Recently, one of my friends received flash news that her mother-in-law, along with a gang of relatives, would be coming to visit her the next week for a day, and that too early in the morning. She discussed various survival strategies with her mother, who advised her on the lines of the Boy Scout motto – “Be prepared.” For the whole week, she was tense and thinking about what to cook for breakfast that would amply demonstrate her culinary skills to her mother-in-law. She spent two full days cleaning the entire house. She ensured that in the puja shelf, the frames of all the deities were spic and span, flowers in the right order, and brass lamps shining. She also quickly learnt how to draw rangoli (kolam), from YouTube.
One day before her mother-in-law’s arrival, she ensured that the laundry was done and the kitchen sink was clean. Stale food was removed from the fridge and replaced with fresh vegetables. Even the washroom tiles were made to look sparkling. It is said, “Where words fail, music speaks.” So she even honed her music skills and gargled with salt water several times a day to ensure she maintained a good voice and could sing a song or two, if her mother-in-law asked her about her progress in Carnatic music.
Her nervousness reminded me of the inspections at school every year, where an external inspector would visit the school and ask us questions in front of our own teachers. Not only students but even teachers would be jittery for a couple of days as they would be evaluated on their teaching skills based on how students performed on inspection day.
Once during my school days, we received the news that a very strict inspector was going to make a surprise visit on one of the days one particular week. The atmosphere in school was tense. Students were terrified, and anxious teachers were biting their nails. One week before the inspector’s visit, our teachers made sure we kept our classroom clean. We ensured that students’ notebooks showed completed homework. Teachers would ensure that the students revised their lessons a million times. Several coloured charts bearing diagrams were hung on the walls in strategic places to which we could turn our eyeballs to a minimum degree and find out answers to questions posed by the inspector.
The teachers ensured a strategic seating arrangement such that the top scorers were not only seated on the front benches but also at the back just in case the inspector selected one from the backbench for answers. We also devised another strategy. Instead of asking the questions himself, if the inspector entrusted the respective subject teacher with the role, maximum number of students would raise their hands irrespective of whether they knew the answer or not. The trick was that most students would raise their right hands and only those who knew the correct answer would raise their left hand and the subject teacher would easily pick one of them. This would create an impression in the inspector’s mind that most of the students knew the answer and that the entire class was exceptionally brilliant.
During a busy class hour, the mere sound of footsteps on the school corridor would send a chill down our spines. The teacher would immediately stop the class and have a look outside. During morning school prayers, students used to silently pray in their minds that the terror inspector would not turn up at least for the day. And yes! Our prayers were answered. The inspector never turned up that year. And as far as my friend is concerned, even her mother-in-law’s visit was cancelled. Some mothers- and daughters- in-law bond quickly while some take years to connect. The key point is that this relationship needs careful nurturing and has to be watered with plenty of care and patience so that they understand, appreciate and learn from each other and co-exist happily.