Saturday, November 14, 2009

It all happened over a meal

"Ray gushti-r chhele ekta hotel-e kaj korbe?yaarki hochchhe?"....("You mean to say that the Ray's son will serve at a hotel? is this some kind of a joke?"): the breakfast table exploded.


This is one of the fortnightly things that occur at the breakfast table, or at the dinner or the lunch table...or over any meal that the family might decide to indulge in. Usually meals bring the family together...here, meals bring the family together to create a tension that lasts only as long as the meal does itself. And the tension created has a multidimensional nature: I shall be sharing just a few of those.

The head of the family (HOF)comes down, announcing his arrival thus implying that anyone who came earlier were rushing unnecessarily and those who came later were grossly impertinent. This, undoubtedly, brings a smothered smile to everyone's lips, except the grandmother who makes every effort to explain why the HOF is wrong and everyone else is alright, and the son who is unaccountably but evidently irked by these outcries and decides to emerge at the foot of the stairs with a confused as well as angry countenance. The rest of the meal is spent in listening to the HOF about the principles of discipline and rigorous training right from the cradle that has resulted in his peculiar punctuality about meals.

Next, of course, is the turn of the SON to create tension. After spending an evening of splendid isoation in his room with bursts of "music" escaping the thin walls and the door, he chooses not to turn up for dinner altogether and curtly informs his mother and sister of his intentions, who, after mild protests, give up. But WHO WOULD BELL THE CAT? After a lot of trembling hands and cold feet, the mother meekly murmurs something to the HOF.....and then begins the storm. Of course there is a lull before that...AND after a torrent of screams ands shrieks, the son emerges at the foot of the stairs, rushes to the table with all the dignity that he can manage, stuffs a mouthful or two while facing away from his family for torturing him thus and rushes up again to slam the door shut.

Then comes the turn of three people together: the HOF, the son and the grandmother. As the HOF proceeds with his lecture about his infallible opinion on something for a painfully long period of almost 10 to 15 minutes without taking a breath lest someone else should take over, the son bursts out all of a sudden and asks him to shut up and lets out the pent up frustration in a torrent of English. Now it is time for the grandmother to get angry at this turning of the table, at this "impudence" of the "young" to speak to his own father after such a fashion, and to utter, through her degenerating and almost non-existent denture, a 'dignified' discourse about the cheeky youth and asserts the knowledge of English doesn't necessarily imply a higher and better moral stance in life......Exasperated, the mother eats on and shuts her eyes to take deep breaths and the sister tries to create peace by asking everyone to shut up and eat in peace and hurry up since the maid is waiting to clear the plates away.

Finally it is time for the mother and the HOF. The mother discusses her office with the family while the HOF is enjoying a particularly delectable dish, when suddenly the HOF wakes up to the conversation and loudly expresses his strong disapproval of the last comment that was made at the table despite his dearth of knowledge about the context in which it was uttered. Not to be subdued, the mother bravely attempts to explain the context to her husband to bring him round to her point of view, but all in vain...the HOF already knows that his disapproval might have been a little displaced and so while seemingly engrossed in trying to listen to his wife, he is actually thinkning up arguments to support his disapproval, and this is evident in his next comment. Quickly sensing the imminent danger the mother shifts to a harmless discussion of class differences in society, but the HOF is now wide awake to the fact the earlier discussion has been averted on purpose and he decided to make his mark in this conversation. He ends on a declaration of his non-communist attitude and his great pride and dignity in his BONGSHOMARJADA(family- respectability). Shift of topic again: now to the career options available to the youth today. As Fate would have it, the mother let slip her regret at not having been allowed to let her son study hotel management which would have probably been his best career option. But here the HOF really receives a shock...HIS son will serve people, HIS son will not be in a line that values academic credentials over others, HIS son will learn how to live with everyone in the society without much sensitivity to the class-distinctions of his customers and clients.....how outrageous?!?!?!!!#$@&*@! And then comes pouring a discourse on sensitivity to BONGSHOMARJADA and respectabilty in a fiery torrent after which the mother, finally quietened, is left to hum a tune strangely reminiscent of the bugle!

But the point to be noticed is that it all happened over a meal....after the meal, as the maid clears up remnants of the war, and the warriors all get back to their daily humdrum lives with memoirs of the war, each still believing strongly in his or her own triumph and in the incapability of the other lesser mortals in the family to see his or her point. Ordinarily, meals follow the signing of a peace treaty: here the meal necessitates a war that ends without a peace treaty. Every meal brings the tidings of a new war....a war that ends without an agreement to ensure more meals and more wars thereafter.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Sisypherian task after all...

But attempting to roll a stone up a slope.

Thrown back to the margin whence I came,

Just as I was approaching the centre of the universe.

Like a spider climbing up the wall

Again and again in an endless repetition,

Must I try to approach the centre,

To open the door,

To arrive at the intimacy

That wears the mask of darkness

the guise of nothingness,

the garb of hostile indifference.