A Quiver Full Of Guile

The family is a shaken lot these days. Especially since it got all shook up out of bed on the morning of Republic Day. But I would say the husband is quite the most shaken of us all.

Friday morning 9 am found us all bounding out of bed, strictly out of sync with the graceful sway of the fans above us. It was only when we found ourselves outside in the garden, standing on an earth that had stopped quivering, that we realized we had no sweaters, no shawls, no chappals and, in the case of the son, no pyjamas. Four days later, he’s still unable to explain how he got minus pyjamas.

While Amma trembled on the verge of hysteria, the son shivered in the morning cold, and I yawned, the husband looked at us all sternly and said, ‘Do you realize how badly prepared we are for an earthquake? If the building had collapsed, we wouldn’t even have a glass of water to drink.’ I groaned. The last time the husband got a bee in his metaphorical bonnet, we’d hoarded Tetracycline pills for two years after the Surat plague.

Since then, the newspapers have been full of doomsday prophets warning of more quakes to come. Since then, we’ve come to know that Delhi sits on the Ballabgarh fault-line. Since then, we’ve got to know that Delhi will definitely experience a fairly strong quake before April. Since then, we’ve also got to know that the husband is the strong, but not necessarily silent, type, and knows how to look after his family.

Last evening, the conversation ran thus. The son: ‘Mum, I have this form to fill out. I’ve been chosen to be profiled as a Young Achiever in our school magazine.’

Amma: ‘I need an appointment with the dentist.’

Me: ‘I need a yellow blouse for this sari. (To the husband) Do you realize we need to be there by 8 pm at least? (To nobody in particular) Where is the phone?’

Son: ‘Mum, what is your profession?’

Amma: ‘You have to come with me to the dentist, I cannot go alone.’

Me: ‘Hallo, Dr Mitra? I need an appointment for my mother. (To the husband) If I’m delayed at work, will you go with Amma?’

Son: ‘What should I put down in the Inspirational Advice column?’

Me: ‘Does anyone have any safety pins? I need this sari to stay up.’

8 pm. The reception started at 7.30 pm. The sari is half-tied, the form half-filled, and Amma in a state of shock already at the thought of the dental appointment the next day. The husband rouses from his trance. ‘Okay everybody, we need to do an earthquake drill. The wires say there’ll be another quake before Thursday.’

‘They don’t say specifically located in India,’ I said in exasperation. I’d just got the sari pleats right. He didn’t bat an eyelid. ‘Everyone, out in the garden.’

‘I’ve got to put in this safety pin,’ I cried. ‘It’ll all come off otherwise.’

The husband eyed me sternly. ‘What if it were a real earthquake? They’d just bury you in your expertly tied sari.’ The son guffawed in the background. He was only too glad to get away from his form.

The husband cleared his throat. ‘No standing under beams. This, this, and this are all beams. You feel even the slightest suspicion of an earthquake, just move out into the garden. Immediately. Amma, no waiting for Abhi.’

‘Wouldn’t it be easier to go out of the front door?’ asked the son. He can’t help it, he’s a Libran. The next ten minutes were spent counting the paces on both routes to earthquake survival. The verdict was the garden. Accordingly, we all stood in the garden, my sari more on my arm than around my waist.

‘Okay,’ said the husband, ‘if you can’t get out by any chance, please stand in a corner. Corners are safer than the rest of the house. (To me) We need to keep some food and water in the car. That’s what they do in California.’

I looked surreptitiously at my watch and fixed on a strategy. The son’s antipathy for forms is inherited. ‘More importantly,’ I said, ‘we need to get some household insurance, and a policy for the house. Shall I get you the forms tomorrow?’

There was dead silence. Then, ‘Aren’t we getting late for that wedding?’ asked the husband.

First published in The Financial Express.

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