“I am your mother and I know best.“ Mrs. Shenoy declared at the dinner table.
Both Abhishek and Mr. Shenoy looked at her resolute face, looked at each other and got back to meticulously slicing the delicious palak-dosa on the plate. They knew better than to challenge a riled-up Mrs. Shenoy. They had spent hours texting and scheming on how to tackle the topic.
Mrs. Shenoy glanced at the like-father-like-son bent and silent black heads at the table and patted herself on the back for having shown who was the boss, in this house.
She was not, as long as she was alive, going to be the reason for diluting the glorious, rich and beautiful Shenoy bloodline with a Gujarati mix for the sake of something as frivolous as “love”.
Abhishek would understand. Eventually. Love was a myth. A story. A fiction sold by Bollywood to dewy eyed, naïve, simple minded, light-hearted teenagers. The Shenoy’s of JP Nagar didn’t marry for love. Marriage was an institution that demanded a lot more of a person than love. It demanded stature, intellect, wealth, good-looks, heritage. Oh! how she could go on and on about what it demanded.
Did they really think she would have married Mr. Shenoy for love? Rolling her eyes, she went back to serving Abhishek with an extra dollop of Payassam. Food solved everything. Cured everything.
“Eat. This is your favorite. Do you think that Gujarati fatso will be able to make you Payassam? She wouldn’t even know where to start”
Abhishek refrained from arguing that the Gujarati fatso was fatso for a reason. She absolutely loved cooking and made as good a Payassam as any. But he did not want to get verbally beheaded this night. And so, he did what he had learnt over three decades to do. He kept his head bent, made agreeing noises to his mom’s very caustic take on Gujarati girls and the Gujarati family system and community that was derived from hours and hours of Ekta Kapoor TV soap content.
That night Mr. Shenoy and Abhishek sneaked on the terrace when Mrs. Shenoy’s favourite TV soap began at 10pm. In hushed voices they discussed the next strategy to getting Natasha into the house. Neither looked convinced at the end of the chat when Mrs. Shenoy could be heard gossiping about the latest earring fashions with her sister over the phone.
Abhishek had secret tears in his eyes as Mrs. Shenoy gently hugged Natasha and patted her head. The visit had gone very well. Natasha had dressed in her best red Anarlaki kurti to appear as slim as good fashion cuts could make one slim. The house was spotless and beautifully decorated. The food was good and her manners were impeccable. She hadn’t left much to chance.
Mr. Shenoy and Abhishek exchanged glances over the hugging females. Their strategy and emotional blackmailing had worked. Mrs. Shenoy had reluctantly agreed that there was “no harm” in seeing the Gujarati fatso. That way they could claim more rejections to Abhishek’s credit and increase his net-worth in the market.
But Mrs. Shenoy’s mind was made. Her daughter-in-law, the wife of her son, the bearer of their grandson, the maintainer of her kitchen was NOT going to be an average looking, non-tulu speaking “technologist” – whatever that meant. No. But she didn’t want to seem villainous so soon. Marriage was a long term contract and it deserved a long term setting.
And so she pretended to like the middle class glossy décor of this Gujarati. Her walls overflowing with pictures of other Gujaratis. Her textureless, presentation less food. Her attempts at sweet talking. She pretended for two whole hours that she was going to bless this contract, without ever committing to it.
For Mrs. Shenoy had already identified and procured the daughter-in-law of her dreams.
Abhishek looked happy. Namrata and Abhishek made a gorgeous looking pair. Him, tall, well built, bearded, black headed. Her, slender, fair, delicate and small. Him, a technologist with a 6 figure salary. Her a medical doctor about to become a practicing physician. O’ how lovely their son would be. How perfect her grandson would look. And Namrata would know all the Tulu cuisines. She would be good in bed with that body. She would be the perfect reason to make the other women in the kitty jealous. She would be the perfect addition to the Shenoy dining table. She would watch all the Ekta Kapoor dramas with Mrs. Shenoy and they would discuss the latest saree fashions after.
She overflowed of sanskars. The first time she ever met Mrs. Shenoy, she touched her feet and did not hug her like that Gujarati fatso “technologist” Natasha.
It had taken the best in class threats and emotional blackmail to get Abhishek to leave that god-awful girl. Mrs. Shenoy even went on an unending fast as a last resort. When all her crying and reminders of endless sacrifices fell on stone cold ears of the Shenoy men. She even conjured a couple of fainting spells in the last two weeks. And finally, Abhishek caved when Dr. Sharma claimed that one more day of fast and they might lose Mrs. Shenoy to a stroke forever.
Supposedly that fatso, she had her claws in Abhishek for 5 years now. 5 years, that poor child of hers had to hang around with that mediocre looking good-for-nothing. But that would help him value Namrata and her heritage more now. He would see. Love-was no reason to surrender your life to mediocrity.
Mrs. Shenoy missed her 10pm series. At 10.35, when her sister called, she had no material to gossip about. After all, Namrata wanted to watch Game of Thrones. Some semi porn western series. But who could tell no to a newly wed. What if she told her parents? The word would spread that Mrs. Shenoy was a ”typical” “old-school” mother-in-law.
Mrs. Shenoy listened in on the phone, murmuring hmms and ahs at the appropriate locations with her sister.
The sambhar of that night’s dinner was gurgling in her stomach. It had more Everest sambhar masala than probably the box could hold. It was blood orange in color and thin as water. Namrata had been reluctant to enter the kitchen. What with her post honeymoon fatigue and interviews in nearby hospitals.
But Mrs. Shenoy knew how to get work done. Though now, as the sambhar curdled, she wondered if it was worth trying to teach this petite physician how to cook? Maybe she should just prescribe medicines and stay away from the kitchen. Maybe that might be healthier for all. Mrs. Shenoy could always find and train a cook with her recipes.
Abhishek was not home. Abhishek had been coming home later and later each evening. Perhaps his workload had increased. In this economy, all her relative’s kid’s jobs all across the world were in jeopardy. Maybe that is why Abhishek was staying out late. They went out on weekends. All four of them, in their car. To shop and eat out. Abhishek and Namrata seemed alright. They talked to each other about the weather and their jobs. Ofcourse it takes a while to develop passion in arranged marriages. They would learn.
Mr. Shenoy seemed to be balding. That fatso Natasha had given her and Abhishek’s story of five years of so called love and friendship to Mr. Shenoy over coffee one evening. She seemed super depressed and had left her job and was going back home, shattered. Mr. Shenoy had felt responsible for her grief. He felt sorry that he couldn’t support his son and his love. He seemed aloof to Mrs. Shenoy. But Mrs. Shenoy knew better than to take her husband seriously. He would grow up and grow a pair and eventually realize why what she did had the best possible outcome for everyone’s future and the family name.
And so, slowly, the family of four disintegrated into four individual dinners. Namrata seemed to fancy western cuisines and was very figure conscious. So the Dosas and Payasamms were limited to once a month. The TV channels got replaced with OTT as Namrata was big time into cost cutting. Namrata wasn’t one to hold back on her opinions and the choice of her words was more toxic and caustic than the Ekta Kapoor soap bahus. Abhishek’s beautiful face turned into a permanent scowl while at home and Mr. Shenoy started keeping more and more to himself.
Slowly and piece by piece, the interior of the house changed from that of a traditional elegant Tulu home to a fancy semi-western pseudo rich apartment. The comfortable sofas and big backed dining room chairs got replaced with slim and trim and black furniture.
And one fine morning, as Mrs. Shenoy stood at the home temple with the Pooja thali, looking forward to her precious and perfect son and daughter in law to touch her feet and wish her a happy sixtieth, they passed her by, one focused on his mobile screen and the other adjusting her body hugging dress on their way to work. And Mr. Shenoy came out of the bedroom, stared at Mrs. Shenoy’s no longer burning diya on the pooja thali, shook his head and went on to the kitchen to make coffee.
*Written as an exercise of one of the best write club bangalore sessions ever on “Strange consequences of power”. For those who get the link, great. For those who don’t. Let me know.