Stranger than fiction

I’ve never had to look beyond the tales of our own family to know that truth is indeed stranger than fiction. We could argue if my family or it is my husband’s family that has stranger tales. I’d let you decide.

Let’s begin with the tale of my husband’s errant aunts. An aunt who was mad about movies played a starring role in one such escapade. Every time a new movie was released, she had to catch the first show. So when the new MGR movie was released, she was first in line at the cinema hall with her sister-in law, her co-conspirator in these mad-cap schemes.

An hour went by before the two middle aged women were declared missing by the family. While the rest of the women folk initially feigned ignorance in support of their sorority sisters, they finally blurted out the truth after dire threats were issued by the male members. My husband’s uncle was unanimously elected to fetch the starstruck sisters-in-law and off he went in hot pursuit. When he walked inside a jam-packed cinema hall and heard the loud whistles, he was stumped. He had walked into a riveting scene being enacted on screen. The audience was lapping it up as their favourite heartthrob pranced around trees, climbed mountains, dived into deep waters even as he serenaded the heroine.

Though uncle was momentarily impressed by the hero’s gravity-defying acts, he remembered the original purpose of his trip. As he scanned the rows, he just couldn’t find his quarry. In what he claimed later to be a brilliant stroke of genius (the family lore certainly propagates this myth), he approached the man playing the film stills from the back. When the hero was about to declare his undying love for the heroine, a slide flashed across the screen. “Lakshmi, come home immediately. Ambi.”

 Now, catcalls of another kind ensued as two red-faced women stood up and slunk out of the hall. When uncle was spotted, their embarrassment soon gave way to fury. I don’t know what transpired between the hunter and the hunted, but my husband’s uncle certainly survived to tell the tale.

My family wouldn’t want my husband’s family to get all the credit for strange tales. One of my uncles had this charming habit of giving monikers to family members. If one had the good fortune of being called ‘Mani’, then he was certainly the ‘Bell’ of the family. When another Mani joined the family, my uncle had a quick solution. We now had ‘Big Bell’ and ‘Small Bell’. When more Manis joined, uncle threw his hands up in despair. There were too many bells ringing in his head by now. You would have thought that would be the end of it.

The women of my family wouldn’t hear of being referred to by their age or size. So my uncle modified his solution. When ‘daughter Rama’ or ‘daughter-in-law Rama’ didn’t work, the neighbourhood names were prefixed to the names. So we now had a ‘Trichy Lalitha’, a ‘Kovai Meenakshi’, a ‘Mysore Jaya’, never mind that these women never did stay in these cities for long. But that’s how one remembered them in the family for generations.

I’m relieved that there was no one living in Gopichettypalayam or Gangaikondacholapuram. That would have been a mouthful for anyone to remember!

This article first appeared in the Sunday edition of the Deccan Herald.

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