After forty year of continuous working in various jobs, in different sectors, in different countries, and in multiple positions, I thought I ought to call it a day and retire from work.
I called the Chairman of the Company who works out of the Corporate Headquarters in Singapore one morning over the phone, and spoke to him about my intent. Suddenly he became silent. I thought he had hung up! 'Sir. Are you there?' I made bold to ask. 'Yes. Yes. I am very much here. I will double the salary. Is it acceptable to you?' he asked. I was tempted to say yes, but wisdom prevailed. 'No Sir. It is not salary. I need time for myself and my family.' 'OK. Let me think it over' he said. I didn't hear from him for a week. I sent him an email, and two days later called him again. 'So. You have made up your mind, have you?' he asked. 'Yes' was all I said. He agreed, asking me to serve three months, and at the end of September 2001, I stood out of the office gate, after a tearful farewell and with so many bouquets and garlands, that I thought I was dead!
Having surrendered the office car that morning, I decided to use the public transport, and walked over to the BEST stop opposite Glaxo on Worli, and got into an '84'. 'Kya Saheb. Shadhi karke aarayen kya'? ('What Sir! Have you just got married?') asked the conductor in jest, getting me a seat. I hadn't traveled in public utilities for almost twenty years, and not knowing the fare, handed him a Rs. 5 coin, saying 'Andheri'. He was a very decent person, and seeing my discomfiture, asked me to pay another Rs.7/- 'Aaj kal baara rupiah hai saheb'(The fare now is Rs.12') he said. Anyway, eventually, and with his help, I got off at Stoppers Stop and took an auto to my flat at Andheri East.
'How do you feel today?' asked the family as I walked in. 'Unemployed' I said. With that I hung up my 'lumberjack' boots, packed up my suits and my ties, and got out all the 'dothis' and kurthas for starting my new life.
Early next day, as Rama and I were sitting with our coffee, I told her, that from then on, she would take it easy, and that I would look after all the household work, so that she can concentrate on preparing for her lectures. She was reluctant, but I was aggressive. And that day, I became a 'House-husband', and the most controversial figure in the house!
I go for vegetable shopping and end up buying all the greens and the reds.'Wacch
haveubot?' asks the daughter. 'Palak and methi, good in fibers and rich in iron; bhendi, good for your brain cells; guar, prevents diabetes; cabbage, cauliflower and radish, guaranteed anti-carcinogens. Sorry, couldn't find good beans' I feel intense heat on my back from the two children. 'Yecchh!' is all that they manage to say. Then I unload a five-kilo bag of potatoes, and their eyes light up. 'Here', I say. 'Food for the pigs!' This is what the pigs in Europe are fed with ' potatoes! My children can eat and relish potato in any form! Even raw, with the skin unpeeled.
Now I know where I can get good vegetables and at affordable prices. When I go out weekly vegetable shopping, I come back and clean all that I have bought. The cauliflower I cut, checking each floret for those crawling invaders. Similarly, wash and clean the palak and the methi and the kothimer. Once, after having cleaned them and kept them in the colander for drying out, the maid had come in to do the vessels. Seeing these on the kitchen platform, she asks, 'Bhabhi. Ye sab kya hyain'? Pat come the reply from 'Bhabhi', 'aurathlok ka kam, admilog karega tho aisehi hotha hai!' ('This is what happen when men take over women's work') Bloomin' ingrate.
When I go out for the monthly grocery shopping, I have to ask each one, what they need. 'Tooth-paste' says one. 'Shampoo' says the other. 'Soap' shouts the first. And off I go, all the way to Parle to the grocery shop, from where I have been buying for the last fifteen years. I finish buying off 'dal, chaval, atta, rai, hing, and jeera-etc' and then come to the 'cosmetics' side. 'Kya humkum Saheb' says Veerjibhai.
Colgate blue gel 200 gm paakit
Lux Shampoo 500 ml batli
Liril Sabon 4 tikiyan
Parachute Coconut oil 250 ml batli
Henko washing powder 2 kilo paakit
And so goes on this list.
Finally, shelling out close to Rs.1200/- I get them all loaded and get back home.
Sometimes, if he is caught off-guard, I have the watchman help me unload the load and take it inside. More often than not, as soon as he hears the car horn, he does the vanishing trick. And I lug the packages in!
I am exhausted, and am greeted with a cup of hot tea from my dear wife. The daughter strolls in from her room. Again 'Whachhavvubot' she says in her drawl.
'Colgate toothpaste and Lux Shampoo' I reply. 'Oh! How borrring!' and she walks off. The son comes in next. 'Whats for dessert?' he quips. 'I've bought two packets of chocolate cake mix. Will make you all a chocolate cake.' I say. 'Oh. That's great. Shall I get the oven ready?' he volunteers. 'No need son. This is to be cooked in the pressure cooker. Get that ready.' 'Cheee!' he shouts and he too is off. 'Interesting' says the daughter.
I am foxed. I don't know what will make them happy! 'Why do you indulge them? I will cook; you just relax,' says Rama, coming in from the kitchen.
Afternoons, when all is quiet, the wife in college teaching her favorite subject- Political Science, daughter at work in the media, and son, supposedly at college, studying, I remove the washed clothes from the washing machine, put in a load, remove the dried clothes, make them into a bundle, ready for the 'Isthriwala', and hang out the washed clothes. I have learnt how to fold a sari and dry it, how to dry T-shirts on hangars, and where and how to dry small 'articles'. A day later, when the ironed clothes are delivered, there is a growl. 'Who put my jeans for the press?' shouts the son. 'Krishnadev says that only ass holes get their jeans ironed!' Which means, I am a double 'ass-hole'. I not only get them ironed, but sometimes lightly starch them too! I keep my mouth shut, but can see Rama laughing behind the newspaper. Then, it is Harini's turn. 'Who has dyed my white salvar purple?' Not I. I haven't taken to dyeing yet! 'Oh. That must be the new T-shirt that Jayadev bought from Fashion Street for Fifty Rupees. That must have run color,' volunteers Rama. Of course, I did add a cupful of bleach to make the clothes look bright and clean. I am again quiet.
Did I do wrong, I wonder. Harini is hopping mad! Her latest and newest outfits from Shoppers Stop, bought last week are in various stages of the VIBGYOR. What can I do? All clothes are put together for washing in a big bucket, and I am expected to sort them out, one by one, to check which runs and which doesn't. Separating the whites itself takes up time. Anyway, knowing how things are, I don't mix my clothes with the general lot. I wash them separate! Mine are mostly white now, as I have stopped wearing colored clothes after retiring. I call my load the 'Widow's Load', because it is only white clothes.
Come morning, and Rama, who is up by 5 a.m. to do her prayers, wakes me up, and we sit down for our first cup of coffee. 'What shall I cook?' she asks. 'Nothing. Just relax, and get ready to leave for college.' I tell her. 'Alright, let me cut the vegetables at least and keep the rice and the dal in the cooker.'
At 8.30 the son comes out of his sleeping bag, sleep still all over his face. He sees me, and roars, 'WHATS BHAJI FOR LUNCH .' 'Doodhi' I reply, and his face falls. 'That's for me. For you, what pigs eat.' He knows it is European pigs that I am referring to. He is glowing.
Some other day, it is cabbage, or beans, or cauliflower. All evoke the same response. I try to make food using Meenakshiammal's 'Sammaithapar' ('Cook and See') in English. I don't know to read or write Tamil, and this Great Lady has not brought out a Telugu version. So it is the English 'Cook and See.' Harini is not a connoisseur of South Indian food. She leaves for the office hungry, but promises to 'pick up' a sandwich from the roadside. Where else? Once or twice, I fed the dog in the building the leftover sandwiches. Next time I went out, it greeted me with a growl.
I feel defeated. How was Rama managing all along I wonder.
Now I have hit upon a novel idea. Experimental cooking! (And this I owe to my dear cousin Subhadrah's husband Shankar. Way back, when I was a bachelor, I was a regular visitor to their flat in Sion, so that I could get good food. Shankar is one of those versatile persons, who, besides making the H-bomb, knows music, loves reading, and is a good cook too. He used to talk about experimental cooking, particularly the dal, that one could make with the three edible dals ' tur, moongand channa. I make this with the three in a specific proportion, and it is divine!)
And I give the vegetable some exotic North Indian name, or an unpronounceable French or Italian name. A great secret ingredient is the humble mushroom. I use a lot of it for the children. The result is no more 'Chees', or 'Yechhh'. And what is cooked is cleaned out! And we have fresh food for dinner! Which anyway is not for me to do. There is a lady who comes to make dinner. Jayadev describe her cooking as 'My experiments with food.' If you can eat her cooking, you can eat Chinese food cooked in Canton!
Thanks to the children, I have concocted some good recipes using generally disliked vegetables, which if my children love and then also eat it without grumbling, can be liked by any body.
I will write a recipe book, when I retire from a house husbanding!
Then comes banking work. My daughter writes out a cheque for her friend who is always in 'dire straits' and is need of money. The amount is Rs.10,000/- He takes the cheque and goes to the bank. The money is refused! He comes back, crestfallen. 'What happened?' I ask. 'Insufficient money or what?' 'No uncle. They say that the signature does not tally.' 'Let me have a look' I say, and when I see the cheque, the lady has used my chequebook! A few moments later, the phone rings. My son, handing over the receiver to me says, 'It's for you. The Bank Manager wants to talk to you.' I look for a cot or something similar to hide. When I take the call, I am asked to come down to the bank immediately. I have no choice. I land up at the bank, and am ushered in. There are no handshakes or chair being offered. 'Can't you keep your cheque book in a safe place? Don't you know it can be misused?' And it goes on. All the pretty girls are watching. I feel I need a towel to wipe the sweat that is literally pouring out of me. After he is satisfied that he has made me feel guilty, as if I have forged a cheque, I am asked to go. In my last job, I was a co-signatory for the Company. Never'never in those eight years, have I ever committed a banking crime! I take an auto and come home, downcast.
'What happened?' asks Rama. 'Nothing. I was taught banking.' I reply. And then Harini says, 'Oh shit. My chequebook is in my handbag. By that time, the bank would have closed. It is a Saturday, and Monday and Tuesday are Dipavali Holidays! 'Appa. Can you get me the cash from your till' she asks. 'What about your card?' I ask. 'I don't remember the PIN number.' She says. So one more trip to the ATM, this time with her friend, who offers to pay the auto fare, when I hand over the money to him. That means, I will have to pay the auto when I get down, hand over the cash to him, and then he will go in one direction, and I in the other. Its' the thought that counts, I feel.
In these last eight months I have learnt what is '
1. an optimum load for a washing machine
2. how much soap I should use
3. how to dry clothes
4. what provisions I should buy for the month and how much
5. where can I buy the cheapest vegetables and of best quality
6. where to pay the phone and electricity bills
7. how to innovate in cooking so that the children eat
8. from which direction the sun rises
9. how to do banking work, like depositing cheques, memorizing PIN numbers, drawing money, and of course, flirting with the pretty girls in the bank. Nice chore!
And, after all this, I salute that lady who put up with a ruffian like me for forty years, and the children for another total combined age of seventy eight years. Only when I do the work, can I know the troubles and travails that she had gone through. And how can I forget my lovely children who make me try and do better in what I am doing now! Washing, ironing, drying, cleaning, cooking, and banking!
A week later, I am up and ready in my office clothes ' dark blue trousers, light blue shirt, tie, shoes, etc. 'Where to Chinna?' asks Rama. 'To the Employment Exchange' I say and walk out!