The author must take this opportunity to thank P.G. Wodehouse for providing him with so potent a story telling technique as Mr. Mulliner. Many people have narrated fables, starting from Aesop down. But none has done it as Wodehouse has. I bow down to thee, maitre.
It was on a sweaty, steaming Chennai afternoon that Arjun, and I walked in to the tea shop. The tea shop was a local landmark, not just because of the tasteless, insipid tea that it served, but for a person everyone knew merely as the Oldest Patron.
The Oldest Patron had been a fixture at the tea shop ever since anybody could remember. Some say that he was there, at the very same seat, when Mangal Pandey stormed
The Oldest Patron was a gifted story-teller. He had a story for every moment – stories which ranged from the sublime to the crass. He had a story to tell everyone – whether they wanted to hear it or not. This story is a story about one of his stories.
Arjun and I ordered glasses of tea and settled down near the chair that was, as always, occupied by the Oldest Patron. The Oldest Patron turned a kindly glance towards us and went back to downing his fifth glass. We sunk deep into the comfortable chairs and began to wait for the glasses of tea. Arjun lit a cigarette thoughtfully and began to puff away meditatively, prolonging an already pregnant silence.
It was I who broke the silence.
‘Do you know that ass Shankar?’
‘Yeah…who doesn’t? He’s so weighed down by the moolah he can hardly walk’, said Arjun.
‘Well, he just got himself a new bike.’
Arjun was not too surprised. It was just the kind of thing one would expect Shankar to do.
‘Oh well…’, said he, in the resigned tone of a man who dodged tickets in PTC buses everyday.
‘That’s not what’s stunning and mind-numbing!’, interrupted I, ‘ The egg-head could have sold his old steed for a cool 40,000 rupees. But he chose to dispose of it…’
Arjun jumped up with a start.
‘Payment deferred. Pay when you want…’
Arjun and I had seen this happen too many times not to sense the danger. We’d seen strong men literally tied to their chairs for hours listening to the Oldest Patron’s stories. We tried to sidle away, telling him how we were expected back in college any minute and how our professor would impale us if he did not see us back in class within the next three minutes.
But the Oldest Patron had a glittering eye that was last seen in the person of the ancient mariner. And it was that he put to use upon us when he began to unravel the story…
‘To come back to the story before you curs so rudely interrupted me… Back when Hanif Mohammed’s team toured
A stunned silence enveloped the tea shop as he uttered these words. Words, which in itself, were sacrilegious.
END OF PART 1