Abdur Rahman Chughtai

A lull in the conversation at the dinner table;  my elderly aunt turned an owlish, bespectacled face towards my Dad.

“What’s happening with Z?” she asked.

It was only normal. All conversations turn eventually to Uncle Z – erstwhile billionaire, now impoverished (down to his last two million) Academy Award winner, and the epicentre of a scandal of epic proportions.

“It’s in the courts,” barked my Dad, after a short, angry silence.

“The divorce?”

“No, the divorce was settled ages ago. The money.”

“Ah, the money,” my aunt grinned knowingly.

“He wanted to sell the apartment in New York. But he couldn’t – it was in his daughter’s name. So he sold the car he’d given her for her 21st birthday…”

“Shocking!”

“Yes. And you know the paintings – he had paintings worth several million, in London. He came back for them one night, creeping into his own flat like a burglar. But L. had moved them all upstairs so he couldn’t get his hands on them.”

“Very sneaky of her!”

“Sneaky? She was married to him for 35 years, and now he wants to leave her with nothing!”

“She didn’t have the sense to put anything in her name while they were married?”

“No,” my Dad said firmly. “She was his doormat – for 35 years.”

“I see,” mused Aunt N, sitting back and gnawing on a breadstick. ‎”And what’s this new woman like? Is this her first marriage?”

“Her first marriage!?” my father snorted. “She has four children! She’s been the mistress of all the richest and most powerful politicians in the country…”

“…at the same time,” my mother added astutely.

“She must be very attractive.”

“She is,” my mother confirmed. “But it’s more than that. Apparently she has a very attractive personality. She’s very pleasant and charming. Very adoring of men.”

“Have you met her?”

“Absolutely not,” my Dad declared. “I won’t even meet with him any more after what he’s done!”

“You won’t even meet him?” cried Aunt N, incredulous. “But for God’s sake…”

“I’ve known his first wife for 35 years! He can’t expect me to just forget about her!”

“But what’s it got to do with her? And you may have known her for 35 years, but you’ve known him for half a century! You could at least agree to meet him on his own, without this other woman?”

“He won’t agree to meet me without her! He insists that all his friends must pay homage to his new wife if they want to see him! Do you know what he said to me, when I told him I didn’t want to meet her?” my Dad leaned in conspiratorially towards my aunt. “He told me to f. off. That’s what he said to me. ‘F. off!'”

Kamaal hai,” my aunt nodded, impressed.

“She’s bewitched him,” my Dad concluded bitterly. “He’s lost his mind over this woman.”

“That’s the problem with women these days,” said my aunt. “They’re all trying to get their claws into some poor old guy – half-blind, half-dead. And it’s all about the money. Money is the root of all evil.”

It wasn’t very original, I know. But it struck a strange note for me. I used to quote that silly maxim all the time, when I was a young girl. In a self-righteous kind of way, because I believed myself to be above that kind of base materialism. And I naïvely believed that this blasé, hippie-like mentality would protect me. From “all evil”. And now, looking back on the last –censored– years, I see that I had it all wrong. For here I am, with so many problems – irresolvable. And the root of them all? Well, it has nothing to do with money.

“And the first wife? What’s she like?” my aunt asked, peering at my Dad as she polished her spectacles.

“I told you,” snapped my Dad. “She’s been his doormat for the past 35 years‎. And this is how he treats her!”

“Well, it’s no wonder, really,” my aunt chuckled, slicing into her lamb. “He must have been so damn bored with her, after all this time…!”

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