Anandhi quickly recovered her composure, aware of having stopped mid-sentence in her greeting. Almost at the same time, both she and Karthik said, “You?” quickly followed by “Thank you!”. While Subbu and Aparajita stood by, silent spectators to what they didn’t know yet, Anandhi and Karthik met like long lost friends, grateful to each other for not pursuing their alliance any further!
Momentarily they both realized they were in the presence of their spouses and took a minute to explain. While Karthik reminded Aparajita of the restaurant they first met in, Anandhi reminded Subbu of a story she had shared with him years ago about meeting a boy as part of the whole arranged marriage protocol.
While Anandhi was happy to see Karthik married, she had left that night with an unfavourable impression of the man standing in front of her. She couldn’t help but wonder how Aparajita decided to marry him. Remembering her manners though, she began rattling in Tamil, asking how the drive to their place was, the weather, the traffic, trying to throw multiple topics to talk about all at the same time.
Aparajita laughed and said “Anandhi, I am married to a Tambrahm. Twenty years now and I am sorry to say I have not been able to master the language. I am Bengali!”
Aha, thought Anandhi, so he found a non-vegetarian to cook chicken at home for him. Her antagonism against Karthik and his entire no-family attitude built up a notch. She was sure his parents would have abandoned him at the first mention of non-vegetarian food, without giving him a chance to abandon them!
“I hope you both enjoy the dinner tonight, unfortunately we are vegetarian”, said Anandhi. Aparajita reassured her that they were vegetarian too. At this Anandhi’s frustration and angst went up another notch. She hadn’t dreamed that chicken curry all those years ago, or Karthik’s insistence that he ate non-veg. What hypocrites! she thought.
Aparajita smiled across the table at Karthik. Eventually, her vegetarianism made sense to him and he had sworn off non-vegetarian food too, as a life choice more than a religious one. In fact that chicken curry was the last non-vegetarian food he had. Their love had enveloped both of them like a whirlwind and they had married within months of that meeting, flouting family approvals and all traditions. Eventually Karthik had given up smoking, although he still enjoyed the occasional drink. They had built a life on happiness and doing what felt right, never worrying about tradition. And their son, Surya, was off doing the same. He was an amazing writer, a creative poet and was majoring in Literature in one of the best universities the world had to offer, in California.
Anandhi, on the other hand, was getting more and more uncomfortable by the minute. All she had to go by was that last unpleasant meeting with Karthik. Though they looked happy, the fact that he had married an unconventional Bengali didn’t really tick the right boxes in her book. She remembered the smoky haze he had built between them, smoking cigarette after cigarette, and the pints of beer that kept coming while she attempted to finish the worst dinner of her life.
She felt before she saw Subbu’s sharp glance. And she realized she was behaving way out of character. She strengthened her mind and put on a happy mask for Subbu’s sake and attempted to start a conversation.
“Do you have children Karthik?” she asked him. “Yes, a son”, replied Karthik, pride shining in his eyes for his only son. “He’s currently pursuing a Masters in Literature in one of the best universities in California.”
At this Anandhi hit the rock bottom of opinion. She thought to herself, Literature? How is this boy ever going to support his wife and future family! God help whoever marries the boy!
Subbu, on the other hand was instantly fascinated. “California you say? Our daughter is studying economics in California too! What a coincidence!”. They began to discuss the universities and the benefits offered and soon realized both families were talking about the same university. They laughed at this coincidence while Anandhi kept an eye on everyone’s plates, ensuring she served seconds, at the same time pushing all her negative thoughts aside. She told herself she should forget the past for now, mull over it later once this farce of a dinner was over, for Subbu’s sake! And she assumed the role of the perfect hostess.
Soon, dinner was over and they settled down comfortably in the living room for dessert. It was around 10:15 in the night by then and as if on cue, both Anandhi and Aparajita began to glance at their watches with a smile. Both laughed at each other knowingly. It was a Saturday morning in California. The day of the week they had their call with the children.
“It seems like Saturday night 11:00 is a popular time among students in that university, does your daughter call at that time too?”, queried Aparajita. Anandhi almost liked her at that moment, identified with that common bond of motherhood that bound them both. All too soon, visions of that dinner replaced the surreal visions of motherhood and her facial muscles struggled for control. “Our daughter usually calls us by 10:30 pm on Saturdays, was just checking the time as we’ve had such a wonderful night and I lost track of time!”, gushed Anandhi, a fake smile completing the perfect hostess picture.
Meanwhile… in California…
Surya woke up to the fragrance of coffee brewing on the stove. He loved weekends like these, when he could leave his university work behind for a few hours and bask in the joy of loving and being loved. He turned in bed to get a better glimpse at the love of his life.
Their relationship was new, but strong. In a few short months, friendship turned into love, and love into a serious bond which both inwardly felt was for life. He remembered the months leading up to their decision to move in together. Neither wanted parents in the picture just yet, so they installed two phone lines in their little apartment – and labelled it “his” and “hers” for good measure. She wouldn’t answer his phone, and he wouldn’t answer hers, they let the machine get it if the other wasn’t home. They were thoroughly enjoying their privacy and this period of discovery, wonder and building a relationship. For them, that tiny apartment was the world, and they were Adam and Eve.
He glanced at the watch, it was nearly 10:30 in the morning. “Babe”, he called out, “time to call your parents.” She looked up with a radiant smile, her expressive eyes and long wavy hair completing the picture of perfection for him. She placed the coffee on his bedside table, deftly avoiding his outstretched arms, afraid to miss the time to call her parents. It was nearly 10:30 and she picked up the “hers” phone and began to dial… “Amma, how are you!” she shrieked into the phone, and he could almost hear the answering excited voice on the other end. He enjoyed watching her catch up with her parents every week, speaking in animated rapid-fire Tamil. And though he didn’t understand a word, he was making every attempt to learn the language. Just as she was attempting to learn Bengali for his family’s sake.
Even their names complimented each other. While his parents named him Surya for the sun, her parents had named her Nila, for the moon in Tamil. If the day began with him, it ended with her. And that’s how he wanted it to be for the rest of his life.
Surya wanted to take that next step. He would ask her to marry him. After all, he did not want to regret and remember her as… the one who got away…
Anandhi sighed in contentment, placing the phone down after the conversation with her daughter. She was proud that her daughter always conversed in Tamil even though she was in another country and miles away from her cultural roots. It was her way of keeping her tradition and her connection to her parents alive even in the US. Smiling apologetically at her guests, she said “I hope you didn’t mind too much, she calls us every Saturday at 10:30, it’s the only free time she has with all her university commitments. I could not let the weekend go without speaking to her, as I wouldn’t get to speak to her again until next weekend. You see, our Nila is working really hard to achieve her life’s goals.”
Author’s Note: Here’s what happens next – Read on!