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How Kannagi’s Wedding was Fixed

By Sunanda Kesavadas in Stories » Short
Updated 15:23 IST Jul 27, 2017

Views » 152 | 16 min read

On the morning of Kannagi akka’s thirtieth birthday paati made payasam and served it with an unsmiling face. Akka was getting late for work, so she did not notice or chose not to notice the anger in her mother’s eyes.

Later when they were preparing lunch paati said to Amma, or rather ground her teeth and growled, ‘Thirty years old! Thirty! By the time I was thirty I was mother to five children. And this ungrateful daughter of mine will not even let me die in peace.

'There was one proposal last year,' Paati continued, 'One! An engineer! They were even willing to forgo the dowry since she is in a government job. But our madam! Oh! He was not good enough for her. Now God only has to help us. How can I die in peace if she is not settled?'

It was a little worrying that paati might be dying but soon our attention was caught by thaatha arriving with the latest comics newspaper and we all ran out to meet him. Thaatha would read out the comics using different voices for each character and make all the funny faces you could ever think of. Thaatha did not seem too worried that his youngest child was not planning to get married any time soon. He had only two daughters amongst his seven children and that might account for his nonchalance.

Kannagi akka was our Amma’s youngest sister. Though she was our aunt we had always called her akka. From the time we could remember, akka had always been teaching small children in her spare time and since they called her Akka we called her the same. When we were really young, akka had been a patient and imaginative playmate. As we grew older she became, next to Thaatha, our easiest and closest confidante. For us it made no difference that akka wasn’t getting married. We loved to come to paati’s home for summer vacation and find akka waiting at the door. She would hug each one of us and slip some small treat into our hands before leaving for work but promising a lot of fun in the evening.

For some reason paati did not share our joy about akka being at home. 

***************
One afternoon we returned from Appa’s home town, which was some fifty miles to the south of thaatha and paati’s town, to find paati moving around the house yelling at the servants. But she was smiling and laughing as well, so we deduced that something was afoot. There seemed to be a lot of cleaning being done and lots of things that we had never seen before seemed to coming out of the cupboards.

Paati greeted us with a laugh and even pinched our cheeks and gave the youngest one a kiss. This was astonishing and we went about the house in a sort of daze. We couldn’t find a place to sit in any of the rooms while the servants kept shooing us out of their way. We went out and found thaatha sitting under the shade of the mango tree calmly reading the morning’s newspaper. 

‘Thaatha!’ we yelled and flung ourselves at him.

‘Oh ho, so the brats are all back and I thought I would have some peace and quiet for a few more days!’ 

But he kissed all of us back and sat the little one on his lap while the rest of us gathered around his feet. He was in the middle of an interesting and slightly frightening story involving a young boy, a little girl, a giant snake and a fearsome demon when paati came out to the verandah.

‘So there you are,’ she shouted even though we were only twenty feet away, ‘How can you sit there chatting away with children when such important visitors are expected tomorrow! Get up and do something! I have to do everything in this house. Forty five years I have been slaving here and what do I get! Go and see about the sweets will you!’

Before any of us could react, she had gone back into the house. We looked at each other, our minds still on the story. Thaatha sighed, then said with a grin, ‘So which one of you does not want a sweet treat?’

We assured him in our loudest voices that all of us would absolutely love a sweet treat and soon we were on our way to the sweets shop.

********

The next morning found us hovering around Kannagi akka’s room. We had been woken early and given our baths and breakfast much earlier than usual. Amma had made us wear our best clothes and issued stern warnings against making them dirty. Akka seemed to be taking a long time to get ready. It looked like she wasn’t going to work that day. When we finally managed to peep in without being shooed off, we found her sitting in front of the tall mirror, dressed in a blue silk saree and she had flowers in her hair and more jewelry on her than we had seen her wear. She saw us looking dazedly at her and she laughed and winked and beckoned us to come in.

We went in happily over protests from Amma and Sakku mami, who had arrived that morning. 

‘What are you monkeys looking at?’ Akka asked grinning broadly.

We didn’t know what to say, she was looking so different that morning. Lakshmi lightly touched the flowers on akka’s hair and whispered, ‘Why so many flowers akka?’

Akka smiled and said, ‘So that the poor chap who is coming to see me will take a whiff of their scent and faint right away!’

She laughed but Sakku mami looked angry and ordered all of us to get out.

We ran straight into Raghu mama who was looking handsome in his fresh white shirt and gold laced mundu.

‘Alright you children,’ he said sternly, ‘I want you all to stay out of our way until the people have come and left, ok? No mischief or I will have your hides!’ 

He growled at us and we ran away giggling and laughing.

“The people” arrived in two cars, one grey and one brown. A lot of people seemed to get out of the two vehicles. A fat lady in green silk saree got out with some difficulty. 

She scowled at the man who was helping her out but the minute thaatha stepped in front, her face changed to a smile. There was a young man standing next to her. He looked a lot like her and was almost as heavy as she was. He greeted thaatha, Appa and Raghu mama with a namaskaar but looked a little nervous as he came in to the house. 

The fat lady looked around the front room as they all settled into the sofas. 
‘Is there no air conditioning?’ she asked, ‘It’s so hot these days!’

Paati looked a little mortified but smiled and said, ‘Would you like some cooling sherbet instead of tea?’

The lady looked at the teapoy that was collapsing under the weight of the food piled on it. ‘It’s too hot for this kind of food. We always eat light in the summers.’

Paati dispatched a servant to get the sherbet. Thaatha and Appa looked at the floor. Raghu mama was looking at the young man who was in turn staring at a painting on the opposite wall. The rest of the people looked at each other or at various pieces of furniture.

‘My son,’ said the fat lady putting a hand on the fat young man’s arm, ‘He is opening a new shop in your town next month. It is the sixth shop in his retail chain. You must all come for the opening.’

People looked at each other again. No one seemed to know what to say. The fat young man leaned towards his mother and whispered something.

She nodded and said, ‘He wants to see the girl.’ Then she laughed a little. 
People relaxed a bit.

Amma and Sakku mami brought Kannagi akka in. The servant came in with the sherbet tray which akka took in her own hands. She came forward and bent to offer the first glass to the fat lady.

The fat lady took one glass, and then gestured to her son to take one for him as well. The son glanced at akka as he took the glass; then he turned to look into its contents.

Akka served a glass to thaatha, then the servant took over and another brought in the rest of the glasses. 

Raghu mama said, ‘So how long have you been in the retail business of yours?’

‘My son,’ the mother piped up, ‘has been doing business for over ten years now. He learnt a lot from his late father. We needed someone to take care of the family business but Madhav wanted to do something on his own.’ She smiled indulgently at her boy who smiled bashfully. 

‘Kannagi works for the state government,’ Raghu mama continued, ‘She wants to continue working after the marriage as well.’

‘Does that mean she has a pension?’ the fat lady asked, fanning herself with the end of her saree. ‘It is so hot here! We always have the air conditioning on at home. You know, all the bedrooms and even the puja room has air conditioning!’

Raghu mama coughed a little, a sign that he was getting uncomfortable. Paati finally spoke “Why don’t you all eat something?” She was smiling a little nervously. “Kannu, why don’t you –“

“No, no madam,” the fat lady waved paati off “We cannot eat all this oily food! We are very conscious about our diet you see. My son eats only food that has been cooked at home. Your daughter will have to learn all his tastes. Do you have boiled water here? I am so scared of germs.”

Paati looked at Thaatha who had not spoken a word for more than ten minutes. 

The lady went on, oblivious to everyone’s discomfort, ‘Oh, how I had to persuade myself to come here. All the dust and heat! Last week we had to go to see a girl nearby here. Ugh! What a terrible road that was! You know my son got a proposal from the friend of the uncle of the Collector, you know for his niece. But my son! He wants a simple girl, it seems. Hah! What does he know? No girl is simple – “ 

Thaatha stood up. ‘I think madam,’ he said softly, ‘we will look at your proposal once again and get back to you. Thank you for coming.’ He held his hands in a namaskaar.

Paati looked shocked. She opened and closed her mouth like a fish but no sound came. The fat lady was even more astonished.

She set the glass down slowly and stood up. 

‘This, Mr. Murthy is an insult. You think you can invite us to your home and demean us like this and there will be no consequences? You don’t know who I am!’

‘This is exactly why my daughter will not be happy with you,’ Thaatha said gently, ‘I am a simple man and she is a simple girl. Please understand that.’

The fat lady seemed about to say something but she seemed to think better of it. She told her troupe to march out and waddled out of the house as quickly as she could.

Thaatha sat back in his chair slowly. He suddenly seemed very old. He looked at Paati and then at Raghu mama. 

Paati was looking like a thundercloud. “I don’t understand you,” she said, her voice shaking with anger, “do you want your daughter to die an old maid? That was the only proposal we had in hand. Who will come for her now?”

Thaatha didn’t look at her. He said quietly ‘I would rather that she died an old maid than be a wife to someone like that.”

 

*************

Paati went to her room and wouldn’t come out. Everyone went around quietly. Even we didn’t feel like playing or doing much. Amma and Sakku mami saw to it that we changed our clothes and were given lunch and dinner but all the adults seemed to grow listless as the day went by. 

In the night we heard Amma say to Appa, ‘This does it. Whoever thought Appa would do something like that. Now she will never get married.’

‘Oh come now Subbu,’ Appa said quietly, ‘If I was in Appa’s position I would do the same thing. Those people couldn’t see anything beyond their noses. Kannagi was too good for them.’

‘I just hope she doesn’t become too good for every man on the planet.’

We slept.

******
Raghu mama was slightly taken aback by the strapping young man standing at the front door.

Mama and mami were preparing to leave for mami's hometown by the eleven o’clock bus and this intrusion would delay them.

‘I am Dr. Kamlesh Pandey,’ the man said with a smile. He did a namaskaar which mama automatically returned before asking, ‘Uh, how can we help you?’

‘I am here to meet Mr. Murthy.’

‘Ah, yes, sure,’ mama seemed to recover, ‘Please come in. Appa, my father has stepped out to get the newspaper. Come in, come in. Sakku,’ he called out as Dr. Pandey came in, ‘Get some tea ready. Appa has a visitor.’

‘My name is Raghuraman’, mama said, realizing that he had not been polite. 

‘Please sit. Appa usually goes out in the morning after breakfast. He could get the newspaper delivered but he likes his exercise.’ Mama saw us peeping from behind the door.

‘Children!’ 

We went back to hiding.

‘Summer vacations,’ mama was saying by way of explanation. ‘My eldest sister is visiting and my younger brother left his children here while he is touring and my sons are here as well, hence all the children.’

‘Of course,’ Dr. Pandey said, ‘It is usually the case at my home too. I have three brothers and a sister which means quite a few children.’

They laughed a little at that. Mami arrived with the tea and asked mama to ask Dr. Pandey if he wanted something to eat. ‘Kannagi made idlis today for some reason.’

‘I love idlis’, Dr. Pandey said with a smile.

‘How fortunate then,’ mama said, ‘Go and bring some Sakku.’

It was Kannagi akka who brought the plate with the idlis and sambhar. Mama was a little surprised. ‘Aren’t you late for office?’

‘I took the day off today," Akka said with a smile, 'I hadn’t taken any leaves this year and have hardly spent any time with the children.’

‘Kannagi works for the electricity board here,’ mama said by way of explanation. Dr. Pandey smiled and nodded. 

Akka stood beside mama while Dr. Pandey started eating.

Just then thaatha walked in. ‘Where are the children,’ he asked as he took off his slippers, ‘Usually I am invaded the minute I enter the gate. Ah,’ he stopped when he saw Dr. Pandey. ‘You must be Dr. Pandey.’

‘Yes. We spoke on the phone yesterday,’ Dr. Pandey said to Raghu mama.

‘Sit down young man and finish those idlis. Raghu, go get your mother. Tell her we have an important visitor. You should think of taking the afternoon bus back. This involves you too.’

Raghu mama looked puzzled but went to fetch paati nevertheless. That operation would take some time since paati was still not on speaking terms with anyone.

‘So what is it exactly that you do?’ thaatha was asking Dr. Pandey.

Dr. Pandey swallowed the last of the idlis and said, ‘I am a botanist. My work primarily involves research into crop diseases and their prevention. For now I am working with the Agricultural University here. But there is a private firm that is interested in hiring me as well.’

‘So you are doctor for plants?’ Thaatha said, mostly for our benefit.

We looked at each other. This was fascinating. Plants had doctors too. Who knew plants actually fell ill. We resolved to ask Dr. Pandey a few questions before he left. 

As it turned out, we didn’t get a chance that day.

Paati came in while Dr. Pandey went to wash his hands and asked irritably, 

‘Why have you called me here? And what important visitor? The last time people came to visit you threw them out of the house!’

Paati scowled at Thaatha who replied in his calm voice, ‘It would have been highly improper if Kannagi’s mother was not present to receive the man Kannagi is going to marry.’

Raghu mama looked as if the ground had vanished from beneath his feet. 

Paati went into the fish act once again before saying. ‘What? What? What?’ 

Dr. Pandey returned at the moment followed by Kannagi akka. 

‘Meenakshi, this is Dr. Kamlesh Pandey. Kamlesh, this is Kannagi’s mother and your mother in law’

Thaatha always was the dramatic one, but Paati took the prize that day.

‘I think I need to sit down,’ she said faintly. 

‘Sure, amma’, Dr. Pandey said taking her arm gently and leading her to the chair he had been sitting on, ‘Kannu get some water please. I think the shock was too much.’

To hear someone with a name like Pandey speak Tamil fluently was the last straw for Paati. She burst into tears.

In the general confusion that followed, things were made clear. Akka and Dr. Pandey had known each other for a year or more and had been thinking about marriage for the past few months. Dr. Pandey had been away in Delhi for the last three months hence he could not come earlier. But he was here now and if Paati was willing the marriage could take place on the next available date.

His parents had died several years ago and he had mostly been brought up by his oldest brother and sister-in-law. They were more than happy for him and would come down for the formal meeting once he gave the green signal.

By then Paati had recovered sufficiently enough to ask, ‘I hope you are not expecting any exorbitant dowry. You north Indians are always asking for so much!’

Dr. Pandey laughed. ‘No amma, no dowry. I am getting a mother and a father back, which is more than sufficient for me. And also, as long as you promise a steady supply of idlis, I think we are all set.’

Paati laughed at that and put her hands on the young man’s shoulders. ‘You have my blessings, my son.’

******
In the night all of us children were in thaatha and paati’s room. Every night, thaatha and paati took turns at telling stories until the last of us fell asleep. 

That night we were all very excited and couldn’t sleep. We would all be coming back a few months later for Kannagi akka’s wedding and couldn’t stop talking about it.

Paati shushed us several times then threatened to bring out the stick after which we quieted down and shut our eyes.

Just before falling asleep, we heard paati saying to thaatha, ‘I heard those two talking before the doctor left. Kannagi kept calling him Kamlesh.’

‘So?’

‘I hope she doesn’t call him by name after the marriage as well. What will his people think about us for raising a daughter like that – calling her husband by name!’

Ever ready for a truce, thaatha said, ‘Maybe she will call him Pandey ji.’

‘Hmph!’ paati snorted and that was that.

 

 

 

************

Terms used in order of appearance:
Akka – elder sister
Paati- Grandmother
Payasam – Sweet dish made of rice and milk similar to porridge but with flavorings like cardamom
Amma – mother
Thaatha – Grandfather
Appa – Father
Mami – Aunt, usually wife of maternal uncle
Mama – Uncle, usually maternal
Namaskaar - gesture made with palms held together as in prayer and a short bow of the head
Pandey – a community in the north of India, usually Hindi-speaking
Ji - a term of respect added at the end of name

Disclaimer: I don't own the image used in this story.

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Comments

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Aditya 28-Jul-2017 15:09

Loved it. Beautifully narrated, everything just flowed so well. Loved it.
Thank you for sharing this. Made my day.

Sunanda Kesavadas 30-Jul-2017 18:02

Thank you Aditya! Am glad you enjoyed it. :-)

Aditya 04-Apr-2018 12:02

Whenever I need a warm, happy smile, I read this story. It has got that "Malgudi days" kind of effect to it, the visualization happens so easily. Please write and publish more often.

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