CoffeeShop Blues: 2015 Traveler's Edition - Page 107

Jeremy Frost was interrupted only by one heavy wood door and, a little further down, a narrow alley, easily missed, that provided a more discreet, less formal entryway to the inhabitants and their familiars. Rasheed pounded the door with its heavy iron knocker and after what seemed like an eternity, a young man whom I recognized (from photos I had seen) as Zafar’s younger brother appeared and let us into a little drawing room that was separated from the courtyard by a curtain. This was as far as our guide could come. He declined the offer of a cup of tea, and after accepting a token glass of water, took his leave. Once the street door was closed and bolted we were ushered into the inner sanctum. Later I would learn that the room we had first entered, furnished with two sofas, a coffee table and a shelf with sports trophies, was reserved for “outsiders” or formal visitors, in contrast with the rest of the sprawling house and courtyard, which was the private domain of the extended family. Zafar’s parents lived there with their children, some of them married, some already parents themselves. It differed from the usual Indian “joint family” arrangement in that not only did the married sons share the compound, but so did the two elder daughters with their husbands and kids. Every nuclear family unit, as well as the unmarried sons, each had their own rooms. Mary and I were put up in Zafar’s. The kitchen, bathroom and privies were shared, as was the airy daalaan, a cross between a screened porch and a family room. The courtyard, or aangan, was where, weather allowing, most of the day’s activities unfolded: early-morning and late-afternoon tea; newspaper reading; visits by assorted relatives; children’s games and grownups’ gossip; the washing and drying of clothes; the tending of fruit trees (guava, pomegranate), potted plants, and fancy pet pigeons housed in a corner aviary. An hour or two before lunch, one or two ladies of the house would sit on a takht [wooden platform] in the courtyard with large trays of rice and lentils, which they would patiently move, a few grains at a time, from one side of the tray to the other, eliminating tiny pebbles and other impurities as they went. They explained to us that the rice and pulses had come from the 107