Mr and Mrs Innby HUMRA QURAISHI April 24 2020, 8:18 pm Estimated Reading Time: 10 mins, 15 secs
After what seemed an hour, the rain fury finally gave way to just about a drizzle. Not letting the puddles coming in way, I rushed towards the outhouses, writes Humra Quraishi
During those long summer and winter breaks we would spend in my mother’s hometown, Shahjahanpur, one particular couple had always stood out. For me, the odd couple, though others addressed them as Mr and Mrs Inn. Leftovers from the Raj days; not proceeding to Vilayat, opting to stay back amongst the desi lot.
Unaware of the broad backgrounders to them, only somewhat aware of the one basic fact hovering around their very existence - soon after the Partition the two were seen loitering around, on the outskirts of this town; with Mrs Inn’s skirt drawing considerable attention. Nah, it wasn’t the typically long flowing Indian skirt. On the contrary, it was short enough to be attracting inquisitive glances. Her face, of course, more than revealing she wasn’t anyway connected to any of the locals around. Unless a mix and match of sorts? Creamy sperms from one of the firangees finding their way into the interior folds of a desi damsel! Or else, a daring zamindar more than nearing one of the gora memsahibs straying towards his lustful gaze. Whatever be the case or the combination, Mr and Mrs Inn were unsure how to survive the remaining years of their lives after the Nawab sahib of the Avadhi belt was robbed off his patronage powers, long before his shrunken form was dumped in a hurriedly dug grave.
With that, this Vilayati couple heaped their belongings on a make-shift cart, carting them around, pleading for a spare room, along the clichéd roof over their heads. My mother’s family had offered this couple one of the several outhouses to the ancestral bungalow.
And when I had first spotted them what struck was the oddity of it all. After all, their next door neighbours were the two wrinkled gardeners, the evil looking cook and his clan, the hunched chowkidars, the dhobi’s extended family. These families had been staying for years in the backyard of that ancestral bungalow, with mango and guava orchards encircling the entire stretch.
Though it was more than writ large that a class difference came in way between this lot and the Inns, but there seemed little choice for the couple. They seemed to have accepted that destined turn in their lives and looked quite at peace. In fact, whenever I would walk towards the orchards to pluck mangoes and guavas, I could see this couple sitting on a rickety charpoy, staring at each other’s haggard faces. Somewhat unmoving, wearing the same set of clothes, day after day. He in one of those out- dated pair of trousers with an ill-fitting jacket and she in a skirt and a somewhat shrunk shirt together with a scarf dangling on her drooping breasts.
One late afternoon as I’d been pestering my mother to help me with my school assignments, she’d dragged along a suggestion of sorts: I walk towards the outhouses, to the Inns’ room and they could help me complete the assignments.
‘Can they teach… proper English?’
‘Of course! Fluent… proper angrezi! Both teaching Nawab sahib’s children, till they had to shift out.’
‘But will they teach me now… got to complete all this stuff before we leave for Lucknow.’
‘Papa’s not charging them a rupee… totally free their room and electricity and water... of course, they’ll teach you… take your books.’
As I’d neared the outhouses, the collective lot stood out: The dhobis near a makeshift table, ironing achkans and shervanis. The gardeners pulling gourd from those countless creepers; perhaps, tucking them for his evening supper. The chowkidars snoring close to the chameli shrubs. The cook, in between peeling garlic pods, throwing about words towards Mr and Mrs Inn. Not too far loitered the cook’s teenaged son, Bagga, pushing and pulling the slim synthetic collar on the stray dog he seemed to have adopted; in-between it all, loosening his grasp, unleashing his pet…
Seeing me, the Inns turned, ‘Miss you! Miss sit on this murrah. No, not on that cot. This doggy kuttiya… er, Kuts dirtying it… see, see…’
‘Amma sent these kebabs. Also, got along my English books, if you could help with these homework assignments and…’
Before I could utter more, that stray more than neared; grabbing the stainless steel dibba from my grip, dragging it along, before ducking in the camouflaging clasp of the shrubs. Then, straying close to the doggy kuttiya. Lustful and playful, licking and kicking, unleashing full-fledged thrusts, amidst high-pitched frenzied barks.
I must have been in my early teens and not quite grasping it was dogs making love. Yes, love-making in full-swing! For me, it came across as some sort of a wild beastly game going terribly haywire! After all, why were the dhobis pressing their heads! Why were the chowkidars no longer snoring but sitting up, particularly alert? Why was Mrs Inn looking at Mr Inn in some strange way and then at that stainless steel dibba, now reduced to a near mess of a strangely twisted sorts? Why was the cook looking excited; no longer peeling the garlic pods but chewing them? Why was Bagga hopping around excitedly, much too hyper?
Perhaps to distract me and also themselves the Inns decided to take me inwards, into a shabbily done up, dimly lit room, with just about a takht converted to a cot, and a tin box converted to a dining table.
‘This our little room… Supper time. Let’s eat before starting off with your school assignments!’ Mrs Inn announcing more to herself, before placing well-rounded rotis on a plastic plate, insisting on calling them ‘wheat cakes’. Almost simultaneously chopping onions and carrots and tomatoes, ‘freshly tossed salad in home squeezed mustard oil.’ In all probability those veggies hastily uprooted from the garden-patch, before well-cut and well-dipped into oily drops extracted from the mustard flowers, growing in great abundance in fields across the orchards.
Seeing the dearth of food placed on that tin box, I decided to run back home, to fetch some more kebabs.
And as I stood up, the Inns looked more than surprised, till, of course, I placed the books close to one side of the takht, ‘Just back in two minutes… getting more kebabs.’
‘Miss, you leaving your books here! Come back soon… will start off teaching you.’
‘Just back… got to complete all this before we leave for Lucknow. School re-opening on Monday.’
Sudden lightening, thunder, downpour. Nothing coming in way. I went running towards the bungalow.
My mother at the door way, ‘Your books?’
‘There… left them there... running back. Give some more kebabs… that dog snatched away that dibba.’
‘Your books there!’
‘Running back… they’ll teach me now.’
‘Now! In this rain! You not moving from here till this baarish stops… sure to fall ill.’
After what seemed an hour, the rain fury finally gave way to just about a drizzle. Not letting the puddles coming in way, I rushed towards the outhouses. Presuming the Inns couldn’t have possibly ventured out in the midst of this downpour, I stood somewhat unsure, right in front of the termite-infested front door to their allotted room. Should I go inwards? Yes, why not! After all, my books right there.
Pulling the flimsy curtain, making enough space for myself to get inwards, well-inside that dimly-lit room. There they were. No longer sitting. Lying on the takht, in a strangely complicated way. Atop each other. Mr Inn’s limbs all over Mrs Inn’s bony frame. Nah, she wasn’t screaming nor countering any of his moves. Not even, when in the midst of cuddling, he was more than muttering, ‘My beautiful bitch…my Kuts…Kuts!’
What! He calling her a bitch! And she giggling! Something or everything bizarre.
I could have easily tip-toed out of the door, but didn’t. Stood right there, my feet seemed in no mood to carry me backwards. Unmoving I stood, even as I saw him pulling off the faded skirt on her, throwing aside that semi-torn brassiere, kicking away the tiny panty clinging to her thighs. His hands moving all over her shrivelled form, his fingers finding an inroad of sorts, right into her, even as she’d moaned in that uncontrolled way.
I stood un-moving. Even as the couple continued moving their hands here and there, on each other’s forms. His hands on her shrivelled breasts. Her hands moved on his frame, provoking him to carry on…
Some sort of a lull, before his voice came through, ‘Enough! Too much for my age.’
‘You …bloody failure!’
‘Go on… holding me! Don’t leave me… nothing else to our lives in this rotten place!’
‘What’s wrong with you!’
‘Something wrong with you…you failure, failing and …’
With that she went berserk; crying aloud, pulling and tearing the skirt flung not too far. He sat up, trying to control her hysterical outburst. Then all too suddenly he started kissing her, intruding right into her, hissing, ‘See, me… no failure!’
She laughed and cried in some strange way, before throwing about her limbs together with those torn and semi-torn clothes, flinging them towards the door… those near-tatters landing on me, making me shriek in that ongoing way!
The Inns sat up. Up and about, more than sensing there was an intruder.
‘Miss… you! Here!’
‘My books… my books here but now…’
Rattled and baffled I ran out as fast as I could, towards the bungalow before unexpected hurdles could come in way.
Only to hear my mother’s voice piercing through, ‘What! Still not got the books! Enough of your stupidities… sit! This driver just landed.’ Over with instructing Mushtaq Mia, who besides driving the old Dodge ran errands like this one, fetching books stranded in the strangest of situations, she opened my school bag. Pulling out the assignment-sheet together with the big fat Biology text book, thrusting it right in front of my eyes, ‘No wasting time… enough! Your Biology book right here. These chapters to be learnt. Here start off. Not a minute to be wasted. Start off with this chapter on Reproduction… read… start off!’
Reading aloud that chapter, images of what my eyes had been witnessing earlier that evening continued spreading out.
‘Repeat these paragraphs… don’t look so lost.’
‘Just seen something like this.’
‘Yes… yes. Just saw Mr and Mrs Inn doing something strange… don’t know how to explain but they were doing all sorts of strange things in their room!’
We couldn’t leave for Lucknow that weekend as the downpour worsened together with offshoots. Flood fury of the worst sorts.
And somewhere in between the downpour and floods, Mr Inn had died.
He was found dead on the takht, with Mrs Inn sitting not too far.
This time his heart had failed.
Failed him and also her!