Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 11/30/00 3:07 PM

Humour: Mother of all farces


            Mother of all farces

After almost a decade in the line, I’d thought myself hardened to most people and happenings.

So when the editor asked me to go meet the reigning Herbal Queen’s newly-wed son and heir, and get him to talk about his wedding, it sounded like just another routine assignment.

The house looked deceptively normal. I was led to an outer lounge filled with flowers – on the tables, by the walls, atop shelves. I sat there, trying not to inhale too deeply.

A full ten  minutes later, a smiling assistant ushered me into a chamber where I presumed I was to meet the herbal prince. But no. It was another lounge, done up totally in black lacquer.

Even as I started to get the fidgets, the assistant, smile firmly in place, led me to a chair in front of a giant television screen. I didn’t think to protest till the screen flickered to life. What followed was a fable of the Herbal Queen in her new palace- in her office, in her bedroom, at functions, holding forth in characteristic fashion.

This looked like it was going to be an interminable session. So I got up and announced that I had a 3 pm appointment. With the Prince. Somewhat stiffly,
the now unsmiling assistant switched off the screen and asked me to wait.

After 15 minutes, another assistant, smiling broadly, ushered me into what I recognised (I’d just seen the movie, remember?) as the royal office. Red, black and animal prints, if you must know.

And there she sat, keen eyes looking at me through all the profusion of kohl. She wore an animal print that clashed with her tangerine hair. But there was no sign of the man I had come to meet. “Ask me whatever you want,” said Her Highness.

I explained that I needed a first person account from her son. “He is but a boy, what does he know? ” she pronounced majestically. “Ask me whatever you want.”

I repeated that I needed to ask him about his bride. “Whatever for,” she replied, then proceeded to tell me all about the bride’s antecedents, what she wore at the various ceremonies preceding the wedding, what was expected of her in the royal household,  etc.

And then, the prince entered the room. He’d come to ask his mother something. I jumped in and asked him about his marriage. Even as he opened his mouth to reply, the royal mom snapped sharply, “You keep quiet. What do you know about your marriage?”

This was becoming the mother of all farces. “I need five minutes alone with your son,” I told the Queen firmly.

“No, no, no. Out of the question,” she said, shaking her head in horror.

“Why?” I queried in stupefied fashion. “I dare not leave you alone with him,” was the answer.

As replies went, that one was a dazzler. Which is why I never got round to asking whose behaviour she eyed askance – her son’s or mine.

The question still troubles me on dark moonless nights.

(This piece of faction ends sadly. Some years later, the young man in question took his own life. )

This ran in THE TIMES OF INDIA on  30 Nov 2000.


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Sheila Kumar • November 30, 2000

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