Songs from the dinosaur era blared on the radio and I was forced to listen. What was worse, I was forced to appreciate. You had to, when you were visiting an uncle who had a cute son whose attention you would do anything for. Pretending to like archaic music was the least of my worries right now.
Col S.P.S. Khanna, aka Laali uncle sat in his arm chair sipping on his whisky (on the rocks) and I sat facing him, on the close-to-comfortable sofa chair with a glass of roohafsa in my hand. Roohafsa, I had realized over the years, was the safest drink at a family gathering. It suggested you were amiable, you didn’t drink ‘hard drinks’ – which meant you were a ‘good girl’ – and most of all, it meant you were born of this generation, but comfortable with things of the past. Yes, roohafsa was the perfect mending-the-generation-gap drink.
Laali uncle was a man of few words, and too many drinks. In our family circle, drinking had always been his thing. The first few moments with him were always a little tense and awkward. There would be monosyllablic conversation, mostly yeses and nos, and an occasional ‘very fine, very fine’. But then, after he had downed his fourth drink, I would see a transformation, a metamorphoses; soon, our Laali uncle would be narrating stories of his army days, his eyes so bright and his decibel level so high, most others would stop talking and listen in rapt attention. Another drink and the music would get louder and he would be humming tunes, another and he would be singing along. Once, he actually took off his left shoe, held it in his right hand and with his drink in the left, he danced to ‘Mera joota hai Japani’! My mother later joked about how he had changed his mind about taking his trousers off (since the song also said, ‘Ye patloon Inglistani’), since both his hands were preoccupied.
After drink number seven, you’d see uncle twirling around on the floor, his arms spread out, like a sufi in a trans. By the time the night was over, Laali uncle would be nothing like the original. He became the showstopper, the performer, and we, an enthralled audience. I often suspect he was the reason I became inclined to drinking; that glass of whisky, an elixir, a magic potion of transformation.
I looked at my glass of gulaabi liquid in contrast to uncle’s jewel gold one and sighed.
Just then, there was a loud clambering sound, as if to break the silence (uncle was on his second drink only), and he walked in. My stomach lurched into my lungs and an involuntary gush of breath left my mouth. Short, spiked brown-black hair, perfect Greek god-ish cheek bones, a slightly podgy nose, chaffed lips (oh those lips!), and a tiny goatie peeping from underneath, sheltered by his lower lip’s voluptuous curve. I felt a sudden urge to tickle it and I wondered why. This man was perfection. He wore a plain black tee with jeans and held a givson in his right hand. Before I could study the details of what possibly hid under the tee, he spoke. And I melted. In my head, a tiny version of me broke into a slow dance.