Ishvar and Om were modest about their efforts. “It’s nothing. Very simple to make.”
“It’s delicious,” affirmed Dina. “Maneck’s idea of eating together was very good. If I knew from the beginning your food was so tasty, I would have hired you as cooks, not tailors.”
“Sorry,” Ishvar smiled at the compliment, “we don’t cook for money—only for ourselves and for friends.”
His words stirred her familiar residue of guilt. There was still a gulf between them; she did not see them as they saw her. Over the weeks, the tailors expanded their contribution from chapatis, puris, and wadas to vegetarian dishes like paneer masala, shak-bhaji, aloo masala. There were always four people, or at least two, bustling about the kitchen in the evening. My bleakest hour, thought Dina, has now become the happiest.
On days that she made a rice dish, the tailors had a break from chapatis but went to the kitchen to help, if they were not out searching for a room to rent. “When I was a little boy in the village,” said Ishvar, cleaning the rice, picking out pebbles, “I used to do this for my mother. But in reverse. We used to go to the fields after the harvest and search for grain left from threshing and winnowing.”
They were trusting her with bits of their past, she realized, and nothing could be as precious. More pieces, to join to the growing story of the tailors.
“In those days,” continued Ishvar, “it seemed to me that that was all one could expect in life. A harsh road strewn with sharp stones and, if you were lucky, a little grain.”
“And later?”
“Later I discovered there were different types of roads. And a different way of walking on each.”
She liked his way of putting it. “You describe it well.”
He chuckled. “Must be my tailor training. Tailors are practised in examining patterns, reading the outlines.”
“And what about you, Om? Did you also help your mother to collect grain?”
“He didn’t need to,” added Ishvar. “By the time he was born, his father – my brother – was doing well in tailoring.”