It was all in her mind
Bakhat Singh Dhingra
Beep! Beep! Beep! The time is 9 am in the morning. I am almost ready for the office. My home phone rings. By the time I reach there the rings stop. The phone rings again and I respond at the first beep itself. Displaying a full show of warmth I tell the caller, “Yes, I recognise your voice, Col Buxi !”
I ask his present whereabouts and I am informed that he is in town with his family for admission of his son to an NDA examination preparatory coaching academy and he would like to visit me the following day in the evening. Maintaining the same level of fervour I say, “Sure. That suits me as well. Tomorrow is a public holiday. ” And, after exchanging the usual pleasantries, I hang up.
Last time I had met Col Buxi in a small hilly town, Bhimtal, known for a small picturesque lake in the Himalayas’ Kumaon Hills.
I had hired a two-bed suite of a rest house. After breakfast in the morning I was having a lax stroll when I saw the colonel with a baton either rushing past or trailing him, as his body frame briskly moved forward and backward.
After recognising each other we hugged. The embrace was spontaneously followed by a warm handshake. He kept shaking my hand with a firm grip. When my weak hand had` enough of it, I had to make some timid but spontaneous efforts to liberate myself from his tight grip. I was told that he is in the hills as commandant of an NCC camp of 500 youth comprising almost equal number of boys and girls.
He was staying in an improvised tented accommodation. Close by was a huge cluster of tents inhabited by young NCC cadets. Seeing a familiar face in the wild surroundings was a real joy. I had seen him after a long time but recognising him was not difficult.
Part 2: An excellent company
A lively man with a lot of vigour in his hands, he was a repository of ready wit, open minded, candid and frank speaking style with a touch of personal affinity. With chubby cheeks, a good height, proportionate body build, straight line broad moustaches, every bit of him looked like an army officer. He was an unforgettable personality. He also vividly remembered each and every detail of our togetherness in a year-long refresher course in public administration held at the Indian Institute of Public Administration campus years ago. But in the lap of the hills it was a chance meeting, I must say. I had gone there with my wife for a 10-day break on our fourth marriage anniversary.
The NCC field programme schedule included some social work besides their usual parade and discipline promotion activities. The same evening I visited his tented dwelling. From another attached tent emerged a good-looking lady whom he introduced as his wife and a boy aged approximately 10 who, I was told, was his son.
“At NCC camp”
When I told the Colonel that I was there with my wife, he immediately came out with a suggestion that, for fun, we also should participate in the field activities of the camp along with his wife, son, staff and cadets. He himself was predominantly occupied with heavy responsibilities of supervising the operations of the 500-strong NCC camp. As I understood enough work for cadets and staff was being created to keep them fully occupied to give them a strong feel of purposefulness of the camp in their day-long schedule.
In the low hillock ranges there was lush green vegetation all around. The activities included soft mountaineering, long walks through the natural environs, social service like cleaning the town and planting more saplings in and around the vicinity of the camp. The food was being cooked by the professional cooks, but the utensils were being cleaned by the cadets themselves.
In the evening there were mimicry, cultural singing and dancing shows. Some educative documentary and feature film shows were scheduled in close coordination with state and central government public relations departments. More than anything else what kept Col Buxi attentive was the concern for safety and security of the cadets, particularly girl cadets.
The joys of my excursion had gone up manifold. I had never imagined that far from the humdrum of metropolis, we were going to have such an excellent time. Col Buxi was as friendly as in the past. My wife had an excellent company of Mrs Colonel. The evening cultural programmes put up by girl and boy cadets were an added attraction. I was doubly happy for my wife as she was mentally occupied in the kind of activity amidst lush green nature.
Part 3: Col Buxi and his misdemeanours
Before we started for the hills my fears were about the evenings in the hills. In the daytime the lush green vegetation presents a mesmerising sight but to have a feeling of fun for city dwellers, there must be some activity in the evenings. All is well that ends well. A well-spent evening gives the feel of a well-spent day. In the looking scary like ghosts. I was the mover of the hill visit. So, the blame in case of boredom resulting from the lack of liveliness would be pinned upon me.
Here Col Buxi was going to visit me after a long interval of several years. Quite ironically, neither I was enthusiastic nor my wife was inclined to be receptive to his visit. My family size had expanded since our last meeting in the hills. My first child was a daughter and then came a son. But we had an altogether different reason to be disinclined. Long back when Col Buxi was my batchmate in the refresher course he held a rank of Captain. He was very friendly and humorous. He had the ability to make any of his colleagues feel lively. But later when we met him in his capacity as Colonel, he profusely used foul language and was excessively slangy in his expressions. In fact, that was the only downside of our stay in the hills.
He used expletives while talking to his junior officers, cadets and did not spare even girl cadets. His own tented accommodation was not far removed from other tents. His abusive language could be heard anywhere in the tented habitation. Even in our family meetings he failed to contain himself and continued using foul language. His foul words were not targeted at anyone. Foul-mouthing was part of his nature. The legacy is surely not good for a boy, in spite of schooling at an educational institution of repute as his teenage son also pick up this misdemeanour of his father. In one of the informal friendly assemblies my wife had pointed out to Colonel that his mouth should avoid spewing out foul words.
Emptying the leftover wine in the glass, the Colonel’s short and crisp reply was, “The usage of foul words is a tool. It may sound abhorring to listeners but precisely for the same reason helps in getting orders carried out faster. For getting things done what matters is speed. Overexposed to electronic gadgets and given to an easy life, the young blood temperamentally is rebellious and is hesitant to carry out the orders properly,” he had said. And immediately he had juggled the topic. In any case our privately held view was that for us this is a short transient phase and in a few days we are going to get rid of Col Buxi along with his misdemeanours.
Part 4: The only one thing which we did not liked at all….
Later on during the journey back home we were reflecting on all that had transpired in the previous 10 days. We had stored plenty of breeze in our lungs, heart and body pores, drunk crystal-clear waters of natural springs, inhaled tons of oxygen released by trees, had the joy to see the rise, fall and turns of the tree- laden hills, rejoined in collecting the trash, polythene bags, cigarette butts from the surroundings of the lake along with NCC cadets and enjoyed the variety of cultural programmes put up by the youthful cadets.
Unforgettable was the joy of eating self-plucked fruits like plum, guava, apricot from nearby orchards. For our fun we kept jumping up and down to grab some mangoes from low-hanging trees as well, though they were not of an edible variety. The mangoes were good for making pickles only, we were told by the natives. Besides, we had seen many newer kinds of birds and a swarm of tiny multicoloured butterflies.
My wife particularly liked the smart white rabbits that emerged from one cluster of dense bushes to disappear into another with lightning speed in their habitat. Everything was utterly different from our usual drab life in the concrete jungle enveloped by heavy emission of fumes of the vehicles where the so-called most civilised species on the earth known as the homo sapiens thrive. But what we did not like – or rather hated – was the mouthing of the abusive language by Col Buxi which spoilt the serenity of the sublime atmosphere where we were ourselves drawn too often to evade the boredom of the dark evenings.
“Col Buxi’s language”
After the morning phone call, my wife was unhappy. She would not like the barrage of foul language in our homely atmosphere.
A father-son duo using language filthy in the homely setting was not something any civilised person would ever like. What an impression my growing daughter and son would gather about our social circle.
My wife was all inclined to leave home as long as the visitors stayed inside. But her not being at home would amount to an insult to Col Buxi who was visiting after a long time to be with my family. In any case it was a matter of just one evening and I could prevail upon my wife to stay with me till the guests are seen off. His visit was upon us.
We were ready with tea and a wide range of snacks to receive Col Buxi and his family. In fact, as a part of a well-crafted strategy we were going to keep the mouths of the guests fully stuffed with food, giving them a minimal opportunity to talk.
Story So Far: It is a story of a man who met with his friend after so long and invited his friend, COL Buxi to home for a dinner. The day has arrived when Col Buxi & family will be their guest. The host family was worried about the kind of language Col Buxi uses. They have adopted a strategy so that their guest would get less time to talk. What was the strategy? Find out in the last part.
Part 5: The Strategy
Eat more and talk less, was our strategy. We ourselves will not moot any new topic. Talking was to be avoided except bare exchange of pleasantries and smiles in response to whatever matters were raised by the visitors. For serving tea we would be joining our maid in a manner that we are seen engaged. All logistics were in place when the door bell buzzed. My feet trudged towards the door to receive the gatecrashers. A well- groomed lady and a young man were led by Col Buxi. So far so good. We straightaway led them to the dining table. Col Buxi was chatty. In all the hundred minutes of their stay he was speaking as if we had always been in touch. His sense of witticism had further sharpened. The whole family was gentler and friendly in speech.
But the most mystifying change about the father-son duo was total absence of expletives in their talk. They were as civilised and polished in talking as one should ideally be. We were startled by the striking change in their communicational change. All along I was waiting for the ugly moment when their mouths would erupt like a volcano and throw out the lava of abuses and obscene phrases. I was all prepared for that ugly exigency, ready with the plans to apply brakes and wind up the assembly. But that situation never ever arose.
“Get-to-gather after so long”
My wife gathered her wits and asked Mrs Buxi, “What is responsible for the change of the Colonel’s deeply ingrained habit? Is it his approaching retirement?”
“No, nothing of the sort. He has been using slangs for decades. It is the coming of a daughter to the home, that has brought about the change,” she said.
“So finally you have adopted a daughter,” I asked. I recalled Mrs Buxi’s often repeated words. Whenever she felt exasperated with Col Buxi’s slang, in a cursing tone she would say, “I wish I had a daughter in lieu of a son.”
And upon that every time I had suggested, “Why don’t you adopt a daughter now?”
“No. I have a daughter of my own. I mean a biological daughter. She came to our family 16 years after the birth of our male child. Now, my family comprises my husband, a son and a daughter.” She had continued, “The idea has worked well. After her birth the father-son duo have stopped talking rot. Not only the Colonel himself has stopped, he has been disciplining our son also to observe restraint in his expression. Also, booze bottles don’t clink in our house any more. The cigarette butts too have substantially declined. The little one, more than a daughter is a dawn of civility in our home.”
“Where is your dawn of civility? I don’t see her here,” I asked. “She is in the care of a nanny at home. The following October she will be one year old,” came her reply.