Anything But

The smell of something salty hitting boiling oil fills the air. In a small kitchen stands a woman of middle age with the complete markings of an accomplished mother about her. She is entirely hug-able and seems to be taking an inordinate amount of pleasure in what surely is a hot and tedious task, frying pakoras in the month of July. With ease that can come only with practice, she lowers batter dipped balls of onion and potato into highly fatal oil.
Outside the kitchen beyond the photograph of Sai Baba, illuminated by a feeble 50W red bulb sits a man about 5 years her senior. He is dressed in an under-vest and a pajama. His abdomen makes him look very much like a round bottomed flask.  With one leg under his not inconsiderable expanse and the other dangling from the side of the sofa on which he sits. His twitching nose periodically marks the plunging of every pakora into the oil. This shifts his bifocals making it difficult to pretend reading yesterday’s newspaper. The couple is clearly waiting for someone.
A youngish man with a receding hairline, his father’s waist and mother’s cheekbones walks in.

Mum : “Where have you been? Sit, I’ll get you pakore, I didn’t let your father start without you.”
Dad : “Finally! Ajay, you have no consideration, starving your father like this.
Ajay : “Sorry Pa, I was with Irfan, his business is doing swell, who knew there’d be money in used tires?”
Mum : (From the Kitchen) “You also do some business, start something up. Why you have to live away from your parents I shall never…”
(She brings out the food and the two men bite in)
Dad : “Good for Irfan, but you do what you want beta.”(Ajay burns his lip on a hot pakora)
Ajay : “Uff!! Oh! Thanksh Dad. ( cools down) Glad you feel that way, I wanted to talk to you both.”
Dad : “You haven’t quit your job ?”
(The mother walks in with some more food)
Ajay :”Ma, sit. The three of us need to talk”
(A look of premonition dawns on the couple’s faces as they remember when this dialog used to be theirs. The son switches the stove off and returns)

Ajay : “Ma, this will make you happy or at least I think it will.”
Mum : “Finally! (She jumps up with joy heading towards her son who manages to get her seated again), Who is the girl? What does it matter, as long as you are happy! Have we met her? What’s her name?”
Ajay : “No you have’t met her. She works with me in my office. She heads or Graphics department. She is from Mumbai, an engineer from NIT Warangal and did her Masters from Pune.”
(The  mother’s delight is uncontrollable, the plight of the mum of a 30 year old Indian bachelor with little physical appeal is not one everyone can grasp. Nonetheless it is not inconsiderable) 
Dad : “Inter department romance! Who thought my nerdy son would capable of such adventure! So how long have you known her?”
Ajay : (Hint of a blush) ” Well for about 3 years now, we were just good friends, movie buddies for some time then we decided none of us were getting any younger.”
Mum : “Aha… so how old is she?”
Ajay : “She is old enough and not too old, 3 years my junior.”
Dad : “Things must be serious now that you choose to tell us, after 3 years. So does she have a name?”
Ajay : “Yes, surprisingly she does.. Zaheera Bandookhwala”
(The jovial atmosphere is suddenly punctured and ease and comfort seem to have moved out of the room with all the noise, the mother is no longer smiling and the father suddenly decides to study the anatomy of a pakora)

Mum : “So she is..”
Ajay : “Yep”
Dad : “And you want to marry her.”
Ajay : “That is the plan.”
Dad : “Pass the chutney dear.”
(The wife here is to deliver a glare which would make of the requester the very object { ground paste } which he so unwittingly chose to voice a desire for)
Mum : “We have always been…. modern, open, shared everything with you.”
Ajay : “Yes Ma.”
Dad : “Beta , I understand that sticking to our caste can be tough, I mean I don’t want a Srivastava daughter in law from this part of the country. You couldn’t converse with one let alone live. We have been prepared for a Gujarati girl, a Marathi or even with some resistance from your mum, a Punjabi one.”
Mum : “The one thing I asked you, anyone, anyone I can live with as my son’s wife. Anything but a foreigner or a Muslim.”
Ajay : “Ma what difference does it..?”
Mum : “It makes a bloody difference! You Idiot! Ever been married before? There needs to be equality in the households that marry, yes households. Individuals don’t get married in India, their families do! The upbringing is different, the culture, the values.”
Dad : “When hundreds of matches came for you and your mother insisted, I held back. Thinking you were wise my son, you would make the right choice. We have not objected to you eating meat, most brahmin kids do. You at least had the decency to let us know.  Your Atheism ‘phase’ is also something we bore with. But if you think that this can work out, you are mistaken.”
Ajay : “First of all mum, I have known the girl for some time now, she and I have more in common than the lipstick smothered hens we visited all over the state from our community.The right choice, you say dad. Perhaps this is the right choice for me. I mean meet the girl and then decide. I know you are not prejudiced.”
Dad : “Why thank you son for the compliment (Sarcasm be stressed here) But I know what works in our community and what doesn’t. This just won’t do. We may eat and work with our Mohammedan friends but we don’t marry each other, it doesn’t work out. They are more orthodox and we both take objection with each others religious views.”
Ajay : “So I can make life changing decisions like what to study, where to live and who to work with or for. But this, probably one of the most personal decisions of life, I cannot make.”
Mum : “We never stopped you, any Hindu girl you could have married. Despite everything else I know this town shall never be able to give you proper employment. I know you don’t come back. But we have to live here. You know how this community is like, a mixed marriage will leave us outcasts.”
Ajay : “Mother! (flaring up) Why would you choose such a narrow minded community over your son’s happiness? I can’t believe that you would quote society as a reason, if you aren’t comfortable say so. Don’t blame it on your neighbors and friends.”
Dad : “Son, I am sure the girl is very nice, I have faith in your choice. But its time you accepted that the world judges people by not who they are but what they are. A new entrant in a hostile society has an uphill battle. You may have romanticized notions of this opposition to your union strengthening your love. But let me tell you that in this day and age with your age, biological clocks ticking away, financial and social pressures abundant and a truly horrid lifestyle, the introduction of a new element of struggle will not help you. It will test your patience and that of your wife. You have delayed the inevitable for so long and we stayed quiet. Now we can’t risk you entering a union which shall clearly be so difficult.”
Ajay : “Pa,the reason I didn’t tell you for so long was that I wasn’t sure. I make tens of decisions everyday involving more money than any of us will earn in a lifetime. I make tough decisions for a living and I couldn’t make this one till now. I have considered very thoroughly what this marriage will mean to me, her and you. This aversion is just a product of the current zeitgeist. Tomorrow this might be acceptable as inter-caste is becoming now. Then the contention shall be something else. Why can’t this educated family stay ahead of the times? I most definitely am not, but imagine such a scene with a same sex relationship?”
(The mother begins to gawk and splutter when the father calms her down)
Dad : “Don’t worry dear, we both have seen the magazines in his room, he is not gay. By the way magazines in this day and age?”
Ajay : “(smiling) It gave Ma something to find and it was much safer than my browser history.”
(The tension dissipates slightly)

Dad : “So what do her parents do?”
Ajay : “Dad’s a doctor and mother’s a journalist.”
Mum : “do they know? About you?”
Ajay : “She’ll be telling them, based on what you guys have to say. Please Ma, its not just that I love her but we are great friends. Today you will not find a girl with her morals of her age. I have seen what my friends have ended up with in arranged marriages, they work sometimes but an effort is always involved. I have invested the effort here, we have. Please agree to meet her at least, or a Video Chat?”
Dad : “Ok, I am not promising anything but I for one would like to speak to her and then tell you what I think. ( Wife looks at him). There is no point in not considering this is there? If we end up agreeing, this episode would always leave a bad taste in each of our mouths. Plus the meeting makes us look reasonable enough to meet our son’s expectations. We don’t have live with the woman, he does. If he is about to make a mistake, let it be his own.”
(The mother huffs and walks out of the room)
The last kid in the family you are, the most sensible one and you had to go and pull a stunt like this. Can’t a retired man reserve the right of not having his life turned into a Soap Opera? Anything but she said… You’d call it love, I son call it selective, cruel and highly discomforting probability.”
Ajay : “That’s just cruel dad.”
Dad : “Oh you just wait till your mother begins to speak again, she’ll redefine the word.Now where is that chutney?”

This article was written for the Indiblogger #Indispire topic of Inter-religion marriages in India.
For those craving a Pakoda
For those craving for a Pakoda
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