Staggering slightly under the weight of the bucket, Arvind dumped it by the clothesline on the roof of his building. He had just started the task of hanging up his washing, when he heard somebody addressing him. He turned around to see a middle aged plump lady, with an empty bucket in her hand.
“Hello, you are new here aren’t you?” She was smiling.
Embarrassed, Arvind mumbled a hello.
Not to be deterred, she repeated her question, while introducing herself as Mrs Gupta from the third floor.
Cornered, Arvind said, “Hello. I am Arvind from the second floor. I have been here for the past two months or so.”
“Really?” Mrs Gupta exclaimed, “I haven’t seen you on the roof before. I come here quite often.”
Red color suffused Arvind’s face and muttered something about drying his stuff in the flat. He quickened his pace of hanging up the washing.
Mrs Gupta, evidently the mother of a boy, quickly and accurately deduced the situation. “First time staying away from home and first washing day huh? My son is also very lazy. I had to call and call to remind him to wash his clothes and clean his room. He only learnt his lesson after bed bugs attacked his hostel room. Did your mother call?” She looked at him knowingly.
Arvind blushed some more and guiltily nodded his head.
“Never mind, it is our fault, we tend to spoil our boys.” She soothed him. Besides, the laundry services are quite expensive right?”
He nodded gratefully and offered a shy smile.
“So what are doing here, studying or working?” she asked.
“I came here after completing my Bachelors in mechanical engineering for a 6-months internship,” he said.
“Come let me help you hang up your clothes. You are not doing it the right way. You should first wring them like this and then shake them hard to clear the wrinkles, shake out the excess water and then spread them smoothly. Don’t forget to clip them on.” Mrs Gupta dug into his tub, ignoring his weak protests.
“Oh don’t worry about me, I have been doing this since I was a little girl and probably could do this in my sleep.” She laughed heartily at her own joke.
“Mechanical engineer huh?” She looked at him in a rather calculative manner. “May be you could have a look at our cooler fan? It is making strange noises.”
Arvind made some strange noises of his own.
“Never mind,” she said. “Tell me, where do your parents stay? How many brothers and sisters do you have? Are they older or younger? What will you do once you finish studying? Go for higher studies or look for a job? Better to do an MBA, very high paying jobs for them.”
Arvind reeled a bit under the volley of questions (not to mention advice). He tried to answer them as fast as they arrived. Before his washing had been hung up, she had extracted not only his family history but also his internship pay package and future aspirations.
“So, you want to go in for an academic career? Are you sure? Not much money there you know.”
“How is it ok? Not at all ok. Listen to me. I know. My son? He is also engineer, software engineer from IIT Delhi. He also wanted to write code.” She briskly jerked a shirt, sending a shower over him. “But what money will he get writing? Zero. I insisted that he do MBA.” Her eyes softened. “He is a good boy. He listened to his mummy. He did MBA, now working in bank, earning lakhs.”
“But I like academics.” Rather recklessly and foolishly, Arvind opened his mouth.
“Academics? Only those who cannot get through MBA do academics. What is there to like in academics? Teach the same thing over and over again to students who are not interested? And the money? Pffttt.” Mrs Gupta leaned forward and said in a hushed voice; “Don’t mind beta, but what they are paying you as an intern? Peanuts. My daughter? Younger daughter, Mohini, very beautiful, just like her name, any one who sees her is instantly smitten.” She dug an elbow into his side. “Don’t worry,” she chortled, “still unmarried.”
He blenched and withdrew a bit.
Worried that he may have got the wrong impression, she carried on. “But getting lots and lots of proposals. We are only fussy and choosy.” She shot him a sidelong glance.
Mrs Gupta scratched her head. “Oh where was I? Oh yes! Mohini, she is a graphic designer, she is earning more than you. She is due for an appraisal soon.” She nodded her head and waited till the import of her words sank in. “If you go into academics, both your salaries will be same. Not nice for both husband and wife to earn the same, right?”
Arvind froze in the act of squeezing out his jeans.
Unmindful, Mrs Gupta carried on, “But if you do MBA, ahh then you will be touching the skies, flying high, big car, buying gold for your wife,” she paused and seemed to recollect herself. “What about your marriage plans? Any girlfriends?”
Arvind coughed and shook his head.
Mrs Gupta was pleased. She smiled approvingly. “Do you like upma?”
Perplexed, Arvind stared at her.
“I am sure you do,” she was confident, “boys like everything. You know Mohini, my daughter? She makes very delicious upma. Come and have breakfast with us.” She waved her hand. “Everyone will be so happy to meet you.”
Crowded and cornered, instinctive survival mechanisms kicked in. He searched wildly for a plausible excuse. He dug out his phone and stared at it frowning. “Sorry, message from office. I have to go now.”
“Okay.” Mrs Gupta was disappointed but she wasn’t one to give up so easily. “We have a washing machine. Fully automated. You can come over anytime.”
Feeling the noose tighten, Arvind snatched up his bucket. “Tell your mother not to worry,” she said, “tell her that I will remind you every weekend, better yet, give me her number, I will tell her myself.”
Arvind thought it prudent not to wait for the lift and took the steps – two at a time.
What his mother couldn’t nag him to do in the past few months, Mrs Gupta managed in just one meeting.
Arvind located and tied up with a local laundry service for their weekly pick and drop services.
No doubt a bit expensive, but then not everything in life can be weighed in terms of money right?
Besides he could always do MBA to make up for the expenses incurred.
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