“It’s not rocket science! We’ll manage!” I exclaimed.
Radha, my wife, stared incredulously. We had convened around the dining table and were discussing the latest crisis on hand; the non-appearance of our house help, Vinita.
Car keys, patience, and the house help, all had the habit of disappearing, when we needed them the most.
Radha’s forehead creased with worry.
“Today is the biggest day of my career. My team is calling me nonstop; I need to be at work in thirty minutes. On top of it, Vinita won’t be in to do the cooking.”
“Don’t worry about us. I’m on leave, and will be on top of things,” I added.
Radha’s face softened.
“OK, but when I return, I hope the house will still be standing.”
“We’ll be outstanding; else, we’ll be standing out!” I joked. Divya, our eight-year-old, giggled. We waved Radha goodbye after wishing her good luck..
“Where is grandmother?”
“She has gone to the temple to do a special pooja today. She will be back late.”
“Daddy, are we going to order food from outside?”
“Why don’t we cook a big meal for Mummy, and surprise her?”
“Who’ll teach you how to cook?”
Ouch! That stung. My offspring’s confidence, or the lack of it didn’t deter me.
“As I said earlier, it’s not rocket science.”
“Let’s make fried rice, rajma, cauliflower curry, and onion pakoras!” Divya rattled off a long list.
I liked it better when she kept her expectations low.
I smiled at the mention of the pakoras. Our marriage was an arranged one, and Radha had served me these fritters when I met her for the first time.
TWELVE YEARS AGO
Radha wore a pink saree, with jasmine flowers in her hair. She served everyone tea, glancing demurely at me.
“Please eat the pakoras. Radha has made them specially for you!” her parents beamed.
“The bride is a bit dusky. They whitewashed her photos on purpose. If you want, I can decline the alliance; we can say the horoscope didn’t match,” Amma whispered.
“No Amma, she has a government job; she will give me the financial stability I require till my business takes off,” I whispered back.
“A man dependant on his wife?” Amma snorted in disapproval.
“May I speak to Radha, in private?” I requested.
The elders agreed to my plea and let us converse on the terrace of their home, under the shade of the rustling trees. Away from their scrutiny, I had a good look at my prospective bride’s face. Radha’s doe-shaped eyes were her best feature; they seemed to speak volumes.
“Do you know cooking? Do you do house chores?” I blurted out.
Amma had coached me with a long list of questions, and this was the first.
Radha was taken aback.
“Yes, I am well-versed with housework.”
“Good. Do you have any questions for me?”
“Not a question; more of a request. My job means the world to me; I’ve worked so hard for it. After marriage, I don’t want to quit, ever.”
I had assumed that she’d work only for the time I deemed necessary, which was at max 1-2 years till my business found it’s footing.
“This is a nice terrace; very breezy,” I stuttered.
“When I was little, my parents hosted feasts under the moonlit sky. I would spend hours gazing at the moon. Once, my father caught me staring, mesmerized. He filled a plate with water; it captured the moon’s reflection. But when I touched the water, the reflection scattered, reminding me that it was only an illusion. My job is that moon; it’s all I want. I can’t settle for an illusion. Will you support me?”
Her eyes teared up; there was a raw honesty in them, her passion evident.
Was I largehearted enough to let her dream overtake mine? Did I have it in me to support her?
When we returned downstairs, the elders looked at us quizzically. I replied in the affirmative, much to everyone’s delight. Radha’s father had only one concern; could his daughter continue with her employment after marriage?
Amma saved me the trouble of answering.
“We are modern! We will permit Radha to work. But once she has children, her priorities will change,” Amma replied.
The elders nodded in agreement.
“An office can hire new employees, but can children get a new mother?” Radha’s mother chipped in.
My bride-to-be darted a worried glance at me. I blinked my eyes in assurance.
I’d no idea what was expected of me, but we would cross that bridge when we got there.
Plates of fruits and flowers were exchanged, and the engagement finalized.
“Daddy, why are you crying?”
“I’m not, it’s these blasted onions.”
“Mummy says it’s the sulphur in them that makes your eyes water.”
I looked at Divya with admiration; she was ahead of the children of her age.
“Here, use these safety goggles. Mummy got an extra pair from her lab. They will protect your eyes.”
Trust Radha to come up with something scientific.
The next step was to make the tomato gravy for the rajma. I meticulously chopped the tomatoes. One by one, all the ingredients were thrown into the food processor. As it whirred to life with a loud sound, it ejected a crimson projectile. The red gravy splattered across the kitchen, resembling a gory murder scene.
“Daddy, you should have closed the lid!”
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?
With tomato prices hitting the roof, there was a goldmine of red, splattered across the floor.
Amma and Radha were going to go ballistic.
My eyes returned to the offending food processor. Was it taunting me?
TEN YEARS AGO
I was upset; my business had folded, and I was back to a regular job in an office; one that involved pleasing my bosses, and networking with my colleagues.
“Amma, I have good news to share!” Radha announced.
“About time. It’s already been two years, no? Finally, the pitter-patter of little feet.”
“No, no. I am not pregnant. I got promoted.”
Amma shook her head, as though the news was inconsequential. Radha turned to me, hoping I would show more excitement.
“Well done,” I said begrudgingly. “There is an office event today; we have been asked to bring our spouses too. Get ready.”
Radha’s eyes brightened and she changed into a yellow saree with a brown checkered border.
“You look like a sunflower. Why wear such a gaudy saree? “I demanded.
“Should I change?” she stammered.
“No, it’s already late. You will delay us further.”
I sulked all the way, ignoring my wife. My colleagues had brought their wives along; and they looked fashionable. In comparison, Radha, with her simple plaited hair, and her flamboyant saree, stood out like a sore thumb.
Why was I so irritated?
“Friends, we have a special game tonight. The first one to solve this puzzle will win a free food processor!” the presenter announced.
A logical puzzle flashed up on the screen; one that I couldn’t make head or tail of. The audience frowned, brains tying up in knots. Radha on the other hand, raised her hand confidently.
“What are you doing?” I hissed.
“The lady in yellow at the back! That was quick.”
“The answer is option A!”
“Correct! But how did you crack it so quickly?”
“Sometimes, one must go with the simplest explanation,” she shrugged.
“Congratulations! Very smart of you, Mrs. Radha. You are the winner for tonight!”
Radha went up on stage and collected the food processor, holding on to it like it was gold.
When we returned home, guilt gnawed at me. I’d finally figured out why I was so irritable before; the simplest explanation stared at me in the face. It wasn’t the saree or Radha’s reticence. It was my jealousy.
Here I was, hoping to make an impact on my colleagues and failing miserably, while she was going from strength to strength in her career.
“Radha, I am proud of you.”
“For winning the food processor?”
“Not just that. For your promotion, for the way you hold yourself, and for putting up with someone like me. I’m sorry if I hurt you earlier.”
I resolved to do better.
Divya and I were so busy scooping off the red goo, that we ignored the indignant whistles of the cooker till it was too late.
“Why is the cauliflower so mushy?” Divya demanded.
“Divya, don’t play with that knife; it’s sharp.”
A tiny bit of blood trickled from her finger.
I gasped and tried to stem the flow.
“My poor baby! My princess! Are you OK?”
“Daddy, why do you panic so much? I’m fine!”
Baby, ever since I held you for the first time, I promised to be your protector and your biggest cheerleader. When you are hurt, I’m hurt too.
EIGHT YEARS AGO
I held the tiny pink feisty bundle in my hand; it felt surreal. How could such a tiny creature invoke such deep emotions?
“What shall we name her?” I asked Radha.
“Divya. It means celestial being or divine brilliance.”
“Baby, ask for the moon, and I’ll get it for you!” I vowed.
We brought her home, and I was in love, all over again. My daughter had me wrapped around her little finger.
My precious baby, Divya.
The months flew by, and Radha’s maternity leave was coming to an end. When I announced her plans to return to work, Amma had a meltdown.
“If she goes to work, who will look after the child?”
“I’ll arrange for a nanny,” I protested.
“Will my grandchild be raised by a nanny?” Amma hawed and hemmed.
Radha who was putting the infant to sleep heard us arguing.
“Should I resign?” she asked me, fearfully. “Amma thinks it is best for the baby.”
I hadn’t always been the best husband, but it was high time I proved otherwise.
I took Radha out to our balcony. It was a full moon night.
“Remember the story you told about the moon. Look at the moon there. Your dream is so near, yet so far. Do you want to let it slide by? Don’t you want to set an example for Divya?”
“I do, but…”
“No buts. I believe in you. You can do this.”
“What about Amma?”
“I’ll speak to her.”
My conversation with Amma didn’t go well. There were tears and threats; she quoted examples of how other women resigned from their jobs to bask in domestic bliss.
“Amma, Radha isn’t any ‘other’ woman. She is my wife!”
In the end, Amma gave up. Radha would resume work after her maternity leave, and arrangements would be made for baby Divya. We also hired our new household help, Vinita. Financially, we were in a good space now, and with two incomes we could afford help, quite comfortably.
I may be a work-in-progress, but I was learning from my mistakes.
“Why is the rice squiggly, like the equations Mummy scribbles?” Divya demanded.
“Why do you ask so many questions?”
“Mummy says asking questions is good.”
“Here, help me shell the peas. Meanwhile, I’ll chop the carrots.”
Divya kept chomping at the carrot pieces.
“You little rabbit! Leave some for the fried rice.”
“Carrots have beta-carotene, which is good. Mummy said so.”
“Do you remember dressing up as a carrot for your first school concert?”
TWO YEARS AGO
“I’ll be late for Divya’s concert. I have a last-minute meeting.”
“Radha, how can you be so heartless? It is your child’s first concert. Don’t you think she is more important than your job?” I snapped.
“Believe me I’ve tried postponing, but I wasn’t able to. You go ahead; I’ll join towards the end.”
Disappointed, I headed to Divya’s school by myself. My daughter looked cute in her carrot costume, as she danced with her friends who were dressed as other vegetables. I took videos and clapped loudly. The curtains fell to thunderous applause.
Radha arrived five minutes later, puffing and out of breath. When I told her the act was over, she looked devastated. I noticed the judgemental stares the other mothers were darting our way. When Divya joined us, we told her she was the star of the show. The brinjal, the cabbage, or the potato; none had held a candle to her carrot.
When we returned home, Divya promptly discarded her costume in the hall.
“Divya, pick up your things! How can you be this careless?” Radha admonished.
“Why do you scold her? Didn’t you hear how her teachers praised her?”
“She may be smart; but she is a girl. Her worth will always be measured by how well she runs her household or the kind of mother she is. Let’s keep her expectations low.”
I was taken aback, as I thought of the dreams I envisaged for my Divya.
Perfect academics, perfect career, perfect life. None of my dreams for her involved making perfectly round chapathis or being the perfect doormat.
That was when it hit me; to be a good father, I had to be a good husband first.
I found Radha curled up in bed, her eyes red.
“I missed Divya’s concert. I’m a terrible mother.”
“No, you are not. We are a team. I should be covering for you when you can’t.”
I put my arm around her, and she clutched onto it.
“Radha, how did your meeting go?”
“I got approval for a foreign collaboration for my project!”
“We should celebrate! Ice cream?”
Later that night, Amma approached me, her eyes shining.
“I am happy you are helping her soar.”
I wondered who the ‘her’ was.
Did she mean Divya, or did she mean Radha? Did it matter? Every woman is someone’s daughter, and every father wants his daughter to soar.
“I’m back! I did a special Navagraha pooja for my daughter-in-law today, praying for her success!” Amma announced.
It took time for Amma to realize the intergenerational toxicity she was helping propagate, but over the years she had evolved for the better.
“Look! Daddy and I made all these dishes,” Divya informed her grandmother proudly.
Amma looked at the mushy cauliflower, the charred pakoras, and the soggy fried rice. The rajma or the kidney beans, looked shiny; a tad too shiny.
“Did you taste the food?”
“Should I have?”
“Yes, otherwise how will you know if everything has been seasoned well or not?”
Amma sampled the rajma, and clutched her tooth, wincing with pain.
“The kidney beans are so hard; I think they will give me kidney stones!” she snorted. “Didn’t you soak them overnight?”
“No, I soaked them an hour ago. Won’t that do?”
“Radha is right. I should have trained you better!” Amma grumbled.
So now they were on the same team, huh?
“Let me help you fix the food.”
“Great! I’ll take a break now.”
“No, no, dear son. I am going to teach you to salvage this mess. It’s not rocket science you know.”
A lesson I should have learned many years ago. Better late, than never.
“Switch on the television. It’s almost time!” Divya yelled in excitement.
We huddled around the television. The countdown had begun to launch India’s Lunar exploration mission, Chandrayaan-3. Radha was a part of the team of scientists helming the launch. Today, was the culmination of years of hard work.
My wife was a payload specialist with I.S.R.O and was the true rocket scientist in the family. I didn’t have the intelligence to understand what a payload specialist did, but I knew that it paid to share the load.
As the spacecraft blasted off in a bright ball of orange, we watched with bated breath, praying, that the launch would be successful.
“India has created history today by successfully launching Chandrayaan-3!” the voice of the news reporter was drowned by our jubilant shrieks. Amma started crying, while Divya and I danced around the sofa.
The news channels flashed visuals of scientists hugging and congratulating each other. We spotted Radha, wearing her purple and gold Kanchivaram saree, smiling and shaking hands with everyone.
When Neil Armstrong reached the moon, he said, ‘One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’ What Radha achieved today, was a giant leap for womankind; she would be the inspiration for many a little girl aspiring for a career in STEM.
“My Amma is famous!” Divya exclaimed.
Radha was being interviewed on television and asked to share her feelings on the mission’s success.
“I’m grateful to my team and my loved ones who have stood by me. I love them to the moon and back!”
“What does your husband think of your cooking and your curries?”
My wife explored the stars; but the interviewers were more interested if she used Star brand masala for cooking. RIP Journalism. Would they ask male scientists similar questions?
Radha returned home later that night, jubilant and relaxed, for the first time in months.
“We did it! We’ll touch the moon soon.”
“You already did,” I said softly.
Radha’s eyes fell on the dining table.
“Did you make all of this?”
“Of course!” I said, ignoring Amma’s indignant stares.
“Well, I’m impressed!”
“I told you this isn’t rocket science!”
- Radha is a fictional character but inspired by the female scientists at ISRO (Mangalyaan and Chandrayaan). I read the below article, an interview with Mrs. BP Dakshayani, Group director, ISRO.
‘It was a tough job made tougher by the responsibilities of an Indian wife.’
This line caught my eye and inspired me to write this story.
- I.S.R.O: Indian Space Research Organization
- STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
Letting a woman spread her wings and fly, accepting that she has her dreams too, and lending a helping hand; it’s not rocket science!
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