In Besant Nagar, none missed Madhavan except Vasumathi. His absence was not felt either inside his house or outside, where he frequented- streets, marketplace, library or the Vinayaka Temple. This was because, over the years, he had acquired a strange ability to blend into the background of where he was, into the off-white walls, pile of washed clothes, cupboards, bookshelves or huge temple pillars. He was almost invisible to everyone and only his Amma's eyes, filled with passionate love, affection and pride for her son of 'Kingly material' according to his horoscope, could spot her son easily. So, while Vasumathi missed Madhavan badly and shed silent tears, Ranganathan and Harini went about as usual with their routine life. Once Vasumathi tried to talk about her concern for Madhavan in a foreign country, Ranganathan silenced her by saying that after Madhavan's message to Mr. Rajagopal about his safe arrival in Arizona, followed by Sankar's phone call to Dr. Somasundaram, (More as an accusation of Sankar's two unscrupulous North Indian roommates vetoing his idea of taking Madhavan in their apartment), there was absolutely no room for anxiety. Vasumathi tried to avoid Making onion sambar, ladies finger fry, and brinjal bhajis, Madhavan's favorite dishes, but a shrewd Harini noticed it and reported the matter to Ranga Nathan. So, one morning, Ranganathan stormed into the kitchen and thundered.
"So, you think, only your son has taste buds? Don't think, I'm not noticing your indifference to cooking these days. This morning, I want onion sambar and vendakkai poriyal. Evening, you will make katrikkai bajis which Harini loves. Is it clear?"
Vasumathi nodded, bending her head, an admission of her guilt in not feeding her lord and master with tasty dishes.
That morning, Vasumathi who had that special capacity to peel onions without shedding tears, had a tear-stained face and red tipped nose and blamed it all on onions, when questioned by her husband. Ranganathan enjoyed the onion sambar and later kathrikka bajis, which Vasumathi served with extreme devotion.
Though Vasumathi did the household chores as usual, her mind was filled with Madhavan's thoughts. The only time she concentrated on what she was doing was, when she gave her music lessons. Once the housework and music classes were over, she went to the Vinayaka Temple, where Madhavan visited every evening. She entrusted Lord Ganesha, the Deity, who was supposed to remove all the hurdles, to look after her son too in the faraway place.
Twelve days after Madhavan left, a red and blue stripe - edged airmail envelope addressed to Vasumathi Ranganathan in Madhavan's pearl like handwriting, reached Besant Nagar. Vasumathi got the letter, when Ranganathan and Harini were away. Vasumathi ran to the kitchen, kept the envelope in front of Gods in the kitchen corner, closed her eyes and prayed for a second, tears streaming down her cheeks. She could hear her heart pounding like a drum and with shivering hands, she opened the envelope and took her son's first letter and started reading it.
My Respected Amma,
I'm fine. I reached here Sunday night and am writing this letter on Monday night, now in India, you must have just finished your meals, sorting out and folding the pyramid of clothes on our sofa. Amma, not a minute passes by, without thinking of you all. But, I'm very happy here. Thank God, I'm not with that Sankar, he's so unpopular here because of his mean, selfish behavior and naturally his roommates did not want another fellow like him from South India. He's so uncivilized and uncouth that his roommates hate him. Anyway, I'm glad that I've 3 good roommates, Manikkam Subramanyam, Sathish Raman and Mathew Eapen, all are very good. I like Manikkam whom we call Mac, the best. At the airport, one Cheenu Krishnan, who's from Chennai received me and brought me here. You must meet him, he has such a sweet smile, a very kind person. His father too is a captain like Raghavan mama, and had gone around the world, but no air about him, very simple and unassuming, talks Tamil very well. Mac waited for me, though I reached late night. Amma, you must see our apartment -Air conditioned, two big bedrooms, living and dining room, kitchen and a small balcony similar to our flat's. Our apartment is fully carpeted, and kitchen is simply grand with cooking range, electric rice cooker, microwave, dish washer, coffeemaker etc., Everything is spotlessly clean and even the floral trash can is so pretty that, I hesitate to throw trash in it. Amma, the coffeemaker coffee is good, but not so tasty as your filter coffee. The cooking is done by turn, my turn comes only next Saturday. Your recipes and podis would be of great help. Last night itself, I dished out your mango thokku and Mac loved it. All my room mates are non-vegetarians. Sathish is an lyer but he loves non veg, Mac is a non-brahmin and Matthew is a Christian from Kerala. He has a collection of Ayurvedic medicines. Amma, he said, the Leghyam that you bought for me is very good for health. Amma, all vegetables are available here, that's what Mac said. Yesterday I had cabbage and curd which these people call yogurt. It's really so thick, creamy and tasty. In fact, yogurt and your thokku is good enough for eating a full meal. Ah, that reminds me, Amma, everyone here praises you for your cooking skill, so nice to hear people praising you without even tasting your special items like kesari, vadai or kathrikkai bajis. Sathish fried your arisi vadams just now and everyone enjoyed it. Tell Paati that her moru molagai is a hit here. They all say that my coming here is so timely as they were all longing for some homemade stuff.
Amma, my university campus is incredibly vast- many, many acres; there are about 50,000 students (may be more than the population of our Chennai) in the University. Can you imagine? It's about five minutes' walk from our apartments. Sathish and Mac go by bicycle. I too can buy one for about 20 dollars, but I prefer to walk. Amma, classrooms are so big. We have Chinese, Taiwanese, Mexican and Americans studying with us. Some of the white Americans are as old as Appa. We've homework and weekly tests. Everyone here is awestruck that I've an assistantship. My room mates are all working. Mac in a copy center, Sathish in a computer joint and Mathews in a restaurant. Our rent is 540 US dollars a month and all I've to pay is 135 dollars-my share. Grocery may come to another 100 dollars. We've to go down to a common place for washing clothes. The best thing is, we have a phone and all my room mates call their homes once a week. Phone bill will come to 50 dollars. I feel so bad that, we have no phone at our home. As you suggested, I'll call every Sunday at about 10 your time, in Mr. Rajagopal's place. I feel bad to tell them to call you etc. So, be there around 10, so that I can talk to you. I'm sending money for paying back Raghavan Mama's loan. The little extra money, after that, is for buying a shirt for Appa, two sarees, one for you and one nine yards for patti and a dress for Harini. I'll send money, may be next month, for us to get a phone connection. We need a phone at home and Appa can't come and wait in Mr.Rajagopal's house for my telephone every Sunday, even for you, it's a great problem. Further we're disturbing them too. So, please tell Appa, to make the necessary arrangements. I miss everyone. Appa must be busy with his students and their research work. Hope Harini is studying well. I'm enclosing the details of my courses, grading, subjects etc. for Appa. Please write as soon as possible, as you know, your letter would take minimum ten days to reach me. I'll call you this Sunday. Please go with Appa to Raghavan mama's house, to pay back his loan and tell Patti that, I'm praying to that beautiful Thirupathi idol she presented me with, long ago and that it's occupying a prominent place on my table. Amma, take care, don't neglect your health. Please ask Harini to help you with household chores, when she has time.
Amma, I'm very happy here and I think as you used to say' I've a great horoscope, that's why I got assistantship which meant enough and more money to take care of my studies, stay etc. I'm really lucky and with all your blessings and prayers I'll do well here and get a good job too. So don't worry about me unnecessarily. I'll call you this weekend. Miss you all.
Vasumathi read the letter, written in chaste Tamil, not once but many times, till she knew every word by heart. She was relieved that Madhavan was happy, living in a place with all comforts like a Raja; what more could she ask for? Her sincere and tearful prayers to all the Gods and Goddesses, are answered. She knew for sure that her son's future was made and in less than 2 years he would have the most covetable degree, good job and position. By the time he was 25, she should get him married too, to a traditional lyengar girl. Once Madhavan reached a good position, Harini's future also would be safe. She sighed deeply and felt tears of joy blinding her again. Ranga Nathan read Madhavan's letter and was satisfied to get a detailed account of his studies there. He knew, he had enough stuff to brag about for at least two weeks to his colleagues, especially to that idiotic Somasundaram, who thought the world of his son, Sankar. He was slightly upset to notice Madhavan's obvious preference to his Amma but, he did not want to show it to Vasumathi. So, to cover up his disappointment, he said, "Ah, your son chose to write such a long letter to you with all descriptions, hmmmmm, he seems to be more comfortable writing in Tamil. Time, he improves his English, still can't talk English fluently, that's why letter to Ammaaaa"
Ranganathan deliberately stretched Ammaaa which made Harini laugh loudly. Vasumathi was hurt by the ridiculing remark and for the first time, without trying to hide her anger, she said in a loud and clear voice, instead of her usual, docile whisper,
"Madhavan wrote in Tamil, very good Tamil, a language I could understand, even when he was here, he never spoke to you or for that matter, to anyone else. Even when he needed something badly, he never approached you directly, I was his intermediary, you were always unapproachable. Then, about his English, uh, you never gave him an opportunity, never sent him to English medium Schools because of the exorbitant fees. But don't worry, he'll pick up English. Even my brother, that great captain, who now pretends that, it is an effort to talk in Tamil even with my Amma or me, hardly spoke any English before he went to the Defense Academy. He too studied in the same Tamil medium School, where I studied and was not even as good as I was, in studies. Look at him now, he thinks it's a status symbol to talk only English at home, ashamed of his Tamil speaking Amma and sister. I'm sure Madhavan won't be like him, he won't be ashamed of me, never, N.E.V.E.R. He will be always proud of his Amma. Ammaaaa as you prefer to pronounce it."
Ranganathan as well as Harini were shocked before that unprecedented outburst of Vasumathi. Ranganathan was too stunned to ask her to shut up, in his usual irritated tone. This was not Vasumathi, not the timid, docile, servile wife he was used to for the past twenty-three years; this was a stranger, talking calmly, convincingly, sensibly, and rationally with an unusual strength and courage, which Ranganathan never suspected his doormat wife ever possessed. For the first time in 23 years of married life, Ranganathan felt that his wife was not dumb, as she pretended to be; in fact he had to credit her with an amazing degree of common sense. That feeling was not particularly comforting for Dr. Ranganathan. So, he faked a headache and retired to his bedroom. In the bed room, instead of reliving his moments of ecstasy in the College, the glimpse of Rekha's cleavage, the 'feel' of Dr. Vijaya's thighs on his knees, when she edged past him to get down from Dr. Somasundaram's car, the sight of Divya's armpits or Anupama's deliberate swaying of her shapely hips, which generally culminated in his nocturnal visits to his dumb wife, he was trying hard to push back the unpleasant thought that his "not so educated wife" was not dumb at all.