Friday, June 10, 2011

Plain Tales from Doon - Third Instalment

Some Further Exchanges Between Garhwalis and Kumaonis…Telephonic and Otherwise

My father, belying Onial Mausaji’s general pronouncements on the differences between the Kumaonis and the Garhwalis, fits in quite contentedly with the vagaries of the Ghyldiyals. His military training may have something to do with it. But it seems to me that his motto of “Quick march”, (without any attendant fear of where he is marching to!) is only partly due to his life in the army. For it seems to have been his creed even before he joined the NDA. As a fairly little boy, Papa was once on his way home with Bhawani Chacha - his slightly younger brother – when he spied a ladder-seesaw contraption. It was hanging from a tree, part of an obstacle course for training soldiers. Before Papa could finish his very natural investigations into its possibilities, Chacha’s hold gave way. From his position half-way up the swaying rope-ladder, Papa found himself whizzing through the sky. Landing a great distance away with a nasty cut over his bleeding lip, he needed the imperative attention of several surgical stitches. That, he explained disarmingly, was the reason for his attractive lop-sided smile.
Since, neither that experience nor others that followed have ever shaken Papa’s impatient fascination for the new and the curious, he continues to have varied and exciting experiences. His nonchalent optimism rivals and occasionally complements Mummy’s characteristic concern for cleanliness, to produce some interesting situations. One recurring object that he never ceases to tire experimenting with, is the cell phone. His cell-phones retire sooner rather than later under the pressure of his random punches or their outdated technology – depending on Mummy’s interpretation or his. While drawn to their mysterious charms, Papa resolutely refuses to take them seriously – or indeed take at all, whether on his daily walks or his round of golf. Conversely, when he is in the vicinity of his phone, it is generally switched off. So, the family knows better than to call him on his cell phone – which is just as well. He also changes the phone companies he patronises, adding greatly to the custom and confidence of salespersons.
Once, we all went to visit Deepa Chachi - Bhawani Chacha’s wife - after her knee replacement surgery. She was at my cousins’ house, 25 kilometers away from ours, a fair distance in the NCR. We all sat without worrying, since my father, as the more frequent visitor to that house, had assured us that he would direct us. As we neared our destination, he casually said that he did not know the house number, but that was all right. He remembered the route perfectly.
After we had circled the colony a couple of times, Snehanshu at the wheel tersely requested that we call up my cousins’ so that we could check the sign-boards announcing the house numbers. Mummy dug out Papa’s phone from her handbag and handed it to him in the front passenger seat. A couple of hasty tries later, Papa declared there was no answer. Luckily, I had in the meantime, managed to get through from my phone. We drove up, amidst my parents’ animated discussion on the proper way to use cell-phones and directions.
Halfway home in the evening, at the conclusion of an afternoon of much conversation, tea and dosas, Papa suddenly enquired, “Aruna, have you got my phone?”
“No,” answered my mother. “You took it from me just before we reached. Remember when you tried to call - but couldn’t - for directions to the house? What did you do with it?”
“I kept it in my pocket…and then on the table next to where I was sitting. I thought you would have picked it up,” remarked Papa in an imperceptibly aggrieved tone. “Never mind if you didn’t. It is safe enough there.”
After a minute, he added “Just call and check. It is there of course, but just let them know”.
I called again. My cousin Vimal, promised to look for it. He found it almost immediately, reposing quietly on the table, and asked if he should come down to give it to us. We were nearly at Noida, and considering my father’s frequency of using the phone, I firmly declined to let him come so far on a smoggy winter’s evening. Anyway, as Papa reminded us, Bhawani Chacha was going back to DehraDun in a few days time. He could carry it there with him, from where Papa could easily collect it since he was planning to visit DehraDun as well.
We all agreed that this was the best thing to do. Almost immediately, he thought of another idea. Arvind Bhai, Papa’s sister’s son, who also lived in Noida, was planning to visit Deepa Chachi the next day. “Arvind can get it back. He is just a few kilometers away and we can arrange to pick it up.”
I duly called up both sets of cousins to inform them of the handing and taking over of the bag. “You can switch off the phone,” I told Vimal. “No, I’ll keep it on – that way Tauji will have a record of his missed calls.”
“Don’t bother”, I told him. “He doesn’t”.
He obviously did not believe me. In due course, the phone came back, still switched on, just in time for my parents’ forthcoming visit to Dehra Dun. I advised my father to keep it handy, and answer phones, to enable coordination of station-dropping and picking. “Don’t worry, I have it with me,” he said brightly. “Yes, the charger too.”
I finally tracked my elusive parents in one of the numerous houses at Dehra Dun the next day, after many phone calls to the houses of aunts and uncles from where they had just left or were just expected to reach. “Why don’t you switch on your phone,” I demanded, justly irritated. “Oh you know, the battery had drained off, and I found the charger I was carrying did not fit,” was the equable answer.
Two days later, we arrived at DehraDun as planned. “Of course, I don’t really need it now that you all are here and we will travel back together,” Papa said, after he had thanked us profusely for restoring his charger to him, retrieved from its hideout inside the cabinet in his study. “Your mother, as usual, must have tidied it away - you know she can’t bear to see anything lying around”.
“Indeed? You must have got mixed up with the charger of one of those innumerable phones that you persist in buying.” Mummy countered.
And they steadfastly stuck to their individual explanations.

© Anisha Shekhar Mukherji

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