By Nandini Sarkar November 2013 Nandini Sarkar tells the story of Bobo, who attempts a personality change to impress the man she loves, and discovers that the attempt was simply not worth it. Bobo’s ruling planet was Mars and her birth date had a liberal sprinkling of the number 9. “It is no surprise, no surprise at all,” said the family astrologer, shaking his head resignedly at her worried parents, “She is always so aggressive. Who does she think she is, Kiran Bedi, Commissioner of Police? Always taking people by the collar and shaking them up? A rebel with any cause! There is nothing feminine about her, look at her short hair. Why can’t she grow her hair like you, Mrs Kundu? Which eligible boy will marry her and stake his independence at the altar of her karate chops? My dear Mr and Mrs Kundu, your daughter needs to wear a 16-carat red coral at the least, if you are ever to find a boy brave enough to marry her.” Bobo’s father loyally protested, “That is not a fair assessment, Dr Majhi. Despite her short hair she is universally considered to be pretty. She sings beautifully. She takes up good causes for the community and is extremely popular. Her problem is she cannot suffer fools gladly. She lacks patience and some social finesse.” Bobo agreed to wear the 16-carat ring only after extracting a promise from her parents that for the next six months they would not go bridegroom hunting. “Give me a break,” she said loudly and passionately, flinging her arms and punching the air with her fists. Her mother ran to shut the dining room windows, lest the neighbours hear them and laugh. But destiny was going to have the last laugh, as it always does. Bobo met Yashwant, a tall, thin lawyer who had recently joined her company, a young man of pleasant mien, friendly but somewhat detached, He was found reading books like The Habits of African Tribes, in the lunch hour. Yashwant wrote beautifully, spoke softly but firmly and intelligently, and looked really dashing in the blue kurtas he wore to work on Saturdays. Bobo was smitten. Here was an unknown male species. Here was a man who was not overpowered by her, who would listen to her outbursts with a quizzical smile and then reply so wittily that she would burst out laughing. Here was a man who seemed to be his own person, inhabiting an impenetrable bubble of his own; unfazed by public opinion. Yashwant was also a thorough gentleman, pulling chairs for the ladies, opening doors for them, but doing all this without a flourish or without being effeminate or flirtatious. “Hey, Yashwant! Your mother packs a cool lunch box for you every day. When are you inviting us home for a six-course meal cooked by your Mum?” Bobo asked one day. The real reason behind fishing for an invitation, of course, was to get closer to Yashwant and to check out his family. In her mind’s eye, she had already started visualising the two of them as a married couple. Now it was time for some pro-active action, for which she was (in) famous. Yashwant was such a serene dolt, she thought fondly, left to himself he would never propose. The last Saturday he had unexpectedly asked her to accompany him for some shopping for his mother and she had readily agreed. They had shopped for wooden hangers, of all the things in the world, and Yashwant had bought himself a bright yellow shirt, much against her vehement protests in the shop. The salesperson had backed off hastily when he saw her tickling and heckling a grown man, but Yashwant had smiled through all the chaos she had created and stuck to his choice. They had gone for ice-cream to Kwality’s on the river bank, and she had, in her usual boisterous way, tried to shove a cone down his new yellow shirt. With a full throated laugh he had fenced off her attack. She was surprised at his touch, muscular but gentle, not hurting her but successful in stopping her invasion. This is my man, she had decided and the next logical step, of course, was to meet Yashwant’s family. Bobo hit it off with Yashwant’s father at once. They both loved politics and had an invigorating discussion punctuated with peals of laughter. Yashwant’s mother was a tall, statuesque lady, grave in her demeanour. But she had laid out a lovely meal. She spoke little. All of a sudden, “Eat the head!” she said peremptorily, referring to the lobster Bobo had just finished. Bobo instinctively opened her mouth to reply, mind your own business, but this time she bit her lip and said tamely, “I feel queasy about eating lobster heads, please excuse me for wasting it.” After all, it was Yashwant’s mother. After lunch Bobo found herself alone with Yashwant’s mother for a little while. She felt herself being looked at closely and shifted uneasily in her seat. “What do you like in my son?” asked the lady suddenly. “There are so many wonderful boys around.” “Oh no!” groaned Bobo, mentally. “She’s found me out!” “Why do you ask, aunty?” she had replied innocently. “We are just colleagues, getting to know each other.” The lady looked unconvinced. She should have been an actress, thought Bobo. She can emote without speaking. “Yashwant is a gentle, compassionate soul, very evolved,” said the lady cryptically. “If he marries, he would never leave me, he is very attached to me. I am one of those old-fashioned mothers, you know. I would expect my daughter-in-law to help me cut fish and vegetables, wash the dishes when the maid does not show up and help me cook Sunday lunch for the family. Yashwant tells me that he will choose someone like me when he decides to marry. I have been a working woman all my life but my family was never compromised. I have cooked for them, knitted sweaters, ironed shirts and been involved with whatever has pleased them. I have conducted myself with restraint and harmony in my husband’s large joint family, never asking him to split from them. Yashwant too is very close to his large extended family; he would not dream of leaving this family compound. ” “Uh….great job, aunty,” said Bobo, swallowing hard. She had got the message. After returning home, Bobo locked herself in her room. She looked at herself long and hard in the mirror. She needed to do some plain speaking to herself. “Look here, Bobo,” she said sternly to her image, “If you love Yashwant, which you know you do, you must change. Learn decorum, cooking, knitting, calmness and compassion. Learn to live in a large joint family without using your pepper spray on odious people or making fun of long-winded people. Stop laughing loudly and wearing jeans. And yes, start learning to cut fish.” There was a long Thai wall hanging behind her. It was the Buddha of Compassion. ‘Yes! Like him, become like the Buddha,” she told herself. Bobo was proud of herself. For three long months she consciously practised calmness and compassion. She took cooking classes from the family cook. She learnt to sew buttons. She even learnt to cut fish. She stopped using her trademark sentences: I’ll give you one! Or I’ll smack your face! She resisted the desire to use her pepper spray on leery vice-presidents, or use the long braid of the girl in her bus to jump off the bus. Her throaty, boisterous laughter was no longer heard. She stopped playing pranks. She stopped smacking lazy team members on the head. She stopped wriggling her bottom and yelling, “Muqabla! Muqabla!” during office dance parties. People in the office thought she was sick. Her parents were delighted and profusely thanked the planet Mars. Someone had spilled the beans about Yashwant, and they were planning to meet his parents with a marriage proposal. Bobo would often look at her reflection in the office lift and smile beatifically. She was very demure in Yashwant’s presence, no longer playing tricks on him or sending him naughty SMSs. She even started wearing Yashwant’s favourite colour yellow, in place of her favourite bright red and surprised the whole office by competently wearing a sari for a whole day at work. Alas! Just as a leopard cannot change its spots, Maya will not allow us to jump up the evolutionary ladder. Maya wants to play with us and keep us going in our craziness for as long as she can. One morning, Bobo woke to the sound of a soft pitter patter on her window sill. The monsoon rains were calling her. Yelling in joy, she threw off her blanket and went running to the terrace. Unfazed by the Peeping Tom on the other terrace who stared at her open-mouthed, she laughed, played, sang and danced in the rain. And she wriggled her bottom furiously, like a crazy dog. “My chains are gone! I am free! I am free!” she shouted again and again. “To hell with decorum and to hell with Yashwant!” she shouted. “And to hell with you!” she shouted to the man on the opposite terrace, waving her fist at him. Buddha had been liberated and had once again become Bobo. Bobo started avoiding Yashwant at work. She avoided his calls and left his messages un-replied. One Saturday, a determined Yashwant caught up with her at the lake. She was wearing torn jeans and feeding ducks. A motley group of street children were around her. She was teaching them to play the guitar. “Hey, what’s up? We are not connecting these days,” said Yeshwant, squatting beside her. “FO Yashwant,” said Bobo pleasantly, without looking up from feeding ducks, but not without a pang. “I am what I am; a free, spontaneous soul and I will not be caged by other people’s expectations of how I should behave.” “So who has been telling you how to behave? Me?” said Yashwant,
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