Last week was a trifle busy for the son. So busy that he had little time to proffer his customary snide asides to Amma and me. The family had a peaceful week, evidence of which, I am told by my colleagues, was there to see on my face, which beamed all six days.
The beginning of the week found the son puffing home from school. ‘I have to write a play. I’ve been chosen for What’s The Good Word, and I have a creative essay writing competition on Thursday,’ he told me over the phone. I could hear the crackle of pride in his voice even from that distance. For the son, being chosen for a competition – any competition – is a vindication of his deep conviction that he is the best. His teachers tell us every year that they barely have to say ‘Who’d like to take part…?’ and up goes his hand, waving more furiously than that of any self-respecting KBC contestant.
The computer was duly commissioned, the dictionary pored over, spelling lists prepared. The son was more blasé about the creative writing. With two parents who are journalists, he thinks creative writing is his birthright. Not so, but I don’t want to tell him that till he’s out his teens. Don’t want an ABC murderer in my part of town!
It was the husband who threw the googly this time. He puffed home on Wednesday, looking for the son, who was curled up around the computer keyboard, making his characters talk. ‘Julian Powers is coming tomorrow. I hope you’ve read that book he got you last time.’
I’ve seldom seen the son look so deflated. ‘But,’ he protested, ‘I’ve hardly had the time, Dad.’ ‘Well, see that you have it done by Saturday. We’re having dinner with him and you’re invited, too,’ ordered the ruthless parent.
We need a little bit of history here. Mr Powers is a friend of the husband, who is usually to be found in the UK, but comes over for a taste of India once in a while. He was once part of the RAF and still retains nostalgic memories of his flying years. Early in their relationship, he’d considered the son to be a bit of a fly on the wall, spoiling the look of his wallpaper. Till the day, he casually asked him something about World War II. The son, who’d ooze Commando comics if you pricked him, responded by rattling off details and minutae about planes and flights. You could actually see Mr Powers sit up in his seat, as he re-slotted ‘the little tyke’ into a more respectable category.
On his last visit, the big man – literally, for he’s way past six feet tall – got the son a book. A big glossy book on the planes used in World War II. ‘Coooool!’ said the son, suitably awed for once. ‘Mum, it costs 25 pounds!’ the mercenary in him whispered to me in the car. ‘Well, you’ll have to read it now,’ I whispered back. His face fell. For, notwithstanding all his rattling off, the real World War aficionado in the family is his cousin in Jaipur. This one merely shows off.
And now, according to the husband, Mr Powers was visiting again. And he’d be sure to ask the son if he’d enjoyed the book. And the son, truthful little being that he is, would have to confess he’d not once touched the book since it was deposited on his book-shelf. Worse still, the husband would take the rod to him, for he believes firmly in what we in the family privately call ‘white’ etiquette. This means that you have to appreciate whatever a visitor from abroad gets you, and be able to discourse wisely on it at any given time later on.
‘I’m in big trouble, Mum,’ the son said gravely on Saturday morning. I could see that. The play had required two rewrites. The essay competition had been postponed twice. In short, it had been an awful week. And there was Julian Powers still left on the itinerary. In the evening, the son marched out with us, almost as if he were heading for the guillotine, the book under his arms. ‘Why’re you taking that?’ I hissed at him. He smiled angelically.
After dinner, as we were lingering over our coffee, the son pulled out the book. ‘Please, Mr Powers, will you inscribe it for me?’ he asked, putting every bit of Libran charm he possessed into the smile that accompanied the request. ‘Why certainly, Little General!’ beamed Mr Powers. ‘And did you enjoy that book?’ he asked, benevolent after a good meal.
‘It was lovely!’ said the son fervently and allowed himself to be patted on the head. And there the matter ended. I couldn’t believe it. ‘Well, I didn’t lie, did I?’ defended the son, later in the car. ‘I thought the pictures were out of this world!’
First published in The Financial Express.