Is it worth it?

I was in the middle of writing a story when I found out about the demise of a family member. That was nearly two weeks ago. Since then, I have been unable to return to that story, even with a submission deadline looming.

I could ascribe it to writer’s block. Or being far too busy, or far too grief stricken. But underneath that unwillingness to carry on writing, lies quite another beast. One that I find myself unable to name.

Is it doubt? All writers have their fair share of that. Is it ennui? There is certainly some of that within me, right now . But the overriding feeling is one of hopelessness. Why am I writing? What is the purpose here?Is anyone even reading what I write? And what do I hope to accomplish with my half baked stories and strange ramblings? Do I expect to become some kind of best selling novelist at my ripe age? Haha to that.

All human beings want to leave some kind of a mark on the world. Whether it is in the form of art or music or progeny or a business venture, there is always a yearning to be remembered. In the end, however, how many of us really are?

Death is a great leveller.

Right now, it is making me question all that I have felt was important or worthwhile. Will I come out the other end still writing? Only time will tell.

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Mother

Having lost another loved one recently, emotions that were long suppressed have been churned up once again.

Today is my mother’s birthday. Or would have been, if she were still here. Only, I lost her nearly fifteen years ago. At the time it was like a tsunami had devastated me. I sleep walked through an entire year, unable to comprehend the magnitude of my loss. Slowly,however, with the help of my near and dear ones, I regained equilibrium, and started to live life once more.

The death of a parent is a reality all of us have to face at some point in our lives. It is normal to feel adrift…rudderless. Mothers, Fathers, siblings…..these are the people who know you, warts and all, from the very beginning. They are your moorings. How does one pick oneself up once they are gone?

With great difficulty.

My grandmother said to me at the time, ” You are not the first, and you will not be the last.” Wise words from a lady who had been orphaned at a very young age.

And so, you put one foot in front of the other, and keep moving.

We are doing just that right now.

In love and remembrance of my wonderful, brave mother. And all the others we have lost along the way. God Bless you and keep you.

The anatomy of grief

Once again I am face to face with grief. The sort that wrenches everything apart. The sort that shreds the fabric of normality.
When the dust settles and the pieces fall back into place, they are never quite ‘in place’. It is a different reality. One that requires another getting used to.
Grief changes people. I know that for a fact. But does it change our intrinsic nature, or merely our world view? Is it possible to go back to a time of innocence, before the fact? I look into my children’s eyes and think not. Even innocence is altered forever.

Hubris and Hamartia

While studying English Literature at University we were introduced to the Greek terms of Hubris and Hamartia. Hubris stands for extreme pride/arrogance in a principal character. Hamartia is a fatal flaw that leads to a character’s downfall. (These explanations are over simplified for the purposes of this blog).

The reason I bring this up is because I came across Hamartia in a book I read recently, and it got me wondering whether I had ever used either of these character traits in one of my stories. Yes, indeed I had. Not with the express purpose of highlighting them, and nor is my story’s scale quite as epic or grand as a Greek tragedy. But it is interesting to note how both Hubris and Hamartia can co exist in a commonplace setting.

One could argue that nearly all of us have some sort of fatal flaw, or suffer from a Hubristic sense of self importance. Our petty tragedies however, remain our own. Literature’s tragedies, on the other hand, become universal.

SCORCHED

Muthuswamy:

The sweat trickles down between the valley of her pubescent breasts like a little tributary feeling its pull towards a larger ocean. My eyes follow its progress greedily, till I feel her gaze upon me and hastily avert mine.

“Saras, get me a cool drink! I am about to die here.”

My wife dutifully fetches me the drink, while I covertly watch her fourteen year old sister through half lidded eyes.

There is little respite from the heat on a May afternoon, and lying on the verandah on my rocking chair, I fan myself vigorously. The perspiration pools under my armpits, and a rancid odour rises up to meet my nostrils. The flies buzz in a soporific rhythm, lulled into a dull acquiescence. I swat the occasional mosquito away, pretending to doze, all the while scrutinising her.

She is not beautiful. She is dark and thin. Her lower lip protrudes giving her sulky visage an ill tempered hue. Yet, there is something so tempting, so very attractive about her. She is like a mango on the threshold of ripeness. Waiting to be plucked off the tree.Waiting for someone to bite into it, letting its sweet and sour juices run unfettered over the chin.

It has been a while since I felt this way. My wife arouses no ardour in me anymore. She is always busy around the child, fussing and spoiling and cajoling ad nauseam. I am so very bored of her, and of this tedium of married life. There has been no excitement in my life for a while now. I rise early, bathe, eat a breakfast of rasam and rice, and head to the shop. I work hard, and profitably. I return home to tea and pakora, and a dinner of dosai and sambhar. She chatters to me incessantly about her day that is filled with inconsequential tasks. She gossips about the neighbourhood women. I half listen, and then turn in as quickly as I can.

Sometimes we make love. If I can be bothered, and if she isn’t feigning a headache. It is a quick fumble and a half hearted attempt at intimacy. Occasionally I get a glimpse of the loneliness in my soul, and hastily avert my gaze.

Pushpalata:

He is always watching me. Creepy old man. I have never liked him. Not when Appa introduced him to the family. Not when Amma approved of him as a potential suitor for her darling daughter. And definitely not when Akka, beautiful, intelligent, can-do-no-wrong Akka,  decided that this would be the man who would keep her in comfort for the rest of her life. I barely attended the wedding then, truculently hiding up a tree, lured down only by the promise of hot gulab jamans.

It’s been five years since the grand wedding. She often comes to visit. More to show off her heavy kanjeevaram sarees, and gold bangles that he buys her with monotonous regularity. They sit and chat in the front room, Amma and her, bonding over their love of all things shiny and new. I lurk in the background, as I always have.

Now, they have left me in her care. Amma and Appa off to Rameswaram on pilgrimage for a month. And here I am sweltering in the month of May in this capacious cavern of a house with no trees to climb, nor books to read.

There is the child though. He is so beautiful. Every time I look at him, my heart melts a little. He still has his baby curls, and a dimple on his left cheek. He smiles and holds up his arms to me, and is happiest when I carry him around on my hip, which is often. Akka has coolly designated me the child minder. Perhaps she can sense my love for him. She doesn’t trust too many people with his care. I can spend hours with him playing peek-a-boo and listening to his delighted giggles. He sleeps with me in the afternoons, clutching at my blouse with one hand, sucking his thumb with the other. I run my fingers through his hair, smoothening the unruly curls, breathing in his warm baby smell.

Then I feel the eyes on me and shudder.

Saraswathi:

I cannot abide the girl. Sullen and ungrateful brat that she is. Never a smile on her face. It’s almost as though she belongs to another family. Amma and Appa are so gracious. Such lovely, genteel people. I have always been compared to Appa’s mother, a renowned beauty of her time.  I have Amma’s grace and fluidity.

Why, my Bharatanatyam had been so faultless that my teacher was absolutely devastated that I did not take it up professionally. I had so many options ahead of me. Yet, I had known all along, that all I wanted in life was to be a homemaker. To take care of my husband and children. To have a house that was the envy of all my peers. I have all this, and more.

The girl, however, is a thorn in my side. Who can believe she is from the same gene pool? She has neither beauty, nor grace. Not even good manners to hide her shortcomings. I have seen so many of my friends do a double take when I introduce her as my sister. So often I’ve joked that we picked her up from an orphanage.

It’s only been a week of having her under the roof, and already I feel irritated.  My husband barely speaks to her, and when he does she responds in mono syllables. Ungrateful wretch! Can she not at least be polite to the man who’s feeding and housing her?

The only consolation is that my baby likes her. He follows her around like a little lamb. It gives me some respite. Motherhood can be so challenging. Much as I love him, I need some ‘me’ time.

“Pushpa, come and get him, no? He needs his milk.”  She comes and scoops him up in her arms, and he giggles delightedly. I watch, slightly vexed by the scene.

Vaikaasi Visaakam is but a few weeks away. I have so much to prepare. My friends and I will visit all the temples to pray for the  celestial union of our Lord Murugan and Valli. New sarees to buy. Perhaps a gold chain too? Ah! But this heat! The fans offer no succour. I barely move out of the periphery of the breeze and my blouse is soaked through. Perhaps I will join my husband on the verandah. After all, a sunday afternoon in the companionship of one’s beloved spouse is surely the recipe for a good marriage.

Pushpalata:

An odour of raw onions assails my nostrils before his rough, callused hand closes over my mouth.

“Shhhh!!!”, he whispers urgently, while I struggle vainly, trying to gasp for breath. He is too heavy for me and his body pins me to the bed.

“Nothing to be scared of dear”, he coaxes, “Just a bit of loving….”

I try to bite upon his hand but he laughs and then wallops me with his other hand. I am stunned into immobility, and in no time he has pushed my legs apart, and is assaulting me in my private region. I whimper in pain, and his hand comes down on my mouth again. I shut my eyes to the depraved pleasure on his face.

It seems to carry on for an eternity. Then when he grunts and collapses on me, I know it is finally over. The child sleeps innocently unaware by my side, while the father lies spent atop me.

Suddenly he wakes up to his surroundings, and is off me like a bolt of lightening.

“Don’t say a word”, he cautions. ” This….this is between us, alright? No one need know. No one will believe you anyway. So keep quiet, and all will be well…”

He waits for my nod before he creeps out of the room as quietly as he came in.

Waves of nausea wash upon me. I turn on my side and am sick almost immediately. The baby awakes and starts to cry. I cry alongside.

Muthuswamy:

I feel scared and ashamed. She is only a child, and what I have done is tantamount to rape. I could be arrested for this. I could lose everything. How stupid could I be? Is it the heat that addled my senses?

Only, seeing her lying there, her skirt ridden up to her waist, abandoned to sleep, I could not resist myself. I replay it scene for scene in my mind, and cannot help but feel a delicious shiver of forbidden pleasure.

What if I am found out? Will she tell? I could deny everything. They would believe me, would they not?  I wipe the sweat off my brow and think. I have to warn her…threaten her if I must.

I hear the wailing coming from her room and hurry before anyone else hears.

She is cleaning up her mess. The baby is sitting up on the bed crying. He senses my eyes upon him, and is momentarily quiet, before breaking into a fresh wail. She looks up slowly at me. There is a vacant blankness in her eyes, and in that instant I know I am safe.

Saraswathi:

I do believe the girl has developed a crush on my husband. She is always watching him. I have noticed how she shivers as he passes her. Oh! For goodness’ sake!! Does she really think he’ll pay her the slightest  bit of attention, ugly mangy thing that she is?

And all that moping around. As though the sky was about to cave in. I have tried asking her if she’s missing Amma but she doesn’t answer. Just stares into space, pretending as though I don’t exist. I am really quite fed up with her. Another few weeks and I will be rid of her. Cannot wait.

Dearest husband though has been so very generous again. In fact, more than generous. The gold chain he has bought me must at least be 5 tolahs. I cannot wait to display it on pooja day. The wretched tailor is late making the blouse again. He says I have put on weight. What rubbish! He is merely trying to save the extra cloth for his collection. As though I do not know his thieving ways.

I try to cuddle the baby who pushes me away. He lisps the girls name. I cannot believe it! Is she trying to supplant me in my child’s affections too? I hug him to me forcibly, ignoring his yelp of discomfort. He smells of curdled milk. I call out to the girl to give him a bath. She might as well make herself useful.

Pushpalata:

I feel as though I am in the depths of a nightmare from which I cannot awaken.  I feel so far removed from the minutiae of life. I carry on because I must. I have no recourse.

Akka is delegating extra work to me, and it is a relief. I keep my hands busy and my mind emptied. I stay as far away from him as I can. His very presence terrifies me. But I watch him closely. I wedge the chair under the door handle every day and every night. He will not catch me unaware again. I sleep little and eat even less. I feel myself shrinking. I am trying to disappear, till I become so tiny. Like a little dot that no one will ever find.

The child knows I am not right. He follows me around even more. He tries to make me smile now, playing peek-a-boo with his little pudgy hands. He clings to me and tries to infuse my body with his baby warmth. I cannot respond.

Muthuswamy:

She has not said a word, and finally, I am able to relax. At first my nerves were on razor’s edge. All at once the things I had taken for granted: my home, my family, the good name of my ancestors lay at the mercy of the girl’s tongue. I could not believe how I had let a moment’s ill judgement jeopardise all that was valuable and secure.

Slowly, however, I have allowed myself to breathe. I watch her surreptitiously though. She is like a puppet going through the motions, and a part of me feels sorry for her. The one time my gaze locked into hers, it was like peering into an abyss.

The strands of temptation start to coil around me unbidden. I cannot erase the memory of that snatched afternoon, and yearn for more. My arousal grows as I watch her do the chores, bathe the child, and comb my wife’s hair. Mundane tasks that have no eroticism to them per se, except for what her frail body imbues them with.

My mind starts to plan a dozen scenarios. I convince myself that she really wants me. Why else has she not spoken out?

I have tried the handle on her door a few times, but the little minx is keeping it shut somehow. How and where to corner her? I scratch myself languorously,wondering.

Saraswathi:

My saree weighs a ton, and I find it difficult navigating through the masses of devotees in it. The sun is burning a hole in my back, and the jasmine flowers in my hair are limp and have lost their perfume along the way. My friends and I are being jostled along in the crowd and suddenly the oppressive heat, the myriad odours and the lack of air make me feel quite faint. I stumble and lose my footing in the throng. A few hands help me up. I feel one snaking around my neck, but before I can cry out, the chain is yanked forcibly off me. I scream. A few people look. Someone laughs, and everything goes black.

When I come to, I feel a glass of water at my lips.

My friends mill around me looking worried. I am sitting in a cool corner of the temple. I can hear the chants emanating from the main hall. I grope around my neck to startled exclamations from the insipid women around me. Of course it’s not there. The thief saw his chance and took it. I lean my head back against the cold stone wall. Lata goes into hysterics.

“Aiyyo Murugan!! What is the world coming to if a woman is not safe even in a place of worship? Such a beautiful chain that was! Oh Saras, what are you going to do?”

I collect myself, even as they calm her down. I need to go home.  They want to accompany me, but I balk at that. I have to face the music alone. The thought of it makes me go quite pale, but I reassure them and hurry out.

The front door is shut, and I let myself in quietly. All I want to do is lay on my bed and sleep my worries away. I splash some water on my face, and then examine myself in the mirror. My face looks serene and composed as always, not revealing the turmoil inside. I hear what sounds like a laugh from the backyard and ignore it at first. Then curiosity overcomes me, and I head in its direction.

I wonder if my face is quite as composed as they both look up from their coupling to see me standing there. He looks shocked…and she, the little viper….looks at me blankly. The baby is watching them curiously. I shoot them both a savage look and turn on my heel in such anger that I nearly trip myself up again. A wild hot rage pulsates through me, and I turn around and spit out,

” You….you little bitch! I want you out of my house now. NOW!!!”, I scream and run inside, tears streaming down my face. He follows in pursuit.

Pushpalata:

“Akka!”, I cry. I want to explain. I need to tell her the truth, but I fall silent as I remember the contempt in her eyes. I start to shiver.

The sun beats down mercilessly upon the small patch of grass and the few plants that surround it. My pitiful attempts to beautify the sorry patch remain just that. The shovel and the spade lay propped on the side, and the flower pot lies broken in the struggle that I had soon lost. The weeds are peering out from behind the uneven rocks that determine the border of the garden.

I listen but hear nothing. Nothing but for the occasional crow that ventures out in the afternoon. I start tidying the pot by setting it upright and scooping the mud back into it. My hands search for things to do while my ears reverberate with the finality of her words. I attack the weeds with a vicious ferocity. Yank. Pull. Set aside. Yank. Pull. Set aside.

The child waddles up to me. He tries to pluck at my skirt. I shoo him off. He retreats. He returns a moment later with his ball.

” Atthai! Atthai…”, he lisps.

He wants me to play. I shake my head and carry on weeding. He starts to cry, pulling and pulling at my skirt.

I feel something warm and sticky on my hands, and notice belatedly that it is blood. The child lies motionless on his side, the ball still grasped loosely in one hand,  a red pool spreading thickly under his head. I look up at the sky. A lone crow swoops down low, and then flies away.

I watch it leave till it is a mere speck in the sky.

                                                 THE END

This story was a runner-up in The Cazart Short story competition.

An Unsuitable Boy

This story was part inspired by an American colleague of mine. I had the good fortune of working with him several years ago, and also meeting his Indian wife in the process. It amazed me to see him greet her grandfather at the airport by touching his feet. Here was a man who was happy to become a part of an alien culture, for the sake of love.

Ironically, I am now reading ‘A Suitable Boy’ by Vikram Seth. The depth and breadth of his magnificent novel is mind boggling. My humble little story pales in comparison. However, here it is:

AN UNSUITABLE BOY

It has been said, “A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.”

Not that I would know. I have never had the occasion to fall out of love with my wife. Yes, we’ve had our fair share of disagreements and arguments. There are times, that I’ve suspected, that she hasn’t viewed me too kindly. And three children have certainly taken their toll on our nerves, bank accounts and waist lines. Through it all though, I have loved her with a solid, some might say, stolid steadfastness.

The first question most people ask when they meet us the first time is a probing, “So how did the two of you meet?” It’s not a polite conversation starter. It is a wide eyed, genuinely curious query. It irritates my wife no end. More often than not, she snaps, “At University”. And that’s the end of that. Woe betide anyone who tries to go further.

Now, if it is me they ask, they get a different answer. The romantic in me rises to the occasion each time. I love telling our story. I love retelling it too. And since you’ve asked….

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

To me, Sudha was as exotic as a rare bird. She was fiercely intelligent but with none of the emasculating stridency of her American contemporaries. Her kohl lined eyes, her sun kissed skin, her long lustrous hair hinted at an eroticism that all the perky cheerleader types in their too tight tops and mini skirts couldn’t even hope to emulate. I followed her like a helpless fool till she condescended to the first date. She told me then in no uncertain terms that it would not work. It could not work. She was Indian. I was Jewish American. The twain would never meet.

It took two years to get the first kiss. It took another one to get her to stay over. Not once did I doubt, though, that it was worth the wait. I pined for her, I dreamt of her. She was my reason and my drug.

She laughed at my fancies, and called me a fool. Then one day she didn’t laugh. Instead, she took my hand in hers and asked if I was ever going to make it official.

So, there I was on an Air India plane heading to New Delhi to meet the family of the girl I wanted as my wife. As per custom, I would ask her father for her hand in marriage. So far, so foolhardy.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

I woke up with a jerk.

“Pompy!”, screeched the woman behind me, “Sit down and stop pulling that man’s hair!!”

I half turned my head and tried to smile conspiratorially at the woman and her little monster. She ignored me while the child clambered onto the lap of the hapless man on the aisle. The cabin lights had been dimmed and Sudha slept peacefully by my side. I tried going back to sleep, then with a sigh plugged in my headset and turned my attention to the overhead television monitor. A voluptuous, gyrating vision swam into view. I watched fascinated as she and her moustachioed partner performed the most acrobatic of dances. Three songs and several dramatic, albeit incomprehensible scenes later, I finally nodded off, secure in the knowledge that all would be well. Indian movies always had happy endings, Sudha had assured me.

I awoke as the seat belt sign was turned on for landing. The plump, unfriendly stewardess tartly told us off for having our seats still reclined. Chastened, we prepared ourselves for landing. Sudha’s grip on my hand tightened, and I could tell that she was nervous. Very very nervous. I gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. How bad could it be?

Nothing could have prepared me for the mass exodus from the aircraft. I was shoved and buffeted, all six feet of me, while my tiny, petite Sudha seemed to disappear into the throng. She reappeared at the door,smiling at my confusion.

The immigration officers were brusque but quick.As I waited for Sudha to clear from the Indian side of the never ending queue , I became aware of the “the stare”. I would encounter it wherever I went in the next ten days. “The stare” was frank and appraising, openly curious and curiously engaging. That’s because you’re a foreigner, Sudha explained as she joined me. I tried hugging her in relief but suddenly she seemed stiff and unyielding.

“Adam, you can’t touch me in public!”, she hissed.

“But why not? We’re a couple. And I was only giving you a hug?!”

“This is India. PDA’s are frowned upon here.”

Really? I thought sourly. Who would have known it…with a population of nearly a billion people!

She chivvied me outside. The heat, the dust and the multitude of people instantly assaulted my senses. I felt quite faint and was glad I had the trolley for support.

“There! There!! I see Baba”, she squealed excitedly, running towards a grey haired man who beamed widely at her. Immediately she kneeled and touched his feet. He blessed her and they hugged for what seemed like the longest five minutes I churlishly noted.

Then his eyes met mine, and Delhi’s heat plummeted to an Arctic chill.

“Baba, this is Adam. The…uhh…friend I said I was bringing…”

” I thought your friend was a girl “, he spat out and turned on his heel.

I followed gamely, with the trolley careening wildly over the potholes while, Sudha shamefacedly tried to explain.

When we got to the car park, I could barely believe my eyes. There were three members of family waiting in the car for us. Sudha’s mother,grandmother and younger brother. Where would we fit?

This is India, Sudhir, her brother whispered into my ear as I sat with my knees attached to my chin. Sudha sat squashed next to the window, while her flatutlent grandmother sat Buddha like between us. There was pin drop silence in the car, although the noise outside more than made up for it.

Horns blared as three lane traffic somehow morphed into seven lanes. Cows sauntered in the midst, chewing cud blissfully, while cars, bicyclists, motorbikes and scooters veered off course to prevent a collision. Holy, whispered Sudhir again, nodding at the bovine creatures. Hawkers peddled all sorts of interesting paraphernalia at the traffic lights. Beggar children ran amok at intersections, supplicating alms with an alarming efficiency. The landscape shifted and billowed from one bewildering scene to another.

We finally arrived at Sudha’s house and I unravelled myself out of the car. Our luggage was carried inside by their watchman.

I was shown my room by her unrelenting father, and asked to “freshen up” and come back out for a chai.

The chai sat waiting with a thin film of cream, that I surreptitiously tried to push aside with my spoon. Sudha sat red eyed in their midst. Her mother kept dusting all the surfaces in the room with a manic ferocity. Only Sudhir and the grandmother seemed relaxed. One with the careless nonchalance of youth, and the other with the selfish disregard of the elderly.

“Meghna, sit down”, the father ordered and promptly the mother sat, squirming uncomfortably,looking askance at me.

“How – how long has this been going on? “, her father waved vaguely in our direction.

Sudha’s eyes flashed a warning to me.

“Ummm…..we’ve been seeing each other for roughly two years sir. ”

“And what are your intentions,my good man?”

“Intentions?”

“Yes, yes”, he nodded impatiently, “Why are you here? What do you want??”

My head swam with fatigue, and I felt as though I’d unwittingly wandered into a Victorian melodrama.

” I, well, uhhhh, I’d like to marry your daughter sir.”

“Marry?”, he exploded. “What do you Amreekans know of marriage? Marry one minute, divorce the next! Meghna and I are married for twenty nine years. My Amma (he pointed to the old lady) for fifty years before my Baba died. We marry for life.  Not for two minutes.”

” Sir, I appreciate that, and I very much hope that our marriage will last as long as all of yours.”

“Hope? What is that?? I want guarantee. Can you give me?”

I looked at Sudha helplessly. She stared back stoically.

“Hrmmmph”, Suddenly he tired of the conversation and waved us off to our rooms.

A bone crunching, mind numbing fatigue overcame me, and lulled me into a sleep so deep and long that Sudhir had to shake me awake for the evening meal.

“The wolves are baying for your blood”, he remarked cheerfully, as I sat up in bed disorientated. “They are all out there. They want to see this firang Sudha didi’s brought home.”

Enter Exhibit A. I stood a foot taller than most of them. They muttered and exclaimed under their breath, but refused to acknowledge me.

Dinner was an uncomfortable affair. I tried a few jokes to break the ice, but my American sense of humour sailed right past them. Her dad glowered at me, and Sudha sat subdued. All in all, a colossal failure.

The food was good though.

The next few days seemed to be an orgy of food and family. Relatives, even obscure ones, climbed out of the woodwork, to gasp at this pale giraffe. The unwelcome resident of the Agarwal household. The foreigner who had the temerity to ask for their child’s hand in marriage.

I took to walking around the block for a bit of fresh air and freedom. Invariably, I’d get followed by a gaggle of kids. They’d laugh and yell, “Eh gora Amitabh!” I figured out soon enough that they were comparing me to their onscreen idol Amitabh Bachchan. Another tall, gangly unremarkable looking actor whom all of India worshipped as their celluloid hero.

Evenings I’d spend in the company of the old grandma. She’d sit and crack her betel nuts and I’d try and read my research papers.

Sudha and I had had little contact since we’d arrived. It was almost as though (not so) mysterious forces were conspiring to keep us apart. Sudhir would intermittently deliver messages that began with, “Didi (elder sis) says that….” but even these I had begun to believe were censored.

Ahhh well….as was my wont, I submitted to it all genially. My faith in Sudha or our relationship never wavered. But this little side trip to India was certainly teaching me a lot.

For one thing, there were no absolutes in India.  Her father, who, for all intents and purposes, hated my guts, would deign every evening to share a glass of whiskey with me while listening to old  Mukesh songs. Her mother, who’d never spoken a word to me, would have my clothes laundered and ironed daily. Her numerous relatives would send various food items, sweetmeats and sundry gifts for me.

Sudhir, who’d offered his services as a tour guide, showed me the other side of India. The poverty, the wretchedness that co existed in apparent harmony with the opulence and extravagant wealth and waste.

A beggar would charm a rupee off of you with a cheeky dance. A snake charmer would proffer his snake as a trophy. A rotund priest would stave off a skeletal shoeshine. Land of contrasts. Land of vagaries.

Our time in India was coming to an end. I seemed no closer to an answer. Sudha seemed so lost to me, that for the first time I wondered a bit fearfully, if she had changed her mind.

An evening conference was called on the eve of our departure. There must have been twenty of them together in the room. Sudha looked small and scared. I felt like taking her in my arms- world be damned!

But propriety did not permit. So, I just leaned awkwardly against the bookshelf – awaiting the verdict.

Sudha’s dad cleared his throat and then addressed me,

” Adam, you are a nice boy. We like you. But you cannot marry Sudha. Sorry. You must go tomorrow. Sudha will not come with you.” He shook his head sorrowfully.

I stood dumbfounded.

There were a lot of mutterings till suddenly Sudha stood up. She walked towards me and held my hand.

” Baba, you have all had your say. I have listened patiently. Now please listen to me. This is the man I love. This is the man I will marry. I hope to get your blessings.If I can’t, I will leave here without them. But leave I will.”

” Sudha….”, her father’s voice roared.

“Raj”, an older, quieter voice from the corner, interjected.

The old amma said only a few lines. I understood none. However, the import of them was not lost on me. She silenced her son and quelled all opposition. She ended with a loud fart. No one dared say a word or breathe. Amma had spoken, from both ends.

Our big fat Indian wedding was six months later. The tailor tut-tutted over my sherwani. Sudha looked divine, even as she was weighed down by vast amounts of jewellery. The locality boys danced energetically led by a high-as-a-kite Sudhir. And Amma belched contentedly throughout.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Is that it? you ask. Of course that’s not all!! Marriage isn’t easy, let alone one that has differences of culture and height…  More especially, when you decide to relocate to a country that is alien in every way except that it has planted itself so securely in your heart that you have no choice. So you learn to get used to “the stare” till it doesn’t bother you anymore. You learn that “privacy” is a word that doesn’t exist in this lexicon. You learn that when Amma speaks, you nod and smile. You also learn of values, of love, of kindness, of respect,of largesse and of the tiny tiny threads that weave you into a family so inextricably that even if you tried, you couldn’t leave. Not that you’d ever try.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Sudha is losing patience with me.

“Adam, stop boring the poor child with that story again! Everyone has a story. Ours isn’t that special.”

“Oh, but it is”, I chuckle, “It is to me.”

Now, where’s my chai?

THE  END