Paper Caper

One of the several several joys that retirement held was reading the newspaper at leisure…a pleasure often denied during service due to many faceted demands of work, lack of time, small places I was posted at, bum jobs and so forth. So, early after hanging my spurs, chalked out a schedule, central to which was scouring the ‘paper from masthead, advertisements and right through to the last page. In addition to the avowed benefits, my paper pursuit would keep me out of my wife’s hair. The prospect of me hanging around the house 24×7 had given her nightmares, which only grew as R-Day got closer. Secondarily, it would provide grist for the mill in my favourite, though worthless pursuit of having an opinion on everything…and trying to be on top of things.

So the ‘Old Lady of Boribunder’, aka, the Times of India, hithertofore neglected in the household, as is sadly the fate of old ladies, assumed dimensions of a new, coy wife and the fuss that her arrival occasions. The Man Friday was given specific instructions to personally receive the rolled bundle, lest it fall in a puddle, straighten it out, remove the pesky ‘flyers’ and place it neatly on the tea table. It all appeared good. I would smack my lips in rapacious anticipation of devouring the gazette.

The plan was to get up with the lark, get over with the irritating morning schedule and settle down with the paper in my favourite nook in the house. Well, as old soldiers say, the first casualty in battle is the plan. So the plan starts going awry when I get up well after the lark has done its stuff, fed its chicks and is out foraging for lunch. I am about two hours behind schedule… but no worries, I have the whole day. Don’t need more than two hours to devour the newspaper.

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Rolled paper under the armpit, I saunter at leisurely pace, a song in the heart and a bounce in the step, to my armchair. This is when the wife announces the chores she has lined up for me for the day. “What!”, I exclaim. “I completed those yesterday”. “You didn’t,” she says and adds for good measure, that I have a backlog extending (or receding) two weeks. She lists the usual attributes I possess in abundance… sloth, ineptitude, procrastination, to mention only the nicer ones. Also, she doesn’t forget to add that there is no help in the house and I would do well to shake myself out of my service-days induced reverie and lend a hand.

Well, the paper remains in the armpit as I grudgingly proceed to drive my tormentor to the vegetable vendor, the grocery shop and all possible outlets in the neighborhood. Of course driving a four wheeler necessitates letting go of the paper from the armpit and parking it on to the car dashboard. But as the spouse does her haggling, I get through the first two or three major news items on the first page in the car. Feel a sense of victory and draw vicarious pleasure at having got the better of the wife. Such are the little joys of long married life… and retirement.

The daily crossword, which I must attempt despite never having done better than two across and three down clues, takes an hour on return home .In between there have been so many calls to make to and take from retired friends, whose full-fledged vocation, like mine, is to make a nuisance of themselves at home.

It is nearly lunchtime by now and I am not even through the first (and most important) page of the ‘paper. So I settle once again and am just immersing myself in the niceties and nuances of the PM’s foreign visit, the latest SC ruling and the economy which continues its journey South, when I am reminded by the wife of a promise I had made to her in a weak moment : I would set up the table for all meals once I retire. A man of honour, I couldn’t go back on my word, even as the relish on the spouse’s visage as I grumble through the chore, is repugnant. Since my heart is not in the job, I bungle up and the damn thing seems to take forever.

Lunch, with four people, including two octogenarians, who chew each bite 32 times takes an aeon. Having quickly wolfed down my share, to the accompaniment of angry glares from round the table, I grab the paper and try to go through the third page, when it is rudely snatched away by you-know-who. This is family time, I am reminded, even as my table  manners are called to question.. So I watch the oldies chew and talk of their pains and problems… and irresponsible, retired progeny. Their auditory senses having long since deserted them, none can clearly hear the other. The wife politely nods and smiles at all, while I wear a surly, hangdog expression.

I try to go through another page after lunch as I settle in half sitting-half lying position on the couch, ignoring pitiful, baleful glances from the house-warden. These are however not enough to deter me from my afternoon siesta – you can’t let go of these well earned pleasures of retired life. Before I have read one news item, I am snoring, paper covering the face to ward off flies…and to bounce baleful glances.

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Am woken up all too soon…it’s time for golf. But the paper lies unread : a momentary dilemma ensues…the paper or golf. But  in the battle between reading and playing, the latter has always won, ever since I was a truant school kid…the reason for all those F grades. So golf bag in tow, I am out for the next three hours – the links beckon. Tell myself that there is enough time after I get back to catch up with the news and the newspaper. Suffer misery at golf… for details you may see my blog “18 Till I Live”.

At 6 pm sharp, pick up the paper… have done two pages during the day and now open the third. Strict instructions had been passed round the house: no one was to touch the paper in my absence, lest the sheets fall in disarray. Quickly get over the local and regional news pages in anticipation of coming on to what I love most…the national, international news, op-ed page and the sports news. This is when the demands of Twitter on which I am active, WhatsApp texts which have piled up, unanswered e-mails, etc jolt me and I drop the paper again. Teeming with self importance, I get busy on social media…all those people are waiting for me. All the linked articles, however trashy, must be read so I can comment. The entire SM edifice will come crumbling down if I don’t contribute. Paper be damned.

By the time I am done making an ass of myself on Twitter, have invited rebuke and abuse, been blocked by a few of my very few followers, lost to a few online Scrabble-mates, dabbled with my blog writing, where I suffer a ‘writer’s blog’, it’s news-time on TV. I have to watch all those anchors and panelists with revolvers in their throats, firing at cyclic rate. This staccato burst of verbal volleys is as heady as the two drinks I must have almost every other day. So with the drinks and television ‘on’, the newspaper, four pages read, is straddled on the lap, with an occasional glance, only to satisfy myself that I am doing justice to the neglected broadsheet. I have not yet reached the all important editorial, world news and other pages when dinner is announced by a completely uncaring spouse. She has no regard for my time, multiple commitments…and of course my half read newspaper. However, this is one call I can  ignore only at great peril to myself…and to domestic bliss.

Netflix is another invention which seriously disrupts schedules. It induces what in modern jargon is termed binge watching. There are all those unfinished, half-seen movies and serials which must be watched. But what of the unread paper? It’s past 10pm…well, there is time after the serial/movie. 

It’s almost midnight now. Don’t have to be up early, so can spend a leisurely hour in bed to pour over the editorials, World, Business and Sports news. I ignore the first few yawns. The several books that I have simultaneously started on a range of subjects from sleaze to strategy, nudge with their colourful bookmarks from the mantle piece. Another momentary dilemma surfaces…but I fight the demons and stay the course. The paper has to be read.

The wife by now is into the second, presumably deeper phase of her sleep. Her somnolent snores punctuate the blissful silence of the night. Oddly, however, instead of irritating or disturbing me, they (the snores) begin to also lull me into gentle slumber. I wake with a jolt…God, I haven’t read the editorial, and so much more! I struggle with the print (the fine and the bold), but seem to be losing, as I nod off repeatedly. Have had a tiring day… doing nothing day after day takes its toll. Finally, in despair and sheer disgust I throw the paper down…and guess where it lands? On the sheaf of unread papers of the last full week.

At the end of the day, am no wiser than I was at the beginning. Each successive day follows the previous with disturbing similarity. I can never keep my tryst with the 16 page newspaper… and this when I do nothing- as the wife aptly puts, doing nothing takes a lot of doing. I philosophize and ruminate at her utterance, shrug the old shoulders and say- what the hell, I will do better tomorrow. The next 15 years, or till I am consumed by the elements, seem promising: am going to drink to that tonight- with the newspaper in hand, of course. Cheers!

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© Sharabh Pachory, 2020. All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction
Cartoons and pictures from sources as indicated against each.

Published by Sharabh Pachory

Army veteran interested in reading and writing. Wodehouse fan. No mastery so far.

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