Monday , May 23 2022

A middle class housewife discovers a new world

“Not at all.” Reena aunty sympathetically nodded.

“I know he himself is a very simple man. And he is a very nice person. Nice to a fault. Part of the reason our financial situation is tight is that he keeps donating a chunk of his salary to this charity that helps slum children go to school. I appreciate his generosity. But isn’t it prudent to take care of your own family before going to help others? Hasn’t he heard that charity begins at home?”

“Some dessert ma’am?” a waiter appeared out of nowhere.

“No, thank you. I am already stuffed.” Mansi said.

“The chocolate lava cake here is divine. Try some.” Reena aunty said.

“Really, I couldn’t.”

“Get her one.” she said to the waiter who smiled, nodded and walked away.

“Aunty, this is too much. I am really really full.” Mansi protested. And she really was full. The rich food at the restaurant was not something she was used to.

“Just have a couple of bites. You won’t regret it.”

Mansi was overcome by a sense of gratitude for the nice lady. She had called up Monday morning asking if Mansi could meet her at her hotel. It was a very fancy four star hotel in Malad, the likes of which the young middle class housewife had never stepped into. She then took her to lunch at a posh restaurant next door, insisting that it would be her treat.

She was being so nice that Mansi couldn’t help but unload all her troubles and complaints on her. Mansi didn’t really have any close friends. She spent some time now and then with Amar’s friends’ wives and Pinky’s friends’ mothers, but there was no one she was close enough to for her to open up like this. Her last close friend had been in college in Meerut and she had lost touch with her after getting married and moving to Bombay.

So Reena aunty was like a throwback to her younger more carefree days. And she had been so nice and generous. Mansi felt an instant bond forming. Reena aunty had listened patiently throughout lunch to all the whines about her middle class life.

“Mansi, let me ask you something.” she said, folding her palms under her chin. “Why don’t you just get a job?”

“Hehe. Who’ll give me a job?”

“Why not?”

“I have no skills, no real qualifications. Just a meaningless B.A. from a college no one has heard of even in Meerut. That too with mediocre grades.”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

“I am just being honest, aunty. I have seen how it works nowadays. Everyone has an MBA or an MS or some sort of an advanced degree. Even these career-oriented women. But my parents never really thought of me having a career.” Mansi sounded a little resentful.

“Lots of people have jobs even without an MBA.” Reena said.

“Besides, even if I did get a job, who will take care of the house and Pinky? We can just barely afford a maid for washing clothes. I have to wash the dishes, cook, clean the house, take care of Pinky’s homework…”

“I could give you a job.”

“That’s very nice of you. But like I just said, with all my household duties…”

“It won’t take up too much time.” Reena aunty said.

“You mean in your hotel?”

“Sort of.” she mysteriously answered.

That’s when the waiter came with thedelectable chocolate lava cake. Mansi stared at it wide-eyed, like Pinky would have. Dinners in posh restaurants like these were way beyond their means. They usually ate at mid-level udipi type restaurants, that too on special occasions. The most fancy dessert there was a scoop of chocolate ice cream with a cherry on top that Pinky always demanded.

“Dig in.” Reena aunty said, handing her a gleaming spoon.

“Mmmmmmmm.” Mansi moaned in delight as the rich gooey chocolate filling danced around in her mouth. Although she had really felt full, this heavenly dessert whetted her appetite again.

Ten minutes later, Mansi had finished the whole thing. Reena aunty paid the bill and they started walking back to her hotel.

“Thank you so much for lunch, aunty.” Mansi said, as Reena led her into her office.

“You’re welcome, sweetie.” she said. “No offense, but it looked like you really needed that.”

“What do you mean?”

“Some indulgence…something nice…something out of the ordinary. Your life needs some more sunshine.”

“What my life needs is some more money.” Mansi bitterly said.

“So would you be interested in a job?” she asked.

“In the hotel? Like a receptionist?”

“Sure, you could be a receptionist if you want.” Reena aunty said. “But those shifts are a minimum of 8 hours.”

“Oh, that doesn’t seem like something I could do.”

“Hmmm.” Reena said, playing with her phone. “I will think of something. Do you want some tea?”

“No thanks, aunty, I am so full with that dessert.” Mansi said.

“It is amazing, right?” Reena smiled. “I have it at least once a week.”

“I wish I could afford to. I saw the price on the menu. It was…let’s say it cost a lot more than the ice cream we have at our usual restaurant.” Mansi said. “Thank you again for the treat. And the shoes. You are being so kind. I wish I could repay you back in some way.”

“Nonsense!” Reena shrugged. “You are an old friend. Friends shouldn’t really bother about repaying stuff.”

There was a lull in the conversation. Then Reena started talking again.

 

“Although we are old friends, I don’t know much about what happened since we lost touch.”

Mansi kept finding these “old friends” references odd. Yes, they lived in the same neighborhood over a decade ago. But they barely knew each other. Even so, the old lady was being so nice that it was hard not to think of her as a friend.

“Well, not much happened.” she shrugged.

“Is yours an arranged marriage?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Why of course? I knew many people having love marriages in Meerut.”

“I know. So did I. But you didn’t know my parents.” Mansi said.

“Hmmmm…so did you get to spend any time with your husband before you married him?”

“Oh yes. We went for a movie once…” Mansi said.

“Okay…”

“But my mother was with me.”

“Oh…”

“It was nice.” Mansi smiled.

Reena realized that Mansi’s upbringing had been even more sheltered and protected than she had imagined. She knew those type of families. Doing their best to stamp out a woman’s individuality as soon as she is born. And then trade her away in a marriage like cattle.

“How many years have you been married?”

“Almost eight years.”

“And how old is Pinky?”

“Seven.”

“So Amar didn’t waste much time, huh?” Reena winked.

“Aunty!” Mansi blushed.

——

“Pinky seems like a very intelligent girl.” Reena said.

“She is. We have put her in this really good international school. Amar wanted it. In fact…that is another reason our finances are tight. The school is quite pricey.”

“I can imagine.”

“Anyway, speaking of Pinky, I should get going.” Mansi got up. “She will be home soon.”

“Oh okay. It was really great spending time with you.” Reena also got up. “You should drop by whenever you are free.”

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