The doorbell rang. ‘Now darling remember all that I have told you,’ said Ma for the umpteenth time as she nervously opened the door. There stood Grandma in her white saree, as upright as ever with the perpetual stern look on her face. ‘Jeetiraho’ boomed her voice as Ma touched her feet. I followed her example and then helped Papa who was struggling with the suitcases, tins and sacks. Grandma always carried her kitchen with her, no mixer or microwave or for that matter even a gas stove would do for her.
Right from the day the telegram came which had announced her arrival, I had been getting lectures from Ma regarding the behavioral and dress code that I was to follow during her month-long stay. I had assured her time and again that I would try my best, and I was wearing a “respectable” salwaar kameez as per my promise.
Grandma was having her bath when the doorbell rang again. I went to answer the door. It was the postman with a telegram in his hand. I signed and took the telegram. The eight words that were in it struck me like eight thunderbolts. It read:
“Coming to Delhi on eighteenth September. Love Simi”.
Simi was my pen pal. We had been letter friendly for the past seven years. Although an Indian by origin, she had spent 15 years of her 18-year-old life in New York where her father had a garment factory. From whatever photos and letters I got from her I had reached the conclusion that she was a girl of, not the 1990s, but the 2000s. Her ‘dress-menu’ did not have long skirts, leave alone salwaar kameez. Her wardrobe, I assumed, was full of minis and micro minis and shorts. Jeans? Well, yes, but gunshot.
That same evening I received a call from Simi. Her father had given her a ticket and permission to come to India. She was so excited and I liked her so much that I did not have the heart to disappoint her. After all, this was the first time we would be seeing each other. I knew, though, that a volcano would surely erupt when Grandma and Simi came face to face. Ma was equally worried, but thought that I could manage it. How, even I didn’t know.
Finally the great day arrived. I had slight fever so I couldn’t go the airport. Papa went to receive Simi. Dadi was sitting in the living room and I knew that it would be futile to coax her to go to her room because she was watching ‘Shri Krishna’ on Doordarshan. The cable connection had been plugged out to avoid unwanted disasters.
The doorbell rang. I started praying to Lord Krishna myself. Ma opened the door and there was Simi. But….wait a minute! She was wearing a salwaar kameez and a bindi and had her hair done in a neat plait. She looked beautiful. I heaved a sigh of relief. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I rushed forward and we hugged each other. Then as if the salwaar kameez shock wasn’t enough, Simi turned to Grandma and Ma and then – oh my God, can you believe it – she bent and touched their feet. Grandma chanted her usual blessings but Ma (who had seen Simi’s photographs and read some of her letters) was dumbstruck. The only thing she did was land a kiss on Simi’s forehead.
After Simi had freshened up, we sat talking in my room. It was there that I came to know about the reason for the sudden change. About two months back her Grandma visited her and gifted her a few Indian dresses. All these had been such an instant hit with her friends that her father had decided to start a boutique of traditional Indian clothes. Simi was so full of Indian stuff now (courtesy: her Grandma) that I felt like a ‘phoren bird’. But I guess that is the glory of Indian stuff, they have something in them that catches your fantasy and at the same time touches your heart deep within.