(We see stories all around, but we choose to articulate only a few. This is my effort to pen down a few everyday mundane stories that I see, smell, feel and overhear everyday around me. Some of them might be tediously boring, some vaguely interesting but all of them will have a common thread to bind them together – a thread called ‘life’)
Once in a month I pay a visit to my neighbourhood beauty salon and spa. Its almost like a regular pilgrimage. I do not know what effect a relaxing pedicure has on others, but for me it is absolutely soul cleansing. During those moments of I forgive everyone who has stepped on my feet when I text-bookishly tried to use the footpath while they preferred to jaywalk. And all of them in cars who garishly honked and zoomed past the mightily dug up Sector V street in Calcutta that I use everyday to reach my office, while leaving a truckload full of dust on my feet and sometimes filthy slime too. Yes, all of them! Next time, anybody who comments “Beauty is skin deep”, remember to send him/her to me for a special session of wisdom.
I digress. One of those persistent faults with my storytelling. But then again, these stories are about digression only – the ones that never really made the cut to make an absolutely wonderful story. Yesterday, was one such day when I woke up after my much cherished Saturday afternoon nap, the one I coveted after a much stressful week at work, and decided to indulge myself in some pamper therapy. I made an appointment and visited the Salon. The lady who usually does my facial was busy with another client and advised me to go for the pedicure first. I was getting my pedicure done while listening to some nice relaxing old Hindi film music when I could hear a certain chatter and giggling among the girls working in the salon. I opened my eyes to find a visibly old aunty sitting next to me.
She was a known face. She apparently lived somewhere nearby only but I had seen her previously in this salon only. The very instant I recognised her, I knew why everyone was giggling. She is one hell of a talkative person, one who loves to chat. The last time around she was talking about her grandchildren and enquiring about one of the girls working in the salon, who was supposed to get married soon. She always has a lot of stories to tell and share. Stories about her son and daughter living abroad, their glamorous lifestyle there, their social life, her brief visits to their places, her hsuband who is terminally ill, her new car which was a giift from her high flying son, her driver who regularly tries to cheat her but she always manage to find an upper hand and everything else under the sun. She is a storyteller and everyone around her is a listener.
I generally prefer the few moments of silence and solace while visiting a salon, but when she is around, nobody manages to keep quiet. Her antics makes all the girls break into splits of laughter. The owner, who is a strict taskmaster tries to scold one of the few girls to keep quiet so that the message indirectly reaches ‘aunty ji’, but I have never seen her succeeding in her endeavour. Unlike other “aunty jis” who refuse to come to terms with the fact that aging gracefully and bright yellow golden highlights in the hair do not actually go hand in hand, she is a lot different. I have gathered from her conversations that she has to look after an entire household on her own, that she was previously working as a teacher in a school, her husband was a highly paid executive in a top notch multinational companies and that he has not been able to accept his infirmity well enough and even though she knows that everyone in the salon found her amusing, she did not care a damn. She was in fact happy that she could spread some smiles. Not that she did not bitch around about her daughter in law being an absolute snob, but she was equally open to accept that even her own daughter was a snob in her own way. Her conclusion being that Bengali women, in general, were big fat snobs and its not only our generation to blame. She concluded that her generation too had their own fair share of snobs, but the number seems to have grown.
Yesterday too she was being the chatterbox she was, but I could sense a streak of excitement in her voice. The lady who was doing her pedicure asked her – “Dida, why are you looking so excited?”
“Don’t call me dida, its a pain..whenever I go out with my son everyone calls me dida, but now I am alone..why are you calling me a dida now? Mazak na? Arrey my son may be 40, but I got married only when I was 19”
“Yes, we did not understand so much when we got married.”
She looked at me and asked – “Are you married?”
I nodded my head to answer in the affirmative.
“You guys must have done beauty packages and bridal packages, we had only Turmeric to solve our problems”
Then she looked at me and another young woman sitting in another corner of the room and remarked – “But both of you have good skin. Bengalis are blessed with good skin”
I could not fathom how the trend of the conversation was changing. In the meanwhile she had scolded the lady attending her that the water was not perfectly “lukewarm” to suit her choice of the perfect pedicure.
(Image Source: Here)
Then she rattled off to tell a story about why people called her “Dida” when she went out with her son and “Aunty” when she went out with her daughter. In the end she remarked that she has asked her son to stop accompanying her for social events. In between she also attended phone calls from her driver who wanted an early leave, her husband’s ayah who asked for her instructions whether to serve tea to him and a retailer of sarees who wanted her to purchase “Dhakai Jamdani” sarees.
“Why are you purchasing sarees aunty” the lady doing her pedicure asked.
“Arrey, I forgot to tell, my daughter is coming tomorrow for six days along with the kids. I told you that she had twins last year….I am throwing a party to celebrate their birthday”
“It has already been a year?”
“Yes! currently they are in Delhi visiting their paternal grandparents….their grandfather had thrown a lavish party to celebrate their birthday, you know where?….Marriott….I do not have so much money, I am organising the party in HHI Kolkata.”
“Wow! so you must come down once before the party..we will get you a special facial done”
“Dhur!! I wont have time….but I think I will have to come once to get my upper lip done…I do not have time for facial..I never get it done..Have you ever seen me getting a facial done….”
No! I was just suggesting…” The lady could meekly defend herself.
“Then why are you asking…Do the pedicure well!” she smiled while giving her a mild scolding mixed with affection. She was not bitter..
“Btw, put on a dark nailpaint this time..I have to look really well. Somany people are coming”
She looked towards me and asked me to select a shade from the nail pain basket. I picked up a maroon one for her but she still was not sure. She asked me if the colour stays. I assured her that the colour is good and long lasting. “It goes with every kind of dress also aunty”
And there I made a mistake again.
“Dress! dhurrr!! arey! where do I wear dresses….but are you sure..because I wear lipsticks of brown shade. But nod resses..Tell me which one will go with all kinds of sarees.”
I had to explain that by dresses I also meant sarees. She picked up a pink one and now asked for my approval again. She showed the colour to the lady sitting at the corner and to everybody present in the room. While everybody voted for maroon, she was still unsure whether the shade would appear garish. All the girls in the salon tried to reassure her that the shade really suited her and that she should not be so much worried about her age.
She was happy.
And then she remained silent for a few minutes. Something unthinkable. The lady who was busy puuting on the nail paint asked her what was she thinking.
“I did not find good varieties of fish in the market today. I am thinking what to cook for my daughter tomorrow. May be I have to go to the market again tomorrow. So many people- my daughter, son in law, their kids, their attendants…it will be a full house for seven days…I will be terribly busy.”
“It must be too hectic for you…take some rest”
“No! not hectic..in fact I love these hectic moments. The only problem is that they happen twice a year..once when my son visits and the other time when my daughter is here.”
It was all of our turn to remain silent now.
“Earlier, when they were young, they always needed us…I was working, my husband was working, but still I used to cook for them before leaving the house i the morning, pack their lunches and leave them to school. They always needed me. My entire life I have been taking care of people you know. Earlier it was my kids, now my husband. I should not blame him though. He has been a wonderful father, but age seems to have caught up with him. I have too cook, scold the driver and the ayah, look after my plants and do the grocery shopping everyday. I am always busy…but I love the hectic moments when my children are around…”
The phone rang again. It was her husband who enquired when she was coming back. The ayah had to leave and he did not want to be alone in the house. She shot a quick message to the ayah and asked her to stay in the house for another 10 minutes and that she should not forget to bring the biscuit that her husband preferred to eat, while coming for work next morning. She disconnected the call and asked the lady to finish doing her pedicure quickly. She smiled towards me while she got up, nodded and said a warm “Thank you” to the lady who did her pedicure.
“Darun korechish toh! Ei ney eta rakh” (You have done it very well, just keep this as a gift). She passed on some money to the lady who did her pedicure and rushed off home.
While she left, everyone smiled and asked her to dress up brightly. She promised to show photographs of the events to everyone. The happiness on her face was palpable.
To me, she always appeared to be happy, but the happiness that this one week was going to fetch for her was unparalleled.