When My Neighbor Returned Home…


Part 3

The serial had finished on the TV with Meenu in tears, pressed by her black-sheep husband to arrange for funds from her estranged family; Maha took a moment to emerge from under the cloud of Meenu’s sad predicament. The following news program held little interest for Maha, so she could devote her undivided attention now to the matter on hand.

‘Arun has brought her a gold chain, all of 12 grams, with a beautiful peacock pendant.’

My earlier sense of relief was premature. This was clearly a magnum firing away, pushing out the ‘Yoja’ matter to the class of a mere fire-cracker.

‘Phew, is that all? Pahaad khodhke chooha nikla, Amma’ (A hill was overturned only to find a mouse scurry out).

‘Don’t be silly. All that gold is not a trifle. Figure out how much it costs. And what have I got to show? Not a kundumani (a grain) of gold from him. My husband too goes abroad as frequently. That’s not all. They’re going to air-condition their second bed-room and replace their fridge. She even hinted if we would like to have the fridge for a price. It’s in good working condition’

So it was not even a magnum, but a grenade of assorted shrapnel’s going on a big bang. In such moments wives are not very finical about accuracy of their facts; and, under the prevailing conditions, I subscribed without any reserve to the strategy of ‘let go’ over ‘setting the record straight’, as recommended by the Club of Silver-Wedded Husbands in its currently out-of-stock ’25 Years and Going…’.

‘That’s something. Well, we certainly won’t have a second-hand fridge in our house. Right, Appa? But, Appa, when are we going to air-condition our place? Do you know, at Roshni’s place, Jaswant’s sleeping quarters is air-conditioned?’’

May be a little explanation is in order here. The ‘air-conditioned quarters’ being alluded to is the dog-house and Jaswant, as you might have rightly inferred, its occupant. A dog’s life is no longer what it used to be. Many a man would readily trade his life for Jaswant’s.

Again, I had this on the authority of ’25 Years and Going…’: When a wife asks a question, she doesn’t expect you to answer it really. She already knows the answer and wants you to have it from her. But a teen daughter is different. Her questions are incisive; like a hound on scent, she will not rest until she gets a response. And she will hang on to every word of it for a long time to come. So abundant caution is advised before a response is formulated and delivered. For a little while, I was pondering over the choice of responses before me, all of them not very satisfactory.

‘Every lock has a key,’ it is said. Here the key was what the social scientists have discovered after painstaking studies: ‘No teen is away from her/his cell phone long enough to complete the conversation with her/his parent.’ All I had to do was hum and haw for a few seconds before the cell phone affirming aforesaid conclusion drew her away peremptorily to some urgent mission. Maha was reduced to a party of one and the siege collapsed as suddenly as it was laid. I was off the hook. The fizz was gone out of the bottle. For now, the grenade of rusted nails was a dud.

‘Ha, Ha, Ha, the fizz was gone out of the bottle? Wait till the end of the day. You’ll find out what’s these bottles hold in store for you, my friend; besides their fizz and fluids, of course, You silly!’ This was Fate laughing at my metaphor quiet inaudibly. A conjecture, in retrospect. For now, let me continue with my narration.

Of course I knew from the past exactly how the proceedings would have run the course if let. It would dilate on the my current station in life in sharp contrast to the neighbors, specifically Arun; and regress all the way to our school days when Arun scraped thru year after year while l was consistently quite good at academics, all heard from my mother. Also it didn’t help that I had a leap-start on Arun of six years in the world of the living. Wives never get this simple fact of life that Men accept with equanimity: With over a billion of us in this country at the last count and when you start out as a non-Mittal or a non-Ambani, some millions will get ahead of you in life just as you got ahead of some.

While I say all this, it would be wrong to think our home had an address on the streets of the nether-world. And to her immense credit, Maha always came out of the patch long before the sun called it a day (should it be ‘night’?).

So, before long, the blip removed itself and our abode resumed its customary aspect of a tranquil oasis, a safe haven from the uncertain world outside.

In the evening, I made it to the Market chiefly to retrieve from the repair-shop our coffee grinder that, in a habit-formed non-performance, broke up the beans into halves and spun them around harmlessly in a joy-ride. Let me hasten to arrest any speculation: I did not get it from Dubai or Hong Kong. This machinery was brought home by Maha all by herself from a local store during the Diwali sale along with a one-in-ten chance in a raffle for winning a kilo of choicest Nilgiri’s roasted coffee beans. Of course, it was another matter that Maha didn’t win any – the raffle was never held for they had not sold ten pieces at the minimum. ‘Terms and Conditions’ enlarged from the fine print were applied for the occasion, no doubt!

I returned from the errand with a spring in my step, carrying a little more than a chastened coffee grinder and a lighter purse.

(To be contd.)


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