In The Heat Of The Night

In The Heat Of The Night

In the dead of night, a parallel TV industry has sprung up for those who wish to lead parallel lives.

By Anand Ranganathan

Published on :

There is an endearing element to seeing an elderly Punjabi lady in salwar kameez and sneakers. Even more endearing is watching her go nowhere on a treadmill. And the emotional cup brimmeth over with endearment when the lady turns out to be your mother-in-law.

In describing her futile attempts at losing weight I run the risk of being denied forever of her legendary aloo paranthas, those glistening discs of starch and trans-fat that compel a son-in-law to visit his home-away-from-home every weekend. Sacrifices have to be made at the altar of journalistic objectivity I guess.

Well, if the guillotine is to come hurtling down after all, I might as well include my father-in-law. In fact, why not bung in the brother-in-law, too, now that the head has no idea how far it has landed from the writhing torso?

Yes, there’s nothing more unnerving for an insomniac than to be married into a family of insomniacs. You arrive at dinnertime hoping to be shown your rightful seat at the dining table, where, once perched, the process of chomping in quietude may commence. So it comes as a mild surprise when you see folks shuffling about you as though they’ve just escaped from a zombie hideout.

But come midnight and it’s suddenly Diwali! The mother-in-law is doing a Julie Christie impersonation – informing anyone who’s interested that the hills are alive with the sound of treadmill. The father-in-law has rolled his pajamas right up where you can see the “identifying mark” his passport mentions, and is rubbing the Jackie Shroff vouched-for forest oil so forcefully on his legs there’s a danger it might seep right in and enter the blood stream. To complete the family picture. the brother-in-law is busy disentangling his limbs and other body parts from Ab-king Pro, having entered its machinery willfully.

As you stand there, open-mouthed, taking in the scene, you realise what utter devastation and upheaval late-night television has brought to the lives of those who, for years, routinely hit the sack as soon as the Mandi House mandarins decided to call it a day themselves. To hear the cuckoo flick open her hatch and crow 12 times in succession was as rare an occurrence as India winning an individual gold medal at Olympics. That India finally managed to win an individual gold medal at Olympics is itself an indication of how irrevocably things have changed since those golden days of the 80s and early 90s.

A short stroll around the in-laws’ house is like a daytrip to the Museum of Late Night Television Products, and very quickly you realise the stranglehold the unearthly hour has had on our daily existence. Those bastards with razor-sharp eight packs and bulging biceps and triceps have lured us into postal-ordering a Polish treadmill and an Ab-king Pro, and it’s the ultimate revenge of the out-of-work Jackie to have prompted a gracefully ageing man to yearn for an ointment that can bring him relief from joint pains.

Two steps back and one sideways and you are in the kitchen, staring disbelievingly at the centerpiece attraction: a smoothie maker with a striking resemblance to the alien hovercraft Jodie Foster employed for travelling through a wormhole in the film Contact. Yes, this one was ordered at two in the morning by the mother-in-law, no doubt charmed at the sight of fruits being centrifuged mercilessly and taken to the cleaners.

A step further in and you have before you a collection of monster knives a serial killer would be proud of. Or not, given that it’d be almost impossible to bury these particular hatchets and scoot to safety. This arsenal was received, again, through the dreaded postal order, as were the energy-saving pressure cookers, the bactericidal kitchen wipes, and – how can one not marvel – a dicer so advanced the blonde and blue eyed woman with a Marathi voiceover guaranteed it could reduce a hundred cucumbers to a pitiable state within seconds.

There is also the inflatable sofa-cum-bed, the magic duster, the ten-in-one coffee maker, the electronic BP monitoring machine, baldness-curing yoghurt…the list is as long as the night is for an insomniac.

It is heart-breaking, trust me, for a son-in-law to witness first-hand the utter ineffectiveness of GreenSlim tea, another one of those purchases made in the heat of the night. I won’t deny flicking a teardrop or two at the sight of the mother-in-law squeezing shut her eyes, flaring up her nostrils, taking a deep breath, before downing the green slime in a flash. A good thing the humongous red bindi covers her teesri aankh or it’d have been curtains for that obese tea estate owner.

A parallel industry has sprung up, for those who wish to lead parallel lives. The healthy, wealthy and wise man, who was early to bed and early to rise, has completely missed the bus here. Poor guy – he wouldn’t even know if such a thing as Sandhi Sudha exists. His joints must ache terribly, his abs a mere depot for constantly arriving busloads of hydrogenated vegetable oils; and his sandwiches – well, they must be crammed with irregular and crude cuts of cucumber and tomatoes. What a waste of a man! Someone please tell him to stop watching primetime TV debates and be enticed, instead, by these modern day infomercial Apsaras who can persuade even the toughest of Rishimunis to postal-order a goose-down floor mat (“If you ring within the next five minutes, the adjustable armrest comes free free free free free free.”).

A curious thing that strikes you about these infomercials is that, like other nocturnal life forms – an owl; a bat; Manish Tewari – they refuse to show up during the day. Now why would that be, unless of course you are worried that a well-rested, well-fed, fresh-as-a-daisy viewer wouldn’t be hoodwinked as easily as his sleepy-eyed, hungry, dappled-as-a-sunflower counterpart. Yes, they’ve got it! Who during the day would part with their hard-earned money for a collection of seven khukris? But at two in the morning, when you are tired and hungry and aching for that sandwich or a smoothie, the sight of a 100 flawlessly diced cucumbers and bucketfuls of perfectly smooth mango shakes appears as a succulent mirage. You run towards it, you want to touch it, and so you pick up the phone and buy it. Genius!

Now that I might never be allowed to enter my in-laws’ home, much less devour their aloo paranthas, I have a confession to make. I coerced my brother-in-law into buying Ab-king pro after explaining to him the benefits of my very own Ab-pro-1, which I now use for the sole purpose of parking myself on every morning to tie my shoelaces. Hah, saala!