Friday, July 3, 2009

The Conversation

“What kind of a girl do you want to marry, son?”

“Huh, come again? What?” asks the son, nearly choking on his beer, startled at the sudden salvo fired by his dad

Dad and son lie sprawled on the lawn, next to each other. A warm breeze, a desolate night sky, and a crate of beer cans give them company. An invisible choir of crickets chirps away in discord. An old tape-recorder plays out lilting Floyd.

“I said what kind of a girl are you looking to marry, son?”

The son closes his eyes and shakes his head. He casts one glance at his old man and another at the beer crate. “One, two, three, four, five...” he carefully counts.

“Just five cans and you are already out, Dad. I swear I won’t let you have more than two next time”

“I wrote my bloody Civil services examination with six beers inside me...” retorts the old man “...and I still topped my college. What does that suggest to you, son?”

“It only suggests that all your other classmates wrote the exam with seven beers inside them. Ha ha”

“Funny, huh? Some sense of humour you’ve got. I am perfectly sober. Now answer my question”

“What question, Dad?” asks the son, innocently.

“Your poker face doesn’t work with me. I’ve only asked you one question. I remember what I asked and I know you remember what I asked. Now give me a straight answer” remarks the Dad, taking another swig at his canister. He seems to be getting more and more sober with every passing sip of his poison.

“Oh you mean the question about you passing your exam with six beers and...”

“No, the one before that” grunts the Dad, cutting his son short.

Silence. The son lets out a big sigh that reeks of all the alcohol he’s had. He gives up. He knows there is no way out tonight. Daddy dearest has extended a vice like grip on him, which only threatens to tighten with every can of beer being emptied. He looks away from his Dad. More silence fills the air. The motley bunch of crickets continues to chirp away in disharmony. What’s with the crickets and their bad singing tonight? Have they been drinking out of the beer-cans too?

“Girl.... Ahh... any girl would do, Dad... I mean ... no specific expectation as such, just any girl would do for marriage... I mean, I don't know, you say...“ replies the son with slurring honesty.

“O ho just any girl will do, eh? Very good. You’ve made my search criteria narrower then. That rag-picker who comes to pick up the thrash everyday is also “just any girl”. You want me to ask for her horoscope eh?”

“Ha, must say your ripping sarcasm is improving day by day, Dad.”

“I know. With you for a son, I’m bound to go on and receive an A+ for sarcasm, someday”

“Well, I only have modest expectations for marriage, Dad. For a wife, I’d only want someone like Angelina Jolie… Heh heh”

“Anjali, who?”

“**Sigh*** Never mind Dad, can’t we talk about this when we are sober tomorrow?”

“No, you tell me right now”

Son falls silent. He looks down, shakes his head and shrugs his shoulders. He throws up his head and looks at the sky. He doesn’t know what to say, he doesn’t know how to say it. It is so difficult to talk about the intricacies of relationships...he is just a man after all.

He takes in a slow sip and pauses for the sublime liquid to enter his bloodstream and catalyse his thinking. He stares vacantly into oblivion and ever-so-slowly replies “You know what Dad, I don’t want my wife to be a wife. I want her to be my friend, my buddy for life. I want to marry a girl who is nice but not too saccharine sweet. Someone who listens to me, but not in an overtly subservient housewifish way. Someone who’s naughty and adventurous, but not promiscuous. Someone who talks but doesn’t go yappity-yap and naggity-nag 24 hours a day. Someone who looks like a dream and smiles like an angel. Someone who laughs with me, cries with me and stands by me through thick and thin. Someone who loves me for what I am, for who I am. Ah! Love... that’s what everything boils down to, doesn’t it Dad? Love -pure and unconditional... That is all I need. If I can find love in her, and if she can find love in me, then I swear by you Dad, that’s all I could wish for... I really wouldn’t care about the rest of her.”

The dad looks at his son with silent astonishment. Wow, who is this guy... he wonders to himself. Wow, is he my son? Where was he hiding all these years? He smiles to himself. My boy has got his heart and soul in the right place. Yes, he is my son, after all. I’ve got to know what I wanted to know. He nods to himself and takes a celebratory sip , to raise a toast to the moment.

The son realizes that words have tumbled out. “Darn! What have I done!” he curses to himself and buries his forehead in his hands. He looks up, snatches the beer from his Dad’s hands and empties it in one overflowing gulp. “Don’t believe in what I said, Dad. It wasn’t true. You don’t believe all that do you?” he mutters. He stands up on his feet, kicks a stone, stumbles over another, and flings the empty beer can far away. “Don’t believe in all that bullshit I just said. It was all rubbish, bollocks, balderdash. I don’t believe in all that love and shit. You know I don’t, right Dad? I only want the standard specifications in a girl. You know, the size 38 breasts, the size 36 bums, the hour-glass waist, the endless silken legs, the milky skin, the high performance capacity etc you know.... that’s all. That’s it. That should do it for me. ”

The dad shakes his head and smiles at his son. He’s amused by the son’s desperate attempt to mislead him. He reaches out, grabs the son by his trousers and pulls him down to the lawn. “Of course I believe you, son” he replies with a wink. “In fact, I was wondering why that standard specification part didn’t come out of you earlier”

“Ha ha ha ha”. The son breaks into laughter. He knows that his old man is lying. But he still can’t help laughing.

“And you know what, young man... I am sure all your ex-relationships went kaput because you ran after your girlfriends with a laminated copy of the ‘standard specifications document’ hung around your neck! . Now do me a favor and pull out another beer”

“Aw, come on...” is all the son can sheepishly mutter as he pulls out a tin for himself and tosses another at his Dad.

Embarrassment. Smiles. Laughs. Guffaws. Clink of metal. Cheers!!!. Swig. Pause. Ponder. Despair. Sorrow. The son’s emotional clock changes position with every ticking second.

“I am a loser, ain’t I, Dad?” he asks.

“Oh yes of course you are, son!!!!”

“Ha ha ha ha ha”. The son erupts in more laughter. “Oh come on, man...!” he says “... couldn’t you at least say a few comforting Dad-words like ‘It’s alright son’ or ‘No, you aren’t a loser, you are a champion, son’ or something like that? That was supposed to be my cue for you. Ha ha ha... Dad you are too much. Ha ha ha.”

“What, you expect me to lie through my beer?” says the Dad. “Don’t worry I’ll say all those things when I am sober tomorrow..” he remarks, throwing a wink at his son. And I’m gonna get your horoscope out, first thing, when I am sober in the morning.

The two men continue to sip away silently. The sky goes on to acquire a serene midnight blue. The breeze gets stronger and the crickets get merrier.

“Tell me something Dad, why do you want me to marry me off so soon? . I have got so many things to achieve, so much to do. I have seen only half the colours of rainbow in my life so far...”

“You are 26 years old, you have a great job and you are leading an independent, well settled life. What more do you want? And what rainbow are you talking about. By the time you are done seeing the entire rainbow, you’ll be 80 years old”

“Marriage will snatch all my freedom and free will away. Do you think I can lead my care-a-hoot life after I get married? I will always be answerable to the Big Boss. And do you think I’ll get to come over here on Saturdays like this and have unlimited beers with you after I get married?”

“We can always have our beers, son and...”

“Yeah right...can always have our beer” replies the son, cutting his Dad short in mid-sentence “... Forget the beers, you know, after marriage I’d probably be spending Saturdays shopping with my wife in the ground floor of Big Bazaar , buying scrubs for the wash basin, curtains for the windows and toilet-cleaners for the commode. Don’t you think so?”

The dad pauses, ponders, scratches his chin and slowly replies “But toilet-cleaners are important, son. What’s the harm in shopping for that?”

The son throws his arms up. “Yeah, great, Dad. I knew I could always count on your advice. I’ll mix some of that liquid in your beer next time, you should be able to offer even better advice”

Both men break into guffaws.

“Think about it, son. Isn’t your life incomplete without marriage?”

“Right. And I get married and my life will be finished”

“***Sigh*** why is it so bloody difficult to reason with you?”

The son thumps his old man on the shoulders “Chip of the ol’ block Dad, chip of the ol’ block. It’s your genes that run in me”

The men shake their heads and smilingly look away from each other in opposite directions.

“Come to think of it, I know why you are in such a hurry to marry me off” says the son, sipping the last drops from his can.

“Oh really? Would you mind telling me too?” replies the Dad, throwing a quizzical glance at his son.

“It’s the babies. You just can’t wait to be a Grandpa and play toy-trains with your grandkid”

The dad smiles in realization. “Well, that is also true. Playing with my grandkid. Wow, now wouldn’t that be wonderful? You know, now I really think I should get your horoscope out in circulation, first thing tomorrow morning”

“Damn you and damn the bloody horoscope” sneers the son.

“Come on son, just think how wonderful it is going to be after the years. You, me and my grandson. I’m sure my he’ll grow up to be a fine man too. We’ll sit here on this very lawn and have beer together – all three of us. I sure hope I’ll be around till then...”

“Ha ha ha... you are right. But why grandson? I can have a daughter too right? But anyway, even that will be fun. All of us - Granddaughter, father and grandfather having beer together...” replies the son.

“Hey... you let my grand-daughter drink, I will kill you” retorts the old man.

“But...” objects the son.

“I swear young man, if you let our sweet little girl touch even a drop of alcohol, I swear I will kill you” fires the old-man.

“But what’s wrong in her having an occasional beer and...”

“Nothing doing” the old man continues his drunken tirade. He gulps his beer and slams the canister hard on the ground and stands up on his feet. “Your little girl will be such a darling angel. I am warning you son, if you dare let our angel drink, I swear I’ll bash your head up.”

“Ok fine calm down, calm down, Dad. Fine. I will not let her drink” says the son, standing up to his feet and getting to his stumbling Dad’s aid.

“I don’t believe you, liar” says the Dad, looking at his son suspiciously.

“Don’t worry Dad. Now just calm down will ya. Fine I’ll not let her drink. Even if she drinks, I’ll make sure she will not have too much.”

“See, you are lying already”

Silence engulfs the night. Even the crickets stop chirping, probably intimidated by two inebriated men loudly quarrelling over their nonexistent daughter/grand-daughter’s drinking habits.

“Now come on Dad, it’s been a long night. Let’s find ourselves something to eat. Now come on in” says the inebriated son to his inebriated father. The two men help each other from their lawns and into their house.

“Yeah, let’s go in and eat. I am hungry too. But don’t forget son, tomorrow morning, when I am sober, I’ll be getting your horoscope into the nearest marriage bureau.” says the Dad.

“We shall see about it tomorrow, Dad. I will remind you about it.”

“Now don’t you trick me son. I may be fully drunk alright, but I am still completely in my senses.”

“Yes, absolutely, I know that Dad, don’t I?”

“That’s enough. Let’s go inside”

Dad and son walk together, arms supporting each others’ shoulders and help each other stumble into the house, leaving the night sky, the crickets, the beers and their conversation behind...