Thursday, April 1, 2010

THE BEEF-EATERS

Bhuvan was upset. He’d come in late for work and something didn’t seem right. He seemed upset… very upset. He kept staring into the Google homepage as if the screen had been cussing at him and he couldn’t think of something appropriate to spit back at the monitor. I walked up to him with trepidation, put an arm on his shoulder and asked “Run into someone this morning?” Bhuvan’s expression softened and he smiled half a smile and nodded, “Yes… Ma!” Now that’s a surprise. Bhuvan adores his parents and his wife and his mother get along like a house on fire. But now it looked like there’s fat in the fire. After all, friction between a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law will oft en ignite more than just TRP ratings.

“Don’t worry…” I offered “It’ll die out… these saasbahu fights always do. …” Bhuvan shook his head, “It isn’t us. I had a showdown because of the maid.” Now, you’ve heard of men bickering with parents for a wife, but how many men do you know who would fume and froth in anger and squabble with parents for a maid. I choked on a chuckle since Bhuvan’s earnest fury hadn’t abated, and just asked him what happened. Bhuvan let out an exasperated sigh…

“You know Ma… (indeed I did know “aunty’. Till 2008, she was working with a rather well known school in Delhi as senior faculty, Social Studies. She’s educated, opinionated and righteous, with the same upper caste middle-class-and I use the term without any attempt at condescension or deprecation- values that are the pride and joy of her pre-liberalised generation. A kindly soul and a disciplined yet open-minded mother, she had instilled all the right values in her only son). She is being a… a… (Bhuvan seemed to struggle for the right word) a… hypocrite!” Whoa! I hadn’t expected him to use that strong a word…, “You know that Saheli and I have been looking for a house maid or a man-servant for a while. Ma and Pa need to rest, take care of themselves and enjoy this period of their lives. But instead, Ma keeps labouring away in the kitchen. Pa’s coming to terms with the idea of ‘relaxing’ but Ma just wouldn’t listen. Last week though, they finally agreed. So Saheli and I started looking around for a person who could stay and help with cleaning and dusting and cooking etc. It wasn’t easy. Some would do this but not that while others would quote a figure that would make an imperial butler blush. Finally, we found a guy who fit the bill but then scampered away at the mere mention of police verification. And then we found Rina, a twenty-something lass who would cook and clean and was quiet chatty. Ma’d like that, I thought…

She connected with the vibes in the house, was eager to learn and open to correction – basically, just perfect. A day later, Ma and Rina got talking over a cup of tea after she’d completed the day’s chores. Ma asked her a bit about her home and family… you know Ma likes talking… and Rina matched her syllable for syllable… ‘Best cook in my village…’ she gushed. ‘The sewiyan (vermicelli) I make for Eid is famous in our district’. Ma frowned… ‘Sewiyan for Eid? What’s your full name, Rina?’ The girl seemed a little zapped by the question ‘Rubina… Rubina… Ma-ji… what happened?’ Ma got up and walked away from the living room. Saheli and I followed her upstairs… ‘She’s a Muslim!’, Ma said. So…? Well, so ‘…we can’t have a beef-eater in the kitchen… we just can’t’. You have to understand that after spending thirty years with parents who’ve always taught me to treat people based on their human values and not religious ones, aft er my mother has cooked for my Muslim friends who’ve stayed over, necessarily voted for secular parties, and studied Urdu because of her love for Ghalib and Mir’s poetry, I was more than a little shocked. Ma, I’ve eaten beef and you know it, I told her, but she would have none of it. If you weren’t my son, I wouldn’t allow you in the kitchen either, she told me, and said ‘I like our Muslim friends and can happily give them a hug and remember them in my prayers but can’t have them cooking in the kitchen. Call me what you will but I just can’t… Period.’ I was worried that Rina would overhear our altercation and yet I couldn’t hold back. Shock mingled with anger and frustration spewed forth and I said things I perhaps shouldn’t have but the realisation that the very person who shaped my secular world-view was now acting against those very values stirred a raging storm in my heart. My mother wouldn’t budge, and though adamant then, I knew that it’d be impossible for Rina to stay… this morning Rina left , and I won’t forget the look in her sad understanding eyes. I had let both her and the values (Ma has inculcated in me) down.” Bhuvan walked off towards the coffee- counter… and I wondered whether I should celebrate the winds of change blowing slowly but surely in every Bhuvan’s house or lament the sense of alienation that every Rina endures even today.

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3 comments:

  1. Prashanto, I agree to your mom's idea. A vegetarian can be in good terms with a non-vegetarian but cannot allow the same person to work in the house.

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  2. so well written sir...but i wonder when will the change come..we all r taught the same lesson that we all r one but when it come to a practical/real lyf we all behave lyk Bhuvan's mom...strange!!!!

    Nidhi.

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