The devil in the detail can be seriously funny
The cavalier and corona go hand in hand. Or that is what health organisations had us believe, and with good reasons. Let go of your guard only at the risk of getting cornered by the viral storm. Amid the paranoia of masks, physical distancing and sanitisers, it was the age-old ritual of handwashing that took the tussle between the perfunctory and thorough to a new high.
Social media was flooded with infographics on the foolproof way to wash hands. For proper cleaning, handwashers were advised to sing the happy birthday song twice. Trendier lyrics soon flooded the internet. Covid-19, it appeared, was here to teach us lessons on anti-anthropocentrism, universalism, transcendentalism and…detail.
I learnt about precious detail while editing articles for an academic journal. While originality, structure and scholarship played their part in every essay, the NOC was finally issued by the comma, semicolon, apostrophe and the other little devils of the gang. A small miscreant invariably showed up, or went missing, like a naughty elf, after you had scanned every sentence under the microscope. As with handwashing, so with editing – one is never really done.
Though there is no denying that success has an awful lot to do with thoroughness, in personal interactions, detail can sometimes entail serious comedy.
A few summers ago, our daughter and son were home for vacations from their boarding schools. In addition to friends, it was only the movies that allured the home-birds out of their pigeonholes. So, we planned an evening around a movie show that would begin at 6pm. Taking into account the travelling time, we decided to move out a little before. One shout out and we huddled into the car at the fixed time, except my son.
After a few minutes of hopeful patience, we called him to discover that he was still tying his ‘pagg’. Parents with young turbanators at home must have guessed that our movie plan was running into rough weather. The vibe in the car was fast turning restive. When was the last time you heard of a teenager missing out on a chance to irk a sibling? Not before long my daughter stretched out her arm to press(urise) the horn, and for how long. I prayed the neighbours took the honking for an electrical glitch. In a last-ditch effort, I was assigned the onerous task of running up to his room to escort him down.
I reached to find him caressing the last pleat of his turban, tucking it in with utmost care and pinching the folds around the forehead for linearity. “How is it, Ma?” he asked. “Perfect,” I was quick to reply. The hurry in my voice betrayed me. “You didn’t even look properly,” he said, drawing closer to the mirror as he arranged the folds with the ‘baaj’. Alas, they fell short of the high bespoke standards. And, before I could stop him, he lifted the well-engineered ensemble from his head. There we were, back to the ‘pooni’ – tying the turban length to the door handle, rolling in the side-folds, stretching it till feet slipped, folding it zig-zag, and further on.
Now, the episode is a comic page in the family chronicles; then, we sat in the car, clenching our teeth, cursing the devil in the detail. firstname.lastname@example.org
The writer teaches English at Government College for Girls, Chandigarh