Monday, July 13, 2015

The Woman

‘Every man, even Sherlock Holmes, has a woman he calls the woman,’ Uncle Jose (Hosappan to us) admitted bitterly. That was a year back when I met his ‘woman’.
We were at a wedding reception, bored and irritated, through with comparing the dosa and kebab counters, the old and the new girls, the wealth and the intellect.
‘hHhossey,’ came a perfectly enunciated cry of delight from behind us, the first ‘h’ from deep down the throat, the main ‘H’ from the tonsils and the last ‘h’ lingering on the tongue.
Hosappan stood ramrod stiff, pale, lips quivering. He later confided that that voice always has the effect of an electric prod probing the gluteus maximus.
I turned around to find a graceful and charming lady. She reminded me of an old love’s mother, an old love I loved hoping she would turn out to be like her mother but instead the law of bad genes ruled and she took after her father.
Hosappan took his time to face her. By then, he was red in the face.
A few words about Hosappan’s nature might help to understand the situation better. He can be vain. He thinks he has the best of Al Pacino and De Niro. He feels that his intellect is being abused when his company cannot match Simone and Sartre. But there is a chink in that armour of vanity. He is fine as long as those ideas of grandeur are from within the realm of his own senses, and not from without, say from a friend or even a lover. Shower him with praise, and watch Hosappan squirm to escape from the scene like a tortoise flipped over and tickled pink.
No one seems to know that better than his ‘woman’. How she poked the dagger of attention at his Achilles heel, and liberally sprinkled the salt of affection on that open wound!
‘Ah, hHhossey, you look so smart.’ She had brought a crowd with her, a husband, couple of kids and mutual acquaintances. They circled around Hosappan. She started on her soliloquy, ‘He used to be such a heartbreaker, no? On stage or on the field, how we girls loved him! And so brilliant! Has the school ever seen a student like him since?’ She went on and on. The crowd swallowed her eulogy without a pinch of salt. Hosappan’s visage reminded me of an old fresco with scenes from Torquemada’s inquisition.
I observed her closely that evening. She is not pea-brained or garrulous.  She is, in fact, a very serious woman; that is, in all matters that does not involve Hosappan, of course. With others, her actions and words were precise and well-thought-out. That probably explains why she has maximum impact on Hosappan.
‘Wow, she is certainly into you,’ I said, at his place, after the party.
‘Bah,’ Hosappan retorted.
‘Come on, you don’t doubt her, do you?’ I asked.
‘The day I fall for her act, you can name your dog Jose.’
‘His name is already Jose,’ I joked. I refused to let go of the topic, ‘Aw, come on, tell me, were you two an item?’
‘An item…? Bah! In school, we were not even on speaking terms. We avoided each other right from the start. You know how decent I am, right?’ He did not wait for me to express my doubts. ‘I tried talking to her once. She sent word, through my best friend, that she does not like talking to riff-raff. Riff-raff…! My foot!’ he thundered.
‘Was she a stunner even in school?’ I asked.
‘No, actually, quite the plain Jane,’ he said.
‘When did this start?’ I asked.
‘Ah, this,’ he spat that ‘this’ with disgust, ‘this started much later, after our undergraduate years.’
‘What happened?’ I asked.
‘We were at a party, must have been one of those dreadful school reunions. In a moment of weakness, I approached this, what’s your word, stunner. Riff-raff, am I not? Well, she had actually become quite a stunner. Bloomed, flowered to be deflowered, what-not. But in more ways than one had she bloomed, I soon found out.’
‘Why, what did she do?’
‘It was a full-frontal attack, worse than today. God, she put on such a show of drooling over me, that devious one. It was simply awful,’ he flinched, probably after refreshing his memory.
‘Is it the same each time?’
‘More or less; worst part is, people think she is sincere. They just can’t get it that she is a pulling a fast one on me. Even you fell for it, right?’ He sounded hurt. I shrugged. I am no expert in the ways of the birds and the bees. Hosappan continued, ‘I try to avoid meetings where our paths could cross,’ he paused, ‘I thought it would end when she got married. Did you notice her husband? Bet they are in cahoots.’
I nodded. Her husband seemed to be a close cousin of Jeeves and Count Dracula – a product of some aristocratic stable, bespoke-fitted with sangfroid and stiff upper lip, and definitely not riff-raff. It takes generations of good breeding to produce a man who quietly allows his wife to skewer, or go into an adulation overdrive over, another man.
It took a while for Hosappan to recover from that day’s attack. On one visit, I found him seated on his rattan armchair, lost in thought, muttering incoherently, convulsing involuntarily.
A year went by without another encounter with ‘the woman’.
Yesterday morning, I was at Hosappan’s place. I took a phone-call around eleven. It was her husband. Politely and succinctly, he informed that his wife wanted Hosappan by her side. He told me the name of a hospital.
I gently broke the news to Hosappan. He did not say a word then or in the car. I drove as fast as I could. I thought of all the clichéd endings in movies, people racing to the hospital or railway station or airport, the good ones always reaching too late.
At the hospital, we were told that she was under observation in the ICU. We joined her husband, kids, friends and relatives in the waiting room. The husband shook hands with Hosappan. ‘Thank you for coming,’ he said.
Hosappan found a desolate corner. He refused to join me for lunch at the canteen. He remained there till evening, when she was shifted to a room.
We stood outside the room. The husband was allowed within. We watched him talk to the doctor. The nurses stood to the side, looking busy and efficient. All of them looked terribly serious. The doctor came out. A nurse informed the crowd that only one more guest could go in then, and that she had requested that it be Hosappan.
Hosappan sheepishly shrugged at me, the kids and the rest before going in. 
The husband stood to her right. Hosappan took the left flank. The husband spoke softly. I was quite surprised to see Hosappan shed a manly tear or two. The scene seemed very familiar; Rick, Ilsa and Laszlo, of ‘Casablanca’, in another attempt at a ménage a trois. Hosappan approached her. Oh ho, another clichéd ending coming, I thought. He smiled sadly, affectionately tucked a stray strand of hair, bent forward and kissed her on the forehead. She did not bat an eyelid, neither did her aristocratic partner. There were gasps from the audience outside the room. Hosappan whispered something to her. Then, he turned and left. Was he giving it back to her in her own currency?
On our way home, I asked, ‘Well?’
‘Just a scare, nothing serious,’ he replied.
‘And what was all that in there?’ I asked.
‘Ah, just her usual show,’ his cryptic reply.
I nodded, tried aristocratic silence and controlled my plebeian curiosity, for five seconds.
‘What did you say to her?’ I asked.
‘I told her not to do this to me ever again.’
That hardly explained anything. Which ‘this’ was he referring to, I wondered. Scaring him with her illness or teasing him with care, feigned or not?
But then, isn’t uncertainty that make the woman from a woman?


  1. Arjun love the parallels you draw describing people or situations. You really roused my curiosity. Very interesting and excellent ending.

    1. Thanks a lot, madhvik, for reading this... truly appreciate your feedback. :-)

  2. I think,Uncle Jose gave it back in the right place at the right time...:-) Enjoyed reading....

    1. Thanks a lot for reading this, Panchali-di.. :-)))) Wonderful to see you here! Cheerio