I promise they’re here now!
You hear shrill laughter and fake pleasantries. Rishta Aunty with Rishta Mom is here. You hear your mom’s voice dripping with that ass kissy sweetness that you can’t take. But today you have no problems with your mom. Today you get her desperation. It’s been five years since your older sister got married. It’s been three since younger eloped. And you have neither gotten married nor eloped to keep your parents’ honor. In a society where women are measured in “marriage” and “kids”, your spinsterhood is the single biggest deficit in your societal account.
You casually fix your dupatta multiple times. You don’t want to let people see your nervousness. This is the law of the jungle. Weaker animals are predated upon faster and with more certainty than stronger and more confident animals. You try to keep your wits about.
Suddenly your mother appears beside you. You realize this when you hear her familiar hissing in your ear of your lack of personal style. She’s now regretting the moment she didn’t send you to a world class salon and had your outfit made by an outstanding fashion designer. Now she’s regretting it!
But she doesn’t have the time to think about you. She dashes to the kitchen and asks the chef how far along in his preps he is. He confidently tells her that he’s just waiting for her to give him the signal. Your mom smiles broadly. She likes him for his subservience. Now why couldn’t her own husband be a little like this sweet man?
She hollers at you to come into the kitchen. As you go into the kitchen you watch your sisters making their way into the living room. The aunties in the living room are squealing at the sight of your older sister who is truly a vision in her out of this world ensemble. You worry that she’ll ruin your prospects. You then remember that she’s married.
While you’re lost in thought your mom has loaded a tray for you. You look incredulously at it and wonder why she’s replacing the trolley with the tray. Your mom explains that this is the new trend and no one is pushing trolleys into the living rooms anymore. She elaborates further by saying that many girls had their dupattas get stuck in the trolley wheels and tripped over. Or they accidentally ran the boy’s or his family’s toes over with the trolley. Or they simply couldn’t get the trolley to move over the carpet. When enough of these incidents were reported, Rishta Aunty changed the rules and now every girl is required to learn how to carry a tray.
Now this is a major panic moment for you. Because you didn’t practice carrying a tray. Well for that matter you didn’t practice pushing a trolley either but that was easier and you had done that before. This is a brand new skill. The only thing that you’ve ever faced without any real preparation for it is academic tests and exams. Everything besides that, you’ve rehearsed until perfection is shining through. You can’t forgive your mom for this. You look at her angrily but the chef, who at this point might as well be your quasi father or quasi brother, chimes in and tells you that carrying a tray is the easiest thing and he can totally train you in ten minutes flat. You look at him suspiciously and he laughs and says that besides his other many talents he used to be a dog trainer and taught many dogs many tricks. Like chase their tail, catch a frisbee, drool on command, bite without warning. He assures you that he’ll get you where you need to be in no time.
Your mom profusely thanks him and after entrusting you to his skilled highness, leaves the kitchen. The chef appraises you much like he probably appraises the dogs that he trains. He asks you what you know about “the tray”. You find this an odd question but try to answer to the best of your ability. You tell him that a tray is a utensil to carry food. Or to play cricket with if you can’t find the bat. Or can even be used to sometimes sweep under the bed to get that shoe that has chosen to sit as far beyond your reach as possible. Sometimes you’ve also used it as a fly and mosquito swatter. There was one time when your niece pooped on the floor and you used the tray to scoop up the poop.
The cook looks at you affronted and patronizingly. He makes a funny sound that is a combination of a snort and a squeak. His jowls start to quiver. You feel a twitch going on right underneath his left eye. You can sense a wrath emanating from him. You wonder what he’s gonna say.
He looks at you for a long time. His look is familiar to you because your own mother has given it to you so many times when you have told people your correct age. Or her correct age. Or have told people of your community college degree. Or when you’ve told people of your nonexistent friends circle. Or when you’ve told people that you consider your real calling in life to be the captain of the hockey team. He gives you that look and you know what’s gonna come next. You brace yourself for the tirade.
The chef starts a passionate monologue On the tray. That a tray is a utensil, a device of sorts, almost an extra limb, a glorified version of the human mouth that is used to carry food that won’t fit in the mouth at the same time. The tray, he proclaims, is a part of human evolution almost and if Freud wasn’t so absorbed with the sexual happenings of humans he would have written several papers on the tray. He says that he kitchen is complete without a stove, a table is complete without food, a grocery store is complete without the requisite critters but the human life is incomplete without a tray.
After he’s done with his profound spiel he shows you how to carry a tray. Now good chef he is or not, he definitely knows how to carry a tray, precariously and still confidently perched at the tips of his fingers, almost hovering in midair, right above his right shoulder with no signs of any nervousness over the plates and the forks that are sliding to one end. He makes a beautiful vision and promises to teach you everything that he knows about the tray holding business. You eagerly grab another tray and even though he chooses to laden yours with six glasses and a jug of Fanta you don’t lose spirit. You bravely and almost brazenly raise the tray above your right shoulder, looking every inch like trained Beverly Hills waitresses, with a steady and somewhat blank smile on your face, and whip the tray from over your shoulder to where the cook has settled himself on the kitchen table and is acting to be the targeted guest, bring the tray down with a flourish and are getting ready to celebrate your aplomb at this when an earth-shattering sound reaches your ears.
You’re mortified at your mom’s favorite glasses meeting their end. But the chef isn’t fazed at all. You suspect that he’s secretly happy at what happened. He immediately tells you that you’re starting exactly how he did and these minor 6 or 8 glass massacres are nothing in the line of learning this most fine craft of fine, elegant dining.
After multiple attempts and a few dozen broken cups and glasses, you’ve finally mastered the skill. And in record time too. It only took you thirty minutes to learn this technique which according to the chef takes months and even sometimes long journeys to look for more proficient masters.
For the first time in this whole Rishta process you feel prepared. This is now shaping up to be pretty good and predictable. You can control this. This is exactly the type of control that you need on your life. If only life was a tray. And your emotions were the etched flowers on the tray and no amount of mishandling of the tray could dislodge the flowers.
While deep in your philosophical thoughts the cook is preparing the tray. He hands you it. You see samosas, patties and cookies on it. The cook assures you that you would be comfortably able to carry these in. You have started to trust him. He may have yellow teeth but has a good heart. Teeth can be fixed. He is really sticking his neck out for you.
You position the tray above your right shoulder like a trained waitress, and immediately feel the samosas sliding to the side. The cook assures you that this is part of the process and that you should “respect the process”.
Even though the food is sliding and you’re as modest as any Pakistani girl can be, you can’t help but feel proud of yourself for your newly learned art. The tray has never sat as high as it sits right now above your shoulder, your shoulders themselves have never been as square as they are now, and the look of determination on your face will hopefully tell people that you are a force to reckon with. Mediocre human being as you are, the tray loading and unloading business just became your forte.
You walk steadily towards the living room. You’re overwhelmed by your own courage. Who knew that just holding the tray right would impart such self-confidence and steel? This is truly an exercise in character, uprightness and morale building. You became a new person in the last thirty minutes. A person who has her head held high, fingers just lightly brushing the tray that’s poised right above the right shoulder, food unhelpfully sliding to one side, but overall an impressive almost businesslike demeanor. This is probably what Wall Street people feel like each morning with their newspaper in their hands, scanning the traffic as they cross the road, their long black coats billowing in the wind, their jaws set.
As you approach the living room your mother and sisters look up. So do the aunties. The smile vanishes from your family’s face. The smile starts to turn into laughter in the aunties’ face.
Your mother who had envisioned the famous stooped, subservient, I-am-a-poor-girl-in-need-for-Rishta pose looks like she is smiling but you can see a vein going off in her forehead.
Your mother cannot believe that you chose to look like a professional idiot. She hurries to you and fixes your posture. She pulls your dupatta all the way over your chest. She pulls at a few strands of your hair to make you resemble your sister. She grips your arm tightly afraid that if left to your own devices, you would again hold the tray in the way that’s comical and embarrassing.
You enter the living room and can sense stifled laughter coming from all around. But embarrassment is as embarrassment does. You collect yourself, make a mental note to stuff the tray down the chef’s throat and smile at the aunties. Your mother ventures to offer them food off the tray but…….. the tray is empty.
It isn’t hard to find the food. In your consternation over your resemblance with a Wall Street business professional you didn’t realize that the food was actually slipping off of the tray the entire time. This food has actually made a trail…….. a trail of embarrassment for you. Your mother’s smile is becoming more fixed by the minute. Your urge to pee is out of control.
Your mother hurriedly picks up the food and swears that the floor is so neat, you guys sometimes use the floor as a plate to eat. That she uses all imported materials and servants to ensure that the floor is clean. That sometimes she deliberately drops food on the floor so it could pick up some disinfectant before eating it.
She loads each aunty’s plate and frowns at you to sit and wait.
Wait for…………….. a thousand questions about your life. In ten ways. In menacingly crafted ways so they could catch you in a lie. She puts you in front of the two human lie detectors, both of whom have been in the business a lot longer than you have.