Ajay Palvayanteeswaran's mother could not believe what she just heard. Just to instil a dose of reality in her, the 'Q' word was repeated once more. It resonated endlessly across the living room.
"Yes, madam, I QUIT", the servant maid said with determination.
Why would Muniyamma - the faithful servant maid for several generations, the harbinger of neighborhood gossip, her proxy in her fights with her mother in law, Ajay Palvayanteeswaran's physics teacher - why would she quit all of a sudden ?
"This is it, madam" the servant maid replied with tears in her eyes "I never thought that my last day in your house, after decades of service, would end so abruptly. But I cannot fight with that old woman, your mother in law, Grandma Palvayanteeswaran, for one more minute. Hear, hear, old lady. I lost the war. The better old woman won. I am going to concede defeat by handing over this 'jaadu' (broom) to the next in command."
Ajay's mother was shattered. She glared at the grandmother in disgust. The old woman was calmly gobbling a stack of betal leaves in triumph. Sure she was a tough fighter. For her age, she is absolutely healthy, with no sugar complaints or abnormal blood pressure. Her eyesight is so strong she could fly planes and her hearing is so perfect she was regularly borrowed by other neighborhood families as a decoy for eavesdropping. In fact, if she ever died, she would be the first human being in a long time to have died simply of natural causes and the first one to have perished because she did not publish. The only time she ever went to a doctor, for overeating during Ajay Palvayanteeswaran's Hostel Day, she wore her best Banares silk saree for the X-rays. Look at her. Disgusting.
Perhaps the servant maid, Muniyamma, gave up too easily in this Olympics of Household fights. She lacked that certain something in her will to fight. Perhaps she didn't give her one hundred and ten percent. That woman probably didn't do what a woman had to do.
"Yes, madam" the servant maid said with finalty "I have had it up to here. Either I go or that old woman has to go."
Wait a minute ! That's an idea ! Ajay's mother started thinking. Heck, why not ? Let the Grandmother go ! Anyways she wasn't doing anything of use. If anything, she is becoming increasingly pugnacious. And these days, servant maids are not easy to find. If it is a choice between Muniyamma and the grandma, there is no question who is going. Goodbye grandma. And let there be peace in the household.
"Yes, why not send her away ?" Ajay's mother told Ajay's father. "I don't mean out into the streets. But to America ! She has always been wanting to visit your youngest brother in New Jersey. It is a good thing Ajay is here for the holidays. When he returns to the USA next week, she can go with him."
Ajay's father consulted the entire clan of Ajay's uncles, Vice Uncles, Executive Vice Uncle, Uncle in charge of Harassment, Uncle without portfolio, Jai Maharaj and assorted other aunts. They all 'ayed' the decision. The grandmother, for her part, was thrilled she was going to the land of Lincoln, Nike shoes and two for one pizzas. There was a song on her pursy lips. "Like a virgin" she sang softly in her two day old American accent, as she packed her suitcases with yards and yards of silk sarees. Why, even the servant maid was gracious, washed grandma's dentures sparkling clean and bade her a tearful farewell.
"Hello, Mr. Ajay Palvayanteeswaran. Welcome to Singapore Airlines. Do you have any carry-on luggage for this flight, Sir ?"
"No, Just my grandmother."
"Will she fit underneath the seat in front of you or in one of our overhead compartments ?"
"Let me see. No, I don't think so."
"In which case, Sir, I am afraid you will have to check her in."
"Well, I can always fold her up or hang her up in the closet."
"No, that won't be a good idea. She may get shifted during the flight and you will have to be careful when opening the overhead compartment and not hurt yourself."
"Arre, Munna, woh chokri kyaa keh rahi hai ?" whined the grandmother, as the employee rubberbanded a tag on the grandma and put her on the conveyor.
It was a tearful reunion in New Jersey, with the youngest grandchildren simply amazed and moved to see Grandma.
"Mom, can I take her and show her to my friends" asked one of them "She is kind of cute. The coming Halloween, can I have the same costume she is wearing now ?"
"That is not just a costume honey, it is called a saree. Also, what she has in her hand is not a ski pole. It is called a walking stick."
Ajay's New Jersey uncle is a modern man. But still he has a Vedic car. All he has to do is, to say 'Tamasorma jyotirga maya' and the headlights would come on. With so many people living at his place now, the engineer that he is, the uncle converted his dishwashing machine into a 'Dal' making machine, to feed all the mouths. One simply has to put 'haldi' into the detergent compartment and just turn the knob. "It came out perfectly" said the grandmother approvingly "Next time on, don't keep it in Heavy Wash cycle for this long."
The grandmother immersed herself in the American culture. One day, she made cabbage subji for her family, chopping two big fat heads and when finally the subji was done, she was horrified to see the quantity shrank to just two tablespoons. Somebody explained to her that she had mistakenly subjified lettuce instead of cabbage. Another time she spent a whole day, removing tea leaves from all these teabags from a whole box of those bags and storing the leaves in a tin. "Who would have thought of packaging them in such small pouches" she wondered. Yet another time, she learnt to operate the microwave oven and set it for 99.99 minutes and realized her folly only when the TV melted into a puddle of pixels. She became such an all American that she bought Lottery tickets, called in Larry King show and because she was permanently stooped, she was even made a home plate umpire in baseball games.
"Dear Bahu" she wrote to her daughter in law in India "I am doing fine here. Guess what ? Yesterday I made the Couch Potato Subji. The 'baingans' here are so large that just two baingans are enough to feed Munna, Pappu, Chotu, Pinky and the kids. It is funny that they call the baingans 'eggplants' in this country. Wonder if in retaliation we should call eggs in India as 'Plantless baingan'. The local desis are very friendly. Just last week, we had the all-New Jersey Anthakshari contest. I was the only one to know a song that begins in 'ta', remember 'Tom tomatar tom tomatar tom tomatar tom ?' Tell Muniyamma that I still hate her and if she badly wants to fight with me, she can always call me on saturdays via Allnet phone for cheap connections."
As days rolled into weeks rolled into economic cycles, grandmother was getting bored. She wanted to be a productive member of the society. So she was enrolled in the Master's program in Computer Science in the Streetcorner University in New Jersey, where all her other fellow classmates were all newly-married, newly arrived desi wives. With floppies hanging from her pallu and a C ++ book in hand, she looked like some kind of an ancient Geek goddess. After all, it is un-Indian not to write software and grandma didn't want to commit this high crime.
"Laptops arrived very early in our household" she would explain to her bewildered classmates. "My children are so huge they would place the computer on one lap and the laser printer on the other lap and punch away."
Ajay taught her Unix and its exotic commands. Grandma resisted it. Till one day she peered into the screen and asked, curiously "Arre, Munna, yeh Soc.Culture.Indian kyaa hoti hai ?" and one thing led to another and before long she even made regular bboard posts. Viz.,
Dear Editors of Soc.Culture.Indian,
I am appalled by all these 'Why are Indian women boring' posts. I don't think I am boring at all. In fact, the widower next door, 'Spanky' Joe has asked me out so many times in the last week alone. Alas, I am very worried about date rapes and such.
Thanks for providing this opportunity. Just to protect my identity, sometimes
I use pseudonyms and post under aliases like George Chacko or Vijay Fafat or
Mahadevan Ramesh ......