Never Live In A Cul de Sac

This is an intriguing enough title I think. I could expound on it as if it were a metaphor for a closed mind. I could treat it as a figurative way of exhorting someone to live in a wide open space where experiences assail one from all sides.

But, being a very uncomplicated person, I will confess that it means literally just what it says. Never live in a cul de sac especially if yours is the last house in the road.

For the first few months of our marriage, we lived in just such a house. Our flat was in the last building on the street and the main road was about a hundred meters from our gate. We led very boring lives all week long though newly married, with R leaving for work every morning and returning home early or late, being subject to the diktats of his much respected elder sister. He would be called to her home from work without “probable cause”. Never one to say No, he would rush to her home from work only to take part in aimless conversations. Any plans we had made to go shopping or go out to dinner would have to be postponed or cancelled. I would be left disappointed while R might feel apologetic, but the idea he could reject her invitation would never occur to him, and if I suggested it, would offend him deeply.

So that left only Saturday evenings and the whole of Sundays for us to plan to go out. Our desires were very modest and our outings mostly consisted of going to the beach or to the market, perhaps having an ice cream, or visiting an exhibition. I would be excited by the thought of going out, housebound as I was all week long. I would wear a favourite sari and having decided to eat out perhaps, we would go down two floors and R would start his scooter.

This was the moment of greatest tension. It was not about the scooter starting, though that was always a concern. While R kicked his scooter to start it, I would stare anxiously at the far end of the street. Quite often, the dreaded figures would materialise and there would be delighted cries of relief from them and groans of dismay from me. There was no escape, living as we were in a cul de sac. There we were, and there they were. We had been seen and we could not pretend we had not seen them. They were various members of R’s extended family.

There was No Escape.

I was then a novice at cooking, my repertoire being limited to a few staples, and our pantry was always meagre. We had to rely on a kerosene stove, not being lucky enough to have obtained LPG yet. We had neither a fridge nor a mixer grinder. To top it all, milk was always limited to morning supply in those days and it was never available during the rest of the day for love or money. It was rationed out by the government dairy against a card which was guarded jealously by those lucky enough to have obtained it somehow. It was like living in the Soviet Union as far as milk was concerned. And here were R’s relatives, waiting to be fed by me. Perhaps they believed in the mythical Akshaya Patra which we did not have. They were also callous enough to come calling empty-handed.

When I try to recall it all, I think I was traumatised enough to have blacked it out. But I gleefully do recall when one such set of relatives marched in to my dismay. R instructed me to “make something” for them. I found a packet of a dubious looking substance that we had bought at an exhibition the previous weekend, being taken in by a salesman. I dumped the contents of the packet into a pan and added some green chillies and salt and turned out a sizeable quantity of something that may have been edible but not very palatable and served it to my guests. They had claimed they and their children were very hungry and I was wondering why they couldn’t have fed their children at home before turning up without notice. I have forgotten to mention that there was no phone line in our houses in those days. Not that it would occur to them that they should let us know before dropping in.

Anyhow, I served what I had made. I don’t remember eating it myself because to me, it tasted like nothing on earth. But they ate it and if they commented on it, I didn’t hear it. But I hope that it kept them away from trying their luck at lunching in our home once again.

We moved to a different house soon enough. Many houses, I must say, and we had our share of guests, some welcome and others dreaded. Our kitchen grew to be a fully loaded one, and my reputation as a cook grew so that our guests knew they could rely on being fed well and many, even the elder sister, lauded my abilities in the kitchen.

In passing, our first house did not even have a lift, so that the minute we stepped out of the front door, we were in danger of bumping into unannounced guests, either on the stairs or in the street. There was No Escape.