An out-and-out city girl, the only 'farmhouses' I knew about were those I had seen in Hindi films. Those were sprawling mansions brimming with latest gadgets, a swimming pool, party area and sometimes a helipad. When my beau mentioned his farmhouse, I pictured an exotic scenario and couldn't wait to visit it after our wedding.
The tedious journey and then the sight of a tame-looking bungalow standing amidst lawns felt a big let-down. Next, my soft-spoken solicitous husband suddenly distanced himself from me as the gates closed behind us. I was puzzling over this newfound aloofness over breakfast when he stated in an authoritative voice, "To the kitchen, please, lunch here is early. 1pm sharp. Cook three dishes and you, not the help, will serve food to the elders." I looked at him aghast! Who was this feudal stranger?
A man of liberal thought and westernised beliefs, he was anything but a chauvinist. I was more than his equal in every respect, or so he thought. My work and convictions were considered as cherished as his. House chores were left to the help. The culture shock was unpalatable. As I stared at him, he added, "Don't expect to spend time with me, be seen but not heard. Try keeping your head covered with your hair neatly tucked away" and he strode away, leaving me to follow. So much for the farmhouse, the swimming pool and the mocktails!
The kitchen was a huge three-chambered affair complete with an ante room and an open area which had tandoors and choolahs of all sizes. Everything was king-sized here, even the utensils. Were we to cook langar? I stood there beleaguered. The domestic help smiled at me encouragingly for orders. When none were forthcoming, they were quick to come to my rescue.
Barely had I decided the menu when a shout came from outside - "Bibiji, eight cups of tea required." The patwari and kanungo are here. Flustered, I oversaw both tea-making and the lunch. When I served lunch, my husband did not even acknowledge my presence, let alone exchange a smile or a word. He allowed me to serve him and began eating along with the elders and some relatives who had come to meet him.
Back in the kitchen, I sulked. What about me, should I eat alone or better still, not eat at all, did anyone care? Hurt, I refused food. After another round of visitors and umpteen pots of tea we fed the dogs, nine in all. We were to start on dinner within an hour; I was exhausted and angry. With wearied steps I sought out my room. Within minutes, the most wizened of our help entered the room with a thaali of food, "You will get your world back when you return. Till then you have to maintain the balance of life here by following the old order. Here you will always be the gracious 'nu-rani'(daughter-in-law) and Saab will be the feudal lord, like his father and his father before him. Now please eat," she smiled and left.
It is 20 years since and though I dread the 'farmhouse', once there I try to play my role valiantly, keeping intact the expected mores. Whether or not my sons will care to maintain the status quo or my 'nu-ranis' will don that mantle, only time will tell!
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