“I knew my flowers wouldn’t survive on this cramped balcony space,” complained Banoo to her husband Pesi. “Just look at my poor roses. They have just refused to bloom.”
Banoo, who loved large open spaces, had never been able to adjust to living in a flat and she missed her pretty and well-kept garden. Pesi, on the other hand, had taken to apartment life like a duck takes to water. Unlike his wife, he did not feel constrained or hemmed in by the smaller and more compact living space; and whereas his wife was aloof and wary of strangers, he enjoyed the interaction and the rubbing of shoulders with his neighbours and fellow flat owners.
Banoo and Pesi Poonawala in their forty years of marriage had always lived in a comfortable colonial-style bungalow with a large front garden, which Banoo tended painstakingly and lovingly. The wide variety of colourful flowering plants that she cultivated was her passion and she prided herself on how beautiful and well maintained her garden was. But with their children being away, their own advancing years and the shortage of house help, the large home was becoming difficult to manage. Reluctantly and with deep misgivings Banoo had finally been convinced by her children to sell the house and move into an apartment.
Banoo was a tall, well-groomed woman in her mid-sixties with silver-grey hair pulled back in an elegant chignon. She was always well-dressed with a taste in clothing that harboured on the classic rather than the contemporary and this coupled with her natural poise gave her an air of refinement and good breeding. She was charming and friendly with those in her immediate circle but was distant and stand-offish with people outside her chosen milieu. Behind her back some said she was arrogant and a snob, a reputation that was not entirely undeserved. People also gossiped that Banoo bossed over her mild-mannered husband and it was she who wore the pants in their household.
Be that as it may, Banoo also had fixed ideas about good behaviour and comportment. These she applied to herself in her day to day life; but the trouble was she expected others to conform to her own standards. It is not surprising therefore that she was often disappointed in other people and looked upon them with disdain. Pesi frequently reminded her to let up a bit and be more tolerant, especially with reference to their neighbours.
But Banoo was unrelenting, “Can’t these people be more civilized and put their footwear in a storage rack instead of leaving their shoes sprawled on the landing outside their door, especially when they have visitors? It keeps coming in the way of people using the staircase,” she railed against the neighbours on the floor just below theirs. “Pesi please take up this at the next building society meeting.”
“We have told them repeatedly but they don’t pay any heed. Don’t worry, dear. Leave it to me, I’ll work something out,” countered Pesi, as a mischievous plan already seemed to be forming in his mind.
Compared to his wife, Pesi was jolly and easy-going with a friendly and engaging personality. Whilst travelling together on a flight or on a train journey his curiosity about people and places made him strike up a ready conversation with his fellow travellers, much to the annoyance of his wife who maintained a stiff upper lip and preferred to keep to herself. Another one of his traits which irritated his wife was his penchant for playing practical jokes. At seventy years of age, he retained an impish sense of humour and an almost childlike naughtiness. Recently retired, his creativity and imagination were now diverted to inventing new pranks and finding fresh victims for his tricks and gags. For the juvenile in him, half the enjoyment lay not only in never being found out but also in standing on the sidelines watching the results of his prank being played out.
For their daily newspaper, the Poonawala’s subscribed to the National Herald, whilst the immediate neighbours on their landing took the Daily Chronicle. On his early morning rounds, the newspaper boy deposited the respective newspapers on the doormat outside each flat. Banoo had recently tired of the National Herald and one of her friends had suggested,
“Why don’t you move to the Daily Chronicle. It has much better coverage. I gave up the National Herald long ago. It was too full of publicity. You had to literally look for the news amongst all those ads.”
Banoo put the idea across to her husband, “Pesi could you please ask the newspaper boy to deliver us the Daily Chronicle from tomorrow instead of the National Herald?”
“Sure Banoo, but why don’t you first give the Daily Chronicle a trial for two days. If you really prefer it to the other paper, we will make the shift permanent.”
Banoo saw the practicality of this suggestion, “That makes sense. But Pesi doesn’t forget to inform the newspaper boy tomorrow itself.”
“Don’t worry, dear, I will look after it,” the ever compliant Pesi reassured her.
The next morning Pesi rose a little earlier than usual but after the boy had finished delivering the newspapers in the building. He tiptoed out of the bedroom and opened the front door as noiselessly as possible. With a furtive glance around the landing, he made sure that no one was watching. With a deft movement, he made a quick exchange of newspapers with the neighbouring flat, taking away the Daily Chronicle and leaving behind the National Herald on the neighbour’s doormat.
His task accomplished, he crept back into bed next to his wife, satisfied that she was still fast asleep. At breakfast later that morning, Pesi beamed proudly and presented Banoo with her chosen newspaper, “See Banoo I told you not to worry. Here’s your new paper. I hope it will live up to your expectations.” Banoo appeared satisfied and the following morning Pesi repeated his early morning exercise.
The neighbour had not reacted to getting a different newspaper the first day attributing the change to a possible shortage of his regular newspaper. But after not getting his regular newspaper on two consecutive days, he decided to take up the matter with the delivery boy. He rose early, already grouchy at having to wake up earlier than his usual hour and waited outside his front door in order to intercept the boy as he came up with the newspapers.
“Why am I not getting my usual newspaper for the last two days? Why have you been giving me the National Herald?”
“Sir I have been putting your regular paper as per my habit. I have not made any change,” the boy protested as he handed over a copy of the Daily Chronicle.
The irate customer snatched the newspaper from his hand with the threat, “You watch it boy. I won’t take any nonsense from you. Just do your work properly or I will change to a different newspaper agency,” as he turned around and banged his front door shut.
All the while Pesi stood with his front door open to just a crack watching and enjoying the altercation with an impish grin on his face. After his neighbour had angrily left the scene, he turned his door wide open asking the boy to henceforth deliver the Daily Chronicle which his wife Banoo had been satisfied with after her two-day trial.
Thoroughly satisfied with the denouement of his latest prank, Pesi rubbed his hands gleefully thinking of how best he would execute his plan for resolving the problem of the scattered footwear on the landing below theirs.
Illustrations by Paris-based artist Danesh Bharucha
Bangalore based writer, Saeed Ibrahim , is the author of “Twin Tales from Kutcch,” a family saga set in Colonial India, which has won critical acclaim both in India and overseas. Saeed was born and brought up in Mumbai and was educated at St. Mary’s High School and St. Xavier’s College and later at the University of the Sorbonne in Paris.
He has also written newspaper articles, short stories, book reviews and some travel writing. His love of history, tradition and heirlooms is highlighted in his current book as also in the stories he has written for the Museum of Material Memory.
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