Lounge Fiction Special: ‘No lingering’ by Nandita da Cunha

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A resident of Matharpacady decides to reclaim his peaceful Sunday mornings



Myron would have flung his door open to the visitor, but then, in his gaothan, Matharpacady, he was one of the few who still left his door open.

“Come in, come in,” he said, attempting a smile. That soon faded, seeing that the young man had already swept in, and made himself comfortable on Myron’s lion-headed, Burma teak armchair.

“Uncle, why so much trouble? Who can eat all this?” the visitor asked, helping himself liberally to the spread before him. Flaky patties and aloo chops. Crisp murukku and vadi.

“No trouble, Rihaan, it’s what I do,” mumbled Myron.

“Call me Rio… I’m Rio to friends” he replied, mouth full.

Myron still had to pack that morning’s orders; better find a way to get to the point.

“I’ve been wanting to have a word anyway. So when you called—”

He trailed off. “Rio” wasn’t listening. “Too good!” he was declaring, smacking his lips. “How did you guess?”

“Eh?”

“Guess why I wanted to come?” Rio gestured at the feast before him and waited with such gleeful expectation, that despite himself, Myron found himself fumbling to find reasons why this impostor—whom he should have been telling off that very moment—should choose to visit him, that Saturday morning.

“To approve your…walk thing? Son, I’m no longer head of our association—”

“No, no. We got all permissions. The agency is super excited—our ‘secret village’ walk! And you’re going to join us.” Myron stared blankly. “Shall I tell you how?”

“If you’d please,” mumbled Myron, crossing his arms.

“So, I take visitors around: ‘Secret in the heart of Mumbai’, here’s its history, blah blah, see the bungalows, don’t miss the balconies, peep down the well, blah blah, then we reach here, pop into the church…”

“Chapel.”

“Aaand stop at the cottage of the one and only ‘Mumbai Masala’ East Indian Chef! Who is waiting with hand-made refreshments.”

Wait, what? “Never!”

Now Rio looked blank. “We’ll pay, Uncle! And you can sell your masalas, pickles, whatnot?”

“Stop.”

“It was my idea. I’m an idea person.”

“Rihaan. Here’s why I called you.”

“Actually, I called—”

“Your walk thing. You’ve been taking a group around our village. Fine. They stop here and there and click click click. Fine. But NOT in front of my house and NOT on a Sunday morning.”

“But Uncle, this spot… best to see the, err, chapel. Sundays… best for tourists. Mornings… best for photos.”

Myron breathed heavily, took in the boy’s frown. He must tread carefully. “Why bother with us? We’re crumbling…very few houses like this, no?” This, indicating, in an arm’s sweep, his high rafters, antiques cabinet, porch, arched doorway. And beyond his blue cottage with its red tiled, sloping roof, the few, lingering cottages left, in one of the few lingering urban villages in Mumbai, his Matharpacady.

Rio looked up at Myron and said, equally carefully: “We are bothering for you, Uncle. For this village, this gaothan. For Mumbai.” Cheeks puffed up like spongy fugiyas, thought Myron, almost expecting a bow. “We will donate from tour proceeds. ‘Authentic’ snacks, it’s your chance to do something for—”

“I’ve done enough,” growled Myron, “Yet—” He stopped short. That wasn’t the boy’s fault. “Please,” he said, pleading now, “I need my Sunday mornings.”

The boy got up, brushed crumbs off his shirt. “Keep this,” he handed over a grimy visiting card: ‘Rihaan Lohia. Avari Tour Agency’. “If you change your mind about providing refreshments?” He walked out, turning back to snatch one last vadi, before adding, “See you tomorrow.”

Ugh. Tomorrow. Myron’s Sunday mornings, once a thing of beauty. Of neighbourly conversations by the porch, interspersed with squeaks from his violin and sparrows at his feeder; by afternoon, descending into silence and a siesta. Not since the past three weeks, when “Rio” trooped by with his group of gawpers, oohing, aahing, disturbing. Not tomorrow, if Rio had his way.

Rio had his way. Not just the next day, but the next string of Sundays. Commentaries on “Bungalow, balcony, church blah blah” would begin at 10am sharp, forcing Myron inside, followed by photo-sessions. Then, they’d whipped out notepads and sketched. It wasn’t safe to emerge till afternoon.

When Myron peeped out, warning them off, they’d bombard him with questions, ask to come inside. Rio would renew his request for a “snacks stop”.

Then Myron borrowed Rocky, best friend Delna Mazgaowalla’s fierce Doberman. They fed him all the things they shouldn’t.

He played Edward Elgar concertos on top volume. They recorded them.

“You’re on their Facebook page.” Delna showed him. A caricature. His black eyebrows bristling, red-rimmed eyes bulging in a face and head of grey. He snorted, but his skin prickled. “You’re adding spice to their walks!” she cautioned.

When they plucked his beloved begonias, it was time to act.

“A residents’ meeting, Delna. ASAP please.”

The next evening, Myron looked around at the “Matharpacady Residents Welfare Association”, crammed into rows of chairs, on the school ground nearby. Temperature and tempers were rising.

“They buy your pan-rolls, Reena?” he said to Mrs Lopes, who’d made a passionate plea to continue the tours. “Great. But what about the samosawallas and chaiwallas, the souvernirwallas, waiting at the exit. Noise and filth.”

“Myron, it’s from contributions like theirs, that we can maintain facilities!” protested Delna. She was still nervous in her new role as Association Head, but could not let this pass. “You used to say: Whatever it takes to preserve and conserve and—”

“Look where that got us. Now must we turn into a live zoo?”

Delna flicked her eyes towards Sakina, their latest resident. She’d found her passionate about efforts to preserve their gaothan. Soft spoken, but armed with her degrees in architecture and conservation, she could pack a punch. On cue, Sakina chimed in.

“If we want to make a greater case for heritage status… To spread awareness of our significance… To avoid those pesky anonymous calls…”

That lit a fuse as she expected. Everybody began talking over one another: endless tales, builders’ calls to sell their homes, rumours, fears, tears…

Above it all, Myron tried to regain control. “What about security?” When they ignored him, “Reena, they were taking selfies during your novena?”

“O-ho, Myron, it’s the next generation,” replied Reena. “Grow up…actually, come out and talk to them. You might feel young again.”

Illustration by Priya Kuriyan.

Illustration by Priya Kuriyan.

Now Sakina shared a new request from Rio (Avari Agency). Christmas around the corner, they wanted to join the festivities, join the X’mas party (We’ll take great photos! Sponsor games!) What did everyone think? Everyone thought it was a splendid idea. More ideas were volunteered. A public food carnival? Music festival?

Myron stormed out. Delna at the door, “Come, we have snacks.”

But he waved her off and set off for the lonely walk back. “You tried,” she told his back.

As always, just opening the gate and stepping into their village, cooled and calmed him. He’d tried, yes, and failed. Failed twice. First, Reena Lopes’ parents’ one-storied beauty next door, the one with bougainvilleas spilling from the roofs, the one with the couple that found each other in their village, the one now sold and replaced by glass and cement—Tower One. And then their cherished club, now rubble, awaiting its resurrection as Tower Two. Failures under his watch, as Association Head.

Delna’s voice in his head: “Nothing more you could have done. Why block us, when we are trying now?”

He looked down and shuffled on. That was the only way he could walk those winding lanes, and not see the car park, (once their badminton court), not see the weeds (once gardens), or the sudden blue tin sheets, (once their homes). He shut his ears to the demolition pickaxes delivering their blows, when–

Brrm brrm brrrrmmm. Two bikers halted before him, bikes spewing fumes and revving fury, blocking his way. They were waving towards the wire covered well (once their village pride and joy). “Oye. Is this the wishing well?” Then taking his silence as confirmation, “Could you take our pic?”

“I’ll take… take you to the police,” he roared, “Intruders.” He kept roaring as they vroomed off, hooting. He may have resigned as Association Head, but he would not resign himself to this. But what to do?

He entered home to find his phone ringing away. Another pesky builder call? His brother Sidney, now in Canada. More unasked, unwanted views.

“What are you up to? Lopes sent the Facebook page.” When Myron explained: “Of course, it’s a nuisance. Sell and go! Come here. The Fernandeses, Pereiras, all here now, baba. Why cling on? Who is left? No one, nothing. It’s time. I know it, you know it.”

Myron hung up. Pressed his fingers to his temples. A whiff of his bottle masala reminded him of unfinished work in the kitchen. He enjoyed his work-weeks, the early morning bargaining at the local bazaars, cleaning, cooking, packing tiffins and orders, delivering to bakeries. Wasn’t he entitled to one morning of quiet? Playing his violin. Kicking around a ball with the kids. Instead, these folks and their…

Wishing well! Where did they get that story? His idea arrived all at once. Stories!

Now where was that grimy card?

This time, when Rio came in response to his call, Myron plied him not only with vadis, but carefully constructed, gleefully concocted stories. His own blend of fact and fiction.

“I decided to help you this way. With our stories! That,” pointing to their twice-fruiting mango tree, “a mango tree that fruits four times a year.”

“There”—pointing to what was the home, of freedom-fighter Joseph ‘Kaka’ Baptista—“where the Congress signed the Declaration of Independence, in 1929.”

Rio lapped it up, taking fervent notes, as Myron fabricated on: “That Goan kudd, the club that birthed many a Bombay band, is where Louis Armstrong visited. 1964.”

“That house—where they played the musical saw, yes it’s a thing, look it up—you will never guess what that saw was later used for!”

He even invented “The Mathar of Pacady”, old man of their hamlet, “…often seen near Christmas, a feisty guardian spirit who appears in a misty haze, beckoning you into the maze of lanes.”

Then he sat back and waited. Soon enough, snatches of Rio’s excitement wafted into the house, “yes, that Louis Armstrong! No, it’s true—fruits four times.” Now Myron just had to wait for him to get caught out. And sooner than expected, one Sunday… relief. He didn’t hear Rio. However…

“If you’ll come this way…we shall see how history, Indo-Portuguese heritage, landmarks, interact.” Another group of clickety-clack yakkety-yak walkers, was headed towards him. This time led from the front by bustling, no-nonsense…

“I’m Freny Avari,” she called out to Myron, open-mouthed at his doorway. “I’ve taken over”

“Rio?”

“That storyteller? You should hear the stories he made up about this place! He was fired!”

He looked at the group, trampling, trespassing… knocking down a poinsettia pot, dripping chips. A replacement tour guide. What had he achieved? Should he come clean?

“Freny,” he began, tentatively. “Those stories. Rihaan—Rio, that err innocent boy—”

“What innocent? He’s scampered to the nearest competition.”

“There’s another walking tour?”

“Twenty at least! Luckily, they haven’t yet discovered this ‘secret village.’ Group! To continue…”

A final bulb lit up in Myron’s head. One final attempt. He rushed inside and began writing. This time, true stories of their heritage, insider stories. The only embellishments: rare photographs and news clippings. He stuffed his labour into a large envelope, addressed it to “Freny Avari”.

Then he made 20 copies.

The next month, the narrow lanes of Mathapacady saw their busiest time ever. As the residents milled about, putting up lights and stars for the festive season, they rubbed shoulders with walking tour after walking tour. “Way more than our capacity!” worried Sakina. “Terrible,” echoed Myron, suppressing a chuckle. “More like our capacity times… 20?”

Weeks wore on, the noise levels and inter-walking group squabbles wore everyone down. Christmas day itself, was a chaotic blur. The residents got closer and closer to breaking point. Until…

One Sunday, Myron awoke to a familiar sound. Peace. The occasional giggle, of children running through lanes, admiring the strings of fairy lights and stars. Cricket bats thwacking. Like the olden days! With one addition—a sign plastered everywhere, overnight:

“Tours by appointment only. Contact Delna or Sakina on numbers below.

No noise, no spitting, no littering, no lingering.”

And…

“NO visitors on Sunday.”

“See you this evening,” passing friends called out. Time to get ready. His party menu was planned; stew, moilee and sorpotel already stewing and home-made wine fermenting. He busied himself with table-place decorations, tree decorations, tuned his violin, brought down the tambola set, the guitar for Mr Lopes. Nothing could dampen his mood, not even the day’s rumour of yet another cottage, “selling out”, not even the usual anonymous phone call: “Ghar bechna hai?”

“Come to my ghar, bechne ko bahut hai,” he joked. “Roasts, masalas, pomfret curry? Best quality, no worry.”

That afternoon he had the most beautiful dream. Evening had arrived. To the shadowy backdrop of twinkling lights, and echoing carols, they’d gathered on his porch; Delna, Sakina, children, Mr and Mrs Lopes, Fernandeses, Pereiras, all. As the time approached, they raised their glasses and toasted him—Sukhala!—and even as the church bells rang, tolling louder, tolling clearer, they lifted their voices and sang:

For auld lang syne, my dear

For auld lang syne

We’ll drink a cup of kindness yet

For auld lang syne.

 

Note: On 3 November 2023, around 200 residents of Matharpacady took out a candlelight march, to protest against the proposed cluster redevelopment, whereby their heritage bungalows would give way to buildings like the towers already hemming them in.

*fugiya: East-Indian fermented, light, airy, deep-fried small bread

**kudd: dormitory-style clubs, where many seafarers from Goa would stay, when working in Mumbai

Nandita da Cunha is an award-winning children’s author. Her latest book, The Dog With Two Names, is a collection of short stories for children that celebrates diversity.

Also read: Lounge Fiction Special: Cutting by Perumal Murugan

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