A saint is coming to live in our society,” squeaked Mrs Gill, excitedly wobbling her body in glee. “A saint, did you say?” I asked with exaggerated awe. “Aren’t you all lucky. When did you get this awesome news? What’s his name? And fame?”
“He’s Baba Khushboo.” “Khushboo. Hmm, interesting.”
“You’ve heard of him?” She sidled up closer, waiting for a response.
“No. Just find the name a little odd. Khushboo.”
“What’s odd about the name? It means fragrance or aroma,” she explained, immediately changing the tone of her voice to a knowledgeable one.
“I know that,” I responded, “but having a name like that is a little ... I don’t know how to put it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing at all,” I backed off, trying to avoid a discussion. It’s always a bit tricky starting a discussion with Mrs Pratibha Gill. It usually ends up in either a free-for-all with her voice rising to an unimaginable pitch and her arms becoming windmill blades.
I remember the time when she strutted out to the front gate and picked an argument with the PMC garbage truck attendants. “What’s it with you fellows?” she yelled. “Instead of clearing up the mess, you are scattering it, leaving behind a trail of rubbish. You heard what I said?” The faster her arms swirled, the louder became her voice.
“Stop,” bellowed the driver, “I’ll go deaf. Where did you learn to shout so loudly, you look like such a decent person and you are using language that would embarrass a thug.” He spoke almost eloquent Marathi. Of course, Mrs Gil didn’t understand a word of what he was saying and continued regardless.
The man’s voice rose precariously but the good Amritsar Madam matched him decibel for decibel until he whimpered out of the argument. Then she delivered the knockout punch, “why do all you sarkari fellows in this city behave as if you are doing us a favour? You aren’t. It’s your job.”
Finally she prevailed over the fellows and they cleared up the mess.
“What’s wrong with a name like Khushboo?” Her voice brought me back to the moment.
“Nothing at all,” I said quietly.
“There’s a lot of meaning in it. You have to meet the man to know. The fragrance of wisdom wafts from him and spreads around.”
“Where’s he from?” I wanted to know.
“Everywhere. From the North and the South, from the East and the West.”
“Where’s the man coming from now?”
“From his abode in the Himalayas,” she whispered.
“Where did you meet him?”
“No I haven’t met him but I’ve heard of him. Glowing reports from Mrs Bedekar.”
“The woman does tend to exaggerate,” I reminded her.
“Sure, but she’s not alone in her praise, there’s Mrs Alice D’Souza too. And …”
I stopped listening to her and prepared to make my discreet exit. Just then, a couple of cars started honking hysterically at our front gate. “I think its him,” said Mrs Gill.
“How do you know?”
“My instinct,” she muttered.
The cars were let in and they drew up in the parking lot quite close to where we were standing. Mrs Gill squeaked, “look, I think that’s him.”
I caught sight of a fellow in purple robes, sporting a mop of hair that resembled the fluff of a cobweb cleaner. Mrs Gill almost fainted as she whispered, “Pune is blessed…”
When the group walked past us I caught the man’s eye. Ping went the recall button in my head. “Good God,” I said to myself, “that’s good old Santosh S, the failed IT wallah who switched to becoming a painter and then a marketer of dream homes with portable swimming pools. So now he’s picked up a new avatar and gullible Pune welcomes him with folded hands.”
“You look as if you know the man,” Mrs Gill said.
“I’m impressed,” she wheezed reverentially.