When I say I am going to tell you the story of a woman in her late sixties who is the wife of a retired army man, what is the picture that comes to your mind? A well-bred, well mannered, bespectacled lady with grey hair and pleasing manners? Sorry! That is exactly the opposite of what Mrs. Bhatia is. She calls herself the life of our housing society, although not many people agree with her.
Mrs. Bhatia was one of the first persons who came to greet me when we moved in to our society. She barged into my house on the very first day. “Hello dear. Heard that you are moving in? Thought I’ll drop in and ask if you need any help.”
I felt so happy at this warm welcome. “Thank you so much, aunty .So thoughtful of you.” I replied, eager to make friends in the new neighbourhood.
The moment the word ‘aunty’ fell from my mouth, she turned from a lamb into a lioness. “Don’t call me aunty. I am Mrs. Reena Bhatia. You can call me Mrs. Bhatia. I don’t like women of your age calling me aunty.”
Sensitive as I am, I felt disgusted at this sudden change of attitude. Come on, I was just trying to bond, to look friendly. If you don’t like being called aunty, I can call you by any name, even ‘beti’, if that’s what suits you. I suddenly wanted her out of my house. I was in no mood to entertain her. But she was not the kind you could easily get rid of. Mrs. Bhatia inspected every nook and cranny of my new house and gave unsolicited advice on everything. She was full of criticism about how bad ‘people of my age’ were in decking up a new house.
“Come to my house someday. I’ll show you how nicely I’ve done it up.”
When I could bear it no longer, I invented an excuse of having to go to fetch vegetables. Suddenly she jumped on to the topic. “Do you know how safe the vegetables are these days? They are sprayed with god knows what all pesticides. I have my own small vegetable garden. It gives me sufficient veggies for the two of us.”
I had had enough of Mrs. Bhatia for the day. Lady luck understood my predicament and came to me in the form of a phone call. Thus ended my encounter with the nasty new neighbour.
After the episode, I was wary of meeting anyone in the new society. But as time passed, I realised that not everyone was Mrs. Bhatia. There were really good people in my new place. I made lots of friends and moved on. I also found out that I was not the only one who had met with such a fate at the hands of the monstrous lady. Everyone, young and old alike, was scared of the formidable ‘Mrs. Bhatia.’ She had a word or two to say to everyone she met. It was not a friendly neighbourhood advice that she offered. Her words were peppered with sarcasm and criticism. She was too conceited. It was always my house, my vegetable garden, my beauty, my hair and so on. The timid and shy like me, suffered, while the smarter ones retaliated in the same coin. She would become furious at them.
There was the girl, Pia, Mrs Bhatia’s next door neighbour, who would never stand her babbling. Once Pia was spotted with a cute short haircut. She was a pretty girl and the haircut really suited her. But Mrs. Bhatia!! “Girl, what have you done to your hair? Is it in the name of fashion that you are doing all this? Take a piece of advice from this veteran. Rather than running after fashion, try to look ladylike.”
How could Mrs. Bhatia forsake the ‘MY’!! Yes, here it comes. “Look at MY hair. So long and thick. And till now not a single strand of grey. At my age, you’ll be bald, dear girl. Take proper care of yourself. And if you don’t know how to, you can ask me.”
There is no stopping Mrs. Bhatia. I would have fainted on the spot, but Pia was unperturbed. “Aunty, (Pia was granted the right to use the word? Alright, she is in her twenties while I have seen the most part of thirties) I saw a used bottle of hair colour in your dust bin when it was kept outside the other day. How come it was there?”
You rubbed her the wrong way, Pia. Mrs. Bhatia lashed out “You mean to say I am colouring my pretty hair? It’s my husband who uses it, not me. Anyway, there is no need why I should explain this to you, of all people. And it so shameful that you are spying on me.” That was the end of the episode.
Thus Mrs. Bhatia’s reign of terror continued. Ladies with short hair and those with small babies were especially petrified of her as hair care and baby care were her favourite topics. But one had to admit that Mrs. Bhatia did have pretty long hair, which she always kept neatly braided in the old fashioned way. Behind her back, people talked about her hair. Some said she used hair colour, but nobody was sure on this. Anyway her hair attracted lots of secret admirers.
The Diwali get-together of the society was an eventful day for all of us. We had a lavish party in the premises. As could be expected, Mrs. Kapoor was throwing herself on everybody present. She was insanely talkative on the party days. She was having an animated talk with Shruti, the mother of an active toddler on her favourite topic, child care. Shruti looked helpless as she tried to find a means of escape. Her three year old son tugged at her salwar from behind, trying to get his mother’s attention. After a few tries, the boy understood the reason why he was being ignored.
In a fit of anger, he pulled hard at Mrs. Bhatia’s long plaited hair. BOOM!!! The fall of a mighty warrior, the end of an era! The long plait neatly came into the boy’s hands exposing Mrs. Bhatia’s real hair, short, thin and all grey!! The ‘preeetttty looong hair’ was a sham? Mrs. Bhatia’s much envied hair was in fact a wig? Everyone present was shell-shocked. The boy was horrified and started screaming. Shruti was too embarrassed to hand the hair back to Mrs. Bhatia. She left it on a nearby chair and fled from the place with her son. Mrs. Bhatia was a sorry plight to watch. She had fallen from the mountain of glory into a pit of shame. Nobody said a word to her. Slowly, accompanied by her faithful husband, she retreated to her home.
Everyone was having a hearty laugh at the expense of the good old Mrs. Bhatia. She was totally absent from social circuit for a few days. All of us thought that it was the end of her foolhardiness. She was written off as an old story. Gradually, everything was forgotten. We were a group of happy people- minus Mrs. Bhatia. But, But, But, It was Mrs. Bhatia. Just as things were coming back to normal, she made a ‘come back’ and how! She had ditched her pretty hair which had disgraced her so much. In its place she had a blunt haircut and had fashionably coloured her grey hair in strands of brown here and there. Even Pia muttered a ‘Wow’ on seeing her. Mrs. Kapoor had won again. And mind you, now she an advocate of everything fashionable. “Gone are the days when people would keep long hair, plaited in the old fashioned way.” Mrs. Bhatia has selective memory. She has forgotten her own long plaits.
Only one thing I pray to God nowadays. In my next birth make me as thick- skinned as Mrs. Bhatia.