‘Common cold turned into bronchitis in my world of make believe’

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Illustrations: Mayanglambam Dinesh

When faced with an impending deadline for this article, I reacted in characteristic fashion: Keep Calm and Panic.

What would I write? I didn’t have an incredible near death experience; no touching anecdotes of triumph in the face of tragedy. No battle with alcoholism or drug addiction. Never hit the proverbial rock bottom only to emerge all Iron Man-y like Robert Downey Jr. In my worst nightmare, I am being interviewed with Oprah Winfrey and yet not able to make her cry.

So as I grappled with another case of writer’s block and dug into my sea of stories, I came up with zilch. It was only after I deep dove into my childhood memories that I unlocked what to me is now the (as they say) raison d’être, the core motivation behind my writing. The ground zero of it all. And like most of the important things in life, it all starts at home, stemming from the most seemingly mundane of instances.

For me, it started with writing letters to my mum. I was 13, living with my grandma in Mumbai while mum, dad and sister stayed in Dubai. That’s how it was. Me here, them there. We met twice a year — once for Christmas and then for summer holidays. The rest of the year we would keep in touch via letters (the handwritten posted type) and the occasional phone call made to the only neighbour with an mtnl phone.

Maybe it was my desire to make the most of every interaction with Mum. Fill it with dramatic incidents, fun memories. Entertain her. Even in the letters. It was probably this that once led me to end a very regular letter in melodramatic fashion (also perhaps my very first joke/prank).

The gist:
Hi Mum,
I’m fine.
School is great.
PS: I have acute bronchitis.

See, I had just found out that a case of prolonged chest cold could be acute bronchitis. The word fascinated me. It sounded deadly. It had promise. Of course, I only had a normal cold, but why not stretch the truth and have a bit of fun. To my teenage mind, the joke was that I would say, “Ha ha, Mum I only have a cold.”

It was probably the longest time anyone’s waited to get a reaction to a prank.

Sure enough, 10 days later Mum calls and I run over to my neighbour’s house dying to deliver my punch line. At the other end of the line, I encountered a frantic woman — incoherent, delirious, and through the sobs I manage to decipher “Clyde, are you okay? We are coming down next week?” The better part of the expensive phone call was spent convincing mum of my morbid sense of humour and being admonished long distance.

But I was unstoppable. Years later, on a summer holiday in Dubai, I constructed a murder scene (again for the benefit and entertainment of mum) wherein my sis and I lay on the floor covered in ketchup with a knife lying next to our supposedly slain bodies. The whacks I received that day were not long distance. And so there were other instances and eventually mum learnt to cry, laugh and give me two tight slaps.

Last year, when my first book Kissing Ass was published, I dedicated it to mum. It read:

To Amy, my mum
For laughing at all my jokes
(It’s all her fault).

If she were alive, I know she would have read it, cried, laughed and given me a slap or two.

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