by Ramesh Mahadevan

Ajay Palvayanteeswaran just could not believe his ears. (Okay, okay. I confess. This is the fourth Ajay Palvayanteeswaran story that begins with the same line. But just this one time, let me get on with the story). Ajay wondered if it was for real. The voice at the other end of the telephone, was it a human voice or was it a computer chip? Computer chips don't have ABCD daughters waiting in line to get married.

Ajay went through an instant replay of what had just happened. First the phone rang and then when he answered it, a thoroughbred, thick South Indian accent responded. At first, Ajay thought it was the usual call to extract five bucks from him for the Tamil Association or some nuisance call about a forthcoming music concert.

"Good evening, Mr. Palvayanteeswaran. My name is Srinivasan Iyer" the voice introduced himself. "Let me be direct with you. I got your name from the Jyotishi Vijai Maharaj of Tantra Corporation. You see, I have a daughter and I am looking for a good alliance from well-placed Iyer boys. You seem to be a nice boy high up in the Iyerarchy."

Good ! Somebody has finally realized Ajay's true worth in dollars and is taking the initiative to ring up and discuss a possible marriage.

"We call her Molly, short for Malini Ammal" the man went on."Very nice girl - she has the best of our culture and this
culture - the kind of girl who could make stuffed asparagus parathas with a dash of fresh thyme. A child of sound moral
values. By the way, can I have a copy of your horoscope? You can fax it to me."

Why not ? Ajay thought. After all, he always carried his horoscope and never left home without it. In fact, when they cashed his checks, he frequently showed his horoscope as an ID.

"What are you doing this friday night ? Why don't you come to our place for a dinner ? You can also meet my daughter."
The prospective father in law pressed on aggressively. "By the way, you are still employed, aren't you ?"

Ajay didn't even hesitate and accepted the invitation immediately. "If the marriage deal doesn't work out, at least I can get a good dinner" Ajay rationalized. Ajay only knows seventeen women in all his life. If you discount his various aunts and cousins, the number dropped to just one or two, which too were faces from way back during his kindergarten days. Now he is going to have his own wife, that too an American born one ! It is now time to bring out all the repressed passionate thoughts.

Ajay already started to daydream and drool. "The first romantic thing I must do with my woman" Ajay dreamed on "is to take her to India and go straight to my old IIT hostel and show her my ex-hostel room." He would take Malini to Piscataway, New Jersey for honeymoon. And when he showers her with lusty kisses, his toothbrush-like mustache might come in the way and brush her teeth. But he could always sacrifice a little and shave it off. Then one day, they will be blessed with a healthy baby boy. He will have an elaborate 'Naming ceremony', followed the next day by an equally elaborate 'Nicknaming ceremony'. He would call the child Munna, after his favorite mess worker in his old hostel. His parents would come from India and linger on for months to look after the baby. Then one day, in a ceremony resembling the change of palace guards in the Buckingham palace, his parents would leave and Malini's parents would arrive from New Jersey, maintaining the continuity of grandparents for the lucky brat.

For days afterward, Ajay experienced a new joy, a new lightness, something akin to floating on cloud nine. He tried to visualize how Malini Ammal might look like. Perhaps he will have to teach her hindi and tamil. That should be a lot of fun, especially the foul words. He found himself pointlessly humming an ancient Talat Mehmood song in total ecstacy all the time. He had half a mind to call his dad in Madras and simply tell him "Boooooo." But then, he is still scared of his dad and didn't want his dad to screw up things from across the ocean. However, he did call his wingmates and ex-classmates. They all had advise to offer him.

"You should be firm when negotiating with these dudes" cautioned Srini from Ganga, Ajay's bum pal, from the other side of the phone. "This Iyer dude sounds very tough. Ask him for at least a BMW as dowry. If he doesn't come down, then make sure you ask for at least a Subaru. If nothing, at least let him get you an engine tune-up and oil change. Don't sell yourself short."

On the appointed day, Ajay borrowed the whitest kurta from his roommate, emptied a bottle of perfume on himself and checked five times to see if his fly was zipped up. He asked his roommate Bala to accompany him for moral support, "But, Machi, don't dress like a prospective bridegroom and ruin my chances" he begged. Bala's friend, Srini, who was visiting him from some godforsaken place and a couple of anonymous friends who landed up hoping to initiate a booze session, were also asked to accompany Ajay. After getting lost a million times in the suburban jungles, they finally located Iyer's house from the subji smell and wandered in.

"Hello, I am Ajay. This is Srini, Bala, Srini and Bala."

"Ajay, Namaste. I am Srinivasan, Srini for short. My full name is Iyer. This is my wife" Mr. Iyer introduced a big woman wearing a kilometer of saree, to Ajay.

"Hello" Ajay said shyly. "Nice meeting you Auntiji. Er, umm, I didn't catch your name."

Mr. Iyer interrupted. "That doesn't matter. You see, like many other desis, I don't ever care to mention her name in introductions. Now we no longer remember her name. Everybody only knows her as Wife # 32454."

"Oh, what a nice number" Ajay said.

"What would you like to drink ?"

"Whatever you have on tap. I will have a pitcher."

"Ajay, Malini is getting dressed. When she is done, you can go inside and have a one-on-one chat with her. Stay at least four feet away from each other. Good good, your horoscope is a killer one. Guru is in the fourth house and Saturn is in the garage. We can start our interview now itself, if you wish. Do you have any questions about Malini that I can answer ?"

"Yes, what is her cholestrol number ?"

Time stood still while Malini Ammal got ready for Ajay. In the meantime, Mrs. Iyer went from the kitchen to Malini's room hazaar times. Finally, Malini was ready and Ajay was slowly escorted inside. Ajay felt like a sacrificial lamb being led for slaughter. As the two potential mates began their 'interview', a tense lull fell in the living room. Anxious, everyone felt silent and pensive.

Iyer began to remember his own earlier days. He started out as a chief administrative officer for the Maharaja of Travancore till one day the Maharaja woke up and realized that Maharajas and kingdoms had been abolished several decades ago and summarily fired Iyer. This sent Iyer searching for greener pastures and greener cards. Eventually he landed up in the USA and sold his soul for a few hundred dollars and a coupon for three dollars off a large pizza and now firmly believes that he is
helping India from the outside. He remembered somebody's theory about desis in this country and how desis are like drops of water. If they land up this side of the Continental Divide they end up in New Jersey and if they are at the other side, they end up at the Silicon Valley eventually. Now he is as New Jersey as the Turnpike ! After years of hard work, he has moved up the High Tech corporate world and now designs the 'on-off' switches for personal computers.

The rarified atmosphere, with whiffs of onion pakoras getting deep fried, numbed Iyer's senses and made him think deeply. Just exactly who is cheating whom ? He wondered. Am I cheating the poor boy by forcing him to marry my dud daughter ? Is he cheating me by marrying her purely for green card ? Is my daughter cheating him by marrying him just because he is a qualified professional, otherwise she might end up as an exotic dancer in a topless joint ? Are the four thugs, friends of Ajay (FOA), cheating me by coming here and freeloading a dinner ? Am I cheating these four boys, because even if Ajay Palvayanteeswaran deal falls through I can always go after one of the other guys and try to get him hitched to my dud daughter ? Is my wife cheating on me ?

Iyer was like a thinking machine, as he rambled on to the next line of thinking. Hmmm ! The modern man has evolved so much, he felt. In the prehistoric times, man made crude implements out of stone, polished them all day, spent entire days hunting animals with the implements. He then made fire and then cooked his kill. The modern man, on the other hand, simply reaches out and calls in a pizza. Look at how much the institution of marriage has changed over the centuries ! His father and mother, Archibald and Abigail, got married when they were just three years old. In fact, they went to the same kindergarten and sang lewd verses of Ba Ba black sheep together. When he got married, about eighty two relatives on his side and his wife's side negotiated the deal. Now, the boy and the girl are doing all the dealing !

The four 'friends of Ajay' had just finished eating the fifth plate of pakoras.

Malini is the product of East and West. She is five percent Mundaka Upanishad, seven percent Rush Limbaugh, two percent Kamasutra and eight percent Ann Landers. The rest of her life is based entirely on Jai Maharaj's Quote City posts. When she was young, she learnt Bharat Natyam, till one day when she was executing the Krishna Abhinaya, the floor opened underneath her dancing feet and she fell onto the pool table at the basement and had to walk around dragging the pool table
for several days. Each summer, she would go to India and learn music under the tutelage of the famous Lady King of Classical Music, Begum Kabuthar of the Piya-ka-Gharaana, until one day when the Begum was on her deathbed, she made Malini promise she would never sing again. Malini struggled with her high school courses and finally, thanks to a football scholarship, she even went to college and enrolled in a popular Major, 'The Caring and feeding of the horse'. After three
days, she dropped out and now works as a manequin in India Saree House.

Ajay tiptoed into the room, checking one last time if his fly was zipped up. Malini Ammal didn't look unpretty. She was like a cross between an old Madhuri Dixit and a young Mother Teresa. Ajay had this incredible urge to just blurt out that it was all a big mistake and run for his life, stopping at a bathroom en route. His knees felt weak. Instead he said a sheepish 'hi' to Molly.

"Hi" replied Malini.

"Hi" insisted Ajay.

"Hi" responded Malini.

"Yes, isn't the weather nice today ?." said Ajay and broke the ice.

Soon, the young couple relaxed and rambled on pointlessly from one topic to another like Ramesh Mahadevan's bboard posts. Just when Ajay thought that things were going well, Malini dropped a bombshell.

"Ajay, I would have gladly married you except for Bob."

"Who is Bob ?" he asked.

"Bob is my boyfriend. He is a very jealous kind of person and knows Karate and has a collection of guns." Malini explained "It was with him I had my first hug, my first kiss and my first everything."

Ajay was petrified. "You mean, first EVERYTHING ?"

"Yes, everything."

"EVERYTHING ?" his voice was quivering.

"yes, everything." replied Malini "You see, I wasn't interested in this Indian-style marriage deal. It was all dad's idea."

"Yes, even I wasn't very keen on this thing. It is all your dad's idea." said Ajay, fearing for his life.

"Ajay, it is nothing personal. If I and Bob break up and you are still interested, we will contact you."

"That's great. Will you then explain all this to your dad? Now, if you will excuse me, I have to rush to my apartment." Ajay said, resigning to several more months, perhaps years, of celibacy.

"You can do better than that Ajay." replied the femme "Why don't you at least have dinner and complete this evening ? My mother is a good cook."

Exeunt all.