‘Everyone dresses up for the first day of work, beta,’ says Papa.‘You will look good, Ananth. At least wear it once and see for yourself.
Just once? For us?’ says Maa, dangling a blazer in front of me. ‘You made me wear a frock, said I would look good, and took me toChachu’s wedding. I can’t trust your word now, can I?’ I grumble.‘You were three,’ says Papa. ‘And you looked so cute, beta.’‘He looked like a pretty girl,’ says Maa. Papa looks at Maa and both their eyes glaze over.
They smile and get lost in the memories of me as a child. My growing up has been hard on them. If they could, they would choose the three-year-old in a white frock over the twenty-three-year-old they are struggling to get into a blazer.‘We should get the album out,’ says Papa.‘If I see that album once more, I will burn it!’ I tell Papa, who is a nostalgia addict, an obsessive recorder and revisit-er of the past, and stays put.
‘Give me the receipt, I will return the blazer on the way back.’‘I lost it,’ says Papa.‘Your papa got it with so much love. Wear it once?’ says Maa.
‘It’s unnecessary. And who asked you to get it from Zara?’Papa gives in and fishes out the receipt from the file he maintains of the quarterly expenses.
I knew he hadn’t lost the receipt. There’s a file for every quarter of our lives. Despite certain sections of our house looking like a government office with tall stacks of files held together by strings gathering dust and cobwebs, sometimes it’s exciting to see receipts from grocers, cable wallahs, and other regular expenses from the eighties and the nineties.
Every paisa we have spent over those decades has been recorded in those files. The ink is fading from most, so every weekend Papa and I click pictures and upload them to Google Photos.‘Are you sure, beta, that you want to return it?’ asks Maa.‘Papa’s not getting paid for the overtime he is putting in for the past three months and he’s behaving like a child,’ I say.‘Fine, fine, I won’t spend,’ relents Papa.‘If you do feel like spending, buy a new briefcase.
Yours is tattered and torn,’ I tell him.‘And throw away this lucky briefcase?’Papa has been a junior engineer in the municipality for the last thirty-three years. The briefcase is the opposite of lucky.
For a second, I wonder what Mohini would think of me in a blazer. She would probably think it’s stupid too. I brush away the idea.
Maa serves me a big helping of curd and sugar and doesn’t rest till I have scraped the bowl clean. We leave for the Vishnu Mandir after that.
At the neighborhood temple, Maa–Papa is the only one chanting aloud, making a spectacle of their devotion to Vishnu. Papa, 5’4” and Maa,5’1”, take very little space in the world.
They let people get ahead in the long queue to the water tank. They talk so softly that one can barely hear them. They sit through the extended lunch hours at the government bank without complaining. But here—in this little neighborhood temple—they walk around with furrowed eyebrows, arched backs, angry grimaces, like titans, like the moody gods from the Vedas.
Maa–Papa’s chants are louder, more fervent than the resident pundit’s, who looks around, embarrassed, as if caught in his subterfuge. He tries to match my parents’ shraddha and devotion and falls short every time. The quieter devotees stare at my parents’ synchronized chanting, impressed. The bells toll urgently in the background as if swung by the strength of their hymns.