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These are the daily topics discussed by the Bhabis on their evening walks – the stuff of the daily woes and wins of upper middle class women. A humorous read.
I am not judging others. Freed from the tyranny of the clock after superannuation, being fully rested and being able to afford the time, I decided to go for evening walks – something which I had always wanted to do. Whatever its name, secretly I have come to call it ‘Bhabi Garden’ – the garden where I go in the evenings for my walk. It has a good walking track – not tiled, and the boards indicate that four rounds constitute one kilometre. I daily walk four kilometres.
This garden is frequented mostly by women. Most of them are between the ages of twenty-five to forty. It’s heartening to see how health conscious we Indians have become. You can see them running, walking briskly (their ponytails swinging), huffing and puffing and teasing each other ‘isko Ambani banana hai’. They are a gregarious lot, and very rarely will you come across music carrying headphones.
By now you must have stopped wondering why Bhabi garden. If you haven’t, I’ll tell you why. To my surprise each woman addresses the other as Bhabi. I’m sure they must have family given names – don’t we all? – But nobody, nobody uses them. They are all Bhabis to each other.
Looking at their attires and the intermittently flashing big smartphones in their hands, their expensive jogging shoes – they all seem to belong to the well to do strata of the society. They seem formally educated; you can hear snatches of English also while you are walking behind them. But no name taking – Bhabi each is to the other. Our collective conscious at work? A woman is safe only if she belongs to a man? If Bhabi comes can Bhaiyya be far behind? No, obviously not – so the woman likes to be addressed as Bhabi belonging to that particular Bhaiyya – deep, deep roots of patriarchy! No ‘didis’ are to be found. I don’t think calling each other Bhabi is a matter of giving respect – respect lies in the tone of your voice. Most proper words can sound improper if the tone is wrong.
Or, are they staking claim that we belong to the same generation even if there is a good five-ten years gap. You know, most women have that compulsion (another social construct) to be thought of younger than they actually are. I am sure ancient mathematicians must have devised the formula of how a woman calculates the age of the other woman – simply subtracts two years from her own and adds it to that of the woman whose age is being judged. To avoid feminine wrath, the mathematicians must not have made the formula public. Because addressing someone as ‘Aunty’ is a bold declaration that she belongs to the older generation. See, I am an aunty who often hears a hurried ‘Excuse me, aunty’ when one of them has to overtake her.
This aunty likes to keep her distance. Even if we are walking on the same speed, I choose to keep a distance of 10-15 feet between us to avoid having to hear their conversations. I like to pursue my own train of thought but am compelled to hear theirs. The foremost topic of conversation is tuitions. They can be heard discussing the merits of tutors, how the tutor of her children is the best, the most expensive, how much does to and fro daily costs her, what adjustments she has to make to drop and pick up her children. Gosh, some of them have kids of primary school level! Home tuitions carry a superiority chip.
After tutors comes the maid servant. Keeping her happy, making her think that the mistress is generous (while counting pennies), retaining her by saving her from prowling maid servant hungry neighbours is a topic which they cannot exhaust. Each has a tale of woes. The maid servant in these tales gets the upper hand. The humanitarian hidden in every Bhabi always comes to the fore and the tales mostly end on the note ‘poor things, life is so tough for them otherwise also’, thus revealing the benign side of their personality.
Clothes, ornaments, shopping – these are also discussed. Each Bhabi maintains she has simple tastes, does not spend much but at the same time is worried that you should not take her protestations on face value. ‘Oh, I didn’t want to buy this solitaire ring but you know your Bhaiyya – eno ney jabardasti dilwaa dee. I didn’t want to spend that much money on myself.’ What a wonderful jabardasti! General public understands a totally different connotation of the word. Each tries to convey the impression that she is a cherished darling.
Next on conversational agenda is Pooja-Paath. They keep fasts, visit temples where there are different idols and speakers and then jiska pravachan jamta hai they start following them. All of them are very religious and correct in observing the rituals. They discuss keertan and kitty party in the same breath – who invited whom (on WhatsApp, mind you), how a bhajan or a menu created a bakeda (fuss). On double think, keertan is a spiritualized kitty party for them with dancing included. One of them is the declared best dancer to the bhajans – obviously the most sought after invitee in the keertans. Another is the best dholaki player, and being enlightened, at times she omits to tell the old aunties that she is menstruating, and simply attends the keertans because she believes, ‘My God is always with me.’
Then comes the mother of all topics – the mother-in-law. Each has allegedly a very nice MIL, who allegedly does nothing negative, is very loving, supportive. Each has set panegyrics eulogising hamari Mummyji till there is a ‘but’ and what follows after that but is like Open Sesame to an angle hungry writer, adding enough black to the white picture painted earlier turning it into grey. No crude word ever passes through their painted lips. Use your imagination, I am not giving any examples. The funny thing is they will criticize their jethani, devrani, neighbours but never their husbands. Perhaps giving an illusion of a just, doting, caring husband adds to their social/self-esteem.
One more topic on which each Bhabi is categorical is mera maika mahan. They all belong to rich, respectable families. Each has been married into another rich and respectable family which is just a notch below her biological family – never a notch higher. At times they seem torn between whom to praise – his family or her own family.
In the pandemonium of Bhabi, Chachi, Maami, etc. she accepts not to think of herself by her name which was given to her as a girl. She loses that identity and perhaps our whole culture is geared towards this zenith.
Men, you know, are known to brag ‘I am the best’ and women about ‘I have the best’ – best family, best husband, best kids, best family doctor. That is why they do not project themselves as individuals. Perhaps using name will isolate her as an individual. She is conditioned to basking in reflected glory. She feels important only when she feels she has the best. The possessions are important. In the pandemonium of Bhabi, Chachi, Maami, etc. she accepts not to think of herself by her name which was given to her as a girl. She loses that identity and perhaps our whole culture is geared towards this zenith.
Talking of men, one corner of this garden is occupied by older men. They can be heard discussing politics, sports, rising costs or boasting of their business acumen in their hey days. I have come to recognize one dominant voice and not surprisingly his dhoti is whiter than that of the others. His loud proclamation ‘No life without wife’ and ‘No knowledge without college’ led me to believe he has both and daily counts his blessings by thumbing his nose at the listeners.
You can hear them discussing topics like ‘Sharam, haya and daya’. And the person losing the argument would shout something like ‘Sister***, did I **** your mother?’ Most of them have their cars and drivers waiting outside the garden. I imagine the collective sigh of relief their womenfolk have (!) when these men step out of their homes to come to the garden. Surprisingly there are no older women to be seen in this garden. Maybe they prefer the temple nearby or simply they like to remain in their homes – temporarily sans daughter-in-law and husband.
Image source: Indian women in park by Shutterstock.
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