Side effects

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on May 01, 2020 Published on May 01, 2020

Manjula Padmanabhan

This morning Bins forwards an internet video to me. He rarely bothers with such trivial pursuits, so I’m surprised. “Oo!” I say, on WhatsApp. “What’s this? Something frivolous?”

The video shows what looks like an animated pear. A giant nose takes up the long upper portion of the pear while two big brown eyes occupy the rounded bottom end, which is clearly a distorted version of a man’s stubbly chin. Just beneath and between the eyes is a tiny rosebud mouth. The mouth looks absurdly horrid, a baby-pink polyp speaking with a British accent. “The first human trials of the novel coronavirus vaccine have taken place,” says the mouth. “...and they’ve gone really well! No side-effects!”

“Yeesh,” I say to Bins. “Stuff of nightmares.” He seems surprised. “Huh. I thought you would like it.” He did, apparently. “You’re weird,” I tell him, “and here’s the proof: You think a Talking Pear-Head is funny!” I can hear him shrugging on his side of the planet. “It’s just this lockdown,” he says. “Maybe it affects the little grey cells, as Hercule Poirot used to call them.” In my mind’s eye, I can see him tapping his forehead.

“Speaking of the effects of the lockdown,” I say to him, adopting what I hope is a breezy tone, “I suppose I should tell you what I’ve done recently? To change my appearance, I mean.” “Huh?” says Bins, sounding alarmed. “What d’you mean? What change? What appearance?” I tell him to be calm. “It’s nothing very much,” I say to him. “And anyway, you don’t have to worry! You won’t see me for many months yet!” Even if the lockdown ends in two or three weeks, it may be a while before it’s safe to travel.

“But we could turn on the video, no?” says Bins. I remind him that we both prefer to talk on audio. We wear earbuds and carry the cellphones in our pockets, as we move around our homes on our respective sides of the planet. Sometimes I make coffee while we’re talking. Sometimes he’s watering the plants in the backyard in Delhi. “And anyway, I WON’T turn on the video now. Because I know you’ll hate what I’ve done.”

I can hear the sound of a moustache being tugged in irritation. “I hate it even more that you’re not telling me what it is!” he says. “Haha!” I taunt him, enjoying my moment of power. “Best of all, no one around here will reveal the secret!” I give him three chances to guess correctly. “Aarggh!” he groans in frustration. “Tattoo on your nose? Steel bolt through your head? Many tiny rings in your ears?!” “All wrong,” I say, triumphantly. “I shaved off my eyebrows!”

“Pooh,” says Bins, sounding relieved. “That’s not so terrible.” “Yup!” I say. “I always wanted to see what I’d look like and now I know!” “Bet I can guess,” says Bins. “What?” I ask. “PEAR-HEAD!” he chortles. “Side effect of the corona lockdown!”

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

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Published on May 01, 2020
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