Family

10 Mar

So sorry I have not done much posting lately. To compensate for that I give you the concluding part of the book “Family”. I would deeply appreciate any comments you may have.

CHAPTER NINE

Patel and Mala’s wedding was an elaborate affair. The wedding preparation had taken less than six months amidst opposition from Manoj. Patel had resolved not to involve his father with the preparations, but with the great importance he attached to family, he had to inform his mother and siblings about his marriage plans.

His brothers had wed without informing him. The traditional family values that was so important to the Indians was not so with his brothers. Naturally, the Indians live a family centered life. Their grandfather had done his best in instilling those very values in them, but it just did not sit well with his family.

Carmen, his mother, wept when she received news about the upcoming wedding. She and Patel had kept in touch all these years, but she had been careful to keep Manoj in the dark.

‘Give papa the news’ Patel had told her after breaking the news to her over the phone.

‘Your father?’ she had not been particularly comfortable with that.

‘Come on mama, you should know me better than this’ Patel sounded offended. ‘You certainly did not expect me to wed without papa knowing about it.’

‘I understand’ Carmen replied. ‘But you know your dad won’t be happy about this piece of news.’

‘What is it that would make him uncomfortable?’ Patel asked puzzled. ‘Martin and Victor are already married.’

‘He is certain to be uncomfortable with your choice of wife’ Carmen sounded tired. ‘You know what your dad has always had with Radji…it’s like a feud.’

‘Well papa has to swallow his pride this time for I intend to marry her the traditional Indian way’ Patel asserted.

‘Don’t go traditional on me now Patel’ Carmen replied trying to keep the outrage from her voice.

Her family were all been devout Catholics. Her two elder sons had had the traditional church weddings. Where exactly was Patel coming from?

Patel ignored her remark. ‘Radji would be coming over with the stuff needed for the badcheka to perform the bariksha.’

‘What’s that?’ his mother asked clearly not comprehending a word of what he was saying.

‘Tell dad that Radji would be coming to perform the bariksha, he would understand.’

Patel had proceeded to tell his mother the date for the traditional bariksha.

‘I don’t think your dad would allow Radji into his house to perform anything related to this wedding’ Carmen pointed out.

‘Tell him that the fathers would be there.’

Manoj had had no choice but to be civil when the Radji family came to formally show their intention to have Patel as the groom for their daughter Mala. He did not want to offend the fathers. He accepted all the gifts presented, the sweets, rice, turmeric, coconut, etc.

For the wedding, the entire family had to make a return journey to India. For Carmen, her other sons and their wives, the trip was a first; Manoj only visited on business.

Patel made reservations for them at the prestigious JW Marriot Hotel. He did not want anyone to feel inconvenienced by the trip. He had bought an old-fashioned mansion which he redecorated, blending Eurasian and American themes; he made generous use of Art Nouveau.

An elaborate engagement ceremony had been held a month before in Florida. Patel and Mala had had to travel for it. Since Carmen was not particularly comfortable about the all-traditional nature of the wedding, Patel had decided to humour her by allowing for a ‘white’ engagement ceremony. This however had not stopped him from having a full blown traditional engagement party upon their return.

The traditional Tilak was celebrated a day after the engagement party. This ceremony was very important for it signaled the commencement of the marriage ceremony, showing that the bride’s family has accepted the groom into their family. Tilak in essence united the two families.

Radji and his other male family members had visited the groom’s house with gifts. The tilak is more or less an all-male affair since the bride and her mother are not supposed to attend. Under normal circumstances, a preacher or bhaiji puts the tilak on the forehead of the groom, but since it is also acceptable for the bride’s father to do so, Radji performed the ritual.

 

The wedding itself was scheduled to take place in the Radji’s family house in Ayodhya. Jemina’s parents had moved in there since it was acquired about ten years ago. Though they had been unhappy about their daughter’s leaving with the infant Mala about twenty years ago, they were now very glad that step had been taken for it had changed the family’s fortunes. They were even more grateful that their son-in-law was an Indian through and through.

In the morning of the wedding day, the female members of the family were on hand to get the bride ready. Her hands and feet were elaborately designed with mehndi a coloured paste. Her gown was her own exclusive design, and she wore very expensive gold and diamond jewelry including the nose ring! She looked exquisitely stunning. She was covered in an equally elaborately designed sari. When she gazed at her reflection, she could never believe she could be so beautiful.

The groom, wearing his sherwani arrived with his baraati, riding on a white mare amidst fanfare. This caused quite a stir for it signaled the start of the marriage ceremony.

After the baraat the next ceremony was the varmala ceremony. The bride with her friends in tow has to try to get the garland of roses around the neck of the groom. Fun is added to this ceremony for the baraati—friends of the groom try to make it difficult for the bride. After several tries Mala finally got the garland of roses around Patel’s neck.

It was a fun atmosphere, and even Manoj managed a smile or two. His American wife, Carmen was thoroughly enjoying herself. She had never witnessed an Indian wedding ceremony before. To her, India, as a whole, was a primitive country full of primitive people. Africans and Indians were definitely grouped together, she had always thought, and her husband had never tried to correct that notion. This trip was quite an eye opener and she decided to also try to visit Africa to see things for herself.

For her other sons, Martin and Victor, the trip was more than revealing. They could not help but wonder why their father had been so against anything Indian. Their grandfather had tried in his own way to enlighten them, but their father had been all against it. They had a lot of talking to do with their father when they returned to Florida.

With the varmala ceremony over and done with, the bride and groom got set for the main marriage ceremony, the satphere.

Before the commencement of satphere, a purification ceremony known as byaha haath was performed. Female members of the family apply uptan, a paste made up of a mixture of sandalwood, turmeric and rose water, to the hands and feet of the bride and groom. This ceremony is believed to purify the mind, body and soul. After uptan is applied then Mala and Patel were not allowed to step outside the house.

It was time for the satphere. The fire or phere was burning in the final ceremony that marks the main wedding. Patel and Mala go round the phere as they pray for all that is needed to make their marriage a success. They are required to go round the fire seven times and make one request which translates into an unbreakable vow, with each circuit.

They are expected to pray for nourishing pure food; a healthy and prosperous life; wealth; increase in love and respect for each other; beautiful heroic children; peaceful long life with each other; and companionship and loyalty in that order.

All watched as Mala and Patel made the circuits. At the end of the seventh circuit, Patel took Mala’s hands in his and looking into her eyes he said ‘Now we have become friends after the seven pheras and will not break our friendship for life.’

That declarative vow was greeted with cheers by all congregated. The merrymaking continued with music and food.

 

 

 

CHAPTER TEN

For Mala this was indeed the happiest day of her life. She knew her father-in-law did not actually accept her, but she knew that with Patel she was in safe hands. Their friendship had endured Manoj’s hostility, why wouldn’t their marriage do the same?

By evening it was time for Radji to begin the vidaai by performing the ritual of kanya daan. There in the presence of all gathered, Radji handed his only daughter, Mala, over to Patel as wife.

Patel in turn makes three vow—dharma, to be just; artha, to earn sufficiently; and karma, to love his wife. Patel makes these vows in the presence of the sacred fire and all that are gathered.

Mala can see in his eyes that these are no mere vows for him they were solemn promises.

The time had come for Mala to leave her babul ka ghar. It was an extremely emotional time. Mala saw her mother break down in tears, her father also had some of those in his eyes too. Though they had been separated in times past they knew this separation was different, their baby girl was now a woman and about to begin her own family. They bid her farewell and her friends lifted up tearful songs to send her off to her new life with Patel.

*             *             *

The atmosphere was tense enough to light a match. Patel could not believe he was in a situation like this. His and Mala’s perfect wedding had been going perfectly until Mr. Rupert, his grandfather’s lawyer arrived.

His mother Carmen had tried as much as she could to carry out the post wedding rituals which involved her. She had welcomed Mala into the family as stipulated in the griha pravesh ritual. She had put her right foot into a tray of vermilion powder mixed in milk, symbolizing the arrival of good fortune and purity; and she had kicked over a vessel filled with rice and coins, which also symbolized the arrival of fertility and wealth. Even the dwar-rokai had been observed and then right in the middle of mooh dikhai in came Mr. Rupert.

Manoj had appeared startled to see him. He was an ancient man, Mr. Rupert, and it was a real miracle that he could ‘drop in’ on the wedding. But then it was a pleasant surprise for Patel. It was mooh dikhai after all and he considered anyone who was friends with his grandfather as family.

Mr. Rupert had the uncanny behavior of saying his mind whether you asked his opinion or not. Manoj had always said he was eccentric, and that had informed the reason he stopped using him after Ajay’s death.

‘I must say, you are quite astute my boy’ Mr. Rupert said slapping Patel’s back in a friendly manner. ‘Fancy the great beauty you catch in order to get your inheritance.’

Mr. Rupert chuckled to a joke which only he could understand.

The utterance sent a shockwave through the room. Mr. Rupert’s voice carried very well for his age—he had enough practice in the court rooms, and so he was heard loud and clear by all present.

The smile on Mala’s face vanished immediately; ‘Did the man just say inheritance?’ she thought to herself. ‘Patel married her to get his inheritance?’

Patel’s face also registered shock. ‘Was this man’s age distorting his thinking or did he just say something about an inheritance?’

‘Come now Rupert, you must be tired from your trip, let me get you something to cool you down and let’s reminisce’ Manoj tried to ‘save’ the situation.

‘Oh no my boy’ Mr. Rupert would not have it. ‘I am here to read out the concluding part of your father’s last will and testament. I thought I would never see the day but here I am, and there he is’ he said pointing to Patel.

‘This was all a game plan?’ Mala asked Patel, tears streaming down her face. ‘You used me Patel? I can’t believe this.’

‘Then don’t.’ Patel replied firmly. ‘And I must tell you that would be the best decision.’ He held her face in his palms ‘Don’t believe it Mala. You know I could never do that to you. Do you trust me Mala?’

Something in Mala told her Patel was telling the truth. ‘So what is this all about?’ she asked trying to understand what was unveiling before her eyes.

‘We shall find out together.’

A few moments later the Vigrage family was gathered together in Patel’s studio-cum-study. Manoj had ‘suggested’ that Mala not be part of the meeting, but Rupert had insisted that she was family and therefore must attend.

Mr. Rupert had asked for a TV set and a video player to be set up. The family was seated facing the TV set when Patel came in with his wife and took his place standing behind his wife’s seat. He could not help but notice how nervous his father looked.

When Rupert asked him to take the seat prescribed for him and his wife, he simply replied ‘I shall stand this out’.

Mr. Rupert held up a video tape in the view of all seated, and standing.

‘This tape contains the last will and testament of my deceased client and good friend Mr. Ajay Vigrage. I was authorized to release this will only and if only Patel complies with all therein without the prodding of anyone within or without.’

‘This is a lot of bull’ Manoj blurted unable to contain his irritation.

‘This’ Rupert responded as he slotted the tape into the player, ‘Is not a lot of bull. It is your father talking.’

And talk indeed Ajay did for the tape began to roll.

‘Manoj, my son, I believe you never saw this coming’ Ajay said with his characteristic chuckle. ‘Patel my boy, your watching this video must mean you have made me the happiest grandfather dead’ he chuckled again ‘Pardon my dark humour.’

Patel smiled a small smile, seeing his grandfather always brought a smile to his lips, even a picture of him always brought that reaction, let alone listening to him and his “dark humour”.

‘You must have married that pretty little girl Mala, yes? Speaking of which, Mala how are you doing?’

Mala almost answered that she was fine. The setting was so surreal—they were being addressed by a man that has been dead for over a decade, and he was looking so alive.

     ‘How are your father Radji and your mother? Did they get kicked out by Manoj? I anticipated that. My Manoj is so predictable. And so are my other grandsons, Martin and Victor. As for my daughter-in-law Carmen, I never ever got around to figure her out.

     ‘Anyway enough of my rigmarole! I am not getting any younger and I must set my house in order so Manoj does not conclude he beat me in everything. Surprised that I said that? I always knew Manoj that your main ambition has been to beat me to everything and prove to me how wrong I am. You succeeded in getting Martin and Victor to tow your line, gave them English names and all for the sole purpose of defying me.’

To all in the room it seemed that Ajay bore into their souls for he sounded so personal. He was having the last laugh even in his grave.

‘You could not succeed with Patel. Do you remember when you tried to change his name from Patel to Peter? My boy, MY grandson, would not have that. He preferred the name his grandfather gave him, the name I gave him. He acted like his great grandfather who first bore the name.

Ajay took a sip of water, and the whole family waited.

‘That was when I decided Patel would be my sole heir. That may sound amusing to you Manoj. The will that was read right after I passed…’ Ajay really cracked up at that, and it was a while before he came back to the matter at hand.

‘Sorry about that everyone, it is not all the time that one has the opportunity to laugh at their own death. Now where was I? The initial will named you sole heir and inheritor of all my businesses. That was necessary, for the kids were too young to take it over anyway. Your children are all grown now and should not be getting hand-me-downs from daddy, so from here-on-forth the business should be split in three between you and YOUR two sons, Martin and Victor.’

Ajay paused for effects.

‘Now what happens to my favourite grandson? I bet you never told him I desired him to return to our roots to get married? I guess you knew I was trying my hands at arranging a marriage alliance with Radji and that was the real reason you had them kicked out. But Patel still went ahead anyway and married the girl I inadvertently chose for him. He proved you wrong Manoj, the joke is on you.

‘To my grandson Patel and his wife Mala I leave my personal fortune which by now is worth over $150 million. This fortune comes in form of stocks and bonds as well as personal bank accounts and landed properties scattered all over India with the exception of the house in Florida—your dad can have that, he is an American by heart. You though are American by birth and Indian by heart.’

He smiled that smile that always warmed Patel’s heart and Patel in turn squeezed his wife’s shoulder. He had always wondered why his grandpa never left them anything. Now he was left in no doubt that his grandpa had once and for all outwitted Manoj.

‘Patel, take good care of Mala and remain in peace.’

Then the screen went blank.

EPILOGUE

Coming into great wealth did not have a negative effect on Patel and his young wife, Mala. Unlike his father, Patel was truly Indian; he could not contemplate a life without the support of the community in which he lived. His career as an artist kept him close to his beloved wife who was equally an artist in the field of fashion. Her fashion house MALA, became one of the top fashion houses in Mumbai.

Manoj returned to Florida with his other sons, stupefied at the outcome of Patel’s wedding—a revelation which proved to him that no one can outwit the older generation.

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