The Shrine


Mrs. Talsingh stooped down to sweep her patio with a bundle of dried leaves, taking great pleasure in both the swooshing, scraping sound and the slight ache in her lower back. After all, this was how Indian housewives had swept up since Indian women had first been allowed to join their men in the estate barracks in the old days of the Indenture in Trinidad—and, she was sure, this was how it was in India itself for all the glorious centuries of its civilization. She knew perfectly well that she was a bit of a joke around the village, whose other ladies had long since gone over to plastic brooms bought at the hardware store or even to strange plug-in devices that sucked up dust—and, no doubt, a multitude of tiny creatures whose souls were thus sacrificed in the name of progress. But she remained steadfast. “Is a li’l t’ing,” she would say in her weary but authoritative voice, “but is the li’l t’ings that does matter.” Housewives sacrificing tradition for the sake of their aching backs? It was indeed the edge of a slippery slope. What next? Abandoning the head scarf? Wearing slacks? Eating beef? Sad to say, there were others who did such things—and worse—and it probably all started when they gave up their good, old-fashioned leaf bundles. Her own daughters, Indra and Jana, far away in Canada, made her the butt of their jokes whenever they came home to visit. They had learned the proper technique of sweeping and taking care of a respectable house when they were girls, but God alone knew what they did in that strange, cold land to which their husbands had taken them. As for her daughter-in-law (whose name she adamantly refused to say aloud), well her stupid son Mohan was fully to blame, indulging her as he did in every whim that came into her head as a result of the American fashion magazines she was forever reading instead of taking care of her house and her children. No bundle of leaves for that awful girl—why, the lazy good-for-nothing hired a creole woman to come in to do her cooking and cleaning while she traipsed off to Port of Spain to have lunch at a tennis club, if you please, with her uppity friends!

But this day Mrs. Talsingh's irritation with the new generation was short-lived because she had a greater, a higher purpose in mind. The night before, as she made her offerings to the household deities, she had resolved to carry out the last wish of her late husband. She has procrastinated too long, but now she would make amends by seeing to this business with firm dispatch.

She finished her chores, bathed, and put on her best dress. As she brushed her long, still lustrous hair, she glanced at her wedding picture. Had it really been 60 years since she had come to Zenobia Village to marry Hari Talsingh? She had grown up in Banpore, not that far away, but well off the main road that led to the old sugar refinery, the usine. Hers had been an isolated childhood typical of girls in those days, and needless to say she had never so much as talked to a boy other than her brothers and cousins, nor had she so much as laid eyes on Hari Talsingh before the day her wedding was celebrated. Imagine what these young girls today would say if you told them they couldn't go to school or go around unchaperoned with their friends to movies and parties and that they had to get married at the age of 14 to some boy they had never even met! But it was better in the old days; she thought—marriage is too important to leave it to addled and naïve young people. She thought bitterly of the peculiar alliances made by her own children, whose folly she and her husband had been powerless to stop in the face of “modernity.” Well, things had worked out well enough. As she looked again at the old photo, she acknowledged that in the view of the community at large, she had gotten the better part of the bargain. The Talsinghs, while not rich, were certainly better off than her own folks. Hari's father was a foreman at the usine while her own father still labored in the fields cutting cane. The Talsinghs had a nice cement block house right on the main road while she had grown up in a thatch-roof cottage in a place that her own grandchildren mockingly referred to as “the boondocks.” And Hari himself was tall, fair, and quite handsome while she—she had no reason to deny it then or now—was short, dark, and plump. She never did figure out why the match had been made in the first place—her hateful mother-in-law never ceased tormenting her by announcing that it had all been a terrible mistake and that she would be sent packing should she commit the tiniest infraction of the old lady's arbitrary rules.

And yet she was happy in her fashion. She enjoyed her children when they were young and although Hari spent a great deal of time at the rum shop and beat her for no particular reason whenever he got home, she really did not mind. She heeded the advice of one of her older sisters-in-law, to whom she had confided the first time he laid hands on her. “Silly girl,” Sita had said with a sigh, “is a good t’ing when a husban’ he beat you, else how you know he does care for you?” It was true—a husband who did not strive to keep his wife in line was a husband who could not be respected as a provider and householder of repute. A man who was not a big beater was no man at all, and what self-respecting woman would want a husband like that? Well, Mrs. Talsingh never had to worry—over the years Hari gave her ample evidence of his provident care.

Now in his later years Hari had come under the sway of a charismatic pandit fresh from India itself. The holy man had somehow gotten Hari to give up drink and Hari indeed became something of a sadhu. After he retired from his own position at the usine just before it shut down for good, he spent most of his time studying the sacred books and going about in the company of the village Nawh who helped people set up their household pujas. Mrs. Talsingh was not entirely sure she liked this new, ostentatiously pious version of her husband, but in spite of what she had learned as a young bride, she had to admit that it was a relief to be free from his wrath. And since his death, she had felt a sense of freedom, the enjoyment of which she could never, would never acknowledge, least of all to herself.

Shortly before his death, Hari had come up with his grand plan: he wanted to build a shrine on the property he had bought a few years before. The property adjoined the house, but had been given over to the growing of papayas. The extra income they made from selling the fruit was a welcome addition to his small pension, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to persuade one of her grandchildren to drive her to the Saturday farmers’ market up in Couva and the land was just going to waste in his opinion. In his advanced spiritual state he had convinced himself that the land had to be consecrated to holy purposes. As it happened, the Dookharine family, who had operated a once lavish shrine on their own property down the road, had given up that aspect of their good work. The Dookharines were by far the richest family in Zenobia and why they continued to live there no one could say. Mrs. Talsingh was convinced that they did so just so they could lord it over their neighbors, something it would have been more difficult to do had they moved to some fancy house far from the cane fields where their neighbors would have been uppity rich people just like themselves. In any case, the Dookharine shrine, dedicated to Hanuman, was long the focus of the village's ritual life. Unlike other families, who celebrated their pujas in the modest confines of their own houses, the Dookharines’ house was open to all, and their pujas were for decades the main events on Zenobia's social calendar. Everyone in the village was expected to attend, and all the women were expected to help with the cooking and serving. The Dookharines seemed to take it as their lordly due. But now the old man and the old lady were both dead and their children had moved away to the lavish quarters more in keeping with their station in life. They let the house out to rent and, of course, the renters—shiftless people of no standing whatsoever—could not be expected to maintain the shrine or keep up the annual round of ritual activity.

And so Mr. Talsingh saw his opportunity. “Is a nice t’ing,” his wife agreed, “but is also a big headache, nuh. We bot’ getting’ old, and our children do not care for such t’ings. We do not need such a burden.” She meant, of course, that she did not need the burden, since it was obvious that all the tasks of upkeep would fall to her, while her husband sat discoursing on the scriptures with the pandits. But she made it seem as if the burden was one they would share.

“No, no,” he insisted. “Is a work of charity. It will bring blessings on our family, on the whole village.”

“No, mon,” she retorted. “Is just vanity. You just want people to t’ink you's like the Dookharines an’ bow an’ scrape to you.” She regretted her impertinence immediately and braced for the blow that would almost certainly have been her due in the old days. But Hari merely sighed in a forbearing, sadhu-like manner and replied, “We shall see.”

She privately stuck to her opinion, but realized that his mind was made up. The new pandit from India agreed to officiate at all the ceremonies, a major coup. The local pandits were fine men, of course, but this one could recite endless stretches of the Ramayana in flawless Sanskrit, and he carried himself with a metropolitan elegance that no other religious figure in Trinidad could match. That he would agree to spend part of his time conducting pujas in a place like Zenobia was a boon that could hardly be ignored. Hari and the pandit even agreed that the shrine would be dedicated to Ganesh, the gentle elephant-headed god of wisdom and prudence, a fitting patron for two men so devoted to learning.

They were also in agreement that the place would be a shrine like the one the Dookharines had supervised (albeit much finer) and not a formal mandir. Building such a temple would require the approval of the Sanantana Dharma Maha Sabha, and neither Hari nor the pandit wanted to deal with the high-handed councilors of the SDMS who would undoubtedly assume that they knew best and would take over the show and run it for their own purposes. Something that was technically a household shrine (albeit an exceptionally fine one, they kept reminding themselves) would be theirs to operate as they saw fit.

“All right,” Mrs. Talsingh had said at last. “But how you go pay for this t’ing? To clear the land, to build the building—carpenters, painters, who knows what else? That sort of t’ing don't come cheap.”

“Is true,” Hari agreed sadly. “It can't be any of these worthless local boys to do the work. We must have the finest workmen from San Fernando.”

“Like I say: how you go pay?”

“Ganesh will provide somehow,” was his response.

Ganesh had not, however, seen fit to provide in the remaining years of Hari's life and after his death it seemed as if his project would be forgotten. The pandit came around every so often to tell her that even though he was accepting various commissions elsewhere, he still had an overpowering sense that building this shrine in Zenobia was something he was meant to participate in. She was always polite to him, of course, but she was careful to give him no indication of how, or even if the work was to be done.

But now everything had changed. She had received what she was quite certain was a message from a transcendent place. Whether it was from Hari or from Ganesh himself she could not say, but as a woman of simple faith—the intricacies of the sacred scriptures meant nothing to her—she knew an inspiration from on high when she heard one. And she had definitely gotten the message that the shrine was to be built, and that the work must begin without further delay.

And so she fixed her most elaborately embroidered head scarf and set off down the road to see the American.

The American had been coming to Zenobia for many decades, since the days when he was a skinny, dark-haired boy who said he wanted to write a kind of book about the Indians in Trinidad and who even lived in the village for more than a year while he did it. He had, of course, caused a bit of a sensation. Most of the villagers had seen Americans—the ever-expanding new oil industry was bringing lots of them to the island in the years after independence. But none of them had ever wanted to live in a village like Zenobia. Oh, they might make a quick trip to get a bit of what they called “local color,” but once they had passed through, they beat a hasty retreat to their nice, air-conditioned hotel. This American, on the other hand, seemed really interested in all sorts of things the villagers assumed no outsider could possibly care about—especially their religion. Now in those days it was common for people to claim that the Hinduism practiced in Trinidad had survived unchanged from ages immemorial. This American seemed to think that things had changed in some ways—he apparently knew things about what people in India itself had been like before the Indenture—and he wanted to find out what had happened over the decades. It all seemed harmless enough, and he boarded in the house of Mrs. Ramlal, Mrs. Talsingh's next-door neighbor and good friend. The Ramlals—who were widely known to be suspicious of almost everybody—had vouched for the young American, and so everyone concluded that he must be all right.

And then he kept coming back over the years. Now he was old and gray-headed and far from skinny and he could talk face to face with the surviving village elders and discuss important matters with them, and not simply sit at their feet and ask them childish questions. Mrs. Talsingh had heard that the American was giving some lectures at the University of the West Indies up in St. Augustine, but he was stopping over in Zenobia to see old friends. Mrs. Talsingh was determined to talk to him before he left, and she had heard through the grapevine that he would be taking tea at the Sookdeos, who had been his hosts since the Ramlals had gone off to live with their son in England.

Mrs. Talsingh walked the half mile to the Sookdeos’ house, remarking as she often did, how this “main road” had truly become something of a real highway. Her children kept telling her that it wasn't as safe to walk along the road as it had been in the days when it was only partly paved, but she shrugged off their advice. She had been walking this road for 60 years and she wasn't about to give into frivolity and hail a taxi just to go visit a neighbor. Siesta time was coming to a close, although it was still a hot, sultry afternoon with threatening, purplish clouds building in the direction of the Gulf. She didn't particularly care. How often in these 60 years had she trudged along this very road on this or that errand, heedless of heat and rain? And when had she had a more urgent piece of business to conduct?

She glanced at the houses lining the roadway. Now that all of them were concrete, two-story structures, her own house was no longer very distinctive. Others had furnished their new places with fashionable modern gewgaws, but she prided herself on having lived in one of the original “nice” houses in the area and she resisted all attempts to persuade her to buy new furniture, draperies, appliances, and who knows what else. She was one of the last to keep her old garden outhouse, disgusted at the very thought of a bathroom right next to where people ate and slept. Beyond the houses she saw the cane fields. When she came to Zenobia as a bride the fields stretched as far as the eye could see, a veritable ocean of fresh green and lavender when the crop was “in arrow.” She especially loved “crop time,” when the workers would burn the fields to get rid of the vermin before they commenced their cutting. The black curls of charred grass would be carried on the evening breeze finally to settle all over the village as the firelight turned the night sky a pearly orange. Others said they hated crop time—the smell of burning and the lurid light seemed like a scene straight out of hell. But she thought it was beautiful. It was a time that symbolized the prosperity of the village and the method itself was a measure of the tradition that had sustained it ever since her ancestors, freed from the Indenture, had moved onto their own bits of land. She had once overheard the American telling one of the cane cutters that he too loved the atmosphere of crop time, but the man had rudely laughed in his face. That chance remark, however, gave her courage to think that the American might see things her way even now.

Of course, very little was as it had been when the American first came to Zenobia. The cane fields had long been giving way to the growing suburbs of San Fernando and Point-a-Pierre. Young people could barely be persuaded to work in the fields, as jobs at the oil refinery were so much more to their liking. Crop time was no longer what it was—only a few people (hopelessly backward in the opinion of most of the community) still cut cane although it was no longer a truly productive activity. Other West Indian islands, she knew, were still committed to the production of sugar, but Trinidad had gotten so uppity with its oil and natural gas that it could hardly be bothered any more. Mrs. Talsingh thought that it was a terrible shame for people to lose sight of their heritage like that. Oh, she knew that her ancestors had suffered mightily on the old estates and she was not so foolish as to wish for a return to the “good old days” of the Indenture. But still, the modern world didn't seem so very appealing to her either. It was noisy, for one thing. There was a time you could walk the main road and think your own thoughts. Now it was like a factory, all banging and clanging and whooshing that kept you from thinking hardly any thoughts at all.

By and by, Mrs. Talsingh reached the Sookdeos’ and she was relieved to see the car of their eldest son, whom she knew had gone up to St. Augustine to bring the American to Zenobia. So she knew he was already there. The American had told Mrs. Sookdeo to let the old-timers who knew him best know that he was around and would enjoy seeing them, although his visit would have to be brief this time. Mrs. Talsingh was one of those who had been specifically asked to drop by, a bit of luck that further strengthened her resolve. When the American had first come to Zenobia, it would have been unthinkable for a woman to join the men at tea, but times had certainly changed, and for once, given the purpose of her visit, she was glad that they had.

But what, after all, was her purpose? She wanted to tell the American that the shrine was now definitely going to be built, but she knew that he had been hearing this promise since Hari was alive. What did she expect him to do now? In truth, she did not have a plan, assuming that when the moment came she would be given the words to say that would incite the American to help her in some way that she could not predict. Firming her shoulders, she climbed the stairs to the Sookdeos’ front door which, to her annoyance, was locked according to the modern custom. She could hear voices coming from the dining room, which was situated toward the back of the house, so she rapped loudly, deliberately avoiding the newly installed buzzer. By and by Mrs. Sookdeo came to the door and said pointedly, “Ah, Leela, I should have known it was you.” Ignoring her neighbor's sarcasm, Mrs. Talsingh replied curtly, “I come to see the American.”

“Of course.” She nodded in the direction of the dining room and went off to the kitchen. Mrs. Talsingh found the American seated with Mr. Sookdeo and a few other village worthies. He rose immediately upon seeing her and he extended his hand in a gesture that might once have embarrassed her but that she now chose to interpret as yet another sign that she was doing the right thing.

“I'm very glad to see you, Mrs. Talsingh,” he said. “You know, before I came down I was listening to some of my old interview tapes. There was one with Hari that I found particularly interesting. I miss the talks we used to have and I wanted to let you know how much I've always appreciated the hospitality you both showed me.”

Mrs. Talsingh reflexively pulled the end of her head scarf across her mouth in the time-honored, but now rarely seen gesture of a respectable woman addressing a man not of her family. “Oh, is not’ing. It was our pleasure. Hari he always say how much he uses to enjoy telling you all about the community.”

“Well, you can take comfort in the fact that your husband is well remembered. In fact we” and here he turned and pointed to the other gentlemen gathered around the table, “were just saying how fine a thing it is for a person to be honored by his neighbors even after he has passed on.”

Mrs. Talsingh could hardly believe her good fortune. She thought she might have to use some sort of complicated subterfuge to introduce the matter of her husband's final project, but here was the American practically doing all her work for her.

“Yes. Is only one t’ing that would ha’ made he even happier.”

“I know—the shrine.”

The other men snickered but Mrs. Talsingh chose to interpret the American's comment as a positive one and not a cry of exasperation.

“Yes,” she sighed. “An’ now is left to me to make it happen like he wanted.”

“Well, I wish you the best of luck. I know Pandit Gupta will continue to help you in any way he can.” He sat down and appeared ready to return to his conversation with the other men, implicitly dismissing Mrs. Talsingh to join the women in the kitchen.

Hardly knowing where she got the brass, Mrs. Talsingh stood her ground and said in a voice whose authoritative tone surprised everyone, herself included, “Yes, yes, Panditji will help. But firs’ I t’ink Hari would ha’ like for you to help.”

She heard the other men gasp and she hardly dared to look directly at the American. But he appeared to be smiling benignly, if noncommittally.

“Me? What can I do to help?”

“Well, here is the t’ing. This shrine wants money before the first prayer can even be said . . . ”

She could feel the other men getting angrier by the second, but as the American seemed willing to tolerate her impertinence they said nothing.

“Yes, I guess so. Building such a place from scratch can't be done on the cheap.” The other men grumbled and nodded sagely in agreement. “How much do you estimate it will cost?”

Mrs. Talsingh had no idea, but she immediately blurted out, “40,000—TT dollars, not US.” Where this fantastic figure came from she did not know, but once the words were out in the open they sounded reasonable. The other men obviously did not agree. Mr. Sookdeo said in an aggrieved tone, “An’ you is askin’ our old friend here to just give you 40,000 on the spot? Are you mad, woman?”

“No, it's all right,” the American said, more to make peace than to imply that he thought the figure was not shocking. “Mrs. Talsingh, I can't possibly give you that much money if that's what you're asking . . .” The other men grumbled in outraged agreement. “But I can certainly give you a contribution toward that total—it would be a good way for me to give something back to Zenobia after all the kindness all of you have shown me over the years.”

The other women had come out of the kitchen, presumably to drag their bold neighbor out of this arena, but they were stopped in their tracks when the American turned to the other men and said, “I wonder if others wouldn't be willing to do the same.”

He almost certainly knew the answer. As well respected as Hari had been, no one in the village was likely to fork over so much as an old shilling to help his widow build him a monument. Indeed, they were all counting on the American's longstanding familiarity with the ways of the village—he couldn't possibly be serious in suggesting anything of the sort.

The American surprised them all by continuing in an unsettlingly soft voice, “You know, this may be the last time I am able to come to Zenobia. I think it's time to do something like this.”

Everyone thought, but no one said, that longtime friend or no, he had a gigantic nerve saying that this was something he wanted to do, but then suggesting that they all pitch in to add to his own admittedly insufficient contribution.

Clearly sensing a lack of enthusiasm, the American raised his voice a bit and began explaining himself. “Well, you know that's how it's done with the big mandir projects—they get together lots of different subscribers so that the temple really belongs to everyone. Everyone takes a responsibility. No one has to bear the burden by himself.”

The room remained silent.

“And back in the States,” he went on with mounting desperation, “whenever churches have new building programs, they collect pledges. Even very small donations can add up.”

On a certain level, he was right, the men finally agreed. But a shrine was not a mandir—that was the whole point. It didn't matter if a mandir had a lot of subscribers, because the SDMS would be there to make sure everything got done properly. But in a household shrine, if everyone was an owner, then no one in particular was responsible.

“Well, you could take turns—each subscribing family would take six months, for example, to see that the place is kept up, that services are properly arranged, and so forth.”

Mrs. Talsingh was not convinced. “You well know how it is wit’ us. If everyone is responsible, then no one is responsible.” The men agreed, although they were still annoyed with her for saying so out loud.

Although he had raised the pledge-drive model only as a way to get out of an awkward situation, the American seemed to warm to the solution once it was on the table. He pointed out, “Look at it another way. Mrs. Talsingh and Pandit Gupta want to dedicate the shrine to Ganesh. But the Dookharine shrine was always dedicated to Hanuman. I'm sure there are people in the village who have special devotion to other gods or goddesses. If everyone has a share, then each family could make sure that its special deity was represented. Services for all of them could be held—the shrine would be busy all year long, and not just on the specific days dedicated to the one deity.”

Mr. Sookdeo nodded as if in agreement, but then raised another objection. “The truth is—and you know this probably better than any of us—that this is a matter of concern just to us old folks. Our children and grandchildren have no time for shrines and temples.”

“Is true,” Mrs. Sookdeo put in suddenly from the kitchen doorway. “They does come home for Diwali and such, but when we's all gone . . .” and she swept her hand around the room in a gesture of hopeless resignation.

“But wouldn't having a nice building with a strong tradition among the families of the village be a good thing, even for the young people? Maybe in years to come they won't want to keep up the traditional devotions—although I wouldn't be so sure that that's what will happen—but then they’ll have a good structure in which to have educational programs, social events, whatever. It can become a real community center.”

The American sensed he was getting nowhere. His affection and respect for the traditions of village Hinduism were equal to those of the old people gathered in the Sookdeo dining room. He knew that Hinduism in one form or another had survived the disruption of the Indenture and the dislocations of the independence period. But he was not as certain as he tried to sound that it would survive the current wave of modernization and the emergence of the “transnational family.” But as he stood there trying to convince his old friends, he knew that he was also trying to convince himself. He might have given Mrs. Talsingh the entire sum she was asking for had he the means to do so—although he was not sure about the professional ethics of becoming a village patron on that scale. But he still wanted the shrine to be built; it was the one little thing he could possibly arrange to secure the survival of a bit of the local culture he had spent 40 years documenting. The cooperative model seemed to be the only way to get it done.

He searched the faces in the room and understood—or thought he did—what they were thinking. The village Indians of Trinidad upheld the bonds of solidarity when it came to family, but on the village level, each family needed to look out for its own interests. It was important for the Dookharines to operate a shrine on their own terms—terms to which everyone else was more or less obliged to acquiesce, there being no viable alternatives—as a symbol of their rank and prestige. He knew that despite Mr. Talsingh's latter-day asceticism, he harbored ambitions for his family to ascend to that rank as well. The reluctance of the others stemmed from their unwillingness to give the widow the means to elevate her relative position. And she was reluctant to share the cost with her neighbors lest she lose her claim to the shrine as her family's specific legacy.

The American ruefully realized that he, no less than his old Zenobia friends, was interested in his legacy, in his prestige. He, like the rest of them had strong motives to see the shrine built, as well as strong motives to avoid the whole mess altogether.

“A community center, you say?” asked Mr. Bhadase. The American seemed surprised—he hadn't registered that anyone had been paying attention to that part of his argument.

“Yes. A shrine first and foremost, of course, but then once it's built it could be used for whatever purpose people thought best—any respectable purpose.”

“I see. Even my son might think that was a good way to spend money—and he's even tighter with his purse than I am,” Mr. Bhadase said with a twinkle. His friends laughed.

“Well, we can discuss this with the Pandit next time he come,” said Mr. Sookdeo in a way that made it clear that the conversation was over.

“Well, let me know what you decide. I stand ready to make a contribution if that's the way the village wants to go,” the American added.

Mrs. Talsingh left the dining room to exchange some courtesies with the other ladies, who had returned to the kitchen. She certainly didn't feel much like talking to them, and they were clearly anxious for her to go.

The sky remained sullen and the air was still sultry when she stepped outside. The rain had not yet come. She could not say that she was disappointed at the outcome of her visit—after all, she hadn't been sure what she had expected in the first place. But she certainly was not happy with the way things turned out. She was sure that the village elders would forget the conversation the minute the American was on his way up to St. Augustine. Or worse—they would actually come around to his way of thinking and turn the Talsingh family shrine into some sort of community center. She was intent on brooding over this possibility (“a shrine is a shrine an’ not a community center, whatever that is” she said to herself, as if to prime her thought processes) but the traffic din drove all reflection from her mind.

When she got home she took off her finery and set about preparing her evening meal, finding as she did so that she felt more relieved than aggrieved. After all, even if this community center thing came to pass, it would still be located on her family's land, and she was sure Panditji would not object to calling such a thing the “Hari Talsingh Center”; the American would almost certainly back up that designation with his own bank check. And if this modern way of doing things—apparently popular in the States, according to the American—served the purpose of shaming everyone else into pitching in so that she didn't end up doing all the work herself, so much the better. Tradition was certainly to be honored, but at her age, practicality had to take precedence over heritage. And even if nothing happened, well, at least she had raised the issue in public. She had gotten a healthy debate started. She had honored Hari's wishes. It was now out of her hands. Others, richer and more influential than she, would make the final decision.

“Progress,” she sighed as she scooped a dollop of curry off the banana leaf she was accustomed to using as a plate and placed it carefully on one of her rarely used china dishes—a gift from her unmentionable daughter-in-law. She rummaged around the cabinet, found a fork, and sat down to enjoy her supper.