It all started when Prakash Rao was at the doctor's clinic. He was standing with his back to the wall and a young nurse, perched on a chair next to him was marking his height on the wall. Prakash was there to get a doctor's certificate, necessary for a life insurance policy. His blood pressure was a normal 120 over 80, his weight a satisfactory 63 kilos and barring a mild case of halitosis, Prakash was his very good health for his 34 years of age. He was pleasantly distracted by the nurse's bosoms which were brushing against his face when he heard her call out, "five feet eight inches."
That can't be right. "Five feet eight inches", repeated the doctor as he wrote it down on his letter pad. Prakash stepped back to look at the faint marking on the wall and the nurse was right. It was a whisper short of five feet eight inch mark on the height chart stuck to the wall. Surely something must be wrong with the chart, he thought. With all these imperial and metric measurements and conversions, Prakash was convinced that they had got it wrong. How else do you explain his height coming down a massive three inches!
For as long as he could remember, Prakash had been five feet eleven inches tall. His passport said so. His tailor would say so too, if he didn't just bother with measuring Prakash's legs. In fact, he remembered once when his newly-wed wife Hema had described him to a friend on the phone. "Nearly six feet tall", he had heard her say and he had walked around on his toes all afternoon.
A man cannot just lose three inches of his height. It was like waking up one morning and finding your arm gone. Or finding that the face in the mirror is not one you recognise. Prakash was getting used to the new reality of his life that he drove home from the clinic distracted. He had barely stepped into the house when Hema demanded, "Did you remember to buy coconut? I knew you would forget it. Lalli athai's daughter Jalaja will be here any moment and I will not have finished cooking. Would you do this if this was one of your relatives?"
Prakash pleaded headache and went straight to his room clutching his head. Could he be shrinking? Had his old age already begun? What next? Would he start losing hair and teeth and memory soon? Would he have to start buying insoles? He would certainly have to stop Hema wearing those high heels. For he can't be shorter than his wife!
The afternoon passed by in a blur. Jalaja and her husband Sarvesh were saying something about buying a flat and the difficulty in getting school admission for their daughter. Prakash discreetly checked out Sarvesh's height as they got up to leave. Sarvesh was a good inch or two shorter than him and Prakash liked him instantly.
He decided that from then on, he would divide the world into those who were taller than him and those he liked. He was still making up his mind when heard Hema call out, "Listen! Can you help me get the plastic box from the top almirah? I want to pack some sweets for Jalaja."
He stopped frowning for a moment. A smile spread across his face as he raised himself on his toes and called out, "Coming dear".