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The cousins

This is Chapter 35 of The Romantics of College Street, a serial novel

By Devapriya Roy

  • Published 10.02.19, 2:18 AM
  • Updated 10.02.19, 2:18 AM
Ronny no longer felt any of the intermittent panic of the last few months, the attendant anxiety and acidity, the constant loop of self-doubt-soaring-high-self-doubt. Ronny felt calm, Ronny felt fine, Ronny, as a matter of fact, felt young. He hummed. He stopped to take photos.
Ronny no longer felt any of the intermittent panic of the last few months, the attendant anxiety and acidity, the constant loop of self-doubt-soaring-high-self-doubt. Ronny felt calm, Ronny felt fine, Ronny, as a matter of fact, felt young. He hummed. He stopped to take photos. Illustration by Suman Choudhury

If Lata had imagined that after the hurly burly of Molly weds AJ she could return to her childhood bed with her childhood books and spend the rest of her holiday — which, thankfully, did not seem all that endless anymore — left to her own devices, sending wedding pictures to her London friends, counting all battles lost and won, and preparing for the glassy routine of life in England, she couldn’t have been more wrong. Even though the bride and groom were off on their honeymoon and the canopy of twinkling lights had been dismantled and dust had begun to crowd the corridors again, the senior occupants of Ghosh Mansion remained in grand spirits after the wedding, much like children who’ve returned from a birthday party on an acute sugar high and insist on running around in circles, simply refusing to go to bed. The elders at Ghosh Mansion just wouldn’t cool down.

By day and by night, Boro Jethi and Kakimoni cooked up (competing) storms to educate Duma about the nuances of the Bengali kitchen. Always more of an about-town person, Manjulika dashed about, Lata in tow, returning gold to the bank locker, helping Molly’s Germans shop for their step-parents and friends, carrying wedding sweets and gossip to the very elderly or house-bound relatives who had missed the wedding. She even dragged the cousins to her feminist book club in Hedua on Sunday, announcing to Goopy and Duma en route that the group had several “LGBTQ+ persons”. (She always remembered the “plus”). Lata had looked away stoically while Goopy and Duma rolled in laughter for the rest of the journey.

In the days leading up to Molly’s wedding, the Ghoshes had been eating their catered lunches together in the covered courtyard at the back. And now, after decades of separate kitchens and severe differences, they seemed a little reluctant to give this practice up even after the caterers packed up and left. The formal dining-room downstairs, where, all those years ago, Boro Jethu had made his cruel comments — unwittingly galvanising Lata and Ronny’s romance — was called into action for sit-down meals every day. Even though it meant the old servants went crazy with logistics, utensils carried up many flights of stairs several times a day, they did not complain. After all, what was the point of having such a large dining table if the young and old never sat down and ate their meals together? Also, the house had been bereft for far too long.

Finally, on the fifth day of such relentless activity, Lata came down with a temperature.

After lunch, which she had been consequently excused from, Goopy and Duma crept up to her bedroom and found her under two blankets, listening to an audio book. The boys climbed in and soon she was flanked by them on either side. It felt oddly comforting.

“So this is your strategy of avoiding the Hum Saath-Saath Hain meals?” Goopy remarked, “Calling in sick?”

“What is Um Sa Sa Um?” Duma asked.

“I am sick,” Lata said hoarsely, “My insides are all melty, my brain is fuzzy.”

Duma felt her forehead. “She has a fever,” he confirmed.

Goopy waved his expertise away, checked her forehead himself and said, “It’s nothing! She just wants to mope about Ronny.”

Lata rolled her eyes. “Your comment is so 1998, Goopy. I know it feels we are teenagers trapped in this hell-hole all over again, at the mercy of our adults, but, in case you haven’t noticed, you have grey hair, I have grey hair (under the honey brown shade that my colourist favours) and Ronny has grey hair.” She now turned her gaze upon Duma, “Hum Saath-Saath Hain is a cult Bollywood film about these super rich people who, despite playing happy families for 90 per cent of its 900 hours, manage to exile the stepbrother briefly. It’s one of Goopy’s all-time favourite films. I am surprised you haven’t seen it on Epic.”

“I liked your Ronny,” said Duma, “I want to watch his films. But I do not approve of his arm candy.”

Tiana Mitra’s story accompanied by photographs of Pragya Paramita Sen in her green silk and vintage emeralds (“borrowed from Ma!”) and of Ronny in his charming piri-lifting act had been oohed and aahed over the Internet. They were calling her a style icon. Even the print edition had picked up a few of the photographs, Lata lurking in the backdrop in one. It was intensely annoying. The only upshot of this was that Nimki and Manjulika had stopped talking about Ronny altogether.

“Don’t blame him,” Goopy was quick to interrupt, “Our girl broke his heart.”

“No!” said Lata, sitting up.

“And your cousin teaches feminism,” said Goopy, patting her shoulder commiserating-ly. “Oh, by the way, we may see him this evening, your Ronny.”

Before Lata could ask why, what for, Manjulika entered with a tray, Boro Jethu and Jethi trailing her.

“Munni, drink up!” she said, handing Lata a tumbler of a vile-looking cinnamon-scented concoction. Goopy got up and found chairs for his parents. Manjulika sat at the foot of the bed on a mora.

“Ugh,” burbled Lata, taking a sip.

“I think you might have to cancel Jamshedpur, Munni,” Manjulika announced happily.

“Of course not,” said Lata, “Pixie will be devastated.”

Manjulika pursed her lips. “I don’t care. If you are sick, you cannot travel alone.”

“I have an idea,” said Goopy, tentatively. “Why don’t we go with her? It’ll be a nice break for us too, I haven’t seen Jamshedpur since the football match in 1995, and we shall keep an eye on Munni.”

The mothers looked unhappy. “But you just came,” Boro Jethi mumbled to Goopy, “And there is all the bank work you promised to help with. What about taking Baba to the doctor?”

“Ah, let them go, let them go,” said Boro Jethu magnanimously. “Let the young people spend some time together. Munni, you need to start taking antibiotics right away though.”

“Antibiotics are awful, Baba,” began Goopy, but Lata raised her eyebrows. Goopy stopped in his tracks. At least they’d secured a small victory. They shouldn’t risk it with an unnecessary argument on antibiotics. Manjulika and Boro Jethi looked mutinous but it appeared that Sudhiranjan Ghosh might yet carry the day.

“I’ll text Tilo and tell her,” Lata said, crawling back under her blanket. “Though it means you’ll probably have to invite her to Barnard some day, Goopy.”

“I really think you should start calling me Dada now,” Goopy finished.

***

Around five o’clock, as a few errant grey clouds appeared, Ronny Banerjee began to walk from Jadavpur University — where he’d given a lecture to the film studies MA class — towards the police station, from where he’d turn left towards South City mall. The weather was pleasantly bracing, and Ronny had time on his hands.

As he’d waited for Nikhil Maheshwari to call these last few days, or, if not Nikhil, someone from his office to call, call, if not him, at least Bobby, a chilly thought eventually insinuated itself in his brain: This was not going to happen. At least not now, not this way. The moment had passed.

Nikhil was a keen businessman. (Entrepreneur, Ronny amended, since the word ‘businessman’, with its ring of socialist judgment, was one that new India had dispensed with.) Nikhil was a canny entrepreneur. The huge losses they’d suffered recently in the Gulte market — Ronny called the Telugu film industry “the other Tollywood” — the two back-to-back, big-budget flops, were a result of Nikhil’s elder brother’s rashness. Everyone had heard Navin declaim “Go big or go home!” sometime or other and now that he had, in a manner of speaking, gone home — or, in this case, gone to London where he had a flat in Hampstead, to lick his wounds — the tremors of his unfortunate decisions were likely to be felt across the company. Chiefly, here, in Calcutta, in Nikhil’s fiefdom. And somehow, though Bobby had tried to maintain a taut front, Nikhil must have sensed Ronny’s mixed feelings about Shomoy. That would be enough for him to pull the plug. If the director was not madly in love with his own script, Nikhil had said on occasion, then it was unlikely the audiences would.

A grey veil fell upon the sun. The kiosks began to light up.

And despite what he now knew in his gut, Ronny no longer felt any of the intermittent panic of the last few months, the attendant anxiety and acidity, the constant loop of self-doubt-soaring-high-self-doubt. Ronny felt calm, Ronny felt fine, Ronny, as a matter of fact, felt young. He hummed. He stopped to take photos. And while, for the last several weeks, he had dreaded this book launch — why on earth had he agreed? — he now looked forward to meeting the writer. He looked forward to the upcoming trip — even though he had no idea what he would say in his keynote address — and he looked forward to spending time with Lata.

(To be continued)

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