Parvati Devi was miffed. She walked up to the balcony where Sharma Ji was sitting. Sitting as peaceful as a Tibetan monk, though on a chair; he was having his aromatic delicious morning cuppa of premium leaf tea. The teacup was held in his right hand and his left was busy holding the Times. He was working on the crosswords. Later he would have to pick up his pen and fill up the vacant squares.
The moment he spotted Parvati Devi, he asked. “Should it be, budge or nudge? ‘She gave him a…dash’!”
Parvati Devi was in no mood to indulge in such trivial pursuits. She responded in a tone that seemed to have just been taken out of the refrigerator, “Listen. Forget all these, let’s run away!”
“Oh, you don’t remember things. I explained to you yesterday that a runway is a paved long area where airplanes can land and airstrip is a landing field having at least one runway.”
“I am not discussing aeronautics.” Parvati Devi exclaimed in exasperation. “Here, put you hearing aid, you stone deaf!”
After ensuring that Sharma Ji was no longer audibly challenged, she repeated what initially appeared as a suggestion, “I am saying that let’s run away.”
If a bomb had exploded near him, Sharma ji would have been less shocked than he was now. “Run away! But… why? Who or what gave you this idea?” He asked in bewilderment.
At that precise moment, their grandson Prateek’s ears pricked up. The mention of the phrase “run away” thrice in quick succession raised a red flag. The information crossed his artificial-intelligence powered brain’s sensory threshold and escalated the information bytes through the neurons to bypass the pleasure centre, which was involved with the activity he indulged in currently, to the area responsible for critical thinking.
Prateek was lying under the bed of his grandparents, sharing the hiding place with the family dog, a Pug, whose full name was Hari Om Sharma, as given by Sharma Ji who wanted the member of his household to always remember God and to chant “Hari Om… Hari Om”, every once in a while. But others had different ideas and as a compromise, the Pug was nicknamed Harry, of the Prince Harry fame!
A few moments earlier, Harry and Prateek were hiding under the bed, wrapping themselves around the big chunk of chocolates that Prateek had discretely managed to relocate from his elder sister Prerna’s study table drawer; the lowest drawer on the left!
By this time, the chocolate had disappeared completely and Harry was busy licking Prateek’s fingers. They would have come out of the hiding, but the “let’s run away” made Prateek curious.
He was a smart kid who could smelt out opportunities. Had he been born a century earlier in a certain region of th world, he could have had a great career prospect with excellent growth opportunities in the SS or the Gestapo, .
Presently, Prateep had his ear cocked up for every bit of info that he could lay his ears on. On his part Harry was just content with snuggling up to his young owner and having his ears and chin scratched.
“Look, I can not take it any longer. Today I wanted to have koftas for lunch, but Poonam is making kathal ki sabji!” She said in a tone that would make the Israeli-Palestine conflict look like a friendly squabble.
To Sharma Ji both koftas and kathal, being cooked occasionally, were perfect substitutes. In other words, if one remembers the Economics lessons, he was indifferent to both. His indifference curve; as one might recall if one has not been indifferent to the teacher while concentrating on the girls in the class; was a straight line with a negative slope when you plot kofta on the X-axis and kathal on the Y-axis or vice versa.
Despite not being able to understand Parvati Devi’s monomania for kofta, experience had taught Sharma Ji to be tactful at such precarious junctures of life, and proceed further with caution, only after grasping the psychology of the individual.
He cleared his throat by gulping the phlegm that still had the flavor and aroma of his favorite tea leaves, and tried the line that according to him, best suited the occasion, Oh dear… I am so sorry to hear it…”
“Don’t just sit there and say sorry,” Parvati Devi looked at him with indignation that she reserved for dead cockroaches, “Do something about it!”
“Okay, but like what?” Sharma Ji was still looking for the divine light.
“You don’t pay attention. That’s what I have been saying – Let’s run away.”
“Okay, fine.” Sharma Ji lacked the luxury of the concept of “agreeing to disagree” since his childhood which he would always project proudly as ‘impoverished’. It helped camouflage many of his under-achievements.
There is an old Hindi saying that runs something like, when you put your head inside the mortar then why worry about the pestle or something like that. Why would anybody put his head in the mortar, had always foxed Sharma Ji, but nonetheless he was a firm believer of this wise saying.
In a voice that resembled that of the stray dog who would surrender after losing a street fight and pull his tail firmly inside his hind legs, Sharma Ji asked, ” So tell me the places that you want to go and the duration of each stay. I will have to book tickets and hotel accommodation.”
Poonam Sharma, the wife of Prashant Sharma, Sharma Ji’s only son, was busy cooking her vegetarian dish of kathal. For a vegetarian family, kathal is considered as mutton and relished with the same fervor as a meat-eater has for khassi meat, or the meat of a castrated goat.
Poonam has just learned a new recipe for cooking kathal, thanks to Thakurma, the septuagenarian neighborhood grandmother of the Chatterjee’s. Poonam wanted to try the Kosha Mangsho style of cooking mutton which is characterized by slow cooking of the well-marinated material without adding water, which would result in a spicy melt-in-the-mouth kind of final product.
She wanted to concentrate on her cooking and no wonder, shooed away her mother-in-law Parvati Devi with the usual tactful display of, “Amma Ji, why don’t you take some rest. I am here, Na!” Na being the typical suffix in Hindi when one makes a request.
The moment Prateek entered the kitchen with a smile that held many secrets, she was alarmed. She shrieked at him, “Go away from here. Don’t disturb me for one hour.”
An enterprising young boy, Prateek used the “Door opener” techniques employed by a few smart sly door-to-door salesmen. “Mom, I want to tell you a big secret!”
This time Pratima wasn’t buying it. “Last time you came with a big secret, I had a great fight with your Dad,” she reminded him, and chided him with, “That lady in the car turned out to be his boss who went with him to pick up her car from the service station.”
“Mom, listen. This is important,” Prateek was not the kind to be discouraged by a reluctant prospective consumer.
He eagerly blurted out, “You know Dada-Dadi are planning to run away from home!”
“Didi… run away! You know she is barely fifteen. How come you think so bad of your elder sister?”
“Oh Mom!” Prateek almost tore his hair in exasperation, “I am not talking about Prerna, and I don’t call her Didi…ever!”
Modulating his voice to a whisper, as he has seen in sinister movies on Netflix, he widened his eyes and said, “It is Dada Ji and Dadi Ji who are going to run away!”
His theatrical efforts didn’t seem to bring out the desired results, much like the latest Salman Khan movie. On the contrary, his mother flared up like a dormant volcano that has just become active.
Pratima Sharma screamed at the top of her voice, “If you don’t do the disappearing act from here within a second, I am going to take out my slippers!”
Prateek Sharma bolted out from the kitchen like greased lightning on steroids. Harry who was a mute spectator till now, scooted after him on all fours without a whimper.
Prateek’s next stop was his Dad. This time he ensured that there was no missile-like object within easy reach of his Dad. He did a recce of the location. His dad was lying on the bed talking to someone.
Prateek waited till he finished his call. This time he decided a change of strategy might work better. He remembered the tip he had picked up, ‘First tell the customer the gains in specific monetary terms.’
“Dad, do you remember that reclining easy chair you wanted to buy for Dadaji?” He put his best foot forward and dangled the bait. “Well, you can now save thirty thousand bucks!”
Prashant Sharma sat up with a jerk!
Prateek smiled to himself without displaying a trace of it on his face – a technique he had learned from the naughtiest boy in his class. The fish has swallowed the bait!
“How can I save the money? Is there a Grand Sale coming up on Amazon?” His dad asked, barely able to hide his excitement.
“Dad, I will tell you, if you promise me a new phone with 8GB RAM and 128 GB memory.”
“Okay, done. Now spill the beans.” His Dad agreed without any argument or delay, just like the Bills being passed in the Parliament these days.
“Well…Dad, Daadi, and Dadaji are going to run away. They will not be staying here with us anymore!”
A millisecond later, Prateek was rubbing his cheeks!
He could never imagine that his dad could be faster than Mike Tyson. The slap landed squarely on his left cheek in the blink of an eye.
Harry was terrified and decided to ensure his own safety first. Despite Pugs being a non-sporting dog, he ran to the kitchen as fast as his short legs could carry him.
Mrs. Pratima Sharma heard Prateek’s sobs and came to enquire. A prt of her wanted to verify and witness the fact. Prateek was one of those shameless kind of kids who would never cry even they are paid for it.
“Look, what he is saying,” Mr. Prashant explained before he would be asked to, while making a mismatch of the active verb, “He is saying that my parents plan to run away!”
“Mom, Dad… I swear that is what I heard them saying!” Prateek found himelf in a corner and he surmised that only his tears could rescue him.
To make everyone feel equally guilty, he added, “Dadi was upset that you would not let her make her koftas. They alo sid that we did not take them along on our trip to the Vaishno Devi and Laddakh last year.”
“Well, I was cooking kathal on a slow flame and it would have taken bout three hours to cook.” Prateek’s mom volunteered to explain.
“And we were concerned about their health in high altitude and cold weather.” Prateek’s Dad appended his justification.
“So what do we do now?” A forlorn Mr. Prashant lamented, “We can’t live without babu Ji and Amma Ji…”
“Oh! It is easy. Don’t worry.” A voice startled them.
Prerna had just returned from her tuition. She felt the morose and sullen atmosphere and had entered the bedroom. She heard the gloomy discussion. True to her name, she would strive to bring lively sparks to any situation.
“Dad, why not seek the help of Mama Ji. He is so good at problem-solving.” Prerna suggested, “Let’s give him a call.”
“Oh…No… Not again!” Her Dad groaned.
He remembered the last visit of his brother-in-law Sudhakar. He ran a private detective agency and most of his revenue came from shadowing warring couples or doing background checks of prospective grooms and brides. His business wasn’t doing well in the Internet age. With people using the Messengers and Social Media, electronic surveillance was the preferred tool of investigation and most clients preferred to hire hackers to get at the message boxe of their spouses.
At that time Prateek was coming home late every evening. Sudhakar offered to help. It turned out that Prateek had developed a liking for canines and was going to his friends’ houses who had dogs. Mr. Prashant spent about ten thousand to acquire Harry to ensure Prateek would stay home. Sudhakar then presented his bills of thirty thousand rupees after a ten percent discount for his professional services, with the words, “My father always said to keep personal relationship separate from business. This is just business, nothing personal!”
All of them sat huddled in a pensive mood, as the TV blared the news in the background.
“The PM has just announced a 21-day lockdown starting from midnight tonight, as a major step in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. All essential services ….”
All ran towards the TV and watched the news.
A few minutes later, Mr. Prashant ran upstairs, “Papa, Papa…. Please come down and see the news!”
“Let’s have dinner now.” Parvati Devi announced, “The kids need to wake up early for their schools.”
After a few moments, she continued, “Pratima Bahu, where’s your kathal ki sabzi? It was smelling so delicious!”
A proud as a peacock, Pratima placed the big kadahi on the dining table and opened the lid. A delectable aroma wafted into everyone’s nostrils.
“This time I have made it a la Kosha Mangsho,” Pratima explained, “It should tastes like mutton!”
“Wow! Lovely! It is so delicious!” Sharma Ji announced after having a mouthful of the soft succulent pieces, “Who needs to be a non-vegetarian to enjoy such delicacies!”
Bobbing her head, unable to speak with a mouthful, Parvati Devi nodded in agreement.
Everyone retired to bed. All was quiet in the Sharma household. Peace and bliss spread so thick in the atmosphere that it could be touched.
Parvati Devi was lying on the bed, waiting for Sharma Ji to start snoring. It used to sound like a small locomotive running on meter gauge with a rhythmic clickety-clack sound. Parvati Devi found the sound very peaceful and conducive to her slep.
Today there was no such sound emanating from Sharma Ji. She asked cautiously, “Are you asleep?”
“Not yet.” Sharma Ji replied.
“Hmmm… Good that this Lockdown thing happened.” Parvati Devi said, “I would have never left our home!” She added with a bit of remorse and longingness.
“Yes, you are right. Home is where the heart is!”
Sharma Ji turned over and soon began snoring blissfully.
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