Monday, January 15, 2007

One NYC Trip

Around this time, four years ago. In which I go out with V and S, and spend a night in Brooklyn instead of in their cold attic :

Arriving in the City

One weekend we went over to NYC to Clara and Maheshs'. The occasion was a reception Clara's was having at her studio. I had heard a lot about these two – S’s brother and his American wife. The woman was a jeweler and a vegetarian. The studio was somewhere in Upper East Side and that sounded incredibly cool and artsy. We reached NYC at night and the skyline looked gap-toothed. I could not tell where the towers had stood but something that defined the Manhattan skyline was gone forever – it looked stunted and powerless. The symbolism of it all hit me suddenly and I began to see the great need they had for waging war on Iraq and all that was a perceived threat to their way of life.

The studio was a little shack . There were plenty of Art-Deco touches in the interior including a rather stylized commode – thankfully it was easy enough to use ! The hand-crafted jewelry stood in a few glass showcases. It would take a lot of practice to see where these pieces were different from their machine made, mass produced clones. To my Indian eyes nothing I saw there appeared truly out of the ordinary but the atmosphere was nice. I have some red wine in a plastic glass and hors de oeuvres – I can’t place any of the music that was playing and noticed the crowd was more on the scruffy side than sophisticated. This is my first foray into anything even remotely artsy in the west. I am hardly dressed for an evening on the town but blended in quite okay.

Clara is a petite woman with a tiny golden nose stud and hair that curls backwards in the 70s style. We make small talk and I tell her she must make a stop at Calcutta to see the jewelry designs – it might give her new inspiration. There is this other woman V introduces me to – she works for a drama troupe – has what looks like lacquered hair and over done eyes. She wears a deep scarlet lipstick that makes her mouth look like an undefined splash of strawberry jam.

She is Clara’s childhood friend and is passing through town. I am fascinated by her profession and tell her as much. She tells me that her life is hardly as romantic and glamorous as it sounds. To help pay the bills, she also teaches acting in Shakespearean plays. This is presumably the fixed income part of her job and apparently its not a big chunk of change. She says I’m lucky to be in a profession that pays steady and well. Grass is greener etc..

The Studio

Along with the guests come a couple of dogs one is a Terrier and the other is a nippy little Chihuahua. V is very dog-unfriendly or whatever it is that describes people like us that like dogs from about a mile away on a tight leash. However the Chihuahua is taken up by her and keeps trying to get on her lap as she tries to squirm out of its way.

She has already warned me of the cat at Clara and Maheshs' that sheds like crazy and sometimes curls up in your bed uninvited. I am already dreading the prospect of spending the night at Brooklyn with the cat in my bed. V has told me before that she hates staying the night at their place because of the cat.

Mahesh comes in the door and I know it must be him because he looks exactly like his mother who I’ve seen in V’s wedding pictures. He and Clara make a very nice couple. He hardly looks Indian - with his complexion and features he could pass off for Eastern European. We head out for dinner at a South Indian restaurant – it’s a few blocks away from the studio. The food is almost home-made in taste and simplicity.

The interesting detail of the dinner is that the bill is divided between everyone equally. Clara and Mahesh pay as individuals as does Strawberry Splash. S however pays for V and me. I feel distinctly uncomfortable at the inequity of it all. V I think does not feel much better. I know she always talks about how much she regrets not working any more. The bill-pay scheme leaves a strange after-taste in the mouth of a otherwise wonderful south Indian Thali dinner. Mahesh hates driving and they don’t have a car. Living in the city works out good for them. It would be a cold day in hell before they moved either upstate or to Jersey burbs.

Leaving for Brooklyn

S drives us all to Brooklyn – the place looks a little better than seedy but it I figure must be expensive anyways. We walk up to their apartment on the second floor – they recently bough this place for about half a million. Inside it’s nice – the furnishings are few but they are in good taste and look expensive. There is a spray of orchids in a vase on the kitchen counter-top and rows of books on vegetarian and vegan cooking in the book shelf.

The infamous cat is by the corner propped up on a chair. The sleeping arrangements are quickly made – I opt immediately for the living room with the cat. The down comforter and pillow feel immensely comfortable and a hugely welcome change from sleeping in V’s cold attic with two sweaters, socks and slacks and getting up in the morning with a head heavy from cold. Since they pay for the utilities the heating is used very sparingly and in a winter that was completely unsparing it sure got tough.

I got up several times that night to check on the cat – it had moved into the kitchen but kept away from me. In life I realize it’s difficult to have everything at once – a warm bed comes with the price tag - a lurking somnambulist cat.

The next morning – Clara has to leave early and Mahesh fixes breakfast for us – the frozen bagels are thawed and toasted, the tofu scramble is made – I see the connect clearly now. V's tastes are more evolved since I saw her last about four years ago – she wears only designer labels now – and shops at the more expensive stores. Cooking and baking are her new hobbies – talking of which (hobbies and interests ) there is simply no end- who ever does what ever she must do too.

The Clara and Mahesh effect

It may be wood burning, stain glass making painting, quilt making, knitting – you name it and even before she embarks on her new passion she has bought her books on the subject and all the supplies – and then she drives herself to do all these things which probably interest her only very little – if at all. Her home is full of remnants of many still born hobbies. She has about a dozen picture frames she intends to frame her art work in some day. She is keeping up with a host of real and imaginary Joneses and Clara is definitely one of them.

S plainly hero worships Mahesh – the guy who covered himself in glory working by making a successful career as an investment banker , marrying a vegetarian “gori-mem” and owning a nice home in Brooklyn. V must equal or exceed Clara in order to meet his expectations from his wife and by God she is doing all she can to get there. She has lost all sense of self – the precious little that she had.

One rule of thumb – any woman who eulogizes all of her in-laws and all of their remote collaterals at all times has most definitely got some serious issues in her marriage – mine was a case in example. V is pretty far into the game already - her husband ranges from “pleasant looking” all the way to “handsome” depending on how hard she’s trying to seek happiness in her new life with him. He is a good way off from either description as far as I can see and V I’m sure is not blinded by “love”.

Well, I went through the appeasement and self – delusion routine for three years until I gathered the guts to call my mother-in-law a “bitch” which is by far the mildest word I know to describe her. Marriage precludes options and that makes some of us claustrophobic – it’s like “So, here we are – this is the substance of my marriage and here is the man who for whatever he is worth – my husband. I can’t get out of this reality for all of my life.” The further this reality is from one’s ideal greater the degree suffocation. We seek escape through delusions of grandeur in our situation - we go out on a limb to imbue it with substance that does not exist.

Returning to the Cold Attic

Anyways, we head back to Phily making a brief stop over at NJ to meet a friend of V’s there. She is a single mom with a 7 year old son separated from a physically abusive husband. Apparently, she had a serious drinking problem that almost cost her the child’s custody but she’s doing better now. She is a spaced out looking woman – and I don’t blame her. We go out for lunch at Sukhadia’s and she picks the bill for all of us. Again I feel very guilty – I don’t know what gives me the right to freeload off a struggling single mother – but she simply refuses to split the bill with S. Not that I have any more rights with him but it is just slightly better – its does not seem so unethical at least.

We drop her home and continue our journey home to Phily. S buys V some “meethi pan” at Edison and comments “ It takes so little to please V – she is happy just to eat pan” – if he really means what he says then he knows her very little and /or V has morphed herself to appease his him and personify his ideal of an ideal wife. Either way it is a sad state of affairs and I see uncanny similarities with my own marriage that bother me. For the longest time R knew only an imaginary me by when he got to know the real person , our marriage was over.

Part 1: Cold Attic
Part 3: Old Wounds

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