Expecting an air of doom and despair lurking inside the kitchen, I gingerly pop in to make my morning coffee. Desi Jeeves, who has been part of my household longer than my children, is staring into his cup of tea with such deep introspection that I would not be surprised if he was trying to foretell his future.
He is an idiosyncratic character who featured in my first book, Mrs Funnybones, but like his Wodehousian counterpart, is worthy of an entire book.
There have often been times when I have wondered if he is trying to be helpful or if his antics are part of a masterplan to turn every strand of hair on my head prematurely white.
I could cite numerous examples, like the time, after arranging slightly wilted looking lilies in a vase, I asked him to spray some water on the flowers. Half an hour later, I discovered that he had sprayed them, not with water but my deodorant. According to him, they would stay fresh and smell even better.
Or the time he knocked on my door at 8pm to tell me that we had a visitor. ‘Soni Sahib has come,’ and was now sitting in my daughter’s room and making a Lego tower with her, I was informed. I jumped off the bed wondering why an elderly neighbour that I just about briefly greet in the elevator was inside my little one’s bedroom. I rushed into her room to discover that it was not my neighbour, but my brother-in-law Samir who Desi Jeeves has met several times in the last 15-odd years. Why he mistook my 45-year-old brother-in-law for my 72-year-old neighbor remains an unsolved mystery.
There is one irrevocable fact though, he is a thoroughly honest and dedicated employee. The man of the house has a special place in his heart for him and they share a rapport that I find hard to comprehend.
When he is pulled into our conversations, even into silly squabbles like who contributes more to the household, he will say, ‘Sahib is more hardworking. Your job is easy Didi, just sit with computer. His is full danger work.’
I would have assumed he was a star only in the man of the house’s eyes till he was summoned to the office with a request from my team. As part of our expanding social media portfolio, we had decided to place our Hindi content on the TikTok app.
And desi Jeeves, we had been reliably informed by our office cleaner, was an expert.
He duly whipped out his phone and when he opened the app, we all collectively gasped.
There he was, in a faux leather jacket, jumping off a wall with a mid-air somersault. In another video, he was lip syncing to the man of the house’s song with more passion and vigour than his boss. Desi Jeeves was running on the beach. He was imitating Shah Rukh Khan. He was dancing in our garden. There was even a video of him with my sister’s baby. The same baby, whose pictures, she had warned the entire family, should never be posted on our Instagram accounts. But she had not accounted for his cameo on Desi Jeeves’ TikTok account as part of a medley.
These antics had made him a bona fide TikTok star with an incredible 24,000 followers.
This morning, I assume, life had taken a full circle and he is back to being a meteor only within my household as I had learnt of TikTok’s demise from Arnab Goswami.
‘The sheer suddenness of the move, the unexpected nature of the move, the unpredictability of the move,” said the anchor, gesticulating wildly from my television screen and emphasising each word with so much gravitas and excitement that I first thought it was less about India banning 59 Chinese apps and more about an armed invasion.
The platform, with an estimated base of 12 crore active monthly users, may have had loads of people dancing and doing mimicry like my domestic help, but it was also home to people like Geet. Going just by her first name, Geet had become one of India’s many TikTok stars by teaching “American English”. Though she suffered a spinal cord injury as a child which left her wheelchair bound, TikTok gave her a platform to touch multiple lives. The very suddenness of the app ban that was being lauded by our news anchors was perhaps a drawback for creators like her who did not get enough time to lead their TikTok followers to other platforms.
Meanwhile, my fellow citizens were throwing their ‘Chinese’ flat screen televisions off balconies and we had Union Minister Ramdas Athawale, who having devised the nifty ‘Go Corona go” slogan as a method of eradicating the virus, asked citizens to stop eating Chinese food as a patriotic act.
Desi Jeeves, I discover, is equally nationalistic. When I tentatively ask him if he is devastated by the ban of TikTok where he had such a large following, he straightens his back and tells me that he, a proud citizen of India, uninstalled the app before it was banned. He then goes on to quote a dialogue from Rang De Basanti: ‘Joh desh ke kaam na aaye woh bekaar jawani hai.’
Not content with an astute Aamir Khan impression, he then lectures me about keeping ‘Chinese items’ in our house. Afraid that he may in ‘sheer, sudden, unexpected moves’, start throwing my washing machine or mixer away, I distract him by asking if he has found a TikTok substitute.
He beams and picking up his Oppo phone, shows me an app called Chingari.
I then leave him to his devices or rather to the singular one in his hand, which he is clearly unaware, is as Chinese as president Xi Jinping, whose simulacrums were also recently burnt by irate Indians.
Unfortunately for a bunch of BJP workers in Asansol, they ended up burning an effigy of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un instead of Xi, which I suppose is the cinematic equivalent of mistaking Jackie Chan for Kung Fu Panda.
Meanwhile, I decide to refrain from adding veg Manchurian and chili paneer to our weekly menu, as Desi Jeeves, not realising that the Chinese have never heard of, let alone invented these dishes, may decide to join the boycott China campaign by burning them instead.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.