‘Three sovereigns and not a paisa less!’ my mother raised her voice to the bewilderment of the girl’s father.
‘My son can speak in English also. Show them, Kanagu. Speak a few words’, she ordered.
With half a bajji lodged in my mouth, I started my elocution, ‘India is my country and all Indians are my brother and sisters. I am…I is…errmm’, I faltered and my mother promptly came to my rescue.
‘See your future son-in-law can rattle in English. He is ten standard pass and has an airport job and yet you are haggling for a mere gold chain.’ my proud mother explained our predicament as we got up to leave.
The girl’s father begged my mother.
‘Akka, I cannot afford so much. I have arranged for 10,000 cash and one sovereign chain. I can bear the marriage expense. Do take pity on my daughter. I am just a peon in a firm.’
But I knew it was over. I slipped couple of bajjis into my pant pocket unnoticed (it was a long bus drive to my home at the other end of Coimbatore) and we stormed out of the house.
Though I showed solidarity with my mother, I was disappointed. I was running in my 30’s and all my friends were married. My mother (father passed away, thankfully) stood in the way of my ‘happily ever after’. She felt, and that was true, that I was a prize catch. I could not refute that. If one squinted his eyes a bit and if I sucked my paunch in, I resembled Kamal Hassan with a missing canine tooth.
However, I had dutifully waited for three years and none of the proposals brought in by our astrologer pleased my mother or me. The girls were either short or dark or had crooked teeth or droopy eyes. I was not a nitpicker. But I liked my woman fair, tall (shorter tall than me), thin (non negotiable) and a smile like Sri Devi. I didn’t think it was too much to ask. After all, she was going to be the mother of my kids.
The next day, at the airport, I was staring at the centerspread of the Tamil magazine, Cinema Cinema that carried a photo of a new actress called Madhuri Dixit. I worked as a parking toll collector at the Coimbatore Airport and my job was easy because nobody wanted to pay five rupees to park the car in the Airport. They would rather push their trolley a few hundred meters beyond the Airport premises where their vehicles waited. So, I kept myself occupied by sleeping and reading informative articles in Cinema Cinema magazine.
Just then, my friend Sudhakar, who owned a tea stall, on the main road approached me with my tea, an irritating grin on his face.
‘What, Kanagu, finished a?’, he asked.
‘Don’t call me Kanagu. Call me Kumar’, I snapped. My father had foolishly named me Kanagasabhai, a very Tamil name. I hated it and changed it to Kanag Kumar, clipped, like those north Indian names. Coimbatore had a sizable population of Northies. I was not complaining. Their women were beautiful, fair and often wearing jeans. They came to take the Bombay flight every Tuesday, the only other flight being one to Sharjah on Thursdays.
‘So?’ he mellowed. He knew things did not fall into place.
‘They don’t have three sovereigns. Amma won’t settle for less’, I was surprised that my voice sounded so desolate.
‘Your mother will bury you as a virgin if you listen to her. You are already 30. There is more scalp than hair on your head’, he warned me and continued, ‘You had rejected two proposals this year.’
That was not true. I rejected only one because she was a twelfth standard pass. How could I have a wife who was more educated than me? The other one, my mother rejected because she had short hair (Oh! The nerve).
But Sudhakar was right. I would have to take things into my own hands.
‘A virgin’ kept ringing in my ears long after he left.
Then One Thursday, my eyes fell on her.
She had the right mixture of demure beauty and alluring appeal, fair, large brown eyes, thick black hair plaited and swaying at her hips. She was standing at the arrivals gate along with her father. It was a Thursday. So it had to be the Sharjah flight.
Soon the passengers emptied out. The duo approached a few of the passengers, seemed lost and then left as abruptly as they came.
Next Thursday, I was busy at the car park, thanks to a Minister from Kerala returning after his vacation in Dubai. There were as many as 17 cars to deal with.
I spotted my svelte belle again, uncertainty written all over her face and her perplexed father tentatively approaching a few passengers. A few men from the Minister’s camp even talked to them. Then again, Poof!
I put on my best shirt next Thursday, a chequered Red shirt with beige trousers that flared at the bottom, wide enough to hide a cat. I knew my style and I was going for the kill.
My intuition was right. They were there! My beauty and her father. I confidently approached them with a Kamal-like swagger and said to her father,
‘Saar, Can I help you? I work at the airport and will be happy to help you’.
I was wearing my widest smile and kept it frozen till my cheeks hurt. They were stunned at first and looked each other with furrowed brows. Then something should have dawned on the father. He suddenly turned teary-eyed.
‘My son was supposed to come in that Sharjah flight. He did not come this week also. I don’t know what I will do for the money.’ he said and began to sob and shake.
For a moment the daughter was confused and then she understood the gravity of the situation and she too sobbed.
The man went on to explain.
‘I am very sick, Saar. I need 3000 rupees for my medicines. But alas, my son abandoned his father to the fate’s designs. What will I do? How will my Nirupama manage alone without me?’
Both cried and howled in unison, hugging each other.
By now, I was unabashedly staring at Nirupama. She looked even better at close range.
A damsel in distress!
And what a name too! After encountering Parameswaris and Kumudavallis all my life, Nirupama was a song by itself.
I spoke kind words to them and even accompanied them to their TVS 50.
That night, I tossed and turned like an impaled chicken on a tandoori. I could easily win her heart by helping her at the time of her need. The brother was working in Sharjah, so three sovereigns could not hinder our union.
Next Thursday, in an apple green shirt (my mother said I looked dashing ) and peach coloured trousers, I was off to meet my love. It looked like the son had not arrived that day too, to my utter delight. The father cried with renewed vigor. Now was the time to make the move. I said I might be able to help them with the money and subtly hinted my interest in his daughter.
The father thanked me and said Nirupama was one lucky girl. I was on cloud nine. I knew it was my looks that sealed the deal. I could explain everything to my mother later. For a gold chain and fifty thousand rupees, my mother would marry me off to a raging rhino.
That night, I sang sweet duets with Nirupama in Singapore. I could not wait to hand over the money and mark my territory. The sooner, the better. I did not want this one to slip away.
Next day, as I was in my toll booth half asleep, half reading some erotic Tamil magazine, I saw Nirupama come my way in the TVS 50. She was red-eyed.
‘Saar. Don’t give my father the money, Saar.’ she began. ‘He will spend it all on booze.’
‘You mean he is not sick’, I was shocked.
‘No Sir, he is sick as a dog, alright. But my brother sent 1000 rupees, twice and he went straight to the arrack shop. If you give the money to him, it will end up there only.’ She sobbed softly.
Emboldened, I put my arms around her shoulder (just the right size for me and smelled of ponds dream flower talc). I had to think fast to show how clever I was.
I said, ‘Nirupama, I love you and I know you love me, too. I will hand over the money to you. You pay the doctor directly’.
I must say I was impressed with the brilliant plan and she looked as if she expected that magnanimity from me.
After thanking me, she said she will come later that day to get the money.
She promptly came by 4 o clock in her TVS 50, a bag strapped its pillion.
I had just returned from home with the money that I picked up from my mother’s Almirah.
Her doe eyes spoke a thousand words. I was her prince charming who saved her family. Her quivering lips were short of words. Then she pecked me on the cheek and left me to blush like a school girl.
I watched her as she drove away in her TVS 50, sari hitched to reveal her shapely calves, her bottom gently bouncing to the whims of the vehicle.
I must put an end to her driving after marriage. After all, the mother of my kids could not be seen around gallivanting on a Moped.
The next day, as I nodded off to sleep at my workstation, I was shaken awake rudely by Nirupama’s father. He seemed inebriated.
‘Where is Mariamma?’ he slurred spitting all over my face.
‘Saar, I know the truth. It is for your own good that your daughter and I hatched the plan.’ I tried reasoning with him.
‘By the way, who was Mariamma?’ I wondered
‘Dei Idiot. Think with your brain and not with your loins. I am her ‘guardian’ and she was my golden egg laying geese. I kept her under my thumb by tightly holding on to her earning. Now you gave her the money and she flew away’ he screamed and as an afterthought added, ‘with my bloody TVS 50.’
Then he went on and on using very chaste unprintable words in all south Indian languages.
I, meanwhile, had other problems to deal with like explaining a missing three thousand rupees to a livid mother whose vocabulary could put any drunken swearing pimp to shame.