Some mornings when black clouds camouflage the blues, the sun goes in for a snooze and gales of wind blow all the way inside your living room, making your hair fly, leaving you feeling like some actress from a Bollywood blockbuster, you totally live up to your new role. The whiff of the wind turns mundane chores into enticing activity while Alexa harps tunes from my beloved 90s. As I toss Aloo parathas with the grace and adroitness of a halwai, coupled with ginger tea and swish to the table inviting the better half for company, do I need to mention the mood is romantic?
But every coin has two sides. The better half seems to take no notice of the universe deep diving and making changes to turn spring into autumn for him to fall in love all over again with you know who. Instead, he is lost in thought, contemplating talking points for upcoming zoom meetings, making his way to the breakfast table in zombie mode, not giving a damn to the cupid-struck glow on my face!
But I am in such a terrific mood, I ignore his repugnance, pour some sizzling tea, serve nashta(breakfast) and wait with a million dollar smile. My patience gets rewarded the minute a morsel makes it down his gullet while ginger adds zest. His eyes finally meet mine and in a fraction of a second his sixth sense admonishes his fragmented brain of his folly of inattention. He tries hard to score a point by factoring if he missed my birthday or our anniversary or some other joyous moment in history that repeats on an annual basis.
But to his luck, I am enchanted by the weather this morning. He is second time lucky. I expect somehow for the fog in my romance clouded mind to transfer to his. But there is a digital lock. For someone who sells cloud for a living, there is no place for competition. Sigh, there goes my romance just like passing showers. As a last resort, I inform him in black and white about my feelings and ask him to utter something fitting for the occasion. And while I sip tea and relish parathas in eager anticipation, there he goes –
“You and I are like baingan(eggplant) and aloo(potato). I am potato that goes well with everything – cauliflower, peas, even brinjal. You on the other hand are like brinjal. There are people who like you and those that hate you. There is nobody baingan-neural in the world.”
What part of the word romance does that description fit into? At that precise moment, my cheeks go red, my eyes widen with fury and the so-called cape of romance that I had so donned since morning falls flat on the floor in an instant. My mouth opens to breathe out fumes of rage. What man in his right senses calls his wife an eggplant? While my eyes scan for a brick to throw at the brute, he guffaws at me consoling, “I love eggplant. That is my favourite veggie, you know that, don’t you? And you love Aloo. The paratha is proof enough. Why are you mad at me?”
I always pick my battles and decide there is no point in boiling my blood over this one. I quickly remind him of his next meeting, bring Alexa to a staggering halt and clear up the table. That’s when the girls get home. It is a half day. And more bad news. The new teen has returned with grades that haven’t managed to live up to her expectations. Gauging her sentiments, I decide not to lecture her in order to make it even with my bitter half. I simply ask her to reflect and do better next time.
That’s when she tells me, “Mom you are chill. Some of my friends always get lectured around and somehow all lectures end at grades.”
Finally, a reason to smile. “So, I am cool, yea?”
“No, not cool, chill”, she reiterates.
“Why, what’s the difference?”, I check.
“Well, chill is someone who doesn’t bother too much about petty issues like grades. Basically, someone who is relaxed. And parents can be chill. But cool is entirely different. I can’t describe it really”.
“So me wearing ripped jeans is cool, is it?”
“Yes, it is. But that’s not the only thing… So you are chill and in some ways cool too..”
So, in some ways I am not cool. At this point, I feel more ripped than my torn jeans. I experience a brain freeze. Is being chill a compliment or an outright slap? Does it mean I am trying too hard to be a cool mum and in the meanwhile missing out the whole point of Asian parenting by not lecturing a generation I have complete right to shoot with my words alone? Am I really an eggplant?
Fed up, I ask the 9-year-old to bring me some ice cold water to cool my head down. Irony is, this is the only time in life I feel like claiming, “I’m hot!” when it is actually the overused engine of my brain that is erupting. The little munchkin who has been busy reading her Nat Geo magazine rushes to the kitchen while attacking me with a question, “What is an ostrich?”
“It’s an animal”, I yell back taking the glass of water from her.
“Haha, it’s a flightless bird!”
“Why call it a bird when it cannot fly? Aren’t birds supposed to fly?”, I respond, pissed.
“Well mommy, birds are called birds because they have feathers. And those that do not fly are called flightless…”
“Bird brain”, I sigh in disbelief.
From a morning that promised romance to being labeled eggplant, then chill but not so cool and now ending on a sour note like some dim-witted, flightless, dodo, this isn’t my best living day. But I am a fighter and I decide to turn the tables around.
At the dinner table, my family returns for delicious food, oblivious of the fact, they have a wounded tigress to face. As the spouse drools over roasted, mashed eggplant, sizzling in spices, I declare, “Well, here is Baingan – all by itself. A Bharta doesn’t need potato for people to like it. But you potato, always taste better with company only. Even french fries taste better only with ketchup. Period.”
The girls glance at each other knowing well they are next. But being predictable has never resonated with me. And so, they have it easy.
P.S. It takes apology with some Mastani icecream from the bitter half to help me cool down post dinner. It is then that I wonder about the value of sophistication in marital cold wars. If I am an eggplant and he the potato, we’d rather be called Aubergine and Potato Au Gratin as opposed to aloo baingan. Insulting another in a foreign language has its own charm. Now that’s what I call cool. And yea, I may be chill about my kids making mistakes and learning, but the husband isn’t allowed any more defaults in life. Cool?