The Negotiator

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Mrs Sharma cut the carrot with a little more force than necessary. She held the knife with a grip that always happened to be a little too tight. She thought of her husband and his late office hours. It was almost 8 ‘o’ clock. She set the cooking flame on a couple of degrees higher than usual. It was going to be a tight schedule if she wanted to meet all her deadlines tonight.

The phone rang. She ran out of the kitchen and picked up the phone.

“Hello. Teena beta, will you be coming tomorrow? Your dad has to go for the health check up and you know he can’t drive for long distances”

“Mom I told you that we are celebrating Alia’s birthday tomorrow. I haven’t even begun the preparations yet. And with Rahul’s year end targets looming ahead, the entire responsibility of organization has fallen on me. I will book a cab for you tomorrow. What time do you have to go?”

“Rehne do beta. Sahi kaha tha tumhare papa ne. Beti to paraya dhan hoti hai” and she heard a click which was a slightly louder than usual.

Was her mom really hurt or was it just emotional blackmail? Well this was the third time she used the “beti paraya dhan” dialogue. So chances are that she was just fishing for a last minute change of heart in her daughter. But then again, she said those words in Hindi. Whenever her mom spoke from her head, she used English. Hindi was reserved for matters straight from the heart. Her mom must have felt bad.

Teena looked at Rahul her husband, in the photo frame near the phone. She saw Rahul smiling back at her. She was also smiling. In the photo at least. No matter how high Rahul went up the career ladder, he still abused in Hindi.  Somethings don’t change inside your heart. The smiles in the photo seemed years ago now. Well, it has been almost 19 years since the marriage. But still, the smiles felt like a more distant memory than just the 19 years.

“Mom can I take the car tonight” her thoughts were interrupted as Alia bounded in with barely concealed excitement. She took at good look at her 17 year old daughter and realised that her enthusiasm was not the only thing that was barely concealed.

“Go dress up first, give me some time to ask your dad if he needs the car when he is back”

“Mom please don’t do this. You know dad won’t use the car when he returns. I will be back before midnight”

“Go dress up and comb and tie your hair first. Let me ask your dad”. Alia’s mom knew the answer but we wanted Alia to say it out.

“Mom, this is what I am wearing tonight. I straightened my hair just for this party.”

“Who gave you the frock? I have not seen it before.”

“Mmm, one of my friends gave it”

“Are you sure it is your size. Seems a little too high. Can’t you wear something a little longer. You know, longer around the legs. Then you can have the car.”

 Bargaining and negotiations were her forte now. Whether it be her daughter or the vegetable-wala or the bai, she knoew precisely when to place her bargaining chips on the table.

“Ok mom, I will change and come” said Alia and sauntered up the stairs in her 2 inch heels.

Teena let herself feel a little proud of her negotiation skills. After all, her marriage to Rahul would never have been possible without her persistence. She remembered the day her parents finally relented and let her marry Rahul. She felt the adrenaline rush of freedom that day. Like a bird that finally flew out of its cage. She longed for such freedom again. Yes she made all the decision in the house. But someone always had a complaint. Why did every decision of hers start feeling like a compromise?

Alia bounded down the stairs in 4 inch heels. Amazing how Alia could lower the frock 2 inches and yet make her legs look the same length. Smart kids are a conundrum in a different league, Teena sighed.

“What happned to the upper part of your frock” questioned Mrs Sharma.

“Mom you told me to lower it. I am wearing it off shoulder now.”

“Go back and change it. That’s final. No car if you don’t change the frock.”

“Mom, it is just a party at the restaurant next block. What’s the worst that can happen?”

“I met your dad at one of those parties”. She shot back.

“Mom please” protested Alia one last time and walked up the staircase in her 4 inch hels.

“Wait let me call your dad” said Mr Sharma and pciked up the phone.

There was no response. She dialed again.

A gruff and hurried voice said, “What is it Teena? Is it important? I am in a meeting”

“No, it is ok. I will call later” said Mrs Sharma and put down the phone softly.

The contrast between Rahul’s present voice and tone and his voice 19 years ago was evident.

Alia bounded in and said “Mom, look at this ankle length dress. Now, no one will be jealous of me. I hope you are happy now. Can I have the keys now?”

Alia was wrong. Her mother was already jealous of her. Always had been. After all, Alia was yet to meet the her final man of her dreams. Is that why she resented Alia’s parties so much? She signed, took the keys out of the drawer and tossed it at Alia and said “Ja, jee le apni zindagi”

Yes, everyone in their family resorted to Hindi when they spoke from the heart.


Post Script

The above piece was written as part of a session at Write Club hosted by Pavan. The theme was to write a piece featuring an antagonist while simultaneously portraying the reasons behind the antagonist’s actions.

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