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‘Where Have You Been, Nisha? Don’t You Know My Parents Are Coming For Dinner?’

Rohan glanced at her moodily. “That was Dad. He read your interview. He wanted me to tell you not to get carried away. He reiterated that real men do not cook and clean.”

Nisha sighed irritably. The day had begun badly, and her brand-new husband had not tried to make it any better. They had returned from their honeymoon a week ago, and the roses and the champagne had already disappeared. They had known each other for only a month, with no time to talk or make any discoveries.

After the honeymoon was over, she had realized that marriage was more than she had envisaged. Initially, Rohan’s colleagues had called them over for meals and taken good care of them. A week later, it was time to open their own kitchen, which was when Nisha woke up to the fact that the kitchen was her domain, and only hers, according to Rohan.

Nisha sighed again. This was not what she had grown up with. Her Army parents had been ‘cool’ about men and women working together to make marriage work. Though he was not a romantic, Dad used to cook a meal when in the mood, or when he wanted Ma to relax. He would often make her breakfast in bed or bring her a hot cup of tea when she was exhausted after work.

When Nisha mentioned this to Rohan, he was bewildered.

“Really? My father never entered the kitchen. He thought it was below his dignity. Besides, Ma would have been mighty uncomfortable with him around.”

Nisha had laughed, hoping Rohan was joking. Apparently, he was serious. Nisha’s work as a freelance journalist was challenging and there were times when she got home after an assignment much after dark. Back home, she would find that not even the used teacups had been shifted, let alone washed. A dirty kitchen would greet her, and she would have to wash the dishes, before starting dinner.

She recalled the first fight she had had with Rohan. One evening, she had walked in, dog-tired. Her stomach was cramping, and she just wanted to crawl into bed. The sight of the dirty kitchen incensed her, but she did not have the energy to face it. Rohan was watching television with a set look on his face.

“Rather late today, aren’t you?” he asked. “What is dinner today?”

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Nisha looked at him in disbelief. Her composure broke, her face working in anger and disappointment.

“What do you mean, Rohan? Can’t you see that I have just walked in? Would it have hurt if you had cleaned up the morning dishes at least? Or thought of ordering some dinner for a change?”

Rohan looked at her. “What do you mean? Isn’t that your job?”

Nisha was speechless. Of all the callous things to say!

“No, Rohan, it is not my job alone. If we live in the same house and share a life, we need to share chores as well. I too have a full-time job and work as hard as you do.”

Rohan scoffed. “But I am the one who brings in the bread and butter to take care of my family.”

“Yes, Rohan. Today is your turn to take care of your ‘family’, which is just me here!”

The words grew more acrimonious. Finally, both went to bed hungry and disgruntled. As Nisha tossed and turned, she recalled her mother’s words when she was leaving home.

“Marriage is a series of ups and downs. You will have your disagreements. However, remember that you should never go to sleep angry. Try and resolve your problems at the end of the day and make up before you sleep.”

Wonderful advice, but difficult to follow, thought Nisha. She was hungry because she had eaten nothing after lunch. Rohan also appeared restless. No doubt he was hungry as well!

The next morning, Rohan left for work earlier than ever, without speaking to Nisha. She kept quiet as well. She had never held on to her ego, but she knew that she was right. She had always stuck up for what was right. Her parents had brought her up to do so.

She had an early assignment, and after a hearty breakfast, she set out for an interview with the CEO of a prominent company. She had spent time framing the right questions. She was fascinated by the man’s personality. Rajat Singh had come from a humble background, but he had worked hard and pulled himself up to become one of the most well-known faces of the day. Nisha looked forward to talking to him. He had invited her to have an informal meal with him, as the interview was called ‘Over A Bite (Byte)’.

Rajat Singh was a tall, well-groomed gentleman with a sunny personality. He greeted Nisha warmly. He was in his forties and the grey in his hair made him appear dignified. She found it easy to speak to him, and his conversation was peppered with interesting anecdotes which would make for a brilliant interview.

Time flew by. Rajat finally looked at his watch.

“Time for a bite?” he quipped, smiling.

“Sure,” she replied. “I am ravenous.”

“That’s great. Let me quickly whip up something for you.”

Nisha was taken aback. What on earth did he mean? Whip something up?

To her amazement, he motioned her towards an alcove where she discovered a tiny kitchen, well stocked with all the ingredients for a five-star meal.

“What would you like for lunch?” he asked. “Pasta, eggs, noodles, dal-chawal?”

“Uh… maybe an omelette?” she faltered.

“Perfect! That’s one of my specialties. I love eggs in any form,” he replied. “We can carry on talking while I am cooking. It will add spice to the interview.”

Nisha was entranced.

“How is it that you cook? Many men think it demeaning,” she asked.

Rajat laughed. It was a hearty laugh right from within.

“Those men have no idea what they are missing. I was born in a family where my two brothers and I had to pull our weight to make the family run. Being the eldest, there were times when I had to take over when my parents were at work.”

He paused, a nostalgic expression in his eyes. “Mom was the perfect homemaker. She created this wonderful home for us along with my father who held her hand. In his own way, Dad was also a homemaker. Mom was a teacher, and after getting back from school, she would go to a few houses to take tuitions. Dad would always make sure that there was a hot meal waiting for her when she got home.”

Nisha nodded, fascinated by the picture he was creating. Every word was being recorded.

The omelette was delicious, garnished and spiced perfectly. Rajat had created two identical plates, and as Nisha sat down, she was overwhelmed.

The interview over, Rajat resumed talking. Maybe he saw the wistfulness in her eyes as he spoke. Being a sensitive man, he sensed that her mind was churning within her.

“Nisha, the world has its own perceptions of the roles of a man and a woman. Patriarchy deems that a man should work outside, and a woman stay within the home. It takes a large heart and an open mind to think otherwise.”

Nisha nodded tremulously. It was as though he had read her mind. However, she was too loyal to voice her thoughts.

Rajat looked at her transparent face. “Nisha, often it is not easy. Upbringing plays a significant role in the way men are brought up. Even women are conditioned to think that their roles are secondary. It is up to young girls like you to change those mindsets. The word ‘housewife’ relegates you to stay within the house. However, the term ‘homemaker’ carries a whole world within it. A homemaker is a creator, a magician who turns a house into a home, be it by being at home or by working outside. She is equal to her spouse and needs to receive the same respect that he receives.”

How beautifully Rajat had put it! She would cherish this interview all her life.

Back home, she mused over what had transpired. It seemed like a wake-up call. That evening, she ordered some food for dinner because she wanted to finish working. When Rohan got home, he walked into the kitchen as was his wont.

“What’s cooking, Nisha?” he asked, looking at the empty counter.

“Nothing at the moment,” Nisha replied. “I have ordered dinner.”

Rohan’s face fell as he remarked, “I would have thought that a hot home cooked meal would be awaiting me, not a takeaway from a restaurant.”

“Well, it turns out that I was also out all day. I had planned to make alu-parathas, but since I didn’t have time, I decided to order them in,” replied Nisha. She ignored the sulky expression on Rohan’s face and continued to work. Rohan, on his part, kept floating around, and finally went in for a shower. By the time he had finished, the parathas had arrived with a spicy chicken curry.

Rajat’s interview was lapped up by the public. It evoked myriad opinions, as people discussed the issue of equality everywhere. As the CEO of a well-known company who was on the cover of many a magazine, and hitting the headlines regularly, his opinion carried weight. When Nisha showed it to Rohan, he did not comment. He was quiet and Nisha left him alone to process it.

“Yes, sure, I will tell her…” a preoccupied Rohan spoke into his mobile phone.

“Who were you talking to?” asked Nisha.

Rohan glanced at her moodily. “That was Dad. He read your interview. He wanted me to tell you not to get carried away. He reiterated that real men do not cook and clean.”

Nisha’s heart sank. Rohan idolized his father who would never change his way of thinking. Her parents-in-law were coming over for dinner on Saturday and she would hear the rest of the sermon then. Saturday was again a busy day for her as she had an interview with an actor, a minor celebrity. She knew what she had to do.

Saturday dawned. Nisha went ahead with her interview. The actor was an intriguing personality with his own quirks, because of which she reached home only by five in the evening. When she got home, Rohan was pacing about like a caged tiger.

“Where have you been, Nisha? Don’t you know my parents are coming for dinner?” he pounced on her even before she could put her laptop down.

“Yes, Rohan. Unfortunately, my interview carried on and on.”

“That’s no excuse. What do you plan to feed them?” He sounded, irate, worried.

Nisha looked at him. “You have been here since four, haven’t you? Did you think of what we would feed your parents?” She paused, and then went on. “We will order in food. There is no time to cook now.”

Rohan blanched. “My father will never agree to eat food from outside. You know that.”

“Fine. Then you will just have to help me cook and clean. “

The next two hours were frenzied. Rohan wanted to impress his parents. He cleaned the whole house, washed the dishes, and wiped down the kitchen. Nisha watched him surreptitiously, even as she took the food she had half-cooked out of the refrigerator. Now all she needed to do was fry some onions and tomatoes to garnish the mutton biryani that she had already planned on.

Rohan looked aghast, but did as he was told, albeit unwillingly. The onions went in, and in about fifteen minutes, a wonderful aroma filled the house.

When the older couple landed up, Rohan’s mother looked around in appreciation. “How lovely your house looks!” she said smilingly.

“Oh, Rohan was the one who cleaned up,” Nisha replied.

Rohan’s father’s face darkened. He glared at Rohan.

“I can’t believe you did women’s work?” His disgust made Rohan quail.

“Beta, I’m proud of you!” His mother’s involuntary remark at the same time, held a world of meaning.

It carried a note of disbelief and joy, the fervent hope that her daughter-in-law would have a better life than she herself had ever had.

Image source: a still from short film Yeh Meri Family

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About the Author

Deepti Menon

Words have always played a vital role in my life. Short stories, poetry, humorous pieces or full-length novels... I love them all! Having been an Army brat and later wife, as well as a read more...

15 Posts | 43,196 Views

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