Category Archives: Stories about Her

Episodes involving a semi-fictional character

Slips of Conjugal Happiness

7

As I was boarding the bus that my hotel uses to pick up its guests from the station, I looked behind for my wife to help her in. But the landscape that greeted me was empty of my wife. And this was strange, for to the best of my recollection, she was walking next to me even five minutes ago! I asked the porter if he had an explanation, but he responded that the luggage I entrusted him to carry didn’t include my wife. The bus driver was honking his horn asking me to hurry up. I had to make up my mind. Leave my luggage to the mercy of the departing bus or my wife to the mercy of God.

Presence of mind! I stood in front of the bus preventing the driver from starting and searched the universe for my life’s companion, much to the irritation of the driver and the passengers in the bus. At such moments, I have learnt to turn deaf.

And then suddenly, she appeared from behind a parked Tata Sumo. It didn’t seem as though she was playing hide and seek. Looked more like she was limping as she held her right elbow with her left hand, apparently in pain.

“What happened,” said I.

“Fell down,” she replied grimacing in pain.

“How come?”

“Well I was looking upwards and walked into a pothole …”

“Why were you looking upwards? In search of God?” said I, lending her my shoulder to lean on, thereby transforming a limping woman to a limping man.

“No, not God exactly, I was trying to read the signs on the buses. These signs are normally not written inside potholes. And please note, in case you didn’t know, women in sarees tripping on the wayside take a while to get back on their feet to join stupid husbands. ” She glared back at me.

The lady was in pain and needed to be soothed. I did that as well as I could. Arnica 30 and Neosporin ointment did the rest. They were more potent than my observations on the art of walking in the vicinity of train stations.

Which reminds me of Okayama. We were visiting one of those pretty Japanese gardens. The garden was crisscrossed by narrow, winding canals. As we were crossing over to the other side of one, I thought I should take her picture on the little bridge. She struck a pose for me. Satisfied, I looked at her through the viewfinder. She had vanished! I searched everywhere in the world through the viewfinder, but there was no sign of her. And then it occurred to me that she might reappear if I looked for her with my naked eyes. I removed my eyes from the camera (or the other way round perhaps) and looked for her where she had last been spotted. Success. There she was. Only her pose had changed. She was lying on her back at the foot of the bridge. “You were supposed to stand, not lie down,” I said in dismay. “What could I do,” she said,” I slipped down the slope of the bridge!

My wife disappears every now and then.

Slips of conjugal happiness.

A Question of Right

Last month, on September 1, I sustained a foot injury, left foot to be precise, that proved later on to be a fracture. Movements were restricted, the surgeon prescribed what he called  an ankle binder and my left foot had to remain in bandaged state 24 hours a day since that fateful evening. It might have to remain that way for the rest of eternity or the end of my life, whichever arrived later. Not allowed to take it off even when I went to sleep at night. A somewhat uncomfortable state of  existence. I don’t recommend that you try it out, or else, like Alice’s smile without the Cheshire cat, you might end up with a bandage without a foot.

Such stray thoughts were assailing my otherwise peaceful ruminations on life, when to my horror and dismay, I realized that my right elbow was sending intense pain signals as well. I could hardly fold my right arm at the elbow joint without “ouching” loudly. I didn’t know the source of the problem, for as far as I recalled, I never injured my arms, even in my dream. And I wasn’t dreaming as the pain alerted me. I was wide awake. I was disturbing neighbours the way you are not allowed to in Churches when a service is in progress.

She was reading a book right next to me and the ouch disturbed her concentration.  She was not genuflecting in a Church of course, but disturbed she was.  She turned her head sharply, asking nothing. I suspect she was trying to figure out if I had sustained a heart attack. The silence continued till my vocal chords produced yet another ouch, louder than the first one, this time accompanied by a visual signal, a pain distorted face. I have no idea how alarming an expression I wore on my face. But she knew I am sure and appeared to conclude that my heart was under siege and shifted her gaze back to her book in total indifference. I didn’t deserve her attention anymore.

Normally happy though I am, I find it difficult to put up with indifference to physical pain. Generally those that I suffer myself. So, I turned up my ouching volume a few notches higher to express my agony.

“What’s gone wrong?” she asked now in an annoyance radiating voice. “What’s this lugubrious noise all about?”

“My right elbow is in pain, can’t you see?” I retorted accusingly almost. “And the lugubrious noise you heard was the last gasp of a man in pain, one whose right arm has declared to carry out a non-cooperative non-movement.’

“No, I can’t see the pain. But I can hear coarse sound waves emanating from your direction. And I am tired of your ceaseless complaints. OK, what is it this time? And what on earth is a non-cooperative non-movement? You are misquoting the Mahatma and that is sacrilege!”

“I told you didn’t I? I am unable to bend my right arm at the elbow. Most painful. It’s a non-movement alright, Mahatma notwithstanding.”

She stared at me wide eyed for a long moment and then came out with her advice. “Well, since it is the right arm, your heart is safe. So if it is painful to bend it, then keep it straight and let it rest on a pillow. You can see a doctor tomorrow morning. At this time of the evening, doctors don’t fall like manna from heaven. Or at any other time for that matter.”

“But how can I keep my arm straight,” I moaned “if I need to reach behind for something?”

“Don’t try to reach for anything behind. I can see a pile of books behind you. Do you want anything from that collection of garbage? I can fetch it for you.” My books belonged to an untouchable category as far as I could make out from the nauseated expression on her face. She was being helpful probably, even though her tone didn’t suggest philanthropy. I began now to growl in pain. Physical as well as mental.

“No you can’t do anything for me,” I replied, in the manner I suppose of a terminally ill person lying on a hospital bed. “I don’t need books. No book on earth can help me now.”

She sounded more than amazed. “Then what on earth do you need behind you?” She searched the empty wall behind the table on which the books lay. If she was searching for a cockroach about to walk down my neck, it wasn’t there.

“I need to scratch my behind,” I announced, expressing distress in no uncertain terms.

She was completely taken aback, though I thought I detected the flicker of a semi-cruel smile on her face. But it vanished almost instantaneously. Controlling her emotions, whatever they were, she replied sternly, “Well use your other hand then, since you are not athletic enough to employ your right foot to serve the purpose.” I noticed with some satisfaction that she was well-informed about the condition of my left foot. I was not a victim of total indifference, thank God.

Nevertheless, she was being endlessly unsympathetic I felt. I stared tearfully at my bandaged foot. The silent tears failed to impress her. So, I sought refuge in my vocal chords once again.

“Don’t you see that it is my left arm alone that is usable?” I said, plaintiveness oozing out of my voice, reminding me of lambs protesting in vain on their way to the slaughter house.

“Then use it man, use it,” she admonished me. “Why waste a useful thing? Haven’t you heard the PM advising children not to waste electricity or other scarce resources?”

“But it’s not use-ful clever woman,” I let out a dismal scream now. “You are overestimating your genius. It’s the right bottom that I need to scratch.”

“Well, when did I suggest that you scratch the wrong bottom. Scratch the right one by all means, but do so after I have left this room. I don’t wish to witness the disgusting spectacle.” She got up on her feet, ready to disappear.

“I didn’t mean right as in wrong,” I made a pathetic attempt at explanation. She halted near the door, hesitating it seemed. Expressing sympathy perhaps? She kept me suffering in a state of suspended animation as it were.

When she finally vociferated, sympathy could well be the sentiment she expressed. But one couldn’t be sure. She looked up at the ceiling appearing to ask for God’s mercy to drop “as the gentle rain from heaven//Upon the place beneath”.

“Dear Lord,” she wailed, “why have you deprived this man of any semblance of grey matter? ”

To set things right, I yelled in greater desperation. “I meant right as in right. But my kind of a right bottom is not your kind of a right bottom, you understand?”

“No, I don’t,” was her instantaneous reply. She looked insulted and humiliated, as Dostoyevsky might have seen things at this point of time. Heaving several sighs of despair, she appeared to take a final decision of sorts. “Mental home, that’s where you need to be transferred. I think I should call an ambulance before you turn violent.”

“No, please no,” said I. “I am not a mental patient. I am perfectly aware of the difference between your bottom and mine. But you don’t seem to be aware of this simple difference …”

She didn’t let me finish my all clarifying sentence.

“First of all, you are offending a woman’s modesty by your crude reference to female physiology. Secondly, you are suggesting in no uncertain terms that I am soft brained. Not a mental home, you need to be reported to Women’s Rights Organizations. They’ll take proper care of you.”

I had no choice but to let her finish her sentence. And then I finished mine, the one which, if you remember, I had left unfinished.

“… between right as in right and right as in right. They are homonyms,” I ended up mournfully.

Confusion reigned supreme. As far as I could make out, there were at least three senses in which the word right had been used by now. Right as opposed to wrong, right as opposed to left and finally right as opposed to coercion. And she was showing an unmistakable inclination to stick to the third. So I decided to follow suit.

“Do you agree that a man has a right to scratch his bottom? Right, left and centre?”

“Of course I do you vulgar fool. But he doesn’t have the right to insult a woman.”

“When and how did I insult a woman?”

“But you just did. Insult all the way down to the bottom.”

“No, I didn’t. I was merely trying to make a grammatical point regarding your interpretation of a right bottom as opposed to mine.”

“Oh, that’s it, is it? A linguist scratching his bottom instead of his head? In search of a grammatically correct procedure for bottom scratching may be?”

Evidently sarcastic I thought. She continued before I could respond.

“And what is this grammatically correct procedure Sir, may I know?” The frown in her eyes drove a red  hot iron rod through my very soul. “You don’t expect my hand to scratch on behalf of yours, do you?”

Friends, to tell you honestly, the idea hadn’t occurred to me till that moment. But now that she brought up the possibility (or the impossibility perhaps) of the job, I muttered softly to myself, “Well, idea wise at least, that’s feasible, is it not?”

“I see, that’s what you expect do you?” she hissed now like a cobra disturbed in its sleep.

“Well no, I don’t expect you to do this. But assuming that I do not expect you to, will you do it? I mean, please?”

Something in the nature of an earthquake occurred now. Measuring around 15.8 in Richter scale. Rescue work could well be in progress, provided of course that civilization hasn’t breathed its last.

______________________________

I had no idea that it was R.K. Narayan’s birthday yesterday (10 October). But Google, my ever faithful butler, delivered the information as soon as I turned on the computer.

Without a Clue …

I have forgotten how to write I lamented silently. And then wondered for the umpteenth time why the elements had conspired to cause my Muse to send me to exile. I had no idea, none at all.

“I have no clue at all,” I sighed somewhat audibly.

“No?” exclaimed she.

My wife took me by surprise, I have to admit. Actually, now that I recount the conversation, I realize that I had committed a blunder at the very beginning. I had used my voice to express my thoughts. Thoughts need not be uttered with vociferation. At least my thoughts, not Mozart’s perhaps. But, as I said, I had enjoined my brain waves with my vocal chords. And forgotten all about the faux pas. Hence the confabulation that followed.

“No?” I fumbled, in response to what I mistook to be an unprovoked utterance on the part of my wife. “I mean what are you referring to?”

“I have no clue at all.” A clear soprano confronted me. Well, I have to admit that I wasn’t exactly sure if it was a flawless soprano, which Wikipedia identifies as lying between 261 Hz and 880 Hz, and I don’t know even vaguely what that means. But I am sure that I heard the words clearly.

“How do you mean?” I asked therefore. It’s best to leave as few controversies to vagueness as possible. I can’t recall the person from whom I inherited this piece of questionable wisdom. Disappearing behind a curtain of vagueness is also known to be a potent weapon to save oneself from embarrassment.

“I meant whatever you had said when you said whatever it is that you said.” Clear sharp answer.

You see, age has done things to my comprehension and it took me a good deal of mental struggle to simplify the somewhat compound sentence she had employed to refer to whatever I had said when I said whatever I had said. I failed of course.

So, I asked her, “Whatever did I say when I said whatever I said?”

She replied, “I have no clue at all!”

“But didn’t you claim only a second ago that there indeed was a whatever that I had said and that I did say it when I said it?” I shed a tear or two this time.

“Of course I did,” said she.

I was at my wit’s end now. Blood pressure, sugar, cholesterol and all the other things that conspire to make doctors examine your lipid profile or whatever, were rising.

It was clearly time for me to give up. So, I didn’t give up.

Instead, I said, “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly …”

It had the intended effect. Her confidence had received a jolt. There was a flustered look on her otherwise pretty face.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she demanded.

I tried to explain as best as I could. “It’s advisable to finish off unpleasant things with alacrity. Dilly dallying doesn’t help.”

“What unpleasant thing?” she asked suspiciously, her left hand surreptitiously searching for a blunt weapon I thought, should emergencies arise.

“Such as murder,” I explained. That’s what Macbeth had observed prior to killing Duncan.

“I knew, I knew …” she thundered this time, flourishing a rolling pin in her left hand.

“You knew what?” I said more than sheepishly now, swiftly taking cover under the dining table.

“I knew you were planning to murder me and that’s exactly what you were mumbling to yourself.”

“Mumbling to myself?” I bewailed hidden from her line of vision and ended up finally with a hesitant “What?”

“I don’t have a clue,” she wailed now hurling the rolling pin towards the object hiding under the table. The target was missed, for I heard the noise of splintered glass.

And in the meantime I keep wondering, still sitting under the table, why it is that I have forgotten to write.

I really don’t have a clue.

Ardhanarisvara — A Mobile Fantasy

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.

 

Ardhanarisvara from Karnataka

 

My Wife, Vyasdeva and Other Creatures

Date and Place: Sometime, somewhere

Dear Son:

As far as I could make out, your Ma wrote two letters last night. The event was innocuous enough and you are surely wondering what on earth my reason could be for assigning it headline status. But no my son, I haven’t gone ga-ga. So, let me proceed directly to the point, instead of beating around a darned bush.

She wrote the two letters simultaneously, or so at least it appeared to me.

I have seen such feats being performed in circuses of course, which employ guys whose solitary interest in life consists of throwing hundreds of coloured balls into mid air with both hands at the same time that they keep catching them back during their downward descent. With the same two hands. Their own two hands mind you, not hands belonging to others.

It confuses you to no end. I can never be sure if the hands under discussion are engaged in catching or pitching. Normal people would not succeed in performing both acts at the same time to the best of my understanding. These circus guys are not trustworthy people, to say the least, because they remind you in turn of another class of individuals. This latter group invites you to wedding feasts and employs armies of goons to allure you to have one more cutlet, only to move on swiftly with the same request to the guest sitting right next to you, before, that is, you have found the time to make up your mind. You end up your day wavering between hope and despair, feeling as mortified as a Hamlet attacked by “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, unable to figure out if they wanted you to eat the offered piece of grub or give back to them the one you had miraculously snatched away from their iron grip when proceedings began.

Forgive me this detour, son. My mind wanders sometimes, as “lonely as a cloud”, like Wordsworth used to before he bumped into his oft advertised “host of golden daffodils” and withdrew from public view to spend his remaining days “in pensive mood” on a well-appointed “couch”.

Let’s go back therefore to your Ma’s mysterious conduct. Any human being, possessing even a modicum of scientific interest, would be attracted by an event as miraculous as the one I described when I started off. You can’t blame me, in other words, that I felt exercised by the goings on and sneaked up behind her, quite soundlessly, to peep into the works. Given her remarkable extra sensory perception however, she caught me red handed.

She turned around sharply and asked suspiciously, “What are you up to?” To save my skin, I observed that I was merely engaged in adjusting the shawl on her back. While offering this explanation though, I withdrew carefully from her vicinity, guarding my retreat with the additional information that, unknown to her, the shawl had slipped down her back.

“What?” she snapped back even more menacingly. “Since when have you turned so considerate about shawls slipping down my back? Don’t lie. You were trying to read my letters. Don’t you underestimate my intelligence! Why don’t you age a little more gracefully? You will be setting horrible examples for your grandchildren when they start arriving. Leave me in peace, will you?” She wasn’t exactly happy you might say. The tone of her voice made it clear that the “winter of our discontent” had reached freezing temperature.

I attempted to build up a somewhat weak argument in my favour nevertheless and stammered out, “Well you see, I was taken somewhat aback by noticing you — trying to — you know — write two letters … Normally, I don’t think people do this …”

She stared at me with incredulity. “What’s so strange about writing two letters? You write eighty six emails every day yourself. And that too to females you are flirting with. You should be ashamed of yourself. They are young enough to be your great-granddaughters. Adjusting the shawl indeed. My foot! ”

I knew it was not safe to proceed further. The more I attempted to explain, the worse my crime would appear in her eyes. It would only increase her conviction that I was not just reading her letters, but doing so with supreme concentration. For a while, she didn’t pay any further attention to me and resumed the activity she appeared to be enjoying as profusely as nightingales seem to relish their singing. I managed meanwhile to vanish into a relatively secluded corner of the room, slump down on a couch and resign myself to staring at the ceiling. My couch, mind you, not Wordsworth’s, in case you are entertaining thoughts to the contrary.

I admit of course that I did keep sneaking a look every now and then in her direction, forgetting in my senility that curiosity has been recognized since the very dawn of civilization as the most potent of cat killers. And in case you didn’t know, if there is one thing women cannot tolerate more than being interrogated about their personal business, it is the sight of men who gape at them stupidly with interrogative propensities written plainly on their faces, but lacking at the same time the courage to make themselves audible.

“Stop staring at me and leave me alone will you,” she said with a final warning and went back to the two aerogrammes she had before her. She resumed writing on them. It appeared as though she was comparing notes, assimilating the contents of one and then going back to filling in the gaps in the other and vice versa. Unless you can write with both hands, this is the nearest you can come to writing the letters simultaneously, right?

My mind was lost in contemplation you might say till I realized what she was probably upto. She was actually writing two letters simultaneously to two of her friends simply to make sure that she didn’t end up writing the same letter to both. Sounds contradictory, doesn’t it? Let me explain further. The gossips she wished to report to her friends, I felt sure, were the same, she being too lazy to find varieties of topics for her correspondents’ entertainment. So, the little woman was just trying to keep the styles in the two letters distinct, using active voice in one and passive voice in the other, present continuous in one and past perfect in the other and so on and so forth. I was pretty confident about the conclusion I had arrived at.

Yet, despite the satisfactory solution I had found to the problem that had been holding me in a state of suspended animation, I sank into a deeper reverie, wondering how it was that I had never realized in the past that I was married to a literary genius. And genius indeed, for there was only one other case that I could recall where something similar is said to have happened. Of course, I did not actually witness the incident. I mean it was not as though I had observed the happenings the way I did last night, but Hindus have been insisting on this from time immemorial and I have no reason to question the wisdom of my forefathers.

It appears that Vyasdeva, the same guy who wrote the Mahabharata you know, a story involving a number of people he had himself fathered, felt acutely productive when he decided to write his epic. He vowed therefore, somewhat in the spirit of your mother, to compose several chapters of the epic simultaneously! However, being more prolific than her, V buddy actually wanted to write about ten chapters at a time, compared to the two silly letters your poor mom undertook to compose simultaneously. Besides, the brilliant V also knew that his chapters wouldn’t resemble your mother’s letters, which were, mutatis mutandis, xeroxed copies of each other.

You can’t blame him of course. Given the size of the enterprise he had undertaken, viz. producing grandchildren, making them grow up and fight battles and then recording the happenings in a form that permitted TV serialization for several years in a row, he definitely needed to compose as many chapters as he could in one go to keep generations of yet to be born TV producers happy. He had the story worked out in detail in his mind of course, but what stood in the way was that, like you and me and most of the people we know, he possessed two hands in all. And, as far as my information goes, it was only one of these that he could actually write with. He decided therefore to employ a stenographer of sorts to dictate to, ten chapters at a time. The task was super-human, needless to say, and no ordinary stenographer would do. Besides, advertisements and interviews involved a great deal of trouble in that age, there being no newspapers, no space in the tapovanas to seat the candidates. And V. Deva was in any case too poor to pay for TA/DA etc.

You must be doubtlessly aware, however, that important members of the human race had direct access to the Gods during those days. Indeed, the Gods were at times embarrassingly obsequious in their dealings with these men, the so called powerful munis and rishis. Maharshi V belonged to this category according to most of the learned sources I was able to consult. So, he made a long distance collect-call to Lord Ganesha. It had to be a collect call you see, because Vyas-ji didn’t believe in paying his phone bills. And the reason why V chose G to pay the bill was that the latter was generally acknowledged to be more educated than his peers in the land of the Gods, Paradise presumably. He was expected to commit fewer spelling mistakes than most other Gods, except Devi Saraswati of course. But Vyas, however insensitive he might have been, did not have the heart to employ her as his steno. Besides, even if he had, she would have only two hands to write with, while Ganesha had a special advantage in being endowed with four, with all of which he felt equally at ease as far as writing went.

The story goes that G flew in, bearing four pens in four hands, brimming with confidence in his ability to finish the task at supersonic speed. But he made Vyasdeva sign a contract before he began. Vyas would need to dictate continuously. Or, to put it more clearly, G insisted that the deal was off if his pens stopped writing even for a micro-millisecond on account of a slowdown in Vyas’ prolific flow of ideas. Indeed, those in the know of things inform me that he had even shown some vanity by trying to suppress a disparaging smile. Vyas did not miss this, though I have no idea what such a suppressed smile looks like on an elephantine face.

As we noted, these sages in human shape were pretty powerful guys and Maharshi V, to teach Lord G a lesson, immediately shifted gear to make his mind travel at the speed of light. This inconvenienced G in no small way. For, although highly accomplished, he was ignorant of the fact that light was not just supersonic, it travelled a lot more quickly than sound. It did so even during Satya Yuga. Consequently, he had to request his employer to slow down somewhat, a humiliation from which he never quite recovered. Come to think of it, there is a bit of an error in this, because V, even if he thought at lightning speed, could not possibly have made himself audible to Ganesha at a speed exceeding that of sound. So, why was G embarrassed, if his stenographic skills had a supersonic rating?

It is quite possible that G had overestimated himself. And those who know their scriptures well seem to believe that a distinct patch of yellow showed on his dhoti where it covered his not too inconspicuous rear. Much the same thing happened to Pankaj Roy, the cricketer I mean, way back in 1959, when he faced Wesley Hall of West Indies in Eden Gardens.

I wonder though why the Lord did not venture to use, along with the four hands, his elephant’s trunk as well as his two legs to finish the monumental task. Perhaps that could have done more justice to his self-respect. But who knows, may be Vyas would feel insulted by the act. And in that case, he would surely shoot an avishaapa at Ganesha and turn him, for all I know, into a full-fledged elephant roaming the Kaziranga National Park. Unlike the MP’s and MLA’s, who are the best approximations of Gods these days, the ones who controlled human destiny in the distant past had to exercise utmost caution in their dealings with some of the same humans. So, Ganesha, in spite of all his bulk, was forced to do a balancing act on the tight rope.

If Ganesha appeased V. Deva by crawling at his dictate, I too had to do something similar to keep your dear mother in good humour. She gave me one of the two letters this morning and asked me to run to the post office and send it off. As soon as I came back home however, tongue hanging loose between my teeth, tail drooping, she gave me the other letter and asked me to run again.

I doubt that I shall ever find out the epic contents of her letters. But I do think I know why she made me run. First, not being scientifically oriented, she believes that a letter reaches its destination more quickly if one runs to the post box. And being as scared of her temper as Ganesha was of Vyas’, I did follow her order to the last letter.

I also have a vague notion now why the letters were not posted simultaneously, even though they were written together. Your Ma has become rather friendly with the lady next door. The latter is a dog lover and gives her pets morning exercises in the public park everyday. Your mother, I think, was merely trying out a variation on that theme by imagining that she too had a pet in the house.

Tons of love.

Baba

Ha!

Soon after lunch today, my wife declared that she was leaving me. Not for good, but for an unspecified period of time. We were still sitting in a restaurant in Puri and she passed on her purse to me asking me to take good care of its contents till she was back. Amongst other things, I knew that she kept her mobile phone inside the purse.

“Why won’t you carry your cell phone with you?” asked I in alarm. “I can’t get in touch with you if you are late. “

“They don’t allow mobile phones there,” she replied and got up to leave.

“Hey look,” said I “who’s ‘they’ darling and where’s ‘there’?”
 
“I am going to the Jagannath Temple. They have their rules. Amongst other things no leather goods are allowed inside and no mobile phones either. Anyway I am getting late. This is the best time to visit. Because it’s Jagannath’s lunch time and there are few people around. If I can make it on time, I might manage to get a ‘darshan’.

“I can come with you too. Why are you leaving me with a woman’s purse? People will get ideas to see me carrying a purse you know”

 “Well, just go back to the hotel room and wait there she said. The room is less than five minutes from here. You can bear the embarrassment for a short time at least. For my sake, do it. This is your once in a lifetime chance to do something for my sake. Try and recall the last occasion you did anything just for me.”

“Look,” said I, “I am even willing to accompany you to the temple. You are doing me wrong.”
 
“Oh no, they won’t let you inside the temple. You will have to wait outside on the street with my purse much longer that way.”
 
“Why won’t they allow me into the temple?”
 
“They are very strict. Non-Hindus are forbidden entry.”
 
“Since when did I turn non-Hindu?” I asked severely concerned.

“How do I know? Probably since the day you were born. Anyone who cares to study you will know. And then there will be trouble. Look, I am getting late. I want to be present there at the opportune moment.”
 
“But please don’t leave me in a sea of mystery. Have I been excommunicated? But why?”

“Hindus cannot be excommunicated. You need to convert. But how can you covert from Hinduism if you are not a Hindu in the first place. Stop bothering me. Ask yourself what you have ever done that would qualify you as a Hindu.”
 
“Oh come on, I married you with the holy fire as witness.”

“Ha!” she exclaimed.
 
“I put the vermillion mark on the parting on your beautiful hair.”

“Ha!” she repeated with passion. “You are not just a non-Hindu. You are a non-anything. If you are anything at all, you are a lizard in a bathroom.”
 
“Bathroom!” I exclaimed. By now she had hailed an auto. As she was boarding it, I asked her, “Why don’t they let you carry the cell phone inside? Are they worried that you would call up Jagannath-ji when he was enjoying his post lunch siesta?”

“See, see, see …! Did you hear what you said? You call yourself a Hindu. Ha!”

This last ‘ha’ was pretty lethal, but before I could recover from its attack, the auto had disappeared. So I mournfully retraced my steps to the hotel room and turned on the laptop to check my mail. May be I managed to join company with Shri Jagannath, for I woke up with a start when someone knocked on the door from outside.

I opened the door and there she was. Triumph radiated from all over her person. Full of excitement she told me how she had managed to enter the sanctum sanctorum and watch Shri Jagannath standing only a few feet away. “The Pandas were most helpful. They said I was super lucky. Normally there is a huge crowd, but I got the opportunity to stand there all alone and watch him in his infinite glory.”

“You sure you didn’t call him up and make an appointment this morning,” I asked.
 
“Ha!” she said again, producing in me the distinct impression that she was slowly forgetting spoken language. ‘Ha’ appeared to be the single entity with which her vocabulary was bursting at the seams.
 
It was late afternoon and I felt like taking a stroll on the beach. “I am going out for a walk, OK?” I told her.

“Yes do so. You’ll soon forget how to walk if you sit in front of the computer much longer.” She was forgetting to talk and I to walk. I guess we were even.

With her reassuring message about my walking abilities, she bid me farewell. I went out and stood deeply engrossed in thought staring at a camel on the sea shore. The camel too reciprocated. It’s owner watched me suspiciously though until I asked him if he would mind if I took a picture of the camel.

“No problem,” said he. “Just climb up the ladder and sit on its back. I will take a picture with you sitting on the camel.”
 
“Oh no,” I replied in alarm. “The camel alone will do.”
 
The man looked bored. “Oh, go ahead.” I began clicking from different angles and was quite engrossed in the work when I realized that a general atmosphere of panic had developed in the meantime. People appeared to be running helter-skelter for their dear lives and I alone was blissfully occupied in taking photographs of a camel that did not belong to the beach in the first place.

I looked up and tried to digest the event in progress. No it was not a tsunami, but something pretty close. Right behind me two bulls had arrived from nowhere it seemed and started to bully one another. Locked horns and all. I stood petrified. No cow was visible in the horizon, so I had no idea what they were fighting over. What would happen next appeared to be a stochastic event, probably captured by what statisticians call a white noise.

As I anticipated, one of the bulls won the match and the loser lost not only the fight but its temper also. It looked around and saw me standing in the empty sea beach. And took to chasing me.

Now I don’t know if any of you have been chased by a frustrated bull on a sea beach. You need to be well-trained  to run at all at the age of ninety eight. And you need to be immensely skilled to be able to run through wet sand pursued by a mighty bull. And recall that I had, according to my wife, almost forgotten to walk!

Well, when situations demand, even non-walkers turn into sprinters. So I survived with a few minor bruises. As I was running for dear life, I remembered that it was Yama who was supposed to ride a bull. And since only a few hours ago my wife had told me that I was hopelessly unreligious, I conjured up a vision that had been aptly captured by a talented economist friend of mine, now teaching in New Zealand. He drew this picture for a love story written jointly by us in Bengali rhyme. I am using the picture to help you imagine my state this evening.

Drawing by Amal Sanyal

I reached my hotel panting. My wife was surprised to find me in a somewhat roughened up condition.

“What happened? Did someone beat you up?”
 
“No. A female Yama chased me sitting on a bull. ”
 
“What rubbish!”

“No, no rubbish at all. I saw Yama riding a bull just a few minutes ago. The way you saw Jagannath. From close quarters you know. Only Yama assumed a female shape. I wondered if it was you …”
 
“Ha!” she ha–ed back in disdain.