Monday , May 23 2022

A middle class housewife discovers a new world

“Pinky is a little brat who thinks tantrums can get her anything she fancies. On Monday when she’s at school, I’ll return the shoes and give you the money back.”

“Mansi, you really don’t need to do that. Consider them a gift. The little girl really has her heart set on them.”

“She has the memory of a goldfish. In a week, she’ll forget about the shoes and start demanding something else.” Mansi sighed. “I hate taking her to malls. She just wants me to buy her everything she sees. And really, we can’t afford it.”

“Hmmm.” she said. “What do you do, Mansi?”

“I’m a housewife.”

“And your husband?”

“Amar is a history professor.”

“Not too much money in teaching, huh?” she sympathetically said.

“It’s okay. Not too bad. But we certainly can’t afford to buy our little girl five thousand rupee shoes that she’ll outgrow in six months.”

“I see.”

“But seriously aunty, give me your phone number and your address and I will come return the money on Monday.”

“Out of the question.” she smiled and shook her head. “About returning the money I mean. Trust me, I can afford such indulgences. But we should exchange numbers and meet though. I’d love to catch up in more detail.”

She picked up her phone and asked me for her number. She then gave a missed call and Mansi saved her number.

“How is Bajaj uncle?”

“He passed away five years ago. Lung cancer.”

“Oh my god! I am so sorry!”

“It’s alright. I’ve gotten used to it by now.”

“And how is…” Mansi tried to remember her son’s name. He was a couple of years older than her and in college when they lived in Meerut.

“Nilesh? He’s doing okay.” she said.

“Is he in Mumbai too?”

“No.” she said in a tone that suggested she did not want to discuss him.

“Do you live nearby?”

“Yes, Malad West. You?”

“Borivali east. Close to the station.”

That’s when her phone rang. She looked at the display, frowned a little, and said,

“Excuse me a moment.” and walked away.

Mansi sat there looking at her daughter roll around in the ballpit with a few other kids. She was a handful but she was the center of her existence. She wished she could buy her everything she wanted. But money really was tight.

“Mansi, I am so sorry, but I have to get going. A bit of an emergency at work.” Reena aunty returned and picked up her purse and her shopping bags.

“Oh, no problem. Where do you work?”

“I am the assistant manager at a hotel nearby. A couple of the staff members didn’t show up, so now I have to go fill in for them.” she said. “But we should meet Monday for sure.”

“Absolutely.”

“But don’t you dare return that little girl’s shoes. If you give me as much as a single paisa, I will never talk to you again.”

“Come on, aunty, that’s not fair!” Mansi tried to protest, but Reena was already on her way out.

—-

Mansi finally managed to drag Pinky out of the ball pit and take her home. She agreed to leave on the condition that she could wear her new purple shoes. Mansi reasoned with her that they would get dirty in the local train on the way back, but she wouldn’t budge.

When they walked up the three flights of stairs to their one bedroom apartment, the door was open, and the familiar cacophony of male voices could be heard.

“But Amar, even if Hitler had not been distracted by Yugoslavia, it was a matter of time before the Soviets would have prevailed. Maybe an extra year.”

“You don’t know what you are talking about.” Amar shook his fist in the air. “If the bitz krieg had…oh there you are Mansi.”

“Papa, papa, look, new shoes!!” Pinky jumped in his lap.

“Very pretty, my little princess!” he said.

“Namaste, bhabhiji.” Amar’s friends said.

“Namaste.” Mansi said and went to the bathroom to freshen up.

When she got out, Amar was standing there.

“How about some chai?” he said.

“Okay.”

“And some of your famous onion pakoras.”

“Amar, onions are…”

“Yes, I know, they are very expensive. But you can’t put a price on the pleasure of friends.” he said and went back to his intellectual conference.

For the next couple of hours, Mansi slaved in the hot kitchen, frying pakoras for her husband and his friends. She hoped against hope that the session would end soon. But they kept rehashing world war 2 history all evening, and she eventually had to make dinner for everyone. Which used up all the vegetables in the house that she had hoped to make last til next week.

By the time everyone dispersed, it was midnight. Pinky was asleep on the bed next to Mansi. Amar came in, and laid down in bed, sighing heavily.

“Dinner was spectacular as always.” he said.

Mansi didn’t say anything.

“I know you are upset about the onions.” Amar finally said.

“Shouldn’t I be?” Mansi turned around. “It’s not easy for me to budget our needs when you keep bringing friends home without notice.”

“You should consider it a compliment, Mansi. They love your cooking so much that they always insist on coming here.”

“I don’t mind the cooking, Amar. You know that. But I don’t have Draupadi’s magic plate here. I was hoping to make those onions last at least a couple of weeks for us. And now…”

“I’ll get onions tomorrow.” Amar flatly said.

“Yes, and that’ll be another couple of hundred rupees we didn’t budget for.”

“Then don’t use onions for the next couple of weeks.” he said, annoyed.

“Why are you getting annoyed at me?” Mansi flared up.

“Mmmmmm…” Pinky stirred on her bed.

Husband and wife stayed absolutely quiet until she went back to sleep.

“I need to withdraw two thousand rupees tomorrow for Pinky’s textbooks and stationery.”

“Textbooks…stationery…uniforms…picnics…it’s like they are running a for profit business.” Amar grumbled.

“You’re the one who wanted to put her in that fancy school.”

“Education is something I will not compromise on.” he said. “Designer shoes on the other hand…”

“She threw an almighty tantrum right in the middle of the store!”

“How much did they cost?”

“Not too much.”

“How much?”

“Five hundred.” Mansi lied, not wanting to tell him about Reena aunty. She knew her husband was really big on self-respect, self-reliance, and pride.

“You could have just refused to buy them.”

Mansi felt really annoyed at this comment. Amar knew how much effort it took to manage Pinky’s demands. And handle her tantrums. He himself never really scolded her or said no to anything. He played the good cop. Mansi was supposed to be the bad cop.

She felt like throwing a tantrum of my own. But she just seethed silently in anger, half-expecting Amar to apologize. But soon, his patent snores filled the room.

———-

“It’s not even like I am asking for anything extravagant for myself. It’s not like I expect him to buy me diamond necklaces or take me on a European vacation. But is it too much to expect him to show some recognition of our situation?”

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