It’s official: my mother has gone entirely insane.
I was in Kolkata for a night and over dinner, I told my mother how much I enjoyed “The Bad Boy’s Guide to the Good Indian Girl”. My mother filled me in who was coming home from which part of the globe for Durga Puja. Family news and gossip was passed around the table along with rice, vegetables, dal and fish curry (bhetki with cauliflower — light, unexciting to look at and surprisingly tasty). I must admit, I was focussing more on the fish than the family updates, until I registered my mother had said the words “artificial insemination”.
Me: “Who’s going for artificial insemination?”
Ma: “No one at present. I only said I think it’s a good idea for those two.”
[Those two being a random couple I don’t really know very well.]
Me: “Because they want a baby?”
Ma: “No, because children cement a marriage and I know this sounds strange, but it does empower a woman in the family, particularly with her in-laws.”
Me: “Have you been watching the Bangla soaps on tv?”
Ma: “Like I said, I know it sounds strange but it’s true. Look at Khuku. She had so much trouble at first but now, two kids later, she’s fine.”
[Insert choking and sputtering noises from me. Khuku, incidentally, is a distant cousin.]
Ma: “Do you want some water?”
Me: “No. I want my real, sensible, non-soap-watching mother back. What on earth are you saying? Khuku is fine? She’s miserable!”
Ma: “No, she was miserable. She isn’t anymore.”
Me: “Her husband abused her, humiliated her. Her in-laws were horrible to her. She had to study in secret for her exams —”
Ma: “Yes, and now she has a job, she has her children, she’s independent and her husband doesn’t behave like he used to. It’s the fact that she’s the mother of his children that has made the difference.”
Me: “Ma, Khuku’s husband is a bastard. You know she stayed in that marriage because she had nowhere to go.”
Ma: “But she’s not under his control anymore. She has her own life and she has the children. She’s fine.”
Me: “She’s still married to him. She can’t leave because of the children now and he’s looming over her. How can that be fine?”
Ma: “You know, it’s one thing to read Mills & Boons but if you start expecting real life to work out like that, you’re going to be hugely disappointed.”
Me: “Expecting someone to actually be happy is unrealistic?”
Ma: “You don’t understand. Khuku is happy, and it’s being a mother that has made her happy. That’s what keeps her together.”
The first thing I did after finishing dinner is go read a Mills & Boon.
But, determined as I was to immerse myself in a story set in the fictitious Persian gulf, I just couldn’t focus on Sultan Sadiq Ibn Kamal and Princess Samia Binte Rashad al Abbas. Instead, I kept remembering all the anti-dowry campaigns my mother has run; the abused women she’s helped with money, protection and through awareness campaigns; the hundreds of wives and daughters she’s helped with her social work; the many, many battles she’s fought at home and as a working professional. In another room, the woman thanks to whom I couldn’t read my Mills & Boon was watching something on the tv. I could hear a vague buzz of conversation but I couldn’t tell if Ma was watching the news or a Bengali soap. (When it’s Arnab Goswami on Times Now, it’s tough to tell the difference. In fact, the soap might be more coherent and restrained.)
So yes, my mother is now officially nuts, and I’m still not sure precisely what happened with the sultan and his princess.