Uma was livid. “How can you marry a Bengali boy? Is this the result of our upbringing? What did you find in that fish-eating family that you can’t find in a Tam-Bram boy?”
Uma was brought up in a traditional South Indian family. Her husband Parameshwaran had allowed her to work after marriage and she had become a school headmistress in due course. She had ensured her daughter had received a fair share of traditional and modern values. So, if her daughter learnt French and travelled to Paris, she was also good in South Indian classical music. But this news was earth-shattering. She cried with both her hands clutching the sides of her head. “What face will we have in front of all our relatives? They will laugh at us saying minda poochai kalamudakkum.”
But, Soumya had put her foot down. All of 28 years old, she was determined to have her way in this one. Her roots were in her janmabhoomi Kolkata, and she had decided to marry her school sweetheart Gautam, who was now earning a handsome salary at a reputed company in Chennai.
“Amma, you did not hear what I said” she pleaded. “I agreed to marry him only after he promised he will neither cook nor consume non-veg food in the house. He has been in Chennai for the past 10 years, he can read and write Tamil – he did all that for me, amma. He has assured me that I will not be forced to touch non-veg food in his ancestral home in Durgapur. Amma, he is a nice boy and I love him.”
As Uma continued to cry, shaking her head vigorously, Parameshwaran, who had retired 5 years ago, gestured Soumya to go to her room and put his arm around Uma to console her. “We have brought up our daughter in a way that she can take her own decisions. She has made us proud till now. I think we should let her live her life. Let us meet the boy and his family. There must be something which Soumya liked about him which we might also like.”
The marriage date was fixed for 15th December. During the ensuing 8 months, Gautam had mesmerised Uma and Parameshwaran with his knowledge of Tamil language and tradition. He, even accompanied them to the Ayyappa temple in Lake Market, wearing the traditional South-Indian vesti. “Maa,” he would address Uma, and would even correct her in certain rituals performed during Janmashtami and Navraathri. Gautam’s parents, Nivedita and Saurav Ghosh, even though uncomfortable at first, accepted their son’s choice. They ran a thriving electrical goods business in Durgapur, which would pass on to their eldest son. Gautam would get his share – a lavish 4BHK villa in Navallur in South Chennai being one of them. Gautam was planning to do the Grihapravesham immediately after marriage.
“Navallur??” muttered Uma. “It is so far away from Kapaaleeshwarar temple! What happened to Mylapore, Annanagar, Alwarpet? There, at least, you will get 24-hr water supply.”
“Amma, don’t worry about water there. Moreover, it is walking distance to my Chennai office. His office is also 10 minutes by road and the airport is only 30 minutes away. You will love the place.” Soumya was definitely excited.
What?? Me coming to stay at your house?? Forget it” huffed Uma and went into the kitchen. Soumya sighed. She knew her Amma was more worried about what their relatives would say, than anything else.
Two months after the marriage, Uma landed in Chennai to attend a marriage of one of her relatives. Soumya had insisted that she stayed with her and Gautam, to which she reluctantly agreed. As she walked out of the exit gates, Gautam and Soumya greeted her with all smiles. Gautam, first allowed Soumya to hug her mother, then bent down to touch Uma’s feet. Uma touched his head as aashirwaad and patted his broad shoulders. “You need not have come, beta. Chennai is my backyard. I can travel anywhere on my own” she said.
“Maa, I am your son. I will never leave you alone.” Before Gautam’s words made Uma emotional, Soumya pushed both of them forward. “Come on, let’s go home. We have so much to talk about.”
“Maa, why Appa did not come?” asked Gautam as the car moved towards Navallur.
“You know him, he is more comfortable staying alone” replied Uma. “He is very selective in our outings. I will bring him next time.” After a while, she said to Gautam “you also should come with me to the wedding tomorrow. I will introduce you to all our relatives. They are very eager to meet you.”
“Sure Maa, anything you say” replied Gautam with a smile, his eyes fixed on the road ahead. Soumya also gave a grin, which Uma didn’t understand. She would understand later when she saw Gautam ready in traditional Tamil attire on the morning of the marriage day.
“What is this? You in vesti??” exclaimed Uma with both hands covering her mouth, as Gautam emerged in a milky white vesti with dark blue border and a dark blue shirt.
“Maa. Every male member of the family wears a vesti in a Tamil wedding, right? So here I am!” Gautam grinned first at Uma and then at Soumya as she emerged in a blue Kancheevaram silk saree which Uma had gifted her for the wedding. Combined with Gautam’s blue coloured shirt, both looked a perfect pair.
“How do we look?” asked Gautam grinning continuously, as he stood beside Soumya and then, said “Maa, please bless us.” As Uma stood perplexed, Gautam recited the Abhivadaye mantra, prostrated full stretch and touched her feet. Soumya too, touched her mother’s feet alongside Gautam. Uma blessed both of them with long life and success. As they stood up, she hugged them, with tears in her eyes.
The marriage event was more about Gautam and Soumya than the actual couple. All of Uma’s relatives were amazed at Gautam, who was conversing fluently in Tamil. Afterwards, when they were alone at home, Uma confided with Soumya that even Tam-Bram boys did not have knowledge of as much tradition as Gautam had. She then elbowed Soumya and asked “What’s your plan?”
“Amma, definitely not now” Soumya replied with wave. “Gautam and I want to travel the world for the next 4-5 years. All other things will have to wait.” As Uma narrated the day’s events to Parameshwaran that night, both of them felt proud of their daughter. But Gautam had more in store for Uma.
“Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve?? Are you crazy? Varanasi and Haridwar are ok for me. I will stay back and roam around. You two go ahead. I WILL NOT go there.” Gautam had revealed his week-long holiday plan to the two ladies one evening. As Soumya tried to reason with Uma, Gautam patted her on the back. “Relax, she will come” he said and left them alone. Later, when Soumya had gone down to buy some provisions, Gautam eased up to Uma.
“Maa, the tigress Kali had given birth last year and her cubs are at their prime. We will be inside a protected vehicle. We have only one life to live, Maa. Let’s enjoy as much as we can” and he started showing her photographs of Kali and her cubs shared on Facebook. The cubs attracted Uma – being a cat-lover herself – and as the minutes went by, she was smitten. As she entered with a bag full of provisions, Soumya was elated to see Uma and Gautam gleefully picking up spots to visit in Varanasi and Haridwar on the Net. She joined silently and grinned at Uma. Her mother was going to have the time of her life.
The Brijrama Palace, a heritage hotel, was a 1-hr drive from Varanasi Airport. Uma clutched her Lord Ayyappa pendant as she climbed onto a waiting boat at Bhaisasur ghat, which would take them to Darbhanga Ghat attached to the palace. As the boat progressed to the hotel, their guide explained its history. The experience was breath-taking. The world’s 1st elevator took them to the reception area and Uma felt transported back in time. “Amma’s face was a sight to behold” cried Soumya later in their room, giving Gautam one of her tightest hugs.
Uma had never seen such grandeur before. As they were led on a guided tour of the palace, she immersed herself into the history, touching the pillars, staring at the grand paintings of the prominent figures of the by-gone era. She could not finish the Benarasi thaali that night, but enjoyed all the items. Breakfast, next morning was set in the open-air terrace restaurant with the holy Ganga in the backdrop. Uma could not control her emotions as she prayed for her husband, son-in-law and daughter’s happiness before starting to eat. The day would take a toll of all three of them with visits to the famous Kashi-Vishwanath Temple and other temples of Varanasi. In-between, they savoured the innumerable delicacies of the town – from Ram Bhandar’s jalebi, kachori-chana and saffron milk to Palak-mutter-chana chaat at Kashi Chaat Bhandar. Uma almost lost her footing when a huge 6-foot cow suddenly came from behind and tried to lick at her bowl made of dried leaves.
“Whom are you messaging now, Amma?” asked Soumya as she found Uma seriously typing out on her mobile in the afternoon.
“Don’t disturb. What was that we had after jalebi? Ah, yes! “Malaiyo”, right? And then, at The Blue Lassi Shop, my lassi had apple, pista, saffron milk on the lassi, you had pineapple and chopped nuts, right? You don’t know what all questions your father will ask. I need to remember everything.” Soumya shook her head and smiled. “Amma, just forget everything and enjoy the moment” she said as she hugged Uma and dragged her to another eatery.
In the evening, Gautam arranged a boat ride on the Ganga as they experienced the famous Ganga Aarati performed at the Dashashwamed Ghat. As they wound up for the night, Parameshwaran could feel Uma bubbling with joy, as she narrated the day’s events over phone. He felt both jealous and sad that he was not with her as he browsed through the photos received on WhatsApp,
The next day they checked out after breakfast. A 1-hr flight took them to Haridwar. It was Uma’s long-time desire to visit this holy city and here she was! Gautam had booked rooms at The Haveli Hari Ganga, an erstwhile palace of the Raja of Pilhibit, which had been converted into a hotel. After freshening up and a quick cup of tea, the three walked to Hari ki Pauri, famous for its Ganga Aarati. The spectacle of sound, colour and the soft choppy waters of the Ganga, took them to another world. After the Aarati, they joined other devotees to float a diya each on the holy river. The next day was again, full of darshan at the innumerable temples. Uma, while savouring local delicacies, made sure that she kept a note of items consumed so that she could brag to her relatives, much to Soumya and Gautam’s amusement. The day ended for Uma, as usual, with a 1-hr phone call with Parameshwaran and sharing of photos.
“Amma looks so happy” cried Soumya slipping into Gautam’s embrace.
“I told you, she will have the time of her life” replied Gautam, caressing her hair.
Uma looked a bit tense during breakfast the next day. “Beta, hope it is safe?” she asked warily to Gautam. “Maa,” said Gautam soothingly, “do you trust me?” His words worked like charm and Uma enjoyed her breakfast as Soumya could see her mother’s child-like enthusiasm coming out again.
It was a 5-hour drive to Taj resorts in Jim Corbett National Park. The journey was not so enjoyable due to work in progress at certain sections of road, but all three were excited for the next 2 days. After the check-in and freshening up, they were called by the forest rangers who explained the ‘dos & don’ts’ during the safari. They would be part of a group of 25 tourists packed in 8 protected vehicles of the reserve which would start at 4am the next day.
“4am, no breakfast, no shower, no deodorant?? Are they serious??” scowled Soumya during dinner, pouting out her lower lip. With a pat on her head, Gautam chided her – “Anything to see Kali and her cubs. Don’t forget what all we did to see each other.” Uma did not understand how to react to the last comment, but just gave a stare at Soumya who blushed and slapped Gautam’s wrist in return. That night, Uma was routinely woken up by call of the jackals, elephants, and an occasional roar, which she presumed was that of a tiger.
4 hours into the safari, they had sighted elephants, wild boar, Indian Gaur, packs of deer but no sign of Kali and her cubs. The jungle was a whole new experience for Uma as she and Soumya laughed at the antics of a baby elephant among the adults, while Gautam kept clicking away with his camera. The evening safari offered nothing more and they sat together with a dejected look on their faces for dinner.
“Arey beta, you only said jungle safari does not mean tiger alone. I enjoyed every moment of it. Something will come up tomorrow. Don’t worry” Uma consoled Gautam. “Yeah, I guess so” was all Gautam replied. Of course, Uma had a lot to tell Parameshwaran that night.
Next day’s safari took a different entrance and made way through the jungle. Two hours into the safari, the ranger inside the vehicle in front signalled to stop as they heard a distress call of deer. Everyone was on their toes, eyes panning the landscape on all sides for a possible glimpse of what was coming.
And what a sight it was!!!
The gorgeous Kali stomped onto the road. On seeing the vehicles, it gave a snort and looked back. Everyone in the vehicles craned their necks to get a sight of her cubs. Suddenly, Kali moved towards the 1st vehicle – head down, her eyes fixed on the occupants. The ranger immediately signalled all vehicles to go in reverse, but Kali did not stop. After a while, the vehicles could not move further because there were too many behind them. Pin-drop silence prevailed as Kali sniffed at the 1st vehicle, then moved to the 2nd where Gautam, Uma and Soumya were sitting. With heart pounding, Uma stared at Kali – not knowing what to do. The ranger whispered to Uma – “Maa ji, blink, don’t stare.”
Kali was too close for comfort. But it looked like Uma blinked at the right moment because Kali blinked back. After a few seconds, Kali chuffed and lay down on the side of the road. As her chuffing continued, her three cubs came rushing out of the bushes. At first, they played around Kali and then started to suckle. The next 30 minutes were pure bliss for all as cameras started clicking, but Gautam had got the priceless exchange between Uma and Kali on his video camera. After they came back, everyone thanked the forest rangers, but they in turn, declared Uma as “Hero of the Day” because she did as she was told. This was an important lesson to all tourists to be attentive to the rangers at all times and never to panic.
They skipped the evening safari, which, they heard, was also very entertaining. Soumya could feel her mother’s emotions overflowing. She had done something what she never dreamt of. She took Uma by the pool and both of them had a long chat, filled with laughter, as they revisited all the moments of the past week. Later that night, Gautam surprised Soumya with some priceless moments of their conversation which he captured on camera. She was overcome with emotion and it was a long night for the couple.
Their return journey was via Delhi. Uma would spend another week in Chennai during which Gautam and Soumya took Uma to the famous Kapaaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore and many more equally famous temples in and around Chennai. One by one, all of Uma’s relatives visited her at Gautam’s house and she felt relieved that everyone had good words for her daughter and son-in-law. She had extra baggage with her on her return journey full of gifts for herself and Parameshwaran.
“So, satisfied?” asked Parameshwaran as he and Uma took a taxi from the airport. “Totally satisfied,” replied Uma waving her two hands outwards.
“But tell me the truth. Weren’t you scared?” Parameshwaran was prodding her now.
Uma replied “My son told me – you live only once.”
“Son?” asked a surprised Parameshwaran. But Uma only gave a smile and turned to look outside the window. As they moved along Lake Town, Uma’s eyes fell on the replica of “Big Ben” and she started dreaming again – “I wonder if…”
- Minda Poochai kalamudakkum – proverb in Tamil meaning an innocent-looking cat broke the vessel. Usually used by Palakkad Tamils for girls who, seemed obedient, but married outside the community.
- Vesti – A traditional South Indian dress worn by men for religious functions and auspicious ceremonies.
- Abhivadaye – A mantra used to introduce oneself to elders. Also used when wearing new clothes.
- World’s 1st elevator – This is as per hotel website. It was constructed for the Darbhanga Maharaj so that he could reach the 2nd floor. The structure is still being used.
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