FLYING CAREERS

“Damania Airlines serves free beer. Imagine that! Indian Airlines serves just coffee and cookies.”

Nilesh emphasized the fact. FREE BEER! The fare between Goa and Mumbai (it was called Bombay in those days) was the same for all airlines. Indian Airlines RIP. I vowed to fly by Damania from then on.

“They have exquisite air-hostesses. And if you say you have aerophobia, they hold your hands while take-off and landing.”

This piece of information was not as appealing as the word FREE. The Gujarati blood in me started bubbling.

Holding the coveted boarding pass for the Seat on Emergency Exit Row, I drooled:

“Free Beer, here I come!”

The flight took off. The thirsty look on my the faces of my fellow passengers confirmed that we were in the same boat — I mean the same aircraft! The flight between Goa and Mumbai was only 65 minutes long, take out ten minutes for take-off and another fifteen for landing. We had around 40 minutes to drink. The air-hostess, seated next to me (remember this was the emergency exit row) got up and prepared to distribute the nectar to the thirsty souls.

“Sir, tea? Coffee? Beer?”

Pop, pop, pop! No clinking of spoon against the china. Only pop, pop, and more popping sound of beer cans opening.

I indulged in the foamy, frothy Kingfisher. “Free”—I chugged down the first and requested for second. The friendly air-hostess asked me if I would like to have two (one down, and two more to go?). She replaced the empty can with two fresh ones. The dew droplets trickled from the sides of the cans (and my mouth).

Law of diminishing marginal utility kicked in and I could barely finish my third can. The ‘prepare for landing’ started blinking. I lunged for the fifth time to the toilet to empty the bladder. The air hostess gave a very disapproving look, pointed out to the ‘fasten your seat belt’ sign and requested me to return to the seat.

“Just a minute, please. I need to go.”

Seated next to me, she frowned as I plopped into my seat. The pressure on the bladder just relived, started building once again. One can never buy a beer; only rent it.

Ten minutes wait stretched. Then the pilot announced:

“The Prime Minister’s aircraft is landing in Bombay; and we will land as soon as our aircraft is cleared.”

A droplet of sweat trickled down my forehead. I ignored another droplet that trickled some other place. Twenty-five minutes of circling around the airport. And the dam was about to burst open.

I glanced furtively to the right, then left, and straight. All in a matter of second or two, I unfastened the seat belt, jumped and rushed to the toilet. The witch yelled and followed me. Locking the door, I released the dam. Forty seconds, fifty seconds, one minute, and counting. The damn dam refused to stop.

“Sir, are you alright? Please respond. Come out right now.”

The pitch changed from politeness to the dictatorial tone. Finishing the business, I returned to my seat. I dared not look anywhere else. I was sure everyone was staring at me. Another air-hostess sat in the aisle seat (I was in the middle), the first one by the window. Then both held on to my hands. I had not said I feared flying; yet both gripped my hands.

Some thirty minutes later, the flight landed. I covered my front-side with the carryon luggage. And vowed NEVER to fly by Damania — “though the beer was free and the pretty air-hostesses held your hands”. It wasn’t worth it.

Atulanand

August 3, 2022

PRAY – THE WORDPLAY

“Dad – TGIF!”

“No honey, it’s SHIT.”

“That’s not the way to speak to your princess. TGIF, Dad!”

“No, princess. SHIT!”

“TGIF – Thank God it’s Friday!”

“SHIT – Sorry Honey, it’s Thursday!”

Silence while the calendar on the smart phone was being checked. Anju doubled her attacks on Shen.

“FOMO.”

“YOLO.”

“IMHO.”

His faculties were limited to handling the acronyms peppered in the Income Tax Act. He had a good handle on PUC, TOSI, DTAA, CCPC, etc. (more recently CEWS, CEBA and host of pandemic relief related words). Interpreting international tax treaties between countries, hunting for the loopholes, reading the Tax Act were mundane daily tasks. Anju, with pouted lips and a pronounced lisp, recited one acronym after another. Shen struggled to decipher and swam ‘against the torrent and the current’.

“You are making up these words, right?”

“No, I am not. Check the internet.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Look up.”

“YOLO? You only live once? How do you explain this to a cat who has nine lives? She lives nine times. Do you call it YOLNT?”

A stare (the one she learnt from her mom) that could freeze the boiling water engulfed Shen.

“How about going out for lunch? I am craving Indo-Chinese food. Let’s go to Green Lettuce!”

“That we shall. But first study the ‘young’ words. Now.”

Shen, not a rookie, hesitated.

“I will, as soon the laptop boots up. Only four years old, and it’s acting up.”

“You need an upgrade.”

“That’s very insulting to tell your dad that he needs one.”

“Your laptop, dad! It’s ancient. Remember Mesopotamia? It belongs to that age. You need to upgrade constantly. Your laptop and the vocabulary.”

Shen digested the daily dose.

“She doesn’t mean it. I will never let go of you!” He patted the laptop.

Next day, Shen, ready with the arsenal from various armories (aka search engines), called.

“Anju, ITALY.”

“Huh?”

“ITALY and also INDIA.”

“Covid has restricted your annual visits to India. Do you plan to go this year? Fly via Italy?”

“ITALY – you outdated girl – stands for ‘I Trust And Love You’!”

“You are joking.”

“Your ignorance astonishes me, and INDIA – which stands for ‘I Nearly Died In Astonishment’.”

“Mom, dad is acting up. Please help.”

Saanvi rushed in, wiping her wet hands on the sides of her apron.

“Wifey: LIBYA.”

“He is acting weird.”

“Anju told me to educate myself. I did the research and found the universe of acronyms. Saanvi – LIBYA – which means ‘Love is Beautiful, You Also’.”

Saanvi, the well-educated spouse, blinked, smiled and murmured,

“SYPYIT.”

Shen peeked at his cheat-chit and turned pale.

“Say Your Prayers – You In Trouble.”

Atul-Anand

August 17, 2022

Nickels and Dimes

I await

Patiently to be served

The change!

The air is fresh

So is the linen

stale is the bread

So is the breath

Venturers out

Never return

Home stayers

Don’t progress

I await

Patiently to be served

The change!

Gandhiji is credited with the quotation: “Be the change you want to see in the world!”

A quick search on the internet will reveal that the credit does or does not go to Gandhi-ji.

However, the following lines:

Change can’t be given to you every time.

You MUST bring the change yourself.

are credited to none other than Ganpat, the bus conductor in Mumbai. A profound statement. The poem above is my own reflection on the change and the changes.

Atulanand

August 10, 2022

ALL FOR NOTHING

“Ask not what your country has done for you. Ask what you have done for your country.”

He recalled the statement and immediately erased it. Karma! He blamed karma for the mess he was in. As usual, it started in a rather inane way. Saanvi was busy in the kitchen preparing sumptuous dishes for Diwali Festival, whereas Shen was relaxed on his favourite chair, doing a rather complex crossword in the daily.

“Here, taste this. Do I need to add more salt?”

Shen looked up lovingly at Saanvi and took a bite of the goodies offered to him. Everything was perfect. He grunted his approval and tried to grab the hand that fed him. Just to caress it and to kiss it. To express his love and affection. A surprised Saanvi jerked her hand. The plate in her hand shattered to pieces as it hit the marble floor. The goodies lie scattered as wounded soldiers, who will never see tomorrow.

“What are you up to? If you can’t help me with anything, at least don’t increase my work. Just sit there and don’t move. I don’t want to rush you to the doctor’s place for cuts and wounds. Imagine! On a Diwali Day! Hah…”

Shen tried to get up from the chair.

“Sit down, PLEASE! And don’t move till I clean up the mess.”

‘She who must be obeyed’ barked the command and Shen squirmed in his chair. He lost the interest in the crossword and the newspaper. Saanvi had an exhausted-looking face, with disheveled hair, part of which was covered with white flour. He wondered whether he should get up and hold her face in his hands. And then clean the messy hair. He dared not. He shut his eyes tight and prayed.

The whistle from the pressure cooker started him. He looked at the clean surrounding. Saanvi, in her different dress, was still hovering over the kitchen stove. Shen plastered the romantic smile on his face. His statement: “Hello, sweetheart. I must have dozed off” elicited no response. He ransacked his mind for a suitable gambit and drew blank. He wondered how long this cold war would last.

He got up slowly and ambled towards Saanvi and embraced her from behind. She stiffened and tried unsuccessfully to wriggle out of his tight hold.

“Now what do you want?”

“Just a smile from you, sweetheart.”

“Then behave yourself and please don’t increase my work. Now, let me focus on the tasks at hand. So much to do and so little time.”

Shen nibbled her ear-lobe and recited Rose Milligan’s poem (memorized specially for such occasions):

Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
Old age will come and it’s not kind.
And when you go (and go you must)
You, yourself, will make more dust.

“You are crazy, please leave me alone.”

Saanvi hugged him back. The solid Rock of Gibraltar seemed to be melting.

“I shall quickly make Madras Filter Coffee, just as you like it. Here, let me take the mop from your hand and help you tidy up the floor.”

“Do you remember our first Diwali in Mumbai? The lights, the firecrackers, the fragrance of sweets everywhere. You and I sat on the old comforter spread on the floor, holding hands. There were no lights, no firecrackers, no sweets. But we had each other. Remember?”

How could they ever forget the First Diwali? Hiding feelings, each tried to be cheerful. They promised that their next Diwali would be much better and brighter. Wait and Watch. When the radio next door belted out the songs on Diwali, the dam of tears broke down.

लाखों तारे आसमान में, एक मगर ढूँढे ना मिला

देखके दुनिया की दीवाली, दिल मेरा चुपचाप जला

दिल मेरा चुपचाप जला …

“Honey, we have come a long way since our first Diwali. Let’s focus on the jobs at hand. I plan to hang the string of lights and then also the special Diwali lantern. Would you like to re-arrange the living room? Let me help you in organizing that.”

Saanvi’s favourite game was to re-position furniture every few weeks, whereas Shen loved the room as it was. Your sofa was comfy whichever direction it faced. So why bother? But that was HIS opinion, not HERS.

Beaming Saanvi pecked his cheek and moved out of his reach. Everything was normal.

Shen started mopping the floor diligently and pondered:

“Ask not what a Diwali has done for you. Ask what you have done for the Diwali.”

Circus, Circus

Circus, Circus

YOUTH

You were you

I was me

Together two

Became we.

PRIME

Years later

From mere us

To more than two

We and ours.

TWILIGHT

You, me, alone.

Lips caress yesteryears

Trembling hands

Wipe other’s tears

Atul-Anand

October 28, 2021

CrossRoads

“Don’t come to the living room when we have guests. DON’T. And never talk to any guests. Do you understand?”

He stared at his left toe, then the right toe. He dared not look up. He knew not his fault. The command was not unusual, and used to be repeated and re-established whenever the family had guests. Shen, the eight-year-old, loved to meet, greet, and talk. And this was a constant source of embarrassment to other family members. Along with the nourishing diet, education, and vitamins, he also got regular doses of ‘scolding’ . Any ‘Act of commission’ or ‘omission’ would eventually get him into trouble. The scolding was, at times, followed by a thrashing! Initially, he cried. But crying resulted in more scolding and the title ‘CRY BABY’.

A voracious reader, he recalled that in one of the western series books, the First Nations mother put her hands on her crying child’s mouth till he stopped whimpering. ‘No crying, even in great pain.’ He followed the wisdom that the child had received. From then, he shed no tears in public. Oh, that did not mean he didn’t cry. Only no tears, no show of emotions. Slowly, he learnt to hide his feelings. Like a true Western Hero! And Charlie Chaplin! He loved the rain; for while walking in the pouring rain, his out-pour of tears went unnoticed.

No Tears, No Emotions. Only the Blank Face.

During the courtship days, he thawed a little. He let Saanvi enter his heart. Together, they shared a vision. He wrote, and she responded to his passionate letters and poems.

“Come, step into my garden. I would like my roses to see you!” And she stepped into his life. Forever! People around them sighed. The ugly ogre got the princess!

Saanvi and Shen thrived, prospered, had children. They doted on their children–a boy (Gyan) and a girl (Anju). Scolding and Thrashing were taboos. Shen opened up a little more and expressed his genuine feelings. Everything was going great.

The children in their pre-teens responded well to the nourishing environment. Birthday parties, sleepovers, game nights, the works! Shen, a doting father, loved to join the children in their celebrations and enjoyed the childhood that he almost never had.

Much to the embarrassment of his children. A high-level meeting without the figurative head of the house resulted in no solution. Shen loved his newfound childhood.

“Dad, may I ask you a favour?”

“Anything for you. Just ask. If it’s within my powers, it’s yours.”

“Jarrod has a new PS3 console, and he is bringing it to our place to hook up to our new TV. He also has the latest games.”

“That’s great! I will also join you and maybe if all of us like the console, we shall buy it!”

Pin drop silence!

“But dad, that’s not what I want. When my friends come, do you mind staying in your bedroom, and not stepping out? Please, please…”

Shen looked at Saanvi, who pretended not to notice anything unusual.

It was time for the Western Hero to ride into the sunset.

He stared at his left toe, then the right toe. He dared not look up.

No Tears, No Emotions. Only the Blank Face.

Atul-Anand

October 21, 2021

ADVENTURES OF ACCOUNTANTS

An adventure is something you don’t enjoy while you are in it – but relish it (if you survive) later on. The adventurers can be categorized into three broad categories:

  1. Some people are born adventurers.
  2. Some become adventurers by planning. They plan their adventures with meticulous care. Tight rope walking across Niagara Falls (or jumping off in a drum), etc. The list is endless for these adrenaline junkies.
  3. For a few the adventures are thrust upon you: a bus accident, or being a passenger in a hijacked plane. You don’t plan for these. Like ‘love’, it just happens! And you have no choice but to be part of it.

The adventures of accountants? The universal truth is that the accountants lead most boring lives. Or at the most, they lead a very ‘balanced’ life. If one goes on any search engine, and type the words ‘accountant jokes’, one will get uncountable hits! Few million hits lesser than the words ‘lawyer jokes’.

I am an accountant. A hard-core one! Why do accountants now have any adventures? I discussed the matter with my beloved (philosophical) wife.

“What are your feelings before, during and after the adventure?”

“Millions of butterflies in the stomach, a fear of the unknown, feeling of anticipation (before), overwhelming, dying, elation, extreme fear (during), sense of accomplishment, glowing, satisfaction (after).”

“You had a very good practice in Mumbai. You were NOT happy there. You wanted something more. Without any research or backing (there was no internet in India then), you opted to migrate to Canada and make it your home. We followed you.

“Butterflies? We had a whole jungle in our stomachs. Scared to death? That would be an understatement. Anticipation? Yes, but only of worse things to happen in the future. That was before we started for Canada.

“Normally, an adventure lasts for a few seconds/minutes/hours or, in rare cases, days. Our adventure in Canada lasted whole three years! Remember our ‘Miss India’ concerts – wherein the children and I used to cry every evening into nights – ‘We Miss Our India’?”

I confessed I missed that part of the adventure completely. To achieve the same, if not better, lifestyle that we enjoyed in Mumbai, I juggled between two or more jobs and studied hard (to get my local designation). No time to stand and stare with miles to go!

And the steep learning curve? I thought that book-keeping and accounting were the same throughout the world. After all, we had mastered the Indian Accounting Standards, as also International Accounting Standards. And I remembered my university professor:

“There are three golden principles of book-keeping. THREE GOLDEN PRINCIPLES!”

The professor went on to elaborate on these gold principles. As first-year University Students, fresh from the school, we focused on each pearl that the professor cast before us.

“Even when someone wakes you up from the deepest slumber and asks you about these principles, you must be able to narrate them without any hesitation.”

Dutiful students that we were, we internalized the principles. The professor was NOT wrong. Even today, I try to break down complex accounting transactions and analyze them. And most of the time, I don’t need a second opinion.

The trouble was that the Canadian Bosses and colleagues did not know and care about these Indian principles. Or for that matter, Indians. Their eyebrows would reach new heights whenever they heard me discuss sundry debtors, sundry creditors, raising the invoices, tallying the trial balance, etc. My quick (and accurate) answer of $6,000 as 30% of $20,000 was checked and re-checked on the fancy calculators or spreadsheet. And the three golden principles? I am still afraid to ask any local CPA.

Putting on the thinking cap, I never thought that accounting – especially the public practice – is dull. Though most of the work is pretty mundane and mechanical, (like digging tonnes of coal) we hit a diamond! And the adventure begins. All the diamonds given below are not my own – but I can ‘vouch’ for them.

Working for a CA firm specializing in ‘tax planning’, the partner of the firm did comprehensive planning for a top-notch smuggler and his family. The dispute over the fees led to the partner refusing to part with the working paper files and relevant documents back to the client. The dispute went on for a few weeks.

One evening, a wimpy representative met the partner and requested the documents.

“First pay my fees.”

The representative then started the narration about the daily activities of all the family members of the partner. At what time, who does what and where!  In a monotonous tone, no harsh words. Voices were not raised, but the partner’s blood pressure shot up. There was a ‘single entry’ transaction of documents being returned without funds flowing in.

Then a few years ago, a new client sought the help of an accountant.

“Occasionally, I buy the car, and either sell it locally or export it for a small profit.”

Occasionally was the keyword; which on further probe turned out to be ugly bee-hive. The evasion of sales tax (Federal and provincial), Custom Duties, taxes – the works. The would-be client had to knock at another door!

Then there’s a case of the smart client – who played one accountant against another. He got the tax advice (free) from one accountant and requested the other to implement the same. Unfortunately, for this client, the two accountants knew each other, and the rip-off was averted!

Every day, everywhere I see adventures. If nothing else works, I pick up the Income Tax Act and read a complete Section. Trying very hard to understand. That, in itself, is the biggest adventure.

Atulanand

October 15,2021

FOR WHOM THE BILLS TOLL

Tick, tock. Pause. Tick, tock. Pause. The ceiling fan continued its Hamster Run stirring up a little air. Unlike stirring of intense anger, anxiety, agony in the minds of the family, breathing was laboured but silent. Only the clock continued its sermon. Shen looked from one serious face to another very serious face. He could almost count furrows on his father’s forehead. His siblings tried to melt into the background. The mother smacked her forehead and wailed:

“Now what?”

Shen managed to convert his laughter into a coughing fit. He couldn’t help laughing – but laughing at such a serious occasion would create problems. Whoever said that ‘a laughter is the best medicine’ did not foresee an occasion like this. Every statement has an exception, and this was the exception for the laughter and medicine.

Monday morning, he had returned to Panaji-Goa after a quick trip to Bombay. He brushed aside all the questions about the trip, and whispered in his mother’s ears.

“I have brought a gift for you from Bombay – a daughter-in-law. Saanvi and I eloped and got married in Bombay.”

“Seriously? Or are you joking as usual?”

A copy of the marriage certificate and pictures of wedding ceremony convinced her. Being a romantic herself, she shared his thrill of ‘run-away’ marriage. But not his father. A strict disciplinarian.  He rarely raised his voice or hand – but his mere look would give shivers to all his children (and their friends). He stared at Shen:

“Why?”

Shen touched his right cheek tenderly. At the age of five, after playing with Saanvi (who was then three), he had declared to his family about his undying love for her and his intention to marry her at the right time. SMACK! Followed by another SMACK! His right cheek was red for days, and he was banned from watching cinema for a whole year.

“He is influenced by the romance in the cinema. Let him read instead.”

It did not matter that Shen was too young to read anything. He touched his right cheek again and decided to have another approach.

“Saanvi’s parents were planning for her marriage with a doctor in America. She wanted to spend her life in India and with us. Not the US!”

He hoped that the touch of patriotism would work.

“So, you run away and get married? What about us?”

“Maa and run? She can hardly walk!”

A sliver of smile on dad’s lips assured him that he had not lost his sense of humour – YET! There was a silver lining ahead.

The council of war consisted of his parents and two elder siblings. The courses of action were suggested, discussed, and then discarded. Saanvi’s parents did not know about the run-away marriage – as she was still in Bombay.

The clock struck twelve, and Shen was very drowsy. But he dared not appear so. He suppressed his yawn and looked around for a solution. Should he propose a cup of tea? The clock continued its ticking, and the fan its running.

“Why should we be the only ones to spend a sleepless night? Let’s call Saanvi’s parents and discuss the matters with them.”

The whole room was charged with anticipation and expectations. Shen feared the worst. The fireworks with lot of noise. Every possibility that Saanvi and he would be the only persons who would get hurt.

Saanvi’s parents came over within fifteen minutes. Sleepy and puzzled, yet apprehensive that there must be a grave situation requiring midnight summons.

Shen uttered a swift prayer, seeking the mercy of all gods and people in the room. A fine trickle of sweat dripped down his spine. His brown face – if it could, would have mirrored a rainbow of all the colours and emotions!  But brown it was, and brown it remained.

Though past midnight, the tempers and voices rose. So did the wailing and crying. Character assassination – and if it would be legal, Shen assassination would have been the order of the night. He stood motionless, emotionless through the ordeal. Mentally, he focused on Saanvi’s sweet smile and blocked all outside noise.

 “Look at him! After doing all this, he is smiling. No shame. What the world would think of us now?”

At dawn, the peace reigned once again – Saanvi’s wailing mother and fuming father left the house – with a threat to meet again. Shen remembered the high school English lesson:

“If looks could kill, I’d be dead right now.”

Monday turned into Sunday – Saanvi was ‘rushed’ back to Goa escorted by relatives. At Saanvi’s place – various options such as Nullification of Marriage, Divorce, etc. were discussed and discarded. The newly wed couple couldn’t even exchange a phone call. Shen got the news from his friends that Nilesh (Saanvi’s younger brother) was seen contacting a few local thugs to get an estimate for beating Shen.

“Bro – don’t go out alone – not without us. We are here to protect you!”

Sunday evening, the family was in its usual cold war zone. The same clock ticked away, and the old fan continued turning, spitting out wisps of cool air. THUNK, THUMP – a hard knock on the door. Something slithered below the door. Shen’s sister screamed. All looked at her, and then the door. A sealed envelope. Now what?

Shen’s older brother tore open the envelope, and out fell a small piece of paper.

“Come to our house at 6:00 p.m. – Bring Shen with you”.

Not a request and not signed! The family knew who and where. But not why!

Shen went with the parents (thankfully, his siblings did not) with as much enthusiasm as a convict going towards the hangman’s noose.

“Lift your right foot, place it ahead of your left foot; then lift your left foot, place it ahead of your right foot. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Or should it be repent, repent, repent?”

They had to stop to let a funeral procession pass. Few metres down the road, a black cat scuttled and crossed their path. And as they turned into the lane leading to Saanvi’s house, someone sneezed repeatedly. God-fearing mother broke into tears. Three times bad omens. They were doomed! Should they just turn and go home?

They had to stop to let a funeral procession pass. Few steps down the road, a black cat scuttled and crossed their path. And as they turned into the lane leading to Saanvi’s house, someone sneezed repeatedly. God-fearing mother broke into tears. Three times bad omens. They were doomed! Should they just turn and go home?

The father was resolute. He continued his onward march and the other two followed with impending dread.

Entering Saanvi’s garden, they heard a crackling sound of tadka (tempering) of spices being roasted.  An aroma of delicious, fresh sweets (loaded with cardamom and saffron) floated and surrounded the three.

“Hah! Everything seems resolved. Shen, my son – may I be the first one to congratulate you on your marriage?”

The father and the son hugged each other, while the mother continued to sob! 

AtulAnand

December 13, 2020

OLD BOTTLE, NEW WINE

OLD BOTTLE:

Leper! He detested ugly things. And a leper was on the top of his list. The very sight of any beggar seeking alms with folded hands having no fingers, dragging feet, without any toes – brought goosebumps; and he immediately turned the direction of his sight or going.

And the report in his hand screamed that his loving wife of more than twenty-five years was diagnosed with leprosy. The world crashed. Though he could not imagine his life without her, life including her, but excluding some of her body parts was far worse. Death would be far better.

The untreated disease was considered very contagious. He could visualize himself trying to drive the car – with the stubs of hands on the steering wheel, and buttoning his shirt without the fingers.

The wife, a very mature businessperson, got herself admitted to a Centre specializing in the care of leprosy patients. Away from civilization, away from the pollution, away from the toxic thinkers. She dedicated herself – first to cure herself, and then to help cure others. The progress was slow, but with medicines, therapy, and positive attitude, the disease itself died – though not before leaving some marks on her body. During these times, she continued to exchange letters with her beloved husband – who replied to her – at first immediately, then gradually the process slowed down. She would be lucky to receive one reply in three-four months in exchange for her weekly letters. The day of her being certified as disease-free was her last day at the Centre. She had made her place in the Centre and the heart of everyone. With a mixed feeling, the staff bid farewell to her. ‘Our doors are always open to you.’ She looked forward to uniting with her husband and meeting the family and friends.

And what a welcome it was. The entire street leading to the main door of her house was decorated with banners and balloons. The children were on their best behaviour, and her husband had tears in his eyes. Unfortunately, there were too many people in the house, and he was so busy entertaining everyone that she had to control her craving to touch him, feel him. She was moved with all the love and affection showered on her.

The long day ended at last – and she went to ‘their bedroom’. The ambience of the room was the same as she had left it four years ago. Her wardrobe and her newly replenished make-up items, her favourite perfume, even the room freshener – nothing had changed. Yet something was amiss. The huge king size bed was replaced with a single bed. A single bed for a single person. Without saying anything, everything was said, and she understood.

Next few days, she noticed small changes in the behaviour of her husband (whose bedroom was at the farthest end of the house – far away from ‘their’ bedroom) and her children. Everyone was polite, but wouldn’t let her cook, clean or organize. The items she touched were immediately whisked away and sanitized. ‘You are still recovering – please don’t exert’ was the mantra. Human touch was out of the touch. Even her pet dog who, on seeing her after a long time, had jumped all over her and had licked her maimed hand – was whisked away – away from her.

This continued for a week. A terse telephone call elicited the required response. The next morning – very early – while everyone was still sleeping, a cab picked her with a small bag containing the family pictures and few clothes. She started her journey to the Centre again. Not as a patient.

She looked for the last time at the ‘dream’ house.

And she did not attempt to wipe off with her stubbed hands a single tear that trickled down her left eye.

NEW BOTTLE:

“Honey, I am going to do the laundry. After that, I shall be attending to the garden – I need to trim some plants and apply fertilizers and weeds. I shall be with you soon.”

He spoke to his recently departed wife. His wife – the childhood friend, the philosopher, the guide, and his life. For a few days, he was lost without her. Then he learnt to cope with the loss ingeniously. She used to chide him that he was expert in not seeing what he did not want to see. ‘You have a very narrow sense of vision – and see only what you want to see.’ With that same expertise, he convinced himself that she was in the next room – and continued to live – not alone, but with her in the next room. His three children questioned his acumen and tried to convince him to move in – either with them or to a retirement home. He resisted, rebuffed, rebuked, and won.

“Honey, I have a bit of cough, and I have a little temperature. Do you think I should be worried?”

Reluctantly, he called his family physician.  ‘The next available appointment is after seventeen days.’ He called his friend, who told him to go and get tested for Covid-19 immediately. ‘Do you want me to take you there?’

“No – one of my children will do so. Don’t worry.”

He called the youngest first. “Dad, I was going to call you – looks like Dolly caught something at the school. She has been coughing and has a slight fever. I hope it’s not that thing…”

He suppressed his own cough. He dialed the next number – that child did not pick up the phone. The last one was the eldest.

“Dad, tell me your symptoms. I am on the computer right now.”

The son ticked off the online checklist and demanded that the father should immediately go to the nearest Covid-19 Test Centre. No excuses.

“It’s nothing. It will pass. I shall take a Tylenol or two – and the fever will go away. The cough is asthmatic.  I know my coughs.”

“No excuses. You must go right now.”

The father quivered. He hated the Hospitals and Medical Clinics. His wife always held his hand whenever he HAD to. How he missed her.

“Will you please take me there? Wait with me?”

“Dad – if you have IT, then I will also be exposed to it. I can’t afford to be sick now or ever. We had told you so many times to stay safe in the Retirement Home. But you are stubborn. Very stubborn. No wonder mom used to be always angry with you. And do you know what you are asking me? I have a fairly large bubble – and there are too many vulnerable people in it. I can’t. But you MUST GO! Promise me right now that you are going.”

“I will. I will. I will. Please don’t worry. I promise I will.” He crossed his right-hand fingers – a childhood habit whenever he told a lie.

He gulped down with a glass of warm water, the insults, the hurt and two Tylenol. He slumped on his favourite red recliner chair.

A single tear trickled down his right eye.

FIND A WAY OR FIND AN EXCUSE

Saturday! Yummy home-made afternoon lunch – Saanvi was at her best! After a week of eating cold, dry lunch of sandwiches, Shen relished the Saturday feast. After a satisfying burp or two, he pitched in with the usual clean-up in the kitchen and then proceeded to his favourite recliner chair. He had insisted on buying the red colour recliner chair. ‘I want it, and that’s final.’ Saanvi humoured him and gave in to the unusual demand.

He stretched himself in the recliner. Oh, for that wooden rocking chair! During his childhood in Goa, he had spent countless hours in it. The chair would convert into whatever he fancied or required. At times, it would turn into a galloping horse, and he would be out riding in the wild west. Other times, it would be a ship – and he would be an explorer of the uncharted world! Very rarely, the rocking chair was meant to be a rocking chair. He learnt about the ‘armchair traveller’ in his college days – but he was a savvy wayfarer since his early childhood! He sighed and closed his eyes. Not to sleep but just to delve into his childhood. Soon he was snoring.

“Swimming”

“Yoga!”

“Swimming!”

“Yoga!”

A rude awakening, indeed! There was a marked increase in the decibel level with each repetition. The siblings were quarrelling (what’s unusual about this?) as to which was the best form of exercise. Each tried to out-shout the other. The cacophony surpassed the point of endurance, and Shen yelled:

“Quiet.”

 “Swimming”

“Yoga!”

“Swimming!”

“Yoga!”

“I said QUIET!”

“But dad…”

How he wished they were still in India! He would have just strolled to the kids and boxed their ears or slapped their cheeks – whichever body part was nearer or convenient. In Canada, he had to live by the caveat: ‘Though shalt not punish your children’. He swore silently and strode towards the patio where the children continued their diatribe. Saanvi also emerged from the kitchen – dishevelled hair, dabs of atta on her face and dress. She sported angry flashing eyes. She was seething. She was almost frothing. Shen sensed the impending storm that would wreck the whole weekend.

“Saanvi – you look so beautiful – let me wipe off the dust from your cheeks.” He dabbed and patted her cheeks gingerly – got rid of the dirt and bit of her anger. Her demure smile could be compared to the sudden appearance of liquid sun after a big thunderstorm. The rainbow of smile gurgled in Shen’s heart.

“You know something – before our marriage, Satish asked me to make you laugh. Again, and again. ‘This is the BEST way to make her fall in love with you. She will laugh with you – and then she will fall in love with you!’ And I did attempt to make you laugh. The trouble was every time you laughed; it was me falling head over heels in love with you.”

Anju and Gyan exchanged knowing looks. Shen knew the next dialogue:

“Dad, that was so cheesy!”

“Dad, please repeat the line that you used while dating mom – Please step into my garden – I want my roses to see you.

“Ahem! Enough of your cheekiness. What is this about Swimming and Yoga? Are you planning to join the Yoga classes?”

“Gyan says yoga is the best exercise, whereas I say it’s swimming.”

“If swimming is the best exercise, how come whales are so ‘fat’?”

Ouch! Shen remembered the five ruler hits he had on his left hand and then again on his right hand. The Grade Six teacher – who was slightly on the plus size, and a good swimmer – had written on the blackboard.

‘THE SWIMMING IS A BEST EXERCISE IN YOUR WORLD.’ Please correct the errors in this statement.

Before anyone could say anything, Shen had blurted out – ‘No, swimming is not the best exercise. Else whales and you would have been slimmer.’

Ouch! The teacher’s whacks on his hands were just a molehill, as compared to the Himalayan Heights he had faced at home. The disadvantage of having elder siblings in the same school meant not only using the ‘hand-me-down schoolbooks’ but also instant broadcast at the home of the latest misadventures. The disciplinarian parents were not amused. And they did not live in Canada!

Shen shook his head vigorously to shake off the bad old memories. Saanvi explained to the children that there was no one exercise that was the best. ‘It depends on situations and circumstances.’ Like she couldn’t choose who is the best child? Could she?

The answer seemed to pacify, and the silence reigned again.

“Yoga – yoga is the best exercise! Much safer and better than swimming!”

“Dad, you used to love swimming. Is it because of that incident?” Anju asked.

Shen hurried to the sanctuary of his red recliner rocker. He blocked the guffaws and Saanvi’s silent smile. He remembered…

That NEVER TO BE FORGOTTEN incident.

He used to proclaim: ‘A family that swims together stays together’ – but Saanvi refused to step into the pool. So Gyan, Anju and Shen went for the swim– twice a week. Gyan in his early teens, and Anju who had just entered double-digit age – would play and swim, whereas Shen would religiously do the laps. Distance and not speed was the criterion.

The 5 Unwritten Rules of Open Lap Swimming

One summer evening, the pool was oozing with young brats, and doing the laps was a little difficult. Anju swam towards her dad and challenged him. ‘I will give you a head start, still finish the lap before you do!’

The father figure was jolted into action; started dog-paddling madly. Midway, he started losing the speed and found Anju going ahead of him. Faster and faster he swam. To slow her down, he grabbed one of Anju’s legs, trying to pull her underwater. And the world fell apart:

“Mama, MAMA – SAVE ME.” The panic-stricken voice did not belong to Anju. A young girl (of Anju’s age and build) of East Asian Origin was spluttering water and screaming. Shen turned to see Anju and Gyan behind him – laughing hysterically. The mother hen clucked from the safe shores of the swimming pool, pointing out to her little girl and the child molester. ‘My God! This is the end of the world.’ He imagined the judge throwing the book at him – the child molester, and spending years in the prison. A social pariah.

Gyan intervened. He managed to calm down the hen and the chicken. A genuine mistake, my father thought your daughter was his daughter, my sister – he is an old man and can’t see well without his glasses – which he can’t wear while swimming. He was just trying to play with us. He is very harmless. Really.

Harmless, indeed. Shen ingested all the superlative words – just to avoid the sentence. The mother hen stared at Shen accompanied by the two children. At last, she was pacified. She muttered something below her breath – which Shen was sure was not very flattering or complimentary.

Anyway, that was the end of debate for him. He swore off the swimming – which may be the best exercise in the whole universe. For Shen – from that moment onwards, it was only YOGA.

 “Yoga – yoga is the best exercise! Much safer and better than swimming!”