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     Volume 4 Issue 64 | September 23, 2005 |

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Slice of Life

Colours of Discord

Richa Jha

Just when I thought I had sorted out all my relationships in this world, in comes this call from a neighbour I've known for a couple of years. I've never been comfortable slotting neighbours: as friends, more than friends, acquaintances, buddies, floor-mates, people to turn to in the hour of need, or people you know for their sheer nuisance value? I've had neighbours from all these categories, so I feel it is best to call a neighbour a neighbour.

This neighbour, to whom this piece is dedicated, is not particularly dear to me, but her son is, to my son. My son enjoys her food more than he has enjoyed any edible in his own house. He believes that my neighbour looks after him better because she has this bewitching habit of doling out toffees to this little fellow the moment he enters the house, and when he is leaving from there. This last one, I have complete control over, and it invariably gets dumped into the bin, but God knows how many more land inside his tummy. My son believes that the cartoon characters look funnier on her television, and that Bournvita tastes better on her dining table. This son of mine also believes that his creativity gets extra fuel when he puts his crayon to paper at her house. And so you see, it is not all that easy to avoid her.

Every once in a while, I make a courtesy phone call to enquire if my son is behaving himself, that I hope he is not troubling her, that the spell she has cast on him, I wish I could do the same with him. Her entire being gloats as she tries to reconcile these sudden bursts of praise with my usual indifference towards her. Should I send the bua to get him back? No, no, she insists, adding that my son is like her son, and that she is happy to have two sons who can't live without each other. I press further saying, yes, yes, I understand, but they could, perhaps, show their inseparability at my place too, to which she replies that my son tells her every day that he likes her house better. I disconnect thereafter, and get back to my magazine.

To tell you the truth, I couldn't be happier with a neighbour like her. Barring the pains of seeing my own flesh and blood defecting, the rest is not all that bad. I get my afternoon nap, so does the bua (who manages more hours than I do), the floors don't need an extra hour of scrubbing every evening, the walls in my house still look like walls, the upholstery doesn't bear brutal scissor gashes, we don't have to dash to put the house back in order every time the intercom buzzes announcing a visitor. (Actually, this last bit is not true. On a rainy day, my clothes dry on the lines in my drawing room, so you can imagine!)

And so, her call came. Please note that the nonchalance is mutual. While she could have very well ambled down the lift-landing to ring my door bell, she preferred to phone me instead. But I understand, as these things are better not discussed face-to-face. Without any perfunctory pleasantries, she charged straight to the point. The onslaught was sharp.
"Where is the sheet?"
Drawing a blank from me, she pretended she was shocked to see me feign ignorance.
"Where have you hidden away my child's drawings?" Continued her pointed verbal deluge.
"The What?"
"You know our children are going to participate in the drawing competition. I had given my son something to practice for it. And now you've hidden it away somewhere. I know you, you want your son to win."

It then dawned on me. Receiver still in my hand, my mind flitted across square feet of space-zones, and settled in on the nearly brimming bath tub with four paper boats lying in various stages of disintegration! It had been one of those rare days when the children had pitched camp at my place. 'Aunty' had embarked on a shopping expedition that day. Their painting session over, we had decided to play boat boat, and paper boats materialised from the few sheets of scribbled creativity lying on the floor! By the time her son returned home, the tutored piece of 'extempore' art (for that's precisely what the contest was meant to have been, and extempore!) had finished a nearly round-the-world spin twice over in my bath.

I knew she was not the one to take it lying down. Better sense prevailed, and I muttered a quick apology. I tried to placate my seething neighbour by telling her that having sat with the two kids after a long time, I could see that my child was no match for hers, and there was no way he would win the first prize there.

I'm sure my words meant nothing. For a while after that episode, it so appeared, that the son was barred from coming to my house, and my son suddenly ceased being 'like her son'. Having sensed a sudden coolness, my son at long last acknowledged that his natural mother was not so useless, after all. The flip side was that my afternoon siesta became a thing of the past.

And then the contest happened last evening, where the artist son did manage the first prize. My son went there too, scribbled his name at three different places on the drawing sheet, gulped down his pack of juice and wafers provided to the contestants, and walked back beaming. He too, in his own way, did conquer the world.

This morning, the neighbour called to politely enquire if my son was free to hop across to her's in the afternoon. I did an impromptu jig right there. Even before she had hung up, my fingers had started calling my parlour for an afternoon appointment!

All's well that ends with me on the massage table, my son back at his favourite haunt, and the neighbour wearing the Pied Piper mantle all over again!

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