Cyrus could not be placated. “I want to remember Nov 14th. It is the day I won my first fancy dress competition, dressed as Homi Bhabha.”
An unusual notice arrived the other day. It was signed by Mr. Happymon Esthapan Chacko in the capacity of the General Secretary of The Happyman’s Cooperative Housing Society Blocks A and B. The notice read, “Should we celebrate November 14th this year? We have budgetary constraints. Please give your views in writing. I will then take a decision. Signed H E Chacko”.
A knock on the door revealed the presence of Sarla Bhen. She maintained good relations with all her neighbors by soliciting milk, sugar, tea, biscuits and assorted savories for guests that would regularly turn up without announcing. After securing her pack of Burberry Full Cream Chocolate Cookies in my kitchen, she reminded me of the significance of the notice. “Nov 14 is Pandit Nehru’s birthday. Don’t you remember? It is celebrated as Children’s Day. Surely you remember dressing up as Chacha Nehru as a kid?”
I had no such memory. Fancy dress competitions were not my thing and I would not be seen dead with a history book!
What I did remember was somebody who ruled us forever disguised as a Hindu while privately leading a racy life that led to an AIDS related death. I mentioned this to Sarla Bhen. Her eyes lit up. “You heard that too? Strange. You think you know somebody all your life only to discover what you hardly knew!”
The doorbell rang. And a motley group walked in. Mrs. Braganza, who besides being a serial borrower of assorted culinary items, was also the “event organizer” for the society dos; Mr. Cyrus Behramji Puranafurniturewala, my immediate neighbor who had a litany of quibbles with the General Secretary; Mr. Fasel Atke Khan, a strapping young man, who was alleged by Cyrus to have romanced every lonely woman in the society.
Cyrus was quick off the mark, “Why is there a budgetary constraint? Are we not paying our maintenance on time? Have we not contributed handsomely to the Sinking Fund? And to the Meeting Any Emergency Fund? And to the Covid Spot Relief Fund? I demand an explanation. Does Mr. Chacko have the right to divert funds for any unexplained purposes? And not be accountable? Is he our Beloved Esteemed Leader or what?”
Mrs. Braganza, displaying her vast experience of dealing with errant kids, said soothingly, “Cyrus baba, let us not raise difficult questions. Or else we will get Jumla type answers. Which will only raise your blood pressure further. Mr. Chacko wants to know if we should celebrate Mr. Nehru’s birthday or not. I received a video recently where a young lady who was recently awarded the Padmashri was alleging that India got freedom only in 2014. Indeed, there would be no reason then, to celebrate anything or anybody who reminded us of a previous era. We may soon need degrees in Entire Political Science to know who we are!”
Cyrus could not be placated. “I want to remember Nov 14th. It is the day I won my first fancy dress competition, dressed as Homi Bhabha. I also received a cash gift each year on this day from my father, the late Mr. Behramji Navrozeji Puranafurniturewala, if he believed I had been a good boy. I was one for many years, till one day when he saw the bent fender on his Impala and suspected me of driving it on the sly. I swore on J R D Tata that I did not.”
Sarla Bhen, who had been sharing my Burberry Full Cream Chocolate Cookies with Mrs. Braganza, took the bull by the head, “But what if Mr. Nehru was not a good man? And our country had been suffering since Independence and his family has exploited us all this while, should we still celebrate his birthday?”
We suddenly heard a soft reflective voice speak. It was Fasel Atke Khan. “Do you know of one Indian man who defined Mr. Cool through the ages? One who took India to the world and brought the world to India? Whose very name defined the identity of India. Who was the apostle of hope even when there was abject poverty and illiteracy all around? Who nurtured dissenting thought as that was the very essence of a civilized society? Who was the epitome of reason and scientific temper? Who encouraged the pursuit of modern science-based education as a “means to solve the problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and illiteracy, of superstition and deadening custom and tradition, of vast resources running to waste, of a rich country inhabited by starving people”? Whose vision of India was one that ran on equity & equality, fraternity and liberty and justice for all?
Helping himself to a Burberry cookie, he quietly left.
In the pregnant silence that followed, one could see Sarla Bhen and Mrs. Braganza looking adoringly at where he had stood. Cyrus whispered, “He must be from JNU!”
Chandru Chawla is a freelance writer and satirist, who writes at night to keep his insanity intact.
Illustrated by Derek Monteiro, a Goan artist, poet and composer, who dabbles in jazz to annoy and disperse pesky pigeons on his windowsill.
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