Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: India (02/12/09)
TITLE: A Steady Erosion
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“Mata?” my son, Jaskirit, says. “Are you listening to me?” He speaks too loudly from across the gleaming table. The emerald green sheers surrounding us seem to move with the exhale of his breath. In front of him, I have arranged his favorite dishes like a rainbow— chana, alloo sabzi, and pulau, and at the center, like the sun, is a circle of warm flat bread.
“Yes, I am listening,” I answer. “You want permission to marry an American girl you met at university, while you were supposed to be studying to become a pharmacist.”
“I’ve earned the degree, but I don’t want to be a pharmacist. I want to open a fast food restaurant here with you.” Jaskirit has changed, the exterior, anyway—the clothes, the hair. Now he resembles a Bollywood star, trendy and confident. Thankfully his eyes carry the same sincere intensity as they did when he was small and begged for another piece of malpoa. He uses innumerable minutes to explain what a fast food restaurant is and how our family recipes could be converted. How we can mix the traditions of the old with the vitality of the new.
“We don’t want to continue this restaurant operation.” I wave my hand around the establishment in question. “Our wish is to sell—we only waited for you to begin dispensing medications. And what about this girl?”
“Her name is Kelly, and she has a character of gold. We'll live here—she has no family.”
“She is Hindu?”
“Does she eat meat from the cow?”
“She has stopped.”
“So, you want me to accept an American, cow-eating Christian as a daughter-in-law, and you want to turn our fine restaurant into McDonalds?”
“Mata, don’t speak like that. Pita will be here soon. Without your sway, we have no chance.” His eyes grow large and desperate. I wonder how many more lines this young son of mine will etch onto the contours of my face.
“It is impossible. Your duty is to your family.”
“And I want to keep it—Kelly wants to keep it. We will care for you.”
“Will she go to the temple with us?”
"You can't have a marriage confused with opposing faiths."
He takes my hand in his, tracing the deep ridges. “There is no opposition.” His voice has finally become subdued.
Skewered like a piece of chicken, but still alive and breathing. I finger the filmy folds crossing my breast and realize I’m wearing a sari made of synthetic material. So many changes have already come. I don’t have enough armor to stop them. I don’t think enough armor exists.
“Your name, Jaskirit, means, ‘Praises of the Lord,’” I remind him. “Not the Christian Lord, ours— Vishnu.”
“Yes,” he says. He slides the bracelets along my wrist, as he used to. Of all my children he was the one who read my moods, matched my thoughts—the one most like me. The one conceived when I had finally grown to love his father.
The light shifts through the transom above us, and Jaskirit’s pupils shrink even as his face shines. The crackle of onion and garlic sound from the kitchen grill, and we are suspended, both concentrating on the movement of the bracelets. A failure as a mother is what I feel. Oh, to get him back, but heart of my heart, I feel helpless at the resolve emanating from the hand on my arm.
It seems the scales were not imaginary. But of what kind are they? Old versus young? Fine food versus fast food? Hinduism versus Christianity?
My husband has passed through the curtain without my being aware. He leans down and ruffles his son’s uncovered head before he tucks the back of his pajama kurta under him and sits at my side. He lifts my gaze with his own, and my age vanishes. His hand inadvertently skims my waist, the swath the sari doesn’t cover, and I feel slender. Our tea is freshened and new dishes are set before us. The aromas of ginger and cinnamon mingle, floating among our nostrils.
For a moment life is just as it’s always been.
And yet I know the scales have tipped.
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