In 2011, my company sent me to London on a project. My wife detested the ‘dependant’ tag but could not trust me to be alone for one whole year – who knows what havoc a forced bachelor may wreck! So she quit her corporate job and we went visiting the Queen together. It was a tad more dramatic than what it may appear on paper. She blamed me vociferously for bringing her to this state and threatened that this better be the last onsite because she had no intentions for tagging along every time the company sent me abroad. To my weak protestations that I hadn’t suggested she quit- it was solely her decision – I’d given her the practical advice of taking leave and resuming work post our return, she threw another pillow at me and shouted she’d been independent all her life and she hated this ‘state’.
Braving stiff opposition, I’d married this Royal Bengal tigress but a roaring mammal in the living room was not my idea of marital bliss. The visa, the logistics and the works and before another rumble rent the air, we were at Heathrow. The uproarious rants became gentle purrs thanks to the weather. From the heat and dust of Delhi to the pleasantness of London, my cat was tamed. Or so I thought. As I joined office the next day of landing, it was left to the missus to do the house-hunting. She did a fantastic job of it and got us a double-storied house worth £1300 monthly rental. I tried squeaking that we were not in UK forever and a studio apartment for £600 would do fine for us. She froze and I hastily declared this was the perfect house for our extended honeymoon.
Missus took on the role of the reluctant housewife and did a neat job of it. She cooked delicious dimer daalna and bemisaal biryani, she hosted parties and wowed our guests with her ambrosial aloo posto and zesty zarda pulao and as she slowly became the Queen Bee of the expats’ club and basked in her new-found glory, she did what she shouldn’t have. She regaled The Old ‘Un with her glory-stories. All ye who have a mother-in-law, dead or alive, know the lethal power of this authority. The old lady listened to the daughter’s preening and asked her what else she was doing in bidesh apart from cooking and loafing. Sensing the minute-long pregnant pause, she sternly commanded, ‘at least write! You are so good at it, why don’t you write? Everybody can cook, not everyone can write.”
The inception succeeded. After an initial bout of grumbling, the daughter took to writing, blogging, like she’s doing it for posterity. The savoury and the sweet dishes started being photographed like sensuous sirens, before being served; the intoxicating aroma of rich halwa teased my hungry nostrils as the Lady clicked the dessert from various angles and under different lights; I patiently waited to dig into the mutton dish as the mistress of spices made a writing career out of what-was-once our humble kitchen. My first survival pointer was staring me in the face.
1. Make Peace with Being Second Best:
As men we know we are the boss of the house, and we have our wife’s permission to say so. It takes a tough man to know he is still the boss, despite the cold fish and the hot blog. When the guests who complimented her food now rave about her writing, remind yourself she couldn’t have kissed fame had it not been for your considerateness. When the client who partakes of your lunch is awe-struck by the corporate-cook-blogger’s ingenuity, tell him you have permitted a DSLR to take your position as head of the house. What is stoicism if not acceptance? As Sri Sri Ravishankar says, acceptance leads to contentment.
R.K.Narayan’s story “The Martyr’s Corner” carries a gentle philosophy – ‘the God’s grow jealous of too much contentment anywhere and show their displeasure all of a sudden’. I now understand what he meant. Some freak of fate got my instant-hit blogger in touch with a publisher before I could reach for my second kebab. The universe was conspiring against me while I was busy getting my strategies in place. Did someone say women were the weaker species? I was not one to give up so easily, I extracted my lifelines from the conspiracy itself.
2. Forget People, Embrace Characters:
Before you know it, you’ve started observing people as potential characters for the next story. ‘Wow, did you see how Prithvi behaved with the junior? I can base Neel’s character on Prithvi, no?’ You nod appreciatively. What you hadn’t decoded about your boss, never had the courage to admit, has been so easily dissected by the wannabe author. Suddenly, Prithvi is no longer this demonic manager the whole office loves to hate; he’s a character in your wife’s next novel. Suddenly, he has lost his venom, he’s just a character! Dear wife can put him through the torture you have not even dreamt of, she can kill him when she wants, give him the worst possible end. And with that realization, you empathize with Prithvi. He is a mere pawn in your wife’s hand, his end is not far, and if he kneels to you, you can save him. What an empowering thought!
3. Treat Holiday Destinations as Research-grounds:
The avid – blogger turned passionate – writer wants a holiday. You are delighted at the suggestion and revel in the chance to get away from the humdrum of mundane living. You make her wish your command and take care of the logistics. Once in your destination you slowly understand you’ve been tricked. She wanted to go to Cornwall not because it’s a must-visit but because Danny Boyle was holidaying there. She wants to meet him and make him produce a masterpiece with her best-seller. You sigh, switch on the TV in your hotel room and tell yourself you’ll soon be a famous author’s husband. Sigh.
4. Get Used to Odd Hours:
After the Danny Boyle spat, you took your revenge, and made her watch Evil Dead. Dead of night, you wake up in cold sweat with the sound of chains jangling. You reach out to touch your loving wife and feel a cold pillow instead, your throat is parched, the chains continue to jangle and you must find her. You shriek in horror as you see a luminescent head on the chair and a pair of red eyes staring at you. It’s your wife typing her Naturom Demonto at 3am in the hotel room. Get used to this, and trust an experienced author-spouse when he tells you, the fear will gradually diminish. The fluorescent face in the laptop light won’t seem half as scary as the daytime avatar of your diva.
5. Turn to Fruits & Raw Vegetables:
Gone are those glorious days of gastronomical delight. Your master-chef is now a writer. Cooking is the last thing on her mind when the lives of her characters hang in precarious balance. She’d rather wield her pen than her spatula. Grocery and vegetable shopping are now your babies and you are lost without their mother. You start buying fruit instead and vegetables that you can eat raw. It’s goodbye bhindi and welcome icebergs in your fridge now. The fruit bowl looks tempting, after all the man of the house has decorated it. You serve it to the missus; she looks at you with her mushy eyes and mutters she loves you; your heart skips like before till she asks you what’s for lunch. Inadvertently, she’s leading you to discover your dormant chef. You can never thank her enough.
6. Enjoy the Perks:
Mine came when I met Tharoor for missus’ book release. He remarked that he was glad to meet the ‘man with the good taste’, all because some fateful day during courtship I’d presented The Lady with a Tharoor novel, and she unabashedly shared this highly confidential information with the diplomat. Also, when Abdul Kalam signed her book with my name in it 🙂 The ways of the Divine are unfathomable, I can assure you.
The perks will come. With all the fruit and raw vegetables in your system, they cannot elude you. Sooner rather than later, they will. And when they do, accept them graciously. Send a silent prayer to heaven, hope that this is her last book, thank her profusely in private and in public – the latter, the better. Whatever you do, stick by her side. Never leave her alone. Remember, now she has written a novella, with you not breathing down her neck what if she writes Another Great Indian Novel ala Shashi Tharoor! You don’t aspire for a size-zero, do you?
7. Be Good to Her:
This is imperative and there is no arguing this one. You must be good to her because you don’t want to feature in her bestseller as a villain. Nobody has ever understood a woman and more so if she is an author. Who knows which stray remark, what thoughtless act can trigger her creative juice and she portray you as a character with questionable morals. What will you answer your children if things come to that! And with a matri like her, trust your progeny to think in layers. They will unravel at once that it is you under a different name in mama’s book. No SAS code can help you then.
Disclaimer: All characters in this post are real and any resemblance to persons, all alive-Bless their Souls, is achingly deliberate.