So, it went like this with Ammi.
Noor had chanced upon her – “discovered the body”, as she would think of it later – sitting in the dark, with a pen and paper in her hand. So quiet had she been that Noor had started when she saw her there.
“Noor!” Ammi said. Her voice had a funny little crack in it. It had been a quiet few days, the fights had mostly stopped and Noor had begun to think everything would go back to normal.
“What are you doing here in the dark?” she asked her mother.
“Oh,” said Ammi, “I was just thinking.”
And then she got up and turned on the lights and asked Noor what she wanted for dinner and about school, and it was such a regular conversation that Noor couldn’t recall the details when she thought of it afterwards, just that the weird feeling she had got when she saw her mother there hadn’t been quite exorcised by the seeming normalness of later, but almost.
After dinner, her mother had gone into Noor’s room and sat down on the bed. Noor was already lying there with a book.
“Darling, I love you so very much,” her mother said, and it sounded so much like a preamble, an introduction to what was to come, that Noor braced herself, even though she didn’t know what she was bracing herself for.
A man Ammi had known when they were both teenagers. “Sunny Uncle”, her mother called him. Sunny Uncle had re-entered her life six months ago and now he was going to bear her away. Noor felt her chin tremble, her heart beat faster as her mother confessed to all of this. “You must know that Dad and I have been fighting so much lately?” her mother pleaded, trying to catch Noor’s eye. But Noor looked resolutely away.
Everything bad happened faster than anything good, in Noor’s opinion.
When you were waiting for a summer holiday or your birthday, the days stretched on. When your mother left your father and you, without so much as a backward glance, it was all wrapped up in a week.
Once Ammi told her about Sunny Uncle, she seemed to be in a hurry to reveal everything about him: Sunny Uncle had never married because he had always loved her. Ammi and he had broken up in their very early twenties over a disagreement and had never spoken again. He had emailed her six months ago, wanting to reconnect, and they had realised they still loved each other.
Sunny Uncle was a professor; he was teaching in a university in America but he was going to relocate to Paris, where Ammi would move too. He was in Delhi and Ammi was going to stay at his hotel.
“Did you ever love Dad?” asked Noor in a passion, one day.
“Of course I did! I will always love your father,” said Ammi, and Noor hated her for looking so righteous, as if she had never done anything wrong. “But what I feel for Sunny is different. I realised that when I met him, Noor.”
And when she left, just packing a small suitcase, she looked at Noor and said, “You want me to be happy, don’t you, Noorie?”
Did she want her mother to be happy? The correct answer was yes. But Noor wasn’t sure. Why couldn’t Ammi just play along, just squeeze herself into this life? It wasn’t such a bad life after all. It was the only life Noor had known.
Mothers weren’t allowed to change their lives, at least, not while their most important role was being Mother. It might have been selfish to think that way but Ammi was the mostselfish, leaving them behind, her broken father and her – “If you stay in Delhi you can finish school with no disruptions and come join us when you’re done,” Ammi had said, but obviously, she was being left behind so the two of them could be alone.
Would her mother have sex with this man? Noor couldn’t even think of it, and when she did, she wanted to throw up. Obviously, they would have sex, that’s why Ammi left them. Obviously, this sex was more important than the family Ammi had created.
“I never asked to be born,” thought Noor bitterly. “And I will never, ever fall in love.”
Love. All it caused was trouble, and the incredibly stupid thing about it was that everyoneknew that love = Trouble- with-a-capital-T. Poets knew it and bands knew it and book writers knew it. And the movies wouldn’t be movies without the whole love-sucks-but-in-the-end-everything-is-great storyline.
What Noor didn’t get was why people didn’t just avoid that part of the story arc and save themselves so much trouble. It didn’t add anything to your life.
Like, think of Armana’s ex-boyfriend, Anirudh. He had been head over heels for Armana and where had that led? To Armana being able to break his heart, kicking it around like a pebble. If he hadn’t fallen for her, he could have saved himself all that time weeping over her and done something useful. Noor wasn’t sure yet, what she wanted to do with the rest of her life but it would be incredibly rewarding and would require all of her mind and so, not falling in love fit in perfectly.
Also, love had sort of been her father’s downfall.
Never the most chatty man, in the months following Ammi’s absence, before the HOC had moved in, he had become pretty much a recluse. He nodded at her briefly when they passed in the hall; sometimes, they both warmed up their dinner at the same time and then flitted away, she to her room and he to his. Once, in an excruciatingly embarrassing moment, he had clutched her head to his chest and said in a broken voice, ‘You’re all I have now, all!’ and Noor had stood there, waiting to be released.
That’s the one thing she had to say for the HOC. Noor studied her now, over her roti and bhindi. (Bye bye, meat in the house! Bye bye, the friendly smell of her father’s scotch!) The HOC had provided Dad with a distraction, and she was always on him, fluttering over him when he ate, passing him the first of the hot rotis – even, like, right now, when Dad didn’t need anything – just, like, gazing at him like some devoted spaniel.
Dad looked up then, and caught Noor’s eye and smiled at her and Noor noticed a lightness in his smile that had been gone for so long. If her mother was away and cavorting with her lover, then maybe her dad could have his mum nearby for sustenance or something.
And I’ll just do it alone, she thought to herself bravely. She wasn’t sure why she hadn’t told her friends yet. Actually, that’s not true. She had a fairly good idea. They saw her mum one way: cool Rox, Roxy Khala, and here she was, this (whore, Noor’s brain whispered) fallen woman, this mother who had defied motherhood and run away to Paris.
Then, after having digested this information, always probably thinking slut in their own minds, they’d try to jolly her out of it. “Paris! How exciting!” Natasha would say, and Armana would talk about a few boutiques that Noor absolutely must go to when she visited and Sanvi would say something like, “I wish my mother would leave my father so I could leave with her” and Sonum would say something gauche and horribly naive like, “Is Sunny Uncle going to be, like, your dad now?” and she would want to stab a fork into her own eye because they wouldn’t get it. No one would get it.