Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Driving Ms Difficult

There are only two places in the world that I can be totally with myself, almost meditative —without having to make small talk, answer phones or doorbells, smile, and stay as long as I want— my bathroom and my car.

To allow a stranger to inhabit one of these for an extended period of time is a big decision. The first, thankfully is out of question, the second becomes inevitable sometimes. Even so, in eight years of owning a car, I have never felt the need to have a driver.

First of all, I love to drive. Now don’t give me that “you can’t be kidding, this is Bombay” look. I love the sense of isolation and purpose it gives me, I love how I can be anything I want to be when I am behind the wheel, and I love the fact that it is the only real alone time one can have these days, considering that I am a quick bath person.

More importantly, I haven’t met a driver who knows Bombay roads better than me, which actually makes me eminently hirable (if you are willing to pay a bomb).

But more than that—having a driver defies my concept of space, and besides, I have various issues with the aforementioned person, some of which are aesthetic.

First of all, I like my men bathed and scrubbed every day, smelling clean, wearing clean clothes and socks. I don’t care about facial hair or their sense of style or ability to speak, read or write English. But I definitely do not want someone who is a mobile junkie or who chews strange substances and spits every five minutes.

Second, I like them quiet, which is harder to find.

Third, they shouldn’t be overly smiley. The thing is, when someone smiles at you, one feels obliged to smile back and fake smiles always hurt my jaw, and I have been doing enough of that lately, so I fear one day it might get dislocated.

So even though the parking outside my office involves a bit of circling, and the potholes are still potholes and the traffic is still traffic, and the car does get towed away occasionally, and strange dents do appear from nowhere, I am still not willing to surrender my wheel to a stranger.

I think if I ever get around to hiring a driver, I’d only ask him two questions (since he purports to be a driver, driving should be a given I guess)

1. How often does he bathe?

2. Would he describe himself as a talkative person?

The husband on the other hand thinks we should self-drive to work, and then engage a driver for after-hours recreation.

“Huh? Where will you find such a person?”

“I am sure there are many young men out there who would want to work from 8 pm to 1 am. How do you think call centers find people?”

I offered myself for the aforementioned job, but he said he couldn’t afford me.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Show me the mamma

Men don’t know what to do with their mothers. Actually, they haven’t had the foggiest for a long time, but they seldom get caught, as there have always been others to diffuse the situation. The mother has been a thing to deal with, get goodies out of, and escape really fast.

Most of them don’t know there’s a way out till they meet a woman is willing to take over— sister, wife, girlfriend, or just goodwill ambassador.

So when the mother-in-law was visiting, I was quite sure who’d end up doing the work even though the husband hadn’t yet announced that he was working through the weekend.

In the five odd days she spent with us, the total time the husband (the peach of her eye, incidentally) spent with her on a one-on-one was 46 minutes. He did try to teach her the fine art of registering for a petrol loyalty program online, but was seen tearing his hair out in less than ten minutes.

I realised that the difference between mothers and mothers-in-law is the difference between a cat and a dog—while one is discreet and invisible, the other is conspicuous and visible. Every action is announced, every thought is spoken, every silence filled. It takes work. Work that the husbands don’t want to do.

Brothers are no better. While my brother lived here, he was never around, so it worked out nicely—he went to work in the am and returned in the am. Since he moved to America, his visits have been spaced out such that he had had a lot to pack in each time, so mom-time was not such a priority. In any case, in two out of five times he has visited, my mother has been in the hospital, rendered speechless by a stitched-up rib cage, millions of tubes and needles. Conversation was limited.

Also, while visiting home, the brother has an agenda to keep himself from talking. He fixes things. So if it’s not the computer’s CD ROM drive or sound card, it’s the cordless telephone or the camera or my dad’s binoculars or the DVD player or the vacuum cleaner. Perfect! Hours of not having to make conversation or have an opinion!

As for overseas phone calls with him, mom is not very good with those—she imagines a time-bomb ticking away, and the need to pack in a lot. Usually, it ended up being a babble-fest with neither party figuring out what the other was saying. Flabbergasted, he gave up. Now, when he felt the need to call her, he called me. Till I reminded him that was not cool— I couldn’t be standing in for her forever, so he would have to deal with it.

I then suggested to mom that she ask open-ended questions, like I would tell a junior colleague about an interview—“Make him talk,” I said. “Don’t ask questions that he can answer with a yes or a no. And listen.”

A few weeks later, the brother called me to complain, “What have you done to her?”

Someone’s got to do the dirty work. Pity it’s always me in my family. Make that families.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The other side

Two things happen when you get married. Singletons start believing you are not one of them. Smug marrieds start believing you are one of them, and are quick to adopt you in their fray. It’s hard to say which one is worse. It’s as though your chemical composition has been altered, and your valency readjusted. Suddenly you are viewed like an unstable hydrogen atom that has changed into a stable molecule of water. They call it settling down.

I guess more than transitioning into ‘being married’, one has to transition into ‘not being single any more’. If you have spent most of your life being single, and understanding related sensibilities, you tend to miss being included in the singles group. It almost feels like an act of betrayal, except you had nothing to do with it.

The other day, a singleton said to me, “Oh, you married ones…!” It felt weird, like being outcast. Not that the singles give you the benefit of doubt or a three-month notice period or any sort of warning before the exclusion. They just un-single you, and it can be a bit sudden.

So friends stop calling you on weekends for those buddy chats because they think they will be intruding on your time with the significant other. No one makes any spontaneous plans with you or calls you ‘just like that’ because they are afraid you will reject them. Almost no one calls you after 9 pm, since it’s considered sacred coupledom time. Even your cats give you attitude, because now you come with excess baggage. Your mother and your favourite aunt are more interested in ‘him’ than you.

Since you are largely abandoned by your single friends, you end up constantly doing things with your significant other or other smug-marrieds. To top it all, you get accused by readers of being in a ‘I, me, my husband’ bubble. It’s a no-win.

And to think that I was a happy singleton, undeterred by the biological clock and no qualms about going home to my cats or my baby potatoes. I never had a dreary house, a sad room, weird parents or a pesky landlord that kept me away from home, wanting to stub cigarettes, down shots and pass out.

I have been married four months, and no thank you, I am tired of answering the “How does it feel?” thing. Just that I still feel as participative in singleton discussions, their politics, preoccupations and peeves. I still relate better to my single friends than my married friends—the latter somehow are too bound by the script, too busy indulging in roleplay or discussing wedding videos, investments, their next holiday, ‘rent Vs buy’, ‘to baby or not to baby’, EMIs or car upgrades.

May be the next time someone asks how it feels, I’d say, “Weird. I miss going home to me.”