It’s a universal truth acknowledged that an Indian mother, in possession of a grown-up son, must be looking for a daughter-in-law who would listen to her and desirably be available at the beck and call of her whims and fancy.
“I’ve been alone with you inside my mind,
“And in my dreams, I’ve kissed your lips a thousand times….
“Hello! Is it me you are looking for?” Lionel Ritchie crooned the soulful melodies making Kabir sing along, “Hello! Is it me you are looking for, my lady finger and my darling gourd? He pouted his mouth and kissed the tall and elegant green gourd.
“Yes, I’m looking for you. You moron! Don’t know when you will marry and kiss a real lady? God! Why did I marry into a family of halwais?” Kabir’s mother, a 5 ft 7 inches tall, robust 62 years old lady, shouted over the soft voice of Lionel Richie.
“Ma! I’m not a potato that anyone can add to any dish. I’m the most elegant cool juicy cucumber that refreshes and soothes.” Kabir replied.
“And I’m the red hot-chilly that makes one cry and sneeze. Come out of your vegetable basket and listen to your mother. Your food vlogs won’t give you a wife. I’m tired of attending doorbells, phone calls and every Tom, Dick, and Harry shouting at the gate. When will I get some relief from these duties?”
Kabir’s pouted mouth twisted and made a zig-zag lip-line. He winked, sang along and teased his mother. “I can see it in your eyes. I can see it in your smile. Hello!”
Kabir pouted his mouth and sent a flying kiss to his mother. His mother, Mrs Arora, ignored Kabir and picked up her walking stick to point out the visitor at the door, “That girl has been ringing the call bell for the last fifteen minutes.”
Lionel Richie sang along to Kabir’s heart, “You are all I have ever wanted, and my arms are wide open.”
The 6ft mild-mannered gentle giant was about to open his arm when the mother shouted, “Hello! Ask her what she wants?”
He switched off the blaring music and said hello before Lionel could corrupt his thoughts.
“Hello! We have recently shifted close by. We have a dog named Angel. I can’t find it. Can I request to look for her in your garden?”
Kabir looked stupefied. He simply nodded while wondering about the new neighbour, “Is she the one I’m looking for?”
“Hey! Who are you? What do you want?” Mrs Arora had to step forward.
Mrs Arora never liked disclosing her shortcoming in the English language and her age-related problems.
“Auntie, I’m Tiara.”
“Kiara? Kiara Advani? Hai Kabir! Just see who has come. Kiara Advani! That Bombay talkies, Sheela ki Jawani heroine. Kiara, meet my son Kabir.”
“Ma! I don’t watch Hindi movies.”
“No, Auntie, I am T for Tiara, not Kiara.”
“It’s okay! I’ll call you Tiara. What unique names people keep! Kiara, Tiara, Amara…! We had simple names, in our times, like Pooja, Anju, Meena etc. What does Tiara mean?”
“Tiara means a crown,” Tiara replied.
“Thank you, Babaji! My Kabir has also got his Tiara.” Mrs Arora rejoiced in her thoughts.
“Oye! Kabir, bring me my spectacles. I want to have a closer look.”
Kabir handed over her spectacles. He was embarrassed and stared hard at his mother.
Mrs Arora exclaimed, “Hai! You don’t look like Kiara! Why did you keep your name, Tiara? Only your name matches hers. Kiara looks so beautiful in the movies. Though, you are not bad. Pretty! But a little older and bulkier. Isn’t she Kabir?”
Kabir didn’t know whether to say yes or no to such a rhetorical question. He wished to dig his grave and bury himself. He smiled helplessly and tried to avoid further conversation.
“Don’t worry, dear! You stay with us. You will slim down and look gorgeous with exercise and my son’s diet food.”
Tiara’s mouth was agape with incredulity.
“Aroraji, my late husband, always said, ‘My Simran is the most beautiful girl in whole Punjab.’ I was a natural, the beauty queen of Punjab, puttarji.”
“Just tell me, why do you girls wear Pajamas and a t-shirt all day and night? You are looking like a pumpkin. The pandemic is over now. Wear something good. Half of the smartness goes away with this sloppy outfit. I hope you are not going through a breakup or something.”
“No, Aunty, I…” Tiara couldn’t finish her sentence.
“Betaji, a little bit of self-love, care, make-up, elegant clothing and loads of confidence solves everything.”
“Ma, Stop it! She’s not here for your advice.”
“Yeah! Why are you here?”
“Aunty, I told you twice my pet is missing. Can I look around for it? Tiara was irked by Mrs Arora’s non-stop assumptions and spoke impatiently.
“Who’s kissing in our compound? Why are you telling us now? Has someone opened a kissing booth or what?” Mrs Arora exclaimed.
Kabir knew his mother’s inclination to gossip, especially the quirky kinds and her penchant for the spicy sex life. He still curses the day he watched the movie, ‘Lipstick under my burqua’, with her. “Oh! What a discussion that followed after watching Ratna Pathak Shah.”
He knew it was odd, but growing up and working abroad exposed him to a different life, a culture that understood and accepted sexuality and choices better.
Tiara was flabbergasted. She asked, “How can you make such a ridiculous comment, Auntie? I am looking for my dog?”
“God? Yeah! God is miraculous. My son is a Chef, desperately looking for a bride.”
“Didn’t you hear the song? Perhaps, it is you who passes outside the door.”
“By the way, are you married?” Mom’s train of questions was directly proportional to Tiara’s frowns that were about to cause permanent wrinkles. She looked so cute. Kabir wanted to tell her to close her mouth before a fly laid eggs inside. Perhaps, she was trying to say something, but Mom wasn’t giving her a chance.
“Mom!” Kabir had to stop Mom’s train before Tiara boarded the flight home, crushing all hope of boarding it with her. “She’s here to find Angel, her pet dog.”
Kabir ran to his mother’s room and brought her hearing aids. She was offended, “I can hear what she says.”
Tiara called for Angel, “Angel! Come here.”
“Oh gosh! She’s bullying me. I’ll not hand over your grandma’s precious bangles to her.”
Angel, its golden fur floating in the air, leapt forward. Her mouth drooled with water dripping on the floor, her body covered with ivy leaves, and tiny pink and purple flowers made her look divine, angelic as her name was. Angel, wagging furry tail and a long vine trailing behind, happily landed straight on Tiara’s lap, who was ready to take her in her arms. Angel’s wet and soiled paws made a beautiful pattern in our living room. Tiara hugged and showered kisses on angel, and Angel licked her beautiful face while pushing her down to the floor. There was love, laughter, giggles and lovely energetic fun in it. Their reunion was epic. Kabir wished to join in and hug both of them.
Kabir thought, “How cute!” He had visions; about the girl, the dog and a happy family taking tea and chocolate vanilla cookies in his garden.
Mrs Arora screamed. She was livid. “Holy shit! What a mess! Get out! Get out of my house immediately and send someone to clean my living room.”
She looked at her son, “A girl with a dog! Never!”
Tiara was indignant. Kabir apologised through his eyes, uttered a soundless sorry and folded his hands before saying goodbye.
Tiara blinked her eyes and secretly passed a smile, and left.
Mrs Arora marched inside and threw away her hearing aid on the bed. She wanted peace. “It was good that I lost hearing that fateful night while Mr Arora succumbed to the injuries. As such, he always felt that I never listened to anybody. So, be it!”
“I had warned Aroraji not to try that chicken recipe. He didn’t listen. It cost us a bomb and a blast. He lost his life, and I am left behind with weakened hearing, eyesight, a lame right leg and stories of my Raj’s beautiful memories.”
“DDLJ came much later, but Raj and Simran’s love story is eternal.” She closed her eyes and smiled while losing herself in her lovely love story in the sprawling yellow mustard farms.”
A desirous dreamy life where Mr Arora was her Raj who welcomed her in his wide-open arms and said, “Hey, senorita! Let’s paint the town red with love and chicken Arora.”
Despite Mr Arora’s dominating nature and boisterous lifestyle, Mrs Simran Arora had a good life. He might have looked eccentric and harsh to their son, Kabir, but Simran knew Mr Arora loved both of them dearly, more than his life. He proved it by pushing them out of the kitchen.
She wanted her son to taste the sweet and spicy love life. Sometimes more bitter than sweet, but like a bitter gourd, it nourished life to relish every moment.
“Kabir, please choose someone. You might get happily married before I die.” Mrs Arora coaxed Kabir to see some photographs she had received.
“Ma! Not this way! You must love someone to marry.”
“Puttar, in India, love happens after marriage. Here, arranged marriages are more successful. Didn’t you see the matchmaker, ‘Pummy Aunty’, on Setflix? Matrimony is a thriving business here, a billion-dollar industry. The newspapers are full of matrimonial advertisements.”
“Advertisement means selling yourself like hot cross buns. Only stale cookies sell themselves and ask for a hot chocolate bride.”
“Kabir, that’s mean. Go! Sell yourself. I bet no one will buy an ass like you.”
“Mummy, marriage is not a business. It’s love between two souls. I’ll meet my soulmate someday.”
“Then let me be your God. I am placing an ad in the matrimonial columns for you. Just draft it. Rest, I’ll manage.”
“No, Ma! I forbid you. I don’t understand this concept of arranged marriage.”
Simran said, “Aroraji and I had not seen each other until our first night but see, we had a successful marriage.”
Her face turned crimson, reminiscing the first night, “What a passionate night it was! Although he was drunk, he was gentle and asked my name first. He loved me. You know, he snored like a lion afterwards. Hai! How cute he looked while sleeping!”
I gazed at the moon and told the night charmer, “Mine is more charming than you.”
“Dad looked cute only while sleeping. Once awake, he was a self-obsessed perfectionist who never understood us.” Kabir remarked.
“What love? He snored like a lion at night and roared like one during the day. I was his experimental son.”
“You never understood 2×2=4. So, Aroraji had to make you learn the house chores.”
“Everyone has some unique quality. Studying is not everything.” Kabir retorted.
“Yes, that’s why he made you fall in love with food. You’re a celebrated chef today because of him. He taught you everything he knew and sent you to Amritsar to learn his family recipes, Grandpa’s secrets.”
“Ha! Ha! Ha! Grandpa made me fall in love with the art of cooking. He made me hate the profession with his experiments. Mixing everything with liquor.”
“Dare you say that. You’re famous for your red chicken in red wine. That’s Aroraji’s recipe.”
“Oh, Ma! Please don’t fight. Papa loved food and wine more than us.”
“You don’t know anything about love. You wait for love to fall on your plate.” Simran sighed.
“Ma! Love happens! We fell in love with our dog too.” Kabir replied.
“Well, love is love, puttarji! I’m not interested in its sequential recipe. No love is perfect. Like your recipes, we all must work on it to keep it fresh and steaming.”
Kabir said, “We have dating apps in the U.S. There must be something in India too. ”
“Yes, we have Cinder. But it’s for cinders. Sparks die after two or three dates.”
“Did you try? Tell me!”
“Kabir, dating apps are for dates only. I never saw anyone fixing a wedding date through that.” Mrs Arora scorned.
“No, you tell me. Did you go on a date?” Kabir asked.
“Ahem! You take care of your marriage, not my dates. I was happy before this bloody pandemic.”
Every day, thousands of couples get married through an arranged marriage. Why don’t you fall in love like a million others in India? We have the lowest divorce rate.” Mrs Arora argued.
“Ma! It’s not love. It’s a licence to have sex and make halwa of life.”
“What’s wrong with halwa? It’s healthy and delicious and the most popular sweet dish, my dear, Ladoo!”
“No, Ma! It’s a sugar rush! Lust perhaps transforms to love with age, kids and the habit of staying together.”
“How crude? We can avail sexual pleasure by dating on Cinder or paid one too. You must marry to understand love.” Mrs Arora remarked.
“Ma, enough! I’ll not marry unless I feel the music that rings in my soul, that doesn’t let me sleep, and makes me dream in daylight.”
“Yeah! You will find the one who will show you stars in broad daylight and why ringing bells? You will enjoy the drums beating in your head.”
“Mummy!” Kabir screamed to shut her up.
“Tell me the truth, are you gay?” Simran asked.
Kabir got up and left the room.
“I’m sure he’s gay.”
He opened his mobile and saw Tiara’s friend request on Instagram.
He accepted it.
After much deliberation and heated discussions with her son, Mrs Simran Arora went ahead with her plan without taking her son’s consent. She placed an advertisement for her son on popular matrimonial sites and in the matrimonial column in the national dailies.
6 ‘1 ” tall, a fair complexion, handsome young man, age 36, never married, Punjabi teetotaler boy, just returned from the U.S. a Chef, looking for an educated, English-speaking match. Loves driving, cooking, house chores and playing rummy, bridge etc. Caste, religion, colour, age, gender, no bar. Write to P.O. Box no. 9238 or contact on 989563xxxx.
She was waiting for the responses with bated breath.
“Everything I do, I do it for you
Look into your heart, and you’ll find
There’s nothing there to hide
Take me as I’m, take my life
I would give it all, I would sacrifice” Bryan Adams’s voice filled his room.
The doorbell rang. Kabir was busy with his recipe demo class video that he regularly uploaded on social media. He was becoming quite a star. Loud English music in the living room and Kabir’s demo sessions in the kitchen kept her on her toes. “When will he find love? Now, he’s ready to sacrifice himself. He will die a virgin olive, and I, without a grandson.”
Mrs Arora muttered all the explicit abuses she had learned from her husband and opened the door.
A stylish old lady, almost of Mrs Arora’s age, was at the door, “Hello! You had given an advertisement for your son in the newspaper. We spoke over the phone.”
“Finally!” Simran thought and invited her, “Oh, yes! Please come inside.”
“So, your son is a chef.”
“Yes, he loves cooking. He worked as a chef in a five-star hotel in California. He returned to India during the pandemic times and stayed with me.”
“Though I earn a lot of money, what does your son do for a living?’
Mrs Arora thought, “I’m the mother of a son, and this bimbo is taking my interview! She seems like an over-educated rich snob like Pummy Aunty’s clients.”
Controlling her emotions, Simran replied, “He takes online cooking classes and appears on many cookery shows. He’s writing a cookbook too.”
“Oh! He doesn’t work in a hotel anymore.” The lady asked.
“He plans to start his restaurant business once the pandemic crisis has completely settled.” Mrs Arora replied.
“It’s Okay! I don’t want him to start a business. I want him at home with me. You mentioned he loves house chores and playing cards. I want a house husband who knows how to drive. Your son seems perfect!” The old lady eagerly replied.
“What do you mean? House husband!” Mrs Arora’s eyes popped out. “I wish for a daughter-in-law who is homely, knows cooking and can play rummy with me. Yes, driving would be an added advantage. She and I can go out sometimes.”
“Okay! Don’t worry. We all can stay together and adjust.” She looked around to check her surroundings.”
The old lady blushed and requested, “Please call your son. I would like to meet him.”
“Where’s your daughter? Why hasn’t she come with you?” Mrs Arora asked.
“Daughter? Which daughter?” The old lady looked puzzled.
“Your daughter. The one whose proposal you intend to present.”
“I don’t have a daughter. I’m not married. I retired two years ago and feel lonely at home. The pandemic taught me the value of a companion and the need for a person adept in household chores. Your son seemed a perfect choice to me.”
“How dare you? You dirty douchebag! You’re my age. You dream of my son as a companion. Is my son a housemaid?” Mrs Arora shouted.
“But, your ad says, age no bar.” the old lady was shivering.
“You want a bar too at home. You old white wine, flat beer! Fizzle out! Get out immediately.”
The lady ran out, calling Mrs Arora an Illiterate idiot.
Kabir rushed to the living room to check on his mother.
“What’s all this, Ma?”
“This old hag wanted to marry you?”
“What? Why? How did she know our address or me?”
“Ahem! I placed a matrimonial ad on your behalf.”
“You! What? Why?”
“Look, Kabir! We all need a companion in life. Be a potato, tomato, cucumber, whatever you want. Mingle and cook new recipes.”
“But why was this old lady confused?”
“I don’t know. Must be a mad woman who thought her money could buy her a husband.”
“See! I told you not to give an ad. I’m not on sale.”
The next day
“Ma! Your phone.”
“Kabir, you pick it up. It has been ringing since the day I placed that ad.”
“See! I’m a saleable super hunk.”
“Yeah! Only old aunties are buying you.”
Kabir picks up the phone.
“Hello, Did you place an ad for marriage in the newspaper?”
“Yes. Who’s on the line?”
“Hi! I’m Ashish. I’m a computer engineer. It’s quite bold of you to place an ad like that. I liked your style. Will you go back to the U.S. to get married? We can’t marry in India.”
“Ahem! I think there’s some confusion. I am not gay. I’m looking for a girl to marry.” Kabir replied.
“No, your ad clearly says age, gender, no bar. Are you a bisexual? It’s okay if you don’t wish to disclose on the phone. We can meet and discuss this. I’m a foodie. I would love to have a chef.” Ashish insisted on meeting.
Kabir politely refused and disconnected the call.
“Oh, Gosh! Ma, show me the advertisement.”
Kabir was mad after reading it.
“What? Religion, caste, age, gender, no bar?”
“Yeah! We are modern secular people. Aroraji believed in humanity, not casts?”
“That’s alright. Age no bar means I’m ready to marry anyone of any age, a girl of eighteen or eighty. That’s why that old lady was confused and angry.”
“Gender is hilarious. Ma, I am not gay.”
“But you didn’t reply to my question that day. Puttar, I’m modern. I have no objections. If you love a boy, bring him home. We will adopt children.”
He sighed and sat looking at his mother. Kabir didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or shout at his mother like his father.
“Ma, you should have asked me. What about this teetotaler? I drink a peg or two. I use liquor in my cakes and many recipes.”
“Oh! That’s not drinking. Aroraji used to drink in gallons. I love wine and liquor, but that doesn’t make me a drunkard.”
“Now, what about this English-speaking girl, loves…?”
“I wanted someone who could converse with you because I can’t. I wished your wife would play rummy to keep me company.”
“Do you know what this conveys?” Mrs Arora shook her head.
“Your advertisement means that I love household chores and playing cards.”
“Oh! That’s a mistake.” Simran exclaimed and then giggled.
Kabir laughed, “Ma! You’ve made a blunder.” He found her innocent gaffe cute. He realised why his father loved her despite all her shortcomings.
The doorbell rang again. Tiara was at the door.
Hello! Is it me you’re looking for?
Kabir didn’t need Lionel to tweak the strings of his heart. Tiara was salt, honey and spice. A perfect seasoning for his cucumber salad.
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