I WAS HAVING A LOT OF FUN
Mani S. Irani
"Yes," said Meheru in the end, as the stewardess happily looked at her in anticipation. “Some hot water."
"It was the only thing I could take," Meheru explained. "I couldn't face anything to eat." Meanwhile, Mani was busy digging in. Meheru's queasiness lasted throughout the day. She kept watching, as trays of food passed across her lap to Mani who was not about to say no to anything. After all, Mani reasoned, it was free. Finally, Meheru turned to Mani and asked, "How much are you going to eat?"
"We were traveling first-class," Mani elaborated. "Elizabeth had paid for everything and Baba said that we could have anything we were free of food restrictions. For so many years, our lives had been restricted in every way, but now Baba said we could eat anything. Nothing could be done without Baba's direction: everything had to come from him. This time we needn't ask him; we were in the plane and were free. I had never seen a poached egg before. For breakfast, they brought two poached eggs on a tray with the yellow part looking like eyes. It reminded me of Eddie Cantor. I was having a lot of fun.
"I didn't know that Meheru was airsick. I was by the window. Meheru kept refusing everything. The trays passed right under her nose, and I had every bit of it, since I wasn't sick. Meheru kept saying no, and the stewardess asked, 'Isn't there something you want?' The stewardess pointed at me and said, 'She never says no!' I thought, 'Why should I say no? Elizabeth has paid for it! This is first class.' I told Meheru, 'Don't refuse anything. Whatever she brings, say yes, and then pass it on to me.' I took my favorite dishes and the rest went back."
Mani continued: "Along with lunch came a small, individual bottle of champagne. I always wanted to taste champagne. I had heard of how they drank champagne in women's slippers in France and that at every wedding they drank it. Also, when a son is born, in celebration, always champagne. In books I'd read to Baba, it was mentioned. So I should know what it tastes like. I was so thrilled. I told Meheru, 'Don't refuse the champagne. Pass it on to me.' We were free. I didn't have to go and ask Baba if I could have it. But I didn't enjoy the taste. I was so disappointed. It didn't thrill me."
A little later, however, Mani had the chance to try a different alcoholic beverage. "When the stewardess asked everyone later what they wanted to drink, immediately my ears pricked up. I better make it something I've never had, I thought. I loved to try anything once, something exotic. Just so I could try it. In Rex Stout and other detective books, the detective would lean against the counter, smoking, and order a martini. So I said, 'A martini, please.' I didn't know what was coming or even how it would be served. A thin-stemmed glass came, and inside was what looked like a green beetle. It was good I liked it."
This was not Mani's first exposure to alcohol. When she was a child, her mother went out one day, telling Mani to stay home and look after the house. While Shireenmai was gone, a man brought a large plate of food, commemorating the death of some Zoroastrian. With the food was an intoxicating drink similar to vodka. Mani tasted the food and drank the entire glass of liquid. Soon she fell asleep. Six hours later, her mother came and knocked on the door. Mani told her that she had been asleep the whole time and did not have her lunch, but only the food the man had brought and the "hot water." She called it that, she explained, because it burned when she drank it.
Another time, Mani's brother, Beheram, won first prize of Rs. 25 in an Illustrated Weekly photo contest. They planned a party to celebrate. Mani was very young, but wanted some of the bhujias, which they gave her. Everyone was happily drinking beer. Mani did not know what beer was, but this too she wanted to sample. She was given a small glass and discovered it to be incredibly bitter. She drank it anyway, not wishing to show that she found it unpalatable. Being the only girl in the family, Mani wanted to be like her older brothers. She always wondered how she managed to finish it.
MEHERA-MEHER, A Divine Romance, Vol. 3, pp. 14-16, David Fenster
2003 © David Fenster