It was of course Biji, dragging her back to the grindstone.
But this time, Shikha went happily. She wanted to surprise her Amu darling, once in a while with a rare delicacy, just to floor him! She giggled to herself and patted herself for her brilliance. Good that she had told him she couldn’t cook! Now anything she served would be a huge surprise and a welcome one too. But for that she needed to learn a few kitchen tricks.
“Coming Biji!” she tripped along to her perch and knelt down. “Biji please teach me how to cook! Mummy please!” she turned around to look up at her mother. “Some special dish. Not dal chawal types. Something exotic.”
“First dal chawal.” Biji was adamant. “And round round rotis. Go on now, knead the dough.”
“Now suppose guests are coming to dinner. How would you go about planning the menu?”
“I…I don’t know.”
“Bahu, haven’t you taught this girl anything? How will she manage?”
“She will manage Biji.” Kirti felt cornered. “Things are different nowadays,” she parroted as she faltered, “Everything has changed Biji. Amardeep knows how to cook.”
“That is to his credit. But it is to Shikha’s discredit that she doesn’t know how to cook. What if they ask her to cook something at her in-laws place?”
Kirti fell silent. Her hands felt clammy. She had a sudden image of pushing her beloved daughter over a cliff. Had her love made her blind? Had she made a mistake by shielding her from daily chores? Wouldn’t it have been better if she had taught Shikha the basics of maintaining a home? Biji was right. How on earth would she manage? Alone?
“And mark my words. Nothing has changed. Women are and will always be the homemaker. It is up to her to make or destroy a home.”
“Relax Mummy,” Shikha consoled her mother as she stared after Biji’s retreating back as she walked out of the kitchen, “things are different now. I talked to…to him. He knows I don’t know how to cook and he is okay…”
“No Shikha, Biji is right. You should know how to cook, manage a home.”
“But Mummy, a marriage is a joint venture, a partnership, together we will manage.”
“Yes it is meant to be like that. But in reality things are different. A man can get away with not knowing housework but a girl not knowing housework is a recipe for disaster.”
“Come on Mummy don’t exaggerate…”
“I wish and hope I am exaggerating! But it is still not too late. We still have two weeks!”
For the first time, Kirti found favor in Biji’s eyes. She sat on her throne pulling at her hookah, watching with a critical eye, calling out instructions as Kirti guided Shikha through the daily chores. She made Shikha get up at the crack of dawn, memorize the names of dals, spices (and identify them). Shikha had to not only take down recipes but also give practical exams with Biji as the official (and unpleasable) examiner. Between her mum and granny, Shikha had little choice but to toe the line.
“What!” Rajani giggled and rolled about as she heard about Shikha’s plight. “Oh my poor Shikha Bai. What all you have to do to win darling Amu’s heart.”
“Go on. Mock all you like. But your time isn’t far away either.”
“My time is far far away! And probably won’t ever come.” Rajani said jauntily. “No Umrica for me! I will stay in good old India, where house help is easily available and MIL is happy and ready to run the house. I will just lord it over them all.”
“Yeah right.” Shikha grumbled. “Lucky girl. Do you know how difficult it is to make dal-chawal?”
“Yeah! I made dal twice and once it was undercooked and the other time it was overcooked. And to top it, the cooker blew up like a volcano spewing dal all around the kitchen. I think I put in too much water.”
“Then what? I got an earful from Biji and had to spend hours scrubbing the kitchen clean. Biji didn’t let the maid help me.”
“Although Mummy sneaked in…”
“Oh good! Three cheers for Aunty.”
“Oh yes! Without her help I would still be in the kitchen, cleaning out the muck.”
“Rice is easier to make?”
“If you use the rice cooker. But Biji refused to let me use it. And it was such a frothy gooey mess.”
“And you didn’t have to eat it.” Shikha was disgusted.
“You had to eat it?”
“Biji made me. I kept gagging throughout the meal and actually threw up.”
“Biji is really mean and horrible.”
“Just like I remember. But why?! What did she hope to achieve?
“She insisted that I eat the gooey rice and the over-salty dal so that I learn my lesson well.”
“Did you learn something?”
“Actually I did.”
“What? Never to come home when Biji is around?”
Shikha laughed. “That I have known ever since I was a child.”
“That while the pot is on the stove, I shouldn’t be watching TV.”
“Shikhs!” Rajani gasped horrified before going off into whoops. Low and dull as Shikha was, she couldn’t help but be drawn into the giggles.
“You’re too much Shikhs! The house could have burned down and you wouldn’t have noticed.”
“Exactly what Biji said. She was furious and that’s why insisted I eat the mess.” Shikha shuddered. “That is one lesson I will never forget.”
“I am sure! It must have been so awful to see the others eat normal…what did the others eat?”
“They also had the same thing. Daddy was really sweet. He said it was the best meal ever.” She sniffed.
“Aww uncle is such a sweetheart.”
“Yes he is. Oh Rajji what am I doing – getting married to some unknown guy going off to some strange country with no Mummy or Daddy…”
“What! I don’t even get a mention?”
“If you let me complete my sentence, I would have said…”
“But you were the one who was so keen on marrying your Amu darling? What happened to that?”
“I love Amu of course. But I would like it if he stayed at our home. Why do girls have to go away and cook and all that? Particularly when all the men seem to like cooking – your hubby does, so does mine…”
“Hey! I don’t have a hubby yet. You may have married him mun-hi-mun like the Hindi movie heroines I am still single and happily so!”
“Yeah right. All that is just show. Tell me honestly, don’t lie to me huh…?”
“If it could be that Haru darling was supposed to come and stay with you at your place after marriage, would you have so many objections?”
“I would! I don’t want to…”
“What is your problem…?”
“Bye Shikhs I’ve got to go! There’s a ton to do!” She disconnected the phone.
If only she didn’t have to shift bag and baggage to another home, do as she pleased, she didn’t really have any objections to Harsha per se. It wasn’t as if she was in love with him or anything but he was familiar and steady. A bit of a stick in the mud no doubt but mostly stemming from shyness, Rajani guessed. A guy being shy was something of an alien concept to her. Weren’t girls supposed to be shy? Or was she guilty of gender stereotyping? But on the whole, Harsha wasn’t bad…
Oh well what did it matter, what was the point of dissecting and analyzing how Harsha was? She did have lots to do.
Finish her course for instance. Unless she wanted to carry her books…
Her phone rang.
It was Harry.
“Hello.” He sounded formal. “Busy? Could you come down for a minute?”
What the hell did Harry want?
So what do you think – should girls be trained in home keeping skills? Or we can play it by the ear just like the boys do (and so did I 😉
Click here for the next chapter: Harry & Rajani