Whatever might be the shortcomings in my physical attributes, I took pride in my broad shoulders that could nestle human heads of any dimensions or configurations which developed sudden leaks in their lachrymal(tear) glands. And on that gloomy Saturday, my school buddy Som was using this attribute of mine to the hilt by shedding tears in bucketfuls laying his head on my shoulder. I patted his head and said, "There..there, " trying to console him.
If I told you that Som's misery sprang from the fact that his mother-in-law was going to visit his house, you might consider consigning him to the loony bin. But you would surely dither about taking such a strong view if you learnt that her latest visit was the ninth one in half calender year. Therefore, I couldn't blame Som for his lachrymose disposition when he was the victim of such an affront on his sensibilities.
"Now I know what cricketer Ian Botham meant," said Som wiping his tears, "when he said he would opt out of Zimbabwe tour and send his mother-in -law instead. Really, I am at loss dear Jags and you are my last hope to extricate me out of this jam. I have come to seek your counsel."
Well, I must shamelessly confess that Som sought my counsel because I had acquired a certain notoriety in our neighbourhood as a valiant mother-in-law tamer and a highly decorated old warhorse capable of battling an army of mothers-in-law had they laid an ambush. But this was merely a slander born of the notion that it was one of my crafty schemes that terminated my mother-in-law's frequent visits to my house.
Even a whispering campaign had been set in motion that accused me of mastering tantric skills to exorcise trespassing mothers-in-law from their haunts, an allegation that a pious and upright man like me scarcely deserved. I had often tried to show my righteous indignation at this mudslinging, whenever someone broached the subject. But it hardly made a dent in their belief that I was a devil incarnate. My explanation that the sudden cessation of my mother-in-law's visit was due to the crippling rheumatism that immobilised her back home, didn't cut much ice with my tormentors. In the end, instead of refuting false charges levelled against me, I began basking in my new-found exalted status. Therefore, it was no wonder that I began eliciting the case history of Som, my first 'client', by asking him why he felt so harassed.
"My life's rhythm has gone completely haywire, that's why." complained Som. "For instance, each day she pips me at the post by a fraction of a second in our race to the shower. And once she gets in, I have to put the fear of mice into her, to prise her out. Last Sunday, I waited for my turn so long that I had to shave all over again."
To a stranger, it sounded petty. But knowing Som, I could empathise with his tortured soul. So, I tut-tutted in sympathy. Then, without going into further evidences of harassment, I asked him what made his mother-in-law come rushing in so often.
"She herself has a nagging mother-in-law." said Som, letting me into a family secret. "It is to escape from her tirades that my mother-in-law comes rushing in. Fortunately, the mother-in-law senior goes visiting one of her daughters at Mumbai when the mother-in-law junior goes back to her natural habitat. Believe me, Jags, on one occasion she went home by 27 Up train and came back by 28 Down on the same day!"
I fell silent. Som's was a crazy problem that called for crazy approach. Then, just as I was promising Som that I would devote my best thought to his problem so that by Monday morning I would have a solution cut and dried, the doorbell tootled.
I opened the door. On the doorsteps stood my dear mother-in-law grinning from ear to ear surrounded by a ten-piece luggage that prognosticated a stay that could extend up to six full moons. She looked fit enough to burst into a tap dance if I played my CD. Looking at her, it was patent that some quack had cured her of her rheumatism through some unpatented 'chyavanprash.'
As she blew in, Som made a quiet exit realising that the solution to his problem lay elsewhere.
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