So the missus and yours truly are at this birthday party at the neighbour's. Which one you ask? Let me explain. Opposite our humble abode lives the sweetest woman in the world. Coming to think of it, she is exactly like that old woman in Rosemary's Baby. (Except for the devil worship and baby stealing bits of course. So far.) The dear Mrs. P is lively, caring and always eager for a quick daily chat in the little corridor outside. And she makes wonderful tea with lemon grass (tannis root?) and a crackerjack sali par eeda (thin potato fried strips with an egg cracked over them and fried. Or vice versa. It's a Parsi thing.)
Mrs. P also has a hybrid spiritual side to her: half mildly reformist Parsi and half whirling bhajan singing Art of Living adherent. So she has both a large knitted portrait of Lord Zoraster on the wall and a little picture of the one with two Sri-s. She also has tons of old furniture and precious looking china in cabinets that I am sure is worth a truck load of cash on Ebay. Exactly the sort of things that old people routinely bequeath to their young neighbours in their wills. (Fingers crossed. Wait patiently ye private wealth management people.)
So last week she asks us to attend a party she was throwing on her birthday. "You must come Sidin and missus. It will be a fun birthday party!" And in order to further kindle our enthusiasm to never seen before heights she continued: "Everyone from the satsang is coming!"
Now I have nothing against the Art of Living types. Most of the committed satsangis I know are nice, peaceful people. The kind this world needs much more of, no doubt. Yet the average satsangi isn't the sort of person the author or his wife normally part-ays with. And of course the satsangis here were going to be at least 50 years old. We both nodded and mumbled in that way we all do when we want to say no, have to say yes and try to say nothing.
There I am exiting from the lift carrying a nice bouquet of roses and daffodils (not sure) for the neighbour lady when a man in an embroidered kurta immediately welcomes me with open arms, slightly bowed head and pleasing smile that screams "Extreme internal harmony and oneness with self all thanks to guruji". I tell him I need to pop home for a wash and will be over in a second. And then I sit cowering for the wife to arrive.
If you are one of those people who keep a running track of the ways in which men are different from women (and not just in that way though it is an interesting one). I have one more to add to that list: Woman have a natural ability to endure any social gathering even if it means eating large slabs of egg-less chocolate cake and sitting through kirtans and pujans after a refreshing day of risk management at the office. Things like bua's son's wedding, landlord's brother's shaadi and colleague's house warming. Married men have no idea what to do in these surroundings. We stand around in a corner trying to look sad and moody so no one (except chicken tikka bearing waiter) will talk to us and we don't have to explain why we gave up consulting to become a writer and such things. Or, even worse, explain why the Sensex is up and whether Suzlon is a good buy.
The wife, getting all woman-y, quickly drops her stuff and runs next door. I follow her a few minutes later when she called and told me I'd better pop over pronto or she would do something terrible to me (clue: rhymes with 'ditch flap'). I stand behind her, with my arms crossed over my chest and aloof. In front of us three dozen people milled around the birthday woman while a large chocolate cake was being cut into pieces and someone was giving out disposable party thaalis. Suddenly I see an old man chatting with the missus. I take a step back so as to avoid even over-hearing something and being sucked in. Suddenly, shudder, the wife turns around and points at me.
(Enter: Uncle from front right with wisdom of the ages gleaming in eyes. Also cake precariously balanced on plate.)
"So why did you give up consulting to become a writer son?" he asks me while the missus moves nimble-footedly around behind him and grins over his shoulder.
I try to tell him about creativity and imagination and making a difference.
"Do you know what is the problem with the Indian media?" he suddenly asks me. Oh crap. I knew, from that inflection in his voice which made it sound more like a statement and less like a question, that I was in trouble. "Of course uncle. I know the problem... it is terrible and I think we should spend a few moments now silently contemplating upon it and then perhaps meditating upon the solution?"
"Son... let me tell you EXACTLY what is wrong with Indian media. There are seven or eight things actually..."
The missus can barely keep a straight face. Little does she know two can play at this game.
(Sidin deftly swings uncle around by the elbow and plants him in front of unsuspecting missus who, meanwhile, is tucking into a heart portion of veg biryani.)
"...Uncle at this advanced stage in your career I am genuinely surprised, nay concerned, that you may have not planned for your retirement years. Missus why don't you tell uncle about that wonderful capital guarantee scheme you guys launched recently... the one that not only creates wealth but protects it too!"
If looks could kill I'd be a photo in one of those handouts they give away in church after the funeral. I walk away cake-wards while the missus begins to expound upon Section 80cc or some such.
As my wife explains capital guarantee to him I am approached by Mrs. P who asks me what I think of the party. "Oh the food is just superb aunty. And good show with the plastic plates. We don't want anything to happen to them china plates no?"
Suddenly, without a warning, I find uncle next to me. "So I hear you are a big fan of quality management. My company is getting ISO 14000 you know. We are very proud. Very proud. I am sure you must eager to know about ISO 14000..."
The smirk the missus had on her face. Punch? Counter punch!
"...Uncle did you just say you used to run a factory! Will the coincidences never stop? My wife used to live next to a factory in her childhood and many are the nights she has told me how she is dying to share those hundreds of memories with another like-minded soul... Missus! I have finally found someone who is simply jumping to talk about that factory in Ashok Vihar..."
The wife was not one to give up easily. A few moments later...
"Sidin... uncle was telling just telling me about his pest control company. Isn't it true you once caught malaria from the ancient (UNESCO heritage) toilets at the Mysore Palace and took a solemn pledge to further the cause of pest control till your last breath???!!!..."
Thus began an hour of the most fine verbal thrust and counter-thrust you will have heard in your lives.
"...indeed you raise a poignant issue about global warming. We are irreversibly destroying the world ... OH GOOD GOD MY PHONE WHICH I ALWAYS LEAVE ON VIBRATION IS THROBBING IN MY PANTS AND I MUST ANSWER IT... Missus will you keep my company with uncle while I answer this phone in the stairwell outside where the signal is best..."
"Uncle my husband is an eager student of the US Presidential elections. Perhaps you should discuss your opinions about the immaturity of Indian political reporting with Sidin who is in the kitchen eating cake..."
"While on the subject of India versus China, uncle, I am remembering my wife's recent trip to Hong Kong when she was able to get a holistic sense of the raison d'etre of the Chinese realpolitik.... MISSUS! UNCLE WANTS TO DISCUSS THE RAISON D'ETRE OF THE CHINESE REALPOLITIK... YOU KNOW, THAT THING YOU GOT A HOLISTIC SENSE OF!"
"Of course young people today have very little morals. I agree with you completely uncle. If you just read some of these blogs young people write today! By the guru, I swear they are all filthy. If only we had someone who knew blogging really well... Wait a goddamn minute here..."
Spare a moment here to reflect upon uncle's sheer unflappable conversational stamina. The man was going on and on, only stopping to pop a little channa puri into his mouth.
"... yes yes inflation is a serious problem in today's age and times. I have no idea how these banks manage with loans and all in this difficult scenario. Oh what a coincidence! You won't believe who in this room used to work in a bank before she moved to insurance!"
And on and on it went till I finally had to do something that had a fifty-fifty chance of working. I told him which business school I graduated from.
WAIT! Stop saying all those "He is such a pompous prick after all!" type things to yourself. The thing is this: when I reveal that morsel of information one of two things happen. Either people completely clamp up and go silent, or they have a million new things to ask. (I have been told this is because they either immediately hate me and assume my is IQ in the mid 1000s, or they go ga-ga and want to know everything about life at the IIMs inspite of the fifteen "MBA lit" books that are out there. Even a new one apparently titled "Watch out! We are MBA!". Sigh. I don't know what to say.)
Uncle immediately went quiet. He never spoke again after that. To either of us I mean.
We partook of our channa puri, biryani, cake (eggless) and quietly made an exit after handing over my bouquet.
The tension at home simmered for a few minutes before we both declared a truce and went back to our favourite past-time of late: two-player golf on the PS2. (So much potential for innuendo-laden golf jokes. I know. But the wife proof reads all blogs. And this is, at worst, a PG-13 blog.)
And, if you're wondering, the wife picked Annika Sorenstam and whipped this blogger's ass by 14 strokes. (Ha!)
Aunty had a wonderful birthday of course. And we have passed on all your kind regards to her.
P.S. The MBA book news is true:
Nakul Kapoor walks into a premier B-School in Mumbai, Nurturing huge ambition, albeit with little direction. Soon he develops a circle of friends, each of who is a world apart from one another. Yet, there is an apparent force which keeps them together - a bond that heralds a joyous journey ahead.
And please to find a recipe for sali par eeda here. The pictures are wonderful. Food porn if you will.