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The usual morning tumult has no relevance today. There is activity all around though it is of a different nature. Even Tutu and Bira have risen rather early, as their Papa discovered. He had just returned from his morning walk around the DU-campus and was surprised to discover his children out by the front lawn, sitting on the steps. January or may -- the family spent a few minutes on those steps, daily. A symbolical reminder of ritual, doc-saab generally remarked. 'We have anticipated a few questions that you could be asked....' That was Bira, his fifteen-year old daughter who was interrupted in the middle of a sentence by Tutu. 'You are going to get a few great responses too. We have them all prepared for you, Papa.' Dr Madan Nagpal, or doc-saab as he was popularly known as, simply nodded his head and said, 'Good-morning dears. Nice to see you both up so early.' Saying this he too sat with his children on the front steps, but got up suddenly to rush inside with these words, 'I almost forgot the morning tea. Your mother will be angry.' Tutu laughed, though Bira was discretely silent. As he passed through the drawing-room and was going towards the kitchen, he noticed Lota, his wife, coming down. Lota grimaced, hobbled, smiled, rubbed her eyes, yawned, sighed and waited for docsaab's enthusiastic 'good-morning darling' before she too managed an authoritative 'good-morning darling'. 'Get the tea out on the steps darling,' said Lota, continuing her morning jog towards the steps where her two teenaged darlings sat. On reaching the steps, Lota simply ordered her children to go upstairs and get ready because 'Mr Daniel will be here in another hour or so, and we all must be prepared for Papa's interview.' It is a sunday and six-thirty in the morning in Delhi. Doc-saab is working as a senior consultant in the Municipal Association hospital and also happens to be the first doctor in the family. He enjoys being labelled busy and makes sure he gets a lot of routine phone-calls from the hospital daily. He is a Punjabi and his wife Lota is from 1
Meghalaya -- theirs is an inter-caste marriage from the sixties of India. Lota was working as a staff-nurse in the same ward as doc-saab was an intern in. Theirs was the first instance of a love-marriage in the Nagpal family and excepting the initial few months, Lota managed to get accepted as part of the clan....though it wasn't so much a giving-in of the Nagpal elders as it was the power-diplomacy exercised by Lota. Within the household, doc-saab was the clinician and Lota was the medicalsuperintendent, so to say. In just a few minutes Lota became restless and went in, stood by the stairs between the drawing-room and the kitchen, to shout, 'Now don't waste your time. Get ready and come down fast.' 'Yes darling.' replied doc-saab in a confused tone. 'I'm not talking to you, darling. I was instructing Tutu and Bira. Is the tea now ready ? ' asked Lota, and then with a grudging pause, continued, 'I'm going out on the steps. I'll wait for you there...else I'll get tired so early in the day. Even before Mr Daniel is here. OK ?' 'Yes darling.' 'I hate january mornings.' 'Yes darling.' *** The last week of January is rather cold in Delhi. A time when kerb-side discussions tend to lapse into diluted, univocal, and narrow tirades as even the eternal masscloned dreamers of a modern-day India feel it is better to get inside their house, get inside their heavy quilt and wait for something to happen. The relaxed pace out on the streets will never tell a stranger the tensions inside homes, the quantum of pending jobs at offices, and the helplessness of an Indian wanting to do something, or more importantly, wanting to get something done......... Such were the thoughts in Gautam Daniel's mind as he drove towards the MADquarters (Municipal Association of Delhi quarters) where his friend Dr Nagpal lived. It was early morning and he wanted to get over with this interview fast. He wanted to have some spare time for himself before he left for Sri-Lanka later that day, where he was to interview the chief of a terrorist gang operating there, for his paper The 2
National Times. 'Any cub could have prepared a presentable copy of such an interview. But I have to go. Me, the executive editor of TNT ,' muttered Daniel, 'simply because Nagpal is my friend.' Then after a pause he added, 'I fancy his wife really. Lota is lovely, specially when she is hanging Nagpal upside-down.' Daniel is heftly built, and considering the method he had chosen to rise to the post of an executive editor, the dark ominous complexion outside must simply be a reflection of his mental inter-stitial environment. That is what his wife always reminded him of. That is why he hated her, and that is why he fancied Lota. Partly because he saw in Lota a reflection of his own wife, but without his being the victim, and partly because of that special smile that Lota always torpedoed towards him. With such erotically dangling thoughts Daniel reached 492 Bungle Road, where only the chosen few in the MAD hierarchy stayed. *** Lota rushed to open the door and finding it was Daniel, torpedoed him with that special gigantic-juicy-peach-smile from a Roald Dahl story, and shouted, 'Darling.' 'Me ?' slurped the wicked thought gambolling inside Daniel's mind. 'Yes. I have been waiting for you.' Lota always seemed to loose her composure in his presence. 'I too am waiting.' slurped the wicked thought again. But before the wicked thought could get the sound-conversion mechanism connected, Daniel was invited in. There were lots of namastes and aayo-yaars and baitho-yaars before Daniel was allowed to speak. 'Doc-saab, your being nominated for a National Award is really great. But I think you owe a lot to Bhabhiji here.' Daniel smiled. That fiddle really zapped Lota and her torpedo-smile-mechanism went berserk. Though a basic advantage of such smile-swaps in India is that the Bhabhiji gets up to go to the kitchen to prepare some tea-and-snacks for the guest. With their mother out of the way, Tutu and Bira too sneaked out through the side door in the drawing-room to go and wait silently in their entresol that they had nicknamed : SHUT UP ! The interview started, and ended even before Lota returned with a tray full of tea and goodies. Though surprised, Lota did not speak out her mind but Daniel had the 3
satisfaction of observing yet another facet of her torpedoeing spirit. Quizzical smiles kept on their bombardment until Daniel had left. That was when Lota was back to her original and real grimacing-hobbling-smiling and sighing-and-waiting self ! It was time for the post-mortem to start. *** It is a paradoxical truth that physical dominance needs at least one other physical instrument to make that dominance live. In its absence, whatever be the reason, the role of the usually dominating one not only becomes recessive, but also shifts. A Macbeth or an Othello will never cease to exist, so to say....though their roles may change adoptions speedily as the velcro of a second physical instrument is not strongly entrenched in any one place. After Daniel had left, doc-saab was surrounded by his family members. A silent seige where the power balance shifts rapidly, was only too obvious, and it was making Lota restless. She was unaccustomed to being on board without being the captain, but her rapid-fire shelling with smile-torpedoes had left her temporarily enervated. Tutu and Bira were hesitant due to their guilt of having slithered away despite their mother's instructions to be present through-out the interview as 'photographers will be there'. The drawing-room was pregnant with dregs of cold tea in cups, platefuls of goodies from the best halwai of Kamal Nagar, an ivory-inlaid tray from yester-years just out of its wraps, and a silent seige. Even the clock on the wall opposite to where doc-saab sat, tick-tocked its embarassment at being unable to control its own destiny. Doc-saab was the first to give-in. 'He didn't ask anything,' he said, and that ended the bliss of a hung power balance. The sofa where he sat all of a sudden was converted into an operating table and his three darlings peered onto him as police doctors searching for some elusive truth during an autopsy. Dr Nagpal was accustomed to this and he so often jokingly called himself a 'corpse' in a family drama. 'Not everybody can win the National Award......' Tutu started in earnest. Then in a series it was the trio struggling with their analysis of the interview that had taken place and yet had not taken place, and doc-saab simply lay there, listening, very much 4
like a corpse that could think.....and blink !! '...moreover Papa is the first MAD doctor to have won this,' continued Tutu. 'And he does have such excellent contacts with Lt. Governor,' trumpeted Lota. Bira softly added, 'I had helped him fill his bio-data that he sent to the LG.' 'And who gave that great winning idea to include....' '...the names of his ward case-files as published reports. You will be a better doctor Tutu -- at least better than your father could ever become.' 'I helped making the language in those reports so authentic.' They are warming up now, thought doc-saab, and it will be tragic to tell them that their help had very nearly cost me my job. It was my friend Sethi who had those parts deleted because 'in friendship all is fair, and as long as I am the assistant commissioner I will make sure that your file goes past the LG's office without any problem.' Then like a witch-doctor out of a novel based on the past of the tribes of Meghalaya, Lota suddenly looked into the eyes of her husband and chanted, 'Daniel did not ask anything. Daniel did not ask anything. Daniel did not ask anything,' then softly and menacingly murmured, 'But you must have said something. You must have said something surely.' 'Brilliant !' chorused the two teenagers in the room. 'I told him that the covering letter was written by my nephew......and that his command over the language was....' Doc-saab was not allowed to complete the only sentence that could have been recorded as his sole contribution in the autopsy in progress. There was an assortment of sounds that were meant to communicate disgust, horror, pity, anger at apathy towards one's own family.......though they physically existed as refracted gurgles, impressionistic hisses, nasal-blockade impersonations, barbecued glares, and a helplessly quizzical silence. It was silence adopted as a stance, a move, a strategy, and, therefore, could be replaced only by the chief player involved. Lota made a waving movement in the air in front of her, as one trying to shoo away unwelcome cigarette smoke, and sighed, 'I have spent the last fifteen years trying to teach him the rules of success, and all he did was praise his nephew.' 'I was so sure he would crown me as being the inspiration behind all his hard work,' moaned Bira. 5
'Hard work ? Ha !' sneered Tutu. 'Its simply routine. A 9-to-5 routine that is full of rounds to his favourite Female Ward-II, a couple of hours of struggle with last-gasps in the CCU, and his daily fights with the ClassIV employees. Hard work ? Ha !' It was now Lota's turn to speak, and like a disciplined soldier, she commanded, 'Yes, that is hard work Tutu. I don't want to hear any more of those unnecessary ha-haas now. OK ?' Then without waiting for an answer or agreement, she continued in that tone, 'But hard-work without generating contacts is stupid. And this man,' she pointed a stiff stubby finger towards her husband, 'is STUPID.' A silence nearly always followed whenever Lota suffered one of her too frequent outbursts, which is why there was always an abundance of silence in their house, which is what had made doc-saab a habitual thinker. Contacts, thought doc-saab, I have developed a lot of contacts. Even now I make it a point to go personally if anyone important in the MAD-hierarchy is unwell. Why go far...only four days back, the Commissioner's mother-in-law had complained of palpitations and I had rushed to his place with my ECG-equipment. He then blinked for a couple of times before resuming his chain of thoughts. Hard-work ? Most of the time I am the only doctor in the entire hospital. They all go home early....and they all come late. But why should I be in a hurry to come home and listen to her nonsense ?....And now I have fallen in love with being branded a hospital-loyal doctor. I like it...... His chain of thoughts was broken only when he heard Lota say, 'He never thought of bringing home any samples too, in the past.' 'We have plenty now,' remarked Tutu, 'you distribute them to all who come asking for them.' 'Living is not so easy in this country, you see,' moralised Lota, 'everyone from the postman to the sweeper do our job properly....because I know how to run this house. I distribute samples. I give them those cheap useless gifts that the drug companies give....' 'And we get our letters. And the sweeper spends full fifteen minutes in our house. And the gardener mows our lawn every month.' contributed Bira. 'Most important,' said Lota with a tinge of pride, 'all shopkeepers stand up to greet whenever I go to the Kamal Nagar market....and the other day Aggarwal ji of the DCM showroom himself carried the packs to our car.' 6
'They all give only us a discount of 15 percent,' contributed Bira, as was her habit. She always got a nod of approval from her mother whenever she said something as bright as this, and that made her feel as if it was she who had won some National award. They've forgotten my award. They've forgotten all about the interview now, thought doc-saab, and blinked his eyes in confirmation of the immense sense of relief that he felt at the development.We all work for 15 percent discounts on a 20 percent inflated cost. Doc-saab knew the way the market moved. But his thoughts were coming in bits and pieces now. He was feeling drowsy. We Indians are so known for our cohesive family structure. Yes, there is a lot of togetherness here. We do know how to make each other feel happy.........Thats what life is for......being happy.........our job........we pay each other to do our job. His thoughts were becoming really difficult to harness now. He made one big effort to think big. We are all postmen and sweepers. Whether or not it was the effect of the last word in his thoughts, we will never know because there was an audible snort as doc-saab finally dozed-off. The interview was over. The post-mortem had ended.