ढूंढते रह जाओगे!

“Many years back there used to be an ad for some detergent remember where the lady of the house boomed with pride ‘ढूंढते रह जाओगे’ when her husband found no stains on his shirt. Do you remember that?” asked Jigneshbhai while sipping his coffee last weekend.

Swami and I met our broker friend Jigneshbhai had after a really long time, almost as if searching for an occasion.

I did remember that ad and a quick search on his phone by Swami got the video, and he showed it to our broker friend.

After watching it quickly, Jigneshbhai exclaimed, “Yes – ढूंढते रह जाओगे – she said.”

“It looks like a lot of people are searching for things they aren’t going to find in a hurry” he continued as he took another sip.

Swami and I looked at him waiting for an explanation, but as usual our broker friend kept silent and kept us waiting.

As usual, Swami was the first to lose his patience. He erupted “Who is searching for what and what aren’t they finding?”

“A lot of people!” remarked Jigneshbhai looking up from his newspaper and pointed out. “For one, the government is searching for the दाग of black money and still not finding it!” He showed us the numbers released recently which showed that almost all currency notes were returned to banks after demonetization.

He continued “For another, the RBI is searching for the दाग of fake currency and still not finding it!”

Swami and I looked at our broker friend. Swami asked, “But they got so much cash in the banks and data and now know who has how much cash, and I am sure they will catch the crooks!”

Jigneshbhai had a faint smile. “That’s another search, the income tax authorities are still searching for the दाग of those who have black money and still not finding them!”

Swami was not convinced. “They will, isn’t it? Demonetization has increased the tax base and collections, isn’t it?” he asked.

My broker friend was silent for a bit. But he added quickly. “Possibly” he said. “But that’s another search, maybe a treasure hunt, for another day” he added.

Swami was a bit irritated by Jigneshbhai by now as always. “It’s alright. But in the long-term, it will lead to growth in the economy and even the stock markets are up” he asserted.

“Well – that’s truly another treasure hunt. The public’s search for jobs and development! And the investor’s search for value in the markets!” he said in a sly, furtive manner.

Swami was angry by now. “But it has put a fear in the minds of the crooks and left all the politicians from the opposition stumped.”

My broker friend kept silent for a while again. Finally he said. “Now that is true. It has stumped the opposition. They are searching for a smarter politician and still not finding him. It’s a very tough search for the opposition – they are truly ढूंढते रह जाओगे!” laughed Jigneshbhai loudly.

And that seemed to have made Swami happy too, who broke into laughter too.

After a long time, I had seen Swami and Jigneshbhai laugh this way even as they were having their usual tussle. I myself wasn’t quite sure – like always which side I was on.

Just as we were enjoying the last sip of coffee in the middle of this laughter, the wise man in the sprawling bungalow (who always spoke little and in a cryptic manner) was watching our conversation and dropped in. And he stopped us in our tracks as he said,

“ढूंढते रह जाओगे for the दाग of black money is fine for now, but I hope the search continues with the same ferocity, and leads to some real development. Because that’s why we elected this government in the first place. Remember the same ढूंढते रह जाओगे marketing company came back a few years later and told us दाग अच्छे है!”

 

Short Story: Space

On a cold evening in November, the Air India flight from Mumbai started its descent to land at the international airport in San Francisco. In the flight were Mr and Mrs Joshi who were visiting their son and daughter-in-law. A retired government of India employee, the seventy year old Mr Joshi and his sixty-five year old wife had visited their son earlier a few years back when he had just completed his studies. But this was their first visit after their son’s wedding five years back in Mumbai.

Meanwhile, their son Ketan and his wife Anusha checked the flight status online.

“Looks like it is on time. Should we start?” Ketan asked his wife.

“Give me 10 minutes. Just replying to this email” Anusha replied.

As they left their home, Ketan realised that perhaps they were already a bit late. It was a cold November evening, and he did not expect the traffic to be heavy. So he thought if he took the highway, they would make it on time.

“Let’s go through Redwood city” Anusha interrupted Ketan’s thoughts. “I realized that we need to pick up some groceries. Your parents will need them.”

Anusha had already told her friends as well as colleagues in office about the impending visit of her in-laws, and how it was going to invade her space and add to all the overhead activities in her life.

As she picked up some items from the grocery store, Ketan asked her to hurry up.

“It’s for your parents. Otherwise I will have to answer why there’s nothing in the fridge” she smirked back at Ketan. She was horror-struck at the prospect of facing such potential situations.

“By the way, do we have extra blankets? It is quite cold” asked Ketan.

“There are some in the storeroom” Anusha responded nonchalantly.

“But are they usable?” Ketan inquired, not quite sure whether they had been used in a while.

“They should be ok for your parents” Anusha told Ketan. “And your father can also use some of your old jackets lying in your wardrobe” she grinned back at her husband.

“Ok cool” Ketan stopped the conversation.

“Hey by the way, we don’t have extra mattresses” he remembered after a while.

“Yes – you will have to rent them out. In any case, they will need those harder ones” Anusha warned almost with a tone of admonition, thinking about all the adjustments she was going to face in the next couple of months.

“Ok – let’s pick them on the way, and put them in the car.”

After a while, Anusha remembered “What about the pooja stuff for your father? I hope he is not going to stick to that here also?”

“Of course. Guess we need that too. Let’s take it from the Indian store. May be we can pick up some Indian food too” Ketan told his wife.

“But I am not going to cook” Anusha scowled back.

“Ok, chill. My mother will cook” Ketan chose the path of least resistance to maintain the peace. And then added with a grin “By the way, my parents are coming to see you.”

“No they are coming to see you” Anusha reprimanded him.

Meanwhile Mr and Mrs Joshi’s flight had landed and they had finished their immigration formalities. Luckily their baggage also arrived in quick time. Mr Joshi put it on the trolley and started walking to the exit.

At the exit, their eyes searched for their son and daughter-in-law but they were nowhere to be seen. Most of the passengers left within about half an hour after that.

“I think we are late” Ketan said, as he pushed the mattresses into his car’s boot. Most of the car was already full with all the things they had bought on the way.

“But we were buying things for your parents so that they don’t have to adjust.” Then looking at the car, she said “Hope your parents don’t have a lot of luggage. There’s no space. What if we get another cab?”

As they reached the airport, they parked their car and walked to the exit. Ketan saw his parents standing alone with their luggage trolley. He realised that they are going to need a cab for it.

“Hope we are not too late” he said to his father.

“No, not at all. We just landed” Mr Joshi replied, happy to see his son, though that was more than an hour back.

As they prepared to leave the airport, Ketan called for a cab, and gave him the address of their home. As he put the luggage in the boot, and his parents sat in the cab, he explained “Sorry for that. But don’t worry, the cabbie will follow us.”

“No problem” Mr Joshi reassured his son.

Anusha tried to bring a cordial expression on her face. She smiled at her in-laws and said “There’s no space in our car, so we called the cab.” And forcing a jolly grin, she continued, “Welcome to our home!”

Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

“Do you remember Dr Rustom Pavri that character from Munnabhai MBBS that helps Munna pass all exams and not get caught by answering questions secretly on mobile?” asked my broker friend Jigneshbhai when we met for coffee this morning.

Swami and I had a distinct smile of recognition on our faces, but weren’t quite sure why Jigneshbhai was talking about that comic Parsi character.

“My CA friend felt like him yesterday night” he remarked.

Swami and I were wondering why. Seeing that, our broker friend clarified.

“All his trader ‘Munnabhai’ friends were calling him continuously yesterday night, like students who had suddenly got an out of syllabus surprise question in their paper.”

“But this time even my CA friend had no answer to this question. And there was no time to find an answer too!”

Swami and I then realized that Jigneshbhai was referring to the announcement made by the PM and Govt that 500 and 1000 rupee notes would be illegal tender from midnight of Nov 8-9, 2016.

It was the classic out of syllabus surprise question set by a tough paper setter aimed to fail cheating students, and given 10 min before the bell rings.

“And the best part is” continued Jigneshbhai, “that whatever happens, chances are high that the paper setter i.e. PM Modi and his government, win.”

Jigneshbhai was pretty excited about this new announcement and explained the various scenarios why it was a win-win situation for the government.

“Firstly” he said, “if you are a sincere student, this doesn’t apply to you except for a few days of inconvenience of exchanging now illegal tender for valid notes. For that small price, the government gains tremendously in the minds of the common sincere man.”

“Secondly” he continued, “if you are a cheat with cash, you can take the first choice of going to a bank and depositing it, and somehow declaring it. In which case, government gains with tax income.”

“And if you choose not to do it, then you are left with paper which you can’t do much with. In which case again the government gains because they eliminated some unaccounted money without the hassles of catching it.”

“And Thirdly” Jigneshbhai explained, “if you are a cheat with undeclared assets other than cash, you don’t suffer much immediately, but are going to think twice before generating more black money in cash. Again the government gains.”

“Fourthly” my broker friend wasn’t done yet “if none of this happens, the least that happens is the real criminal, drug, fake currency and terrorist organizations are anyway left high and dry with useless paper.”

“And finally” Jigneshbhai concluded, “beyond the economic benefits, the political gains in terms of clean image, brownie points and leaving the opposition with nothing to oppose clearly are like that MasterCard advertisement – things that are beyond measure.”

Jigneshbhai was truly, genuinely excited today. Perhaps after a long time, there was satisfaction felt that being honest mattered, not having black money was good. And the silent black money holder was probably worried for the first time in years.

But it was too early to celebrate. It definitely seemed like the first major step of many more steps of clampdown on domestic black economy. It seemed like an honest attempt, at the very least, and a genuine transformation, at the very best.

The old man in the sprawling bungalow who had been listening to our conversation from the table next to us, reminded us that of all the calculated risks, this would probably rank way up there for this government, with potential gains outstripping possibility of losses – for itself and for the country.

Like Amitabh’s coin in Sholay, it was a case of “Heads I win, Tails you lose.”

Saboot aur Gawaah

“Tamam gawahon ke bayaanat aur sabooton ko madde nazar rakhte hue” started Jigneshbhai in a very filmy mood when we met this weekend for coffee. “Isn’t that how that dialogue went in the old Hindi movies?”

Swami, a big fan of Hindi movies completed the dialogue that my broker friend had started. “Yeh adalat is natije pe pohochi hain ki, Mulzim bekasoor hain. Lehaza Mulzim ko ba-izzat bari kiya jaata hain.”

And we had a big hearty laugh remembering the troubled judge banging “Order, Order!” in God knows how many old Hindi movies.

proof

My broker friend said “One of my friends, an ardent non-believer in God, has this habit of asking for evidence every time any of us remotely talks about anything suggestive of religious, spiritual or ritualistic things.”

Jigneshbhai seemed to be in his story telling mode today, so Swami and I were all ears. Specially when it comes to proof and evidence, Swami is always attentive.

“And as you know, no one has been able to conclusively prove the existence of God so far.”

“So every time after presentation of tamam gawaah aur saboot, the ‘mulzim’ gets baizzat buried!!” Our broker friend broke into a laugh.

Swami and I were not quite sure why he was laughing so much, specially about touchy matters like proof of God.

After a while, realizing that he was laughing all alone, he stopped.

With a twinkle in his eye, he said “By the way, we believe in God with no evidence, but nowadays, ask for evidence about everything else, right?”

Swami and I got an inkling that Jigneshbhai was probably referring to the demands of proof for the surgical strikes that the Indian Army had done a few days back.

All government actions require documentation and process.

We have to submit proof of identity, proof of residence, proof of domicile, proof of income for so many things like Aadhaar card, admission to government colleges, loan applications, etc. Even to get bills passed in parliament, there is ‘kanooni process’. Audits happen to establish ‘saboot’ of corruption happening or not happening.

So it is natural that in a country that goes so much by ‘gawaah aur saboot’, the Army also needs to provide proof of a surgical strike it performed on the enemy.

I wonder whether it would have been a good idea for our Army to have submitted all the right documents at all the government offices and followed all processes, before performing the surgical strikes.

Maybe that would have left ‘tamaam gawaah aur saboot’.

While we were lost in figuring out what would be the best documentation to ensure that there is enough proof before the next surgical strike by the Army, Jigneshbhai broke that chain of thought.

“So we ask for proof from the Army, but where there is proof and ‘after tamaam gawaah aur saboot’, the judge has given his verdict, we don’t follow it, and evoke emotion!”

Swami and I were again left wondering what Jigneshbhai was talking about, but quickly realized that he was probably referring to the verdicts in the Cauvery Water case and the BCCI Lodha committee.

“Sharing water and establishing corruption and shady cricket deals where there is ‘tamaam gawaahon ke bayanaat aur saboot’, we invoke emotion, and from the Army, where we need a bit of faith, we ask for proof.” Jigneshbhai clarified.

Clearly, in a rational world, evidence and data are paramount, Swami and I thought. But our broker friend was perhaps right in suggesting that there is a place for rationality and there is a place for faith.

While we were musing over this, the wealthy man in the sprawling bungalow, who had been listening to our talk (mainly Jigneshbhai’s today), walked over to our table. He sat for a while today and left us with more food for thought.

“For the Army and government, it is rational to not provide “gawaah aur saboot”. And for the enemy and politicians, it is rational to demand for it. For you, it is wise to determine who to place your faith on! Because Koi saboot nahi, toh Koi gunehgaar nahi!”

Motivation and a System

“What was your motivation? Can you give us a few tips?” asked one of Swami’s friends to my broker friend Jigneshbhai when we met him last weekend. It was a slightly different coffee meet last weekend as some of Swami’s and my friends had also joined us for a coffee session with our broker friend. One of them had met Jigneshbhai over a year back last time and on seeing him was obviously surprised.

Reducing 25 kg is a lifetime achievement for someone who has been overweight for most of his adult life, and for Jigneshbhai who was a self-proclaimed foodie and someone who did not have a special talent for any major physical activity or sport, it was a doubly commendable feat.

“This is one question that nobody has missed asking me whenever I have met them over the past month or so” Jigneshbhai remarked nonchalantly on hearing that question from Swami’s friend.

“But the funny thing is I don’t even remember what was the motivation for me to get started” he continued.

Swami and I had got into this type of conversation with Jigneshbhai a couple of months back when we had seen him reduce his weight substantially, get fitter and look younger over the past 6-8 months. He had told us then that at some level, the starting point was some kind of feeling that life was probably running out. At another level, it was perhaps about setting a healthy example for his son.

Eventually he also told us that it was also about trying out something new and seeing where it goes. He also remembered having a conversation over coffee with another mutual friend who had embraced the healthy lifestyle, that had provided the spark for him to start down the fitness path.

“But honestly, motivation is overrated beyond the start. Motivation is a pretty unreliable partner” my broker friend asserted, continuing his reply.

Swami and I were slightly surprised with this answer from Jigneshbhai. We generally tend to think that someone who has done something remarkable probably had a huge motivation. Or some special secret. Even our mutual friend felt the same. And hence his question on the source of motivation and tips.

But Jigneshbhai continued with his different view.

“Motivation fills you with hopes of tomorrow, only to disappear the next day morning. It fills you with possibilities about the future, only to disappoint you when you need it most.”

motivationhabit

While Swami and I were thinking about it, our broker friend continued.

“Don’t get me wrong – motivation is pretty good to get you started, motivation gives you the initial ‘why’ of anything, but that’s about it – don’t depend on it.”

Swami was listening to this with a sense of surprise. And as usual, was the first to counter Jigneshbhai. Not with anger this time – unlike our discussions on investing – but with a sense of curiosity perhaps.

“So if not motivation, what do you depend on?” Swami finally asked.

Jigneshbhai broke into a smile on hearing Swami’s question. He more or less expected Swami to intervene at some point I think. And now that Swami had spoken, he felt a sense of familiarity maybe.

“Well – what I have learned over the past year is that whether it is wanting to build health or to build wealth, the rules are not very different. All that you need is a system. And once you have figured that out for yourself, that system is what you can depend on.”

This was not what Swami and I were expecting.

We were talking about health, and here our broker friend had somehow managed to connect it with his pet topic of investing. And while we were hoping to hear some motivating stories about his journey to fitness, he was telling us about some kind of system. Obviously not something that could keep Swami silent.

“What is a system?” he blurted almost as soon as my broker friend had finished, and while I was trying to absorb what he had said.

Jigneshbhai seemed to have an answer – almost a definition of sorts – ready.

“A system is something that determines what actions need to be taken, builds a plan around them and structures them into regular habits to increase the probability of producing an outcome.” He defined a system almost as if it was from a book on physics.

“And the rules of the health system aren’t very different from those of the wealth system” he added, leaving both Swami and I a bit lost.

Health, wealth, rules, system – it was all getting a bit confusing. Specially when all that we had asked him for was what was his motivation to get fit. And perhaps share a few tips on it so we could follow them.

Sensing the usual look of confusion on our faces, our broker friend was more enthusiastic than usual to remove it. So he clarified.

“Well – the system is a set of habits that remove the need for motivation every time. And I realized that the top few rules of health and wealth systems are simple and very similar.”

“Firstly – you need to save calories, what they call as a deficit, if you want to reduce weight – essentially the difference between what your body spends and what you earn from food. Unless you have a deficit, everything else is irrelevant. Pretty much like investing starts with savings – the difference between income and expenditure.”

“Second – you create the deficit by allocating calories between a bit less food and a bit more exercise of different types, so that you can manage it. In this process, you figure out the foods and exercises that work best for you without losing sleep and within the calorie budgets. A bit like asset allocation.”

“And Thirdly – you build habits in your life that let you do this day in, day out, week after week, month after month without need for a surge of motivation every time. A bit like setting and automatically following your investing plan via a set of methods that work for you, irrespective of where the market is going.”

“That’s all there is to it. Of course, there are finer aspects of what you eat, when you eat, or what you exercise and how much – running or cycling or weights, and such things. But those are techniques that each must find for oneself – a bit like which stocks or mutual funds to buy and sell.”

Finally, Jigneshbhai had told us – in black and white unlike his investing wisdom – the things that he learned regarding his fitness journey over the past year. There weren’t any specific tips we were looking for. But maybe it was better to learn fishing than get a fish.

While we were absorbing what Jigneshbhai had learned from his one year journey to fitness, the old man in the sprawling bungalow who had been listening to our conversation walked over to our table.

This time he looked at all of us and left us with food for thought – the healthy variety.

“Find your motivation and build a system. Motivation will make you feel like doing something, and a system will make sure you do it even if you don’t feel like it.”

Happy Ending

“So finally this is the happy ending we were looking for!” said Swami, in an especially exuberant mood today, as we met for coffee this weekend. Swami’s smile knew no bounds today. “I wonder what took them so long!” he exclaimed.

My broker friend, Jigneshbhai, obviously realized that the reason for Swami’s impish glee was that the Rajya Sabha had finally cleared the constitutional amendment needed to bring in the ‘one country, one tax’ GST regime, and that too unanimously.

And today, even my broker friend, was happy. “Indeed it is a momentous step, a happy one” he remarked making Swami smile. “Politics was why it took so long” he added.

Swami looked at me almost as if to say that, for once, your broker friend has agreed with me. And he seemed to agree with Jigneshbhai too. But today Swami was in a happy, almost filmy, mood.

“You are right. But all sides did ‘Give Some Take Some’ I guess” Swami said, coming up with a new full form of GST.

“But you have to give it to our PM. Kabhi kabhi jeetne ke liye kuch haarna bhi padta hai. Aur haarkar jeetne waale ko baazigar kehte hai!” Swami was in a truly jubilant mood today, which had turned filmy for some reason.

Jigneshbhai gave a surprised smile on hearing the dialogue from Swami.

“But it is the start, not the end,” he proclaimed. “It is not the happy ending, it is the muhurat shot!”

Even my broker friend wasn’t to be left behind in this trading of filmy dialogues today. “The producers and the cast are all set, but the entire film has to be shot still.” They were now speaking only in filmy metaphors.

But he was right, I thought. I had read in the papers that this thing they had done in parliament of clearing a constitutional amendment was only an enabling start.

The states had to now bring their own GST law, and at least 15 states needed to pass it. And then separate GST bills for central and state taxes had to be brought back to parliament, and finally a GST council of finance ministers had to set the tax rate. All this just to get the law started on paper.

Later of course, the bureaucracy – also consisting of former, presumably disgruntled, central excise, octroi and state tax departments, who would then have nothing to do and little avenue for under the table money – had to implement it with utmost sincerity – using a new IT system that was being built.

When all of this is done, it would probably be a happy ending.

But Swami had the habit of celebrating early. And he wasn’t ready to take doses of my broker friend’s realism today.

“So are you saying this is not going to happen?” he questioned, now with the smile gone away.

“Chances are bright that the film will be completed” Jigneshbhai remarked, still in filmy-speak. “But we will have to wait for that to see if it is a happy ending. You know how various stars develop tantrums or sometimes the producer runs out of money!” My broker friend seemed to have taken the filmy thing really seriously today.

But Swami had already declared it – ‘The GST film’ so to speak – a hit. So he had a frown on his face on hearing this from Jigneshbhai. But he was not the one whose enthusiasm could be cowed down today.

Kehte hain agar kisi cheez ko dil se chaho toh poori kayanath use tumse milane ki koshish me lag jaati hai” he finally remarked continuing his SRK dialogue sessions. “Everyone wants this so badly now, that it is going to happen. So don’t worry, this will be done!” Swami continued with a splendid show of confidence.

Well, it was true that there was reason to think of the possibilities of the future, given the leap of faith that our politicians seemed to have taken two days back. But it was equally true that, with time, those tenuous equations change, and there could be obstacles that could put GST on the back-burner again.

So while I was thinking about what was right – Swami’s unbridled happiness, or my broker friend’s cautious hope – the wealthy old man in the sprawling bungalow, who always spoke cryptically walked up to our table.

It looked like the filmy virus of our conversations that he had been listening to, had caught him as well, as he left us wondering with a dialogue of his own.

“Hamari filmon ki tarah hamaari zindagi mein bhi, end tak sab kuch theek hi ho jaata hai.. Happies Ending.. Aur agar theek na ho toh woh the end nahi..Picture abhi baaki hai mere dost!”

Short Story: Anniversary

“Ladies and Gentlemen, May I have your attention please?” announced Jaspal Rana from the stage.

“This occasion deserves special cheers. Everyone please raise a toast to welcome Mr and Mrs. Malvinder Singh.”

Indeed the occasion was special. Everyone had gathered to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the wedding of Jaspal’s best buddy of fifty years Malvinder and his sister Gurvinder Kaur.

There was a loud cheer from the guests after Jaspal’s announcement. The guest list included Mr Malvinder Singh’s close business acquaintances over the past many years, relatives and family members, and last but not the least, their two sons and daughters-in-law, daughter and son-in-law, and seven grand children, and even a great-grandson.

As the 76-year-old Malvinder Singh walked up to the stage, the cheer and clapping increased into a crescendo. Everyone stood up as he was joined by his 71-year-old ‘bride’ Gurvinder on stage. Amidst the clapping, Malvinder Singh started speaking.

“Thank you all today for joining us in celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of our wedding. It has been a very enjoyable journey. And in all these years, so many things have changed. Business has changed, India has changed. Culture and Way of Life has changed. Our surroundings have changed.”

Taking a pause, he looked at his wife and friend on stage. “What has not changed is Love. What has not changed is Friendship.”

The guests broke into a huge applause, as everyone gave a standing ovation to the old couple. Malvinder Singh and his wife were overwhelmed by the occasion. With a few tears in his eyes, he continued, “My heartfelt gratitude to all of you, many of whom have been with us in this journey. And our love to the joys of our life – our children and grandchildren. May peace and happiness be with you. God bless you all.”

With that, the old couple walked off stage slowly, helped by their eldest grandson. Before walking behind them, Jaspal Rana, who at a sprightly 75 years, still had lots of energy, took the mike and announced, “Let the party begin.”

After that, the music blared, the dancing started, the food and drinks flowed. Jaspal who had made all the arrangements for this occasion asked the event managers to take over, and joined his friend and sister at the dinner table.

Born in what was now the Pakistani Punjab, Malvinder Singh had moved to Amritsar (and later Delhi) just after partition, and had built a successful business over the past five decades. Jaspal and Malvinder had met in college and during that time had grown to be close friends. After Malvinder had fallen for Jaspal’s sister, with their parents having expired early, Jaspal was instrumental in getting his sister and Malvinder married. Post the marriage, their personal friendship had got converted into a strong relation. Since they moved to Amritsar in the aftermath of the partition, they had also become business partners. Their personalities complemented each other well, and they had built their business together through ups and downs. The fifty years had been as much about Malvinder and Jaspal’s friendship as about Malvinder and Gurvinder’s marriage.

“Get me my whiskey” Jaspal told the waiter, as they settled at their table.

Then turning to Malvinder, he said “Nice speech. So – fifty years?”

Malvinder, already a bit overwhelmed, said “Yeah – I got a bit emotional.”

“You have always been the sentimental type” Jaspal poked Malvinder.

“Well maybe. But today I think I got a bit more sentimental.”

“No, no. You have always been like this.” And then turning to his sister, Jaspal asked, “He has always been like this – isn’t it?”

With a smile on her face, Gurvinder said “Yes. He cried when each of our children were born. And he had tears even when our grand children were born.”

Holding his wife’s hand, Malvinder smiled. “Yeah – that’s right.”

“See – I told you” Jaspal pulled Malvinder’s leg again. They were both in their seventies. In fact all three of them. But they still had the spark and the camaraderie of their youthful days on.

For the next 2-3 hours, Jaspal and Malvinder sat at their dining table, having small chunks of chicken and large pegs of whiskey. Gurvinder watched on and helped herself to some food from time to time. She was accustomed to this routine for the past fifty years.

All through the evening, guests kept visiting them presenting their table with anniversary gifts. The old couple kept thanking every guest, and asked them if they had dinner and a good time. Every time some one from the guests came, they would touch the old couple’s feet. One by one, the guests finished their dinner and started leaving. Eventually, the old couple’s children and their families also started having their dinner.

All through the evening, Mr and Mrs Malvinder and Jaspal kept going back to some old memory that they had shared over the past five decades. Sometimes it was about some family event, others were about something to do with their children, few others were about something related to their business. Fifty years is a long time, and there were more than enough memories to fill an evening of conversation. And as memories filled the evening, the whiskey pegs filled the glasses.

By the time most of the guests had gone, Malvinder and Jaspal were several pegs down. And Gurvinder started doing what she had been doing on such evenings for so many years. She started asking her husband and her brother to stop. But like other occasions in the past, she knew that this was not going to work. Not when it had not worked so far. But this time, the occasion was special and she sensed that both her husband and her brother were way past their normal limits.

“I have a confession to make” suddenly Jaspal announced. People make confessions when they are drunk.

“So are you getting married?” asked an equally drunk Malvinder with a twinkle in his eye to Jaspal. “Have you finally found the woman of your dreams?” poked Malvinder. Jaspal had never married and Malvinder never knew why. Beyond an age, he had stopped asking him.

“Arre no. I had found her long time back” Jaspal mused. “But this confession is not about me, it is about you” he continued.

“About me? Did you mess up something in the business?” asked Malvinder unable to think what it could be. Though he was not in a state where he could think anyway.

“Arre no – it is about your marriage. And your wife. And a surprise!” Jaspal said in a jolly tone.

Gurvinder looked up when she heard that. Malvinder was already eager. They had reached a stage where there were no more surprises. It was their fiftieth anniversary, and surprises were things of the past. Nevertheless, Malvinder asked his friend “So what’s the surprise?”

Jaspal peered at his friend and gazed at his sister in drunken stupor, and announced “Arre yaar, you married the wrong woman!”

Gurvinder frowned at her brother on hearing that. She was the only one who was sober and she wasn’t quite sure what her drunk brother was saying to her drunk husband.

Jaspal stood up and started staring closely at his sister. “Arre – this is Parminder, not Gurvinder. You got it all wrong.”

Gurvinder got up from her chair to calm down her brother. She asked him to sit down. He was already quite unstable, unable to stand straight. But he continued blabbering.

“And I was the one. I, your best friend. I messed up your life” Jaspal said, and started crying. He walked towards Malvinder and putting his head on his shoulders, he continued crying. Malvinder, equally drunk, was surprised at this sudden emotional outburst from his normally stoic friend, and tried to console him.

Every drunken man feels that he is not drunk and the other one is. Malvinder who had heard Jaspal call his wife Parminder was convinced that Jaspal was drunk and needed his consolation. Holding his head, he said “No my dear friend. You made my life.”

Gurvinder, who by now was quite alarmed pinched her brother and asked him to sit down. She whispered in his ear “Sit down. What are you saying?”

At the same time, she also pinched her husband and asked him to sit down too. “Both of you are drunk. You are not young anymore. Now let’s go home” she ordered. And she asked their driver to get their car.

On hearing that, Malvinder told Jaspal “Jassie – your sister is telling us to pack up.”

And Jaspal obediently said, “Yes, we should listen to Parminder, sorry Gurvinder.” He kept his finger on his lips, and both of them started walking towards the car.

The next day, both of them got up with their customary hangover headache. And Gurvinder realised soon that both of them did not remember anything about last night’s conversation.

But Gurvinder – no Parminder – remembered everything. And she also remembered things that were embedded in the depths of her heart for the past fifty years. On her fiftieth wedding anniversary, she had managed to stop her brother from spilling surprises to her husband. She had prevented the spilling of secrets. A secret that only she and her brother knew.

That she was not the Gurvinder that her husband had originally loved. But she was Parminder – her identical twin sister.

That Gurvinder Kaur had been killed by rioters in the post partition mayhem a few days before the wedding day. A few days before Malvinder was to arrive for the wedding. And that Jaspal, his best friend, had convinced and coerced Parminder to become Gurvinder to save his friend from shock. And to set right all their lives. And that among the partition riot victims that day was also the girl who Jaspal was supposed to marry. And that this was supposed to be Jaspal’s surprise for his friend Malvinder. Best friends getting married together to the loves of their lives.

But fate had willed otherwise. And given a surprise to everyone.

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