‘The Judge’s Will’ by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala


Delhi. Photograph by John Blower

From The New Yorker:

After his second heart attack, the judge knew that he could no longer put off informing his wife about the contents of his will. He did this for the sake of the woman he had been keeping for twenty-five years, who, ever since his first attack, had been agitating about provisions for her future. These had long been in place in his will, known only to the lawyer who had drawn it up, but it was intolerable to the judge to think that their execution would be in the hands of his family; that is, his wife and son. Not because he expected them to make trouble but because they were both too impractical, too light-minded to carry out his wishes once he was not there to enforce them.

This suspicion was confirmed for him by the way Binny received his secret. Any normal wife, he thought, would have been aghast to learn of her husband’s long-standing adultery. But Binny reacted as though she had just heard some spicy piece of gossip. She was pouring his tea and, quivering with excitement, spilled some in the saucer. He turned his face from her. “Go away,” he told her, and then became more exasperated by the eagerness with which she hurried off to reveal the secret to their son.

Yasi was the only person in the world with whom she could share it. As a girl growing up in Bombay, Binny had had many friends. But her marriage to the judge had shipwrecked her in Delhi, a stiffly official place that didn’t suit her at all. If it hadn’t been for Yasi! He was born in Delhi and in this house—a gloomy, inward-looking family property, built in the nineteen-twenties and crowded with heavy Indo-Victorian furniture inherited from earlier generations. Binny’s high spirits had managed to survive the sombre atmosphere; and, when Yasi was a child, she had shared the tastes and pleasures of her Bombay days with him, teaching him dance steps and playing him the songs of Hollywood crooners on her gramophone. They lived alone there with the judge. Shortly after Yasi was born, the judge’s mother had died of some form of cancer, which had also accounted for several other members of the family. It seemed to Binny that all of the family diseases—both physical and mental—were bred in the very roots of the house, and she feared that they might one day seep into Yasi’s bright temperament. The fear was confirmed by the onset of his dark moods. Before his first breakdown, Yasi had been a brilliant student at the university, and although he was over thirty now, he was expected shortly to resume his studies.

More like a brother than like a son, he had always enjoyed teasing her. When she told him the news of his father’s secret, he pretended to be in no way affected by it but went on stolidly eating his breakfast.

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