Mohan had one thought troubling him throughout the day. Come to think of it, it was now nearly a month since the thought had seized his attention. It had had such an overriding effect on him that he had begun to lose interest in his morning cup of tea. Anyone who knows Mohan will tell you how much he depends on his morning tea to begin the day well.
Only last Shivratri he had woken up to the news from his wife that the milkman had not come and so he would have to fetch milk from the market for the tea. Now, going to the market was no big deal, but to go without the mandatory First Tea enraged Mohan so much that he marched off straight to the milkman's house and caught the unfortunate man by his collar and shook him so furiously that his teeth rattled, his four children let out a collective howl and his wife cried hysterically. From that day on, the milkman never failed on his morning visit to Mohan's house.
Mohan was not an illiterate. Although he was no PhD holder, he had done his schooling and was proficient enough to earn six thousand rupees a month. And his wife Sunita too had been to school. Thus she knew to read, write and count, not only in Hindi but also English. She was good-looking, charming and kept the house well. But there was a problem ' the problem that had reduced Mohan to a state where he no longer enjoyed his First Tea. Sunita never crossed her legs when she sat on a chair or a bed. In other words, she always sat with her legs separated from one another at a decent point. She did not put one leg over the other, ever. Not even once.
Now, Mohan had come to the conclusion following several months of keen observation and study that women who sat cross-legged were invariably endowed with the virtue of self-confidence. They were smart and knew how to carry themselves even in the strangest situations. At the very least, they presented themselves well. So fascinated was he by his assignment that he had begun maintaining a notebook on his observations. He had for the purpose bought from the Vikas Book Mart a glossy hard-cover, 200-page notebook. Already, in the course of a few weeks, several pages were full of notes, in blue, black and red. Each page was dedicated to one subject. A page would read something like this:
Name of subject: Unknown.
Site of observation: Vrindavan Restaurant.
Time: 6 pm
Dress: Wearing dark green saree with a white blouse.
Social status: Middle class with a tendency to cut costs. Wears cheap plastic sandals. Not impressive at all.
Sitting Posture: On finding a place to sit, swings one leg on top of the other. Immediately, a transformation occurs. She appears smart and confident. Her ankles sway gently in the air and the cheap plastic sandal takes the appearance of an expensive model of footwear. The waiter hovers deferentially' Legs unlocked twenty minutes later, she seems ordinary. The plastic sandal looks horrible.
Mohan had studied hundreds of subjects before beginning to maintain a record. One other instance needs to be cited because it not only came in the early days of his obsession with cross-legged women but also made him decide to keep a record. He had gone to visit his neighborhood dentist to tackle a toothache. While waiting his turn in the dispensary, he looked around and his gaze stayed locked on a seemingly poor woman who wore a dirty salwar kurta and bathroom slippers. She was sitting on a long bench in the company of other patients. Cross-legged. Poor, even illiterate. Perhaps a house-maid. Mohan was struck by her poise and grace. There were other women on the bench, better looking and looking better of, but none could match her presence. Just the act of being seated cross-legged on the bench made her stand out.
As his study progressed Mohan discovered other qualities in women who sat cross-legged. They had a trace of delicate haughtiness that was likeable. Like a mild yet effective perfume, they filled the room they were in with their very presence, without exerting to do so. One does not have to add the obvious: that sitting cross-legged had done wonders for their posture: they sat erect, because there was no way one could sit cross-legged and sag.
It was not as if Sunita was unaware of her husband's burning desire. Mohan had taken her to the sites of his study and other places for a live demonstration of how women sat cross-legged and how charming they appeared in that position. Especially those with sarees. He told her to notice the grace with which they pinched a piece of the saree at the knees and lifted it just that small bit, when crossing their legs. That one act alone, in Mohan's view, was proof enough of a cultured upbringing.
Sunita had her doubts regarding the soundness of Mohan's theory on cross-legged women. But she could not bring herself to condemn it openly for two reasons. One, it would mean challenging her husband, which she had never done. Secondly, it would be an admission of her own failure (to sit cross-legged on a sofa, chair or bed). She was terribly worried by her husband's obsession. Of late he had even begun to utilize his latent talent in art, by creating sketches of women in different dresses, sitting with one leg slung over the other. He would then spend hours analyzing them and adding short comments below each of the photographs. There was one sketch that showed a young woman in a flowing skirt and a loose shirt, sitting cross-legged on a stool placed in the center of a room. Her tiny and naked ankles peeped just a little from under the edge of the skirt. Below it was noted ' Mohan insisted that his writings be called `notes' or `observations' because they were of a scientific nature ' in red ink: `This young woman looks more elegant than she actually is, simply because she sits cross-legged. Notice the upright stance, the gentle twist of the head and the slant of the chin. All in all, it is the profile of a woman of substance.'
Though Sunita did not wish to antagonize her husband, she could not just keep silent about the whole affair. One day, as usual, Mohan was engrossed in his study, with the notebook spread open in front. As he muttered his deepest admiration for one of his recent subjects, whom he had sketched only a few days ago, wearing skin-tight jeans and a T-shirt whose neckline dipped down generously, Sunita remarked: ``What ji, don't tell me your focus of study has shifted from the toe to the top!' It was not a serious comment, and from the twinkle in her eyes, it was clearly meant to be taken lightly. But our Mohanji just could not appreciate the joke. He shouted, ``Stupid woman. First thing, she does not know what grace and poise is. Cannot sit with legs crossed. But she is first in making fun of others. It is my fate'
The flow was cut by Sunita, who had turned livid. ``Not your fate. It is my ill fate that I got tied to a man like you. Shame, shame. Having a wife at home, young and healthy, yet look how he runs after others.'
``Have I run after others, have I?' Mohan shouted, sweeping aside the open notebook. The page with the woman in appealing T-shirt fluttered helplessly before it gave way to another blank one. ``All I have done is to educate you on looking grand when seated.'
``What is it if not running, when you rush to a restaurant or a garden on seeing a woman seated cross-legged? Only God knows what you see in cross-legged women that you don't see in properly sitting ones.'
``Ah!' There it is. You don't see what I do because you do not have the capacity to do so.' The profundity of the statement pleased him and he smiled in a superior fashion.
``Yes, yes. I do not see many things. And thank God for that. But I see very clearly the direction you are going. Beware'
Sunita would have surely delivered some ominous threat but just then Mohan got up and walked out of the house. In his hand was his precious notebook. That night, the two ate nothing because nothing had been cooked.
The notebook continued to get filled and soon enough, all its pages were packed with sketches and notes. Vikas Book Mart got an order for another glossy covered notebook from Mohan. A few pages had been consumed when he received a telegram saying that his uncle from the US was coming to visit him in a week's time, with his wife and two children. The week went by faster than usual and the foursome from the US arrived. Sunita had, in the run-up to the event, declared a ceasefire that had had been grateful accepted by her husband.
Dinner over, the visiting relatives relaxed on the sofa, chatting idly with Mohan. Sunita emerged from the kitchen, tea in hand. She had a glow on her face and looked with special meaning at Mohan. She was wearing a flowing elegant skirt and a cream blouse. After handing the cups to all, she pulled forward one of the dining chairs and sat on it. Slowly, just as all heads turned to her, she crossed her legs.
For a moment, she balanced precariously, then tilted back, and with the chair, toppled over. Sprawled on the ground, she found uncle, aunty and children bending over in concern. Mohan, his mouth wide open, failed to make a noting in his book of the latest results of a woman sitting cross-legged on a chair.