About two months after the gong went missing – by now I have even forgotten about it – one morning, Baby tells me, “Didi, you remember the cobra gong you were so upset about? Lopa di has the same gong in her house now. Go ask her where she bought it from.”
This information comes to Baby from Sona, who is Lopa di’s servant.
“Is Sona sure it is bought?” I want to know more about this.
“What are you saying, didi?” Baby knows exactly what I am saying. She just wants to act like she know nothing.
When I tell Mister what Baby told me, he gets angry with me. “Since two months, Cobra gong, Cobra gong. My brain has cooked to a khichri, listening to you. I thought by now you would have forgotten about it.”
That is how Mister is always. He doesn’t understand. He doesn’t even want to think that it might be my cobra gong in her house.
I ask Baby if she will do something for me. “Go to Lopa di’s house and see if the cobra gong looks like mine. Don’t broadcast in your Ganga group what you’re doing, I don’t want even Sona to know.”
I have full confidence on Baby. She is only primary school pass but she is street smart. She goes inside one morning, after Lopa di has gone for her mid-morning walk to the park. She tells Sona that I asked her to pick up curry leaves for me. Everyone knows about Lopa di’s balcony garden. She has a six foot tall curry leaf plant, a few rose bushes and a jasmine shrub, all growing in pots. When Sona goes to the balcony, Baby looks around the drawing room.
“I look everywhere, but it is not there, didi. Maybe Sona is mistaken? Maybe there is no cobra gong.”
“I cannot believe there is no cobra gong. It might be elsewhere in the house, not in the drawing room,” I say. “If there is a cobra gong, and it’s hidden somewhere else, I’m even more sure that it is mine. If it is simply something bought off Steel City market, it would be displayed in the showcase, yes or no?”
Baby nods her head slowly. “It is such a small item, didi.”
How do I explain to her – that it’s not about the money, it’s not about the item, it’s about the principle?
That evening, I see Lopa di in the quadrangle. She’s sitting on the culvert with the other ladies. “Which new country have you been visiting?” says Mrs. Pershad calls out to me. “Nowadays you have become a celebrity. To see you we will have to take a token number and stand in line outside your house.”
They all cackle, Lopa di also. Haha hehe, as if Mrs. Pershad said something very witty. Our travel, our lifestyle, it makes them all very jealous. They cannot say anything mean or wicked directly, so they clothe their jealousy in snide remarks.
I want to tell them, be ashamed. You all are sitting here laughing with a thief. But I say nothing. I have to get inside the thief’s house and look for the cobra gong first.
“Lopa di, I’m going to the Women’s Welfare Society meeting tomorrow afternoon,” I say to Lopa di. “You said you had some old sarees to give them. Shall I come to pick up?”
Mrs. Pershad says she might also have some clothes for them. Not you, I want to tell her. Let Lopa di talk.
Lopa di looks at me through the top of her glasses, and I think she’s almost going to say no. Instead she says, “Do you need it right now? I’m going to the market, no telling how long it’ll take. Also I have to look through the donation pile once more.”
This is the perfect opportunity for me. “I’ll help you sort, if you want.”
When she comes back home from the market, she rings my doorbell. “If we go over the donations in the morning, it will be ok? It’s already seven and quite dark. I don’t feel up to it.”
I’m disappointed, but, “morning is fine,” I tell her.
Next morning is Saturday. No school. I’m at her house even before Baby comes to work.
“I’ll call Lopa di,” Sona, her live-in servant, says. She opens the door only a sliver and hurries down the corridor to Lopa di’s bedroom.
She hasn’t invited me in, but I get into the house.
Quick, I tell myself. I have a minute or two, maximum before Lopa di comes. I look at the showcase first. What if Baby is mistaken?
Lopa di has rows and rows of miniature musical instruments – dholak, violin, sitar, tanpura, a family of pink flamingos, vistas of beaches and forests, a pair of Chettiar bobbleheads.
Definitely nothing shaped like a cobra gong.
I hear Sona coming back, so I turn around from the showcase and give her a smile.
Sona looks like I have a committed a crime by walking into the house when she left me on the doorstep with the door slightly ajar. “Lopa di says to come in.”
Lopa di’s bedroom room is at the end of the corridor from the drawing room. Opposite it is the spare bedroom. Lopa di is standing by the door when I poke my head in. There are piles of clothes everywhere – the floor, the bed, even on top of the TV.
The shock on my face must’ve showed. Lopa di says “Too much, I know. At our age, we should start giving things away. There’s bliss in people enjoying our possessions while we are alive, don’t you think?”
Is she trying to tell me I should give the cobra gong away? What “our age”? I’m easily 8-10 years younger to her.
She steps out of the room and shuts the door firmly behind her. What’s in the room that she doesn’t want me to see?
She opens the door to the spare room. There is a mountain in this room too, but on a smaller scale.
“Should I keep this?” Lopa di asks, holding up a magenta silk. “It might make a good curtain?”
“Your windows already have curtains,” I tell her quickly. “You already got the interior decorator man to do it for you.” It is true. She spent a good 12 lakhs last year to get the house interior done. “Don’t spoil the look with saree curtains.
Lopa di nods her head in agreement. “Where do we start?”
“You have much work. Maybe you continue working in the next room. I’ll sort this pile and call chowkidar to carry it downstairs for me.”
Lopa di leaves. I wait and then close the door behind her. There’s a wooden almirah in the room. Cobra gong has to be here. Only problem – it is locked. It’s a rough but beautiful piece. Unfinished. The wood has swollen and puckered out in some places. I tug at the handle. The door swings forward and backward but the latch remains intact.
I tug harder. It sounds like it might give way. If only I can hit it with something hard. I look around the room. In a corner of the room, on the floor is a coal iron box. This will have to do.
I give the latch a few thwacks with the iron box. It gives way.
Sitting right there, on the middle shelf is the Cobra gong. I pick it up.
“You’re not really here for the charity clothes.”
I spin around. Lopa di is standing at the door staring at me. I feel a throbbing in my head.
“What’s that in your hand?”
I’m about to lie. But then I think – I’ve done nothing wrong. Stop this drama.
“This.” I hold my palm out to her. “What you stole.”
“Mad or what? I didn’t steal anything. Your husband gifted it to me. Go ask him.”
I feel as if the earth moved under my feet. He gave it to her? Why, when he knew it was my favorite piece in the showcase? Why didn’t he tell me?
“If you want it back, take it. But stop calling me a thief.”
I say nothing. I keep the cobra gong back in the shelf. Now that she says it’s hers, I don’t want to touch it. Look at it, even.
That was the last day I spoke to her.
My husband says she’s lying. I believe him.
I kindly ask you to intervene and get to the bottom of this dispute.
Dear Mrs. Deshpande
The Housing Committee does not involve itself in domestic disputes between residents, or between spouses.
As is our position in all such matters, please work directly with your spouse and neighbor to amicably resolve the dispute.
Dear Mrs. Deshpande
This notice is in regards to my client, Mrs. Lopa Jana, resident of Apartment 5C, Ganga Satellite. The accusation my client makes against you are as follows:
That on the morning of November 15th, 2016, you entered my client’s house under false pretexts.
You caused considerable damage to her property, which resulted in repairs costing 5000 Rs.
In addition, you accused her of stealing your property. My client denies your allegations and considers your accusation to be entirely without merit.
She demands that you compensate her for damages sustained to her property, including any lawyer fees incurred.
Attorney, Zilla Court
“Let it go na, didi. God willing, you will make many more trips to Singapore. Why only one gong, you will buy ten cobra gongs. Keep them all over the showcase, gift to neighbors. Why take tension for small things?”
Baby’s words from earlier in the day wouldn’t let
Mrs. Deshpande sleep as she lay in bed watching her husband. How to explain to Baby? Or those women sitting on the culvert, laughing at her, watching her with their catty eyes, wondering? Why, Lopa di and Mister had even patched up. She saw them standing on the landing, talking.
She touched her husband lightly on his nose. “Tell me the truth. Did you gift it to her?”
Mr. Deshpande just turned away and face the wall. Within two minutes, she heard him snoring. Mrs. Deshpande got up and turned off the light.