I’m beginning to understand why forthcoming visits to Calcutta make me so apprehensive, even though past experiences don’t seem to quite merit it. There are at least two main reasons.
The first is my inherent shyness, self-consciousness and awkwardness. Here’s a simple example of how I traumatize myself.
When we arrived in Calcutta after almost 48 hours in transit, we were naturally encumbered with a load of dirty laundry. First, I was too shy to ask how this should be handled, even though I’ve been “part” (albeit a distant part) of this family for ten years. And, even though I distinctly recall the procedure from last time, less than a year ago. Anyway, I told Amit to ask for me, but I never did find out what answer he got. Meanwhile I overheard in the general conversation that some part of the domestic help was playing hookey and surmised that it was the part that would normally take charge of dirty laundry.
It is also pertinent to what follows, that the day we arrived in Calcutta, it rained continuously the whole day and the whole night. So, when we awoke to only mildly dull skies and a watery sun the following day, I was anxious to get the laundry done before the weather deteriorated again. (As an aside, being now a Bangalorean, I have completely forgotten what it’s like to experience rain that goes on for 12 hours at a stretch, stops for an hour or two, and then continues for another 12-hour stretch. I remember it used to carry this on for upto a week at a time in Delhi, but I had forgotten what it was like.)
So anyway, I decided to do the laundry myself, by hand, because that’s what they normally do here, and then dump it in the washing machine for the final rinse and spin cycle.
As I washed the clothes I thought all of the following and some random off-shoots.
- I hope this is the right detergent powder
I really shouldn’t be using someone else’s detergent powder without asking first
I hope they don’t think it odd that I’m sitting here and hand-washing these clothes
On the other hand, though, it’s a household of hard-working people, and at least they won’t think I’m too high-and-mighty to wash my own clothes
But they might think it odd that I didn’t ask them first about the process
Is it ok for me to run this machine without asking/telling someone?
Will they think it selfish of me to hog the whole machine to myself? What if someone else had some clothes to add to this load?
Should I even be prioritizing washing clothes over sitting around and chatting?
All this and more is what I agonized over after having decided to go ahead and just wash the damn clothes. And I’m sure that, really, nobody noticed and nobody cared about it any which way. But this is how even small decisions trouble me in places that I’m not entirely comfortable in.
The other thing that I find difficult is the strain of not being me. I find myself in this strange place where I feel nobody knows me – the real me – and the real me doesn’t fit in anywhere.
If I claim that nobody knows me, I must also admit that I’ve never made the effort to make myself known. Not that I’m consciously aloof, but just that I seem to have different interests.
Here, the men folk discuss economics, politics, world affairs, sports. The women talk about people and household affairs. I don’t feel I have much to contribute to either sets of conversation.
I don’t feel like the traditional sari-clad bahu who gets involved with the cooking and swaps recipes with enthusiasm; yet it’s a role I find myself assuming to some limited degree every time and every time it itches me. This is not who I am, and I don’t know why I even bother to try, but somehow I do, and in doing so I put myself under a lot of stress. Yet it’s not something I can completely abandon. I can’t even now say: I am what I am and I refuse to try to appear different, far less to actually change myself, just because you think I should. Or perhaps just because I think that maybe you think I should.
And so, instead of being me, warts and all, I keep trying to be what I think they want me to be, when perhaps the truth is that they don’t want anything from me at all. But everytime I make less effort, wear fewer saris, make less effort to follow boring conversations, take more time for myself… Maybe, eventually, I’ll drop the efforts altogether and then I might enjoy and even start looking forward to these trip where I can just be me, warts and all.