She’s probably the best thing about my marriage (this is not to make my hubby jealous... he’s above all these mundane human emotions). She’s cool even though not always composed. She makes the best sambar in the world (actually she can give the best chefs in India a run for their money) and she knows who’s sleeping with whom in Bollywood (gossip columns in newspapers and magazines are her favourites). Together, we can prove feisty Ekta Kapoor and her money-minting frothy telly soaps wrong. And long before Shoojit Sircar made award-winning Vicky Donor, both of us have enjoyed the real act of sipping a glass of whiskey and a mug of beer together. She’s my 73-year-old mother-in-law.
We are different as chalk and cheese (leave aside the sense of humour). Like most Nair matriarchs, she has a quirky sense of humour. And that’s definitely one of the reasons behind the rhythm between us. Don’t get us wrong. It’s not a picture perfect story. We have taken years to arrive at where we are today. We are not always civil to each other. We argue, we disagree, we fight. On rare occasions, we also bang phones (in her case, it’s a landline phone while mine is a smartphone). But like it happens in most relationships, we choose to move on and on most occasions make peace over a plate of erisherry, a Kerala dish she cooks wonderfully.
She tells she was given the name ‘Sowbhagyabati’ (I actually made her write one day her name on a nice handmade paper to see how it looks) because she was born after five sons causing much delight in the Nair household. She comes from a matriarchal family in Kerala where daughters are much desired and celebrated (unlike those killer fields of Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan where girls are killed at birth). She hopes unlike her daughter-in-law’s famous namesake (Deepika Padukone, are you listening), there’s faint chance of having a superstar by the name Sowbhagyabati. So, she revels in her name (read unique).
Our favourite ‘hobby’ is to talk (well, bitching will be an offensive word) about our respective ‘hubby’ (her husband i.e. my father-in-law and my husband i.e. her son included in this combo offer). We talk about the grim national crisis of wet towels being thrown on the bed without any rhyme or reason, the men’s lack of ability to buy perfectly fresh cauliflowers, their lack of interest in both Bollywood pot-boilers and high-octane cricket and to top it all, their expectations of enjoying gourmet lunches and dinners at home day after day. Both of us feel that the men in our lives have done something wonderful in their lives to deserve us as their life-partners. But the same can’t be said about us. Well, the men might be thinking the same about us. There’s something called benefit of doubt.
When we get bored talking about men, we talk about how our dull lives (more in this dreadful summer months) would get an exciting makeover only if she could manage to woo a filthy rich NRI. She has asked me to pay for her makeover (hair-streaking, facials included so that the NRI can't just take his eyes off her). She says with a sense of pride that she can beat all those Patels and Kapoors of the world in dishing out Gujarati khatti-mithi dal/undhiyu or aloo gobi and rajma-chawal. She believes that's enough for the NRI to write away his entire wealth in her name. Voila - that would make life easier for her and me (as her loyal assistant, I am also entitled to enjoy life). Even as we discuss all these things and roll in laughter, the two men at home dismiss us with a look that only fools deserve. But then who cares? Life need not be taken seriously 24x7. At least, the laughter makes us feel better. The debauched mercury feels a tad better. We call our mad sessions of laughter as, ‘Saas Bahu Ekta – perks of being married.’
Like most mothers of her generation, she’s a wonderful story-teller. And we always end up having long conversations on a number of topics that stare us daily. From marriage, love, romance to inflation.
On one mild winter morning, while having my cup of tea, I asked her, “Mamma, tum ne kabhi papa ke samne gana gaye ho?” She gave me one of the Mike Tyson’s looks and said, “Na beta, gana nehin khana banaye ke khati hoon.”
She celebrated her marriage anniversary just a month ago. She says, “After almost five decades of marriage, dates don’t matter really.” I asked her the other day to look back and tell me how she felt as a young bride to leave her cocooned world in Kerala and come to Mumbai and then Ahmedabad to start her life? She said, “I didn’t think so much. Even if I would have kept on thinking, the train still would have arrived in Bombay Central. Too much of thinking spoils the fun of living life and its surprises.”
She has been always the ‘doer’ in her marriage. She manages the finances, invests the money wisely (without being a working woman ever), looks after the needs of her home. And she does it all with a sense of ease. Without complaint. Without making an issue out of it. She believes in having a good laugh at the end of the day. I tease her about it and then she says, “Oh, the laughter comes only after having my share of homemade dahi (yogurt).”
PS – I called her up to tell that I am writing a piece on her. She asks me, “Hopefully, you are writing all good things about me.” I told her, “It’s mainly about marriage, relationships.” She adds, “Most Bollywood marriages are breaking up. So, is this about non-celebrity marriages?” I said, “Wow…brilliant. You are my rockstar.”