“So, you say that the present Government is not moving even its tiny finger to fight inflation and price hike, eh?” I asked the women.
“They do nothing. Irresponsible guys,” I smiled as they fumed. Then they turned to me in one sweep. “What do YOU do in your life? You know the price of onion now?”
“What!” I was caught unawares at the sudden and unexpected turn, midcourse.
“Tell me. Do you know the price of onion?”
“Chechi, we were discussing about the inefficiency of the Government,” I tried to haul them back to their old enemy, which lay half-mauled.
“I know. But you must ask yourself whether you deserve a better government or not. How much do YOU get involved in your own life? Do you know the price of onion?”
Onion. Who said: ‘an onion is an onion is an onion?’ Nobody. It is my mind chanting hysterically. This is what you get when you try to turn your government in.
My head turned involuntarily towards my wife seeking help. Married for 16 years now, she knows the whole price list by heart and whenever somebody asked me the price of onion I only had to turn my head back for the answer, or at least that was what I thought.
My wife cleared her throat and then flicked her engine off. Silence. For no logical reason.
Such a simple question on onion, she could easily have answered by quoting a rate, any rate. Any rate that came to her mind on a hunch would have sufficed to satisfy these women. But the very devil she was, my wife decided to withdraw her support at the crucial moment, that too before her relatives.
Then she drew a large breath like an Amazon warrior and hurled a full-scale war on me.
“See, chechi. He doesn’t know anything about the price of onion!” This is murder! With such piercing looks from the women, I realized that such ignorance which definitely spoke volumes about the irresponsibility of men was never tolerated in her family down the centuries.
My wife drew inspiration from her relatives, she now raised her tone: “Ask him the price of chicken, chechi.”
Chicken! After onion, chicken! Suddenly the image of chilly powder popped up in my mind. Next is chilly. Then salt. Probably turmeric next. Curry leaves to follow. I know, I know where the devil heads to. She is into chicken curry, got it! I nodded my head inside my mind frantically and began to guess their prices in advance.
“Yeeek! It is a shame to see men like you these days?” The women pounced on me as a battalion.
I felt so wretched that moment that I turned meekly towards my wife once again to reassure her with my eyes that an immense change is in the pipeline, if she let me get away with this. Especially with the onion, chicken, chilly…I promise you darling I’ll reform.
“What about the price of rice? Brinjal? Oils? Sugar? Ask him about the price of them, chechi?” She shrieked. So it is not chicken curry, as I’d guessed. She is into some serious dish. No point in fighting.
“You must do your duty efficiently. In life it is that much essential. Imagine what would have happened if your wife doesn’t do hers. How pathetic your life would have been, think,” the women asked. True, it would be miserable if my wife stops scolding me for waking her up every night to ask whether she had slept, for playing with my daughter during our study time, for wearing my t-shirt inside out and attending parties.
Who else would stop me on the way sniffing me inside out for a whiff of alcohol every time I get back from my friends and ask: “When have they started making drinks that don’t smell, Manu chetta?”
I shuddered in horror at the thought of my wife striking work.
Then I nod my head sadly. “True, chechi. I am not doing my part in our family life. But now you have opened my eyes. You taught me that one doesn’t have the right to criticize the system if one doesn’t take responsibilities in life and do one’s duties. I will help my wife in her daily chores. I assure you.”
I felt grateful to my wife’s relatives, these women who never failed to come every morning to her home while I was there for a week. They sat all day in the front yard discussing politics, international and hyperlocal, economics, science, history, and whatever that piqued their mind.
All I had to do to keep them going was to rush to the nearby tea shack to get hot vadas twice a day, which the women happily washed down with tea that my grateful wife made. If you’d not disturb them they would talk and talk and talk until evening…Such knowledge….Such varied topics! One moment they discussed the US policy on intelligence leak, next they were on the latest news that crossed the road from the newly married couple opposite our home.
By evening they would gather themselves up one by one weary with their own talk, scout the compound overgrown with weeds and plants for some fire woods or fallen mangoes or jackfruits, and beat a slow retreat down to their homes with them.
Divya smiled: “Manu chetta. I never knew you have such wonderful relatives behind you. I like your chechis a lot.”
“My chechis! Who? They! Aren’t they your chechis?”
She swore that she had nobody in her family who had even a remote resemblance with them.
“Then who are they?” We looked at each other.
“Do you work somewhere?” I asked them next morning.
“Yes, we work here.”
“Here! What do you do here?”
What followed my enquiry was a one hour speech on the benefits of National Rural Employment Guaranatee scheme alias Thozhilurappu Padhathi. They told me that the objective is to enhance livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.
And they were sent to my wife’s home by the panchayat authorities for helping us with the vegetable farming.
“Have you seen the bridge across the canal in the junction?”
“No. I mean, there is no bridge there.”
“Unlucky guy. There was one. Some of us built it last week. It went down with the rain, half-an-hour later. You will also be surprised to know that there is in fact a road going parallel to the state highway in front of your home. Difficult to spot it in the rain, but we have seen it once clearly. We built that too. Tell us frankly, my children. We have come here to help you. Do you want us to do anything specific here?”
“NO!” We cried together. United again.