In recent months, I have been shadowing two of my senior-citizen, nodding acquaintances (they are no more than that), as they take the air of a pleasant morning at a nearby park in our leafy Bangalore suburb. Their conversations, while they go about their lung-filling, oxygenated perambulation, oftentimes can be quite riveting. When I am privileged to be a serendipitously unseen auditor to such a free and frank exchange of views, I have seen fit to report the same to my band of readers. Not all that big a band mind you, more of a sextet or an octet, but as the great man said, ‘’tis enough, ’twill serve.’
By sheer dint of observation, I have placed our two protagonists as being somewhere in the vicinity of 75 to 80 years of age. As is their usual routine, three gently ambled rounds of the periphery of the park, suitably accoutred with walking sticks, earns them a well-deserved rest on one of the comfortable park benches. It is here that they are able to give vent to their pent-up views on the state of the nation, nearly always based on news reports gleaned from their morning daily. While they are not averse to watching television, they appear to give more credence to the news purveyed through their broadsheet. You can put that down to decades of the reading habit ingrained in them. And a very good thing too.
The subject that appeared to be animatedly engaging them on this particular morning was somewhat unusual. As always, I took my place comfortably on a neighbouring bench, pretending to be thoroughly engrossed in P.G. Wodehouse’s classic, Psmith in the City. In the normal course of events, I do not need to pretend to be involved in that great work by the Master of humour, but on this occasion, I was all ears for the approaching feast of reason and flow of soul. I have been in this situation before and looked forward to the upcoming treat, one that provides occasional grist to my writing mill. As I was saying, the unusual topic of discussion this morning was ‘Same Sex Marriage.’ The Government of India and our Supreme Court have been giving this rather delicate matter the full weight of their combined intellect, resulting in some well-mannered, verbal fisticuffs as is now the norm between the judiciary and the executive. As the two septuagenarians were chewing the cud over the respective merits and demerits of the case, a final resolution of the bone of contention is still a work in progress, and it may take a while before the apex court delivers its verdict. We take up the conversation of my senior citizens in the park. Let us call them Bhatia and Rao, the better to monitor who is saying what.
Bhatia it was, who decided to take first strike, if one might be pardoned a cricketing metaphor. ‘I say Rao, what is all this hullabaloo about same sex marriage and related subjects that seems to be engaging the attention of our Supreme Court and the government?’
Rao appeared a bit preoccupied. ‘Look Bhatia, before I answer that question, do you see that chap sitting on the next bench? I think he is trying to spy on us. Better watch what you are saying.’
‘Spy on us?’ Bhatia was puzzled. He was vaguely aware of his friend’s creeping senility and paranoia, but this was a bit much. ‘Why should anyone spy on two old farts discussing matters of public interest? Your imagination is running away with you. Actually, if you look carefully through your powerful bifocals, you will observe that he is reading good old Wodehouse’s Psmith in the City. A young man with excellent taste, I’ll wager. And he is laughing, which is hardly surprising if you have read the Master.’
‘Sniggering, more like. He is holding the book upside down, or haven’t you noticed? What does that tell you?’ Rao was getting quite agitated.
‘It tells me, Rao, that he has read the book umpteen times and is challenging himself to read it upside down. Happens all the time with us literary folks. Bit like doing Sudoku in double quick time.’
Rao was not convinced. ‘Literary folks? Us? Pull the other one. I suggest we keep our voices down. You never know these days. He might be a plant from RAW. Anything is possible.’
‘If that is true, I have to say the chaps at RAW have a fine sense of humour. Listen, my friend, forget about your Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt or Guy Burgess. I think you’ve been reading too many John le Carré novels. Wodehouse is an infinitely better option. Let’s get back to our subject. What is your view on two individuals of the same gender taking wedding vows?’
Rao stole one more nervous glance at the Wodehouse fan and turned to Bhatia. ‘As I have understood the situation, our laws now recognise the legitimate existence of gay couples. Decriminalised, as the legal boffins have it. The government’s problem is with them gaily, excuse the unintended pun, tying the knot and pronouncing themselves man and wife, or man and man or wife and wife, or whatever. That is where the government wishes to draw the line. And, between you, me and the gatepost, I think they might have a point.’
Bhatia looked at his friend scornfully. ‘Come on Rao, which world are you living in? Grow up. I never thought I would say that to a 77-year-old man. However, there is one thing that startled me during these court proceedings. Out of nowhere, the judges and the lawyers started throwing the G-word around.’
Rao looked lost. ‘What G-word? You speak in riddles, Bhatia. Explain yourself.’
‘You have obviously not been reading the papers carefully. The word they kept repeating in court,’ and here Bhatia stage-whispered loudly enough for me, exaggeratedly buried in my Wodehouse, to hear the word ‘Genitals.’ At which point, I dropped the book and went into an uncontrollable spasm of laughter.
Rao was aghast. ‘I told you that fellow was spying on us. He is very clever, you know. Reading Wodehouse is an excellent cover. We don’t know if he is laughing at our conversation or at something hilarious Psmith said in the city.’
Bhatia was not having any. ‘Look Rao, forget about your spy. What is your take on our judicial beaks and civil servants throwing words like ‘genitals’ around like confetti?’
‘Why do you keep repeating that obnoxious word? And I don’t mean confetti? Walls have ears or didn’t you know?’
‘What walls?’ Bhatia riposted. ‘Which walls? We are sitting in a park, open to sky, birds chirping all around us, and people walking their dogs. Or just jogging. Unless you meant trees have ears.’
‘Don’t be so literal, Bhatia. It’s just that I do not want this spy sitting there with his, ha ha, upside-down Wodehouse, thinking the worst of two old men using words like that. He will think we are sick. He might even think we are that way inclined.’
‘No wonder that chap is laughing. Words like what? Genitals? The Times of India’s front page was littered with it this morning, and it was quoting the judges and the solicitors and other legal luminaries. What is your problem?’
Rao was still uneasy, if not actually squirming in his park bench. ‘Why couldn’t they just say PP?’
‘PP? Now I am really foxed. Please expand PP.’
Rao went close to his friend and hoarsely whispered, ‘Private parts.’
This time, I lost it. Psmith in the City went flying out of my feeble grasp, the cover went one way and the inside pages the other way, while I held my stomach for fear of collapsing with helpless mirth.
Rao could take this no longer. He strode aggressively up to his imagined Kim Philby, namely, moi.
‘Listen, young man. I don’t know what your name is, but I’d watch it, if I were you. Why can’t you go and sit somewhere else instead of eavesdropping on us and mockingly laughing at us. Where’s your manners? Left it at home?’
I must confess I was totally taken aback by this unexpected onslaught from Rao, but I had to politely defend myself.
‘My dear Sir, I am equally at a disadvantage in that I too do not know your name. Nevertheless, let me put your mind at rest. My laughter has nothing to do with whatever conversation you and your friend were having,’ I lied. ‘I am reading Wodehouse, and if you are familiar with his works, you will know that people who read him in public are often embarrassed by not being able to control their emotions. The man is a genius. You should read him sometime, Sir. He will instantly lift your mood from ‘dark and gloomy’ to ‘bright and sunny.’
Rao was not sure if he should be offended by this upstart’s gratuitous advice or take him at face value. He seemed to possess an honest face. He decided to climb down from his high horse.
‘All right, I am sorry if I was a bit peremptory. It’s just that one never knows these days who is who and what is what, if you get my drift. And you were holding it upside down. Anyhow, here is your book, or whatever is left of it.’
At this point, Rao’s friend Bhatia joined us. ‘Everything all right? We should be on our way home, Rao, before our wives start calling the police and the hospitals. Nice book, by the way, young man. Seen better days, I daresay. Seeing as you are a Plum bhakt, I would also recommend highly, Leave it to Psmith. Bye for now.’
As the two senior citizens strolled away, they passed by another couple laughing their heads off while scanning a newspaper. What is more, they distinctly heard one of them say, ‘Genitals, for God’s sake!’
‘I am never coming to this park again,’ exclaimed Rao. ‘Wild horses won’t drag me here, ever again.’ Bhatia merely sighed resignedly and added, ‘And stop reading newspapers.’
Excellent piece, Suresh!👍
Wonder that Bhatia and Rai did not start blaming movies and OTTs for popularizing all matters related to gaiety. Think of ‘Fire’, ‘Dostana’, ‘Majaa Ma’ and many other eminently forgettable serials. One eagerly looks forward to reading a sequel to this post soon!
Awesome ! Loved it !
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