The Luckiest Woman in the World

If my very Malayali, Syrian Christian grandmother had been told that come the new century, her grand-daughter would be keeping the fast for Karva Chauth, she’d have roared, “Eh? What is this Kadva Chauth? We have our Lent, and take good care you remember that, my girl!”

But I am pre-empting things a bit here. I am contrary by nature. Amma says I was born contrary. Well, what did she expect? After all, it was she who had me baptised Mary. Amma learnt to work her way around my contrariness. All she had to do was tell me she liked the pink dress, and I would promptly plump for the blue, while she hid a self-satisfied smirk.

The crunch came when I was getting married. Unfortunately, I chose a man from a family with definitely progressive ideas. The choosing itself was further evidence of my contrary nature. After a childhood spent acquiescing to everything the parents decreed for me (even in those days, I reserved the right to revolt for the more serious issues in life – like whether I was going to choose the blue dress or the pink), they were just about to begin casting around for the ubiquitous suitable boy, when I presented the husband to them. They were too dazed to do anything but agree.

Then came the in-laws. Like I said, the Ma-in-Law is one progressive lady, and determined to boot. But when she discussed modern court marriages, I turned the pages of a mehndi design booklet. When she said lehngas, I pointed derisively at my five-foot-nothing frame and hooted, “Lehngas? Me? I want a zari sari.” Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge was still a flicker in Aditya Chopra’s eye then.

She got the message. I had a traditional, full ceremonial marriage, with mehndi, shehnai and the works. The only heart’s desire I didn’t get was a groom on a mare. But there, the husband put his foot down. Well, I was sufficiently new to love to think his masterful assertion romantic.

Some days after the wedding, the Ma-in-Law turned to me and said, “Beta, don’t make the mistake I did. These are modern times. We don’t expect you to change your surname. A woman should have her own identity.” Like I said, she should have known better. It took me an extra week to get that passport with my new name, and I had to leave almost a month after the husband as a result. At the time, I believed it was love; now I realise it was just Mary being contrary again.

A year later, practically on the verge of giving birth, came Karva Chauth. A lifetime of watching Hindi movies had given me ideas. All that group singing and dancing, all those flickering lamps, all that dressing up, and the look of utter devotion in the husband’s eyes. After weeks spent feeling like a rolling stone that had actually gathered a lot of moss, it was a very tempting prospect. But this time, the Ma-in-Law put her foot down very firmly. “Nothing doing,” she said. “You have to think of the baby. I have never kept the Karva Chauth and I don’t expect you to either.” An ideal mother-in-law, you would think, but I wept tears of frustration into my pillow.

Some years later, DDLJ had moved out of Aditya’s eye and captured the Indian mind space, reviving the Karwa Chauth idea in my head, too, as the ultimate symbol of romance. I was once again rolling along gathering moss – only this time there was no expected date of delivery – and I wanted to see a spark of interest in the husband’s eyes. The results were unimaginable. He fussed over me, rang me up in office every hour, and drove me for miles in the evening so that we could see the moon before the rest of the world! The bombshell fell the next year. Firstly, my abstinence had become passé.

Even the son declared I was cuckoo. And the unkindest cut of them all, the husband announced he too would keep the fast – for me. Everyone who heard of it told me I was the luckiest woman in the world. The fuss that was made over him, oh, it would have made you sick. Amma hovered around him anxiously all day, offering him nimbu pani and black coffee. And finally when the moon was sighted, she served him first, while I waited in the sidelines, nursing my wounded soul.

This year, I had learnt my lesson. I told him firmly to lay off. After all, this was my territory, and there was no way I was having him steal my thunder!

First published in The Financial Express in October 2000  http://www.financialexpress.com/old/fe/daily/20001018/fco18092.html

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