Appayya’s whole persona demands respect. He is tall, broad and always clad in a white shirt and a white mundu. Across his left shoulder is a checkered towel. And when he walks on the Streets of his village in his sandals, people bow and offer respect.
Sometimes if there is a puddle of water, he would fold his mundu up. A style which does not favor his youngest son, ‘Appa lower your mundu, it looks obscene.’
‘Oh yes, you can wear your Bombay bermudas on the roads but if I tie my mundu a bit up, it is obscene, eh?’
And Shridhar his youngest would just mumble in his breath and move away.
Sumalini or Suma as she is called, respects her husband a lot. Not because he is bossy but because he is a balanced person. He has looked after the house with iron hands, without hurting anyone’s feelings. Oh yes, he is strict and all the work should be done on time. God forbid if she was a little late in preparing the food and all hell would break loose.
‘You want the Lord to wait for you?’, he would scream.
As was the custom in their home, each meal would be offered first to the home deity. And every time Appayya would take his bath, chant his Gayatri and then offer the food.
No, he was not always angry, he did take his wife for outings and got her whatever she desired. But…he was strict with his customs and traditions.
And so Suma was tense. Her eldest son Mukunda had told that he was in love with a ….of all the people…..a Punjabi. If she was a Punjabi, she was definitely a meat lover, thought Suma. What about Appa…would he agree to a Punjabi and what about the rituals and customs of their house.
She broke into a cold sweat once again.
Appayya was looking at his wife. It was the tenth time in 10 minutes that he was observing her wiping her sweat.
‘Is she having a heart attack’, he thought.
‘Suma, Suma are you not well, do you want to go to a doctor’, said he.
‘No, no I am fine’, Suma said before again wiping her brow.
‘Let me help you’ said he as it was evident that lunch would be late.
This continued for two days and then finally, he asked her, ‘Suma, what’s the matter?’
Suma who in her entire marital life of 29 years had not hidden anything from her husband and now was having a tough time hiding the truth about Mukunda.
‘Is it about Mukunda’, Appayya asked.
She jumped. And it was clear that it was about Mukunda.
She was still tight-lipped and so Appayya started his interrogation.
‘Has he failed his exam’. No
Has he lost all money. No
Does he want to be a sannyasi. NO
Is he in love. Silence
Is the girl not from our community. Silence
Is she meat eater. Silence
‘Hmmm’, said Appayya. ‘Do they want to get married or are they living together’
‘I didn’t ask that’, Suma said hesitatingly, ‘The moment he said that the girl is a Punjabi, I lost all interest’, she said.
‘Hmmm’, said he, ‘Ask them to come and meet me’.
‘Huh’, said Suma in silence.
‘Better if we meet them and solemnize their relationship than denying Suma. What will happen if I say no, break all contact with the girl, they may revolt and start living together. Or what will happen if they decide to kill themselves. Better to meet them and then let us see what happens’
Suma was in shock for a couple of days and after that she called up Mukunda and gave him the news.
Komal came with her parents. Dressed in a yellow salwar kameez, when she came in after removing her footwear at the entrance and then touched his feet. Appayya was happy that the girl knew how to respect a home and her elders.
His eyes gleamed and Mukunda heaved a sigh knowing that half the battle had been won.
Appayya spoke in his faulty Hindi and Suma in her broken English but then the language of the heart can be spoken anyways.
‘We eat only veg food’, said Appayya to his guests at lunchtime.
‘We eat non veg only once a week’, said Mr. Dhillon, ‘and that too our Komal has stopped eating non veg altogether’
‘Really?’, said Appayya.
Komal demurely lowered her eyes.
Two days they stayed and two days Appayya observed her. And when they were about to leave, he told Mr. Dhillion, ‘See I do not want to delay, let’s set their date for marriage’; Suma and all others got the shock of their life.
The guests left and Suma asked, ‘ Are you really ready for this marriage?’
‘Yes Suma. They both love each other and the girl is ready to accept our family, our traditions….so whom am I to object? She is intelligent, spoke nicely to everyone, was respectful to everyone. So she is fine. What happens later who knows…’
Mukundas eyes shone with pride for his father. His father may not be very educated but he could judge people for sure.
Shridhar meanwhile was smiling away, Maybe there was a chance for him, maybe he could propose to that lovely Gujju girl in his class.