“Why don’t we go for a swim at the club?” There was a pin drop silence after the lady posed this question to my father in law. The latter desperately looked for the nearest exit even as the lady’s husband was bobbing his head approving the idea. My husband’s grandmother, mother and a host of other aunts had their mouths agape and stared uncomprehendingly at the tableau in front of them.
A day earlier when my father-in-law had shown up with a couple in tow, the family had no idea of the impending storm that was to descend on them. My father-in-law had a hard time saying no to people in need, and relatives however far-fetched the connection, topped this list. “My cousin and his wife are staying here for a short while, please make sure they are comfortable.” After issuing this edict he took off for work confident that his words would be heeded. The ladies of the house rallied together to dish out the royal treatment to the guests from Kanpur.
Clickety clack, clickety clack – the sound of the sandals had a dramatic effect on the women working in the kitchen the next morning. The eighty year old grandma nearly poured out all the salt from the container into the stew, the elder daughter just about managed not to cut her finger while dicing the carrots and the daughter-in-law who was churning the buttermilk got splashed on the face. The Kanpur madam had broken a cardinal rule in the house. She was walking around wearing slippers and worse yet, had entered the kitchen. But more was yet to come. “I was wondering if my meals could be sent upstairs. I’m feeling a bit tired.” The smile accompanying her words didn’t have the desired effect as the others were in shock. When the fifty year old daughter was ready to blow a gasket, the doughty old grandma quickly sized up the situation and murmured that she would take care of everything. After all her word was law and she had lived many a summer and seen flightier characters than the current house guest.
The next week was a trial for everyone. Sore backs, aching feet, perennial headaches soon led to mutterings and curses being flung in the air. The object of their ire was blissfully unaware as she stayed in her room on the first floor and went outside whenever she had a whim to swim or shop. The long faces or the pithy remarks at her bounced off her thick skin. When the visitors showed no sign of leaving after a fortnight tempers started running high. My father-in-law who was on tour (a last minute decision that was viewed with great suspicion by the others) often called home to check with his opening gambit, “Have our guests left?” Thats when the news spread throughout the neighbourhood. The tough-as-boots neighbour who was often thought to be a strong contender for the army decided to take matters in her own hands. “Enough is enough, you’ll have to talk to her and mince no words!”. She advised my mother in law whose subsequent chat with the guest had the desired effect.
The next morning when the Kanpur lady announced that she had leaving in a day, the sigh of relief was audible to everyone except her. The smiles now were no longer strained and there was a spring in everyone’s step. Even the five-tier lunch box that she handed out in the kitchen with firm instructions as to what food needed to be packed for the train journey had minimal effect on the ladies. The family was only too eager to see the last of this visitor and were prepared to go the extra mile, no questions asked.
This article first appeared in the Sunday edition of the Deccan Herald.