Hussain picked up his cell phone and searched through the picture gallery. He leaned over to Grant. “There’s one of the family you haven’t seen this evening, can you think back as to who that may be?”
Grant immediately responded. “Meenu, I suppose she’s married to some rich man somewhere in the world.” He used his pet name for Meena and Hussain smiled knowingly.
“She was a shadow to my mother who took her under her wing and taught her dressmaking and cooking western style. Well, I suppose Mom’s idea of Western style was heavily influenced by Indian cooking.” Both laughed.
“Meena is the name she chose for herself but that’s not the name my parents gave her at birth.” Hussain thrust a picture under Grant’s nose. The picture was of a beautiful woman dressed in expensive silks with an air of self-confidence. “She was really smitten by you when we were all at school together, but my parents warned her she’d have to be wedded into our community, and she was.”
Grant was transfixed as he looked at the picture and a flood of memories came back to him. He knew that even within close friends there were strict taboos that had to be respected. Meenu, the endearing term for Meena was not his to be hoped for.
Hussain studied Grant intently. “Why are your wife and children not accompanying you on this trip. Do they have no love for our country?”
Grant shifted uncomfortably. “I’m not married Hussain. My past has hung over me like a cloud that could rain on me at any time and I didn’t want to involve anyone with my past when it could revisit me at any time. So, I’ve avoided any relationships that could develop into a marriage.”
Hussain shrugged and sat thinking for a few moments playing with his food. “Meena was married to one of our community working in the Gulf States but it didn’t work out well. She’s free spirited and he couldn’t take that, so he divorced her soon after that marriage. She came back to India and got interested in further education. She’s a professor at the Pune University now. I know she’d love to see you. If your group can return to the Blue Diamond and take rest for the night I’d take you to see Meena after this. Would you like that?”
Grant’s heart skipped a beat. He’d hung around Meena, his Meenu during those school days and worshiped her from a distance knowing there was a cultural barrier through which he could not enter. His body shook slightly as he nodded avoiding eye contact so he didn’t have to reveal to Hussain the yearning that had always been there for Meenu. He stood unsteadily and went to inform the group they would now be returning to the hotel and he’d join them later checking on their comfort before retiring.
Hussain watched it all and chuckled to himself. Grant was still under her spell and it was obvious his sister would never marry another of her community regardless of the wishes of his extended family. In this modern world how much did it matter anyway? He would work tirelessly now to make Grant yar his brother in law as well as close friend. He put down the phone after contacting his sister with her excitement ringing in his ear. Then he was outside guiding the tour group to the minibus to see they were on their way safely shouting at the driver that he’d summon all the devils in hell to torture him if anything happened to the tour group on the way.
Meena was excited, but it was not seemly to show that. She retired to her room and waited checking frequently in the mirror to remove imaginary spots and blemishes. Soon the servant was knocking softly on the door to inform her brother and a stranger were at the door requesting to see her. She told the servant to see to their comfort in the receiving room then sat watching the clock as it ticked by five minutes. Only after that staged delay she appeared down the corridor proud and self-confidant.
“Salaam Grantji!” She floated into the room inclining slightly and smiling brightly. “I still use your mother’s cooking recipes. How is she? She was like a second mother to me. I suppose she taught your wife to cook good Indian food too?”
Meena clicked her fingers at the servant and told her to leave them and return to her quarters.
“My mother and father died long ago Meenu, and as I have never married I guess she didn’t have that opportunity.”
“Meena’s bluff evaporated and she burst into long sobs while the men shifted uneasily on their feet looking out of place.”
“I didn’t think to tell her that!” Mumbled Hussain uncomfortably. Then turning to Grant, he said “Why not tell her what’s in your heart? This is an opportunity, don’t let it pass. I know you still love my sister it shone out of your eyes as you looked at that photo tonight.
Grant was horrified. Had Hussain forgotten the taboos? Had India changed that much? His heart yearned to obey but his knowledge of the divide between communities caused him to shrink back. In the old days her life would be forfeited, possibly his.
Hussain moved to his sister’s side and whispered in her ear. She dried her tears and nodded averting her eyes. He returned and stood facing Grant.
“I asked my sister if she’d be willing to marry a foreigner I approved of as I function as the recognized head of our family unit now. She said she would have to first go through our process of introducing the prospective person as was the custom and then she would give her answer. Are you willing for us to go through this charade? I know its not your foreign way.” Grant nodded as a warm feeling enveloped him.
Hussain sat them in chairs facing each other. He first sat beside Grant and in all seriousness introduced him to Meena who sat with eyes averted. Then he moved to sit beside his sister and began a ridiculous questioning which made it into a hilarious charade. There was a play acting in which Hussain sat in opposite chairs and argued with himself over a proposed dowry until Meena could contain herself no longer. She burst into fits of laughter and when she could control herself she took over and addressed Grant directly.
I knew you loved me when we were growing up together Grant, but do you really love me now? I’m a different person. I’ve been married and now divorced, and I love my job at the university. We’d need to talk about that. Are you sure you want to work through this with me?”
Grant was jet lagged and tired, but his mind was clear enough to give a quick answer. “Yes, Meenu I still love you, but this is a big step for you breaking with community ways. Would it be dangerous? I wouldn’t want to endanger the person I love.”
Hussain grew impatient. “Let me worry about that. Grant yar you will take your tour group and finish your obligations. Then you will put them on a plane to the US and return to Pune. I will arrange for the biggest and best Shadi this town has ever seen. You will ride on a white horse to receive your bride in a street procession with lantern carrying girls and a brass band. You will look like a maharaja and my sister will be the maharani waiting in the pandal for you to arrive.”
Meena raised her hand to interject, “This is my wedding I will have some say in it!”
Hussain bristled. “I’m the head of this family and I will plan it all!” Then seeing his sister pout, he thought for a moment. “And my sister will help with the planning!”
He then turned to a bewildered Grant watching his future life being planned for him and wondering how he’d get his wife into the US and if she’d be prepared to go considering she had a fulfilling job at the university.
Hussain smiled a satisfied smile. “Time for you to return to the Blue Diamond Grant yar. After a good night rest, we will talk more before you leave for New Delhi.”
Grant slept well that night. He no longer feared his past would catch up with him on this trip as Hussain had cared for that long ago. He dreamed of his Meenu and knew this was the right course of action and both would bond well in marriage and have a bright future together. In one day his old friend had moved from school acquaintance, business partner to now brother in law and he’d be eternally grateful for his part in bringing Meenu and he together after all these years of waiting and yearning.
“© Copyright Ian Grice,
ianscyberspace 2018 All rights reserved”
The above photo courtesy of Blue Diamond Hotel, Pune, India