Life! I sighed, sat back to the old chair, and closed my eyes thinking wistfully about those days, when I could spread light by just opening my mouth. How eager my friends were to get to me just to lighten up their moods!
Alas, the muse had left me forever. My fingers perambulated through my beard that had already started turning grey. Not just beard, I looked around, everything had begun to turn a pallid grey in my world. This could only be old age.
At the dining table I picked at my food silently without having courage to raise my head from the plate. “Tell us something, acha,” Ammu prodded me in vain. No, not again, I wouldn’t fall into your trap, I said weakly in my mind. Divya said something about food, and my daughter burst into laughter: “This funny amma…” Tears welled up in my eyes.
I laboriously carried myself back to my room, only to throw the heavy burden back to the chair, where it had been brooding on for the last couple of weeks. I still could hear peels of laughter worming in from the dining hall. Divya was having a roaring time with her daughter. What a cruel world this is! One house, many moods.
I sorely missed my father. He was the one who appreciated me a lot.
I can’t remember when it all began. It could be on one of those days I took my daughter to her college in my car. I said something on the way, guffawed out as usual, and then stopped in panic to check whether Ammu had got in to the car. There was such silence. There she was, mumbling something to herself.
What did you say?
I wiped the corner of my mouth.
Has it gone?
I said, Chalu.
I stopped the car.
You mean you just saw your friend named Chalu on the bus stop and you want me take her along?
I sat silent, driving her to the college. My world, I didn’t know exactly, just got a bit dimmed.
The word ‘chalu’ sneaked into to our small world not for a brief stay. It came and pitched its tent right in the middle of our home. My image as one of the goofiest, wittiest, funniest persons in town was in peril now. Whatever I said, my daughter would dismiss it with one flick of her head: Chalu. I cringed, squirmed, warped hearing it.
I missed my father. He knew my fun by heart. He was always alert and ready at the sight of me coming. Was he just appeasing me without feeling it! Now I doubt. I remember how he had a hearty laugh, after I asked him to read a story I wrote.
“Ha ha ha…Very amusing.”
“But acha, what is so amusing in it?” I threw my arms up, frustratingly, “It is actually a serious take on Colachal war!”
“Er… Colachal war! Yeah, I know as much. But, you told me yesterday you would show me your latest Freekick. I thought this was that!”
“I haven’t finished it yet. This is different. This is serious. You cannot laugh.”
My father knew it was about Colachal war, but he guessed, his son could have somewhere, maybe between the lines, found a light vein in the war. The fun was not apparent, maybe, but the writer was definitely his son, struggling hard to make his readers laugh. He laughed dutifully. He was not the kind of father who would discourage his son by not laughing when in need.
Now I tried desperate methods to regain my lost image. I said punchlines very seriously, thinking, even if my daughter doesn’t laugh, I could still claim it as one of my serious statements on life. People after 40 say serious things, I read somewhere (maybe they were all intended jokes that fell flat and became wise statements, and even famous quotations later, I realize it now). I cracked jokes retiring to my room, so that, at the nick of the moment the punchline comes, I would disappear behind the wall, but with perked up ears all set to pick the softest laughter from the hall. Silence. I lost it forever. I fell into my chair.
One man’s fall is another’s stellar rise into fame. At home, the star who rose in the sky was Divya. I remember the first time, (after I got into that chalu hall of fame), Divya said something (it was more a groan than a joke). I closed my eyes not having the courage to see the poor woman getting blasted by the Chalu missile. But to my shock, the imp of my daughter laughed out loud, so loud that she had to hold her belly, as if it ached like hell. “Please stop amma. Ayyo, how funny you are!”
I am not the kind of man who gets jealous of his wife. But this one-woman-fanclub who recently switched sides is sucking all the humour out of my life.
“Amma, can you say it again! Ha ha ha…how funny you are!”
I am not jealous, believe me. I am not joking.