Meet Jehaan…

A hot Sunday morning had Jehaan Irani lounging on his balcony in his sudreh and shorts, watching Rusi uncle having a go at Saam Screwvala in the middle of the colony lane. ‘Having a go’ is perhaps putting it a bit mildly – the former was lobster-red in the face, possibly on the verge of homicide! Saam had accidentally reversed into Rusi’s 1968 Mercedes-Benz, whose bonnet now looked like it had passed through a litter compactor! An amused grin spread lazily across Jehaan’s face, revealing his braces, as he watched Rusi uncle tap-dancing in rage in the middle of the road… an unwritten rule around the colony and with Parsis, in general, was Doom on anyone who messes with a Bawa’s car… or his mummy. 

Rusi uncle, a short, balding man, who was as wide as he was tall, presented a comical sight – making full use of his exhaustive knowledge of swearwords in English, Gujarati, Hindi and perhaps another language the renowned professor had studied – one which Jehaan didn’t know. For the seventeen-year-old, Marathi was enough of a foreign language. He hadn’t met a single Marathi teacher who hadn’t despaired him. But he was bright and never passed up a chance to enhance his vocabulary, like now, as Rusi uncle boxed Saam under the ears, vibrant, colourful language spouting from both parties. The hullabaloo had drawn other neighbours to their balconies as well. Women in nightgowns, men dressed in the ever-comfy sudreh-shorts combo. It was just the way of life around here. Welcome to the colony!

In the opposite building, Mrs. Taraporevala brushed the remnants of her teeth from her second-floor balcony, shaking her head disapprovingly at Rusi, as he shook his fists – the kids of today, so destructive, so belligerent. After all, Rusi was just in his fifties and Saam was not much older. Mrs. Taraporevala delighted in saying she was, “Eighty-seven years young!” but it was hard to make out anything she said. Jehaan would offer her a glazed expression and a vacant smile – the look that characterises happy idiocy – while she complained about the ‘yoof’ of today. He would nod frequently during the course of her diatribe, as he waited for her grandson to emerge from whichever room he was dawdling in. Sometimes, he felt that Hormazd purposely took his time because he found it amusing – his grandma waving her arms wildly, her dentures clicking as she animatedly babbled away to his friend, who was desperate to escape.

On day, she’d been in a buoyant mood – her favourite Kishore Kumar song blared on the radio – and Jehaan had had the misfortune of being the only one in the room. She approached him, warbling completely out of tune to ‘Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas’. She took his arm and hobbled to the centre of the hall.  A small woman, her head came little above his waist. Unable to reach his shoulder, she gripped his upper arm with surprising force. Her other hand clutched his shoulders and she spun him around in awkward circles, still crooning loudly. Jehaan’s face went beet-red as he tripped over his rather large feet – his sister liked to call them ‘flippers’ – trying to keep up. Mrs. Taraporevala was surprisingly sprightly, her movements sharp and jerky.

The kitchen door blew open to reveal Hormazd’s convulsing form on the floor, howling with laughter at Jehaan’s helpless face and occasional yelps when Mrs T. tread on his toes. It did not help that Hormazd, being a photography fanatic, always carried a camcorder. For the next two weeks, everyone in the colony made some reference to Jehaan’s ungainly dance episode. His cheeks flushed bright red each time someone shouted ‘Pal Pal Dil Ke Pas’ or ‘GDP- Granny Dance Partner’, each time he dared to show face on the streets. It had taken a wedding, a funeral and an especially aggressive election season to get their minds off him.

It was three months before he set foot into Hormazd’s home. Even today, Hanoz Dumasia would sneak in a jab at him, although this happened over a year ago. He rolled his eyes. Hanoz Dumasia was a pain in the butt, to put it kindly. All brawn, no brain. And Jehaan was the opposite. If you were kind, you would say he was tall, lean and intellectual-looking, what with his dark-rimmed glasses and intelligent brown eyes. However, if you were Mrs. Dumasia, you’d poke him in the ribs and ask him if his mother ever gave him anything to eat.

“I always make sure my son Hanoz has half a dozen boiled eggs for breakfast, half a kilo of kheema for lunch and a whole chicken for dinner,” he once heard her boast to his mother.

“Well, glad to see you want to give the natural gas companies a run for their money, Mrs Dumasia,” retorted Jehaan. “When we run out of fuel, the world will be powered exclusively by Hanoz’s rear end! You’ll be a tycoon. I celebrate your incredible foresight and entrepreneurial drive!”

Needless to say, that didn’t go down well and she turned her nose up at him and stiffened each time they crossed. She told people she pitied him; he was starved in his own home. It was no wonder that he was so ill-tempered, so ill-mannered. However, there must have been some serious flaws in her theory, for such a youth would not be the unrivalled programmer of class XII D. He never gave the appearance of a nerd – heck, nobody had ever seen him open a book – but somehow, he managed to crack each Computer Science exam. Mrs. Dumasia’s ill-feelings may have also been deepened by the fact, that at six-foot-two, Jehaan stood more than a head taller than her muscly, dim-witted son, who spent his evenings on a parked bike with a bunch of equally shallow teens. Maybe the fact that Jehaan went to a well-reputed college while Hanoz went to some – in Jehaan’s own words – ‘hulla-hoo college’ – added fuel to fire. Yes, living well was definitely sticking in her craw and it made Jehaan grin.

If he was paying attention to his surroundings, he’d know that it was a really bad time to be grinning. On the third floor window of the opposite building, where his gaze happened to be fixed, a girl in a short, strappy, nightdress was perched on the edge of her bed. Her hair looked as if a bird had just nested in it, suggesting she had just woken up. She yawned, startled when she saw him apparently ogling her with a big smile etched on his face. Her movement broke his reverie and he found himself gawking at a half-dressed, shocked-looking girl! Blushing furiously, he averted his gaze and retreated to his room. He had no idea who she was; he didn’t even know that anybody lived in that flat! If he took off his headphones more often, he’d have heard his mother, father, sister or maybe even their pet calico mention that a Dastoor family was coming to town. But, alas, he was lost to the world and his surroundings, and this was the outcome.

She’s gonna think I’m some pervert, he thought, disgusted with himself. It was bad enough that he was awkward around members of the opposite sex, especially if they were attractive – courtesy of thirteen years in a boys’ school. It wasn’t unusual for him to drop things, trip up or just blurt out something he never meant to say, in their presence. He would never forget the time he accidentally called Molly – ‘Moley’, thanks to the gigantic mole sitting on the tip of her nose. He totally deserved the smack with her hardcase pencil pouch and he knew it. Now, his reputation had sunk to new depths. From being a name-calling weirdo to a pervert, the prospect of getting a girlfriend looked still bleaker. He ran his hands through his dark waves, irritated with himself and the girl.

Why the hell was she sleeping at ten-thirty? Couldn’t she have been in another room? But he knew these thoughts were irrational, for there had been a time he had slept for twenty-four hours straight. And his bed was also directly visible from the balcony of any other fourth-floor flat and he was anything but a sleeping beauty. This made him wonder how many of his neighbours had been unfortunate enough to see him fast asleep! Delna, his sister, had once taken a picture of him with him lying supine, half of him off the bed, mouth wide open and a string of drool suspended from it. That wasn’t all. He had still been in school back then, and he hadn’t changed out of his muddy uniform. One shoe on, body bathed in post-football sweat, and (according to Delna) the room smelling like there had been a skunk disco in there the previous night… he had been a sight to see. Or not to see, maybe, depending on how easily grossed out you get.

“JEHAAN! I’M EATING THE LAST SLICE OF PIZZA AND THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT!” screamed Delna from the hall. Speak of the devil! There’s few things worse than an older sister, but an older sister studying medicine is the stuff of nightmares. At twenty-three, the soon to be Dr. Delna Irani was in her last MBBS year. While society exalted its doctors, Jehaan thought them little better than educated butchers. Being the kind, considerate brother that he was, he let her know it often. He loved to rile her up and this was one of her triggers. But, the downside was that she was equally ruthless and when she hit upon a sore subject, like a leech, she’d never let it go. It wasn’t so much what she said, than how she said it. Delna would address either parent or, in their absence, their cat Byte, while making sure Jehaan was in earshot and say something like, “At least I never turned up at the hospital dressed as the Grim Reaper!”

The reference was to the time Jehaan had broken an arm during his friend’s Halloween party. It was also a jab at the twelve-year-old Jehaan’s dancing skills, which had been the reason he broke his arm. His visit to the hospital had not been pleasant – the Grim Reaper costume did little to boost his morale. He was unfortunately, also, the last thing some lady saw, before she was wheeled into the operation theatre. The medics had had to deal with two screaming, traumatised souls that day. Yeesh!


He rolled his eyes as he heard Delna say something to his mother. A couple of seconds later, there was a soft knock on the door. “Jehu? Are you well? Aren’t you coming for breakfast?” came his mother’s soft voice, full of concern.

Shehrevar Irani was a petite woman with soft brown eyes and hair, intermittently streaked with silver. Jehaan thought the world of her. Mrs. Dumasia had slighted her once in his presence, and she had paid dearly for it, for Jehaan’s tongue could be sharper than the swords emperors carried to war. His temper, when tried, rivalled that of a demon. He had probably scared his mother as much as Mrs. Dumasia, but he wasn’t sorry. Not one bit.

For now, she sat on the bed that was rendered invisible under a month’s worth of dirty laundry. She was the only person he allowed inside his room, besides Byte, the cat.

“I’m fine, Ma. Just slept in a bit,” he responded to her inquiries.

“You stayed up past midnight again, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, lost track of time on Netflix.”

She playfully smacked him on the back. “How many times to tell this child he needs to sleep!” she said, gazing up at the skies which were undramatically obscured by a ceiling. Sometimes Jehaan was afraid there would actually be a response; his mother was that devout!!

He gazed absently out the window and this time, the third-floor girl was taming her unruly locks with a particularly terrifying-looking brush. Her movements were rather hypnotic and before he knew it, he was staring at her. Again.

“So, you think Fehroza Dastoor is pretty, huh?”

He blinked, waking up for perhaps the third time this morning. How did he keep getting in such situations?


Mrs. Irani nodded, beaming. “She moved in with her parents last evening. Nice family. I heard she’s going to the same college as you.”

“Oh,” said Jehaan, articulately.

“I think you’d be good friends.”

“Ma, tell me you’re not setting me up with her! It’s bad enough that I-” he trailed off, colour heightening as he realised he had said too much. Now there was no way his mother would drop the subject. It only took a raised eyebrow and some gentle prodding to make him blurt the morning’s unfortunate event. She listened in silence and when he finished, a slight frown – suggesting vigorous mental activity – appeared on her face. Jehaan fidgeted, unable to look her in the eye. At long last, she said, “As of now, there’s nothing you can do. But when you do meet her, you must apologise to her.”

“Yep, I’ll just walk up to her and be like – ‘Sup gal, have you ever considered getting out of bed on this side of noon? It’s a thrilling experience and you ought to try it sometime.’ or ‘I just called… to say… I’m not a pervert. Okay, that’s it, goodbye.’ or-”

“I’m serious, Jehaan. You’ll explain yourself to her as you did to me. Okay?”

“Jeez, Mom, I will! Calm down!”

She smiled, saying, “Good boy. Now go eat your breakfast. I can’t believe you kids can eat cold pizza first thing in the morning!”

“Has Del left any for me or did she hog it all?”

“I’ve kept her at bay for now, but you know her – she’s like the Terminator.”

“Yeah, ‘she’ll be back.’ Thanks, Ma,” he beamed.

Jehaan had inherited his father’s tall build, dark brown hair and lousy eyesight, but the dimpled smile and kind eyes belonged to his mother. She gave him a big, warm hug and he felt better. She loved him more than life! It didn’t matter that the world saw him as an awkward, klutzy and socially-impaired teen, because to her he was a human with likes, dislikes, hopes and fears. She understood him, his joy, his pain, his absolute aversion to green, leafy vegetables… everything.

And for that empathy, he was grateful. Mothers have a way of standing by you, even as the world beats you down. Shehrevar Irani was no different. On the days he’d rather hide under his bed, she helped him step out. Perhaps the brave are those who kept living despite the days they’ve wanted to curl up and die. Jehaan had certainly had such days, but here he was, ready to fight, fight to the death over the last slice of leftover pizza. A wild grin spread across his face, as he braced himself to face his sister and the world…

Bring it on!

Leave a Reply