On holidays we would stand at street corners and blow conspicuous smoke rings for all the world to see.
One day my father called me up. He wears thick spectacles, and is the grimmest-looking man one will ever see.
‘So you’ve taken to smoking?’ he enquired.
‘Is that a statement or a question?’ I shot back.
He smacked me, and he smacked me hard. He hadn’t done it for three years, and it hurt my ego more than it hurt my face.
‘Thank you, Dad,’ I said. ‘Anything else?’
‘Yes,’ he answered, and smacked me again.
By now my nostrils were dilated, and I was panting.
‘The first was for smoking, and the second for being insolent,’ he explained.
I retired to my room and planned new mischief.
The next day I got back from school, put on my casuals, and slipped out again. When I reappeared I reeked of alcohol and my steps faltered.
Because it was rather late in the evening, it was my father who answered the door.
‘Hello, Dad!’ I greeted him, full of false cheer.
He banged the door to my face.
I sat myself on the kerb outside, lit a cigarette, and began to drawl out popular Hindi film songs.
People passing by briefly stopped and watched, then went their way. Anonymous eyes peered out from behind windows.
God knows how long this lasted, for I lost track of time. Suddenly there was a hand on my shoulder, and when I turned, I looked straight into my forward-bent mother.
The skin around her eyes was slightly creased, like the sandy edges of magical luminous pools of love and understanding. I knew I just had to take a dip in them for my broken state of mind to become whole again.
There was the hint of a small, soft, sad smile playing about her lips.
She said nothing. She just pressed her hand on my shoulders and nodded. Strangely pleasant vibrations washed my body. For a moment I held myself back, and then I don’t know how it happened—I flung away my cigarette, pressed down on her hand on my shoulder, and promised, ‘Sorry, Ma, it won’t happen again!’
That ‘it’ covered everything—smoking, drinking and insolence!