Saturday, March 14, 2009

Champagne and Lemonade ?

There are two types of folks.

Those who make other people dance to their tunes. And those who dance to other peoples tunes. And between the guru-style and dancer-style attitudes, lie those , who keenly observe human nature, become great judges of people, and benefit, often in tangible ways.

Padmaja was to come live in the building. Those who didn't know her , welcomed the news. Those who did know her, raised their eyebrows and wondered what kind of a response, the falling standards of maintenance of the building ostensibly due to lack of funds (we live in institutionally owned residences), would evoke from her.

They soon heard.

From the unending lines of carpenters , masons, plumbers, electricians, painters, helpers, and assorted supervisory types who appeared with regularity, with a permanent disapproving frown on their qualified visages. Here was something taking place for months after the allotment took place.
Typically, an apartment was checked, repaired wherever required, declared fit for human habitation, and only then allotted through a list.

Once in a while, an open door would
reveal folks standing inside , inspecting stuff, then a lady's voice expressing voluble disapproval, some discussion , and the drilling, and banging and whizzing would start all over again.

Finally after 4 months of this the people moved in.

I went on a welcome visit.

Not yet clear as to who was welcoming who.

There was a palpable sense of superiority pervading everywhere. It almost felt, it was like going from my grad school university apartment , say, to the White House.

Residents of such houses also live that image. At any time, you expect a royal flick of a wrist followed by a raised eyebrow, downward look , intriguing in its obliqueness. You can almost see the ants in the balcony scurrying for cover. And the children of the family never leave their school books in the living room.

There were massive changes to the place, which I had hoped for , only in my dreams. Never had the guts to realize those dreams, due to the awareness that this was not my own home, and I couldn't demand stuff which would cost the exchequer so much.

She showed me around and I truly admired the stuff, as well as her capacity to get these things done.

" I don't care. I cant cook here. It is SO hot. And what kind of an exhaust fan is that ? I just told them , I am not going to tolerate this. They can come stand there when I am cooking and notice the heat. Stupid ventilation. Then I got all this plumbing shifted out of here. Even within the bathrooms I had them shift the sink. And you know what, there simply isn't a proper place to place my AC's. I have now asked them to change these cupboard doors. Simply disgusting. And I have asked them to plan for an additional limb of the L of the kitchen counter ....... "

The house would have made it to the Interiors magazine. The expense would have been borne by the Institute that owned the building. Stupid and dense folks, like your truly do not realize that placing orders for stuff tends to warm a lot more pockets, than the vendor's.

And then there is Veena. The apartment she has, earlier housed a family with 3 children. The fixtures around the house show appropriate wear and tear. The house gets painted officially, once in 6 years , and she will tolerate certain rain-based automatic artwork appearing on the walls, till her turn comes. It's possible to hide that with book cases and wall hangings. She has got some extra electrical fittings installed in her house at her own cost. One of the sinks is developing a leak. But it is in one of the bathrooms, so she isn't unduly concerned. (Indian middle class bathrooms do not resemble rooms for relaxing, and in particular, it isn't the custom to have mats on the floor. The cool floor is more more pleasant, in a hot and searing Mumbai. )

She has asked for some repair work on some kitchen shelves. Three fellows have come to have a look and gone. She will wait for a while and then make that phone call to someone, one level above the fellows. And yes, her kitchen is identical to Padmaja's in size and shape, but she has installed a ceiling fan to cool herself on sweaty occasions in front of the stove, as she wipes her face with her saree end, and tries to fan herself with the same. There is a sense of staying within some kind of vaguely defined limits. There seems to be less of "I want" and more of "We'll try"....

The women who come to help in the housework in both these houses, have been coming to my house for years. Long before they started there.

So I get to hear all such things, about new arrivals, possible departures, highhandedness , troublesome ladies, nice ladies, sweet children, quirky children, and all sorts of stuff, when they finish their work at my place and sit down to have a cuppa. These ladies have worked for years in the building. Seen lots of occupants come and go. I am more or less a permanent fixture, at least for another few years. And it is very interesting to listen to these women, who haven't changed an iota, as they wander through grand and not so grand and even simple houses, in the building, doing basically the same type of work.

Padmaja is ambitious. She demands and gets what she wants. She couldn't care less what it costs as she isn't paying. But things must befit what she considers her "status". She doesn't bother about antagonizing anybody else, unless it is someone that will matter to her husband's career. I guess that part is true the world over. There is a distinct sense of me-up-here-you-wallowing-there when you deal with her. But her house impresses the hell out of first time visitors.

Veena, comes across as a very friendly lady. Fairly firm about what she wants, but not about to get into a traumatic dither if it doesn't happen. That's life. She will think several times about demanding something in her house that other flats are not provided with. She is probably more amenable to the entire building getting together, discussing and asking for something to be done, formally, so that the changes are done as a policy decision rather than a personal favour. In a closed society, everything she does reflects the quality of the act on her husband, and she is very very careful.

But it also means that occasionally some family visitors will remark on the bad upkeep of the building. Hint that her contemporaries are into getting interiors "done up" . But like Padmaja, she is a strong lady. Unlike Padmaja, she keeps to the straight and narrow path, enjoying the grass and flowers as she continues to see the far away stars only in her dreams.

Both ladies follow a lifestyle. The ethics of it all, is something that families pick up as they observe and imbibe from the attitudes, and the process of living. It is possible that in today's world, it helps to be a Padmaja. On the other hand, I would hate it if I had to go through life following norms and standards fixed by others, who possibly have no work and lots of free time. Being a Veena won't get you any prizes anywhere. But it will teach you to learn to live within your means, and avoid, what maybe called a hankering lifestyle. Which, again, in today's world , may or may not be considered smart.

Padmaja or Veena. One who enjoys guru-gestures in the dance of life, and the other, who quite simply, enjoys the dance, broken stage and all.

While i can make a quick and fast choice here, I wonder what people think....


  1. Veena's fun, I guess... and Padmaja cough cough...reminds me of a kid who expects the crow to buzz over her head any minute, snatching a pound of her hair... and then, she reminds me of a fellow blogger too:) and you're right. Everybody falls into either of the categories you mentioned. And then, of course, the third, the analysts. In today's world, it might help to be Padmaja for a while. For the most part, she could be a pain in the neck. Just a thought:)

  2. I think though that Padmaja would never be happy. She probably always has something in her life that is not quite right. Perhaps Veena enjoys her life more.

    It happens in life doesnt it those who whinge the most get listened to the most. It is learned behaviour on her part. I dont know but the thought that always goes through my mind about lots of things is will it really matter when I am on my death bed. What is going to be important to me at the ed of the day?

    Except, I do have to admit tht I prefer champagne to lemonade but my tastes dont always extend that way just my drink of choice.

  3. Equality is an elusive concept Suranga. By the way Pip is back on Journeys in Creative Writing ...
    June in Oz

  4. i don't know why, but this rem inded me of the mothers we meet while waiting for the kindergarten kids...and there is invaribaly a padmaja for every veena that you meet there...

    i love reading your posts....

  5. Yet again, thought provoking !

    The Padmajas and the Veenas dot our landscape ! Dont they. And there are a few other types as well.

    Both right in their own perspectives and both making a difference to their own.

    Both living a value system that they think suits them.

    Both being a product of their genes and the environment ! Their own !

    Both walking seemingly different paths towards a future that both see through their own lenses !

    Unaware, or perhaps blissfully chosing to disregard the world and its views. Of observers like us.

    Whilst the observers ourselves are being observed. By the world, which includes the Padmajas and the Veenas !

    Such is life !

  6. I'm more like Veena (I think so), but secretly I admire the Padmajas of this world rather grudgingly.

  7. It is my feeling that Veena has her priorities right. Padmaja is more interested in 'things' than in people. I doubt that she will ever be satisfied, even though she seems to be able to get what she wants. I suspect her pleasure in that lasts for a fleeting time until she wants something else.

    Veena, I am sure, has many friends and people will admire her. That is more important than the perfect apartment.

  8. LOL. Trust you to come up with a topic each of us has experienced. I'm a Veena. No doubt about it. also true is that i'll probably always wish I was a padmaja :-D

    there's one thing my husband always says to me (can't find an appropriate translation) "priya tujhya khishyaalaa paravadla, tari manaalaa parvadat nahi".

    after a lifetime of "making do" and "doing without" its hard to suddenly be able to *expect* entitlement to good things.

    Anyway, sorry i went off on a tangent. the post really touched a chord.


  9. Ladies, and Kavi Thank you for your tendency to support Veena, but occasionally aspire to the results obtained by Padmaja.

    Just wanted to translate a phrase mentioned by Priya. "The pocket may be able to afford things, but the mind may not be able to afford it....."

    I thought that was so well put....

  10. Both are their own selves...

    Yes there are so many Padmaja's who give us the inferiority complex at times, create an awe in us at times and also irritate in some ways...

    And Veena's are a larger part of me... like us...

    its a wonderful post of two types of life style...

    Which is right or which is more proper, i guess is not the point..

    I love the way you write about things you see... so minutely you observe and you are able to bring it here and share with us is wonderful !!!

    I am a fan of your type of writing ! truly !

  11. Hitch Writer Thank you for the kind words. And it has occured to me that in my childhood, there were lesser number of Padmajas. Everyone I knew was a Veena type. I guess globalization means the appearance of the Padmajas.....:-(

  12. I'd rather have my house be my home than a museum for others to look at.

  13. I agree with Lilly that Veena is the happiest of the two. Padmaja is only interested in her husband's success and material things. They don't make you happy. She probably does not have many friends.

  14. Just like Sucharita, I feel I'm more of a Veena and secretly admire Padmaja. However, being a Parisian, I know that many people see me as a true I don't know what to say, except I enjoyed that post very much ! :o)