The phone rings and no it is not her cell phone but the landline and with the agarbatti in hand and still chanting,''Daivaisthavam nirvitta purvam...papam har Hari Priye" she hurriedly picked up the phone thinking it must be from home.Dad is not keeping well and she was a bit anxious.
Hello!- she says.
Hello Aruna -replies a lady from the other side.
Aruna : Oh Didi, can i call you back after finishing my pooja, the agarbatti is in my hand still?
The lady on the other side: What is this even last time when i called you, you had the agarbatti in your hand ?
Aruna : Yeah but i just came home late and had not lit the lamp and i am doing it now, i shall call you back shortly.
The lady/Didi : Yes better do it quick because i have to go for my evening walk.
Aruna hung up and hurried through her lighting of the lamp and all the chants that she does to invoke the Gods in her pooja room. But she did it half heartedly because instead of being calm which should happen when one is offering prayers she was agitated because she actually hurried through the evening prayers.Why be phoney with the Divine one? Either do it or just leave it. Why this farce?
And for whom...for what?
After her hurried pooja she dialled the lady's number and talked with the lady and blurted out everything right from her Dad not being well to her being busy on a new project that has come her way by some stroke of what people might think good luck.The chat went on for about 15-20 minutes and when it was over Aruna was really annoyed with herself.
Why does she have to explain everything?
Was there any need to make that call after all ...when she has just had a tiresome day...coupled with anxiety.
She got angry for being a puppet to someone's whims and fancies.
The fact of the matter being she is not too fond of Ms B.
"Ms B's evening walk should not be disturbed but her pooja can be", grumbled Aruna to herself
and felt anger start welling inside her. No! she was not angry with Ms B .This anger was directed to herself.
So many experiences...yet she is unable to come to terms with the fact that she doesn't have to please everybody.
Especially those she herself is not pleased with.
Ms B is a talented lady who paints.Of late she has turned her hobby into the kind of profession which keeps her busy. After retiring from teaching school and with her husband also retired although officially only because just like the trend these days he is into some consultancy of his own, she made sure that she still has her connections in a way which enables her an invitation to all the cultural events organised by the Officer's Wives' Welfare Association.She revels in the fact that people still treat her with respect and talk about her talents with much admiration.Talents yes there is no doubt but respect...
Aruna knows along with others who know Ms B that more than respect people try their best possible ways to be polite and not to appear rude.
Aruna is no different and she does not hold much respect for Ms B either.Neither does she feel the need for Ms B's company.
Aruna often wonders why she along with others who suffer Ms B are hell bent on pretending.
Wouldn't it be easier to just break free than to go on a self-agonising trip everytime Ms B forces herself on to her?
But some things are easier said than done.
So what is about Ms B that displeases Aruna and many others who have known her well ?
*First and foremost her very accusatory tone succumbing to which Aruna forever runs to the defensive.As if being available for Ms B should be her prime concern on which her life depended.
*Then her pushy nature and wanting everything her way...even if it's a self invitation to someone's house.
Pushy of the kind that goes about in the bureaucratic circle where a senior officer's wife demands and expects some protocols from the junior officers wives.
One has to tell this incident here which should bring to light the typical nature that Ms B sports without any realisation whatsoever that it can be hurting and painful to others.
Mr Bakshi her husband frequents the club every month for his Kerala Ayurvedic massage at 4 pm. His wife Ms B then self invites herself to the ladies residences near the club.There from 4-8 pm she would hang around much to the chagrin of the ladies who have neither been too keen for this get together nor would they find the rendezvous to be any refreshing.They would fix a brilliant high tea for her and by the time Ms B would leave they are tired.
Not with the high tea but by putting up a pretence.
No one wants to be impolite or rude.After all she is the talented wife of an officer who retired from a very high post.Some even fear that he may still be having connections. Some visualise these connections to be helpful. As for Aruna she is way down the ladder in the hierarchy to bother about these connections.She is cheesed out with the Me My Way attitude of Ms B.
Now one fine day this particular lady who fixed grand high tea for Ms B went on rounds to give an invite for her daughter's arangetram (First and introductory dance recital by a student learning Bharatnatyam). She had to go all over the town and when she neared Royapettah where Ms B lives she called up to inform Ms B that she would be dropping by at Ms B's place.What she heard next was too hurting for this lady who was arranging a very warm welcome for Ms B for some couple of months now.The poor lady happened to stay right next to the club where Mr Bakshi went for his Kerala Massages.
'' No i don't think it is possible now because i am tired and have to take my nap", Says Ms B asking quickly if the visit was for something urgent.
The lady should have just declined and said her goodbyes instead she said,"Actually i wanted to give you this invite for my daughter's arangetram.Just wanted to hand it over personally.My husband is also with me and we thought it best to invite you together as we are both near your house right now."
"Oh ! if you can make it quickly then i shall wait,'' says Ms B and hung up.
The lady and her husband felt awful and thought for a second if it was worth inviting such people.But now that they have already told her they had no other option so they proceeded but with less enthusiasm, some hurt and more annoyance.
That day onwards the lady makes some excuse or the other every time Mr Bakshi goes for a massage and before Ms B can invite her own sweet self the lady cooks up some fine story informing her that she will be unavailable.
Thus the abrupt end to the forced rendezvous.
But as they say everything happens for the good.
This brought temporary relief also to the other junior officer's wife who too had to join in this dumped on the head tea party.That junior officer's wife happened to be Aruna who unfortunately was staying two floors below the lady who finally found it in her interests to stop pretending and just move on .
Although the tea party stopped Ms B was not finished with Aruna.
She would often call Aruna accusing her of being too caught up with her own life to even say hello.Bombard her with questions asking her what kept her so busy.And Aruna like an obedient junior would oblige.She didn't have too but it is difficult to say,"I didn't call you because i didn't feel like."
It was easier to tell Ms B about her travelling, about the never ending stream of guests that come to Chennai for Apollo, Shankar Netralaya and Tirupati.No lies here but only half truth.Aruna did find time to chat up with her small group of close friends and compare notes about family life and mundane matters.
It is difficult to say exactly what you feel about the person point blank on his or her face.It is as difficult as shooting from a revolver that is if you are not a criminal or a deviant.
It is difficult to say,"Didi stop being so pushy all the time.
It is difficult to say,"Didi when you find it so hard to entertain anyone why do you have such huge expectations from others?"
It was not easy either to hear that there were some paintings ready and maybe she could buy them for gifting to friends.
Once she even fell for it and regretted later because that was just one unneccessary expenditure totally uncalled for.
*Then the worst of all, her lacking basic Indian courtesy. Ms B considers it below her dignity to serve even water to her guests. She will offer water and maybe juice provided the maids that she has employed are there for her to do it on her command.Ask those who have been to her house and have sat there on a hot and humid afternoon to look into her paintings and perhaps order some and they will tell you something that will displease anyone the way it has displeased Aruna. And mind you these people are not strangers walking into Ms B's house to buy paintings but known ladies from the department who have been courteous enough to inform Ms B and ask for a suitable time that would cause her no inconvenience of any kind.
Some who don't know Ms B personally but want the painting that Aruna has in her living room.Aruna bought it from Ms B earlier because that was what she could afford.The original ones available at the emporiums were way too costly for her.
But how is one supposed to make those trips to Ms B's house being fully aware that the maids are there?
From all everybody knows through Ms B herself is that Ms B does not cook.She'd rather paint than enter the kitchen. Her precious time should be spent qualitatively not in anything as drab and thankless as cooking.
Her breakfast arrives along with good filter Kapi from the famous Ratna Cafe.
Then she has two sets of maids...one for cleaning and one for cooking.
The cook arrives pre-afternoon and cooks for the lunch and the dinner and leaves.
The cleaning lady arrives something around 4 and everyone knows that before that Ms B takes a must nap.
So you are lucky if your browsing time coincides with the maids .That is if you don't want to exit Ms B's studio with your throats parched dry.
That no amount of being an acquaintance works in your favour because Ms B is professional about her prices.For the sake of friendship or anything it is pointless to haggle with Ms B.
"Look I sell paintings only for recycling", pat comes the reply to any requests about bringing down the price lower to a couple of hundreds.
Before you connect selling paintings to recycling she would help you out of the chaos by adding,''After all I need to buy paints and stuff and some of these are imported and too costly so basically the money I earn is just recycled.
Aha! that's the connection you failed to see.
And you also fail to see how an unprofessional duplicated work can cost you if not the same but something near and a bit lower than the original and professional ones.
One should give her the credit to make all these speeches sound like she was a genuine charitable painter all set to redeem the badly stuck middle class of the rut they find themselves into.
If it was not for her how could they even dream of owning a Tanjore painting or a Kerala Mural the prices of which start with thousands and depends on sizes and the number of characters used. The larger the size and characters the higher would be the price.
For one thing her Tanjore paintings lack the finesse as her Gods and Goddesses look a bit distorted.As for Kerala Murals she is better and instead of using vegetable dyes uses enamel paint.
True however for someone whom affordability is a major issue like Aruna herself, these suffice.These look more colourful and shine too unlike the original Kerala Murals.
Then coming to the lift asking you to bring in more customers for her she will say with the most lovely smile,"Sorry haan did not offer you anything."
To which these pitiful guests who are dying for a sip of chilled water would nod and say,"Oh not at all Ms B maybe laters'', and wish the lift moves fast and they settle down to the comfort of their car and more for the bottle of mineral water in their car.Everyone carries water in Chennai because of it's hot and humid climate which makes one thirsty quite often.
Ms B comes from an affluent family in Kerala.Her husband retired from a prestigious and very high post if not the top most.
For years she was used to that bureaucratic way of life where the higher you go the more you shall have in the form of an escort to do everything for you.Right from bringing a glass of water up to someone opening the door of the vehicle you would be riding in.Unfortunately all this stops all of a sudden when the husband retires.
A lot many ladies have cried on the grand finale farewells not for anything but for all this which would no longer be.
But some settle down eventually and accept the escortless/helperless life ahead and decide to lead it with utmost humility and dignity.
But some like Ms B would not relent.
She still demands official vehicles to be sent if an invite for a function has gone out to her.
Would it make her penniless if she takes an auto and arrives?Her husband can drive her to the venue and later pick her up.
Perhaps it is not a matter of money but just a super bloated ego.
After all her husband has retired from a very high post.She deserves such preferential treatment.Even when that means making so many adjustments for so many people including the poor welfare officer who has already to look into the hierarchy and be answerable to the current ego ridden ladies whose husbands are still reigning high and mighty.
Aruna is aware of all this but what pains her is that although Ms B is having an association with her it is not as if she is included in Ms B's coterie.She senses that distance which says,"These are your bounds...no further than this."
Aruna has come quite a long way now where she has begun to understand the futility of such associations. She wants to move away.She is fed up of being nagged by Ms B and her kind.
You cannot force an association.
She feels incapable of tackling Ms B and that's why she is angry. How to convey it to Ms B.
Her not calling Ms B should be an indication but that indication has not worked.
Rather every time Ms B calls and sarcastically says,'' Hello madam ! have you forgotten me?'' Aruna starts pretending otherwise.After a bit of just this and that Ms B never fails to remind Aruna that some paintings are ready and if some one shows interest she should be directed to Ms B right away.
Aruna did that a few times and suffered in her own way.The added burden being that of bringing the painting home to be delivered to the lady who asked for it.Each time paying from her own pocket because the lady who asked for the painting would be out of town and Ms B would be in a hurry.
It did happen late for Aruna for the matter to sink in. Ms B had some intentions and just like any other business lady was simply using her .What Aruna did initially in her naivety became a task for her.
She was being manipulated by Ms B into being an unpaid agent.
No not that she wanted to be paid but the fact that she was being manipulated by Ms B for being one, hurt her own self esteem.
Why did she fall prey to that again and again and again?
Why couldn't she see it coming?
There are so many junior officer's wives that Ms B knows. How come Aruna was the chosen one?
Ms B saw through her vulnerability and picked her from the lot.
That realisation struck Aruna like a knife and she was now cursing herself.
Now that she knows much that needs to be known and with all the realisation behind her Aruna fails to understand what is stopping her now.
Is it because she is afraid of antagonising Ms B?
Would that antagonism be harmful to her in any way?
Is it because she still has not learned the fine art of making bitter pills sweet coated?
Will it be rude to just tell her once and for all to back off?
Why pretend to be sweet to someone whose whole attitude actually stinks?
Aruna respects humbleness and honesty.
Both of which she finds lacking in Ms B.
Strange but all along she was trying to appease someone whom she is not an ardent fan of.
Her own life with her own routines she is happy with.Why should she make it complicated with the likes of Ms B who is just using her to market her products.
Today she is anguished not with Ms B but at her own vulnerability.
Of not being able to say No! to that forced invitation.
She is trying to break free and thinking of ways to tackle the pushy lady.
Thinking how best to convey without hurting.
And finally stop pretending.
Because more than anything in this whole wide world it is the pretence that frustrates to the point of being agonising and tiresome.You don't get fed up of people but by your own pretences.
Try and be honest if not with others but at least to your own self.
Maybe for starters she should stop explaining and gather enough courage to say,"Didi why don't you keep a garage sale or something to sell your paintings."
But some devil got the better of her and instead she did what most people do.
She picks up the phone and dials Ms B's number and informs her that she is going to be busy the whole week on her new project.
"Oh! but thats bad because the following week I am flying to the States to be with my son and won't be back till December", said Ms B sounding disappointed.
Aruna was thrilled to hear that.But she concealed her happiness.
Gently but keeping her voice steady she says," I shall get in touch with you when you return.You see I may not call but keep in touch through mails. Will that be okay with you?"
Aruna was in any case moving to the other town where her husband was going on promotion transfer.
"Yes that will be okay, Bye then Aruna", said Ms B.
"Bye Didi", replied Aruna and hung up.
She was now relieved that finally this Wednesday she will be pretending no more.
Sad and mean what she did but sometimes you got to be dishonest with others if you want to remain honest with your own self. Sometimes subtle indications don't work...and sometimes you have to lie.
"Richness is when you need no more.'' Khushwant Singh
Image courtesy: www.iclipart.com