There was a curious smell in the room that Sheel did not like. As he stood peeping through a slight crack in the door, he saw his father raise his glass filled with a yellow liquid, sometimes so excitedly that the top of the liquid sloshed and waved threateningly to the brim of the glass, and laughing loudly as he absent-mindedly gorged on pepper-coated peanuts. He dropped the bowl containing the peanuts a couple of times, and even scooped a few from the floor into his mouth. Careless dabs of food lodged in the side of his moustache; Sheel had rarely seen his father like this. Was he drunk?
With a head full of dense, finger-combed hair, Mr. Lal could have been called handsome if you ignored his unshaven face and hastily donned crumpled kurta with the first two buttons undone, advertising a white undershirt with tiny tears at the neckline. He was talking animatedly to two portly gentlemen who were both drinking generous portions of the same liquid from large glasses. One of them merely smiled at Mr. Lal, the other answered in drawls. While Sheel recognized Mr. Rai, with his betel-lacquered brown teeth, and a smile that brightened his beady eyes and trebled the number of chins that cascaded over his cotton turtleneck, he didn’t know who the drawl guy was.
Sheel would have stood there for a while had he not heard his mother walk into the room.
“Sheel? What are you doing standing here, beta?” Tanvi was a mild-mannered woman who was always prettily dressed; her characteristic sleeveless blouses and a handful of subtly crafted bangles nicely matched her embroidered sarees. Composed and unhurried, her dainty features defied rage; the only time Sheel could remember his mother show displeasure was when she accidentally locked herself out of the house. She would have stuck it out till help arrived but for her son who was inside, alone. As she bent down to talk to Sheel, her pearl encrusted earrings that were wrapped delicately around her ears, dangled. “Daddy is with his friends, chotu.”
“What are they doing?”
“They are celebrating Mr. Rai’s victory.”
“He won the elections, remember? He is now an MLA?
“Member of Legislative… let us say he is an important person now.”
“I thought daddy didn’t like him.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Didn’t he say the other day that Mr. Rai doesn’t spend enough time with Pia and Raj? He also said he wears the same shirt without washing them and that his breath smells bad.”
“Alright, that is enough, chotu.”
“He said that, right?”
Tanvi put her hands behind Sheel’s back and guided him slowly towards the front door. “Why don’t you go and play in your stair house?”