I landed in India to the wailing of Yo Yo Honey Singh and the rustling of crisp currency notes. Ah, I thought, it’s wedding season in Delhi. The son, who had arrived two weeks earlier and, in a weak moment, offered to pick me up from the airport, was nowhere in sight. I hit the Favourites (yes, I am that kind of fond mum) list on my phone and heard a voice that was definitely half asleep at the other end. ‘You’re already here?’ it croaked. I sighed and prepared for a long wait. So much for warm welcomes.
There was a reason for it, however. There always is, with the son. He’d just got back from a four-day wedding in Goa, where, from the sound of it, he’d spent more time boozing in the hotel pool than actually making use of the new silk kurtas Amma had made him buy.
The son is at that stage of life when he’s constantly at one wedding or the other. He’s older than the husband was when we got married, and younger than both his grandads when they got hitched. For a little boy who had to be dragged forcibly to family weddings, he’s become quite the enthusiastic participant in his friends’ ceremonies. So much so that we’ve temporarily nicknamed him Abdullah – begaani shaadi mein and all that.
For my part, I was entranced by the wedding paraphernalia that was pouring in. The invites were more remarkable for their thickness than their grammatical content in most cases – one inch in height was the thinnest I’ve seen so far. ‘They’re quite laidback,’ was how the son explained the family from which that one came.
The actual invitation cards were the least part of the package. In fact, if you were the hasty kind, you might toss them into the dustbin and not have the slightest inkling of where you were supposed to go and when. The stars of the show were an assortment of mithai that would make Haldiram swoon in envy. Not the best way to go for my waistline, but completely irresistible. Especially the chana dal halwa that came with the last one – mmm!
The flip side of the coin soon made its appearance – and how! We were on a visit to the husband’s side of the family, where, too, wedding invitation cards covered every available surface in the house. It was soon apparent to me that the Ma-in-Law was in a ferment. Was it Salman Khan getting off the hook so easily? I wondered. The Ma-in-Law tends to treat world events on par with the neighbour’s dog getting into her garden. Could it be the climate change conference in Paris? Or was it the huge rally the BJP had organised in Jaipur, which was clogging up all the roads?
Uncharacteristically for the Ma-in-Law, I was left wondering for a whole day. Then she cornered me and whispered urgently, ‘It’s now time He (the son) settled down. He’s earning well and He is of the right age. Does He have a girlfriend?’
I was too shell-shocked to do more than shake my head. Negative: no girlfriend in sight. The son was currently in one of his rare girl-free periods, but I saw little point in enlightening her.
‘Then you find Him a girl.’ Or tell me, I’ll find the perfect bride, the threat hung unsaid between us.
To tell the truth, this was not the first time that the son and marriage have come up in the same sentence. I have been getting proposals ever since he passed out of a premier law school in the country and landed a job in a well-known management consultancy. His itinerant career after that slowed down the rush a bit, but it picked up again once he began working in London. Luckily for both of us, I was never sure whether these inquiries were serious or just people pulling my leg. I mean, I know he’s the best, most handsome baby in the world, but that there were actually people out there seeing him as ‘a suitable boy’ for their own babies was making me split my sides laughing.
I’d had a great time in the summer, when we ran into a classmate of mine at a party. After the initial awkwardness that ensues when you meet someone you haven’t seen in 30 years, came the queries about children.
‘Does he have a girlfriend?’ she asked.
‘No,’ I replied. If the husband had been close by, he would have seen that I was in one of my moods and taken peremptory measures to stop the conversation right there.
‘As if he would tell you if he did,’ came the retort. Well, if she knew that, why did she ask me? But I said pacifically, ‘We are close. I would have known.’
‘He must be shy then. Indian boys often are. They need a little help. You should find him a girlfriend.’
‘Really, you think so?’ I asked meekly. ‘Maybe you’re right, maybe he needs a little help.’ That’s when another classmate, who was listening enrapt to this conversation and who is well acquainted with the son, burst into laughter, spoiling the entire act.
‘So shall I help you find a wife?’ I asked the son once we were back home and laughing our guts out. The son was not laughing, however. ‘Don’t you dare!’ he told me. Then spoilt it all by adding, ‘Unless they’re offering a couple of crores in dowry!’
But back to the Ma-in-Law and the new bee in her bonnet. There were no crores in the offing there. The Ma-in-Law was an overt feminist and ‘dowry’ appeared right below ‘domestic violence’ in her dictionary.
‘Why?’ I mouthed silently at her, terrified at the prospect of her going bride hunting for the son.
‘Look at Him. He cooks all His own meals. He needs companionship. This is the right time for Him to marry. Otherwise, He will be lonely all His life.’ Her words were full of unshed capitals.
I could only nod. I’ve learnt the hard way never to argue with the Ma-in-Law. She is the one truly fixed point in the universe and seldom deviates from her stand. Also, as the mum of two boys, she knows better than me, who’s borne only one. Or so runs the traditional belief in the Jain family. So far, I had been happy to go with the flow.
However, this time, I was up against the other fixed point in my family, the son. Visions of what the son would have to say about her – or me – finding him a wife made me set aside caution and tell the Ma-in-Law abruptly that the son would get married when he was good and ready and neither the husband nor I were keen on compelling him to get married just because ‘it was the right time’. It was not my best moment as a daughter-in-law, but the son flashed me a look of gratitude that more than compensated.
She sniffed and muttered something under her breath. I knew this was not the last I would hear on the subject. I could only hope that her other grandsons would come into the spotlight soon and give the rest of us some breathing space.
Meanwhile, I had a new worry. Why do mobile phones come with torches? I had just been to a movie, where I’d missed the first 15 minutes because of all the torch beams flashing as tardy people sought their seats.
First published in Democratic World in January 2016.