We stopped – astounded, intrigued. It was the summer holidays, and the kids and I were leafing through a magazine brought home from boarding school by a neighbour’s son.
We looked at each other, gigged a bit at what the poor milkman might have to say about this, and carried on.
“She is very kind,” we read. “When I was small, she looked after me. When I used to come from school and the house would be locked, she would call me and give me lunch.
“When I would be alone in the house, she would come and sit with me. At night, she used to tell me stories or sing songs. Every morning, she used to get up early and come to our house and when I would get up she would give me a nice bath. Once in a week, she would take me to the cinema.”
Yes, we smiled to ourselves, god bless the milkman’s wife, and what would we ever do without her! She even takes him to the cinema! The situation enthralled us and we examined the piece for clues to get a better perspective. There were none, and even the byline was a bland one – A Jadhav (IV) – so we only had a surname and an initial, and an indication of the seniority of the author. But that didn’t stop us from further speculation and analysis.
Why, we wondered, was she described as the wife of the milkman rather than a kindly neighbour, or, perhaps, an ayah? Was it because the milkman himself had an ever stronger role in A Jadhav’s life? Although that hardly seemed likely! Did his personality dominate even the fact that his wife took A Jadhav to the cinema as a weekly routine?
Or, on a more sinister level, perhaps A Jadhav, along with being locked out of his home at lunchtime, had been brought up to believe that women could only be defined according to the functions of their husbands.
As we discussed the matter, conflicting visions arose. One saw her as the kind of buxom milkmaid depicted on chocolate boxes picturing ye olde English countryside, but this was shot down as anachronistic. Another put up the proposition that she was a sort of Yashoda, childless but motherly. The metaphors were certainly apt. Finally, the theory emerged that A Jadhav was a wit. The piece was designed to entertain (it most certainly had us) but had no roots in reality. Well – there certainly was a tinge of the surreal to it.
Welcoming this version, we carried on with the magazine, and stopped short when we noticed the byline again. “Our main meals are breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” we read with growing dismay. “We have our breakfast in the morning, lunch in the afternoon and dinner at night. There are two types of food, vegetarian and non-vegetarian.”
Brilliant! But we had to sadly admit that A Jadhav was a master of the prosaic rather than the droll. Our certainty wavered with a sentence towards the end: “Normally the vegetarians and non-vegetarians at St Peter’s have the same dinner.”
When we looked back at the milkman’s wife article, only pathos and a certain beauty stood out. A Jadhav, whoever you are, we will always remember you.
God bless the milkman, was our general attitude as we closed the magazine and went down for lunch. God bless his wife. May their tribe increase.
first appeared in Maharashtra Herald on 8 Aug 1996