• The Bill! The Bill!

    Keki N. Daruwalla

    December 18, 2019

    Image courtesy The Indian Express

    He walked into the living room, which he always insisted on calling the Drawing Room, at exactly seven in the evening. He was in his eighties and the son knew that it was just a matter of time before Dad’s appointment with Mr. Alzheimer’s. He gave him six months. The fellow was going down like a house of cards, his brain that is. He looked a little worried, thought the son, Girish, who was back from his corporate office in Gurugram which he insisted on calling Gurgaon. Whenever the son would venture into his third peg, if the father was absent, he would address his workplace as Gudgawan and affect a rustic accent while pronouncing it. It was a happy household. Girish combined in himself a corporate job and the pramukhship of the local Shakha. He was good at push-ups and sit ups and swinging the clubs and had risen to eminence. He was digitally happy, good at Morse codes and post codes and  Instagram and the not so-instant cheque writing skills when it came to settling bills with demanding clients. 

    His wife Shivani brought the key to the bar, often misplaced. Dad looked a bit worried for once and declined a drink right away! “Not just yet” he demurred.

    “What is worrying you, Dad?” asked the son.

    “I have been meaning to ask you two for some days…” and he stopped. The son waited for him to resume. “Is there a problem with cabs in the city?”

    “Not that I know of.”

    “But the wretched papers are full of it. I thought they were on strike. Then it occurred to me they were being pushed into other lanes by traffic inspectors—that was the DBR or DRB wasn’t it?”

    Son and daughter-in-law conferred with each other. What is the old man getting at? He poured a drink for him. His father’s spirits revived. “You know there were times when we had cab horses. Remember T.S. Eliot,

    A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps
    And then the lighting of the lamps.”

    Neither son nor daughter-in-law had heard of Eliot. The old man had to be taken to an Old Home, they almost said to each other in sign language. “What exactly are you leading to, father?”

    “Don’t you all read the bloody papers? They are full of cabs, though the ignorant buggers print them in block letters.”

    Good God how had he landed on CAB, that new Bill on citizenship, which was causing mayhem all over the country, though the police was doing a fine job beating up the students on the campus itself and chasing them into toilets. “Where else can the police get at the rogues?” he had asked indignantly at the office lunch room, “except at the hostels?” The others had nodded their corporate heads, though the vice chairman, who also held charge of the company’s accounts, was thinking of the cheque to the party. Had to be larger this time, inflation was rising and the NRI’s from Katch and Kathiawar had held on to their wallets and credit cards.

    “Dad, this is a Bill to safeguard minorities in our neighboring countries.”

    “What about our own?”

    “Don’t worry about that Daddy ji,” said the daughter-in-law. “The Jains and Buddhists and Hindus, the persecuted ones in the Middle East, will be given citizenship in our country.”

    “Only the butchers will be excluded Dad, our leaders drew the line on that one.”

    “You mean the Halal butchers, Girish?”

    God help me, thought Girish, how did that come up through his foggy brain? “Well, yes Dad, the Halal butchers, you were spot on, as always, would be sort of embarrassing to have them as Indian citizens, rubbing shoulders with our  Asarams and Swami Nityanands." But the old man was not done.

    “What about the single blow types, the heavy cleaver brought down on the neck, just one swipe and the matter ends?”

    “What exactly are you trying to say Dad?”

    “What about the ones, you know the axe at the Tower, and Anne Boleyn’s head rolling. Do you know they had to import a swordsman from France to do the bloody deed?

    Their eyes rolled. They had never heard of Anne Boleyn. What was the old man talking about, axe and some head rolling? The old man was going bonkers. But intuitively Girish suspected his father was getting at something, finding a way through fog.

     “Got me confused Dad. What are you getting at?”

    “The Jhatka butchers, damn it! What about them?”

    “They are already in our country. Thank God, full-fledged citizens!”

    Keki N. Daruwalla writes poetry and fiction. He lives in Delhi. His novel Ancestral Affairs was recently published by Harper Collins. He won the Commonwealth Poetry Award (Asia) for his poetry volume Landscapes.

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