They ordered their favourite brain masala at the dhaba that had expanded and now called itself a café, written ‘kaif ’ in Hindi, and known as kaif to its customers. It had added a low rung of office workers to its working class clientele and a plastic menu of ‘continental’ choices. The time-honoured age-old irreplaceables were down at the bottom of the menu. Fortunately progress had not affected the brain masala, or the gular kebabs they could get nowhere else, or the rumali rotis that Rafeeq, the cook, made at their request. Prabhakar and Rahman went there for lunch when they wanted to catch up. It was far enough from the university to avoid meeting the VC’s busybodies and their favourite as far as food was concerned.
‘What was it all about? How did it go?’ Rahman asked and Prabhakar described the tea party.
‘For some reason Europeans feel they’re under siege, and the Master Mind thinks we’re under siege here. I kept wondering if I was hearing right. Why was I invited?’
‘You wrote a book,’ said Rahman. He signalled a server for more of everything.
‘You must be the last innocent left if you think a book is just a book. As it happens, and as you are always prompt to point out, you’re not the first person to have written this kind of book.’
‘What kind?’ Prabhakar’s bewilderment was complete.
‘A terrifying story like no other. Mary Shelley wrote one two hundred years ago,’ said Rahman.
Prabhakar had not heard of it. He waited for more.
’She wrote a novel in which a science professor called Frankenstein creates a grotesque uncontrollable monster out of chemicals and human remains. That’s what you’ve done, Prabhu. You’ve written a story in which good and evil change places. You’ve created a monstrous scenario.’
Prabhakar brushed that aside impatiently. ’But it’s a fantasy, Rahman, it’s an exercise of my imagination. You know that. I was spinning a yarn.’
‘So was Mary Shelley. Only her yarn stayed on paper. Yours might not.’
‘Good God, that would be a nightmare.’
They paid their bill and went out behind the kaif to the kitchen to pay their customary homage to Rafeeq, and give him a small token of their appreciation for their feast. Rafeeq threw up his floury hands in resignation, indicating his
shrunken domain, now that it was shared with the ‘continental’ cook.
The following day it became official. Bharat was no longer Mata. From now on Bharat was Pitrubhumi. Fatherland. And from now on females above the age of seventeen would be addressed as Devi as a mark of respect in a culture which revered women.
Excerpted with permission from The Fate of Butterflies by Nayantara Sahgal, published by Speaking Tiger, 2019