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Father's side or Mother's side?

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February 14, 2003 19:03 IST

It was one of those crisp fall New England afternoons.

If the only 'crisp' you know is a hot, brown dosa before the masala within and the encroaching chutneys start to get it all soggy... well, you will just have to take my word for it -- there are things as crisp autumnal afternoons.

But there were all these existential questions plaguing my NRI mind. Understandably so -- it was that time of the year when tickets need to be booked for the annual trip to India.

How many days of my measly three-week vacation do I spend in India? Can I even think of spending some of them in a third country where I have never lived? Which airline do I fly and does it really matter since I am going to jump at the cheapest fare my travel agent offers me anyway? What gifts do I have to take -- what do I bring back? Which relatives do I visit and in what order?

And most importantly why does this invariably begin to acquire the semblance of a UN peace keeping mission where I have to become Mr Kofi  Annan yet again for those two parties simply known as 'father's side' and 'mother's side'?

Is it even possible that anything I do will not be seen as tilting towards one side or the other? Can I keep the leaders of both these sides happy?

So, you see, the beauty of the afternoon barely registered on my mind as I stepped out for lunch. I had to cross the street before I hit Broadway. As I waited for the 'WALK' sign to appear and that annoying cuckoo tune to go off, what did I see?

An elephant walking quite briskly round the corner. And it was not just any elephant. It had those red and white dots around its forehead like a demure north Indian bride. I staggered at the unexpectedness of it. Nostalgia was making me hallucinate.

Before I had a chance to gather my wits -- there it was again... another and yet another elephant majestically striding down Broadway. I counted 10. So some last straw had done it, I guess. Broken the back of my fragile sanity. Strange phrase to choose, though, because what followed was a camel, complete with its sardonic grin. And nine more.

I recovered enough to read the little sign on those stickers -- The Greatest Show On Earth. The circus was in town!

The animals were being moved from the camping ground to the venue of the show with minimum fuss. They probably did not want to give PETA members too much prior notice to avoid all those demonstrations. So they ended up taking all of us by surprise.

For once, people stopped on the streets to talk to complete strangers -- to assure themselves they were not seeing things. Cell phones wouldn't do. You had to actually be there to be of any help. Still, I waited for the Metro's report the next day -- just to be absolutely certain it had actually happened. It was like a UFO landing!

The existential questions simply faded into the background. As I worked through my cafeteria lunch, I had the solution. I was going to take my parents on a trip to the Periyar reserve to see the elephants. No gifts, no visits, no strife. Like me, they would forget all those questions which kept these feuds alive.

That was exactly the way it worked I am happy to report -- only, we saw fewer elephants in the reserve than I did in New England that afternoon. But the peace, the quiet and the beauty of the place more than made up for it.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

Sandrah R Pereira