Shanu was sitting at home reading the daily newspaper when he heard a loud noise that sounded like a squawking peacock. Immediately he rushed outside and to his everlasting surprise he found his wife Mimi sitting in the street with her arms covering her face. He rushed forward and very solicitously murmured, “dearest Mimi, what is wrong? Please say something.”
No sooner were those words uttered, Mimi sprang up like a cat on a hot tin roof and started screaming at him. Shanu was quite perplexed by now and as her tirade continued, he became increasingly uncomfortable. “Mimi, people are looking at us. Why are you doing this? Are you quite done? Let us go inside the house.”
Nisam their friendly neighborhood voyeur was staring intently at this unfolding tabloid headline. Nisam could sense a good story from miles away and this one was developing right under his proboscis. He could not believe his good fortune as he sat down on the pavement in front of his house determined to not miss a single moment.
Mimi gathered her courage and draped it around herself along with her silk sari and told Shanu in an imperious voice, “I will come inside if you hug me, kiss me and beg me to come!”
Shanu said “are you out of your mind? I am not doing any of those things with the whole world watching us. Please come inside and I will do whatever you want.”
By now it must have been clear that Shanu was quite bashful and any public display of adoration was quite repulsive to him. In fact he had proudly stated on more than one occasion to anyone who cared to listen that he abhorred couples who held hands in public. Of course Shanu had not realized that holding hands was just the tip of the iceberg as modern couples scarcely seemed to stop there. Why just last week there had been a lurid photograph of two youngsters making love on the park bench in broad daylight. When Mimi excitedly had thrust the article under his nose, Shanu had slapped it away while extolling the virtues of moderation in public life.
However that could not have been such a dire insult could it? It did nothing to quench our curiosity of why Mimi was planted in the middle of the street and making herself news worthy. What could have gotten her so riled up?
Shanu was quite convinced that abstention in public translated into red hot passion in private. Mimi of course had a vastly different opinion and were she to expound on the said topic then Shanu would have blushed like a red rose on carnation day.
But today Mimi was accompanied by a steely glint in her eye. Shanu had seen this before and it spelt trouble for him and everyone else. He hurriedly grabbed her by the shoulder and tried to drag her inside. But she was having none of it for she stood her ground with that mutinous lip thrusting downwards glaring at him. Clearly there was going to be no quarter given and it had become a battle of wills.
Mimi’s new found courage refused to back down and she did not budge from the road. A cow on its afternoon jaunt ambled across and curiously sniffed at her wondering that she was some kind of grass. A couple of stray mutts wagged their tails hopeful that she would sprout some biscuits. A crow challenged her by flying dangerously close but one look from Mimi sent it skittering away. Shanu repeated begging combined with constant wringing of his hands was rewarded with a stony glare. By now the setting sun had begun to make itself felt and a steady trickle of people gathered to watch this pantomime. Their Sunday entertainment had arrived a day earlier but no one was complaining.
Marital troubles were always the premier form of entertainment for the town and Shanu was bitterly aware that he had unwillingly been chosen to play the chief protagonist for the day. He wondered what his mother would have said if she had seen the two of them having an altercation in front of all and sundry. Of course it was a small matter that his mother was living in an urn in his pooja room and she was incapable of taking active part in any proceedings.
A highly exaggerated report of the events buzzed around town. Sanjoy ran screaming, “Did you know that Shanu is fighting with Mimi on the road?”
Another producer shouted a much more lurid alternative, “Shanu and Mimi are rolling around on the road!”
The fuse was lit as the news sputtered and fizzed through town bringing people in droves to the spot. A crowd steadily built up with men, women and children arriving in vast numbers. They formed a ring around the luckless couple waiting with bated breath for the next move in this conjugal chess game. Nisam was doing brisk business by selling his home made papaya pudding. A few of the children had climbed up a bullock cart and were jumping up to get a better view.
Shanu implored to Mimi with folded hands but to no avail. A voice rang out gaily, “Hey Shanu, what kind of a man are you? Have you no control over your own wife? Now, if that were my wife I would have put her over my lap and spanked her a few lessons.”
Immediately, many female voices responded “Who is that rascal? Bring him here and we will show him what kind of a man he is.”
Another woman responded to this blatant bit of male chauvinism with, “Mimi, Leave him and go away. These men are not worth it. He will come running to you when he is hungry!”
We will in the interests of decorum, disregard the hundreds of lewd remarks that were made against men, women, marriages and entire societies. But it suffices to say that this fight had taken a very personal turn.
Heckles and jeers rose up in unison and very soon the crowd had gravitated itself into two camps solidly backing their champions. Shanu was mortified at the turn of events while Mimi was completely miffed. But neither of them was going to admit that they would run away from this fight though the former was distinctly sweating. The tableau consisted of Mimi standing in the center with her hands on her hips, Shanu circling around her like a worried little squirrel and a human amphitheater vibrating with glee.
Into this wellspring of human endeavor fell the unfortunate Ramu Guruji. Puzzled by the commotion he had somehow wormed himself into the center of the babble before he inadvertently slipped and literally fell into the ring. Mimi who had remained silent until that time rent the air with a shriek of joy, hauled Ramu Guru to his feet and threw herself into his arms.
This jaw dropping event completely flabbergasted the crowd and silence made an interlocutory appearance. Shanu did not know what was happening and even the women were stunned by what seemed a blatant display of extra marital romance. The fact that it was Ramu Guruji threatened to combust the proceedings into an inferno.
Finally Shanu regained his voice and shouted “I demand to know the meaning of this. Have you been sleeping with this … this lecher all along?”
Mimi grew apoplectic when she heard this scurrilous remark and she slapped Shanu with a vicious swinging right that would have decked even Sallu. For the less informed, Sallu was the local wrestling champion. Shanu fell back on his backside with a thud that shook the ground and the entire populace exploded in mirth. The picture of Shanu sitting on his behind, rubbing his face and looking like a bemused donkey would never be forgotten.
Mimi then said to Ramu Guruji, “Guruji, please advice Shanu as you did to me. Please help me save our marriage.”
Ramu Guruji was not a self proclaimed advocate of God for nothing. He quickly recovered himself and withdrew into his calm and benign shell. He said “My dear Mimi, I did not tell you anything. You asked me to help you fix your marriage and I merely requested you to talk to Shanu!”
However this was a blatant lie and Mimi was never going to take this lying down. She pounced on him like a scorned tigress saying “You told me the Shanu does not love me enough for he never shows his affection in front of others. Only true love has the courage to ignore the public. You said that Shanu will agree and I must demand that he kiss me in public. In fact you asked me to come and stay with you for a couple of months if Shanu does not agree to do it! You promised me that he would be repentant and change into an openly loving husband”
Ramu Guruji’s face had by now had lost its saintly luster and instead had bleached itself to a grey lather. Shanu sensing a change in Mimi’s hostility got up and accosted Ramu Guruji. He said “You talked to my wife behind my back and promised her things? Who are you to interfere in our marriage?”
Naturally the crowd which was stacked like gelignite on a campfire, exploded with fury at this latest discovery. It was too premature for them to analyze Ramu Guruji’s behavior as carnal. But like all vast assemblies do, they promptly judged the case and passed a sentence of countless beatings on him. The sentence was executed with gusto by beating him until he screamed for mercy. Scores of bodies jumped on him and it was entirely unclear what was happening in that pile. Eventually to their dismay it was discovered that Ramu Guruji was nowhere to be found. The wily man had slipped out from underneath the feet of the crowd and taken leave of the proceedings with utmost haste.
Usually a movie is only nail biting until the villain departs the scene and so it proved as the mob quickly dissipated. The novelty of the fight that never happened had worn off. Women were pleased that a man had turned out to be a charlatan. Men were disappointed that they never saw Shanu kiss Mimi. Children were crestfallen that they had to return home and complete their school work.
Nisam was still sitting waiting for the climactic scene. Say what you will of the man, he was a professional to the core. He knew when the end would come and just like a good director he had his beady little eyes pointing at the right spot.
Mimi and Shanu were facing each other in the middle of the road oblivious to everything else. There were no words spoken for they had come through the eye of the storm. Shanu by now had forgotten Mimi’s little indiscretion and Mimi had forgiven him for his reticence. She still wanted to be swept up in his arms and he badly wanted her to step inside the house. As a compromise, Shanu put his arm around Mimi and led her inside. They carefully closed the windows cutting of Nisam’s view for the last time.
It is murky as to what happened next.
Nisam knew that there would be hugs, kisses and a lot more. He fervently wished that he could peep into their bedroom window to confirm his suspicions. But the memory of Ramu Guruji’s plight at the hands of the irate mob sobered his peeping disposition. His photographic memory complemented by his glib tongue would carry him through when he would recount the love fight to his cronies. He just had to ensure that Shanu and Mimi were not around when he narrated their perfidious tale. He was after all a consummate professional in the silken art of slandering.
Silence imposed itself on the street and only the most discerning ear could hear the soft sounds of reconciliation between Shanu and Mimi. Love had won, peeping toms abounded and adulterers ran amok. Another day in paradise came to a shuddering stop.