One day we paid a visit to his home to find him facing a crisis beyond his young years. His mother wanted to buy him a hardbound set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. He wanted her to contribute the same amount towards his home theatre system fund instead. Neither was willing to negotiate. Somehow, we convinced ourselves, in our self-declared wisdom as relatively more mature human beings (being girls, we wore the mantle with ease), that we must convince him of the merits of that horribly expensive set of ‘useful’ books.
Oh, but there was a little problem here. He didn’t know what the Encyclopaedia Britannica was! Yes, i know, we were aghast too at the time, but we soldiered on nonetheless. ‘it’s a great storehouse of knowledge’, one of us said. ‘What do you mean, like, explain it to me’, he said. We needed no more persuasion and set about our task, strongly believing that this was our version of the “White Man’s Burden”.
‘It’s got information like how many eggs does a fish lay in its lifetime?’
‘How many is that?’ (Round one to us: we had lit the flame)
‘Well, it depends on the type of fish we are talking about?’
‘What type are you talking about?’ (Round two to the boy. The flame flickers precariously, as we look at each other for help)
‘Hmmm…the average type.’ (Ah! Lord Ambiguity to the rescue!)
‘What type is that?’ (Match slipping away from us, change of tact required.)
‘See, that is just the kind of information these books will provide you!’ i said breathlessly.
Here, i’d like to believe i had won us a reprieve, but then this is my version of the story so i can afford that luxury. However, it would turn out to be a short-lived one (as is the definitional nature of reprieves) for what we didn’t know was this: never underestimate how far a man will go for a desired gadget, in this case a state-of-the-art home theatre system.
On another tangent, i have learnt this lesson well for life ahead and have consequently abandoned all attempts to dissuade my husband from aspiring for and acquiring his desired gadgetry. There’s little we women can do about that actually, so we might as well accept our man’s childlike fascination for flashy, complicated machinery as yet another bizarre fact of life. Such acceptance must be a two-way street though, so all you men out there, this is for you: a woman can never have too many shoes. Oh, and just to make you feel you’re getting a better bargain, they cost much less than your must-have technological wonders! Well, at least some of them do.
Back to the boy now and his story. That afternoon we trooped out, feeling all chuffed up about the powers of female persuasion. Only to return a few days later, en route to a night on the town, to encounter the beaming owner of a new home theatre system. After delicately wriggling out of an impassioned plea to watch yet another documentary on Jim Morrison (we had already watched some on his old VCR), we were led into the bedroom by the suitably smug negotiator. And lo and behold, glinting off a newly installed bookshelf was the complete Encyclopaedia Britannica.
‘But…. how?’, one of us managed to stutter. So a key was swiftly fished out from one of the drawers and he opened the glass door for us to have a look-see. The first volume came off the shelf easily, too easily, in fact, for a tome THAT loaded with eternal knowledge. ‘Well, go ahead, open it!’ And we did, only to discover that that was all there was to it, the cover. More confused stuttering followed. Another smug smile, and finally the truth was revealed. Apparently, in a fitting tribute to the ingenuity of Indians, he had managed to custom-procure an entire set of embossed covers, which would occupy pride of place in his room, under lock and key of course, for a price that left enough for a down payment on the real object of desire.
And THAT, folks, is what they call game, set and match.
We lost touch not long after the happy ending of this family saga, but have seen him on page3 a few times after that... and somehow, my mind always takes me back to the pageless books that might no longer be adorning that locked shelf.