Some people, whose mailboxes I may or may not have flooded with links to my blog, have enquired why my blog is called what it is.
If you took it literally, you wouldn’t be off the mark. Fish is always preferred. To everything. (Except maybe chicken.)
However, “Fish Preferred” is also the name of a book by Wodehouse. His other titles include “Aunt’s aren’t Gentlemen”, the “Code of the Woosters”, and “Uncle Fred in the Springtime”. As the titles suggest, Wodehouse wrote heavily about family-batty cousins, battier aunts, and even battier uncles (besides prize pumpkins and award-winning pigs). Since I have an enviable collection of these (batty relatives that is, not pumpkins and pigs), I decided their misadventures would make for fantastic writing fodder. Of course, it didn’t pan out that way. Half of the posts on the blog have me cribbing, a fourth have me gush about movies/t.v. shows/ authors. In two years of blogging, only two posts featured relatives-one cousin and one aunt.
Part of it has to do with the fact that I cannot be physically dragged into a family re-union/ function anymore. So I just don’t meet them that often. The rest of it has to do with me finding a relative I can bring myself to like. Who I wouldn’t have found unless the rest of the brood-actually only Malini di-had not existed.
I wasn’t feeling so charitable towards her that day though, when that call came. It was about 1 o’clock on a wintry Saturday-only late morning for me. I had been snuggling inside the quilt, reading, and the phone had been lying in the living room. I tumbled out of the bed, and failing to locate my slippers, had to run barefoot on the cold floor, towards the ringing mobile. It was only to be expected then, that my “Hello” to Malini di didn’t sound too enthused.
She asked me how my life and I were. I replied I was great. She decided I was joking and laughed a nice, polite laugh.
“I am in the city. Do you want to meet up? Get a bite?” she asked.
I hesitated a little, before replying-weighing the benefits of free food against the costs of stepping out in Delhi on a winter evening. Plus would the food even be free? I did have a job now, however little it paid…If we met in a nice, up-market restaurant, would I be expected to foot the bill? But she is older…surely protocol dictates that she pay…
“Or maybe we could come over to your place? I’d rather not be out in this cold”, she said before my inner voice could allow my real voice to answer.
“Sure”, I replied. Then wondered what level of familial censure a “no” would have caused.
Meanwhile she fixed the time. Then tried to make small talk but I stopped her mid-sentence to remind her that we were meeting later anyway. I was depending on talk of the weather, the fog, the traffic, and the upcoming Delhi elections to take us through the better part of the evening.
* * *
I looked down from the balcony when I heard an auto honk below. I could see the top of Malini di’s head, as she struggled to pull something out of the auto. It turned out to be a rather large suitcase. My inner voice shrieked in horror. Malini di seemed to hear that for she immediately looked up. I waved half-heartedly, and she gave me her famous dimpled smile. I saw that she had gotten fringes now, which seemed like an age-inappropriate choice. I decided to let her know that, if she threatened to stay with me. She looked towards the auto once again from which a bag was half-protruding out. My heart skipped a beat, as I realised someone inside the auto was holding it out.
“Or maybe we could come over to your place?”
We, she had said.
It suddenly dawned upon me that Malini di had gotten married since the last time we had met. Some painter-Dhrittimaan Chatterjee or Mukherjee or something. Or was it Ray? I saw a curly head of hair get out of the auto now.
* * *
The curly head of hair was attached to a rather thin, wiry body. That of my new brother-in-law, who sat squatting on the mattress in my living room, dipping a glucose biscuit into the tumbler of tea I had offered him. I could see the biscuit crumbs merrily fall on his tiny French beard on to his green oversized kurta, which he had worn over a pair of faded jeans. The curly hair fell over his eyes which he kept flicking away periodically. The unmistakeable signs of aatel, I noted with some satisfaction.
Malini di sat beside him, sipping from her glass. Periodically, she would adjust herself, and then look around the room, a pained look crossing her face, every time she did. It could be the newspapers strewn about the floor, my disbelief in the idea of chairs, or the bitter taste of the tea that was causing her, her consternation.
“So mashi said you don’t have a roommate”, Malini di said, once she realised that I had registered her facial expression.
“Yeah, my roommate left, because she thought there were bed-bugs in the house”, I lied.
Then I started painting her a picture of the terror the bugs had unleashed, but my brother-in-law interrupted to say that he wanted to use the bathroom. I indicated to him the one inside my room, and then resumed my gory narrative. She almost let out an audible sigh of relief when he returned, and gathered the tea tumblers to take them to the kitchen.
I heard her turn on the tap in the kitchen. She had begun washing the tea utensils. If I hadn’t known that it was a ruse to avoid conversation with me, I would have been touched.
Meanwhile, the brother-in-law had positioned himself on the mattress again and was smiling vacantly at me. I smiled back.
Then he outstretched his hand, at a 90 degrees angle from his body, and grunted noisily, while waving the hand. I leapt in surprise. He laughed at my shock.
“It’s an elephant, no?” he asked stupidly. Then repeated the action to show me that he was acting like an elephant. Apparently, this was regular behaviour from him, because Malini di kept up the utensil washing. Either that, or she was still studiously avoiding contact with me. And her weirdo husband.
“Yes, very nice,” I finally said, deciding he wouldn’t hurt me if I patronised him.
He laughed, then pointed at the luggage.
“That is the elephant, in this very nice room.”
I shook my head, believing that to be a neutral action, to which no meaning could be attached.
“So can we stay? We need a place for about three weeks. I have an exhibition here. We were going to stay with friends but that did not work out”.
I started mumbling. I was beginning to like him.
“We can take the spare room with the bug infestation”, he smiled. A pleasant smile.
“And you can say no. Even if this ambush seems to suggest otherwise”.
I couldn’t say no.
It’s been 11 months since the first meeting. My first meeting with my current room-mates.