The son rang up two days ago. This is the real-life, newly hatched corporate lawyer avatar of the son, not the intrepid pre-teen one who enchanted me into writing about him for so many years.
‘You know, you guys really got it all wrong,’ he began. ‘You’ve passed on all the most boring genes to me. I should sue you for this.’ Yes, that’s how lawyer sons talk to their parents. (After his first year in law school, he came home and told us our marriage was illegal. I was worried for two hours till I realized I didn’t really care – the house was half in my name.)
‘Now what have we done?’ I asked. That’s how long-suffering mothers respond to their lawyer sons.
‘I mean, look at the wonderful collection of relatives we have, and look at you – plain boring!’ I briefly contemplated telling him that if he thought we were boring, just look at him – a lawyer? But thoughts of another possible law suit stilled my tongue.
The son had been spending quality time with both his grandmothers, both as strait-laced as they come. But both are at that stage of their lives when the exploits of their youth seem more real than Edward Snowden. And time has wrapped those memories in 3D splendour. Needless to say, the son was entranced.
‘Look at Aunt A,’ he grumbled. ‘Did you know she’d had an affair with her husband’s boss?’ I dug up a distant memory – I’m still young enough to not remember my youth all that clearly. ‘Possibly,’ I conceded.
‘Did you know Aunt B threatened to jump off the roof because her parents said they would not pay the dowry her boyfriend’s parents were demanding?’ ‘No, no, beta, that couldn’t be,’ I tried to play it placid. ‘She told me!’ he accused, referring to the relevant grandmother, not Aunt B.
‘Did you know Uncle C is famous for the number of affairs he’s had?’ Yes, I had heard rumours from time to time, but, well, look at what he was married to! Anybody would have had affairs.
The husband looked up briefly from his laptop at this point and threw a foul at me, ‘All your family, I presume. This is what happens when communities in-breed.’
‘Yours isn’t much better,’ retorted the son. ‘Do you know Cousin D ran away with the driver? That she had to have an abortion?’ My eyebrows searched vainly for my receding hairline. This was the elderly cousin who frowned at me when my dupatta slipped off my head at a funeral.
‘Did you know Uncle E’s wife was first his brother’s wife and that the brother caught them at it?’ ‘Was she?’ I sotto voced to the husband. We were on speaker phone and I was not giving away points for free. Luckily, the son was in full courtroom mode and didn’t notice.
‘Did you know Aunts F and G had a yell-out-loud fight and that they pulled out each other’s hair because they wore the same outfit to a family wedding?’ Fashion fiends, yes, but hair pulling? Both ladies had had their usual quota of hair last time I met them, I mused.
The husband was looking as grey as the extended family skeletons that were tumbling out. I would have looked at him triumphantly, but this was a common cause we had to fight. Instead, I did a hasty calculation. How many more letters were there left in the alphabet? The son’s lawyerly instincts would not let him back off before Relation S.
The husband, the braver one, rallied and asked the son, ‘What exactly is your point? You want to have two affairs at the same time? Go ahead.’
There was static and the sound of the son spluttering. Like I said, he’s a dull and boring lawyer. The most adventurous thing he’s probably done in his adult years is apply for a course in bartending.
‘You could have pulled in some of this exotic stuff into my gene pool,’ he said when he found his voice again. ‘Look at our family, so dull and boring, and look at the extended family, enough material there for several bodice rippers!’
My turn to splutter – what did he know about bodice rippers? ‘Beta,’ I said, ‘it’s all about keeping on the right side of the law. And, as a lawyer, surely you know that?’
‘Besides,’ I said, pushing home my advantage. ‘Dad and I just gave up our jobs and moved to London so that Dad could do his PhD. Don’t you think that was adventurous? And we’ve paid three traffic fines in the three years that we’ve been here!’
The husband took over. ‘And you never know,’ he said. ‘If I don’t finish writing my thesis on time, we may have to move in with you and you’ll have to support us. No one in our family – extended or otherwise – has ever done that!’
There was a longer silence at the other end. The son was probably contemplating how much he could claim in terms of damages for mental torture.