Sethuraman loved to relax in his favourite easy chair looking out of the balcony. This evening he was disturbed. A cow rummaged at a pile of garbage on the road, mainly banana leaves with strands of dried flowers after the recent festival. Normally he would have grumbled about the lazy road cleaners but today he was quiet. “Your Mellie and our Sean make a lovely couple. We will be related soon, Seth.” Mrs. Hansen’s words echoed in his head, hurting him like poison-tipped arrows. He felt strangely lethargic. He didn’t shout, as he usually would, when a passing dog sniffed at their gate and let loose a long stream of urine to make a puddle nearby. “Brazen” and “Running wild” was how that old fool Kalyanaraman had described her. The searing pain that hit him in his chest left him breathless. The last straw was that idiot of a driver asking if she was still at home or had run away with someone!! His daughter Malini, the apple of his eye! He broke out in sweat, clutching his chest as another bolt of pain pushed him back when he tried to get up.
The next thing he remembered was gaining consciousness in a hospital bed. There was an air of sterilized silence about the place. Crisply uniformed nurses swished past working with quiet efficiency checking the various tubes that fed him precious blood and medicine. “ICU- Intensive Care Unit” read an illuminated sign above the door. Why was he here? Where were Kamala and Malini?
Kamala, Malini and Sean were in the doctor’s cabin. He hadn’t removed the blue-green scrubs after his last surgery. “He is recovering but it’s too early to say yet. He had an acute Myocardial Infarction, a severe heart attack in layman’s terms. I will keep him in the ICU for another 24 hours till I am sure he is stable. We shall inform you if anything important crops up.” They had many questions to ask but the doctor had many other patients to attend to.
Ten days later, sitting in the balcony (but not on that easy chair, which she now considered unlucky) Kamala felt guilty. The worst was over. Her husband was recovering at home. Was she once again thinking badly about Malini and that Sean? Even his name was strange! At the hospital, she had called him “Sean” to rhyme with “bean”. He hadn’t minded but Malini told her it was pronounced “Shawn” to rhyme with “dawn.”!
Would she feel as she did before her husband’s illness? Would she be able to stand the sly comments and knowing looks friends and neighbours threw whenever Sean dropped Malini home? But wait a moment. Friends did she say? Apart from young Chinna, who had arranged for an ambulance, if they were true friends what had most of them done to help her when she really needed it?
Most of the help had come from outside their circle of friends and relatives. When Sethuraman needed blood, and in plenty, urgently, she was in panic. “From where will I get blood? What am I to do?” she had cried. That fair girl from Malini’s office, Miss Bomji had taken charge. She made her sit in a cafe, got her the strongest coffee she had tasted in her life, and said, “Don’t worry, Aunty, we feel for you and Mellie’s Dad. I have known her from her first day at work. Our volunteer donors, on call 24 x 7, are rushing here.” Her fingers flew on her cell phone.
While relatives and friends made excuses ranging from “heavy traffic” to “urgent meetings”, Kamala remembered how so many unknown young men and women from Malini’s office arrived to donate blood. God knows which religion or caste they belonged to, she couldn’t help thinking through sheer habit. Some were strangely dressed, she thought. Many had tattoos and piercings which she was thankful Malini hadn’t. One man wore a crumpled dhoti as if he had been woken up from his sleep, which indeed he had. Miss Bomji held her hand and whispered, “Aunty, please don’t tell Mellie this. She will be most annoyed! Some of us want to contribute our bit towards Uncle’s treatment.” And, these were total strangers to her!
Malini knew that Sean O’Malley was the last person her parents would have chosen to be her husband. Their families were so different. Sethuraman had never started drinking, Sean’s father hadn’t stopped. Her father was a strict vegetarian, not even eating a boiled egg recommended on health grounds. Sean, in his own words, ate anything and everything. Sethuraman was always thrifty, saying, “Save for a rainy day. You never know what can happen tomorrow.” Sean spent as if there was no tomorrow. He said, “Money comes, money goes. It’s here to give us a good life. Enjoy it while you can.”
Three months went by. Sethuraman had recovered. It had been painful at first but the worst was over. Or, was it?
As he chatted with Kamala, Malini came in early from work, for a change.
He said, “I heard you call yourself, ‘Melanie’. Shocking, when we chose such a lovely name after much thought. Worse, the whole world, except us, seems to think you are marrying that Anglo-Indian fellow!”
“Please Appa. Sean is a gem of a person. The world knows because they want to know. You don’t want to hear anything that you don’t like. ‘Melanie’ is what I am called at work. All of us have such names. Sunanda is ‘Sue’ and Brinda is ‘Brenda’. I explained all this to you when I first joined. I would have told you long back about Sean if you were more reasonable.”
“Reasonable? That Kalyan Mama is telling everyone about the MG Road incident. Can you forget his letter?”
“I have! Who bothers about what he thinks? I care a hoot for people like him. Sean and I love each other very much. We had planned to get married a few months ago but you fell ill. Now that you are better, I hope Amma and you will accept him for what he is, not what you think he is.”
The discussion continued for hours, interspersed with bursts of anger and tears on both sides.
She said, “We are adults, Appa. We could have got married long ago without telling you but we didn’t do that. I want Amma and you to bless and love us as you always have.”
Sethuraman was horrified as he had never considered this possibility seriously.
The only sound heard was the sharp intake of her mother’s breath.
Kamala’s family and friends had plenty of advice to offer, “Take good care of him,” “Malini should get married soon so that he is happy”, “Don’t allow worries about his daughter to affect his health.” There was much more of the same.
Malini was far stronger than her. “Ignore their nonsense, Amma,” she said. “They only know to talk about others. You have no reason to worry about anything. We have enough money. I am earning much more than I thought I would.”
She went on scornfully, “They advice others when they can’t manage their own families! Some of their daughters are having or had affairs before they got married. They can accuse me of anything but I am not a hypocrite like them.”
“Appa, your head is full of age-old biases against people only because they are not like you. You want everyone around you to talk, and act like you. I belong to a different world, a different generation. What matters more for us is what’s in a person’s heart, what he demonstrates by his actions, not his horoscope, stars, caste or religion!
I never told you or Amma this before. Sean was ready to mortgage the only asset they have, their flat in Whitefield, if you needed funds critically. This is far more than what your precious relatives did. The ones you talk about so much. Ask Amma what they actually did. Those supposedly close to you mumbled excuses and shed crocodile tears. Only a few did anything of value. Some were pests in the hospital, hanging around for the latest update to retail to friends and family. For them it was a real life drama. They were such a pain!”
After his stay in the hospital, Sethu reluctantly began to look anew at Sean. He was pleasantly surprised to find that Sean knew a lot about football and cricket in which they had a common interest.
” I have some important news for you,” said Malini, a month later
Their shocked faces told her they suspected what she thought they would.
“Our visas have come through. Sean and I are being posted to our Head Office in London. We wish to get married before we leave.”
The peace of the evening was disturbed by the ringing of his cell phone. It was Kalyan Mama.
“How are you, Sethu? Take care of your health. By the way, how is Malini?”
“She is getting married next week!”
“Really? Congratulations! Who is the boy? Must be from our own community, of course. Is he from IIT? In the IAS? Did the match come through your family priest? Anyone we know?”
“She’s fine. Her wedding is on Friday. Venue: 11-12, 1st Main Road, Palace Guttahalli.”
“Wonderful! You could arrange for a marriage hall at such short notice? Lucky fellow!”
“It’s the Sub-Registrar’s Office. My son-in-law to be, Sean O’Malley is an Anglo-Indian. He is, like Malini, an executive in a multinational call centre. They will shortly after leave on assignment to London”.
There was a stunned silence from the other end.
Sethuraman concluded, “Sean may not be from IIT, IIM or the IAS but he is a good boy. His heart is in the right place which is more than can be said about many others.”
Sitting in the easy chair, he watched the sunset, smiling wistfully thinking of Malini in England. Would Sean excel and stay on in the UK? And perhaps be knighted? Imagine his Malini becoming Lady O’Malley! Didn’t that sound more majestic than Lady Ramalingam?