Coffee Shop Moments

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Suhashini was having a wonderful time. She was back in India after almost eighteen months. It was hard to squeeze in a long break, that did justice to a visit to India, when one was a graduate student.

Meeting friends, eating chaat, watching movies with her besties, night time chats at with her BFF as they walked around the housing society they grew up in, shopping for kurtis with mom followed by a cold coffee, were the usual highlights of a trip to India.

But this visit was special. This time she had come to get married, to her college sweetheart. They had been in a relationship for almost a decade. Nothing to sneeze at!

Suhashini and her mother, Sneha, were at Kala Niketan buying sarees for the various functions. Mother and daughter had similar tastes. Elegant and understated in the right shade of red, with light yet gorgeous zari work, as soon as they saw it, they both knew it was the perfect bridal saree.

They were decisive shoppers with a vivid idea of what they wanted, so it wasn’t long before they finished buying the four most important sarees, the ones mother and daughter would wear at the wedding and the mehendi/sangeet.

With the big decisions made, mother and daughter decided to treat themselves to cold coffee, their traditional way of celebrating the successful conclusion of any daunting task, since Suhashini was ten.

As they waited for their cold coffee to arrive Sneha said “I have booked your appointment with the beauty parlour on the day of the wedding. We have to leave for the hall at 3:30, so you need to be at the parlour by 12:30.”

“Whatever for?” Suhashini was confused.

Sneha blinked. “To get ready for the wedding, of course.”

“Aren’t you going to help me get ready?” Suhashini asked. She nodded and whispered a thank you to the waiter, who had brought them their cold coffee.

“They’ll do your hair and stuff. So you might as well wear the saree there too. They’ll drape it nicely. You can choose what style you want. They have a lot of practice getting people ready for weddings.” Sneha replied, pushing the straw through the hole in the dome shaped cup cover.

“Okay, but why am I going there there hours early? How long can it take to pin up my hair and wear a saree?” Suhashini took her first sip of the coffee and licked her lips. “Perfect.”

“They’ll do your make-up too. That takes quite a while.” Sneha pointed out.

“Make-up? Mama, I don’t wear make up.”

“I know you don’t usually wear it. But this is a special occasion.”

“Still. I don’t want make-up. I don’t like it. It makes me feel strange ”

“Don’t be silly. It’s just one day. Suck it up.” The subject under discussion always made Sneha irritable.

Sneha prided herself in the expert application of subtle make up and loved wearing it. When Suhashini was a child, she wanted to wear make up just like her mother, but then Sneha was strongly against it, saying that make up was bad for the sensitive skin of children. Suhashini sometimes tried to sneakily wear her mother’s make up, but Sneha always found out and told her off for it, and firmly reminded her, that it was bad for her skin.

After a while Suhashini lost interest in make up. She even developed a distaste for it. Sneha’s message stuck with her. She decided that if make up was damaging to a child’s skin, then surely it must be damaging to adult skin too, even if, to a lesser extent. Past the period of craving it, she saw no reason why she should suddenly start applying it one day. Even during junior college, while her friends were experimenting with various shades of lipstick and eye shadow, Suhashini was never tempted to try it out.

“But why Mama? Why do I need to wear make up? You always told me, as a kid, that make up is bad for my skin.”

“Oh for heaven’s sake! Not this again. I never let you drive a car as a kid either. But you do now, don’t you?” Sneha had prepared herself for this line or argument.

“Yes, but driving serves a purpose. It makes my life convenient. What purpose does make-up serve?” Suhashini was trying hard, not to lose her cool.

“Can’t you be a normal girl, just for once, and want to look pretty?”

“Normal is overrated.” Suhashini muttered.

“What was that?”

“I said normal is overrated. What’s the good in painting your face and lips in abnormal colors?”

“It’s for the camera. Don’t you want to look special in your wedding photographs. Many years later, don’t you want to look at them and think, wow, I looked gorgeous that day.” Sneha tried cajoling.

“Oh wait, just one minute. I want to look like myself in my wedding photographs, not like a blemish-less, shiny, plastic doll.” Suhashini finally lost her grip on her temper.

“Is that what you think of me, when I wear make-up?” Sneha asked.

The conversation was taking an ugly turn, but Suhashini realized that they would have to go through this sooner or later. She lamented doing it in a coffee shop though, a place associated with some of her fondest memories, but the thought gave her strength. “No. Of course not, but I could turn the tables and ask you why you think I would need make up to look gorgeous.”

Sneha was stunned, and for a while, both women sipped their cold coffee quietly.

Finally Suhashini spoke. “Mama, I am so sorry I said that. I did not mean to hurt you and you look good in make-up, but that is because you feel comfortable in it. You are at ease in make-up, so it works for you. I don’t like make up. It makes me uncomfortable and keeps me from being myself. I want to look happy and carefree in my wedding album.”

Sneha calmed down. “Okay, but you will be wearing a gold choker, bracelets and a saree with zari and your face will look plain in comparison. So in this case make-up does serve a purpose.” Sneha tried again.

“I see. So you expect Rohit to wear make up too?”

“Rohit? Of course not. He is a man.”

“But won’t Rohit’s face pale in comparison to his groom’s attire, which is a heavy silk sherwani with zari work on it?”

“Fine. You have made your point well. I am not going to like it but I won’t force you.”

“Thank you Mama. I appreciate that.”

“But I am telling you, one day if you have a daughter and she doesn’t want to do things the way you do them, it will hurt, because even though you know she should get to make her own choices, it will still feel like she is telling you your choices are not good enough for her.”

“Mama!” Suhashini exclaimed as she turned to meet her mother’s eyes. Suddenly she understood why her mother was hurt. Her mother too had probably pictured this day for a long time.

Suhashini opened the box of the bridal saree. “Mama we picked this out together, didn’t we? We both knew it was the perfect saree, the instant we saw it. So how could you say that I think your choices are not good enough for me? But some of your choices may not work for me the way they work for you. That does not mean that I think you made poor choices.”

Sneha wiped a tear and smiled. “You are right. Sorry. I just never understood your aversion for make-up and I have always taken it personally, as if you were criticizing my choices.”

Mother and daughter hugged. It was another entry to Suhashini’s mental album of perfect coffee shop moments with Mama.

Tags: family, women, friendship, prejudice, social