The “Just Married, Please Excuse” Contest

So, the very funny Yashodhara of Y On Earth Not, has a book out. I expected nothing less from her. Although how she managed three kids, a job and brought out a book, will always be a mystery to me. Titled Just Married, Please Excuse, it is pretty much autobiographical, telling the tale of Yash and Vijay’s courtship, and the early years of their marriage. While I’ve had the pleasure of learning her voice through her blog, nothing prepared me for the book. Kahani mein action hai, emotion hai, aur drama bhi hai. I’ll admit I wasn’t too excited before I picked it up, because hey, I read her blog… I know how this story ends. But it’s a whole different thing to have the gaps filled in and handed to you in the form of a book.

I read it through the night, fully knowing where it was going. And I guess that is the triumph of her writing. It keeps you engaged and amused to the very last page. I’m not going to tell you anymore – so buy the book.  What I will do though, is tell you a story of the OA and I, just after we got married. But before that, some stories from the week just before we got married. This is an entry for a contest she is running and since I love Mamagoto’s food enough to sell my kids and park myself there for a lifetime, I’m participating in the hope of winning a meal. Yes, I’m cheap like that.

Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows that the OA and I had a rather filmy love story. Dashing Hindu boy meets shy Christian girl. Pursues her until she gives in. Suddenly realises he should have been working on his parents instead of her, but it’s too late. Boy’s parents dig their heels in, boy decides to follow his heart and the girl. Boy and girl struggle to put him through post grad college and true love triumphs.

This is where this story begins. Convocation was over and as he tossed his cap into the air, I felt a surge of pride. We’d done this without anyone else. A lot of other students had significant others attending, but they also had parents. We were a lonesome twosome with no adults (I still thought of myself as not-quite-an-adult) there for us. Our wedding was a week later so his parents were at the height of their outrage and mine were busy organising the event.

The next day we had a train to catch back to my hometown. Two heavy suitcases dragged to the gate, friends hugging at every step, congratulations being shouted out (he was the first getting married straight off campus), plans being made… and we were late for the train by, oh.. about an hour already.

As the cab pulled in to the station we heard the train whistle. We had it all planned. He’d rush ahead and pull the chain to stop the train. I’d follow with the coolies and the luggage. He raced off and I started running, urging the coolies to keep up. We jumped down on to the filthy tracks, clambered on to the next platform and repeated the exercise until we reached the correct platform. As I clambered on to the last filthy platform, my hands a mess, my teeshirt filthy, the train jerked to life and phlegmatically began to pull out. I screamed for the OA, frantically looking up and down the platform. He was nowhere to be seen. And then I saw him wave in my face as his coach flashed by me. “Throw me that suitcase,” he yelled. And I made the coolie throw one in. The train chugged on, picking up speed and I made the coolie throw the next one in to another coach. By now the OA was far ahead, while the other coolie was running alongside, collecting his earnings and giving change. I kept running along, realising (to my horror) that the end of the platform was nigh. I might have made a jump for it but the heavy bag on my shoulder would weigh me down. I needed someone to pull me into the train. But the love of my life, soon to be husband, was riding a train and disappearing into the sunset – without me.

And then, DDLJ style, a hand shot out of the coach and a stranger’s voice called my name. It was not the OA’s hand – the OA’s ugly, stubby fingers cannot be mistaken and this was a beautifully made, strong brown, male hand – but I didn’t care. I grabbed hold and the hand pulled me in with little effort, just as the platform came to an end. I gasped in relief and looked up at my rescuer in surprise. Who could he be? He was the OA’s batchmate and had taken the liberty to help when he saw me in need. I thanked him profusely and headed off to find the OA and tell him what I thought of being thrown over for a couple of suitcases of books.

Of course, being the OA and I, we were as disorganised as ever and the reservations had been done too late, with the result that we had only one berth to share all the way back. The last couple of days in college had been stressful and he looked exhausted, so I generously forgave him and obligingly squeezed myself into a corner so that he could get some sleep. The hours flew by and we pulled into another station. He opened one eye and I asked him, solicitiously if he’d like a cup of tea. He nodded, turned over and went back to sleep. Telling myself that the poor man needed some TLC, I headed off to hunt for some tea. I found one chaiwala eventually and he was mobbed. I waited my turn and as he handed me my cups, he said, “Madam, isn’t that the train you were on?”

Were on??

I turned around to see the train was pulling out of the platform and leaving me behind, for the second effing time that day. Flinging down the hard-earned, steaming cups of tea, I ran along the train again, the speed just that bit too much for me to risk my life. I hoped and prayed that the OA had realised I was not on the train and was looking for me. I should have known better.

Once again, a voice called my name and the now familiar hand popped out. I grabbed without a thought and jumped on to the train. The OA’s friend had seen me get off the train and realised I’d not got back on when it started. I pledged my firstborn to him and rushed to wake the OA and tell him of how misfortune was following me. He opened an eye, heard me out and then, disappointment writ large on his face, said, “You mean you didn’t get any chai?”

At that moment I deeply regretted not having managed to get the chai. I could have flung it in his face.

And yes, dear readers, I married him inspite of that. Shoulda married the other guy. He’s married too, now, by the way. Too late.

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But picture abhi baaki hai mere dost.

The night before the wedding we were a raucous household. Family from all around the world was staying at our place and of course the OA too. He had to be, considering he had nowhere else to go. He was part of my mehendi, I was part of his cocktail party. As we called it a night, happy and exhausted, my Uncle who was down from Australia after a gazillion years, recklessly volunteered to make breakfast and his desi favourite, mango lassi for everyone. But he needed some help. The distinct lack of enthusiasm from the rest of the family didn’t deter him. Finally, the OA, drunk as a skunk and always up for anything food related, offered to help. Yes, you can always tell which ones are not related to us by blood, because they enjoy cooking. No one in my bloodline is a happy cook! Heck, that’s why we live in India and hire people to do it.

Anyhow, he woke up at the crack of dawn and began to help Uncle. I, naturally, after all that   train-chasing, was getting some much-needed beauty sleep. An old family friend came by to see us in the early hours of the morning. She was too old to attend the wedding and reception at night, and wanted to wish us in advance.

Ma settled her into the living room and said she’d just sent someone to wake me up and I’d be awake and down in a minute.

The lady nodded understandingly and said, ‘What about the groom? Where is he?’

Oh, said Ma, he’s in the kitchen.

Right, said the sweet old lady… ‘having breakfast, I suppose?’

No, said Ma. She is honest to a fault. “He’s cooking it.”

It would not be an exaggeration to say the old lady almost fell off her chair.”Look, I know his parents are against the marriage, but surely you can’t treat him this way because he has no one standing up for him!”

I still split my sides laughing over this one. And yes, of course we cleared that up.

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Now while the idea was not to ill treat the OA because no one was standing up for him, we’re not the sort of family to stand on ceremony and give him son-in-law treatment either. And that is how he found himself on the railway station with my brother, at the ungodly hour of 4 am, picking up family coming in on a delayed train. Everyone was pulling their share of weight and I don’t think either we or he, even considered doing it any other way.

My grandmother and her siblings arrived and my brother introduced the OA by name to them. They weren’t particularly enthusiastic in their greeting and the OA and my brother put it down to age and exhaustion on their part. A lazy red glow spread as the sun rose and they drove home in silence until my granduncle asked my monosyllabic brother if he could take him to visit his old college, in our hometown. This is how the conversation went.

Granduncle: I studied in this city, 45 years ago. Do you think you could take me to see my old college?

Tambi: Actually Thatha, we’re pretty busy with the wedding arrangement and your college is on the outskirts of the city. We may not get the time.

Granduncle gesturing towards the OA: What about him? Can he take me?

Tambi: No, Thatha, he doesn’t know his way around the city. He’s not from here.

Granduncle, looking disappointedly at the OA: Oh I see. Is he here to attend the wedding?

Tambi (master of understatement) drawls: I sure hope so.

Yes, yes, granduncle realised his faux pas later, but this story has given us many a merry evening.

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And now finally, so that I don’t get disqualified on the technicality that I’m not married during these tales, I’ll share the honeymoon one.

When I met the OA and fell in love, I was rather in awe of him. He was older, wiser… and I thought he’d take care of me. Yeah, Sound of Music hangover. And to his credit, he mostly does. Except for when he doesn’t.

Poor as church mice, we took a bus from Delhi to Manali for our honeymoon. Hopes of a knight in shining armour were dashed to the ground rather rudely as the knight stuck his head out of the bus window and emptied his the contents of his stomach across the hill roads. I watched curiously, wondering how he could throw up more than he’d eaten in the last 6 meals put together. The only explanation was that he’d thrown up his intestines too. But I dutifully got him water, washed his face, begged someone to give us the seat up front and tried to (wo)manfully raise my shoulder as high as I could to give him a head rest. Too drained to care, he slept. Around us other honeymooning couples billed and cooed and necked. I adjusted the smelly puker into a corner and resigned myself to a rather unromantic couple of hours.

Half way through the night the bus stopped. It was eerie. The sounds of the jungle came closer. I woke up and being the nosy person I am, checked out the bus. There was no reason to stop. No roadblock, nothing – and the driver was missing. I waited for someone else to make the first move. Three old ladies, sisters on a holiday together, hobbled off the bus to get an explanation. It turned out that the driver had decided to strike because he was being made to work overtime and not being paid for it. He laid out a blanket off the edge of the road and was snoring before we could say ‘Manali.’

The old ladies realised they needed numbers and came back to recruit from the hordes of youngsters in the bus. Shy young brides looked up at their husbands in awe as the men got up and stretched and swaggered, ready to get down and take on the lone driver. One of them called out to the OA to join them. He opened half a bleary eye and chivalrously volunteered, “Let my wife handle him. You won’t need to send anyone else,” and went back to sleep.

Yes, yes, ladies and gentlemen, I still honeymooned with him. Not just that, procreated and continue to live with him. A silent, suffering woman, that’s me. The only good that came of that night, is that we still dine out on that story.

All lit up already

So, where were we? Ah, thats right, at G’pa-Nani’s place.

Poor old grandparents were shocked out of their wits when we drove in. The gates were thrown open by my aunt, the dogs all ran out on the road barking, we hopped out of the car and went tearing down the road calling them back, the kids rushed out and just generally began to squeal and yell in excitement. I think the neighbours went deaf.

My aunt and uncle who were in on the plan had made some awesome biryani for us with a lovely raita I’ve only eaten made by my aunt. It’s soya methi, rai and raisins in curd. Yummy. We’d thought of keeping the visit a secret from them too, but given my parents’ penchant for surprises I was terrified that we’d land up here only to realise that they had just landed in Delhi. And so this was the control mechanism. It was my aunt and uncle’s unenviable duty to keep the old fogies under lock and key.

Post heavy lunch we passed out and the old house was finally silent. There’s a certain amount of peace that can only come from going to sleep in your old bed in your ‘maika’. By the time the OA and I woke up, refreshed and ready to take on the world, the house was buzzing with activity. They’d decided that if the OA was here with them they were going to give him the best Diwali ever, pull out all stops.

With all the house help on leave my parents and uncle, aunt and cousin were in a frenzy, digging out our Christmas lights from storage, pulling out pretty candles that were hoarded and never lit. And most of all, racking their brains over a rangoli. It’s easier said than done to make a rangoli if its not part of your growing years and culture and I was bowled over by what my talented aunt and cousin put together with fresh flowers. And kurta pajamas were hastily dug out, ironed and donned, silk sarees worn and the best was my little cousin J, wearing a lovely bandhini saree in honour of celebrating Diwali with her brother-in-law, the OA.  I take extra pride in these two little cousins of mine because I consider them to be my first set of babies. Such an absolute pleasure to grow up with that I promptly had two of my own the moment I could!  The Bean in a little pink and yellow lehenga, the Brat in a lovely orange kurta, the OA in a kurta similar to his son’s and me in a cream and gold Mallu set mundu/mundu veshti with  a red and gold chanderi blouse.

Lots of wine, cheese and a heavy dinner late we went out in the garden for pyrotechnics! I was of course one terrified mother as the two pests ran around lighting firecrackers. I think one of the greatest pleasures of being a father is in teaching your progeny to play with fire. Or so it seemed from the look on the OA’s face as his spawn gleefully lit rockets and anaars while I sat there gritting my teeth and telling myself that we were not going to go up in a ball of fire and that other mothers had survived this trial by fire so I’d live to see dawn too. The grandfather added to my terror by generally encouraging them.

The next two days went by on the swings, frequent rides on scooters and bikes, playing with the dogs and generally chilling. The trip back to Delhi was as nightmarish as the trip from. The train was 6 hours late and by this time the OA and I were pros. Leaving the kids to shimmy up and down the berths, look out of the windows and generally fend for themselves. Teeth were left unbrushed, hair uncombed, bread and eggs (why do they always taste so good on the train?) for breakfast and dry fruit thereafter, with an unusual indulgence – sips of tea from our cups!

And then we were back home, in Delhi. Safe, sound, tired and in no mood to get back to work. In case you think that isn’t enough I had a teeny accident, bumped my foot and ended up with a suspected fracture. I’m fine of course. Nothing serious.

Here are pictures of the Brat and Bean enjoying the fresh flower rangoli – careful not to touch it and ruin it

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The rangoli  – for your viewing pleasure.

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The brats doing all in their power to scare the crap out of the fish. I bet they stopped laying after this…

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One of the endless rides. Cousin K is persuaded to take them for a ride.

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Her highness is preparing for the races… in Nani’s hat.

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Anyone remember these ugly, snake pellets? The kids freaked out over them….

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The OA has the pleasure of introducing him to his first mehtab….

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G’pa teaches him to light rockets in the middle of the street….

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The Bean surrounded by dogs. We’re reaching a crazy stage with her where we can’t go out on the streets without her chasing strays to pet them. I know, I know, she needs a dog but for chrissake, does anyone realise how much I have on my plate already?!!

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And yet again – on the scooter… this was one trip where they were constantly on some vehicle or the other!

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Car-o-bar. The Delhi system of serving booze out of your car boot at a wedding. In this case, adults are knocking back beer while the babies lie in the boot of a car left open in the garden so that we can listen to music.

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This has been one of our most hectic trips and its also been the landmark one where the kids come back rather upset. They’re usually quite accomodating and I shuttle them around mercilessly. This time I’ve heard one tiny voice or the other say every night… ” Mamma… can we go to G’pa-Nani’s house tonight?”

Light it up

Alright folks. Here’s the first bit of the Diwali post. For those wondering why I was so silent on it, it is because I was madly busy. You see, my parents make it a point to spend Diwali with us and over the years we can’t imagine it any other way.  This year they’d just got back from a month-long trip to Europe and the US and were reaching back to their own home and businesses that had been languishing all that while. Ma wasn’t too well and it simply wasn’t possible to tell her to come back.  As she passed through Delhi, just a little less than a week before Diwali she sadly mentioned how disappointed she and my father were, that they couldn’t be with the OA and the kids for Diwali. She’d already told me this on the phone however, and I was all prepared.

You see, the OA and I had planned to take a trip back home for Diwali and surprise them. The problem with surprises and me is that most often I can’t keep them. So every day while she was travelling we’d speak and she’d try to convince me to come home for Diwali and I’d literally be hopping from foot to food in an effort to keep my mouth shut.

However, the plan was made rather late in the day considering it was the Diwali weekend and we only got reservation on a holiday special train going to Bihar. Most other trains were fully booked up by August so as you can guess, this is yet another crazy train story.

The run up to the day was crazy with both kids down with a cough and cold and rather cranky. I just kept their spirits high by telling them that we were going to visit G’pa-Nani’s house and praying that they kept shut about it. They did. An hour before leaving I was rushing around lighting up our home because I didn’t want to leave it dark. The OA was on a conference call and was the lucky recipient of the dirtiest looks I could give him.

My brother called up and wanted to know what I was up to. Told him I was lighting diyas before leaving and the true-blue NRI that he is, he gasped in horror ‘Its a fire hazard!! How can you leave lit diyas and go off?”  “Oh” I replied seriously – “See, you’re the middle piggie with a wooden American house. I’m the eldest piggie in a stone house. It won’t burn down.” Yes, I said it in all seriousness – apparently I’ve been reading too many kiddy books. I then went on to point out that I was leaving a maid in the house – something he hadn’t factored in!

Being the night before Diwali we were advised to leave early for the station. What with the heavy traffic and the firecrackers. We left 3 hours early, the streets were deserted and we ended up sitting on the platform for hours. The train, though it originated from Delhi, showed no signs of appearing at the time it was meant to and the platform was so crowded that I was terrified of getting shoved on to the filthy tracks.

You know how they tell you kids will always adjust to the circumstances, well they (whoever the hell they are!), are right. We put down our luggage, surrounded by filth. Bits of food, spilt tea, a mother making her infant pee on the platform before putting his shorts back on, huge rats, paan stains. We often travel by train, but we usually get to the station just in time (sometimes too late, as you guys are aware!) and get on and we’re off.

As we put the luggage down, we wondered how to keep the kids entertained. It was past 10.30 at night and way past their bed time. I’d been debating this with some friends and decided to test it out on this trip. I usually carry books and toys and crayons to entertain them on long trips and I wanted to see if they’d hush up and entertain themselves if I didn’t keep providing them with entertainment.  Call me foolhardy if you will….! Plus we just had so much stuff this time that I didn’t want to add to it.

My parents who had passed by on their way back from the US had left one of those huge suitcases that everyone brings from the US and we were stuck taking that back too. I was loaded with Diwali gifts for the family and the green basket I carried had rabbit and elephant shaped planters in it that weighed a ton. There was wine for before dinner and some glassware as gifts. The OA glared at me balefully while I stood my ground and glared back – which member did he not want to carry a gift for?!

Surrounded by our sea of luggage, we waited for the train. The minutes ticked by and then the hours. The number given for enquiry was not being answered, it was past midnight and the kids were drooping with sleep and exhaustion. To say nothing of coughing and sneezing.

And yet they found something to smile about. We gave them coins to take their weight (anyone remember the old machines that give you your weight, an ugly distorted picture of a filmstar and a completely unbelievable fortune?) and they kept taking their weight and playing with the cards that popped out.They eventually fell asleep. The Brat draped across the big suitcase and the Bean in my arms. It was exhausting and as luck would have it, the train came in at almost 2 am and the tinny voice on the loudspeaker kindly informed us that the platform had changed and it was now 7 platforms down. A cheer went up as the hordes surged up the stairs. The OA and I looked at each other in horror. With a super human effort I hiked the Bean up on my shoulder, picked up an assortment of bags and let the crowds push me and my bum knee up the stairs. The OA stood there holding a sleeping Brat out of harms way as people pushed and shoved and stepped all over our remaining luggage.

I made it to the coach and the OA called me to try and put in place a plan B incase he missed the train! I couldn’t leave a sleeping Bean on the berth to go help him and he couldn’t leave the luggage and bring the Brat alone. Finally he dragged in the last pieces with a sleepy Brat dangling around his neck. We needn’t have worried. The damn train didn’t move even after that. Chaos ensued. This is one of the trains where Laloo had tried his infamous scheme of adding a third berth in the RAC section and then removed it after much opposition. The berth numbers were painted over and there was chaos for a good hour as people juggled and shifted and argued instead of simply waiting for the TT to come and clear things up.

The AC compartments were full of ticketless travellers on the floor right up to the toilet and I was horrified at the thought of the newly potty-trained Bean having to hold it till I stepped over people to the loo, waiting for them to get out of the toilet (yes, people were squeezed in there too). So I sorrowfully took out the diaper I was carrying for emergencies and she took one look at it, shook her finger at me sorrowfully and explained to me as though I was an imbecile “Mamma, I am a big girl. I don’t wear diapies now.”  Yes darling, you ARE a big girl… even if you call your diaper a diapie….  :( Fortunately she did me a favour by giving us adequate warning, holding it in as long as it took for the long-legged OA to step over prone bodies to the toilet, and then helpfully hovering over the seat and not dirtying her botty!

We woke up to realise  we were still three hours late. Do you know what its like to sit in a train with no pantry car, stuck in the middle of nowhere, with two little children who have no books or toys to entertain them?!!!

Surprisingly painless! Yes – they just sat at the window, looked out and counted birds, got yelled at if they got off the seat and dirtied their feet, learnt to shimmy up and down to the top berth, getting me giddy with the movement and terrified that the Bean would fall off each time she peeked over to give me a big grin!

The train crawled and stopped and crawled again. It was quite funny because at one point it picked up speed and the Brat looked at me in delight to say ‘Look! the train is moving!’ as opposed to just starting, coughing and shuffling forward embarrassedly (no, it’s not a word) and stopping.

We reached at noon. Tired, cramped and dirty and five hours late.  Nani-G’pa were thrilled to see us and Nani who had fallen down a month ago and injured herself, did herself more injury by rushing down the stairs from her first floor bedroom the moment she saw a little baby face peep out of the car. More about Diwali in my next post, this one’s been long enough!

Thanks Boo for this lovely diya stand!
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The balcony lined with little pots holding diyas inside them…
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A regal cat planter, a Bean-ish finger reaching out tentatively to pet it, a candle standing by…

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A moose lit up out in the garden…

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My favourite jaali lamp…

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A bored Brat lies on the suitcase and watches the world go by. Eventually he fell asleep on it.

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Counting compartments for a change as trains whiz by and ours refuses to show up.

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The Bean playing with her weight tickets. Don’t ask me what she did. I was just grateful to see her amuse herself with a bunch of grubby bits of card.

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Finally – on the train in the early morning, up and chirpy while a sleepy and cranky mamma aches for a caffeine fix.

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