“And I forgot to tell you we’ll be celebrating Christmas in Cape Town. It will be summer there, you know; it lies in the southern hemisphere. Cyrus has to make a business trip and he’s going to take us along,” gushed my first-floor neighbour, Naju.

Now I understand why she called! Not to ask for the recipe for my strawberry tarts but to gloat about her more-than-perfect son-in-law who is forever whisking them off to exotic places.

“I feel bad, you know, an all-expenses paid vacation for me as well. I said to him, ‘You carry on with your wife and kids, why me?’ But he never takes no for an answer. Bless him, he’s so loving, Shirin. I don’t know what I must have done to deserve such a good son-in-law. Hiro chhe. Every day I count my blessings.”

‘Sorry, I’ve got a call waiting from Adi’s school. Got to go, now. Bye!”

The call is a real lifesaver, but it couldn’t be good news. My life is always about pena maathi chula ma.

Once again, Adi’s in trouble. They tried calling his mother, but she didn’t take the call, so it has to be Grandma who has to face the wrath of the principal.

A quick swipe at my wiry hair, my tracksuit will do, lipstick dabbed on, house keys, car keys sorted, I drive off to school. The afternoon traffic is bad but not too bad by Mumbai standards. In spite of the sky being overcast, the rain gods spare me, thank god. In twenty minutes, I make it to the school gate.

Where’s that earth-shattering grind-groan-creak-clank coming from? Isn’t the area around schools supposed to be a silent zone? Ah, I see it, the tenements next door have been pulled down and an excavator is throwing up stones and dirt. Now a fancy sixty-storeyed tower will come up with lavish living for the well-heeled. God knows where the tenement dwellers have been resettled. Mumbai is no longer a place for the middle or working classes.

Adi’s stooped and lanky frame is visible even from a distance. The same dishevelled look as always, glasses fogged over. No other children around.

He rises as soon as he sees me enter the lobby.

“Why have you come? Where’s Mom?”

“Is this the way to greet your grandmother, Adi? I drop everything; come racing here to bail you out and that’s all you have to say!”

“Mamaiji, let me explain. It wasn’t me –”

“Your stories can wait. Let me see the principal first, Adi.”

Waving him aside, I stride towards the office.

The admin assistant recognises me at once; why wouldn’t she? I’m one of the regulars. She leads me into the principal’s office with a pitying look.

And I’m out in precisely ten minutes because, after years of practice, I know the drill. I have to hang my head low, agree with everything, end with, “I’m so sorry, Dr Jose. I understand completely”, bow my head further, fold my hands and get out.

This time it isn’t even an act on my part; it is truly shocking. Adi has surpassed himself. It can’t be called mischief, dhoor ne dhefar! The boy is an embarrassment to our family, that’s all there is to it. And my darling daughter had better learn how to discipline him before it’s too late.

“What did Kananbala say, Mamaiji? Am I really suspended for a whole week?”

“Of course, you are, Adi, and if I were the principal, I would not merely suspend you but jolly well expel you from the school for what you did. You should thank your stars you’ve got away lightly. And what did you just say? Kananbala?”

“All the students call him that. He’s got hair coming out of his ears! Some students call him a bullfrog because of his bulging eyes. But I prefer Kananbala.”

Adi laughs like a hyena possessed.

“I will not have my grandson use these terms! Stop it, Adi! Let’s go home now.”

“A week away isn’t bad. It gives me time. To prepare. For my term exams.”

“And what about school fees going down the drain? As it is, for two lockdown years, your school enjoyed the fees for those so-called ‘online lessons’ dhoor ne dhefar! It’s July barely two months into the new school year and you will be missing school for a whole week.”

I walk down the steps, and he follows clumsily.

“Did you bring the car?”

“Yes, of course I did. Don’t drag your feet, let’s hurry home.”

“Are you mad at me, Mamaiji?”

He pulls my face towards him. Such a smart kid; now he’ll pretend that he can’t read facial cues. And my daughter, his greatest ally, will support him fully.

“Adi, I’m not getting into a discussion now about what you did. Move it; I want to drop you home before the traffic goes crazy.”

Pushing his hands away, I hold him by the elbow and lead him towards the car and into the back seat. I hate him sitting in the front beside me, his fingers fidgeting with the control panel; it makes me nervous.

“Don’t you want to see the still life that I painted in the art period, Mamaiji?”

“I certainly don’t. Just sit still while I take you home.”

The phone begins to ring just then. Has to be Delna. I’m in no mood to enter into a lengthy conversation.

“Yes, we are coming home. No, I won’t tell you what happened on the phone. Wait till I get home. What? Adi, he’s absolutely fine; what could be wrong with him?”

Adi leans over to snatch the phone from my hands, but I hold on to it and fling it into my bag as soon as my conversation ends.

Thankfully, he keeps quiet until we turn into the lane to their building.

“Can we pick up a packet of chips, Mamaiji? My favourite the cheese and onion ones. Please give me twenty rupees.”

Remorse is not his middle name, dhoor ne dhefar!

“Do you think we are on a picnic, Adi?”

“No, we are returning home from school, Mamaiji.”

“Exactly. We are not stopping for anything, Adi.”


Parking is nearly impossible in their pocket-sized compound and now more so with ongoing repairs.

I drop him at the gate, back up and squeeze myself between two SUVs in the lane. Maruti Alto, zindabad!

The lift is out of order, so here I am climbing up four floors. One of these days, my arthritic knees will give up on me; mark my words. A million times I must have told Delna to move in with me, but her answer is always, “No, Mummy, I must be independent.” And so, she continues to live in that crummy two-bedroom apartment in MIG Colony, Bandra East, regardless of my exhortations.

Excerpted with permission from Living With Adi, Zarin Virji, Duckbill.