‘Is that your sofa-in-law?’

‘Is that your sofa-in-law?’

Mina Surjit Singh

OURS was a simple wedding. Free of all acquisitive encumbrances, it was solemnised in 1965 during the days of the guest control order that was religiously adhered to by everyone. A few months later my husband got posted to Delhi as an earmarked officer of the Intelligence Bureau. Our dwelling for the next few years in Delhi was to be in Vithal Bhai Patel House, a beautifully maintained complex on Rafi Marg, just off Parliament Street. The one bed-room flat allotted to us there was large, decently furnished, neat and clutter-free. The room had a beautiful balcony at the rear, which most residents had covered with chicks and put to use variously. Our flat was at the end of a well-ventilated corridor that provided privacy as well as additional space, so we converted this area into a little sit-out with colourful curtains, a few plants and a fan. Patel House was self-sufficient. All our daily needs would be delivered on the doorstep without much ado, domestic chores never became a drag and a supportive community of residents made life enjoyable.

Connaught Place and Janpath, hitherto known as Queen’s Way, were within walking distance of our complex and my husband’s salary was enough for us to afford weekly visits to Gaylord’s and Wenger’s, two of our favorite restaurants which had retained an old-world ambience, complete with orchestra and crooner. We were happy, lived comfortably within our means and were contented.

Patel House flats those days were primarily allotted to officers of the civil services and bumping into fellow officers was a routine affair. I was introduced to four of my husband’s batchmates and their spouses within days of our moving in, and many evenings were spent in each other’s company. An old jalopy, which one of them owned, and which often had to be cajoled into starting before its engine spluttered and revved up, would ride the young men to office. Thus things slowly fell into place and left us with ample time for courtesy visitations and invitations.

The social culture of the IB was for the most non-hierarchical and a far cry from the rank-consciousness of the executive life I had witnessed during the first few months of my marriage. Social graces and courtesies were never breached, yet a feeling of warmth and camaraderie pervaded all interactions. This I felt when I first met one of my husband’s senior colleagues, Mr Subhash Tandon, and his charming wife Asha. The Tandons had invited themselves to our home one Sunday without standing on ceremony, and I still recall his disarming remark on walking in: ‘Oh! She’s your wife, Surjit! I’ve been wondering who this attractive young lady I often see during my morning walks is!’ The final pick in the ice was struck when after a complimentary and appreciative look around the room, he suddenly burst out in characteristic good humour: ‘and is that your sofa-in-law?’

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