The quarrel started over a minor issue. Mrs Menon’s daughter Ria and Mrs. Sen’s daughter Parul were playing in the shade of the Gulmohar tree on one fine, sunny morning. It was a midsummer morning and the kids’ schools were closed for the summer vacations. They had been playing badminton and hopscotch till the sun became too hot to endure. So they took their dolls and kitchen sets and started playing in the cool shade of the tree. All was going well, till Ria thought it amusing to pull the dress off Parul’s doll and in the process managed to break the doll’s arms. Now Parul was feeling tired and quite hungry and at that moment the damage instilled on her favourite doll under her very eyes proved to be the last straw. On a child’s impulse, she reached out and pulled Ria’s hair. Ria, being the more timid of the two, found herself helpless and scampered off to her mother, howling.
Within ten minutes, Mrs. Menon, a big, heavy set lady came storming to ring the bell at the Sens’ apartment. Mrs Sen was entertaining a client at home as her office was undergoing renovation. Paying no heed to courtesy, Mrs Menon embarked on a long and very descriptive assault on Mrs Sen’s daughter’s aggressive, impudent behaviour. Mrs Sen, sufficiently embarrassed, vowed to intervene later as she was having a guest. This further fuelled Mrs Menon’s anger as she increased her volume of uttering expletives and refused to budge from the door. Mrs Sen, who was by now sufficiently humiliated in front of her client, and seething with rage, slammed the door on her face.
Things took a turn for the worse very quickly, as Mrs Menon wasted no time to gather all the ladies of the building and report that she had seen with her own eyes Mrs Sen resort to ‘inappropriate behaviour with an unknown male in her house during the absence of her husband.’ A few of the ladies who were generally bored housewives and desperate for entertainment in any form, seconded her allegation. They claimed that they had all seen Mrs Sen with dubious looking men in her house at all hours of the day when her husband was at work. In no time at all, Mrs Sen’s reputation was laid to dust.
In the evening, when the respective husbands returned from work, the matter took a different turn. The moment the exhausted men returned home to toss aside their brief cases and sink down on the couch demanding a blissful cup of tea, they were ambushed by their incensed wives. The poor men hardly had time to breathe when they were pounced upon with exaggerated details of the day’s activities from two totally different perspectives.
Mrs Sen, who was always the polished, diplomatic kinds, soon manipulated her husband to lodge a complaint with the housing society regarding the Menons’ lack of civic sense in leaving their garbage out near their neighbour’s door each morning and making their dog relieve itself on the common staircase landing. Before he had a chance to shower and gulp down the tea, Mr Sen was off to the Society Secretary’s place with a written complaint against the Menons. He even gathered a few signatures on the way from a handful of ‘witnesses’ who happened to be none other than his Bridge partners every Sunday.
By the next morning, the whole building accommodating thirty two apartments, were teeming with excitement. There was quite a lot on the ‘unofficial agenda’ of the monthly meeting of the housing society scheduled for the coming Sunday. Mrs Sen had a reputation to save by counter accusing her assailants while Mrs Menon was driven to prove a point.
The birds chirped and the breeze made waves on the carpet of grass. It was a light, cloudy day in summer, perfect for a picnic. Butterflies fluttered along the path of tiny violet blossoms hidden by the grass. Two little girls rolled on the green carpet, playing with the butterflies and laughing in spontaneous delight. Ria and Parul cherished every moment of their holiday, lost in an innocent world where fights happened everyday to be forgotten.
A little way off, in the club house hall, a meeting was on and two very agitated families were playing a different ball game, trying to settle a quarrel with heigtened zeal and purpose.