Ever since I remember, I was absent minded. As a child I was terrible in this aspect, and the cover-up operations of my forgetfulness related escapades were even worse.
My father once asked me to switch on the geyser in the bathroom and open the tap so that the plastic tub (not bathing tub – a huge tall bucket which we called tub) would be filled with hot water when he came for his bath. As I opened the bathroom door, I saw my face in the mirror above the wash basin. I stood there making faces at myself for sometime and then came out forgetting all about the geyser. Exactly 15 minutes later, he called me again to remind me to switch off the geyser and close the tap. (He was such a meticulous person that it’s a mystery to me even now how I didn’t inherit even an iota of that quality). I rushed to the bathroom and did what I was supposed to do 15 minutes earlier, and as I turned around, I saw him standing at the door of the bathroom staring at the empty tub.
Perplexed, he asked,” What happened?”
“I don’t know”, I lied. “Water stopped, I think”
“It’s not good for the geyser (it was not a storage geyser & not the automatic cut off type – this happened some 40 years back). It’s dangerous too. Might cause shorting in the house.”
Then, “Hereafter, you better remain in the bathroom till the tub is full”.
God’s punishment for lying, I told myself.
The next day, around the same time, I was asked to switch on the geyser and remain in the bathroom and keep a watchful eye over the flow of water from the tap. I switched on the geyser, took an Enid Blyton’s Noddy book, and sat in the dressing room reading. Half an hour later, my father came in to find me engrossed in the book and the tub overflowing.
“The tub is over flowing”. He sounded angry.
“It wasn’t a minute back”, I lied through my teeth
“Why? Did the water stop like yesterday? It takes only 15 minutes for the tub to get filled”
“Yes”, I lied again. “Water stopped again”
“Did you switch off the geyser then>
“Then what happened?”
“Suddenly it started flowing again”
“What could be wrong?” he was puzzled. “Maybe something goes wrong when the water channel becomes hot”.
After his bath, he switched on the geyser to fill the tub for my mother, and waited to see for himself the symptoms of the geyser’s malady. He made me wait with him. But nothing happened. In fifteen minutes, the tub was full, and he appeared relieved.
“Strange”, he said.
“Strange” I agreed.
Absent mindedness has been my faithful companion through my life. There were a few times when the two of us nearly set my house on fire, or brought it dangerously close to the brink of disaster. And there were times when I was able to see the strangest spectacles when this faithful companion chose to assert himself - like that day when I put a round bottomed vessel of water on the stove and forgot all about it. After some time, we got a strange smell of molten metal, and I suggested to my husband and children that it might be coming from the dyeing unit of the Bombay Dyeing factory in the adjacent compound. Lunch time came around and I went into the kitchen. I’ll never forget the sight that greeted me. The round vessel had changed its shape and looked like the perfect female figure – and there it sat on the flame like a woman sitting on a pyre. And the flame had acquired a supernatural hue, bringing to mind the biblical burning bush!
But one absent mindedness related episode I would like to completely blot out from my mind happened at the turn of this century. It was a Saturday, and my cook hadn’t come. So, I got into the kitchen to make quick biriyani. The black elastic broad hair band I used to wear to prevent hair from falling into food, was nowhere to be seen. Just then my eyes fell on a huge notice my mother-in-law had brought from the church. The hats the chefs in TV programmes wore came to my mind and I made a cap out of that notice and placed it on my head. I knew to make only one type of hat – the conical dunce cap. I fixed it on my head with a couple of slides and started cooking.
The door bell rang.
I forgot all about the dunce cap on my head. I opened the door, and there stood the newspaper agent with the bill. He looked at me and his expression changed abruptly. He looked flabbergasted and was staring at me as though he had seen a ghost.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, totally perplexed.
“Nothing”. He said, his eyes darting towards my head. And then I remembered my topi. Immediately, I ducked behind the door. Then, realizing that he was waiting there, I stuck out just my head from behind the door and told him to wait while I got the money.
Guess I was too flustered to remember that the problem was with my head and not the rest of me. The man, by now had a strange expression in his eyes. With eyes like saucers, he looked at my head crowned with the dunce cap peeping out from behind the door. I thought he looked nervous. AS I walked to my room to get the money, I looked out of the small window overlooking the stairs which led to my first floor flat. And I saw the man running down the steps, three steps at a time, as though the very devil was after him.
He sent the newspaper delivery boy the next day with a note for the money. Ever since, that became the arrangement to collect the payment for the paper.