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Murphy and Phurmy

Updated on October 31, 2017

To resolve a predicament, we invariably adopt one of several schemes that vary according to the manner that our personal biases, first impressions, time straddling experiences, and extant cultural milieu shape and style it, with the two preceding attributes establishing a base and the two following, fine-tuning it as we progress along the path of life.

Now, to project the premise declared above to my approach to confronting a problem, whether mundane or momentous, trivial or titanic, frivolous or forceful.

As a child, I had a bias against the unexpected and always have. It is a notion very easily stated, extremely tricky to be elaborated, and also any attempted explanation exceedingly complex to be appreciated, even by those who admit to being seized of it. The "silver lining" adage seems to be pretty universal in its applicability and surprisingly finds a utility in this context as well. Such a bias is easily countered by a simple belief, particularly so when this belief appears to work time and again, in which case it becomes a rule, a law. Further, if the belief-morphed law in question, happens to be of the first-impression kind, then another adage stands out as an endorsement for its efficacy; the one involving a cherry, icing, and cake in some privileged order. With a two-adage-abiding credential, my approach appeared quite formidable. The belief that was its driving force was the uttering of a respectable looking mendicant of some vague religious order, who had told me as an eight-year-old that regardless of what I faced during the day, I would always have a good, peaceful sleep at night; every night.

My favorite mendicant may have conferred this innocuous benediction upon a million others, and perhaps had also genuinely wished what he said to all those targeted beneficiaries, but his words proved a perfect fit for my bias, and a young impressionable boy had found and fashioned his first weapon to fight life's unforeseen vagaries; a la prince of Persia, in the first level of play. Almost five-and-a-half decades after that incident, the little hand-held weapon has metamorphosed magically to a complete notional set of warrior gear; armor, shield, long sword, and an armored mount too thrown in for speedy response. And I do sleep peacefully every night. This was a manifestation of the general law that applied specifically for my personal use appropriate with my bias and belief. As no one claimed ownership of this law by lending their name to it, I decided to call it Phurmy's law for two reasons; the first was that I was too shy, not modest, to use my own, and more importantly another law, that of Murphy's, happened to work in tandem with it and appeared to have a stranglehold on my daytime activities. And Phurmy, as I imagined her, was a lady; my notional godmother.

If my nights could be imagined as perpetual heydays in la-la land, my day-times were nothing short of frightful nightmares in perdition.

My first encounter with Phurmy's tango partner happened a few years after the one with the mendicant. A visiting uncle explained Murphy's law to me when I was still in middle school. While I lay struggling to write an essay as part of my homework for submission the following morning to one of the most dreaded teachers at class, this uncle narrated an exceptionally alarming version of the law with threatening gestures and in a steely emotionless voice. Its immediate effect was that I failed to complete and submit my essay, got severely reprimanded, and shamed in the presence of peers. Until the time that I could mathematically understand its import after having reached high school, I rated Murphy's law as being a step above the Cruciatus curse that was Lord Voldemort's favorite.

Adulthood and its associated wisdom taught me to declare to the world with a feigned smile that peaceful heydays and frightful nightmares were two sides of the same coin; or even were one and the same if perceived from a higher plane. Real happenings were however, quite the opposite; their effects as excruciating as before.


Having observed their tango across time, I noticed that Phurmy and Murphy had perfect understanding about their moves, well synchronized in their preferred dynamics, though completely focused on their respective independent goals, with both achieving them at the appointed times. No thoughts were deemed necessary for my plight of being tossed around like a rag doll, limbs helplessly flailing, senses going haywire, the only notional straw available to desperately hold on to and keeping body, mind, and soul connected being the belief - "I will sleep peacefully at night". Of course, there were some days of respite, very few and far between, when the duo, dulled by overwork, would disrupt their otherwise disciplined schedule. To state the obvious, daytimes too would be peaceful on such occasions.

It was one such blissful day very recently, with all ingredients that make one, in position; and in just the right quantities, intensities, and flavors. An un-feigned smile was plastered across my face, earlobe to earlobe, from break-slumber to almost bedtime. A glance at the master clock said it was a quarter of an hour to retirement time and I rejoiced prematurely at having lived through a perfect day. A quirk of unexplainable existential malfunctions resulted in Murphy being activated to his normal over-vigorous self, and was set immediately to work on his single point agenda. Peace began to unravel at devil-speed. The day's component ingredients abruptly switched over to their most eccentric traits. From within this ambient concoction of chaos came a calamitous cry for help.

Our brains having quickly and unconsciously triangulated auditory readings to pinpoint the origin of the cry to be the car-park, five floors below, my son and I rushed down ten flights of stairs, two to a floor, and reached ground zero in record rapidity, only to find two drunken men in the throes of a brawl, arguing over a woman who wasn't there. One of the men was our apartment block watchman, and the other was a painter who was under temporary employment in the premises, engaged to whitewash the compound wall. The watchman was accusing the painter of attempting to molest his wife, while the painter denied it. With the supposed victim nowhere in sight, we didn't know which of the brawlers to believe. Also being teetotalers, we had no idea how perceptions and thought process were altered in an inebriated state. Apartments on the other floors being unoccupied, we could not call out for help ourselves.

Murphy was dancing away in abandon. Phurmy too had been jolted out of her forty thousand winks and was seen strategizing her boogie jives, eyes still a bit bleary, joints a tad stiff, and thoughts a trifle muddled. But get her act together all the same, she did. It was her time to hold sway over my affairs.

A police car pulled up suddenly in front of the gate, called in by a neighbor irritated by the clamor, and out came two burly policemen. The first reaction of my son and myself was to marvel at the manner in which the two guys managed to pack themselves in to those tiny car seats through doors that matched the seats in their non-enormity. It was a combination of repulsively thrilling sensations that included growls in unheard-of-before tones and breath laced with fumes of a cocktail of cheap fermentations, blowing at us from a foot away, that brought us back from our analytical reverie. We disadvantaged teetotalers felt that this odd interrogative exercise was misdirected, but how were we to know about interactive protocols of indulgent crapulence? The increasing population of drunks within the active domain of the narrative was dangerously tilting behavioral mores towards standards quite alien to us, where we increasingly appeared to be the culprits in the eyes of the other group that also seem to have an orientation mismatch with our view point of acceptable societal conduct.

The screech of rubber sliding forcefully upon asphalt announced the arrival of more characters into the swiftly unfolding show. It was the contractor who was assigned the painting job and the painter's superior, accompanied by his driver. The unfound wife of the watchman had apparently fled to a friend a short distance away and called him. The gallant man had come charging in to assist a damsel in distress, both his gallantry and reaction powered by high quality booze he had been consuming in the midst of charming company at a rave party. His driver must have measured up slightly lesser on the dipsomanic scale, but in my son's and my assessment, both were overbearingly drunk. For the first time in my life, I began to suspect that Phurmy had failed, a thought, which I realized later, was sacrilege.

With so many fume-emanating humans flocking together, the mood of the congregation and the subjects discussed began to change dramatically, and we realized where the adage featuring feathered birds originated. Tensions began to discernibly ease; camaraderie wafted around tipsily, now pinching a cheek, now patting a buttock; discussions turned uncomfortably male-oriented laced with what was to us unpalatable humor. But we had the privilege of witnessing the fascinating norms of non-abstinent dealings and their sometimes welcome consequence. The now jolly group of tipplers pronounced us to be ideal citizens in their addled astuteness and saw us off at the bottom of the staircase with endearing "good nights".


Returning home, I checked the master clock again. It was a few moments to scheduled bedtime. I had the sensation of being Cinderella, and Phurmy, my omnipresent fairy godmother. Luckily, I did not leave a footwear behind, for that would have brought one of those six we left downstairs in search of their ideal citizen.

However, it so happened that our watchman did appear at our doorstep the following morning, surreptitiously nudged by Phurmy, and apologizing profusely for his earlier misdemeanor. He gave us to understand that his wife had left in a huff, upset at his intoxicated state when the brawl started, and his accusation of molestation was alcohol and disagreement induced having no fact supporting it. Our sense of residual misgiving at not having conclusively ascertained the welfare of the watchman's wife that was lingering upon us from the previous night, was also laid to rest.

And Murphy and Phurmy, the inseparable duo continued to dance heartily as always, ever after …

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      S.R.Jaishankar 4 weeks ago

      Good morning Sir. Glad to see your post on Phurmy. Added another word to my vocabulary! Have a wonderful day.