Sunday, January 18, 2009


Handing over the keys to our brand new car, the salesman briefed us about the terms of the warranty and extended warranty and the free service and the paid services and the exclusions. Then he proceeded to give us detailed instructions on how to handle 'her'.

“For the first two thousand kilometers, you should not exceed sixty kilometers an hour,” he said. “After the break-in period,' you can bring her to us. We will re-set the accelerator so that you can drive at higher speeds,” he added.

The expression 'breaking-in' brought to my mind 'breaking-in' in another context.

* * *

I had just got married. Though not the only child, for she had a younger brother, Bhawani had been brought up as a darling daughter. As in all urban nuclear families, her parents constantly doted over her. (I must add that all the hug and cuddle had not spoilt her, though.)

In marrying me, she was virtually being 'transplanted' from friendly and familiar surroundings to live with a stranger in alien climes and times.

As for me, I came from an entirely different background. I had grown up in a joint family as one among half a dozen kids and a horde of cousins. It was a case of survival of the fittest. Talking rough and acting tough were not unusual.

The world then had not heard of hi-falutin concepts like pre-marital counselling. The circumstances in which I got my bride were such that there was nobody to tell me how to handle or tackle my young partner in the early days of marriage. How was I then to know that being the only daughter, Bhawani might have grown up as a pet, apt to get peeved at the slightest provocation?

As a result, I had behaved in my own style, unmindful of the fact that I was dealing with a girl, not used to the abruptness that was my 'hallmark'.

Like the time we were at the breakfast table in 'our home'. It was the first upma (a light breakfast item made of broken wheat, popular in South India) Bhawani had made. And she had forgotten to put salt in the preparation.

Jestingly, I said, "It is called upma because up (salt) goes into it." It was, of course, not true; it was meant as a joke; an original one, characteristic of me, using play of words. As I sat back, (and gloating in the smug thought: how smart of me to have invented that wisecrack!), Bhawani got up from the chair and went into the kitchen. She returned a little later. I did not give it much thought.

It was months later that I realized how hurt she was at that innocuous sentence. And that was when she revealed it to me. The reason she had gone into the kitchen was as much to fetch the salt as to wipe the tears that streamed down her cheeks. Still to get used to my style of putting things across, she could not bear the ‘insult’.

Even in 2009, tears well up in her eyes when she is reminded of that episode, as I am sure they will when she reads this. (An offshoot of this incident is that she has never ever forgotten any of the essential ingredients of her recipes - least of all, the upma!)

PS: This piece will remain incomplete if I do not append what a friend of mine for over three decades remarked on hearing this story: ‘I find it difficult to believe that you were ever so boorish to make the remark in such an inappropriate situation!’


Suvro Chatterjee said...

Once upon a time, I think, 'breaking in' applied to horses and other animals!

Jokes apart, I really don't know whether you were really very boorish, or whether your wife - with some reason on her side, of course - was just hypersensitive in those early days. My own marriage has taught me very well that no matter how wise and considerate people might be, it needs a great deal of cautious experimentation and mutual adjustment and inevitable friction now and then (coupled with a very large dollop of luck) before we are thoroughly broken in, whether we are wives or husbands. I guess, too, that the women have the worst of it, usually, because it is they who traditionally have to move into alien territory.

Spouses who have become thoroughly well-adjusted and comfortable with each other might spend a long time apologising for unintended past 'boorishnees' of the sort that you now regret; but trying to make up for it might make us better folks, and keep improving our marriages. I worry much more about today's youngsters, whose tolerance levels are low, and ability to adjust almost nil!

wannabe said...

I could not agree with you more, Suvro and share your concern about the youngsters.

In fact, it was an e-mail message to my son who is getting married in a week from now that triggered this post. I had narrated this story to him to demonstrate how careful you have to be till the bride is, well, 'broken in' because even well-meaning banter can hurt.

a said...

“Man was made at the end of the week's work, when God was tired”

kochuthresiamma p .j said...

great piece-extremely well written!
but i refuse to believe bhawani was that sensitive:-).
i think we shouild not worry about youngsters. they'll thrash it out(hope not literally) among themselves.they are much more flexible and much less conditioned than we were.
' was just hypersensitive in those early days'
a typical male rejoinder.

wannabe said...

Molly, Thanks for the nice words. Coming as they do from a teacher of English, I am flattered!

I did think Suvro's comment had a male chauvinistic flavour (because hypersensitivity is not a prerogative of the distaff side), but did not react to that because I attributed the thought to my being often branded a feminist.

I could not link the comments of a to my post though the literal meaning is clear.

kochuthresiamma p .j said...

KTR, i waited for 32 long years for the mantle of the english teacher to fall off my shoulders. Now, atleast in the blogshere, i can freak out with the language.
that eng teacher bit gave me a jolt:-)

A Stoic said...

“Man was made at the end of the week's work, when God was tired”
That might be why he errs; is imperfect,insensitive and the male variety, chauvinistic.