A lot of premium is placed on conversations and communicating these days. Couples and friends are especially urged to talk more and be in touch with each other’s soul-vibes. People are trying and failing, writing eloquently about their failures, resorting to therapy, and falling in love with their therapists.
My father’s reaction to our current preoccupation would perhaps, I imagine, approximate Gorbachev’s morning face. But he is not terribly bad. On a good day he likes to describe people as ‘goats’ or ‘bastards.’ On a bad day, he shuts himself up and symbolically registers his protest against the existence of humankind by boycotting his wife and the domestics.
He loves to call me once a month. He begins with ‘do you know about xyz?’ I say ‘yes, I do.’ He hangs up. There is never a hello or bye.
The party animal in him occasionally invites people over. He gets his crystals out. Lovingly and laboriously, he transfers the alcohol from bottles into decanters, and into glasses. Then after ten minutes of handing everybody a drink, he lets them know that they are talking too loudly and it is indeed ‘all too much.’Conversations have a specified bandwidth. On one end is the health of the nation, and on the other end are, PhDs, MBAs, and Sigmund Freud. Precisely speaking, it is not much of a bandwidth. Those are the only two options.
He loves politics and can be on the right side of the line, all puns intended. His favourite sister and him match each other step by step.Things get especially exciting when the siblings are together. Someone ventured to talk about a Mr Mukherjee who had suffered a heart attack. My dad and his sister squinted. The aunt asked earnestly, ‘do we know this Mr Mukherjee?’ The reply was negative. My dad philosophically chipped in, ‘Then why are we talking about someone we don’t know?’ A long silence ensued.
If you are middle aged and want to talk about that guy who fell in love with that girl and now have eloped, you are crying to the wrong priest. Things like that will make the poor man squirm in his chair. The earth was not made for boy girl love. Or boy boy love. Wait, what is love? You are harassing him with the cudgel of absurdity.
To this date I hear my dad urging my mum to use what he calls the ‘short cut’ in a conversation. For instance, if you are asked how did you hurt your foot, and you answer, ‘oh, I was walking back home from the market and I didn’t see this part of the footpath jutting out and so I tripped. The fall was so bad that – My foot was bleeding and I somehow- He said it was a sprain, so – I am trying not to exert it. But you know how it is etc.’ You’ve ruined his day. Right answer: ‘I fell down.’ I think I once saw him get up and leave in the middle of dinner and somebody’s sentence because he had heard whatever it was he wanted.
There was also that time when the ageing grump spent an entire winter night looking after a beggar on the street downstairs. Supplied him with hot tea all night. Is too much cha good for the stomach?