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"I earn three lakh rupees a month. Since you have asked me to quit my job after marriage, I would want this much money from you every month for myself."
Kashish’s mobile rang while she was in the middle of intense discussions at work. She ignored it and continued speaking with her colleagues. The phone rang again.
It was her mother. Kashish smiled and felt annoyed at the same time. Only her mother could be so persistent.
“Excuse me for a moment. I have to take this call,” she said, getting up from the chair and walking outside the cabin.
“Why weren’t you taking my call?” Mrs Mehra asked without preamble before Kashish could say hello.
“Ma, I was in the middle of an important meeting. I would have called back as soon as possible. But, of course, you could not wait.”
“You and your meetings! Work will keep on happening. There are other important things in life.”
“Like?” Kashish wanted to ask but held her tongue, not even trying to win an argument with her mother. Instead, she asked, “You called me for something?”
“Oh yes! You almost made me forget. Do come home by 5 pm today. The Khaitans are coming to meet you with their only son.”
Kashish rolled her eyes. Not again. “Ma, I have a lot of work in the office. The Khaitans can talk with dad and you until I reach home. I will try to come by 6.”
“They have not come to ask for my hand in marriage,” her mother fumed. “I had asked you three days ago to come home early today. Yet you have forgotten. How will you run a home with that memory of yours?”
Kashish sighed. She was in charge of a strategic business unit of one of the largest FMCG companies in India. More than a dozen people were reporting to her. She had doubled the size of the P&L of her department since taking over the function. Her seniors at work were contemplating an early promotion and exceptional increment for her. Yet her mother deemed her incapable of running a home.
“Ma, how will I remember what you mentioned to me three days ago in passing? It would have been better had you reminded me yesterday. Now, don’t cry. I will be there. Yes, I promise. I have to return to my meeting.”
She looked around her while walking back to the cabin. People sat glued to their laptops on the rows and rows of open desk workstations. A few health-conscious employees walked around while taking calls, the Bluetooth ear sets safely fastened to their ears. The melange of laptop keys and human voices produced an electric atmosphere, which never failed to excite Kashish.
A wave of nostalgia ran over her. She also used to work at one of these cubicles a few years ago before moving to a cabin.
A brilliant student from the outset, Kashish had graduated with honours from one of the topmost colleges in India. Her father wanted her to sit for UPSC, but she was always fascinated with the business world and had cracked CAT during her final year of graduation to secure a coveted seat in India’s apex B School. Day 0 campus placement resulted in a high five-figure salary from the start of her career.
Her father was happy for her, while her mother was worried. “How will we get a suitable groom for you?!” Mrs Mehra had exclaimed. “Very few men will be earning more than her,” she had confided to her husband. “We will have to play down her salary before her suitors.”
Although disappointed, Kashish was not surprised. Her mother had not changed from her childhood to adulthood. Despite the high-profile job and progress in her career, Mrs Mehra continued to harp upon her daughter’s lack of culinary skills in the kitchen.
The more Kashish grew in her career, the less time she had for love. She did have a couple of relationships at the beginning of her career. But in both cases, the men were insecure about Kashish’s successes. Eventually, she gave up on men and channelised all her energies to her career.
But not her parents, especially her mother, whose motto in life became to find a suitable match for her only daughter. Two years ago, her brother, who was three years younger than her, had gotten married, further adding to Mrs Mehra’s woes about Kashish.
“Everyone was asking me about Kashish still being unmarried at our son’s wedding,” she had cried in front of her husband. “I didn’t know where to look.”
“You should have told them to talk to me, Ma.” Kashish’s reply had only exacerbated her mother’s reaction.
The years had gone by, and so did the procession of Kashish’s suitors at the Mehra house. Kashish remained unmarried and didn’t care. But she did care for her parents and hence continued putting up with the charade.
“I will have to leave for home early today,” she declared to her teammates once back at her desk. “Let’s reschedule the evening meeting for tomorrow.”
The aroma of food reached Kashish’s nostrils before she entered the Mehra house. The living room had been spruced up with new curtains, sofa and cushion covers. The jasmine fragrance of the room freshener hung in the air.
“Ma, I am here,” Kashish called out, glancing at the wall clock. It was five minutes to five. “Where are your guests?”
Her mother came out of the kitchen. “Go and change fast. The Khaitans would be here at 6.”
“6?” Kashish was incredulous. “Why did you call me then at 5?”
“Because you will take time getting ready.”
“What time? I am ready.”
Mrs Mehra rolled up her eyes and moved her hands to her mouth. “What are you saying? You will go in front of your prospective husband and in-laws in that pant suit? They will turn their backs to us without opening their mouths. Go and wear a saree.”
“Ma, I have listened to you until now. Now you listen to me. My husband has to accept me as who I am. I don’t even know how to wear a saree, so why pretend to be someone I am not. Anyway, after marriage, they will see me in my office attire when I go to work. So why not now?”
Mrs Mehra was about to say something when Kashish’s father intervened, “She is right, Mohini. She is the one who has to get married, not you. Let her do what she wants.”
With her husband and daughter on one side, Mrs Mehra had no other option than reluctantly give in.
“You always have your way,” she remarked to her daughter. “Anyway, go to the kitchen and see what all dishes have been prepared. Understand from your Bhabhi how they have been made. You will need to know if they ask you this question.”
“Not again, Ma,” Kashish protested. “For once, can we not state the truth? That I don’t know how to cook.”
“And let these people vanish from our house. Do you want to stay with us all your life? Don’t you want a home of your own?”
“This is my home too, Ma, isn’t it? But if you would like, I will purchase another house of my own and move out.”
“Look at what your dear daughter is saying,” Mrs Mehra turned to her husband. “Your love and encouragement have inflated her ego. She will soon turn thirty, yet there is no wedding on the horizon. My friends with daughters her age are now grandparents. We have done so much for her, and yet she is not ready to utter a simple lie for our sake. How will she ever get married if she does not climb down from her high pedestal?”
Mr Mehra looked at his daughter. Both of them were tired of Mrs Mehra’s hysterics. This time it was their turn to make way.
“Fine, Ma. I made all these delicious cuisines, and I can cook a dozen more. Although this hasn’t prevented my past suitors from shying away from me, I am optimistic about finding a suitable husband this time. Now cheer up.”
Mrs Mehra looked relieved as Kashish went to the kitchen.
The Khaitans arrived just as the clock chimed six. Introductions were made between Kashish and Rajeev, the thirty-three-year-old foreign returned son of the Khaitans’ who was helping his father in the family business.
“Don’t you wear sarees, beta?” Mrs Khaitan asked Kashish while the latter was serving tea to the guests.
“She loves wearing sarees,” Mrs Mehta answered before Kashish could reply. “Today, after returning from work, she went straight into the kitchen to prepare all the food that you see here. She was just about to go and change when you arrived. So, I told her to let it be.”
“I see,” Mrs Khaitan said, looking intently at Kashish as the latter sat beside her parents. “Good that she knows how to cook. Otherwise, today’s working women don’t even bother to go inside the kitchen. You may be working on getting some extra money, but you need to know how to take care of your house.”
Kashish’s initial dislike for the Khaitans’ had turned into abhorrence. But she kept quiet for her parents’ sake.
“What all do you cook, Kashish?” Mrs Khaitan asked her.
Kashish gulped before replying, “I can cook anything, aunty. Italian, Chinese, Mexican, Lebanese, sushi, and, of course, Indian. You name it, and I can make it.”
The Mehras looked at their daughter sideways. But the Khaitans appeared suitably impressed.
“That is so nice,” Mrs Khaitan said, clearly used to talking on behalf of her family. “We like your daughter, Mohini,” she spoke directly to Mrs Mehra. “I am happy to see that going outside for work has not into her head, and she understands what family responsibilities are about. We will talk to our astrologer and come back with the date. Congratulations!”
“Congratulations to you also, Shalini.” Mrs Mehra looked ready to burst into tears. Her dream was finally coming true.
Kashish was still processing the happenings when Mrs Khaitan said, “Give your notice at work, beta.”
“Notice, aunty?” she asked even as Mrs Mehra was busy passing the ladoos to the guests.
“Yes. The ladies of our house don’t go out to work. I understand that you need to keep yourself engaged when single. After marriage, you will have plenty of work on your hands and would have no time to work.”
“I am not working to keep myself engaged. I like working, Aunty,” Kashish said.
One could have heard a pin drop in the silence that ensued.
“You can work with me in the family business,” Rajeev spoke for the first time, breaking the silence.
“Thank you, Rajeev. And I am grateful that your family has selected me to be a member of your household. But I need answers for some of my questions before making up my mind about marriage,” Kashish said resolutely.
“Kashish beta…” Mrs Mehra started to say when her husband held her hand.
“What did you say, beta?” Mrs Khaitan asked looking incredulous.
“Aunty, just like your son is getting married to me, I am also getting married to him. You asked me certain questions before giving your approval. So, we should also know some answers before acceding to this proposal.”
“What do you want to know?” Rajeev asked.
“How much do you earn every month?”
Mrs Khaitan blanched even as Rajeev turned scarlet before replying, “It is a family business, as you know. All the monthly profits are ploughed back and equally distributed in our joint family. So, there’s no fixed sum. I get enough for my needs.”
“I earn three lakh rupees a month. I don’t care how much you earn because I have an income source for my expenses and investments. But since you have asked me to quit my job after marriage, I would want this much money from you every month for myself. In lieu of that, I will take care of the house and ensure that all your family members enjoy a new type of cuisine every day.”
“What audacity you have,” Mrs Khaitan thundered. “Mohini, what sanskar have you imparted to your child?”
“Don’t speak to my mother. Speak to me,” Kashish said. “My mother has taught me to be independent and go after my dreams. She has explained to me to give equal importance to my career and family. Because of my parents, I don’t have to ask for money to fulfil my dreams. Unlike you, who have taught your son to stay dependent on you and your family business even when he has grown up.”
“How dare you?” Mrs Khaitan shouted.
“Truth is bitter, aunty. You have your own yardsticks for your prospective daughter-in-law. Why should she not work out of the house if she wants to do? I am a well-educated woman. Even if I don’t cook myself, I can hire cooks to prepare what the family wants. Yet, you think it important to know what all I cook without giving a thought to my views on whether I would want to discontinue working after marriage. I need to have my say.”
“We have heard enough,” Mrs Khaitan said. “Mohini, I am afraid that we will not be going ahead with the proposal. Your daughter is obnoxious, loud and haughty. She will not be the ideal bahu for our family.”
“Finish your tea before you leave, Shalini,” Mrs Mehra said quietly. Kashish almost jumped from her seat. Mr Mehra looked intently at his wife, wondering what had come over her.
“I am sorry?” Mrs Khaitan looked confused.
“My daughter is not meant for a house like yours, Shalini. She deserves a home where she is treated as an equal and her opinions are given due consideration. If she gets a family like that, nothing like it. If not, she has a home anyway.”
Mrs Khaitan looked shell-shocked before getting up and walking away, followed by the rest of the family.
“Ma.” Kashish hugged her mother with tears streaming down her face.
“I want to see you married, my child, but not at the cost of your happiness. I have not raised you with love and care for these thirty years only to see you miserable later. I know you are happy now. If marriage happens, good. If it doesn’t, well, then you are still happy.”
Mother and daughter smiled at each other.
While a new relationship failed to materialise, an old relationship was reinforced. Kashish was happy, and that’s what mattered.
Image source: fizkes from Getty Images Free for Canva Pro
Smita Das Jain is a writer by passion who writes every day. Samples of her writing are visible in the surroundings around her — her home office, her sunny terrace garden, her husband’s car and read more...
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