Lady of the House

When the doorbell rang, Sumi called out to her daughter to open the door. Her guests had arrived right on time, but Sumi had yet to squeeze in a bath and a change of attire. She had been so busy in the kitchen since evening the day before preparing for today’s luncheon that she had skipped two consecutive meals and looked like she needed some desperate shut eye. However, the entourage was here and she somehow managed to set her hair with greasy hands, adjusted her pallu and came out to greet the Shahs.  

They were a total of twelve, including two couples, their 5 children and a father son duo at whose place they were residing temporarily and were accompanied by, wherever they went, having arrived from USA and not familiar with the place. They were the distant relatives of her husband Anuj’s father, and as per unwritten social norms, had (expected) to be invited home for a meal in the least. Sumi was an excellent cook, and she loved hosting guests, but she had started to realize that it took a toll on her. No matter how late it got that night, next day was a working one, and she would still have to get up at six in the morning to prepare tiffin for her husband and both kids. She would still have to continue with the daily chores, no matter how exhausted she was. And she had to do all of this with minimal help.  

She went outside to greet her guests and they all exchanged niceties till it was time for them to settle into the sofas. Sumi’s husband and father in-law gave the guests company while her mother in-law called on to Sumi to offer them each a glass of water. Sumi offered the guests some water and relegated herself quickly back to the kitchen. When her preparations were almost done, excepting certain finishing touches and garnish, she decided to go for a speed shower. At that very moment she overheard her father-in-law say, “Chai peeyenge ji?”, to which a general murmur of ‘haan ji’ was decipherable, and Sumi decided to skip her shower altogether.  

The kids were having a gala time playing with each other and the elders were busy chatting away while Sumi served the tea, and then laid the tables for food to be served. It was customary for the women in the house to eat after the guests and the men were done with their meal, and as Sumi served freshly made hot parathas and korma which made everyone’s mouth water, she had little appetite for the food herself.  

After the lunch was over, the dishes wound up and the kitchen cleaned, Sumi and her mother in-law sat to eat. Sumi realized that her mother in-law had been following the custom of eating after her family for years and continued the practice till today. Sumi had been brought up in a family that adhered to age old traditions and customs, but she was an educated girl, and somewhere wasn’t completely convinced about upholding such norms. The patriarchal society which her mother and mother in-law had witnessed in silent suffering led them to pass on a fraction of it to their progeny solely because they attached a moral value to their tribulations; else how would they justify their conformity? While she battled with her thoughts, she could barely eat.  

Dusk had set in and it was time for the Shahs to say goodbye. Sumi’s kids were most upset at this proposition. They bid farewell to their new found best friends, while they others raved about Sumi’s delicious cooking. And as they were leaving, Mr. Shah addressed Sumi’s elder daughter and said, " Sumi, tumhari beti ko bhi tumhari tarah khaana banana sikha do. Sasural jayegi toh tumhara naam Roshan karegi!" Sumi answered with astounding surity that left everyone speechless! “Nahi uncle Ji, Mujhe meri beti se bohot ummeedein hai. Mujhe Khana banane ka shauk hai iske Matlab yeh to nahi ki use bhi hoga? Agar use doctor ya engineer ya painter banne ka shauk hua toh bhi woh mera naam Roshan karegi. Sasural ki seva karne ke liye nahi paida Hui Meri beti!” 

Sumi took her daughter and went into her room. Not once did she think of the repercussions of her refutation. She was gleaming with pride and joy for having stood up for what she believed in. At the end of the conservative tunnel of a conventional society, the hope of modernism flickered…