This story has multiple pages. Please follow the numbers at the bottom.
I never understood why Nana was so adamant about not coming to America. His son Pankaj could get free first class seats for members of his close family as a result of having worked for Air India for a number of years.
I had come to America, at the age of 23, as a student and after graduation had settled first in New York and then in Northern Virginia. I really wanted Nana to visit us and see part of the world outside India. Every time I visited India I invited Nana to come to America.
“No. I DO NOT want to come to your America.” He would say.
“Why not? Pankaj gets free tickets on Air India. Why not make use of it?”
He would walk away to get his tobacco he was fond of chewing.
“Look Acchu,” he once said to me, addressing me by my nick name. He approached me as he rubbed the tobacco in his left palm with his right thumb. “I don’t think I’ll get used to your western style toilets. I’ll get constipated and get sick.”
Viju, his wife, on the other hand visited us twice and enjoyed it.
Nana was my mother’s younger brother. My mother Indu was the eldest, followed by Sriniwas (Babu), Sumati (Baby), Narayan (Nana) and the youngest Gangu (Pappi). We called our maternal uncles with their nick name and the “mama” extension. Thus Nana was my Nana mama.
When I was a college freshman Nana mama and Babu mama lived together across from our house in Hyderabad in an enclosed compound. Babu mama was married to Usha. I remember the day when Viju arrived in Hyderabad from Kolhapur to be “shown” to Nana mama. It is the Indian tradition where a young man in search of a bride interviews several prospects. Viju had come highly recommended from an acquaintance. We knew that she was arriving with her mother by train. I was aroused by a loud conversation outside our home. I ran out and stood on our stoop. There was a manual rickshaw driver standing in front of his vehicle. Apparently Viju and her mother had hired the rickshaw from the Nampally railway station. Realizing that they were new in town, he loudly demanded more money than what was bargained for. I wondered what was going to happen.
A few minutes later I noticed Babu mama come out of the house. He went straight to the driver.
“What seems to be your problem?” He asked the driver.
“Sir, I need more money,” he demanded. “It was a long trek from the station.”
Babu mama asked how much was bargained and said it was a fair price. When the driver kept insisting for more Babu mama did something I never imagined he would do.
“You want more? Ok. I’ll give you more.” He said as he walked to the driver, pulled him by his left shoulder and slapped him hard on his right cheek. I could hear the smack twenty feet away.
Oh, my god, I said to myself. There is going to be a fight. One does not start a fight with these kinds of people, because one never knows what they would do. He may have belonged to a gang. Surprisingly the driver didn’t respond. He rubbed his cheek, meekly reversed his rickshaw and quietly left. I feared that he was going to come back at night with his goons and attack Babu mama. Fortunately nothing like that happened. I didn’t know where Nana was when all this was going on. He was perhaps busy welcoming the guests.
Viju was disturbed when she heard what had happened. Being in a house full of strangers she must have felt like an interviewee in the spotlight. She hardly talked to anyone and when she did she looked down. Usha, wanting to keep her occupied gave her some puzzles to solve. Viju’s face turned pink thinking this was another test for her.
Nana sensed her predicament and quietly took her upstairs.
“Here, let me help you,” he said and proceeded to solve the puzzles. He liked being alone with her. In a joint family environment in India it was hard to find privacy.
That evening Nana hired a taxi to take Viju around town. Middle class people in India didn’t own cars in those days. Only the very rich did. Usha went along as a chaperon. I later learnt that Nana was in high spirits. He was pointing at all the monuments in the city — the magnificent stone high court building, the equally regal University, the Charminar, the Golconda fort.
“Look, look,” he said addressing Usha and not Viju and describe the building. Although he meant to address Viju, he didn’t.
“Nana,” Usha said finally. “Why are you telling me this? I live here.”
Nana blushed. He kept quiet for a while.
Two days later Nana took Viju and her mother to the Nampally station for their return journey. When he came home Usha noticed his melancholy face. She started teasing him by chanting a song in Marathi that meant — Oh, my darling, how I wish you were with me at this twilight hour.
Nana couldn’t say anything. It was true. He was smitten by the fair, comely, unassuming Viju.
Nana and Viju were married in December 1957. They had two children – Urmila, a girl and Pankaj, a son.