The comedy of terrors

My friend A's mother-in-law B took great pleasure in making A miserable.

The comedy of terrors? Sounds odd, doesn’t it? But let me explain. Surprising though it is, terror has its lighter side. This truth is old and also reflected in folklore. Here is an example.

A poor Brahmin priest, Vishnudutt, was married to the clever Buddhimati. Though they were poor, the priest was generous to a fault. He would invite someone for a meal everyday. This meant that his wife and children went hungry. Buddhimati tried to explain matters, but Vishnudutt turned a deaf ear. She then hit upon a plan.

The next day when Vishnudutt brought home a guest, Buddhimati welc­omed them warmly. She told Vishnudutt, “Go have your bath and then you can eat.” She spread a mat for the visitor and asked him to be seated. She cleaned a corner of the room, went into the kitchen and emerged holding a stout stick, the kind used for washing clothes. Propping it up in the corner, she placed offerings before it and began praying reverently.

The puzzled visitor asked her what she was doing. Buddhimati answered, “I always do this when my husband brings a visitor.” “Why?” “If I pray, then the gods will forgive him for beating up the guest after his meal.” The words made him jump. “For beating up the guest?” he stammered. “Yes, you see he is slightly mad.” The man had, by now, reached the door. Just then Vishnudutt arrived. The man immediately took to his heels.

“Why did he run away?” asked Vishnudutt and his wife answered, “He wanted the stick and I refused.” “Foolish woman, give me the stick.” He rushed after the man waving the stick. Seeing this, the man ran faster. Soon Vishnudutt’s strange predilection was the talk of the village and no man dared to accept his invitation!

Closer in time and nearer home is this tale. My uncle was a timid man, but always made much of his courage. He never went to bed without a stout stick and a torch. As fate would have it, one night a dark figure crept up and threatened him. Uncle lost no time in covering himself from top to toe, breathing prayers. In the morning he noticed that his stick and torch were missing. He then descri­bed to others the tough but futile struggle he had put up. He had just finished his story when his brother came in flourishing the stick and the torch. It was plain to all who the thief was and with this uncle’s stories of bravado came to an end.

Recently, a biter got bitten. My friend A’s mother-in-law B was a lady who took great pleasure in making A miserable. Came the day when she had to have eye surgery and submit to eye drops at regular intervals. One evening, A administered them leaving B with her eyes shut. Suddenly there was power outage. It was followed by B’s piteous wails. A groped her way to B’s bedside. The lady had opened her eyes just as the electricity had failed, making her believe that she had gone totally blind. This incident mellowed B for she gave up her harsh ways.

As Shakespeare put it, ‘There is some soul of goodness in things evil.’ – enough justification, I believe, for the title, ‘The Comedy of Terrors’.

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