Gathering

My uncle had a strange habit of gathering people.
Not less than 25 he would take on an outing.
 
Like: Aunty Perpetual with her breast cut
who would lift her t-shirt every time to show us her story,
Avo who would stand and take a piss like a giraffe,
Cousin Milton who would talk about everyone’s pants and panties,
Uncle Kaitaan who divorced his wife just before he turned blind
and regretted it in hindsight, 
 
or Aunt Bertha who loved her husband so much
they still bathed under picnic showers and sagging flesh of 40 years
(a couple that bathes together…), 
 
Aunt Nysa who starved to look thin and ended up haggard
because one kg less is not a year younger,
and Aunt Alice who was divorced when that was still a stigma. 
 
Uncle Wilfred had one phrase for every occasion
in lyrical Konkani
aimed to marginalize his opponents
who had marginalized him because of his poverty. 
 
My father would step further and further away
from the kids cycling,
as he would from the circle of life and everyone’s life cycles. 
 
A few spare uncles would always sit on plastic chairs
with the chauffeurs  and gardeners
inaugurating alcohol bottles. 
 
Aunt Cassandra would be on a fertility pill
counting milestones of other children and
practising her lotus-like parenting wisdom. 
 
Matilda aunt orbited around with curries, sorpotel,
and cutlets fried in rava and cheap sunflower oil.
People relished her friendship-offerings,
but never invited her for their parties. 
 
And the servants!
Equal of equals on the dinner plates
with their heads full of lice,
they wore shorts, and their bras outside their t-shirts.
They smoked beedis, hovered around the male cousins
with bronzed cricket thighs,
and giggled at cousin Milton until they were molested, 
and shunted home.
 
My aunty - Uncle's wife - would be interested
in every soup and its recipte, 
never mind which house or hotel we were in. 
 
Nothing escaped her sight 
even in daily novenas, angelus, or rosaries: 
the peas-in-the pulav bond between Martha and Rosie, 
the filigreed work on Avo's gold bangles, 
the salary Jimmy uncle earned, 
the marks Edith brough home. 
 
My uncle would cut long journeys short
with church mouse jokes on trains to Goa
with break journeys at Miraj. 
He would click pictures of Dudh-sagar
with much panache
as Uncles Fred and Tony beat up their wives
and Aunty Emma stitched her husband's pocket
from the opening outside 
so he wouldn't lend any more money. 
 
Every time Edith topped her class
there would be mayhem from all of us - the other children. 
When she got a job with a heavy pay packet, 
my aunt searched for zeros in every person, 
like ingredients in a soup. 
 
We had neither high marks nor the money. 
We were the pariahs, patrons of penury. 
 
The day never belonged to us
as our aunt whipped us with her blue-eyed gaze
in this room full of people.