I write of an incident that took place a good forty years ago. We lived in Madras those days ( now called Chennai) where I went to college. It was my birthday and we had invited friends and relatives over for a party that evening. Most people came around 5.30 p.m.

Suddenly a strange person came in who none of us recognised. He was tall and well built and had a flowing beard and thick moustache. He certainly wasn’t one of my friends invited for the party. From his clothes and luggage one could make out that he had travelled some distance. He turned out to be a Mr. Dubey, a friend of my uncle’s from far away Nainital. He was passing through Madras on his way to visit Madurai and my uncle had given him our address. We invited him in and learnt that he wanted to stay with us  for two days. He wished to look around Madras before proceeding further down South.

He was given my room and though we urged him to join the party later that evening, he cried off saying that he was too tired and would prefer to turn in a bit early. He was escorted upstairs to my room to rest before being called for dinner. Soon friends and relatives arrived and the usual birthday celebrations began. Everyone was in a good mood and it was a happy occasion.

My cousin turned up and a bit late and asked someone” Where is Prem, the birthday boy? I don’t see him around”.  I must have slipped out to smoke a cigarette. Some one told him that I was in my room upstairs.

My cousin reached my room and found the door was not locked. He pushed it open and entered the room to see a figure lying down in my bed, face turned away from him against the wall. Thinking that I was trying to fool him by pretending to be asleep. he crept up slowly towards the sleeping figure.

There was only one dim light from outside the room. Our guest Dubey who was on the verge of falling asleep was horrified to see on the wall that he faced, the shadow of a figure, a man, creep up towards the bed. If this was hospitality he didn’t know what the world was coming to. He decided to play the waiting game and didn’t move an inch, pretending to be deep in sleep.

My cousin had no idea that the figure on my bed could be anyone other than me! He crept up closer and yelled ” Happy Birthday” in the ear of the sleeping figure who leapt out of bed. It’s difficult to say who was more shocked. Dubey on getting the scare of his life just as he was falling asleep or my cousin who almost had a heart attack when he saw that the person he had woken up was not me but a bearded and mustached giant of a man who towered over him with an angry look in his eye.

He mumbled an apology and fled from the room. Mr Dubey decided that this unusual act of hospitality needed more investigation and came downstairs . By then  we knew what had happened. Everyone had a good laugh with Mr Dubey vowing that in future he would lock the door and my cousin promising that he wouldn’t take anything for granted.

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