Monday, January 13, 2014

An Inequality Between Equals

On the morning after their wedding, the newly-appointed Mrs. Bhaskar woke up to the aroma of freshly ground coffee, that waft of delicious smell entering the bedroom replacing the musky odour of animal spirits, perspiration, inspiration and juvenile application. She donned a ragged housecoat and proceeded to the source of olfactory pleasure, ready to bestow her undying gratitude and loyalty to her knight in armour for a freshly-brewed cuppa.
Those new to an office usually confront revelations as soon as the auspicious right leg steps in, heady stuff that shake one’s belief in the new endeavour. Here too, Mrs. Bhaskar stopped at the kitchen door, her right leg bravely in, but with the left weakening and refusing to follow.  
The aforementioned knight seemed to have a few chinks in his armour. Though Mrs. Bhaskar enjoyed her comic strips and cartoon shows like most, she failed to appreciate it on the body of her lover. Maybe, as tattoo she would have marveled at the machismo. But a multi-coloured pyjama set with Snoopy, Mickey Mouse, Popeye, Garfield, Charlie Brown, Asterix and all the other popular ones on show from neck to bottoms and further to the toes had her worried, and deeply so. And that was just the tail-end of the matter. The multi-hued knight turned to face her and in his arms, she found a stuffed teddy. And she was quite sure her new Mr. Bhaskar had been talking and cooing to that.
As expected, her immediate reaction was guilt, ‘Did I have sex with him last night?’
That ‘him’ moved past her, with a faraway look in his eyes, with the teddy held tightly against his heart and a mug of steaming fragrant coffee in his right hand.
‘Good morning,’ Mrs. Bhaskar greeted him.
Mrs. Bhaskar inspected the coffee machine. She asked worriedly, ‘Isn’t there coffee for me?’
The perceptive Mrs. Bhaskar got the message. She made her own breakfast. Then, they got ready for office and departed to their respective retreats without much ado.
That night, they met again in the kitchen. Mrs. Bhaskar was glad to find her husband’s nocturnal avatar to be quite jolly, reasonably communicative, in a sober outfit and without comforting props.
Mr. Bhaskar inspected her chapathis, ‘Funny shapes…’
‘Round seemed so boring,’ she explained.
‘What’s on the stove?’ he asked.
‘Five-treasure vegetable curry,’ she replied. ‘Five vegetables in one, saves a lot of trouble and cooking gas, too.’
‘I see…’ the cautious reply. There was a pause, ‘What’s that green and black stuff?’
‘That? Hmm… must be brinjal, I guess.’
‘Why was it crawling?’ he asked.
‘It wasn’t…,’ a pause, ‘…is it?’
‘And that red one…?’
‘What red stuff? Oh that… that’s pink. Now, which vegetable was pink?’ she wondered.
Mr. Bhaskar shifted from his wife’s side. He rummaged in the fridge and, in a jiffy, prepared sandwiches. On golden toasts, he placed layers of ham, egg, lettuce, sausages, sauce, mayonnaise, cheese, crispy French fries, thin slices of tomatoes, cucumber and capsicum. The two sides of the kitchen was a contrast in style. And that later extended to the dining table too.
They sat at opposite ends, she with her oddly shaped chapathis and dubious curry, and he with a gastronomical orgy of sin and pleasure worth salivating over.
‘Bon appétit,’ he said.
‘Bah…’ she replied.
He kept his head down and took his first bite. She watched him, with a dangerous gleam in her eyes.
She let her ragged housecoat sag open. He continued with his task unperturbed. She loosened the belt, dared and bared more of a new négligée so negligent of mores.
He looked up, raised an eyebrow, and then both, clearly expressing, ‘Ah, finally you get to the point without beating around the bush.’
‘Darling, would you like some of this sandwich?’ he offered. And she hopped over to his side of the table.
As soon as the meal was over, he remarked, ‘It’s been a tiring day, no? Let’s leave the washing for the morrow…’
‘Oh yes, let’s retire,’ she said, ‘I have a blinding headache.’
‘Oh no, you don’t.’
The august audience of this note must surely not be interested in what transpired later.
It suffices to say that Mr. & Mrs. Bhaskar quickly learned the tricks of the trade. What might seem as distasteful barter was merely a coy exchange towards mutual satisfaction, always in good spirit and great cheer; well, at least, most often. Mr. Bhaskar decided that the kitchen was better off with him in charge and without his better half’s half-hearted attempts. She took over the washing of clothes. He tried to study the correct order and application of bleach, washing powder and conditioners, and the amount of scrubbing after each, but found it too complex and decided to leave that to her. His underclothes lost their brownish-yellowing wilted look and sprang to life. And he truly appreciated her ironing too. She could put in a mean crease on his toughest cotton shirts. He cleaned the house and appliances, in return. The division of labour was roughly equal. He was allowed his teddy. Once in a while, she fought for that company.
As for their professional lives, they kept it to themselves. Mild curiosity and irrelevant details were entertained. They were careful not to advise, interfere, compare or pontificate on relative comforts and merits of their respective jobs. They kept track of any absence without leave from home on either side, cautioned against neglect of home affairs, and tried hard to be together.
In the early days together, it seemed fashionable to adopt the stereotypical dislike or discomfort towards in-laws. But they dropped that act as soon as it was apparent to them that they needed their parents more than their parents needed them, especially when they started to think of having kids in the near future.
To summarize, they were equal partners in their venture.
Well, almost.
Outside, he had to be her knight. He had to suck in his belly, tighten the belt two holes too tight risking the imminent dangers of burps or farts, push out his chest, walk like a gorilla and do the full testosterone-act to display more than his fair share of balls. He protected her, and appeared always ready to lay down his life in the line of duty. And, as gratitude for that service, she walked around with an arm in his and his alone.
He was ready to display the same nature at her place of work too. Fortunately, he did not have to break any straying hands or snarl expletives along with well-placed jabs at mouths that uttered unmentionables to his wife. Her boss was a man of gentle and decent nature, so much so that his wife left him for a more challenging association. Mrs. Bhaskar’s other colleagues too displayed little interest in teasing or challenging the norms.
On the other hand, Mr. Bhaskar’s boss was the opposite of hers – a demanding, volatile and dangerous character.   
A few months into their reasonably well-settled marriage with equal opportunities, Mr. & Mrs. Bhaskar attended a party at his office.
Mr. Bhaskar’s boss managed and led the show.  Booze flowed freely and the evening was still young when his boss invited all her underlings to put up a grand show of their virility and vitality.
The exhibition began with the Wine-bottle dance’ from ‘Fiddler on the Roof. That went off, miraculously, without a scrape except for an enthusiastic mix-up of scenes which had them crying hoarsely ‘tradition… tra dee shon’ while dancing and balancing the bottle on their head. Then, Mr. Bhaskar and his boss, taking center stage, performed the passionate ‘Time of my life’ from‘Dirty Dancing’, including the flying tackle at the end. Since his boss’s vital statistics had a few inches, in mean and standard deviation, more than the petite actress in the movie, that pièce de résistance ended in a dreadful mess with them on the floor, him suffering a near-concussion. But she was back on her feet at once, still clearly expecting a lot out of him and she would not let such a trifling mishap spoil her plans. The final act of their team was ‘1234 Get onthe dance floor’ from ‘ChennaiExpress’.
After that show, Mr. Bhaskar and the other underlings slinked away to a corner avoiding the less than benevolent eyes of their spouses. Finding his shoelaces undone, he raised his leg onto a nearby step and bent over. His boss, still in great spirits, appeared in that corner with a tray of drinks for her team.
She approached Mr. Bhaskar’s bent-over figure, remarked loudly, ‘Now, isn’t that a rump worth a hiding?’ And, she spanked his bottoms, just once but loud and visible to all gathered there.
He stood to attention. Mrs. Bhaskar’s round eyes got rounder, fury nearly brimming over. The other females kept their head lowered, clearly relieved that their mate’s behind was not involved. The men were divided. Most had an expectant look towards the amused boss, evidently begging, ‘Please, me too!’ The rest, the conventional straight-laced lot, proudly turned nationalist and decided to resist a custom borrowed from a colonial past. Nothing else happened there that’s worth noting. The party continued till midnight.
On their way back home, Mrs. Bhaskar tried to console a sheepish-looking Mr. Bhaskar, ‘Oh love, how you must feel! Please do not be hard on yourself. It is not your fault.’
She continued, giving vent to anger, ‘She, that boss of yours, should be stretched on the rack, tortured with thumb screws and left to scream within an iron maiden.’
Mr. Bhaskar wondered if this was a case that illustrated hell hath no fury like a woman whatever. He remained silent. He wondered if a heart-to-heart talk was the need of the hour. He considered, should he tell his wife that it is fine for a woman to slap a man’s behind, and probably a fellow-woman’s too, even though it is deemed inappropriate for a man to do so to a man or a woman. He decided to proclaim that, in such matters, it is impossible to be equals.
Alarm bells rang within, stirring his heart, soul and lesser parts: will that tilt the balance at home?
Meanwhile, Mrs. Bhaskar had continued with her oration, and nearly reached the conclusion, ‘…you have to complain. It was clearly sexual harassment. And that too, so blatant…’
Who will believe that I was sexually harassed, Mr. Bhaskar meditated.
He responded to his wife, ‘Duh…’


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