The Rummy Club
The Rummy Club
NEW DELHI, INDIA
The chauffeur-driven black Mercedes slithers to a halt in front. Mini, waiting in her parents' rarely used front living room, jumps up, her pink organza sari rustling, and runs to the window, peering out into the semi-darkness that covers the city.
"Inder," she shouts, "Priya and Vik are here."
Inder emerges from the guest bedroom sheathed in a navy pinstriped suit. he moves closer. Mini's nostrils flare.
Brut , she guesses. She smiles. he personifies the NRI, the nonresident Indian, in his appearance-even in the way he smells. If it weren't for the car outside, she'd allow herself to swoon into his arms.
He holds out his hand with the gold purse she'd left in the bedroom.
"Yours, I believe." American smooth at its best. Their eyes meet. her smile widens.
Not bad for an arranged match . Mini puffs up with uxorial pride.
Take caution, young lady. pride comes before a fall . From the base of her medulla oblongata where her subconscious is rooted, Mini's inner Sita, the Goddess who keeps good Indian girls out of trouble, admonishes in her commanding voice. Mini ignores her and tucks the purse in the crook of her elbow.
She's been living in California with Inder for three months now, and this is her first visit back-specifically to attend Alka's wedding, though she isn't above showing off her CPA husband to her friends.
Mini and Priya squeal in delight and hug tightly. It has, after all, been a full three months since Mini's wedding.
But the mood in the car speeding toward Number One Mansingh road is somber. Priya fiddles with the pleats of her Kanjeevaram sari . Inder stares impassively in front of him. Mini seated between them in the rear of the car squiggles her nostril so she can see the light from the streetlamps glint off the facets of her diamond pin.
It feels as if they are going to visit a sick friend, rather than to share what ought to be the happiest day in Alka's life. Vivid Bharati, India's most popular entertainment radio station, is playing a sorrowful love ballad. Oddly appropriate .
In the front seat, Vik Sharma swipes his face with a handkerchief. In spite of the air-conditioner, the heat comes in waves through the driver's half-open window-late May in Delhi is typically humid. Thunder is audible in the distance, and the stifling smell of a brewing storm fills the air. The heat will only be dispelled by a fierce, cleansing rain.
"Close the damn window," Vik snarls to the driver.
Vik turns sideways in his seat to look at his three companions. Mini lowers her eyes, embarrassed for Priya.
"Hell of a time to hold a wedding." The nasal twang is prominent in his whine.
"Hmmmph." Inder's grunt is possible agreement.
"I don't think that Alka knows what she's doing," Priya says quietly. She continues to play with her sari .
"So, is it really true then? Alka's sacrificing herself to save the family fortune?"
Mini's question conjures up the headlines they have all read, splashed across every daily, reported by every major TV news channel, fodder of almost all talk-show hosts. Everyone was talking about Som Aggarwal's sudden and fatal heart attack, followed by the disclosure that the publishing houses he and his brother owned were not only bankrupt, but mortgaged to the hilt.
Even in California, the news reached them. Priya had been the first to call and tell Mini. Then her sister Komal phoned, her disembodied voice confirming and expanding on what Priya had already said. The distressing news has even made it to "Namaste America," the Indian program on a local network that Mini watches avidly every Saturday for one hour.
"All I know is that Alka refuses to discuss it."
"Did you talk to her after ... after?" Mini stops, not willing to bring up the media circus surroundi