When I visit my mother in India, I try all the remedies of my childhood. The flame of the forest flowers aren’t available as easily as they used to be, so I simply fill two buckets of water when it’s still early morning and keep them aside for my two showers of the day. I try different kinds of ittar. I revel in the mulberries, how beautiful their stains appear on my fingers, and how lush they feel on my lips. I eat all the mangoes I can. I grate the muskmelon to thin, long shreds and dust it with powdered sugar and let it chill in the refrigerator. I read the books of my youth, The Bridges of Madison County, The Bridge Across Forever, with the hope that they would lull me into romantic dreams filled sleep.
On one hand, I understand the concept of equality. Of being equal partners in a marriage, of being responsible for your own happiness, and that you can get yourself a bouquet if you feel like it, and do not need anyone to get or send you one. And lately, even the sheer expense of these bouquets and the economics or the commercial undertone behind the celebration of a lot of 'days' and what one is expected to do on these days as a mark of love or respect. However having said that, I love receiving and gifting flowers.
On the day we were leaving, I was looking out of the car wistfully. We were past the beach in a blur and now whizzing by the Baga road and suddenly I saw a bungalow. It did not stand alone and proud amongst a quiet locality as I remembered it from years ago. It was surrounded by shops and establishments, and ugly electrical wires were jutting out from the stores, and almost touching the bungalow’s boundary walls. And yet it seemed familiar. Like an old friend. A past life acquaintance suddenly making an appearance in this life. And then, I saw a restaurant. It was called Plantain Leaf.
Vikram Seth took it and turned a page. I felt the colour rise to my cheeks. Because this copy of A Suitable Boy was bought in 2003 - a year when I was still incredibly dreamy-eyed and foolishly romantic. I had a habit of scribbling something down on every book I would buy. On this particular book I had scribbled, "... There goes a Pantaloons top and a new leather purse. But oh, the pleasures of buying a book..."
However when we reached the enclosure that housed the goats, the husband got so excited that he forgot all about us and started feeding the goats with the enthusiasm of a child. I had to go back to the entrance to buy another packet of goat feed (I am not sure if that's the right term for it, but can't remember now what it was called) because the husband wanted to feed the goats some more! I remember the friend and I standing at a distance, with smiles taking over us faces as we watched the husband getting absolutely thrilled with the goats eating out of his hand.
While the list of mother-in-law problems is varied, sometimes whimsical and bordering on weird, and at other times full of annoying issues arising from deeply rooted problematic attitudes towards what a daughter-in-law's place in the family is all about, one theme seems to come up almost always. And that is, a large majority of Indian women experience some form of unpleasantness from their husband's mother. The degree, of course is varying, and I do not know whether it says something about the nature of mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationships in general or is something peculiar to Indian culture and society. Now that unpleasantness could stem from a sense of not being liked or welcomed into their new families or it could go deeper with sensing a hostility from their mother-in-law, or the pressure to conform to their mother-in-law's way of life and beliefs.
Sometimes when we travel, the husband and I are often the only people in a restaurant who are Asian or brown. A lot of people at the other tables know each other, especially if it is a small town or village and I feel as if we stand out by our brownness and our relative lack of knowledge of the food on the menu. Sometimes, it leads to funny things. Like ordering a pudding that isn't sweet, a cheese that is moldy but not gone off and good to eat, or a lobster that attempts to fly!
My rucksack is now frayed at certain places, and is worn for use. But I love it and want no other. It still makes my heart dance, and so it accompanies me everywhere. Since its maiden trip to Belgium, it has been to the Yorkshire Dales, Swindon, Cornwall, Swanage, Malta, Turkey, Sweden, Powerscourt House and Gardens, Wicklow, Bray, Howth, Kinvara, Enniskerry...just about anywhere I have gone. It has been on treks, on walks and trails, to waterfalls, on a hot-air balloon in Cappadocia, to a grand palace in Turkey, to castles and parks, to public gardens and shopping arcades...
The thing is, travelling or vacationing together is like a marriage. You have to give up on some things, and your spouse will give up some, there can hardly be ever a perfect 50-50 in that give and take, and both of you have to adjust. Yes, that great Indian word that is said to solve every problem in a marriage - 'adjustment' - also applies to vacationing together.
We are now under a strict lockdown but I can still remember two things from the small break we undertook between the lockdowns. One is the laughter and joie de vivre of the host of the bed and breakfast where we stayed at, and the other is the sea - the vast swatches of the scintillating brilliant blue that seemed to flutter like a school-girl's ribbon, sometimes to our left, and sometimes to our right - as we wound up and down the Connemara region.