Prologue: It’s getting late
I was slipping on my sandals for work, like I do every morning, when I received a message on my mobile informing me that the refrigerator I ordered had been dispatched. (Yes, I was now able enough to own a refrigerator.) Just then, my maid walked in, complaining about the money and I reminded her of the leaves she had taken. With this last word, I left. As I made my way to the main door, I ran into my flatmate who was having bournvita and watching MTV at 9 o’clock in the morning. A realization clicked in my mind as the key clicked in the door.
How something that was once so aspirational and extraordinary to me, seems so incredibly ordinary now. The only time this realization occurs to me is when I see my flatmate. Eight years younger to me, she is all about buying, eating, and creating a mess. When I was that age, I used to naively believe that all this would continue when I get older, only I would have to pay for it. However, the truth is you make money and then spend time managing it. You have food, but you spend time preparing it. You have a house, but you spend time maintaining it. You gotta be kidding me! After all that time I spent getting older so that I could earn money and spend it, I still ended up spending time and nothing else.
The one activity that I truly find worthwhile spending my time on is a phone call with my friends every evening after work. It is not a daily thing, but it happens frequently enough to be called a routine. We are all in different places, but we try bridging the distance with words. It is akin to a recurring deposit of advice we can draw from during moments of crisis. On one particular evening, following such a deposit of wisdom, I rose from my chair only to notice that my bed had not been made since yesterday and I had no time for making dinner as it was already late.
Was it indeed getting late or could I still enjoy cuppa noodles before turning another year older?
Well, I did have the cuppa noodles that night in my unhemmed pyjamas. The excitement of this carelessness inspired me to record it in writing so that when I turn 60, I can look back and reminisce about my late twenties, a time of hustling and living on my own.
Part 1: My Cup of Tea (Dysfunctional Men)
A cup of hot tea, sipped while sitting by my window, the sill barely supporting me. But why was I sitting there when I could have enjoyed that tea anywhere else in my ‘after-office sanctuary of worthwhile-ness?’ Well, bad mobile reception and the prospect of my dear friend’s impulsive decision had driven me to this brink, much like the tea in my cup…
I took a quick sip so it wouldn’t spill, and it scorched my tongue in return. Had I let it spill, I still would have gotten myself burnt. Tricky these emotions are, boiling and always on the edge. As I sipped my tea, I advised my friend to stop spilling hers. She will get burnt if she tries to pour hers into a cup which is already full.
It has happened so many times now, that every time I go to make my tea, yarns start to spin in my mind – some old, some new, some forgotten, some just incomplete. And then my house rings…
It was my phone. “Men,” my friend declared, “are not good for our health. He visits me daily, brings me stuff, enjoys meals made by me, hugs me when I cry yet never bares his heart to me – he says it’s complicated.” The age-old question for “available girls” is this: Is the friendly guy also available or just vulnerable? If he is just vulnerable, the girl ends up comforting him, feeling nothing short of a plate of hamburger and fries.
I wondered what we do in life when we find something complicated. What could be so complicated that you opt for a proxy? Maybe a cocktail? Personally, I have always found them too complicated to mix, but then again, I have never been a cocktail person. I have my cup of tea, that is mine. Men, on the other hand, seem to like cocktails but can never handle what goes into their making. Hence they end up having tea in vessels not meant for it, while their “drink” remains a puzzle to be figured out. Yes, I know tea in a cocktail glass is not befitting, but when were men bothered by cup sizes!
The only thing they notice is the comforting warmth of a simple cup of tea and their own self-indulgent emptiness.
Well, my tea is over now and unless I want to cook dinner with my bitterness all over it, I should keep the phone and pick myself off the edge of the window sill.
Part 2: The Innocent Fly (Workplace Woes)
When you have been working as long as I have and your frustration drains all the fun from your work, what is left is called “nothing” with a hint of sarcasm. This “hint” is heightened in my case because I have been cooked more than required in a time less than appropriate – 3 months.
This resentment is brewing while I listen to my boss droning over me in unison with a fly somewhere. I have always been taught that whatever we do today is for a larger picture of tomorrow. Wanting that picture to be extremely scenic, I have worn my eyes out working on it, so much so that now I am incapable of beholding it. Good grades in school get you to a good college, higher studies and then a good job. This is the bigger picture I was talking about, and it keeps getting larger with time, out of my hands… I rub my eyes and gather myself every day from the bits I am torn into, but fail to make any sense of it. Or is there none?
Still listening to the fly droning somewhere, I realize it’s now in unison with me, trying to fathom a room that is enough to be its sky; the only difference being that it has wings to flap in someone’s face and I have words. They come in great variety and help me overcome the betrayal my ambition suffered at the hands of age. And this is exactly what I dis after coming home from office, use my words on a phone call with my friend.
“We are 26 years old. Women our age are supposed to be liberated and free, in terms of work, finances, and love,” I exclaimed, trying to fathom the skies like a fly.
“But here we are, in this ironic twist of life, where everyone calls you a “fly,” yet you find yourself stuck, trapped between someone’s legs, guarding their possessions, and enduring teasing in the process.”
Part 3: Babies and Potatoes (Friends Getting Married)
I love potatoes. It is the one thing you will always find in my refrigerator. I love it because it is as versatile as it is simple to make. It is a gift of nature for someone like me who is a fan of consuming rather than producing. That’s what makes potatoes a great comfort food, right from cooking to eating and digesting. This track in praise of potatoes was live streaming in my head while I was on an STD call, munching on a second helping of ‘butter pepper potatoes’ I had made.
“I am getting married…,” my friend hit pause. And I gagged. I found a burnt piece of potato in my mouth. She had single-handedly lowered my spirits and plate of food. I guess her other hand was in her partner’s hand. Such news is so tricky, you can’t decide if you are happy, sad, sorry or jealous. I felt nothing except for a doubt in my head. Are we there yet? Usually, I have this question while peeling a very large potato. The difference being that here it is out of exhaustion while when your friend gives you her wedding news, it’s because of the dreaded impending exhaustion.
Peeling potatoes is the hardest part I think but once you have done it, you are literally over the hump. To save myself from this exhaustion, I find my escape in boiling them. Not so true for marriage. Singlehood is the only time where boiling things simplifies life. In marriage, it gives you babies!
And yet, after all this, I find one single brain cell still slobbering over the thought of marriage, like a chubby kid over mashed potatoes, while pseudo-feminists look on with disdain. My friend is excited to tie the knot and ‘settle down’. I have never understood why getting married is called ‘settling’. Aren’t we supposed to ‘reach out’ and pluck the fruit from the tree, or grab the bigger jam jar from the shelf or lean in to kiss our guys? Who ‘settles for’ the fallen fruit on the ground, just lying there, the easier option?
Contrary to popular belief, marriage is too complicated to be called ‘settling down’. If I were to settle for ‘settling down,’ I would rather choose potatoes. If they fall, one can wash them off and put them to use. They maybe bald, shiny, and sticky but they won’t make you gain 20 kgs, even if you have more than one. And they comfort you when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Of course, I did not tell my friend any of this; I simply congratulated her, buttering her up like my potatoes.
“You go girl! Make babies! I will just stick with making my potatoes.”
Part 4: Thirsty for “Love” (Sex and its Cravings)
Did I say love? I am sorry; I have been trained to talk about this thing soberly, keeping it under the covers, much like the thing itself. Actually, it’s called sex. You have these thoughts when you lie awake in the middle of the night, troubled by a dry spell. Well, the dryness was not in my life but in my throat and so I got up to get some water.
I usually like to have it handy beside me at night, to avoid meandering in the dark, much like sex. Another thing I like to have beside me is my mobile, which I noticed was blinking. I instinctively knew who the message was from but didn’t want to check or respond. I just wanted to have some water and go to sleep.
The next day, as I was enjoying an evening of absolute nothingness during the power cut, my friend shared with me her tale of a disappointing “love” prospect at her workplace. It seemed like she was in a dating desert, and got so thirsty that she encountered a mirage. And she is not the only one. I realized that maybe sex is like water.
Notice how one always says ‘I am hungry for love’ while thirst is associated with some action in bed. Some, like my friend, keep looking for it, only to encounter illusions in workplaces, neighbourhoods and commutes. While others are so parched, they will accept anything that feels like water!
On the other hand, there are a few who have lost their thirst because they have been scorched by something before, that felt like water. I was impressed by my analogy but was unable to place myself in it. My incapability was instantly echoed in my friend’s next question, “How is it for you?”
To avoid answering this, I meandered in the dark looking for my bottle and then took a big gulp. It was so cold that I couldn’t feel my mouth. That is the trick. You might have it, but you have to control the amount and temperature before touching it to your lips. Otherwise, you might wet your bed or end up getting a UTI.
As I hung up, I noticed the unread message from the previous night. I read it and smiled as all my logical, discrete categorisation flew out of the same window I was sitting beside. Thankfully, there were no children playing that evening, whose brains it could have fallen into.
We can put people in boxes with name tags, but can we ever guess why and when they migrate? Is it thirst, recreation or mere sample testing? Can it ever be love without the quotes?
Is it really water, for how can something so clear be so obscure?
Shubhshree is a storyteller and design educator from Kota, Rajasthan, currently based in Bangalore. She is a tea lover, bibliophile and as outgoing as a houseplant. She combines visual and text together to give meaning from the mundane. Her personal context finds refuge in things like a clothes pin or bathroom slipper, and that is the kind of vernacular association that makes her writing awkwardly relatable. With 8 years of industry experience encompassing research, branding and writing, she aspires to create her own books one day! You can read her poems here.