Short story

My uncle — The diet

My uncle of the grand moustaches and sideburns, who looked like a major in the army but was actually a retired hairdresser with a very successful business, doted on his grandson.

Dipak, his son-in-law, and, Smita, his daughter, had their home a few gates away from his. My uncle used to drop in every evening and take his grandson, Arjun, for a stroll. Initially, he used the pram. Arjun, who had quite a strong will of his own by the time he was ten months, took to seeing the world from his grandfather’s lap rather than from within a pram. The pram became the empty stroller that his grandfather had to drag. I never quite figured out why my uncle simply didnot leave the pram behind. Perhaps, because it had his grandson’s water and juice.

Like a little tyrant Arjun would point at something and go, “Da..Da” and his grandfather with fond pride would exclaim at the miracle of his speech and either plunge into a nursery rhymes or an explanation. He believed his grandson was unparalleled in this world!

The destination of the winsome duo was the park. At the park, Arjun had his following. Young ladies and gentlemen who liked to blow kisses, run and swing. It was a merry sight. Days rolled into years and Arjun completed a grand decade. Now my uncle was well into his eighties. Still, Arjun would stroll to the park with his grandfather every evening, only not in his lap, but walking beside him.They were both very attached to each other. At the park, Arjun would join his friends in a game of football or cricket. And my uncle would join other retirees, who came to stroll in the park. After a couple of hours, both of them would wind up and walk back together.

By this time, Dipak, asserting his rights as my uncle’s doctor, had imposed a bunch of restrictions on his father-in-law’s diet to make sure he kept healthy. To ensure, he stuck to his diet, Smita would supervise her father’s meals. This was not difficult as her home was really close to his. Sometimes, they would all eat with him and sometimes he, with them. Both the housekeepers took their orders from Smita. My uncle was unhappy over food issues. He complained to Arjun.

” At this age, they are imposing all kinds of rules. I am not allowed sweets, fried things and so much more. Your mother even restricts my cereal intake. They want to treat me like an old man. But am I old? You tell me, am I old? ”

Arjun would reply,” You are our most beloved grandfather. I have a match today. Can you give me some tips on bowling?”

And that had my uncle happy again. He launched into a recital of bowling techniques of famous cricketers. By the time, the park gates arrived, he had forgotten his irritation with his daughter and son-in-law.

One day, my uncle told Arjun,” While you play your match, Major John and I want to stroll outside a little bit. I will be back well in time and then we will return together.”

Arjun agreed. This strolling with Major John became a regular feature. The stroll seemed to suit my uncle. He seemed much happier, ate stoically less for dinner, stuck to the diet plan and didnot grumble.

Smita was a bit surprised. She was even more surprised when she saw her father put on a lot of weight over a period of three months though he ate lesser and lesser. They were so worried that they were thinking of taking him to the hospital for tests.

My uncle absolutely didnot want to go for the tests. Smita and Dipak were worried. Dipak discussed his father-in-law’s issue with one of his colleagues, who after hearing the whole story said,” Are you sure he is not snacking without letting you know?”

Dipak could not answer his question. He went and repeated it to Smita. Smita checked with the housekeeper. He was not snacking at home. The only time that my uncle was out of the eagle-eyed housekeeper’s vision was when he was out or in Smita’s home. Smita’s housekeeper was sure that my uncle didnot snack in their house either.

During his other excursions to the bank, salon or tailor’s, either the driver, Smita or Dipak accompanied him as he was no longer allowed to drive. The driver and workers at his salon were sure he was not snacking when Smita checked with them. The only place where he was unchecked was during his evening outing with Arjun. A concerned Arjun said, “He goes off for a stroll every evening with Major John. Perhaps you can check with him.”

The next day, Smita wanted to accompany her father and Arjun on their evening outing. My uncle was very uncomfortable. He said,”Why do you always police me? Am I a kid?”

Smita went anyway. He told her clearly that she could not join him and Major John for their stroll. He would not let her converse with his friends. He wanted her to watch the kids play.

Smita complied. The next day, she didnot accompany them. She was out shopping. My uncle twirled his moustache boasted to his grandson,” See your mother still knows I call the shots and she has to obey. Fancy, treating me like a truant child! ”

Arjun went off to play. And my uncle started for his evening stroll with Major John, who also had severe diet restrictions as he had high blood pressure and was diabetic. He had to live on soups and boiled vegetables at home, put forth by a hawk-eyed daughter-in-law and his sharp wife.

The two friends were very cheerful when they left.

They returned in half-an-hour, looking sheepish, accompanied by a very cross Smita. She was marching behind them like an angry school ma’am.

The old boys had been caught playing truant!

Smita had positioned herself outside a little shopping complex about five hundred metres down the road. She had watched them the day before turn towards the road leading to the complex. It seems her suspicions had been aroused as she knew of a small Indian eatery that sold hot samosas and jalebis every evening, along with more fried snacks like pakoras. So, the two friends had ended their stroll every night at the eatery and gorged on all the fried delicacies and washed it all down with sweet, milky masala chai as my uncle firmly believed youth and longevity were tied to the state of mind. Eating forbidden food cheered up the two old men.

Smita had swooped in on them as they started on their third samosa !

They were chuckling. My uncle was raising the samosa to the skies,”To hell with diets. Live and let li…” The words froze on his lips as he saw his daughter walking towards their table,looking like thunder.

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