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My Wife, Vyasdeva and Other Creatures
|by Dipankar Dasgupta|
Date and Place: Sometime, somewhere
As far as I could make out, your Ma wrote two letters last night. The event was innocuous enough and you are surely wondering what on earth my reason could be for assigning it headline status. But no my son, I haven't gone ga-ga. So, let me proceed directly to the point, instead of beating around a darned bush.
She wrote the two letters simultaneously, or so at least it appeared to me.
I have seen such feats being performed in circuses of course, which employ guys whose solitary interest in life consists of throwing hundreds of coloured balls into mid air with both hands at the same time that they keep catching them back during their downward descent. With the same two hands. Their own two hands mind you, not hands belonging to others.
It confuses you to no end. I can never be sure if the hands under discussion are engaged in catching or pitching. Normal people would not succeed in performing both acts at the same time to the best of my understanding. These circus guys are not trustworthy people, to say the least, because they remind you in turn of another class of individuals. This latter group invites you to wedding feasts and employs armies of goons to allure you to have one more cutlet, only to move on swiftly with the same request to the guest sitting right next to you, before, that is, you have found the time to make up your mind. You end up your day wavering between hope and despair, feeling as mortified as a Hamlet attacked by "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune", unable to figure out if they wanted you to eat the offered piece of grub or give back to them the one you had miraculously snatched away from their iron grip when proceedings began.
Forgive me this detour, son. My mind wanders sometimes, as "lonely as a cloud", like Wordsworth used to before he bumped into his oft advertised "host of golden daffodils" and withdrew from public view to spend his remaining days "in pensive mood" on a well-appointed "couch".
Let's go back therefore to your Ma's mysterious conduct. Any human being, possessing even a modicum of scientific interest, would be attracted by an event as miraculous as the one I described when I started off. You can’t blame me, in other words, that I felt exercised by the goings on and sneaked up behind her, quite soundlessly, to peep into the works. Given her remarkable extra sensory perception however, she caught me red handed.
She turned around sharply and asked suspiciously, “What are you up to?” To save my skin, I observed that I was merely engaged in adjusting the shawl on her back. While offering this explanation though, I withdrew carefully from her vicinity, guarding my retreat with the additional information that, unknown to her, the shawl had slipped down her back.
“What?” she snapped back even more menacingly. “Since when have you turned so considerate about shawls slipping down my back? Don’t lie. You were trying to read my letters. Don’t you underestimate my intelligence! Why don’t you age a little more gracefully? You will be setting horrible examples for your grandchildren when they start arriving. Leave me in peace, will you?” She wasn’t exactly happy you might say. The tone of her voice made it clear that the "winter of our discontent" had reached freezing temperature.
I attempted to build up a somewhat weak argument in my favour nevertheless and stammered out, “Well you see, I was taken somewhat aback by noticing you -- trying to -- you know -- write two letters … Normally, I don’t think people do this …”
She stared at me with incredulity. “What’s so strange about writing two letters? You write eighty six emails every day yourself. And that too to females you are flirting with. You should be ashamed of yourself. They are young enough to be your great-granddaughters. Adjusting the shawl indeed. My foot! ”
I knew it was not safe to proceed further. The more I attempted to explain, the worse my crime would appear in her eyes. It would only increase her suspicion that I was not just reading her letters, but doing so with supreme concentration. For a while, she didn't pay any further attention to me and resumed the activity she appeared to be enjoying as profusely as nightingales seem to relish their singing. I managed meanwhile to vanish into a relatively secluded corner of the room, slump down on a couch and resign myself to staring at the ceiling. My couch, mind you, not Wordsworth's, in case you are entertaining thoughts to the contrary.
I admit of course that I did keep sneaking a look every now and then in her direction, forgetting in my senility that curiosity has been recognized since the very dawn of civilization as the most potent of cat killers. And in case you didn't know, if there is one thing women cannot tolerate more than being interrogated about their personal business, it is the sight of men who gape at them stupidly with interrogative propensities written plainly on their faces, but lacking at the same time the courage to make themselves audible.
“Stop staring at me and leave me alone will you,” she said with a final warning and went back to the two aerogrammes she had before her. She resumed writing on them. It appeared as though she was comparing notes, assimilating the contents of one and then going back to filling in the gaps in the other and vice versa. Unless you can write with both hands, this is the nearest you can come to writing the letters simultaneously, right?
My mind was lost in contemplation you might say till I realized what she was probably upto. She was actually writing two letters simultaneously to two of her friends simply to make sure that she didn’t end up writing the same letter to both. Sounds contradictory, doesn't it? Let me explain further. The gossips she wished to report to her friends, I felt sure, were the same, she being too lazy to find varieties of topics for her correspondents' entertainment. So, the little woman was just trying to keep the styles in the two letters distinct, using active voice in one and passive voice in the other, present continuous in one and past perfect in the other and so on and so forth. I was pretty confident about the conclusion I had arrived at.
Yet, despite the satisfactory solution I had found to the problem that had been holding me in a state of suspended animation, I sank into a deeper reverie, wondering how it was that I had never realized in the past that I was married to a literary genius. And genius indeed, for there was only one other case that I could recall where something similar is said to have happened. Of course, I did not actually witness the incident. I mean it was not as though I had observed the happenings the way I did last night, but Hindus have been insisting on this from time immemorial and I have no reason to question the wisdom of my forefathers.
It appears that Vyasdeva, the same guy who wrote the Mahabharata you know, a story involving a number of people he had himself fathered, felt acutely productive when he decided to write his epic. He vowed therefore, somewhat in the spirit of your mother, to compose several chapters of the epic simultaneously! However, being more prolific than her, V buddy actually wanted to write about ten chapters at a time, compared to the two silly letters your poor mom undertook to compose simultaneously. Besides, the brilliant V also knew that his chapters wouldn't resemble your mother's letters, which were, mutatis mutandis, xeroxed copies of each other.
You can’t blame him of course. Given the size of the enterprise he had undertaken, viz. producing grandchildren, making them grow up and fight battles and then recording the happenings in a form that permitted TV serialization for several years in a row, he definitely needed to compose as many chapters as he could in one go to keep generations of yet to be born TV producers happy. He had the story worked out in detail in his mind of course, but what stood in the way was that, like you and me and most of the people we know, he possessed two hands in all. And, as far as my information goes, it was only one of these that he could actually write with. He decided therefore to employ a stenographer of sorts to dictate to, ten chapters at a time. The task was super-human, needless to say, and no ordinary stenographer would do. Besides, advertisements and interviews involved a great deal of trouble in that age, there being no newspapers, no space in the tapovanas to seat the candidates. And V. Deva was in any case too poor to pay for TA/DA etc.
You must be doubtlessly aware, however, that important members of the human race had direct access to the Gods during those days. Indeed, the Gods were at times embarrassingly obsequious in their dealings with these men, the so called powerful munis and rishis. Maharshi V belonged to this category according to most of the learned sources I was able to consult. So, he made a long distance collect-call to Lord Ganesha. It had to be a collect call you see, because Vyas-ji didn't believe in paying his phone bills. And the reason why V chose G to pay the bill was that the latter was generally acknowledged to be more educated than his peers in the land of the Gods, Paradise presumably. He was expected to commit fewer spelling mistakes than most other Gods, except Devi Saraswati of course. But Vyas, however insensitive he might have been, did not have the heart to employ her as his steno. Besides, even if he had, she would have only two hands to write with, while Ganesha had a special advantage in being endowed with four, with all of which he felt equally at ease as far as writing went.
The story goes that G flew in, bearing four pens in four hands, brimming with confidence in his ability to finish the task at supersonic speed. But he made Vyasdeva sign a contract before he began. Vyas would need to dictate continuously. Or, to put it more clearly, G insisted that the deal was off if his pens stopped writing even for a micro-millisecond on account of a slowdown in Vyas’ prolific flow of ideas. Indeed, those in the know of things inform me that he had even shown some vanity by trying to suppress a disparaging smile. Vyas did not miss this, though I have no idea what such a suppressed smile looks like on an elephantine face, and insisted in turn that G should not write down a single shloka without understanding its significance.
Fair enough I suppose. But as we noted, these sages in human shape were pretty powerful guys and Maharshi V, to teach Lord G a lesson, immediately shifted gear to make his mind travel at the speed of light. This inconvenienced G in no small way. For, although highly accomplished, he was ignorant of the fact that light was not just supersonic, it travelled a lot more quickly than sound. It did so even during Satya Yuga. (I bet neither V nor G had heard of neutrinos, or else further complications could arise.) Well G had to request his employer to slow down somewhat, a humiliation from which he never quite recovered. Come to think of it, there is a bit of an error in this, because V, even if he thought at lightning speed, could not possibly have made himself audible to Ganesha at a speed exceeding that of sound. So, why was G embarrassed, if his stenographic skills had a supersonic rating?
It is quite possible that G had overestimated himself. And those who know their scriptures well seem to believe that a distinct patch of yellow showed on his dhoti where it covered his not too inconspicuous rear. Much the same thing happened to Pankaj Roy, the cricketer I mean, way back in 1959, when he faced Wesley Hall of West Indies in Eden Gardens.
I wonder though why the Lord did not venture to use, along with the four hands, his elephant's trunk as well as his two legs to finish the monumental task. Perhaps that could have done more justice to his self-respect. But who knows, may be Vyas would feel insulted by the act. And in that case, he would surely shoot an avishaapa at Ganesha and turn him, for all I know, into a full-fledged elephant roaming the Kaziranga National Park. Unlike the MP’s and MLA’s, who are the closest approximations of Gods these days, the ones who controlled human destiny in the distant past had to exercise utmost caution in their dealings with some of the same humans. So, Ganesha, in spite of all his bulk, was forced to do a balancing act on the tight rope.
If Ganesha appeased V. Deva by crawling at his dictate, I too had to do something similar to keep your dear mother in good humour. She gave me one of the two letters this morning and asked me to run to the post office and send it off. As soon as I came back home however, tongue hanging loose between my teeth, tail drooping, she gave me the other letter and asked me to run again.
I doubt that I shall ever find out the epic contents of her letters. But I do think I know why she made me run. First, not being scientifically oriented, she believes that a letter reaches its destination more quickly if one runs to the post box. However, being as scared of her temper as Ganesha was of Vyas’, I did follow her order to the last letter.
I also have a vague notion now why the letters were not posted simultaneously, even though they were written together. Your Ma has become rather friendly with the lady next door. The latter is a dog lover and gives her pets morning exercises in the public park everyday. Your mother, I think, was merely trying out a variation on that theme by imagining that she too had a pet in the house.
Tons of love.
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