Miscellanea | Indian Jokes
1. Vivek Aiyer's Arranged Marriage
Grandmother was pretending to be lost in prayer, but her prayer-beads were pulling at top speed. That meant she was either excited or upset.
Mother put the receiver down. "Some American girl in his office is coming to stay with us for a week." She sounded as if she had a deep foreboding.
Father had no such doubt. He knew the worst was to come. He had been matching horoscopes for a year, but my brother Vivek had found a million excuses for not being able to visit India, meet or call any of the short-listed Aiyer girls, or in any other way advance father's cause. Father always wore two parallel lines of sacred ash on his forehead. Now there were four, so deep were the furrows of worry on his forehead.
I sat in a corner, supposedly lost in a book, but furiously text-messaging my brother with a vivid description of the scene before me.
A few days later I stood outside the airport with father. He tried not to look directly at any American woman going past. I held up the card reading "Barbara".
Finally a large woman stepped out, waved wildly and shouted "Hi! Mr Aayyyer, how ARE you?"
Everyone turned and looked at us. Father shrank visibly before my eyes. Barbara took three long steps and held father in a tight embrace. Father's jiggling out of it was too funny to watch. I could hear him whispering "Shivva, Shivva, Narayana."
She shouted "You must be Vijaantee?" "Yes, Vyjayanthi", I said with a pleasant smile. I imagined little, half-Indian children to be born calling me "Vijaantee aunty." Suddenly, my colorless existence in Madurai had perked up. For at least the next one week, life promised to be quite exciting.
Soon we were having lunch together at home. Barbara had changed into an even shorter skirt. The low neckline of her blouse was just in line with shocked father's eyes. He was scowling at mother as if she was the cause of all problems in the family.
Barbara was asking, "You only have vegetarian food? Always??" as if the idea was shocking to her. "You know what really goes well with Indian food, especially chicken? Indian beer!" she said with a smile, seemingly oblivious of the apoplexy of the gentleman sitting in front of her or the choking sounds coming from mother. I muffled my giggles. Everyone tried to get the facts without asking the one question on all our minds: "What was the exact nature of the relationship between Vivek and Barbara?"
After lunch, she brought out a laptop computer. "I have some pictures of Vivek", she said. All of us crowded around her. The first picture was quite innocuous. Vivek was wearing shorts and standing alone on the beach. In the next photo, he had Barbara draped all over him. She was wearing a skimpy bikini and leaning across, with her hand lovingly circling his neck.
Father got up and flicked the thin towel off his shoulder. It was a gesture we in the family had learned to fear. He rushed to the door and went out.
Barbara said, "It must be hard for Mr Aayyezh. He must be missing his son."
We didn't have the heart to tell her that if the son had been within fathers reach, father would have wrung the neck she had lovingly circled with her hand in the photo.
My parents and grandmother apparently had reached an unspoken agreement. They would deal with Vivek later. Right now, Barbara was a foreigner, a lone woman, and needed to be treated as an honored guest. It must be said that Barbara didn't make that one bit easy. Soon mother wore a perpetual frown. Father looked as though he was destined to pay for his Karma.
Vivek had said he would be in a conference in Guatemala all week, and would be off both phone and email. But Barbara had long lovey-dovey conversations on phone with two other men, one man named Steve and another named Keith. We all strained our ears to hear every interesting word. "I miss you!" she said to both. She also kept talking to us about Vivek and about the places they'd visited together. She had pictures to prove it, too.
This was the best play I'd watched in a long time. It was even better than the day my cousin ran away with a Telugu Christian girl. My aunt had come howling through the door, and made it to the plush sofa before falling in a faint. Father said that if it had been his son, the door would have been forever shut in his face.
Aunt had promptly revived and said, "You'll know when it is your son!" How my aunt would rejoice if she knew of Barbara!
On day five of her visit, the family awoke to the awful sound of Barbara's retching. The bathroom door was shut, the water was running, but far louder was the sound of Barbara crying and throwing up at the same time. Mother and grandmother exchanged ominous glances. Barbara came out. Her face was red. "I don't know why", she said, "but I feel queasy in the mornings now."
If she had seen as many Indian movies as I'd seen, she'd know why. Mother was standing as if turned to stone. Was she supposed to react with compassion reserved for a pregnant woman? Or with the criticism reserved for a pregnant unmarried woman? Or with fear reserved for a pregnant, unmarried, foreign woman who could embroil one's son in a paternity suit? Mother, who navigated familiar flows of married life with the skill of a champion oarsman, now seemed completely taken off her moorings. She seemed to hope that if she didn't react, it might disappear like a bad dream.
I made a mental note to not leave home at all for the next week.
The day Barbara was to leave, we got a short email from Vivek. "Sorry, still stuck in Guatemala. Just wanted to mention, another friend of mine, Sameera Sheikh needs a place to stay. She'll fly in from Hyderaabaad tomorrow at 10am. Sorry for the trouble."
So there we were, father and I, waiting outside the airport with a board painted in thick felt pen: "Sameera".
At last, a pretty young woman in salwar-kameez saw the board, gave the smallest of smiles and walked quietly towards us. When she did "Namaste" to father, I saw his eyes mist up. She took my hand in the friendliest way and said "Hello, Vyjayanthi, I've heard so much about you." I fell in love with her.
In the car, father was unusually friendly with her. She and Vivek had been in the same group of friends in Ohio University. She now worked as a Child Psychologist. She didn't seem to be too bad at family psychology either. She took out a shawl for grandmother, a Saaree for mother and Hyderaabaadee bangles for me. "Just some small things for you. I have to meet a professor at Madurai University, and it's so nice of you to let me stay", she said. Everyone cheered up.
Even grandmother smiled.
At lunch Sameera said, "This is so nice. When I make Saambar, it comes out like Chhole, and my Chhole tastes just like Saambar!"
Mother was smiling. "Oh just watch for two days and you'll pick it up."
Grandmother had never allowed a Muslim to enter the kitchen. But mother seemed to have taken charge and decided she would bring in who ever she felt was worthy.
Sameera circumspectly stayed out of the Poojaa room. But on the third day, I was stunned to see father inviting her in and telling her which idols had come to him from his father. "God is one", he said to her. Sameera nodded sagely.
By the fifth day, I could see a common thought forming in the family's collective brain. If this fellow had to choose his own bride, why couldn't it be someone like Sameera?
On the sixth day, when Vivek called from the airport saying he had cut short his Guatemala trip and was on his way home, all had a million things to discuss with him.
Vivek arrived by taxi at a time when Sameera had gone to the University.
"She's my secretary", he said. "She works very hard and she'll do anything to help. He turned and winked at me.
By the time Sameera returned home that evening, it was almost as if her
joining the family was my grandmother and parents idea.
On the wedding day, a huge bouquet arrived at the Mandap. The tag said:
Created by Sushma Gupta On May 27, 2001
Modified on 09/24/13