Rukmani was busy in kitchen, making the usual lunch-for-two. She minced and sautéed in silence today, so that she wouldn't miss the phone ringing. You see, today was Saturday and this was when Vatsan called home usually.
Srivatsan was Rukku's youngest son and the constant cause for concern for Rukku and her husband Ananthapadmanabhan. Their eldest daughter Vaidehi had done her Bachelors in IIT, Madras and her PhD in IISC Bangalore and now worked as a Associate Professor there, alongside her husband, also a Professor in IISc. They had 2 kids, who seemed to take after their parents' academic genes and were forever winning something at school. They called their Paati every other day and told her about their exploits at school, which Rukku promptly broadcast to the entire neighborhood. The middle child, Rangan (named Rangaswamy after her father) had decided to go the commerce route. After passing the SBI clerical exam, he had gone on to write all possible promotion exams and was now a Manager of the Siruthozhil Branch in Nungambakkam at the young age of 32. He lived with his wife and son in a 2 bedroom flat and visited home frequently.
Vatsan was a whole other story. He had always been a problem child at school. When Vatsan started school, Rukku and Ananthu had been shocked that teachers were actually complaining about a child of theirs, rather than heap accolades. He got into fights frequently, talked too much in class and wasn't the brightest bulb in the room. While Vaidehi was an accomplished Veena player and Rangan an avid quizzer, Vatsan had not shown any interest towards extracurricular activities. Ananthu tried to drag a screaming and kicking Vatsan to Mrudangam class for a few months, but gave up when he realized Vatsan had neither the attitude nor the aptidue. Vatsan finished his schooling with less than stellar grades and thanks to Ananthu's friend, who knew someone, who in turn knew someone at Akilandaparameshwari Engineering College, Vatsan got admitted for Bachelors of Engineering, Computer Science, aided by a sizeable dent in Ananthu's retirement savings. Rukku and Ananthu heaved a sigh of relief, thinking they had 4 years until they had to worry about Vatsan again. But Fate got other plans and in his first year, they got a call from the college saying that Vatsan had been caught drinking. Rukku gave a wail that put ambulance sirens to shame and promptly fainted. Ananthu prayed to Venkatachalapathy in anguish. They pulled Vatsan out of college for 2 weeks and took him to Tirupati, Srirangam and Kumbakonam, hoping that the Gods would knock some sense into the head of their prodigal son. It seemed to have some effect, because they never received another complaint about his drinking again. After graduating (with 3 arrears), Vatsan roamed the streets looking for a job and finally found one, after 6 long months, in one of the bigger IT companies in Chennai. Rukku liked to think that her prayers had something to do with it. A couple of years passed in relative peace and it seemed as though Vatsan had mellowed with age.
As with most companies, Vatsan was asked to go to the US for a yearlong project. Ananthu liked the idea, and felt that staying away from home would give Vatsan a sense of responsibility. Rukku had initially protested, but later gave in when she realized she would now have something to say to the NRI Maamis who gathered at the temple to regale stories about celebrating Diwali in Fall. After a tearful farewell at the Anna International Airport, Vatsan began his sojourn to the United States.
Life ambled along and Rukku realized that she missed her trouble making son. He called frequently the first couple of months. And then Rukku started talking about suitable girls and the call frequency dropped to once a week. Rukku tried in vain to convince him that he needed a nice Iyengar girl to take care him, to make filter coffee in the mornings, to wash his good shirts by hand, making sure the collar is squeaky clean. She didn’t like it that Vatsan always tried to evade the topic and was non committal about the whole thing.
Rukku decided that today she would convince Vatsan to talk to Janaki’s daughter. Janaki was one of Rukku’s oldest temple acquaintances. On the occasions that she had gone to Janaki’s house, her daughter Priya had been hospitable and chatty. She remembered the chocolate, eggless cake that Janaki had proudly served, saying Priya had baked them. Chocolate cake was no badushah or mysore pak, but she was sure that Priya would learn. And Janaki had been receptive to this idea as well. A girl like Priya was just the woman Vatsan needed! Rukku waited for the phone call, practicing what she would say to convince Vatsan.
Tring, tring. Rukku ran to the living room to pick the phone, yelling at Ananthu to turn off the gas after the cooker had given 2 more whistles. Ananthu looked up from his newspaper with a small smile and continued reading. He was used to the weekly drama, and he didn’t think today would be any different.
After the initial formalities of asking about his health, his cooking and satisfied with his answers about if he was eating well, Rukku jumped into the topic. “Vatsa kanna, I really think you should get married soon.” To her surprise, Vatsan didn’t try to cut her off and agreed with her. And then he said the fateful sentence “I like a girl here and I would like to marry her”
to be contd...
PS1 - Will post Part 2 if all of you comment
PS2 - Just kidding! (Sort of!)