He took her in his arms and whispered, "I have always loved you, my darling. And I will always love you and take care of your smallest needs..."
Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah!! Whatever! I threw down the Mills and Boons impatiently. Sigh...was I that bad? Didn't I believe in male chivalry at all anymore? No wonder my daughter tells me I'm a bad example.
"If you're going to be this cynical, don't expect my marriage to work."
"Aw, go on baby. Not saying there are no good men out there or that it isn’t fun to be taken care of. I'm sure you'll be a good wife and I'm sure you'll enjoy it. With me, it’s a different story, and you know it."
"I guess I do." Did she? Did she or anyone know how vulnerable I really was, while externally this....goondaism has set in for good. Seven years into widowhood, I was now half-man and half-woman.
I watched her trying to start her bike. She kickstarted, speeded up the gear and kickstarted again. She knew I was watching.
"Baby, the bike has just been serviced."
"I know." She was almost in tears now. "It happens each time. It lasts only a couple of days, the servicing - and then, the old problems are back."
"But the bike is only a year old. It shouldn't be giving you this much trouble."
That day evening, she stormed into the house in tears. "The mirror came loose and fell on the road and a lorry went over it. Mummy, I just had the mirror fixed. How can this happen?"
"I'm coming with you to the service station tomorrow."
"No, I can manage this on my own!"
"I'm coming to the service station with you tomorrow."
Seated behind her on the bike the next day, I said, "I'm sorry, but you're going to see a different side of your mom today. You're going to see some goondaism in display. It’s come from seven years of dealing with people who do not understand any other language, people who leave you with no other option."
"Okay, Mom," she smiled, "How bad can you be?"
Sigh…can’t blame her. All she had seen was the 'gentle mom' - the one who could be hoaxed into believing a lot of things.
We walked into the reception area. There were so many chairs, and all occupied by waiting customers. I walked over to the receptionist.
"I want to see the manager."
'Yes? What is your complaint?"
"I want to talk about that to the manager right now."
"Madam, you will have to tell me your complaint. I will write it out and our technicians will look at it for you."
"I'm not here to talk to you or the technicians. I'm not here to write out any complaint. I'm here to meet your manager, and I want to meet him right now.”
"I'm sorry, you can’t meet him. It’s against the procedures."
"Okay, I have already spoken to him on the phone. I will call him again. Who owns your company? What service centre is this? What's your record? Have you ever been to a consumer court?"
I walked past her to look at the certificates and information on the wall.
"Madam, what is your complaint?"
"It’s about the technicians."
She got up in alarm and ran out. I sat down. My daughter’s eyes were big now. The other customers look interested.
A young guy hurried towards me. "He's the main tech,” she whispered.
"Yes Madam? How can I help you?"
"I want to speak to your manager."
"He's gone out."
"I will wait."
"If you will tell me the problem?"
I repeated patiently. "I want to meet your manager. If he's out, I will wait. I will wait till I see him."
"What is your complaint?"
"Consistent bad service. If I cannot meet the manager, I'm afraid I will have to take this further and do what I have to do. So, when can I meet him?"
"Wait, let me check."
He hurried out. A little while later, he came in, "Please come this way. The manager will meet you."
The manager was an elderly man. He was in his blue uniform and in the service area. Mona's bike had been brought to him for inspection. Three young techies stood near it, their eyes round in apprehension.
He gave me a sharp look. "Yes Madam? What is the problem?"
"Sir, this bike has been serviced only two days back, but all the complaints for which it was brought here in the first place are back. This has been the case each time the bike has been brought in. Hard to believe, but the bike has been bought only a year ago."
"It depends on the person who is using it, Ma'am. They should know how to handle a bike carefully. If you will handle it roughly, no amount of servicing will help."
"The mirror fell off just two days after the servicing. It was run over by a lorry."
"A mirror can come loose, Ma'am. How can the centre be responsible for that? Let me show you."
I gave him the benefit of the doubt. "Please do."
He started rotating the mirror out of its socket. It took 14 turns for the mirror to come out.
Now I was thinking, how can I niggle this man till he screams out in fury?
"A mirror unscrews 14 times to fall on the road. Sir, do you take me for a fool?"
"Don't talk like that Ma'am! And you better watch your tone."
'She has a complaint about the pick-up too."
He turned belligerently to my daughter. "What's with the pick-up?"
"There's no pick-up at all." she said, dryly.
I turned to the techie there. "You kickstart a bike for half-an-hour, then you go to college. You kickstart again for half-an-hour each time you have to start the bike; you kickstart till your leg aches. Your mirror twists 14 times out of the socket two days after servicing and falls on the road and is run over by a lorry. What language and tone are you going to use? I think I'm being pretty mild here."
The poor techie smiles uncomfortably. "Now, you wouldn't like a bike like that, would you? You have a sister in college maybe? How do you think she is going to study with the whole of her body aching from kickstarting her bike? Do you or don't you understand it’s a health hazard?"
"I understand, Madam."
The manager was fuming now. "That's not possible. Open it. Check the battery."
There were a whole lot of them there now. We all waited patiently while the battery was taken out. The techies look awkwardly at each other, whispering among themselves.
"What's the matter?"
"The battery hasn’t been changed."
"Bring it to me."
The manager checked the battery. Now, I don’t know an old battery from a new one, but I am kind enough to understand that a blunder has been made and one has to belligerently bluff one's way through. The manager looked at the bill. There had been a charge made and paid for a new battery.
He turned to me, "It’s not our fault. The new battery is out of stock. I can’t give you any guarantee that I will find one for you, but if you leave your bike here, we will do our best."
"Yes, of course, I understand." (We both understood that we must now bluff it out to save face).
"Look Sir, it’s been a year since my daughter bought this bike. She's always come to the centre alone. This is the first time that I've accompanied her. You must be a father too? You do understand how worrying it is to send your child to college on a bad bike, right? I've not asked to meet anyone else here. I've come straight to you in the faith and trust that you will do whatever it takes to see that she is comfortable. I'm leaving the bike here. I don't think I need to pay anything more. The payments have all been made.Please ensure that it is not just excellently done, but that it is perfectly done."
"Yes, I understand. You're a mother. I can understand your worry. You go home now and relax. I'll personally ensure that she never has these problems again. I'll ride the bike out first to check it out and only then will I hand it over to you.
Don't worry at all."
"Thank you, Sir. Have a great day."
"You have a great day too."
Out on the streets, I called to Mona. "Walk with me."
She moved back. "No, don't come near me for a while. You're scary."
"Mona, I don't want to go home. I want to have breakfast out and chill."
normal. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus....
I stared out the window at the hotel. Scary? I wasn't scary. I was just a tired woman, called upon by circumstances to play a certain role, be a certain way, to get things done. Sometimes I was the 'gentle mom.' And sometimes.... I wore the pants in the house too.
Just someone who, while she really appreciates a chivalrous man and would like a pair of comforting arms wrapped around her and told how much she is loved, would still like to carry her own burdens and face her own fears - in her own way, thank you.