Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The baby in Canada

The news of the dog spread up and down the building, albeit slowly. Old Mr Mookerji on the ground floor heard it first since it was outside his window that Mrs Rai accosted the maid. Mrs Rai did mention it to Mrs Singha when they were both giving the dhobi the laudry for ironing, but since Mrs Singh turned away at the crucial moment to fish up a school skirt that had fallen to the floor, she missed the dog part and Mrs Rai decided to close her own door with a decisive slam instead of repeating the story. If Mrs Singha were truly interested she could jolly well ask the maid herself!

Mr Rai and Mr Singha heard the news when they came home from work, one from his slow-paced government office on Camac Street and the other, later, after he tiredly drove home in the fag end of the evening rush hour from his glamorous office in Sector V. Neither man gave it a second thought since both had long learnt to operate on the SEP – Someone Else’s Problem – principle although Mr Rai did wonder if that meant that now a dog’s noise would be added to all the noise that already emanated from the third floor.

Mrs Singha’s younger daughter, 8 year-old Sona, heard the news with secret glee when she came home from school. Her older sister wasn’t particularly interested. Sona could remember a time when Mini had loved dogs and cats and had even once tried to pet a goat on a picnic. But now Mini was sixteen and wanted to be called by her full name, Meenakshi, and was not particularly interested in pets.

Since nobody at home shared her excitement, Sona decided to drop in on old Mr Mookerji downstairs to discuss the news. She was in the habit of going to visit him before tuitions most days. She had always been a prime favourite of his, ever since she came home as a round-eyed, wide awake little baby brought home from the nursing home on Prince Anwar Shah Road. He had blessed her with silver at her rice ceremony and gifted her her first (and favourite) Barbie. He knew what little girls liked and Sona and he had hit it off from the very start. His own little girl was now grown up and living in Canada. She could not visit him because of the cost involved, he said, but she wrote letters to him in this age of emails, and enclosed photographs of a brown-haired Canadian husband and a plump little baby.

Mr Mookerjee liked to have a cup of tea and a plateful of buttered cream crackers on his little balcony every afternoon at five, and that is how Sona found him today. For once however, his attention was on neither the tea, nor the cream crackers, nor the world going by his balcony. He was looking sadly at the latest set of photographs from Canada. The baby had been fed chaler payesh (rice pudding) and his daughter wrote to say that they missed him on the occasion. He couldn’t explain all this to Sona, so he just showed her the new photographs. She gave him a very old fashioned look.

 “Why don’t you just go visit them?” she wanted to know. “Renupishi keeps asking you to come. Even in the last letter she said that they would send you a ticket.”

‘You will not understand, little didu,” he said. “A man cannot allow his son-in-law to pay for his travel, especially on the first visit… and a return ticket is so expensive.”

“But that is silly!” said Sona. “One day I will get married and then of course you must come visit me and I shall be working and earning lots of money and anyway my husband will be a rich man so we will pay for your train tickets and the money for the taxi to Howrah too, you know. I shall insist upon it, Dadu, because if people don’t come to visit me then I shall cry every day.”

Mr Mookerjee smiled at Sona’s determination but would only shake his head. Then Sona had a brainwave.

“I know! You want to see them, don’t you? Did you know you can see them without going to Canada? You can video chat with them over the internet! Do you know how to do that?”

Mr Mookerjee sipped his tea and smiled.

“Even these emails are too difficult for me to understand. So much work just to write and send two lines. That is why I don’t keep a computer in the house. You know that, didu.”

Through the door they heard Mrs Singha coming down the stairs calling to Sona. It was time to go for tuition.

Sona picked up her bag of books, determination written all over her sober little face.

“It is silly to be so scared of computers. Didi video chats with her friends every night, even though Baba said not to use up the broadband quota. We also work on computers in school. They are not scary at all. I shall think of something, don’t worry.”

Mr Mookerjee laughed gently at her resolute expression and shooed her off to her waiting mother. As Sona got into the rickshaw, however, she clucked her tongue in dismay. She had forgotten to tell Mookerjee dadu all about the dog!