Six little old ladies met to catch up over a cup of tea.
“After returning to my deserted brothel in Lucknow”, said Umrao Jaan, “I perked up and made a fortune selling real estate to the Sahara parivaar. With all that money, I built a dancing school which put that dratted Pakeezah out of business. After teaching Shiamak Davar and Mallika Sarabhai everything they know, I began supplying junior artistes to dance in the background of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s films. I never married though – I could never have been the dutiful wife you are, Paro.”
“Dutiful wife my henna-stained foot!” opined Paro. “With Devdas out of the way, I set zamindar babu on fire with my chaahat ka diya and packed off my stepchildren to boarding school. I then married Chunni babu for love and set up a candle-making business that gives Dimple Kapadia sleepless nights. But I could never be as devoted to anyone as you are to Shekhar, Pari.”
“Shekhar?” questioned Parineeta, “Ha! I pressed his clothes for him, sang for him and gave myself to him, only for him to abandon me. Some jhol in his machcher made that dear, departed and I claimed all his property to go marry Girish. Using his engineering expertise, we made a fortune during the IT boom until he conked off like one of his light bulbs. That’s when this Lolita took over from Rekha and began crooning at Kolkata’s hottest nightclubs about the pahelis of my zindagaani. Nabokov even wrote a book about me. Can you boast of that, Mummy?”
“Don’t call me that!” screeched Mumtaz Mahal with an indignant puff of her hookah. “Fourteen children in nineteen years! The old dog could barely keep his pants on. I wanted him put down but my wretched Jahan Ara would have taken offence. So I told Aurangzeb to give him all kinds of hell and faked my own death. I bought a quarry and made a killing selling marble for the Taj to my dear SJ at atrocious rates and retired to run the national family planning program. Whose idea do you think ‘Hum Do Hamara Ek’ was, my almost-mother-in-law’s?”
“Of course it wasn’t mine”, exclaimed Anarkali, with an appreciative glance at the mirror. “I was too busy trying to wreck Salim’s life. All those hours of dancing for grey-haired gandus till I’m giddy and then they try to bury me alive! I blasted off his head with Mother India’s shotgun and spent my days writing incomprehensible Urdu lyrics for Mani Ratnam movies. You too may have used some of my lines, Chanda.”
“Aye”, agreed Chandramukhi, “I used them till I grew sick of spouting them for those inebriated louts. That’s when I sued Devdas’ family to be compensated for intrusion of privacy, obscenity and everything else I could think of. I exchanged my kothi for their haveli and became the chief benefactor of the Sonagacchi branch of Alcoholics Anonymous. We’ve done well for ourselves, haven’t we, girls?”
The little old ladies sipped their teas in silence.
* * *