Upbeat in the lockdown

The benefits of quarantine go well beyond curbing the coronavirus pandemic

The other day, I was chopping farm-fresh chow chow dressed in an old nightie, practising a curated medley of Sivaji Ganesan songs from Andaman Kadhali, Vietnam Veedu and Rajapart Rangadurai. As I was checking if I had put on too much foundation and preparing to go live on FB, I found myself meditating on the good that has come out of the lockdown.

The first word that came to my mind was arangetram. No, I’m not referring to K Balachander’s movie featuring Pramila. Something scarier. The real thing. And my heart sang for America. (And not any of the songs I was practising.) Here was the US going through its worst period in modern history, and there was a glittery silver lining on that grey cloud-mass of gloom that had gone completely unnoticed. The significant drop in arangetrams, thanks to present conditions. From Saratoga to New York from Barrow to Key West, my sources tell me the irrepressible, all-pervasive nattuvangam, pounding away mercilessly on wooden floors since 1981, has temporarily fallen silent. Except in webinars. Be that as it may, the US should celebrate this joyous windfall while it lasts.

Then I thought of book launches. While many people think the ozone hole has mended itself thanks to the drop in vehicular emissions and industrial pollution, they have not factored in the almost total disappearance of author gases. Every year, a toxic combination of literary, pulp and performance poetic-fumes escape with impunity from the unlatchable mouths of writers and moderators via mics and podiums across the country during the 6,54,361 or so book launches we are made to endure. If you can see the Matterhorn from Chintadripet now, let me assure you, it is thanks to a writer of literary fiction not talking.

Among the activities I least look forward to each year is standing in queue at some random wedding reception, and waiting endlessly to meet the bride and groom who have been made up to look like Punch and Judy. Telling them, ‘I haven’t got you a gift. Watching your mother and father dance to Mera Kaala Chashma four times in one night at the sangeet, eating Hakka noodles with manga thokku and drinking ‘Black Label’ that tasted like Three Roses Tea with a dash of industrial alcohol doesn’t deserve a gift. You’ll be hearing from my lawyer,’ has stopped being fun years ago. Well, looks like I don’t have to. For the foreseeable future.

I don’t know if this is common in other parts of the world but there is an ancient Telugu custom that I was exposed to that made my hair go grey when I was 16. It is that diabolical rite where a ‘relation’ calls on a Sunday (it has to be Sunday) at about 8 am and innocently says, ‘We are in the neighbourhood. Could we drop in for five minutes?’ As soon as you acquiesce, you realise the ‘we’ is the caller and the better part of his taluk. And said five minutes could stretch into the coming Ugadi. All hopes of meditating in the shavasana pose, dressed in nothing but your blue-checked Sangu Mark lungi, circa 2003, and watching Veerasamy to get over your hangover are dashed. Take that, baabai, pedda naanna, and pinni. My gates are closed. Entry-lu Verboten-lu!

So, in conclusion, let’s be positive. I will be back next fortnight with another life-affirming story. Meanwhile, no overseas cousins and aunts this winter. Jai Hind to that.

Krishna Shastri Devulapalli is a satirist. He has written four books and edited an anthology.

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Printable version | May 31, 2020 10:00:02 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/upbeat-in-the-lockdown/article31650418.ece

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