Six-thirty on the clock on 11th June saw the sun inching down the horizon, its rays sputtering, spent, like pens running out, leaving thoughts suspended mid-air. The slowly dipping sun found me on the balcony, trying to squeeze in a couple more chapters of a last year Booker-shortlisted, before the darkness drove me inside, much like the mosquitoes which, like the noisy children of a favourite aunt, come with the clouds and the petrichor. A breeze, an unexpected relief, tried to wedge a lock of hair from their perpetual position at the top of my head, resigned to a tight knot against the heat.
I hear my name coming down from the sky. Craning my head out of the balcony and looking up, I see Grandpa on the terrace, shouting the somewhat embarrassing, yet much-loved, nickname he christened me with, evoking smirks from the downstairs neighbours. It appears everyone is out of doors for a taste of the breeze.
I close the book mid-chapter, somewhat grudgingly. Thinking about the last few pages, I slip my feet into a pair of kolhapuris, realizing only as I climbed the stairs that I had put on slippers from two different pairs. I step on to the terrace, intersecting the path of a wasp which hurriedly changed its trajectory to avoid collision. I find Grandpa lounging in a chair, sipping what probably is his seventh cup of tea today. Grandma is standing over him, hands on hips, demanding why her rajinigandhas haven’t been transplanted yet. “They’ll die,” she remonstrates, “if there are too many to a flowerpot.” Grandpa asks her to wait for the rains. They spy me; he excitedly shows me his latest acquisition- a plant, a single stalk, small leaves, and a spray of thin red flowers at the end of the stalk.
As we admire the newest addition to the riot of greenery, Grandma, now positively angry, starts on a diatribe about how her plants are going to die before they flower. Grandpa counters with how they’ll die if transplanted right now. As they argue, I wander off, examining the okra plants which have started bearing fruit after weeks of being covered in yellow flowers. I see the delicate tendrils of the beans winding around a wooden frame; in a fortnight, the much-despised vegetable will sprout in plenty. I see the spot by the barren rosebush where I had once read Vikram Seth so far into the day that there was a minor panic downstairs about my whereabouts; that was probably the evening I got the mosquito bite which gave me dengue.
Remembering that monsoon evening almost four years ago, I wander back in the vicinity of my grandparents, who have, as I expected, veered off into another, totally unrelated, argument- of Grandpa ruining the plants with his ‘crazy’ YouTube hacks. His obsession with YouTube, a recent discovery- one I spent much time teaching him to use- irks Grandma constantly. Before she launches into her favourite “Mobiles-have-ruined-everything” speech, Grandpa proudly states how his hacks have saved the plants from the scorching Delhi sun in June. Grandma, having finally exhausted her patience with him, picks up the empty teacup and huffs back downstairs for her evening ritual of radio and Sudoku.
Grandpa and I exchange a grin. I roam around the terrace, sniffing the last jasmine on the lone plant, walking through a puddle of water and leaving mismatched prints on the cement. I tell Grandpa I too am going downstairs. At the door, I turn to look at his hunched, now-frail body, legs thinner than they have ever been. I see him digging up the rajinigandha bulbs, burying them in an empty flowerpot, giving it life. Forty-five years of companionship summed up in an evening.
I smile, make my way downstairs, enter the house. Mother comes out of a room, and in the midst of a frenzied handing out of chores her voice becomes loud and high- pitched and hysterical; I glance back and see a trail of mismatched, muddy footprints which have ruined her spotless floor. I scramble off to get a mop, inwardly grinning at her compulsive need for cleanliness, before she reaches the subject of grades in her diatribe against my multiple levels of incompetence.