The waiting room

Reminds you of the railway station, the crowd and cacophony, the chai and the stink. Train whistles, the incomprehensible announcements and the strain to listen for your own train. But this is a different waiting room.

Here only those people wait, whose trains have derailed, or are about to. They are trying to repair the tracks, push and pull to get the train back on track and somehow make it run, so they can leave for home. A few never do. 

Here they dont say ” train no so and so has arrived on platform number so and so.” Here it is ” Bed no 102″ and Kamble and Banerjee, the names and the numbers, and the call to feed or meet the doctor or sign something you have not read.

I am in the waiting room of an ICU. All around me is chaos. Sea of people, waiting to catch a glimpse of their loved ones, waiting for that ray of hope, that word from the doctor that can change despair to a smile or bring a frown and a tear. Noisy, crying, sharing, yet so distant from it all. Hearing it all, but not absorbing.

Hospitals are a part of life. And death. I am at the same place I was slightly more than two years ago. Same hospital, same ICU, same waiting room. I lost Baba here. He was already lost, but here I lost his physical being. All around me are faces, in despair, but still hopeful as they cross the nights of nightmares. 

When you think it cant get any worse, it does. And we get used to that and then there is a new low. How much the human mind can accept and get on with life, feels like a trial and error test.

Why does she have to suffer so much? In the past so many years, I have seen her lose her speech and her smile, her walk and her zest for life. A vegetable, that breathes and swallows, with a beating heart. That is about it. Just pain and more pain, which she doesn’t feel, or maybe feels and does not  express. Cancers, and then free from cancers. But not from this hell called dependence. Not from this journey that is a constant struggle for survival.

Who will I take home from here, a whole being or a part? A person who always smiled at me, now closes her eyes and shrinks away as I talk to her, or touch her.

Do your job, dont worry about the consequences. I was reminded today. Do your best, dont expect anything. Maybe that is the learning. And emotions? That are ready to flow, that have to be pushed back because there is so much to be done.

I try to work. In an effort to remain sane. Not break. I have to be strong and stronger, specially when I am powerless. Someone else pulls the strings and we dance. I do- the biggest fallacy. Who are we? Who am I? My face is expressionless, as I listen to the doctor’s verdict. Impassive but with a storm inside. 

Life sucks. Death sucks more. But maybe it is the end of suffering, pain and despair. But can’t it be painless? Among so much pain and pleasure, something goes on- that they call life, as it sits in the waiting room, for death. Somebody give respite from it all,  she needs to rest. In peace. 

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What I don’t like about US of A

Travelling to US is always a matter of pleasure. I love being driven around in limos, friends making time to take you out in their shining cars and helping you shop (though they may never do that with their wives, but when you land in US, they consider it their sacred duty to show you all the local attractions), no need to clean and cook, and the flights with free booze.

But there are a few things I am totally pissed with. And someone with yellow hair and a grumpy face should listen and act upon it.

I can’t figure out why they must use tissues. I mean, wastage of paper, environment and all that shit apart, you hate the feel of it, butt. In fact, it feels shit hole hard! (pun intended) There is water everywhere, in the taps, shower, tub, bottles, fountains, but not a drop to jet wash the most vulnerable part of your anatomy. Being a जुगाड़ू Indian, water bottles come to the rescue, somehow reminding me of the times of toilet an old katha.

Why does everything have to be in dollars? In the world of Uber, Google maps and Amazon delivery, data is a basic necessity. But being the बनिया that you are, you don’t turn it on as every time you do, you can hear the meter turning nickels into quarters. and quickly turn it off again. And how do you shop? I mean everything gets totally multiplied by the cheap Indian mind-set and then you expostulate, 30$ (in disbelief), you mean 2000 Rs, soooo expensive, and refuse to buy it, (But then go to India and pay 5000 Rs for something worse). It is called misplaced patriotism.

Breakfast not included! Any self-respecting Indian always desires to chooses a hotel that provides free wifi and breakfast while paying no more than 120$ per night and if he finds one, Eureka! I mean, who on earth would pay 12$ (plus taxes plus gratuity) for toast and cornflakes and potatoes which is what a typical vegetarian ends up eating. Hence you skip breakfast (unless of course the company is paying for it).

These long flights are so cramped. Normally everything long is good, long legs, long.. oops, change the topic. but flights – when in cattle class, isn’t the best for your back and your legs, specially in your late forties. You can’t catch a wink; it is smelly all around with people releasing odours and socks which have no means to get out of the aircraft pores, and it is cold, the thin blanket is mostly useless. Your neck keeps rolling off, literally, and the foot starts swelling. So, though you intended to work, you end up watching worthless movies fiddling with earphones that don’t work very well and a screen that needs you to tap thrice to achieve any result (much like are you sure, are you very sure of the Microsoft fame). The only saving grace are when she asks you “and what would you like to drink, madam”.

This is followed by the lag of the jet. Sleepy in Seattle at 3 in the afternoon bang in the middle of a meeting doesn’t send the right message though everyone is looking at you in amazement, you survived 10+10 hours of flight, you are a hero. Interestingly you will find, for most folks here, Hawaii is the biggest adventure of their life. You drink some water, doesn’t work, and you hardly listen to the discussion around, focussing on fighting the deadly sleep, which finally you get rid of as soon as the meeting is over. Phew! By that time sleep is so upset with you, she refuses to come back when you need her. So, you are wide awake watching whatever it is ABC is telecasting at midnight. After a lot of cajoling, you manage to land into a slumber only to feel roaring awake at 3 am.

Who imagined getting a nice warm cuppa tea can be such a pain in the same body part discussed above. One would tend to believe that chai latte is the easiest thing to make other than Maggi. But you know, these guys have no bloody idea. They think dipping a porous bag in warm water and pointing you towards sugar sachet is the definition of making tea. And they charge you bloody 3$ (and some cents) for something which is barely lukewarm. So, in mutiny, I carry my own tea bags from desh. But my hotel refuses to provide milk powder (or creamer as they call it here, Americans are probably the ones who would call Rose by the name of crimson and get away with it). Since I have not developed the taste for black tea so far. I called and asked for it, and the girl refused to understand me, maybe it is my hinglish, i was tempted to resort to साली, दूध माँगा था, but resisted. So, black tea it is. Next time I resolved to carry my own Nestle dairy whitener.

And the food. I love the cuisines, trying various veggies and fruits and breads and chutneys and salads. But why do we say only Gujjus make food that is sweet, everything here is either cheesy or sweet, sometimes both. After a week, I am so missing, दाल चावल, curries and the spices. I almost salivate when I check out the Indian food available online, but I take one look at the price and realise that delivery charge is more than the cost of the dish, so swallow my saliva and pride and survive on my cold storage पूरीs. Yeah, पूरी and भुजिया is heaven when in the Americas.

The next time you travel to this part of the world, all fellow desi travellers are advised to add as a necessary part of their survival kit

  • A mug (or spare water bottles)
  • Tea bags and creamer
  • पूरी and भुजिया

And definitely leave behind your mental calculator.

But what happens only in America is having an ex-marine, future SeattlePD, muscular, tanned, girl in shorts driving your cab.

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Gym-nasty

Like I always say, once you enter the fourth decade of mortal existence, life takes on a whole new meaning.  You stop worrying about wearing the most unsuitable clothes and show off creaky venous old knees; you color hair not to hide the white showing through, but to get a brunette look.  And among some of the other weird things I have no wish to expose just yet; I also enrolled myself into a gym.

Yeah, so I did. I can’t fathom what on earth prompted me, after successfully giving it a miss for all of my forty and five years and suddenly here I was, struggling into tights and t-shirt and trying to get rid of my belly fat and other protruding anatomical juxtapositions which don’t look right (yeah, the fat would have looked better a few inches above). I guess too much time on my hands and a desire not to feel totally lethargic and waste yet. So, lo and behold, I was ready to take a swing at things I had not attempted before.

The gym is pretty close to where I stay, so walked over. Went inside to ear blasting music and a plethora of machines all around. I with my weary eyes had to look where I walked else I would be the first to fall flat on a dumbbell thrown carelessly around, or the jutting leg of a legpress. I was given a tour of all the contraptions and re-learnt all the muscle names forgotten in class VIII, triceps and biceps and hamstrings and which one is smaller and larger. I also got an overloaded with names of machines and exercises which I didn’t remember five minutes beyond. I could see several trainers repeating basic math- one, two, three, buck up, back straight and I fondly remembered my PT instructor.

Since I was not put off the place during my first visit, I decided to pay the fees and hoped that would prompt me to continue. Day 1. A baldy instructor confronted – why does everyone I encounter have to be bald?? Gods have something seriously against me. At least my gym instructor could have been a treat to the eyes. Sigh, he isn’t, doesn’t look a hunk from any direction (including upside down), looks more like a soft spoken teacher or a government servant. He started off rattling something in Marathi and I had to stop him mid way through his monologue, Hindi please, or English, I asked doubtfully. Yes madam. Then he started my routine. By the time he finished with me, I was almost dead, all limbs creaking and trembling, wondering whether I needed a stretcher to go home.

In my dotage, the way I exercise is my break time is almost equal to my exercise time. The fun during the breaks while I struggle to get my breath back is to look around and see the blatant display of chiseled torsos and muscular wealth. The day I joined, all the folks turned and glanced at the old woman gone crazy, took one look and disdainfully went back to their routines. So much so for my hotness! At least I can see a hot Dwayne smiling or a desi Hrithik looking at me sideways from the wall, and a surly looking uninspiring female body builder who gives a smirk.

Over a period of time, I learnt to use some of the machines, lift some weights, and perform some basic workout though it pains me to see guys lifting so much weight while I was struggling with the lightest dumbbell. Going overboard and trying extra would cause a “sweet and sour pain” in my glutes for the next two days as my instructor keeps repeating. He hurts my muscles more than my sentiments, and I walk out in a weird gait (resembling a three-legged-walk) since everything was sore, feeling distinctly old and in need for oiling.

Over a period of time, as I interestingly watched the steamy sweaty bodies and listened to Mika screaming “shake that booty” at the top of his voice, I realized there are basically five kinds of creatures infesting the gym.

  • The “hen-pecked-husband” whose wife doesn’t let him sit along with his pot belly in front of the idiot box, and packs him off to get a six pack. Poor harassed fellow, he finds it so tough to slide into most of the machines, which are really designed for human size. Huffing and puffing, his painstaking attempts at lifting weights and then taking half an hour of break with open mouth struggling to breathe in air right in front of the TV.
  • The “self-obsessed-and-proclaimed-hunk” wearing tight shorts who spends fifteen minutes lifting weights making alien guttural sounds and faces and then walks with a forced swagger and spends next fifteen in front of the wall length mirror looking at his jutting muscles from all possible angles and showing (off) to all the trainers around and measuring the micrometer change in his biceps. The mindless body and his gymfies on Instagram and Facebook lives. God save him!
  • The “I-have-time-and-clothes” girl who adorns yoga pants and sports bra (only thing everyone noticed) and something insignificant on top which is completely superfluous, with a ponytail and a mouth that can literally move mountains, and a magnetic personality, pulling all sweaty bodies towards it. With bobbing boobs and behind as she treads the mill, all trainers (including mine) fall all over themselves to train her and look at her with gaping mouths and rising heart rate.
  • The “exceptionally athletic Superman” who is actually focused on just building muscles and totally oblivious to the rest of the world around him. The guy who pushes every machine to its limits and cribs that they were not strong enough, and who spends daily 2-3 hours just exercising. And the walk, reeking of self confidence! But I wonder, he is already there, then why make the rest of us all look and feel nobodies.
  • The “aiming-to-impress-girlfriend” sweaty smelly thin fellow, the pea-brained nincompoop who wants to build brawns and not brains, with silky hair, big phone and glares and thin spidery legs, squatting away to glory, face straining hard to avoid the gaseous excretions towards his fellow folks.

Ideally I should qualify myself into a sixth category, who last squat was only during the last Indian style loo visit, but then being a unique specimen, I am not sure there are many like me around. In the past year, I have started enjoying the one hour stint at the gym every day (well, almost). And my top three reasons of visiting the same place regularly happen to be

  • After working out, I don’t feel guilty about not working out and the cake tastes so much better, especially with the icing (and I wonder why I am still putting on weight?)
  • That hot dapper who always comes in at the same time and is a temptation of magnificent proportions.
  • Enjoying my favorite mind exercise of judging and categorizing people.

Maal-eficient

This started when I was labeled JMMT which I didn’t quite understand at first, hence the clarification “Jhil Mil Maal Thi”. I wondered whether to be angry due to the inappropriate use of the word “Maal” or because of inappropriate use of past tense.  These days, when even “sexy” is considered pornographic and the कमाल माहौल with all feminists around, I wasn’t sure whether a smiley or an angry emoji made sense. The thought lingered and I decided to decode and shred the word that has so many connotations in the great Indian middle class context. Delete middle class, I seem to have a fixation with it. I have not checked whether the word has found its way into the oxford dictionary yet, but even as I count on my fingers, these spring to mind almost immediately.

I think the most traditional use of the word “माल” would be for goods or things. And most frequently used in transportation and businesses where large amounts of goods are moving inward or outward. God, this is beginning to sound like a thesis, which was not the thought I started this with at all, so the antithesis has to begin now.

Directly from things is derived the “expensive माल”.  As the मालदार “Lion” of 70’s Bollywood fame used to say, to his “Mona Darling”, “Mona, हमारा माल कहाँ पंहुचा?” “मालिक, सारा माल पुलिस ने पकड़ लिया”, here, like we all know we are talking about contraband and Pirates of Caribbean and National Treasure and the visualization is that of crates full of gold biscuits and ornaments, stashes of green and pink currency and underground temples when lighted up revealing precious stones and idols and more.

There is also the tasty माल that refers to awesome food, the ones you hog over in great Indian weddings and in hotels only at company expense, (without even burping) like the dry fruits and कचोरी and समोसा and sweets that are smashing but brutal for the तोंद . Which makes me wonder why “maal-nutritioned” means the opposite of what it should mean? All the rich brats are actually well stuffed with माल and not the skinny ones from Sudan.

Now, if you talk to the students of Symbiosis and other NRI-class schools where neo-rich kids with their expensive cars are sent to get a quart of education but instead get a pint of rum and a pinch of the stuff up their nostrils, “yeah, this is good shit, man, ये माल कहाँ से लाया”.  Here the माल, low in quantity, high on quality and has to be stuffed up noses or intra-venous, forever banned dope in Indian homes and can kill Bill too (or two, aaah, doesn’t matter)

And then you have the malls where all the imported माल is displayed, even the Indian माल is displayed in a way to appeal best to फिरंगीs, much to the dismay of the poor and the tired, who can look but not buy; and the rich and the famous who buy without a look, where you and me go to enjoy an afternoon of conditioned air instead of raising the home electricity bill in this scorching heat. A Sunday afternoon well spent on ogling all the stuff you will never need, with a cup of coffee costing three times more than it should, and then spending some bucks in getting worthless things just for the heck of it.

And then of course the maal, from where this whole train started. “A sexy woman” or “hottie babe” as some sites literally translated. Derogatory and anti-feminist. All feminists are advised against reading this blog, to avoid what is almost blasphemy to them. But really they shouldn’t worry. All this no-bra-fad will prevent them from actually being labeled as maal, does anyone really like juggling balls except for jugglers (oops, faux pas).

I read this interesting question on Quora

“My boyfriend in Indian, from UP, and if he is with people he doesn’t know, he tells them that I am his ‘maal’. We have been together for 3 years. Does ‘maal’ mean girlfriend, is it ok to use, or do I need to beat him? 🙂 His English is quite good, but he never uses the word girlfriend…

I am learning Hindi but it takes time, so your thoughts are really helpful. (I am English).”

And one of the interesting responses was

“In fact “MAAL” was an indecent word used earlier, in those days even “SEXY” was indecent word and if any one uses this would be considered equal to rapist. Nowadays in hitech and modern society these words are quite normal and don’t stand the meaning what these earlier used to have. If the guy is good, these don’t matter…. in current fast forward culture.” (Took the liberty of correcting the grammar, but not the lingo)

BTW, the JMMT guy later modified his statement and said “ABMH” meaning अभी भी माल हैं, much to my satisfaction.

Which makes me wonder, when I was sixteen and two, I would have flipped my lid, if someone called me sexy, my middle class upbringing has strict objections to use of such words in public, would have literally felt abused. Today it doesn’t make a difference. Maybe because I am middle class plus, or just plain forty plus. Actually any plus size woman would probably be happy being labeled sexy or maal, yeah, I still have it in me to attract eyes. Is it my tolerance or my experience or my complex talking?

With my latest fad at creating jh-ictionary, I thought since the word could not really be understood without context, and only causes गोलमाल, we could make a different word for each context, so here is an attempt to add few new words, to avoid the confusion in the minds of neo-urban-but-desi folks.

So, to wit,

knormaal: /nor-maal/ Simple and normal goods or things (The k was just to confuse you)

dealmaal:/deel-maal/ a smuggler is a dealer who deals in maal, hence proved (stretch of imagination by far, readers are invited to provide better words)

maalnourish:/ has been explained before, the over-fed, obnoxious, nourished by maal, obese generation

narcomaal:/narco-mal/  narco grade maal that can blow you away and give you highs and lows.

Mall-a-maal:/mal-a-mal/ Mall of the maal. The over-priced, over hyped buildings housing stuff that you buy, don’t use for six months and then olx them away.

Desimaal:/deci-mal/ literally meaning you know exactly what), but she is sure to get confused, you can always explain she is petite and simple J. Trust me, she will go out on the date with you.

 

Spec-tacular

As a kid I never saw anyone (I mean people in the grown-ups class) without glasses. Everyone had that thing on their noses and used that as an excuse to look down it on others (literally, only thing being I did not quite understand why). Since I always want to appear more grown up than I was, what better way to do it than adorn the same.

I developed a fascination for prescription glasses. My home had plenty of them, reading glasses of various shapes and sizes and frames and power, long distance ones and the bi-focal ones which had that strange semi circle in the middle and always made the floor swing wildly, when tried. Spectacles for Maa, Baba and bro, a shelf full of them. I was the only visionary in my household and only solace was to try them till I got a headache.

I had this blasphemous idea that wearing specs would make me look intellectual (a classy synonym for nerdy). Since my eyesight refused to give any results other than 6/6 (however frequently I was tested), I had no option but to resort to plain glasses with thick frames, resulting in a spinster school teacher look, all that was missing was a tight bun, flat shoes and a “midi” to complete the dazzling look. I would then hold a scale in my hand and play “Teacher, teacher” with unsuspecting kids in the block.

And then came the big day. In my thirties. (It is elegant to say thirties rather than share the exact age, no lady does that). (wow, doesn’t sound like me at all !!!) I started getting headaches. One day, two days, a week. My husband-who-knows-everything told me to see an ophthalmologist (phew, got the spelling right after three attempts). No way, I argued, my eye sight is perfect (I-need-glasses-symptoms had disappeared long back.) He smiled indulgently, so I did. Lo and behold, the doctor ruled, I needed long distance vision with cylindrical lenses. Hain??? Trigonometry married with Optics?? I always knew I had far-sighted vision, and the far sighted lenses clinched it. So finally the childhood dream came true, I had glasses on my nose and I could look down on some. I had arrived.

Now that I needed to, I hated wearing them. I would use every excuse to take them off all the while. I will get dark circles, it feels heavy, I can’t wear them when I am cooking were most frequented reasons. Needless to say I made quite a spectacle of myself, pun intended.

Time flew. Power play increased. The spectacle cases started piling up. I learnt the vocabulary, rimless, half rim and started noticing the “brands”. Then I got a brainwave, why not use lenses. Alladin appeared again and I got myself a pair of Bausch and Lomb lenses. Day I, tried wearing them, lens on one eye fitted perfectly, other wouldn’t fit somehow, after 10 attempts. I gave up. I will try tomorrow. Day 2, same result. Day 3, I didn’t try.  After a couple of weeks of this effort, I realized some people are not meant to achieve the greater things in life, and quietly resorted back to my middle class chashma.

And a day arrived when I realized the words in the book I was reading had become blurry. I shook the book vigorously, used to be all right a few days back. Even after a good shake, the words were swimming. Moved the book away half a foot and they settled down. Cool, forgot all about it. After a few days, half foot became a foot and then I realized I could not read the newspaper, no matter where I held it (I really needed a selfie stick). By this time, my optics had been well revised and I knew it was time to get the reading glasses as well. The world had advanced by this time and the semi circle in bi-focal lenses had progressed.

My eyes, though could never have been compared with the beautiful doe, used to be decently big, once upon a time, only nice adjective I heard about them. Otherwise they mostly figured around bulbous, button-like and some others I wouldn’t care to repeat. Once I asked Maa, (school time), how are my eyes, can you call them beautiful. She took a careful look and said, I can, but I have to try really hard. Couldn’t she have been a tad tactful? The saving grace was, they were functional.

Now that I am bespectacled, for some vague reason, I have started noticing other things, the wrinkles at the corners of the eyes, the darkness under them and a new development, white spots on the lids. Hain? Nobody ever told me that my eyes would become so insignificant, that the surrounding areas would take prominence and how! I would not have noticed the white spots but it was literally thrust upon me. And he said in all seriousness, you should get your cholesterol checked. Really? Chasma causes cholesterol? Ok, forget it, 2 +2 isn’t always 5. To cut the long story short, the cholesterol problem was solved but the white spots had found their abode to reside forever. And now I have a wart too. Maybe wearing the glasses is better, the thicker the frame, the blemishes stay out of sight.

Unlike twins, my disagreeable eyes have refused to agree on various axes, including spherical and cylindrical, they are power hungry, vying with each other on “I am high on positivity” and “I am supremely negative, beat it!” I wonder how the lens manufacturer ever gets it all crammed into the thin, light on eyes and heavy on pocket, Vogue frames and gives it a tan too.  I have to admit, I am like literally blind without them.

The day I leave home without my glasses, I need help for the smallest thing including reading the zero at petrol pump and the price on the tag. The biggest problem is when I have to read the small print, only way out is to take a photo and zoom it (Thank whoever for digital technology), how would the virtually visually impaired like me survive. But I wonder, how the hot handsome hunks that I bump into without my glasses, change into middle aged, pot-bellied, bald ogling men, as soon as I apply the glazed glassy look to see them better. The blurry illusion shatters into the harsh reality!

RESURGENCE – by Madhumita Banerjee

Foreword:

Dear readers, 

This is a different genre that I normally write and publish. This short story, a 15 minute read, written in almost the same time by my Bhabhi, Madhumita, for the Puja souvenir last year, is a quick and inspiring read for us and a determined reminder that times are changing. Enjoy.

“A successful woman is one who can build a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown”

Flashback #1: “Ria get back here”, yelled her hassled mom, “help with the dishes.” Ria looked in longing at her brothers, rushing out in glee to enroll themselves at the fun and games at the local Diwali Mela.. She knew she could win most of the events with ease but…….

Flashback #2 : Ria stared in dismay at her Report Card, 56% in Maths! The rest of the marks were above 80%. If only her Maths teacher would explain the concepts clearly instead of rambling on. Most of her classmates had Maths tutors. But her dad believed that girls anyway understood Maths less, no matter what. Moreover, he had to think of the future of his sons, they had to become engineers, therefore, needed tutors, she could settle for Humanities.

Flashback#3 : Ria tried focusing on her Chemistry notes, her BSc Final Year exams were going on but the raised voices of her parents distracted her. She heard her mother’s pleading voice,   “You don’t know the antecedents of the boy, how could you agree to the proposal? Moreover, Ria is keen on doing her postgraduation.”. Her father’s irritated voice said, “ Let that be her husband’s and in law’s headache. No matter what, we have to get her married one day. It’s a responsibility, let’s get it over and done with. The alliance seems good, a well established family, they have their own house and family business…….

Flashback #4 : Every morning was the same scenario, a whirlwind of activities— hollering husband who refused to take even a glass of water by himself, complaining mother-in-law who said Ria was never on time with her bed tea, her squealing baby son who always woke up with the rest and her school going daughter who slept on in spite of the many attempts in waking her. After pacifying one and all, Ria emerged form the kitchen and in the nick of time remembered to ask her husband Ronen, about the Computer Classes which had just begun in the vicinity. “What will you do with Computers? Keep the Accounts or store your recipes?” he guffawed. “When will you go? You can’t expect my mother to manage the kitchen and the baby at this age? Why waste money?”. Ria assured him that all ends would be taken care of and she had saved some money from the tuitions she conducted.

Flashback #5 : Ria adjusted the spectacles on her nose, scanned the papers carefully and signed on the dotted line. She was now the owner of the Computer Institute. It took her 3 degrees, eight long years, a bank loan and innumerable adjustments and appeasements with her family to reach her goal.

Flashback #6 : “ Ria you have always been stubborn, Ritu needs to settle down, what is your excuse now? My friend’s son is a qualified Engineer working in the US, can there be a better match?” Ria calmly looked up from the newspaper and said, “ Ritu is passionate about her Course and wishes to go abroad to pursue it further. Your son’s friend isn’t the last eligible male on earth. Moreover you ought to focus more on our son now. His grades are dropping and his late hours and drinking seems to be on the rise.”

PRESENT DAY: “ Hello, hello Ritu….. That’s great news dear, Congratulations! …..Of course all of us are coming for the convocation. You take care…….Of course would love to meet Parmeet’s parents.” Ria disconnected the mobile, smiled at her husband and daughter-in-law and shared the good news. “That Punjabi boy?” scoffed Ronen, “ It’s all your doing, trying to make your daughter modern, eh? ” Before Ria could say anything, her daughter-in-law, Nupur said, “ Baba, aren’t you overlooking something important? Ritu Didi has completed her Masters with distinction and has acquired a job in a reputed Company. Parmeet is a good friend and am sure will turn out to be an ideal life partner.”

Nupur’s face paled as she heard the banging on the door. She opened the door only to be roughly pushed aside, she could smell the liquor and the strong feminine perfume on her husband. “Not again Rahul, why did you marry me if this is what you wanted?”. Rahul twisted her arm while she writhed in silent agony. The stinging slap shook him out of his drunken stupor. It was his mother!

“ How dare you? She’s your wife. Just because the poor girl has not uttered a word to us and is constantly putting up with your misbehaviour does not mean that I will tolerate the same”, said Ria, her eyes blazing. Ronen said in a placating tone, “ Ria, it’s their problem, let them sort it out”

“No Ronen, a woman being abused and disrespected in my house becomes my…our problem too. Do not forget Rahul, you have lost your job as well and living off your parents’and wife’s earnings. If you do not mend your ways soon dear son, I will personally help Nupur file a divorce against you and get back on her feet.”

Ronen stared open mouthed at his wife. Rahul looked up in fear at his mother whose piercing stare meant every word she said. The tears rolled down Nupur’s eyes, she could only only cry out, “Maa…..” as Ria put her protective arms around her.

“A woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform.”

Bikaner Bahu

 

The first time I entered the beautiful city of Bikaner, it was as a new bride, some 23 years ago into a culture I didn’t understand, where the folks spoke a language I couldn’t make head or tail of and to a city I had never been before.

With all the unknowns and with trepidation, that new brides of yesteryears will understand, I stepped into the city, complete with a bowed head, armful of jewellery, and no voice.

Draped in a heavy जरी साड़ी, loaded with jewellery from head to toe, (yes actually), wearing heels, I followed my MIL into those city roads where no four-wheeler had gone before. Now these lanes are small (stretch your arms and you can probably touch the boundary), pot-holed, like all lanes across the country, disgustingly smelly with open drains and overflowing with cow dung. Amidst the dung, move the two and three wheelers, and alongside walk the Homo sapiens (at their own risk) and dogs and cows and bulls and carts and more, coexisting on the treacherous roads. A person like me needs to be insured just to walk there.

So there I was, all decked up, one hand holding up the साड़ी all the way up to my ankles, (Ha, what did you think), other hand fiercely holding the पल्लू on my head, which I was told never to let go, (hence no hands free to hold a purse and thus I learnt how the art of storing money in twin lockers beyond purses originated. And no, I am not explaining this further) looking at the road for spots where the foot could be placed safely without being soiled, and looking out for dangers lurking around nooks namely four legged creatures and motorised vehicles. Vehicles were the easy ones, in Bikaner, they are quite used to blind people like me walking around. And I always thought people coming to big cities from small towns faced hurdles! But the real menace were the bulls and cows, who are around in plenty, all seemingly eyeing me disdainfully, and being dead afraid of them, I was forever ready to flee in the most unladylike manner, with no regard for the erstwhile stated पल्लू. Many a times I was saved by the folks used to saving damsels in distress in those lanes.

And what was I doing there? I was being led to meet my husband’s extended family that resided in such locations and I was paraded around being the latest acquisition. Some of the older generation ladies would make me sit next to them, take my arm and minutely examine every piece of jewellery I wore. Ask me details about who gave it, how much it was worth and I was completely lost. But my MIL passed with flying colors; she had done a good job. And they would utter in their local tone “छोरी पुटरो से” meaning girl is good looking (experience gaveth the verdict).

Some of the more experienced बहूs I met on these trips were tired looking girls with covered head forever looking downwards, following their सासु around, obeying instructions and getting rid of their घूँघट as soon as they were out of surveillance. I asked them why did they cover their head if they had such a big issue with it and they looked at me like I had descended from Mars, you don’t know nothing, you come from a different culture, we will see how you fare in a couple of years (the last with a knowing smirk). I wondered what their life was like, being stuck forever beneath the covered head and small town mentality, with no hope or desire to do anything beyond cook, clean and obey. And snapping at their snotty kids with one finger up the nostril and one scratching the bottom.

And then there also exists that class of people who took offence with me simply because (as far as I can make out) I was born in a different caste, was educated and didn’t understand the traditions. They always tell me (even today), I am too focused on earning (नोट गिनती as they call it), not on family, I never make time for relatives, never call them and generally pull me down by what is termed as ओलबा in the local dialect.  And not breaking the घूँघट clad बहू genre, I listen, feebly protest and finally shut up, I cannot win the argument anyway, and leave teary eyed at times.

When I got married, I was made to sit with a hall full of Marwari women, all dressed in bright red, head covered, stomach visible (which reminded me of a term we had coined in college O-cube-C, which meant, now don’t laugh, one open one covered, and you can easily guess what I mean in the context of a साड़ी), singing the local lullaby called गीत, whose words were difficult for me to decipher, laughing, touching my clothes and jewelry and doing what most females do when in a group, talk. Since my Marwari vocabulary was close to nil, I sat with a permanent smile pasted on my face as folks took off my घूँघट, looked at me, made some remarks I didn’t quite get, laughed and fed me लड्डूs, one after other, till I was in bursting and ready to puke. Much later I learnt that you were not supposed to eat them, just take the smallest bite and keep it down again. Or take a bite and feed the rest to the fellow torturing you thus. Nobody told me that at the right time.

Bikaneri food is the probably among the most awesome in the world, but not when it is stuffed in your mouth. In this city, people show their love for you is by force feeding you; they believe in the past 24 years of your life, you have not mastered the art of eating. You cannot do “अन्न का अपमान” and you have to devour around 6 meals a day, breakfast, morning snacks, lunch, high tea, evening snacks and dinner, all at different relatives abode, who felt I had come completely undernourished and unfed from my पीहर and they had to funnel stuff in my mouth till my पेटीकोट नाडा was about to break. My MIL taught me, don’t eat anything on your own, just eat what you are being fed and you’ll survive to tell the tale.

Funny incidents apart, I was welcomed with open arms by people who lived in this small town and had hearts big enough to shower love and blessings on this bong girl without bias. Even after couple of decades, I continue to be surprised at the way this place strives to maintain the traditions as the next generation gets married while I still struggle to speak the local language and get a handle on expectations.