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!’