Ancestral Affairs by Keki N Daruwalla: First Read


December 7, 2015

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There has been no news from Zarine for over ten days. I am worried. Resentments have been building up from her side. Resentments, in any case, are not hard to work on. I had put Rohinton, our son, in a boarding school at Lawrence College, Murree. Zarine had argued and fought. We need to make a man of him, I had insisted.


“Why so far?” Zarine shouted, “Why not at Panchmari?” Murree brought visions of gun-slinging Pathans to her mind. Worse, she thought there was no Parsee around for miles to act as local guardian. I had disabused her of the notion. The breweries there were owned by Parsees.

When Rohinton had returned after his first year there, I was appalled.

The boy said the school was full of the children of Tommies and he had to engage in over fifty fist fights. I couldn’t believe it, Zarine could. The fellow had been writing to her and she kept some of his letters from me – may have thought I would get too worked up. Next year, he was a bit happier. Less fights. But he was still there.

There were more recent grouses. I hoped it was not a carry-over of her resentment from our trip to Paris which was cut halfway. Sometimes women can be maddeningly insistent. A trip to Paris seemed to mean more to her than my job. She had dreamed of the city all her life and was not to be deterred, even though she knew I was on the verge of becoming a partner in Crawford and Hailey, my firm, but was encountering resistance, if not hostility, from within the office.

Zarine had decided on October end. Fares will be cheap. I tried to put her off, but failed. (I had tried to reason with her – no one goes to Paris in winter. Wait six months, and we’d really live it up in the summer—Fontainebleau, Versailles, Louvre, boat ride on the Seine, the works. It didn’t work. “Soon kaklat karech?” She said in Gujarati, What are you saying? “And don’t forget, Pappa is paying the fare.” Yes, that was a cross one had to bear – her Old Man dishing out the dough.)

Eyebrows were raised at the office when I broached the subject, but the partners granted leave. Another solicitor, Deepak, cooling his heels like me to become a partner, asked me if I knew what I was doing. “This isn’t the time for long leave,” he said. We both knew that one of the partners at Crawford and Hailey, the bewhiskered yet balding Mr Saklatwala, was particularly unhappy with me for handling a divorce matter. I had spent three months talking to the couple and convinced them to carry on with the marriage. I thought I had done a great job. Mr Saklatwala did not. He had let the whole office know what he thought of it. In fact, he was so garrulous that advocates had named him Mr Kaklatwala, meaning chatterbox.

Advocates were third in the hierarchy, after partners and solicitors, as far as the firm went.

The trouble was (and I came to know of it much later) that the father of the boy, a real moneybag, wanted a divorce for his son. Moneybags can promise law firms a lot of money, especially if they want an unwanted daughter-in- law out of the house.

Moreover, unbeknown to me, he had offered Saklatwala’s brother a job in his chartered accountant’s firm. And unbeknown to Saklatwala, I had affected the patch-up – even induced the couple to kiss in the office with sundry attorneys and typists applauding. That moolah, of course, never came into the coffers of the firm.

Then the Resident had called from Rajkot on the recommendation of Seervai. I was recalled from Paris, made to cool my heels, then sent here. The senior partner, a Scot, said in his usual staccato manner, “This is a big job, Sam. Your name will be in the papers. You are on home ground – constitutional law, your strong suit, the only suit you have – ha ha. Who knows, you may become an adviser to the Chamber of Princes.”

Just as well we returned early. Zarine’s father got a heart attack and died. That was a pretty traumatic period for her, though she took it bravely. My other worry was she had got interested in religion. An old swami had made an impact. His photograph was in our flat now, resting on a small table by itself, with a rudraksh mala under the snap. I had said nothing. The soul has its own whims; it leads you where it wants to go. Not my job to meddle.

Excerpted with permission from Ancestral Affairs, Keki N Daruwalla, 4th Estate.