Dom and Syl
Who are they?
You’ll meet them inside these pages,
and maybe, inside yourself too.
This is a work of fiction, sure.
If you find any resemblance to yourself in it, you’re lucky.
And don’t admit that to anyone, for they’ll be jealous!
Can you fall in love at 60?
Of course not!
As per the established norms, rules and traditions of society and nature, you’re supposed to retire, withdraw from working life, and devote yourself to quiet contemplation, meditation, philosophy, philanthropy and such other higher things.
Love is for youngsters, teenagers, at 16, not 60.
But what if your heart disagrees?
What if, despite the thinning hair, the blurred vision, the feeble hearing, the double chin, the bulging belly and the rising BP, your heart still feels young?
Can you hand over your aching heart—aching both romantically and medically, with its two stents—to someone, without blinking and without thinking?
How would you react if your fantasy turns into reality in a flash?
What if a fiery, free-spirited, 55-year-old lady rushes right into your home and heart?
What do you do?
Oh, what do you do?
Can you fall in love at 60?
It was a misty winter morning; mystical and mysterious, too.
Birds chirped in the trees and flowers danced in the gentle breeze.
He stood in the schoolyard in the centre of a square formed by some 400 students, gathered for the assembly before the start of the school day. They all wore the school uniform, khaki shorts and white shirts. Those who could afford them wore shoes; some wore leather or rubber slippers and some, like him, were bare feet.
The School Principal emerged from her office with a stern face and walked with a regal gait to the microphone. She switched it on, and as if on cue, the birds fell silent and the breeze froze. The principal flashed a grim smile, seeming satisfied at the reassurance that her writ ran across realms.
In an instant, her smile turned to a frown as she pointed an accusing finger at him, and yelled, “Selfish!”
All the students turned towards him and repeated after the principal, “Selfish, selfish!”
It surprised him to see that he was 6 foot tall and 60-year-old, while all the other students were 6 to 10-year-old children. Most didn’t reach his waist, and he felt he stood out like an awkward old camel among shiny young racehorses.
He groped for his spectacles and wore them to have a clearer look. His jaw dropped when he realised that the principal was his own late wife.
Confused, he stood unmoving as the kids laughed and shouted, calling him ‘selfish’, like the unsmiling principal, who continued with her stern look and a steady frown.
He wanted to hide his face in embarrassment and run away, but the children surrounded him, and he had nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. He bent forward, shoulders hunched and head lowered, praying for a way out.
To his immense relief, the noise of their shouting soon got drowned by the ringing of the school bell.
But the bell somehow sounded like the ring of his cell phone, and Professor Ravi Rao woke up with a start, bewildered and disoriented.
He gulped and blinked, trying to remember where he was, still confused by the dream. Then he realised he was sleeping in his SUV in the parking lot of Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport at Mumbai, and his phone was ringing.
He answered it.
“Daddy!” His daughter screamed in delight, “I’ll be out in 10 minutes.”
Seeing him awake, his driver and gardener, Shamu, chatting with other drivers nearby, strolled back to the car and offered him a cup of tea from a flask.
Ravi sipped the hot tea, trying to decipher the meaning behind his dream.
His daughter was 33 years old, and unmarried. She was returning after months in the USA. He had missed her quite a lot, much more than he had thought. He realised he needed her company, especially since his forced retirement after the heart attack.
So, on one hand, he loved her presence at home with him, although, before she left for the US trip, they met and enjoyed their time together only on weekends. But he also felt guilty about not searching for a groom for her. That’s why his guilty conscience was intruding in his dreams, as Janaki, his late wife, reminding him of his paternal duties. This was not the first time his conscience was pricking him, but his wife accusing him of selfishness in public was a first.
That made up his mind.
Must get her married as soon as possible. He decided.
His choice was always young Sagar, not only because he was smart, but because he was local. But she was not interested in him. So the idea of her going away after marriage brought a sort of hollowness to the pit of his stomach.
She had been in the US for only a few months, but he had missed her chatter, her vivacious laughter and her strong opinions.
How would I manage after her marriage? He wondered.
He finished his tea and walked to the Arrivals gate with Shamu.
Within minutes, his beautiful daughter Jui walked out, tall and elegant as always, pushing a trolley in front of her. Ravi waved to her, and she ran into his arms. She was as bubbly and chirpy as she had been as a child, he realised. He had missed her so much!
Shamu took the trolley and walked to the SUV, and they followed, Jui holding her dear daddy’s hand.
She declined the cup of tea offered by Shamu, reclined her seat, stretched her legs, and went off to sleep. Ravi, always happy to take a nap, reminded Shamu to drive with care, and slept off too.
They reached home in Pune just in time for an early breakfast, which Meera, Shamu’s wife, had kept ready. She had cared for Jui almost like a mother ever since Janaki had passed away, and that showed in her welcome. The two ladies hugged even as Meera wiped her tears.
After breakfast, Ravi sat alone with his daughter at the dining table. He cleared his throat. That was always a sign that he wanted to say something important.
Jui kept her mobile down and looked up at him with her big, round eyes. “Yes, Daddy.”
Ravi cleared his throat again. “Your mother came in my dream today and—”
“And asked you to arrange my marriage in a hurry, right? Did she accuse you of being selfish too?”
“In front of a crowd, using a loudspeaker!”
“Oh, Daddy!” She got up, stood behind his chair, hugged him, and sat down. “I have news for you. A surprise!”
“A surprise?” His eyebrows rose up as he wondered what she could have done in America during the Covid restrictions.
She blushed and smiled. “Yes, I’ve found my partner, Bobby, and—”
“Bobby?” Ravi turned white, his elbow slipped from the table and the jug of water tipped, pouring water over the tablecloth and into his lap.
Images of the comely heroine Dimple, called ‘Bobby’ in the famous film of his younger days, flashed through his mind. The professor gasped when he wondered if his daughter had chosen another girl as a partner. Like most armchair liberals, he was willing to allow a lot of freedom to a lot of people as long as they were not in his family or his home.
After his wife’s untimely demise, he had chosen not to remarry because his own unpleasant experience with his stepmother had forced him to run away from home as soon as he was able. He had worked hard as a single parent, running his business, and being a home-maker too, while making sure his daughter never missed her mother too much. He believed he had raised her well, and although she was headstrong, she had been a good kid.
“Bobby?” he repeated.
“What’s wrong?” Jui straightened the horizontal jug of water.
“No, no, nothing wrong.”
Jui kept eyeing him with raised eyebrows. “What happened Daddy? You look pale.”
“It’s all right. Okay, okay, no problem, anything you say!” He cleared his throat. “This Bobby, how old is she?”
“She?” Jui frowned, “He’s Robert. Bob or Bobby for short.”
“Oh!” The professor picked up the jug and gulped down the remaining drops of water. His blood pressure had risen and dropped so fast that he was dizzy.
He let out a deep sigh.
“Daddy, what are you upset about now? I expected you to be thrilled that I’ve found a husband and we plan to marry next month.”
He wanted her to stay nearby after marriage, not fly off to a faraway land; but he couldn’t say that.
He always knew she had to get married and go away someday. In fact, her trip to America was a sort of primer for him to live by himself.
But, he thought, she was always going to return, and then he had to find her a groom. An Indian boy from Pune, young Sagar being his first choice.
Her sudden decision, and the fixed date looming so close, shocked him.
Also, her choosing to marry a foreigner and move far away forever was frightening.
“I am happy about your decision…” Ravi fumbled for words, “But… why the hurry?”
“There are issues…” Jui seemed hesitant, “Visa issues. And…” She brightened and smiled, “You have always been telling me, ‘Right things at the right time are right.’ So, no better time than now!”
Ravi smiled too.
“I’ll get my laptop and show you his photographs.” Jui got up and ran up the stairs.
Ravi slumped into his chair.
For 30 years I have nurtured the empty plot of land next to my house, hoping I’ll find a local lad as a husband for my daughter, who will then build a bungalow right next to mine so that I’ll never be alone.
Now she will fly away forever.
And I’ll be all alone. Yet again.
How we make plans and how God laughs at us!
“Ekla Chalo Re,” he reminded himself of his oft-repeated favourite song by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. “If no one walks along with you, go ahead and walk alone. Walk alone, walk alone…”
Her laptop showed pictures of a blonde young man who looked like a Hollywood hero. Ravi had not come across any foreigners, and the only ones he had seen were in the movies, so he stared wide-eyed at the young man’s photos.
His lovely daughter seemed so happy describing their meeting and the subsequent romance that Ravi’s mind wavered. Yet he decided to give it a try.
“Why marry a foreigner? Why not an Indian, a local boy? Sagar loves you so much.”
“But he’s like a brother to me. I can’t marry him. I’ve told you that already.”
“He’s still waiting for you.”
“Daddy, all these years you’ve been after me to find a suitable match, and now that I have, you’re asking me to not marry him.”
“No, I mean, won’t it be easier to marry someone like—”
“I’m marrying Bobby.” Jui interrupted him.
As the only child of a single parent, plus being the Daddy’s Girl, she was used to getting her way, right from her childhood, either through her sweet smile, or through her lovely tears or by her endearing tantrums.
“Ah… ok.” Ravi’s tone indicated complete surrender. “When do I get to meet him?”
Jui blushed and smiled. “They’re coming here on 5th January after the Christmas holidays.”
“Bobby and his mom.”
“What do you mean, why? For the wedding.”
“Daddy!” Jui rolled her eyes. “Mine, of course, to Bobby! Please plan a small ceremony by the end of January, after which we’ll go back to New York.”
“Oh, Daddy! I’ll keep coming to visit you. And you can come there too. You’ve hardly left Pune and never been abroad, so I want you to see America and the world.”
He looked at her in silence. You are my world, baby. I want to see nothing else.
She held his hand. “Today is 20th December, and they’ll arrive on 5th January. Then we have to visit a few companies here and in Bangalore for some collaborations plus a possible acquisition, which should take two weeks, and then we can have a small function at home.”
“No no no!”
She gasped and looked at him in surprise.
“No! Let me repeat that,” he smiled. “It cannot be a small function. You and I haven’t met our friends for months because of Covid, so I’ll find a huge marriage hall and we’ll have a grand ceremony.”
“Bobby does not like pomp and display. He’s a bit reserved.”
“We’ll see about that. And what about your honeymoon? Why not go to Shimla or Ooty?”
“No Daddy, we have return tickets for the 30th of January. Lots of work, and visa restrictions, too.”
“But they would like to see India, I’m sure. They must understand your background, your roots.”
“Let her go!” His wife’s voice rang in Ravi’s ears.
He realised he was trying to bargain for just a few more days with her. Like all fathers, he always instinctively knew she had to go away some day, and yet it hurt.
She understood that, too. “We do have some alone time before they arrive. So, let’s hang together as much as we can.”
She used her teenage slang, and he echoed his oft-repeated joke, “Hang together? Yes, me Tarzan! Me hang by the vines!”
Despite Jui’s jet-lag, Ravi spent every waking moment with her, so much so, that he even sacrificed his sacred sleep! He knew he would soon have to compete with Bob for her attention, and lose graciously.
Jui supervised all the arrangements for their welcome, from the menu to the colour of the sheets. They took special care to set up the rooms for Bob and his mother. Jui arranged everything, right down to the toilet paper.
“I’ve explained to Meera all the details of their food requirements,” she said.
“Let’s also introduce them to our Maharashtrian dishes.”
“Yes, but I’m not sure she’ll like them. She is pretty choosy.”
“Oh!” Ravi was already getting wary of Jui’s mother-in-law.
The 4th of January arrived faster than it should have.
Jui planned to go with Shamu in the SUV to pick up Bob and his mother from Mumbai airport. Ravi wanted to go too, to welcome the bridegroom and his parent—the most important members of any marriage party in India—but Jui said they needed space for the luggage, and for them to recline and stretch. So, Ravi agreed to stay back and prepare for their grand welcome at home.
Before leaving, Jui explained the plan. “Their flight lands at 2 A.M. tomorrow, and they’ll take at least an hour to come out. After that, I’ll stop in Mumbai at a friend’s house for them to use the restroom. Then the drive to Pune will take over three hours, so expect us home by 7 A.M.”
“What’s wrong with the toilets on the highway?”
“She’s very particular, and quite outspoken if she doesn’t like something.”
“Oh!” He raised his eyebrows. “I hope our home is good enough for her.”
“It’s fine. But… can you get a haircut, Daddy?”
“I’ll do that before your wedding.”
“And better clothes would help.”
“Who’s looking at me at this age?”
She pursed her lips, but didn’t argue. “Okay. But for God’s sake, don’t forget their names. Bob and Liz.”
“What do you call your mother-in-law?”
“Yes. Out there, they don’t call anyone Uncle and Aunty. They just use names.”
“And what’s Bo…” Ravi still couldn’t get himself to call him Bobby, for every time he tried, the beautiful Miss Dimple popped up in front of his eyes. “What’s Bob going to call me?”
“Ravi! What else?”
“My own son-in-law calling me Ravi? Oh my God! Okay, I’ll call him Bob, but can’t call her Liz. Not done. What’s her full name?”
“Elizabeth Holliday Bradford.”
“Wow! What a grand name! Say, was she a mistake that happened during her parents’ holiday?”
“I’ll be up and ready to welcome them at 7 A.M. sharp!” he said.
“Daddy, I know how you love your sleep, so please don’t be formal. After the long flight plus the road journey, they would want to lie down, anyway.”
He nodded to pretend that he agreed, but decided to plan a mini welcome for them with lamps and garlands.
If Janaki was around, she would have done it. So shall I. Let my child not feel her mother’s absence.
And I’ll do it alone, without help from Shamu or Meera. Yes! That would be special, touching and heart-warming.
The alarm rang at 6:30 A.M. Ravi cursed, got out of the blanket and walked to the clock, which he had kept away from the bed to avoid falling asleep again. His first instinct was to mute it and get back into the cosy warm blanket, but there were paternal duties to be performed. Jui would arrive with Bob and his mother in half an hour. He had to prepare tea and coffee, light the earthen lamps and keep the garlands ready before that.
He yawned as he dragged his sleepy feet to the kitchen, even as his body and mind screamed for the bed.
His yawn froze and sleep vanished as he stopped at the kitchen door, aghast.
In the half light of dawn, he saw a pale figure standing in the window, back-lit by the brighter light from outside.
Was it a ghost? Was it his late wife? Had she now decided to manifest from his dreams in their home too? Why? What wrong had he done now?
He had misplaced, sat on and even stepped over quite a few of his spectacles, so now they always dangled from a string around his neck, like the swinging trunk of an elephant. He wore them and switched on the light.
She turned around and said, “Morning!” in a sharp voice, like a headteacher.
He gasped and winced. Then, as it often happened to him when surprised, his jaw dropped. He ogled at her, confused, till he recognised her from the photographs and realised she was Bob’s mother!
How did she reach so early? Where were Jui and Bob? And what was she doing in the kitchen?
Despite the questions, all he could produce from his throat was an “Ah!”
“Good morning to you too,” she said, exasperation visible in her knotted eyebrows.
“Good morning. Welcome to India and to my home,” he blurted the prepared part he had rehearsed over and over.
Her frown vanished, but she still looked like a model on the ramp, haughty and unsmiling.
“Oh, so you are the absent-minded professor?” she asked.
Here she is, in our very first meeting, already stereotyping me, he thought.
She was tall and attractive. Not as slim as she may have been, for the cheeks were getting chubby and a bit of fat showed in places, but she still looked very fit, and much younger than her age.
Ravi, who was in a white pyjama and a sleeved vest covered with a sleeveless sweater, wondered if he should dress up better.
He was about to turn back when she asked, “How’re you doing?”
Not understanding her accent, he heard that as, ‘Have you doing?’
He scratched his head and murmured something about going to change.
She laughed at deafening decibels. “Oh, forget about dressing up. I’m looking for a cup of coffee. Could you help?”
He wished he owned a dressing gown like all the fathers he had seen in films, but he didn’t, so he looked at her clothes for comparison.
She wore silken white shorts and a pink noodle-string top. She carried them so well, and looked so fit and athletic, that without even realising it, he pulled his tummy in.
Remembering Jui’s words that Bob and his mother preferred informality, he decided he did not need to dress up.
“Coffee? Yes yes.” He shuffled to the kitchen platform and made coffee for her and tea for himself.
She stood looking out of the window. “Great garden you have here, almost like a tropical forest.”
He turned towards her. “Yes, I love to spend time there.”
She gazed at him and at his tummy. He pulled it in again, but she continued gazing at it. He wondered if he had spilled something, so he looked down, noticed a small hole in his sweater and looked up at her, embarrassed.
“I’ll just be back,” he said, and rushed to his room.
What’s wrong with wearing old clothes while sleeping? He tried defiant logic with himself.
You should be ashamed! His late wife’s voice rang in his head. Looking like a poor beggar in front of Jui’s mother-in-law!
He wore a new cardigan, took a deep breath, and stood in front of the mirror to inspect himself before walking back to the kitchen.
She stood at the window facing the garden. The bright light from outside shone through her translucent clothes, highlighting her slim figure.
He handed her a mug of steaming coffee and picked up a cup of tea.
“Let’s sit in the garden,” she said.
He looked at her clothes. He had seen Jui wearing shorts he thought were too short, but these were even shorter. Meera, the cook, would arrive at 7. She would stare at her clothes and gossip about them. Very soon, it would be the talk of the town.
He wondered how to tell her to wear something else, something more.
Such a situation would not have arisen if Jui had chosen an Indian husband and a traditional mother-in-law, he thought.
“It’s cold outside. I’ll get you a shawl.”
Her ‘Ha’ sounded like a crack of a whip to him.
“It’s snowing in New York,” she laughed. “No sweat.”
That confused Ravi, who was wondering why she worried about sweating on a chilly winter morning.
She frowned on noticing his confusion, and said, “Okay, let’s have that shawl then.”
He again went to his room and got her a shawl, a brand-new shawl, to be sure it would have no holes.
She wore it over her shoulders as he led her through the kitchen door into the garden and to the gazebo. Before settling in the garden chair, she removed the shawl from her shoulders and wrapped it around her waist, covering her long, slim legs.
Then they began chatting, if he could call it that. For every word he spoke, she spoke a sentence, and every remark of his provoked a minute-long monologue. Given his complete lack of interest in her words, and her American accent, he heard little and understood even less; but he pretended to pay attention, for he did not want to appear impolite.
In his bachelor days, he had always dreamt of finding a beautiful girl sitting next to him on a bus or a train. But that had never happened.
After being widowed, for years he had longed for company, a tender touch, a hug or a caress, but that did not happen, not without strings being attached and cold calculations, anyway.
As he grew older, and especially during the Covid lockdown, he had often yearned for a companion to sit and chat with, but even that had never happened.
And now a beautiful angel had come into his home, and this was way beyond his wildest fantasies.
This was the first time he was seeing a white woman up close. All the others he had seen were only in the movies or on television. He remembered the favourites of his youth, from Brooke Shields to Steffi Graf, and all their faces flashed in front of his eyes. But this lady looked more beautiful and livelier, although, like them, she too seemed far away and beyond reach.
Her hair had multi colour streaks, which to Ravi was unimaginable at her age, whatever it was. Her eyes were round and big, and they seemed to sparkle, unlike any he had seen in all the women he knew.
She used her hands a lot while talking, while her eyes, along with the eyelashes and eyebrows, performed a well-choreographed orchestra. Her silver blond hair highlighted her chiselled face and the blue eyes. Her sharp nose turned up just a little at its tip, as if better to show off her curvy lips, and the chin had a cleft that complimented her dimples.
She seemed so stunning, so magnetic, and so beautiful, that he wanted to touch her and check if she was real…
“… isn’t it?” she asked, shaking him out of his daydream.
He looked at her, confused, as she waited for an answer.
“Er… what did you ask?”
“Weren’t you listening?” she frowned and arched an eyebrow.
“Sorry… my attention had wandered. I was—”
“Busy staring at my tits!”
She completed his sentence, still frowning.
What language! He thought. Such a word from such beautiful lips.
But where was I looking? Was I staring at her…?
He couldn’t repeat that word even to himself.
His jaw dropped, less because of her language and more because of the realisation that she may have got it right.
“Lame! Not a good liar, are you?”
Her voice, which was already sharp enough, turned into an Army Drill Sergeant’s.
She got up, threw the shawl in her chair, strode away and banged the kitchen door after her.
He realised she looked even prettier when angry. The tip of her nose seemed to have turned red.
He smiled, but shook his head.
This woman is going to be Jui’s mother-in-law! Her beauty, exceptional as it is, cannot compensate for her rude talk and brash behaviour. Poor Jui would be in trouble, and in a foreign land too. Is there any way to stop this marriage? He wondered.
“Selfish!” His wife’s voice rang in his ears.
I better warn Jui about her, he thought. Let her decide, and then, let not my wife blame me.
He got up and began to fold the shawl. It smelled faintly of the mother-in-law’s perfume. He looked around to check nobody was watching, held the shawl close to his face, and took a deep breath.
Her smell and that of her perfume aroused long forgotten feelings in him.
He didn’t like her and she hated him beyond doubt, but there was something special about her that was both appealing and appalling at the same time.
Can it happen at my age? He wondered. Maybe others feel it too, but dare not tell or admit. I too shall tell no one. Not even her. Of course not! What will she think? And what will people say?
He smiled, looked up at her bedroom window, and saw her standing there, watching him.
She wasn’t frowning any more, and maybe, just maybe—for he couldn’t be certain—even had a faint sliver of a smile on her face.
His heart skipped a beat, his smile vanished and the shawl, which he still held close to his face, slipped from his hands.
Ravi got ready and went to the terrace where he had built a cosy shed to escape the giggles and the gossip of the girls when Jui gathered her friends for overnight stays that lasted days.
He didn’t much use it after Jui grew out of teenage, and seldom went up after she started working as a software engineer.
He had added a treadmill and an abdomen exerciser there on his doctor’s orders to reduce weight and tummy, following his heart trouble. As often happens, after using them for a few days—very few days—he had left them to gather dust.
He also had added one dumbbell to his home gym. Only one, because the Professor of Economics in him had reasoned that there was no point wasting money on two when he could exercise his muscles—such as they were—one arm at a time.
He did some exercise, came down, bathed, looked at himself in the mirror for almost as long as he had exercised, and sat on the sofa of his living room, scanning the newspapers. The disastrous first encounter with the mother-in-law had left him dazed, even as he remained bewitched by her beauty.
Having woken up earlier than normal, he soon dozed off, till Jui’s voice shook him awake.
Jui stood in front of him, looking fresh, despite having stayed awake the whole night.
“What time did you all arrive? Why didn’t you wake me up?” he asked.
“They didn’t want to disturb my friend in Mumbai for the restroom break, so we reached Pune earlier than expected. When we arrived, we all were sleepy anyway, so I decided not to wake you.”
“Oh!” He wished he had dressed up better before making tea. “When do I meet Bob?”
“He’ll be down in a few minutes.”
Ravi checked his clothes and brushed his hand through his hair. Since his forced retirement because of the heart attack, he had never bothered to dress up or even comb his hair or do anything for his appearance, but today he had. Jui smiled at him in appreciation.
He flashed an impish smile and lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “I met Bob’s mother this morning.”
“I had set the alarm for 6:30 A.M. to welcome you all, but when I stepped into the kitchen, there she was, standing like a pale ghost.”
“Shh!” Jui hushed him, but they both laughed.
“You don’t want her as your mother-in-law.”
“She’s cold and acts so superior. What do you girls call it? Hoity-toity, right?”
“She gives that impression in the beginning, but she’s a nice person. You will realise when you get to know her.”
Ravi didn’t quite like the idea of getting to know her and seeing her nicer self, except to clarify to her that he wasn’t staring at her…
“I have no intention of doing that.”
“I have better things to do, like arranging your marriage function.”
“Daddy, she is our guest.”
“She’s loud, aggressive and domineering,” he shook his head. “She’s too talkative and has quite a temper.”
“How do you know?”
Ravi couldn’t tell her the details of his encounter, so he asked, “Are you sure you’ll be able to handle that woman?”
“I don’t have to, Daddy.”
“She’ll harass you and make your life miserable in her home. I hear people don’t have maids and cooks there. She’ll make you do it all—”
“Stop worrying Daddy. I won’t be living in her house. We have our own little place.”
“You do? Oh, that’s nice.”
“In Western countries, children don’t stay with their parents after college. They move out, even if they can’t afford it.”
“Can Bob afford it?”
Ravi grinned with joy. Now his late wife Janaki won’t have much to say.
“How old is your mother-in-law, you think?”
“Bobby tells me she’s 55. Why?”
Looks much younger, Ravi was about to say, but stopped himself in time.
“And Bob is 35, isn’t it?”
He laughed. “Married very early, did she?”
“No.” Jui didn’t laugh.
“What do you mean?”
“She didn’t marry.”
“He was born without his parents marrying? Oh my God, you mean he’s a—”
“Don’t say it, Daddy. Don’t even think about it. There’s a long story behind it and it’s not our business, anyway.”
Ravi’s jaw dropped and would have remained so, but he saw Bob hurrying down the stairs. He wore jeans and a black T-shirt. His long, blonde curly hair bounced at every step and his muscular arms moved like a soldier’s. To Ravi, he looked like a dream son-in-law.
Ravi got up as Jui said, “Bobby, meet my Daddy.”
“Welcome to India and to my home.” Ravi rattled out his prepared sentence.
Bob folded his hands, saying, “Namaste!” and bent down to touch Ravi’s feet in a very Indian gesture that bowled Ravi over.
He hugged Bob and patted him on the back.
The boy is nice, even if his mother is a pain, Ravi thought. But will he compensate enough for his ghastly mother? How could she be so beautiful and yet so painful?
They moved to the dining table for a late breakfast. Ravi smiled in relief, because they didn’t have Bob’s mother for company; but as a dutiful host, he had to ask, so he did. “Er… your mother?”
Bob and Jui exchanged a glance.
“I’ll send something up to her room,” Jui said.
Ravi’s heart skipped a beat, which was happening for the second time that day because of the mother-in-law. Had she complained to them about him? That he was staring at her…
Ravi could not repeat her words even within his mind. What will Bob think? How will Jui react? What will the world gossip about him?
“Is she… not feeling well?” Ravi asked.
“She said she’s fine, just jet-lagged.” Jui replied, instead of Bob.
That did not reassure Ravi at all. He knew from experience that when a woman says she’s fine, it usually means anything but.
Ravi groaned in silence. Why didn’t Bob reply? Is he angry at me for upsetting his mother? What has she told him? Oh God, how do I extricate myself from this mess?
Bob took the plate served by Jui and went upstairs to his mother’s room.
While he was away, Ravi, desperate to find out the reason, asked Jui, “Why is he so quiet? What is bothering him? Did you two argue over something? Or have I said anything?”
“Nothing like that. He doesn’t talk much, anyway.”
No wonder! Ravi thought. His mother must always be hogging the conversation in the clan.
“Are you sure?” Ravi was still sweating in his mind. “Are they upset that I wasn’t awake to welcome them?”
“No Daddy, Bob is quiet, and Liz is sleepy. That’s all.”
Ravi heaved such a huge sigh of relief that Jui raised her eyebrows at his concern.
“Just trying to be a good host. Your mother would want that,” he said.
Jui smiled and sighed too.
Bob came back and joined them, looking even more pensive.
Ravi tried hard to pamper his son-in-law like a traditional old-fashioned Indian father-in-law, but Bob didn’t eat much and remained quiet, leaving Ravi feeling uneasy about his mother having reported something unpleasant to him.
Over breakfast, Jui discussed their meetings for the day. Their busy schedule despite the jet-lag surprised Ravi.
As soon as Bob finished breakfast, Jui advised him to take a nap before the meetings. He smiled, murmured ‘Excuse me’ and left.
“Your Bob speaks so little!” Ravi said. “How will I know if he needs something here?”
“Oh Daddy, you’re so sweet! Don’t worry about Bob, I’ll look after him, but I want you to do one thing for me.”
“Anything you say darling.”
“Please take care of Liz.”
“What? I can’t do that.”
“Why not? She is not just anybody, she’s the groom’s mom, and you have to make sure she feels welcome here.”
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