“Happiness is, Waking up without a Hangover”

It was past midnight. The curtains were drawn, and the sheets pulled over. Aside from the occasional creaking of ceiling fans in the three rooms, all was silent in the house. Chests heaved in a rhythmic motion, some releasing gentle snores. Although a weekend, it had been a long day for everyone in his family. His three sons and their wives had come together to celebrate the yearly harvest festival. Looking after eight members was a daunting task. Besides the usual chores, preparation of festive delicacies arrested major time and attention. It wasn’t possible without help. Unless they lived in the same number day in and out, which wasn’t the case. Each son worked in a different city. All said and done, the bottom line for this household was people. They gathered for reasons, festive or melancholic. They considered their togetherness the pinnacle, whether they united in person or otherwise. Oneness was of prime significance to every one of those eight members, irrespective of the side any coin flipped. Even if that meant exertion in terms managing the household. Which incidentally, was neither unknown nor unanticipated. At the end of the day, the family was together. There was a sense of belonging, despite individual differences. And that’s all that mattered.

Lights glowed in the hall. It was half past twelve. Of the three rooms his sons had slept in, no one stirred in the last one. A slice of fluorescence crept underneath the creak of the closed door. Noises swept in as one of his sons opened the doorway. They heard yelling in the main hall. It sounded like a conversation that was reeling a heated argument. They did not take long to understand that the conversation was over the phone. Also, there were no prizes reserved for guessing the caller. Another of those countless verbal battles with no visible head or tail to it was in progress. The same battle whose end had become invisible over time. Between the three siblings – the father, his brother and sister. Their tugs of wars were like tunnels with no sight of light. They always had been. The three would pick a side and pull the rope on their ends. Neither did the three pick the same team once, nor did they give the rope away. Alas.

Years had passed. The siblings’ families had grown. They had become grandparents in one way or the other. And the radius of their oral wars had expanded proportionally.

She screamed from the other end of the phone at her brother for being irresponsible despite being the eldest amongst the three. She bawled at him about how their mother mustn’t be abandoned; not when she was inching towards her ninth decade. She spoke of their mother being unattended to in the past couple of days and how she was increasingly growing unwell. His sister’s lecture demonstration was unceasing. More than once, the father’s family of eight mistook her tirade of abuse for the lyrics of Breathless 2.0.

No amount of interruptions or conversational break-ups coaxed his sister. Her brother listened to her, first in wonder then in vain. He did not discourage the youngest of his siblings from having called in the middle of the night. He did not tell her off for having spoilt everyone’s sleep. Not that she was willing to listen to an explanation in any case.

He knew the conspirator of this call in the thick of the night. It was his power-hungry, middle brother.

She wasn’t patient when her eldest brother wanted to offer a reason for not picking up their mother earlier. She didn’t respond to questions he put forth when didn’t understand portions of her monologue. She had no answer when he asked of her denial to pick up their mother when he had visited them a few days ago. She wanted to be the only one to speak. And she expected results. Immediately. She wanted him to collect their mother from her place then and there. She wanted him to travel from one corner of the city to another right then. At one in the morning. On the night of a festival. She couldn’t keep their amma for another day as she felt indulged in too many conflicts of her own. Out of the blue. She began covering the same points in a loop as if she were on the dais reciting an oration. She was stunned of running out of reasons ten minutes into the call for she had probably wanted to make an impact. She began playing with words by repeating bits and stances and shifted her attack to the past. To their yesteryears. About how their mother had taken care of them when they were young. And how they ought to repay her now. Maybe, she expected claps towards the end for having made a moving speech. Or cries and breakdowns for making her brother’s family realise of their negligence. Towards a ninety-year-old lady. Ironically, the one who was the creator of them all. The womb from which the prizefighters of today had birthed.

Apparently, the sister believed in her midnight discourse. That she had a justifiable ground to dictate a permeable verbal exchange. All at an hour when one would have liked nothing more than to shut their senses.

Her spectators – the brother’s family of eight – were patiently watching a dispute, that made no sense to them, unfold. They stood through the tolerance; painful it was, for it sprouted from a different generation. Compromising and adjusting had probably bitten their father, uncle and aunt at some point severely. Though they had stopped trying in the aftermath, they were hung over each other even after years. Their plans and inhibitions had taken a backseat given their choice to pay prime importance to people lay long forgotten. Had Maslow still been around, he would have listed this case as an exception. Or, maybe not. In their resolution to involve sympathy-seekers, the three had conveniently forgotten to tighten their knots of disagreements along the way. And the fire had spread outside the radius, infecting burns on those who had watched the show from the front seats. Why shouldn’t it; the fencing lay forgotten, after all.

“Sometimes when you get hammered till the small hours you feel pretty good in the morning, but really it’s just because you’re still a bit drunk. That old hangover is just toying with you, working out when to bite.” Jojo Moyes, Me Before You

There is always a morning after the night before. What if on some days, there did prevail that sunshine for a spotless mind? For one, people hangover could be brushed off. And second, alcoholic after-effects wouldn’t have appeared friendlier to deal with.

Because even spirit-inflicted hangovers heal, if given time. Sometimes, within a day.

Valparai

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