Friday, December 15, 2023

The Failed Conspiracy

In December of 2011, my mother had a house full of visiting family. My elder sister, her daughter and my son Atreya were all there to spend a few sunny winter days with her. But it snowed instead. Heavily.

It snowed so heavily that everything came to a standstill. Power went off, water supply was disrupted, roads were snowed in, and the government departments dealing with these issues were at their wit's end. Even on good days, it is difficult to get them to react in a manner matching the urgency of the matter, but these were bad days. Phone calls were going unanswered and the local gossip suggested that no one knew how to fix snapped wires and frozen pipes because they had never encountered them before. 

Led by a feisty grandmother, the family tried to make the best of the situation. They made and remade a snowman in the front yard, threw snow balls at each other, read books and old reader's digests, made phone calls to friends and acquaintances, and kept warm by snuggling together in the master bedroom. But by day three, it was all getting too much. The roads to take them back were too slippery, so they were basically trapped in a small cold flat with no electricity, little water and no booze. 

My brother in Delhi knew of the crisis in his mother's house and would call them every now and them to cheer them up. He sensed their desperation on the third day and unable to help them in any way, thought that a prank was called for. He roped in his nephew, telling him it would break the monotony and give everyone something to talk and laugh about. Atreya agreed immediately and was excited to be part of the conspiracy.  Or so he thought! 

After that call, Atreya got busy with breakfast and card games with his cousin. Mom tried calling the electricity department as was her routine, and to her surprise, this time she finally got through. After letting the man on the line know that she was the retired principal of LHMC and Tanda medical College, who was instrumental in setting up Tanda hospital, she demanded quick action! Quick action or else- her voice reverberated through her tiny apartment! 

The phone rang within a few minutes of that conversation. It was a lineman from the electricity department, who wanted to speak to Doctor Sahib ji. The word spread quickly in the house and everyone surrounded mom expectantly as she spoke to the lineman assigned to fix her electricity problem. He told mom in a surly voice that he had to leave other work incomplete in Norbulingka because of pressure from top to fix her problem. This riled mom up and just as she began giving the man a piece of her mind, everyone gestured to her to calm down. No point making this very elusive lineman angry. 

Elusive, surly and a very demanding lineman indeed. He insisted that mom, as the owner of the house, has to meet him under the electricity pole number 52, where he was perched. When mom said she didn't know where that pole was and it would take her time to get dressed, he asked her to come to Amar's shop instead, where he was going to have chai and samosa in the meanwhile. She asked why he needed to meet her at all but the response was garbled. Not wanting to take a chance, everyone in the house agreed that she must go. Anything to have the electricity restored! 

Mom didn't want to go alone, so she took Atreya with her to help her navigate the snow covered street.  They trussed themselves up in jackets, mufflers, caps and gloves and trudged through the ankle-high snow to reach Amar's shop. 

Mom looked around and when she didn't find anyone having tea there, she asked Amar about the tea-drinking lineman's whereabouts. He looked blank. She then asked him about the location of electricity pole number 52, which is where the lineman must be waiting for her. This time Amar's eyes lit up. He said "Poles pe number nahi hotay ji. Mujhay lagta hai koi aapka ullu bana raha hai doctor sahib". There are no numbers on poles. I think someone is pranking you doctor sahib. 

That's when Atreya's hands went to his face, akin to Sushmita Sen when she won the Miss Universe crown, except he was more embarrassed than delighted. He dragged mom away from the shop while laughing and blushing and laughing some more. The prankster co-conspirator had just realised that he had got pranked himself! 

My brother, who never expected his prank to go that far, certainly not as far as Amar's shop, pledged that he would never include Atreya in any conspiracy again. 

PS: Electricity was restored the same day, with no special favors done for anyone by anyone.