Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Of ones and twos

‘Bring your spouse or significant other’ said the invite to our office party last week.

A voice of authority trailed off in the corridor, “How can they say something like this? What if you don’t have a spouse or a significant other?” Another echoes in support, “I agree, this is so unfair…”

There we go again, I think—damned if you do (have a significant other) and damned if you don’t. Is this going to me yet another ‘us’ vs ‘them’ moments?.. I wonder.

Not that I have a problem being on either side. It is as easy to slide into singledom as into coupledom. I have been through phases of significant others, not-so-significant others, or no significant others. Or even times when my significant other was my cat Lupooh Singh. And believe me, he was the hardest to please. Like Cinderella, I would leave parties and nights of wild dancing midway, because he didn’t quite approve of my night-bird ways. We went on long drives, spent weekends together, watched endless DVDs (dunno how the view is from atop the TV, but I never argued), played ball, ate candle-lit dinners, cuddled.

At times, he tried surprising me by bringing me dinner —a lizard, a pigeon, a sparrow— which I politely turned down, because I preferred things green, but it was a sterling act in tact display.
He ultimately decided that we had issues –he was a home bird and I loved to party. He even began to resent our weekend drives into the wilderness. So he started behaving like a dog in the car—tongue hanging out, panting, and I decided that was the end of our outings. Soon, he had a suitable feline distraction who obviously won him over, and matched his elegance, and I was bereft.

Fortunately, I was not shattered, and I didn’t slit my wrists. May be because a part of me knew that I had an inbuilt significant other that I could always count on ( I’m Gemini, there is at least three of me inside). So I moved on and they lived happily ever after.

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Finally, I went solo (my significant other had too much to deal with that week), and had a pretty good time, till I had enough of the blinding lights and the gauche musicians. But when I looked around, I noticed that most significant others were absent as well. Which made me realise that it was much ado about nothing after all. It got me wondering— why does a harmless invite like the aforementioned spark off so much insecurity in people? Isn’t it more about having a significant ‘yourself’ before you can have a significant ‘other’?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Bringing up mother

“Are you coming to get your vishukani?”

My mum shakes me out of my slumber on a Sunday morning. It is Vishu, and I am Tam-Bram, so get the picture? “Uh…okay, I guess…” I managed to mumble.

Being summoned into decision making in a somnambulistic mode isn’t exactly good for me, but mothers will be mothers. So I make the trudge to the land of wilderness, and am suitably rewarded with some cash, some silver and a fruit hamper.

Only that, to earn it, I have to first view it through the mirror, and prostrate in front of the deity. “Don’t look at it directly,” says the mother, in all innocence. I don’t have the heart to tell her that I have taken in the spoils the minute I entered the house, and I know all that is on offer.

So I do as I am told, eye the spread in the mirror, and make my baksheesh for the day. Hmm, that was easy.

But then the rituals are not always so rewarding.
On one particular day every year in early January, I think, post pongal, there is always a rude awakening by the mother (or a ceremonial call, these days). I remember it so vividly. It is five am. “Whhhhat happened?” I stutter, shaken out of my bone. She shoves a plate in front of me, lined with balls of various rice preparations. “Come, we have to go to the terrace and feed them to the crows,” she says. There is more—in the form of an enticing couplet sung to attract the crows to your morsels. May be I am a really good daughter, but I do remember croaking into the sky at wee hours of the morning to seduce.. a crow?

Some questions pop in my head: 1) Why do crows wake up so early? 2) Why bother art-directing food for a scavenger? 3) Why is my mother such an enthu cutlet? 4) Am I so low-life that I have to sing to a crow?

I ask none of them. Because I know there is a larger plan. Apparently, the crows are our ancestors, and this is one way of giving back to them. I think, if I had my way, I would invite my grandparents for dinner, instead of this crack of dawn apportioning of food. But I don’t, so I do as I am told.

There are also miscellanous smaller rituals –like wearing a turmeric stained thread for a good husband (there goes my t-shirt, I think). Or “keep this vibhuti under your pillow,” or “say this mantra eleven times..” and more such.

Once, she outdid herself when she handed me a “blessed coconut,” asking me to swirl it around my head three times before taking a shower. And to do it for eleven days or some such.

Only that I noticed aliens breeding on it after the third day, and never touched it after.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Front row blues

I always wanted to be a backbencher.
It is the only thing I ever really wanted when I was in school. Sadly, I never made it.

Okay, here are the gory details—I have a rather short mother and a rather tall father. I inherited the wrong genes—so I ended up with the wrong nose and the wrong height, and spent most of my school years sitting in the first row.

Yes, I was in one of those schools where you 'sit according to your height.' And life always seemed to happen behind my back. All those ample bosomed, long-legged girls in my class seemed to inhabit an ecosystem that thrived on sleaze, sleath, voyeurism, boy-talk, pranks, defiance and all things exciting and wonderful.

I so wanted to belong there, to be part of their plots and schemes, to be the bad girl, to be the one that had the audacity to tell the teacher that she hadn't done her homework.

In contrast, I was the one who 'paid attention in class' and knew all the answers and always turned in my homework on time, my notebooks remained as meticulous as ever, my uniform was always ironed, and my compass box always had everything in it.

So all my life's ambitions paled into the background, while I, completely by default made it to the nerd rank—something that took me years and some serious messed-up-ness to wash off.

Every year in June, when we entered a new class and places were allotted, I would breathe deeply and hope to stretch a few inches, so that I could at least get promoted to the second row. But that never happened. Because at age 11, I realized that I had stopped growing vertically. So there I was—relegated to front bencher status year after year.

Even in the annual class photograph, when I thought I could creep into the back and blend, the teacher would pull me out, and say something derogatory like 'the small ones can sit in front, please!"

I desperately wanted out of the first bench stigma, and as long as I was in school, I didn’t see a way out. So it was no surprise why college felt very democratic and liberating, chiefly because one could sit where one wanted, and no prizes for guessing which was my favourite spot.

Suddenly, the world began to look like a different place, and I felt I had shed my front-bencher baggage.
I felt further rehabilitated when once, I walked out on an exam paper, because I had no clue on the questions asked. The proverbial bad boy hanging outside said, "I like that. You are a cool chick." I hated admitting to him that it was the first time I ever did anything cool.

But it is kind of different now. I am still all of 5" 1, but I can fill a room. And I don't have to be a bad girl to do that. I finally know that small is beautiful. I am at peace with my size. Or the lack of it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Maid for each other

If there is someone who understands the nuances of male behaviour much better than a gender columnist, it has to be the domestic maid.
I find it absolutely amazing to see men in power, men leading companies—basically men calling the shots in their working life being rendered complete putty in the company of this mystical goddess.

A friend of mine used to unburden regularly about his travails with his domestic. He called her Maxi, as that was her preferred garment and for some reason, it pissed him off. It got his goat that she should trivialize the job so much, she didn’t even bother to be suitably attired.

But that was not all. She just disturbed his calm with her Speedy Gonsalves style of working, and every morning, he felt like his flat was hit by a hurricane. And before he even finished his cup of tea, she would be gone.

He soon reached a point where her attire started giving him the hives—much more than her working style, and finally, in disgust, he decided to sack her. The day he mustered the courage to tell her, she announced that she was pregnant. He freaked out and called me immediately. “Can I get sued for sacking a pregnant woman?” “Depends,” I said. He is still stuck with her. And she still wears a maxi.

In contrast, the benevolent beau has a classic slow-motion cadet who descends on him whenever she feels like, smiling in the most benign manner. When she started out, he, in his usual act of deep concern for fellow humans asked her to take Sundays off. “Good, no? Even we get days off!” he said in all earnest.

She, of course decided to interpret it her way, and decided to work only on Sundays. It took him a whole two months to communicate to her that there had been a misunderstanding. Once, when she disappeared for over two weeks, he even tried to get a replacement, but then she re-emerged, with her beatific smile and he succumbed again.

“Is she good at her job?,” I asked.
“I don’t know, but she is quiet,” he said.
That explained it. Not having to engage was good reason to be loyal to your domestic, even if she never showed up.

The couch-potato father gets instructions from the super-organised mother when she is out on one of her jaunts, “Make sure she cleans the counter and the sink. She has this tendency to slink away. Also insist that she return in the afternoon to do the rest of the dishes,” she tells him.
He turns a shade of purple that his chocolate complexion allows him to and winces, “Yaar, just tell her yourself. Leave me out of this…”

We all know that men have a problem with confrontation and closure. But it is actually the Maxis of the world who really know how to use it to their advantage. May be Maxi should be writing this column next.