Note: This story was first published in Milwaukee: Its Places, Traditions and People.
She fell off her bed again. Usha gasped. Her sleep broke again. She washed her face with the aloe soap, which she brought from her home in Mysore, India.
Who knows what chemicals will be there in the soap? Her granny remarked while she was packing her bag.
She wasn’t sure if that was true but she did not want to take a chance.
Usha referred to a few web sites on American lifestyle before rushing to the airport but her mind grew blank the minute she reached the Chicago airport.
She was wearing a salwar suit with a jacket that was slipping on her arms. A huge red bindi on her forehead, her hair was plaited and had a dash of jasmine oil rubbed onto it.
She would have worn jeans and a long kurta if her orthodox grandfather was not coming to the airport to see them off.
She committed her first faux pas when she pulled the cheeks of the American baby in front of her in the check outs line. The baby’s mother looked at Usha, pressed her lips and asked “Are you Pakistani?”
“No,” she nervously replied and looked away from her with a tear in her eyes. Her mawkishness was hereditary.
Seated on the sofa in the living room, her lips shivered as she recalled the incident. Despite the freedom in this country, she choked for breath. She missed walking into her neighbour’s home in Mysore without taking an appointment or going to any street in her area for a bite of idly. She remained confined to her house and sulked, watching movies all day.
She was sipping her morning filter coffee when her husband asked her if she would like to go to the Baseball Park in Milwaukee. She remembered seeing the cursive writing style M-shaped structure on her drive from the airport to home. This was her visit abraad (as her grandmother said it). She nodded a yes (did she have a choice?). He informed her that they would have lunch outside. If she were in India, her eyes would glow with the idea of having the Indian snacks: dosa, uttapam, and idly from a local restaurant in her hometown in Mysore. The ghee on the round piece of idly. The chutney that had the groundnuts and the spices in equal proportion – Aha! Most mornings when she closed her eyes during meditation, a full plate meals of the Indian snacks revolved in her mind (perhaps, her famished subconcious).
She immediately protested, “No. No. I have soaked urad dal. We will have that with rotis.”
“Why did you do that? We go Saturdays outside, no?” her husband argued.
The thought of having a pirated version of Dosa and Idly made her heart sink.
“Aiyo.. Next time, we shall go,” she smiled. She knew her smile would melt his heart. It always did. That was one of the tricks she employed whenever she wanted him to listen to her. She had known little of him in the six months of the arranged marriage.
Her phone vibrated as she was soaking the urad dal in water. It was her mother’s call on Whatsapp.
“Hello Amma. Good morning,” she said holding the phone between her ear and arm.
“It is good night here. What are you doing?” her mother replied.
“I was soaking urad dal. What are you doing?” she said wiping her hands and sitting in the sofa.
“Urad dal aa? Why are you eating wonly indian food there? Silly girl.” Her mother reprimanded
“Aiyoo Amma. There will be nonveg. Chicken. Beef. What not.”
“Silly girl, now a days they have vegan food too. Our neighbor Kamala Amma when she went to Amrika-va she told she ate wonly vegan. You also eat. What urad dal. moong dal. Everyday you are eating that only no?”
“Right Amma. Let me try vegan food.” She promised her mother that she would eat vegan and also call her later, touching the red button on the iPhone.
“Shall we go or are you still cooking?” her husband asked.
“No cooking. We shall eat outside.” She smiled.
Her eyes remained wide open as her husband drove to the parking lot of the Miller Park. Baseball was to America what Cricket was to India. The row of cars that were neatly stacked one behind the other always astonished her. During any cricket match, the parking lot of the stadium was like a stable of drunk horses. Everyone would run against the other. She had seen this during her visit to Bangalore. In her native town, everyone was peaceful. It was also listed as the cleanest city in India.
But in Milwaukee, it was so clean. Even this stadium. It was the public access day. Her eyes remained wide open when she saw a boy kiss a girl on the cheek. She knew it was common in America. But her eyes did not get used to it. She would hold her husband’s hand only in the bedroom, that too, when the doors were closed.
She walked inside and smiled at the lady who gave her a ticket. In Mysore, if you smiled at some stranger they would ask: What do you want? Why are you smiling so much?
Her husband said, come let us go upstairs and look at the place where the audience sits. She took the elevator. Her salwar pant was almost stuck on one of the steps. She would buy jeans next time they went for shopping.
The 360 degree view of the lush green field and the huge television sets from the audience stand was marvelous. Her husband excused himself when he received a call. She enjoyed sitting in the audience stand.
A young boy was jumping on the fixed chairs. His white silky hair was bouncing with him. Afraid her hands might pull his cheeks, she turned away, looking at the huge baseball ground.
“Hello!” the mother of the young boy smiled sitting beside her. “Hello” she said and continued staring at the vast expanse of the lush green field.
“Are you from India?”
“Is this your first visit?”
“Oh welcome to the US”
“Thank you,” she smiled
“What a beautiful smile.” The mother said
“Thank you,” she said coyly.
“How are you finding our country?”
“It is good.”
The mother asked her about her interests and other things. Usha was nervous in the beginning but as she began talking with her she grew comfortable. Her husband joined them and they began talking about baseball and good restaurants around.
The jumping boy joined them and began pulling his mother’s hand. “Excuse us, we have to go. But it was very nice talking to you both,” the mother said.
Suddenly, Usha asked the mother “Excuse me? Can I softly pull his cheeks?”
Bindi – vermillion that Hindu women in India put it on their forehead
Kurta – a long embroided shirt-like garment
Urad dal – lentils
Rotis – indian bread
Dosa, Idly, Uttapam – south Indian delicacies
Amma – mother in the south Indian languages
Categories: Short Stories