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     Volume 5 Issue 104 | July 21, 2006 |

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Common Cold

For Whom the Bell Tolls…!

Neeraj Sinha

When I moved into the Capital a few years ago, there was a feeling of having literally arrived. It appeared that after years and years of seemingly futile struggle, one had finally made it big, leaving the riff-raff behind in the race of life. There was now a distancing from all the country cousins of the world, if you know what I mean. And also a sense of exclusivity about staying in the most expensive real estate in the country playing host to a variety of long forgotten cousins and aunts.

There is a certain joy, you will agree, about living in capital cities, or rather cities that are capitals of countries, provinces or regions. Unfortunately, like most other good things in life, this joy too, is not unmitigated. Let me diffuse matters further by suggesting that there is a linear co-relation between the absolute number of friends and relatives and the coefficient of your misery, if you happen to reside in cities that find a mention in a small scale map of the world. In other words all you 'C' city dwellers, if you have a large circle of near or even far, friends and relatives, you are in trouble!

When they first came, one hardly took notice. When the front bell rang of a pleasant winter morning, barely days after we had moved in ourselves, we took it in our stride, doing our best to make the guests comfortable despite their rowdy children being a positive menace to civilised society. They came “for the weekend…”, they said, giving “family outing”, as the reason for their journey, and stayed on till the following weekend as “the missus is really enjoying herself here…”. Meanwhile, the other 'Missus' in the house (mine), was giving me the works privately, since the guests at hand happened to be claiming a blood match with mine!

Which is what gave me joy unlimited when her 'folks', decided to come calling next. While there was not much to choose between the children, all the blighters pose the same hazard to one's sanity, the elders in the group were in a different class. From the day of their advent, the family of two adults and three children, decided to adopt the TV remote as their own for the length of their stay and made us suffer the multiple soap syndrome.

A typical routine on the weekdays therefore, would involve the undersigned's return from office at 6 PM, followed by a general discussion on the soaps on offer on the various channels, followed by a consensus amongst the visiting family members on the soap that was at the most interesting juncture, and therefore a must-watch, later in the evening! Occasionally, the discussions became a little ugly with the younger 'guests' asserting their right to scan the cartoon networks since a bunny (or cat, rat, or one of the other pestilences) in a particular show was exhibiting all signs of being a laugh-riot.

If suffering these mindless episodes themselves was not enough, at the dinner table the friendly guests launched into a full scale analysis of the daughter in law or mother in law or whichever other, legal or illegal affair, the soap of the day had featured. The children too gave informed opinions on the discussion at hand, often correcting their parents on the exact sequence of who was having an affair with whom in the episode gone by!

The other advantage of having visitors over almost every other week-end was that I became something of a walking guide on the city's monuments and relics. I now knew the exact place where our prehistoric ancestors cooked, bathed (if at all they did) and relieved themselves. I had been to the scenic spots, including the lakes, parks, forests, bridges, ridges, under-passes, fly-overs and the like on so many occasions, that the crowd of street-side shop owners there recognised me as one of their own. I also knew where in the city the first dinosaur bones were found. Now between you and me, this last one I had to cook up when one persistent little devil (my sister's daughter), who has grown up on a staple diet of sci-fantasy, would not let me rest till I had shown her a real 'dino' fossil.

Any visit to a capital city would remain incomplete if one doesn't carry back shopping bags with the name of the city embossed in bold. And so, once the monuments and other tourist DOs were done, every arriving guest went shopping. My skills of taking guests out on a shopping spree have as a result sharpened, and became part of the family lore. Whether you are looking for that rare jute mattress that you saw at your cousin's place or the signature design you ever wanted to acquire; whether it is the new 'antique' furniture that you wish to shop for or the 'city-special' savouries that are setting your taste buds afire, look no further than yours truly.

Meanwhile, in the midst of all these new skill sets, the enthusiasm of settling in the Capital city has taken a beating. We are no longer a happy family living for each other. Our primary focus these days centres on the concerns of our relentless visitors. Their food choices, waking habbits, bathroom timings, soap (not the detergent kinds) fondness and music preferences, have now become more important than the school timings of my daughter.

Like the other persecuted citizens of my area, I wait for deliverance from my current state. But for now, there are things to attend to. I think in the distance I hear the front bell ring. To those of you, who like Ernest Hemingway have wondered for whom the Bell tolls, I have a simple answer: It tolls for me! I better get up, open the door and find out the latest arrivals' food choices, waking habbits, bathroom timings, soap…!

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