Bad Coffee in a Good Mug

Written by Seema Gaurav
13 Nov 2019

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I come from a conservative family in Chennai. My mom had a habit of maintaining checklists on how I should conduct myself. In school it was about oiling my hair and tying them up on the sides of my head. I had to remember to apply a bindi and smear a copious amount of vibhuti over it. Even when I was old enough, I wasn't allowed to use cosmetics. The only exception was a generous coat of talcum powder on my face. And here's her theory – she said it did not matter how the mug looked, what mattered was the coffee inside the mug.

As soon as I graduated, there was a strong urge to live on my own. I found myself a job far from home – in Delhi. My mom panicked and her list grew longer. Seema, listen, don't go talking to girls in mini skirts, and high heels, and those wearing a lot of makeup and all, ok? I heard girls there smoke and drink. Ishwara! they must be doing drugs too, you be careful ok. Delhi has a very open culture di, the girls there may have boyfriends and all that nonsense, I'm telling you, you better take care, ok?

I reached Delhi on a chilly Friday morning. I instantly fell in love with the guesthouse and the room. The cook, Shambu, showed me the room as he helped me with the luggage. I couldn't help noticing his tattered sweater. I wondered how he managed in this weather. As for me, I was already making plans to shop for sweaters in the coming weekend.

That's when Shambu told me that I would be having a roommate. She had been staying here for a while and was on a short visit to the US. She would return tomorrow. I secretly hoped that she was a good one. For some reason, my mom's checklist was lurking in my mind. Somehow, when you are away from home, the pressure of being a good girl weighs on you.

On Saturday morning I woke up to some noise coming from the hall. With my eyes barely open, I headed down the hall. That's when I saw this girl sitting there wearing a miniskirt, high heels, and a blouse I couldn't come to terms with. It had a plunging neckline. I tried to look away, but that's when she noticed me and walked up to me.

'Hi, I'm Ria, your new roommate,' she said. I managed to mumble something polite but I could hear my mom retort in the background, Ayoyo, roommate-aa? You deserve this and more for leaving me alone. As we settled down in the room, Ria popped another question, 'Seema, do you mind if I smoke?'

And there, I could see my mom howl at me – 'Hmmmm, very good, now you enjoy living next to this chimney. I told you not to leave Chennai. So old fashion to listen to your mother, no?' I guess Ria figured from the constipated expression on my face that I wasn't comfortable. So she headed out. I sat there trying to gather my wits.

For the rest of the day, she wasn't in the guesthouse. It was a relief for me because I needed time to accept the fact that the monster from my mom's forbidden checklist was now living in my room.

Luckily, I didn't see her around on Sunday either. Come Monday, I was excited about my first day at work. Surprisingly, it was Ria who helped me settle down. For her level of skills and experience, the girl had no air of arrogance. I was beginning to accept her.

That evening when we were back in the room, I tried to strike a conversation. I pointed to a blue bottle by her dresser and asked her about the perfume she was using. She immediately broke into peals of laughter. I was miffed. What was the fuss about? When she was done with all the drama, I realized, VODKA is not a name of a perfume. The more I tried to accept this girl, the more she scandalized me.

I walked out of the room to get some air. That's when I noticed Shambu wearing a new sweater. I complimented him. He smiled and said, 'Ria didi ne laake dia tha, boli bahut thand hai na, rakh lo.' Ria didi gifted it to me for the winter! Soon, the domestic help and the guard were showing off the winter wear and shoes that Ria didi got them.

I couldn't help saying, 'Bahut acchi hain tumhari Ria didi.' Ria is really nice! And that's when Shambu went on about how compassionate she was. He mentioned that she spent her weekends working with terminally ill kids. In fact, she had sponsored the care of two such girls.

That left me speechless. How wrong I had been about her. That's when it hit me. All this while, I was the bad coffee in the good mug. How wrong of me to have judged her without knowing her. There, at that moment, I secretly ripped off the checklist in my mind and embraced Ria for who she was.

Maybe our conditioning has imposed some baggage on us, that we may want to get rid of. Mine was the checklist. You go find out what's yours because I have realized that you evolve only when you are willing to unlearn.

Seema Gaurav

Seema believes that she is a fluffy potato in the garb of a human. Maybe that’s the reason you’d always find her on a couch ;) She is brown, short, round, and as interesting as a potato. She does technical writing to feed her tummy and storytelling to feed her soul. She feels that there are some awe-inspiring Indian authors who are slowly fading away from our minds. To celebrate such authors, she started Katha Khoj, a storytelling community for adults. Occasionally, as a storyteller, she also feels the need to tell her side of a story. And that’s when she puts her pen to paper. When she is not writing or narrating stories, she uses her lame jokes as weapons of mass destruction.

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