Friday, March 31, 2006
Last night, a friend of mine called me up from Goa. I hadn’t heard from her in the last two years. Therefore, when I heard a shriek ‘Mukku!’ and the sound of waves in the background, I had a somber feeling that perhaps some unidentified past had caught up with me. A minute later I found out. The maverick greeting and the gorgeous backdrop could only mean one thing –Rhea…in trouble.
Rhea and I studied in Alliance Francaise together. On reaching the building, I would proceed to class and she would go on to meet other people. Friends she called them, but I wasn’t too sure. From the huge files with photographs that she carried around, I think she was trying her luck at modeling.
Anyway, the last time we met before losing touch with each other, she asked me if she thought living in with her boyfriend was a good idea. I told her it wasn’t. In retrospect, my response was rather too quick to be palatable. After all, she and H loved each other and cherished each other’s company; although I think he was as emotional as a toilet seat and much less useful.
She had challenged me to give her reasons.
I told her that there was a certain mystery to not knowing the color of your partner’s toothbrush or the tear on the towel. And why live in? That sets the stage for familiarity and we all know how that goes.
Also, what additional insight would you get about the relationship by living in close, killing proximity? Distance works much better – the more the distance, more the insight. Also, living in was such a limp cop-out. You must co-habit for a solid water-tight reason (or as solid or water-tight as any reason can get)…and getting to know each other – that happened perfectly well in coffee shops and restaurants, thank you very much.
Living together meant a lot of hassles and must not be undertaken for trivial pursuits.
I mean, why get into a coffin unless you are dead? You don’t simply try one on for size.
She then called me a hypocrite and a prissy prude and went away. We met after class for pizza and Coke where she affectionately told me that I was a hypocrite and a prissy prude but her only true friend. I warned her that that wasn’t a good sign.
That was that.
Then last night, after I had been addressed as ‘Mukku’, ‘Mux’, ‘Mukkkktaaaa’, and other variants, she told me how she’d got my number from an old friend, how much she (and this is typical Rhea) ‘wanted to miss me but hadn’t had the time’, how she was so drunk that she was sitting on coconut shells.
Then she started about Joel. I haven’t met Joel but from what I heard of him, he didn’t seem very different from the other toilet-seat guy. He was ‘half-French’. The other half was undetermined.
‘So we’re thinking of moving in’, she said.
Glug glug! Rhea was drinking something and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t coconut water.
‘What do you think?’, she asked.
‘No’, I said.
‘About Joel and I living in? You’re still that conservative?’, she sounded horrified.
And the lens shifted to me.
I am not as conservative as I was before. In the time that Rhea and I have not been in touch, I have moved away from my folks and stayed in smaller flats with inconvenient furniture. I have made many more friends, men and women.
Both male and female visitors have spent time in or stayed over at my studio apartment in Mumbai and my one-room tenement in Pune. I have now the clear wherewithal to tell her with absolute certainty why one shouldn’t live in with a man.
They take up too much space.
I am not small. I have never worn a size ‘S’ in my entire life, not even as a toddler. Some of my girl friends aren’t small either. But three of my not-so-small girl friends can sit on the sofa, or hang around the kitchen, without anybody’s ribs having to feel the other’s elbows. There’s enough place for all the microbes to be floating around happily.
But then a guy visits my living space. It could be any guy and he could be of any girth. (Most look like the sticks they smoke anyway.) And suddenly, my house shrinks. I feel that the sofa is not really a three seater and the carpet area diminishes to bug in a rug area and the kitchen is a clattering mess if it holds any more than the guy and his movements of reaching for a cup and rinsing it. With a man in the house, there just isn’t enough room.
Examples I have witnessed:
The men visitors will all stand in the middle of the kitchen counter as if guarding something from some kind of unlawful entry.
The women friends will occupy spaces in the corners thus allowing for a cute little amphitheatre set-up.
My living room:
The men visitors will sit on the sofa and part their legs so that the knee-caps never touch – not even by mistake. The hands are positioned along the line of the backrest and palms dangle on both ends of, well, the backrest outlining hands. If they cross their legs, the upper limb will be perpendicular to the knee on which it rests. And then they will yawn or sneeze and the frail Fab India cane furniture will positively quake.
The women visitors will look at the sofa and in their minds chalk out a certain amount of space for themselves, even if they choose to sit cross-legged. If they cross their legs, the upper leg slopes like a gentle acute angle. There is place for another person.
My women visitors understand that other human beings do not unhinge and adapt their sizes to suit them. My men visitors are a little surprised when that doesn’t happen.
My bean bag:
Women regard a bean bag as a sort of a comfy chair while men see it as a sort of a quirky bed.
So, the women prop up the bean bag and sit down, ensconced in it resembling some kind of stuffing in a scooped jacket potato.
The men drag the bean bag and try to flatten it with gusto in manner of taming a shrew. The entire length and breadth of the body is employed to get it to behave.
The centre table:
Women move around the centre table.
Men shift the table to the side.
The side table:
Women use it.
Men move it. To make space for the centre table they want to shift.
And another thing I've observed of the men I have entertained in my house is this: they use too much water.
Let’s say you drop sauce on the table. What you need to do is first wipe it with a dry cloth and then wet another cloth and wipe over it again. You don’t get a soaked, dripping cloth and slop it all over the spill and then smudge it around even more.
And teeth get as clean with water flowing from the tap like a feng-shui dribble instead of the Niagara Falls.
Now, I’m not saying that it’s the case with everyone. But these instances provide me with enough reason to never want to live-in with any guy. I constantly get the impression that they just want everything out of their way all the time.
So, my advice to Rhea had nothing to do with the romance of mystery or moral rectitude. She thinks that I believe no man or woman should live together before marriage. Wrong. I mean, right. I do think that but I also think that they shouldn’t live together after marriage either.
They could stay in two different flats in the same building. In fact, a rather desirable arrangement would be if one stays on the ground floor and the other one stays on the topmost floor. That way, one is close to the garage and the other is close to the terrace. I haven’t quite worked out why I find this idea appealing but I’m sure there is a nice over-arching metaphor waiting to emerge.
I do realize that my opinion could be shaped by the fact that I have lived in a small flat in a crowded city. Had I been brought up, say, amongst tea plantations, my advice to Rhea could’ve been different. I’d have goaded her to live in with a guy until the cows came home – a possibility that is easy to accommodate in tea plantations but not in little flats.
Rhea of course was unconvinced. She and half-French Joel would be living together. I wished her all the best but hung up only after I had planted that willful teen demand in her head: ‘Get your own room.’