They used to live across the street in the rundown house with the blue gate and sand aplenty around it. It was the ugliest house in the vicinity- Rusted iron rods sticking out of the chipped away concrete, laundry drying everywhere, graffiti on the walls. ‘The Brothers Pakistan’ is what Mom called them. Two brothers, their wives and six children lived there. The men always wore clean ironed pathan suits and the children always ran about and played in the sand outside the gate. The women were hardly seen except when one of the men called out to them and they slowly pulled away the bedsheets doubling up as curtains peered outside and tossed out the keys or had short conversations. Watching that house seeing how it was across the street was one of my many pastimes in that stretch of time that yawned out between the time I got home from school and the time Mom drove back.
Then one day an Arab drove up in a black Mercedes and stopped in front of the blue gate. The two men walked out, shook hands with the Arab and waited as he went back into the car. When he stepped out he had three big packets of white powder in his hands. He drove after handing them to The Brothers Pakistan. They proceeded to scoop out the sand from around the blue gate and buried these packets of white powder on either side of the gate.
She was the first secretary I had ever met. She always wore business suits with short skirts well above the knee, high heels and skin coloured stockings. I know she wore skin coloured stockings because I had asked Mom why her skin shone. Her name was Judy. Every morning when I had breakfast the doorbell would ring, every morning Mom would call out to Dad, 'It must be Judy asking you to reverse the car for her. How did that woman even get a driving license!’ Dad would open the door, walk out and walk back in a few minutes later. 'Why does she have a car if she doesn’t how to take the car out of the parking lot?!’ Every day except on Thursdays and Fridays. I think she had her day off on Thursdays.
One Thursday afternoon, I was in the balcony naming the cars that drove by out aloud. That was the time when I could tell cars from their rims and from the logo on the boot. A Pajero drove into the parking spot right below the balcony. He was talking on his cellphone and he had his dishdasha up to his knees. And the next thing I know he had in his hands something that was coming to life right in front of my eyes. I think I was fascinated-I had never seen something like that. There was a spot at the tip and as he ran his hand up and down, I could see the folds around this thing waxing and waning. And then I realized it was skin but I don’t think I fully knew what it was. I don’t know how long it was before Judy came walking out from her building and climbed into the seat next to the man in the dishdasha.
I was sitting under the tree next to the Cafe Coffee Day outlet outside Bangalore airport. I had missed my flight and had a couple of hours to kill before I caught the next flight home. After buying a coffee from the CCD outlet, I also bought a pack of Marlboro Lights from the tiny store next to it that sells sandwiches and cigarettes.
Just when I was about to light up a cigarette, a middle aged man came and sat next to me under that tree. We made small talk and I learnt he was a Jordanian running a business in Dubai and he was delighted to learn that I grew up in Dubai. He pulled out his pack of Marlboro Lights, 'You can’t smoke the one you bought here in Bangalore, I bought this one at Dubai Duty Free.’ We then had watermelon juice and he showed me pictures of his daughter and son. 'Sometimes I wish our kids were as interested in studying! My son worries me.’ As it happens with most people I meet at random places, he went on to tell me his story as well.
After a couple of hours, he had to leave for his flight and so did I.