In his spare time, Deepak helped out at the local Communist Party office, addressed envelopes, put up the party candidates’ placards, and ran errands.
Bhaskar said, “Ideology is good when one is young and ignorant. When you get older you will realize that Communism won’t feed you.”
Deepak smiled. “Yes, Dad, I know. But we are helping the people. The Comrade tries to get money from the government to clean up the slums, find jobs for the poor.”
Bhaskar wrinkled his nose. “This fellow, the Comrade as you all call him, is a con artist. I’ve known him since our high school days. He doesn’t even have a college degree. It is said that politics is the last resort of a scoundrel . . . hmmm . . . this is so true in his case.”
The Comrade was the lone Communist Party member of the state legislature. He controlled the trade unions and could call a strike at short notice, paralyzing life all across Bangalore. The owners of factories and businesses paid the Comrade to keep his flock quiescent, and not make any waves. During the course of many years the Comrade became quite rich, invested in real estate, purchased gold, diamonds, and pearls for his wife and daughters. But he still wore his customary rumpled shirts and pants with flip-flops and rode his bicycle around the neighborhood. The image he assiduously cultivated was that of a simple, struggling representative of the common man. His ardent admirers fell for it and voted him into office term after term.
In the evening, after eating a crisp dosa at Janata restaurant, Deepak ambled into the party office at the corner of Tenth Cross Road and Margosa. The Comrade was speaking. “We need to end this feudal system wherein a single zamindar owns thousands of acres of fertile land, keeps the bulk of the produce, pays a pittance to farm labor. We need to end this exploitation.”
All the other comrades agreed, saying, “Hear, hear.” The Comrade beamed at his flock, lit a cigarette, and took a big drag.
He noticed Deepak. “Young man, I hear you are going abroad for higher studies.”
“Yes, Comrade. I am applying to many schools.”
The Comrade smiled, his tobacco-stained yellowish teeth on display. “Now, we won’t see the great engineer anymore. He will be busy hobnobbing with the imperialists, ha, ha, ha.”
All the other comrades joined in poking fun at Deepak.
Bhaskar inquired, “How are studies? Are you getting good marks?”
Deepak looked away. “Not bad, not bad.”
Bhaskar removed his glasses and cleaned them with his handkerchief. “You need to work harder. Unless you get good marks you have no hope, you know that, don’t you? And another thing, you shouldn’t spend so much time at the party office.”
Deepak laughed. “No, no, no. I just go there once in a while to say hello to my friends. Not every day.”
“Did you get any response from all those foreign universities?”
“It’s too early, it may take a few more months. There is no hurry. I got to get my degree first, you know.” He flashed a toothy smile.
When Deepak got a letter of acceptance from a university in Moscow, he was happy.
Bhaskar shook his head. “Why Moscow, of all the places?”
“Well, the professor there is well-known, and when I return, I will get a good job.”
Bhaskar looked confused, examined the dregs in his cup as if they provided answers. And then Deepak had to deal with the pitying glances of his mother, Sita, and his younger sister, Rupa. On the top of it most of his friends thought Deepak was crazy, going to Moscow when he might have settled for Melbourne or Manchester or Miami. Everybody gave him the cold shoulder.
Only the Comrade was deliriously happy. The Comrade, a bindi on his forehead, holding a basket of flowers and fruit, caught hold of Deepak at the crowded Sampige road.
“Congratulations! It’s always been my dream to visit that great country of Lenin, Stalin, and Khrushchev. Now, you must promise to write, tell me all about the Red Square, the Kremlin, and, and . . .” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “And when you come home for holidays, bring me a good bottle of vodka.” He smacked his lips. “Ok, good luck, my boy!” He patted Deepak, and entered the Ganesha temple, probably to pray for the success of his next assault on the capitalist shrines.
At the sight of the God-fearing Comrade, Lenin would surely have turned in his grave.
Rupa saw him returning from the market, and ran up to him. “You got a letter from America. We are all waiting for you.”
Deepak saw the anxious faces of his father, mother, and neighbors. A sealed envelope was on the coffee table, with dabs of vermilion and turmeric on it.
Sita said, “Deepak, I hope you don’t mind, I did a small puja, placed the envelope near Lord Ganesha.”
Bhaskar said, “I hope it’s good news. Maybe you got an offer from America, let’s hope you don’t have to go to Moscow.” He looked very worried, his hands folded, and gazed up as if seeking divine intervention.
The neighbors nodded their heads in unison, and Rupa tugged at his shirt sleeve, pointing at the envelope.
Sita said, “Before opening the envelope you should pray, let’s go to the puja room, come on.” She held his hand and led the way, and everybody got up and followed them. His mother thrust Deepak to the forefront, told him to prostrate before the idols of Ganesha, Shiva, Parvathi, and Saraswathi. People moved back to give him room, and when he got up, his mother dabbed vermilion and turmeric on his forehead.
Back in the living room, with trembling hands Sita placed the envelope and a letter opener in her son’s hands. Now came the moment of truth.
Deepak tore open the envelope. “These are my visa papers, I need to go to Madras to get my visa.”
Bhaskar said, “But this is from America! How can your visa to Moscow come from America? Shouldn’t it come from Russia?”
Deepak laughed. “Yes, I am going to Moscow, but this Moscow is in America, not Russia. Just because I hobnobbed with the communists, you all assumed that I am going to Russia. Nobody asked me where this Moscow is located.” He grabbed an atlas from the bookshelf and pointed to the location.
Bhaskar studied the map. “Oh! This place is in a state called Idaho. Good, good. Deepak, you had us all worried for these past few weeks.”
Sita said, “God is great! I knew all along he wouldn’t let my son go to that godless country with all those criminals and communists.”
Mangala, the matriarch, said, “Before Deepak goes to America, he should be married.”
Sita said, “But Mom! He’s just twenty-two, too young, don’t you think?”
Mangala said, “You know what happened to our neighbor’s son. He was snatched by a beef-eating Christian girl. They were so heartbroken, their only son . . .” She shook her head.
Bhaskar said, “Yes, yes, Mama, you are so right. With a wife, he won’t get into any bad habits.”
So the search began for a suitable girl. Thanks to the booming information technology sector, and many multinational corporations in the Bangalore area, the educated girls found employment and became economically independent, and unlike their mothers and grandmothers didn’t need to depend on their husbands. And these successful girls demanded well-educated, debonair and dashing men. Notwithstanding Deepak’s engineering degree from an elite school and his excellent earning potential, the girls were turned off by his short stature and nerdy looks.
The matriarch wrung her hands. “These modern girls! They all have these ideas, want this, want that! When I got married, my parents found a good man with a government job, that’s it. I didn’t question their decision. But nowadays!” She slurped her tea noisily. “That last family we visited, the father was so keen on Deepak. But then they sent word the next day that the girl wasn’t willing. Forget these Bangalore girls, Sita, let’s call your uncle in Mysore. I am sure he will find a nice traditional Brahmin girl.”
Finally, Deepak was married to the beady-eyed Usha.
Tickets were purchased to Spokane via New York City. The travel agent, a middle-aged lady in a bright yellow sari, said, “If you go by Air India I can give you a good discount. You’ll get tasty Indian food. But if you prefer a foreign airline, it’ll cost you more and the food is bland and tasteless.”
Bhaskar was concerned that his son and daughter-in-law might starve all the way to America if they went by a foreign carrier and agreed to Air India, and this turned out to be a nightmare. The Air India flight was supposed to leave from Bangalore to New York via London. But the airplane flew to Delhi to pick up passengers. From Delhi it went to Dubai and then to London, sort of scenic route to Heathrow Airport. What with all the layovers, landings, and takeoffs, a journey that should have been completed in about eight hours took almost thirty hours, and Spokane was still another sixteen hours away.
In spite of the interminable delays, there was adequate food and drink on the plane. Whereas Deepak guzzled beer and ate spicy chicken curry, rice, and vegetables, Usha drank water or orange juice and sat glumly in her window seat. She refused to eat. When Deepak asked why she wouldn’t eat, she said, “No telling who cooked the food. I don’t like to eat food cooked by non-Brahmins.”
Deepak said, “Who cares, the food is hygienic. That’s all that matters.”
She glared at him. “How can you eat all that meat? I thought you are from a traditional Brahmin family.”
When the lights dimmed and the passengers were dozing, Deepak, under the cover of a blanket tried to fondle Usha, and she rebuffed him. “Keep your hands to yourself. This is a public area.”
“But, Usha, nobody knows. C’mon, gimme a kiss.” And he put his hand on her crotch, hoping to arouse her.
She hissed. “Don’t touch me there! Never do it!”
Traveling for almost two days, Deepak and Usha arrived in Spokane in the evening, tired, sleepy and grumpy. They missed the last bus to Moscow, and had to sleep in a motel. They had dinner at a nearby diner. Deepak savored his chicken stir-fry and guzzled a few beers. Usha yearned for spicy mango pickle, white rice, and yogurt. But she had to settle for a banana and yogurt.
Next morning they got on a bus to Moscow. The bus journey was the best part of the entire trip. The bus stopped at small towns, like Rosalia, Colfax, and Pullman, to drop off and pick up passengers. The scenery was breathtaking, with rolling hills covered by luxuriant green grass. There were bunch grasses and different kinds of wild flowers. Some flowers resembled sunflowers, big and yellow, and others were orange, purple, red, and white.
They settled into a one-bedroom apartment and began their life in America. Their first experience of snow came soon enough, in early October. The snow fell like cotton balls, white and fluffy. Fresh snow was clean and beautiful to look at. But after a while, the vehicles made it slushy and muddy. That first year, whenever it snowed, Deepak bundled up and went out to enjoy the crisp weather. Usha refused to set foot out of the apartment, bumped up the thermostat, wore several layers and sat by the window.
Although they consummated their marriage in India, their sporadic couplings weren’t satisfactory as they were tired and busy with the ceremonies and traveling between Mysore and Bangalore. Now, in the privacy of their own place, Deepak hoped to make leisurely love, and learn his bride’s erogenous zones and preferences. But he was dismayed at Usha’s behavior during their all-too-brief close encounters. First, the bedroom should be completely dark. Next, he should be in bed and under the covers. Then Usha, in a nightgown—which covered her entire body—and her feet in woolen socks (she had cold feet), joined him. And then there were rules which had to be strictly adhered to. Never try to remove her nightgown. Never try to kiss her deeply. A dry kiss on her chapped lips was permissible, but no tonguing and the rest of it. No wet kisses, period. No exotic positions, just stick to the good old missionary position. There were so many other rules that Deepak lost count. Making love to Usha was not spontaneous; it was scripted and stunted. Once he was spent, she pushed him away.
One weekend while he was arranging his books, he found a copy of Kama Sutra, admired world over by connoisseurs of copulation. It was a wedding gift from a friend. He was amazed at the artistry, the colorful drawings of intertwined couples in unimaginable and intricate positions, enjoying sex as it was supposed to be. There were big men and small women, small men and big women, some well-endowed and some puny, some fair and some dark. In order to enjoy great sex one needn’t be Aphrodite or Adonis. Deepak was thrilled to learn that even he, a short, puny guy, could enter this romantic domain. He studied every page thoroughly, memorized each and every position, and learned the precise path to the pinnacle of pleasure. He was especially intrigued by one position wherein a naked man laid on a bed, ready for action, while a nude nymph was suspended in midair with the help of ropes and pulleys, about to take the plunge. Deepak’s engineering brain rapidly calculated the various parameters—Usha’s weight, the height of the ceiling, the kind of pulleys he would need and the tensile strength of the ropes necessary to not only hold her in place but also to gently lower her into his waiting lap. Oh! What ingenuity, he marveled. Those ancient dudes surely knew their way around the tricky parts. Sex was fun, not a chore. Sex was thrilling, not tedious. Sex was inspiring, not prosaic.
Now, all he had to do was to teach Usha all about the right way of making love. So, one evening after dinner, he gave the book to Usha, hoping to inspire her. To his surprise and consternation, she flew into a wild rage, “For God’s sake! What do you take me for, a whore? These are obscene pictures. Throw this book into the garbage bin. My God! What filth you read!” She ran into the bedroom and slammed the door shut.
In spite of her prudish peeves, Usha got pregnant and duly delivered a puny boy, who inherited his mother’s bushy eyebrows and beady eyes. When she realized that the baby needed a name in a hurry, Usha called her mother, Kalyani.
Kalyani yelled at the top of her voice. “I can’t hear you properly, hello, hello, are you there, Usha?” She modulated her voice depending upon the distance, normal volume with folks in town, a few decibels higher to her son at Delhi, and a crescendo to America, across so many continents.
Kalyani asked, “What’s the hurry, Usha? Usually we have a naming ceremony a few weeks after the baby is born.”
“I know, I know. In America a baby has to have a name right away to get a social security number. I need a name now. Talk to our priest.”
The baby got a name: Vasudev.
Deepak was considering names such as Rakesh, Rajesh, and Satish, which he thought were modern and mainstream. For him, a name which ended with sh conveyed a sense of distinction and accomplishment. Rakesh Sharma, a distinguished scientist and an advisor to the defense minister of India. Satish Dhawan, a renowned aeronautical engineer and the driving force of the Indian space program. And, of course Rajesh Khanna, the much adored Bollywood heart-throb. Apart from those national icons, Deepak admired his uncle, Ramesh, a phenomenally successful businessman. Deepak thought his brother-in-law, Usha’s brother Santosh, was an anomaly; his lack of even a minor accomplishment didn’t do such an illustrious name justice.
Deepak said, “What kind of a name is this Vasudev? So old-fashioned.”
“Deepak! Shhhh . . . Don’t talk like that. Vasudev is another name for Lord Vishnu, our family deity. Our family purohit consulted the scriptures, it’s a very auspicious name.”
“Whatever, I guess we’ll call him Vasu.”
Once mother and son were discharged from the hospital, Usha pored over a Hindu calendar, based on lunar cycles, to fix an auspicious day to conduct the naming ceremony for Vasu. Since a Hindu priest was not available to officiate the ceremony, step-by-step instructions were e- mailed from Mysore. The next important event was annaprasana—a ritual to feed solid food to Vasu. This was followed by Saraswati puja, another ceremony to make sure that Vasu would be well educated. Each event was conducted in a meticulous fashion and Deepak was obliged to wear his ceremonial dhoti and sacred thread. Most of the time the thread was stored away along with all the puja material.
Deepak said, “Why do you have to do this in the middle of a working day? I missed my lab meeting for this affair. I had to give some lame excuse for my absence. Why can’t you do this on a Saturday or a Sunday?”
Usha replied, “I told you a thousand times, auspicious days and times don’t always come during the weekend.”
Deepak was lucky in the choice of his research advisor as well as his research project on avionics. Initially he registered for a master’s program. But after a couple of years, impressed with his progress, his advisor suggested, “You have added a new dimension to this area, seminal contributions. Work for another two or three years, publish a few more papers, you will get a Ph.D.”
During those five years, Deepak practically lived on campus, went home only to eat and sleep. The hard work paid off, and Deepak got a good job in Seattle.
Usha enrolled in a nursing course. Due to a shortage of nurses, hospitals paid tuition fees for candidates who were willing to become nurses. In return, the students were required to work for the hospital for at least two years.
From the very beginning, Vasu was a difficult child. He refused to drink milk, refused to eat cereal, and even refused to eat candy. Consequently, he had to be force-fed. The feeding ritual was a torture to watch. Usha mixed rice and vegetable or dal, and then made pellets the size of small marbles and shoved them into Vasu’s mouth. But Vasu refused to cooperate, refused to chew and swallow. In utter exasperation, Usha would yell, “Eat, chew and swallow, Vasu, chew and swallow your food.” At the end of an excruciating hour, he’d eaten a minuscule amount.
When Deepak took Vasu for swimming lessons, it was an utter failure. Vasu didn’t want to get into the shallow end, only two feet deep. He shivered and cried, “I don’t like it, it’s too cold.” The swimming instructor’s efforts to cajole Vasu into the pool were futile. Exasperated, she asked Deepak, “Why don’t you get into the pool? It might give him some confidence.”
Deepak replied, “But I can’t swim.”
“You don’t have to swim, just stand here.”
Even when his father entered the pool, Vasu resisted the instructor’s attempts. Then she gave up her patient approach and simply dragged Vasu into the water and held him there. He bawled and wailed, “I don’t like it, I want to get out.”
Deepak said, “Vasu, you have to learn swimming. All your friends know to swim.”
When Vasu went on crying nonstop, the instructor was frazzled. “Let’s try again tomorrow.”
When they went home, Vasu complained to his mom, “I don’t want to swim; I’m scared of water. The teacher is very mean. She forced me underwater. I drank water!”
Usha was upset. “Deepak! Why are you forcing Vasu to take swimming lessons? You don’t know how to swim.”
“Yes, yes. But, I don’t want Vasu to grow up like me, always focusing on studies.”
Deepak thought that, compared to the mushy rice, an omelet might appeal to Vasu.
Usha said, “We are Brahmins, it’s against our traditions to eat nonvegetarian.”
“My grandma gave eggs to my mom when she was little. And you know how orthodox my grandma is. If he doesn’t eat protein, how can Vasu grow and become robust? He is so puny.”
Usha was sarcastic. “As though you are tall and strong. He got your genes. Like father like son. I’m sure your mom fed you eggs and all. It didn’t do any good, did it?”
But Deepak didn’t let Usha win the argument. He made an omelet for Vasu every day. In the beginning, the boy was reluctant, as his mother gave him a look expressing her displeasure. But, Deepak convinced Vasu that eating an omelet was cool.
The highlight of Vasu’s week was a toy with a Happy Meal at McDonald’s. He developed a taste for chicken nuggets. While father and son enjoyed their food, Usha would sit sullenly without eating or drinking, giving her displeased look to Vasu.
Deepak ignored her for many days, but one day he said, “Why the fuck do you come with us? You suck the joy out of everything. How do you think we feel when you look at us as though we are committing the crime of the fucking century?”
When Usha started to cry, Vasu was upset and started to cry. Deepak got more angry, packed up the remaining nuggets, and drove home. When Deepak was about to keep the food in the refrigerator, Usha blocked him. “I kept quiet when you started making omelets. Now you are polluting my kitchen with this meat. Where will it end? Today, it’s omelets and chicken and tomorrow, pork and beef?” She put her hands together and looked up. “Oh dear God, please forgive our sins.”
Looking at his healthy bank balance, Deepak thought that it was time to purchase a house. One of his colleagues recommended Carol, an experienced realtor. Deepak sent Carol a detailed e-mail about the kind of house he desired—a four-bedroom contemporary house with a big living room, lots of skylights, and a fenced-in backyard.
Carol picked them up.
Deepak asked, “So, do you have many houses lined up?”
“Yeah, yeah. First, we’ll drive by a few houses. If you like them from the outside, I’ll make an appointment.”
Deepak was disappointed. He thought that after reading his long e-mail, Carol might line up some houses which met his requirements so they could go inside and examine each house in detail. His first instinct was to fire the incompetent realtor. But on second thought, he felt it might be a wrong move. Many executives at his company used her services, and she might spread word that he was impatient and temperamental. So, he took a deep breath and went along with the crazy plan, which wasted precious time. Another thing that drove him to distraction was her use of a cell phone while driving her big SUV. She made wide turns and a couple of times almost hit the median, and drove in a zigzag manner, reminding him of his driving on snow-covered roads in Idaho.
Deepak reached for his wife. “C’mon, Vasu is at a sleepover, let’s have a quickie.”
Usha frowned. “It’s broad daylight! Time for breakfast.” She jumped out of bed, put the kettle on, popped a CD into the stereo, and her body swayed to the rhythmic chants of Gayatri japam:“Om bhur bhuva swaha.”
Deepak, in a sullen mood, went to the balcony with his tea, snapped his headset on, and listened to Rihanna’s “Rude Boy”: “Come here rude boy, boy / Can you get it up?”
Leaving the empty cup on the windowsill, Deepak stepped out for his morning jog around the neighborhood. The mild spring morning was sunny; the bright yellow daffodils, in full bloom just few days ago, were now fading and drooping, their brief time up.
Back home, dripping with sweat, he cooled off in his customary chair on the balcony. Usha brought him a glass of orange juice.
“I spoke to my mother. Our family purohit said we should buy a house that faces east; it’s auspicious, keeps off negative energy.”
Usha said, “Deepak! Are you listening to me? I don’t know what you do with that iPad all the time.”
Deepak looked up. “I’m reading Bollywood news.”
“Yeah, yeah, more like ogling those half-naked women . . . hmm . . .”
He smiled. “Actually, Katrina Kaif looks smashing in a bikini. Look.” He gave her the iPad.
“Deepak! I don’t have time for this frivolous stuff. You need to grow up. First thing in the morning you indulge in these, these . . . you should join in my morning puja . . . instead . . . hmm . . . anyway, we need to call the realtor, update her.”
Deepak sighed deeply. “Okay, okay.”
Thanks to Usha’s directional desire, the number of suitable houses dwindled drastically. The American builders were not up to snuff with vastu shastra, the ancient Hindu treatise on architecture.
Before entering each and every house, Usha checked the compass on her iPhone to make sure of the cardinal direction. Carol joked, “Looks like you don’t trust me?”
In an immaculate house they saw an eye-popping nude painting, reminiscent of the pregnant Demi Moore.
Carol said, “She’s the lady of the house. I know her; I sold this house to the family few years back. Now they are moving to the East Coast.”
Among the many other nude paintings of the lady, one resembled Goya’s nude Maja, with her hands behind her head.
After they got into her vehicle, Carol couldn’t control herself and laughed loudly. “Deepak, how do you like the Demi Moore house?”
“It’s great, well-lit rooms, but I’m not sure the house comes with her.” He sighed dramatically.
Usha remained glum until they were dropped off. “How disgusting! Posing nude, and you, ogling like a teenager.”
Deepak laughed. “That’s a well-maintained house, very suitable. They are motivated to sell. We’ll get a good deal.”
“I’ll not live in that house, all those obscene paintings, bad aura.”
Deepak wanted to move into their new house immediately after the closing. But the remote control in faraway Mysore had other plans.
Usha said, “On May 26 we should go to the house at 1 a.m., boil milk, do a puja. It’s an auspicious time set by the purohit, it’s based on our horoscopes.”
Deepak groaned. “Get up in the middle of night . . . hmmm . . . what’s with milk and all?”
Usha rolled her eyes. “What? You don’t know that boiling milk at a new house will bring good luck? It’s part of the housewarming ceremony, I’m surprised.” She frowned. “And then, the same day we’ll have a grand puja, invite our friends.”
Deepak said, “For God’s sake! It’s an empty house, where will people sit, on the floor?”
Usha smiled. “You don’t have to be so sarcastic. Everything is planned. The purohit from the Hindu temple will be there to sprinkle holy water around the house, chant slokas to purify the house. He will also conduct the grand puja in the presence of our friends. Tables and chairs will be delivered. Food will come from Udipi restaurant.”
Deepak said, “Okay, okay, let’s move in the day after the puja. Let me call the movers.”
Usha screwed up her face. “No, no, no, not so fast. From May 27 to June 15 there’s not a single auspicious day; you know Jupiter and Saturn are not properly aligned. So, our purohit suggested that we move in on June 16, a really auspicious day, all the planets in proper conjunction.”
“Great! You want us to pay rent here and also the mortgage, it’s a bloody waste of money.”
“Shhh . . . please don’t yell, we should follow the scriptures, or else bad luck will fall upon us.”
Usha wore a brand-new silk sari, sent by her mother. The purohit and Deepak wore white dhotis, and sacred thread across their bare chests. With a small fire in a cauldron in the middle of the empty living room, the purohit’s chanted slokas and the aroma of incense and camphor permeated the air.
The serene setting was rudely disturbed by a big thud, thud, thud, and then the front door burst open. Four cops, with their weapons drawn, rushed inside.
A cop yelled, “Put your hands up!”
The purohit, shocked at this unseemly intrusion, yelled back, “Officer, we are in the middle of a ceremony, please leave.”
Deepak said, “How dare you break my door!”
The lead cop smirked. “Your door! People in the neighborhood complained about intruders. And this fire here is a hazard. If this gets out of control the whole neighborhood could be engulfed in fire, it’s been so dry these past few months.”
Deepak shouted angrily, “Now you all get out of my house. We can do what we want in our own house.”
The cop was annoyed. “You need to prove that this is your house. You have disturbed the peace, doing all this voodoo.” He pointed at the fire, and motioned to his colleagues. Deepak and the purohit were handcuffed.
Usha was distraught. “Officer, this is a big mistake. This is our house, and this, this is a holy ceremony, please leave us alone.” She was in tears, and Vasu, already restless and sleepy, started to cry loudly.
The cop said, “Now, ma’am, you are making me nervous. I suggest you take the kid and leave.”
Deepak yelled just before the cops pushed him into the police vehicle. “Usha, don’t worry, call Carol, okay? We will sort this out.”
Usha looked relieved. “Thank God I could get hold of Carol, she was really helpful, talked some sense into those dimwitted cops. Saying that our puja is voodoo, so rude.”
At the end of a long day, they were back in their apartment. Deepak poured himself a generous amount of whiskey. The grand puja, followed by a sumptuous lunch, was a great success.
Deepak took a big sip. “Yeah, it could have been worse. Those ignorant cops and the bloody neighbors. I just can’t believe it, calling the cops.”
On June 16, at an auspicious time—this time luckily it was in the daytime—they moved in. Usha brought sleeping bags and other essential items. This time she did a small puja all by herself, with an idol of Lord Ganesha on the kitchen counter. Then she unpacked a couple of pots and pans, and started to cook.
Deepak said, “Let’s get a pizza, why cook now?”
“No, no, no. We have to cook, that’s the rule, and then we should sleep here tonight.”
Deepak said, “You know, honey, you gotta put a lid on this. I mean your purohit got us into trouble with the cops and all. Maybe it’s time to, you know, tone it down a bit.”
Usha said tearfully, “Deepak, whatever I do, it’s for the good of our family. If we want to be healthy and prosperous, we need to follow the scriptures. If the gods are happy, we’ll be happy too.”
Usha said, “We need to place the headboard toward east. Our heads should face east. Otherwise . . .” She was visibly perturbed.
Deepak was mad. “Bullshit! You want to place the headboard right in front of the door?” He measured the room. “It’s not safe, we’ll run into it all the time.”
Usha said, “But my feet will be in your face, that’s not, that’s not . . .”
Deepak was livid. “I had enough of this religious mumbo jumbo. It’s very aggravating. I almost landed in jail, thanks to your crazy ideas. From now on I forbid you to talk to your folks about every little thing. I don’t want them to run our life. Puja for this, puja for that, auspicious time, my foot!”
He went into his den and banged the door shut.
Usha was at her wit’s end. She looked at the time. It was six in the morning in Mysore. She called her mother.
When Usha told her about Deepak’s recalcitrance, her mother said, “Oh! I see . . . ummm . . . I think Deepak is going through one of those Saturn phases. That’s why he got arrested . . . hmm . . . now I see, yes, it’s definitely the Saturn. Let me speak to our purohit. I’m sure he’ll suggest a remedy, maybe a special puja to get rid of this Saturn. Don’t worry, baby. We will do the puja here. And then Deepak will come around.”
Deepak was bothered by Usha’s silent treatment and began to think of a way out of the impasse. He said, “Usha, how about we place our bed in the downstairs bedroom? I measured the room, the headboard will be against the window which faces east. What do you think?”
With a big smile on her face, she said, “I knew you would find a solution, I knew it!”
Usha silently thanked her mother, the family purohit, and of course the gods up above for fixing the problem.
There was a bigger problem no amount of prayers could fix.
The moment he got out of bed Vasu started to watch cartoons. When Usha asked him whether he brushed, he didn’t care to reply, his zombie-like gaze fixed on the TV. Then Usha had to scream, “Vasu, I am talking to you. Did you brush your teeth? You need to eat your cereal, get ready for school.” He didn’t care for breakfast, never drank a full glass of milk. Usha had to beg him and entice him with all kinds of bribes to make him eat a spoonful of cereal. Many times he brought back the food that she packed for him to eat at school. Even when he came home from school he had no interest in eating. It was a constant losing battle to make him to eat.
Usha didn’t like Halloween and the weird costumes. She turned off the living room lights and watched TV in the bedroom. Deepak wanted Vasu to wear a Halloween costume and have fun. But Usha was against it.
One Halloween evening a friend brought his daughter to play with Vasu. They were dressed in black robes and wore masks with fangs, blood flowing down their cheeks. The little girl asked for Vasu, and Usha said that Vasu wasn’t feeling well. After they left Deepak screamed, “What the fuck’s wrong with you? Vasu and that girl play together all the time. How can a silly mask scare him?”
“No, no, no. Vasu shouldn’t be exposed to such devilish costumes.”
Deepak said, “Vasu has a psychological problem.”
Usha looked up from her magazine. “He’s okay, sometimes gets moody.”
Deepak took a big sip of whiskey. “You still have to force-feed Vasu. Look at kids in his age group, they all eat well, more robust, more tall. Even some of the three-year-olds are so independent and nobody has to feed them. You know how well Mohan, our neighbor’s kid, eats? When you gave him a small piece of apple cake, he liked it and asked for more, and then ate a whole big piece. That’s how a kid should be. Oh, that kid is hilarious. For a three-year-old, he is so smart. He was looking at that painting in our living room, the one we got from San Francisco. He started saying ‘moon,’ ‘moon,’ pointing at the picture. I was really surprised that this little fellow knew so much. And a few minutes later, he said ‘weeds,’ pointing to the picture again. I thought that he was calling those trees in the picture ‘weeds.’ I was surprised he knew the word weeds. I asked his dad what the boy meant by ‘weeds.’ He started laughing, ‘Oh my God, he is mixing up Tamil and English. In Tamil ‘weed’ means house, and because there are many houses in that picture, he made it weeds.’”
Usha scowled. “Don’t compare Vasu to other kids. He is special, and very sensitive.”
But Deepak was undeterred. After gulping more whiskey, he continued, “To me it looks like Vasu is starving. The other day, I asked him why he doesn’t want to eat, and I was shocked when he said that he doesn’t want to lose the hunger. He is definitely loopy. I’m worried.”
By this time, Usha got very irate and yelled. “Instead of being so critical of your own son, do something about it. Spend some time, teach him stuff. As soon as you come home, you turn on the TV and talk to your mom for a long time. I struggle to cook, and feed Vasu. It’s like I am a single parent.” She stormed out of the room.
Deepak was at a loss as to how to handle his stubborn and superstitious wife. He felt that it was a mistake on the part of his parents to rush him into an early marriage. Ideally, he would have preferred to complete his graduate studies, get a job, and then get married. When he was in Moscow, most of his colleagues were single and happy, drank beer and danced at Hoseapples. And a few of guys got lucky and spent the night with the girls. If only he was single, he would have gone to Hoseapples every evening to drink beer, play pool, and dance, and who knew what might have transpired after a dance or two, after a drink or two? Feeling sorry for himself, he poured himself another shot.
Another pregnancy, and another puny little boy; he was named Namdev.
Deepak asked, “What kind of name is that? It’s dumb.”
“Deepak! Don’t make the gods angry! Namdev is a very auspicious name. It’s another name for Lord Vishnu.”
Kalyani came from India to help her daughter with the newborn. Kalyani never stepped into the kitchen unless she had a shower. First a shower, followed by puja, and only then she considered herself sanctified to make coffee and breakfast. She didn’t approve of Deepak’s habit of eating breakfast before a shower.
Before her mother’s arrival, Usha said, “Vasu, don’t tell Grandma you eat eggs and chicken. That’s our secret. When she is here, don’t ask Daddy to take you to McDonald’s.”
Deepak was annoyed that Vasu was made to feel like he was doing something wrong. But he was helpless as he didn’t want an open fight, and eagerly waited for Kalyani to return to India, even before she set foot in his house.
As Kalyani frowned upon alcoholic beverages, Deepak had to stop keeping beer in the refrigerator and went to the neighborhood bar when he felt like a cold one. But he hid a bottle of single malt in his den.
Usha said, “My mom has been helping us for six months. She has to go back to Mysore. They are looking for a girl for my older brother—she needs to help choose a bride.”
“As long as I have known you, they have been looking for a girl for your brother. What’s the matter with him?”
“These things take time. My parents want a traditional girl. The modern girls are too fast, wear tight jeans and T-shirts . . . hmmm . . . everything on display, no modesty, don’t care for religion and pujas. My brother is very religious.”
“So, your mom will be leaving soon, huh?” He couldn’t hide his joy.
“I know you are eager to see her go so you can guzzle beer and whiskey and pollute the kitchen with eggs and meat.” She groaned. “Now I have to cook and take care of Namdev. And work at the hospital.”
“Okay, let’s keep him at a daycare.”
“No, no, no. Never. No daycare. Look at what happened to Vasu. He was neglected at that daycare. That’s why he always clings to me.”
“Fine, fine. Quit your job, stay at home, take care of the kids.”
“Ask your mom to come.”
Sita held Namdev in her arms, “He is so small and light. Look at his eyes, they are so big and alert.”
The baby was wrapped up from head to toe, and the house was very warm. Sita wondered if it wasn’t too hot for the boy.
Usha said, “It’s better if he is warm, otherwise he’ll catch cold.”
She had all kinds of weird theories about protecting the boy from real and imaginary illnesses. If the weather outside was chilly, he might catch a cold, and if it was bright and sunny, he might have a sunstroke.
Sita was convinced that Namdev failed to thrive because Usha wasn’t breast-feeding.
Sita asked, “Usha, did you see your doctor about your breast milk?”
Usha said, “It’s no big deal, infant formula works fine.”
“When Vasu was born, did you have enough milk?”
Usha looked away. “I gave him infant formula.”
“Usha, I think hormone injections can help.”
“I’m not having any injections.”
“Usha, I don’t think you should ignore this. At least eat proper food. Stop eating all those fried snacks. Eat more protein, drink milk, try some vegetables and lentils. If you eat only rice and pickles and yogurt, how can you produce any milk? I’m surprised your mother didn’t tell you about this.”
The feeding ritual dismayed Sita. “You are spending way too much time trying to feed Vasu. Just leave him alone for a week and he will eat when hungry. Don’t beg him to eat.”
Usha snapped, “It’s easier said than done. If he doesn’t eat, he’ll get sick and I’ll have to spend more time tending to him.”
Sita had to take care of Vasu, give baths to Namdev, and entertain the kids. The moment Namdev was put in his crib he cried at the top of his voice, and stopped bawling only when Sita held him. The excessive pampering didn’t help, and he was constantly behind on all the milestones—rolling over, crawling, and walking. At any given time, her hands were literally full. She didn’t expect to shoulder so much responsibility. Her idea in coming to the USA was that she would give the young couple moral support and share with Usha her experiences of child-raising. But unwittingly she became a full-time nanny, cook, and maid.
Kavita, Sita’s younger sister, sent a message; Mangala fell in the backyard and broke her hip. Sita was needed in Bangalore.
Usha said, “Oh my God. What are we going to do?”
“I’ll put Mom on the next plane.” Deepak looked worried.
“That’s not what I am talking about. What about Namdev? Who will keep him and feed him when I am at work?”
“Usha, this is not the time to talk about all that.”
“For God’s sake! The old lady is ninety something, what do you expect, osteoporosis, it’s no big deal, hips can be replaced. Why is it that all of you are going crazy about it?”
“Now that your mother is gone, what are we going to do about Namdev?”
“He’s three years old, put him in daycare. Or you stay at home.”
“Why did your mother have to go to Bangalore in such a hurry? What’s she going to do? Your aunt is there, what’s the need for your mom? Now all my plans are disrupted. It’s all very stupid, stupid, stupid.”
Deepak was shocked at his wife’s insensitive, crude, and selfish behavior. If her mother broke her hip, wouldn’t Usha go immediately to Mysore?
Sita and Kavita took turns staying with their mother. A few days after the surgery, Mangala was brought home. She slept soundly, thanks to all those pain-killers and sedatives.
Sita asked, “Where’s Ramesh? Did you call him?”
“Yes, of course. It seems he is held up in Delhi with some work, asked to postpone the surgery till next week.” Kavita grimaced. “Here’s Mama in severe pain, and the operation can’t be put off. I told him to come whenever he can, we are going ahead with the surgery. Ramesh always thinks of himself only.” She got herself a cup of coffee. “Do you remember when Dad had cancer? Those days we didn’t have much money, I was still in medical school, you and Bhaskar were struggling to establish. Mama asked Ramesh for money for chemo and radiation. He lied, said he had no money. But he purchased a brand-new Fiat and remodeled his house.”
Sita nodded her head. “Mama had to use her jewelry as collateral. And when Dad passed away, Ramesh was wailing and carrying on as though he really cared.”
“What a show he put on. Even though it was many years back, I still remember it. It’s like he rehearsed his lines. Some wailing, some talking, in between wiping away his crocodile tears. I am ashamed to say that he is my brother.”
Sita said, “And his wife, that brazen hussy, always wearing sleeveless blouses, and that vulgar hipster sari way below her navel, her pallu barely covers her big boobs . . . hmm . . . as though there is a severe shortage of cloth.”
Kavita laughed loudly. “Sita, looks like you are jealous of her figure.” Kavita peeped into Mama’s room. “She’s sound asleep. Tell me about America. Did you do any sightseeing?”
Sita was glum. “Just a short trip to Disneyland. It was miserable, what with Vasu acting up and Deepak angry, and that prissy Usha holed up in the hotel room with Namdev. She is so crazy, thinks the boy can’t take the heat. She is so screwed up, how else can that little fellow develop some immunity? Oh, well . . .” Sita sipped her coffee. “It’s so good to be back. I hated every minute of my stay in Seattle, so much work, cook, clean, and handle the cranky boys.”
Kavita laughed. “I take it that you aren’t anxious to return to Seattle?”
Sita sighed. “I don’t know, Bhaskar is going to retire soon. And then, then . . .” She started to cry.
Kavita held her and tried to comfort her. “What’s the matter?”
Between her sobs, Sita said that they were broke. Bhaskar had squandered everything they had, even his pension fund. So, after he retired they had no means to survive unless he found another job, and at his age it might be hard.
Sita said, “So Deepak wants us to move to Seattle. He’ll sponsor us for green cards.”
“But you will be a bloody slave. Usha will dump all the work on you.”
“Yeah, yeah, I really have no choice. But I am worried about Rupa. If we both live in America, what about her marriage?”
Kavita laughed. “Take it easy, Sita! Rupa is only twenty, a long way to go. Let her finish college first.”
Although Vasu was almost eight, he still slept with his parents, and it was almost impossible for Deepak to make love to Usha. Their encounters became sporadic. Once Namdev was born, it was not possible even to touch Usha, let alone make love. Like sentries, the two boys slept on either side of their mother.
Deepak was mad. “Why the hell do you want Namdev to sleep in the same bed with you? You don’t even breast-feed him. Let him get used to sleeping by himself, and when he is older, he can sleep in his room.”
“Don’t behave like the Americans. Their children lack proper love. That’s why the kids here become drug addicts and criminals. We need to give our kids lots of love.”
Deepak was afraid that history was repeating itself. Not content with spoiling Vasu, his wife was now doing the same thing with their younger son.
He was a young man with a normal libido, as normal as any hot-blooded young man. He craved a rollicking romp. In the absence of the calming effect of healthy sexual encounters, Deepak was frustrated, irritable, and angry. However, after she gave birth to two boys, Usha behaved as though she was finished with that department. That chapter was completely closed and sealed. For Usha, sex was a necessary evil, a pesky prerequisite for procreation. Many times Deepak was tempted to talk to Usha about the issue but didn’t dare to bring it up, fearing what she might say about his needs. She might yell at him and call him a sex maniac, a pervert, and much worse.
And then Alison walked into his life. Alison was not a sex siren, not a bombshell, not a girl men swooned over. Not even her best friends considered her beautiful. To put it very bluntly, she was as plain as they came. Her features were unremarkable and she didn’t even rate a first glance, let alone a second one. She was of medium height, neither tall nor short, and built like a cylinder, without a distinguishable waist. The measurements such as 36-25-37 didn’t apply to her at all. It was more like 32-32-32. And she walked rapidly, like a man who was late for the next meeting rather than a hot babe doing the catwalk on a runway. But her MIT degrees and brilliant brain more than made up for the paucity of pulchritude.
Alison and Deepak worked in the same division, and had a nodding acquaintance. When a complex project had to be tackled, the division chief picked two of the most brilliant members of his division—Alison and Deepak.
A relationship that began at a professional level became personal in the fullness of time.
All the engineers in the group went to a conference in Chicago. It was a hectic meeting with many interesting sessions.
On the last day, when both of them were free, Deepak and Alison went to an Indian restaurant. He ordered Tandoori chicken, mixed vegetable curry, and aloo paratha. Alison wanted fish curry, nans and lamb biryani.
Deepak was pleasantly surprised at the ease with which she ordered. Most of his American colleagues were not conversant with Indian food and sought his help.
Alison took a bite of the fish curry and winced. “I can do better than this. This is so bland.”
He put his fork down and had swig of his beer. “How come you know Indian food?”
“My mom cooks Indian food.”
After window-shopping on Michigan Avenue, they returned to the hotel.
“I heard this hotel has one of the best bars in town. Let’s have a drink.”
They got a window seat with a view of the dazzling downtown lights. He looked at her for the first time, not as a colleague but as a woman. She looked very different in high heels, hip-hugging short shorts and a tiny tank top which barely covered her breasts and exposed a big chunk of her midriff. Her silky hair tumbled down to her bare shoulders, and the ever-present eyeglasses vanished.
“You are staring!” she said.
“You look ravishing in casual clothes.”
She affected an angry face. “Deepak! I am shocked, and you a married man!”
They finished their drinks and walked toward the elevators. The elevator stopped at the tenth floor. She opened her door and pulled him inside, and kissed him.
In the morning, they got up late and after breakfast in bed, resumed their amorous activities.
That was the first time he spent a complete night and a full day with a woman, and in bed. That was also the first time in his life that love-making was spontaneous, delicious, and delirious.
Thus started an affair they had no control over nor had the desire to stop. They were, however, careful to keep their affair a secret and behaved professionally at work. But almost every evening and most weekends Deepak was at Alison’s place.
Whereas previously he used a ton of hair cream to tame his unruly hair, now he blow-dried his mane to look modern, and had his hair styled periodically. An expensive pair of designer eyeglasses replaced his nerdy-looking frame. Also, a brace around his teeth, and elevator shoes.
Deepak said, “Grandma passed away. I will be gone for a week or so.”
Usha said, “What! I’ll be by myself with the kids. I can’t handle them by myself.” She was agitated.
He said, “Get a babysitter. If you don’t have the time to cook, get takeout, pizza, or Chinese.”
On the long plane trip he had time to ponder his life, his wife, and his mistress. His relationship with Alison was unlike male-female stories where sex drew the partners together in the first place. In their case, everything started at the cerebral level before descending down to other equally important parts. In that sense they were lucky. Sometimes when the novelty of coupling fades off, couples drift apart. In their case, apart from sex they had many common interests: work, movies, and literature.
Why couldn’t Usha be like Alison? When he compared them, they were like night and day. Usha was always morose, anxious, agitated, belligerent, and querulous. Religion and superstition ruled her life. And she was hopelessly narrow-minded. What was she giving him, apart from grief? Companionship, no; sex, no; support, no; empathy, no. Why should he stay married to her in the face of so many negatives. To be sentenced to a lifetime of resentment, a lifetime of misery, a lifetime of hostility was unthinkable and completely unacceptable.
Come to think of it, he hardly knew Usha. By the time he met Usha, he was already very tired of the process, having been rejected by many girls. She was a complete stranger to him then and no less a stranger now, even after many years of marriage. Unfortunately, all the things he had come to know about her only reinforced his decision to leave her. He hoped that Alison would agree to marry him. He must tell his mom about Alison. Being conventional, his mom might initially frown upon his decision, but he hoped to convince her.
After the funeral and the pujas, Deepak’s uncle Ramesh gave copies of Mangala’s will to his sisters Kavita and Sita. Ramesh got the house, jewelry, and cash in the bank. When their father had built the house several decades ago, it wasn’t worth all that much. But now, with the booming economy, the house stood on prime land worth several crores of rupees. Like vultures, developers were poised to move in.
Kavita and Sita were dumbfounded, the will was like a slap in the face. While Ramesh gallivanted all over the globe with his hoity-toity wife, the sisters took care their mama. Many times they were woken up in the middle of the night to take Mama to the emergency room: wheezing and coughing, anaphylactic shock from a wasp bite, heart attack. The list was endless.
Kavita said, “I know Mama wanted to divide the property equally among the three of us. I’ll contest this will.”
Ramesh yelled, “What are you talking about? Mama signed this will. Everything is legal. You have no grounds.”
Kavita glared at Ramesh. “Once we approach the court the property will be sealed, you can’t sell it, can’t rent the house, nothing. You know how the court system works, it will take many years to settle this dispute.” She laughed. “You have no choice. I suggest we divide the property into three equal parts.”
Sita said, “No, no, no, Kavita. I can’t take your share.”
“It’s okay, Sita. I’m fine. You deserve this money. And don’t let Bhaskar touch it, he will gamble it away.”
Sita’s eyes were red. “You saved me.”
Kavita smiled. “No problem. So, how is Usha, have you heard from her?”
“Yeah, yeah, she sends long texts all the time. She thinks I will go back soon . . .” She wiped off the tears from excessive laughter. “She doesn’t know it yet, but Deepak is going to divorce her.”
“So he had enough of that religious rigmarole, ha?”
“Yeah, she is driving him crazy. Now he is in love with a beef-eating Christian!”
“Well, well, well, what an irony, Mama’s plan to prevent this didn’t work after all. I really don’t care if the girl eats cows or cabbage, the important thing is, the boy should be happy.”
Rudy Ravindra’s prose has appeared in Step Away, The Prague Revue, Bewildering Stories, and others. He lives in Wilmington, NC. More at: http://rudyravindra.wix.com/rudy