It was a quiet Sunday morning in Mumbai and the silence inside the flat was broken only by the chortling noises which the baby made. Jaimon and Lincy were supposed to be celebrating their third wedding anniversary. But they had quarrelled violently the previous night when Jaimon got home from work and there was little likelihood of them making up in the next few days. It was not really his fault, Jaimon told himself. He had done his best to avoid working on the day of their anniversary. However, one of the biggest clients of the agency whose account he handled, was planning a blitzkrieg of TV and newspaper advertisements to herald the launch of a new car. All the three Account Executives who were assigned to that client were working overtime. Some of the best creative people at the agency were assigned to work on the launch. In a few hours time, Jaimon had to go to the Marine Drive where a sixty second commercial was being shot by one of the most brilliant (though painful and irritating) directors Jaimon ever had the pleasure of working with. Why on earth did Lincy have to be so much high-maintenance? Jaimon asked himself. Especially since he had told her so very clearly before their wedding that he had long and disorganised working hours.
‘Do you want some toast?’ Jaimon asked Lincy. Lincy did not reply and continued to sulk. Jaimon went to the kitchen and popped a couple of slices of bread into the toaster. He then opened the fridge and took out the jam and cheese spread. It was actually quite unfair to go to work on a Sunday which also happened to be his wedding anniversary. After finishing his toast, Jaimon dumped the plate in the sink and got dressed. He decided to give Lincy another chance. After all, it was their wedding anniversary. He went up to her as she sat with the baby on her lap. ‘Lincy, as soon as this launch gets over, we’ll go out and have a ball.’
‘After your precious launch gets over, you can go have a ball yourself,’ Lincy retorted. At least she broke her silence, Jaimon thought as he tried to find his watch. Why couldn’t Lincy understand that he was an Accounts Executive and he worked for one of the biggest advertising agencies in India?
‘Have you seen my watch?’ he asked Lincy.
‘Why can’t you keep your watch in the same place every night? What makes you think your wife is your servant?’
‘Come on, are you telling me that I treat you like a servant?’
‘MCPishness runs in your blood,’ Lincy declared.
‘Come on, come on. I am not an MCP,’ Jaimon said with a laugh. ‘In fact none of the men in my family are MCPs. Daddy was not an MCP.’
‘In that case, why can’t you get your mother to marry again? Why should she be a widow all her life?’
It took a few seconds for Lincy’s question to sink in. ‘Mind your business,’ Jaimon told her as he controlled the anger in his voice. ‘What makes you think Mummy wants to get married again?’ Nobody had ever suggested that his mother ought to remarry.
‘How do you know she doesn’t? Just because she is silent …’
‘Mind your business, just mind your business,’ Jaimon screamed without raising his voice too much. He slammed the door behind him and walked off to the station. Since it was a Sunday, he had the first class compartment all to himself. Once the train started moving, Jaimon called Julie from his mobile. Julie answered the phone promptly. Jaimon could hear his nephew and niece arguing about something in the background.
‘I just thought of something,’ Jaimon told Julie after the initial exchange of pleasantries.
‘Does a man who has to work on a Sunday have time to think?’
‘Listen, do you think Mummy would ever want to remarry? I mean, we’ve never asked her. Do you think we should ask her?’
There was stunned silence for a few seconds and then Julie said, ‘of course not. Never. Mummy would never want to remarry.’
Jaimon was relieved to note that Julie found the idea as unappealing as he did. There was no question of finding a replacement for Daddy. Which was not very surprising since Julie was his twin sister and they thought alike in so many respects.
‘Why did you think of something as ridiculous as this?’ Julie demanded heatedly after the initial shock and surprise.
Jaimon considered explaining that it was Lincy who had raised the point, but changed his mind. A man was not supposed to find fault with his wife in public, even if she was actually at fault.
‘It just occurred to me,’ Jaimon said lamely.
‘You’re lying. Did Lincy ask you this question?’ Julie had never vibed with Lincy who came from a totally different background. Lincy’s father was a colonel in the army and she had spent her entire childhood and youth in various parts of India. In the initial year of her marriage to Jaimon, she found it difficult to form a relationship with any of Jaimon’s relatives, especially with Julie who had lived in Kerala all her life. Lincy had issues even with Jaimon, despite the fact that he had done his undergraduate studies in Bangalore and his masters from MICA.
‘How does it matter? I’m glad you agree with me.’ Jaimon was quite relieved that he had found common cause with Julie.
‘Shall I ask mother?’ Julie wanted to know. Jaimon mulled it over for a few seconds and said, ‘it might upset her.’
‘May be it won’t.’
‘No, don’t ask her,’ he told Julie.
‘I won’t,’ Julie agreed and Jaimon knew that she was planning to ask their mother. He wondered how long Julie would take to go to Simhapara and ask their mother if she wanted to remarry. She wouldn’t do it over the phone. She would want to see the expression on their mother’s face when she asked something like this. Most probably Julie would catch a bus to Simhapara tomorrow after sending the kids off to school and her husband to his office.
Jaimon's instincts turned out to be right. Julie called him up Monday evening while he was in a cab, on his way back to office after attending a meeting.
‘Do you know what I did?’ Julie asked him.
‘Did you visit Mummy?’
‘I did. I just got back home.’
‘And you asked her?’
‘And what did she say?’
‘She didn’t say No!’
Jaimon was shocked. He had been sure that their mother would be revolted by the very idea of marrying someone else. Their father might be dead, but their mother was still his father’s wife.
‘What did she say?’ he asked Julie.
‘She said she didn’t particularly want to get married once again, but she was worried she would have to live on her own and maybe become a burden to me and to you and..’
‘She said maybe it was not such a bad idea.’
‘So, she didn’t say No.’
‘On the contrary, I got the feeling she was waiting to be asked.’
‘Don’t do anything, okay? Let’s think about it. Okay? Don’t panic.’
‘You’re the one panicking.’
‘I’m not.’ The cab passed under a bridge and the call was cut off. Jaimon plunked the mobile into his pocket and sank back into his seat.
Jaimon’s father had died five years ago after a sudden heart attack. Both he and Julie were devastated, though not to the extent their mother was. Two years before his father died, Julie had been married off to a journalist who worked for a newspaper in Kottayam. Jaimon had passed out of MICA a year earlier and started working in Mumbai. As a junior executive, Jaimon was expected to put in the hours and it was almost impossible for him to take any time off to visit his mother who was now on her own. It was left to Julie to visit their mother as often as possible and give her some company. Their extended family did their best to make things easy for their mother. Their mother’s elder sister, a nun, whom Jaimon and Julie called Sister Aunty, visited their mother as often as she could. Other than Sister Aunty and a brother who lived in the US, their mother did not have any other close relatives. His father’s younger brother and wife lived close by and they invited their mother to move into their house. Their mother had declined the offer. The house they lived in had too many memories for her. It took their mother a couple of years to pull herself together and get on with life. They owned almost twenty acres of land in and around Simhapara. The largest piece, which adjoined their house, was six acres. The rest of it was scattered in various places in Kottayam and Iddukki districts. Their mother soon got used to a lonely life. Taking care of the property took up all her time. Widow remarriage was not very common among Syrian Catholics and Jaimon and Julie and the rest of their relatives took it for granted that Achamma did not want to remarry. Not even their mother’s family mentioned it as a possibility.
Jaimon and Julie did not speak to each other till the next weekend came up.
‘Listen, if Mummy wants to get married, then we need to find someone for her to marry,’ Julie told Jaimon. It seemed as if Julie found the idea of a step father more palatable than Jaimon did.
‘Give me some time okay? I am busy with a launch and …’
‘You’ll always be busy with something. Once a decision has been taken, it’s just a question of implementing it.’
‘We haven’t decided anything,’ Jaimon objected.
‘Who are we to decide? Mummy has told us what she feels. It’s her life. Her decision.’
That night Jaimon told Lincy what had happened. ‘I knew it all along,’ she told him.
‘How did you know?’ Jaimon wanted to know.
‘I just knew.’ She wouldn’t say anything more. Most probably Lincy found it easy to look at their mother more objectively than they did, Jaimon thought.
Monday afternoon, Jaimon received an email from Julie. Does this sound right? The email asked him and there was an html link below that. Jaimon clicked on the link which took him to a matrimonial site where Julie had created an advert on behalf of their mother. Widow aged fifty three, looks younger, two adult children, looks for a suitable partner. The partner specifications were quite brief. Any one who was a Syrian Catholic and spoke Malayalam could apply. He could be of any height. Could be a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian. A drinker or a teetotaller. Of any age. Their mother’s potential partner could be a widower or a divorcee or might have never married.
Has this been activated? Jaimon emailed back.
Yes, but I can always modify it, Julie replied.
I think we don’t want a divorcee or someone shorter than Mummy.
Why not? Julie emailed back.
Listen, I have a lot of work to do. I will call you on my way home, Jaimon replied.
Jaimon changed his mind and decided not to call Julie while going home on the train. What they had to talk about was not something he wanted anyone else to overhear. Granted that they always talked in Malayalam, it was still possible that a fellow Malayalee sitting close by would have some fun at his expense. Or rather at his mother’s expense. It was almost ten by the time Jaimon got home. His dinner was on the table. Lincy had gone to bed with the baby. Jaimon dialled Julie’s home number and his brother-in-law picked up the phone.
‘How are things with you?’ Jaimon asked politely.
‘I’ll call Julie,’ his brother-in-law said before adding, ‘yeah, I’m fine. We’re all fine.’ Which meant Julie had discussed the issue with her husband.
As soon as Julie was on the phone, Jaimon asked her, ‘did you consult Mummy before posting that this online?’
‘No, but I am going to visit her tomorrow. I’ll explain to her what I’m doing.’
‘Do you know what sort of person we should be looking for?’
‘Someone who will take care of Mummy?’
‘Agreed. But what sort of person? Someone who has children from a previous marriage?’
‘Why not?’ Julie said slowly. The idea that they could end up with step-brothers or step-sisters was quite a novel one.
‘I still think we should rule out divorcees,’ Jaimon said. ‘Can you change that ad’s settings so that divorcees are ruled out?’
‘What if it is good divorcee? I mean, someone who got divorced for a valid reason?’
‘Even if it is good divorcee, I don’t think Mummy would want to live with someone who has a living ex-wife. Imagine, Mummy and our step-father run into our step-father’s ex-wife at the movie theatre!’
‘You have a point. But what’s the harm in receiving a response from a divorcee? We can always ignore any response we get from divorcees.
‘Have you got any response so far?’
‘Listen, speak to Mummy tomorrow and find out what exactly she has in mind. The little thief! Just to think that she wants to remarry!’
Jaimon ate his dinner quickly and slipped into bed beside Lincy. Lincy woke up and told him, ‘Were you on the phone? Did you speak to Julie?’
‘I’ll tell you tomorrow. Go to sleep now,’ he told her. His reply angered Lincy who turned over to the other side. Jaimon could not bring himself to forgive Lincy for having suspected that his mother might want to remarry.
The next day evening, Jaimon called up Julie on his way home. He was sandwiched between two corpulent men, neither of whom was a Malayalee. ‘Did you speak to mother?’
‘Yes, I did.’
‘And what did she say?’
‘She doesn’t mind the internet ad.’
‘I mean, what sort of guy does she want?’ It felt ridiculous to ask such a question. Jaimon could remember his father asking Julie something similar when they were trying to find her a groom.
‘She says she doesn’t have any particular preferences. She doesn’t want a divorcee though.’
‘See, I told you.’
‘She says we ought to consult with all the elders in the family before doing anything more.’
The normally quiet first class compartment was filled with a loud noise as the train stopped at a station. Jaimon disconnected and then called Julie once more after the train left the noisy station behind.
‘She says we ought to consult with all the elders in the family before we do anything’ Julie repeated. It was a valid point and Jaimon had thought of it.
‘I’ll have to come there and talk to everyone.’
‘Yes, you should. Time you took a break from work as well.’ The launch was scheduled to take place in a week’s time. Once that was done, he was due some leave.
‘I can come there by the end of this month.’
‘Can you come for a fortnight?’
‘I doubt it. In any event, I won’t need a week to talk to everyone. And if there is a wedding or something, I will have to take more leave.’ The word ‘wedding’ did not slip of his tongue easily.
‘And you may have to be around to meet potential grooms.’
‘Yeah, we’ll have to vet them, won’t we? We know what’s best for Mummy!’ Julie giggled at Jaimon’s joke.
The man sitting opposite Jaimon showed some signs of amusement. Was he listening to what Jaimon was saying? The man wore a safari suit and looked like a government employee from Mantralaya. He was unlikely to be a Malayalee, but one never knew. ‘I’ll call you later. Okay.’ Jaimon hung up. The man opposite him continued to look amused, even after Jaimon put his phone away.
When he got home, he told Lincy, ‘We are going home by the end of this month. For a week.’ Lincy did not reply immediately, but he could sense that she was not so angry with him. Later that night, he made up with Lincy. ‘I’m so sorry. I’ve been so grumpy of late,’ he told her.
‘I understand. You are under so much pressure.’
‘I’ll book the tickets sometime tomorrow.’
‘It will be raining when we get there.’ Which was true. The rains always set in, in the first week of June.
‘I don’t mind the rains, you know.’
‘I just hope the trains run properly.’ The rains were always welcome, but it was common for tracks to get flooded during the monsoon.
‘What does Mummy have to say?’ Lincy asked Jaimon. Jaimon recounted all that had happened so far. ‘I just find it difficult to believe that Mummy wanted to remarry and none of us guessed it.’
‘It is very difficult to explain. I think she has reached a stage where she feels she needs someone to look after her.’
‘Maybe if we lived with her, she wouldn’t have felt so.’
‘Yeah, you could join a leading advertising agency in Simhapara and take care of Mummy as well.’ Jaimon laughed at Lincy’s joke. Maybe he ought to have brought his mother to live with them at Mumbai. It was too late for that now.
‘If I were to die, would you remarry?’ Jaimon asked Lincy.
‘I don’t think so. I wouldn’t trust another man to look after my daughter.’
‘Come on, how can you say that?’
‘But it’s true.’
‘So by the same logic, if you were to die, I shouldn’t remarry either.’
‘No, you should. You will have to find some one you like, who is also willing to take care of our baby.’
‘So you won’t find someone who will take care of the baby, but I will?’
‘I won’t take the risk. Generally men are bad at taking care of somebody else’s children.’
‘So you would never remarry?’
‘I might, after our girl grows up.’
As Jaimon went to sleep, he thought that he would never understand women.
Two days later, he got an email from Julie saying, ‘not a single response so far.’
Jaimon was bemused. He called up Julie immediately. ‘Any idea why?’ he asked her.
‘I’ve looked at other profiles on that website. They’ve all put up photographs, written long descriptions and ..’
‘Do you think we should put up Mummy’s photo on the internet?’
‘Of course not.’ The idea was abhorrent to them both.
‘Some of the profiles on that site, the younger ones especially, have put up an album of photographs, in various poses and dresses.’ Jaimon was silent. He remembered being shown Lincy’s photographs by the broker who had arranged his marriage. There was one in which Lincy wore a saree, another in which she wore a pair of jeans and a third one in a churidhar. Had they done the same for Julie? No, but Julie’s wedding had been many years before his wedding and the practice of having a set of photographs had not yet evolved. However, they had spent a lot of effort in getting a very good photograph taken.
‘Shall I remove Mummy’s profile from that site? Julie asked him.
‘Yes. That’s the best thing to do for the moment. After I come there, we can make some other plans.’
As planned, Jaimon, Lincy and the baby went to Simhapara in the beginning of June. The rains had set in a few days earlier. The red earth of Simhapara took on a darker hue. The millions of rivulets that formed all over Simhapara poured into the river which was now a raging torrent. People carried their umbrellas everywhere. Men usually had black umbrellas while woman and children had umbrellas of various colours. Despite the fact that Jaimon could smell the wet red earth, he was not comfortable. Home wasn’t really a haven anymore. Soon, someone else would take his father’s place. Would he still want to visit Simhapara once that happened?
Jaimon thought his mother looked shy when she received them. He pretended to be happy with her decision. ‘You’re looking like a young bride,’ he told her. His mother must have felt that Jaimon wasn’t too happy with her decision. She accepted his compliment with a smile that did not reach her eyes. Julie was there to receive them when they arrived, though she left for Kottayam that very evening. The house was split into two camps. Jaimon and Julie formed a team, while their mother was on the other side. Lincy found a bond with her mother-in-law that hadn’t existed before. Very few words were exchanged between them, but they both knew that they were a team. Amidst all the chitchat and small talk, Jaimon found himself critically assessing his mother. She was still good looking. She was quite plump, having put on a fair amount of weight in the last few years. Half her hair was grey. Maybe she could dye it black, as she used to when their father was alive, Jaimon thought. Oh shut up! he told himself.
His father’s younger brother came straight to the point as soon as Jaimon told him everything. ‘Just make sure that you and Julie don’t lose the land.’
‘Your twenty acres. You and Julie ought to inherit it. If your mother marries someone, there is a good chance that you may not get your land.’
‘Why do you say that Uncle?’
‘Imagine, if your mother were to marry a widower with a couple of sons and they all live in Kerala, then …’
‘Then what, Uncle?’
‘Then you and Julie can kiss your land goodbye. Listen, I am not saying that Achamma chechy should not remarry. There’s nothing wrong in that. But we need to make sure that her husband does not steal your land.’
‘How do we do that?’
‘We need to make sure that the man she marries is not someone who covets your land.’ Which still did not answer his question, but Jaimon didn’t pursue it any further.
None of their relatives had any serious objection to the idea being floated. Achamma’s relatives were quite happy that she was to remarry. By the time it was time for Jaimon and Lincy to leave, it was agreed that all the elders would look out for a groom, through word of mouth.
‘And if that doesn’t work, we’ll place an ad in the Deepika,’ Achamma’s elder sister told Jaimon. Rashtra Deepika is a Malayalam daily run by the Catholic Church in Kerala and most Catholic households in Kerala subscribe to it.
The day before their departure, Jaimon, Lincy and the baby went to Julie’s house at Kottayam and spent the night there. Julie’s husband was a silent and reserved man who made it a point to pretend to be busier than he actually was. After dinner he claimed that he had an hour’s work to do and disappeared into his study. But he was otherwise quite pleasant to Jaimon.
The next day morning after breakfast, Jaimon and his brother-in-law were in the drawing room by themselves for a brief while. ‘It’s a wise decision you are making. It’s best to get your mother married off while she is young. I mean, after she is older, when she needs someone to take care of her, if you try to find a groom for her at that stage …’ Jaimon wanted to punch his brother-in-law in his face. His brother-in-law realised that he was on the wrong track and coughed to cover his embarrassment. Jaimon maintained his smile while his brother-in-law searched for and found a cigarette, which he lit up.
‘I don’t know when I will be able to come back. But if there is an emergency, I will some how return,’ Jaimon told Julie when they were leaving.
A month later the first serious proposal came through. The proposed groom was a man who worked in Dubai. He was a single man who had never married. It was a marriage broker who brought forward the proposal. The groom-to-be was scheduled to visit Kerala in a month’s time. He was fifty seven years old. He was an accountant and worked for an auction house in Dubai. He had lived in Dubai for over thirty years and he was planning to come back to Kerala for good, get married and settle down with his wife.
‘I’ll somehow have to get leave,’ Jaimon told Lincy. But he ran into trouble at his office. He had just taken a week off just a month ago and his boss was unwilling to let him take another week off. ‘Unless you really think you need to take leave,’ his boss added. Since the next round of promotions and pay hikes was only a month away, Jaimon did not press his case and decided to catch a flight for a weekend trip. If only he could explain why he wanted to go home, things would be easier. But Jaimon had decided that none of his friends should know of his mother’s wedding plans.
‘Please make sure he turns up on a Saturday evening,’ Jaimon begged Julie.
On the appointed day, Jaimon left for Santacruz to catch an early morning flight to Kochi. The flight was delayed by a couple of hours and the taxi ride from Nedumbassery airport to Simhapara took much longer than the usual three hours due to a few bad traffic jams on the way. Jaimon finally reached Simhapara at four thirty in the evening. The groom-to-be was scheduled to arrive at five. His mother was dressed in a simple aqua blue chiffon saree and looked very elegant. There was very little trace of a grieving widow, Jaimon thought. Or maybe he was being too harsh on his mother. She was definitely looking unsettled and apprehensive, without any of the happy anticipation of a young bride. Julie and Sister Aunty had made a tactical decision to not to dye her hair.
Jaimon hugged his mother without saying a word. Was it just his imagination or did his mother hug him for an extra second? Julie’s husband was also there with their children and Julie looked quite apprehensive. In fact, she looked a lot more nervous than their mother. Sister Aunty was also around. His father’s brother was notable by his absence.
‘Do you want to shower and change?’ Julie asked Jaimon.
‘No, I don’t have the time. It’s four thirty already.’
All of them except Julie’s husband were nervous as if they were waiting for the results of a school exam. Even Julie’s children sat in their seats quietly without making their usual racket.
‘How are things in Bombay?’ Julie’s husband asked Jaimon. It was a question meant to kill time and Jaimon merely grunted. Julie got up and switched on the TV. Her husband picked up the remote control and started to flip through the channels. He did it at a steady rate, a new channel every five seconds or so.
‘Have you decided on things?’ Sister Aunty asked Jaimon.
‘Property.’ Despite being a nun, she was quite wise to the ways of the world. ‘Does you mother get any property?’
‘She is entitled to a third of what Daddy left behind,’ Jaimon told his aunt.
‘We should make it clear that the land will only be in her name. It is not a dowry to be transferred to the groom.’ Julie’s husband added. It slowly sunk into Jaimon that there could be men wanting to marry his mother solely for her dowry. How did he behave when he got married? No, they had not negotiated hard for a dowry. In fact, they had accepted what Lincy’s family offered them. He had got ten lakhs, which was more or less the market rate for a Syrian Catholic groom in his position. In addition, Lincy had been given gold ornaments worth three lakhs. Julie too had been married off without much acrimony over dowry. She had been paid – how much was it – six lakhs or so and gold ornaments worth another two lakhs? That was seven years ago. Would his mother’s wedding be the first instance of a dowry dispute in his family?
‘If ever we get the impression that they are greedy for money, we will call it off,’ Jaimon declared.
‘Relax Aliya,’ his brother-in-law patted him on the back. ‘It’ll all work out.’ Jaimon grunted once more.
‘I’ve been praying everyday ever since we all decided that Achamma should remarry. It’ll all work out fine,’ Sister Aunty said soothingly.
The groom-to-be arrived promptly at five accompanied by the marriage broker. Jaimon was quite relieved to note that though he was not very tall and was balding, he looked quite respectable. The sort of man whom he could introduce to his friends as his step-father. Jaimon found himself liking the chap.
‘I’m called Sonny at home. But my real name is Jacob George.’ They introduced themselves to Sonny. Jaimon wasn’t sure how to address Sonny. His brother-in-law seemed to read his thoughts. ‘We’ll call you Uncle. It’s a bit too early to call you Daddy,’ Jaimon’s brother-in-law told Sonny on behalf of them all.
‘What should they call me?’ Sonny demanded looking at Julie’s children.
‘They will call you veliya-uncle. And if things work out, they can switch to veliya-appachan.’
Sonny did not have the arrogance which many Gulfies did, despite the fact that he had been there for over thirty years. ‘I didn’t want to get married and wasn’t planning to. But my parents have been pestering me for too long to get married and I’ve also realised that …. that being single is not such a great idea.’
‘What are your hobbies?’ Sonny asked Achamma shyly. Achamma blushed. Jaimon felt irritated for a few seconds and then relaxed. ‘……..cooking, watching TV............’
‘So you can knit, can you? I’ve never known anybody who could do that. I thought only people in western countries knitted.’
What other hobbies did his mother list out while he was feeling irritated? So his mother would soon be cooking for this man or someone else like him. Jaimon found that he did not find the idea unbearable. Why not? He was going to be struck in Mumbai for a while. Julie was married off to a good man. Why shouldn’t their mother find some companionship?
Sonny had a thick silver moustache which sort of compensated for the lack of hair on his head. The sun glistened off his bald plate as he explained the sort of work he did at the auction house in Dubai.
‘Jaimon’s father left behind twenty acres of land. Achamma will be getting one-third of that.’ Sister Aunty informed Sonny.
‘That’s okay Sister,’ Sonny very politely told Sister Aunty. 'Property is not an issue for me. I have made enough money in Dubai.’ They all breathed a sigh of relief. It was not unheard of for filthy rich people to demand a lot of dowry.
After that things went wrong. ‘So, how do you like the idea of living in Dubai?’ Sonny asked Achamma to their consternation.
‘But Uncle, we thought you’re coming back to Kerala for good?’ Jaimon said.
‘Oh no! Did they say that? Is that what you’ve told them? Sonny turned to the broker.
‘That’s what your folks told me initially,’ the broker told Sonny. He then turned to Jaimon and said, ‘it was only today morning on our way here that I got to know of Sonny-chayan’s new plans.’
‘But these are not new plans! I’ve always said I want to work in Dubai till my retirement. At my firm, the retirement age is sixty two. That’s another five years away. I mean, my mother does want me to come back for good immediately, but that’s not something I’ve ever agreed to.’
‘What does it matter?’ the broker turned to them. ‘Dubai is not like Saudi Arabia. Women can live there with a reasonabe degree of freedom. Sonny-chayan is willing to take his wife with him. So, there’s no problem at all.’
‘We’ll have to think about it,’ Julie spoke solemnly. ‘I am not sure Mummy can live overseas. She has never travelled outside Kerala in her whole life.’
‘Think it over by all means,’ Sonny told them. ‘Dubai is a very decent place to live in.’
‘Why don’t we adjourn to the dining room for some tea,’ Jaimon’s aunt declared and changed the topic.
That night after they had had dinner, Jaimon’s uncle and aunt arrived. ‘How did it go?’ he asked them
‘The boy is okay. A decent chap. But he wants to work in Dubai for another five years before he comes back and settles down.’
‘And will he visit his wife once a year? Why should our Achamma chechy at her age marry a man whom she will see once a year?’
‘No, he wants to take her to Dubai, with him.’
‘Oh my God! Was that man serious? How can Achamma chechy go and live in Dubai?’
‘And what about property? Did you spell it all out?’
‘I did Uncle. I told them that Mummy is entitled to one third of what Daddy has left behind.’
‘And did you tell them that the property will have to revert to you and Julie after your Mummy’s demise?’
‘No, I did not tell them that.’
‘You ought to have done that. What if your step-father survives your mother? The property will pass to him. After that he can will it to whomever he wants. You ought to think of all these things. Didn’t we discuss all this?’
‘I don’t think we discussed the second bit. But it doesn’t matter. I don’t see this working out. I can’t even imagine Mummy going off to live in Dubai with a stranger.’
Both sides struck to their guns and the proposal came to nothing. Jaimon and Julie were adamant that their mother would not be packed off to Dubai, while Sonny was definite that he would not pack up from Dubai for another five years.
Jaimon’s aunt was so incensed by what she termed Sonny’s double speak that she immediately placed an advert in the Rashtra Deepika. Within a week of the advert appearing, they got three responses. One of them was clearly unsuitable for Achamma – the groom-to-be had had an accident a few years ago which killed his wife and crippled him for life. He was now looking for a wife with whom he could swap a few jokes and who would take care of him for the rest of his life. ‘We didn’t even bother to reply suggesting they hire a nurse,’ Julie told Jaimon over the phone in suppressed anger. ‘To think that Mummy would marry someone like that.’ The other two were possibilities. One came from a wealthy landlord who lived nearby at a place called Changanacherry. His wife had died many years ago and he had three children, the youngest of whom was only twelve. The other was from a man who owned a restaurant in Kochi. Both the candidates were to ‘see’ Achamma in two weeks’ time. Jaimon managed to get a week’s leave and booked his ticket to Kottayam. While Jaimon was away, Lincy and the baby were to travel to Pune where Lincy’s parents lived.
Disaster struck Jaimon a week before he was scheduled to go on leave. The car manufacturer, one of the most important clients of his agency, threatened to move to another agency. The launch of the new car had not apparently gone off too well. A damage control exercise was launched and Jaimon’s leave was cancelled.
‘But I do need to go,’ Jaimon pleaded with his boss.
‘Our necks are on the line. Both of us. Do you want to come back from your holiday and have to look for a job?’ his boss told him curtly. Since he had told everyone that his wife would be going to Pune while he visited his mother and sister, he could not even plead a family emergency.
‘You won’t believe it. I just can’t make it,’ he told Julie over the phone.
For once Julie was calm. ‘That’s okay,’ she told him. ‘Don’t worry too much. We’ll handle things at our end. You don’t have to be around every time someone comes to meet Mummy.’
Lincy decided to cancel her visit to Pune and go to Simhapara instead. Jaimon was quite grateful. ‘You’ll be my representative over there,’ he told Lincy as he pinched his daughter’s cheeks.
‘If this doesn’t work out, I think we should place an internet ad,’ Lincy told Jaimon.
‘Lincy, please try to understand. I may be an advertising executive, but I cannot market my mother. She isn’t a bloody car!’
‘What’s wrong in placing an advert with a few photographs?’
‘Lincy, you have never lived in Kerala. You just do not understand Simhapara. All it needs is for one person from Simhapara to notice those photographs on the internet. Within a few days, everyone will know about it. And once it becomes well-known, we’ll have people asking us about it.’
‘Okay. I’m just trying to understand this. Don’t people at Simhapara already know that we are looking for a husband for Mummy?’
‘Yes, everyone knows that.’
‘So, what’s the difference if people know that we have placed an advert on the internet, with a few photographs?’
‘It’s just not the same. It’s not the done thing.’
‘If Julie were getting married, would you mind placing an internet ad with photographs?’
‘No, I would not mind. But then, that’s different. Just drop it, will you?’
‘I was only trying to understand….’
‘Please drop it Lincy!’
Julie met Lincy and the baby at the Kottayam railway station and took them to Simhapara. Jaimon was on the phone to Lincy and Julie a couple of times a day during the run-up to the important week-end. One of the grooms-to-be was scheduled to arrive Saturday evening and the other one Sunday morning.
Saturday evening, the restaurant owner arrived to meet Achamma. He was almost an hour late when he arrived in a jeep, accompanied by his brother who drove the vehicle.
‘Chettan is a very nice man, the brother explained. However, after chechy died, he started drinking a bit. No, no, please don’t misunderstand. Chettan never used to drink before that. It’s only now that he has got into this habit. We know that once he is married to someone nice, he will not want to drink.’ After that explanation neither Lincy nor Julie felt the need to probe for more information about the groom. After around fifteen minutes of small talk, Sister Aunty politely terminated the meeting. ‘We’ll get back to you in a short while, she told them and sent them away.
‘What an excuse to start drinking!’ Sister Aunty said after the two men had left.
Jaimon’s brother-in-law put things in the right perspective by saying ‘we ought to be grateful to them for being frank and telling us that the man has a drinking problem. Some people might have kept quiet about it.’
Lincy called up Jaimon who was in a meeting. ‘Can’t talk. You talk,’ he muttered into the phone.
‘They arrived and left. The man has a drinking problem. His brother says it started only after his wife died. Sister Aunty sent them off saying we’ll get back to them.’
‘Will call later,’ Jaimon muttered and hung up.
That night Jaimon called up and had a long chat with both Julie and Lincy. There was not much to do, other than hope the next candidate would turn out to be better. Achamma took the incident quite calmly. After Julie and Lincy spoke to Jaimon, they handed over the phone to Achamma.
‘How are you Mummy?’ Jaimon asked her.
‘I’m fine. Julie and Lincy have told you everything. There’s nothing more for me to add.’
‘Don’t get upset. Okay?’
‘Why on earth should I be upset?’ Achamma responded. ‘Did you have dinner?’
‘Not yet Mummy. I just got home. I’m going to eat something now.’
‘Is there any food in the fridge?’
‘Yes, there is. There is some Sambhar left in the fridge. And I am making some rice.’
‘Why on earth did you have to work so hard? Will you be working tomorrow as well?’
‘Yes Mummy. A few meetings. Can you please give Julie the phone?’
‘Hello! All set for tomorrow morning?’
‘They are expected to reach here at 11:30.’
‘Will you be going to Church in the morning?’
‘No, we will be going in the evening. It’s too much to go in the morning, get back by ten thirty and then prepare to receive them. Wait!’ Sister Aunty was tugging at her arm. ‘Sister Aunty says she will be going to Church in the morning for the six thirty mass. And she is going to take Mummy with her.’
The new candidate arrived a few minutes early, unaccompanied by anyone. He parked his Maruti Esteem carefully and walked into the house without a hint of hesitation or shyness. He was quite tall, pleasant faced and carried his weight quite well. If it had not been for the fact that his hair was entirely grey, he could have passed for a forty year old. They all felt tongue-tied in front of him, even Sister Aunty. Since the groom-to-be was the oldest person around, he got down to the task at hand.
‘Why don’t you tell me a bit about yourself?’ he asked Achamma. Achamma was flustered by the question and did not respond quickly enough. Sister Aunty stepped in to answer the question.
‘Achamma’s husband died five years ago. She has two children, both of whom are well settled. That’s Julie, Achamma’s daughter. Her husband. And children. Jaimon is in Bombay. He couldn’t get leave. He works for … where does he work Lincy?’
Lincy supplied the necessary information and responded to the follow-up questions regarding Jaimon’s advertising agency. The meeting was not much different from the one with Sonny. The groom-to-be stayed for an hour and left. As soon as he drove off in his car, Jaimon’s uncle arrived.
‘Did you tell them about the property?’
‘Yes, we did. This time we even told them what you said last time. That after Achamma’s time, the property should revert to her children.’
‘We need to be careful with this man. He has got three children.’
‘They have a lot more land than we do. Why on earth would they want our land?’ Lincy was tempted to say that if Achamma was entitled to one-third of her husband’s property, then she ought to have the right to dispose of it whatever way she wanted. Please let my mother-in-law make her own choices, she wanted to tell everyone. But what was the point? Even if she stood up for Achamma, she would not win. Most probably even Achamma did not think she had the right to will her property to anyone she wanted.
Two days later, they got a phone call from the brother of the groom-to-be. Lincy and Achamma were alone in the house. Sister Aunty had gone back to her convent and Julie was at Kottayam. ‘I would like to speak to the Karnavar of your family,’ he told Lincy who answered the phone.
‘There is no Karnavar here.’ How stupid could the man be? Lincy thought. The Karnavar of this house is dead. Which is why we are looking for a groom, she wanted to tell the caller. ‘Can you please let me what you’ve decided?’
‘No, no. This is something I need to discuss with someone who understands these things.’ Lincy was forced to give Jaimon’s uncle’s phone number. Half an hour later, Jaimon’s uncle stormed into the house.
‘I thought you had explained everything to them,’ he told Lincy accusingly.
‘What’s the matter now?’
‘They want Achamma’s share of the property to be given as a dowry. They even suggested that the land be transferred to the groom at the time of the marriage.’
‘So what did you tell them?’
‘I spent some time trying to explain things, but finally I had to ask the man to get lost.’
‘But uncle are you being fair? If Mummy is entitled to six acres of land, shouldn’t that be given to her?’
‘We are giving it to her. But it must come back into the family after her lifetime.’
Why should we insist that the land should revert to us? Isn’t it our practice to give the woman’s share in the family property as a dowry at the time of her wedding? Can’t we tell them that the land will be in Mummy’s name and she can will it to whoever she wants?’
‘What if she likes her new husband’s children and wills some land to them?’
‘Isn’t that up to her?’
‘You don’t understand. You’ve never lived in Kerala.’
‘When I got married, my father gave my share in his property as a dowry to my husband. And didn’t Daddy do the same for Julie? Why can’t we do that for Mummy?’
‘We can’t give a dowry for Achamma chechy. If her family wants to give her a dowry, they can do so.’
‘Anyway, I’ve told them it’s off. We’ll have to look for another groom.
Jaimon’s uncle left in a huff saying, ‘if you don’t understand these things, please ask your elders for advice.’
Achamma had listened to the entire exchange in silence. After her brother-in-law had left, she burst into tears and told Lincy, ‘I was willing to go and live in Dubai!’
Six months later when Sonny came on leave, he and Achamma got married in a simple ceremony at Simhapara. Achamma wore a plain silk saree and Sonny looked resplendent in his three piece black suit, even though he was sweating profusely. As they followed the bride and the groom out of the church, Jaimon told Lincy, ‘Maybe I should also grow a moustache like my Daddy.’