Welcome to Paradise Towers, an apartment building in central Mumbai. Everyone here has a story to tell — or maybe, hide. It is also the setting of Shweta Bachchan-Nanda’s debut work of fiction — a slice-of-life tale that explores the intertwined lives in this building. In the excerpt below, republished with permission from HarperCollins India, we're introduced to one of Paradise Towers' intriguing residents — Mrs Aly Khan.
Mrs Aly Khan was the mother of five children, whose mornings always started early. Today, she was expected at her in-law’s for lunch and the maulvi was taking longer than usual to finish tutoring her youngest two on the Quran. She checked herself in the mirror twice, then peeped out the door of her bedroom to find the threesome still at the dining table bent over a passage, and quickly shut herself in again. She could not risk catching the maulvi’s eye for that would mean a further delay by half an hour and this she could not afford.
It was important to her that her in-laws approved of her. Her marriage to their eldest son was hard won. They were in favour of a match with the daughter of a second cousin, but their son had categorically refused and presented her to the family as his only choice. Ever since then, Mrs Aly Khan had taken it upon herself to win them over, an exercise that was both taxing and futile. She had been slaving over the stove all morning preparing her mother-in-law’s favourite gaajar ka halwa. If there were ever to be a détente, her mother-in-law was her best bet: a kindly lady severely dominated by her husband’s unmarried sisters. Mrs Aly Khan Jr had often felt that, given a chance, the elder Mrs Aly Khan would happily take the wife of her favourite child under her wing.
Spotting Lata, who had just entered the flat, she frantically gestured to her. Lata, on spying her mistress beckoning her through a half-opened door, quickly kicked off her rubber slippers and wiped the front of a foot on the back of her leg gingerly. Successfully avoiding any conversation, she walked past the maulvi and his pupils, their heads still bent industriously over their books, and discreetly entered the bedroom, closing the door behind her.
‘Lata, did you give the halwa?’ Mrs Aly Khan enquired while turning around so Lata could zip up her kameez.
‘Yes, I gave it to Dinesh, madam.’
‘Oh? Mrs Kapoor was not at home?’ Mrs Aly Khan asked, her kameez zipped. She turned around and sat in front of her dressing table mirror fiddling with her hair while Lata put a starched, washed handkerchief into her mistress’s handbag and carried it to her.
‘I did not ask, madam,’ the girl replied.
‘How much longer for the children to finish? We are getting late. Please go out there and get him to wrap up. And then get the children to wash their hands before we leave the house,’ Mrs Aly Khan instructed without moving her gaze from her reflection in the mirror. Lata nodded and walked out into the dining room.
Soon, the sound of chairs scraping against the floor signalled the end of class and Mrs Aly Khan waited to hear the front door click shut before she ventured out into the dining room. Lata was rushing the scholars into their shoes when their mother stepped out with hair neatly braided and bag in hand, a vision. Mrs Aly Khan was slim as a reed even after five children, and had twinkling eyes that shone brighter when she was sad. Her hair reached her waist when left undone. It was no wonder, Lata thought, that her saab had gone against his family’s wishes and married her. After talking to the cook, who had come out of the kitchen, pad and pen in hand awaiting instructions for dinner, Mrs Aly Khan plus two headed down to the parking lot and their waiting car.
Listen to Shweta Bachchan-Nanda read this excerpt from her debut novel, Paradise Towers, beginning at 0:29:
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Updated Date: Sep 23, 2018 11:48:41 IST