the hustle-bustle of a metro. the crowds. the heart stopping pace. people rushing, people pushing. the end of a tiring day. a welcome cup of tea. a chair by the window. then suddenly. a beautiful sunset to wipe away the fatigue in a second. and a reason to be grateful to have lived another day. ( PC: Dee)
The two girls giggled as they waved the five crisp hundred rupee notes in the air. First cousins, and just six months apart, Neerja and Shonali were thick as thieves. They never lost a chance to meet. Their mothers remembered very clearly the days, when as toddlers, the two girls would just squabble and bicker over the same set of toys. Everyone dreaded those days of family gatherings as it also meant inevitable tears and quarrels between the two children. But as they grew up, things changed and slowly Neerja and Shonali started looking forward to the occasions when they could spend a day together. Eventually they became partners in crimes and left everyone wondering about the change in their equation.
Today was one such occasion. It was their eldest cousin, Anurima’s wedding. The air was abuzz with activity and excitement. It was after very long that there was a wedding in the family. The elders were vacillating between the elation of the auspicious occasion, and the anxiety of hoping that all the ceremonies went off smoothly. The mehndi or henna ceremony had been held the evening before and Neerja and Shonali were very happy with the beautiful rust tone that the mehndi had taken on, on their slender hands and wrists. Standing on the edge of turning sixteen, both the girls revelled in the thought of the opportunity to dress up. They had taken great care in deciding their dresses for the various ceremonies and had managed to come up with looks which were coordinated, but at the same time distinct in reflecting their individual tastes.
The wedding ceremony was this evening. The morning was to be dedicated to the haldi or turmeric ceremony. The haldi ceremony involved application of turmeric and sandalwood paste to the bride. The haldi came from the bridegroom’s side in a very ceremonious way. Placed in a decorative bowl, it was also supposed to be accompanied by gifts. In the Bengali community, the fish is considered very auspicious and tradition said that the haldi paste be accompanied by a pair of fish. A pair of raw fish. The pair symbolised the bridal couple. Similarly the bride’s family also send a similar bowl of haldi and sandalwood paste to the bridegroom’s side for an identical ceremony.
Anurima’s fiancé, Rahul, lived about 20 minutes away. Around 11am, his cousins and aunts arrived with the haldi. There was a lot of chattering and laughter as the women went to take a quick peek at the bride to be. The women in Anurima’s family also started making preparations to begin the haldi ceremony. the bride was dressed in a crisp, new,white saree with a red border, and made to sit on a raised seat. Five married women started singing songs handed down over generations, and started applying the turmeric paste on her arms and calves, and on her cheeks, praying for a fulfilling married life. Once they were done, the rest of the women, her aunts, siblings, cousins, and friends also applied the paste on her. Once the ceremonial bit was over, it was a free for all. Haldi paste was applied on everyone’s cheeks amidst a lot of shrieks, giggles and jibes.
Anurima’s grandmother finally had to admonish them into remembering that the haldi paste from the bride’s side had to reach Rahul’s home in order for them to carry out a similar ceremony. It was decided that Neerja and Shonali would accompany their two aunts to present the haldi. Both being very creative, they had taken the effort to wrap the two fish in bright fabric. They had used red brocade on one to signify the bride and stuck a cigarette in the other’s mouth to represent the groom. Feeling very important, the two girls got into the car.
On the way to Rahul’s home, they both realised that surrounded by relatives most of the time, Rahul and Anurima had not got any scope of communicating with each other. Dependent solely on the telephone, it had been over three days that they had spoken to each other. Neerja and Shonali hit upon a plan. Hunting in her handbag, Neerja found a notepad and pen. Writing just five words on a sheet she folded it neatly and put it back in her bag.
When they reached Rahul’s home they handed over the haldi and the fish. Rahul’s parents insisted on serving them some refreshments. While the elders were busy talking and eating , Neerja signalled to Rahul that he meet them in the balcony where no one could see them. When all three of them gathered in the balcony, Shonali announced that she had a very important message for him from Anurima. Deprived of any contact with his bride-to-be for the past three days, Rahul was very eager to hear from her. Shonali added that since they were delivering a note which they had to smuggle out under the vigilant gaze of their grandmother, they were entitled to some compensation for their efforts. After a lot of haggling, a deal was struck. Rahul handed them five hundred rupees in exchange for the note.
Neerja and Shonali scooted to the other side of the room before Rahul could open the note. As they were at the door with their aunt, bidding Rahul’s parents goodbye, they could see Rahul opening the note on the other side of the room. They just caught sight of Rahul’s highly irritated look before they made their escape, giggling away. They knew he would not take so kindly to be made a fool, to part with five hundred rupees for a note which said, ’See you at the wedding’.
I am the eldest of three sisters. In a country fixated about having a son, we never heard any such comment in our household. If at all my parents ever missed having a son, they definitely didn’t express it to us. I remember many occasions when women used to ask my mother at social gatherings how many children she had, and on hearing three daughters, always waited expectantly to hear ‘and a son’. We three were provided with a good education with no pressure of having to learn household activities, though all of us knew and contributed to basic household chores.
I went on to do my Masters and then further research to obtain an MPhil degree, which, thanks to the encouraging nature of my academic guide, also got published. In the course of my studies, I met my husband and we both embarked on our life together with a lot of optimism. Fortunately I got a teaching post in an under graduate college very soon after I completed my education. Initially it was easy to juggle home and work. But when my son was born, it became more and more difficult, especially as my husband started travelling more and more on work. Eventually I reached a crossroad where I had to take a decision if I wanted to continue work or just focus on bringing up my son with undivided attention. After a lot of soul searching I decided to give up work and be at home with him. It was a very conscious decision that I reached after a lot of thought. I have always loved teaching and it was not an easy step for me. But I also knew it was the right one for that particular moment.
Along the years my daughter was born and I got totally immersed in bringing up my two children. That’s not to say I neglected my own interests and pursuits, but they were never my priority. For a long time I have run my own business from home. A flexi time venture where I have been able to pick and choose to work according to the children’s schedules. It is fulfilling and a better option to being idle. Again here I am one of those women who equate the word ‘idle’ to a mental state of mind. I have been told many a time that, “you are a home maker. How can you feel bored? There is so much to do at home. “ Creating a home is a beautiful task, but beyond a point there is more to life than keeping a clean home and cooking a tasty meal. At least to me there is. It was probably this thirst for soul feed that has made me run a business from home for around fourteen years against all odds.
I would term this entire process as something that taught me so much. The day I decided to become a full time homemaker was a day, which marked the beginning of a new journey, which led to the individual that I am today. Many don’t realize that when one gives up a career, one also loses financial independence and subsequently a certain degree of self-confidence. I know that because I kept myself occupied with an alternative, to a very great degree I managed to salvage that loss of confidence. But there are days when I wonder what I would have been as an individual if I had continued teaching. I know I would have been very different from what I am today. My thought processes would have been different.
In the last few years, there have been many moments when I have wondered about the merits or demerits of a higher education. It opens our mind and thinking so much. It shapes our thinking and polishes our rationale. And while it is this rationale that made me take the decision of taking time out from my job, it was also like trying to put the genie back into the lamp. After exploring a career, it took some mental adjustment to being confined to a home.
I am sure all of us in the same boat go through those random days of ‘what if ‘?
I got a wisdom tooth extracted couple of days back. A procedure involving injections, tongs, a great deal of tugging,pushing, pulling, and shoving. Have been always told that if one relaxes one’s muscles,it gets a bit easier. So I spent those fifty minutes focusing totally on the three tubs of mango strawberry and chocolate ice cream waiting for me at home. Breathe in,breathe out. Focus. Envision tub no.1. Breathe in,breathe out. Focus. Envision tub no.2. So on and so forth. The fact that I could officially cheat on my diet when I devoured the said ice cream was definitely an added incentive. Another fact which prodded me on was the phrase ‘ ignorance is bliss’. Loosing a “wisdom” tooth brought me nearer to bliss,as I would be bit more ignorant than before
My love-hate relationship with the dentist and his tools of trade started when I was around seven. My first milk tooth stubbornly refused to fall off on its own,and had to be forced to vacate its position for the permanent one which took it’s place. I think the other milk teeth didn’t learn from that experience,and each turned out to be equally stubborn. The successors of the said milk teeth turned out to be equally wayward and this signalled the entry of the orthodontist. The shrill whining of the dentist’s drill is embedded in my memory.
Dental problems are a genetically inclined issue for me,and I was convinced that by the time I turned 40 ,I would have a very contemporary mouth. Full of concrete,cement and steel. But contrary to my trepidations,I am still managing with my original set of pearls. Though i must add that vey often i dream of all my teeth falling off. Don’t they say that dreams are nothing but our inner most fears buried in our subconscious?
My neighbor is also my very good friend. About five years senior to me, she comes from a more conservative background than mine, and we both have swapped many a tale from our growing years. Even in our current situation we find ourselves doing the same thing in two different ways, just because of our approach is so different. One of the subjects we exchange notes are our marriages and spouse. She had a traditional arranged match. I had a marriage by choice, with the blessings of both sets of parents. Recently I had a minor disagreement with my husband and was narrating the incident to my friend. She commented that she never thought that people in ‘love marriages’ also argued. I burst out laughing and told her that the paths to the mandap in an arranged marriage and a love marriage were different, but after that the stories were the same.
It got me thinking on how I had met my husband. These are situations which make you want to believe in the theory of destiny. He had trained to be a pilot but luck had other things in store for him and he had to give up that dream when he met with an accident. Taking up the offer of a friend in Mumbai, he shifted here to make a fresh start. Till that day he had never stepped into this city. He got a job very soon after he came here.
At this time I was an under-graduate student and had lived all my life in Mumbai. The chances of our path crossing was remote as his work place was in a different part of the city and my college was in the suburbs. I walked to college and so that cut out the chance meeting on a train or a bus. And yet we met. And the way we met makes me believe even after 25 years since the day has passed that we both were meant to be there on that day and that time.
My husband’s colleague had some official work with my father who ran his office from our home. That particular day when he was supposed to meet my father, my to be husband happened to be free and offered to accompany him to seal the deal. That’s how he reached my home.
I was in my final year of college and generally got home around 1 pm , but that day a couple of lectures got cancelled and I reached home at 11.30. That is how I happened to be home when he came home. Neither of us were supposed to be there on that day at that spot but yet we were there. And it was me who answered the door that afternoon. And we both immediately felt a connect.
He asked me out within a month and proposed to me soon after. The optimism and to a certain extent, naivety of youth was probably the force which propelled us through the first few years. While both sets of parents were not too keen initially, we eventually convinced them and got married. The first five years of our married life was certainly not a cake walk. We both had to work hard to come up from scratch and while we managed quite well financially, we rarely had money to add frills to our life.
What I have learnt in over two decades of marriage is that this is one relationship which one cannot let be for it to survive. We are bound and bonded with our parents, siblings and children through bonds of blood. A marriage is a relationship we forge with full consciousness and choice. It needs constant nurturing. The years spent with my spouse have been smattered with good and bad. We have weathered many a storm. But then we have also had some beautiful moments and created umpteen memories.We have two beautiful children and a home which is haven for all of us.
There have been instances when I have almost thrown in the towel but it is the memory of the day we met and more importantly how we met that has reconnected me to the magic of us. And that’s the main factor which has stopped me from throwing it all away.