Yeh paisa main tujhe number do ke tareeke se de raha hoon, he said. I stood hiding behind the curtain, my heart pounding. I had watched enough Ajay-Vijay movies to know that number do ka paisa meant illegal money.
Mera baap chor hai. My father is a thief. Amitabh’s voice played in a loop in my head. I couldn’t sleep that night because I was listening for the sirens that signal the oncoming of the good guys, the policemen that would arrest my father.
As soon as he left for work in the morning, I ran to my mom and confronted her. Papa ne aapko jo paise diye hain, wapas kar do. Return the money he gave you.
Kyon bhai? She looked amused. Why would I do that?
I told her it wasn’t rightfully ours. I think I even mouthed words like imaandaari and do waqt ki roti (like they said in the movies) but I’m not so sure anymore.
She was ignoring me, and I would have none of that. I tailed her all day and kept asking the same question. Hum itne gareeb hain ki humein chori karni padi? Are we so poor that we had to steal?
She looked extremely annoyed and said, jab papa ghar aayenge to khud pooch lena. When he comes home, ask him yourself. (Of course I didn’t, because I knew better.)
She avoided talking to me the whole day. She didn’t even take me along to the market, perhaps so I wouldn’t embarrass her in front of other people.
Only when I asked what was for dinner did she heave the proverbial sigh of relief and resume talking to me. Her silence had taught me my third life lesson. Don’t bring up uncomfortable truths. People don’t like them.
P.S.: Later, when I was much (much) older, I confronted my father about this. He told me that back then, he had “borrowed” some money from the business for unforeseen medical expenses. Strangely enough, as an adult, I was ok with that. I understood, which makes me uncomfortable, so I don’t talk about it. Talk about learning that sticks!