A Father Story: Chapter 9

Feline Danger in the Family Dwelling

There lived, in the house next door, a pair of cats named Bertie and Gussie. Their owners were a much loved Uncle and Aunty who much loved P. G. Wodehouse. The feline Bertie, like his literary namesake, had a special talent for creating commotion, and he once created a commotion of Woosterian proportions in our household. And I don’t mean Woosterian as in foppish and affected, although that is the accepted meaning. I mean of the Bertie Wooster kind.

Wooster

It was a tranquil Saturday morning. Helios was riding his celestial chariot, its brilliant golden beams streaming in through our bedroom window. A gentle breeze sang softly through the trees, and the sparrows chirped sweetly along. It was too early for the raucous crickets and the raucous cricket the neighbor boys played every weekend.

The Favorite Daughters were in different corners of the house, each minding their own business. This was an extremely rare scenario in the Edwards home, and had Mummy been around she would immediately have suspected that commotion was a-brewing. But Mummy was not around, which is why we were able to mind our own business. Had Mummy been around, she would have forced us to mind her business, which was always very closely connected to the word “chores.”

Mind your own business

All these years later, I cannot recall which Favorite Daughter First Discerned Feline Danger in the Family Dwelling. Either way, that FD immediately stopped minding her business and got the other FDs to immediately stop minding theirs. This is why I think the First Discerner was the Favorite Daughter, because she was the only one who could make the other FDs immediately stop minding their business. The Third FD never had that kind of authority (though she now has more authority than either of us, having more kids than either of us). And as for the Second FD (as I refer to myself in the third person), I never had that kind of presence of mind. I was absentminded when I was minding my own business, and wild horses couldn’t Forcefully Drag me away.

But I digress. In fact, since my business always involved the chasing of some Futile Dream, I very Foolishly Digress. Let me return to the tale of Feline Danger.

How Bertie got out of his Family Dwelling I will never know, but he got into ours by climbing through my esteemed parents’ bedroom window. When I saw him he was perched arched-backed on the windowsill, hissing and spitting at Chibi. Chibi, whose legs did not permit him to reach windowsills, could only howl and prowl and scowl and growl like a Wodehousian constable.

Dogs rule

As Fate Decreed, the much loved Uncle and Aunty who owned Bertie, being Family Doctors, were at that moment inconveniently looking after patients. Mummy, being the same, was doing the same. And Papa, who had an inerrant tendency to not be around when we needed him, was not around. Consequently, the Favorite Daughters were left to deal with the situation ourselves – and all three of us were mortally afraid of cats.

I have processed my fear of cats in a cleverly titled short story, “Fear of Cats,” so I won’t process it here. I am taking the shortest route I can to The End, and I cannot stop to process every fear and phobia. When that story is published, you may purchase it for your reading pleasure. Meanwhile, I must get on with this story.

Fearofcatstshirt

The Favorite Daughters may have been mortally afraid of cats, but we were exceptionally gifted  shriekers – and there was no shrieking caste system in our family. We were all equally gifted. For this special talent, neither of my esteemed parents accepted any responsibility, even though it was clear, even without any DNA test, that we were indeed their own three Favorite Daughters.

Mummy was one of three sisters, so Papa could have blamed her side of the family, but he was not stupid. He could recognize a special talent when he saw it – or, in this case, heard it. He often blamed our shrieking for all manner of things, once even the loss of his nail clippers, and he sometimes claimed he’d go mad living in a house full of shrieking women. (This he did halfheartedly,  because he knew he had come into the house already mad.) Still, he was not going to let any special talent be passed on to the other side of the family. He blamed it on his mother and her sisters, whom he had heard shriek (mostly at each other) throughout his younger and more vulnerable years.

Papa’s theory on the origins of our shrieking pleased Mummy greatly. She had always maintained that she and her sisters were the paragons of Female Decorum, as befits the daughters of a well-respected minister.

Whether we inherited our special talent From Dadi and her sisters, or whether we acquired it on our own (which is my own opinion), I can honestly say my sisters and I were exceptional shriekers. And it is this special talent that Formally Delivered us from a Fate Decidedly worse than Fearsome Death that Frightening Day.

Our talented shrieking alerted the neighbors to our plight, and some kindly neighbor delivered us by taking Bertie off the windowsill. What would have happened had that kindly neighbor never been born I leave you to ponder.

Ch 9

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A Father Story: Chapter 8

The Famous Drummer

The time has come to reveal the real name of Ringo the Former Dispensary Star. But first I must ask you a question. While reading this part, would you be so kind as to remember that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet? It doesn’t matter if you don’t remember who said it. All I’m asking is that you would be so kind as to remember it.

You would be so kind? Great! I’m grateful for your cooperation as I try to take the shortest distance I can to The End. It would be a different story if The End were not the end I had in mind, but unfortunately (or Fortunately, Depending on your literary tastes), it is not a different story.

Balcony_sceneWhen we first got the Family Dog we had squabbled over what to name him. The Family Drama dragged on for Five Days. In the end, as Fate Decreed, Mummy’s Japanese friend happened to drop in in the middle of a scene. Seeing the chance the chance visit had to end the scene and the Family Drama, Mummy asked her to suggest a name

“Chibi Chan,” the Friend Declared. “It means rittre one in my ranguage.”

Mummy knew we didn’t like it, and we knew she didn’t like it, but she liked Family Dramas less, so the Family Dog was christened Chibi Chan without Further Delay. The name was butchered left and right, as one Favorite Daughter had predicted, but before he became Ringo, Chibi would have responded to Rosencrantz or Guildenstern if there was Food Displayed.food displayedNo one in our immediate circle had your Fervent Desire for Hamlet, so they didn’t know how to say Rosencrantz or Guildenstern. Chibi was called Chubby, Chippy, Chibu, Chibbers and, when we were Feeling Deferent, Mr. Chibbers.

And now I will let you into a secret. I wish Ringo was the name we had given the Favorite Dachshund. Not only was it better than Chibi Chan, but as the pet name of a Famous Drummer, it suited our pet better than the name even I had suggested.

Ringo Starr

No, I am not going to reveal what that was. I have just shared one secret with you. It’s too soon for another.

Ch 8

 

A Father Story: Chapter 7

The Famous Dachshund

Sometime in the mid-nineties I had related how the Favorite Dachshund lost the chance to be a Father Dachshund in a short story titled “The Prodigal Dog.” Having had over twenty years to think it over, I now realize that was a bad title. Unlike the Prodigal Son, the Family Dog did not come to his senses in a pigsty. He never entered the pigsty in the first place, so there was no question of him coming to his senses.

CensusWhen we finally found him nine days after he had fled the canine bedchamber, the Family Dachshund was leading a privileged existence as the guest of a dispensary in an affluent housing society. He had no inclination to return to the humbler Family Dwelling of yore.

And who could blame him? We did not allow him to sit on the sofa, but here he was installed in the most comfortable seat the dispensary possessed – and remember this was an affluent society. The seat was made of the best Rexine money could buy, and padded to boot. The patients patiently remained standing so the Fatigued Dachshund could remain seated.

Of course we adored him, but there were only five of us and we couldn’t do it 24/7. At the dispensary, he was surrounded by constant streams of worshipful masses. Doctors, nurses, patients, neighbors, maids, watchmen, and even the odd rickshawalla all came to pay homage to the Fabled Dachshund. Some stood and gazed in silent admiration, some genuflected in reverent awe, and some collapsed prostrate with screams of Frenzied Devotion. Such star power did the Famous Dachshund exude that they had named him Ringo.downloadFor weeks afterwards he refused to answer to any other name, even though in his pre-traumatic stress days he had answered to any name if there was food involved. But we were so thrilled to have him back that we were willing to call him Ringo, and we even let him sit in the rocking chair. He eventually started responding to his own name, but he never stopped sitting in the rocking chair.

Ch 7

 

 

 

A Father Story: Chapter 6

The FD Fearfully Disregards Filial Duty

Last time I had (parenthetically) introduced a new FD character. This character was a prominent member of the Edwards family. Had he had two legs, there would have been four castes in the favoritism caste system. And had he had two legs and also been the firstborn, there would have been only one caste in the Edwards family.

When my esteemed parents realized that they were parents-to-be, they both hoped that the stork would bring them a son. Had the stork obliged, there the Edwards family would have ended, with no Favorite Daughters to speak of. I certainly would not have been around to tell the tale of the Family Dog.

Dog

My esteemed parents shared a love for animals. They had each grown up with pets, so they thought it only right and fair that their children do likewise. At various points in my younger and more vulnerable years, we had cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens, turtles, fish, parrots, and parakeets. We also had lizards, mice, ants, spiders, snails, slugs, and bugs, but they weren’t pets, just pet peeves – at least for us Favorite Daughters. My esteemed parents loved their menagerie.

While writing this story I sent Mummy a message asking if I had missed any pets. “No,” she replied, “but I was asked if we could get an elephant.”

If you’re wondering which Favorite Daughter could have made such a request, I’m afraid you’ll have to keep wondering. I am trying to take the shortest distance I can to The End and cannot stop to answer every question.

My-Family-and-Other-Animals

As a family, we liked brown dachshunds best. We had two of them – a female in Lucknow, who once nursed a stray kitten, and a male in Pune, who once nursed an aversion to a female of his species. My esteemed parents had sent him to reproduce after his kind, but instead of doing his Filial Duty and supplying them with grandpups, he turned on his heels and fled the canine bedchamber.

Ch 6.JPG

A Father Story: Chapter 2

Dishing It Out

I ended chapter 1 on a cryptic note, and I intend to maintain that same cryptic note here. To put it plainly, I will not disclose the names of the Favorite Daughters. I will simply refer to us as FD, Second FD, and Third FD. Since I am painfully aware of the limits of your attention span, at times I will spell out FD.

Tired of dropping family saucers, the Favorite Daughter dished it out by coughing up a storm. It was the best way of making Papa panic. Though he said he loved all three daughters equally, the FD’s health caused him to panic just a wee bit more. So to disrupt his peace of mind as he had disrupted hers, the Favorite Daughter coughed up a storm until the tempest in the teacup-and-saucer blew over.

tempest

To be fair, it was not only the havoc wreaked by the sharing of saucers that made the Favorite Daughter wreck saucers. She regularly dropped glasses, plates, spoons, forks, cups, saucers, and pretty much everything else in the kitchen, because she possessed what are known as butterfingers. Anything that her hand touched was guaranteed to slip through her fingers and meet its fate on the floor.

The only thing that didn’t slip through her fingers was a certain gentleman who, by virtue of slipping a ring on her finger, became her lawfully wedded husband and, in imitation of his parents-in-law, her devoted slave.

Chapter 2

The Plot Story: Chapter 4

A Brief History

Since I had mentioned Britain and her former colonies in the previous chapter, “What Joe Stretch Taught Me,” and since the former colony I know best is India, it follows that I give you a brief history of British Indian history. (If you don’t like history, or if you don’t like brief history, you may skip the next paragraph.)

In the year 1600, around the time Hamlet first asked who would fardels bear and other rhetorical questions, the good Queen Bess, fed up with the rowdiness in her realm, decided it was time to spice up her subjects’ diet and also add a little something to their water. So she granted a Royal Charter to the future East India Company (the Charter being a grocery list for spices and tea) and bid them set sail at once. Set sail at once did the future East India Company, bearing the royal grocery list – and the rest, as they say, is British Indian history.

When British Indian history ended in 1947, British English was replaced by what has come to be known as Indian English – a variety notorious (among other things) for its obsession with puns. Having been subjected to Indian English since childhood, I wasn’t surprised, when the emails started pouring in from India, that they all contained a pun or two (many, many more). Some were smutty, but most were nutty.

For instance, someone in Shillong suggests I change my blog’s name to Collected Plots. Someone in Gandhinagar suggests I change my book’s name to Pioneer Bollyvard. And someone whose city shall remain unnamed suggests I change my name to something so absurd, it will remain unnamed.

*****

A lady from Pune, the city where I grew up, thanks me for inspiring her to write Punjabier Boulevard, a collection of stories set in Pune’s Punjabi community. Then she goes on to say that I was not punny enough for a Puneite in the Winkie section of “The Definition of Plot.” Let me say the rest in her words:

It left me punderwhelmed (and that’s a punderstatement). Maybe my standards are punrealistically high, but I’m not Miss Puniverse for nothing. I won the title by punlocking Pundora’s box in the initial rounds, and then punequivocally pundermining the two punner-ups in the final. In response to the last question – “What’s the pun reason you deserve the crown?” – I punflinchingly punleashed the knockout pun: “Because I punderstand that puneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”

According to Miss Puniverse, I should have described the breakup and my subsequent breakdown as follows, to make it punique:

Winkie told me he had kissed “Cathy’s Crown” and it was time to “Break Up Little Susie.” I wanted to “Talk Right Back” and say I’m Sharon, “Don’t Shame Me” like this, but we were at the station so I “Let It Be” and did my “Crying in the Train.” Throughout the journey I kept saying I don’t “Love Flirts,” and the other passengers stared as if I was “So Mad.” I “Dislike Strangers” – especially strange men called Winkie. My “Ex-Love Is Strange” and I’m “So Mad” at him that “All I Have to Do Is Scream.” I’d take out a morcha screaming “Hai Hai Love,” but the police will do a laathi charge and I’ll end up with an “Ebony Eye.” You may be “Devoted to Yuvraj,” but I want a Rajkumar. And I can wait for him, I’m in no hurry. My motto is “Why Hurry.”

Miss Puniverse says that like me, she also obtained her pundergraduate degree from Fergusson College and her master’s from Pune Puniversity. She looks forward to meeting me – in Pune or in the Punited States – and concludes with what she’ll pundoubtedly call the pun line:

Punfaithfully,

Punita Pundole, Pune’s Punctilious Pundit

I can’t tell if Punita Pundole is a pun name or not. Both are actual Indian names, so maybe it puns in the family. Either way, she can keep her Miss Puniverse crown. Had I described the breakup as she suggests, “The Definition of Plot” wouldn’t even have got that one like.

I’m not punaware that my quoting and punquoting “Pune’s Punctilious Pundit” means this chapter is punlikely to get even one like . . . But at least that way it can’t get a punlike. So all in all, the puniverse is not punfair.

In India Only

On my first trip to the US, I was doing one of my favorite things (browsing through the aisles of a library) when I came across a slim little volume whose title caught my attention. When I lifted the book off the shelf, I discovered that it was dog-eared and had yellowed pages. I opened it and smelt its pages. It had that unique smell books with yellowed pages have so I sat down and began to read at random.

Last week at the Jaipur Literature Festival, a fellow author did the same to my book. He didn’t smell it – perhaps because Pioneer Boulevard is not an old book, perhaps because he isn’t as odd as the author of Pioneer Boulevard – and he was already seated, but he opened my book and began to read where it had fallen open.

Jaipur Litfest 2015

We were in the Clarks Amer lounge, and my fellow author and I had swapped books to while away the half-hour before dinner. Like my book, his had an exquisitely designed cover, but unlike mine, the back cover had words like elegiac and lyrical. Since it was a novel, I began reading from page 1. Had it been a collection of short stories, I might have done what I did with the library book so many years ago.

My fellow author’s novel began with a lengthy description of a village scene. I don’t mind a novel opening with lengthy descriptions of village scenes (the Victorian novel is my favorite fiction genre, after all), but the narrative kept jumping from past to present, and the first two pages had far too many “There was’s.”Had I been alone in a quiet room I might have forced myself to get into the book, multiple “There was’s” notwithstanding, but the Clarks lounge was buzzing with activity and more conducive to people-watching. I think a wedding reception was underway in the adjacent ballroom. A teenager, who looked thirty-something because of her elaborate hairdo, fully painted face, and black velvet gown, stumbled towards the restroom in her five-inch heels. A boy in a three-piece suit and bowtie, about as tall as my younger nephew (who turned ten since my last post) and with the same pinchable cheeks,strutted pastwith a self-satisfied smirk. I wondered why these kids weren’t wearing Indian clothes. For weddings especially, there’s nothing like Indian clothes.

indian dolls

To appear to be reading my fellow author’s book, so as not to hurt his feelings (or display my ignorance, should he grill me before dinner), I kept turning the pages at regular intervals, but between that and people-watching, I was trying to discover which of my stories my fellow author was reading. (I’m both proud and ashamed to admit that he seemed to be genuinely engrossed in what he was reading.) I eventually discovered, based on the layout, that when he had opened my book at random, the page had opened to the title story. But this post is not about Pioneer Boulevard or “Pioneer Boulevard.”

Ah, the beauties of print. If I had said that aloud you’d have thought I was engaging in double talk. The italics and quotes make you think no such thing. Whatever else you may be thinking is none of my business, so I’ll get on with my story.

The title of the book I had picked up in that American library so long ago was Only in America. It’s a collection of essays about things that happen only in America (or so the author thought). Imust have read two or three chapters but can remember only one of them. The essay was about a debate at some college on the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. One side argued that the plays had to have been written by Sir Francis Bacon because of the erudition in the plays, and the other side argued in favor of Shakespeare. Someone on this side argued that based on the wisdom in the plays, they could only have been written by someone who “mostly stayed home, read a few books, and studied life.”

I never forgot that line (which is why I’ve been bold enough to set it in quotes even though I don’t have the book in front of me), but I didn’t quote it when a supervisor asked for my opinion about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. Nor did I point out the obvious problem of nomenclature (even skeptics must refer to them as Shakespeare’s plays). I merely said I believe in genius.

shakespeare

Creative writing teachers will call the foregoing paragraphs “writing in.” By which they’d mean it’s what is cut by editors (who like to cut to the chase). Fortunately I don’t have to worry about editors just now, but in consideration of you, dear reader, perhaps I should cut to the chase. I remembered Only in America because I wanted to title this post “Only in India.” But in Indian English (which I warned you last time I have been brushing up), we add “only” at the end (as in, “I am like that only”). And when in India it’s best to use Indian English only.

I’d like to tell you about some of my experiences these past six weeks and five days in the land of my birth, but I am at an internet café in the nation’s capital and my ride is waiting (impatiently, if the horn means anything). Someone I met in Jaipur had told me not to travel in Delhi after dark. He is an honorable man, and it’s dark now, so I’ll better get going. But I can’t leave you without a story. It’s not a story proper (though I think this is a blog proper). It’s just snippets from a conversation with a taxi driver on my last night in Jaipur (translated from Hindi for the reader who doesn’t know the language).

I was on my way to the Writers Ball, and the driver who showed up looked like a kid. I immediately asked him his age, and he said he was nineteen. Now that’s better than ninety, but I didn’t feel comfortable so I probed further. In retrospect, I should have remembered that ignorance is bliss, but alas, I have a faulty memory. I don’t remember adages when I need them most.

“Only nineteen? How long have you been driving?”

“Three years.”

“Any accidents?”

“Not one ant has been killed.”

I don’t know he knew that, but he said it with such confidence that I believed him – until he added, “Once or twice I’ve hit a small animal, but no accidents.”

The Writers Ball was at Le Meridien in an area called Kukas, about 25 km from the city center. The driver had to call his company three times to ask for directions.

“Hotel’s name is Le Median,” I heard him say at one point.

“Le MeRIdien,” I corrected.

“LOVE Meridien,” he repeated. “In Cooker.”

“KuKAS,” I corrected, but this time he ignored me.

Had I not been watchful, we’d have missed the turnout to Le Meridien. I let the driver go when I reached, because a Canadian couple I’d met on the first night of the lit fest were also attending the ball, and they said they’d drop me back to my hotel when it ended. How we got back is an interesting story, but I doubt you’ll hear it. I have more interesting things to tell you when I come back. And I will be back.

terminator