METRO PLUS

The gurkha and his whistle

Illustration : Sreejith R. Kumar

Illustration : Sreejith R. Kumar  

The inconspicuous gurkha proves he has an eye on the neighbourhood

The confident ringing of the doorbell heralds the landing on my doorstep of the gurkha. If it is the gurkha, it must be the beginning of a new month. A spirited, ‘Good morning, Madam!’ greets me when I open the door, grouchy at having been startled into waking up, eyelids still heavy with sleep, hair all dishevelled. In stark contrast, he looks spruce and fresh. His handsome face breaks into a beaming smile and he gives a smart salute simultaneously. I remember how the first time I saw him, I waited expectantly for him to click his heels too and shout, ‘Attention!’ but, disappointingly, he didn’t – his footwear didn’t lend itself to clicking.

How pleased he is to see scruffy me, I flatter myself. But he is more pleased to see the currency note I hand him. He takes a surreptitious glance and the greater the denomination, the broader his smile. He raises his hand to his forehead in acknowledgement and gives a slight bow, the smile already fading. As he turns away, his smile vanishes completely and he strides out of the gate towards the next house, readying his facial muscles to coordinate once again for another dazzling smile when he meets my neighbour.

The mere mention of a gurkha brings to people’s minds the rib-tickling image of Mohanlal playing the role of gurkha Ram Singh, ‘Bheem Singh ka beta,’ (or is it ‘ki beta’?!) in the film Gandhinagar 2nd Street . His self-introduction - ‘Hum gurkha huum...hai’ - sets the tone for his hilarious impersonation of a Nepali who struggles with Hindi grammar and syntax, ending sentences that are a ludicrous mix of Hindi and Malayalam with an indiscriminate ‘hai’ or a ‘huum’, often both.

But while Mohanlal’s is a very visible presence in the colony, having been hired by the residents to catch a thief, guard the place 24/7 and be everyone’s Man Friday, our gurkha is conspicuous by his absence. He works in invisible ways his wonders to perform.

We never see our self-appointed guardian of the neighbourhood until the following month, unless of course some festival intervenes. This admirably secular man is a staunch and impartial observer of all festivals and arrives religiously in the morning to claim his due whether it is Christmas, New Year, Vishu, Onam or Eid.

Where does he live? Does he go into hibernation for the rest of the month? What does he do? Is it the same gurkha who goes to houses at the other end of the city or are there many gurkhas? Do they all live in a secluded colony, far from the disease of modern life and people’s prying eyes, like Matthew Arnold’s Scholar Gypsy ?

One day, before he could disappear, I asked him whether he does indeed take care of the neighbourhood. He put on an indignant-injured air and asked, ‘haven’t you heard me whistling, Madam?’ When you have reached a stage when only milk or pressure cookers whistle at you, this was music to my ears. ‘You do?’ I asked, brightening. ‘Yes, Madam, I cycle along my beat at night, keeping an eye on the surroundings and whistle to frighten miscreants who might be lurking about.’

My husband looked very sceptical when I reported this. ‘Indeed?’ he remarked. ‘Cycling about at night enjoying the night breeze, is he? What rot! I’ve never heard any whistling hereabouts and I stay up very late.’ But there was one time when the gurkha’s whistling took on a purpose that went beyond a mere appreciation of the bracing night air.

A loud wailing in the night from a house in our locality woke us up. When the distressing sounds wouldn’t stop, my husband decided to investigate. He returned a while later looking quite shaken. ‘What happened?’ I asked, alarmed.

‘Water!’ he whispered. Once fortified, he narrated his story. He had reached the lane that appeared to be the source of the noise and hesitated, wondering what to do next, when a whistling man appeared from nowhere, grabbed him from behind and asked sternly, ‘Who are you? What are you doing here? Live here, eh? Tell me another!’ Establishing one’s bona fides to a suspicious gurkha proved a herculean task and my husband had to use all his wits to escape from his zealous clutches.

Since then my husband has been hearing a constant whistling in his left ear. He claims it is tinnitus for which medical science doesn’t have a cure, but I think it’s the fear of the gurkha’s whistle.



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