— Nisha JamVwal (click here to know more about this blogger)
I am late for a meeting with my client, rather late in fact. He was waiting at the site, tapping his toe, and when he saw me, pointedly glanced at his watch and then, mustering an accusatory look on his good-natured face, glanced at me inquiringly. I busily shuffled some drawings, looked important, opened my portmanteau, arranged my papers, chinked my eyes, arranging a bright smile on my face, and apologising. This pre-work ritual done with, I surprised my client and myself too with the statement: 'Ramesh the difference between you and I is, you have a wife, I don’t!" In addition, that said, I know I have expostulated the weighty truth! The age has dawned when a career-wife needs for herself a deputy-wife who reports to her! We are familiar with deputy Prime Ministers, and the sundry deputies that abound in all manners of fields.
Into my growing years, one thing was most clear: I wanted to be a twentieth first century woman going on the twenty-second century i.e. smart, presentable, a career woman! In addition, my family was in general agreement with me on most subjects, quite charmed to agree on this vision of myself. Farther even applauded the most important item on the twenty-second century woman’s manifesto: my aspirations to be progressive, ambitious, presentable, capable, informed, mostly and primarily were fitting into my own scheme for myself… no lord and master to lay down the law! We would be coequals in this democracy of two that affirms all men are equal and equally right. It sounded good.
Things worked according to plan. Till date I have a career I enjoy (interiors and design) and at times I carry work home in the form of cement in my hair and paint under my nails! But there are times when an acquaintance enthusiastically yells ‘Hi Nisha! You’re looking fabulous’ as he navigates the skyscraper of a canapé to his mouth without its dome of mayonnaise dislodging on to the dress-shirt front, I radiantly smile a response. I just have not had the time to scrutinise today, yesterday or the day before. When was it I spent a long leisurely moment gazing languorously at my magnified hand mirror? Probably some time in the late nineteen hundreds!!
Something strange has happened with the advent of the twenty-first century!!! People were expecting some momentous event, and it’s happened. I have discussed with knowledgeable friends and we concur! The new millennium package has come with the fabric of time stupendously shrunk!!! And the list of ‘must haves’ and ‘must dos’ just do exist, enormously enlarged! Consider the demands of — if you are a lady of leisure that is, and have that moment to spare — the various television channels, TV commercials, and the spate of beauty queens, movie icons, society Madonnas, magazines. They all urge, psyche, command: work on your health, -antacids are in, cholesterol is out- work on your mind (bimbettes are passé) work on your body, work on your looks, work on your love-life, work on your wardrobe and of course work on your work, and contrarily work on your leisure and on your pleasure! Since all of it is work, bookshops earn their profits on the sale of the prodigious number of manuals that put the methodology into the 1-2-3 steps of ‘how to’ work this that and the other, right through the list. To the booksellers’ delight the New Year advents with a new edition that totally refutes the past, and there you are, updating your information.
It is said women dress for the critical appraisal of women. (Never mind if I say, I am pleasing myself, or even my man; another woman’s approval affirms my choice). Now, even men have accelerated the pace for us women by shifting their own parameters! As he struts the social circuit in that Abu Jani kurta and shawl, resplendent as a peacock, and preened with all manner of aromatic unguents she is exposed to a host of possibilities for improvement! In any case, in this age of discontent, the ideal is just that much beyond her reach always (even in the six-inch heels). It is true, no one can be too rich or too thin, or for that matter too presentable! Considering this, I hurriedly put back the pate-on-toast that lost in reflection I had absent-mindedly reached for, and pick up instead a lettuce leaf. It is a well-known thing these days that the itsy-bitsy cocktail snacks - the pakoras, the voleauvents, the sausages, the mini pizza bites - those are the decorations, the edible part is the fringe of green and the tomato flowers that surround the platter!
I remember, Sanjay Narang, one of the city’s most eligible bachelor opined to me at dinner, some years ago, that the trouble with Indian girls was their habit of mentally stagnating into mostly weight issues and even so bloating once they got married — perhaps that is the thought that keeps his eligibility status alive. It is true the Indian wife is known for her traditionalism, and one aspect of the Indian wife’s tradition is that of burgeoning into plentitude of adipose as soon after marriage as she can. However, he was speaking in the last century. The nouveau wife has gaily thrown tradition to the winds in most matters, elegantly emaciated in skin-hugging leotards and skimpy top, she leads the off-spring to the health club for daily tone up of the Gluteus Maximus – Parmeshwar Godrej, Shobha De. Setting examples – James Clavel, the well-known author is known to have remarked that a man is like wine, he matures and seasons with age; a woman is like a prune, she gnarls and wrinkles. However, he did not reckon with the friendly neighbourhood ‘aesthetic’ surgeon who, these days is more easily to be found in every street corner than the ‘paanwalla’ of yore.
And there I am too, with the self-fulfilling prophecy from pre-marriage unfolding itself unrelenting of any concessions to the additional demands. ‘Running’ a household, ‘running’ a husband, ‘running’ my schedule, ‘running’ my organisation, ‘running’ myself and ‘running’ my responsibilities, work and social work portfolio that have unobtrusively crept in over the years. It is all running, running, running, and pant! pant! puff! puff!! Then there is this fetish for information! Unparalleled in the history of the past! God-given intelligence is not enough. This is the Age Of Information, remember? To hold a minimal conversation, even to agree, more so to disagree, in fact even to be a silent participant and look one category above a moron, you have to be replete with trivia on people, politics, sports, fashion, food, art, travel, music, movies, international affairs and health. With all those quiz shows, it’s likely the ten-year-old twerp next door will be looking at you superciliously if you are left behind on knowledge of the latest topper of tunes in Outer Mongolia!