenly the harsh clicking of heels on marble shreds apart the musicality and mother’s high pitch voice jarres me out of my cocoon, “O darling! You’re late. Come on, you need to take a really quick shower and get ready.”
It is only now that I notice – the fragrance of fresh flowers on the sideboard, the humongous flower basket on the obscene garish table that she had insisted on buying at some art exhibition, the buzz of the staff rushing around. The dining table is dressed in a lace tablecloth and the 24-carat gold lined crockery and antique cutlery has been brought out. Those plates terrify me. I keep imagining that someday I will place the spoon down too hard and crack it and that will put mother into one of her infamous ‘moods’ and no one likes her infamous moods, especially not the perpetrator of the crime.
The menu is elaborate with the entrées taking up half the table. Koftas, shami kobabs, golden fried prawns, baby corn fritters, paneer skewers, vegetable tikkas. The main course will arrive after the guests. I can already smell the biryani and tandoori chicken. The curtains have been pulled apart, the french door leading out into the garden thrown open, and the evening sunlight is glittering off mother’s red and gold kanjeevaram silk saree. Even as she stares at me, I focus on the big red bindi on her forehead, the thick kohl rimmed around her eyes, making them appear even larger. Her bangles jingle as she waves me upstairs.
“Whats going on?” I ask her.
“We are having a party son. It’s to celebrate your admission into the country’s premier school of technology. Your father is so proud. He’s invited everybody – our friends from the club, neighbours, his colleagues, and relatives. Go on. I’ve laid your clothes out on your bed.”
None of my friends, I observe. But I say nothing. It is not my opinion that is solicited, merely my presence.
I mount the 32 steps up to my room with an increasing sense of horror. It’s going to be another family circus where he’s going to show off his prized puppet. On my bed I find a new suit in midnight blue raw silk and a crisp white linen shirt. I don’t know where she bought it, I don’t even care, but I also know that very soon we are all going to hear about the thieving sod who designed it and the small fortune that she paid for it.
I don’t know how long I stand there, counting the weaves on it, but when Sally our housekeeper walks in, the room is pitch dark. “Baba, are you here? O baba! Why are you still not dressed? Sir is calling you down urgently. All the guests have arrived. You know how he gets when anyone is late. Please baba.”
Once dressed, I tread slowly down the stairs. The party is in progress and the air is already oppressive with the heat and smell of bodies and food. Discordant chatter, rambunctious laughter and the clanging of spoons have eclipsed the music. I know that I need to shake off this strange fog that I am in and become my happy, fun-loving self again, I need to smile and breathe. Yes, that’s it. Smile and breathe. I try to set my face into a cordial expression; a slight smile, not too much so as to look fake, but not so little that they see the dread and confusion that I am feeling inside.
Mrs. Nosy-parker notices me and lets out a loud shriek. Everybody turns to look at me. I move across the floor, robot-like, returning handshakes and politely accepting congratulations and thumps on the back and claps on the shoulder. I hear them talk about how they expected no less from the son of such a brilliant and successful technologist. The men heartily extended their compliments to my father. The women extoll on my mother’s hard work and sacrifices, of how this was all just the fruit of her prayers.
And while they all effuse compliments, I’m waiting. I’m waiting to feel good about myself. I’m waiting to feel proud that I fulfilled my parents’ dream. I’m waiting to feel like the champion that they tell me I am. I’m waiting to feel.
Do all these people really care; these people dressed in couture, who envy father’s wealth and covet mother’s jewellery and spite them both behind their backs? Does any of it really matter? Do I really care? It’s hard to explain, but somewhere inside there is a part of me desperate to get up and walk away, screaming to be set free.
I cannot bear to maintain this façade anymore. I make my way into the garden, away from the maddening crown, toward the serenity of nature. There is a leaking spout and I contemplate the sound of dripping water.
Slowly the truth sneaks up on me. Today, if I don’t gather the courage to do what I must do, then there is no tomorrow for me. I realise that with absolute certainty.
I sneak around the back way and go up to my room. With a mixed feeling of exhilaration and trepidation I turn my computer on and accept my admission to the K.H. Conservatory of Music.