by Mahadevan Ramesh

It is back to the future. We are talking about year 1999, give or take a few months. Ajay Palvayanteeswaran is still working on his Ph.D in Computer Sciences, only all his computer codes written earlier in 1990 in Turbo C are now being rewritten in Fuel Injection C. I was just flipping through the archives of Soc.Culture.Indian. There was this extremely hilarious and flippant article by Subbarao Kambhampati on Arranged marriages that sparked a big debate and there was also this serious, poignant article on a boy interviewing a girl, written by Asjeet Lamba, which moved me. Anyway, Ajay is now on yet another visit to India, vowing that he will come back with a wife this time, even if it is not his own - come what may.

Life was quite difficult just more than a decade ago. Finding a life mate used to be like searching for the meaning of life. Now, thanks to 'Indo-American Marital Bliss Inc." (IMB), a new organization with franchises everywhere, things are absolutely streamlined and plenty of 'b.s' was cut from the whole process. Only a few days ago, Ajay called their 1-900 number and they told him up front what his 'market value' and his going rate are. Then he sent his photo and although they quickly lowered his value, they were eager to serve him and find him a mate. (One time there was a Halloween Party in Pittsburgh and one of the gorillas in Pittsburgh zoo attended it, dressed as Ajay Palvayanteeswaran) 'Don't do dumb impulsive things like suddenly falling in love and jeopardizing your megachances', a fine print in the brochure warned him. 'We will assist you. 30 days free trial. If not completely satisfied, your money back'.

True to their professional commitment, the organization had arranged for a massive Swayamwar in Madras for him. His advertisement drew over three thousand responses, not only from his community, but also from other neighboring countries such as Karnataka and Assam. They shortlisted the number of potential wives to five outstanding 'girls'. Since this went beyond everyone's wildest expectations, Doordarshan decided to televise the whole proceedings and thus began the once in a lifetime "Mrs. Palvayanteeswaran contest". In fact, if the show proved to be a hit, they were contemplating about having it every year.

The videotape started rolling. Ajay and his entourage entered the hall. Everyone was aware that Ajay has been doing his Ph.D for a while now and that desi students in the USA in general age prematurely. But they hadn't quite expected to see a gentleman with so many grey hairs walking through the thresold with tentative steps.

The host of the show welcomed him anyways. "Gee, Mr. Eeswaran, I didn't realize you are such an elderly gentleman ..." "Move over, you moron. This isn't the 'boy'. This is grandfather Palvayanteeswaran, the patriarch of the family. We know he looks pretty young for a ninety seven year old and that it is hard to tell him from Ajay. and by the way, he is no gentleman." said the color commentator, "Hi I am Lala Amarnath, Good evening listeners, Grandpa has seventy six grandchildren, but Ajay is his most favorite. They both sit down and play teen patha all day and smoke cigarettes together"

Now enlightened, the host continued. "Grandpa, This must be an exciting evening for you, like it is for all of us and the viewers. Would you like to say something ?"

"Let me see. It was wrong on the part of Sardar Patel to cowtow the Maharaja of Travancore and force him to leave his kingdom"

"No sir, you are on TV and millions of viewers want to know what you have to say about this contest."

"What is the point, the Indian cricket team isn't what it used to be. All these Nissar and C. K. Rangachary are good bowlers and C. K. Nayudu hits some boundaries. But we will never see the likes of Duleepsinghji."

"Hee hee, grandpa is sometimes very absent minded. Grandpa, we are here for the televised arrangement of Ajay's marriage"

"What, that pimple faced, snotty, no good grandson of mine ? Who in his right mind would want to marry into our family anyway. I will have two spoons of sugar with my coffee."

"And don't go away folks, we have a lot to come. This contest is brought to you by Nirma washing powder and Woodwards gripewater. The second runner up will receive a hard copy of all of Ajay's programs. The runner up will get an all expenses paid vacation to Badrinath and the lucky winner, and girls girls, one of you will be that fortunate one, will be ... Mrs Palvayanteeswaran...! There will be several segments to this contest such as the talent show. The entire brood of Palvayanteewarans is out there judging the candidates. Just at this moment, his maternal uncle, the reknowned veterinarian, who used to judge the camels in the Pushkar cattle show, is looking into the mouths of all the candidates to check their teeth. And now folks, 'Let the show begin, Take it away, Lala."

"Thank you. Only a decade ago, the girl hunting process used to be so inefficient. People would solicit responses and would see the girls one after another in a serial process. Now thanks to modern technology, we have a parallel process, all the girls lined up in one room. Why even in the case of Mohinder .." ds

"Thank you Lala, Here we are, just about to start our 'Horoscope matching' show. The first candidate's horoscope is fed into the Cray supercomputer and it is spitting out the results - personally supervised by Pandit Lallu Maharaj - the Guru is in the third house, Sukhra is moving to the fourth and the horoscopes are matched wonderfully, like dosa and coconut chutney. Remarkable. The second candidate is born on a full moon day and Ajay on a new moon and the Pandit tells us that this is amazing. The third candidate is a libran and wait, the computer is printing out a Chinese fortune cookie statement "She who born under Ribla, wirr mally Cancel, if no mally, wirr become Mothel Supeliol. Peliod." Wow, this is a close contest Rara, I mean Lala. The next candidate, wait, the computer is going crazy. Folks it has never seen a perfect match like this. The last candidate, well, it doesn't matter. She has a Green card"

Outside the auditorium where the Swayamwar was taking place, some fools, three women to be exact, were protesting the whole event. Passers by were mocking these spoilsports with comments like "This Madhu Kishwar babe will never learn. What does she know about exploiting women ? And she thinks she can take on a multinational like IMB"

"Thank you Lala, Here, the candidates are being introduced. Don't they all look great ? Given a choice, Ajay would like to marry all of them. Here we go."

"Hi, I am Candidate number one. Dr. Anita Anantharaman. I am a neurosurgeon. My favorite brain surgery is removing the frontal lobe. I am also equally good at cooking. I use the scalpel to chop onions. Ha ha. Seriously folks, brain surgery is not much different from cooking. Today I am trying to be a cardiologist, wanting to do an open-heart surgery on Ajay and be his wife. I fell in love with him the moment I saw his cute chest xrays."

"Let us meet the second candidate. Aha, what a lovely, large, impressive child bearing hip. What is your name, dear?"

"Hello, I am candidate number two, Nerdni Satpathy. I did a B. E in Bijlee (Electrical Engineering) from MuzzTech (Muzaffarpur Institute of Technology, MIT) My favorite operating system is Ultrix. I am here to change Ajay's coordinates into curvilinear"

"Namaskar. I am candidate number three, Muniamma Maniratnam. I am an M. A in English literature and therefore I look the best compared to the other non-artsy girls. I am doing a Ph.D on "The contribution of Stardust magazine and President Bush to the richness of English language". My favorite sociologist is M. N. Srinivas. I need no identity except to be Ajay's Missus."

"Candidate number four, you look slightly older, but you claim to be only nineteen. What is your name and what do you do for a living ?"

"By the way, don't crack these jokes about old age. This is the second geriatric joke in less than five paragraphs. Ladies and gentlemen, I am candidate number four. My name is Madhuri Dixit. I am a bit actress these days. I acted as Amitabh Bachan's mother in his latest movie 'Quaatil kaa dil mein aag'. I can sing and dance. Here is a digitized version of my old hit from the movie Tezaab, 'Soonya, Ek, Ek, Soonya, Ek, Ek, Ek..', see didn't I tell you I was a 'bit' actress, hee hee."

"Hi I am a candidate number five and I have a green card".

Then the hosts grilled Ajay on various matters.

"Mr. Pal, Is it true that the only impressive thing about you is how quickly you metabolize food? And the only thing you know about the Iraqi crisis is the Iraqnaphobia joke ?"

"No, no, Lala" Ajay replied, "I am also very good at cracking weak jokes. Did you know there is a Richard Nixon library in California and they only have works of fiction out there. Ha ha, do you know what is Devi Lal's favorite vehicle ?, the 'Tau truck', ha ha .."

The prospective father in laws were also allowed to interview Ajay, as a comic relief. One of them told Ajay.

"Listen Mr. Pavalayatsetaran er Mr. Panvalstewrn er Mr. Palvan...., I am a vegetarian, underlined, and I don't tolerate any smoking and absolutely no drinking.."

And Ajay interrupted, "Sir, Question, how about pre-marital sex ?"

Then there were also these human interest soundbites. For example, the father of yet another candidate told Ajay, "Mr. Ajay, I guess at some stage or the other, we need to discuss the dowry terms"

"What dowry. No, no. Dowry is a strict no no in our family"

"No, Mr. Ajay, we absolutely insist. Dowry played a major role in the marriages of our other older daughters too"

"Please try and understand. I am a modern man and we are almost in the twenty first century. I refuse to accept dowry"

"Who said anything about us giving dowry. We need dowry from YOU if you want to be anywhere near our daughter"

The talent show was absolutely impressive, to say the least. Anita performed a wonderful Bharatnatyam-figure-skating on ice. Nerdni ripped apart the Cray computer with her bare hands and assembled it in front of the whole audience. Muniamma recited a very emotional and sensitive article from the Stardust, called 'I am not a bimbo, I am actually quite intel type' by Kimi Katkar, set to music by the Musician of the Century, Bappi Lahiri. Madhuri Dixit danced till she almost dropped dead. The part where she lifted Ajay and swung him around produced a thunderous applause. Lastly, the final candidate flashed her green card in a very sensuous and seductive manner that made the audience go dizzy.

The next act was the State Your Dowry Amount contest, where the contestants wrote their respective dowries, cash and kind, on a hidden chalkboard and displayed them later. It was such a close call that the air was filled with an extra measure of suspense.

Then there was the final act, the swimsuit contest. Ajay had insisted that his wife should be sexy enough to be featured on the Playboy centerspread, but should be old fashioned enough to never even think along these lines. The 'girls' looked like goddesses from some old telugu movie, in their pathbreaking swimsuits - the newest bikini-dhupata combo, micro saree, diaper, the Swimpsonsuit, ad nauseum.

Then the appointed moment came after yet another commercial break. As millions of desi viewers waited with bated garlic breath, grandpa Palvayanteeswaran handed over an envelope containing the name of the winner. All eyes were moist, the five 'girls' were veritable nervous wrecks. And the winner is ....

So the Vetaal asked King Vikramaditya, "Which one of the candidates became Mrs. Palvayanteeswaran ? If you don't tell me the correct answer, your head will break into a thousand pieces".

Any guesses, readers ?

Copyright Ramesh Mahadevan