I talk to Ma – and to Raghav
And then Raghav called. Early the next afternoon, when Ma and I were cooking lunch together. I answered and told him I would call back after lunch. It wasn’t exactly the best timing: after our initial hesitation Ma and I had begun talking as we used to when I was living at home. And doing something together, like cooking or cleaning the windows (which we had done the previous morning), helped us talk more comfortably.
I had been telling Ma about my work. It was the first time we had talked about it in some length and she seemed interested. We talked of my career plans.
“I don’t know, Ma. I enjoy what I’m doing now, but I’m not sure if I really want to keep doing this for say, ten years. It’s too soon to decide.”
“But if you wait too long, won’t it be too difficult to move careers?”
“Well, I don’t know. I don’t think it should be too difficult, only I’d have to start at the bottom again.”
“Yeah, and work all your way up. Would you not mind that?”
“Well, I don’t think so. If I find something I really like doing, I shouldn’t mind doing it, even if it means starting at the bottom.”
She laughed. “You kids have it so easy. In my time, I was lucky that I got a job, I wouldn’t think twice about whether I liked it.”
“That’s not fair, Mom. You loved teaching. Besides, it’s not true either. You wouldn’t work as a say, gardener if you’d got that job.”
She looked faintly shocked. Ma was broad-minded enough, but she hadn’t quite moved past class distinctions.
That’s when the phone rang. After I came back from speaking to Raghav, she changed to her pet subject. She wanted me to meet some ‘nice boy’.
I cursed Raghav for his interruption and tried to explain calmly to my mother that I was not interested in marrying a ‘nice Assamese boy’. But it was more difficult to side-track her when we were face to face than when she was on the phone and I could put her off with a joke.
She placed a hand on my cheek. “Do meet him once, darling. You can always refuse if you don’t like him.”
I sighed. “I don’t want an arranged marriage, Mom. I want to know someone, fall in love, and then get married.”
“So get to know him. I won’t pressure you to marry him, I promise.”
“Why are you so keen on this, Ma?”
“I don’t like seeing you alone, ma. I would like to think you had someone to take care of you.”
“I can take care of myself, Ma. And I’m perfectly happy being alone.”
“Is that true?” piped up Mandakini.
“Just meet him once, sweetheart. I’m not asking for more than that.”
“Okay, tell me about him.”
She smiled, a smile that made her wrinkles deeper and brought sparkles to her eyes.
“I’m not saying I’ll meet him yet,” I warned her. “Tell me about him and we’ll see.”
“Okay, okay. His name’s Kaushik. He lives in Delhi.”
“Delhi?” I interrupted. “I thought he was in Bangalore.”
“Oh no, that was a different boy. This one is really nice. I met him once, years ago, at Maina’s wedding. He was in college then. A charming boy. Very fair, tall and slim.”
“Well, in seven years he may have become fat and ugly,” I said viciously.
“No, ma. Maina said he is as good-looking as ever. He has a nice job in an IT company and he’s even been abroad twice.”
“How old is he?” I asked suspiciously.
“He must be twenty-eight or nine.”
“How come he’s not married yet if he’s such a great catch? How come he doesn’t have a girlfriend?”
“Not everyone wants to get married that way, ma,” she clucked. “He had responsibilities at home. His father died when he was in college. He’s got both his younger sisters married.”
“Does his mom live with him then?” I asked, seeing another opportunity.
“No, she visits him often, but she lives here. She has grandchildren here, you know.”
“Aah, so once her son has children she’ll move in with him?”
Ma wisely ignored the gibe and went on stirring the food. “He did very well in school, you know. He is a very smart boy. And he loves reading too. I’m sure you will like him.”
I held both her hands and turned her around to face me. “Ma, if I meet this guy and don’t like him, will you promise never to ask me to meet anyone else?”
“But ma, what if you do want to get married later…”
“Then I’ll ask you to find me a guy. But till then you won’t mention it.”
“All right, Miki.”
“Okay. Give him my number.”
Her face lit up. “Thank you, my dear.”
I hugged her. I knew she had been making an unreasonable demand: why did I feel guilty about not giving in more gracefully?
After lunch, I helped Ma wash the dishes. Then we both went to our respective rooms: she to lie down and listen to the radio, and I to flop down on my tummy and call Raghav.
“Guess what?” he said.
“What, you getting married?”
“What?” I sat up. “How? When?”
“It’s kind of a long story.”
“How can it be a long story when you only started dating a month ago?” I demanded.
“Okay, listen. I’ve been meeting Sonali nearly every day…”
“Oh? Don’t her parents object?”
He didn’t notice the sarcasm. “Oh, they didn’t know. She meets me after work for half an hour each day. And we also talk on the phone late at night.”
“Of course. You did that even when you were in Belgaum.”
“So one night we were on the phone…”
“Her dad picked up the extension?”
“No, my mom did. Sonali was on her mobile. I had called from my home line because my cell phone was charging...”
“Well, that was stupid of you. What did Mom say?”
“She didn’t say anything then. In fact I didn’t even know she had picked up the phone. She only told me the next afternoon.”
“Did she say what she had overheard?”
“Aah, I wonder.”
“Well, we don’t talk that way yet. She’s shy, you know.”
“Oh, I wasn’t thinking about that. I have no doubt your Sonali is a thoroughly nice girl. I just wondered what sweet nicknames you were calling out…”
“Anyway, Mom asked me who it was and I told her. She then asked me if I was serious about her.”
“Hey, your Mom knows her, doesn’t she?”
“Of course. She is friendly with Sonali’s mom, you know, because of me and Amit being friends and them living nearby.”
“Okay, so what did you say?”
“I told Mom I intend to marry her.”
“I hope you mean Sonali.” Raghav didn’t laugh – he seemed to be losing his sense of humour already.
“So she talked to Dad first, and then they talked to Sonali’s parents and fixed it up.”
“Seriously? That’s it?”
“Yeah. We’re working out the date now.”
“I’m surprised your parents took it so well.”
“Well, she’s Punjabi, like my mom, so I guess they didn’t have any objection. And they know the family and all.” Raghav’s dad was South Indian, but his mom was Punjabi. So while he was actually Raghav Pillai, he’d grown up with a lot of Punjabi customs and around a lot of Punjabi relatives, so he was more north Indian than south, though he could make a mean sambar.
“And I guess they’re glad it’s a girl from Delhi – maybe they’re hoping you’ll move back?”
“But are you okay with this, Rags? You have only been going out with her for a month, and you’ve been with her barely a few hours in that time. Are you sure you are ready to get married?”
“Of course. I’m in love with her.”
“You were in love with Nivedita too. And with Aarti.”
“And with me,” added Miki.
“No, that was different,” said Raghav. “I’ve never cared for anyone this way.”
“Okay, as long as you’re sure. Then I guess I should congratulate you.”
“I wish you were here. I really want to meet you.”
“Well, I’ll be back in a week.”
“But I’m leaving before you get here.”
“I’m sure you’ll visit again soon.” Suddenly, I didn’t feel too eager to meet him.