Crossed Connections

6 PM
The Verma family’s palatial farmhouse on the outskirts of New Delhi

Sarla Verma hurried over a last minute inspection of the dinner preparations for tonight’s party. She had spent an agonizing week debating over the dinner menu this time. Her friend Leela had had seven courses in her party last Friday. A meal isn’t complete with less than seven courses, she had gloated.

The barb was aimed directly at her of course. Sarla was too adept at this game to miss the significance of that remark. And just because she hadn’t offered Leela the appetizers when she had come in late to the Verma’s last party! Leela had come when most of the guests were finishing dinner, Sarla flushed as she recalled the incident. She’d show everybody tonight though, she promised herself. With a stern admonition to the cook to make sure dinner was ready in time, she swept out of the kitchen to get ready for the evening.

 

7 PM,
The Nair family’s plush flat in the heart of South Delhi

Leela Nair struggled with the pleats of her expensive Kanjeevaram saree. It was getting late but she wanted to look her best for Sarla’s dinner party tonight. After all, Mrs. Singh would be there too. What nerve that woman had, coming to Leela’s home and insinuating that her prized Chiffon saree might be fake! Leela recalled the incident indignantly.

But how her snooty face had fallen with Leela’s biting remark about the seven course meal! And it did not escape the notice of the other women either, Leela recalled gleefully. No one in their posh Delhi circle would let Mrs. Singh get away with serving only one dessert at a dinner party, she felt sure of that. And especially with all the airs Mrs. Singh gave herself otherwise.

But Leela was still puzzled that Sarla had not joined in the general laughter that followed her remark. Come to think of it, Sarla had behaved rather strangely, giving her cold looks and ignoring her for the rest of the evening. One would think she had been insulted and not Mrs. Singh!

And then there was that malicious remark from Mrs. Lodhi, something inane about the quality of the food being more important than the quantity. Quality, indeed! As if her food wasn’t good enough for the likes of Mrs. Lodhi! True, the paneer was slightly burnt, but nobody had seemed to notice. Or had they? Leela wondered.

She had expected Sarla to come to her rescue, but Sarla had been strangely indifferent. At least she didn’t join in the unkind sniggers, Leela consoled herself. But she was slightly miffed at her friend’s uncharacteristic behavior nevertheless.

 

8 PM
The Verma family’s palatial farmhouse on the outskirts of New Delhi

Sarla heard the first guests coming in. She took a last look at her immaculately arranged drawing hall before adopting her practiced stance in a strategic corner, ready to show off her new Dhakai saree to the best advantage. The maid hurried to open the door. After all, she, Sarla Verma, could hardly be expected to open the door herself. No, that would never do, of course not, she thought to herself.

Strange woman, Mrs. Singh thought as she walked into the beautiful room and saw Mrs. Verma simpering away in a corner. Why didn’t she come forward and greet her guests like a good hostess? Was she trying to show off her saree? It was exquisite to be sure. Was she angling for some praise? Poor Mrs. Singh was unsure. After the fiasco at Mrs. Nair’s party last week she was afraid to offer even praise. God only knew how these women might interpret it!

She had been trying to praise Mrs. Nair’s saree last week, declaring it a refreshing change after all the imitation Chiffon sarees in vogue these days, but her hostess had unexpectedly taken affront to this innocent remark and repaid her friendly gesture with a stinging rejoinder on her own failings as a hostess.

Naturally shy and timid, Mrs. Singh found it hard to indulge in the kind of power politics she knew these women played. Better stay off the subject of sarees, she decided as she walked into the room and gently greeted Mrs. Verma.

 

9 PM
The Verma family’s palatial farmhouse on the outskirts of Delhi

Arun Nair’s booming voice roared across the drawing room as he pronounced his customary categorical judgments on the state of the national economy. Leela turned away, completely bored. Didn’t her husband ever tire of the same discussions, the same arguments, repeated over and over again at party after party? She tried to focus on the more interesting conversation in the women’s circle instead.

Sarla was holding forth on the abysmal quality of household help these days while Mrs. Singh nodded her head in agreement. Look at her, behaving like a thorough doormat to Sarla, Leela thought in disgust. She was feeling unusually high-strung today.

Mrs. Singh was in fact trying hard to conceal her boredom behind her polite nods. Don’t these women ever tire of discussing the same old topics again and again?, she mused.

Despite her calm demeanor, Sarla was fuming inside. Mrs. Singh was being really aloof, but worst of all, nobody had commented on her expensive new Dhakai saree yet. ‘Oh, what a beautiful saree Leela, is that genuine Kanjeevaram silk?’, she asked in a vain attempt to draw attention to her own saree. She had completely forgotten her friend’s anger at Mrs. Singh’s remark last week.

Leela Nair couldn’t believe her ears. The newcomer’s taunts were bad enough, but here was her old friend Sarla snubbing her in a similar manner. It was too much, really, too much to bear! She had half a mind to walk out of the party but controlled her temper with some effort.

Mrs. Singh observed the exchange of words between the two ladies in horrified silence, thanking her stars that she had chosen to keep mum on the subject.

 

10 PM
The Verma family’s palatial farmhouse on the outskirts of Delhi

Sarla was completely unaware of the cause for Leela’s slighted feelings. Why was she giving her those strange looks? Was she feeling guilty for her remarks last week? Sarla tried to understand her friend’s puzzling behavior. Yes, that must be it, she concluded. Besides, Leela really deserved to feel guilty after treating her so shabbily last week! But she wished her friend would cheer up before the entire party was ruined. It was no fun making biting remarks without someone to back her up!

The mystery behind Leela’s behavior cleared up, Sarla’s furious mind now worked overtime looking for a way to insult the hateful Mrs. Singh. Wasn’t Mrs. Lodhi saying something about Leela being upset over the dessert served at Mrs. Singh’s welcome party? Leela was sure to join in once Sarla baited Mrs. Singh about it. She might even snap out of her gloomy mood that way! Sarla was excited now that she had finally hit upon a good idea.

‘Oh, do have another gulab jamun Mrs. Singh’, she enjoined in a particularly catty voice. ‘And won’t you have another of the rasmalais? I so hope you’ll like our humble spread. There may not be too many items, but I do try so hard to make sure whatever I serve is good. Not everybody does that, you know. Are you sure you won’t like another of these delicious gulab jamuns?’

Sarla watched with open-mouthed horror as her dear friend Leela stormed out of her house. She wasn’t sure why, but something about the look on Leela’s face told her their fifteen year old friendship had irrevocably ended that night.

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11 responses to “Crossed Connections

  1. LOL!! Good one. I got muddled up with the names and situations initially, but then I concentrated and got it all right 😀

    You have brought out everything so well – the false prestige, misunderstanding, extreme sensitivity – and the total waste of time of these parties.

    You know, this happens in all “kitty” parties – or so I have heard. Each one striving to outdo the other – I thought parties were for fun and relaxation and socializing…. but these parties are just stages for showing off and trying to be one up on the other. Disgusting.

  2. Shruthi, I have attended quite a few of these parties among the expat crowd in Manila in my childhood, and have seen my mom struggling to stay away from their politics.

    This story was probably my way of getting rid of those unpleasant experiences once and for all!

    I so wish one of those ladies could read this though! Now that would be fun, wouldn’t it? 🙂

  3. Oh my god, how do they even manage to remember who said what and when with eryone trying to get back at everyone else?
    Luckily I have never been part of this crowd – sounds exactly like a chapter in a shoba de novel.
    🙂
    Very well written.

  4. 🙂 Playing politics requires a certain amount of intelligence too, Usha! Its just sad that these women waste their brains this way.

  5. Thanks CW, Cee Kay. I got confused myself many times while writing this. It was a complex piece, but you’ll admit nothing compared to the kind of politics played out in these parties. 🙂

  6. Hey Trupti, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    To be frank I don’t think I’m great at writing fiction. Just wanted to attempt it once to get it out of my system! 🙂

  7. Never thought I’d see the day when someone reads my posts with SO much interest! I am truly overwhelmed Manpreet!

    About writing fiction, I will disagree with you here. I don’t think I’m very good at it and I’ve even thought of bringing down this post someday. 😦 Glad I kept it now, at least you enjoyed it a bit!

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