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Appu, Anasuya Jai & I grew up doing what was told. But our youngest sister Latha was a nightmare! Was it about being selfish or was it self-love?
Hello. Welcome. Please take a seat. My name is Urmi. How are you doing? Excuse me, for one second please, I will just take my diabetes injection. Aaoohhh…Yes. Done. At first, it used to hurt a lot but now I am used to it.
You see, my parents always taught us that it is good to be able to bear pain. The more pain you bear, the stronger you are. You want to know what I mean by taught “us”? Actually, we were five brothers and sisters. We all grew up together in one home. It was a 1-room house, but we were never allowed to complain about the space. My parents always said that complaining is a sign of the weak. They taught us to be happy and smiling always. Even if you are not feeling it, you should still pretend.
We have to be thankful for everything and everyone. All of us brothers and sister have tried to live by the principles, our parents taught. All except that one, ungrateful, youngest, sibling of ours. She was always the most selfish and demanding one. She was always saying things like, “I won’t do things like this.”, “I don’t want that.” Amma used to curse her all the time. Such an ill-mannered girl, I tell you. She was a total misfit in our house.
The rest of us were such good-mannered kids. Appu, Anasuya, Jai and myself. Only that Latha had to be the odd one out. Such an embarrassment, I say! Amma used to always tell us, “Live a well-mannered life.” Latha would retort – “Life by manners and death by etiquette! You find that funny? Why are you chuckling like this, then?”
Let me tell you some of the outrageous things that Latha used to do back in our childhood days. Even after so many decades, I cannot forget her completely bizarre manners! As I was discussing with my siblings, Appu and Anasuya, the other day over our video call, Latha was such a clown that she made the rest of us look even better than we already were. If we were all perfect, she was the exact opposite. If we were all about good behaviour, then she was an absolute nightmare. If we were the definition of obedience, she was the queen of rebellion! Hahahaha! Funny girl, this Latha!
One day, Appa had taken us all for a play. It was a wonderful auditorium. We had all worn our best dresses and oiled our hair, just the way Amma liked it. All except Latha, she had to be different, no! She refused to oil and plait her hair like the rest of us. Kept it open instead. Amma was furious. Just look at Latha’s guts! I used to always wonder how she was never scared of anyone!
That day at the concert, the lead actor called five children up onto the stage from the audience. We all excitedly put our hands up. But Latha had to be the chosen one. I think she was noticed because the rest of us were uniformly dressed and our hair were neatly partitioned and oiled. And in that same row of cultured and civilized humans, sat our Little Miss Muppet! No wonder she was selected. Very apt, I tell you. She was certainly odd, if nothing else!
In fact, I recall one more incident. We were all returning from our Sunday morning visit to the temple. Latha and I were in college at that time. We wore sarees back then. Even through her attire, she found a way to rebel. Her blouse and petticoat distance was so vast that it would expose her entire midriff. Amma always said, “decent’ girls don’t dress like this.” But she had given up on Latha long before already.
Latha wore cap sleeves. Those were so short. Almost like sleeveless, you know. Appa would be so enraged at the sight of her sleeves. Unable to make her adhere to the elbow-hugging blouse fashion rules of our home, Amma asked her to at least ensure that she avoided confronting Appa on the days of her fashion rebellion! Actually, those cap sleeves look nice. But why wear it if Appa gets upset? Amma also said that when we grew up, and if our husbands didn’t like these fashionable choices, then we would anyway have to stop. Why get tempted in the first place, only to have it taken away later? Right?
But our Latha, she would be the attention grabber of all temple goers. Tall, slim, open hair, her naked midriff and that attractive blouse that complimented her frame so well. I think many temple goers would even forget who they had actually come to worship at the temple. Hahahah!
That day, some person from an advertising company spotted Latha. She directly walked up to her and introduced herself. Amma, Appa and all of us siblings were really awestruck. Even Appa was at a loss for words. You see, we were a very private family. We only spoke to a limited number of family members. Speaking with strangers had never been a welcome proposition in our family. And yet, here was this middle-aged stranger talking to our Latha. I clearly recall she had worn khaki pants and a t-shirt. She had worn a sleeveless straight jacket on top of her t-shirt. Have you ever realized how more skin can be covered when you wear a t-shirt and pants as compared to a saree? Odd, haan? The dress that is traditionally considered conservative is actually more sensual than its western counterpart.
Anyway, coming back to Latha. She was listening intently and nodded and smiled a lot during the conversation. I was far ahead in the temple line and there was a distance of four family members between Latha and I. I was out of earshot and felt very frustrated. I was standing between God and gossip. What was that woman talking to Latha about?
Moments later, the lady looked at Appa. Appa had heard the entire conversation as he was standing right next to Latha. He was still not speaking but did not seem to mind the conversation. Moments later, the big news was out. Latha had an offer for modelling! But how on earth did Appa agree to an idea as outrageously modern as modelling? He could barely handle the sight of a cap sleeve! He would react like a vegetarian who had landed up in a butcher’s shop! How on earth did this man agree to his daughter being chosen as a model?
The golden truth was finally revealed. He told us that she would be the face of a gold jewellery brand. It required her to wear a traditional saree and lots of gold. This particular jewellery brand was the most popular, gold jeweller brand of our times. It was a matter of prestige for Appa. Amma was overjoyed that we would be seeing Latha’s face splashed across the city. Everyone knew the humongous advertising budget that Manthara jewelers had in those days! Besides, Latha had been promised a massive discount for all future purchases with this store. These are the kind of moments that a conservative father of three yet-to-be-married girls can live for!
I was jealous. I admit it. How come Latha had to be chosen out of all the people in the world? She barely ever followed a single rule for good behaviour in society. It puzzled me all my life and it bothers me even today.
Life moved on and all of us siblings were married off to ‘decent’ homes, as Amma liked to call them. All our lives, we (all except Latha), had prepared to be resourceful and useful in a marriage. Anasuya and I had the appropriate culinary skills, a moderate education and a love for housekeeping. It helped us ease into our married lives very well. We have two children each. My brothers Appu and Jai are responsible bread-winners for their families and their babies are so well-mannered too.
But this Latha! Here also she had to be different! She was made to marry this good-looking boy from Bombay city. He was earning decently also. Latha had tried very hard to slip out of the marriage but my parents had put their foot down. Of course, they had to. Of course, she had to get married! What other choice did she have?
But this foolish girl! She brought so much shame to our family. She would call up Amma and complain about his anger all the time. Now, a man has anger in his nature only, right? If Anasuya and I can bear with these issues, why not Latha? She could have learnt about patience from Amma in all those years at home. But no, Latha also has a problem with managing the home alone, needs help with raising the child, wants respect and equality and so many other big-big demands!
I used to always think that she deserved it as she was never a good learner. Had she followed all the rules right from the beginning, she would have excelled at her married life too. The stubborn woman that she is, she has now separated from him. First case in our entire family! It is not enough for her that he is earning well or that she has a family and acceptance in society. That child of hers, my niece Lalita. I worry for her all the time. Just like her mother, I tell you. Hopeless case!
Latha is now working with some ad agency. I hear she is earning even more than Jai and Appu. Silly girl! She could easily have enjoyed her life while her husband earned. But no, she had to go against the tide here also! She has even started to wear pants, you know. I cannot ever imagine how she steps out in pants so easily. The last time I wore pants was in Goa. It was a family holiday. My husband encouraged me to wear the pants. So shy I felt, really! Everyone said it suited me a lot. But the very next day, I was back in my salwars and sarees. We must stay within our limits, as Amma always said.
Five years ago, Latha came to my place. She was looking like a young college-going girl. No marriage ring, no sindoor, no magalsutra, no gold earrings and that western dress! So pretty! I couldn’t stop thinking about how Latha literally hadn’t aged as much as I had. While her best accessory was her beautifully kept open hair, mine was the love handles that were spilling through my tightly wound saree.
Is that the reward for being selfish? You get to look young and happy? You get to earn your own money and live life on your terms? My daughter often corrects me when I call her Latha Maasi selfish. She tells me, “Maa, it’s not about being selfish… it is about self-love.” Hmpph! What will a 15-year-old know about the importance of following rules and about putting your duties and family before yourself? Bugging love handles and an ageing face are a small price to pay for doing the ‘right’ thing. Don’t you agree?
Okay, excuse me, I have to get going now. Actually, Latha has arranged for a holiday for only her siblings. We are all going without our spouses and children. My husband agreed only because Latha has paid for the entire trip’s expense. Besides, it’s only two days. I am excited. You see, it will be my first time away from the kids and my husband.
To be honest, I don’t mind it. But you please don’t tell them. I have cooked food for two days and kept it in the freezer. They will be able to comfortably enjoy all meals. My daughter will handle the heating of the food. I have taught her well. She can cook also actually, but I felt it won’t be fair. After all, this is all she will be doing after marriage.
I have packed two of my holiday pants also in this little suitcase. I just felt it will be fun for a change. I wonder how well Latha must be earning to be able to take us all on this trip. I also wonder why Latha chose to take all of us siblings on this trip. She has some amazing friends who are so bold and independent, just the way she is. I call them the ‘cut-sleeves gang’.
Could it be because she knows we will never take this break for ourselves, away from family, unless she plans it for us? Sometimes, just sometimes, I wonder what it would be like to live the life of Latha (goes deep into thought).
Oho! I forgot to pack my diabetes medicine!
Image source: Still from Never Have I Ever
My passion in life lies in learning new things all the time. Emotional Intelligence is a way of life for me. I like to mix it with all my areas of interest that include - Psychology, read more...
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