BOOK EXCERPT

When he wants to give up his job and become a (dairy) farmer, what should she do?

The reluctant beginning: An excerpt from Yashodhara Lal’s ‘How I Became A Farmer’s Wife’

The words confronted me mockingly. I stared at them until my eyes blurred. Another morning, and I’d been up since 6 am, sitting blankly at my desk, unable to compose a word. What was this nonsense! I had the plot, structure and the experience – I knew what would work. It should have been easy to get going. I leaned back in my chair and put my palms over my bleary eyes. This was horrible. I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was the end of my writing career. I hunched my shoulders, defeated. It had been an hour. I’d might as well give up and go make some tea.

I pushed my chair back and got up. Both Papad and Pickle had sneaked in during the night and they lay on my bed, limbs entangled, looking like Siamese twins. I looked at them fondly and covered them up with the blanket they’d kicked away. It was so much easier to be fond of them when they were asleep. It was amazing to me, how deep they were in slumber, with not a care in the world. So unlike us poor adults. I stepped out and found the other poor adult already in the drawing room. He was gazing at his laptop.

“Hey Y!” he said enthusiastically. “Come here! I’m looking at options for farming.” Uh-oh. “I’m going to make some tea.” I headed for the kitchen. “Already made two cups. Come have yours.” I peered shortsightedly at the side table. Two steaming mugs of tea lay waiting. This was unusual. “Okay.” I came and sat down next to him. “Thanks.”

“You know, hon,” he said conversationally, “it seems as if the more profitable options are going to be dairy and poultry.”

“Really? As if you’re going to do poultry farming!”

“Why not?”

“Yeah, right. What’s Papaji going to say when you tell him you’re rearing chickens?”

“Maybe he won’t mind if I explain the business logic behind it to him…” Vijay’s voice trailed off as he realised how hollow that sounded. The strict vegetarian, Brahmin diet that Papaji had followed all his life was sacrosanct. Secondly, as a professor of physics, he carried an old-world academician’s distaste for all things business.

“So, have you spoken to Papaji about your idea?” I said craftily and sipped on my tea.

Papaji had been my collaborator in recent years – we were both united in convincing Vijay that he really wasn’t cut out for entrepreneurship. Papaji felt particularly strongly about this. He had worked in the same job all his life at a university in Jaipur. He believed it was important to stick to your field, even though he never understood what Vijay and I did professionally. Either way, our working in an office was certainly better to him than the vagaries of business, which he associated with money-mindedness and, inevitably, cheating.

“I’ve been talking to him.” Vijay continued to stare at his laptop. “He thinks I can’t do it.” He looked up and gave me a level gaze. “But this time, I’m not going to let him talk me out of it.”

“Or you, for that matter,” remained unsaid at the end of that sentence.

I shrugged. “Poultry’s probably out?”

“Guess so,” he said thoughtfully. “But I think dairy appeals to me much more anyway. That way, we will also get to have fresh cow’s milk for Papaji – it’s really good for your health, especially in old age. Yes…” His eyes became dreamy again. “And I’ve always liked cows.”

“Huh?” I raised my eyebrows. “Since when?”

“Since always,” he said breezily. “You don’t know everything about me. I like them; they’re sweet.”

“Cows? Sweet? And you have a problem with dogs?”

“Cows don’t bark or bite,” he said gruffly. “Anyway, milk is something which everyone needs regularly. That’s why if you get a good customer base, supply a reasonable quality, which of course we will, the margins will work out. With dairy, the profits come in sooner because if you buy the cows, you can get going immediately – there’s no lead time unlike in the case of crops, and…”

“What are you reading?” I peered into the screen. “Wikipedia for farmers?”

“No.” He shut the laptop a little defensively. “I’ve watched a whole lot of videos. Been up for the last three hours.”

“What? Since four in the morning?”

“Yeah, when my alarm went off, I figured I’d do a little research here and keep an eye on Papaji from this room. He’s gotten up only three times so far.”

“You’ve barely slept! How are you going to do a full day at work?”

“Ah, I’m fine!” Vijay said carelessly. “I’ll just drink tea through the day. Got to go meet aunty later too.”

“Today?”

“Yes.” He nodded. “Now that Achu and I’ve decided we’re doing this, might as well move fast. We just need to convince aunty that we are trustworthy. If this meeting goes well and we can get a basic agreement in place, we’ll go see the land on the weekend. It’s in Rewari.”

“How are you agreeing to anything without seeing the land? That’s the first step, right?”

“That’s not how it works,” Vijay said lightly and, I thought, a trifle dismissively. It made my hackles rise.

“Oh no?” I spat out. “You don’t want to see the land before you decide you’ll be renting it? Because that’s too… logical?”

“Hey, relax! I just meant that it’s important to establish a rapport. Besides, she’s an old lady; she’ll want a certain amount of respect shown to her. She is attached to the place, has built it up over many years, and there’s the whole ashram thing. We have to get her to like us. And, of course, we will see the place before we put anything on paper. Today, we talk to her and if it works out, she’ll get to meet you and Varsha on Saturday and she’ll see we’re also nice family men and …”

“Saturday?” I exclaimed. “I have my Zumba class on Saturday morning and the kids have Taekwondo in the afternoon. We aren’t going to be able to make a trek to some place hours away!”

“Hon,” he said pleadingly, “this is important. I’m not going to make any big decisions without you.”

He had me there. I remembered the number of times I’d had book launches in the last few years and he’d juggled his calendar to be there, playing proud husband, and overenthusiastic photographer. I couldn’t believe he was seriously contemplating this, but I had no choice other than to go along with it. He’d discover in time that this was impractical and unworkable. Besides, I knew that coercing him into anything only increased his determination to do the exact opposite.

I shrugged. “Okay. See how it goes when you meet her today. She may wonder what you’re actually going to do with the place since neither of you know anything about farming.”

He looked at me for a moment and then opened up his laptop again. I sipped my tea – it was now a little cold – and watched him type into the Google search bar: “farming consultants in Gurgaon.”

I put the cup aside and stood up wearily. It was time to wake the kids for school. At least one of us needed to stay in the real world.


The car ride was less than enjoyable. The twins were cranky because they’d knocked their heads together while scrambling into the car. I asked them why they had to rush and they said it was because they were scared the colony dogs would bite them.

After they calmed down, Peanut started to squirm, saying that she was feeling carsick and really needed to sit next to the window. The twins, who had each claimed a window, took exception to this and a loud argument ensued.

I yelled that we had another row in the back of the Innova and one of them could move there, which Papad did most sulkily. The food had been placed in the back seat, and much readjustment was required before he was settled there. And even after that, he kept claiming that the food basket was touching him on purpose just to trouble him.

The drive was inordinately long, and to make things worse, we kept taking wrong turns. I looked out at the dusty, crowded road; the fat, painted trucks in front of us; the numerous roadside vendors hawking their wares; small shops packed together in ramshackle buildings. What godforsaken place was this – it was even worse than Gurgaon. Where was the space anywhere near here for a farm?

“Achu’s sent a Google Maps pin from there!” Vijay announced. He was sitting in the passenger seat next to Kamal and looked rather comfortable compared to me sandwiched between our children. He opened Google Maps on his phone and said, “Oh ho! Kamal, peechewala right turn tha. U-turn lena ab aage se.”

I sighed and elbowed Peanut a little to get her to give me room, but she took it as an invitation to lean her head onto my shoulder. It was uncomfortable, but I leaned my cheek against her soft hair for a moment. She was a sweet kid. I opened my mouth to tell her so, when she whispered, “Mom, I think I might vomit on you.”

I elbowed her more roughly and she straightened up and gave me an evil grin before staring out of the window again. The twins were quiet now. I glanced around to find out why. Ah. They’d both gone to sleep. Wonderful, I thought. If they ever took even a five-minute nap, they bounced around till midnight. I hoped we’d get to this farm place soon. We were now out on open road and making good speed.

Vijay exclaimed “Look, hon!” To the right, I saw fields, the grass a lush dark green. Now this was more like it.

I turned to the left and saw a huge field full of yellow sarson – it was quite beautiful against the blue and sunny autumn sky. “Look, Peanut,” I urged. “Sarson!” She turned, but by that time, we’d already gone past the field. “What?” she asked. “It was yellow and very pretty – sarson.”

“What’s sarson?”

“Uh, it’s…sesame?”

“Like ‘Open sesame!’?”

“Something like that,” I murmured, my eyes peeled for the next field.

“Er, sarson is mustard, Y,” Vijay reminded me.

“Whatever!” I shot back. I knew that.

“Yeah, whatever,” Peanut repeated. I frowned at her.

Even though I was sceptical of this entire exercise, I thought a nine-year-old should be more interested in the world around her.

“Well, just keep a look out and you’ll see another one.”

After another few minutes, Vijay said, “Hey, wait, wait! There are two roads up ahead…But the map…Arre, yaar, no signal here! Kamal, ek minute roko.”

The car stopped and Pickle and Papad both stirred awake, making resentful little noises followed by sleepy cries of “Are-we-there-Mom?” and “This basket is still touching me”.

We were on what looked like a deserted road but I then saw what Vijay had already spotted some distance to the left. Just in front of a small chai stall, was a group of five old men wearing dhotis and pagris, sitting on two charpoys with cups of tea in their hands.

They gaped at us curiously. “Bhaisahib!” Vijay tried to sound as earthy and rustic as possible. “Yahan se Rewari kidhar padega?”

Immediately, all five broke into enthusiastic chatter. We stared, a little baffled, as they all spoke simultaneously.

“Rewari?” One old man raised his arm towards the road leading left.

“Lekin jana kyon hain?”

“Wahan se chhota padega,” said a second, pointing to the right.

“Waise wahan se bhi ja sakte hain,” he admitted, pointing to the left.

“Aap net se aaaye honge, hain na?” chuckled another at the same time, confidently pointing to the right.

“Net se kuch nahin pata chalta, Dilliwaale bhaisahib!” This last one struck them all as a very funny joke and they all started cackling loudly.”

Vijay somehow processed this and seemed to come to some conclusion, ‘Okay, thank you.”

“Welcome! Welcome! Thank you!” The old men were laughing merrily at us. I realised that the kids and even our usually robotic driver Kamal were giggling at the old men and their animated talking over each other. Vijay was shaking his head in amusement as he told Kamal “Left se chalo”.

I couldn’t help cracking a wry smile.

This might turn out to be an interesting visit, even if nothing else ever came of it.

Excerpted with permission from How I Became A Farmer’s Wife, Yashodhara Lal, HarperCollins India.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.