Geriatric gossip

Old friends, old friends / Sat on their park bench like bookends. Simon & Garfunkel.

There were these two elderly gentlemen, hang on, what the hell, let’s call a spade a shovel, there were these two old gentlemen taking their early morning constitutional at their nearby park. Early to mid-eighties, if I am any judge. One of them was somewhat bent over with a walking stick for support. The other was relatively sprightly with an easy gait. Then there was me, an elderly denizen, an apt description for one who was giving the two oldies about twelve years, if a day, at an educated guess. The two spavined gents seemed to be involved in an animated conversation, which aroused my curiosity. After a short while, an inviting park bench beckoned and the two senior citizens decided to sit themselves down to continue their chinwag. As there was no other bench in the vicinity, I too parked myself at the edge of the bench, closed my eyes and did some deep breathing, apparently oblivious to any other goings-on. While my pretend posture was yogic, my actual intention was that of an inquisitive fly on the wall. Only, this was a fly sitting on a park bench. The oldies were unmindful of my presence, which was just as well, and my auditory canals were sharply attuned to the slightest chesty cough. Thus, I was privy to this fascinating chit-chat between the two gnarled, self-appointed wiseacres.

‘I say Chandran, what a lovely morning eh? The lark’s on the wing; the snail’s on the thorn; God’s in his heaven – all’s right with the world.’

‘Nice one, Mathew. Is that one of your own, or is it something you lifted from one of the Wodehouse novels?’

‘I wish. You are right about the Wodehouse bit Chandran, but the Master of farce himself took it from Robert Browning’s Pippa’s Song. He was always doing that, Wodehouse. Quite often, deliberately misquoting.’

‘Right, so what you are telling me is that this lark and snail quote is probably a line that can be drawn from Bertie Wooster through Wodehouse and the copyright resting with Browning.’

‘That’s about the size of it.’

‘Right, let’s put all this poetry and literary stuff to one side, shall we? Tell me Mathew, what’s your take on this godawful brouhaha about the BBC documentary on our revered PM?’

(Now we were getting somewhere. I was beginning to tire of Browning, Wodehouse, Wooster et al).

‘Look here Chandran, you will need to speak up a bit. You know I am a bit hard of hearing in my left ear. What was that about the BBC?’

‘The problem is your right ear is worse. Not that my ears are in any great shape either. Why don’t you get one of those hearing aids that are so widely advertised these days?’

‘What, and let the whole world know I am deaf as a doorpost? No, thank you! What is more, those hearing aids are pretty useless. They make awful sounds that drive you insane. Let’s get back to the subject, Chandran. What has the BBC gone and done now?’

‘They have produced a documentary film trashing our Prime Minister.’

‘Why did they have to do that? There are enough and more people in our own country doing that on a daily basis.’

(Good point, Mathew. Nicely put.)

‘That’s all very well, Mathew, but no one takes a blind bit of notice when opposition parties make a song and dance about these things in parliament. However, when a foreign news channel, particularly a reputedly hallowed institution like the BBC, takes up the cudgels, then the opposition goes to town making a song and dance about what the BBC said. Get my meaning?’

‘Sort of, but what is BBC’s beef against our PM?’

‘I say old chap, don’t use words like beef when we are discussing the PM. Not done, not cricket. Anyhow, to answer your question, the government will have us believe all this is motivated propaganda, raking up the past when the highest courts in our land have cleared the PM of any wrong doing. They have a point, but the opposition, thanks to this BBC film, have got the bit between the teeth and are going hammer and tongs. State and central elections not far away, see what I mean?’

(This Chandran pensioner is quite something. Follows politics closely and is able to see both sides of the argument. The kind of chap we need as a TV anchor instead of the one-dimensional ghouls we have).

‘It’s a pity, Chandran. I mean, Britain has an Indian at Number 10 and although he makes simpering noises about what a nice bloke our PM is, he just shrugs his shoulders when it comes to telling the BBC where to get off.’

‘Look Mathew, Rishi Sunak is no more Indian than Narendra Modi is an Englishman. So, stop calling him an Indian and his wife, who was an Indian is now totally English, and she has the papers to prove it. As for the BBC, it is a law unto itself and that’s that.’

‘I guess, but I loved those old BBC programmes on their world service radio. My school English teacher would encourage us to listen to their news just to be able to speak “propah” English.’

(By now, I was growing weary of this BBC discussion and hoped the fogeys would turn to something else. And right on cue, Chandran obliged).

‘Listen Mathew, let’s dump the BBC subject, you will hear a lot more of it from our media, social and conventional, every day. My lungs are also protesting having to shout into your left ear. Tell me, what do you think is going on with this Adani fiasco and the Hindenburg report.’

‘Heidelberg? Didn’t they produce those great offset printing machines. I worked at a printing house once upon a time.’

‘No, no. Not Heidelberg, Hindenburg.’

‘Never heard of them. Must have been a small printing outfit.’

‘Negative, nothing to do with printing. Where have you been, Matt? This is a hole-in-the-wall American company that tinkers around with corporate houses’ stocks and makes a lot of money. The owner is a short seller.’

‘What has the owner’s height got to do with anything?’

(By now, my yogic breathing had gone for a six. I was desperately trying to avoid breaking out into raucous laughter).

‘Are you trying to be funny or just being dumb?’

‘All right Chandran, you’re the clever git. What is a short seller?’

‘Ah, now that’s asking. Something to do with buying long and selling short, then selling it again and making pots of money.’

(At this point I burst into an uncontrollable fit of laughter and managed to pretend I was coughing).

‘Thanks for that Chandran, now I know everything. But how does all this tie in with Adani?’

‘Look Matt, you must have read that Adani is a big fish with massive interests all over the world. He even owns a port in Israel. So, this Hindenburg chappie found a few, big holes, real or imagined, in Adani’s businesses and splashed it all over the place. Net result, Adani shares came tumbling down like a ton of bricks. The markets exploded, like the Hindenburg zeppelin disaster in 1937 that slayed 36.’

(This Chandran fellow can enter any quiz competition and show all the others a clean pair of heels).

‘And the Heidelberg shark had already bought and sold Adani’s shares short.’

‘Brilliant Matt, at your age, with just one functioning ear, you cracked it straight out of the box. And for the last time, it’s Hindenburg. Don’t sully Heidelberg’s fair name.’

‘Then there’s plenty of stuff in the papers about tax havens, Cayman Islands, shell companies, the role of SBI, LIC, SEBI, RBI, Finance Ministry and so on. With the PM’s benevolent shadow always in the background. And the opposition are again trying to make a hearty meal of it. That really sticks in my craw. How am I doing Chandran?’

(‘Sticks in my craw.’ I like that, must use it sometime).

‘You are really cooking, my friend. And don’t forget, once again the timing is impeccable. Nirmala ji presented what most people thought was a budget for the ages. But the Adani fiasco and the Hindenburg nutter decided to rain heavily on her parade. The government is crying conspiracy and the opposition is crying JPC.’

‘And the common man is crying hoarse. I think I have had as much of this as I can take for one day. Let us get back home. One last thing, if I may, Chandran. Can you email me in about five easy steps how to buy shares, sell them short and make a bit of moolah on the side. My pension, coupled with the present rate of inflation, is killing me.’

‘That makes two of us Matt. We will do this together. It is perfectly legal, by the way. However, we will not throw mud at anyone. I will call my grandson to help us out at my desktop. Much better way to spend our time than worrying about osteoporosis, dental work, prostate, health insurance etc, don’t you think?’

‘You said a mouthful there, Chandran.’

The two of them wended their weary way back home. I watched their receding behinds with unabashed admiration. Shakespeare said ‘sweet are the uses of adversity.’ These two gentlemen, in their sunset years, showed me it is never too late to learn, even from somebody else’s misfortunes.

Published by sureshsubrahmanyan

A long time advertising professional, now retired, and taken up writing as a hobby. Deeply interested in music of various genres, notably Carnatic and 60's and 70's pop/rock. An avid tennis and cricket fan. Voracious reader of British humour and satire. P.G. Wodehouse a perennial favourite.

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  1. A very timely post, written in your unique tongue-in-cheek style. We appear to be live in times which were perhaps best described by Charles Dickens thus:
    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
    For devout followers, these are conspiracies by anti-national forces being hatched on foreign soil; for cynics, these are manna from heaven. For lesser mortals – the denizens steeped in a sense of detachment, aversion and helplessness struggling to eke out a decent living- it is just a play of ‘maya’.


  2. Loved the piece, Suresh, as usual; it reminds me of the old gentlemen ( we are in our 70s, aren’t we?) sitting on the benches in the Landsdowne lakes. Yes, such news is here today and gone tomorrow.


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