“Media! What kind of subject is that? How can girls even study that? What time will you come back home? Who will take care of your house and the kids?….Aah! Forget it. You should have taken medical studies and that way you could have managed both,” said Chaturvedi uncle, who was always a bit too concerned about my imaginary future in-laws and least interested in what I was doing at present.
“Do you know how to cook or any household work for that matter?” he asked, with scrutinizing eyes .I hardly realized that he had not stopped the interrogation, till the time I felt several eyes on me.
“Manageable,” I replied innocently.
Those eyes had started piercing holes through me now.
“What do you mean by ‘manageable’? he asked.
“Maggi!” I replied, with a sense of pride in my culinary talent. This time my answer made his piercing eyes turn blind. “Hmmm” He nodded regretfully.
“Dasguptaji, your son-in-law has a very dark future, you see. Maggi is what he will have to survive on or else he will have to marry someone who is a ‘perfect girl’.”
Of course, Dad had to become my savior at that point.
“We never pressurized her about anything. She does everything out of her own interest. She’ll learn everything slowly,” he said.
Uncle still did not want to spare me and dropped a bomb.
“Do you have a boyfriend?” he enquired.
I was surprised, so too was everybody else in the room. Pin drop silence.
Yes, I answered. The bomb exploded inside his head.
Mom didn’t know where to run , dad didn’t know where to hide and the others chose to bat their eyelids with terrified expression. I expected the next question to be about my virginity, but uncle was way too deep in shock for that.
“This is the end, I can see darkness all around her. Very sad, chi chi… such a girl! God knows what her college is teaching her,” said uncle.
A damn interesting man I tell you, Chaturvedi uncle.
Chaturvedi Sinha had just returned from The States. He had gone there to visit his son for the first time. He had all sorts of experiences to share including how embarrassed he felt on seeing women with revealing clothes and teenagers crossing the ‘limits of decency’.
Chaturvedi uncle claimed to have the knowledge of the four Vedas and had got his BTech and MBA degrees from reputed institutions. “That country has no culture, you know, every woman is working and kids are left by themselves. That’s why the kids have no discipline. The men also get involved in household work, it is so sad to see that the wives don’t do it. That’s why they have highest divorce rates. Men and women should not exchange their jobs, all should do what they are assigned to. Oh yes! Having a girlfriend or a boyfriend is no big deal there. Control your wild daughter, Dasguptaji or else she will be bringing shame for all, after she’s married,” the uncle warned.
Other than holding a senior manager’s post and cribbing about promotions in his company, he also ran a shop of advice very successfully.
“Keep it on the table. I’ll drink it later”, he said harshly to Piklu. Uncle had never liked him. He called him the servant boy. Uncle always felt Piklu eyeing his phone and considered him to be a little thief who never got caught. Piklu was seven but we knew him since he was three. He always came along with Lata aunty and waited in the living room till his mother finished her maid’s work. He often had a smile on his face and liked whatever we offered him.
Piklu was a hassle-free and lively little kid. Chaturvedi uncle, after a lot of struggle, picked up the glass and drank some water and also managed to spill some on the floor.
Piklu was busy flipping through his colouring book when he heard uncle call out to him “Hey you boy! Come here, clean the water on the floor”.
Piklu ran with a cloth at once. He enjoyed helping his mother out. Uncle wore his disgusted look on his face till Piklu finished mopping up. He looked at uncle and smiled and uncle in return chose to look away.
Who cared about what uncle wanted? I was very fond of Lata aunty and she reciprocated. She was very happy when she heard about me leaving for Bangalore and went around telling the news to everybody with excitement. Piklu had even started fantasizing about it and asked me several questions about Bangalore.
Lata aunty had always encouraged me to do something different. Aunty had hardly completed her schooling when she got married and now at the age of 33, she already had three kids, Piklu had an elder sister and a brother too. Lata aunty and her husband never pressurized Rima, their elder daughter, to get married and had left the decision to her. Rima worked as a sales girl at Big Bazaar and supported her brother Binu’s education. Rima was 23 and that became the concern of Lata aunty’s neighbours. But the family turned a deaf ear to them.
I vividly remember the day when I had been to their house. It was in a shanty and the area smelled of garbage everywhere. Piklu’s house was somewhere in the centre of the slum. His family was the most wonderful family I had ever met. Everyone including the neighbours had come to welcome me. Lata aunty’s husband had cooked everything that I liked and also promised me to teach me some cooking. Their house was small but not their hearts. They did everything possible to make feel at home. I was busy talking to Rima when we heard Piklu calling Rima out “look Rima didi I found this ten rupee note near the field. Please give it father he might know whom it belongs to.” I patted his back and felt proud about his deed.
I heard someone coughing very badly. I turned to see and found Chaturvedi uncle interfering with my thoughts and he was not able to stop coughing like his blabbering. All of us ran to his rescue but couldn’t help. Even while he was getting choked, he kept cursing Piklu for his state. Uncle complained of difficulty in breathing. He got nervous and was not able to relax. This in turn worsened his condition. He held my dad’s hand and told him what his akhri ichcha (last wish) was.
Amidst the chaos, Piklu and Lata aunty came down to help us. Aunty put him down on the floor and asked all of us not to crowd around him. She told uncle to breathe heavily while Piklu was rubbing his feet and hands. After some time uncle showed improvements. Piklu instantly went and helped him to sit up, got him a glass of water and held him for support. Piklu insisted on taking uncle to the balcony where he could breathe better. He sprinted to the balcony and got the chair ready for him. He held uncle’s hand and lead him to the chair. This made uncle felt even better. He was still holding Piklu’s hand and his surmising eyes where gleaming with water. But no one knew whether to blame it on the illness or something else.
Uncle looked at Pikklu with some sort of surprise and Piklu as usual smiled at him and asked if he felt better. Uncle nodded his head and looked at Lata aunty in the room. He had an expression which none had never seen before, like he wanted to say something. He looked at Piklu and a lot of unspoken gratitude crowded his mind but, he said nothing.