Sunday, September 24, 2006

Wardrobe Blues

Wardrobe Blues

(Woman’s Era; May (First) 1998)

“Honestly, I have nothing to wear!” Not a very original statement, I’m afraid, but true, none the less. It didn’t sound original because of the simple fact that it is the refrain of women all over the world----class, creed, race no bar!
I stood in front of my cupboard crammed to bursting point with clothes, clothes and more clothes. And yet I wailed that oft-repeated chant, “I have nothing to wear!”
Hubby, heartless as usual murmured,” So what’s new?” and went back to the sports channel on TV. It was left to me to rummage in my war-ravaged almirah for something suitable to wear. This was one hour before zero-hour-----the time we left for a party.
It was not so much not being able to decide. The problem rather arose because I could not remember what I had worn the last time when I had partied with the same crowd.
We have so many “circles”. Hubby’s old school friends. Old college friends. Mine, ditto. My colleagues. Past and present colleagues of the husband. Relatives. Neighbours. Was it any wonder that my head spun in circles having to keep in mind all these circles?
Hubby dear couldn’t understand what the fuss was about. “So what if you repeat a sari? Who’s going to notice anyway?”
To which I had the pleasure of replying sweetly, ”Everyone is not like you darling. You wouldn’t notice if I turned up in a tent!”
Of course, there are some circles where it really doesn’t matter what you wear. Old school friends fall into this category.
After all, when someone has seen you in a shapeless pinafore and tight well-oiled plaits, she hardly bothers with your outer appearance----be it your new perm or your prized Dhakai. For someone who has seen you as you are, day in and day out, through the years it really doesn’t matter if you are shimmering with diamonds or not. Your company is scintillating enough.
I was musing so, when my husband broke into my reverie. “Aren’t you ready yet?”
“You’re a fine one to talk,” I retorted testily. “It takes you one minute to fling on shirt and trousers. You cannot compare yourself with me!” Muttering to myself about it being a man’s world down to the smallest thing, I hurriedly chose something. I was reasonably sure about it too.
On the ride over, hubby conceded, “I guess, you have to keep track of these things; otherwise you’ll have to put up with comments. Behind your back, at that! Why become fodder for feline and canine instincts?”
“Eh?” I was puzzled.
“I mean catty and bitchy yaar!”
Maybe I was paranoid, but at the party, whenever someone’s gaze lingered a little too long on my sari, I must have worn the same thing at the last do!
A few days later, hubby announced, “Another party coming up!”
That sent me into a frenzy of organizing my cupboard. Matching blouses, petticoats, chunnis, bangles were all found, or bought. Accessories went into neatly labeled trinket boxes. For the first time in years, I had the luxury of being pampered, albeit by myself!
But, came party day, and I was back to square one. No doubt, my cupboard was neat and organized, but the question remained: What on earth had I worn last time?
My husband was exasperated. To be fair, he was justified. But somehow, I could not help it. Everyone has some pet quirk. This was mine! And so the whole scene was replayed.
This time, hubby tried to score by saying, “I don’t know! My mother never made a song and dance about clothes. She always managed to remember what she wore and when.”
“Of course she did, dearest,” I replied mildly, though fuming inside. But I had to let fly a barb.
“She didn’t have much else to concentrate on. She probably could remember what everybody else wore, too!” How was that in the canine-feline department!
“Well, can you?” he quizzed.
“You know I can’t. And that is because I have a million other things on my mind. I am not scatterbrained, am I? Who remembers the kids’ marks in every subject in the last exam? Who remembers their exam schedules, their fee payment schedules, their school trips, their vaccinations? Who remembers the insurance premium, the sports club membership? And all this without writing anything down, I’ll have you know!”
“There you are! You’ve given yourself an idea,” hub, ever the organizational expert, said brightly. “Keep a small diary. Note down, column-wise, the date, the occasion, the crowd and what you wore. You can even have a column for accessories!”
“Brilliant, oh L& M!” I smiled.
“I must be, for you to call me Lord and Master after so many years.”
“Take care I don’t go back to calling you MCP!” I shot back.
Well, that bit of efficiency lasted exactly for 2 parties. After that the little diary got lost, as little diaries are wont to do.
But some of my husband’s operations management had rubbed on me and I hit upon another idea.
On a small strip of paper, I wrote when I had worn a certain sari and stapled it to the sari so that the chit would not get lost or mixed up in another sari. Now I felt I would not repeat a sari at least for a decent interval.
I managed to label quite a few saris this way, and felt justly proud of myself. Our resident logistics expert (read my husband) also was happy, since he was not called upon to help me decide what to wear.
So there I was at this party, circulating and enjoying myself hugely. I was talking animatedly to a circle of friends, when someone behind me picked up my pallav to admire the border.
Or so I thought. For it was a particularly canine-feline lady, and she said in a carrying voice, “Didn’t I see you in this sari some time ago? October 12th, to be precise. You must be very fond of it, na?”
My first reaction was puzzlement. How could she know? As far as I could remember, I had worn the sari for a family function, so there was no chance of her having been there. Indeed my slip of paper had said so.
My hand flew to my mouth. Where was that slip? A surreptitious search confirmed my worst fear---- I had neglected to remove the offending bit of paper before wearing the sari! There it hung, at the edge of my pallav securely stapled for all who cared to see! At that moment, I was like Sita, praying for Mother Earth to open up and swallow me----
All that is water under the bridge now. But it still rankles. One solution is to wear a sari only once, before discarding it like a fabled actress of yesteryears. That idea does not really appeal, besides making us bankrupt.
I have only one viable option. I am taking a correspondence course from my mother-in-law on the subject.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The True Sparkle

The True Sparkle
(Woman’s Era Nov. (First) 1997)


It was going to be a black Diwali for the Anands this year. There was nowhere to go, nowhere to hide from the all pervasive gaiety that swelled like a tidal wave all around them. Who cared? Who bothered? Who remembered that around this time last year, theirs too had been a rollickingly happy family, caught up in the feverish excitement of Diwali? In the infectious enthusiasm of Varsha.
Dadi ma had been preparing traditional sweetmeats, shaking her head at the quality of ghee these days. Varsha had tripped in, popped a besan-laddu into her mouth and pouted, “Less ghee Dadi-ma! Cholesterol, you know!”
Saroj, Varsha’s mother, had taken out her special objets d’art and was lovingly polishing them before displaying them in her tastefully done up living room.
“Mom,” Varsha had teased, “You deck the house the way other women deck themselves with jewellery!”
All the same, the gleam of pride in Saroj’s eyes had been reflected in Varsha’s. It had been Varsha who spent half a day putting up silk and lace curtains. Their “party curtains” she called them. ------

“Papa,” she had called out to Jog Anand, “I’m going to wash the car. Be ready for my lesson!” That was the deal. Varsha would wash the car and her father would teach her the rudiments of driving. Though not yet of legal age to drive, she wanted to have a head start when she turned eighteen and actually started taking driving lessons.
She could not wait, she wanted her birthday to come quickly. And, bundle of contradictions that she was, she wanted to remain a child forever. Pampered by her parents and grandma, bickering with her brother, savouring the golden moments of childhood. ---------

Last year, Diwali was Varsha. She was everywhere. In and out of the neighbouring flats. Taking around homemade delicacies in plates covered with gay napkins. Concentrating on an original rangoli design in front of the door. Stringing up fairy lights along the balcony with her father. Accompanying her mother to the beauty parlour. --------

The flat where they lived was part of a cooperative housing society. Everyone knew of the Anands’ tragedy. Everyone tiptoed around them on eggshells, as it were.
There was a collective guilt. Guilt for having been careless on innumerable Diwalis. Guilt for being heartless enough to celebrate the forthcoming Diwali. Guilt for being alive. ------

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Bus Stop Club

(Woman's Era Oct.(Second) 1996)

Early winter mornings. Reluctantly, I forsake the warm cocoon of my bed to step onto the cold floor. That’s enough to shock me into total wakefulness.
Not for me the enviable luxury of waking when I please. The alarm clock is a strict disciplinarian. Won’t take no for an answer. Nor a sleepy “mmpf!”
You see, I am the mother of a school going child. A very young one at that.
Across the city, thousands of mothers like me will echo my feelings: the only thing worse than having to get up at an unearthly hour in winter, is having to wake up your little one. What torture to drag the warm bundle out of its protective quilt! She is too sleepy to open her mouth properly for me to brush her teeth. The moment I let go of her, back she stumbles into her welcoming nest.
I struggle with her, physically, and mentally, every minute, until at last she is ready. All bundled up, armed with all her paraphernalia, we set out for the bus-stop.
The bus stop is a sort of club. Like so many homing pigeons, Moms zoom towards Moms, and dads shake hands with dads. The occasional gramps nod benevolently at everybody in general.
Everyone has a fixed spot, more or less. So while the kids enjoy an impromptu game of catch, the Moms catch up with each other.
It is here that we get a breather. Having achieved a minor victory in bringing a small child properly fed and kitted out up to this place, we can now relax.
Later, we might plunge back into the frantic chaos that the house is at this time of the day. There may be other people at home waiting for their breakfast, clothes needing to be ironed at the last minute, and so much else besides, but all that is later.
Incongruous as it may seem, this place, with buses rattling past every so often, seems like a quiet pool in the midst of a jungle.
There are so many things to talk about. The kid’s progress at school, and the problem of long bus journeys. A new tailor discovered and a new boutique tried out. The comparative merits of saris and “suits”. Bollywood gossip and dinnertime serials. Recipes exchanged and kitchen shortcuts shared.
Mrs. A unburdens herself to the others about her in-laws. She speaks freely and without venom. Just describing the situation seems therapeutic.
No advice asked for, none given. Only understanding nods.
Mrs. B is annoyed about hubby’s frequent tours. She has to single handedly cope with the day-to-day problems of running a house. Mrs. C is anxiously keen that this bus be on time because she has to send another child to a different school.
A couple of ladies go out to work. For them, the wait at the stop is that much extra time spent near the children. Never mind that the kids may be oblivious of the fact!
Some way off, newspapers rustle-----a few Dads can’t wait to read the news even if there’s no cup of coffee by their side!
Meanwhile the kids manage to scuff their well-polished shoes, scrape their well-scarred knees and muddy their pristine white uniforms, all in the space of ten minutes.
Suddenly the bus arrives and the children are gone in a flurry of bags and bottles, charts and models, warnings and instructions. A couple of us might linger to wind up whatever discussion we were having, but most quickly disperse to resume the rest of our waiting chores.
Very often, I crib about having to rush out after putting in a solid hour of concentrated effort in getting my daughter ready.
“Can’t you at least take her to the bus stop?” I grumble to my husband. But when he offers to do so, I put on my most martyred expression and take on the duty myself. After all, I am not going to give up my membership of the Bus stop Club in a hurry!