Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Of Goddesses and reluctant super-moms

Just one of those days, hot, sticky. My hair constantly flies into my face, irritating me. My old, broken-sequinned shirt pokes me uncomfortably. We’ve waited all day for Aiman’s new cycle to be exchanged. The one that was delivered yesterday had loads of scratches, unacceptable to her. The shop guy was nice about it, but then didn’t send anyone all day with the new bike. Aiman kept annoying me with her repeated sulks about it not coming. Five calls later, in the early evening, only after throwing a tantrum on the phone, I managed to get it delivered to her and get her off my back.

Her old cycle too is being repaired. The cyclewallah has taken his dues before completing the job, and now we must make several trips to him before he deigns to set it right. Why, oh why?

Vivek’s been packing to leave today for a shoot in Garhwal. As usual, I must close cupboard doors after him, pick up discarded bags, nag him about toothbrush and undies. Sometimes, I long to jump off a window – if only I could fly. Make no mistake, I’m no believer in a wife’s only duty being to take care of house and family, or even it being only her duty to take care. But even so, one does land up with more than one’s fair share.

Just one of those days. Meanwhile, read my short story, 'Of Goddesses and reluctant super-moms'

Isn’t it strange that in a land full of goddesses, I don’t know many? Oh, I know of some. Though I haven’t really met them, I would recognize them in a crowd. Though goddesses are not usually to be found wandering in a crowd.

Kali maybe, or Durga as her name may be. With her wild eyes, and wild hair, and her wild tongue, she could be found wandering in a crowd, flaunting her sword. Though I say, what business does she have waving a sword about? Very unwomanly, I would say. A woman’s place is at home, in the kitchen mostly. And then when there is some free time, when the children are at school, and the in-laws fed, and the husband away for hours as yet, then perhaps a little TV does no harm. But to go about like that with open hair! But these days, even ordinary girls do that, that is go around with open hair and wild eyes and loose tongues, though I’ve never seen any with swords. So who’s to stop a goddess?

Lakshmi too walks in and out as she pleases, but then she’s powerful, and routine traffic has to be held back for her, though she comes without a convoy. Special arrangements have to be made, and one has to be most obsequious and welcoming, because she is haughty and quite finicky, as very rich people can be. And there have been so many instances when she has come to the door and then turned away, because she does not like the color of the walls or something. Like Jennifer Lopez, who sulks and shuffles back into her hotel room if she does not like the color of the limo that has come to pick her up. JLo is a goddess; that is what people say. She looks like one, with her curves, which are essential for any Indian goddess.

But my daughter says, I must not believe everything I read in the magazines. She says, did I see JLo going back home because she didn’t like the color of her limo. I say no, but then we haven’t actually seen Lakshmi turning back either because she did not like the rangoli sketched at the door. The attempts were amateurish to say the least, and must have affected her aesthetic sensibility. For all her wealth, she’s also got pretensions to art and culture because she’s a cousin of Saraswati.

Though Saraswati and Lakshmi never go to the same place. They’ve been at a cold war for ages, some family feud going on for generations, maybe about lotuses, because Lakshmi’s one is pink and Saraswati has a white one, maybe about their birds, because Lakshmi has an owl and Saraswati has a swan, and I’m sure Lakshmi must have fought tooth and nail for the swan, and some well-meaning aunt said, Saraswati is always so gentle, let her have her own way for once. And so now, though they smile politely if they do meet, they make sure to ask their hosts and hostesses beforehand if the other is coming to the party. It’s very awkward I must say. But then rich people can behave, as they want, as can goddesses. And people like us must just be polite.

I’ve seen that on television, the way the rich daughters-in-law dressed in expensive georgette saris and diamond jewellery, and made up even when they are sleeping, behave, an ordinary woman like me would be kicked out of the house on the first day, or burnt to death by her in-laws. But it’s good for the young ones, because at least they will learn something, and not be pushed around. I often tell my daughter to watch the daily soaps with me, but she looks at me as if I was mad. She likes to look at me like that, just because she goes to college. She doesn’t know how I have brought her up, what all I have done for her. But then, there is no gratitude for the wife and mother. It’s not as if she was a goddess like Kali, or Lakshmi or Saraswati.

Though Saraswati too does get a raw deal most times. No one really worships her, except a few eccentric artistes. I guess men like their women to be powerful and successful, not their wives of course, but other women. Saraswati is mild and pink; at least in her pictures, and the lotus she sits on looks as if it were a rock. Why would she jump on to a lotus, if she wanted to stand frozen in perpetuity? No, I think she jumped on to a lotus, so she could float away. The lotus must have expected to be toppled when it saw her leap. But then it did not know that goddesses have no weight. Not like us, always fighting cellulite. Especially after babies.

I was so thin when I was young. But after my daughter’s birth, I have a girth. And that’s why it hurts so much, when my daughter looks at me with barely concealed disgust and says, Mom, why don’t you exercise? And I say, it’s easy for you to say. Where is the time? And just wait till you have babies of your own. And she turns away irritated.

But Saraswati is weightless, and happy to lie around in the lotus, strumming her veena, for her swan. Though it must be very boring to be on a river all day, and see only trees and flowers all around. I don’t know why all this nature stuff is exciting for people. When we went to a forest last year with the children for a holiday, I was so bored. There was no television. My husband said, come on, learn to enjoy yourself. Enjoy what, dark, green trees, mosquitoes? I didn’t say anything. I was glad to be home, though I’d missed so many episodes of all my daily soaps. TV is also educating. And enjoyment. I like the movies too, but I like TV best, because I don’t need to tag along with my husband and kids then.

Though when they come back home, they take over the remote control as if I have no rights in this house. There are moments then, when I feel like taking my tongue out like Kali and waving a kitchen knife about, if not a sword. Oh if I had been rich, I could have made some demands, and put up a petition of rights on the kitchen post-it board, like Lakshmi. Or that I had been carefree like Saraswati and could jump onto a lotus any time I wanted. But all that’s for goddesses. Not for me, who only knows of goddesses. But doesn’t know any.
© Batul Mukhtiar

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