The House That BJ Built.
The House That BJ Built.

Excerpt: The House That BJ Built by Anuja Chauhan

The best-selling fiction writer's sequel to 'Those Pricey Thakur Girls'

Twenty times the amaltas trees along Hailey Road have burst into glorious yellow flower since the day Dylan Singh Shekhawat threw himself off a terrace six stories high (ripping his shirt in four aesthetically-pleasing places as he fell) and saved the life of the puggish, gimlet-eyed Mrs Bhudevi Thakur, thus securing for himself the hand and heart of her pretty niece Debjani, the fourth of the five famed, alphabetically-named Thakur sisters of 16 Hailey Road.

Nothing quite as sensational has happened to mar the serenity of Hailey Road since. It continues to be a dreamy, secluded quarter, unaffected in the most part by the changes that have wracked the city of Delhi—the transition from petrol to CNG, the granting of statehood and the creation of NCR, the arrival of low-calorie Coke and high-waisted Levi’s, the influx of 30 million rural immigrants, the rise in crime, the awakening of public conscience, and the random, worm-like mud excavations caused by the busily burrowing steel termite that is the Delhi Metro.

Today, as the watery winter sunshine filters in through the grilled windows of number 16, it sparkles upon the tiny diamond nose stud of the lone Thakur girl in residence: deliciously curvy Bonita Singh Rajawat, clad in black harem pants, a clingy fuchsia ganji and a turquoise pashmina shawl, warming her hands on an electric blower and chatting cosily with her team of ladies tailors, as sewing machines whir around her in the fabrication workshop she has set up on the first floor.

This workshop is Bonu’s pride and joy. Smelling strongly of Mangaldeep Agarbatti and plastered a cheery yellow, it is equipped with eight shiny Brother machines and twenty-five locally made Dutta sewing machines. There is a whole separate embroidery section with ten massive Friend work-stations, capable of performing the most intricate needlework quickly and delicately. A Neelam Threads colour chart hangs on one wall, while a painstakingly organized rickrack-buttons-threadsand-

ribbon station is ranged along another. Massive bales of cloth, stacked colour- and material-wise, line the back. In the middle of the room is a huge cutting table, opposite which, in pride of place, hangs a remarkably hi-tech fifty-inch LCD TV.

‘She hates me. I know it.’

Bonu sits up, her vivid black brows snapping together impatiently.

‘Uff, of course she doesn’t hate you, Parveen! So what if her first word was Pup-pa? You know it’s only because he’s always hanging about the house like a bad smell, boozing and watching TV and spending all the money you earn. It doesn’t mean she

loves him more than she loves you.’

But Parveen, a delicate-featured mother of four girls, refuses to be comforted. Her heart and her ego have taken too much of a beating. Fat teardrops plop onto the off-white chiffon placket she is embroidering with tiny pink (Neelam Thread number 2 by 22) rosebuds. Bonu watches them fall and hopes they won’t stain—her dry-cleaner has just upped his rates again.

‘My ammi says your first words define who you are.’ Parveen wipes her tears on her bony forearm. ‘My youngest is going to be a Pup-pa’s girl, and this when he doesn’t even like her. How much he grumbled when we found out the fourth one was also a daughter!’

‘Your ammi could be right,’ Bonu admits, cupping her chin thoughtfully, waves of thick black hair falling about her face. ‘My Anjini mausi’s first words were I-sabse-pretty. And she grew up to be very vain.’

‘And what were your first words, didi?’ asks one of the other lady tailors.

But this Bonu doesn’t want to reveal. Because her first word—spoken when she saw a packet of table tennis balls burst open, sending them bouncing and rolling everywhere—had been a loud, clearly enunciated and gurglingly gleeful: ‘Balls.’

Some versions of this story claim that there had been no table tennis ball packet at all, and that Bonu’s grandmother had made up this tale to appease the shocked neighbours. Apparently, the true story is that Bonu had been a papa’s girl too, and had only been trying to articulate her beloved father’s favourite word.

‘I don’t remember,’ she tells her tailors. ‘Uff, who’s knocking now? Get it, somebody.’

But before they can, the door bursts open. A wild-eyed lady, attired in an over-embroidered phiran and badly in need of a roots-touch-up, practically falls into the room.

‘My silk kaftan!’ she shouts. ‘Copied from the Cavilli Aishwarya wore in Cannes after she became fat. For my grandson’s first birthday party—happening at a five-star hotel!Hai hai, Bonu bitiya, ready toh hai na?’

‘Cavilli kaftan!’ Bonu’s voice is sharp. ‘Masterji!’

A slithery blue and black silk garment lands on the counter almost immediately. The lady pounces upon it, her expression changing instantly from panicked to purring.

‘Haaaiiii Bonu bitiya, tu toh dolly hai, dolly!’

‘Auntieji, try it on. Then we’ll see ki who is the real dolly!’ Bonu smiles.

Auntieji dives into Bonu’s bedroom, which doubles as a trial room, and emerges minutes later, walking with shoulders thrown back, pinched features softly flushed, hair draped over one shoulder foxily. Everyone applauds.

‘Looks a bit goddy, na?’ Parveen murmurs critically to Bonu.

‘I think she looks lovely,’ Bonu whispers back.

Auntieji goes off, all flushed and excited, and the tailoring unit heaves a sigh of relief. It is vitally important to keep Auntieji happy—to keep all the Hailey Road auntiejis happy. Running a business of this size in a residential area is technically against the law, but Bonu keeps the housewives well-supplied with the latest fashions at very reasonable prices. In return they all keep mum about Vicky’s Secret.

Excerpted from The House That BJ Built (410 pages, 350), with permission from Westland.

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