My name is Omprakash Radheshyam and I live in a tiny coastal village called Partam. The glass factory has made me richer than I had hoped to be, but all the wealth in the world cannot help me in getting my daughter married. Radha is already twenty five, which by regular standards is way above the acceptable marriageable age for a young Partam girl. The problem is her laugh. It scares away suitors, even the unacceptable ones. Partam’s resident matchmaker Kaluda states that all the evils that she has committed in her past birth are now reverberating in her laugh. I find that a bit unbelievable, but have performed all the possible rites and ceremonies to help the kid wash away her supposed wrong doings. But she still laughs her crazy, demonic laugh and we just don’t know what to do.
I was away on some business trip when Radha was born. Her mother would write me letters giving a blow-by-blow account of how Radha smiled, ate and cried. But I still remember the letter which described her first laugh:
You won’t believe it, but today Radha laughed. Oh, what a laugh it is! Actually, you know it’s kind of different. Like Shamu’s Ambassador when it refuses to work, you know, the engine sputters and chokes and fumes a lot. But, panditji says that its alright, something about an untuned instrument….”
My kid’s laugh sounds like an Ambassador trying to start up? I decided that it was time to return home. Radha was a happy girl. She laughed a lot and once you got over the initial shock of hearing her laugh, it would sound almost bearable. But as she grew up, the cost of window panes, glass panels and mirrors increased and her laughter came with an added price. Our neighbors replaced window panes because their son played cricket. We did so because our daughter simply threw her head back and laughed.
Finally, Radha became eighteen and all kinds of suitors came knocking at our door. The morose, dead depressed kind lasted for a while whereas the more talkative, charming type failed miserably. Or rather ran speedily in the opposite direction after having succeeded in making Radha laugh.
The first chap was of a gregarious, bubbly disposition. He prided himself in knowing how to strike the right note with the girl. Radha’s friends were envious because he was witty, funny and awfully good looking. In the first ten minutes of meeting her, he narrated about ten jokes. Kaluda tells me that the boy still cries in his sleep.
“Some biscuits, beta?”
Kaluda had come to meet me last week about a new proposal for Radha. I told him that I was not interested- simply because I was tired and had no energy for going through the whole drill again. He said that the time was right, that Jupiter was orbiting happily and that Saturn’s moons were buzzing around peacefully and that there was no possibility of ill luck. That I should take this opportunity and invite Mr. and Mrs. Mehra home and discuss the proposal as soon as I can.
Mrs. Mehra suggested that we let the kids alone for sometime and I escorted the couple out to the lawn. Radha was speaking:
“….and will you believe it, the hypocrite told him that we have to save the environment...”
I sank my head in despair. The Mehra boy asked excitedly:
“Well, what did he do?”
No.No, no, no.
“Oh, you’ve no idea how bored he was. He told me that he nearly split his face yawning.”
A scream of high-pitched laughter tore through the air. It rolled around like a thundercloud before bursting into peals of bat-like frequency, the first of which instantly forced a housefly to drop dead on the door mat. The Mehras looked away sheepishly.
Two heads turned towards the window, shamefaced.
“Oops, we’re sorry…”
“Yes uncle, didn't mean to start you at all.... But, that was just hil-hil-hilarious!”
They turned towards each other and threw their heads back and laughed.
Thunderclouds rumbled, bats screamed, trains crashed and chalks screeched.
I decided to go for a walk.