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.




How to tame your darling

This blog is a dummy’s guide to taming the spouse. Three kind of people must read it

1) those who are yet to walk the aisle. Trust me, you can’t do without this Dr. Spock’s tried and tested recipes.

2) those who have been there, done it. You are welcome to add your experiences which I have missed.

3) those who have tried and failed. With this cookbook, you have a much better chance of success.

Disclaimer: not meant for the intolerant ones. Aha, gotcha!

Following is the list of home-grown procedures, tried and having proven successful, which can be utilized at opportune moments and that can really help in the undertaken task of taming the beast. You may imagine that you have a domesticated animal, but that too may lift its hind leg and …What you are actually looking for is a pet with two legs, who can earn, yearn and cook for you.

The most useful method ever tried in the history of lasting marriages are the opening of the tear glands. The bravest of the brave also fear the flash floods and this can be used to advantage at the appropriate moments. E.g., you want your husband to apologize for a mistake he did not commit, or you are losing the fight, open the gate and he will fall all over himself to ask for forgiveness. Another scenario where this is useful is when you have broken his favorite toy, which could be the TV or his mobile or his X-box. And it is not relevant that you did it deliberately because he spends more time with them than with you. Once you bring those innocent tears to your eyes, he will not be in shape to say anything even though he is seething in anger. To err is human, but to not err and say sorry is a husband.

Talking in monosyllables, or absolute silence can be a tactic used when you need something desperately and you know a routine request will be ineffective. Specially if it is pocket-heavy like a diamond bracelet or a all-girls-vacation in the Alps. When a woman does not use words to fight, husbands become wary. Like the hunted, they are aware of something lurking in the shadows, and are unable to deal with the suspense. Uhms and ok, and fine, if said in the right tone can win kingdoms. How do you think the Draupadi’s and Kaikeyi’s of the Mahabharata fame managed to topple empires and twist their spouses around their fingers? Once he is ready to say yes to just about anything, tell him you want the bracelet your arch rival has, and he will buy you a more expensive one. A precautionary note, this needs planning for weeks. A few hours of silence can appear to be golden, only once stretched to limits, does this plan work. Right amount of pressure has to build up for दाल गलाने के लिये।

Mothers are very important in the life of spouses. This specie called man is pre-trained to asking permission before stepping out of the house, before buying anything and generally as they have been taught since their birth; which is a great habit, except with the wrong person. Now weaning that off and taking its place is a tough assignment for the simple creatures called wives and needs strategy. You cannot do it in one shot, be patient, bide your time and prove to him that you can do a better job giving permissions than she does. You can use the monosyllables method or tear gun, but slowly and surely, you have to persuade your spouse to realize he is now a grown up guy and the right thing to do for an adult is to ask your wife whether he can buy a gadget, whether he should mow the lawn or clean the garage. Notice that whether he can watch the T20 finale is not a valid option. Unlearning a mama’s boy to become a जोरू का ग़ुलाम  is a training that spans across years till the day comes when he says- Honey, shall I get the veggies first or vacuum, and you know you have achieved the almost impossible.

Man is an animal that believes that once he had earned the daily bread and butter, he has done his job and can peacefully relax over the weekend. It is critical to make him understand that you need a dish to keep the bread in, a refrigerator to keep the dish in, a matching dishwasher, a 3 bedroom house to keep the refrigerator and dishwasher in and of course the furniture for the bedrooms and hall and accessories to decorate the house and you. So where is the time to relax? And once he has done all this, and sits in the armchair and takes the remote, you need to remind him of the importance of maintenance, so now he need to clean, do the dishes, fix the plumbing and repair the lighting. The way to do it is to play up to his ego where he feels only the man of the house can do these chores and the other mere mortals would botch it up. Keep a list of chores handy for the Saturday’s and Sunday’s and make sure the “meeting the old college friends”  is nowhere on the list. Trust me, husbands can fix every nut, except themselves, which is where we bolt.

The man also has the illusion that he can sometimes take a vacation with his friends alone, or go for that office getaway at the resort. Now the trick here is to make him believe till the last-minute that he can do that, let him book the tickets and dream about it. On the morning of his travel, you have to fall sick. It is up to you whether you have zee headache or simulate fever, or the ladies cramps, but you need to appear very vulnerable and needy and clingy. Never say on the face, that he can’t go. Let him take that decision for himself, that way he has only himself to blame later. Once he has phoned his friends or colleagues to say he can not make it. You have to have a teary face and recite the three magic words. Next day, you should recover from your malady miraculously and normal day should resume. The leash should be just as long as you want it to be. Once this has happened a couple of times, he will automatically learn not to ask for the moon.

One piece of advice. Keep a log book. It is important to keep an account of when he said something he should not have, done something wrong from your perspective or disobeyed you. This logbook will serve you well as leverage at crucial moments in your life when he wants to sleep and you want him to do the kids homework, or when he wants to buy something for himself but you need to persuade him to buy something for you instead. It may also help to record moments when you were proved right and keep a count, because it is normally a huge number. The count can really wear down any thought of resistance that may surface. As soon as you say “the last nine hundred and fifty-seven times when you were wrong”, the battle is won. If you keep forgetting the past like me, understand that the logbook holds the key to the marital future and should you choose to ignore when he doth wrong, forget having a tamed hubby.

Before we lived happily ever after

Logically speaking, I should start with how I met and started flirting with my current husband. But that is for another time. Today I want to talk about some of the hilarious events leading to the inter-caste-marriage that we had. Remember that 90’s was a conservative period for the smaller towns in India and divorces and love-marriages were spoken in shushed-tones.

Once upon a time in 1988-89, Anuraag and I decided, we will get married. To each other. Some day. We did not talk about it at home, of course. Who does that? My mom, being a die-hard Bengali and strongly influenced by her peer group, when I was in III year, decided that it was time for some prospective grooms to meet me. I know there were people who helped influence her judgment about the girls-growing-up-and-getting-out-of-hand (and whose daughters wanted to do nothing in life except marry and settle down).  I thank such interfering bees from the bottom of my shoe, who have nothing better to do than match-making for all kids in the block.

Well, to continue the story, some ill-meaning neighbor brought a “रिश्ता” and I was asked to meet the guy. I, as expected, said NO. But maybe not loudly enough, because the family turned up officially to “see me” one evening. My mom begged me not to create a scene so I complied. This guy was tall and broad, his wrist was probably twice mine (remember you are supposed to keep your eyes demurely down- all you get to see is the hands and the lower anatomy of the fellow). Having decided his fate a priori, I went and say Hello and sat down to talk to him. No, I did not wear a sari, or take a tray-full of samosas and tea. My parents and his parents, delicately left us alone and went to the bedroom to talk. Though I could bore anyone with my incessant conversation, I was tongue-tied for a while and we made some formal talk, what do you do, where do you study, what are your hobbies kind. Then he asked me what do you want to do. And I saw light. I told him I wanted to be the prime minister of India followed by an 5 minute extempore of why I believed  I was right for the job (the gift of glib came handy).  After my nonstop nonsense, I never quite figured out why he was in such a hurry to leave.  My parents were so happy that we had so much in common to talk about- little did they know how I scared him away.

With that safely out-of-the-way, life continued sedately for a while. A few days later, I heard another name, someone else was again coming for the same ritual. The day is etched in my mind. My dad was shaving. Mom was laying out breakfast and said they were going to come in the evening. And I burst out- I am not interested. I don’t want to meet anyone. And she asked- why? In 80’s 90’s the standard question was whether I had a boyfriend and not if I was gay. I said I have someone else in mind.  My mom asked- who, Anuraag? So I said yes. And then the slow motion B rated Hindi movie scene started.

Dad paused his shaving for an instant and continued as if nothing had happened. My mom, sat down heavily, not knowing what to say. I left for college. By the time I came back, mom was in कोप भवन. Her first and strongest reaction was “How can you marry a non-Bengali?” In her mind it was clear that there were only two classes- Bengalis and the rest of them. And of course, Bengalis are the elite ones, how can anyone even think of competing with Rabindra Nath Tagore and Uttam Kumar, Shuchitra Sen, the literature and एकला चोलो रे and the rich history? How could I stoop low enough to give up the cultural heritage and other such blahs for matters of the heart? When I said it doesn’t matter to me- she could not believe her ears- are you my daughter? Is this the संस्कार that I taught you?  Her next problem was “he is so dark, your kids will not be fair” Really ! She refused to eat for 3 days, I was crying in my room, she was crying in hers. My dad was mediating and cooking dishes trying to cool and feed both of us. Mom actually told my dad- she can’t go to college any more. And my dad laughed- you can’t do that, she is studying engineering. In next 3 days I tried several ways to get her to see reason- listing all the pros of my to-be-husband, why Bengali-panti was irrelevant to me, how I intended to survive without माछेर झोल, finally the only thing that worked was – I promise I am not going to run away to get married. I will only marry with your blessings and then she broke her fast-unto-whatever and started eating. After a few days, things became quite normal at home, except for some taunts that came out of nowhere, which I did my best to ignore. Little did I know what was brewing in her mind.

When Anuraag broke the news at his home, his mom’s reaction was even more lame “नमक लाना हैं तो माँ से पूछता हैं कौन सा , चला हैं लड़की पसंद करने” and finally- right now focus on studies, we will worry about these things later- which was probably the sanest thing to say.  Her only issue with me was thatI came from a non-vegetarian family. Interestingly the fathers on the both the sides were very pleased with the liaison from day one – maybe it saved them some hard work of finding a suitor.

This episode I came to know much later – few years post marriage. My bro had come home for a week. He got all the juicy details from my mom, with her local flavor added. The whole family conspired behind my back and my big bro – decided to intervene to save the इज़्ज़त of his younger sister and मान-मर्यादा of the family. He went over to the Jodhpur court to meet Anuraag’s mom. (She was working as a judge). Her version of the story.  She got a note that Jhilmil’s brother wants to meet her. She came out, a trifle apprehensive. And my bro gave it to her straight “आपके बेटे ने मेरी भोली-भाली बहन को फसाया हैं”. She responded in kind – “तुम्हारी बहन ने मेरे बेटे को फासा हैं” Corny dialogues of the same genre flew back and forth till they did not have anything more to throw. Finally they mutually agreed to find ways to keep us away from each other (the fact that we were classmates in college did not help them at all). My bro came home, exhausted with the outburst, but since they were fellow conspirators, he also added “But they are a pretty decent and educated family. Maybe we should really think this through.”

It took the families next two-three years to think things through. I left for my post grad. Anuraag took up a job somewhere in Rewari. Both parties were perversely  delighted- now that the kids are away from each other- the infatuation will go away. They don’t know till date that Anuraag came every weekend to meet me at Delhi. After waiting unsuccessfully for a year for us to have a breakup, they finally yielded and the rest is history. Polite perseverance and determination worked wonders.

Ps. Some expressions only make sense in the mother tongue, hence I resort to it from time to time. Like आपके बेटे ने मेरी भोली-भाली बहन को फसाया हैं- is not at all the same as- your son is luring my innocent sister. Qed.