My father would wait for a glimpse of her smile on screen. A smile that would reveal her crooked teeth. He found it beautiful.
In fact, he found her set of perfectly-misaligned teeth so endearing that he tried to watch all films starring Bollywood actor Moushumi Chatterjee whenever he found time from his grinding schedule at the hospital.
He also listened to her songs when he was in a good mood. I particularly remember him listening to the song ‘Rimjhim Gire Sawan‘ several times.
If you are too young to know this number, you probably remember Moushumi Chatterjee from Shoojit Sircar’s more recent film Piku. Chatterjee played a supporting role in the film as Chhobi Mashi who visits Piku’s home often.
If my father were alive, he would have loved to hear Chatterjee’s smart comments on Amitabh Bachchan’s constipation problems, which were so tastefully depicted in the film.
My father’s fascination for Chatterjee’s crooked teeth led to major decisions regarding my own teeth during my childhood. For some reason, most of the permanent teeth that replaced my milk teeth chose to come out crooked.
But the first prize for crookedness goes to my left canine. My left canine and premolar jostled for space like residents in a small Mumbai flat. Finally, my left canine won and pushed my premolar inward making it inaccessible.
When the talk about correcting my teeth and wearing braces came up at home, my father would have none of it.
“Her teeth look just fine,” he announced. “Look, her smile even resembles Moushumi Chatterjee’s smile.”
An elderly aunt quipped, “Not just that. Girls with crooked teeth carry blessings from Goddess Lakshmi herself.”
And, the matter was closed.
I was happy I did not have to go back to the dentist’s chair. I had already been there several times.
From that day onward, I proudly reclaimed my crooked teeth. I told my little cousins how I was actually a 400-year-old vampire. My unusual canines were testimony to my many bloody adventures over hundreds of years.
Of course, adulthood brought fresh challenges with a couple of pesky friends asking questions about my teeth.
“Why didn’t you wear braces when you were a child?” one asked.
“I don’t know,” I said.
I never told anyone the whole story.
When I became a mother, I entertained my little daughter with my good old vampire stories.
“Mom, when will I get those canines?” she would ask.
“Someday. If you are lucky,” I boasted.
Her dreams of getting my crooked teeth ended during the last week of 2020. I had terrible toothache. I called my dentist. He was out of town and asked me to send him pictures of my teeth.
That request led to the most awkward photo session of my life. My daughter tried to position the cell phone midway inside my mouth so we could take pictures of as many teeth as possible. The cell phone torch helped to light every corner of my mouth.
Lights. Camera. Teeth. Click.
Lights. Camera. Teeth. Click.
After several takes, we got a few clear pictures. I WhatsApped them to my dentist.
“I don’t see any problem,” he texted after seeing the pictures.
But my toothache persisted and kept me awake that night.
An X-ray done a couple of days later revealed that I needed a root canal treatment for my left premolar.
“The tooth looks fine on the outside, but it’s gone inside,” my dentist announced.
On January 1, 2021, when most of the world was making new year resolutions, I walked into my dentist’s office for a root canal treatment.
It was the first time in almost nine months of the pandemic that I had to take off my mask in a place outside home. It felt surreal.
My dentist was dressed in a PPE kit. He gave me two shots in the mouth. One between my upper gums and my left cheek and another on my palette.
“I will now use this drill to make a small hole in your tooth,” my dentist explained. “Don’t move. If you move, it will cut into your cheek. If you feel any pain, just raise your hand.”
Even as I quietly heard the dentist drill into my tooth, I thought about my father’s fascination with Moushumi Chatterjee’s crooked teeth.
I was dying to ask him a question.
“Just what about her crooked teeth did you like so much, dad?”
Smeeta Mishra teaches communication at the Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar. A dreamer and foodie, she tweets @smeetamishra.