Note: For the purpose of this composition, I have taken the liberty of borrowing the names of two of my closest friends. The first is Cheeniya (an affectionate form of Srinivasan) who lives in Chennai. The second is Kamal, who lives in Jaipur.
It was around 8 PM in the evening I think when I tiptoed into the bedroom and sat quietly on the bed next to my wife. She was half reclining on pillows watching a movie on the TV. I didn’t wish to make a noisy entry, because she loves her movies and doesn’t want to be disturbed when she digests her staple diet. She didn’t notice me more than she notices a piece of furniture that’s long ceased to be functional, but cannot be disposed of in the absence of a willing buyer. It can be gifted away free of charge of course, but I do not know if she has begun entertaining such thoughts yet.
So, as I said, we sat next to one another, an idyllic picture of peaceful coexistence. She watching the TV and I striking a pose which, even if it reminds you of your grandfather’s termite ridden book-shelf, I would like to compare with Rodin’s Thinker.
I don’t know if Rodin’s Thinker had ever had an opportunity to actually engage himself in thinking. But be assured that this was not the case with me. I was waiting in suspended animation for the inevitable commercial break. Finally, like all honest prayers, mine was answered, as a set of comely young women showed up on the screen, dying to kiss to death a man, wearing nothing but a pair of briefs and a perfume which apparently opened for him the door to the women’s restroom. I have no idea what the connection was between the briefs, the perfume, the women and the restroom. But I had better things to occupy myself with because I saw that my opportunity had finally arrived. I cleared my throat to attract attention. Not of the comely women on TV, but of the single one sitting outside the TV set, in my uneneviable company.
She reacted with a start, as any human would I suppose to hear a table or a book-shelf clear its throat.
“What are you up to?” she asked suspiciously. “You gave me a scare.”
“Well, I didn’t mean to. I have been sitting here for the last fifteen minutes … without startling you.”
“But you just did,” she said. You made an odd noise that reminded me of Hamlet’s father.”
Dear Reader, you have three choices now to visualize me. As a bookshelf, as Hamlet’s father and as Rodin’s Thinker. It’s the availability of choice that economists say improves the state of the society. But I am digressing. Let me go back to my wife’s remark, one that I bore with a patient shrug as Shylock might have observed. Unlike Shylock, however, my shrug didn’t belong to the unaccustomed category. Yet, I shrugged her remark off, because I had an ulterior motive that called for the wife’s help. I waited for a long moment as she went back to absorbing the advertisements in silent mode and then said as obsequiously as possible, “I need your help …,” my voice trailing off.
“Look, I am watching my favourite movie now. I can’t leave it to make you an omlette. Why are you such a glutton? You behave like those kids in Tom Brown’s School Days.”
“Oh no, don’t worry,” I interjected. “You can help me sitting where you are. There is very little exertion involved in this.”
“Well, what is it?” she asked somewhat sceptically. “Tell me quickly, the ad will soon be over.
“Will you please make me a phone call? I mean from your phone to mine? You don’t have to labour at all. I will dial my number on your phone for you and wait here to take the call on my phone,” I tried to sound as casual as possible.
She sat up straight now and stared at me in total disbelief. “I knew you were crazy, but since when did you turn into a stark lunatic?”
Actually, I don’t think I had lost my sanity. Being a computer buff, I was simply trying to test if my newly purchased bluetooth earphone was correctly paired to one of my many mobile phones. I had just finished pairing them sitting in my study and now I needed someone to call me up. So, I had travelled all the way from my study to the bedroom, somewhat in the manner of Hiuen Tsang in search of knowledge. And now, after reaching my destination, I was paying obeisance to my wife prior to asking her for a boon. The way you deal with the gods and goddesses you know.
But the goddess was not exactly in a mood to oblige. Instead she had expressed concern over the state of my mind. To make things clearer therefore I turned the other side of my face towards her to reveal the bluetooth earphone adorning my right ear. She was shell-shocked now and moved several inches away from me. the way normal persons avoid the psychologically violent.
“Since when have you developed hearing problems? How come you never told me?” she was now almost accusing.
“I haven’t developed a hearing problem,” I tried to explain.
“Then why are you wearing a hearing aid? People without hearing problems don’t wear hearing aids, do they?”
“No they don’t,” said I. “Nor am I wearing a hearing aid, at least not the sort of hearing aid you have in mind. This is simply a bluetooth earphone …”
“What!” she exclaimed. “You are using a hearing device to cure a dental problem? You are not only mad, you are stupid and exasperating too. Haven’t you bothered me enough ever since that fateful night …”
I knew what was coming. So, I quickly intervened. “Trust me for once please.”
“No, I won’t. You are upto some mischief I am sure. Let me watch my movie in peace and why don’t you vanish into your lair and leave me alone.” With this ultimatum, she un-muted the TV and concentrated back on the movie. I in turn transformed back to The Thinker (or your grandpa’s bookshelf, if this latter personification appeals more to you) and began to wait in patience for the next break. During this interval, I admit that I ruminated over the total non-cooperation that woman-kind is capable of, or at least a section of it, whenever technology rears its head. On the other hand, I could not see that I had much of an alternative but to keep hoping that she would finally concede.
At the next break, I brought up the issue once more. “Will you please call me? I am dialling the number, so you really don’t have to do anything at all …”
“If I don’t have to do anything at all then what on earth are you bothering me about? I am sure you have something up your sleeve that will create chaos.”
“Well you do need to do something … but no real exertion is required for this … when my phone rings and I respond, you need to say ‘hello’ … that’s all you see! Easy, right.” She heard me without any trace of confidence on her face. But I struggled on. “That’s all you know. If I hear your ‘hello’ through my earphone then I should be satisfied that my mobile phone is correctly paired with my earphone.” I explained as well as I could. But she still looked unnerved.
“I have never heard of anything more ridiculous … speaking over the phone to someone who is located less than two feet away. This was not the purpose for which a phone was invented, do you realize that?”
“I do, I do. But this is just an experiment. If I can hear your voice through my earphone, then my love’s labour was not lost. It means I can then hear you from anywhere in the world.”
“Why can’t you call Cheeniya?” she asked gloomily. “Your great buddy should be willing to oblige you, or won’t he?”
“I am not sure. I had sent an sms to Cheeniya a few days ago asking him if I could call him and he didn’t reply. Probably his number has changed. He may have found other friends too and forgotten me.” I said this last bit with a trace of a sigh, this time conjuring up the Hamlet’s father image.
She almost giggled to hear this, I mean as much of a giggle as she is capable of producing, given that, like me, she is on the wrong side of the age that matters. “Oh, he didn’t reply did he? Good for you. See, people want to keep a safe distance from you even when they are a thousand miles away. No wonder. Try Kamal then.”
“No hope there. He is busy building a house for his bhavi. He could also be enjoying his whisky now. He is too intoxicated at the moment to follow anything I say. Why don’t you please help?” I was ready to prostrate before her now. But the ad was over once again and I metamorphosed back to the cupboard no one had any use for. Or that Thinker, if this helps you visualize. And waited again, patiently, as patiently in fact as most cupboards are used to waiting. And then, Vetal-Pratapaditya style, conversation resumed after a while.
I had no perfume on me, like that briefs clad much kissed young man, so instead of my wife chasing me, I had to chase her. I didn’t wait this time for a conversation. I simply dialed my number on her phone and passed it on to her. My phone began to ring and I quickly swithched on the bluetooth earphone. But the ringing phone did not stop ringing. I turned off the earphone and turned it on again as swiftly and as many times as I could. Without any result at all. My phone refused to budge. It kept on ringing with the dogged determination of sirens before air raids.
As I was desperately trying to make my phone stop misbehaving, I suddenly became aware that my wife was actually speaking through her phone. She was singing, “Hello … hello … hello …” into her phone with a gay abandon, reminding me of recurring decimals at school. Not a single one of those hellos was travelling down to my phone. I was hearing her as I would have heard her before phones were invented, or perhaps even before mankind had learnt the use of fire. By this time I had lost my patience altogether, forgetting my cupboard status I suppose. Of course, I was impatient with the phone, not with my wife. Unfortunately though, much in the fashion of a trasferred epithet, I directed the impatience to my wife. I began to yell at her, far too loudly for cupboards,. “Will you please stop hello-ing? I requested you for a single hello, just one you know, not a river bank breaching flood of them!”
She had every reason now to turn off her phone and refuse to converse with me any further, neither through a phone nor without the aid of one. I tried to coax and cajole. I tried to request her to understand my situation. The only thing she had to say was, “Call Cheeniya! And if he refuses, call yourself!”
I resumed now my Rodin pose again and began accessing my grey cells. And soon enough an idea struck me. I broke out of my petrified state and turned thoroughly dynamic, performing what I thought was a cha-cha but ended up with something precariously close to Atal Vihari Bajpayee’s walk exercise after his knees were replaced. Then, much to her astonishment, I patted my wife on her back and exited the bedroom, like Hiuen Tsang on his return journey to China.
The ultimate truth had dawned on me, thanks to my wife’s remark. I remembered that I had two ears and not one and both were in well-serviced condition. Back in my study, I called my mobile number from our landline, holding the landline handset against my left ear, while keeping my right ear firmly glued to the earphone. As soon as my mobile began to ring, I switched on the headphone and, yes God is kind, the mobile stopped ringing this time. I could see a clear signal on its screen that it was now bluetooth connected.
I whispered in my sweetest possible tone, “Hello …,” speaking into the land phone, attached to the left ear if you remember. And the earphone did definitely transmit this sweet nothing emerging out of the left half of my lips into my right ear.
To make sure that the right half of my face didn’t get to see the caller, I even put up my free right palm in front of my nose, thereby denying each half of my face the freedom to keep track of the other. The way a scientificlly minded Neanderthal man might have avoided experimental errors.
“Hello,” I replied through the right half of my lips, in a lovelorn voice. “Where have you been so long dear?” I even added for the sake of variety.
“I was sitting right next to you dearie. Only you didn’t notice me,” left complained to right.
“Oh come on,” right said to left, “don’t be naughty. You think I was not watching? You were trying to woo that TV watching woman forgetting all about me. That is why I kept quiet. If you do that again, I’ll leave you for sure.”
“Please, no!” left said to right in alarm. “You are truly my best half. If your half leaves me, how will my part of the half survive?” At this point, the right palm had left its wall like post in nervousness and was frantically signalling a “PLEASE NO” to whoever was interested in its entreaties.
“It will, it will. Or else why should they have invented an Ardhanareesvara? I think that’s exactly what you were doing in the bedroom. Trying to turn yourself into an Ardhanarisvara. Only the “nari” didn’t comply. Rightly served. Anyway, I am calling off now. But I shall keep a watch over you. Be careful.”
I switched off the earphone at this point and sat staring at my new acquisition. Full of admiration of course. And then, mustering up all the courage I possessed, I called my wife’s number from my study, remembering to keep the bluetooth turned on. Soon enough, she answered the phone and I heard her “hello” loud and clear on my earphone. Not the recurring decimal anymore. I hello-ed back and quickly turned off the earphone.
If she thought that was a call from Hamlet’s father, she has not revealed her mind to me so far.