A walk in the park
At 80, Jayantrao Chowdhary is spry. No hair on the head, just a monk’s fringe. So what. Dentures. So what. No paunch. Now that’s more to the point. Yoga from age 15. He can still do the padmaasan without effort. Ask Suman to do it. Tcha! Looks wiry but she’s all aches and pains. She bore him two daughters she will remind him. His contribution? Just seed and name. That’s one ace women have up their sleeves. But the fact remains. She can’t do the padmaasan. He can.
He tucks his shirt into his khaki shorts. Sujata the older girl says it makes him look like one of the RSS oldies who play tenniquoits in the park. So what. His eldest uncle was an RSS man and played a mean game of tenniquoits. Made the family proud.
He pulls on his ankle length socks, brown canvas shoes and he’s ready to go.
Suman is reading the papers. He has stopped reading them since the hydra-horned virus arrived amidst them. Just numbers. So many lakhs infected, so many thousands recovered, so many hundreds dead. Suman takes these numbers very seriously and gets palpitations.
She sees him pass behind the settee towards the front door.
‘Where are you going?’
‘My hostel room-mate would return late from his depravities and start talking loudly to me, waking me up. “Oh sorry. Were you asleep,” he would say.’
‘Point taken. I have asked you where you are going when I can see you’re going for a walk.’
Jayantrao opens the door.
Suman says, ‘One minute. I’d like to make a superfluous point. We are under lockdown. There’s a virus wandering outside. It’s blind. It can’t see who is fit or unfit. Today’s paper says...’
‘The reason why I haven’t read it is I don’t want to know.’
Jayantrao places one canvas-covered foot outside the door.
‘In that case, there is something else I’d like to say.’
‘Make it quick.’
‘If you bring the virus home I’m going to mother’s.’
‘Your mother died 12 years ago.’
‘They’ve self-isolated in two rooms. Akshay studies and sleeps on the terrace.’
‘I’ll isolate you on the terrace.’
‘Why? We have a balcony. Isolate me there.’
‘Which means you are determined to bring the virus home.’
‘No. It means you should stop reading the papers and let me do my thing.’
Jayantrao allows his second canvas-covered foot to join the first.
‘Yesterday the police caught Dr Sharangpani. He had to show them all sorts of cards and documents and certificates to prove he was a doctor on his way to the hospital. You have nothing to show.’
‘Except my acting talents. It’s not for nothing that I won all those prizes for the bank in the State Drama Competitions.’
‘So you’ll deliver a speech from Natasamrat and the police will let you go?’
‘You’ve never been on stage. You’ll never know the magic of adlibbing.’
Suman folds her newspaper neatly and gets up. She’s going to need a strong cup of tea to sustain her through what’s coming. Looking at the pot of boiling russet-brown brew, she frowns. He is stubborn. Always has been. Comes naturally when you’ve served at a nationalised bank counter for years before rising to managerial ranks. If you aren’t stubborn, you’ll look up from your work or tea or chat the minute some fool client wanders in and asks you a question. But she’s stubborn too. She had to be to ignore baleful looks from the family and refuse to ‘try’ for a son after two daughters.
She carries her cup of hot tea to the settee, picks up her phone and starts pressing the keys. The tea helps her not to lose her patience when she gets an engaged tone, not once or twice but roughly 12 times. 13th time lucky. She’s through.
‘Are your men prowling in our area?’
‘We live near the old Prabhadevi temple.’
‘Oh good. In that case can you get onto your walkie talkie or whatever you call it and tell those men what I’m going to tell you now? You know Babrekar Marg. B-A-B-R-E-K-A-R. You do. Lovely. Now if you take the lane that shoots off northward from Bhatia Building... everyone knows where that is. Ask Novelty Shoppee. They’ll tell you. So if you go down that
lane you’ll come to a small Udyan on the left. That’s where Vijay Club used to be. Your sister played kho-kho there? Fancy that! Yes. They used to win trophies right left and centre. Pity it’s dead. The club I mean. So yes. If you enter that park you’ll find an old man in khaki shorts with tucked-in shirt and brown canvas shoes walking around like he’s in a walking race. Oh yes. He’s well over 60. Of course that makes him a senior citizen. Yes of course that
means he is at great risk... yes yes... I know all the rules. He knows them too. Look the man’s my husband. Don’t make me say rude things about him. I’m calling to ask you to arrest him. No no. Not put him behind bars. Just put the fear of the police into him. He doesn’t believe the police actually catch people. He thinks they just sit in jeeps and drive around making announcements that nobody understands. Yes I guess that’s a complaint. Sure make a note of it. But coming back to my husband, make him believe you actually stop and question people who are breaking lockdown rules. Yes. He knows his way home. No he’s not touched in the head. He’s just over-smart. Wait. Don’t disconnect. Tell your men not to be taken in by anything he says. He won the best actor trophy for his bank at every State Drama Competition before he retired. Oh you also act? That’s your Marathi manus for you. Theatre-crazy. True. Where’s the time for you these days? You should do something about your duty hours. But now if you don’t get onto that walkie talkie... right. Thank you. Yes, we Marathi people must stick together. Jai Maharashtra.’
Suman sits back deeply satisfied. When Jayantrao struts in, chest out, she says, ‘You’re back early. Anything the matter?’
‘Nothing,’ he says frowning fiercely.
He looks at the empty teacup beside her. ‘A second cup? That’s not like you. Anything the matter?’
‘Nothing,’ she says and buries her nose in her newspaper.
Shanta Gokhale is a Marathi and English writer based in Mumbai whose works include a definitive historical text on Marathi theatre, and novels such as Tya Varshi, which she translated into English as Crowfall. She received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 2015.