Book Extract : The Slow Disappearing By P A Chawla

Chapter 3


I decided to take a few days of personal days, with the understanding that I would make myself available for emergencies.

Now, as I stand guard, watching her like a hawk, as she wanders in and out of the kitchen, I grab a moment to check my
emails and read the important ones first. It’s obvious that my boss is trying to get into the Guinness World Records for sliminess.

Email one:
Do I have to call a “come to Jesus meeting” to receive the final version of
the corporate brochure?

Email two:
While you are working “virtually,” I just noticed there are two typos in a
message sent out to 230,000 employees. Please resend – without mistakes, this

Email three:
If you could “grace” us with your presence tomorrow, we have something to discuss, namely, a meeting with the Foundation you did not update me about.

I don’t know what was more nauseating, his use of air quotes or his malice sprinkled like bird droppings all over his emails. I’m
officially off and only working virtually to help you out in a pinch, dickhead! It would be a while before I gained a measure of equanimity.

What with putting out fires at work and putting out fires in the kitchen, I am not exactly brimming with the milk of human
kindness. I was often rude and insensitive with Adi’s mother, but told myself that in her current state, she was probably oblivious to
my dour mood. It is a pity I could not be a bigger person. I chafed like a child, aching to go outside and play, but I had to finish her
homework instead, despite the glorious weather. On some days, although not often, I matched her, sulk for sulk and tantrum for

‘We need to do something about this situation,’ I said, one day, throwing up my hands when she clogged the garbage disposal
with banana peel.

‘She’s not a situation. She’s my mother,’ Adi retorted sharply. ‘I know very well who she is.’ ‘I’m just saying, she can’t help her confusion, she’s old. You don’t have to always be so …’
‘Be so … what?’
He walks out, slamming the door with just the right amount of force, underscoring his disgust without being overtly rude. ‘Yeah, well, I’m not getting any younger, either,’ I mutter angrily, to myself. We’d scarcely recovered from the kitchen fire, installed new smoke alarms even though the old ones still worked, hid matches and lighters on the top shelf, and generally idiot-proofed the house, when I found her on the floor, unable to get up, her twisted wrist, brittle as a twig, about to break off. Of course, I called 911. ‘What’s your emergency?’

‘My mother-in-law’s fallen off her chair. I think she’s broken a wrist. I’m not sure whether I should move her to see if she has any
other injury.’ ‘Is she conscious?’  ‘Yes. She is. But she is in pain.’
I gave the operator, my particulars. She told me to let her stay still. We were to await the first responders. Then I called Adi. I made her some toast with a sprinkle of powdered sugar and sat beside her on the floor. We sipped our tea out of the large red mugs she seemed to like. She did not say much, silent as a Trappist nun. She accepted the Tylenol without a fuss. It must have helped, because there was a marked change in her demeanour. The lines of disapproval I thought were permanently etched on her face softened visibly, and just for a while, we were two
friends sitting companionably, dipping bits of sweetened toast into black tea, regarding each other with quiet affection. When she winced, I became nervous. I started babbling a little.
‘Can I get you something else to eat?’ I asked. Her eyes twinkled with rare humour. ‘A little pani puri would be nice.’ She knew she wasn’t allowed to have any. ‘Mmmmm!’ I said. An image of my old friend, the pani puri vendor, rose sharply in my mind.

He was a slender man, nondescript except for a moustache that seemed to cover most of his face. A poor, illiterate man, who spoke in a guttural dialect, had vanished long since from the gentrified suburbs of Mumbai. On his head, he wore a turban. And on the turban sat a metal trunk loaded with sweet, savoury, tangy treasures such as bhel, pani puri and other hot and cold snacks guaranteed to explode in your mouth and whisk you off to a gastronomic heaven.

In his high-pitched voice, he sang out the list of his wares. More often than not, he had to cut short his aria and follow the gesturing servant or my equally high pitched ‘Puriwallah, come, puriwallah, come!’ urging him upstairs from our balcony.

Slowly, he climbed the three floors to our apartment, the trunk on his head flattening his turban. He laid his box on the floor, wiped his brows and asked, ‘What will it be, today, baby?’ Then he opened his box. It was the best part of my day.

He gave me an extra puri, that final exquisite bite, because I paid him the compliment of kneeling before his treasures and, with
shining eyes, breathed in the heady scents of coriander and tamarind, cumin and mint, as he, smiling shyly, wiped his head with a
corner of his turban.

Now, as she looked so peaked, I tried distracting Adi’s mother, telling her all about the bhel and pani puri man and those
countless moments of street-food bliss.

(Carried with due permission from the author)

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