8 JanuaryPosted: June 29, 2011
Comma: “It will be like when we went to Rajasthan.”
She is flatteringly excited about my suggestion to go to Bhopal with her. We have traveled once together to Rajasthan last year, on one of her research trips for her dissertation.
An ex-classmate of ours from Law College had organized a list of women we could meet – divorced, fighting for divorce, contemplating divorce. I was hesitant and shy, wondering how we could just walk into a strange woman’s home and expect her to start talking about her personal life, particularly the traumatic experience of divorce. For the first few interviews, I had been content to hold up the mike for Comma and manipulate the Dictaphone machine.
But Comma had been sure of herself. She was good at asking questions and getting people to talk. The ability to endlessly vacillate from one side of a question to another, which is her most exasperating trait in her personal life, translated into an incredible empathy with her interviewees. And slowly, because of her ease with them, I too had been able to join in the conversations with the women we met.
It says much for my own deep layers of reserve that she has not managed to get any crucial information about my personal life out of me. It has certainly not been for lack of trying.
Me: “Won’t your aunt mind? Me piling on, along with you?”
Comma: “Of course not. People in small towns are not like people in Mumbai. They are exceedingly hospitable.”
Me: “And people in Mumbai are not?”
Comma: “No, not so much. It’s all a bit formal here. You know, you always have to call up people before you land up even for a cup of tea, and so on and so forth. And God forbid, if you land up at someone’s house with a suitcase, the anxious looks you get. As if you are going to take over their property.”
Me: “You just call up before you go to someone’s house, to make sure that they are there. No one wants to waste any precious commuting time. And as for the second observation, I won’t even comment on that. It’s a blatantly defamatory and baseless accusation. And you know it.”
Comma poked me: “Aha, and how many times have I come to your house? Tell me.”
Me: “I haven’t kept count. And I didn’t know that you were. And if you haven’t come more often, it’s because you are always too busy dining out with someone or the other. I do not belong to any exclusive privileged circle of Friends of Comma Club. You have far too many friends.”
Comma: “And you have far too few. That’s because you were born and brought up in Mumbai. You haven’t learnt to socialize.”
I give up. Comma is unstoppable when it comes to bad-mouthing Mumbai. Like most other people who come from out of town. Who imagine they don’t want to stay. And in fact, who never really want to leave. But I know Comma says half the things she does just to provoke me. Usually, she succeeds. But not today.