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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Jab Mano Met Mama

Circa 1975.
Mamaji, a 24 year old strapping Raizada was one of the most eligible bachelors of Delhi. But he had a problem. A plight so severe and grievous that it left him incapacitated of finding a single girl to marry in the entire city of Delhi. No, it wasn’t a physical deformity or male deficiency as god knew mamaji had a fairly solid libido. It was all in his name. 

You see, Mamaji, before he actually became a Mamaji, was always called Mamaji (does anyone know his real name? see!). He was a universal Mamaji. He was always called Mamaji by everyone in the neighborhood including the children, grannies, aunties, vendors, shopkeepers and household help. To his extreme sadness, the young eligible nubile beauties of his neighborhood by virtue of his moniker called him Bhaiyya (brother). How this moniker came to stick was not clear nor its origins known, but since the time he could remember he had been, well, a Mamaji. 

Needless to say, it had become a constant source of agony and pain for him. It elevated him to the status of a brother to everyone who was marriage material and of an Uncle to anyone who was not marriage material. His conundrum usually reached its painful zenith on Rakhi, a day of pure torture, and trauma for Mamaji, as each and every girl of the family’s acquaintance, each girl more beautiful than the other, lined outside Shantivan to tie rakhi on Mamaji’s kalai/wrist. Rakhi was a sad day for Mamaji. The way things went, Mamaji had no hopes of finding a suitable marriageable girl in the neighborhood, none of those girls whom he had crushes on , would want to settle down with him because he was a Mamaji and therefore a Bhai to those girls. His mom seemed oblivious to his plight.

It was during that time Mamaji had to be in Kanpur in order to meet a leather wholesaler to discuss his next venture. He had driven into the city in his spanking new white Ambassador car and had attracted a lot of attention among the neighborhood children as he drove into the narrow alleys and backstreets of Kanpur. As the car slowly negotiated its way into a somewhat congested and pothole ridden section of Jajmau road, a large drove of excited children gathered and followed the car with cries of delight, too happy to see a rarity in their god forsaken neighborhood that reeked of industrial sludge and tannery wastes. Mamaji was a new driver and was having trouble finding a good parking spot. His eyes frantically searched for a fairly open space that did not have parked push carts, rickshaws or piles of cow dung, all banes to a new car owner. As Mamaji looked about, he saw a sight that would haunt him for the rest of his life. 

A garish apparition in a kurti of deep splashes of purple, red, neon green and gold over a bright orange shalwar, bordered with gold gotas walked by. The lass did not hesitate to swing her flaring hips seductively, her long braided hair snaking over her right shoulder, held in her right hand and flung about in a rhythmic circular motion, her mouth full of red paan ready to find a home or a freshly painted white wall to receive its irreverent dark red spit, her neck and arms covered in cheap trinkets leaving little real estate for any flies of the streets to settle on her, her kohled eyes dismissing admiring glances as cat calls and whistles left the mouths of young lads on either sides of the street. Life seemed to have stopped as she waltzed by, gaping guys stood in awe, waiting and entirely unable to resume their normal humdrum of life until this sight passed through. A radio perched on the push cart of a Chat wala suddenly blared as the vendor jacked up the volume to assist the passing lady find her swinging rhythm “BABA, dhing, ting ting tiiiing, dhing ting ting tiiiiing, BABA” 

Mamaji watched in utter shock at the confusion of colors walking towards his car from the opposite direction. The lass noted the car with curiosity, looked inside to check on the owner, and paused to deliver a coquettish smile to Mamaji. She turned her face without moving her eyes that were trained on him and delivered a long trajectory of paan spit, which landed on the shirt of the nearby Balloon vendor. The man gave an audible sigh of satisfaction and looked visibly delirious at being the chosen recipient of lass’s spit. A wave of sigh was chorused by the other bystander guys as if instructed to do so on cue from a band conductor. “Haiii Mano Raani, ek baar idhar bhi thoonk de”, (Hai, mano darling, grace us with your spit too). Mamaji was mesmerized by the strange sight dancing in front of his eyes, which struggled to focus on one thing among the many things fighting for attention on the girl. Then he heard a loud crash.

A stunned mamaji stared ahead.While he was distracted, his brand new ambassador car had crashed into a store located at the dead end of the street, and it’s bangles, trinkets and display jewelry completely crushed into smithereens, with bits and pieces of broken glass, beads and ear rings strewn on the hood the of car. A billowing and screaming man came running from the nearby tea stall delivering a heart-wrenching cry. Mamaji surmised that must be the store owner. The man came running with his hands resting on his chest to steady his racing heart and assessed the damage done to his store.

“Hey Ram, What have you done?”, came the gut wrenching cry as the man realized that his entire wares were damaged beyond repair. Then he turned to Mamaji, his anger rising quickly to its full fury. He rushed to the driver side of the car and before mamaji had time to react, he opened the door and pulled mamaji out by his collar. 

“You wretched man, you filthy, rich bastard, you ruined me, see what you’ve done? See that? Now how will I feed my family? How will I get my daughters married? You heathen, you ruined me!” , the desperate man crumbled to the ground with uncontrollable sobs of resignation. 

“I will marry your Mano, Uncleji, you don't worry”, a young man with grubby face and dirty teeth answered, the words repeated again by the chorus of lads who surrounded the crying man. Then one of the guys yelled, “Maaro saalay ko (Lets hit him), they think they can get away with murder, don’t spare him”. A group of scruffy and mean looking men surrounded Mamaji as he backed himself to the car, fear and sweat dripping through every pore of his body. If these men acted out, Mamaji was sure he would die a virgin. The men rolled up their sleeves and begin to zero in on Mamaji, closing in a circle around him. Then a bright idea struck mamaji.

He folded his hands and appealed, “Please, it was an accident, I will compensate the man his damages”
“That you will mister, no doubt, but who will feed his family, eh?”, countered a gruff ruffian among the group, twice mamaji’s size
“Yeah, who will feed his family, who will marry his daughters with no dowry?” another rude one opined.
“Uh! I, I will give him a job in my factory in Delhi”, Mamaji was trying to think as fast as he could on his feet.
“Oh yeah, and then what about his family, who will take care of them?” said another dirty face. The circle closing in on him, Mamaji could smell the collective mix of sweat, tobacco, paan and dust. His mouth went dry with fear. 

“Uncle ji, you don't worry, we will make sure this AmeerZyada (rich sloth) pays you,” a newly minted local guardian of the shop keeper chimed, “And I will marry your Mano, uncle ji, you don't worry”. At that point the downed shopkeeper wailed even louder and started hitting his chest with his fists in desperation.
“I don’t think he likes the idea, Bhaiyaa”, Mamaji tried to reason
Local guardian now glowered at Mamaji and spat, “what do you mean he doesn’t like it, how do you know what he likes? Hah! What do you know in your rich cars and houses, you know nothing,”. He spat on the ground landing his spit next to Mamaji’s foot.
With that the local guardian punched mamaji’s gut and mamaji let out a pained groan that seemed to bring some satisfaction to the men gathered around.

“Nahiiiiii” shrilled a dramatically high pitched voice and all the heads turned in the direction where it came from.
“Unhe math mariye (please don’t hit him)”, the colorful kurti came running and pushed through the gathering of men, once in the epicenter of the furor, she twirled around in a slow dramatic turn with her palms covering her ears as if to protect her from ungodly sounds, and her head shaking a no in a dramatic appeal to stop the fighting. She turned a couple of more turns in this manner, with every man in the circle feeling her pain and agony more than her. 
“My life is ruined, but it’s unfair to blame this man, it was an accident, after all.” She wailed and continued, “I am ruined and no one will ever marry me without dowry”. A collective audible shock wave went through the gathering and the men seemed resolved to take action.
“I will marry you Mano”, came the first responder
“No, I will marry you,” came the second one
“I will”, “I will” and before they knew a scuffle broke out among the men all laying their first claim to marry Mano. Mano looked at the men with wide eyes and bewilderment fit for a drama queen and settled her eyes on Mamaji who was still backed against the car nursing his gut that was hurting from the blow earlier. 
“Aap theek hain”, she swayed her hips and walked over to Mamaji

Mamaji raised his palm to tell her he was fine and assessed the skirmish that went on ignoring the two reasons that started it all – the fallen shopkeeper who was still sobbing on the dusty ground and the girl who was now fascinated by Mamaji and his car. Mamaji looked at the girl once more as she ran her fingers on the side of the car, and suddenly everything around her faded as if adjusted by soft focus lenses with her coming into sharp focus at the center. She stood there, her fingers caressing the car, her eyes fluttering and her ruby red lips smiling at him in a come-hither. Mamaji saw redemption from his years of torment of living a lonely, inexperienced, and virginal existence.  

“I will marry her”, Mamaji announced mustering the conviction and victory knell with which Sir Edmund Hillary must have announced when he reached the top of Mt. Everest. The skirmish stopped and all the men looked agape.
“I will marry her”, Mamaji repeated, not letting this new found redemption easily slip away.
“Like hell you will”, the local guardian roared.
“I will marry him, I accept", she quickly added lest he change his mind.
Every pair of eyes in the maelstrom turned towards the lass. She stood there fluttering her eyes even more, restless to settle the issue once and for all.
“Array, array!! hold him, he has fainted”, a bunch of men ran to catch hold of the local guardian as he landed on his back, hearing his dear Mano's rejection.

“You guys can all disperse now, the man has spoken and I accept”, commanded Mano, eager to seal the deal before anymore objections followed among her eager group of suitors.
“Chalo chalo, sub, move, clear out”, a police constable appeared serendipitously and dispersed the crowd. As he passed Mano a silent wink passed between the elderly cop and the girl, one that went unnoticed by Mamaji and others. 

Thus began Manorama Champaklal’s epic journey from the back streets of Kanpur to the haveli of Shantivan. And Mamaji, who thought he would die a virgin found his release.