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     Volume 5 Issue 110 | September 1, 2006 |

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Common Cold

The Fall!

Neeraj Sinha

First impressions endure. From the moment I set my eyes upon him as he lay prostrate in the ditch by the road last Sunday, I knew I was in trouble. As to how he had managed to find a place for himself there, in the company of things that you normally find in a road side ditch, is anybody's guess. The weather was fair, the light was good and he was not being pursued by the highway patrol as he alighted from the car that brought him home from the airport. Yet, one moment he was all tall and erect waving cheerily at me and in the next, had disappeared in the depression by the road side displacing as Archimedes once diagnosed correctly, water from the overnight rains, in proportion to his body weight.

“Say… do you have a camera?” asked the fallen one refusing my outstretched hand with a shrug.

“No… I don't. Wife never let me buy one”, I said in a pained tone as the wounds of a recent skirmish became fresh.

“Oh you poor dear…, never mind! Seek help from a Pro.” There was immediate understanding in his voice, the kind that can happen only between married men, leaving me wondering about the scope of the professional help advised. It eventually turned out that he merely wanted me to requisition the services of a professional photographer.

To cut a long story short, the neighbourhood photographer came with his tools of the trade and on instructions from our relative-in-the-ditch, clicked him in various stages of disgrace.

“For future use”, the relative, who was also a part time lawyer, said in response to our quizzical looks before carefully applying soap and water to the exposed part of his skin.

“A public figure needs to have a much larger portfolio than a professional model”, the wise one went on adding that he was keeping very busy and would we mind if he left early. Ever since he made his political ambitions known to the world at large, we in the family were beginning to get used to his often unexplained antics. In the event, we made it clear that we didn't mind an early exit at all.

“So how does a photograph showing you sprawled in the ditch help?”, my natural curiosity got the better of me giving him a reason to take a deep breath and settle down for a long innings.

“Oh that's easy…”, said the master, ”if a friendly newspaper carries the shot, it would say, 'Grassroots Politician' or 'Son of the Soil'. The reading public likes to see its leaders in candid moments.”

I first thought of saying that the reading public likes to see his kind permanently there but checked myself in time. I then tried alerting the old man to the immense possibilities that the same picture, in the hands of a not so favourably disposed journo showing a man sprawled amidst squalour offered in terms of screaming captions, but this did not register.

The relative had a quick fix solution to most problems, whether societal or domestic. Given his native intelligence and a nose for smelling trouble, he sensed the moment he landed that not all was well between the Missus and me. Never one to mince words or feel awkward about interfering in other people's affairs, the relative got down to brass-tacks the moment he had seen the last of a bunch of grapes that I had been hoping to preserve as an after lunch treat.

“So all well between you two…?”, he asked squinting an eye as the sourness of the grape got to his taste buds.

“Yes…”, said I doing my best to keep family linen from prying eyes.

“No…”, said he refuting my claim with equal vehemence.

“Ok”, said I resignedly as the old master took over. He worked himself into a frenzy while telling us how sacred an institution marriage was. As long as he was pacing up and down the floor, things remained rather sedate. There came a point, however, when the master, famed for his court room theatrics decided that his message was not getting conveyed with adequate force. So he paused for effect and made to sit atop the dining table in the manner of cine stars of yesteryears in order to deliver the knock out blow for the cause of marriage.

Now my dining table, like the rest of the company supplied furniture has been purchased under the '3 quotation' scheme where the company with the lowest quoted price gets to supply the goods. For years together, it had tolerated various kinds of assault on its physical being from our little devil to our full grown dog, who had all, at some point treated it as one big play ground. But even furniture have a mind of their own and can take only so much. Barely had our relative rested his ample backside on the table then it came crashing down with a noise that sent our pet dog into one of his wild barking rages. Meanwhile, for the second time on the same day, the pleader found himself floored with strands of boiled rice and pieces of freshly cut salad and deep fried vegetables strewn all over his sprawled form.

But the man was nothing if not a fighter and didn't give up even in the face of all this adversity. By the time he finished, it was time for children to return from school. Both the Missus and I had stolen a few winks in between and made a joint resolve to avoid any confrontation on days that our relative was due to visit, if only to escape his homilies on the value of 'values' and consistency in life as also to save the remainder of our furniture.

The first few days after this remained difficult. Both, the Missus and I were on our best behaviours and after the morning chores were done, the tea ritual attended to and children packed off to school, we didn't know what to do. Since Missus also works, it was even more trying when we came back home after office, for there was nothing to look forward to.

The one great thing about evolution, however, is that it has given us the ability to leave the past behind us and begin afresh. That is how our arguments started all over again. Hesitantly at first, gauging each other's mood and temper, and then slowly settling into a happy routine from the past.

I normally am a brisk walker and don't like my early morning walks to be disturbed by strangers or acquaintances. It was therefore with a fair degree of irritation that I turned to face the man who had tapped my shoulder from behind just as I was beginning to pick up pace this morning. There, silhouetted against the whites of most other fitness freaks stood our relative from last week in his smart black, advocate's coat and uniform.

The man seemed to be in a tearing hurry and I couldn't catch half of what he was saying. The operative part of his presentation, however, was quite clear. He explained he was no longer into politics and had decided to take his other vocation a little more seriously with plans to specialise in matrimony cases. Then with a sense of expectation, the relative pressed a business card into my hands saying he would be delighted to be of service!

While I gaped open mouthed at the paper in my hand, he turned smartly and with brisk steps, disappeared into the far distance. Somehow, the other two falls our relative had had in the last one week seemed to pale in comparison to what I was now witnessing!

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