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Living Life in a Fishbowl

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By Ganesh Saili

Life in a small town is often like living in a fishbowl. Everyone knows everything about everyone. Often they will tell you things you didn’t know about yourself. The one small thing that we do keep to ourselves are the tales of our man-eaters. They are shikar stories with a difference.

Sometimes I wonder if the famed Jim Corbett knew this and that is why he gave this place a wide berth. One thing is for sure, the depredations of our felines would put to shame any self-respecting leopard. Is that why Corbett, believing not all men are born fools, chose to stay a bachelor?

‘She’s a real jag-juicer!’ says one of our wise men about an Auntyji-type who would end up hanging him as a trophy on her wall. Veena was always known for her transparent chiffons and georgettes. They revealed more than they concealed. She was married to an elderly man, whom she left in the care of her servants in the plains before setting off to maraud our vintage bachelors.

I saw it happen as she attached herself to the paling scion of an old family; I was there when she got into one of her famous sulks that lasted through the evening and made the old grumpy come out of his bedroom dangling an old kundan necklace. Her face lit up like a Christmas tree, with a smile a mile wide. Of course she loved all things beautiful, especially if they happened to be someone else’s heirlooms.

That is how things were rolling when her starry-eyed son bumped into this Hi-Tech girl from the plains. Her hair was short; her skirt shorter and she short-circuited his brain. Anyway, we wished the young couple well, and things did go that way, or so it seemed, when it occurred to Veena that the young bride’s trousseau might be unsafe in the set of rooms in the hotel that was their home.

This was the hotel the old man, wrapped up in the throes of passion, had painstakingly built in the 1970s when one often saw him drive past Library Bazaar in an old Willy’s Jeep loaded with wooden beams, rafters, and door-frames, paint drums, basins and topped with WCs.

‘Damn! There’s a Taj Mahal in Agra. Now he’s building the next one here!’ groaned the local Kotwal walking past the place eyeing the mess piled up on the road.

Anyway, for the sake of safety, she put all the girl’s stuff in her own locker and handed the keys to her. It seemed like the best thing to do. Right up to the day the girl vamoosed with everything inside the locker.

‘Must be a chutail!’ said our gifted handyman Bhartu.
Chutail, it turns out, is a word commonly used in the abutting Jaunpur (roughly the watershed between the Aglar and Jamuna rivers) to describe an unattached lady on the loose, and her value depends upon the number of homes she has wrecked. Expertise, after all, commands a premium anywhere in the world.

‘It’s just another male chauvinist word to run down women,’ I consoled myself.

That feeling lasted till the time I met this girl, fresh out of school, who rushed into an early marriage with someone I know. It was too good to last. Sometimes the first blossoms of spring are often battered by the first passing hailstorm. A messy divorce ensued. Without waiting to catch her breath, she moved in with a balding hippie of questionable vintage. That arrangement, if you were to call it that, worked for a few months until things soured, when he sold his house before getting lost in the smoking dens of Marrakesh.

Was this the end? Of course not! She bounced right back. Before you could say ‘Whaaaat?’ she had snagged another babbler, who was stupider than he looked. But our dear Miss Chutail was looking at his pocket, not his face. Soon after, she had moved in with him and, as I write, they are living happily ever after.

‘Just you wait and see!’ says our all-knowing Bhartu. ‘It’ll last until she’s sold this house too!’

(Ganesh Saili born and home-grown in the hills belongs to those select few whose words are illustrated by their own pictures. Author of two dozen books; some translated into twenty languages, his work has found recognition world-wide.)