Our driver Vinod walks up to us, quickly taking the trolley from the K and wheeling it to the car. I note that he seems to have lost weight since I saw him last. I greet him, but he seems tongue-tied with shyness and just smiles at me in return. I remark that he has become thin and this seems to embarrass him even further and he shuffles his feet. I decide to break the ice and show him Peanut, saying ‘Isko to hello bolo…iska naam hai Anoushka’. He repeats ‘Anoushka’ slowly and his face lights up in a smile as he looks at sleeping Peanut. We pile into the car – hallelujah, everything actually fits and we are driving home.
When we reach the apartment, the security guards jump into action and help us with our luggage. I’ve always felt the help in Mumbai is really good, in general – of course, they are expecting big tips from Vijay considering that it is Diwali plus my return with the baby – and they are not to be disappointed. I am very tired by this time and go on ahead upstairs, with the baby being carried by the K, fumbling with my key in the lock. I idly note a pair of ugly, familiar red-and-yellow slippers outside the door and realize Zareena must be inside. Sure enough she is, as I discover when I apply some pressure on the door with my shoulder and stumble when she swings it open from the inside. She yells at me ‘ABHI ANDAR NAHIN AANA TUMEE’ and we stand there patiently while she quirts a little lemon around us in a strange little ceremony, which ends with her sprinkling a little water on our feet. And then she takes Peanut from the K and brings her inside quickly, cooing at her delightedly, if it is possible to coo while yelling.
I introduce Zareena and the K although nobody is listening to me, and they are anyway getting acquainted, as they play with the baby, who is looking around wonderingly lying on the bed.
Zareena says ‘YEH TO SAAB KI DUPLICATE COPY HAI’ and the K demurs ‘Wahan pe to sab kehte hai ki yeh mummy jaisi lagti hai’
Zareena says ‘AYI-YAI-YO – ISKO TUMNE PAYAL KYON NAHIN PEHNAYA’. The K jumps in, before I can answer ‘Hamare yahan haath pe hi pehnate hain. Pauu pe nahin.’
Zareena says ‘HAMARE YAHAN PAUU PE BHI PEHNATE HAI!’
The K says ‘Hamare yahan nahin pehnate...’
Zareena says 'PEHNATE HAI, JEE!'
I quickly interrupt because I can see this can go on indefinitely. I peaceably suggest that we can make her wear payals also sometimes, but not always. Both parties look satisfied at this and there is a moment of silence.
Then Zareena says ‘BAHUT SUNDAR HAI BABA!’ and this seems to momentarily win over the K, who looks quite mollified and as proud as if she is solely responsible for Peanut’s looks.
Zareena says ‘KITNA KHILONA LAYA SAAB, DEKHO, DEKHO’ and runs to bring out a tub, which she has ingeniously removed from the bathroom to house the toys which I had sent with Vijay the previous week. She picks out a musical toy, pressing it to play its tune, telling the K ‘ISKO DEKHO, BAJA BAJTA HAI, JEEE!’.
Now, it so happens that the toy she has chosen to show the K is one which has been the K’s favourite in Delhi. It is a caterpillar which when pressed on its tummy plays the most annoyingly tinny version of that paddywack song ‘This old man…he played one…’. The K used to play it tirelessly, over and over, with the most adoring smile on her face, to a highly unimpressed Peanut – until I finally lost patience, confiscated it and hid it from her. So now, when she sees Zareena showing it off, it is a bit too much for her. She says, the biting contempt clear in her voice ‘Mere ko pata hai. Yeh wahan se hi aaya hai. Bahut khilaati thi main iss waale se’.
Zareena is hardly listening by this time, though. She says to Peanut ‘KYA NAAM HAI? MAINE TO SONIA RAKHA HAI…MAIN SAAB KO BHI BATAYEE …SONIAA, SONIAAA, SONIAAAA…
The K musters up every ounce of dignity that she posseses, and replies in no uncertain terms ‘Mera naam Kajal hai’
I stifle my laughter but Zareena cackles unabashedly ‘NAHIN JEEE! ISKA NAAM’.
The K says stiffly ‘Achha…Iska naam toh Onoshka hai…’ She considers for a moment ‘Par main bhi isko Shonee bulaati hoon...Shonee...Shonia...ek hi hai...’. This fact seems to make her finally eye Zareena with an approval and they play with the baby quite peacefully from thereon, soon joined by Vinod, who has been sent in by Vijay to get further acquainted with Peanut.
While the three of them play, laugh and fuss with the baby, I go and take a look around our little apartment. It’s looking a whole lot bigger than I remembered it. Vijay has got Zareena to clean it up pretty well, and she’s washed everything, including the curtains. I walk around, suddenly feeling very happy to be here, despite knowing I will miss my Mom and Sis, and the comfort of my Delhi childhood home.
No-one has ever accused us of overly refined elegance, but we do have a bright, warm, cheerful and colourful little home with rooms done up in blues, reds, and oranges. I quite like it.
And then, of course, I catch a view of the clincher - right outside our drawing room and bedroom windows – the great, big, beautiful sea.
We’re finally home.
(And thus begins a new set of adventures in Mumbai. I will upload pictures when I get a faster connection. If that ever happens, that is...Sigh.)