Published on 16 January, 2022

Ranganathan was so happy and excited about owning a car. He consulted everyone, went through all the advertisements in the Sunday Hindu, underlined with green ink, all the ads of ‘sparingly used, lady doctor driven cars. Though he could hardly understand how a ‘Lady doctor driven car’ was any different or superior to a teacher driven or a ‘home-maker’ driven car. Dr. Ranganathan liked the term, “home-maker”, whoever had invented it. He felt that it really elevated the status of “housewife,” into some covetable profession. He remembered how Amitabh Bachchan beamed when one of the contestants in his popular TV show “Kaun Banega Karorepathy?,” proudly announced that she was a home maker! 

Anyway, Sundays ceased to be ‘kathrikkai bajji’ days, as he had to spend a lot of time in the booth, telephoning the ‘Lady Doctor driven’ car owners, fixing up appointments and then going with his brother-in-law Raghavan’s mechanic and driver to examine the car, and taking a test drive too, if needed. 

Unfortunately, Ranganathan was not able to make up his mind about the car, despite reading all possible literature on Maruti 800, becoming an expert about the parts, function, petrol consumption and even ‘interviewing’ many Maruti owners in Chennai. So, the car - hunting continued on Sundays with great enthusiasm, for about 2 months. Meanwhile, Ranganathan got the phone connection, which made it possible for him to discuss his car- buying mission with Madhavan too. Though Vasumathy was indifferent about the car, she was delighted about the phone, as she could talk to Madhavan freely now, from her own house. Madhavan called her on Monday mornings. Sundays he talked with his Appa, and hardly got chance to chat with his Amma, so he made it up by calling her on Monday morning, when Amma was alone at home. Madhavan gave her detailed account of his studies, much awaited graduation, friends and cooking new recipes. While Amma gave all the local gossip, Patti's arthritis, Raghavan family’s unusual visits to Besant nagar, Meena’s sudden love and respect for Ranganathan and Vasumathy, Suganya’s impressive account of her visit to Phoenix etc. Madhavan was amused that his Amma always concluded her chat with the comment, “Aanakkoru kalam ning poonaikkoru kalam’, (which happened to be the Tamil version of Mak’s favourite saying ‘Every dog has it's day’).  All because of you, Kanna, they all know your achievements, not easy to get an Iyengar guy like you, highly educated, yes, a foreign qualified Engineer, God fearing, extremely good natured and most responsible, as though I’m a fool not to see through their plans; they think they can lure us with their money, going to get the shock of their lives, that Raghavan, Radha and that pencil thin Meena.” Another month rolled by and Ranganathan was still without a car.

Madhavan realized that at this rate, his Appa would never buy a car and so one Sunday Madhavan talked more than half an hour, to convince Ranganathan that , he should go for a brand new Maruti car, which would not give him a problem for at least five years. Madhavan argued that he would get a good job soon and then, he could spare enough money. Further, if Ranganathan did not buy a car now, there was no need to buy a ear at all, as he would be retiring in another couple of years. Ranganathan was now more than convinced about his owning a Maruti before retiring from the College; after all what was the point in driving around, when no young girls were around to appreciate their ‘Sir’s car or take alift in it. Next week, Dr. Ranganathan… nephew of Dr. Rangachari, owner of two Rolls-Royce during the British regime, cousin of the richest criminal lawyer VeeraRaghavan and father of Madhavan the future engineer in the US, surprised everyone in his Dept. by driving into the Car park in his brand new, gleaming white Maruti with marigold garland and a vermilion spot on its bonnet and intact polythene seat covers inside. Looking at the admiring glances of the onlookers, Ranganathan realized that the real enjoyment of any possession was in its capacity to invoke others’ envy like the apt Onida TV’s advertisement ‘Owner’s pride, Neighbor's envy’. He smiled at the lesser colleagues and students, went on with his usual work, as though the most natural thing for him was to come in his Maruti. But, he did not forget to tell a crestfallen Somasundaram that the car was Arun’s belated Father's day gift. Ranganathan marveled at his own capacity to lie convincingly and take his sweet revenge on Somasundaram. During his drive back from the University, he invited Dr. Vijayalakshmi, Dr. Raman, and a couple of girl students to take a lift with him. He even went out of his way to drop Raman in Indira Nagar. He was ecstatic at the whole thing; but was quite put off, when he thought of his wife’s supreme indifference about the car. Even his promise to take her to Tambaram to visit her Amma in his car, did not produce the expected enthusiastic response. What's the matter? What was eating her up? ‘Real Kazhutha, doesn’t know how to enjoy life and has no aesthetic sense either.  Can’t help comparing this useless woman with other sensible women with intelligence and taste. Look at that Vijayalakshmi, how she went on praising the choice of white for Maruti, how Nisha and Sneha admired the smooth drive. This one was silent throughout our first drive to Mylapore temple and back. Thank God, Harini made it up by her chatter throughout. Vasumathy won't even come with us to Shanti Vihar for Channa Batura “The curd rice’ I prepared would go waste”, her usual pallavi, real martyr. She looks at me as though I’m exploiting her son, he sent money for the car and I bought it. What's wrong with that? I must learn to ignore her,’ thought Ranganathan to himself and sighed deeply.

That Sunday, from his Appa, Madhavan got a detailed account of the car, the temple trip, Tambaram trip, Somasudaram’s envy, the admiration of his friends, Harini’s demand to learn driving etc. On Monday, when Madhavan talked, his Amma did not sound very enthusiastic. To Madhavan’s repeated questioning about Amma’s indifference to the car, Vasumathy told, “Kanna, you've to save your hard earned money for your future, the bus stop is so close to our house, I really don’t understand why we should own a car and your appa should drive in the crowded roads, we lived happily all these years without a car, If you’re here, it’s different. I want you to enjoy all the comforts Amma, it’s time you allow yourself little luxuries like going by car to temples, to visit Patty in Tambaram etc. you should learn to relax, you say, music lessons keep you happy, so continue that, but don’t slog in the kitchen making this and that. Thank God, Appa stopped his vegetable - buying trips. Appa sounded so happy yesterday, Poor thing, let him show off his car; he can even employ a part - time driver, if he wants, Amma, don’t worry about saving for my future, I’ll be getting a very good job in a couple of months. Once I know where I'll be posted, I can plan my future, just you wait and see, your Raja material son’s going to buy a nice car, send return tickets for you and Appa to visit this beautiful country, so cheer up Amma Okay?” 

When Vasumathy spoke, her voice broke, ‘I miss you Kanna, when’re you going to come? So, no hope of your settling down somewhere in India now? I thought you'll be taking up a job here, once you pass the Exam” Madhavan could sense his Amma’s sadness and felt awful but he tried to cover his disappointment by laughing, as though his Amma had cracked a joke.“Amma, I've to work here; for my qualification, I can get a very well paid job in the States, not in India. Amma, what difference it makes, whether I’m in Bombay or Arizona….I talk to you every week. Once I get a job, you can visit me here once a year. I can also come there, everything is possible now, distance is no problem as long as one has money. Next year, this time, for all you know, you'll be in LA, Silicon Valley or New York. Amma, you'll be in great demand in the States, you know, these Indian Americans are crazy about Carnatic music and you may even earn a lot of money here with your music lessons. How about that?’ Madhavan laughed, Vasumathy knew, Madhavan was trying to make her feel all right and 

So, she made an effort to laugh. But by the time he hung up, she was in tears. She then walked towards to her kitchen corner, closed her eyes and entrusted her favorite deity ‘Perumal’ with the task of looking after her son in a foreign country............ 



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