Do You Have A Problem?

About the Author: “Mr K. C. Verma is a close friend, author of  “Stories I wouldn’t tell my mother” and ex-chief of R&AW.

There is a common misconception going around – that communication between a woman and a man improves with time. It is further believed, quite erroneously, that if the said woman and said man are wife and husband then communication is perfect. Some naively believe that verbal communication itself is rendered superfluous between wife and man because, with time, they start understanding and complementing each other totally. Even when such mythical couples have not fully switched over to non-verbal communication, they are believed to be in that blissful state in which they complete each other’s sentences.

No! By a long stretch, no! The empirical data available with me clearly shows that a newly wedded wife and husband manage to understand each other much better. Of course they won’t fully comprehend what the other is saying, because that would indeed strain one’s credulousness. But the newlyweds are able to muddle along fairly well by repeatedly seeking reassurances and reiterating instructions.

“Are you comfortable, dear?”

“No, sweetheart, I don’t like tea that has gone cold.”

“Yes darling, I actually have a headache!”

It never gets any better than this. With the accumulating years, communication channels start getting rusty or silted up or whatever happens to them. This is compellingly brought out by the control sample available to me – the little woman and I.

We are well on the way to our fiftieth, so I know what I am talking about. And I want all newlyweds to benefit from our experience. So, calling the attention of all you newlyweds! Hear Ye! Hear Ye!  You must understand that exchange of thoughts, which after all is the purpose of communication, is going to get progressively difficult for you both. Be warned that when she talks, the spouse’s endearing mannerisms of today shall get reduced to merely cute habits. Gradually, you shall consider the cute habits to be irritating oddities and these will later become rage-inducing quirks.

An everyday happening from the control sample, which I have observed for so many years, will better illustrate the point about the hopelessness of communication between life partners.

All these long years, I have tried to prevail upon the better half to share the full dimensions of a problem rather than seeking assistance in tackling the issue according to her perception. Thus a statement to the effect, “The bulb in the kitchen is fused,” is more helpful than the question, “Where is the stool?”

A proper response becomes increasingly difficult with more anniversaries, because the question undergoes subtle changes.

“Where is the stool?” becomes “Where have you hidden the damn stool?”

Or worse; “Where the hell is the first aid kit? This blood is dripping all over!!”

No hard-of-hearing-husband can be expected to divine that a query relating to the whereabouts of a stool could be related to a bulb needing replacement. Yet, somehow, now I am not only responsible for the bulb getting fused, I am also responsible for the gash on her leg due to toppling off the kitchen counter.

That is why I keep requesting her, “Please tell me the problem.”

But no! She will never tell me the problem. I am only asked to provide inputs for some perceived solution which may or may not be the best. Or even viable!

Why, just the other day she went to the new mall across town. Due to our advancing years and the extremely intimidating traffic, neither of us drives now. Ramkhilawan, who chauffeurs us around, is as rude as the best of Delhi drivers and we feel an odd sense of security because of his uncouth ways. Not only is he an aggressive driver, he knows all the roads, lanes and bye-lanes. He also loves driving ‘memsahib’ around because memsahib never tells him to shut up while driving.

I was therefore a bit taken aback when the wife rang up a few hours later to ask how she could turn on the GPS in her phone.

I froze. I wondered why she wanted to learn about the basic features in her phone. You see, she has steadfastly refused to discover the smartness of her phone for the past many years.

Cautiously I asked, “What happened?”

“Just tell me how to turn on that map thing which shows roads and has those funny red and green lines,” she said. Imperiously.

“Yes, but…”

“Will you tell me or not!”

So while talking on the phone, I tried to teach her how to turn on data and location and Google for ‘maps’. It was like trying to teach someone how to swim through a distance learning course. Her impatience and my limited capacity to guide her across a screen that I could not see ensured that we were exchanging unpleasantries very soon.

“Just teach me how to go from point A to point B!”

“Okay, okay,” I said. “Let us start all over again.”

“Look if you don’t know how it’s done, just say so and we shall save a lot of time!”

“Whaaat?”But there was no one at the other end to hear my howl of protest.

The bell rang a while later. A very distraught Ramkhilawan was at the door.

“Memsahib is lost!” he blurted out.

I gave the driver water and generally revived him. From his incoherent narration, I understood in bits and pieces that memsahib had instructed Ramkhilawan to park the car and wait near the entrance so that she did not need to later search for him. She had thereafter entered the mall. After an hour, Ramkhilawan saw memsahib come out from the mall and get into a taxi. Before Ramkhilawan could call out, her cab had sped away.

I was quite perplexed. Where could she have gone? A tryst with a secret lover?  Even the thought sounded hilarious! Could she be spying for a foreign power? Again funny! I briefly wondered if the term kidnapping could be used for a person who was no longer a kid. For this reason, I hesitated in ringing the cops. They would quite likely laugh their pants off! It would be a first for them. A seventy-year old, reporting the misplacement of an equally ancient materfamilias!

But I was concerned. Most concerned. Even though we have lived in the same house for the past few decades, my wife has no inkling about the roads in Delhi or the neighbourhood. There was a tight knot of worry in the stomach that was threatening to explode as a ball of panic.

I don’t know how long I remained immobilized with unnamed apprehensions. Fortunately, before I did anything stupid, a cab came up the driveway and my wife flounced out.

“What a horrible driver! He doesn’t even know the roads!  If people don’t know the way, why do they ply cabs?

“Oh God, I need to pee so badly! Please get rid of him. Just pay him, will you?”

She went into the house even before I could ask her why she had hired a taxi when she had taken the car. Obviously she had forgotten that Ramkhilawan was waiting for her.

I asked the cabbie about the fare and was astounded to hear the amount.

“Sir,” said the cabbie, “Madam gave me the address and the fare would have been less than half had she allowed me to take the route I wanted to. But she forced me to take different roads.”

Of course! If she had told me why she wanted to use the ‘map thing’ in the phone, I would have reminded her that Ramkhilawan was waiting and that he knew the way home.

Why must she try to solve problems her way rather than tell me what the issue is? Every so often there is no problem, until she tries to ‘solve’ it.

Then last Friday I got an opportunity to give her a taste of her own medicine.

I well knew that she was having tea with her friends, but I still telephoned her.

“I say, where do you keep the turmeric?”

“Turmeric? Look there is no need to cook anything. I have already cooked for the evening.”

“I am not cooking. You know very well I can’t! Just tell me where the turmeric is.”

“Are you making a turmeric latte?”

“What the hell is that?”

“Well, it will be good for you. You know, you’ve been forgetting things a bit lately. Maybe it is the best idea that you have had in a long while. Please make one for me too and put it in the fridge – I shall have it as a frappe. Crème de turmeric frappe sounds nice!”

“For God’s sake! I only want to know where the turmeric is!”

“Have you injured yourself?  Because if it is an open wound, don’t put any of that turmeric! God only knows what all stuff they put in it. If only you would listen and get me the certified organic masalas.”

“No darling I have not hurt myself. And yes, next time I shall get your organically grown masalas.  But will you tell me where you have hidden the bloody turmeric”?

“Why do you think I would hide it anywhere? Why do you need turmeric?  Why are you messing about in the kitchen? Why aren’t you taking your afternoon nap? Are you sure you are okay?”

Now if I were to ask as many questions when she enquires about the stool, I would get a mouthful.

“No, honey, it’s okay. No one is cooking anything and no one wants to have a turmeric latte and no one has cut a finger. Just tell me where you have kept the damn stuff!”

That seemed to be the last straw. She thoroughly lost patience and started quoting me to me!

“Look, if you have got a problem, don’t ask me for inputs for your perceived solutions. Tell me the problem. Maybe there is more than one way to suck an egg. Just tell me the effing problem!”

I can tell you that as any couple gets older their vocabulary becomes more colourful. They also start using more exclamation marks. As an aside, I might add here that in the next stage they start using more question marks instead of exclamation marks. As in “What?”, “Eh?” and “Hunh?”

But let’s get back to the turmeric issue. So I asked her again, all sweetness and light, “Darling, just tell me where you keep the turmeric. I have been searching for the past half hour in this kitchen and I can’t find the damn stuff.”

“Well, why do you want turmeric?”

“Now that you are asking, I want turmeric to show how it is used as an indicator and turns pink when it touches any base. Soap works very well for that, don’t you know?  And it turns yellow again when it touches acids; for which I have already sliced a lemon.”

“What the hell are you rambling about? Indicator? Soap? Lemon?”

“Well you never told me that dear Natasha, our granddaughter, would be spending the afternoon with us. Her mother dropped her off here an hour ago and I am trying to keep her amused with simple chemistry experiments.”

“Oh damn! I forgot! Of course, Natasha was to spend the afternoon with us. Damn! Damn! Damn!”

“Language, lady!” I warned. “Now you know how confused I get when you don’t tell me the problem and only ask something with no reference to any context?”

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I did not get any turmeric.  Nor did I get any dinner that night. But I had made my point.

Never ask me for inputs for your perceived solutions. For heaven’s sake, tell me what the effing problem is!

I might have a solution for it. And it might be different from what you thought it should be. On the other hand, I might not have any solution. But at least I would understand better why sometimes I don’t get any dinner.

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