A Place for Mrs. Narayan's Checks


By Aarthi Rao

          Mrs. Narayan sifted through bills as she balanced a phone to one ear. Her niece Bhavna sat at the table digging into a fresh gulab jamun. Sunlight streamed onto the bright white tiles of the one-story house, and the calls of street vendors echoed through the cavernous windows. “Yes, yes,” she said, as her husband confirmed the details of his trip to Hyderabad. She reminded herself to keep an ear open for the mango-wala. Bhavna loved mangoes. “Bhavna will be missing you,” she said. Unexpected meetings would extend his trip another week.
          “What’s going on?” Bhavna asked.
          “Nothing, khusu.” Her husband’s trip extended by a week meant that Mrs. Narayan needed to ask him for more money to entertain Bhavna. She had planned to wait until he was back home to gently coax it from him over his afternoon coffee; now the news about the additional meetings would ruin his mood. “I was thinking I should take Bhavna to the MTR Restaurant this week. It’s a nice Bangalore place to show her, no?” Bhavna perked up in her chair and watched Mrs. Narayan.
          Mr. Narayan grunted in agreement. She heard him typing on his keyboard.
          “You know, it’s just that—“ Mrs. Narayan felt Bhavna’s eager gaze and switched into Kannada. “I need a bit more money. Not a problem, right? Just something small so she has a nice visit.”
          Mr. Narayan sighed. “She’s only been there two days and you already spent all of the money I left?”
          Mrs. Narayan considered the 3,500 rupees he had given her before leaving. The fat packet of bills felt like a significant bulge in her purse at first, but it was quickly depleted after Mrs. Narayan treated Bhavna to a show in one of the modern movie theaters nearby. The attendants brought hot snacks directly to their plush theater chairs, and Bhavna declared that it was nicer than anything she’d been to in the States. It had opened years ago, but the Narayans never went.
          “There’s some left,” Mrs. Narayan explained. She lowered her voice and walked to the corner of the room. Hopefully Bhavna’s Kannada hadn’t improved since her last visit with her parents two years ago. “But she’ll be staying for another week.”
          “I’ll see what I can do,” Mr. Narayan replied stiffly. “It’s getting late. I should get ready for my meeting.”
          “Of course. Don’t work too much. Try to take rest in the evening.”
          “Seri, seri. Bye, Ri.
          Mrs. Narayan returned to the table and the stack of mail.
          “Can I have another gulab jamun, chic amma?” Bhavna asked. She spooned the last of the sweet syrup from the metal dish into her mouth.
          Mrs. Narayan grinned. This was the only Indian sweet her niece preferred over chocolate and caramel. “Of course, khanna,” she said, reaching across the table that overflowed with jars of her homemade pickle and tins of crispy muruku. “You’ve liked them since you were little.”
          “Mom used to make them, but she’s been too busy lately. Sometimes Dad picks them up from the Indian store in a can.”
          “In a can?”
          “They’re okay. Yours are better.”
          “When you finish that one, have another. You’re on vacation. You should enjoy. But don’t mention it to your mother when you call this evening.” It was Bhavna’s first time visiting India without her parents, and Mrs. Narayan did not want them to think she was incapable of managing their daughter.
          “Okay.”
          “Let me just finish going through this mail.” Mrs. Narayan sorted each piece of mail into its appropriate category: letters and bills for her husband, magazines for herself, and junk. The last piece of mail, sealed in a stiff white envelope, did not belong to any pile. “Oh, is it the end of the month already?” Mrs. Narayan glanced at her niece, who was texting furiously on her phone. Mrs. Narayan carefully tore off the end of the envelope and slid out the contents. It contained a brief statement and a check. She smiled and ran her fingers over the numbers.
          Bhavna put down her phone and asked, “What’s that?”
          Without thinking Mrs. Narayan said, “It’s my dividend.” She paused and regretted her response as Bhavna looked up from her phone. “It comes every month—a small amount, no need to mention it to chic appa though.”
          “Why? I thought he handles all of the finances.”
          “He does, but this is different.” Mrs. Narayan put the check back in the cover and picked up the bowl of gulab jamuns. “Shall I give you another?”
          “Why’s it different?” Without asking Bhavna reached for the envelope. Mrs. Narayan set down the bowl and quickly pulled back the envelope to her.
          “It’s nothing, Bhavna. My father made some investments for me soon after my marriage, and I still receive these checks. Chic appa will be away for another week by the way. He’s very sorry to miss your trip.”
          “Hmm,” Bhavna replied, eyeing the envelope. “Chic appa doesn’t know about the checks?”
          “He wouldn’t approve. Why create controversy?”
          “It’s secret? You have a secret income?”
          “You make it sound much more important than it is.” Mrs. Narayan sighed. She appreciated that Bhavna wasn’t the disengaged child that other NRIs1 brought home, but once her questions started, they never ceased.
          “Does Mom get these too? She’s never told me about it.”
          “No, I don’t think so. My father supported her when she did her graduate studies in the U.S. He said that was the best investment he could give.”
          “Why didn’t you want that too?”
          “I liked staying here. The U.S. is far.” Sometimes Mrs. Narayan wished that she had studied in the U.S. or even put her masters in nutrition to use in India, but she appreciated those years she spent with her parents as they aged.
          “So instead of school he made an investment for you?”
          “I suppose so.”
          “But only for you? Not for chic appa?”
          “You are asking too many questions.” Bhavna looked sullen and tapped her spoon against the metal dish. Mrs. Narayan hated denying her niece. “My father thought my mother rushed my marriage. I think he just wanted some way to continue spoiling me.” Mrs. Narayan missed her father. Even in his old age he admired her cooking and asked her to read The Economic and Political Weekly with him every time a new issue arrived. In the rare occasion when Mr. Narayan would return home before nighttime, her father would scold him for spending so little time with his wife.
          “Were you rushing?”
          Mrs. Narayan considered the question. The marriage wasn’t rushed, but regarded as overdue by everyone except her father. When her mother had insisted that it was time for her to settle, her father protested the proposed match. He felt Mr. Narayan was too small-minded. He didn’t stop her when she agreed to her mother’s plans, but he eventually made the investments without her knowledge. The checks only started coming after he died. Mrs. Narayan doubted that her mother ever knew about them. Although she appreciated the spirit of his gift, the checks created stress. Her husband already resented the suspicion of his father-in-law. If Mr. Narayan ever learned that her father hadn’t trusted him to take care of his daughter then the result would have been explosive. It was easier to tuck the checks away. “It was time,” she answered. “I was at the right age. Anyway, your tata was just starting to get sick then, and I didn’t want to cause more trouble.”
          “So you didn’t really want to get married did you?”
          “Bhavna, please, let’s save all this for another time.” Mrs. Narayan got up from the table with the envelope in hand and went to her bedroom. Perhaps if she put it away Bhavna would move onto something else.
          Bhavna followed her inside and jumped onto bed, splaying her lanky body across the blue block printed bedspread. Her long hair tumbled loosely over her shoulders, reminding Mrs. Narayan of the many times her sister sat on their childhood bed, waiting for Mrs. Narayan to rub coconut oil into her tresses. “What do you do with the money?” Bhavna asked. Mrs. Narayan didn’t answer. Instead she unlocked the drawer where she kept her golden wedding jewelry and pulled out a dusty wooden box that sat under a pile of faded sarees. She opened it and placed the envelope on a thick pile of similar envelopes. A few envelopes more and the box wouldn’t close. “This must be years’ worth of checks!”
          “It’s good to keep them safe, no? They might come in handy one day.”
          “Why don’t you use any of them?”
          “What do I need that I don’t have?”
          “You could go out to eat or something. Or go back to the movies again.”
          “If I was out in restaurants and theaters all day, who would watch the servants? And who would be here when the vegetable cart comes in the afternoon? Ah, I hope we haven’t missed the mango-wala.”
          “You could deposit them. They’ll earn interest that way. They’re just losing value right now. They might not even be good anymore.”
          Mrs. Narayan raised her eyebrows. It always surprised her how much her niece seemed to know at the age of fourteen. Where had she learned about bank accounts already? It was enough of a shock to see her a head taller. “What difference does it make if they sit here or in the bank? Besides, I don’t have an account.”
          “You don’t have a bank account? Even I have a bank account.”
          “Where do you get money to put in a bank account?”
          “I babysit every weekend. Mom makes me put the money in the bank. If you don’t have an account, how do you get cash when you need it?”
“My name is under chic appa’s on a joint account, and I never need to withdraw cash. I just ask him whenever I need it.”
          Bhavna rolled her eyes. “Just open an account and deposit all the checks. It’s not like you have to spend it. Mom says banks are safer than holding onto cash.”
          Mrs. Narayan replaced the box and led her niece back to the dining room. She spooned two plump gulab jamuns into the dish and handed it to Bhavna. “They’re good, no?”
          “Don’t change the subject. Let’s go to the bank!”
          “What? You don’t like my gulab jamuns? Or are you waiting to go to the MTR Restaurant? They have wonderful sweets there.”
          “I like your gulab jamun, chic amma, but that has nothing to do with the checks.”
          “Bhavna,” the tone of Mrs. Narayan’s voice fell. “It’s not nice to pester.”
          The two became silent, and Bhavna slowly crushed her gulab jamuns with her fork. “We could at least use some of the money to go out again.”
          The next day Mrs. Narayan found Bhavna trying various keys to open the bedroom drawer. “Bhavna! What’re you doing?” she demanded.
          Bhavna left the key in the hole and turned to her aunt. “Chic amma, I just wanted to count the checks. It looks like so much money!”
          Mrs. Narayan pulled her niece forward, her plump fingers digging into Bhavna’s bony shoulder. Her face burned. “It’s very rude to go through your elder’s belongings.”
          “I don’t want the money to be wasted like this. You should at least know how much you have.”
          “I thought that when chic appa calls tonight I can ask him about the MTR Restaurant again.” Mrs. Narayan pulled the key out of the drawer and tucked it into the fold of her sari. She held the bulge tightly in her fingers and felt the metal press sharply into her hand. If Bhavna were her own daughter, she would have scolded her much more fiercely or given her a good slap across the face, but she didn’t want her niece to think of her as overbearing, or her sister to think of her as stuck in old ways. It would ruin Bhavna’s first solo trip to visit her.
          When Mrs. Narayan was younger, she and her sister dreamt of raising their children together. Two mothers would certainly be better than one, but Bhavna was becoming too unpredictable to be Mrs. Narayan’s daughter. Parents wielded a certain amount of influence over their children; surely Kamla understood Bhanva’s dispositions and knew how to make her behave. Mrs. Narayan could never guess how Bhavna might react to something or how her appearance might change between visits. Her curiosity required more patience than Indian children. The sisters’ fantasy never happened though. Kamla moved to the U.S., and Mrs. Narayan couldn’t conceive. She knew her husband wished otherwise, staying quiet only to avoid the disgrace of addressing childlessness in conversation. This trip was a new opportunity though. It was a chance to take care of Bhavna and to enjoy a sliver of what she had planned with her sister years ago. “It’s the oldest and nicest restaurant in the city,” she said. “I just need to ask him for some extra money when he’s in a good mood.”
          “Whatever, I don’t even want to go that much.”

         Mrs. Narayan sat on the stiff plastic waiting chairs in the bank listening to the whine of ceiling fans begging to be replaced. The wooden box rested on her lap, and she had her best silk dupatta modestly draped over her shoulders. The week had passed as expected. Mr. Narayan had grown irritated over expenses and refused to give her any extra money to entertain her niece. As a result, she and Bhavna had spent the past few days watching old movies on television and chatting with neighbors. On her previous trips to India, Bhavna’s parents had treated Mrs. Narayan to meals out and weekend trips to Mysore. Bhavna loved the palace there. Mr. Narayan usually insisted on staying in Bangalore to work and would quietly deride their extravagance.
          Mrs. Narayan initially ignored Bhavna’s demands that she create a bank account, but as the days passed, Bhavna appeared increasingly listless and finally suggested that she withdraw some of her babysitting money. Mrs. Narayan was horrified to think that her niece would spend her own money on the trip. She laughed the suggestion off, but felt sick inside. Suddenly Bhavna’s idea to open an account felt less frivolous. She knew that her husband would protest her having an independent account if he ever found out, so she had called him one last time that morning.
          “Everything okay there?” he had asked in an annoyed tone.
          “Yes, of course. I just wanted to check on you,” she had replied. “I hope you’re not working all the time. Are they feeding you properly?”
          “The food is okay. I think they put garlic in the rasam here.”
          “Chi. I’ll make you proper rasam when you come back.”
          “Seri. If everything is okay, I should get back to work.”
          “Okay, of course. There is one thing. Bhavna’s been looking so bored lately. Every day she goes to the neighbors and comes home. I just think I should take her—“
          “She’s trotted off to Mysore enough times.”
          “Not so far. Just to some places in town. At least out to eat once or twice. I want her to see the city.”
          “You can take her to see the city. There are lots of places to walk around.” “That’s a good idea, Ri. I think I should take her to MG Road. She’ll like walking through the stalls there, but I just need some extra cash. If we walk around she’ll want to go to some stores or restaurants. Shall I take some from the safe? Just a few thousand rupees.”
          “A few thousand? I think I left you more than enough.”
          “She has nothing to do around the house, Ri.”
          “Make her your ladyfingers or eggplant. They’re first class. I’m sure she gets nothing like it in the U.S. I have to go. I have a meeting soon.” Mr. Narayan had hung up without saying goodbye.
          Once she had decided to open the account, Mrs. Narayan couldn’t help but think of the possibilities of having it. She would be able to indulge on special occasions. She could buy nice wedding presents for her cousins’ children without prodding her husband for every extra rupee. She even imagined how pleased her father would have been to have two enterprising daughters.
          Excited by these possibilities and the promise of surprising her niece with a shared secret, she decided that she would open the account without Bhavna. Her older sister had always been the independent one. It felt right that she had settled on her own in America and produced such a curious daughter. Their father had been so proud when he learned of his oldest daughter’s ambition, the daughter that Mrs. Narayan suspected reminded him so much of himself. Although she never admitted it out loud, Mrs. Narayan knew that her willingness to stay in Bangalore enabled her sister to go away and to have the freedom to find a fellow intrepid NRI and create Bhavna. Without Mrs. Narayan at home to take care of their parents, her sister would have been obliged to return. It didn’t bother her though; Kamla was better suited to travel. Mrs. Narayan was content in the knowledge that she played some part in Bhavna’s existence.
          As she watched the creaky fan on the bank’s ceiling hobble its shaky course, she wondered what her sister’s life was like in the U.S. Did she and her husband cook together like in the movies? Did they set aside time each day to teach Bhavna about bank accounts and other practical things? Her sister invited her to visit every year, but she could never convince Mr. Narayan to pay for both of their travel. She might have succeeded in asking for one ticket, but she doubted that she could travel alone. When she heard others describe the process of searching for connecting flights in European airports and paying for expensive sandwiches at the gate, she appreciated the ease of staying at home. Instead she looked forward to her sister and Bhavna’s occasional trips. Mrs. Narayan adored them both. It delighted her to think of how Bhavna would react to the new bank account. To celebrate, she would treat Bhavna to lunch at the MTR Restaurant tomorrow with her own funds. She had already made the reservation.
          A middle-aged clerk with a thick mustache and wet patches creeping across the checkered fabric under his arms sat down at the desk in front of her. The men sitting around Mrs. Narayan simultaneously got up and swarmed the counter. Their backs, damp with sweat, formed a wall in front of the desk. The clerk took no notice. He picked up a stack of papers, wet his forefinger, and started to sort through them. After ten minutes passed, he looked up as if the demands of the men thrusting withdrawal and deposit slips toward him had just registered. He looked through the crowd at Mrs. Narayan, who was still poised on her chair. “Madam’s been waiting,” he said to the men. With a few grunts, the men parted way, and the clerk motioned for Mrs. Narayan to approach. “What do you need?” he asked.
          Mrs. Narayan set her wooden box on the counter. “I would like to open an account. I have deposits to make.” She said it without hesitation. She had rehearsed the line in her head. She smiled and pushed the box toward the clerk.
          “Wrong desk, madam. Go see Mr. Gupta at the desk near the window. He opens all new accounts.”
          The crowd of men swarmed again. Mrs. Narayan managed to slip her hand between their bodies and retrieve her box. She carried it to Mr. Gupta’s desk. “I would like to open an account,” she said placing the box on his desk. “I have deposits to make.”
          “Please take a seat, madam. It’ll be a few minutes.” Mrs. Narayan sat down again. The process was taking longer than she expected. Bhavna would return home from the neighbors’ soon. Hopefully she wouldn’t mind being alone for a bit, especially once she learned the reason. Mr. Gupta looked up from his desk at Mrs. Narayan and readjusted his thick black glasses. He waved her to the seat in front of his desk.
          “Are you ready?” she asked as she switched seats.
          “I have seen you here before. It’s Mrs. N—“
          “Mrs. Narayan. Here,” she said pushing the box toward him, “I would like to deposit these.”
          “Ah, that’s it, Mrs. Narayan. Don’t you already have an account with us? I’ve seen you make withdrawals and deposits with Mr. Narayan.”
          “I need a new one.”
          “Why is that, madam?"
          “That’s my husband’s account. I need my own. I need to deposit these checks.”
          Mr. Gupta licked his thumbs and flicked through the checks in the box. “Many of these are expired; we call them stale. You can deposit the good ones.”
          “I have collected these for many years. The old ones are all a waste?”
          “We can call the issuer and ask for a new check for the balance of the expired sum. Then you can deposit that too. But you have a joint account with Mr. Narayan?”
          “Yes, but—“
          “Then there’s no need for a new one. You can deposit the checks in the existing account.”
          “No.” Mrs. Narayan tried to sound firm. “I need my own. It’s for my own purposes.”
          “Your own purposes? Tell me, Mrs. Narayan, do you work?”
          “At home.”
          “Do you have a job, Mrs. Narayan? Do you have a regular salary?”
          Mrs. Narayan paused. Did the monthly dividends count as a salary? “No, I don’t hold a salaried job—“
          “I know you might want an account, Mrs. Narayan, but there’s no use. Why go through all the trouble and paperwork for no reason? If only your husband earns, then a joint account is more than enough. I personally recommend that all settled wives just use their husband’s account. It makes sense, no?”
          Settled wife. Mrs. Narayan wondered how the past few decades of her life could be summarized so plainly in just two words. “Yes, it makes sense for the household expenses, but—“
          “Do you have many other expenses, Mrs. Narayan?”
          “No, I suppose not.” Mrs. Narayan’s face turned red. She tried to wipe the sweat from her palms on the ends of her dupatta, which had already started to wrinkle. She hoped that others in the waiting area couldn’t hear the conversation.
          “Then what’s the problem?” Mr. Gupta looked directly at her. She averted her gaze and instead noticed that the patches of sweat had grown to grotesque proportions.
          “No—no problem.”
          “Good, good decision. No sense filling out so many papers on such a hot afternoon.” Mr. Gupta started to open the wooden box, and Mrs. Narayan wondered if his damp hands would leave streaks on its surface. “Now, do you need help depositing these checks into the existing account?”
          Mrs. Narayan pulled the box back toward her and wiped it clean with her dupatta. “No, it’s getting late. I’ll do it another time.”
          “No problem, no problem. Whatever is convenient for you. I can help you with whatever you need anytime.” Mr. Gupta smiled, appearing delighted to be free of the bounds of service.
          Mrs. Narayan stood up and left the bank with the box of checks in hand. She paced next to the building afraid of how shaky her voice might sound to an auto driver. She took a few deep breaths and finally hailed one from the street corner. As she watched the neighborhood buzz by from beneath its flaps, she decided that she would never see Mr. Gupta again. She would leave the bank business to her husband.
          When she returned home, she found Bhavna lying on the porch swing and flipping through a magazine. She was too engrossed in an article to notice her aunt slip the box into her bag. “Where did you go?” Bhavna asked.
          “I just had to pick something up. Did you have a good time next door?”
          “It was okay.” Bhavna paused. “Oh, guess what. They have reservations at the MTR Restaurant for lunch tomorrow. They invited me along.” Bhavna’s unflinching eyes met Mrs. Narayan’s. Bhavna’s tone was hard; Mrs. Narayan knew that she expected protest or indignation, but Mrs. Narayan couldn’t offer either. She couldn’t take Bhavna to the restaurant.
          Mrs. Narayan tried to swallow the lump that quickly formed in her throat. “I’m glad you’ll have a chance to go.” She brushed past her niece and went into the house. She shuffled through the kitchen drawers for a box of matches and then went into her bedroom. Standing over the trash bin, she pulled out a handful of checks and lit them on fire. The edges curled up until the paper fell away piece by piece. She wanted to watch each check burn and then forget that they ever existed.
          “Chic amma!” Bhavna called. “I smell smoke. It’s not coming from the puja room.” Mrs. Narayan heard dull footsteps against the tile floors, and she quickly set more checks ablaze. “Chic amma! Where are you?”
          “Don’t come inside!” Mrs. Narayan called, trying to steady her voice. “I’ll be out in a minute.” The bedroom door swung open, and Bhavna’s eyes widened as a burning check fluttered into the trash bin. “Get out of here right now!” Mrs. Narayan turned away from her niece and started to sob.
          Bhavana rushed forward and grabbed the wooden box from the bed. Only two checks remained. Bhavna pushed the trashcan aside and approached her aunt. “What’s going on?” She looked frightened in a way that Mrs. Narayan had never seen before. Bhavna squeezed her arm, and Mrs. Narayan wondered whether Bhavna was used to being held and hugged everyday.
          “It doesn’t matter. I tried to deposit them, but—but it was awful. They won’t give me an account.” Mrs. Narayan looked down, unable to face her niece. What would her sister think?
          “What? Who wouldn’t give you an account?” Bhavna’s voice was soft and slow.
          “Chic appa’s bank.”
          “Chic appa’s bank? Who cares? I found another bank.”
          “What do you mean you found a bank?” Mrs. Narayan wiped her eyes and turned towards her niece.
          “Just down the street. It’s a private bank the neighbors use. They said some of the old state banks don’t treat people very well, but they like this one. I picked up an application.”
          “You went to a bank alone?”
          “It was close.” Bhavna smiled. “Here, take this,” she said, pulling a folded sheet of paper from her pocket. “It’s an application for an account. I filled out some of it, but they said there’s more information you have to add.”
          “They just gave you this application?”
          “Yup. We can go back there if you want. I think they can finish opening it today.” Mrs. Narayan looked over the application Bhavna had given her. Her name, Sangeeta Narayan, was written across the top in her niece’s terrible handwriting. The form did look simple. If her husband’s bank had a similar application, then it would have taken only a few minutes to complete. “This is all we have to do?” Mrs. Narayan wiped the tears from her face intent on regaining her composure.
          “I think so. Come on. Let’s finish the application together. We can celebrate tomorrow at MTR. I don’t want to go with the neighbors.”
          Mrs. Narayan silently bent down and reached into the trash bin. The warm ash spread across her hands and blackened her skin, except for the deep cracks that ran across her palm.. She wished she could turn the ash back into something that mattered. She had nearly destroyed her father’s gift and allowed Mr. Gupta to win. At least the checks would continue to come.
          “Are you angry?” Bhavna asked, looking down. “I’m sorry I went alone.”
          “Bhavna, you can’t go wandering around by yourself like this. What if something had happened?”
          “Nothing happened.”
          “I’ll have to talk to the neighbors. They should have at least gone with you.”
          “Mom said it was okay.”
          “You talked to your mother? You told her about the checks?” Mrs. Narayan doubted that Kamla would ever trust her with Bhavna again if she thought her sister couldn’t even open a simple bank account.
          “Don’t be mad. I didn’t tell her everything. I just told her that you might want a bank account, and she told me to ask the neighbors for a recommendation. I didn’t exactly tell her that I would go there—”
          “So she doesn’t know then? About you going by yourself or about all of my checks?”
          “No. Not really.”
          Mrs. Narayan sighed and stood up. “I don’t think she needs to know these details, but don’t go off by yourself again.”
          “Okay."
          Mrs. Narayan rubbed the ash from her hands. “Alright then, tell me more about this bank. Maybe we can at least deposit these last two checks.”
          Bhavna jumped up. “You’ll do it? Let’s go!” As she sprung up, the wooden box slipped off the bed and crashed on the floor. The top came off the hinge and skidded across the room. “Sorry!” Bhavna bit her lip, and sat down on the bed again, hugging her knees to her chest.
          Mrs. Narayan bent down to pick up the pieces, and noticed a small square of paper caught in the faded velvet lining of the box. It must have been buried beneath the old checks. Mrs. Narayan pulled it out, and her father’s face smiled back at her. It was taken before his Parkinson’s had taken over his mind and body. His warm smile glistened out from the glossy black and white image.
          “What’s that?” Bhavna craned her neck to peer over her aunt’s shoulder.
          “It’s your tata.” Mrs. Narayan ran her thumb over the familiar face. She remembered the day he had come home with a stack of these photos, eager to obtain a passport to visit Kamla in the U.S.
          “I wish I had met him,” Bhavna said. Mrs. Narayan passed the photo to her.
          “He would have liked to know you. I showed him the baby pictures of you before he passed away.” Mrs. Narayan remembered trying to explain that Kamla had delivered a baby. His Parkinson’s was at his peak, and she was never sure if he knew that he was a grandfather. “You would have liked him.”
          “What was he like?”
          “He was a sweet man and very kind.” Mrs. Narayan paused as Bhavna looked at the photo more closely. Although tempered by her adolescence, Bhavna had the essence of her tata, a reckless but genuine generosity. “Actually, you remind me of him.”
          “Really?”
          Mrs. Narayan smiled. “It will be nice to save a little. I think I owe you and your mother a visit.”

1 Non-Resident Indian

Aarthi recently completed her MBA at UC Berkeley. Her fiction touches on many topics including the experience of the Indian diaspora and is influenced by the time she spent working and living in Asia. Her writing on global health and development has appeared in a number of policy outlets.

"A Place for Mrs. Narayan's Checks" is Aarthi's first published story.