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Untold riches await those men who listen to their wives

Lucky Shyam Shewaramani.  He won a Dh1 million lottery by listening to his wife. If only the same were true in my household.

Lucky Shyam Shewaramani.  He won a Dh1 million lottery by listening to his wife. If only the same were true in my household.

I've tried many approaches to get my husband to listen to me but to no avail.

It didn't use to be this way.  When we first met, we finished each other's sentences and echoed each other's thoughts.  Now, we barely listen to each other's words and shut off the other's thoughts that can be read all too well.

As a new bride, when I said handbag, my husband would think "Hermes".  If I thought of sesame seeds, he would make me tahini. My wish, in other words, was his command.

As the years passed, the speed of his execution declined, until one day, it stopped entirely.  Worse, it became the reverse. He began expecting things from me. The man who couldn't do enough started asking for what seemed like more than enough: morning coffee, an unwrinkled newspaper, can you help me iron a shirt, dear?

I longed for the fiancé of yore.  After watching the Bourne Identity, I decided that simply wishing it was no use. I had to practise some behavioural modification on my husband. Put simply, I had to get him to listen to me. Just like the old days.

Try positive reinforcement, said my mother-in-law.  It used to work when he was a boy. Whenever he does something you like, compliment him profusely and ignore his flaws (of which there are many, I might have added, but couldn't say that to the woman who bore him).

My husband has this irritating habit of wanting to be punctual, for instance, which is great in theory but a nuisance in practice.

I like punctual people, too. But not those who stand beside your dressing table as you are applying mascara and rap their knuckles on said table with irritating continuity.

If that doesn't work, my husband will start gathering my things together, while muttering under his breath: "Come on, come on. We are late."  What he doesn't realise is that he's picking up the wrong-coloured pashmina.

So I tried positive reinforcement. The moment I opened my closet to begin the long process of choosing a dress, I said: "You know, one of the things I really appreciate about you is the fact that you are so patient with me." But he had started tapping his feet already. I had caught him too late.

Every time he put away his things, I complimented him profusely, and ignored all the razors and shaving creams that he left in the oddest places - in a pot in the garden, for instance.

Once upon a time, I would have taken out the offending item, waved it accusingly in his face and asked: "Guess where I found this?" In my new avatar, I quietly put the object back in its original location.

"Mornings have become so peaceful now," my husband commented after a few weeks. "I can find everything and there is no yelling and screaming." He looked at me approvingly.

Frankly, positive reinforcement is for the dogs.  It doesn't work on humans. Not my human, anyway.  He hasn't changed one bit and I am working harder than I did before.

There is one silver lining, though.  My husband doesn't listen to me - that's a fact. I don't mean that in the sense of taking in the content of what I say and not acting on it. No, his ailment is more basic. He doesn't even hear me, particularly when the cricket is on.

After moaning about this to all my friends, I am trying a new approach. I tell him things that I don't want him to hear during the match and he always nods. "Honey, remember that giant cuckoo clock that you stopped me from buying? Well, one has come up for sale on eBay. Do you think I should buy it?" Stung by my accusations that he never listens to me, my husband will actually look me in the eye and say, "Of course, darling," without having the faintest idea as to what he or I just said.

Nowadays, I don't discuss anything important with my husband while we sit around our dining table, wondering what to say to each other.

I only ask him permission when he is watching cricket.  The beauty is that he always agrees. "Whatever you want, darling," he will say, reminding me of my sweetheart of yore.


Shoba Narayan is a Bangalore-based journalist and the author of Monsoon Diary: a memoir with recipes

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