Hari and Geetha went to Bhagyam’s home on the said Sunday. As she stepped in, Geetha felt like she was in a totally different world. As they say in our country, the house was as a big as a small island. Bhagyam said they had gotten it built and moved in recently. She added, “There was no room to set up our deities in the previous house. I used the broom closet as Puja Room, but I was not happy. We are making so money, enjoying so many amenities, and all that, by the grace of God only, right? How can we not have a room for our deities? It kept pricking at heart like a thorn. I pestered my husband until he agreed to have this house built with a separate room for setting up our family deities.”
In our families, a room for deities gets priority, and here, it is a room for broomsticks. Each culture has its own priorities! The thought amused Geetha thought.
The entire house was overflowing with the items brought from India. Pictures of several deities adorned the walls. It was hard to say whether they were displaying owners’ devotion to the gods or their taste in art. Stereo system was playing Baba devotional songs.
Geetha looked around. All of them were doctors, engineers and professors. In a country, where ‘all men are created equal’ supposed to be the commanding tenet, the subtle nuance of discrimination was strikingly obvious.
Besides Hari and herself, there were a few. who appeared to be in their 30s and 40s. They gathered in one corner of the living room. They were talking about movies, music, and their struggles with local culture. Rest of them were in their 50s and 60s, well-settled in their jobs. Topics of their conversations included kids’ education, cultural conflicts in raising the kids as “Indian kids,” while grooming them to be successful in America, their marriages, and their own retirement plans.
“Market may not recover anytime soon. Wonder if Greenspan waves his magic stick and get the market going.”
“Your son graduates this year, I suppose. Where is applying for?”
“He applied to Brown University. 60k per annum. Kids’ education is a killer.”
“My son has full scholarship, luckily.”
“Really! In Yale?”
“No. He will go to Georgetown. I don’t understand how this system works. Only the kids know.”
The women gathered in the kitchen and dining room. Their chats were about India trips, the things they were planning to take from here, and bring from there, sarees, jewelry, etc. In between, recipe exchanges and local news. Also, some gossip about women that were absent at the party.
“I haven’t see Gowri in a long time. Is she out of town?” a woman, wearing in a flashy blue silk saree asked.
“No, she has not gone anywhere. I saw her yesterday in the grocery store,” another women in Kanchi silk saree said.
“Me too. I tried to talk to her but she was in a hurry. Actually, I saw her daughter in the West Town Mall, with an American boy. I think they were dating.”
“My boys don’t to entertain such games. Both told me clearly that they would marry whomsoever I and their dad suggest,” the first woman, who asked about Gowri, said.
She was proud of her accomplishment.
A lady sitting by the wall said, “Come winter, I will be going to India. I am thinking of bringing a grinding stone. We don’t get authentic chutney taste with the lentil chutney made in the blender.”
Geetha noticed a woman sitting away from all these women, and tried to remember where she had seen her.
That woman looked at Geetha and smiled vaguely. Geetha remembered now. It was the same woman she had met the grocery store a few days back. Geetha smiled.
Bhagyam asked the guests to move to the family room, where the puja event was to take place. Slowly, the entire group gathered in the family room. Five or six men remained in the living room.
The puja and bhajan songs took about an hour and a half. All the guests received prasad and blessings. The food was served in the basement. Geetha was speechless as she saw the dishes spread on the table tennis table. She could not believe a single woman could cook so many dishes for so many people.
Tapathi was sitting quietly in a corner in the dining room. The woman, who had inquired about Gowri earlier, approached Tapathi and asked, “I haven’t seen your husband in any of these events. He doesn’t like our folks?”
Tapathi smiled and turned away, as if she was looking for somebody.
The woman would not let go. “Is it true your son joined the army?”
“You are one tough cookie. The fear of what might happen any moment will kill me,” another woman commented.
“Well, your son is doing medicine. No worries,” Tapathi said.
“What is your daughter doing?” another woman asked.
“We don’t yet,” Tapathi said, stood and walked away.
“Remember I told you about a second marriage? That is her.” The words came out loud and clear.
Geetha felt a little jab at heart. Now it is clear why Tapathi would not go to these functions. She sighed, got up and stood by the patio door, watching the flowers and trees in the garden.
The garden was full of beautiful flowers and fruits, hanging from branches. Geetha pushed the screen to a side, walked out and closed it again, in order to prevent bugs from entering the room.
Bhagyam’s interest in gardening was strikingly obvious. Besides the usual Hibiscus and Jasmine, there were several rare plants.. At the far end of the yard, there was a huge Magnolia tree in full bloom. The palm-size dashing white petals with rosy tinge on the edges were amazing. Geetha stood there staring at those gorgeous beauties. Her heart chirped like a kid at a sight of his favorite toy. On one side, a Hibiscus plant displayed two fully-blossomed flowers. The plant brought back memories of the plant in her backyard in Vijayawada. Without thinking much thought, she extended her hand to touch it. A line from a popular song by Karunasri came to her mind. As she was humming chivaluna komma vanchi goraanedunantalo, she heard footsteps behind her and stopped the song quickly.
Tapathi was standing there with a little smile and twinkle in her eyes.
Neither of them could think of what to say. Geetha looked at the people on the other side of the patio door. The distance was only 10 feet but what a huge difference in the atmosphere!
Tapathi looked at the Magnolia tree and said, “What a gorgeous flower. It has only a short span of life, literally yet display such a regal beauty.
Geetha looked at the tree again. The tree was covered with magnificent splash of pure white color.
“The blooming period does not last long. However, such a beauty and such a fragrance make it unique, like fireworks. You remember the Sun chariot we draw on the front yard during the Sankranti festival? That is what comes to mind every time I see this tree.”
“True,” Geetha said.
Tapathi was quiet for a few seconds and then said, “It seems you sing.”
Geetha said, “Oh, no, just. You know too. There is no girl in our families who cannot hum some lyrics.”
“How far you have learned?”
“Not much really. Sarali swaraalu, janta swaraalu,(first steps in learning classical music) and the next one is called swarajathulu. That’s all. My music lessons ended there. After that, I picked up some from listening to All India Radio.”
“You have a good voice. You should continue.”
“What do you mean? You mean ‘here under this tree? Or, here in America?”
“No, I mean where can I find a teacher here in America?”
“I can, if you like.”
Geetha hesitated for a second. It would be nice to learn to sing, a good pastime. But then, did Tapathi mean it, or just it was a casual conversation? She could not make up her mind.
Bhagyam came into the yard. She came to check who preferred coffee and who liked tea.
(July 25, 2022)