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Mrs Modika Patel was busy shopping for instant dhokala kit in a mall in Delhi when she saw Mrs Nitishree Kumari, her neighbor, buying groceries. She waved but got no response. “Jealous! Don’t know what problem this Bihari woman has with me. Huh!” thought Modika and continued her shopping. It was at the billing counter that both almost collided with each other.
“Oh hello Modika,” said Nitishree with a forced smile. “So what have you been shopping for?” The awkwardness between the two was palpable.
“Nothing. Just some P2G2 – Paneer, Palak, Gur and Gehu,” replied Modika, forcing a fake smile. “What about you?”
“Just some groceries, yaa. We live in a joint family, na. So I have to cater to all members of my family. I like to take everybody together, you see,” she smirked. “Unlike some housewives who neglect some of their children’s needs,” she added impishly.
Modika gritted her teeth in suppressed rage. “Oh! You buy groceries? In our house, we actually grow it in our own backyard,” she said in her comeback. ‘Our Gujju house is self sufficient when it comes to most needs, you see.”
Suddenly, Amit and Maya, 10 year old children of Mrs Modika Patel, came running towards their mother. “Here come my children! You know Nitishree, my Amit is so intelligent and progressive. Bada ho kar pakka mouse charmer banega,” she raved, chest swelling with pride.
“But he has lost so much weight. What is the use of progress, if malnutrition remains?” Nitishree interjected.
As though that wasn’t embarrassing enough for Modika, her son blabbered, “Mummy, Maya has been caught red-handed doing mischief.” A furious Modika caught Maya by the ear and began to reprimand her. “Who asked you to do mischief? Will recommend papa to give you proper punishment. Ghar chal, batati hu tujhe.”
Nitishree smilingly said, “Teach them Raj Dharma, Modika,” as she searched for cash in her purse at the billing counter. “Kya bhaiya! We always do shopping from your mall. Don’t we deserve special status?” she began to haggle with the staff. “I am a regular customer. Give me some free dhaniya na. And I don’t have change.”
Modika jumped at the opportunity to avenge the putdowns. “Well, I believe her bag is half full all right but with hot air. I am confident we can bring a change to the situation.” Modika nonchalantly handed over the change and said, “You’re welcome” before Nitishree could thank her. Nitishree’s face turned beetroot-red with anger and embarrassment.
Modika continued, “So, what are your plans after shopping? I hear there’s a new Jasuben ka Pizza joint nearby. I am taking my children there. Would you like to join in?”
“No, I have to prepare tea for my husband…” said Nitishree.
“…with the milk that comes from my husband’s dairy company, of course,” interrupted Modika.
“… and then I’m planning to make some mango pickle…” continued Nitishree in a slightly raised voice.
“…using mangoes that drop into your compound from our tree, I suppose,” retorted Modika.
“.. and then I’ll put a chair out in the garden, sit with my husband and sip my tea!” hit back Nitishree, almost yelling.
“…obviously under the comforting shade of the trees in my house,” said Modika, without missing a beat.
The two ladies were quiet for a brief moment.
“Anyways, I needed a carpenter for my broken furniture. What do you think of that Girish in the next locality?” Mrs. Nitishree queried, knowing rather well that Modika hated Girish the carpenter.
“Well, up to you,” replied Modika feigning disinterest. “I don’t think you’d be able to sit on your chair again if you go to Girish,” sniggered Modika.
“Oh, I have no desire to sit on the chair,” averred Nitishree and muttered under her breath, “And I will make sure you never sit on it either.”
“Ok, I must leave. Do come some day to our house some day, dear,” Modika said in a fake tone. “You know, the number of guests visiting our home has doubled in the last few years. My husband’s business is flourishing. I have installed new solar panels in our home. If you ever have power cut in your society, just come to us, ok?” and left the mall with her bags and children murmuring under her breath, “Mrs Attitude!”
“Mrs show-off,” snarled Mrs Nitishree at Mrs Modika’s retreating figure, and left the mall in a huff.
Seconds after the two ladies left the shop, the lady at the billing counter, Mrs Mohini Singh, sighed in relief. “As long as they are too busy bickering to notice the poor quality, rampant adulteration and illegal mark-ups in our store, our business will be safe,” she guffawed to the store owner, Mrs. Sonia Kaur.