Sunday 16 February 2014

‘Papa, you kiss him’

Jeet Uncle, who always dresses smartly himself, is surprisingly indulgent regarding his wife’s fetish for garish pinks and all shades of red.

I have always liked to watch them, especially Nola Auntie. I am not as well versed in the ways of the world, but even I have to admit her gaudy magenta salwar kameez suit complements her rosy cheeks; the cherry red outfit, in which she dazzles with a twinkling red and gold bindi stuck on her forehead, would be difficult for most young women to carry off.
The couple lives within walking distance of our house. When they were newly married, the two would drop in once or twice a week after dinner. They said it was to look us up, but I suspect they wanted to spend time together, away from his large family. 
She was fair, plump, and very girlish when I first saw her. I mean, I was an impressionable 16, and Nola Auntie, who was Mom’s first cousin, was just 20. She had lived in another town before her marriage, so we had never met, not even on family occasions.
I quite looked forward to their visits, for it was a big change from my dreary transition from school to college. Not just that, most of our visitors are pretty senior in age. My parents are a happy-hosting couple, and there is nary a day their friends or sisters or cousins do not show up – so boring for me. I have few friends nearby, so I stay indoors mostly.
Back to the newly weds. Nola Auntie tended to prattle like a child, but Jeet Uncle was clearly besotted by her. I eagerly drank in their exchange of romantic looks, their pleasant banter, and their playful complaints about each other to big sister, that is, my mother.
Little Kaunu made everyone laugh.
Digital sketch: Harjeet
They would go on tours frequently, which meant Jeet Uncle’s office sent him someplace and Nola Auntie would accompany him each time.

I derived a lot of vicarious knowledge about places I have still not visited, despite having left my teenage years behind. Jeet Uncle was very good with word sketches, for I could vividly imagine the lush green of the coast down south dotted with the sloping red roofs of mud cottages, or the lights of a merry-go-round in Rajasthan when Nola Auntie wanted to keep riding a particular wooden horse painted red, white and gold.
Two years into their marriage, Nola Auntie decided to get pregnant and was so cool about it. I mean, in my protected little world, no one could so unashamedly display a swollen belly! Being with child, Nola Auntie was advised to take a walk every day, so their visits turned into daily affairs.
Living in a small house meant I could not be shooed away to a remote corner while the women discussed morning sickness and baby clothes. So I learnt a lot about pregnancy and calcium doses, mood swings and hospital visits.
Jeet Uncle turned into a harried man obsessed with the health of his wife and their unborn child. I got rather tired of his endless fuss over blood pressure readings, diet charts, queasiness, doctors’ reports and what not. So it came as a big relief when Nola Auntie delivered a baby, a boy they named Kaunu. Now life would be back to its earlier fun years, I thought to myself.
How naïve could I be! The baby’s arrival changed the couple forever. No, no, Nola Auntie still dressed in her reds and pinks, Uncle still drooled at the sight of her. But now there were no travel tales, no romantic banter, only talk of baby, baby and more baby. Thankfully, the couple could not be at our place as often as before.
Instead of walking, however, they would bring Kaunu on their two-wheeler. I stopped minding his presence after a while. I guess a child takes to people that its parents feel happy with. He would extend his chubby arms towards us and we would coo over him. Soon he learnt to preen himself in the face of so much adult adulation.
When little Kaunu learnt to crawl, our house was cleared of all breakable items that he could possibly pounce upon. He was so much like a family member that we made minor adjustments in furniture to give him a free run of the house.
Kaunu took his first baby steps before our eyes. He uttered his first coherent words in our presence, and we were about as ecstatic as his parents were. His broken sentences still leave us in splits.
Though he is a boy, many of his clothes are red or pink. I have tried to impress on Nola Auntie a number of times that boys wear green, yellow or blue. I read somewhere that pinks and reds were meant for girls. But she shuts me up by saying if that were the case, manufacturers would not be selling red T-shirts and polo necks and pink shorts and trousers.
I have yet to come up with a solid counter argument. Kaunu, meanwhile, continues to sport bright red, mauve and pink clothes. 
Last month, Nola Auntie, much plumper and with even rosier cheeks than when she got married, waddled in with Kaunu in tow. He was dressed in a pair of crimson trousers offset by a white shirt but with a red bow. His mother was looking stunning in a matching crimson sari, her hair stylishly rolled into a bun.
Jeet Uncle arrived later with some relatives who were to stay behind with us. He was taking his wife and son to a party straight from here. When we were all gathered around Kaunu and encouraging him to say cute, naughty nothings, an old aunt said teasingly, “Little boy, your mother is looking so lovely. Go kiss her.”
Kaunu smartly trundled up to his mom and gave her as sound a buss as a little child his age could. He turned around, beaming with the satisfaction of a task well executed.
Next my mom offered her cheek, and Kaunu obliged. But when my father urged him to give him a kiss too, he turned to Jeet Uncle and said in a wonderfully steady voice: “Papa, you kiss him.”
We all laughed heartily, but Nola Auntie turned as crimson as her sari when the old aunt remarked tartly: “See! He didn’t ask his mom to kiss on his behalf … he’s already a sensible young man.” 

Oh, really? I thank my stars I did not join in and seek a kiss from the toddler that evening.