A Saturday long ago…

Another Saturday afternoon. Suddenly discovering that he does not have to go back to work after lunch, my husband snaps his fingers. “Let’s go shopping!” He says. “I have nothing to wear these days…”

The store is almost empty. Salesmen fight sleep after lunch.

My husband cannot decide between 2 pairs of trousers and 3 tee shirts. Confused, he decides to try them all & disappears into the changing room, with strict instructions to me, to stay right outside, so he does not have to hunt me down for my opinion, wearing clothes which sprout labels from all sides.

Left to my own devices, I browse through some jazzy shirts.

“Hey! This will look great on you!”

Startled, I turn around.

A middle-aged man, accompanied by two middle-aged ladies. A girl just-into-her-teens gapes. The more flamboyant of the ladies holds up colorful shirt to the man. The quiet one passively watches.

Finally having found something to interest me, I study the small group surreptiously, taking care not to stare.

This is one of the most enjoyable games I indulge myself in, when I have to wait around. People watching. I try to guess who they are, what their relationship is and what can be their story.

This one is curious. Is this is a middle aged couple and their daughter, out shopping with his visiting sister? I look at them closely. No! Absolutely no resemblance. Or maybe it’s her sister. Little chance of that too, since they lack the closeness shared by most sisters.

Or can she be his second wife? Asks a small voice in my head.

No way!

Why not? Persists the voice. It’s not so uncommon in this part of the world for a man to live peacefully with both his wives under one roof. I have even heard of such a threesome sharing the same bedroom, and the rest of the house with a bunch of children from both the wives!

“What do you think?” My husband’s voice breaks into my reverie. He’s in a gray polo neck t-shirt and a black trousers. ‘Smart” I tell him. “But don’t you have the same Tee shirt?”

“No!” he says petulantly. “I never had something like this!” “Okay.” I say placating. He vanishes into the changing room again.

I turn my attention back to the family, but they seem to have drifted off to another part of the store. I busy myself with some formal ties.

I suddenly sense some movement behind me. Two girls walking hand in hand. One of them is extremely shy. An elderly gentleman follows them, authoritatively. Can’t be their father. And the girls, can they be sisters? And what on earth are they doing in the menswear section? And so tongue-tied and shy!

The answer strides in, very self-conscious. A young man follows the older man, shyly glancing at the blushing girl.

A-ha! A just-betrothed couple, trying to choose the wedding suit! No wonder the girl is so shy in front of her father-in-law to be! And the other girl must be her best friend, lending moral support in times of crisis like this! Who wouldn’t be nervous with such an imposing father-in-law!

Just then my husband returns with an armful of clothes.

“Can I just run up to the bookstore? Please?” I ask him. Without waiting for his answer I charge up the stairs.

Browsing through the latest best seller, I spot the curious family in the adjacent coffee shop. Relaxed, they lounge with a cup in their hands. The flamboyant woman is enthusiastically narrating something to the shy one. “…And you must have seen the teacher’s face! This Raghu, your husband was such a terror in our school days!” The girl looks at her father with great wonder.

The ‘terror’, now much tamed, balding and with a paunch is much abashed and embarrassed!

“How silly of me!” I chide myself. To think that she was his second wife! I feel really guilty.

As I reach my husband’s side at the billing counter, he holds two lovely kurtas to me. “Look what I bought you! Saw them and thought it was very ‘you’!

“Oh! They’re beautiful!” I gush. “You’re the best! Thank you!”

I see a movement in the corner of my eye.

A 20 something girl is busy inspecting some men’s’ formal wear, near the men’s changing room. She studies us surreptiously, trying not to stare.

I grab my husband’s arm.

“Let’s get out of here.” I say.

Published in Femina, June 2003 Issue
Long before my son was born and we actually had jobless saturdays!

Lab Visit…

Yesterday, my son went on a field trip from school. He was taken to a nearby higher secondary school, specifically to the science lab, so that these four-year-olds can get familiarised with the subject.

When I went to pick him up later, I was told most of the children enjoyed the visit and asked a lot of questions.

After coming back, all the children were asked to draw pictures of what they had learnt or their take on science or something along those lines.

The pictures were then put up outside class to the eager parents.

Most of the children had tried to draw a butterfly or a potted plant or earth and sun or an egg morphing into a butterfly.

The teacher had written down what each child had told her about his/her drawing.

The last drawing is what my son has done. Its nothing but vengeful scribblings with all the colours he could find.

The footnote says, “Monster & a boy. (Skeleton)” I have absolutely no clue what that means.

I know I’m supposed to view with an open mind and all that.

But I’m seriously worried for him…

My first day at the gym.

I felt like Bridgette Jones amidst supermodels.

Standing on the treadmill for the first time ever in my life, I was listening to the instructor droning on about the virtues of the machine and how to use it effectively.

There was a row of treadmills, against a wall covered with a mirror along its entire length and height.

There I was, dressed in a hand-me-down sweatshirt and tracks from my husband, and a pair of shoes so old, I can’t even remember when I’d bought it.

To my right was a pencil thin twenty-something, wearing a bright pink tracks which stopped just below her knees, revealing legs with the shapeliest of calf muscles. A short, clinging T-shirt suggested a flat stomach and a curvaceous waist. Ears plugged to a portable MP3, she was swaying to her own rhythm while plodding on gracefully.

The woman on my left was no less perfect. Dressed in a smoky grey gym outfit which boasted a sporty label, she was jogging with intense concentration.

“Now I’m going to turn it on, okay?” the instructor’s voice broke into my surreptious sizing up.

And before I could react, the earth below my feet moved! Struggling for balance, I tried to grab something to regain my balance, if not my dignity! Thankfully my flailing arms were caught deftly by the instructor, before I fell. He also miraculously paused the machine at the same time.

“M’am, concentrate” he said with a tone reserved for an errant school kid. “Look straight ahead and keep walking”.

I did just that, but strangely I seemed to be moving backwards, inching towards the edge of the treadmill. Again he paused the machine. “Ma’m, please come forward and try to stay in the same place”, he said, a little too pleasantly.

Finally after a few minutes, I got the hang of it. But I had to look at my fuddy-duddy shoes all the time, because the minute I looked up, I found myself inching backwards again!

It seemed like I was at it for hours, but it was hardly five minutes. I had another fifteen minutes to kill. After a while my mind got restless. Risking a fall, I sneaked a peek at the mirror. The smoky grey had vanished. In her place was a brooding bearded man, lost in the problems of his life.

The pink was still jogging. She looked like a college kid, but had a practiced air of elegance around her. To relive my boredom, I started making up her story. She was in college. Majoring in literature, I decided. And modeled in her free time. Coming to think of it, she did seem familiar. Maybe she was the one who featured in that shampoo ad. Or was it soap?

That was my last thought on my head when my backside hit the floor with a thud.

You see, I was so lost in making up the story, I hadn’t realized I was doing a moonwalk till I fell off the damned treadmill!

The instructor helped me off my feet, but the others kept at whatever they were doing, without a pause. Like it happened everyday. Had it happened to anyone else, I’d have laughed my head off. But they were just like robots on their treadmills and cycles. Maybe later, they’ll lock themselves in the restroom and laugh hysterically, I thought.

Anyway, that was over a month ago. Today, I sauntered in with my new gym gear, stepped on a treadmill, worked on the controls and was swaying to my own rhythm from my very own MP3. (‘Borrowed’ from husband while he was not looking & only I knew the song was perhaps the oldest in time, made when the instructor was in his nappies)

As I plodded on, I felt a strange contentment. Maybe I am not a pencil thin supermodel. But at least I’m not that overweight woman to my right who’s sweating so profusely after only 5 minutes on the treadmill, that my heart went out to her.

Maybe I haven’t mastered all the machines here and I don’t sprout the greatness of gymming to everyone, but I do feel more energetic these days, ready to face the day’s challenges.

Man, I’ve arrived.

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PS: This was written three years ago, when the iPod shuffle was not so popular! I still gym once in a while…