Short Stories >> In search of a foreign groom
In search of a foreign groom
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
As soon as Motalbai landed from Lagos, my house started to resemble a foreign land - shiny suitcases, tape-recorder, grinding machine, thermos, and whisky bottles. Over and above this, when Motal’s daughter broke a perfume bottle, its fragrance informed all the neighbours that I had foreign guests in my house. Sniffing on her nasal powder Amma said, “I really don’t like all these foreign perfumes. I love the smell of sandalwood.”
I sensed that Motal and her daughter might not like this remark, so I said, “Amma wadi, I feel like I am flying in London and Paris. What a beautiful fragrance!”
My son Manik said, “Amma wadi doesn’t like anything foreign at all, that is why she protected herself from the perfume by immediately sniffing her nasal powder.” We all laughed.
Amma wadi called Motal’s daughter and said, “Arey, come near Salochna, you have become fat in five years.”
Salochna, came near and said, “Grandma, call me Silli, Salochna is too old a name.”
Amma wadi laughed, “Silli?”
Manik chuckled- “Meaning foolish.”
Though Motal was my sister’s sister-in-law but they were more like sisters. This is why she had come to my place to get her daughter married. A match-maker said, “Your sister’s sister-in-law desires a foreign groom for her daughter. I suppose she must have surely brought enough money because as you know, foreign goods are expensive.” I had already seen Motal’s gold coins, dollars and diamond packets and so I reassured her that not only is she capable of buying a rich groom but she would also give a large commissions to the matchmakers.
Thus began a stream of visitors consisting of match-makers and Brahmans. They brought in all sorts of colored cards, pictures and horoscopes of foreign grooms and God knows what all. Motal and I together began a campaign of looking at these grooms.
Amma wadi said, “Why have you gone crazy? Accept the groom that comes and leave the rest to fate.”
Manik answered instead of us, “Amma, you are talking of such old things. Even while buying an item worth two pennies, a person carefully checks for any defects. Here these two are searching for a two-legged, two-armed groom with a foreign seal on him…It is a question of lakhs!”
Amma laughed and supporting her grandson said, “Yes, my son, it will not be possible to find out even by touching the groom whether the blood in his veins is purely foreign or local.”
I couldn’t even laugh at such jokes fearing that Motal may take offence to them. But when we returned from hotels after meeting potential grooms, we couldn’t stop the laughter at home. Salochna herself would hi-fi Amma wadi and say, “Amma, we did see the boy but he was no less than a cartoon. As he entered the hotel, he began staring at the walls and the ceiling of the room. ‘What a fool,’ I thought, ‘you have come to see me not to buy the hotel.’ And Amma, he came wearing such colourful clothes and thick glasses that I thought that this monkey was fit for a museum.”
As Amma laughed, showing her broken teeth, we couldn’t stop laughing too. After we saw the second groom, Silli said, “Amma, the boy was fidgeting with the knot of his tie all the time. I got up and told him ‘Should I loosen your tie and help you tie it again?’ and he started sweating. Amma, then I gave him my handkerchief.”
Amma asked, “And he accepted your handkerchief! That idiot did not even have his own handkerchief?” Then there were just peals of laughter. Manik said, “Amma I’m sure this Silli must have stared at him so hard that the poor prospective groom must not have been able to tolerate the heat of that glare…”
Amma joined in, “Yes, yes, his hands and feet must have turned cold.”
Next day when we came back after seeing another boy, Silli said, “Amma, the boy was so tall, so tall that I had to bend my neck backwards to be able to see him.”
Amma said, “Throw away that palm tree. The pair would be mismatched!” To top it off, when Motal started imitating the boy and walking like him, we held our stomachs and laughed.
Finally Salochna, and Motal liked a boy but he started limping as they came out of the hotel. Poor Motal kept pleading with Manik, “It’s a matter of lakhs son, go outside with some excuse and check out the boy.”
Manik was laughing, “The boy is not a toy with a key that can be checked out in the marketplace.””
Motal immediately told him, “Have your laugh now. Your turn too shall come and you will have to get yourself approved the same way.”
Manik retorted, “I am not a tie wearing, money-minded person like all of these boys.”
When the match-maker told the boy about Motal’s observation, he refused to get married. We all blamed Motal for finding minute faults when her daughter had finally liked a foreign boy. Silli too blamed her mother saying, “It is an insult to get the boy to walk.”
Amma wadi joined in, “How can a foreign return boy tolerate such humiliation?”
Shaking his head, Manik said seriously, “Ofcourse, he was a foreign sample after all.”
I would have burst out laughing on Manik’s comment but looking at the sad faces of the mother and daughter, I kept quiet. Then came Rucha, the match-maker. She took me to the other room and pounced on me saying, “Is your sister’s daughter some kind of a princess performing a Swayamvar? I showed her such a good boy and she says he’s lame! The mother is looking for a husband or a horse for her? I wonder what kind of money she has that she is not finding any horse worth it!”
She came out of the room and caught Salochna, and said, “You girl, you have come to buy a foreign groom and you have shaken the whole world! No wonder Amma calls you Silly. I have dealt with so many people after you; each one’s match was done within a month or two. Now you also get ready and select some boy, otherwise people will start finding faults in you too. People here are cunning.”
Flicking her hair, the girl asked, “What do you mean to say? You mean that we should select an Indian boy?”
Rucha the match-maker angrily replied, “Yes, do you think Indian boys are less in any way?”
“Chhee…Indian boys! They smell of sweat all the time. There’s dust blowing all day in India, dirty clothes, dirty roads...no cleanliness. When you go out to eat something, you are surrounded by hundreds of beggars. You don’t have a washing machine or a dishwasher.”
“Ok stop it now you lazy Silli. One doesn’t talk like this with the match-maker.” Amma wadi shouted at Salochna. She told her mother, “Motal, why have you made your daughter such a big mouth? In our times, marriages used to happen so quietly like it was a business of dumb cows.”
Then she addressed Rucha the match-maker, saying “Look here Rucha, the child is pampered, you don’t go and spoil her image.”
Rucha said, “No Amma why will I malign her? I am concerned with my commission. But she will surely like the boy I’m going to show her today. He has come from London. His father wishes to get him married within a week and take them both to London. I am coming at 5 pm to pick her up and go see the boy.”
As Rucha left, Amma caught Salochna again, saying, “Do you have any feminine qualities - to shut your mouth, to be quiet, certain hesitancy? Your mother has not taught you all that? Just smear powder on your face, apply perfume and dance with strangers abroad.”
Salochna said, “Why? Aren’t they human beings?”
Amma said, “Wow, you wise woman! Indian boys are not human beings, isn’t it?”
Manik said, “Leave her Amma, this poor thing is a child! When we stand next to her, she has to bear the stink of our sweat.”
Salochna said, “I did not say that about you. Amma why don’t you stop him from taking it personally?”
I said, “How will he not take it personally? He is an Indian too.”
Rubbing her hands Salochna said, “But he is not in the queue of prospective grooms.”
“No, absolutely not. Just as you desire a foreign groom, I want an Indian bride.” Manik said proudly.
Silli said angrily, “Ya, ya, get an Indian wife who smells of onion and garlic. She’ll make oily, fried food all day, become fat and turn you also into a Dunlop pillow. She would neither be able to dance, nor attend cocktail parties…and she’ll get stuck every time she tries to speak in English.”
“Your Royal Highness, you are too proud of your imported fashion! Watch out, this imported fashion shouldn’t be the end of you one day.” said Manik.
Silli mocked Manik and tried to run away. He caught her by the arm and told her, “You are mocking me, you foreign brat!”
Amma wadi was irritated with Manik, “Does it suit you to fool around with a girl like this? Our country is famous all over the world for its Dharam-Karam.”
It was strange. Amma doesn’t even read the newspapers but she certainly knows about the fame of our country. She said, “Son, these foreign returned girls search for grooms abroad so that like them, they can sleep till late and keep servants for the household chores.”
Hearing this, Manik burst out laughing. He said, “Amma what are you saying? Those times are gone. You don’t find cheap labour abroad like you do here. Even a well-to-do family cannot afford to hire servants. Such girls, who keep harping about going overseas, do all the household work like cleaning, cooking and washing by themselves over there!”
Amma said, “Yes, yes, our girls are only happy with labels. Boys from abroad come here for just two or three months, show off their expensive clothes and perfumes. And our girls fall for them. But they are not aware that what shines outside is burning inside. Rascals have wives over there as well and come here and get married to other girls.”
Wide-eyed Salochna asked, “Then, what about the other girl?”
Amma said, “What about her? When unmarried she was longing, when married she became a troubled person! In any case, all boys are not the same. You atleast go and see this London boy.”
At night when Salochna and her mother returned, they looked happy and sat down to talk. Motal said, “Amma wadi, the boy was an absolute foreigner. His mother was an actual European but had died young. Only his father is a Sindhi.”
Amma said, “So he did not find a bride abroad?”
Motal said, “No, no, he was getting many brides, but both father and son believe that an Indian girl is true and loyal.”
Amma said, “But Motalbai did you ask the boy who desires a true and loyal bride if he himself would be loyal like her?”
Silli jerked and said, “Oh no, we did not even ask that. Amma is right.”
Sitting by Amma’s side, Manik mockingly said, “So Dear Miss Silli will go and ask this question to the foreign groom tomorrow.”
“Amma, see no, Manik is calling me Silly. Do I look foolish?” saying this Salochna put her head on her mother’s lap.
Amma wadi said, “Then what? Do fools have horns on their head?” and everyone burst out laughing. Salochna began wailing in a childish way.
Amma wadi said, “Motal, how have you brought her up? At 22 years she still behaves like a child. You have really pampered her…”
Motal replied back, “You still haven’t seen how pampered she is! She gets everything she desires from her father.”
Salochna then mocked everyone, showing us her thumb.
The phone rang. Motal answered it. She became pale after what she heard.
Motal licked her dry lips and said in an embarrassed voice, “The boy’s father said that since Salochna has been brought up abroad, she won’t have the qualities of an Indian girl. So this match cannot happen.”
Salochna who was kneeling down said, “Mummy, why are you worried? Dad asked us to look for a Sindhi boy, preferably working abroad. Amma wadi also told me that a foreign boy may or may not be loyal to me.”
Taking a deep breath Motal said, “We can employ the boy in one of our shops.”
Amma wadi said in a loud voice, “If that is the case then you marry any Sindhi boy from India. When he stays abroad he will automatically get a foreign groom label. When we take suitcases from here, foreign labels are attached to them and those same bags look imported.”
We were on the verge of laughing but Salochna seriously said, “That way mummy, I like one Sindhi boy much better than all those foreign boys.”
Motal asked wide eyed, “Where did you see such a boy? We have not gone to see any local guy!”
Lowering her head Salochna said,” But he wants a local Indian bride!”
She slyly looked at Manik.
Motal held her breath and asked, “Are you referring to Manik?”
Salochna did not answer but went red in the face.
Manik burst out laughing, saying, “So now the office incharge of searching for a foreign groom is closed?”
Silli put her head on her mother’s lap and said, “Look mummy, he’s mocking me again.”
Amma said, “He will tease you all your life. He is a happy-go-lucky boy. So you had your eyes on a prey within the house itself! I was also wondering why she never liked any of those foreign boys. And why would she like them? When you can have a Malpura, why would you settle for laddoos?
alochna shyly told her mother, “See now Amma wadi is also teasing me.”
Mother said, “She is telling the truth.”
Amma said, “My Manik is a real gem. As much as he is educated, he is also wise and sensible,”
Salochna got up from her mother’s side and came and kissed Amma wadi’s forehead. Amma hugged her. Immediately, I too embraced her. Manik watched all this with a smile.