Saroja's unexpected call to Raman, set the ball of Lakshmi's marriage rolling in Raman's household in LA. Raman was the youngest brother of Saroja, almost 8 years her junior. After their parents' and the other two sisters' death, Saroja was more like a mother to Raman. She was very affectionate towards Raman and even stayed with him for about 6 months, when he bought his house in Montana. Vasanthi, Raman's wife, was also very attached to Saroja. Though their visits to Chennai were few and far between, they always made it a point to stay in T.Nagar with Saroja. Raman’s daughter, Lakshmi filled the yawning gap in Saroja's life. Saroja loved her niece, Lakshmi like a granddaughter as her daughter only had sons. She showered her with love and affection. As arthritis restricted Saroja's movements, she could not go and stay with Raman in LA but she was constantly in touch with him. In fact, Raman entrusted Saroja with the most difficult task of getting a proper groom for his daughter, as he had tremendous faith in his Akka's ability. He was full of praise for his sister, who had conducted her only daughter's wedding, single handedly. But, even he did not imagine that his sister would get such a perfect proposal for Lakshmi, in less than 2 months.
When Raman was told the details of Madhavan, Raman as well as his wife Vasanthi, were very happy. Both of them, right from the beginning, took a lot of pains in bringing up Lakshmi in the proper Iyengar tradition. They insisted on growing her hair, speaking Tamil at home, learning and reciting Sanskrit slokas, celebrating all religious festivals etc. They even engaged a South Indian Mami who was living in LA to look after her daughter's delivery, for teaching Lakshmi classical music. But, Lakshmi showed no inclination for Carnatic music or Bharatanatyam and the Ramans were forced to give up their attempt of making their only daughter well versed in music or dance. But, Lakshmi was very good at academics and her grades were always very high.
Despite Lakshmi's traditional upbringing, she was an ABCD, American Born Confused Desi. To begin with, Lakshmi could not understand why her parents were so strict, even about the way she dressed up. While girls of her age, wore revealing dresses, flaunted their sexuality and went on regular dates, she was not even allowed to dress up the way she wanted to. Tight blouses, short skirts and tight jeans , were a definite No-No for Lakshmi.
"You must dress up modestly, Lakshmi, we're South Indian Brahmins. We can't afford to forget our roots. If your Appa could have got a good job in India, we would have gone back to our India. But that is not possible now, so we've to take full advantage of this country, without losing our identity. We can't forget our great culture, just because we've to earn a living in this country", Vasanthi used to say.
Lakshmi envied the fashionably dressed girls with bobbed hair, mingling easily with their boyfriends. Infact, most of the Indian girls adapted themselves to the Western way of life and Lakshmi was always the odd one out, with her lustrous, but oily hair in a single tight braid, tiny sticker bindi on her forehead ('What? No pottu, don't you dare to say such inauspicious things, a Brahmin girl without pottu, why do you think I go all the way to the Indian stores to collect the tiny sticker for you, actually you should put big one like mine, I'm allowing you at least this concession. I'm very considerate Lakshmi. Remember, you must get married to a proper Brahmin boy, from a good family, some day. They should n't blame me for bringing you up like these 'Vellakkari's Or Kristhuacchis,”Vasanthi used to say, whenever Lakshmi mildly protested the Pottu business)
Lakshmi resented her mother's interference in what she thought, her right. But she never dared to voice her protests, as that would end up in Vasanthi listing her husband's and her own endless sacrifices for Lakshmi's sake. Lakshmi simply loathed Amma's 'martyr' role and hysterical outbursts.
The only person to whom Lakshmi confided in her troubles, was Jyothi, her childhood friend. Jyothi was very understanding and sympathetic, as she was also a victim of double standards. Unlike Lakshmi, Jyothi dressed up smartly, talked non stop and made everyone happy by her very presence and even dated boys. But under that careful cloak of cheerfulness, Jyothi actually hid her most lonely, real self. Jyothi's parents, George and Annie lived under the same roof, as strangers. Jyothi's childhood was filled with memories of her jobless father, George getting drunk and hurling abuses at her mother, Annie, who worked as a nurse in a hospital. When she grew up, she knew that her Dad, an unemployed graduate from Kerala, got married to her Nurse mom, just to reach the States. Soon, George got used to the idea of living on his wife's income. When Annie was busy with her night shifts, struggling to make both ends meet, due to the arrival of their baby girl, her handsome husband was busy getting all the attention from an Hispanic housekeeper of a Doctor couple. When Annie found out about Gerorge's affair, she offered him the choice of going back to Kerala or staying with her, like his Hispanic love, as her housekeeper, not as her husband. George was not a fool to throw away his lethargic, easy-going life, to his tough life in Kuravilangad, a remote village,where even electricity was a luxury. He was a great eater and a great cook too. So he did not mind cooking and driving his daughter, to whom he was attached in his own way, to School and back . So, he stayed back, but when he got drunk, he used the most foul language, accusing Annie of sleeping with all doctors and male nurses. Annie did not really bother about her husband, as long as he looked after her daughter and managed the household, so that she could concentrate on her job and keep her image as a loving wife and mother to her relatives in faraway Kerala. Both her parents competed with each other in winning Jyothi's affection and love, by poisoning her mind about each other. But Jyothi developed extreme indifference to both of them, though, at times, she pitied her mom.
Jyothi admired brilliant Lakshmi for her quiet ways, while Lakshmi admired Jyothi for her bubbling, bustling personality. Soon, they became inseparable friends. Lakshmi thoroughly enjoyed Jyothi's beef cutlets, beef fry with coconut pieces in it and tapioca with the viciously red fish curry, poured generously on it. Lakhmi was a frequent visitor to Jyothi's place. Their friendship continued even after Jyothi dropped out of school and took up the job of a waitress. On weekends, they regularly met and went for noon shows. During such weekend programmes, Lakshmi wore Jyothi's trendy outfits, left her long hair loose and looked sexy. Lakshmi looked forward to those weekends, when she got the admiring glances of every passerby, which served as a real 'ego-booster' to her.
In one of their weekends out, when Lakshmi confided in Jyothi about her Athai in Madras trying to get a suitable boy for her, Jyothi laughed and said,
"Lucky! Get married! At least you can get away from your Orthodox parents. I tell you, no sensible man would put such restrictions on your dressing up, eating etc. First, get your freedom from the tyranny at home and then do what you want to do. After all, you can twist any man around your little finger with all that incredible charm of yours. Believe me!" Jyothi sized Lakshmi up and down, laughed showing her pearly white teeth and continued, "But, Lakshmi, what a transformation! Unbelievable! The moment you changed from your ankle length skirt and loose shirt to fitting dresses and let your hair loose,you looked pretty and sexy!
Three weekends passed by. Lakshmi could not meet Jyothi, as she was busy trying for her Residency. So the following Friday, Lakshmi took her parents' permission to spend the evening with Jyothi. When Lakshmi was away, her parents received Madhavan's picture and letter asking for their convenience for his visit to their LA home. As soon as Raman saw the picture of Madhavan in a suit, standing in front of his Toyota, he called excitedly, “Vasanthi, come, come, have a look, oh, you and your cooking, come soon, see this"
"What's it? Whose picture is that?"
"Oh, Vasanthi, this is Madhavan, that Engineer boy whom Sarojaakka was talking about. Look at him! Handsome! Isn't he handsome?" Vasanthi grabbed the picture from him and inspected it, with an ear to ear grin and said”, “Really romba handsome, First class car, looks like he's from good Iyengar family"
"Then what? Sarojakka's real great, Read this letter, what a nice letter, what beautiful handwriting!"
Vasanthi read the letter aloud..
My parents asked me to send my picture regarding the marriage proposal of your daughter. My father consulted the best Astrologer in Madras, Desikachari and he is of the opinion that my horoscope is matching with your daughter Lakshmi's very much and as such my parents want to proceed with the proposal. Please let me know when it is convenient for you to arrange bride seeing. You may kindly contact me regarding your convenience. Please convey my respects to your wife and daughter
Vasanthi read the letter many times and then both Raman and Vasanthi sat together and examined Madhavan's photo.
"Vasanthi, Lakshmi will be lucky if this alliance clicks, the boy seems to be good natured and from a good family. See the way he addressed me 'Respected mama', instead of Mr Raman, that shows his upbringing and background, got a good job, highly educated, horoscope too is matching, an ideal match for Lakshmi"
"Don't you think he's handsome, looks very fair complexioned", Vasanthi said, again looking at the photograph
“I don't know about his complexion, can't make out from the picture very much. Anyway, why do you bother about his complexion, even if he's very dark, it doesn't really matter. "Udyogam purusha lakshanam" When can we ask him to come? This Sunday is okay, I think .
"We must ask Lakshmi before fixing the time for bride seeing"
"What's there to ask? She knows her Athai's trying to get a match for her. It's just luck that we got so fast, an ideal boy, She should thank her stars, well, she would agree for Sunday, she won't have any programme, maximum, she won't be able to meet her friend Jyothi, that doesn't matter, I can ring him up and ask him to come on Sunday, what do you say?"
Looking at the wall clock, Vasanthi said, "Lakshmi will be here any minute, just tell her before fixing Bride seeing, she should not get upset that we're taking all decisions, without even informing her. Be tactful"
"Aha, great, why do we need her permission? She would jolly well obey us. We know what's best for her"
"I know that Lakshmi has always been obedient. I brought her up like that. Still she should be mentally prepared, the sudden news of the boy coming to see her, should not upset her. That's all. Wait for her to come. Be little more diplomatic, times are changing, remember that"
Then the doorbell rang, Lakshmi came in humming a film song.
The moment she saw the unusual scene of her Appa and Amma seated on the sofa, a puzzled expression crossed Lakshmi's face. Generally at that time Amma would be in the kitchen and Appa would be busy watching CNN
So, Lakshmi looked at them, smiled and said, "What's up? You both look.. hmmmmm....... as though something is worrying you now"
"Nothing, we were just discussing something important. By the way, how was your outing? Where did you go? Did you take Jyothi to Woodlands? Did she enjoy the food?" Vasanthi asked.
"Yes Amma, she liked their masala dosais and I told her, you can make dosas better than that. We then went to movies and watched "AmericanBeauty. It was a good movie. We both liked it"
Thinking of the blatant lie of dosais Lakshmi smiled, actually they both enjoyed the Chinese fried rice and beef with bell pepper. She wondered how her Amma would have reacted, if she came to know about Lakshmi's love for non vegetarian food, especially beef.
"Amma, both of you look very serious, as though something's troubling you, what's it?"
Then Vasanthi got up and gave her Madhavan's picture and letter. Lakshmi first looked at the picture and said, 'Who's this guy in suit, look at his tie - it’s sideways" Then Lakshmi held the picture closer and said", "Oh, in front of a car, quite funny", Lakshmi laughed.
Lakshmi's laughter and comments about Madhavan's sideways tie, annoyed Vasanthi but without showing her annoyance, she said, “This is Madhavan, an engineer working in Indigo technologies in Santa Clara. He's a brilliant boy..did his MS in Arizona and just got the job. He wants to…wants to...." Vasanthi was trying hard to get a better word for bride viewing.
Meanwhile, Raman interrupted and said bluntly, “He wants to know whether he could come to meet us, I mean for bride seeing, This is the boy whose mother is a good friend of my sister, Sarojakka. The boy wants to find out our convenience for coming to see you. His father consulted a famous Astrologer in Madras, who says your horoscope matches very well with his, so they want to proceed. After a moment's silence, Raman continued,
“The boy seems to be a thorough gentleman. Read that letter. How humble and respectful, very well brought up..looks very good too. Your Amma too feels the same way. Difficult to find such good boys, nowadays. Can I ring him up and tell him to come this Sunday? Why delay unnecessarily? Is this Sunday okay for you"?
"Why not?,Vasanthi interjected. “ As though she has some other great engagement. Subhasya Seeghram.. All she has to do is to wear a silk sari and some jewelry. Even I would love to see Lakshmi like a proper Iyengar girl with sari and traditional jewelry , like the girls, back home. All our traditions are forgotten after coming to this country. What to do? Really Lakshmi, you don't know how lucky you are if this alliance clicks. A well brought up Iyengar boy, in a very good position and at the same time, with all his values intact. Luckily, he was in this country for only 2 years, that too as a struggling student, so no chance of his getting corrupted, like the Indian boys, born and brought up here. It's just Godsend. I was going through all matrimonial ads in India Today, not a single good proposal. Sarojakka is really good and who could be more interested in your life than her? She loves you like her own granddaughter. She says, she knows this boy's mother, who's a good singer, his father's a professor in the University. He must be very intelligent. He has no commitments, only one younger sister, who just finished her school. This is the result of our fervent prayers to Thiruppathi, I'm sure", Vasanthi sighed deeply,after the long lecture.
Lakshmi was too shocked to reply. She did not imagine Athai's search for a suitable boy in Madras would bring such quick results. Now the formal Bride-seeing. She hated the term- “Bride seeing”. She could not imagine waiting for a total stranger, that too uncomfortably decked up in Kancheepuram silk saree and gold jewelry. 'How could they be so crude? Why couldn't that guy come here on some pretext and see me discreetly. Bride seeing.. how odd it sounds' Lakshmi thought but did not say anything.
Raman, then, thrust Madhavan's letter to a disinterested Lakshmi. She glanced at it, gave it back to her Appa and was about to get up from her seat. Raman raised his voice and said, "What! Sit down..Lakshmi. I'm going to give the go ahead signal to Madhavan. Sunday suits all of us. Now, both mother and daughter can sit together, discuss the color of sari, type of jewelry you are going to wear for bride-seeing, the menu for the day etc.. That's your Department, Vasanthi. If you want to go to Indian Stores, for ready made Samosas or Vadais, I'm ready to chauffeur you, Okay?" Raman laughed loudly as though he cracked a great joke and walked towards the telephone to invite Madhavan on Sunday.
Lakshmi was under a shock. She wished Jyothi were around to share her thoughts, if she had known about it early, they could have discussed. Her parents did not like her friendship with a Christhuachhi and certainly would not approve of her discussing this with Jyothi on the phone. But Lakshmi recollected Jyoth's words, when she mentioned about Saroja athai trying to get a suitable groom for her, Jyothi said, "Don't worry Lakshmi, you can't rebel against your parents' old fashioned ideas. After all, they love you in their own way and their lives revolve around you. You can't possibly dash all their hopes to pieces. In a way, it's better to get married to some good guy and get out of your prison home. Look Lakshmi, it's impossible to find traditionally brought up boys in the US. If they recruit from India too, the guy should be employed here, right? Tell you what, these Indian boys, who come here, get more Americanized than the American Desis. So you stand a good chance of getting a devoted husband, who plays second fiddle to the charming Doctor wife. So cheer up"
Jyothi was practical and very much mature. After some discussions with Jyothi, Lakshmi too started believing that marriage provided the escape route for her. Now that she was going to start her Residency in Santa Clara, this marriage could be a timely boon for her. Still she wished she could see Jyothi in person to show Madhavan's picture and ask her opinion. But Lakshmi was so sad that of all the weekends, this weekend, Jyothi was flying to Las Vegas with her uncle and aunt who were visiting from Kerala.
Lakshmi looked at Madhavan's picture again and found that he was ‘Okay’ looking. She couldn't help laughing at his suit, sideways tie and his awkward pose, leaning on a new Toyota as if to say. "Hey, this car's mine".
Still the suddenness of a boy coming to see her, threw her off guard.
“So what? He looks okay, he's an MS and has a good job in Santa Clara, where I'm going to do my Residency. A chance to start off my Residency comfortably, without the initial teething trouble. The chances of my meeting Mr Right, actually Mr Iyengar Right is not a possibility. Maybe, this is Divine interference, as Amma used to say. Even if everything's okay, there would be an engagement, which gives me a chance to get to know him better. Anyway, why should I get worked up about Bride seeing? It's only fun" Lakshmi thought and slowly closed her eyes for a refreshing sleep after a tiring, though enjoyable evening......
# Silicon Castles -chapter 17 by Sreedevi Krishnan