Roles Reversed Do work in home or office.

“Hey, Shuba I need your help. I know you are alone at home for a week now, since Hari has gone on an official tour to the US and Nitin on a project work to Pune. Can you come over and stay at my place?”

Shuba was busy cleaning the refrigerator when the phone buzzed. It was from her sister Savitha. “Hey, Shuba I need your help. I know you are alone at home for a week now, since Hari has gone on an official tour to the US and Nitin on a project work to Pune. Can you come over and stay at my place?”

Savitha dragged a bit and then continued, “I have to make an official trip to Delhi for five days. The girls have exams and our maid who comes to clean the house is also on leave. Her father expired. Generally I ask her to do the cooking when such situations arise, but you understand my predicament. Gautam cannot take an off and even if he could he doesn’t know the ABC of cooking. Eating out during exam time all five days in definitely not advisable.”

Savitha was an extremely career-oriented woman, working in a responsible position in one of the leading MNCs in Mumbai. Quite contrary to this, her only sibling Shuba, though well educated was not ambitious enough. In fact, she had never stepped out of her house or had a brush with the corporate life. Her three-bedroom house was the only place she spent most of her time in. her husband Hari and son Nitin were the two people around whom her life revolved, but she always looked happy and contended.

“Hey, Savitha, you do not worry. I will come over and stay till Friday afternoon. Nitin is expected to return by Friday night.”

“Oh you are such a sweetheart. Thanks a ton. I should also be returning by Saturday morning. The girls and Gautam can manage for Friday night.”

Savitha’s daughter; one elder than Nitin and the other younger than him, studied in different colleges. The elder Nidhi, was completing her fashion designing course soon and the younger Suma was pursuing computer engineering.

They doted on their maasi Shuba because unlike their mother she was patient and soft. They were extremely pleased to know that Shuba maasi was going to stay with them during their mom’s Delhi trip.

 

Monday early morning Shuba arrived at her sister’s place while Gautam, her jiju was leaving for work and was to drop Savitha to the airport en route to his office.

No sooner she stepped in, Shuba was taken aback by the terribly messed up house. She had not visited her sister for a few months now. The house was always messed up, but things looked far worse now.

Not allowing this feeling to surface on her face, Shuba flashed her sweet enchanting smile and bid bye to her sister and Jiju. The girls had already left for college. Savitha gave her some quick instructions before leaving about the grocery, gas, milkman, house keys, spare ones etc; to which Shuba patiently nodded all the while making a mental plan to completely revamp this messed up place.

When everyone left she looked around the place and almost lost her head for a minute. Her house was always spic and span. She loved cleaning it on a daily basis. She had almost charted out a programme, sticking to which she would clean the kitchen one day, then the bedrooms one after the other, then the drawing room. Even if the rooms were neat, she continued cleaning them, so much so that one could find not a pinch of dust anywhere in the house.

It took her some time before she realised she had to do lot of cleaning work here. The kitchen was totally messed up. The gas stove was smeared with oil and containers were strewn here and there.

Well, Savitha had very less time in hand every day, and weekends she could only shed her tiredness. She could have engaged a cook, but Savitha did not seem comfortable with the idea. Gautam never seemed to interfere in all this. Shuba heaved a sigh as she envisaged Hari in such a house.

In spite of maintaining her house spic and span, Hari always had some frivolous complaints to make. ‘What if he was to stay in a house like this?’ Shuba thought as she decided to embark on her cleaning spree. The kitchen needed desperate cleaning, so she made up her mind to start with it. It was exactly 3pm when she had managed to clean the kitchen, throw away unwanted containers, clean the refrigerator and disposed of old and fungus covered food items. Some packets with due dates over a year ago were tucked in nooks and corners of the kitchen and refrigerator. Shuba meticulously threw all of them and made the kitchen as sparkling as ever. By five she heard the door click. It was Nidhi back from her college.

She was pleasantly surprised to see the newly transformed kitchen. “Maasi you are a darling. What have you done to our kitchen? Hope mom finds her things in place. I don’t think she is used to working in a kitchen as meticulously arranged as this.”She laughed hugging Shuba. “Now I am famished maasi. Is there something to eat or should I order?”

This is something that Shuba was always averse to; ordering food at the drop of a hat. It had become very simple these days. Just press some numbers and food is at your doorstep even before you count the change and keep to ready.

“No, you have a wash and by that time hot pakoras will be ready.”

The gleaming thought of having hot pakoras with tea sent Nidhi flying to the washroom. She was back in a few minutes trying to inhale the aroma of the pakoras. She waited impatiently at the table while Shuba came with steaming pakoras and tea. Nidhi relished it with glee and after eating to her heart’s content looked at Shuba with gratitude. “That was awesome, maasi. Wish someone was at home every day to give us some hot snacks in the evening. We either order from out or make do with some sort of chivda or instant packets.”

It didn’t look like Nidhi had said this at the spur of the moment. Shuba felt sorry for the girl.

“Maasi, why have you stopped preparing the pakoras now? Suma and dad will also like to have some when they come.”

“No, I will make them fresh and hot when Suma comes and then when your dad comes,” Shuba said smiling as usual much to the bemusement of the girl. She had seen her mother prepare everything in one lot. She had never bothered to care whether it was fresh, hot, edible or not.”

The girl looked at her as if she was scandalised, “What are you up to maasi? Just finish the work and keep it in a hot case. Why take the trouble to make it hot each time someone comes?”

“Oh come on there are only three of you and what is the problem in making it then and there. It will be more tasty rather than eating it out of the hot case.”

Soon, Suma came and was equally surprised to see the kitchen and she too relished the hot pakoras which Shuba made on the spot. While she was still at preparing it, Gautam came home, earlier than usual.

 

While stepping inside he passed a compliment about the aroma of the pakoras and needless to say he relished it with his full heart and though he looked around the transformed kitchen, he did not say anything.

When Shuba went to bed that night she realised that her sister had been stressing herself too much at work and was hence not able to balance work at home and office, the office having taken a priority she was probably not able to give her best to the house. At the same time she did not wish to hand over the reins of running the house in the hands of a full-time maid. She had had her stint with them when the kids were small.

 

Nidhi, Suma, Gautam no one complained, but it was evident that things were badly messed up. The girls though grown up, were also hard pressed for time and had left their rooms in the lurch. Things were strewn all over the beds; clothes that were washed, unwashed, some waiting to be ironed – all were lying in the room. Shuba mentally brought Nitin’s room to her inner vision. How beautifully maintained it was; everything in place. The boy had taken after his mother and was a cleanliness freak too; he himself tried his best to maintain his shelves because Shuba generally never handled it. She only dusted everything and cleaned up the room.

The following four days saw Shuba frantically trying to clean up the house. The drawing room, the washrooms were done and with the permission of the girls she also cleaned up their room. They were only too happy about this.

“Why seek our permission maasi? You are most welcome,” Suma laughed and added, “I was only kidding, maasi, do not stress yourself so much. I am afraid whether we will be able to maintain this height of cleanliness once you are gone.”

Through the five days the girls and Gautam relished the sumptuous breakfast, carried lunch and savoured the dinner, relishing every morsel of it.

On Friday morning while Gautam was leaving for work he gratefully looked at Shuba, and said, “Thanks, Shuba for being here this week, the girls would have found it very difficult to manage. I can see that you have worked meticulously to transform our messy three-bedroom house into a clean and cozy place, but I see you have been partial not to clean up our room,” he winked mischievously.

“Jiju, how can I step into yours and didi’s room in your absence? That is pretty unethical, but if you say, I wouldn’t mind cleaning it up before I leave today.” “Oh no, Shuba, I was just kidding. You have done too much already. The issue is Savitha does not find time to pay much attention to the house. The girls are busy with college and projects and, to be frank, haven’t been groomed to do this kind of job. I have been trying to tell your sister to give up her work because she is getting tired and also loses her temper often under the guilt of not being able to give much time to all of us, though we never complain. I must say Hari is a lucky chap.”

“Jiju, how can I step into yours and didi’s room in your absence? That is pretty unethical, but if you say, I wouldn’t mind cleaning it up before I leave today.”

Gautam left asking Shuba to carry on in the afternoon as per schedule, but then he had stirred a tornado in Shuba’s mind.

Here Gautam was feeling envious of Hari since he had a wife like Shuba to take care of his and their son’s wants and needs and was always at their beck and call. However, Hari was unhappy because Shuba never showed any inclination to step beyond the threshold. He wanted her to take up a job, not as much for the money flow as for her stepping out and mingling with others.

“What is it that you find in this house and why do you keep cleaning the windows, doors and panes every day? As long as Nitin was dependent on you, opting not to take a job was sensible, but now he is on his own. You should move out of the house. I have spoken to a friend of mine and he is ready to offer you a job.”

“But I have no experience and at this age of 45 how can I take up a job?” Shuba was almost scandalised.

“Oh come on! What is 45? You still have 15 more years to retire and I know you have no experience that is why I approached a friend, who will get you a job that does not need experience, you can always learn and for the kind of qualification you have, you could have made it big in life, but the problem with you is lack of ambitions.” Hari had sounded rather offended.

What Gautam was not aware of was that his sister- in-law was going to take up a job soon. Shuba hadn’t told Savitha about it because she herself wasn’t sure whether she was going to proceed with it, but Hari was adamant and to avoid any more verbal conflicts, Shuba had accepted the proposal only last week, but with half a mind. Firstly, she was apprehensive of working at this age and secondly she felt sad that the house which she had maintained so well would soon take a back seat or would have to be entrusted into the hands of some domestic help and you genuinely couldn’t expect the standard of cleanliness to be that great.

Saturday morning Savitha returned from her official tour with a heavy head and terrible head ache. Her eyes almost popped out when she saw the house neatly kept. The dining table which always had stuff spread all over, looked as clean as crystal. The kitchen was sparkling. Her microwave oven had got a new look. She opened her refrigerator to find it neatly arranged. Her sister had left a note of what all she had placed in which compartment of the shelf.

She went to her room where Gautam was busy on the computer. “You are back? How was your trip?” he asked only to be answered with sobs. He hurriedly came near her in an attempt to find out what the outburst was for. She said, “I am tired of this juggling between work and office, Gautam. Look how neatly my sister has arranged the house. The girls told me about the variety of food items she made for you all. I am not able to do any of those things for you. Gautam, I have decided to resign. If I continue I may have to keep taking official trips now.”

Gautam comforted her, “I am always with you in your decisions. You wanted to continue with your work and I thought it wouldn’t be very nice on my part to clip your wings. We have struggled enough when the girls were small, leaving them in day care, calling for parents whenever they fell sick and what not. Now I think you have taken a right decision. The girls need you. I saw how they enjoyed the company of Shuba. She is a sweet thing I must say, look what she has done to the house, but spared our room probably for you to take the reins of cleaning now.” He smiled and hugged Savitha who had hot tears flowing down her cheeks. Shuba answered the call when the phone buzzed, “Thanks, Shuba, for everything. I was pleasantly surprised to see the house with such a ambience and the girls and Gautam haven’t stopped a minute in showering you with praises. By the way I have got to share awesome news with you. I am resigning and next time when you visit us I will treat you to variety of dishes made by me and I assure you the house will continue to remain as spick and span as you left it. You are an awesome house maker I must say. It may take me sometime to be like you but I will put my best foot forward. It seems like a huge load has been lifted from my head now.”

Shuba did not know whether to laugh or cry. She found herself in a delicate position to tell her sister that she was joining work on Monday. ‘I will tell her eventually,’ she heaved a sigh.

Saturday morning Savitha returned from her official tour with a heavy head and terrible head ache. Her eyes almost popped out when she saw the house neatly kept. The dining table which always had stuff spread all over, looked as clean as crystal.

By Sudha Viswanath

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