With Rajinikanth’s Padma Vibhushan, the North is finally seeing what the Superstar is all about. Baradwaj Rangan reports.
“Hey Ram! Is it raining?” These were the first words out of Mrs. Sharma’s mouth when she opened the door and saw her husband, soaked from head to toe. Mr. Sharma didn’t reply. She looked past him and saw the sun gleaming over Lajpat Nagar, and only when Mr. Sharma walked past her did she realise it wasn’t water. “It looks like…” she began, and he snapped at her. “Yes, it’s milk. I was just outside, buying baingan for your bharta. The subziwala was listening to news about the Padma awards on the radio. They mentioned the name Rajinikanth. And suddenly, the sun vanished. The clouds came together and formed his image. You know, na? That Andhaa Kanoon actor. All of us looked up, unable to move. Then a big plane appeared out of nowhere. The door opened and Donald Trump took out a hose and began showering the cloud-image with milk. His crew, after breaking coconuts and performing an aarti, began transmitting the proceedings to New Jersey and California, where he’s after the Indian vote.”
“Achcha, you first clean up,” Mrs. Sharma interrupted. “I’ll put the geyser on.” She went inside and sighed, well aware of her husband’s tendency to make up these stories. “He watches too many South-wala masala movies,” she muttered to herself. She heard a faint whoosh sound around the house and wondered if a storm was gathering. No, it must be her imagination. She’d better be getting back to work – all those papers scattered around, all those files due before Republic Day. She flicked on the geyser switch and returned to the hall just in time to see Mr. Sharma tossing a cigarette into the air, rubbing two paperweights, creating a spark, and lighting the cigarette as it fell into his lips. She screamed, “Arrey, Baba!” He turned to her and whispered throatily, “B to the A to the B to the A!” He seemed unaware that his left hand had begun raking through his bald pate, as though he had a full head of hair.
“What’s happened to my husband?” Mrs. Sharma thought, recalling his humble roots as a bus conductor, then auto driver, then milkman. “You forgot taxi driver,” Mr. Sharma said, though he wasn’t looking at her. His eyes were fixed on his -12/-9 glasses, which he was twirling towards his face. “You can hear my mind now?” asked Mrs. Sharma, after she managed to close her dropped jaw. “Yes. If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times,” said Mr. Sharma. “I don’t understand,” Mrs. Sharma said, bewildered. Mr. Sharma sighed exasperatedly and said, “Only pigs keep repeating things. Lions roar but once.” Mrs. Sharma said, “Ya Rabba! That doesn’t even make any sense. What are you…?” Mr. Sharma silenced her. Pointing an index finger at the sky, he said, “My path is a unique path… A man who talks too much and a woman who listens too little have never lived together happily… How eez eet?”
Mrs. Sharma sat down, a hand over her head, when she heard a voice from the doorway. “Didi, my husband too has begun to talk like that. He calls it punch dialogue. It’s all I could do to stop myself from punching his face.” It was Mrs. Varma, the lawyer’s wife next door. “What’s more, he wants to change the name of his firm to… Meri Adaalat. And he’s begun to call our triplets John, Jani, Janardhan.” With her back to the wall, in order to avoid Mr. Sharma (who had now relaxed into a meditation pose, as though he were in the Himalayas), Mrs. Varma inched towards Mrs. Sharma. Sitting down, she said, “A lot of my friends are saying similar things. You know Mrs. Khanna, from Chandni Chowk? Her husband has begun talking in Japanese. He says he’s recalling a past birth, where he was a Dancing Maharaja. As for Mr. Chadda, he no longer swats mosquitoes. He levitates in the hall, flies all the way into the kitchen and squashes them with karate kicks.”
The sound of the phone burst through Mrs. Varma’s narration. “Hello ji,” said Mrs. Sharma, careful to shield the receiver from her husband, who had begun to reach for it in the manner of a pauper who was about to become a multimillionaire over the course of a song. “Mrs. Sharma? This is Mahadevan. Mr. Sharma wanted me to pick him up on the way to work today. Is he ready?” That broke the dam. Mrs. Sharma burst into tears and told Mr. Mahadevan everything. To her surprise, he just laughed in a strange, singsong way. “Aa… haa… haa..” Then he said, “You should really talk to my wife about this.” After some shuffling – and these muffled words, “Don’t worry, I will get Kabali and Chandramukhi ready for school” – Mrs. Sharma found herself speaking to Mrs. Mahadevan.
She, too, just laughed. “Oh, Mrs. Sharma. This is what happens when you suddenly look at the sun.” Mrs. Sharma wondered if Mrs. Mahadevan was beginning to talk in punch dialogues as well. “What Mr. Sharma and the others have is Superstar-itis, which is caused by sudden exposure to a blinding phenomenon.” Mrs. Sharma bit her tongue and wondered if Mrs. Mahadevan would ever stop sounding like the schoolteacher she was. It was like hearing a robot that had discovered it had emotions. She asked, “But why doesn’t Mr. Mahadevan have it?” Mrs. Mahadevan said, “Because my husband has been watching and worshipping Rajinkanth for decades. You Northies either ignored him or treated him, at best, as some kind of fun figure. And now, you’re discovering that he is indeed a genuine phenomenon, someone that the Government of India has chosen to honour with its second highest civilian award. Don’t worry. You’ll get used to it.” As Mr. Sharma came out of the bath, clad in a T-shirt that said “Tumhare paas gaadi hai, bangla hai… mere paas Baasha hai,” Mrs. Sharma whispered, “But what explains it?” Mrs. Mahadevan said, “Can you explain Saturn’s rings? Can you explain why it’s taken so long to come up with the odd-even rule? It just is, Mrs. Sharma.” “Chalo, thank you, bye ji,” said Mrs. Sharma. Mrs. Mahadevan signed off from the other end. “Gatham gatham.”
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