A House full of Men by Parinda Joshi is the story of a dysfunctional family with lopsided gender dynamics. An excerpt:
When Kittu showed up at the dining table that morning, Shamik was devouring minced chicken parathas, served steaming hot by Lakshmi Mausi, with immense gratification. He was the only person she knew who ate chicken for breakfast. And of course, the most loved family member, Bark Twain, did too.
Nishant, meanwhile, was playing mind games with cereal and milk, making flakes of corn swim in the pool of milk without getting wet on the top so the ‘corn boats’ wouldn’t leak. Both Shamik and Nishant sported pompadours. They had longer hair on top with a fade on the sides. Shamik’s fade, however, was more buzz cut than Nishant’s.
‘Are you trying your luck at make-up again, Kittu Di?’ Shamik asked. It was around 7 a.m., too early to be bugged by insufferable siblings.
‘Why?’ Kittu asked disinterestedly although she could barely open her eyes.
‘Because raccoon eyes are kinda unappetizing.’
She glanced at his plate. He’d torn into and gobbled at least two XL-sized parathas in the short time she had been there. His left hand clutched a glass the size of Burj Khalifa filled with protein shake. Unappetizing? ‘Don’t make me paint some make-up on you.’
‘Don’t need any. I look sexy just the way I am. Check out my deltoids. Added a whole inch.’ Shamik flexed his right arm to flaunt the newly added inch.
‘Can you also work on adding an inch to your cerebrum?’ she joked.
‘Which muscle is that?’ he asked innocently.
She rolled her eyes, pressing her forehead into her palms. He went back to polishing off his food and entered his breakfast in the nutrition journal he maintained for Coach Tiwari.
‘How can one possibly digest all that food at this ungodly hour?’ Kittu remarked as the parathas kept coming.
‘You try jogging 5K at an ungodly hour and you’ll know.’
‘Did dad go with you?’ Nishant enquired softly.
‘Indeed. I had to drag him out of bed. But dad maintains that he wouldn’t miss jogging with me for the world.’
‘Such lies. He’d easily miss it for his beauty sleep,’ Kittu retorted.
‘You’re just jealous, Kittu Di,’ Shamik wouldn’t have any of it.
‘Not one bit. I get plenty of quality time with him on the chessboard where we can actually talk!’
‘Poor man. Has anyone checked with him on what he actually likes? Learn from our Nisha Begum,’ he said pointing to Nishant. ‘He never tortures dad by making him sit through his plays. Dad would suffer multiple brain strokes and die of acute boredom.’
Ravi Pant walked into the kitchen to request Lakshmi Mausi for another cup of coffee.
‘Shut up!’ Nishant said sternly, pointing a finger in Shamik’s face.
‘Arre, what did I say? Did you not just play the role of Shaira Begum or am I hallucinating?’
‘I played the role of Shailendra Prasad, the legendary dancer. His alter ego was Shaira Begum. They needed an actor who had the calibre to play both parts, someone who understood the intricacies of the character’s psychological depths. Not that I would expect a dimwit like you to understand.’
‘If I’m a dimwit you’re a dolt, Nisha Begum,’ Shamik retorted, the heat in his tone rising.
‘Dimwit and dolt mean the same thing,’ Nishant explained, mocking his twin’s infantile gibe.
‘Exactly. I rest my case,’ Shamik answered, his voice unsure, to which Nishant sniggered.
Kittu hoped her father would cut both boys to size, but he picked up his coffee and left.
‘The street dogs aren’t up yet. Let the prerogative of beginning the morning with dogfights be theirs,’ Kittu said, gnashing her teeth.
Neither of the boys took heed and continued with their verbal duel.
‘Else I’m going to have to lock you in the storeroom again,’ she threatened them unconvincingly.
Shamik stopped to mull over that threat for a moment, then laughed out loud. ‘The last time you locked us in that cold dark storeroom was when we were single digits old, Di. Please, at least have decent goals that you can fulfil,’ Shamik said, dismissing her once-well-known but transient power over the twins. Nishant nodded too and ridiculed her threat, leading to a prominent scowl on Kittu’s face.
‘Bark Twain’s food is ready. Whoever wants to be his favourite today should feed it to him,’ Lakshmi Mausi called out in an attempt to diffuse the situation.
Bark Twain had been famously named so by the patriarch of the Pant family, High BP, when he was only a three-month-old perpetually hungry puppy. High BP loved reading spiritual books aloud while seated on the veranda in his rocking chair, which was placed strategically next to the soaking wet khus curtains so he could be the sole beneficiary of their cool, fragrant goodness. The puppy would hang around with him, playing footsie, jumping over and under the rocking chair and tugging at his starched white pyjamas. High BP took this for a literary bent and thus the puppy was rechristened from Bittu to Bark Twain. Kittu had expressed immense relief that day.
Bark Twain’s favourite meal was chicken patties, which were ceremoniously made with much love for the poodle prince. They were not to be overcooked under any circumstances. He would not only reject an overcooked patty but also give the cook and the server a death stare. That gaze had burned many in the Pant household, some more severely than others.
Elaborate quality control processes were set up after the last mishap when High BP had brought some steaming kebabs wrapped in a Hindi daily from Ganj for the family.
The aroma had saturated all of Vishal Khand and Bark Twain had leaped at him right at the main gate. High BP had cut a hot kebab into two to ensure it was cooked to perfection before offering one to his impatient canine buddy. Sinking his teeth into the kebab, the pooch had appeared to relish it for a brief moment before dragging the half-open packet of newspaper-wrapped kebabs and placing it right next to the trashcan. No one got a taste of kebabs that night since Bark Twain guarded the area to ensure the packet wasn’t removed and its contents consumed.
Neither of the boys got up from the table so Kittu flicked them both on the head, took the patties from the cook, put them on Bark Twain’s plate and called out to him. The pup came running up.
‘Oh shucks he’s wearing dad’s tie again,’ Kittu shook her head and exhaled sharply. Bark often raided her father’s closet, pulling out the bottom-most drawer with his paws, picking out a fine silk tie and tangling it until he was able to get it around his neck.
Bark Twain didn’t appreciate the comment or the expression. He let out a sharp bark and looked away, waiting for someone else to offer him food so he could pounce on it. It was beneath him to eat anything served by Kittu. Period.
Excerpted with permission from A House full of Men by Parinda Joshi published by HarperCollins India.