Yesterday, along with a friend of mine, I happened to pay a "Diwali visit" to one of his family friends. He had been directed by his parents to visit the family as they were unable to go themselves. My friend called me up and mentioned all the (imagined) times he had stood by me whenever I was having a hard time and asked me to accompany him for the visit. "I guess my parents don't want to miss watching their favorite saas-bahu serials," my friend muttered darkly. "And I have been offered as the sacrificial lamb," he continued. "Relax," I told him. "All that we have to do is walk in, smile politely, eat some faral (Marathi for special Diwali sweets and savories) and then beat a retreat. No problems. I'll go with you." I only got a mirthless laugh in return.
We paid our visit in the evening. As luck would have it, the only people home were a couple of oldies — a grandfather and a grandmother (as we Indians are brought up to address people who are two generations elder to us). The "uncle and aunty" had gone out for the evening. "Good," I whispered to my friend, "we can leave early." He just shook his head miserably and smiled fixedly at the old people.
Since I was meeting them for the first time, introductions were in order. It turned out that both the grandfather and the grandmother were hard of hearing. So the introductions were conducted at high decibels with bits and parts of it repeated numerous times. Finally the venerated elders gathered that:
A: I was a Maharashtrian.
B: I stayed in an area they were familiar with.
C: I had studied Arts (humanities) in college.
D: I was single.
With that out of the way, we got down to what I felt was the main agenda of the visit. Two extra-large plates heaped with chiwda, chakli, karanji, besan & rava laddoos, sev, and Kadbole were pushed into our hands. My (loud) protestations that it was too much to eat at one go were promptly brushed off. "Shut up and finish everything quickly," my friend whispered. After bringing us the two heaped plates of faral, the grandmother dragged a chair to about three feet in front of us and plonked herself on it. From her strategic seat she watched us closely as if to make sure we ate every bit of what she had heaped on our plates. The grandfather seemed to have lost interest in the proceedings and had settled himself in an easy chair in what seemed to be his favorite corner in the house. A transistor tuned to a radio station that was playing some ghastly classical music was glued to his ear. As we stuffed ourselves silly, my friend conversed in a loud voice with the grandmother. Most of it was along the lines of what he was doing, where he was working, how his parents were fine, etc.
"Harmless people," I thought to myself. "My friend was being unnecessarily paranoid," I concluded.
After we finished the faral the grandmother placed two cups of very sweet tea were in front of us. "Soon we can make our excuses and leave,” I told myself. But the grandmother had different ideas. She settled once again into her strategically placed chair and now turned her attention to me.
She first peered closely at me as if searching my face for something. Now I am not used to people giving me even a second glance. This prolonged study of my map was therefore a bit unsettling and I glanced at my friend questioningly. He only gave me a very pitying look and turned his attention to his tea again.
"Why did you study Arts?" the grandmother had bowled me her first googly.
"Eh!!??" that question coming on the top of a plateful of calorie-rich foods, sweet tea and a prolonged examination of my face, threw me totally.
"Why did you study Arts?" the grandmother asked me again in a tone that clearly indicated she would get to the bottom of it all even if it took all her remaining years on this earth.
"I liked the subjects and I. . ."
"Speak up," it was old lady again. I had forgotten she was hard of hearing.
"I liked the subjects . . ." I started to explain at the top of my voice.
"Idiotic. Very idiotic," she sniffed and then added, "You should have become an engineer."
I nodded. That seemed to be the only thing to do.
"You should have become an engineer," the grand old lady continued, "It is all there in your face."
"You have the face of an engineer. I can read faces you know. You should have studied to become an engineer."
I stared at her.
"Useless," she said. Then she looked at me closely and sadly shook her head, "Waste. All waste."
I looked at my friend. He was looking at us very seriously as if all that the old lady said made very good sense. And took yet another sip of his tea.
"What to do with people like you?" It was the grandmother again. "You should have come to me right after your SSC. I would have told you to study science and engineering. Now it is all wasted," she paused and took a deep breath, "No wonder you are not married yet."
I just goggled at her.
"Had you been an engineer, you would have married two years back," the grand old lady declared looking intently at my face. A dramatic pause and with a sigh for added effect she once again said those words, "Useless. Waste."
I nodded silently. There was nothing else to do.
My friend now decided to take an interest in things. "He works with computers," he informed the old lady. I glanced at my friend. I guess surfing using a web browser and writing using a word processor could qualify as "working with computers."
"Really!!?" For some reason that perked her up. My friend apparently knew what he was doing. The old lady looked at my face again closely.
After peering at my map for what seemed to be a lifetime, she closed her eyes and muttered a prayer. ("Now come on, you are not ugly enough to warrant that response," I told myself.)
After a few minutes in prayer, the old lady opened her eyes and said, "You can still marry. There is still hope."
I didn't know what to say to that but evidently the grandmother was not expecting any response.
"It is good you work with computers. Now you do as I say and you'll find a nice computer-engineer girl to marry. Or at least a girl who has studied science."
I goggled at her once again.
"Next Sunday, wake up early and take a shower before the sun rises."
"Then take a square red-colored cloth. What?"
"A square red-colored cloth," said someone loudly next to me. It was my friend.
"Take a handful of wheat," the old lady outlined the next step in the ritual.
"Handful of wheat," it was my friend again. For all his earlier misgivings he now looked as if he was enjoying the visit.
"When the sun rises, put the cloth on the ground and face the sun. Using the wheat draw a sun with seven rays on the cloth. You got that?"
"Sun with seven rays on the cloth," my friend dutifully echoed. I nodded.
"Then pray to the sun god to find you a nice computer-engineer girl.”
“Or one who has studied science.” My friend added his two bits.
The old lady assented and continued, “Offer a nevaidyam of milk and sugar to the sun."
"Right." It was my friend again.
"Then tie all the wheat in the cloth and hide the bundle in your home where no one else can find it."
I nodded. I saw my friend nodding vigorously sitting next to me.
"In seven days from the time you do this ritual, you will receive a request for marriage from the family of a computer-engineer girl."
This time even my friend was silent.
"Seven days. Just do what I say. And you'll be married."
My friend was looking at the old lady with great respect in his eyes. However painful his past experiences with that old lady or her family might have been, I could see all was now forgiven. He looked as if he could easily spend the next few hours in that home happily.
I stood up and touched the old lady’s feet. "May we leave? I asked, “I have to go and buy that red cloth."
She smiled, nay beamed.
"Go with my blessings. Remember to invite me to your wedding."