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Slightly jolted, she finally turns on her side. And she dreams her favourite dream, “What if one day he just… if it happens?” A twisted smile playing on her lips.
The only thing worse than being in a bad relationship for one year is being in it for a year and a day: Dr Phil
‘It’s Karva Chauth. What the fuck,’ she thinks in Hindi.
‘Tvameva Maataa Cha Pitaa Tvameva. Tvameva Bandhush-Cha Sakhaa Tvameva. Tvameva Viidyaa Dravinnam Tvameva. Tvameva Sarvam Mama Deva Deva. (You truly are my mother and you truly are my father. You truly are my relative and you truly are my friend. You truly are my knowledge and you truly are my wealth. You truly are my all, my God of Gods) Hari Om, she muttered her morning mantra in a robotic daze.
It has been that way ever since she can remember. Not quite though, she reminds herself. Until 10 years ago, she wouldn’t still be in bed, coaxing her stubborn knees into motion with her knobbly hand-massage.
She wouldn’t feel a disgusting odour emanating from her being, epi-centered in her fetor oris. Neither would she have minded the gentle snoring from the other side of the bed. She, certainly, wouldn’t say fuck in Hindi, first thing in the morning.
Ah, well, such is life, she snorts and drags herself off the bed.
“Don’t know how that Mrs Gupta lies in bed till 8. Ram Ram! When Mr Gupta is already out for his morning stroll.”
Muscle memory propels her towards the shrine nestled in the garbh griha. It is followed by years of unchanged routine- lighting the morning diyas, offering arghya, chanting the Gayatri mantra 11 times before bowing to the pitras. She wonders, how all of them are males and are ostensibly guarding us all from the high heavens.
“Mrs Sharma says she has to have a banana first thing in the morning otherwise she feels faint. Ram Ram! Even before her husband has had tea?”
She goes ahead and observes her sanatan dharm stomach growling and then moves on seamlessly to its sub-section: patni dharm!
The morning breeze is fresh and cool as it cross ventilates through the kitchen. She slices some ginger into the bubbling water and adds full cream Amul milk. Then adds her 30:70 mix of Green Label: Red Label, exactly the way he likes it.
“Imagine Mrs Vohra adding elaichi and cinnamon to the morning cuppa, just because SHE likes it. Ram Ram!”
Turning the gas knob to sim, she hobbles towards the bedroom because he likes his tea piping hot, straight from the gas stove. Had to re-heat last time, she twitched.
CNN is on.
“The refugee crisis coupled with the economic instability in the Middle East is going to have far reaching consequences,” he declares as they sip tea together, going on to explain in detail how.
In fact, “America is NOT ready for a woman president,” he editorialises, ruing the Trump tales on the side.
“Sarla bhenji must be watching a re-run of Ishqbaaz, wonder what’s brewing between Shivaay and Anika. He’s really handsome, this Shivaay dude. Hai Ram…”
She nods in agreement as she diligently lines up his clothes for the day on the bed, crisp and ironed. The lukewarm bathwater is already filled up.
A rather sharp ‘trrrrring!’ interrupts the monologue. The maid is here. She’s already kept the vegetables to be washed and chopped right next to the sink for the maid.
It’s going to be his favourite: parval alu and meetha kaddu made satvik style: in 1 tsp Saffola heart and basic spices.
“I don’t know how Mrs Sinha still eats all that fried baigan in tikha onion-garlic masala and maacher jhol! Ram Ram. All this meat and hot food can do no good at her age, so what if she’s a good 5 years younger! Harrumph!”
“How is your son today Bandana? Did he go to school?” she begins a friendly chat, as she re-heats yesterday’s leftovers for the maid to have along with a baasi roti. She’s saved this morning’s used chai patti and now adds water and a dash of milk to it to squeeze out one more cup of tea for the maid.
“Can’t believe Radhaji. How can she leave the maid on her own and go gallivanting around town…. Ram Ram. No shame wearing trendy suits even now. Wasn’t that latest Pakistani kurta a tad too colourful for an 80-year-old at yesterday’s satsang! Ufff. ”
The smell of bhuna masala from the house upstairs wafts into the kitchen titillating her senses.
“These Punjabis – must be making rajma-chawal again,” she swallows hard. “Chole, rajma, chole, rajma. Bhai we toh eat simple moong dal and masoor,” she duly informs Bandana, who is off sweeping and cleaning now.
Just like the tea, the phulkas also come hot off the stove for him as he sits for lunch after his favourite TV show. She serves the jeera chhach and joins him only after she’s made his phulkas herself.
“Baap re. Mrs Joshi toh lets her maid do all the cooking. Ram Ram. Sitting at the table like a maharani, eating hot phulkas with Mr Joshi. No sense of oonch-neech. What kind of people are these?”
She goes about the chores religiously, making sure every nook and cranny has been swept by the maid. Every mote of dust swiped, every dish gleaming. And the kitchen top neat and clean. Every garment thoroughly scrubbed, starched and ironed.
EVERYDAY! As he enjoys his afternoon siesta.
“How can Pushpaji take a snooze after lunch? Besharam! Lazy to the bone and tries to impress us with her bhajans and anecdotes, bah!”
The evening tea ritual is a repeat of the morning. The topic of discussion is different- it’s mostly India-centric. He shuffles through every Hindi channel and is bursting with points and counter-points.
Dinner is no different either. A quick call is made to the local Apollo pharmacy for the home delivery of her evening primrose and pain killers.
“Don’t know how these women find time to gossip and chat on the phone. I am toh baba too busy. No time to get my nails painted and face plastered and hair coloured like them! Just look at them, all assembled in the garden for the pooja dressed in red. Ram Ram.”
A celebratory mood permeates the atmosphere. Everything looks very festive and the friendly banter of all the suhagins singing Karva Chauth ditties adds a zing to the moment.
He likes to call it a day right after the nine pm news. And it’s no different today. By the time it’s nine, the dishes are done, the kitchen is sparkling, she’s changed into a flowery cotton nightie. A thermos of lukewarm water is by his bedside, the evening diya is lit and even though it is warm, the air-conditioner is off as he prefers the fan at speed 3.
She clambers on to her side of the bed, a little sweaty by now. And already reeking of that stale smell of ennui, thinking once again of Shivaay and Anika.
Hours ticks away, but sleep escapes her, despite the long drawn out drab day. Same things day in and day out. She feels battery operated. Clinical.
She wouldn’t mind a cup of elaichi tea and some hot jalebi right now. Or maybe some chatpata alu and phulkas. Yes. Just like when she was child.
The smell of crisp, onion kachories her mother made for tea tingles her nose and makes her salivate for the days gone by.
“I think pink would look rather neat on my nails… as would a long peach kurta.”
“Maybe I could lie in tomorrow and just see, just once in 45 years!”
Suddenly the snoring by her side stops.
It is dark and there’s pin drop silence. A sliver of light from the neighbouring apartment sneaks in from between the burgundy curtains flapping mildly in the warm night air outlining his silhouette.
The body isn’t moving. At all. It is almost stiff. What happened? She lays quite still, all ears. Wondering. Calm. But wondering.
And just as suddenly as it had stopped, the snoring starts, after what seems like agonisingly moments.
‘Jai Ho Mata Rani! Tera lakh lakh shukar hai!’ She utters a sigh of relief. A conventional reaction, expected of a good wife, like everything else.
Slightly jolted, she finally turns on her side. The sleeping pill dissolves her rambling thoughts into sweet slumber and she dreams her favourite dream, “What if one day he just…If it happens?” A twisted smile playing on her lips.
A version of this was first published here.
Picture credits: Still from Hindi TV Series Ishaqbaaz
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