Chap 1B: A Proposal
“At last…I feel human again!” Mili said, pausing to take a sip of the steaming brew that she held in her hands.“Ramu kaka…nobody can make better chai than you!” She called out, looking back over her shoulder, while stepping out of the kitchen. Ramu was their servant who had been with them ever since her father had been a little boy. He was practically a part of the family and everybody fondly called him kaka or uncle.
“But no one can ever top you mom, no one!” She said with a wink directed at Kiran.
Then gazing out of the window at the blooming passion flower vine which hugged the entire left side of the house, she exclaimed joyously,“It is so wonderful to be back home!”
Kiran smiled, secretly observing her daughter, as she settled down at the table and began working on some pea pods. Yes, her husband was right. Their little girl had indeed blossomed. The sloppy, rambunctious tomboy, who used to bring the entire house on its knees with her exploits had disappeared giving way to the beautiful and elegant young woman who sat in front of her. The transformation had come about so quickly that it appeared almost miraculous! Yet, she was still her Mili, her precious little child, whom she wanted to cherish and keep in close proximity all her life. But Kiran knew that would be asking for too much.
“So… Did you have a good time with your friends yesterday?” She asked, tucking an errant strand of hair behind her daughter’s ear.
Mili nodded, “Yes, it was like old times. First we went to the bazaar, then to the movies and then back to Annie’s place where we chattered each other’s ears off!” She laughed. “Yet there was something odd about it all…” She paused in her task, her large jet black eyes taking on a wistful look. “Some, like Sonia and Jess, were only there physically while their minds were engaged elsewhere. Probably worried sick about their husbands and their babies.”
“Thank Heavens! That is something I don’t have to be concerned about for a long long time,” she concluded brightly.
You may be surprised my dear…Kiran thought. I should not procrastinate anymore.“I have some news..” She said.
Mili perked up, “What news? Has our neighbor run away with her driver? I sensed something shady there.”
“No!” Kiran said laughing, “Our neighbor is quite happy with her husband as far as I can tell. You have to stop letting your imagination run wild. It is something else. Do you remember Dr. and Mrs Sharma?”
Mili frowned, shaking her head.
“Perhaps you don’t. You were very young when they left. But you should recall their son, Ahaan. He was three years your senior in school.”
“You mean Mr. Times of India? Of course I remember him!” Mili said, bursting into a peal of laughter.
“Times of India…?”
“Yes. Because he was the biggest political junkie! While the rest of us were talking about the latest movie, he was waxing eloquent on the state of world affairs. While we were smuggling Sidney Sheldon in our satchels, he was walking around with a book on Churchill or Lenin in plain sight! I used to tease him so much about it…”
“Why, because he was different?”
“I guess you could say that…” Mili’s brow drew together in a frown. “ And all he did was stare at me with those serious bespectacled brown eyes and walk away. I sometimes wished he would shout back. His silence was getting on my nerves. Then one day he did. He lectured me on respecting my peers —how dare he?!” Her face grew red with indignation. “Another time, he caught me playing truant with a couple of my classmates and told me off, saying that it would affect my grades! Big deal!…… Oops!” She bit her tongue and managed to look appropriately chagrined.
Kiran smiled. The cat was out of the bag. “That was very sweet of him. He was just looking out for you.”
Mili was glad that her mother didn’t berate her on her bad behavior, “Perhaps he was. But the manner in which he said it all, I wanted to punch him in his smug face..I nearly did!”
“Thank heavens you controlled yourself Mili!” Kiran managed to look shocked, though she was enjoying this recount of her daughter’s school days, which she hadn’t been privy to. “I had a different opinion of him, though..”
“Remember the day when it was raining heavily and all the power lines were down? The phones weren’t working either. You had stayed back for a school play rehearsal and I was worried sick. Your papaji (father) was out of town also. I was about to leave the house with kaka to look for you, when I heard a knock on the door and found you standing there with Ahaan. He was holding his coat over your head while getting soaked to the skin himself. And then he left right from the door, even when I asked him to come in. A very gentlemanly thing to do.”
Mili shrugged, “I guess it was. But at the time I thought that he was just trying to show off! Anyway why are we talking about this now? That was a long time ago. They moved away when I was 13 or 14.”
“Yes.. Doctor Sharma moved to Delhi to be closer to his family. I heard that he passed away a couple of years ago and Mrs. Sharma was overwhelmed trying to settle his affairs. She is here in town now, in order to sell her old home.” Kiran paused and looked straight into Mili’s eyes. “She came over last night with a proposal. She wants to make you Ahaan’s bride.”
“What?” Mili jumped up from her seat and stared at her mother, her eyes wide with disbelief. Her entire world came crashing down around her.
“Yes. We were taken aback too. Apparently she spotted you in the market yesterday.”
“But how did she recognize me? I was with friends. She doesn’t even know what I look like. Was she playing tic tac toe or something?” Mili asked, furiously banging a small fist on the table, making a bowl hop and scatter it’s contents.
“Calm down Mili…” Kiran said, going up to her daughter. She gently smoothed her back. “She didn’t recognize you. It was our mutual friend, Mrs Patel who pointed you out and Mrs. Sharma took an instant liking.”
Mili wondered what she had done yesterday which would have attracted a middle aged woman’s attention. All she recalled was haggling endlessly with the fruit vendor over the price of a couple of chikoos.
“I hope you said no.”
Her mother looked embarrassed. “No, we didn’t.”
“Why not? C’mon ma! Don’t tell me that you are waiting to get rid of me by tying me off to the first stranger who comes to the door!” Mili blurted out incensed.
“Ahaan isn’t a stranger…”
“Maybe he is not.. And I don’t like him. But that isn’t the point. You are trying to snatch my future away from me..my dreams. I wanted to make something out of myself.”
“But you have finished your schooling.”
“Yes.. a mere master’s in music. But my career has barely begun! I want to hone my skills further. I want to be known all over the world as Mili, the sitar maestro. I want to fill Pt. Ravi Shankar’s shoes! And I am going to start my campaign by playing next week at the local music festival. Besides I want to help you and papaji with the house and the estate. I want to take care of you. Please…this is all too soon.”
“You sister got married when she was 22 and I was only 17 when I left home.”
“So is there a certain age beyond which a girl becomes unnecessary baggage for her parents?”
“No my dear.” Kiran said, pulling her daughter down beside her on the sofa. “Please don’t jump to conclusions. You are our laadli beti (beloved daughter). It is heart wrenching for parents to say goodbye to their daughters. It’s akin to letting go of a vital piece of their existence. But it has to happen. Society expects it and getting you well situated is our responsibility. What will happen to you once we are no more? You need someone you can rely on.”
“But you are not going to die! I won’t let you!” Mili cried out vehemently.
“Death is part of life. It is inevitable.”
“But…but I want to pursue my career!” Mili persisted.
“Mrs Sharma said that she would impose no restrictions whatsoever on what her son and daughter in law decide to do with their lives, when I mentioned to her your passion for music. And I hear that Ahaan is very progressive; in tune with the times. He happens to be a diplomat with the Indian Foreign Service.”
Of course.. it had to be. A perfect fit. Mili thought, feeling a twinge of envy. “Still my answer is no!” She sulked, plummeting face down on a tasseled cushion
Kiran sighed, shaking her head. “All we are asking of you is to talk to him. There is no pressure.”
“What do you mean? He’s here too?” Mili turned to stare aghast at her mother.
“Yes, and he is coming to see you tomorrow.”
Chikoo pronounced [Chee- koo] or Sapodilla in English are tropical fruit with a sweet and malty flavor. Just delicious!