Summer Holidays by Koral Dasgupta is a fairy tale for adults with a comic take on modern families, their ideals, beliefs and prejudices. An excerpt:
Rishi looked at them and then at Mira. Two large suitcases, one huge bag, one backpack, one laptop bag and one sling bag. Mira was watching his irritation with unmasked glee on her face. She stopped him before he could open his mouth. ‘One of these has Sunny’s basil chicken. Say a word and you aren’t getting it.’
Rishi’s face changed immediately. ‘Wicked!’ he muttered and started arranging the luggage so they could pull them till the exit.
The cabbie threw a fit. He demanded an escalated fare for packing so many bags on top. Few arguments later, they drove off.
‘Madam in Mumbai for the first time?’ he asked, wiping sweat off his forehead with a dirty piece of cloth.
Rishi spoke before Mira could. ‘How do you know it’s Madam who has come to Mumbai and not me?’
The driver smiled sarcastically – the kind when one knows the other has asked a silly question. ‘No man carries this much luggage, Sir.’
Rishi looked at Mira; she frowned.
‘So, which place are you from?’ the cabbie asked again.
‘Delhi.’ Mira was curt.
‘Where in Dilli?’ The guy showed no signs of interpreting her body language. ‘People who stay 100km from Dilli also say they are from Dilli.’ He looked through the rear view mirror and saw Mira getting furious; it only seemed to egg him on.
‘People who stay 100km from Dilli also say they are from Dilli.’
‘Ghaziabad is Dilli. Agra, Mathura is Dilli, sometimes even Benaras is Dilli. Ha ha ha!’
Mira tightened her fingers into a fist, but the man was not done yet. ‘So many bags, on top of that. Either madam is running away from home or she comes from a small village in Haryana. People of these villages carry all their belongings when they come to big cities. Because they think that in big cities, everything is too expensive and everybody is a thug! Then they say they are coming from Dilli, to show off their status.’ He grinned again.
Mira was on the verge of erupting, when Rishi called out, ‘Hey, here! Stop the car.’
Confused, both Mira and the cabbie looked at him. The vehicle came to a screeching halt at the side of the road. He stepped out and made as if to unstrap the bags.
People of these villages carry all their belongings when they come to big cities. Because they think that in big cities, everything is too expensive and everybody is a thug!
‘But you said you were going to Powai?’ the cabbie asked, astonished.
‘Eight kilometres from Powai is also Powai. We are people from a small village in Haryana. And,’ he paused, ‘when the fair is Rs 500, we pay only Rs 150. Small-town syndrome, you see.’
‘Come out Mira, quick,’ he added.
It took both of them a few seconds to understand what Rishi was doing. Mira burst out laughing; the cab driver scratched his head and smiled gingerly. ‘Sit in the cab, Sir. What jokes you rich men crack at poor people like us…!’ He emptied a packet of foul-smelling gutkha into his mouth and starting the engine again. This time the kali-peeli drove fast, and in silence—only the muffled sound of the cousins giggling in the rear seat was audible.
Excerpted with permission from Summer Holidays by Koral Dasgupta, Rupa Publications India, Pages 295.
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