30, 40, 50, 60. Age is just a state of mind, everyone knows that now. 40 is the new 20 and so on but this can get very confusing. The 40 year old…girl, woman, lady…what should I call her?
Oh, just her name will do.
She is Pamela and she has invited me over to spend the night at her place at the city where I have just dropped in. We are travelling to the same retreat the next morning. Pamela’s mother, Sarojini, is over to take care of Pamela’s kids, aged 10 and 8, for the time she will be away.
Pamela, all of 40, calls me Vinita. She introduces me, all of 50, to her mother. Her mother must be 60… or so. The ‘…or so’ helps, giving an indeterminate quality to age.
Pamela’s mother does not call me Vinita. She calls me Vinitaji. It is a formal term, used to show respect. Also used for those older than you.
“Please call me Vinita,” I offer, colour tanning my cheeks.
“Oh no, how can I?”
“Well thank you, Sarojiniji,” I say, though I had planned to call her Sarojini all along.
Pamela’s sister, who seems a decade younger than her, joins us now. She has driven down from her flat at the edge of town. Black eyes, glossed lips, cigarette in mouth and jeans which almost fall off a bony form. She gives me a once-over.
“Hi, I am Shereen,” she says.
“Hi,” I say.
Shereen looks at the others. “Mom, don’t ask me why I drove down, I just wanted to drive somewhere. What’s for dinner, Pam? I am hungry.” She opens a magazine and flips pages.
The rest of us turn to the kitchen.
I, Vinitaji, am asked by Sarojiniji, to cook a vegetable. I put my hands up in despair. “I cook stories, not veggies,” but she refuses to believe me. The vegetable is a kind of squash, and I had shot off a recipe from the top of my head when she asked how I cooked it. Now I am expected to follow through. Me and my big mouth.
Sarojiniji is stirring the lentils and saying something like, “Women of my generation had to know how to cook. Pammo brings up her kids on bananas and bakery bread.”
My generation? Well, we can cook squash and serve bakery bread and have no problems with either. I feverishly stir the mustard seeds in the oil, and keep my thoughts to myself.
The dish is worth the concentrated effort: golden-yellow soft crunch, sprinkled with black mustard seeds, red chilli powder and fresh corainder leaves.
Sarojiniji wants me to join her for a walk after dinner. I put one arm around Pamela’s shoulder and say, “You have to excuse me, ji (politer than polite), but I do have an early morning drive ahead of me tomorrow. The retreat with Pammo and friends, you know.”
Shereen suddenly laughs. She sits at the dining table and blows smoke rings.
published 7 December 2011