It took a minute for Ananthu to understand what his wife was telling him. All he could make out was words like “church”, “grandkids”, “America”, “Janaki Maami”, interspersed with chants of the Lord’s name and try as he might, he could find nothing in common between all those words. He grabbed the phone from his hysterical wife and tried to find out what had actually happened.
Vatsan repeated the sentence to his father and Ananthu’s heart did a double leap as well. But before his father could react, Vatsan started talking again. “Her name is Sandhya, Sandhya Krishnamachary. She had come to the US to study and is now working in the same place I work.” Ananthu’s face relaxed. And then Vatsan said the golden words “She is also an Iyengar Vadakalai.” Ananthu couldn’t contain his glee and beamed happily at his wife. Rukku stared at Ananthu with dagger eyes, but as Ananthu explained, she heaved a sigh of relief. She started seeing everything in color again and said a silent thanks to Venkatachalapathy.
When the initial rush died down, Rukku diverted her attention to the Krishnamacharis. She pried their phone number out of Vatsan and made plans to contact them immediately. The initial phone call was made and she invited them home.
Rukku liked Mr & Mrs Chary. They had seemed genuinely happy at the alliance. They were impressed with Ananthu’s modest home and said the right things about Rukku’s filter coffee. They even agreed with Rukku that the marriage must be held as soon as possible. When Mrs Chary showed a photo of Sandhya to Rukku, she decided that Sandhya was much prettier than Janaki’s daughter. She reasoned to herself that even though she hadn’t arranged the alliance herself, Sandhya was a very good match for Vatsan. She was also working, which means that Vatsan could buy a flat in T.Nagar in no time. Also Mrs Chary had told her that Sandhya was tall, 5’ 7” to be precise. Since Vatsan was over 6’ tall, they would look good standing on the reception pandal. Rukku decided that she would become modern and accept the love marriage without any fuss. Anyway, since Sandhya was Iyengar too, she could always tell everyone that it was a “love-cum-arranged” marriage.
Saturday finally rolled around, Vatsan informed Rukku that he was planning a vacation to Madras in a couple of weeks and that Sandhya was coming with him. Rukku’s joy knew no bounds.
The days after that passed in a whirlwind with Rukku being busy prepping the house. Dust, cobwebs and dirt were hunted down and cleaned. The bathroom tiles were scrubbed till they started to look like once white. She made visits to various electronics stores and decided on a spilt AC that had to be installed in Vatsan’ room. The big TV that had adorned their drawing for more than a decade was replaced with a thin LCD TV. This was Vatsan’s first visit home and she wanted everything to be perfect. Also she wanted Sandhya to see that they lived in relative luxury and she would face no trouble as the daughter-in-law of the house. They had decided to have a formal engagement ceremony in the next week, and Rukku got out her jewels from the bank locker. She picked out a beautiful diamond necklace that her mother in law had given her during her wedding and decided she would give this to Sandhya during the engagement.
The day dawned bright and clear. Vatsan’s flight was supposed to land at ten in the morning. Rukku was bright and ready at eight and nagged Ananthu to get to the airport in time. They met with Mr and Mrs Chary at the airport and waited with them. After what seemed like an endless wait, it was announced that their flight had landed. Rukku squinted at the crowds and tried to spot Vatsan. Slowly people collected their bags and trickled out to meet with their waiting families. Rukku carefully scanned them and finally saw Vatsan pushing a trolley. And then Rukku she saw Sandhya.
Rukku and Ananthu looked at each other in confusion. The Charys shrugged their shoulders and nodded apologetically at them. If words like “gothic”, “punk” or “emo” had been a part of Rukku’s vocabulary, she would have used them to describe Sandhya. She was wearing tattered jean and a “well fitted” tank top. Her hair was as straight as sticks and was streaked with pink highlights. Her eyes had dark makeup around them and she was leaning on Vatsan casually.
To say that Rukku was taken aback was an understatement. In all her 55 years of existence, Rukku had never seen someone like Sandhya from close quarters. Before meeting Sandhya, Rukku had invited the Chary family home for a quick coffee and brunch and they had accepted. And now they were on their way home.
Rukku felt that she could think better with caffeine streaming through her body and brought out her famous filter coffee. Sandhya refused and said she was vegan. Rukku was perplexed until Vatsan explained that she did not drink milk and as of Jan 2010, neither did him. He went to the kitchen and brewed some watery tea sans milk and they both seemed to enjoy it. Conversation was minimal at the table and Rukku wanted them to pack up and leave.
No sooner than they stepped out of her home, she turned to Vatsan and begged him to reconsider. He was adamant and tried to convince Rukku that Sandhya was a “nice” girl. He refused to listen to any argument and Rukku knew she had lost the battle.
Things didn't go well between Rukku and Sandhya. She did not want to have any engagement ceremony and said that she had already accepted Vatsan’s proposal and was hence engaged. She refused Rukku’s gift of the diamond necklace and said that she didn’t want any “blood” diamonds. She was against silk sarees and gave a spiel about silk worms that Rukku didn’t understand a word of. She told Rukku quite emphatically that she hated all religious ceremonies and had planned to get married by the beach. When Rukku gasped, Sandhya was kind enough to say that they would definitely be invited.
Rukku remembered a wedding that she had attended an year ago. One of Ananthu’s friends' sons had married an American girl. She fell in love with Indian culture and had insisted that they have a traditional Indian wedding and had even worn an Aandal kondai. Rukku stared wistfully at Vatsan and wished he had brought home a nice American girl.Concluded