Vaidehi watched her son’s happy face from behind the curtains. It seemed ages since he’d had such a wonderful time. She continued watching the way he threw back his head and laughed at what Hannah told himâ€¦ They had shared a good friendship through their childhood, living in the same neighbourhood. He had moved on for his studies and later his job, but they had managed to keep in touch. There was laughter once more, and Vaidehi’s eyes grew moist. It was music to her ears to hear her son finally being happy afterâ€¦ ‘Vaidehiâ€¦ did youâ€¦’ Srinivasan tapered off as he saw his wife hiding behind the curtains, watching the gate belowâ€¦ ‘Shâ€¦ Ennaâ€¦ do you also see what I am observing? Our Anand is so happy in her companyâ€¦
Wouldn’t it simply be wonderful if both of them got together?’ Vaidehi glanced up to see her flummoxed husband. ‘Vaidehi, am I hearing right? You’re thinking of inter-community marriage?’ Srinivasan shook his head, taking in his wife with nose rings on both sides of her nose, a large vermilion mark on her forehead, her hair oiled and plaited with the trademark string of jasmine. ‘And moreover, what makes you think that they want to get into a relationship? They have known each other for yearsâ€¦ and nothing has materialised.’
Vaidehi looked at her Chartered Accountant husband with pitying eyes. Really, these men were geniuses at numbers, but woefully ignorant about matters of the heart. ‘Hannah has been in love with our son for years,’ she said with conviction, ‘And I’m at fault for his not taking it forward. Anand knew that both the families, our family in particular, would never agree to the alliance, and he decided not to take things forward. I think he kept a tight rein on his heart and did not even entertain such thoughts. Now, with his divorceâ€¦ Of course, I may be wrongâ€¦ both of them may not even be interested in each other, but Enna, is there harm in trying?’ she choked over her words.
Srinivasan gruffly patted her shoulders. He was not a man who showed his emotions, but he too, was hurt by the way his only son’s life had turned out the past two years. Anand was considered a catch by many – an IITian with an MBA from XLRI – and his doting parents had left no stone unturned in trying to find a good alliance for him. He also normally toed the line set by his parents. It was not that he was a mama’s boy, but he realised and appreciated the effort taken by his parents to educate him and his sister Anupriya, and had hence felt honour-bound to leave the “girl searching” to them. Basically, Anand was a shy, reticent person who, despite his academic and professional growth, was humble and ritualistic, regularly doing Sandhyavandanam (a form of prayer) and chanting the Gayatri Mantra. The whole family was over the moon when they managed to find the “perfect” girl – Sumithra, who came from a staunch Vaishnava background. Alas, she soon came as a rude shock.
Having been educated in the temple town of Srirangam, they never dreamt that Sumithra would come into the new family with a huge chip on her shoulder. Her sister had been in an unhappy marriage, and felt duty-bound to advice Sumithra not to give in an inch, but ask for a mile at each and every step. Vaidehi remembered the moment when she had lovingly presented a diamond necklace to her daughter-in-law as she stepped into her marital home for the “griha pravesh”. True, it was not a huge diamond, but it had taken a large chunk out of their savings. Vaidehi had always harboured the disappointment in her bosom at not getting a single “gift” from her husband’s home, and so had wanted to please her own daughter-in-law. But, it was not to beâ€¦ Sumithra, with her mother and sister, had looked askance at the diamond set, and “tsk-tsked” with dissatisfaction, bringing tears to Vaidehi’s eyes and a flush of anger to Anand’s. It was the pressure of his sister’s hands on Anand’s arms that stopped his outburst. From then on, it was a relationship that went steadily downhillâ€¦ The sudden ringing of the doorbell brought Vaidehi out from her reverie. She quickly wiped her tears and went to the front door.
Anand felt uncomfortable entering his own home, and made his escape to his bedroom on the pretext of packing. He knew his parents were hurt and unhappy, but he couldn’t help feeling a surge of sheer free of the farce of a two-year marriage with Sumithra, which could be described in just one word – disaster! He shuddered at the thought of what could have been his fate if not for his wonderful family lawyer – Hannah’s brother, Alan. They were classmates and great friends, despite the fact that both of them had never visited each other’s homes. He also knew that his upbringing was the reason for the barrier. He loved and respected his mother, and even though his views changed after his hostel stint, he maintained the distance just to pander to his mother’s wishes. He kept in touch with Alan and Hannah over email, and it was Hannah’s support that had stopped him from going into depression during the most nightmarish period of his life.
Sumithra had been a difficult person, hitting below the belt every time. He had tried to make his marriage work, for it was ingrained in him that marriage was “forever”, and he had taken the vow with Agni as a witness. He was aghast at the way she was blatantly rude to his parents, and right from Day One had treated them as mortal enemies. His parents visited him only once in Mumbai, where he worked, but they cut short their stay when they realised that things were not too good between them. He wanted to take her to a marriage counsellor, but to no avail. He tried to explain to her that each family was different and her sister’s episode need not affect her, but again he drew a blank. Despite not being employed, she simply stated in no uncertain terms that she wouldn’t cook and maintain the home like some “servile woman”. She expected his help at every step, even if he came home late and tired. She was plainly unreasonable. He kept secret the fact that his marriage had not even been consummated.
On one angry occasion, when he had given her an ultimatum, she had taken umbrage and filed a dowry harassment case against his parents and him! It had been Alan who had used underhanded methods to dig out an unpleasant episode of her earlier escapade during her college days, and made her withdraw the case. Who would have thought that the very prudish Sumithra had been a flighty teenager, and that she’d embraced her “holier-than-thou” attitude after her paramour had ditched her? Anand shuddered even now when he thought of the repercussions on his career and his life if Alan had not managed to find out the truth. Indian law was completely biased against men! He just felt bad for his parents, whose good intentions had all come to naught. He had come here to Coimbatore to pacify them, and tell them that he was free from all the troubles that had haunted them the past two years. He was flying back the next day, knowing very well that they would be happy only when they saw him settled, but he realised that it was an exercise in futility.
Hannah hurried to the nearest Barista unaware of the admiring glances that came her way. She was shell-shocked when she had received a call from Vaidehi Mami inviting her for a cup of coffee in the restaurant of her choice. Anand’s mother had never been her favourite person, and hence she had uncharitably chosen this particular place for a rendezvous, knowing fully well that the old lady would feel extremely uncomfortable in such an atmosphere. Moreover, she had chosen a spaghetti top minus the jacket, just to irritate Vaidehi. She quickly squelched the sudden bout of conscience that threatened her when she observed the old lady squirm in her seat as she waited for Hannah. ‘Let her stew in her own agony,’ thought Hannah as she remembered the innumerable times the old lady had adopted a supercilious attitude and an air of piety in the presence of Hannah and her parents. The only thing that went to the lady’s credit was that she’d produced “a peach of a son”, Hannah thought impishly! ‘Uhâ€¦ Good afternoonâ€¦ er namaskaram Mami,’ Hannah said, as she took a seat opposite the lady. ‘Uhâ€¦ namaskaramâ€¦ um… helloâ€¦ Anna.’ The younger lady was perplexed. She had never seen Mami this diffident or ill at ease ever before. She suddenly wondered if Anand had contracted some incurable disease, and her heart sank at the thought. She waited, and even let the mispronunciation of her name go uncorrected.
‘I wondered… if you love my sonâ€¦ I mean, if you care for himâ€¦ then I will not be in the way any moreâ€¦ I meanâ€¦ you canâ€¦’ Hannah watched aghast as Mami looked ready to cry and lifted the ends of her saree to wipe her eyes, looking furtively around. Taking a sudden decision, Hannah dropped some currency notes on the plate and got up, shrugging into her jacket and gently saying, ‘Come Mami, we will have coffee at your home, or elsewhere if you don’t want me at your place.’ She bundled Vaidehi into her car and drove straight home to Mami’s house. Over a cup of coffee, Vaidehi bared her soul and entreated Hannah to make Anand happy. ‘Am I wrong in thinking that you care for Anand? If so, please let me know, and I will not harbour such hopes.’ Looking at Hannah’s expression, the shrewd lady softly said, ‘I don’t think I am wrong.’ ‘Mamiâ€¦ leave my feelings alone.
Why this sudden change in your attitude? Before Sumithra, you wouldn’t even have thought along these lines. So how can I consider this as a compliment, when actually I am the second bestâ€¦ or ratherâ€¦’ ‘I have been foolish. I thought I knew what would make my son happy and I was wrong. Is it wrong to accept our mistakes and move on? Will you continue to punish me for my mistakes?’ She moved around restlessly. ‘Yes, I am very orthodox. I did not encourage Anand’s friendship with you based on this very reason. I realise that I had been selfish thinking that my happiness was my son’s too. Now, with Sumithra’s incident, I have realised that people are good not based on caste or religion. I feel both of us love the same person, in different ways. So why can’t we come together in his happiness? I would even step away from your livesâ€¦ if it would make you happyâ€¦ I only want to see him laugh, just the way he did the other day in your company.’ She bitterly sobbed. Hannah rushed to Vaidehi and took her hands in hers. ‘Sorry, Mami. My parents would be aghast if they had seen me behaving the way I did with you at the restaurant. I need to talk this over with my parents and I will definitely get back to you. I just cannot take this decision without their consent.’
‘Go, child,’ Vaidehi stroked her head. ‘I’ve been foolish in not realising the gem was right in front of me, and was looking for it elsewhere.’ Vaidehi, who’d consulted both her husband, her daughter and son-inlaw over this matter, was on tenterhooks wondering what Hannah’s parents would say about this matter. Srinivasan too was worried, though he didn’t share his fears with his wife. He didn’t want to upset her more than she already was, and so quietly ate the saltless upma that she had prepared for the night supper! She kept glancing at the clock throughout the time that she served him. When the doorbell rang, she rushed to the door and stood gazing at Hannah in a saree, complete with bindi and bangles! She was lost for words, and it was left to the husband to invite the family in. ‘Hannah has our blessings, Srinivasan,’ George, Hannah’s father, said gruffly. ‘She is going to ask for a transfer to Mumbai tomorrow and hopes to take it from there. I hope she succeeds!’ Hannah touched Vaidehi Mami and her husband’s feet, and whispered into the older woman’s ears, ‘Bless me, Mami on the success of “Operation Ensnare”!’