It was a little after 4 p.m. when Payal and Amrita stepped into the coffee shop near their office, a much-needed respite from work. Over cold coffee (with whipped cream and sprinkles), they shared tales of their weekends.
“We had a parent-teacher meeting at my daughter’s school,” started Amrita. “I just die of total rock-bottom self-esteem levels every time I have to go for those.”
“Why?” inquired Payal, opening up the single-cookie packet and dividing it into two.
“Those women are all so pahunchi-hui types – so accomplished and all that. Someone’s from the Gandhi-Nehru clan, someone owns a million-dollar IT firm, someone’s a famous fashion designer. I mean, I feel great my daughter is mingling with the kids of all these people, but I personally feel very little among them,” Amrita grimaced, taking the half of Payal’s cookie.
“They’re probably as insecure as you are,” comforted Payal. “The more pahuncha hua they are, the more they have to worry about keeping up the appearance of being so.”
“Yes, but I can never compete with them, can I?” Amrita made a sad face, looking into her drink.
“I know how you feel,” said Payal sympathetically. “I feel that way whenever my husband’s friends come over. Trust me, it’s easier to be among those Page-Three people and retain your own identity. It’s harder when the ‘competition’ is all in the head, and not social standing.”
“What do you mean?”
“My husband and his friends are all intellectuals. They talk of politics and literature and world events and art. And I am the little nobody, sitting quietly in a corner, with nothing of significance to contribute to any conversation,” Payal shrugged, defensively.
“But you are so bright yourself!” exclaimed Amrita. “Why should making conversation be hard for you?”
“Because I’m not as brainy as they are. Because I’m just a silly woman with a low-IQ job in a small-time HR company. Because I’d rather talk of ‘lighter’ issues like our children and preserving the environment. I’m not in their league. They have bigger things on their minds. It’s a competition I lost years ago.”
It was Amrita’s turn to smile sympathetically. “If you ask me, I think you’re very intelligent and dedicated, and you have a lot to offer even the most intellectual of intellectuals. I learn so much from you whenever we talk.”
“Well, maybe you do – but that’s because you learn from everyone. And by the way, you should feel confident in front of all those women at your daughter’s school. You aren’t famous like them but you have your own set of strengths and talent and experiences, which they don’t,” stated Payal with finality. Their cold coffees down to the last burst of foam, they fidgeted in their seats, knowing it was time to go back to office.
“I guess we are all blessed in some way,” mused Amrita as they finally left the cafe. “I guess we need to crib less, and count our blessings more often.”
“Yes, at least we have someone to crib to, and to help us count those blessings,” replied Payal. They looked knowingly at one another and smiled.
Smiles which would warm their hearts and keep them silent company for many future parent-teacher meetings and family parties later.