Next week, Ranganathan went to the University, with a thick Federal Express Envelope with a blue eagle's picture outside and a pack of Madhavan's photographs inside and granted everyone the pleasure of flipping through the pictures. The photographs had the details of the Madhavan’s apartment, car etc., written in pencil on the back of it, in Madhavan's pearl-like handwriting. Ranganathan did not have to explain anything and it gave him an opportunity to watch the envious expression on the faces of the photograph- lookers. After making many rounds in the University, the photographs reached Tambaram people. In Tambaram, it was Vasumathy's turn to closely watch her brother, sister in law and niece's faces light up in awe and admiration as they looked at these pictures. Actually, they treated Vasumathy with so much respect and love, that it was hard to believe that the same people used to cold shoulder her everytime she came to visit her mother, a couple of years ago. Anyway, she was happy that her son, Madhavan, at last, had salvaged her sinking self esteem. Before leaving for Besant Nagar, Vasumathy asked Ranganathan, whether they could bring her mother back to their home for that weekend, as she had promised to give an offering of Vadamala, for Madhavan's welfare, at the nearby Hanuman temple. Ranganathan was not very happy about the old lady's presence in his house, but reluctantly gave permission, as he did not want to spoil Vasumathy's mood during their triumphant return to Besant Nagar. After all, Vasumathy was entitled to some privileges like this, if not as his wife, at least as mother to his son Madhavan…
After the Vadamala offering in Hanuman temple was over, Vasumathy distributed prasadam to her neighbors and her music students. Then she took a couple of Vadais along with the Federal Express envelope containing Madhavan's pictures and went to her neighbour, Custom Officer Rajgopal's place.
When she rang the musical doorbell of Rajgopal's house, an old lady in her sixties opened the door and gave an ear to ear grin, as though she knew Vasumathy and said. "Come in, come in, vango, vango, Madhavan's Amma right? Heard a lot about you. Please sit down.. I'm Rajgopal's family friend from West Mambalam" Then she said in a louder than necessary voice, “Sita, see who
Vasumathy was quite surprised the lady could recognize her, though she was meeting her for the first time. Meanwhile, Sita appeared, wiping her hands in her sari pallu saying,
“Oh, Vasumathy mami, what a surprise! This is Saroja akka from West Mambalam. I did mention about her to you. She was in the States for about six months. Akka, Vasumathy mami's son also in the States, Engineer"
Vasumathy gave the vadaii saying “Amma has come, she had this vow of Vadamala charthal in Hanuman Temple, so I brought some prasad for you. Supriya must have gone to School..did I disturb you?"
"Disturb? Not at all, we finished our morning meals, I was just emptying the vessels to keep them for washing. Please sit down, can I make a cup of coffee, mami?”
"No, no, we too finished our meals and as you know my coffee time is two in the afternoon. By the way, I brought Madhavan's pictures.. came by Federal Express.. I thought I'll show them to you. You are all his well wishers..” Then looking at Saroja, Vasumathy continued, "Before we got the phone connection, Madhavan used to call me here only. Poor mama and mami had to put up with the trouble every Sunday"
For Sita, one of the three daughters of a poor middle School master, owning an MIG Flat, a scooter, a phone, a foreign music system and some imported saris, were great status symbols. The mention of using her phone by neighbors was simply delightful. But she faked indifference and said, "What mami, what are neighbors for, if not for such small favors?" Then Sita flipped through Madhavan's pictures with appropriate comments "Oh, Madhavan has put on weight here, Mami, he’s looking handsome", "Is this Madhavan's flat? Very good", his car, mami, is pramadam. Madhavan romba gattikkaran! Look here, he's cooking,” she commented as she passed them onto Saroja. Sitting opposite to Saroja, Vasumathy was looking intently at Sita's and Saroja’s faces and studying their expressions, so that she could relate her experiences to her husband.
After the arrival of the Federal Express, the communication between Ranganathan and his wife improved. In the sense, instead of the usual exchange of monosyllables and grunts, now Ranganathan narrated with great excitement how the faces of his colleagues, registered admiration, envy and respect. Now, it was her chance to narrate the neighbor's reaction. Vasumathy was happy that both Sita and Saroja showed great interest in Madhavan's photos by looking, re looking and then passing most flattering comments about Madhavan's looks, brilliance, his good luck and adjusting nature. Vasumathy noticed that they took more than twenty minutes to study the pictures of Madhavan. Then, after a pause, Saroja said. "Sita, I don't mind having some Ice tea, Vasumathy too would like it”.Then looking at Vasumathy's 'not- quite understood' look, Saroja explained..It's powdered mix, cold tea with lemon flavor. I used to take it in my brother's place in LA. Now Raja brought it from the airport, I believe. Nice taste". When Sita got up to make ice tea, Saroja laughed and said, “Take your time, but make sure to put lots of ice in it, it’s really hot here now, even with all the AC here. I wonder how Supriya's music learning is going ? Actually, it's Raja, who's keen on her learning music. Sita's not all that interested. Raja told me that you are very good, related to Partha Sarathy Iyengar right?”
"Yes, Mami, he was my Periyappa”, replied Vasumathy. “My Appa too used to sing well, though he was not famous like my Periyappa. I learnt music from my Appa. In my house, only Madhavan is interested. Strangely, my daughter Harini is like her father..no ear for music.. what to do? Madhavan enjoys good music. Luckily he's now an Iyer friend, Narayanan. So they listen to cassettes, watch Tamil films etc. Madhavan said he'll join 'Tamil Sangam,' an organization of South Indians, who celebrate Diwali, Pongal by organizing 'kutcheri and Bharathanatyam programs.”
Saroja shifted her sitting position, from leaning back on the chair back to sitting on the edge of the seat, wiped her forehead with her sari pallu, gave an ear to ear grin and then resumed her talking.
"How nice to hear that, mami. Unfortunately, nowadays most youngsters are into western music..what do they call that…Pop? Pop or mom, that horrible ear piercing cacophony.. So, to say your son is unpolluted by his move to US is something really great. Neenga koduthu vechavaa." She paused and then lowered her voice slightly and asked "How old is Madhavan? Don't you want to get him married? Now that he's very nicely settled?"
This was quite a surprise for Vasumathy, who still thought of her Madhavan as the same quiet, shy boy, answering in monosyllables and afraid of everyone except her. In her attempt to cherish the happy memories of her beloved son, she forgot to notice that days, months, why two long years had swished past her with such bluntness and her son was now old enough to get married. But, at that thought, somehow a sense of discomfort gnawed at her. As though reading her thoughts, Saroja said, “Look, Vasumathy, it's difficult for us, mothers, to admit even to ourselves, that our children are growing up so fast. That's because they're a part of us, we're so full of memories, fresh memories, of their trusting, dependant relationship with us for so long, that we fail to see them as adults, ready to take charge of their lives. I've only one daughter who got married at 21, now has 2 daughters 14 and 12, she's well past 40 now. Still, when I stay with her in Bombay, on vacation, I'll be on pins and needles if she's a little late to come home from her workplace. As a rule, all mothers are over protective and I strongly feel the real reason is, deep down, we don't want our children to outgrow us. Any way sorry for giving you a jolt by talking of Madhavan's marriage"
Vasumathy was ashamed that the clever lady sensed her discomfort and so, to cover it up, she laughed, fidgeted with her finger ring and said "No mami, I know, I know Madhavan should get settled, but as you said rightly, it's difficult to believe that Madhavan is of marriageable age now. Well, he's going to be twenty five soon. We must start searching for a suitable girl. When comes on leave, maybe next year."
Meanwhile, Sita arrived with a tray laden with glasses of ice tea and biscuits. While Sita was giving Vasumathy ice tea, Saroja
explained for the benefit of Sita, "Sita, I was just telling Vasumathy that she should look for a suitable bride for Madhavan, now that he's settled with a good job” Saroja chimed in, “We've to finish our duty, so that we can relax. Once Madhavan gets married, you'll have less worry about him. Someone to take care of him. Mami, Madhavan is such a sweet boy. Everyone in this locality talks so high of him. He’s very quiet, very simple. Supriya's Appa always says mama and mami are so lucky. Really, mami, you're blessed with such a good son.``
Vasumathy poured little iced tea from the tumbler into her throat and then said, "Mami is right. It is time we thought of a suitable girl for him. Only thing, he should come on leave. He says that he does not plan to come now. It may take another year, at least"
Saroja was lost in thought for a moment, then wiping the iced tea that had dribbled down her chin, with her Kanchipuram sari pallu, said with renewed enthusiasm'.
“Vasumathy, don't mistake me, I'm old.. much older than you, naturally more experienced and exposed to the life in the west too” then she lowered her voice to a whisper, "See.. these Vellakkaris, I mean these white women, are quite dangerous, they hook our boys with their white skin and skimpy dresses, shameless leeches. Once hooked, our innocent boys are doomed forever. Poor things, I know many cases like that; I don't know why, they're attracted to Indian men, like moths to flame, repulsive creatures. Disgusting! If the boy is well placed, he has no escape from these women, who are out to trap them."
Saroja was pleased to notice the fear in Vasumathy's eyes. She gave a laugh before she continued, "I'm speaking from experience, my Periyappa's son Dr. Jagannathan was a big Scientist. When he got a chance to work abroad, he could not go as my Thatha was dead against it. Later after Thatha's death, when he got a second chance, he grabbed it and settled in a very high position in New York. I think, for about 6 months, he was in touch with his people..sending letters, money etc. Slowly, he stopped all that and finally informed that he was getting married to one white girl, Catherine, that too. after converting himself to Christianity. Imagine, my periyappa and periyamma died broken-hearted. Their only son marrying a white, was too much to bear. Nobody knows where Jaggu is now, but someone said.. I don't know whether it's just a rumor that he has divorced his American wife and is now living with a Japanese colleague. He does not have issues, I believe. Anyway, a brilliant scientist lost his head to a white. To be frank, my Periyappa should be blamed. Jaggu was 26 when he went abroad.. could they not have got a proper Iyengar girl for him? We can't blame the boys. The sudden exposure to a totally different culture, may have disastrous consequences..that's just common sense"
Quite satisfied by the effect her lecture had on Vasumathy and Sita, Saroja took a biscuit, broke it with both hands and threw it inside her mouth, urging Vasumathy with her mouth full, to take biscuit as well.
"Very nice, this too, Raja bought, cookies are very tasty". Vasumathy took one biscuit, broke it and threw it in her mouth. Suddenly she was reminded of Ranganathan reprimanding Madhavan for biting bajjis like Sudras..
Poor boy, so much harassed by his Appa. Would the sudden exposure to the West, as this Mami said, make him do stupid things like that Jaggu.? Madhavan is so innocent. Won't set his eyes on any woman, but won't it make him more vulnerable to these Vellakkaris now?
"How do you like the cookies? Tasty, right? Sita's question brought Vasumathy back to reality.
"Yes, very good" Vasumathy said looking at the biscuit in her hand, as though biscuit - breaking needed a lot of concentration.
Meanwhile Saroja went on, "In America, they call biscuits, cookies, like they call vendakkai, Okra, not ladies finger and kathrikkai, eggplant not brinjal. Funny, Isn't it?"
Sita said enthusiastically,
"I remember your telling how big the brinjal is, the size of a football and just one kathrikkai is good enough to make poriyal for four. You know, mami, Sarojakka was in LA with her brother Raman for about 6 months. She likes the place very much, it seems. When I said Madhavan was going, akka said it's the best place for studies, career etc. Akka, tell mami.. she's always worried about Madhavan.” As though waiting for this opportunity, Saroja narrated her experiences at Universal, Disneyland and at her brother Raman's home in Montana with a courtyard surrounded by roses, lime, guava and apple trees. Saroja, beaming with pride rattled on, how the Ramans brought up their only daughter, Lakshmi, with all traditional values and how both Raman and Vasanthi, his wife, insisted on talking only Tamil at home etc.
Vasumathy noticed that Saroja could talk non stop, that too interestingly. She liked the older lady for her quick wit, smartness, intelligence and narrative skill. She noticed that, when Saroja talked, her huge diamond studs flashed brilliantly and her nose ring, the cluster of diamonds with a tiny emerald in the middle, looked like shining bees.
Vasumathy remembered, her diamond studs was actually her mother's, as her father could not afford to buy one for her marriage Till a couple of weeks ago, Vasumathy thought she should part with her diamonds, when Harini got married But once Madhavan got his job, Ranganathan said, Madhavan could afford 10 pairs like that with his pay for less than 2 months. Harini was just 16 and she had to wait at least 4 to 5 years for marriage. But now Sarojamami had put the bombshell that unless they got Madhavan married to an Iyengar girl soon, he would be trapped by some white woman. That thought was really frightening..her losing Madhavan to some silly white woman.
“Mami, what are you thinking? Have some more cookies. Aren't they very tasty? Unlike our Indian stuff, foreign is always foreign", Sita laughed,
"I'm so full, mami, I think I must go. My Amma is here, wants to talk to Madhavan this weekend, so she's staying back for a couple of days with me", said Vasumathy, sighing deeply.
Saroja was still clutching the envelope containing Madhavan's pictures. She again opened it, examined each photograph, especially the one with Madhavan in a suit in front of his Toyota, held it very close to her bespectacled eyes for a better vision. Then she put them back, one by one in the envelope, as though with great reluctance and handed it over to Vasumathy. After that, Saroja cleared her throat and said, “Vasumathy, hope you won't mistake me for being so frank, that's my nature, I always speak my mind and get into a soup because of that, hmmmmmmmm. Can I ask you one thing? Till now, this idea did n't cross my mind. Suddenly, I thought my niece, Lakshmi, who’s going to get her Residency, to be a doctor, just about twenty one or twenty ." Saroja stopped, her eyes darting between Vasumathy and Sita,
Sita took the hint, laughed and said,
“Oh, Akka, you want our Madhavan for Lakshmi? Good idea, from what I hear of Lakshmi, she'll be an ideal daughter in law for mami. She is intelligent, good looking and religious. What do you say, mami?"A quizzical expression flashed through Vasumathy's face, but she managed to overcome that and said,
"Mami, we're very ordinary people and I really don't know how Madhavan or his Appa would react to it. Madhavan has a lot of commitments too. We depend on his income to settle Harini. His Appa is going to retire next year. Apart from all that, we can't bite more than we could chew". Gesturing towards Sita, Vasumathy continued,
"Mami knows our condition.." but before she could say any further, Saroja interrupted and said, "Come on Mami, if Madhavan has commitments, that's all the more reason you get him married, before he gets out of your control and makes stupid decisions. Even if it's not Lakshmi, you've to start right now your search for a suitable girl. Nowadays there are marriage bureaus, advertisements, and even the internet, to get proper matches. But, if you know the girl or any of her family members personally, that would be much more reliable. Anyway, I was just thinking aloud, that's all. Further, what do you mean by biting more than you could chew, anyway? We are all the same, middle class, not very rich and our wealth is here, just here," Saroja with her index and middle finger tapped her head to show 'brains.' Madhavan has lots of it, so has Lakshmi, everything depends on God's will. Afterall, who are we to decide. We can at the most, be His instruments", Saroja looked towards the ceiling to indicate God.
Vasumathy was pleased. Though the idea of Madhavan getting a Doctor in LA did not quite sink into her brain. She wanted to run home and share the news with Amma. Thought of Amma reminded her of Madhavan's horoscope and she said enthusiastically, "Madhavan has a powerful horoscope. It was cast by the famous Astrologer Desikachari. My Madhavan is made of that kingly material, according to Desikachari. Born to rule", Vasumathy smiled coyly and continued, "Amma too, is good at horoscope reading. What's Lakshmi's nakshtram, anyway?"
Saroja grinned "Lakshmi's star's Rohini, I have her horoscope too. In fact Raman sent Lakshmi's photograph, horoscope etc for the marriage purpose only a few months ago but it never occurred to me to ask Sita about Madhavan, Ask Sita, though many times she talked about you, your family especially Madhavan, his going to Arizona, phone calls etc, that idea never struck me. That's why, for everything there's something called TIME, when time comes, everything happens, till then however you try nothing happens. I believe in Destiny, if Lakshmi is destined to marry Madhavan, it will happen. We can be instrumental, anyway. I'll send the horoscope and photo this evening, consult your husband, Amma and Astrologer and let's see. I'm really sorry. Talking all the time, I forgot to hear a Deekshithar Keerthana. Sita and Raja too told how nicely you sing, Really you are gifted, anyone who could sing, is Bhagavan's favourite, it's Poorvajanma sugrutham"
Vasumathy was extremely pleased by the genuine praise and said, "I'll come again mami, now that Amma's at home alone, I'm going, otherwise I'm free, why one, several keerthanas, I can sing for you. You should come to my house too. You should listen to Supriya, she has a melodious voice. If she practices, she can sing well, but she is lazy, like all these modern generation girls. I'm so happy to meet you mami, hope everything turns out well"
Vasumathy grinned, taking a pinch of vermilion from the cute lotus shaped filigree container, offered to her by Sita, signifying the customary taking - leave among South Indian Brahmins