The red Nissan

Poignant and earthy, this story is about appearances and entanglements in a diasporic Goan family from the point of view of a visiting native of Goa. It is excerpted from “These are my Children” by Damodar Mauzo. Translated from Konkani by Xavier Cota (Katha, 2007).

Published : Sep 08, 2019 07:00 IST

“These are my Children” by Damodar Mauzo. Translated from Konkani by Xavier Cota (Katha, 2007).

“These are my Children” by Damodar Mauzo. Translated from Konkani by Xavier Cota (Katha, 2007).

K. The very word conjures up a certain image of the Goan in Kuwait before our eyes. This family did not conform to that stereotype.

There are two classes of Goans living in Kuwait. The group of unskilled and semi-skilled workers who come without their spouses and live in cramped quarters, with four and more sharing a room, who toil for ten to twelve hours a day and scrape together some meagre savings. The other class is that of the literate white-collared people who work in offices. These generally come in with their families. The wives often work as secretaries, at times earning more than their husbands. They stay in comfortable rented apartments, sometimes shared by two families, with all sorts of modern amenities and gadgets. After an eight-hour shift at the office, they are free to drive down to the supermarket to shop and socialise.

Since my tour to Kuwait was an official one, the arrangements for my stay had been made by the Indian Embassy. The day after I landed, I phoned Maria to tell her that I was in Kuwait. “Keep Friday free for us,” Maria said. “Don’t accept any other engagement for that day.”

Arthur himself came to the hotel to escort me home. I had seen the Governor’s Cadillac in Goa, but this one made my eyes pop. It was sleek and shiny, a posh jet-black beauty on the outside. And the interiors were even more opulent.

All the bungalows at Mushrif are luxurious. There are no apartments or flats here, only elegant villas amid spacious grounds, neat gardens or tennis lawns.

Arthur opened the door with his key. “Hi! How nice to see you here!” Maria welcomed me in English. She looked quite different in a salwar kameez.

“You look good, Maria,” I complimented her. “This outfit suits you.”

“Oh, come on. These are my house rags!”

I didn’t know what to make of this. Was she putting it on or was she bragging that her wardrobe was far more elaborate?

I was about to sit on the sofa in the living room, but Maria stopped me. “Not there, that’s for formal guests! Come inside.”

The inner room was a pleasant arrangement for about eight or ten intimate friends. I was truly impressed by all the magnificence I saw.

“Today’s a holiday, isn’t it?” Maria reminded me that it was Friday. “Hold on. I’ll introduce you to them.” She rang the bell.

I didn’t recall having met Maria’s children before. “I thought you had three children, Maria,” I said.

“Yes, but our little boy is in England. At a public school,” Arthur said.

I felt a twinge of pity for the poor child. “How does he like it?”

“Let’s see!” Arthur sighed. “We’ve admitted him just this year.”

“He’ll like it fine. It’s only his Dad who can’t do without him!” There was more asperity than fondness in Maria’s tone, I felt.

Just then, the girls came skipping down the stairs. Maria introduced us. “This is Sharon, the elder one, and this one is Milan. Indian name! How does it sound?” I laughed. Apart from the name, nothing else was Indian. The hair was cropped short, while the clothes and accent were all foreign.

Sharon must have been around sixteen or seventeen, but she looked like a mature young woman in her twenties. She had a full figure, and bold, worldly-wise eyes that spoke of many an adventurous tryst. The second one, Milan, was twelve or thirteen, with a pleasant face and innocent flitting eyes. Both had worn flimsy tops. Sharon wore jeans, while Milan was in a mini skirt.

I had heard that in Kuwait, one had to cover the body completely, and must admit that I was surprised at these precious specimens.

After tea, Sharon said, “Mom, we’re going skating.”

“Come back soon,” Maria said, in English. “You know that we’re going to Al Zor, don’t you?”

“In that case, I’ll go to the club with them, otherwise they may not come back soon,” Arthur said, getting up.

“You’re always like this,” Maria said crossly. “Let them go alone. As if you have to chaperone them!”

Arthur didn’t reply. He got up, excused himself and went out with his daughters.

“They never miss their ice-skating on Fridays,” Maria exclaimed.

I was amazed. “Ice-skating in Kuwait? And in this hot weather?” I asked.

I ventured gently about the restrictions there. “Tell me Maria, is it permitted here to wear the clothes your girls are dressed in? I had heard that it was obligatory to cover yourself.”

Once again Maria burst out laughing. “All that depends on the society you move in!”

“And maintaining this standard of living must cost a bomb! That car alone—” Maria cut me short. “You have only seen one of them. We have three. Our Sharon is a speed freak—she loves fast cars. Just the other day she bought a new car, the latest sports model from Nissan! Arthur gets the shivers when Sharon drives.”

I asked one last question. “Maria, forgive me if I’m being curious, but how can you afford all this?”

“My dear fellow, if you manage to succeed in business in Kuwait, you can just rake in the bucks. Arthur has a big business in construction materials. Even after paying off his Arab partner, we can afford to live like this. And if this Iran-Iraq war were not going on, we would have covered our house in Goa with tiles of gold!”

While we were still talking, Arthur came in with the girls, who promptly went to sleep exhausted. They had planned to be at Al Zor beach by noon. The food, soft drinks, water and a flask full of tea was packed and ready. But though it was past noon, we had still not left for the beach. Maria was bustling about. It was obvious that the girls didn’t want to come with us, but she finally managed to coax them into coming along. As we were leaving the house, Sharon imposed her condition, “I’ll come in my car; you go in yours.”

Arthur objected, but Maria intervened saying she would handle it: “Okay. We’ll go ahead and you follow right behind.”

Finally, we set out to the beach, with Maria, Arthur and I in the black Cadillac and Sharon with Milan in the red sports car.

It is a hundred and five kilometres from Kuwait to Al Zor beach—an hour’s drive. Barely five minutes after we had started, Sharon’s car whizzed past us and left us far behind. Arthur fumed, but Maria remained calm.

“The prestige of a Cadillac,” explained Maria. “Otherwise, they check each person thoroughly.”

Ten tense minutes crawled by.

Arthur worried about the girls who had gone ahead.

Maria was anxious that the girls would have to wait for us at the beach while we were stuck here.

And looming large before me was the Kuwait lockup!

Arthur got out of the car and once again tried to reason out with the police officer, “If you won’t believe me, let him remain here. I will go back, bring his passport and return in twenty minutes.”

The officer was unmoved by Arthur’s plea.

Arthur tried another tack. “A short while ago, my daughters went ahead in a red Nissan. Please let us go or else we will miss them.” Immediately the Arab policeman gave a low whistle, mumbled something in Arabic under his breath, and clicking his fingers, he motioned for us to go. Heaving a sigh of relief, we started off towards Al Zor.

Sharon’s red car was nowhere in sight.

“I told you that we should go in one car,” Arthur was grumbling.

“Never mind. They aren’t babies, are they?” responded Maria tersely.

“Didn’t she say that she’d follow us? Where are they now?” Arthur was at boiling point.

“Don’t go on and on, Arthur! She isn’t new to this road. She’ll be there. She may even be waiting for us on the way.” Maria sounded exasperated.

We drove on in silence. Arthur was doing a 100 to a 120 kmph, but there were cars that still zoomed past us. Further to our left were the oncoming lanes. On the way, we could see several smashed-up vehicles involved in accidents, but residents of Kuwait didn’t give them a second glance. On the highway, practically every kilometre had a burnt-out car shell or an overturned vehicle.

About half an hour later, we saw a red Nissan. An overturned one.

“Our Sharon doesn’t need more than forty five minutes to reach Al Zor from Kuwait,” Maria added with a short laugh. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Soon we were at Al Zor. Al Zor is a popular beach. Countless cars were parked by the roadside. We scanned a line of cars for about one and a half kilometres. Sharon’s car was nowhere to be seen. We reversed the entire length as well, looking out anxiously, but there was no sign of the red Nissan.

“We drove very fast because we assumed they might be here,” said Maria. “I wonder if they were looking for us, waiting somewhere around that junction.”

“In that case, we’ll hang around here for a while,” suggested Arthur.

So we sat in the car, looking at all the vehicles coming in from Kuwait. But there wasn’t a single red car among them. We waited and waited.

“Could they be at the Family Beach further down?” wondered Arthur.

Maria looked visibly nervous by now. “Let’s check.”

“But what if they come here while we are there? If you could both wait here for a short while, I’ll dash there for a look and come back,” decided Arthur.

We waited. “Don’t worry,” I tried to comfort Maria. “They’ll be okay.”

“You can’t be sure of that in Kuwait!” Maria blurted out. “These Arabs in Kuwait are dangerous! Do you know what that Arab cop said to Arthur when he whistled? He said, ‘So those coquettes are your daughters!’ That’s why Arthur was upset.”

Arthur returned. “They’re not there either. What do we do?”

“Let’s go back. They must be home,” I said. By now, we had completely forgotten that we had come to enjoy ourselves on the beach.

Maria was silent. Between the woman who had come to the beach and the one who was now returning, there was a gulf as wide as that between Europe and India.

Glancing at the many accident-wrecked cars strewn on the roadside and doing our best to push away our worries, we returned to Kuwait.

We reached Mushrif. And right there at the doorway, stood the red Nissan sports car.

Maria laughed. “I knew it all along!”

Reprinted courtesy Katha

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