What has relegated this otherwise shrew of a woman with a soul of a banshee into a cowering shadow of her former self, wonders Minoo Shah
Nostalgia of a Mumbai housewife these days does not even remotely figure kids or other kith and kin. She sits at the window deep sunken-eyed with a faraway look and an occasional quiver to her lips. The birds in the trees look at her askance and flutter away dropping her a gift or two in her hair. She is oblivious. Her children dare a response with a loud crescendo of drums and even louder shrills and bickering, but no expletives fly their way. The husband slithers in and out with neither a wish nor much less a demand. The kitchen sink, bathroom floors and the cobwebs on the walls nod in ascent to her mood and quietly sigh for bygone days.
What has relegated this otherwise shrew of a woman with a soul of a banshee into a cowering shadow of her former self? For me to explain this, I must take you back in time and into her glorious yesteryears when ‘bai’ came swooshing in with two bags of milk in hand walking past the sleeping dog muttering and clattering away in the kitchen. Lying in wait with an eye half-open looking at the clock is housewife who temporarily shall be referred to as Sethani. Now, in order to help you visualise Sethani, think of a 5.2’ tall fairly obese human wrapped in a sari with bulges protruding from every nook and cranny. This erstwhile figure is also quite often engulfed in salwaar kameezes that wince in pain begging the tailor for mercy. Tailor chap not being completely bereft of compassion has introduced Sethani to Kaftaans which she sports on weekends.
At this juncture, you, the astute reader, are probably fantasising about Sethani as Boticelli’s dream of a classic model, and you would be right. However, Sethani born Bulbuli going by the pseudonym Bubs (nothing to do with the bounteous frontload) born into a Bania family was not always the replica of a mattress. Bubs, a few years ago was this doe-eyed beaut with silky raven hair and a supine stature. Eye candy ended there as the inner beauty was negligible. Bubs was reared to be the echelon of a brat with a tongue that could slice through a multifaceted diamond nose-stud. Foresighted banias (since the practice of sati was abolished) looked upon the birth of a girl child as an investment. In how many different ways could this be turned into an opportunity was the far-seeking goal. A conspiracy born out of need benefitting both families is a book yet to be written and studied at the Wharton Business School. Except the people of Jewish faith already have some cultural supremacy on this economics of contracts that justify the ends to the means. Either way contract marriages became the key to this conundrum for both.
The ‘nayi bahu’ invasion slowly takes over a household in the parampara set by the mother-in-law and several prior ‘peedhis.’ Glutting into boxes of motichoor, balushahis and dal baati churma, ghee like water finds its own way and projectiles through arms, front, rear and cheeks so that lissome escapes the dictionary never to be found again in the presence of Bubs.
Having appraised you of the background, I must torment you no longer but take you back to the time prior to the nostalgic Bubs to the lying in wait Bubs, whose day dawns with the footsteps of ‘Bai’ rocketing into the house. (Interesting footnote: in Bania households, both the household help and mother-in-law are referred to as ‘Bai’ – Coincidence? Maybe?). Much like the desert wanderer who comes upon an oasis Bubs thirst is quenched when during the mid-morning cup of tea, with mother in law gone to a kitty party, men of the household gone to multiply wealth, kids safely in school tormenting the highly paid teachers (sic)! with bai at her feet parlaying the neighborhood gossip. Oohs, aahs, I knew it, soft sighs and clicking of tongue are the glory of the hour. After which, Bai is shushed away to the kitchen so the facetime calls can begin with friends who must be immediately apprised of the state of depravity in the Lokhandwala Complex. Bai, no stranger to this lifestyle ensures that Bubs is never left bereft of the fodder.
Everyone is probably familiar with the four stages of a housewife’s life. This was the fondness stage. The anger stage is next when the Bubs-Bai relationship turns into a yelling, screaming match complete with confrontations about stealing, mediocre work combined with threats of ‘I’m going to fire you’ drawing retaliatory comments like, ‘ho, mug bughtey kashey kai kaam karta tumhi’ adding an under the breath expletive ‘kersooni’. Bai walks away in a huff and Bubs calls hubby. Here, one must pause to envision this poor guy in a meeting with some foreign dignitaries, excusing himself to answer Bubs call who is speaking at a decibel that can be compared to the Mach scale. The poor sap catches a few pitying eyes plus gestures from the Boardroom and somehow manages to wean himself away from the distressful call knowing fully well that the worst is yet to come. A man adept in the art of war, he knows what he must do next, he calls Bai’s husband and convinces him with a bottle of videshi thurra that Bai must come back to work. Of course, the time between the evening at home with Bubs wrath and the next dawn is merciless on him. The next day, Bai returns augmenting passive aggression from both parties. This step is considered the stage of silent treatment much like cats when they are assessing their territorial rights. The following day is the depression stage when both parties want to make up but ego reigns supreme. Many surreptitious looks are passed, biscuits are silently dunked, and tea is slurped in silence by both parties, one in the kitchen, one in the living room. At times poignant looks are exchanged and just as 5:30 rolls and before the advent of the entire household comes crashing down upon them, they smile at each other. Bub says, ‘itni si baat par itna gussa?’ Bai replies,’tar kai doka aaptu?’. The honeymoon period begins afresh the next day with another fresh bout of gossip, obviously the part about the neighbour in the next building having an affair with Vasundhara on the 6th floor has been saved for the make-up session.
Pitiful as it sounds, Bubs is locked in the greatest moral battle of her times. Forlorn and pining she waits and sees weeks go by with no end in sight to the lockdown or the return of Bai and the good old days.