The Wait is and is Not
- Nitasha Kaul
You Don't Mess with Viru - Jayant Kripalani
The Last Journey Home - Siddhartha Gigoo
Family Trip - Mihir Vatsa
For the Longest Time - Mridula Koshy
The Tree's Passport - Sumana Roy
I Try to be so Buddhist - Robert Sugg
Oh God, My God - GB Prabhat
Stroke at Noon - KL Chowdhury
Unbroken Awareness - Tendair Mwanaka
Island of a Thousand Mirrors - Nayomi Munaweera
My Hungry Workers - Sourabh Gupta
The Stone - Anupam Choudhary
The Return - Shirani Rajapakse
The Unsent Email - Shyama Laxman
Poetry: Naseer Ahmed Nasir
(Translated by Bina Biswas)
Dr Bhikbab Changes His World - Sheela Jaywant
The Pillar of Society - Manju Kak
- Attia Hosain
London Company - Farrukh Dhondy
The Cripple and His Talismans - Anosh Irani
Their Language of Love - Bapsi Sidhwa
(Arjun Raj Gaind)
Silk Fish Opium - Jaina Sanga
The Blind Man's Garden - Nadeem Aslam
The Almond Tree - Michelle Corasanti
Nobody Can Love You More - Mayank Austen Soofi
Along the Red River - Sabita Goswami
Tales of a Journalist, Bureaucrat, Spy - Som Nath Dhar
Che in Paona Bazaar - Kishalay Bhattacharjee
Dr Bhikbaab Changes His World
- Sheela Jaywant
That Dr Bhikbaab had raised his voice, that anyone in the late Gurdaasbaab's house had raised a voice at all, was unusual. Dr Bhikbaab, Gurudasbaab's second son, had continued to be a good boy, baro bhurgo, well into his late thirties.
After Gurudasbaab's death years ago, his eldest son, Dada, decided not to marry: one heard so many stories of daughters-in-law ill treating widowed mothers-in-law and he didn't want that to happen to his mother, Aiee. Like 'special' children, there are 'special' moms. Aiee was a master of crib-whine-sulk-moan, a poor-me specialist. Dada thus 'sacrificed his life' to care for her. Mind you, a lot of people 'commended' his act. Naturally, his non-marrying meant the younger siblings wouldn't, or couldn't, either. All the proposals, soireeks, that came for the two girls enquired into why the brothers weren't married, as if that was any indication of their quality of housework or childbearing capacity.
Whilst in medical college, Dr Bhikbaab, the youngest of the siblings, had fallen in love with his classmate, now a well-known histopathologist in Panaji, and they'd gone around for nearly four years. They might've got married, too, but she told our Bhiku: 'You want to marry me because your Aiee feels that mine's a non-emergency faculty and so I'll have a lot of free time. As for you, you want to wait till your Dada gets married -- his lagna happens. You're nuts.' It was true. Aiee had told him the girl would have regular hours, would be home for all the meals, all the festivals, sannache dees, and the part about Dada getting married was also true.
It had broken Bhiku's heart to part from her, but he didn't have the courage to do anything about it.
His practice flourished. He was a good paediatrician, a neonatologist, always on call, always soothing anxious parents, always struggling over early-arrivals that looked more like big tadpoles rather than human babies.
It was all written in the stars, said Aiee, what you did, who you married, whether you married – it was all about fate, naseeb. Not his fault. Certainly not hers.
Dr Bhikbaab didn't go abroad to study, even though he'd got a scholarship. Some said, what a fool! – but many others appreciated his devotion to Aiee. How fortunate she was, they said, to have such caring sons. Aiee loved to hear that. Nowadays, boys just abandoned their parents and went. Here, all four children lived for and with their mother. Only a few mumbled, and never quite audibly, that it was selfish of her to hold on to them thus, what was to happen to them after she ... you know ... went?
Last December, there was a conference at Panaji, sponsored by a rich pharmaceutical company, to which our Dr Bhikbaab was invited to moderate a session. He didn't even have to pay the registration fees. But there was a problem: he wouldn't be home for dinner, and Aiee didn't swallow a morsel unless all her children were around her. Once, when the eldest, Dada, had gone out with his friends, and returned late (past eight pm, nearly two hours after dark), the neighbours had to be called in to control her rising hysteria to convince her that he hadn't had an accident or, worse, gone astray.
It was a three-day conference and Dr Bhikbaab promised her that he'd be okay. The sisters promised to look after her. Dada said he'd feed her with his own hands.
At the conference, Dr Bhikbaab was the only one of the delegates with a hand-knitted cap, topee, on his head. The air-conditioning would definitely freeze his skull, his mother had said. It was winter, sheeyan dees, and the breeze would enter into his ears. Right from his childhood, that had made him ill. He had to be careful. Conditioning is a powerful thing. Even at twenty-two degrees Celsius, even when the others grinned not so politely at seeing him thus, he wouldn't take it off. Aiee wouldn't like that. He phoned home as soon as he'd settled into the hotel room, carefully leaving out the details about the traditional welcome, aarti tikka, given by the pretty female hotel staff. He phoned home during the tea-break, at lunch, and before getting into bed. He had to tell the family, gharchyaank, about what he ate. Most importantly, he had to ask Aiee whether she had eaten, whether her bowels were all right, whether she'd slept well, whether the servant had come on time, whether all was well, saggly barein, moo. He carefully avoided telling her about the pasta and cheeses that he'd actually liked, for it was outside, bhaile, food and dispproval was possible. These days one had to be really careful about preserving traditions, aapley saunskar, lest one strayed like so many Hindus from good families did.
Back home, just twenty-five kilometres away, Aiee invited all her neighbours, cousins and sisters-in-law over. She had to let them know how bright her baby, poot, was. He had gone to a five-star hotel, haan, not any small three-phree stars. All these conferences-phonferences, he normally avoided such fancy things, all-show, nothing really great, dakhavpaache go, taatu kayn kharey nee. All this craze for foreign-phoren, all a fad. Her Bhiku, he was the best, and all he had to learn, he learnt right here in Goa. No need to go anywhere. Even those sick children, he cured them because of mantras she had taught. It was a wonder, said one of the women on her way out, how these brilliant boys and their sisters accepted all this. Said her companion, Aiee's exceptionally bright and she understands human nature. They turned around and watched her: her daughters were holding her on either side and she was being carefully led into the house. There wasn't a thing wrong with her, but she insisted she needed help, and she got it. Yes, hai, smart move, said a third, adding: 'Can't help feeling sorry for them, though'.
Bhikbaab was concerned that so many of the delegates asked him about land rates. They were from Delhi, Bengal, even beyond, from Assam. He asked them, didn't they mind being so far away from their own? 'We're on the same planet, Bhiks,' they replied. 'It's the twenty-first century, there are direct flights all over, what's with you, asking funny questions like these? Besides, investments, you know, make sense in Goa.'
Bhikbaab shrank away. He'd been reading in the papers about outsiders buying off ancestral land. Aiee said no good came to people who sold their fields. But, honestly, he'd observed, no harm seemed to happen either.
As a moderator, Bhikbaab was paid. Not money, but return tickets (with companion, and transferable, too) to Thailand. Everybody teased him. The bachelor doc needed a change, needed excitement, needed ... um ... lady-boy shows ... or the real things. When he held the envelope in his hand, Bhikbaab felt liberated. Not even the fear of Aiee's predictable tantrum could stop his imagination from soaring when his colleagues explicitly described what lay beyond that flight. The very next moment, though, guilt surged through his veins and he hung his head, wondering whether he should throw the envelope in the bin or ask the sponsors whether he could be given money instead.
He put the envelope on the table and switched on the television. On a reality show, a gushing, breathless anchor was telling the camera what a cool place Goa was, where everyone could be themselves, follow their dreams, chill, man-it-rocked, etcetera. His room-mate wanted to know where, how he partied. Dr Bhikbaab hadn't been to Baga in years. He wasn't sure where Palolem was. He hadn't ever, ever seen the inside of a pub. He hadn't tasted alcohol. He went regularly to temples, worshipped every deity he was obliged to, and ... his room-mate said he wasn't Goan then. It hurt Bhikbaab.
Back home, Dr Bhikbaab fingered the tickets and (Dear readers, it may seem simple enough to you but....), took the hardest decision of his life. He decided he'd use that ticket. Yes, he'd go to naughty Thailand. With his mother.
It was weeks before Aiee recovered from her week-long holiday in Phuket-Bangkok. What she saw, what she heard, was unmentionable, and she couldn't talk about it to anyone. The only one who knew it all was Dr Bhikbaab. She wanted him out, out of the house. The only way to do that was to get him married. That was how the bride-hunt began and Dr Bhikbaab was 'put up' in the marriage market.
Sheela Jaywant worked in the administration department of a multi-specialty tertiary care hospital for several years, and at a five star hotel for half a decade. She has also worked as a librarian, teacher, UNICEF volunteer and freelance writer. Her books include Quilted, Melting Moments, and The Liftman and Other Stories. Her stories have also been published in Indian Voices, Vanilla Desires, The City of Gods, She Writes, and Inside Out. She writes a column for a local paper and freelances to earn a living.