Most Gracious ILites, After having had a refreshing walk along the banks of Vaigai, it's now time for some action. Now back to the comparison game. This story of mine is built on the theme of comparison - especially as it is practised amongst women. Regards, Varalotti Plumber - A Short Story By Varalotti Rengasamy “Malu, we have chosen some really good fancy fittings for our bathroom. Why don’t you have a look? It may help you to choose for yours.” Malathi and her husband Suren were visiting Malathi’s sister Roopa. When the couples were chatting in the drawing room Roopa casually threw the bombshell - by inviting Malathi to look at the fancy fittings she had bought. A shiver went through Suren. He knew what was going to happen. Malathi would see the fittings and then insist on buying the same type of fittings for their house also. But could Suren afford that? Suren had been regretting his decision to go for an own house. It could have been comfortably handled five years later. The greater folly was to have started their house-construction at the same time Malathi’s sister Roopa, and her husband Mahesh, were doing theirs. In the provincial town they all lived, land was relatively cheap. So both the sisters purchased adjacent plots and started construction almost at the same time. In fact Roopa instigated the whole thing. First Suren thought that was a blessing in disguise as the families could share the million chores and worries relating to construction and had greater bargaining power as twosome. Little did he know at that time that there would be an endless comparison of even the minutest details between the sisters. The house sat on a strong foundation, no doubt; but Suren feared that the house-building process might even shake the very foundation of their marriage of five years. Suren never flinched from spending money. Yes, he wanted a decent home for them in which they were going to spend the rest of their lives. What he detested was the pointless luxuries that Roopa indulged in. The problem was when Roopa did something she unconsciously set the standard for Malathi which the latter followed at any cost. When Suren questioned about the need for such a luxury, Malathi would burst out saying,’Roopa has gone for it. And if we opt for anything inferior she will never hesitate to point out the difference for years to come.’ For instance Suren had decided for ordinary mosaic flooring for their house. He studied the costs and advantages of various types of floorings and had come to that decision. He particularly avoided marble flooring which, though gave a good look, was prohibitively expensive, which someone in his station could not afford. He had just released order for the mosaic stones when Malathi came with the news that Roopa was going for marble flooring. “Look Suren. Roopa’s husband Mahesh is an ordinary clerk, whereas you are an officer. If Roopa opts for marble, we should go one step higher and go for granite. We should at least sail along with them. Otherwise Roopa will mock at me whenever she visits us. Understand?” Suren understood. He was sad that Malathi did not understand one basic fact. It was true he was an officer and his brother-in-law Mahesh was only a clerk. But he was an officer in a large private sector company. Though the salary was good there was absolutely no scope for other earnings. On the other hand Mahesh was a clerk in the Regional Transport Office. That place was the very fountainhead of corruption. So though Mahesh’s salary was very modest, his disposable income was substantially larger than that of Suren. Malathi could never come to appreciate this difference. She would complain, ‘After all he is just a clerk; you are an officer. If an officer cannot afford what a clerk can, what is the meaning of life?’ Suren would take pains to explain the ways of the world. But Malathi would feign ignorance and insist on her way. Suren deeply loved Malathi. Malathi was a wonderful wife and an excellent companion. If this failing were to be removed, she would almost be the picture-perfect wife. So Suren went along with her as far as he could. Not minding the extra cost he switched over to marble flooring just to please Malathi. Malathi insisted that each item should be at least as good as the one chosen by Roopa. Hence Suren had to borrow more and extend the repayment period farther and farther into the future. At the same time he was not in any way angry with Malathi. To him, her attitude and her approach appeared very childish and he just indulged her, as a fond parent would do.