Distressed Jeans

Updated: Apr 6, 2021

‘Mini, your mom is a star now. She is all over the media. Did you see it? It took so long for me to realize how indeed glamorous my wife is!’’ my daughter’s father said scooping a ladle of what he described as the best ever chicken curry in the world.

I remember the first time he had tasted it, soon after our wedding 49 years ago. He ate a mouthful, licked his fingers like a child and looked at me from across the table and smiled. Then, another mouthful and a smile. It was all he could do to convey his appreciation in the presence of his parents and family. But to a new bride, his relish meant reassurance. Nothing could have made life worthy for her than to know that she had found the way to her man’s heart with the chicken curry.

A knowing glance and a profound smile became the hallmarks of his minimalist expressions of appreciation in public. And I sought it every time out of the corner of my eye, as I did today. That I am 69 and he 75 is beside the point.

‘Appa, do you really think it was required? Did she have to do this?’ Mini expressed her disappointment making sure that her glance didn’t meet mine. ‘Do you know what my friends think?’

‘That you have a sexy mother?’ Mini’s appa joked and winked at me. I was appalled that he had used the word to describe me to Mini, but deep down it tickled me and I shook my head in mock dismay.

‘Appa!’ Mini exclaimed. ‘I don’t believe you are so cool about what has happened. It’s your wife, my mother that the whole world is discussing in such unpleasant terms.’

I quietly sat watching Mini hold a trial against me for a decision I had made on a whim. She had already expressed her outrage to me over phone in no uncertain terms. She wasn’t alarmed that her father hadn’t raise a brow. What upset her was that I hadn’t known it myself. That I had allowed myself to cross the limits. That I made a caricature of myself in front of people. That she had to explain it to her folks, including her in laws. That I wasn’t prudent enough to know that it wasn’t OK for a 69-year-old woman to wear distressed jeans and look glamorous on social media. That after 49 years of making the world’s best chicken curry, I was seeking out (cheap in her view) popularity by doing unconventional things.

‘Appa, it’s not funny. Why did she have to do it at this age? Couldn’t you stop her?’

‘Why should I stop her now when I haven’t done it all these years? And by the way, I really thought she looked good in the trendy clothes that she wore in those pictures.’ He grinned, infuriating Mini further.

How different a smile can look with dentures, I thought. I was grateful that the cosmetic changes apart, everything was intact between us, despite the ups and downs we had seen in our long years of marriage. He stuck up for me even when our daughter disapproved my ways, not so much because it bothered her personally perhaps, but because she had to answer people and mollify their concerns.

‘Do you have any idea what people are talking about her, what kinds of comments are being posted?’ Mini thundered.

I spooned myself some rice and cleared my throat to express my displeasure at the way she spiked her voice, but Mini didn’t seem to care. Appa’s pet was on a rampage today and although I was the cause of the rage, I was not inclined to explain, justify or pacify her, for I wasn’t guilty of my act.

‘Take some more rice,’ I said to Mini, deliberately breaking her spiel. She waved my offer away and turned to her father again.

‘Appa, I am speaking to you. Oh God, what has come over my parents? Why don’t they see what the whole world sees?’

‘What does the whole world see, Mini?’ I asked gently, reaching over and serving some rice in her father’s plate.

‘How much will you feed me? I am stuffed already. But if you insist…’ he said and mixed the rice with some curry.

‘Yes, so what is the world seeing that your mother and I are not?’ Mini’s appa asked.

Mini got up in a huff, fished her phone from her bag and scrolling up and down, presented to her father a stream of responses to my pictures on Facebook. They were mean, reprehensible, and deeply misogynistic, I must admit. Some were downright vulgar and rude, and I was glad Mini’s father didn’t have a Facebook account of his own to discover the monstrosities of a new age. He saw only what I showed him, and I had carefully kept the rotten remarks out of his sight.

‘Read this, appa,’ Mini said thrusting the phone in his hand.

She didn’t have to do it for whatever good reason it was, I lamented in my heart.

I waited to see her appa’s expression as he slowly read each comment, his brows arching up with amazement when he stumbled upon a happy one and furrowing when a toxic one showed up.

‘Did you read this?’ he suddenly said and started laughing. ‘Can I adopt you, beautiful grandma? My dadi doesn’t allow me to wear ripped jeans or western clothes. Will you be my grandma for some days?’

‘You are in great demand, all said, even among little kids,’ he declared.

I beamed wide and shook my head.

He then handed the phone to Mini and said, ‘Well, it takes all kinds to make the world. I think we have to make a choice as to where we stand. We can be kind or mean to other people. Intrusive or unconcerned. Progressive or intolerant. Where do you choose to be, Mini?’

My heart fluttered and eyes stung with gratitude. He must have given me the chicken-curry smile then, but overwhelmed with emotion, I looked away.

‘What did your mother do? Dress up in modern clothes and do a photoshoot. She has always been a stunning woman, Mini; elegant and royal, and didn’t the pictures do justice to her?’

And after a pause he asked, ‘How many selfies do you and Shruti post for people to see in a week? Has she ever questioned you about it?’

‘How can you compare us with amma? Consider our ages, please,’ Mini retorted.

‘Amma is 69, you are 45. She is young and vibrant, with a zest for life, making the best chicken curry in the world, and you are shrunk and caught up in the narrowness of the world, influenced by strangers and knocked around by others. Do you know why despite being her daughter, you don’t make chicken curry like she does even after all these years? Because you didn’t learn the good things from her. You indiscriminately picked up what others had to teach you. And today, you are turning against the same hands that made you what you are.’

Mini’s face turned rufous. I wished her father didn’t say anything more. I rose, walked toward Mini and put a hand on her shoulder. I felt her stiffen under my touch.

‘What is it that bothers you, Mini? That I look good at my age and live a life of my choice? Or that your father allows me more freedom than what your husband allows you? Or the fact that a section of our society considers it blasphemous for a woman to be bold (and beautiful) and so, you disapprove it too? Or are you seriously ashamed of your mother?’ I asked without raising my voice.