WILLING SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF
WILLING SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF
As the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining. The grass almost always appears to be greener on the other side. Harshita Rao, the wife of Srinivas Rao, is hosting an author afternoon where she’ll share the podium with a best-selling writer whose books are being consumed like a bowl of freshly fried prawns. Gobbled up hot, fresh from the stove. Harshita’s two daughters, Revati and Laxmi, study at Manipal University. Born twins, both Srinivas and Harshita had realized early that it’d be improper to separate them.
The Raos were batchmates at the VNIT. The Vallabh National Institute of Technology shines like a precious diamond in the plethora of mines of engineering colleges in the country.
“Ritu, I will be back home a bit late today. There is a delegation of representatives coming from abroad and we are hosting a program to be followed by some snacks. But as the issue to be discussed, is grave and sensitive, the meeting can extend to long hours.”
Harshita lovingly addressed as ‘Ritu’ by Srinivas, nodded. She had expected something like this will soon arrive. Srinivas had been her first love and feelings were duly reciprocated. Her husband, jocularly called ‘Srini’ by his college pals, had been the Literary and Debating Secretary at the VNIT. After wearing glasses for close to two decades, Srinivas recently underwent early cataract surgery. The quintessential intellectual, Srini’s transition from the scholarly sort to the habit of being at the helm of management affairs, had been quite fluent and exemplary. But Ritu had been beside him throughout. Srinivas knew that he had only the Supreme Power to thank.
But today, Srini knows, is going to be different. In more ways than one. Today he has a very big surprise for his wife. They are about to celebrate their silver marriage anniversary. Srinivas knew that his wife – for the need of a better phrase – is a pearl in a mollusk. Hard to find. But when found, a mollusk pearl can dazzle the eyes of the onlooker. Ritu has that mesmerizing charm. Srini wants to gift her something which would bring back their early days of marriage and courtship.
A few weeks ago, a sudden call made on Srini’s mobile during his work hours, had made him rub his eyes vigorously in utter disbelief. Rohit Gupta, aka Machchar, was actually calling him! That too from the United States! At first, Srini had tried to divert the incoming call. An unknown call during work is always a hindrance.
But the “Hi! This is Machchar on this side, yaar!” had jolted him back. Was he dreaming? He had pinched his forearms. Again the slightly nasal voice said, “Yes. You Srini, you…”
Srinivas Rao embarked on a time machine and directed his memory more than two decades back. Machchar, Lambu aka Amit Sharma, had formed the Machchar Party, spearheaded by Rohit Gupta – Machchar – himself. Those were their hostel days of the VNIT. They were students in their Third Year. Their story of A (Really) Stolen Election, the way they had defeated the party of Rahul Singh – their opponent – by defacto campaign, had made waves on the campus. It was during that time that they had vowed to never part with each other. Srinivas and Harshita wedded soon afterward.
“Machchar! Really? Are you in my dreams or am I awake? If this is imagination, let the dream continue….”
Srinivas had choked out his words.
“Arre yaar!! I am here for a couple of weeks. If you can arrange for us to meet each other, I am looking forward to the moment. Yaar Srini, you always were the recluse and the studious sort amongst us. From when have you transformed yourself? Don’t tell me Ritu has done this paradigm shift.”
Rohit Gupta’s smile was perceptible on the other end of the mobile network also. Srini grinned. The same old Machchar! It’s been so long since they met each other!!
It was during their recess hours that Srini made a plan while sipping from his favorite broth of masala chai. It is going to be a great way to surprise Ritu.
“She’ll be overjoyed.”
In his exhilaration, Srini spilled the tea from his earthen kullad, sparking a volley of irritating remarks from his colleague Abbas.
Absolutely the Rohit Gupta of his Machchar Party with the campaign motto of The Buck Stops Here! He had settled himself in the U.S. after having scored high percentages in the final exams at the VNIT.
“Yes. This is going to be such a big surprise for Ritu. She will actually be at the end of her wits. Let her face-to-face author afternoons be shelved for a while. It is the ROHIT GUPTA who is coming down to meet us!”
Srini lit a cigarette. During their VNIT days, he was the only smoker among his friends. An incoming WhatsApp video call broke his reverie! It was Machchar calling him again!!
“Yaar… I couldn’t manage my greed to see you. So I took this chance to call you up. … Srini you look the same. The same look will accompany till the last of your days, I think! Not everyone is that lucky.”
Machchar was all smiley-faced on the other side.
But Srini was staring at the image on his phone. The one who was speaking was sitting strapped to a chair with the help of leather belts! His head was clean-shaven and there were hollows -deep and discernible – under his once-sparkling eyes. The burning cigarette fell from Srinivas’s fingers. It would have created a burnt hole in his expensive Allen Solly shirt if he hadn’t been careful in time.
“Machchar? What in God’s name has happened to you? A hip fracture is it? But your voice…. It’s the same!”
“Yes, Srini. I got your number from Lambu. He had come here a few months ago for some office work. Even he was amazed to see me in this condition. But what’s to be so amazed about?”
Tears streamed down Srinivas Rao’s cheeks, which had gone hot from anger and embarrassment. He had really believed Machchar when the latter said that he’ll be giving a surprise by coming to his place. What greeted his eyes was sordid and heart-wrenching. Srini put an end to the call by pushing the END CALL button.
Shanti! Shanti! Shanti!
Srini uttered his prayers. Incidentally, these three words are also the concluding words of T.S. Eliot’s magnum opus The Waste Land which is celebrating hundred years.