by Rudy Ravindra
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Rani was swept off her feet by his passionate kisses and caresses, and his rendition of romantic Bollywood ballads in the moonlit lovers’ lane. But, once they were married, the hoped for everlasting love became a mere dream. The dismayed damsel discovered that he was didactic and dogmatic. Her righteous rebellion lead to arguments and abuse.
She forgave his first few transgressions in the hope that eventually a modus vivendi might materialize. However, his violent rages only worsened and, at the flimsiest excuse, he beat her black and blue. A terribly gruesome incident that left her with a black eye, a broken finger and a dislocated shoulder presaged a depressing and dangerous future.
Now, back at her mama’s house, she had frequent nightmares and relived the ugly scenes. The glaring glances of neighbors and relatives only made it worse, and it was hard to shake off the feeling that, instead of a victim, she was the perpetrator. After all, in the 1980s, in her largely conservative community, divorce was a rarity, and it was always a woman’s fault. She was headstrong, she was cantankerous, she was lazy, she was this and she was that.
She agonized over her arrogant and impulsive decision to flout tradition and marry a man from a different caste. She wondered if her life might have been brighter if she agreed to an arranged marriage, and took the hand of one of the many well-placed men who, like bees were enticed to the nectar of sunflowers, swarmed around her.
* * *
When a close friend at medical school, now in Chicago, suggested that she move to America, Rani jumped at the chance. However attractive the idea, in practice it was not all that easy. She had to overcome many a hurdle, and at times felt that climbing Mount Everest might have been easier. But, with her friend’s moral and financial support, Rani passed the extremely difficult qualifying examinations and joined a residency program at a dingy hospital in an underserved area in the Chicago area. Though it was a nightmare to work in those sordid surroundings, her perseverance paid off, and eventually she found a better job in Baltimore.
* * *
When Rani came home for a visit, Geeta said, “Mama is not able to manage this big house. I think she’ll be better off living in an apartment.” Geeta looked at her husband. “Bhaskar, what do think?”
He dipped a piece of idli in his sambar, popped it into his mouth and washed it down with a big sip of water. “Yes, yes, I fully agree. I myself am seeing for the past year or so. Mama is not as active as before, she is slowing down. Apartment, now that’s a good idea, a real good idea. Yes, yes.”
Bashkar turned to his sister-in-law. “Rani, you make mega bucks now. Why don’t you send some money every month? We’ll purchase an apartment. Actually, there is one complex going up nearby. You don’t have to shell out the whole amount in one go. You can make monthly payments.”
Mama smiled. “You all stop fussing. I’m fine. The maid comes in to cook and clean.”
* * *
The idea of an apartment in Bangalore appealed to Rani. Contrary to what Bhaskar said, she didn’t mint money. He converted dollars into rupees and, when one looked at her salary in rupees. it did seem like a lot.
Rani watched every penny and, when possible, sent a check to Bhaskar. She developed the horrible habit of converting dollars into rupees and thought, Oh, my god, if I have a cup of coffee, it will cost three bucks, which will be one hundred and fifty rupees. And so on. She became so obsessed with counting her shekels that she made lame excuses when friends asked her to go out to eat. She stopped buying new outfits, postponed the purchase of a new car that she badly needed, and even put her house-hunting project on hold.
After about three years, she became the proud owner of a three-bedroom apartment.
* * *
Rani said, “Mama, you got more skinny. Are you eating right?”
The matriarch chuckled. “I’m fine, I’m fine.” She got up gingerly, grabbed her walking stick and wobbled to the kitchen. Rani watched her anxiously, wondering if she might stumble and fall.
Mama peeped into the kitchen, “Can you bring coffee?” Mama slowly walked back along the long hallway to the living room and slumped on the sofa and sighed.
“Mama, you need a bell next to you, you know, to call the maid. You are getting tired very easily.”
“I know, I know. But if I don’t walk around a bit, it will be more difficult to get up.” She slurped the steamy brew that the maid brought in. “Rani, you have stayed in America long enough. It’s time you come back home and get married. We have a few eligible men. The list is right here.” She rummaged through a pile of papers on the coffee table.
Rani looked at Mama’s spidery handwriting. All the details were listed: name, age, occupation, widowed or divorced, and the number of children. After investing so much time and energy to build a new life in America, she was loath to forsake her hard-earned independence, return to India and start as a second wife and a stepmother. But she kept the thoughts to herself. “Yes, Mama. Let me think about it.”
Geeta and Bhaskar walked in.
Bhaskar said, “When you are ready, let’s go take a look at your apartment.”
Rani asked, “So, finally how much did it cost?”
Geeta said, “Twelve lakhs.”
Bhaskar glared at his wife. “Geeta, you never could learn to count... erm... um... the total amount is sixteen lakhs. Right now the apartment is just a bare shell. We have to get the closets built.”
Rani asked, “So, I need to shell out more money, ha?” She didn’t look all that pleased.
* * *
Durga hugged Rani. “I say, you are looking good, yaar! Nice hairdo! Very modern! Smashing! Smashing! Now that you are well settled, I think we should fix you up with a good man.”
“I don’t know, I’m scared.”
“You shouldn’t be. Not all men are mean and moody. You just have to be a little lucky. I will send you a few singles’ websites. Post your profile; you are so beautiful, I’m sure there will be many men after you.”
Rani said, “Okay. I’ll work on it. Thanks for taking care of Mama. But for your constant care, she’d have...” She dabbed her eyes.
Durga patted Rani’s shoulder. “No problem. Every Saturday, I’m here to examine my favorite patient. Her arthritis is getting worse, and the meds can help only so much. She has regular checkups at the cardiology unit. And I make sure she takes her meds.” She sighed.
“How’s the job?”
“The clinic was bought out by a big hospital chain. The old building will be demolished. We will get a multistory structure, all the specialties under one roof. I’ll be the head of primary care. So, are you going to rent your apartment?”
“I don’t know. I purchased it for Mama. But she doesn’t want to move out of her house.”
“I know, I know. I spoke to her before you arrived. She will feel like a prisoner in those multistory complexes.”
“Anyway, closets have to be installed.”
“How much did you pay for the apartment?”
“No way! I know the Sankey tank area. A friend purchased a unit there. She paid only eleven lakhs and change. And the builder threw in the closets. Bhaskar is a sleazy scumbag. Let’s go and talk to that...that...”
“No, no, no. It’ll be unpleasant.”
“But you can’t let him get away with it! He’s a bloody crook! Did he return the four lakhs you loaned for his son’s education in America?”
“No, no. It seems like he forgot all about it. But, I’m glad that Deepak got his Master’s and now has a good job in Dallas.”
“Rani, when will you learn? So much money! You are such a, such a... Mother Teresa! Let me take care of the closets. No more money to Bhaskar.”
* * *
All the way back to Baltimore, Rani fumed at Bhaskar’s dirty tricks. Geeta’s lackluster education, lack of earning potential, and most importantly, paucity of pulchritude doomed her chances of a well-placed groom, and she had to settle for the obnoxious and predatory Bhaskar.
Not satisfied with a decent dowry, Bhashkar threatened to abandon Geeta unless he was given periodic gifts: a gas stove, a refrigerator, a scooter, and a car. It was ironic that the patriarch had never even owned a car. So much sacrifice, so much heartache, all for the sake of his dull daughter.
* * *
Durga said that the closets were installed and the apartment ready for a tenant. Rani sighed deeply. Thank god it was finally over. No more skimping. She would begin to enjoy life.
It was time to put an end to solitary walks in the park, the long, lonely evenings, and most of all, the lonely nights in her cold bed. She craved the warmth, the touch, and the thrust of a man. It had been too long. All those years, with her career in the forefront, she hardly had time to think of a partner.
Hoping to find her prince she signed up on a few websites that Durga had sent. By and large, the men who responded were dull and depressing, or guys looking for a temporary tryst. She carefully chose a few and, after further correspondence, found them wanting.
After another exhaustive search, she zeroed in on a couple of seemingly upstanding men: an engineer in Texas and a physician in California. The engineer was cheap, didn’t even pick up their lunch tab, and the physician was vulgar.
* * *
She got a frantic call from Durga. Bhaskar and Geeta had moved into the apartment. Bhaskar claimed that it was not safe to keep it unoccupied. He would deposit the rent in Rani’s bank account in Bangalore. Durga had serious doubts about the arrangement.
Thousands of miles away, sitting in her living room, Rani was impotent with rage at this blatant exploitation. It would cause a rift if she asked Bhaskar to vacate. Despite Durga’s urgent e-mails and telephone calls, Rani ignored the apartment drama.
* * *
Copyright © 2016 by Rudy Ravindra