Sunday, February 8, 2004

Blessed to be uncomplicated
Taru Bahl

RHEA wafted into the Kapoor household breezily. Waif like, bubbly and full of fun, she was a delight. Being in her presence meant getting charged by livewire energy and feeling 10 years younger. Her tingling laughter, varied repertoire of jokes, limericks and riddles charmed you for you had not seen anything like this in a long time. That she was quiet intelligent was something you discovered when you spent time with her. Respectful and well bred, she was a child-woman who was at once delightful without going overboard and childlike without being juvenile or silly.

It was Arjun's sister who 'spotted' her. The moment she set eyes on her, she was floored by her innocence and simplicity. She intuitively felt that Rhea was the perfect girl for her brother and secretly hoped that the young bride would prove to be a ‘change agent’. Kalpana was concerned about the attitude her parents and brother had come to acquire over the years. For, the Kapoors were a serious lot. Academically inclined, they were part of a respectable elite who liked to be known as intellectuals or as 'think tanks' of the city. They made it their business to pontificate on world issues, take sides on subjects like human rights and participated in various fora to drive home the point that their opinion mattered.

They couldn't see a movie without intellectualising about it. They devoured the newspaper and analysed current events as if they were happening in their backyard. Kalpana felt it was fine to be sensitive and aware citizens but to bore others with pompous and opinionated ideas was a waste of time. She tried hard to loosen them up, get them to be more real, even frivolous, but they had looked down upon her, labeling her as the black sheep of the family who was not only a 'society girl' but one who put herself ahead of others. That she was an Assistant Professor of Biotechnology was of little consequence. They could never relate to her failed marriages. Having lived in the US for close to two decades, she had learned to be honest in matters of the heart. She had the courage to cope with the trauma of two failed marriages without getting bitter or cynical. Third time round she had been lucky.

She knew that if Arjun did not get married in the next couple of years he would end up as a stuck-up cantankerous old bachelor who would rather be buried under heaps of journals, clicking furiously at his computer mouse, chatting with people he was unlikely to meet, vociferously putting forth his comments on nuclear warfare, AIDS, corporate governance and such like matters.

She got lucky. Maybe the timing was right. Without having to insist much, she got the family to see Rhea. One thing followed another and the marriage was quickly solemnised. Arjun, had not seriously contemplated marriage. Law was the family business but it was 'lecturing' which was their mainstay. The father was on the panel for various committees, busy with meetings, demonstrations and rallies. The mother was active with women groups where she "brought some semblance of intelligence to the otherwise dim-witted, tambola-driven kitty parties". Arjun himself was a regular on the 'international circuit' often taking off to exotic places like Alabama or Bali to make presentations on social issues.

He had stalled marriage for long and knew there was no escaping this time.

And somehow, on seeing Rhea he felt that there was an instant connection. He couldn't quite put a finger to it. They were temperamentally as different as chalk and cheese. At first glance, she seemed much too childish for him yet he felt bonded with her. That she was extremely pretty also mattered, though his sense of intellectual pride did not allow him to accept it at the time.

Rhea knew she could never match up to the family's IQ level. She also knew it was pointless pretending to be what she was not. Without sitting on judgment or trying to 'set them right' she took a conscious decision to just be herself. When she couldn't understand something she either stayed out of the discussion or asked questions. For the better part, she did her own thing. Whether it was gardening, stained glass painting or honing her baking skills she talked herself into not taking their sardonic grins, borderline sarcastic comments and dismissive looks seriously. Happy to browse through Mills and Boons and Archie comics, she had no complexes about her intelligence.

Gradually, she found her feet in the household. Though her in-laws and husband did not openly appreciate her efforts at impeccable housekeeping, the way she had maintained herself, the manner in which she was bringing up her twins or the steady income which came from the orders she took for her stained glass installations, she knew that deep down they were fond of her and that was what mattered.

As the years passed by she knew that in her own unique way she had made her contribution to the Kapoor family. For all her naivet`E9, she had not a single mean bone in her body. No pretensions, no ego problems and no hassles in getting along with people. Not for her 'wavelength' issues which could keep her from relating with them. She would be amused at their behaviour but never disgusted or outraged. It was this unique quality which brought the Kapoors closer to their entire extended family. They could confide in her, seek her out and depend on her. Not given to intellectualising or lecturing, her refreshing insights were realistic and uncomplicated. Her language was simple, and her thoughts straightforward.

She knew that other than keeping the family grounded she had succeeded in getting Arjun to "flow with her". Without realising it he had shed some of his "solemnness". He had begun to savour the small pleasures of life. So what if he didn't give her credit for it, she knew that the fact that they had allowed her to be was their greatest gift to her and that now after nearly three decades it was nice to see them flowing with her. It was enough to make her world go round.

This feature was published on January 25, 2004