Over the top of her notepad, Mira peeked at the couple sitting before her.
The woman wore a starched teal coloured cotton saree that was starting to show its first wrinkles of the day. She was rather short and chubby and her long greying hair was braided into a loose plait that fell nonchalantly down her back.
The man, who seemed at first glance to be a physical contradiction to the woman, was tall, wiry and balding. Unlike the woman however, he had not bothered to put on formal clothes. He sat on the couch in an old checked shirt and brown cotton shorts, hairy chest and legs on full display; his round belly camouflaging any hint of a waistline.
They sat on opposite ends of the couch, as far away from each other as it was possible to be, without falling off either end; their hands crossed across their chests, faces averted from each other and an expression of mutual dislike prominent across their aging features.
They had been sitting like this ever since the session had started. She watched them warily, waiting for the explosion that she knew, through years of experience, was about to come.
The blank white of the notepad seemed to tease her. What hidden information could she possibly glean from their appearance and body language, that she didn’t already know? No. The problem was that she knew too much.
She allowed another five minutes to pass before clearing her throat and leaning forward in her chair.
“Mrs. Rawat, Mr. Rawat,” she said, inclining her head towards them in turn. “We can sit here in silence if you wish. However, may I remind you that we’ve arranged this session for the specific purpose of talking about things that might be bothering you. So, if we are to make any progress, I urge you to speak up.”
Her words were greeted by even more tightly wound bodies, hunched shoulders and disgruntled glares. Mira sighed. Her mind beseeched her to get up and leave, while she still could. Save yourself! It screamed, waving it’s arms in panic.
The silence was broken by a snort of derision that came from Mrs. Rawat. Mira looked at the woman expectantly, nodding, encouraging her to either sneeze or speak.
“Well? This was your idea. What happened? Cat got your tongue?” Mrs. Rawat threw a contemptuous look at her husband. “Why don’t you tell the girl why you force us to be here?”
“Force you! Bah!” Mr. Rawat barked. “My dear woman, even the Gods can’t force you to do anything you don’t want to do.”
“Don’t you dare pin this on me! It was your idea!”
Actually, Mira thought, absently twirling her pen, it was mine. But, no need to point that out, as of now.
Mrs. Rawat uncoiled her limbs and turned to face her husband, who inadvertently shrank back into his end of the couch. Mira couldn’t blame him. The Devil himself would have cowered under that gaze.
“You always have problem with everything I do! Such a nit-picker I never met in my life.” Mrs. Rawat wailed, raising her hands to the heavens. “God only knows why I ran away from home to marry you!”
Mr. Rawat seemed to be struggling with some inner turmoil. His limbs twitched, and his face did an odd sort of jig, whether in anger or fear, Mira couldn’t tell. Then, all of a sudden, all hell broke loose.
“IT WOULDN’T KILL YOU TO HAVE A SHOWER ONCE IN A WHILE! YOU SMELL SO BAD I WANT TO KILL MYSELF!”
“OH, YES? YOU DIDN’T SEEM TO MIND SO MUCH BEFORE!”
Mira let out a breath she didn’t know she had been holding. The couple gesticulated wildly, pointing accusatory fingers at each other, their faces screwed up with years of pent up frustration. Her eardrums reverberated with the battle cries of their domestic argument.
Already, she was missing the silence of a few minutes ago. She sighed again and glanced out of the window at the afternoon sun and wished she could be out there enjoying the sleepy silence with the rest of the world.
Unfortunately, she had to be in here, on a Sunday no less, as far removed from a sleepy silence, as it was possible to be. Her eyes drifted to the wall clock on the far side of the room and she sighed quietly. Thirty minutes down, one and a half hours to go.
God, let us all leave this room alive, she murmured a quick prayer.
She raised her hands to draw their attention. “Mister Rawat, Missus Rawat, PLEASE!”
They turned towards her in unison, their faces registering abject surprise that she was still there. “Shouting is getting us nowhere. Please, we need communication, not collision.”
Mr. Rawat rolled his eyes and huffed impatiently. “You told us to talk about what was bothering us.”
“Exactly,” Mira said, “talk, not scream.”
Mrs. Rawat threw up her hands in resignation and looked away.
“Right. So, now that we can all hear each other. Let us go through it, one by one. Mrs. Rawat, why don’t you begin.”
“I knew it!” Mr. Rawat shouted, pointing the finger of doom at Mira. “You will take her side only! You women will always band together. Well, I won’t have it! I am right and she is wrong. A person must have a bath everyday. She bathes once in seven days! I ASK YOU. Our son is a teenager, and he showers three times a week. And everybody knows how teenage boys are walking pits of filth and hormones.”
“Mr. Rawat!” Mira raised her voice. “Nobody is taking sides here. You will get your chance to speak.”
“Ah. But why should he wait for me?” Mrs. Rawat screwed up her face in contempt. “His manly ego won’t be able to bear a woman talking first, would it?”
“FALSE ALLEGATIONS!” Roared Mr. Rawat, standing up from the couch and looking daggers at his wife. “I knew this would happen. The moment you see a man starting to speak up and take a stand, you start screaming Feminism and Patriarchy and what not!”
“Mr. Rawat, I’m not…” Mira said loudly, but he ignored her.
“It’s all propaganda I tell you. THERE HAS BEEN NO PATRIARCHY IN THIS HOUSE!”
Mrs. Rawat stood and jabbed a bejewelled finger in her husband’s chest. Mira suppressed an overwhelming desire to laugh as Mr. Rawat took several steps away from his wife.
“Is that so? Then what does it matter to you how many times I bathe! Next you will be counting how many times I go to the loo, or how many chapattis I eat!”
“It matters to me because I have to sleep next to you.”
“Nobody is forcing you to sleep in the same room! Sleep on the floor for all I care.”
“Why should I sleep on the floor? I bathe twice everyday and smell like spring flower pots, like a proper human being. You, on the other hand smell like a… a.. a Dumpster!”
Mrs. Rawat gasped in horror.
“Hey! That’s enough.” Mira said. When nobody paid her any attention, she stood up and her notepad fell from her lap onto the floor, with a carpet muffled splat.
The couple stared at her, their mouths open in a round O of surprise. Mrs. Rawat quieted to the low growling of a mildly active volcano, while Mr. Rawat shook his head disapprovingly, wagging his long index finger at her.
“Now, young lady. Is that any way to talk to your elders? And what is this Mister Rawat and Missus Rawat, huh? Too big to call us mom and dad, are you?”
Mira slumped down on her chair and hid her face in her hands.
Why, God why?! Why had she even suggested this? What infernal bug had crawled inside her brain, overtaken her good sense and forced her to advise her parents to seek marriage counselling?
Ten, nine, eight, seven… she counted down the numbers to one; a trick she advised her patients to practice to gain an upper hand on their tempers; three, two, one…
She took a couple of calming breaths and picked up her notepad. To her surprise, she noticed that instead of taking notes, she had written two words in big capital letters, below the doodle of a dark, twisting spiral – KILL ME.
Yep, an extremely succinct summary of my afternoon so far.
“Mr. Rawat,” she said, pointedly, “I am not supposed to be doing this at all. The only reason I agreed to sit in on this soap drama was that I would mediate in an unofficial capacity. I cannot be an objective observer if I am calling you Dad or Mom.”
“Fine.” Mr. Rawat said, his voice clipped with barely contained exasperation. “Just tell her that you think I am right and she’s wrong; and then we can all go on with our day peacefully.”
“Dad! Er… Mr. Rawat, I cannot do that. I cannot take sides, my role is to mediate only.”
“Well, you aren’t doing that very well, Miru.” Her mother… Mrs. Rawat chimed in. “Is this how you treat your patients? You don’t seem to be getting anywhere with us.”
Mira groaned. “That’s because you guys are not letting me do my job!”
“Hey now. Do not try to pin your incapability on us, please.” Mr. Rawat said, shaking his head. “We supported you all through your education. Though why anybody would willingly go and waste money on a Psychology degree, is beyond me. Couldn’t you have studied Medical or Engineering?”
“Like Mr. Sharma’s children.” Mrs. Rawat piped up, nodding her head. “Such polite kids. Now, those are proper respectable jobs Miru.”
Mira stared open mouthed at her parents. Not this again! She was one of the top Marriage Counsellors in her town; countless happy couples roamed about on the streets, thanks to her practice, and all her parents cared was she hadn’t done what Mr. Sharma’s kids had done.
“Fine!” She said, throwing her doomsday doodle of the never ending spiral in the air. “I give up. I can’t do this. You are impossible. Go see someone else, someone ‘respectable’. I’ve had it up to here with you two!”
“Ah, see now, you have upset her.” Her mother said, looking reproachfully at her husband. “I told you this was a bad idea, but nobody ever listens to me.”
“Humph!” Her father grumbled. “How should I know she is not able to do her job only.” He shook his head again, murmuring under his breath. So much money I spent, and on what. Psychology, I tell you!
Mira raised a threatening eyebrow.
“Er…” He faltered. “Well, can you at least refer us to another one of these Counselling people then? I suppose you are a ‘Doctor’? My GP refers me to another Doctor if he can’t cure me.”
Mira did not appreciate the air quotes her Dad used when he said ‘Doctor’. She pursed her lips. Anything to get them off my hands, she thought.
“Of course, I can refer you to another Doctor.” She wrote the details of a well known Counsellor on her notepad. “Here.” She handed the slip to her father. “She sits on Fridays at 10. The first Consultation fee is about 1500. I’ll book the appointment.”
“Fifteen hundred rupees!” Her mother exclaimed. “For one consultation. But, that’s extortion! I thought it would be for free, like with you.”
Mira stared. Are they for real?
“Mom, I am doing it for free because I am your daughter! And besides, it is.. was, an unofficial thing. I told you.”
“Which means what?” Her father asked, his eyebrows knotted like old headphone cords. “If we weren’t your parents, you’d charge us?”
“Of course, I would! Honestly, Dad. Do you even know what I do? Where do you think my salary comes from? The Heavens?”
“Preposterous!” He exclaimed.
“Mira, Mira…” Her mother shook her head, in what she apparently thought was a kindly manner. “You cannot charge your own parents. That is bad manners. I did not raise you to be so greedy.”
“Look,” she raised her hands to quiet down their muttering. “I will pay the fee, okay? Would you just go? At least for the first session? I really think counselling will help you guys with your differences. And Dad, please wear some pants when you go see her.”
“What is wrong with his shorts? You bought them for him.” Her mother said.
“What differences?” Her father said. “We don’t have differences.” He looked at his wife and she shook her head. “Not at all.”
Mira’s eyes almost popped out of her sockets. She looked from one to the other, her neck moving to and fro between them, trying to gauge if they were pulling her leg. They weren’t. They were completely serious.
“You young people do not understand the importance of money. You think 1500 rupees grow on trees? Why pay 1500 rupees for someone else to tell your mother to have a bath? I do that at least five times a day. Give me the money, and I will be a very rich man in one month.”
The clock struck one in the afternoon, and the jangling music of the old clock echoed in the silence between them.
“But. But.. you were screaming bloody murder at each other just now!”
“That is nothing.” Her father waved a hand dismissively.
‘So what if we disagree on bathing habits? It is our… what do you young kids call it… time-pass. You’ve your own place now and your brother is always reading some book or other.” Her mother shrugged. “What are two old people to do in this big house?”
Mira felt a twinge of pain somewhere inside her. But, before she could feel too sorry for them, their expressions changed. They looked at each other conspiratorially and nodded together, as if both had been struck by a sudden inspiration.
Her father leaned forward cautiously. “Now, if you were to marry and give us some good news…”
“NO!” Mira screamed. She dropped her notepad and sprinted out of the room.
How did they always manage to turn every single conversation around to marriage? Surely, there must be some secret superpowers that parents possessed, everywhere in the world! What, otherwise, could explain these clever mind games?
She breathed heavily as she leaned outside the door of the room, feeling as if she had just executed a successful jailbreak. She fumbled in her pocket for her phone and made a call.
“Hello, Mira! It has been a while.”
“So, have they finally agreed to seek counselling? Your parents? When shall I book the appointment for?”
“Er… no. They are fine actually. But, I think it’s time for me to seek counselling.”
Having relationship problems, suffering with anxiety or depression or any other mental health related disorder is not a joke. Seeking professional help is not a joke. Personally, I believe that Psychotherapy and Counselling are amazing! The story is in no way meant to make a mockery of the institution, or professionals, or of those who suffer with these disorders or problems. The story is just a light hearted take on the thinking of typical Indian parents. I am sure we have all grown up hearing these things, and this story is just my take on how impossible it is to reason with Desi Parents.
We love them to bits, but they sure make it so difficult. God bless them!
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