Flutter of Wings a poetic novel

Flutter of Wings    …..preview.

complete novel         Flutter of Wings…Saryu Parikh

It is my pleasure and privilege to introduce,

                    a poetic novel,
Flutter of Wings, by Saryu Parikh.

    Scattered throughout her new book, we find wonderful words of wisdom in a poetic way for all ages. She writes,

“Knowledge is like a flower.
The meanings of the messages open petal by petal at different stages of our lives.”
“Life is too short to waste and too long to ignore.”
“The most needed sensation for every human heart,
A loving recognition from another loving heart.”

Then the young couple plans to build a house.
“First the feelings are sketched on the paper
The images silhouetted stacking stones, and wood.
A lovely monument and a good-looking place
A house is a home when love breaths in
. . .”

Saryu has a special ability to write description filled with imagery that sketches vivid photographs in your mind as you read her story. I assure you that the readers will enjoy the twists and turns in the story with sprinkles of love and joy.
Linda Compton.

Flutter of Wings
The swan of my soul feels free in flight,
No right or wrong, just the light of delight.
The crystal-clear mind, reflects blue sky,
The peace within my reach, I simply realize.

Awakened and aware by the nudge of the sun,
The white swan smoothly flutters wide wings.
He takes a leap of faith to dance and sing,
The rays of hope gently pull the shiny string.

In one unique way swan dedicates the verse,
His wings are open to embrace the universe.
A prayer to surrender gives grace to revive,
The timeless trance in the space of divine.

Live in the moment, and forever in eternity,
No past no future from here to eternity.
———Saryu Parikh

comment: Lovely—touching sublime height!! A Hansa-the Swan also symbolizes the atman –soul returning to Brahman-universal truth. Also reminds me of…

1-hansa to ekla jase…Bhagirathi Mehta
2-Eko Hanso Bhuvansyas Madhye….Shwetaswr Upnishad
3-heaven is born in you…in the arms of mother dust…Tagore.
4-this bird gains two wings and spreads both….Rumi
Love, Munibhai, padmashree Dr. M.H.Mehta.
—————————————————————————–

For our lovely daughter
Sangita.

  1. Flutter of Wings

         The cool breeze of September sweetly brushed his face.  His white linen shirt held on to his wide chest while the collars flapped. He could not decide whether to look up at the disappearing sun or at the run-away river. The twilight was singing before it surrendered to the darkness.

The majestic Yellowstone Mountains seemed indifferent to the changing colors of that evening, but the spectacular view filled Som’s eyes with adoration.

“So, there you are!” His parents snuck up

“Mom! I am so glad that you insisted on visiting Yellowstone National Park.” Som said.

“I knew it.” Feeling complacent, Mahi gently put her hand on his shoulder.

“You desperately needed this break.” His father Ramesh, a doctor, joined in the conversation, “We visited this park twenty-five-years ago, and…”

“And it hasn’t changed much.” Mahi interrupted her husband and shared a secret smile with him. “Shall we go? It will be dark soon.”

“You two go ahead, I will catch up with you.”  Som kept on looking at the angelic light. Going down   Ramesh chuckled, “Good that you stopped me.”

“Yes, I know. You have said that a couple of times. I am sure he must have figured out by now that this is where his life began.

“Oh! No!” They laughed.

“Your jovial laugh echoes in this valley.” Som came near them and ran ahead of them reaching the parked car.

The resonant call of the trumpet swan startled Som. He turned around and pointed at a lagoon, “Look at those white swans.” Other swans kept playing around the water while a huge one, standing in a flight position, faced the setting sun.

The white worshiper spreads his wings
and bows to the setting sun.
The smiling sun extends his shimmering rays to hug and to bid sweet so long.

The Joshi family had come from Texas to Wyoming to celebrate Mahi and Ramesh’s 30th wedding anniversary and their son Som’s upcoming birthday. They had three more days to explore the unique park. The bubbling earth, the exploding geysers and the plunging waterfalls mesmerized every soul. In the morning, Som went on a long hike. He stopped in his tracks when he saw the sunlight dispersed in an arc of spectral colors seeming to emanate from within the earth.

They took a last look at the erupting Old Faithful geyser and left to catch the flight back home. When they entered the cabin, Mahi asked Som to sit in the middle seat. In a response to his surprised look, “We want to talk to you,” his mother replied.

Mahi was composing in her mind how to start the subject of marriage.  She heard Ramesh saying, “Son, you got this mini-vacation after a long time.”

“Yes! I feel rejuvenated and ready to go back to my lab with fresh ideas,” Som said excitedly.

 “Dear! You have finished the first year of your MD-PhD program. I have a suggestion – how about a trip to India?”

“No, my dear mom. I know your agenda behind that trip.” Som laughed.

“Son! Seriously, listen to me. If you have someone here, any American girl you like, tell us. Otherwise choice-marriage is a perfectly good option,” his father said earnestly.

The discussion continued for a long time and finally Som agreed to go to India to look for a bride.

“You give yourself the opportunity to find the right life partner. No one will pressure you,” Mahi assured her son.

None of them spoke further about it, but each one was thinking about the complicated problems they might face in India.

                          ——–

  1.    Those Days

The past comes to haunt the future,
Throws a tantrum and tries to rule.
Take away the power from the past
and let the present overrule.

Ramesh and Mahi were in the same class in the Junior college in Mumbai, but remained strangers. They knew of each other’s presence in the class. Ramesh had seen Mahi with the group of Muslim girls. After two years, Ramesh got admission in medical school and he never bothered to find out where that pretty girl went for further studies.

The year was 1955. India had been a free country for only eight years. The young generation was hard at study and the working class was trying their best to make a good living. In his fourth year of medical college, Ramesh selected an assignment at a charity clinic. He donated his services to needy people on the weekends.  One time in a staff meeting, he saw a familiar face.

He waited impatiently until the meeting was over. He did not want her to leave. So as soon as the meeting was over, he rushed to her and asked, “Pardon me, but you look familiar—did I know you at Junior college . . .?”

“Oh . . . Yes. I am Mahi.”

“I was surprised to see you here. I am Ramesh,” and he extended his hand, but in response, Mahi joined her hands in formal greeting, and shyly said, “namaste. I know you.”

Mahi explained to him that she was studying Psychology and was specializing in Community Health Care Counseling. She would be coming to the clinic every weekend with some patients. Ramesh wondered, “Why am I glad to hear that?”

Their regular meetings turned into a cozy friendship. They both began to live for the weekends. The light of their eyes was shining in the presence of each other. Ramesh and Mahi spent many weekends helping others. Moreover, their affinity was like two enchanting streams, flowing effortlessly together, which they could not stop.

They both knew that they were playing with the fire of the beliefs of two very different cultures. Ramesh was from a very orthodox Hindu family.  His father was a famous national poet and a prominent contributor in the independence movement of India. Society was facing many changes in the nineteen fifties, and problems for Ramesh and Mahi were inevitable.

              Their feelings took a flawless form,
The longing was much more than the norm.
They melted in the love of an edgeless ocean,
No rules of religions could stop their emotions.

With the passing time, they both realized that they would not be able to accept any one else as their life partner.  Ramesh was worried. His clouded mind was constantly playing with the light and dark side of every decision.

“Ramesh, tell me, why is Mahi the one for you? You think on this point, and we will talk later. Keep in mind that you are from an orthodox Hindu family where the one basic rule is, one has to be born in the Hindu family. Many other religions allow and encourage conversion. However, no one can be adopted into Hindu heritage.  Similar problems Mahi will have to face, because her family would not easily accept a non-paak, unholy, husband for her.” Mahi’s scholarly professor, Dr. Sharma, had become a spiritual guide in the complicated, self-doubting path of their love affair. Ramesh shut himself in the inner most corner of his heart and analyzed his feelings with a micro-vision.

The next time he and Mahi met with Dr. Sharma, Ramesh’s face was like a fresh flower after the rain. “Sir!  Before I met Mahi, I crammed my days with the work chosen by my elders. The social wisdom muffled the longing of my heart.  Spending time with Mahi helped me take an honest look at my true feelings. When she is with me, I hear the music of my soul. The question is still there: ‘Why am I here?’ But I will not be able to answer that question if Mahi is not by my side.”

Ramesh’s clear words brought tears of joy to Mahi’s eyes. They held each other’s hands as if to never let go.

“I see the clouds of doubts have been blown away, and from now on, the inner light will shine your path.” Dr. Sharma gave his blessings.

When they presented their plan to marry one another, a bombshell dropped on the family.  The young members stared at them while many adult voices cried out.

“We raised you right and gave you a good education. Now you dare to break our hearts with this unholy choice of marriage?” The one voice subjugated others.

“Yes, Father! This is my decision.” Ramesh answered boldly hiding his fear.

The parents’ emotional blackmail did not work. The families could not bring any money pressure because financially Mahi and Ramesh were independent. The young couple was threatened, but Ramesh and Mahi remained calm and firm. Ramesh’s older brother explained to the family that their disagreements would alienate Ramesh from the family. Mahi’s sister convinced her side of the family to accept Ramesh. Finally, both families had to agree to the union.

Then the circus of showing off began. Each family tried their best to show that things were going according to their religious customs.

The engagement ceremony was held at Mahi’s house. After the ring exchange, a vegetarian and non-vegetarian dinner was served on the same table. That outraged Ramesh’s family. They took a few items from the dessert table and left in a huff. “These Musla people showed no respect for the groom’s family! We will show them who is in charge in the next function.”

Mahi and Ramesh were witnessing the drama with heavy hearts and wishing it to be over soon. Mahi’s mother insisted that the union needed to be sealed by an Islamic clergy. Ramesh had to agree to go against his parents’ wishes. After the ceremony, they were known among Muslim families as, Mahi and Rahim. They had to be extremely cautious because the mention of that name would set off a chain of deep distress in his Hindu family.

Meanwhile, Mahi was compliant and followed every instruction given to her. Ramesh’s siblings were pleased with their new sister-in-law. The Joshi family selected an auspicious day for the Hindu wedding ceremony, followed by the reception. Mahi’s family responded, “Some of us will come.” They did not care to inform them how many!

The wedding ceremony had to start at a specific time given by the Hindu priest. When the time came for the bride’s parents to participate, Mahi’s parents were nowhere to be found.

“We had seen them here,” people were gossiping and smirking.  Finally, Mahi’s professor, Dr. Sharma and his wife came forward to give Mahi’s hand in marriage. The holy fire was lit, and the bride and groom took four circles.  Whenever Mahi felt shaky, one look from her beloved Ramesh filled her heart with hope and love.

It was funny that Mahi’s family was first in the reception hall and first in the buffet line. Well, the important events were over and everyone relaxed.

The party went on past midnight without a hitch. . .. So, from then on, they were recognized as Ramesh and Meha in the Joshi family, and Rahim and Mahi in the Khan family. Everyone pretended that the other culture had no bearing on the new couple.

The bride and groom started their married life in the joint family of eight members. On the first day, Ramesh’s mother made it clear that Mahi would not touch her jug of water and her little temple. The insult stung like a slap on the bride’s face.

When Ramesh heard that, he turned red with anger and got up to go to confront his mother. Mahi stopped him and explained the futility and possible repercussions of his actions. One cannot argue against the deeply carved beliefs, wrong or right. Therefore, in the name of tradition, they had to respect it.

“Sweetheart!  We cannot tell anyone how to feel, especially a mother,” Mahi said and Ramesh listened to the wisdom hidden in those few words. “The way we cannot convince our hearts to follow their rules, at the same time, we cannot expect them to let go of their beliefs. Given some time, I am sure your mother will love me like a daughter.”

On many occasions, both sides of relatives made them feel alienated. Sometimes, Ramesh and Mahi felt stifled at family gatherings. Despite understanding and patience, it was challenging to keep their serenity.

Ramesh was close to his older brother and one day he decided to share a path he was trying to choose.

“Brother, I cannot tolerate the way Mahi has been treated by our family. If we move out of the house, that would embarrass our parents.  In addition, no way can I afford a place in a city like Mumbai. I am considering applying for the fellowship or a job in the USA.”

“I agree. It hurts me to see you go, but it is the right decision for you. You have my blessings. I’ll back you up,” his brother said kindly. “Maybe that is your destiny, and the circumstances are encouraging you to go in that direction.”

Four months passed. One day, Ramesh and Mahi called a family meeting and announced, “We are moving to the USA. I have a job appointment letter from a teaching hospital in Houston, Texas.  They will help Mahi find a position. We will leave in three weeks.” Ramesh was quite precise and confident about his plans.

His parents were disturbed. Before they expressed their concerns, Ramesh spoke, “Ma and Papa, I understand my responsibility toward my younger siblings. As soon as we can manage, we will be sending money back home. You can always count on us.”

Mahi wanted to say something, but she stood behind Ramesh with an expression of her support of him. The traditional expectation from a daughter-in-law is she does her duties without much noise.

However, the beauty of relations would glow when the young wife continued to show the respect and kindness without any grudges.

The subtle flow of feelings is not only between two, the marriage is you know, a family package deal too.
New relations thrive and grow multi-fold,
when love and respect, go hand in hand.

          The day of departure was filled with emotional tears and bittersweet sorrow. The country named America seemed far away, beyond the seven seas. Ramesh and Mahi were the first in their families to go to a foreign country. Both mothers were beside themselves with grief. No one was sure when they would come back.

The telephone was considered an expensive and undependable luxury. So, the only way of keeping in touch was letters. The feelings of emptiness in the family hovered over them like a disheartened ghost.

Many relatives crowded at the airport. Ramesh and Mahi felt nervous after listening to the many cautionary instructions. It was their first experience flying on a plane. It was both exhilarating and scary. They settled down in their assigned seats and appreciated a moment of peace. The anxiety of an unknown land and leaving behind their loved ones—brought out unfathomable feelings.

“Our mothers were so worried,” sadly Mahi said.

   “But you know, your mom must be asking Allah and mine must be ordering Krishna to protect us.” That made Mahi laugh and they braced themselves for the long journey.

——–

  1. Pleasant Surprises

          They arrived in Houston after many hours. Ramesh and Mahi were worried about settling down in a strange place. They were expecting some stranger holding a name plate, ‘Dr. & Mrs. Joshi,’ at the airport. They were pleasantly surprised to see Ajit, Ramesh’s friend, standing next to a member of the hospital staff.

“You will get your own apartment after a week, on the first of the month. The hospital will make arrangements for your stay, but Seema and I insist that you stay with us for this week,” Ajit said. Ramesh knew Ajit from their High school years and Ramesh had met Seema, at their wedding in Mumbai.

“That will be wonderful,” Ramesh and Mahi relaxed.

 It was a pleasant October afternoon. Ramesh and Mahi were looking around with an enthusiastic appreciation for the neatness of the roads and buildings. It was impossible for them not to compare this, an average American city, with Mumbai.

Seema welcomed them warmly. Mahi and Seema had never met before, but they felt like old friends. Seema said, “We could not write to you in our last letter. The reason was, this week my sister’s family wanted to visit, but they postponed their visit upon our request. We really wanted to host you. I know how difficult it is to manage in a new country.”

        The following Sunday, Seema and Ajit invited some of their friends for Diwali dinner. The style of the celebration of the Hindu festival of lights was different than back home, but they were delighted to mingle with so many Indian professionals. It is a universal law that each living soul finds solace with his or her ethnicity. Ramesh and Mahi unknowingly followed in that trend and felt close to several people in the group. Some lived in apartments, but some well-established families, owned their homes.

         “Next year it is my turn to have the Diwali party at my house,” one woman announced. “Mahi, I hope that you both will be here.”

“Insha’Allah. Let’s see.” Mahi said. Some of the guests had a surprised look.

“Are you a Muslim? Then how come are you a Joshi?” Someone asked a crude question.

 “Yes, I am a Muslim, married to Ramesh Joshi.” She said with a lovely smile. Mahi’s honest answer satisfied their curiosity. Some went home with a juicy point of gossip, and to others it did not make any difference that a Hindu man was married to a Muslim woman.

The day of moving into their apartment was very easy. They packed their four suitcases and proceeded toward their home. Seema and Ajit brought a few of the basics like pillows and comforters. Some neighbors insisted that Ramesh and Mahi have meals with them for a few days.

“There are more good people on this earth than bad.” Ramesh always believed that.

“Yes, I am touched by all this unexpected kindness and care.” Mahi was happy to be in their own apartment.

“I will get my first paycheck this coming Friday. Until then, we will be very comfortable on this carpet. My sweet! Come here with those pillows and take me to dreamland.” Their whole world had come together in that small little nest.


The mind can wander and reach to the yonder,
but at the end of the day, I do understand.
The key and lock; just you and me,
that will make us gloomy or glad.
        The marriage is a spiritual journey where you give your hand to lift up the other.        The chariot of their daily life began to roll smoothly on the two balanced wheels of Ramesh and Mahi. Mahi got a job in her field at an entry-level position. They bought a used Volkswagen Bug. They felt quite cozy and comfortable in their own car and new life. Her ethnic outfit, the salwar-kameez, replaced by the pant-shirt and only on special occasions the colorful, six feet long silk sari was wrapped on.

Six months flew by. The couple secured their Green cards. Ramesh and Mahi were missing India less and felt more settled in the hustle-bustle of Houston.

One week, Mahi was not feeling well, so she decided to stop at the clinic of her new doctor friend. She returned to her apartment running. She hugged, and kissed her husband like never before.

“We are going to have a baby!” Ramesh heard the echo reflected several times by the wind chime. “Oh, my love, what a miracle!”

An unseasonable spring rushed into their home from the garden. It seemed like the trees were fresh with new leaves and flowers were surprised to see the rainbow colors among them. New saplings were lifting up their heads to see the bright sun shining on earth. The couple ended up planning and arguing about silly things and finding excuses to hug again…again.

It took a couple of hours before their practical minds started to worry about health insurance and

how they would take care of the baby without the help of family members. They could not afford to purchase a ticket for any family member to come from India. She was concerned because back home the new mother was completely cared for six weeks after the birth of the child. Mahi had seen at her workplace several young mothers, up and around, coming back to work in a few days.

“It may be challenging during the postpartum time, but with yours and friends’ help, we will be just fine,” Mahi assured Ramesh.

          The days and months passed. Mahi was in her eighth month of her pregnancy. They were enjoying a cool evening at Seema and Ajit’s new house. They had wanted to surprise Mahi with a baby shower, but Seema was concerned about how to go about it, so she decided to clarify.

          “Mahi, we want to throw you a baby shower. My question is, should we do a Hindu traditional ceremony, simant, or not? How do you feel about that? If you have the slightest objection, we will absolutely avoid it. Tell me, what do you do in the Muslim tradition?”

“I had asked my mother in my last letter and she suggested that we celebrate after the baby is born. I do not remember showers on our side of the families, but I have attended the ‘simant’ of my Hindu friends. What is involved? I am excited to know.”

“Traditionally the mother-to-be sits on baajath, a low height seat, dressed in a silk sari. She spreads the palloo, the loose corner of her sari, and receives a coconut, rice and flowers. The mother-to-be takes a few steps, and on each step, a silver coin and a betel nut are put on a green betel leaf. Then the invitees present gifts. The festival is so celebrated that the pregnant woman is blessed by the family goddess to have a safe delivery of her healthy baby.” Seema explained.

 “I love it. What do you think Ramesh?” Mahi was all smiles.

“Sounds wonderful! We see that the ceremony is cultural and regional rather than religious-based. I remember one custom that is more interesting. The younger brother of the father-to-be gently slaps his sister-in-law. It was quite funny to slap my older brother’s wife. The ladies were laughing upon my hesitation.”

“Can I play in that part . . . please Mahi?” Ajit mischievously asked.

“We are omitting that part of the ritual,” Seema replied. “I will not allow you to slap my friend, my dear husband.” The teasing and laughing made Ramesh and Mahi feel like they were sitting among their families.

Mahi had received some specific gifts from both families in India. The best part of the parcel was both families had put things in one gift box and Mahi’s sister had mailed it. With several other things, one was a very special red sari with a gold border and a gold bracelet from Ramesh’s side. Her mother had sent a half-moon pendant in a gold chain.  The pendant reminded Mahi of ‘Eid Ka Chand, the half-moon. On the day of her baby shower, Mahi dressed in the red sari, the new bracelet and chain. The charm of aspirant motherhood made her look like cherry blossoms in full bloom.

In the last few days of the pregnancy, their realtor and Ajit had convinced Mahi and Ramesh that it would be better to buy a house instead of spending their money on rent. One evening, they had just returned to their apartment after finalizing their purchase of a house. Mahi was feeling some pain and so she finally announced,

 “I think it is time to call my doctor and go to the hospital.”

After several hours of wait the good news came, “It’s a girl!” Ramesh and Mahi selected a simple name, Nina. Seema and two other friends were at the apartment when they brought the baby home. Ramesh and Mahi appreciated the hot meal. Mahi was weak due to a long labor and needed complete rest, but the nightmare began after a few hours. Every couple of hours a loud cry made the new parents jump and rush to the bassinet. Ramesh was inadequate in changing the cloth diapers and using the safety pins. Mahi strenuously propped herself to nurse the crying baby. Mahi panicked every time Nina screamed at the top of her lungs, but eventually, as a doctor, Ramesh handled the situation calmly.

Ramesh went back to work after three days. There were still four more weeks before they could move into the comforts of their own house. Mahi was forced to be on her feet to feed, clean and wash the baby. Nina’s sparkling eyes and angelic smile kept her going. After they moved into their new home, Ramesh invited his parents to visit. Ramesh was prepared to purchase two tickets for them, but his father was too proud to accept that and also, he felt that it was a waste of money.

Months passed, but no one came from the Joshi family. Nina’s first birthday was coming up. With Ramesh’s consent, Mahi invited her parents and they booked their own tickets and arrived in Houston. Nina was the center of attraction and she constantly entertained her cheering fans.

Another miraculous surprise came to Mahi and Ramesh when Nina was close to three years old. The second delivery was easy and Nina got a brother named Som.

The two-year-old Som was brought to Mumbai. “Dear wait!” Ramesh’s mother stopped Mahi at the door. The mother-in-law performed some ritual benedictions and excitedly asked her to enter. Thus, holding the Joshi family’s heir, Mahi was ceremoniously welcomed into the house. Finally, Mahi felt her rightful place among the Joshi family.

Som was sitting in grandma’s lap in her little temple. Som wanted to drink water. “Mahi, give me water from my jug,” her mom-in-law asked Mahi without any hesitation. She smiled and handed her cup of water. Mahi vividly remembered her first day in that house, when she was told not to touch her water jug. The relationship had passed the difficult barriers and reached a milestone.

All this time . . . Mahi carried the bond between Ramesh and his mother like a pink rose in the palm of her hand. She regarded it with utmost gentle care. So, the day had come when they all could enjoy the fragrance of that rose.

Ramesh had a satisfying smile when he witnessed the change. He silently signed to Mahi, “I love you.”

The life shines like a full moon,
its serene touch is a blessed boon.
O my beloved! I never thought;
is this called Heaven on earth?
I wonder and watch
what goodness of hearts can bring to us!
——-

  1. Prospects and Priorities

 “Why is the maid washing grandma’s water jug again?” Nina asked her mom. Mahi knew why but did not know how to explain that her grandmother thought that her God needed the holy water in his temple, not water touched by a Muslim woman. Her mother-in-law would eat and drink whatever Mahi would serve . . . but God needed protection! Mahi was familiar with her own mother’s many quirks like eating only halal meat, haram-prohibited ingredients, and what not! She had seen misguided beliefs everywhere she had lived. She thought, “Well, blind faith is universal,” and just smiled at her daughter.

Their family-ties continued calling Ramesh and Mahi back to visit India, so they took Nina and Som every other year to spend time with their kin. Som enjoyed the attention and affection, but Nina took it as a bitter pill.

One time, they went to attend a wedding in Mumbai, and Nina had a hard time tolerating so many people in one house. She kept whispering in her parents’ ears. “When can we go back? I am never coming back here!”

As Som and Nina grew older, visits to India were less frequent. They could not tolerate Mumbai’s heat in the summer and December vacation was not long enough. The rare visits by their uncles and aunts from India kept the Joshi families connected, though sparsely.

Until elementary school, they used to take for granted their young lives in Houston, Nina had her friends and Som had his; the constant bickering between two siblings was a part of their daily routine. In their tender, self-centered minds, a jolt was enough to make them realize the love hidden under their sibling rivalry.

It was the first week to a new school. The thirty-minute school bus ride was simply too long. On the first two days, Som sat next to Nina, but when he found new friends, he started to sit in the front row of the bus. It was a dark, rainy day. That afternoon Nina went to the back row as usual and sat alone. Among the rowdy kids, she felt subdued and averted. When their stop came, Som got off and started to go where their mother was waiting in her car.  He looked back and saw Nina walking very slowly while some girls and boys were laughing at her.

Mahi also could not understand until Nina stepped down awkwardly from the bus. Both of her shoes were tied together with her shoelaces! Aghast–Som, ran to Nina and helped her to the car. Nina’s grim face and rolling tears were unbearable for him. The school bus rolled away before their mother could understand what had happened. Sobbing Nina told that the kids on the bus had distracted her to play the trick on her. She had been unaware of it until she started walking off the bus. By then everyone was laughing at her. The trick played on her was mind numbing for Nina, so she could not think of taking off her shoes or anything else.

That afternoon Som noticed the different skin color of those laughing kids, and Nina’s and his brown skin color, like never before. The strong impact of that incident made Som understand how much he loved his sister. At home, Mahi held her crying daughter and said, “I promise to protect you, Sweetheart! This will never happen again, you will see.” Som was listening and he felt reassured by her mother’s forceful words.

At the dinner table Som asked, “Why don’t we have fair skin like those other kids? . . .  I know why they made fun of Nina – because we look different.”

Ramesh and Mahi were surprised to hear that, because from a very young age he had always played with the neighborhood children and never had these kinds of questions. Ramesh kindly touched his head and said, “Son, we do not think that way. You know that bad people find different reasons to harass others. Unhappy souls may flare up at anyone, even with their own kind. The goodness of our heart is most important. We have received so much love here from so many people with different skin colors, right?”

Som listened for a minute and ran away to play with his cars, oblivious to the fact that the seed of respectful friendship was planted.

The next day Nina refused to go to school. Mahi went to the principal and the naughty kids had to apologize to Nina. Still, Nina desperately waited for that school year to be over.  Som learned how vulnerable his sister was and how his heart bled when she cried. The subtle process of brother-sister solidarity was strengthened.

Nina soon left that meek, dull and naïve young girl behind as she approached her sixteenth birthday. Mahi planned a surprise Sweet Sixteen birthday party for Nina. When Nina walked into a roomful of her friends, she screamed with joy. Ramesh and Mahi were impressed to see their beautiful daughter mingling with everyone confidently.

Som proved himself an outstanding student. He graduated from high school as valedictorian and decided to become a doctor, like his father.

Nina’s unique personality manifested as a troubled young adult. She had difficulty following the daily, boring routine. She would sit in a corner of their garden and scribble lyrics about the free flying birds, flowers or rainbows. One thing she did not have any choice about was completing her college education. She did not want to wait one more day after her finals.

“Okay, today I have finished my last exam. I have fulfilled your requirement of earning a degree. Now can I go and explore the world?” Nina inquired at the dinner table. She was very bright and there was no doubt that she would graduate with honors.

“But dear you are only twenty-one years old.” Mahi was concerned.

“Please, Ma! Do not start that . . .  Papa! You understand. Please give me a car and some money. I promise that I will take care of myself and will let you know my every move.”

“There is a dangerous world out there, and we are worried about your safety,” Ramesh said.

“Oh! My Sis is the Karate kid. She can protect herself. Let her go.” As always, Som was on his sister’s side

“Som! We are very much aware of your opinion when it comes to your sister.” Ramesh said sternly. Som, right out of High School, got admission in the Honors Program of Medicine. He had finished his first year and had five more years to go.

 “Give us some time to think about this.” Mahi turned to Nina, “Tell us – exactly how are you going to travel and manage?”

The exuberant girl presented a vague outline of her travel plan. Her parents approved Nina’s plans, though reluctantly, and she was on her way to seek her pulsating dream. She saw ahead of her a butterfly fluttering its wings in the sunny, bright, blue sky and a wistful hum from her heart followed.

Those two months turned into two years. Nina had some success with her song writing and encouragement from some young singers. One name,Rick, resurfaced often. A few months ago, the family had casually met him during their visit in California.…. Nina had told them that she met Rick for the first time at the Self-Realization Fellowship, or SRF Center, in Los Angeles. Nina’s thinking responded to the philosophy of Paramahansa Yoganand, the founder of the ashram. The swan is a symbol of purity and transcendence. Param means Supreme and hansa means swan. It is an elite title honor applied to a very few Hindu spiritual teachers.

In the beginning, she felt peace in the beautiful garden. At times, she became one with the tranquility of that place. The yearning of her creative impulse and the urge to do what she was capable of accomplishing were over whelming her. She opened up to the wisdom to search her soul . . . You realize that all along there was something tremendous within you and you did not know it. The teaching of Yoganand helped Nina to recognize her strength and weaknesses. And fortunately for Nina and Rick, every week’s meeting at the ashram turned into a spiritual harmony for the two free spirited hearts.

Time was rolling forward happily tangled and twined with good karma for the Joshi family. One-day Nina called to say, “I am so excited. Rick and I are opening an agency to groom new artists. As soon as Som’s final exams are over, please, you all come here.”

Mahi seemed unhappy. “Mom! What’s the matter?” Som inquired.

“You know that Nina is sharing an apartment with a man before marriage, which is very hard to tolerate for Ramesh and me. We are embarrassed to talk about Nina with the family.”

“We both know your moral values. I will talk to Nina . . . A little more patience and your usual smile will make everything right.” Som hugged his mom.

Nina and Rick had come to the L.A. airport to receive them. As soon as Mahi saw them, she whispered to Ramesh, “Wow! How gorgeous they look together!”

They stopped to have lunch before checking into the hotel. Rick left with plans to come back at dinnertime. Ramesh turned to his daughter,

“How is my princess?”

Nina came and clung to her daddy and said, “Come Ma, Som, for a family hug.” They happily connected and swayed.

When this rough and tough world says,
“You’re an ordinary girl.”
Like the fragrance of incense,
Daddy’s words cover my senses,
“You are my Princess, an exceptional essence.”

“Why are you wearing this tee shirt inside out?’ Ramesh was puzzled.

“My sweet Papa! That is the fashion here. Just get used to see things inside out and upside down in this ever-young California.” Nina teased her father. The snug top and wrap-around cotton skirt accentuated her hourglass figure.

Ramesh laid down for a nap, and Mahi went to sit in the hotel’s sunroom with Nina and Som. Nina was sharing all the details about their new business and then the conversation turned to their home-buying adventure.

“The house is okay but the huge yard is filled with trees and it ends on a cliff.”

“That sounds scary,” her mother sounded bemused.

“Oh, Mom! It makes you feel like you are sitting right in the lap of nature.” Nina continued, “But our big surprise about this house came later when we found out that it is in walking distance of the SRF administration building. Their garden is open to the public. It is a perfect place to sit for meditation . . . If all goes well, we will move into the house next month.”

“In all this, I do not hear any word like ‘wedding!’” Mahi’s troubled mind could not be subdued any longer. Her face turned red. Nina recognized the storm behind one little word.

“I know what you are thinking, but I am not going to tell or ask Rick to marry me.” Nina said. That one snub took them back to time when Mahi, a ‘no nonsense’ mom, had had to discipline her boisterous daughter as a child.

Ramesh used to warn Mahi. “Don’t be too hard on Nina, she may not like you.”

“So, be it, but if I don’t correct her now, then who will?” Mahi’s efforts had brought Nina’s relations with others to a well-adjusted level, but sometimes her subconscious reaction was hurtful to her mom.

“Sorry, Mom . . .”

“I better leave before I lose my sanity.” Mahi left holding back her tears. The sound of the waterfall seemed louder as the siblings sat there silently.

“Sis! If Rick asks you to marry him, will you?” Som asked her, and she said yes.

After dinner, they went for a walk on the beach. The blue ocean was swaying nonstop and the waves were trying to catch the dipping sun. Ramesh, Mahi and Nina were trailing behind Rick and Som.

“What are your future-plans regarding getting married and raising a family?” Rick’s question surprised Som.

“Oh, I was going to ask you that same question.” Som laughed, “But seriously, my parents and I are concerned about Nina. You are moving forward with buying the house together. What is your next move?”

“Nina is such a free spirit. I wonder if she would say yes if I asked her to marry me!

“I think it will be a dream come true for her and for all of us.” Som encouraged him.

Rick turned around and walked straight to Nina. He gently took her hand and guided her to walk away with him. They stopped a few steps away. They saw Rick getting on one knee, his lips moved, and Nina nodded her head. Then he jumped up, gathered her in his arms, and twirled around.

“Wow! That was easy.” Som congratulated himself. Mahi and Ramesh cheerfully smiled.

 “I’ve a dream of a poetic wedding in a lush garden.” Nina said.

“Oh, so you have been thinking about getting married! You, sly chick!” Rick laughed and held her close. “The Self Realization Center is a possible location,”

“We are here till next Sunday evening. I gently suggest . . .” Ramesh was hesitant to finish the sentence.

“Honey! What do you think of having the wedding next Saturday?” Nina asked. “We can check with your brother Mike and your Mom.”

By the time they reached the hotel, the wedding day and location were decided. Rick and Nina worked out details with Rick’s mother and brother.

Mahi took a deep breath of relief. Ramesh and Mahi stayed up late to call India. The early morning news in Mumbai put both families on cloud nine . . .

       “Our Nina is getting married! We think it doesn’t matter how and where!” Ramesh’s brother replied. The feelings were unanimous. When the elders had written her off from doing anything normal, this news felt like a delightful surprise gift. Some gave credit to the Goddess Laxmi, and some considered it the grace of Allah.

Rick’s brother and his wife arrived on Thursday and stayed at Nina and Rick’s apartment. They all went to see Rick and Nina’s new house.

        “I will not be able to find the way to your house, ever,” Ramesh commented, on the confusing drive up the hill on Mt. Washington.

 “Yes, it is complicated. You know, this is one of the three steepest streets in Los Angeles. This disorderly order of the community has its own style. Don’t you think?” Rick’s excitement was contagious.

The house was in escrow so the realtor opened it up for them. He provided more information like, “Mount Washington is a neighborhood in the San Rafael Hills of North East Los Angeles, California,

founded in 1909. We are excited that the South West Museum, the world headquarters of the Self-Realization Fellowship is nearby.”

The house was unique and the garden was untamed. In the far corner, there was a gazebo, an inviting place to sit in meditation. From there they all walked to the manicured, peaceful garden of the SRF center. In conversation, Som found out that Rick had some savings in the bank, and the rest he was to borrow from his brother to complete the down payment. Som informed Ramesh about the situation.

After some planning, they organized a small, informal, but poetic wedding ceremony at The Lake Shrine Temple. Rick’s mother and stepfather checked-in at the same hotel where Nina’s family was staying.  His mother had an innocent smile and the aura of unwavering affection.  Her unadulterated flow of love easily spread among them. 

A pure loving heart is above any bind,
Some waves and vibrations are gracious and kind.
The sprinkles from the cloud don’t ask for condition.
The flow of affection doesn’t need no rendition.

Mahi had come prepared. She showed Nina a pink color lehenga, a long silk bridal gown, and a delicate set of necklace, earrings, and bangles. They decided to give Rick a ring that was very precious to Ramesh – it was a gold band given to Ramesh by his father.

It was a misty Saturday morning. A small group gathered under the lush green canopy of California oak and majestic gray pine trees. The leaves of eucalyptus were fluttering to spread the pleasing fragrance. Nina and Rick’s friends were playing guitar and singing. Ramesh and Mahi were amused, because they could not understand a word of the song.

The silence fell like a soft cloud as the bride and groom entered. Tall and handsome Rick, his fair skin was glowing with a pink tint of youthful freshness, his eyes smiling. The wind was playing with his blond hair. Rick saw tears in his mother’s eyes. He went to hug her, and whispered, “My daddy is looking at us, Ma! Smile!” His stepfather stroked them kindly.

Rick and Nina stood in the center. Nina’s rosy cheeks matched with her attire. Her straight, soft brown hair, adorned with a single pink hibiscus flower. Even Mahi liked her new hair color. Her innate beauty shone through her eyes. A tranquil aura surrounded the couple. The ceremony started with the sweet soft murmur of promises. Amid the gentle shower of blessings, the joy of tears shined. Their friends started a new song, which caught them totally off guard. They sang as her parents hummed with them.

I was lost and alone, bemused for a while.
He came into my life to share a smile.
The days are dreamy and nights are bright,
He helps me to feel my inner delight.
My words, his tunes, are a harmonious pair,
With a touch of love, he makes me aware.
         Nina giggled with joy. She exclaimed, “How did you find these lyrics? I wrote them last night.” Rick was surprised as well because the group had put together Nina’s lyrics with some music he himself had written!

“Well, Nina, your parents smuggled them to us,” their friends explained.

“Yes. We are the guilty party to steal from your poetry book.” Mahi said.

Nina showed off a big diamond ring, a keepsake from Rick’s grandmother. Som told Nina and Rick that it was one of the happiest days of his life. Rick was touched to see the unconditional love between brother and sister.

           Moment to moment the thoughts connect,
Event to event, the hands connect,
and builds the unbreakable bridge
to last for the lifetime.

 Rick’s mother was genuinely happy to have Nina as her daughter-in-law. Mahi and Ramesh felt blessed to know that their daughter had become a member of such a gracious family.

Nina and Rick bent down and touched her parents’ feet.

“Wow! You haven’t forgotten our tradition.” Overwhelmed with emotions, Mahi said, “God may grace you with a happy family life. We wish you to prosper and complement one another through the journey of your life.”

Ramesh said, “May you find peace and joy in the present moment. We wish you and Rick a healthy and happy life,” and handed them a big check.

“Sir! This is too much.” Rick was surprised.

“We want you to have enough for the house and some more . . .” Mahi smiled kindly.

“You both are wonderful. Thanks.” Nina hugged her mom and mused, “Mom! Have I made up today for some of the heartache I have given you over these years?”

“Yes, My love! You are the perfect package of agony and ecstasy in our lives.
———

  1.   Doctor Som Joshi

Mahi observed that her son was happy and quiet on the way back to Houston from Los Angeles. His closed eyes and his serene expressions brought a wave of joy to his mother. When Mahi thought once again about their daughter, who is “married,” the feeling of exhilaration grew. Ramesh smiled at her as if he read her mind.

Som was trying to remember every detail about meditation. As a child, he had heard his grandfather telling him how to sit on a special mat, close his eyes, and how to concentrate. He would sit next to Dadaji for a short time, glance at him secretly every few seconds, and then scurry away.  At an older age, he understood the meaning of the word meditation. With maturity came the understanding that he had a great deal more to learn.

His grandfather had written down in Som’s notebook; “You need a calm mind to excel in every task. Meditation brings you to an emotional state, which helps you to know the root cause of your agitations–such as anger, hatred, greed, expectations and love. Meditation has a calming effect and directs awareness. The pure awareness rarely achieved, and maybe described as being awake inside without being aware of anything except awareness itself . . . My dear Som! You are a special child. One day you will understand the meaning of these words better than I do.”

At the time, he had not paid much attention to his grandfather’s notes, but he had continued to sit quietly in his early teen years. The meditation routine had slipped away when the school activities and grades had taken priority over his childhood enthusiasm. His grandfather’s influence had gone into hiding in a quiet corner of his mind for many years.

His visit to Los Angeles brought him back in touch with the pristine gift from his grandfather. He made up his mind to re-organize his days and allot time for meditation.

Som returned to his lab and diligently began his research work for the MD-PhD program. He had his own apartment near the campus, but he liked to spend a couple of hours on Sundays with his parents. He enjoyed his mom’s cooking and listening to Indian classical music with his father. Since childhood, to see the joy on his father’s face when he listens to the music intrigued Som.

The relationship between spirituality and Indian classical music explained to him was like this, “Even when you are listening to music, what really touches your heart is not the sound but the gap between two sounds. How to bring that gap to your heart is the whole art of music. However, if a musician can bring that gap just by his rendition, and you fall into deep silence, you will feel the real music.”

 The research was progressing to a higher level and the medical community had begun to find out the effect of music on sick people. “Daddy, you would be glad to know this.  A new study identifies the tones and tempos in ragas that elicit happiness, romance, longing, restlessness, sadness and is applied as a specific healing power.” Som shared his information.

“Yes son, I am familiar with the effect of music on patients. But, the practical application of the treatment would be possible if only the methodical, scientific studies are carried out.” Ramesh said.

As an oncologist, Som’s research subjects often connected him with the fundamentals of Ayurveda Medicine. He believed in naturopathy and holistic health care, “According to Ayurveda, bringing our system back into balance by addressing the root cause of disease is the key to good health. The art and science of tuning the body into balance, Ayurveda harnesses the natural intelligence of the body to bring people into optimal health.” . . . Effective for centuries, this sister science of yoga was increasing in popularity and Som’s Indian heritage provided insight into both worlds.

It was just the beginning of Som’s research work and his fragmented knowledge was causing more stress and confusion. He was waking up every day with a hope for some clearer vision, but he was going to bed disappointed. The restlessness was hindering his progress. The days and months flew by.

It was almost two years after Nina and Rick’s wedding. They had come to Houston for a week to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Mahi, Ramesh and Som were surprised when she pulled out the Dr. Spock’s Baby-Book! “Yes, a baby is on its way,” Rick said cheerfully.

“I have several months to get ready, but I have so many projects lined up . . . I don’t know  how I will manage that.” Nina was apprehensive.

“I can’t wait to hold my grandchild. I will take early retirement so I can be available to help you.” Mahi said.

“Yes, we are counting on both our mothers for help–and you too papa.” Rick said to include Ramesh in the big picture.

“Som, we must take that trip to India this year, around Christmas time, right?” Ramesh reminded.

Nina gave Som a meaningful look. Several months before, on the return flight from Yellowstone, Som had agreed to go to India to find a bride. He had called Nina to discuss the matter almost immediately. He had talked about his doubts and dilemmas. His sister advised him not to go to India to find a bride. Nina never believed in match making or choice marriage. However, Som was partially convinced that a stable life partner would bring balance in his personal and professional lives.

He talked and listened to the opinions of his childhood friend Aari, the son of Seema and Ajit, and Steve, a close friend of many years. His friends took the whole scenario very lightly and encouraged Som to explore. Nina might say, “They are naively curious young men.”

           “I will agree to go, but I have two conditions. I have to have ten days for my research work. The second condition, the wedding will happen only if I am totally convinced.” Som said.

“Yes, no pressure,” Mahi assured. They were thankful for a positive answer from him. The affectionate look of his mother sent out a wordless prayer . . .

            My precious child you are my link.
I want to know what you think!
I walk behind, you run uphill,
I wish to keep you safe, tranquil.

    Nina and Rick gently protested when they were alone with Som later that evening. “Som! You are not thinking clearly, and an emotional cloud is compelling you to agree. Maybe you do not identify it, but our parents are putting pressure on you.” Nina said.

The young trio was sitting at the beautiful gazebo under the naturally lit solar lamps. Nina and Rick could recognize the influence the elders’ thinking reflected on today’s decision. The required vision and determination to go against his parents were missing in Som. He did not have any alternative ideas to offer.

The tender bond Som had with his grandfather was impacting his decision. Nina was vaguely aware of it, but Rick had no clue about that bond. That is why Rick’s input was totally subjective. Som considered to explain, but instead he said, “I am not sure what is right or wrong, but for now, it seems an easy thing to do to give their plan a chance.”

“But promise me one thing. You will consult me before you say yes to any girl.” Nina was worried.

“I will try my best. But afterward to keep her in line, I will threaten her with my wild sister.” . . . Som had to take some beating from Nina for teasing her.

      As planned, they arrived in India in December. It was a pleasantly chilly winter in Mumbai. The family had lined up several prospects for Som. The selected

girls were well educated and from reputed Hindu families. The family had preselected one girl. Mahi and Ramesh looked at the photograph and bio data soon after they arrived. They walked to a near-by house to meet the girl named, Tanya. An overly exuberant host family greeted Som, his parents and his uncle-aunty. The display of wealth was glistening. General talk kept on rolling for several minutes. Finally, Som’s uncle had to ask,

“So . . . Where is Tanya? We would love to see her.”

“Go get her.” The host coarsely instructed his wife. It maybe their normal style, but it irked Som.

The girl came out holding a tray of teacups, followed by her mother. Wrapped in a glittering sari, her slightly plump stature, reminded him of a rich aunt. Som liked her hairstyle at a glance. The nails and makeup flagged the proof of a long visit to the beauty salon.

She put the tray down and sat on the sofa across from Som. He wondered, “Why anyone would want to wear such heavy jewelry!”

“Tanya loves jewelry,” . . . gruff voice of Tanya’s father distracted him. “She has had all the latest designs.”

“How many children do you have?” Ramesh asked.

“We have three daughters and Tanya is the oldest. She has done Home Science at an English-medium college,” her father said proudly.

Mahi asked some questions and Tanya replied meekly.  Her father suggested Tanya show Som the view of the city from their terrace.  When they were walking away, Ramesh observed that she looked shorter next to Som and concluded “an average girl.”

When they were alone, the girl was talkative, but Som was bored in no time hearing about her outfit and jewelry.

“What are your hobbies?” Som asked.

“Oh, I like to go out for good food and watch Hindi movies,” she giggled as she answered.

“Do you want to go to America? Do you think you would like it there?”

“Whatever my dad says—it doesn’t matter to me.” Her reply stunned Som.

 They left from Tanya’s house very soon. That first experience of the interview process turned out to be quite unsettling for Som. He could not believe the insatiability about finding a wealthy groom. It seemed like there was no reason to look deeper for common interests—let alone love. The keenness and praise seemed like a debauched play. He prayed that he wouldn’t have to interact with any more people like Tanya and her family.

At home, Som’s negative response to Tanya was not taken lightly by the family elders. During dinner, every one contributed their suggestions and advice, which he heard without much reaction. Som got up to go and wash his hands. Before he could leave the room, a direct question cornered him.

“What’s wrong with her?” a very common question for them, It embarrassed Som immensely.  “We have known Tanya since she was young. The family is a good one.”

            His grandparents had expected that Som would like that fair, homely girl. Ramesh and Mahi realized that the conversation was getting out of hand. The changing colors on Som’s face alerted Mahi.  Somewhat urgently she said, “We are very tired and need to go to sleep early.” Mahi and Ramesh got up quickly and Som reluctantly followed. The elders were perturbed.

Som’s bed was set up in his grandfather’s study- room. He went in and sat on an easy chair. He was disturbed and regretted coming to Mumbai. A frustrated scream asked ‘who are these people? I am among total strangers.’ He felt isolated. Som closed his eyes. It took several minutes for him to get in touch with his calm self.

After a while, he gently opened his eyes and noticed the big picture on the wall: a smiling picture of an eight-year-old boy and his grandfather holding a trophy in one hand.

He vividly remembered that day when his Dadaji was honored as a national poet for his patriotic songs. The family members were sitting in the front row in a huge auditorium.  Som felt like a prince in his blue jacket. His grandfather was on the stage. He did not fully understand Dadaji’s contribution to the country, but Som felt very proud to be introduced as his grandson.

After other speakers, his grandfather spoke. At the end of his speech he said, “As the years go by, I felt my innate passion, the enlightened fire, the hope and courage inadvertently slipping away. Then I see the future in the faces of young ones and new songs emerge from the core of my heart . . .
As the years go by, my passion subsides,
my courage within unwittingly declines.
But when, the pious faces smile at me,
a new stream of songs emerges in me.

 “I would like to call my grandson, Som, on to the stage to help me share the joy of this honor.” Som had run up to the stage into his grandfather’s arms.

The memories of childhood brought a soothing cool breeze over his smoldering mind. He went to bed and waited for sleep to come, as a miserable man waits for the drug to overpower his pain. The outside noises were thumping in his head. From previous experiences, the only consolation he drew was that the next day, he would not notice as much. The mind and body have remarkable abilities to adapt to the surrounding conditions. He stared at the picture and fell asleep looking at his grandfather holding little Som’s hand.

The voices outside woke him up. It was still dark, but the workers talked among themselves without worrying about the sleepy heads. The milkman and vegetable carts must have been set up to start selling, because early morning is the best time for their business. Any member of the family has to come out to buy the milk, so the lady of the house can prepare tea.

Som came down and sat in the courtyard. He heard the tea preparation hubbub in the kitchen. His parents entered the courtyard. As a dutiful daughter-in-law, Mahi went to help in the kitchen. Ramesh and his uncle joined him as he was finishing the newspaper.

The morning’s hot Chai time was very special for the family. The spicy flavor of ginger and cardamom mixed with the fragrance of milk and tea-leaves made early awakening worthwhile.

“Last night I explained to Ma and Papa your views about the choice marriage. Hopefully they will not give you any more trouble,” Som’s uncle assured him.

His grandparents spent a pleasant morning with Som. They wanted to know all about his research and possibility of great results. The annoying subject of meeting with girls temporarily put aside, but Som knew that it could flare up again at any time.

Som and his parents went to visit Mahi’s family. Mahi’s sister brought up the subject. “We hope you find a beautiful girl.” All eyes were on him. The unspoken thoughts, observed in his maternal grandparents’ eyes, “We are not allowed to suggest any Muslim girl, what a pity!”

Som had to imagine his mother’s childhood; growing up in very traditional, somewhat fanatic society and from there to educate herself to free herself and build her life against the wishes of her loving family. Som did not eat meat, did not attend any religious gathering and had not spent much time with this side of the family. Mahi could understand the hurt when her parents met their grandson as a stranger.

“Grandma, I always wear the gold chain you gave me years ago,” Som said. “One evening this week, I want to take our entire family out for dinner. Please invite all cousins, I want to meet them.” That suggestion pleased Mahi the most.

As soon as they returned home, Som was given a small box containing photographs and bio-data of several girls. “These are the prospects. Please go through it and decide whether you want to meet any of these girls or not.”

“Mom and Daddy, you please go through these, and I will look at the selected few only.” He passed the box to his parents. “I have six more days here and then I will be off on my excursion.”

Som went to the balcony and pulled up a chair near his grandparents, who were sitting on a wooden carved jula and were gently swinging. That custom-made Maharaja swing had been there for many years. It was a place where, as a little child, Som would fall asleep in his mother’s lap, a place where he used to fight with Nina to swing faster, a place where he had many cozy conversations with his grandfather, and where he had sat alone to get away from it all.

That evening, his grandparents were in a jolly mood, especially his grandmother. “Som, tell me – how do the boys find girls to marry in America? I heard that the parents could not arrange a formal meeting. Without parents’ help, how is it possible? And suppose if they have a problem after marriage – who would mediate to fix it?” Som’s grandmother wondered.

“Here in our society, if the married couple has a problem, we intervene. And if our daughter-in-law is right, the family would take her side and the son has to comply. More often, the marriages outlast with the help of relatives. I read that there is a high percentage of divorce in America. How can anyone live under the hanging sword of divorce?” His grandfather asked.

Som just laughed and did not attempt to explain. Instead, he asked, “Grandma, in your time was the girl given any choice in the selection of her future husband?”

“I would say yes and no. You see, many times the boy and girl did not see each other before the wedding day . . . oh, that reminds me about an incident. I’ll tell you that story.” She seemed lost in a faraway place. The family members came out to the balcony to listen to the story.

“In my village, it was a wedding season. People considered this girl to be a most fortunate bride because the wealthy groom was coming from a big city. They teased her that she would have to learn to be fashionable to please her groom. The groom’s party had arrived the previous night and the girl’s family and relatives treated them royally.

“But on the wedding day, the girl’s father came in agitated, ‘This is horrible. The groom demands to see my daughter now, otherwise he will not marry her.’ He was worried that he would reject her after the meeting and that will destroy her reputation.

“The bride to-be said, ‘If he insists, then I will go to meet him’ . . . She beautifully adorned herself, walked to his guest-house and confidently presented herself. The city boy was overjoyed to see the lovely girl. He excitedly announced, ‘Yes, I like her, I will hurriedly come to the wedding mandap’. The bride turned around and said, ‘But I do not like him. I reject him.’

“The groom’s party had to go back.”  Som’s grandmother gleefully laughed as if it had happened yesterday.

“You see! A woman’s voice is not heard in most families. However, it is necessary for the woman to show the courage to express her viewpoints in a steadfast manner. The strength comes from her mind, but she has to recognize the source of the tremendous energy hidden within. The humility, dedication and tolerance are the perfect sub-stratums for her creative energy.” They all listened attentively to his grandfather.

“But, Grandma! What happened to that girl? Tell me more about her.” Som was curious.

“Yes. She returned home into a big havoc. Her father was almost ready to kill her. He screamed, “Who will marry this arrogant girl?”

“Then meekly I said, ‘I will marry your daughter’” Som’s grandfather’s voice surprised them all. He continued, “I had gone to help my uncle who was a priest in your grandma’s village. When I spoke, my uncle was flabbergasted. Granted that both parties were Brahmins, but without matching horoscopes, he would not allow our marriage. I took him aside and used all the tricks in the book to convince my uncle to say yes.”

“And I became Mrs. Joshi.” Grandma’s moonlit smile brightened everyone’s face.

“So, my dear! When we heard about Tanya’s response like, ‘whatever my father decides,’ it forced us to rethink our selection of that girl. From now on, we will trust your judgment, and we are sure that you will make the right choice.”

Som bent down to bid pranam to his grandparents. They put their wrinkled hands on his head and a whisper emerged, “May God bless you and protect you.” The tingly feelings quickened his pulse; a positive charge touched to the core of his heart. Som was glad to be in Mumbai.

      The flock of birds needs clear communication.
The buds want to blossom, but depend on condition.
The source of energy needs heart-to-heart connection,
   Support and synergy bring craved culmination.

Som met with three other girls, but none of them seemed suitable. The last day before he was to leave, a neighbor showed up in the late morning hours. The man introduced the woman with him, “This is my sister and she heard about Som. Her daughter is in medical school.” They were ready to show the girl’s photograph, but the mother said that the girl had two more years to study.

“Oh, so sorry, but we do not want to wait that long,” Mahi said. The conversation came to an abrupt halt and they left…Within half an hour, the phone rang. The neighbor said, “Hello, sorry that it did not work out with my niece. My sister and I were talking. I have a suggestion.” The gentleman hesitantly continued ….

“My daughter has just finished her Pharmacist course and currently she works at the Organic Herbs and Things Store. I have a request. . . If you feel right, would you please go and see her at work? If you like her, then I will talk to her and we can further the matter. Her name is Maya.”

Som and his parents went to sneak preview the girl. Mahi and Som waited near the counter while Ramesh went browsing where two sales girls were standing. He heard the conversation, “Maya! There are customers waiting.”

“Yes, I will go and help. I see the Dollar sign on their faces,” the girl named, Maya, replied and went to attend them. Mahi asked some general questions about the store, and they observed Maya’s style and manners. She seemed very smart. At the end of their visit, Ramesh mentioned that he knew her father. Her expression changed. She politely excused herself and disappeared in the back of the store.

The girl was tall, slim and pretty . . . Som agreed with his parents to continue the talk. That evening, when Maya’s father called, Ramesh expressed their willingness to explore the possibilities.

“I need some time to talk with Maya,” he said.

“That’s all right. Let us know before Som returns from his mini trip.” Ramesh replied.

A wave of relief came over Som. He looked forward to his next ten days. Mahi’s family enjoyed the last evening with Som. There were about six cousins, whom Som had hardly known. The special event became the precious pearl to remember in the necklace of passing time.

Som had selected two places to visit. One was Goa, not too far from Mumbai. He arranged to stay for four days at Yoga and Ayurveda Resort, and shadow a well-known physician. He entered the resort with an imprint of Mumbai’s streets on his mind. However, the swaying palms, welcoming canopies of lush green trees put him in great spirits. He registered at the front desk and familiarized himself with the residence.  A volunteer guided Som to meet the founder of the resort, Vaida Bhanji.

He opened the back door and stood there mesmerized. Flanked by the Arabian Sea on the west and the mountains on the east, Goa is crisscrossed by several rivers. The view of the blue ocean, white sand and sparkling water made him forget everything else. His heart and mind slipped away from him into the vastness of the horizon. He did not remember how many minutes he was lost in the paradise . . .

“Bhanji will see you,” the sound brought him back to Goa, and he walked over to meet him.

“Oh, welcome, Dr. Joshi! We are glad to have you here,” he said. Som looked at his face and one word popped up in his mind—joy.

“Namaste.  Please call me Som. I have come here as a humble student.” He said politely and took his seat on a floor-mat in front of him.

“May I know the purpose of your visit? You stated in your letter that ‘I am not sure.’” Bhanji asked. His tone was non-judgmental.

Som did not try to give any pretentious reply. He simply said, “Still . . . I am not sure.” Bhanaji changed the subject.

“I understand that you are educated in the USA. Their medical treatment fundamentally differs from Ayurveda, the natural ways of healing a patient, as opposed to killing symptoms and bugs. As an oncologist, what are your expectations from the herbal medicines?”

He thoughtfully gazed at Som and said, “You think about it. We will talk more tomorrow. It is my time for meditation.” He pleasantly bid good-by and walked toward the sea. Som watched admirably at the six-foot-tall luminous figure walked toward the setting sun.

Som contacted the guide and inquired about the cotton clothes he had seen everybody wearing. They told him to look into the Ashram Store. The sales person, a Caucasian young man, was very helpful. Som was curious about the name, ‘Ashram Store’.

“Vaidji has given the name to this place–a Resort, for some practical reasons. However, in reality, this is a Naturopathy Ashram. I am here for five years, and I am a survivor of a complex health problem.

“I see many people are wearing heavy rough pure cotton garbs. Where they are made?” Som asked. “It seems it is perfect for hot summer. I know, under the British rules, Gandhiji lead people here to throw away the imported fabric. The loyal Gandhi followers always wear this type of cotton.”

“The cotton is spun here by some of the residents as a hobby while for local people it is a source of their income. We have some of Gandhi’s charkhas and taklies. a whirling tool, for cotton spinning. This cotton cloth, khadi, is made right here.”

Som purchased pajamas and shirts. He ate a very simple and tasty meal at the community kitchen and went to his room. He checked the schedule of the next day.

Yoga and Pranayama sessions.
Herbal Buffet Meals.
Ayurveda Rejuvenation Services and Treatments.
The daily visit of the Ayurveda physicians.
Health Profile & Body Constitution check.

His eyes fixated on the paragraph, which stated, “Yoga fights off the free radicals which are responsible for decay and degeneration of body cells. In response to accumulation of toxins in the body produces these free radicals and these toxins are a byproduct of our lifestyle, our diet, and our emotional patterns.”

He was thinking how he would co-ordinate this inside out cleansing technique to eradicate the cancer in the fast-paced Western society. The patients expect a quick cure from the doctors. As a result, these suppressed symptoms leave behind deep-rooted disease in the body.

He slowly woke up listening to the silence. No alarm clock forced him to get out of the bed, but the morning light seemed luring him to rise. He freshened up to go out without wasting a single minute. He began to walk on the white sand. Goa’s temperate shores, the glorious slice of India, seemed to be hugging the country’s western coastline, bounded by the Arabian Sea. The sparkling water ran and tickled his feet. He was lost in a playful escape.

“Oh, Good morning,” Som said. Bhanji was walking behind him for some time, but did not disturb him. Som stopped to pick up a shell and was pleasantly surprised to see him there. They continued to walk together. His every move was full of life and rhythm, and Som accompanied him with the same pace. Instead of investing his time in small conversation, Som began where they had left off.

          “Bhanji, I thought about the question you had asked me yesterday,” Som said. “I am looking for a solution for the holistic recovery for the cancer patients. I am exploring where and how to achieve that goal. I have come here, and then I will visit another place called, the Homeopathic medicine center. I am anxious to observe, listen and contemplate to get some insight. Until I am crystal clear, I will not be able to see the truth.”

“You are right. I have pondered over the subject for a long time. I hope your vision and our experience may find something unique to help humanity.” Bhanji said and they both went to have breakfast.

The day was full of activities but no one was in any hurry. The assigned chores were being carried out with slow movements in a gentle tempo. Som realized that there was no need to sit down for meditation; it can be done while performing every ordinary task. Bhanji did not talk much but his presence was obvious everywhere. Wherever he went, the pleasant vibrations followed him. In the afternoon Som met some of his patients.

“The good thing about the Ayurveda herbal medicine is that it does not give bad side effect.” Bhanji said.

         “The sad part, it takes long time to show the effect.” One young intern said.

          “Yes, Som! He has a point for you to remember,” and he laughed. Bhanji’s positive acceptance of that kind of adverse comment impressed Som. He had seen many superiors who would give a disapproving look upon any negative comment made about their techniques.

Som observed that the patients followed their daily routine like a disciplinary art of living. The day and night were considered a holy circle and the exercise, food, chores and sleep were considered the connecting points for a perfect balance between mind and body.

“We teach them not just to survive, but guide to approach life with full awareness.” Bhanji said.

At the end of the day Som said, “I am interested in seeing the cancer patients and their treatments. . .” Som was hesitant to ask, because he was not sure how secretive Bhanji would be about his method of treatment.

“Oh sure, tomorrow ten o’clock in the Rejoice Center,” Bhanji said.

Som looked in the map. The Rejoice Center was on the South West corner of the Resort. He went there around nine o’clock in the morning. Some rooms were facing the ocean and the patients were sitting on the balcony, occasionally waving at the beach walkers. He walked through the clean and simple lobby into a small herb garden. The various plants were clearly labeled, but without a long list of side effects. Som smiled to himself.

“This garden is designed here, so that the patients could see which herbs are being used to treat them. The bulk medicine supply comes from different places.” The caretaker explained.

Bhanji came and candidly talked about his practice to treat cancer patients. Som took notes and asked many questions. The following days he learned more about several case histories and various methods of treatments.

On his last day, Som started to walk on the beach before the sunrise. The misty morning nostalgia was in tune with the constant roar of the waves. His melancholy heart was asking, “What am I looking for? Why is this disquiet? I am confident, but at the same time I feel that I am an ignorant puppet who is taught how to dance.”

Som sat down on a dune and closed his eyes. Two tears rolled down from the corners of his eyes. He went deeper in his thoughts. He got lost within, forgetting the time and tranquility gently slipped in. Without opening his eyes, he saw the white swans flying into the light. The sun was rising. The similar vision mesmerized him, which he had visualized in Yellowstone National Park.

I see you again, O’ swan of the wild or is it my soul who flutters the wings to fly in unknown?…He wanted to hold on to that vision as long he could. Som did not move for a long time nor opened his eyes, except the deep breathing . . . just inhaled and exhaled. The flying seagulls noticed a yogi purush, a nobleman, in trance.

Som could not convince himself to leave the resort in just four days. He extended his stay for two more days and Bhanji joyfully welcomed his decision. They discussed various ideas in detail and planned to instill some constructive projects.

Som went to take Bhanji’s leave.  Untouched by the changes around him, he kindly blessed him. Som felt tugged by the place, and was gloomy to leave. He could not explain himself, but he kept on thinking about Vaida Bhanji for hours while on his way to another city.

The Homeopathy Center was in the center of a small city in Gujarat State. He felt like the eagle carried him from the serene sea, and dropped him into a jet-stream spa. He stayed in a nearby hotel. Som went to meet the senior physician, Dr. Gohel.  He noticed the picture of Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of the system of Homeopathy. Dr. Gohel was educated in Germany, but his Indian origin had brought him to India. He welcomed Som and learned about his purpose of visit.

Dr. Gohel began like a professor, “Dr. William Cullen, a Scottish physician, whose observations about the therapeutic effects of quinine, stimulated Dr. Samuel Hahnemann’s Homeopathic research.”

“I have read that Homeopathy was developed many years after Ayurveda medicine. It is a very subtle approach to healing,” Som added to impress him like a good student.

Dr. Gohel smiled and continued, “Homeopathy works by treating a person as a whole, or holistically, although presenting symptoms will be looked at, the individual person – his or her mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health – will also be taken into account.” He looked at his watch and said, “I have half an hour, come, I will show you around.”

The facility was clean and well maintained. Some patients were waiting at the clinic for their medicines. Som was troubled to see some very sick people.

“Homeopathy sees symptoms of disease as a positive outward sign that the body is trying to heal itself. Therefore, in this system, the symptoms are not suppressed as they are in allopathic medicine.” Dr. Gohel explained.

When left alone, Som explored the facility for a few hours. He went and observed the medicine preparation lab. A middle age nun explained, “There are more than 2000 Homeopathic remedies available. The prepared remedies could be from animal, vegetable and mineral. The sources are as varied as honeybees, snake venom, and poison ivy leaves. But the amounts used are so minute that no substance is tasted or side effects experienced.”

She was wearing a white sari with a blue border which was the attire for the nuns of Missionaries of Charity, the Roman Catholic religious congregation founded by Mother Teresa in 1950.

Som was a follower of Mother Teresa and he knew that the members of the Missionaries of Charity rendered several selfless services. They adhere to the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience as well as a fourth vow, to give wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.

        “I feel honored to be in your presence. I thank you for sharing your knowledge, Namaste.” Som put his hands together in greeting.

Som came away from that visit with some understanding like—Homeopathy works according to a set rules: A remedy starts healing from the top of the body and works downward. It starts from within the body, working outward, and from major to minor organs. These rules seemed very promising in healing the cancer patients. Som was impressed and excited.

As he was passing near the front desk, the receptionist’s appearance reminded him of Maya and his coming days in Mumbai. An uncertain knot twisted inside and the tug of war started between his mind and moral.  “Do not think too much,” he tightened his lips to keep the sound inaudible. The past began to hum in his ear with the rhythm of the moving train;

Dadaji! Tell us the story of the king who never cried.

Yes, the king was strong and somewhat mean;
He had two little sons and one pretty queen.
He trained and taught his two little sons,
though immensely loved them, but kept it hidden.

Seven years old, Som and his cousins used to circle around his grandfather to listen to the story again, and again. One evening he distinctly remembered. In the afternoon, his father, Ramesh and grandfather had some serious disagreement. Som witnessed his father was rude to his grandfather. That evening when children insisted on hearing the story again from Dadaji, he sadly continued. . .

As the princes grew big and king felt weak,
His one prince stayed and the younger one rebelled.
The king in his heart always yearned for his son,
but sentimental side he never revealed.
The tears rolled down yet he didn’t know why,
but no longer he was known as
the king who never cried.

 He saw his grandfather turn his head away to wipe a tear. Som felt in his little chest the pressure. He hugged his grandpa and promised “Dadaji, I will never make you cry” without uttering a word.

 The story brought him back close to his vulnerable nature, and he decided to put his grandfather’s happiness first.
——–

  1.   Patchy Impasse

Som was on his way back to his grandfather’s house in Mumbai. If anyone could read his mind they would see that he was looking in all directions except for the one in which he was going. He thought that if he did not look, that path might disappear. His tender heart did not want to answer the questions of his elders. He observed his own image – a polite respectful child among loving relatives. Now it was difficult to present himself as an assertive, independent individual. He observed his own images and got more confused.

I see myself, wedged between two whirling wheels
The child in me does want to leave
The sense of duty swirls me around
and I wonder, “Who am I?”

Som arrived to a somber household. His grandfather was sick. He inquired as a trained doctor about his sickness. Eventually, Som determined that old age was the main reason his grandfather was sick. He ruefully sat next to him and held his hand. If anyone would suggest to move him to the hospital, he would peacefully say, “It is time for this old body to go and my soul to find a new home.”

“Dadaji! Are you in any pain? What can I do to make you feel better?” He asked earnestly.

“How was your trip?” He countered with an affectionate smile spreading on his wrinkled face. His parents had the same question and listened quietly.

“It was insightful. I found some precious information and feel I have a basic understanding of alternative medicine. The meeting with Vaida Bhanji was amazing.”

 “Yes, he is a gem of a man. I met him in once,” Som noticed that his grandfather’s brain was as sharp as ever though his body was failing. “Som, your parents have many things to talk about.  So, dear, go while I take a nap.” They left his grandfather’s room.

Mahi and Ramesh sat on the swing and Som took a chair to sit near them. “We are glad that you had a good trip and came back safely.” Ramesh said. “Now we have only five days left, so we need to talk about this matter right away. Do you remember meeting Maya? Her father informed us that they want to talk further.”

“Maya, the illusion! Yes, I remember.” The meaning of her name popped up from nowhere in Som’s head.

“We have met Maya twice, and we like her. We have inquired about her background as much we could in this short time.” Mahi sounded quite unsure about the whole situation.

“We can’t say that it would be a right match or not, but we suggest that you meet her and see how you feel.” Ramesh said in a convincing tone.  His uncle told Som that Maya was from a reputed family and she ranked high in her school and college, a multi-talented girl. The unknown images began to crowd Som’s mind. He had a vision of his life partner: a beautiful person whose serene beauty would glow from her good heart. She would be slim and tall—not too tall. She would have a gentle smile on her face and compassionate eyes.  She would be playful and loving, intelligent and generous…… “What? Are you combining Miss World and Mother Teresa?” His mind teased. Som had a fitful night.

Maya and Som met the next day for an early lunch. In the taxi, they did not talk much. Her colorful outfit was very becoming on her slim figure. Som noticed her waist-long hair, gracefully tied in a ponytail.  They entered the restaurant and tried to find a quieter corner, which was hard to find in a city like Mumbai.

Maya seemed distracted and sad. She sat across Som, but did not directly look at him. “I hope your parents did not put any pressure on you to see me. Please do relax, nothing will be decided today.” Her uneasy smile met with his awkward speech.

 “Oh, No! I am fine. . . I chose this eatery, because they serve vegetarian meals cooked in less oil and spices.” Maya said.

“You picked a nice restaurant.”

They both pretended to look at the menu, stealing glimpses of each other. After placing orders, a strange silence stretched before them. Someone had to start talking.

“How did you like visiting Goa?” Maya took the lead.

“It was wonderful. Have you been there?” Som asked.

“We had a three-day college-sponsored trip. I will never forget the great time I had with my friends,” Maya said with a smile, showing her perfect teeth.

“I may get involved with the Ayurveda institute over there.” Som said.

“I was interested in the medical field but in my final year of college some other interests distracted me . . .” She stopped in the middle of the sentence as if she had revealed more than she wanted to. Som was puzzled to see the nervousness in Maya. He changed the subject.

“You have twin brothers, right?” Som asked.

“Yes, they are five years younger than me. I have a sign on my door, ‘No boys allowed.’” Maya laughed.

“I am glad my sister, Nina, did not have that kind of sign on her door. Oh! That reminds me to call her tonight. If I forget, I will be in trouble!” Som grinned. He paused, and then asked the same question he had asked to other girls. “Do you think you would like to live in America?”

“I want to go to America.” That quick response sounded slightly odd to Som.

They began to eat quietly the served meal replaying the conversation in their minds. Their small talk gave some information about their priorities and expectations. Som noticed that she avoided looking into his eyes.

“Which sweet should we order?” Som asked.

“I like rasgulla. That sweet reminds me of sweet and short interludes, and a window of opportunity. So, go for the best.” Maya said.

“You are not talking about the sweet . . . I see that you are a go getter kind of girl. You do not like to sit back and wait. In a way, it is a good trait.” Som beckoned the waiter.

Mysterious Maya intrigued Som. She did her best to kindle his interest. After lunch, Som dropped her off at her workplace and returned home.

“The meeting was okay. I have to think about it before I say anything more.” Som observed that Maya had some hesitation. He felt an invisible wall. He wished that he could talk to his friends in Houston, but they were far away where it was night. Surely, they would not appreciate the phone ringing in the middle of the night; he smirked, imagining Aari slamming down the phone.

He thought that just worrying in his head would not help; they needed to meet again. Around five o’clock in the afternoon, Som dialed Maya’s number. “It was nice meeting you today. If you think we should meet again and talk, please tell me.”

           “Yes . . . maybe . . .” Maya replied.

        “Is it possible in an hour or so?” Maya agreed to meet at the famous Worley Sea Face.

Som arrived early to enjoy the cool breeze. There were very few people on the boardwalk as the December cold was keeping the crowd away. The most popular Worley Sea Face road, hugging the ocean, was busy with the passing cars. Engrossed looking at the waves, lashing and spraying water out on the loyal rocks, Som forgot where he was.


The playful water-drops splash and spray,
express their affection hugging the bay.
Forever and ever the stones will stay,
in allegiance to the waves stones will lay.

Som thought, “Where can anyone find this kind of total trust and steadfastness? Do I see these qualities in me? Will I ever find them in someone else?” The vibes of melancholy tapped his heart. He had to force a smile to greet Maya.

“It is a lovely view.” Maya commented with a faraway look. The sun was looming on the water in horizon.

“Shall we walk?” Som asked, and they continued walking. She was wearing her a salwar-kameez suit, a loose pant and long tunic with a silky sea-green color dupatta, a stole which was playfully flowing around her shoulder in the breeze. ..After some small talk, Som asked, “May I ask what is important to you – family or career?”

“Family is important. But my career means a lot to me.” Maya replied cautiously as if she had a job interview, and she readily gave the prepared answers. They talked about a few different topics, but Maya did not ask many questions.

They both sat on a bench. Som asked one more time, “Do you want to continue and explore the possibilities or not? Please do not hesitate to give your honest answer.”

“Yes.” With her encouraging reply, Som took her hand in his hand and asked, “Do you want to know anything more about me?”

A dark cloud covered her face when she said, “No. I have no questions. Now the decision is up to you.” She gently pulled away her hand and looked down. Som thought she might be shy and kept his distance for the rest of the evening.

It was close to dinnertime so they decided to go home. Saying good-bye, Maya gave him a sweet smile. “Well, that is new . . .” he thought.

Som came home and joined his family at the dinner table. They talked about his grandfather’s health and about the delicious food. Som went to his room after a brief stop in his Dadaji’s room. Ramesh came in and asked, “So, how did it go?”

“Father! I cannot pinpoint the problem. One moment I think she is sincere and she likes me . . . It is hard to read a woman’s mind. I like her, but . . .,” Som heard the phone ring.

Mahi came in and said, “Maya’s mother is on the line and they are inviting us for lunch tomorrow. Should I say yes?” Ramesh looked at his son. Som thought for a while. Though uncertain, he nodded.

“This is a process of getting to know someone. It may not be comfortable, but at the end you will be glad that you did.” Ramesh tried to reassure him.

      There was sun, but hidden behind the clouds.
There was wisdom, but covered by mayhem.

   His mind ran ahead, but his heart dragged behind.
His steps dignified, but his eyes were mystified.

        He spent the rest of the evening in his grandparents’ room and witnessed the lifetime relationship between them. How two people melt into each other and become one! How one looks into others eyes and conveys the completeness! His grandmother was in tune with her husband’s needs. She was living the rules of karma–whatever work you are doing, be there with all attention. No matter what she was doing, her total attention was devoted to her husband.

At times, his grandfather got agitated, but the next minute he would say, “Please, dear! Don’t mind me.” His grandma gently stroked his hand and smiled. Her eyes said, “I understand your weariness.”

           Som felt that’s this is what a marriage is all about, compromise. These two people joined hands and walked together in harmony. They did not know each other before marriage, and then yet this had happened! The loyalty and trust developed into love and devotion. This relationship took years to reach the point of permanence. Som remembered his grandfather once saying, “The young generation uses the word ‘love’ too many times, but I wonder how far they would carry the true meaning of love through their lives!”

Som looked at the dancing light from the earthen lamp in Lord Krishna’s temple. “Maybe things will work out with Maya. I will have to focus on positive points.” Som said, as if he was talking to himself while his grandparents listened in silence. “Oh, good thing I remembered – It will be morning in California, so I must call Nina.”

“Give our love and blessings, and tell her to slow down . . . it is a grandma’s order.”

Nina answered her phone on the third ring. Som quickly delivered their grandma’s order… “Yes, why do you think you had to wait ‘till the third ring? I have slowed down. Convey my pranam to them.”

She took a deep breath. “Okay, now tell me what is happening? Mom told me about Maya. What do you think? Is she pretty? Is she . . .”

“Hey, my turn to speak,” Som laughed, “We met twice today. Yes, she is pretty. However, hard to know what she is thinking! She seemed secretive.”

“All girls have secrets. Do you like her or not?” Nina inquired.

“Yes.” Som replied.

Rick, on the other phone, noticed Som’s unsure response. “Som! This is too quick. Remember your promise to yourself. If you are not totally convinced–no marriage.”

“Ma was praising the girl. If you also think that she is good, you have four more days to decide.” Nina said.

“I wish you two were here. Nina could order me what to do and I would be happy to comply.”  Som laughed.

“Okay, buddy! Good luck,” Rick said and hung up. “Som! What troubles you about her?” Nina continued.

“As I was telling Dad, I am not sure about her intentions. Is she saying yes, because she likes me or does she have some other reason?”

“This is something you need to be sure about. This whole situation is so strange. I cannot judge, but I can say this with surety.” Nina’s tone cracked with emotions. “You are very special and any girl will be lucky to have you as a life partner.”

“Thank you, Sis. This means a lot to me. You take care of my niece or nephew.”

“My little brother, love you. And I wish you all the happiness in the world.” Nina’s voice faded.

Som missed his sister terribly. He knew that Nina was crying. The tender spot in a sister’s heart for her brother is unfathomably fragile – it bleeds at the gentlest scrape to her brother.

The next day Som and his parents arrived for lunch at Maya’s house. Som met her mother and two younger brothers for the first time. It was different from other places. The table was set with a simple pink tablecloth and stainless-steel dishes. The multicolor roses in the center looked elegant. During the conversations, it became obvious that Maya was an independent woman, not very close to her family. Som and his parents asked many questions, but mostly got short and polite replies.

Just before they were ready to leave, Maya’s father said, “Let us know about your decision. If it is yes, then we have to move fast to file for an immigration visa.”

“Sure, we understand,” Ramesh could not say anything more. At the door, Maya stood near Som, and Mahi happily observed that they looked good next to each other. “I have taken the day off tomorrow,” Maya said.

“I will call you,” Som gave an impulsive response.

As soon they stepped out Ramesh asked, “Should we ask her to come to meet the family?” Mahi was thinking about the same thing. When Som did not object, Mahi turned around and walked back to Maya before she closed the door.

“Would you like to come by to meet the rest of the family?” Mahi asked.

“Right now, I am going back to work. So, on my way home I can come.” Maya replied.

Many tasks occupied Som’s afternoon. He purposely did not think any more about Maya. He wanted to remove his thoughts far away from the entire situation. However, he could not succeed entirely. As soon, Maya showed up at their house, the urgency of making a decision returned.

“Uncle! She is beautiful,” Som’s four-year-old niece chirped. His cousin gave a look of approval. After Maya’s short visit the family did not say much because of the impression left – She did not show much warmth. She was prim and polite.

Som walked out with her and accompanied her home. “I have a suggestion. May I say it . . . if you don’t mind?” Maya asked.

“Yes, sure.”

“Do you think we can get married on paper, so I can apply for an immigration visa? Later, we can confirm the marriage if we both like,” Maya spoke very carefully.

Som was speechless for a minute, and then thoughtfully he said, “Since we do not have time to know each other, I can consider this option.”

He wondered which was louder, the street noise or the noise in his mind! Either way, Som could not hear anything. He forgot that he had a choice to say no. He did not have to agree to any compromising position. The whirlwind kept pulling him deeper and deeper, and he let himself be swept away. On the way home, he was lost in thought. An option dangled in front of him. Som remembered his grandmother’s wish, “I hope our grandson does not marry a Christian girl in America.”

Som came home and shared his predicament with his family. In response, he was told, “You do not have much time. You like this girl. If you want to do this, we will be behind you.” His elders counseled. “You both have to go for a civil marriage, take some pictures to prove that you are legally married, and apply for her visa. She can come to the USA in about four months.” — Som thought, this sounds simple.

His grandmother was glad that there would be a marriage. “Your grandfather will be able to see your bride,” she had said. His grandfather was not in any condition to express his opinion. Som remembered what he had said a week ago, “Every experience in your life—good or bad—is necessary for your spiritual growth, so do not let it fritter away.”

The phone rang very late that night. Som groggily picked up the phone and realized that Nina was calling from California. She was talking with Mahi on the line,

“What? Say it again . . . SONOGRAM? What is that?” Mahi asked. The sonogram was a new test in the 1980s and wasn’t administered to every pregnancy.

“Hello, Sis! Why did you have a sonogram done?” Som intervened.

“To confirm what the doctor was suspecting – that I am pregnant with twins! We are having a boy and a girl.” Nina said.

“Wow! Congratulations. I am happy but worried,” Mahi’s motherly concern prevailed.

“Ma, my doctor says all is well. So, don’t worry. Som will explain about the sonogram. Tell Dad I can’t wait to talk to him.”

“Yes, we will be in Houston on Sunday. Listen . . . Nina! I have decided to go ahead with Maya . . . I hope and pray that this is the right decision.” Som felt like crying. He hung up while Mahi continued talking with Nina.

Som stretched out on his bed. So many things were crowding his small world. It was very difficult to see his majestic grandfather withering away to death. The emotional pressure of choosing a life partner was building up without the words or actions. Though he could not point his finger at any one for pressuring him but, it was there. Now, there was the overwhelming news from Nina! Everything had to happen at the same time! The tears filled his eyes. He turned on his side, pulling up the covers. He pressed the other pillow to his head. The softness of the pillow-cover gave him some comfort.

In the morning, there was excitement about

Nina’s news. Som explained about the obstetric ultrasonography in which the sound waves are used to create real-time visual images of the developing baby in its mother’s womb.

“This technology sounds so magical. It shows baby’s image and gender too! . . . That’s amazing.” Som’s aunt exclaimed. “We got the good news–I think Maya is a lucky charm.” Som laughed and wondered what Maya had to do with Nina’s good news? The superstition has its own logic.

Mahi conveyed Som’s agreeable news to Maya’s mother, and invited them to come for an early breakfast. There was excitement in the air. The whole family rallied behind Som. Som’s uncle and Maya worked out the whole day’s appointments. First, they would go and register their marriage. They went to the judge and signed the papers. Mahi had suggested giving Maya a ring, but Som had declined. His grandfather’s illness sadly clouded his mind. The formality pictures were taken. Som’s uncle and his lawyer needed that afternoon to get papers ready for Maya’s application for the immigration visa.

        Som and Maya went home as husband and wife, but in their hearts and minds as total strangers. Som assured himself, “This gloom will pass, and there will be deep feelings of love and trust in between us.”

He tried to read the same message in Maya’s eyes, but they were blank behind a formal smile. Maya’s parents were following her quietly.

Mahi insisted that they both wear garlands and put a red tilak on their foreheads before they go to take blessings from the grandparents. Som’s Dadaji was sitting in his royal chair. He looked stately in his silk shirt. The newlyweds came, and Maya moved forward to touch his feet. He kindly blessed her. Then Som came and bowed down. His grandfather hugged him and his eyes glistened with tears.

“You made me very happy.” Dadaji looked into Som’s eyes and whispered, “You are my pride and joy. My good wishes are always with you.”

Som’s grandmother gifted Maya with a gold chain, and said, “This is a token of our blessings. Welcome to the family.”

They all dispersed after a scrumptious lunch. Som gently grasped Maya’s hand as she was saying goodbye.

“I thank you,” Maya said and gave a friendly squeeze. That simple gesture gave Som some assurance that they did the right thing.  Later they picked up Maya to spend the evening with Mahi’s side of the family.

They met again in the early morning to go to the American Embassy to file an application. Som had to acknowledge several times that he was filing for his wife–Maya. At first, he was hesitant to say aloud, but once the words came out, it was easier to repeat.  The procedure took more than half a day. They came out tired and hungry.

         Som’s uncle took them to an elegant restaurant where Mahi and Ramesh joined them for lunch.

“So, everything went well?” Ramesh asked.

“Yes, uncle.” Maya replied.

“Maya, you looked pretty in that red outfit yesterday. This is also a good one. What kind of jewelry do you like?” Mahi tried to make some light conversations.

“Nothing specific. I’m sure I would like your taste, something delicate.”

“You will be here for the next few months. Please keep in touch with me and do not hesitate to ask for anything.” Mahi wanted to be a good mother-in-law. Mahi presented her a ring.

The next day Som got busy packing while Maya went to work. She said that she could not take a day off. She stopped by for a short time after work. They were alone in his room. Maya kept her distance, sending a clear message. Som did not see any signal inviting him to move closer to her. He pushed himself to say things, which would give her an opening to express herself.

“How often will you write me letters?” Som was expecting her to say ‘every week.’ Instead he heard, “I am not much of a letter writer, so please excuse me.” She did not say anything more. That did it. Som gave up, and suggested they go and join the family.

Som and his parents had to catch the 4am flight. It was their last hour to spend with Maya. Among the chatter of the family members, they looked at each other several times. Som was subdued and Maya’s eyes were unreadable.

Surrounded by many loving relatives at the door, they could not find anything else to say to each other. Mahi and Ramesh were as kind as they could be with their new daughter-in-law. The long goodbyes were over and Som headed to his grandparents’ room with one satisfying thought, “I made my grandfather happy by getting married.”

Som’s parents and other family members went to sleep for a few hours. They had to leave home around midnight to catch the 4am flight to America. Som and his cousins sat near their grandfather and reminisced.

“Dadaji, tell us one more time the story of the king who never cried.”

“Today you tell me, how that story has turned out?” asked his grandfather. Som looked at his face that resonated with inner peace and joy.

           “The tears shine from our king, but they convey the message of delight and dignity; not the weakness.” Som’s cousin analyzed.

The younger group laughed and teased their grandfather and kept him awake until midnight. The last few minutes Som was alone with his grandfather. The empathy palpitated from his soul. Som had a hard time accepting the suffering of his dadaji. Som knew that this was the final good-bye.  

If I love you more, will it hurt less?

“Your heart is restless; tears roll from your eyes.
Are they yours or mine?
I know grandpa! You feel so low,
but are you ready to go?”

“No, my child! I just realized,
I am not done looking at you.
Moreover, I know, I am not done, loving you.
I am not done, singing the songs, planting the seeds,
and not done reaping the crop of joy…
On the other hand, I am tempted to go, meet my kin.
One way I see to get rid of this pain.”

“Yes, Grandpa, I know you are in pain.
But my want for you, struggles in vain.
Tell me, if I love you more, do you have less pain?
Will it hurt less, if I love you more?”
                 ——–

  1.   Walk through a Tunnel

             Som, Ramesh and Mahi arrived at the Houston airport in the late afternoon. It took more than an hour to go through the immigration formalities and customs. In the baggage-claim area in the middle of Mahi’s sentence Som’s expression instantaneously changed to pure boyish joy. Mahi knew that he must have seen his friends, Aari and Steve. They collected the luggage and loaded into Ramesh’s car, which Aari had driven to the airport. Ramesh took his car and went home with Mahi.

“Ma, I will be a little late . . .” Som yelled before getting into Steve’s car. The music blasting and friends talking, the outside world was already forgotten.

“Look at this,” Aari opened up a poster with an enlarged picture of Som wearing a ball and chain, with the sign ‘JUST MARRIED’. Som laughed aloud.

 “Buddy! Your time will come soon.”

“No way. I am a runner–how am I going to run with a ball and chain around my neck?” Aari asked.

“Your mom will tell you to carry the ball over your head! You will have no excuse.” Steve teased Aari.

“Oh, Yaar! It feels so good to laugh.” Som took a deep breath and relaxed. At Steve’s apartment, they went on talking about new music groups, comedy shows and whatnot, but Som’s friends did not bother to ask about his wedding, and Som did not feel like talking about it. Nina would say, typical boys.

Som could not wait to go back to work. He was ready to make headway on a few ideas about alternate medicine. He had to figure out the exact plan to present to the Dean of the faculty.

Som shared his wedding announcement with his closest friends. Ramesh and Mahi decided to wait for the big hoopla until the bride came to Houston. Som’s uncle kept them informed about the visa status in Mumbai. His uncle wrote that Maya had visited their house a couple of times. There was one letter from Maya on Som’s birthday and he had replied. Som had thought about Maya in his lonely hours and filled the empty space with the imaginary shades of future dreams.

After almost four months, the good news came from Mumbai about Maya. “Maya got her visa and has booked the ticket to come to Houston a week from today, which is Monday.” Mahi excitedly relayed the good news to Som. Mahi and Ramesh got busy doing some special touch-ups to their big house and beautiful garden. They redecorated Som’s room.

         Nina’s pregnancy was troublesome as the due date approached. Retired from her job, Mahi was ready to fly to Los Angeles as soon as they called. In the middle of the week, Rick called from the hospital and said that Nina had labor pains. Mahi had no choice but to board a plane and go to help Nina

        Mahi called Ramesh from Los Angeles and told him that it was a false alarm! “It looks like, it will be a while before she delivers. But, the doctor has decided to keep Nina in the hospital. I feel bad that I will not be there when Maya arrives, but you three may plan to come here the following week.”

“Yes, we will come there. I am sure Som will agree.” Ramesh said.

          Som’s research work overshadowed every other activity. Now, with the uncertainty of Nina’s pending delivery and Maya’s arrival, he prepared himself to be more organized. He made sure that he did not skip his daily meditation and exercise. He spent whatever little spare time he had with his friends to sustain his sanity.

It was late on Saturday night. Som, Aari and Steve were lounging on the deck after a good dinner, prepared under Ramesh’s leadership. However, most of the dishes were those that Mahi had cooked and refrigerated before going to LA.

In the clear, moonless sky, the stars seemed brighter. The crickets were chirping, challenging the silence of the night. The gentle air slowed the pace of his thoughts, and Som savored the amity inside. Everyone was quiet for a while. Som had often mentioned Maya’s name with an ease earlier that evening, so Aari felt comfortable initiating the next part of the conversation.

“Som, you have avoided talking about how you met Maya and the quickie marriage! You don’t seem very excited about your time in Mumbai or the event.”

“When I was there, the decision seemed right. At that time, I placed my Dadaji in the center and everything else on the periphery. Maya easily agreed and things worked out.” Som explained. “My uncle writes that my grandparents are very happy every time Maya visits.”

“I have observed this nonchalant attitude in you.” Steve paused, and then said, “I would be more excited about finding a friend in a foreign country than you are about your new wife. You have been surprisingly lukewarm about Maya . . . It seems she hasn’t touched your heart – yet.”

“I agree with Steve’s observation. How do you really feel about her?” Aari was concerned. Som contemplated for some time. He was reluctant to face his own thoughts. “I see your point. I am also waiting to feel that excitement, but so far . . . nothing. We know that when a rushing river meets the sea; there are spinning roars in the ocean. There has to be excitement from both sides. This relationship clearly spells—arranged marriage. I do not know when this banner will be replaced by the glorious sign—soul mates. I plan to do my best.” His friends could not decide whether to be happy or sad for their friend.

On Monday evening after six o’clock, Som went to the airport to bring Maya home. He remembered to wear the ring his father-in-law had presented to him.

When they saw each other, both quickly came close and awkwardly hugged. She had two big suitcases and two handbags. Most of the luggage she piled on the curb herself. Som walked back to the parking garage and brought his Acura around to the arrival terminal.

“How was your flight? Did you get any sleep?” Som asked as soon they were on the road.

“It was a good journey and I got a good three hours of sleep. I feel fine,” she said. Som noticed the same tense lines on her face.

When they got home, Ramesh was waiting. “Sorry, I could not come to welcome you at the airport, but I could not leave the clinic until six-thirty,” he apologized. The food was ready so they sat down to eat. Maya talked about Som’s grandparents and his family. They sadly heard about his grandfather’s deteriorating health.

“It would be early morning in Mumbai, so I can call my uncle and he will convey the message of your safe arrival to your parents. Is that okay, Maya? Or would you rather talk to your family?” Som asked.

“Please call uncle,” Maya replied.

Mahi called from California and asked many questions. Maya replied with yes, no and fine. The following day was a busy workday for Ramesh. He told Maya that he would be leaving around eight O’clock in the morning. He went to bed early to give them privacy.

“I am very tired; would you mind if I stay in the guest room?” a question came from Maya. Surprised, Som suggested giving his room to her, but she insisted on her choice. They dragged the bags into the guest room.

“Can I help you with anything?” Som offered.

“Thank you for everything. I will manage,” a formal reply puzzled Som, but he was too confused to analyze anymore so decided to go to sleep. He hoped to wake up to a better day. He drifted away with a poem ….The heart beats in there, will beat next to me.

Her eyes will follow, and follow only me.
In the palm of my hands, I will hold her face.
To taste sweet honey – I can’t wait.

The gentle touch of the morning sun awakened Som. After a good night’s sleep, he felt rejuvenated. He did not follow his usual routine of running four miles every morning, but he just got ready for the day. The tingly cold shower put him in good spirits and he started to plan; how could he win her over?

When he came out of his room, Som saw his father near the door, ready to leave and Maya was saying good-bye. It looked like she had hurriedly changed into the day clothes. She bent down and touched Ramesh’s feet.

“Oh, bless you. There is no need for this formality. See you in the evening. I will try to come early,” Ramesh waved to Som and left. Som turned to the kitchen and started to make tea. He took one-cup milk, one-cup water and added ginger and cardamom powder, sugar and loose black tea. While it came to boil, he put a few snacks on the table. He strained the tea and filled two mugs. Maya came to the table and began to sip the tea.

“The tea is very tasty. I am surprised to see a man so skillful in the kitchen, unlike men back home. I have never seen my father make tea,” Maya said.

“Yes, the necessity and willingness made me learn fast. I am a better cook than Nina,” Som’s mind was plagued with worries about his sister. Som did not have much to talk about, but he kept the conversation going to fill the silence.

While they talked, Maya glanced at the telephone several times. As it rang . . .Maya almost jumped from her chair and said with urgency, “It must be my friend, may I get it?” and she picked it up without waiting for his answer.

     She said, “Yes . . . okay,” and nervously hung up.

She slowly came back and sat in her chair. Som just looked at her without a word. He felt in his gut that something terrible was going to follow. “I do not know how to begin what I am about to say. That was my . . . Mukesh. We have been in love since collegetime and we secretly got married last year. We concealed this fact from his family, because he was being sponsored to come to America by his uncle who would not accept our relationship.” Maya spoke breathlessly.

Som stared at her, “What? I am confused. Are you telling me the story of your friend?”

“You are a very nice person and your family is the best. Let me apologize for using you to secure a Green Card for me. I wanted to come and join Mukesh here. I have given his address so the authorities will mail my Green Card to him. I beg you to forgive me and to not create any trouble for me,” Maya went on rambling.

“What? So, this marriage was a scam to get an immigration visa?” Som’s head was spinning. He looked at Maya as if he was seeing her for the first time. Maya’s face was distorted with nervousness which made her look ugly; the reflection of her innate character.

“I am duped in a big way. All this time I was wondering, why do I not feel anything for you? Because, there was nothing . . .” in the middle of the sentence, he stopped.

Panicked, Maya did not know what would happen next! What would she do if he became violent? What if, he kept her as a prisoner in his house! She pulled back in her chair and put her arms across her chest.

“Mukesh will be here soon,” her fearful voice announced. Understanding the meaning behind it, Som sneered. “You have no reason to be afraid of me, because I did not even imagine that a cheater like you existed. So, for what reason would I fight with anyone to keep you?”

Som took a deep breath, “You know! Your confession hurts my ego, but at the same time, I feel relief. What if a woman like you, would have come to be in my life forever?  . . . That thought scares me.”

“I suspect that your family will not forgive and may do things to punish me.” Maya said.

“You are talking about revenge? The anger in me is screaming to hurt you, to punish you.  But vivek, the wisdom to balance between right and wrong, is guiding me.” Som said as if he was talking about some other person. He had become an observer.

Maya timidly said, “My parents are not involved. I had mailed a letter before boarding the plane from the Mumbai airport to tell them everything. One more thing, my friend over there is going to work out an annulment of our marriage. You will receive the papers regarding that. Please, sign and return the papers back to India.” Som speechless, stared at her. Maya kept on turning the diamond ring on her finger that Mahi had given. The tremors in her fingers were visible. The humming sound from appliances surrounded the silence for several minutes.

           Finally, he gathered himself and spoke in a sharp tone, “Okay. . . Now there is the door. Get your luggage and wait outside for whoever is coming to get you. I am sure you deserve each other,” Som forcefully pushed back his chair to stand up. He slipped off the ring from his finger and dropped on the table. “I want you to do the same,” and walked away without giving her a second glance.

Som went on to the deck. He felt his whole-body tremble. The suppressed anger burned inside.  He turned toward the familiar shade of the trees for comfort. He pressed his hands around the handles of the chair as he stretched out on a lounge chair by the pool. He ordered himself to calm down and to overcome the twinge resonating from the center of his mind. . . It was quiet for a while, and then, he heard the bags being dragged across the floor. The front door opened and closed a couple of times. Som waited for unending minutes for the sound of a car. He then heard a rumbling sound. It came, turned off and on, and was gone. The silence spread; the same silence inside he wanted.

His body was not moving but his mind screamed, “Why me? Is there a sign on my forehead that says ‘I am stupid, come and use me!’ I remember I was fooled once before in my senior year. Marjorie, a girl I liked kept saying ‘yes’, ‘maybe’ to go to the prom with me. But on the last day she said ‘no’ to me and went with Roger.” That memory really upset him. He got up, peeled off his tee shirt and jeans and jumped into the pool in his underwear.

He ferociously started swimming, lap after lap. He stopped when he thought of his mother’s face covered with a cloud of distress. He dragged himself to sit on the steps of the pool and tears filled his eyes. He spread his arms and looked up in the blazing sky. “How will she accept this deception?”

Mahi had been the one who was planning to welcome her daughter-in-law for months. She had imagined Maya as the key to happiness for her precious son. “How will I console my mom?” He got back in the pool and splashed the water on his face to wash away his tears.

He did not remember how long he was in the water but when he noticed his skin puffed up from staying too long in the water, he got out. He dried off and put on a cotton kurta and jeans. He turned on the television and left it on.

His eyes were there, but he was not looking.
His ears heard the noise, but they didn’t listen.
His feelings were hurt; someone had been curt,
His parents were affronted, he was embarrassed.

He was startled to hear the phone. “Hello son! It is I. Your mom called. She said Nina would deliver in the next twenty-four hours. I think we should go soon. Will you book three tickets to LA? . . . Okay!”  Ramesh was about to hang up.

“Papa, can you come home early?” Som asked.

“Are you and Maya okay?”

“Can you come home? We need to talk.”  Som’s voice puzzled him. Som had never asked him this way before to come home. He decided not to ask any more questions. “I will cancel some appointments and come home around three thirty.”

It was close to noontime. Som went in the kitchen to fix himself a sandwich. There, he noticed the jewelry, a diamond ring, a necklace, and a few other pieces left on the dinette. He turned his head in disgust and came back to the living room.

He gathered some books. From the pile of his medical books, a book slipped out – Freedom from the Known by J. Krishnamurti. A long time ago, on his nineteenth birthday, Ramesh had given it to him. Som had read it with deep interest. He started to turn pages randomly.

The line that caught his eye said, “something we call truth or God or reality, a timeless state—something that cannot be disturbed by circumstances, by thought or by human corruption.”

He kept on reading different pages and was totally engrossed rereading those words of wisdom. He realized that the decisions made in India was the result of his fear—fear of disappointing the elders—fear of not finding a better girl—fear of loneliness. Som wanted to present his bride to his grandfather before he died. He was able to see the scenario in a way like never before. He had used Maya to fulfill his desire to make his grandfather happy.

Som had an epiphany–whenever there is a selfish motive behind an action, a bad outcome is a no surprise. An ignorant person overlooks the root cause of sufferings and asks, ‘Why me?’

He looked at the situation from every angle in the mirror of his mind. The introspection made him aware of his part in creating the situation. The honest acceptance and awareness helped him tame his hatred. He fell asleep on the sofa.

Som awoke with a start when he heard the garage door opening. “Where am I?” He was in such a deep sleep. He heard the door and got up to greet his father.

As soon he saw Ramesh, the dreadful scene repeated itself in his mind. Som stepped forward and hugged his father like never before. Ramesh hugged him back and tried to look for Maya over Som’s shoulder. There was no sign of her.

 “What is the matter? Did you get some bad news from India?” Ramesh asked.

“No. Please come and sit here. I have to tell you something which is not pleasant.” He hesitated for a few minutes, “Papa, Maya is gone. She was a fraud.”

Ramesh was flabbergasted to hear the whole story. “We would not have guessed this kind of deception ever. Son! My heart goes out to you. I feel terribly guilty for making you vulnerable to this kind of scam.” They talked until evening and then decided to go out to eat.

“I hope we don’t run into my friends this evening. I need more time before I talk to them. And yes, let me book the plane tickets before we go out.” Som dialed the travel agent’s number.

Ramesh went into his room to freshen up. Ramesh did not say much, but he was worried about Som and his entire family. This kind of scandal would tarnish their reputation and could cause a severe repercussion; no matter who was the culprit. When he came out from his room, Som informed him, “I have booked two plane tickets to LA for Thursday morning—that was the earliest available.” Som said unenthusiastically. They went to a small restaurant, ate dinner quietly and returned home.

When they walked into the house, the phone was ringing. Ramesh picked up and put it on speakerphone. “The babies are here! Nina gave birth to twins! Mom and children are fine. It was a natural delivery. Congratulations grandpa . . .” The joy in Mahi’s voice touched both men and they smiled.

“That’s wonderful news.” Ramesh paused, and looking at Som, he said, “Mahi, will you call India and give them the good news?” Mahi agreed. “We will talk to Nina tomorrow,” Som said.

The great news helped him in the midst of an unexpectedly hideous day. Som had tried to think positively, and put up a strong front. That entire pretense took away his energy and left him drained

by the end of the day. They called it a day, and went to bed.

Another day had just begun and a call came from India. “First of all, we would like to convey our congratulations about Nina’s news. God bless her and the babies.” Som’s uncle continued,

“Ramesh! Maya’s father came to see me in my office. They received Maya’s letter – mailed from the Mumbai airport. Her father was extremely embarrassed. He said that if we want to take any steps against her, he would support us. He said Maya should pay for her deception. This is unbelievable, I am so furious at that girl.”

“Me too. I am getting angrier by the minute. But we have to think about our father.” Ramesh responded.

Som was sitting at the table, listening. He asked, “How is grandfather doing?”

“He is in and out. We go and check when he does not stir for too long. Occasionally he recites his poem and smiles. He is happy. The doctor says it could be a matter of days.”

Som took the phone in his hand and decisively spoke, “Uncle! No one in the family should know about Maya’s deception right now. Please wait until after Dadaji is gone.”

“How are you Som? I am so sorry about this terrible situation. I should have done a better job of inquiry. If you want to take legal action against her, let me know,” his uncle’s voice was full of guilt.

“Uncle, I am okay. Thank God that the cancer named Maya did not linger. Please do not worry about me. I will handle this.” Som assured.

“Okay, dear, take care. Evil acts or the good deeds of humans are constantly under surveillance of nature . . . So, we choose to remain honest and honorable to experience peace of mind. Our blessings are always with you.” Som felt the vibrations and he knew that the words came from core of his loving uncle’s heart.

Before he went to his lab, he called his friends and briefly told them about what had happened with Maya. However, the sad sympathetic tunes turned into jovial screams as soon as they heard the news of Nina and her twins. That cheerful sound followed him all day long and at the end of the day, he was all set to travel to see his beloved sister. He knew that Nina would help him to shrug off this hurtful incidence.

The next day before boarding the plane, Som called Rick and said, “Just papa and I are coming to LA. Do not tell my mom, and maybe not Nina either. It is an ugly story. We will explain when we get there.”

Som rented a car from the airport and drove to Nina’s house. Mahi was dressed in a silk sari and had a silver dish ready with red kumkum and rice to welcome her daughter-in-law, Maya. Ramesh entered the house first.

“Good, you are here. Rick and his mom Lisa have gone to the hospital to bring home Nina and the precious babies. They will be here soon.” Mahi excitedly said, “Som! Please ask Maya to come in now.”

Som walked in with a suitcase. He hugged his mother, but could not utter a word. He disappeared in the back of the house.

“What’s going on? Why is he walking away?” Mahi asked. Ramesh held her hand, and led her to sit on the sofa.

“Listen, I have to tell you something. Everybody is fine, so do not panic.”  Mahi braced herself to hear some bad news from India.

When Ramesh divulged the Maya-story, Mahi was stunned and began to cry. She had difficulty breathing. Ramesh persuaded her to go in the kitchen and drink some juice. Mahi calmed down and weakly asked some questions to find out the details. In about ten minutes, they heard Rick’s car, so she composed herself and ran out to greet Nina and the babies.

Som was already in the driveway. The proud parents brought the bundles of joy into their home with hugs and cheers. Nina put her hand on Som’s shoulder for support and walked to the sofa.
Her expression conveyed that she knew about Maya’s absence.

“Ma! I am starved, what’s for lunch?” Nina asked.

“Your favorite stuffed paratha and a few other things. I have been cooking the whole morning.” Mahi said. Rick and Lisa came after settling the babies in their bassinets. They all gathered around the dining table.  Mahi had set seven places at the table. She hurriedly removed one place setting with dismay. The anger and sadness were brewing in her mind and she was so distracted that they had to repeat every question to her.

    After lunch, Rick sent the grandparents out to check on the babies and started to load the dishwasher. Nina and Som sat at the table and talked about his stressed three days. Nina spoke plainly in declaring her anger towards Maya.  “O’ Sis! I wish you had been there to tell her off. She would have been scared to death,” Som laughed.

“Maybe you can record Nina’s speech and send it to her – that will teach her a lesson,” Rick quipped.

“I understand that there is no point for me to be angry. But I am upset and worried for you and Ma . . .” said Nina. Just then she was summoned from the baby’s room, Nina had to rise and rush. Nina came back in the living room after nursing the babies and snuggled next to Lisa. The affection between Rick’s mom and Nina was heartwarming.

“Nina! This is what we have planned. I will go back to Houston on Sunday. Lisa has agreed to stay for the next three weeks until I come back here. What do you think of this arrangement?” Mahi asked.

“I appreciate you both–my loving, caring mothers. Right now, it feels like I will never be strong enough to handle the twins by myself.” Nina said.

“You will be fine in a couple of weeks.” As a physician, Ramesh knew better.

“Give me a list. My mom and I will go and pick up some groceries,” Rick offered.

“Please put diapers on the top of the list . . .”

Nina said and gave Rick an appreciative look for creating the shopping excuse. The reason was obvious to give the Joshi family privacy to talk.

“I should have known when that girl’s mother had said, ‘Maya surprised us. She was saying ‘no’ until this morning before she went out. She returned an hour later and consented to the marriage.’” Mahi said as if they had been talking about the subject of Som’s broken marriage for hours.

“You have been constantly thinking about this, right?” Nina said sympathetically.

Again, Mahi’s eyes glistened with tears. Som got up and went to his mother. He held her hands and said, “Ma! Look at me. I am okay. I am not that fragile. Just think that we passed through a dark tunnel and came out unharmed. The few bruises here and there will heal in no time.”

“Yes, dear! Just focus on the good things in our lives,” Ramesh said. “We all can learn from Saint Kabir. He wrote that . . . if you are cheated, you should be glad that you are not the cheater, because eventually an honest person is a happy person. The cheater ends up miserable—that is a law of Nature.”

The family togetherness made them feel strong. The conversation easily turned toward the happy subject of babies. They welcomed a family hug before Mahi and Ramesh retired for an afternoon nap.

Rick and Lisa had come back. Rick came

and sat close to Nina and gently kissed her. He turned to Som and asked, “Are you okay? Do you miss Maya?”

“Not really. I did not feel mental or physical attraction toward Maya. There was no tremor when I touched her the first time. Even it did not hurt when she was cold and uninviting. As I look back, I went through the events playing a role to please all the relatives around me – except myself.” Som candidly analyzed his thoughts.

     “I am thinking – It was a dishonest but gutsy move by Maya. So many things could have gone wrong for her. The biggest thing in her favor is that you are a perfect gentleman, and I am proud of you.” Rick said kindly.

“Yes, that’s what you are and that is our family heritage – our true wealth. So, my dear brother, do not waste a single more minute over this unpleasant encounter. You will find a loving partner; I have no doubt about it.” Nina’s confidence put a smile on Som’s face.

The sunlight hid behind the hills. A serene twilight spread gently over the Eucalyptus trees. Ramesh was nostalgic about the bells ringing at the temple in India. He thought about his father and longed to be at his bedside. He was restless. Mahi looked at his face and said, “Dear, just call India. They wake up early.”

At the second ring, Ramesh’s brother picked up. “I was about to call you. I checked on father at three o’clock and gave him some water. He said bless you and went back to sleep, and never woke. Mother went to him at day-break and he was gone.”

Mahi lit an earthen lamp and they all sat in a circle around it for the prayer meditation.

A prayer to surrender gives grace to revive
The timeless trance in the space of divine
The cycle of life and a pause of death
A time for soul to get a new wrap
                            ——-

  1. Seeking Som

Som was enjoying the usual Sunday dinner with his parents. He was savoring every morsel mixing with each note of the music.

He said, “The Indian classical music and mom’s cooking go well together; an unbeatable harmony.”

“I have invited Nina and Rick to come here to Houston to celebrate the second birthday of the twins,” Mahi announced.

“Oh, Great! I hope they can come.” Som said.

“Nina liked the idea so I think she will make it possible. Will you be in town?” Ramesh asked.

“I will wrap up my MD-PhD. in the next two months. After that, I am not sure what I am going to do. But for the birthday celebration I will be here for sure.”

“You have some job offers. If you will choose one that is not too far from here, I will be in seventh heaven.” Mahi did not hide her wish.

“One option I am seriously considering is working with the alternative medicine program. They have a student exchange program. Our hospital will sponsor two students from India for six months. These candidates are medical doctors and they have joined the training program in Goa. Bhanji selected the students to send to the Houston lab. As such, the Portland center is ready to offer a teaching course named “The Ayurveda and Natural healing.”  Bhanji is already there. So, I may go to Oregon to meet him.” Som talked about his tentative plan.

 “Will you teach there or will you be a student?” Mahi inquired.

“Neither, I will help Bhanji put together the core curriculum for our Houston lab.” Som finished his meal and left in a hurry as if he had a million things to do.

Ramesh looked in the direction of his son’s exit. He took a deep breath, turned to Mahi and said, “I am so proud of him. He has handled himself with an unabashed dignity to overcome Maya’s deception. We were so worried.”

“Yes, he is fine. I also rarely think about her.” The pleasant glow remained intact on her face. Ramesh held Mahi’s hand and warmly squeezed. They did not move for several minutes and cherished the sweet moments. After some time, Mahi began to sing one romantic film song from their younger era as she cleaned the stove and Ramesh hummed with her and rinsed the dishes. It sounded like spring had never left their home.

The months flew by and Som was on his way to Portland, Oregon. He was visualizing Bhanji’s jovial face way before he saw him. He was waiting for him in the garden. Som bade pranam to him. Bhanji blessed him and gave him a bear hug. The two years of separation had not mattered much because they had kept the communication link alive. He said, “Come; let’s go to the prayer room. Please get something to eat if you are hungry. We have a couple of hours before dinner.”

“I am fine,” Som said and enthusiastically followed Bhanji. It was not spelled out, but they interacted as if Bhanji was a guru and Som a shishya—a disciple.

“You wrote me about the deception. Have you been able to put it behind you?” He asked objectively.

Som said, “Yes–almost.”

“The hurt, pain and rejection bring depression. In that aloneness, if you sit close to yourself and yourself only, you will see a beam of light slowly revealing every corner. You will see things beyond your imagination.  I believe that each one of us is here for a mission and we have to focus on it. Every sting makes you more aware and eventually you will be awakened,” Bhanji spoke, and Som listened.

At dinner time, a small group had gathered in the dining hall. Some members introduced themselves to Som while others just admired him from a distance. Most of them knew that he was a brilliant doctor from Houston. Bhanji noticed that Som’s eyes kept on going back to a corner of the room where a girl was filling up water glasses. Bhanji smiled and signaled her to come to them.

“Yes Baba! Here is your glass of water and one for your guest.” She said.

“Meet Dr. Som Joshi from Houston. This is Anjali, but I have named her Sufi. Do you know why? Because, her outlook on things is philosophical, dreamy and idealistic.” Bhanji laughed, “See if you can beat her in any argument. I have already surrendered.”

“Baba, I am a Doctor Anjali!” she complained and then she turned toward Som to say, “Namaste.” Som was completely lost in her brown eyes and forgot to reply. Absently, he nodded with a smile and picked up the glass of water. He stole a look when Anjali readjusted the hair-band holding her shoulder length curly black hair in place. Someone called her away and Som had to turn his attention to some students and their questions.

The next morning while Som was stretching before his run, he saw Anjali whizz by him and disappear into the building. Som felt guilty admiring her shapely body.  All hours in the morning, he worked with Bhanji, but turned his head whenever someone entered the room.

Finally, around lunchtime, Anjali showed up to call them for lunch. Bhanji was surprised to see Som get up right away to follow her, leaving an unfinished line on the paper. Amused, he told himself – I do not think I can stop them, so I had better join them.

The day passed with groups of teachers and students. After dinner, one young doctor came to Som and Bhanji.

“Oh, good, you are back. Som, this is Dr. Rakesh Roy. He had gone to spend some time with his relatives in California. Rakesh and Anjali are the two candidates selected from Goa to go to the Houston lab. They are both leaving for Houston tomorrow morning. Let us see how this exchange program to develop an alternative treatment for the cancer patients works out,” Bhanji said.

Som was surprised to find out this information. Anjali would be in Houston! How intriguing! The group gathered in the courtyard. The scattered light was barely enough to recognize the faces. Bhanji was telling a story about his first visit to the USA.

“Early in the 1960s. An American professor took me to attend a conference. On our way home, we were very hungry, but he would not stop at the small restaurants. I kept on wondering why. Finally, he stopped at a national chain restaurant. He must have recognized my questioning look. He had explained, ‘I was afraid that they may not serve you—a brown man . . .  that would be embarrassing for all of us. I know it is a shame, but it takes generations to change attitudes.’”

“Som! You are born and raised here. Have you experienced any kind of discrimination?” someone asked.

“No. The reason could be as a child I accepted all the children of different heritage. I give credit to my parents for not implanting that kind of suspicion

in my mind. So, if somebody around me had any prejudice, I did not feel it,” Som replied. He glanced toward Anjali and gazed at her symmetrical face silhouetted in the dark.

Before the group dispersed, Bhanji asked Anjali, “Who is taking you to the airport?”

She turned to Rakesh and asked, “Should we book a taxi. It is a 10.30 am flight.”

“I will drive you to the airport. I have my rental car.” Som volunteered.

“Are you sure?” Anjali asked. Her dark hair fell sideways and Som’s brainwaves flashed…., ‘Her face looks like a half moon.’ The thought seemed so strange he got annoyed with himself.

“Good, it is settled,” said Bhanji. “Som, the file you helped me to prepare, I have given to Anjali to give to the head of the department at the University in Houston.”

The 30-minute car ride to the airport seemed too short to Som. Anjali sat in the passenger seat and Rakesh sat in the back. Oregon’s Summer beauty was in full swing. They talked about missing home and the research work ahead.

Then in the lull of the time, Som heard Anjali humming softly to herself . . . लट उलजि सुलजाजा बालम . . . –O’ My beloved, come and help me with my unruly curl of hair, I have henna painted on my hands.

Som waited until she finished and then said, “The classic raga named Bihaag, so sweet.” He refrained from saying, “romantic.” The term raag refers to a concept close to melodic mode in Indian classical music.

“Yes. Just last month I heard it at a Hindustani Classical Music concert in Goa,” Anjali said.

“You will have opportunities to listen to some artists in Houston.”

“Glad to hear that.” Anjali got ready to get out the car as Som pulled into the airport.

“Thanks for the ride. Hope to see you again.” Anjali and Rakesh said goodbye.

“I am sure . . .,” Som thought. He had made up his mind to take the job offer at the Cancer Center in Houston. According to the set-up, the patients from that center would go for the trial treatment of alternative medicine. That position would keep him close to the new program and would fulfill his desire to serve people.

Som had three more days to spend with Bhanji. No matter where the conversation would start, it usually ended with Bhanji’s deep wisdom. After lunch, there were leisurely strolls in the lush garden.

         “Baba!  . . . May I call you Baba?”

         “Sure, if you feel that I am worthy of that love and honor,” Bhanji replied. “Som, I can read your face – you look troubled.”

“Yes, I am not happy. I cannot figure out why the pinch inside me keeps on coming back. Whenever I am in meditation it becomes darker and deeper.” The pain surfaced on his innocent face.

“The pinch comes when we live in the past. I suggest that you honestly observe your pain. Is it coming from your bruised ego or is it coming from hurting someone and not asking for forgiveness?” Bhanji paused and then said, “You select a time, and during the meditation, brace yourself to face the problem in its entirety.  Assign some time to look at your discontent objectively. After proper understanding, you can take the actions needed to untie the knots. And then very firmly tell the problem–your time is up.”

“But the bad memories overwhelm me, especially the mistakes I have made in the past.” Som ruefully said. “I feel that I will not be able trust any woman completely, let alone to spend life with that special person.”

Bhanji looked at him with a twinkle in his eyes and a kind smile. He sounded like a frustrated young man.

“We should practice with awareness to manage our memories. Do not let them rule you. With an effort, forgive the bad events and incidents. When they rise in front of you, look at them impartially. Let the good overpower the emotions. I think that our way of thinking is very trainable. You can develop any habit. In the same way, you can develop a habit to manage your memories.” Bhanji sat down on a bench and Som stood there pondering over his insight.

           Bhanji continued . . . “When you are in meditation, you are observing yourself directly, without blaming everyone else. That is why it hurts like an open wound. You will find peace in meditation when you forgive yourself first.”

“I understand. I have more questions, but I will ask later. Baba! It is time for your nap, so I will see you later.” Som said.

“Yes, I had better rest. You heard Sufiya Anjali’s last order to me, eat well and rest enough,” Bhanji laughed.

The next morning, Som went for his usual run. He felt energetic and ran much longer then he had planned. After a shower and breakfast, he went to the prayer room where he found Bhanji.

“Som! Come here, I want to share this poem with you.” Bhanji recited.

                      Realize

You sit in your narrow little corner and Judge;
the World passes by!

You sit in your narrow little corner and Sulk;
Love passes by!

You sit in your narrow little corner and Complain;
Time passes by!

You sit in your narrow little corner and Connive;
Peace passes by!
You sit in your narrow little corner and Frown;
Joy passes by!

You sit in your narrow little corner and Demand;
Nature passes by!

You come out from your narrow little corner
and Realize;
The Universe sings by!

        Bhanji looked at Som for some response, but he just smiled. One coworker was listening and, he said, “Sir, we have to add the poet’s name—Som Joshi.”

Bhanji was surprised. “I am impressed. What a straightforward way to give the message. Yes! It is all about attitude. How much we squander by simply ignoring the goodness around us! Each verse is like a prayer.” The praise from Bhanji made Som feel humble and he joined his palms to convey thanks – the words seemed redundant.

“Baba! As you were saying yesterday . . . I have to forgive me first. But some wounds find different reasons to bleed, like a chronic leak.” Som asked.

  “You observe your feelings and moods. Has it become a pattern to feel that pain – time after time? I would call it a cultivated habit of your mind. In that case, your mind will look around to find a reason to scratch those wounds. You have to recognize this pattern and learn how to overcome it . . . The lighter you will become, the faster it will disappear.” Bhanji said.

“How do we become lighter?” Som asked.

“By accepting each person around us as they are. Have genuine respect for each one. That attitude will make you more forgiving. You are a wise fellow and I am sure you will find the source of joy within.”

Bhanji kindly looked at Som, who was trying to make sense out of each word. The day he had to leave, Som told Bhanji that he was impressed with Anjali. When he heard that, his old eyes brightened with delight.

“Yes, Sufi is a special soul. I think she was sent to this earth to spread joy,” Bhanji said.

“I see that you are totally biased when it comes to Anjali,” Som teased him.

“I have been accused a few times of that, she has wrapped me around her pinky,” he confessed. “I have known her since she was eleven years old. Her mother had brought her father to Goa from Pondicherry for his medical treatment. But, it was too late for him, and he passed away . . . I am comforted that you are going to stay in the same city. Just keep an eye on her.”

“I will. Well! Baba, I have learned so much from you. . .” Som wanted to say more, but Bhanji smiled and said, “We’re all learning and we’re all teaching in some way or another, officially or otherwise. How and what to grasp is up to the learner.”

Som returned to Houston and gave the good news to his parents about his job acceptance.

“They could not have found a better doctor than you for this position. You have earned it. It always amazes me how small efforts accumulate and build a path toward a goal,” Ramesh said.

“You are right, Papa! When I started taking interest in alternative medicine, it looked like scattered straws and now it seems like a well-planned project.” Som said and turned to his mother.

“Ma! I remember that some families were to host the students from India. Do you know who is hosting a student name Anjali?” Som asked.

“Yes, one girl student is staying at Mr. and Mrs. Pandya’s house, and the other student is staying with his own relatives.” Mahi gave the information.

Som was excited about his new job. He took charge with confidence, and efficiently scheduled the patients for the new treatment.  He called a meeting at the lab to discuss his patients. In the conference room, he expectantly looked at the door for one charming face. Finally, she arrived and took a seat.

“Namaste, Anjali,” Som gave her a guarded smile. He did not want to show her how anxious he was to see her!

“Oh! I didn’t expect to see you here today,” she seemed pleasantly surprised.

“Yes, it all happened very quickly.” Now Som had to play a role of a serious doctor. As he started to talk about his patients, he was engrossed in his patients’ treatments. The roomful of people witnessed his dedication and sincerity.

“The prep part will be done by other staff here, but the first measurement of tumor and the effect of alternate medicine on tumor size will be carried out by Dr. Rakesh Roy and Dr. Anjali Maru.” Som discussed the procedure in detail. The meeting was over and people headed for the door. Som got up and went after Anjali.

“It is close to lunch time. Could you join me in the cafeteria for lunch?” Som asked.

“Sure,” she said with a smile. Som followed Anjali in the lunch line. He thought that he was with the most beautiful girl. An amusing notion crossed his mind, “I am giddy like a school boy in my high school cafeteria”. It was good that Anjali did not turn around to see the silly grin on his face. How would he explain it to her?

As soon as they sat down, other people joined them at their table and Som had to be the speaker again. They both were sitting next to each other, but without much talk between them. Lunchtime was over, and everyone rushed back to their workplace. Som watched her go up the stairs. He waved at her when she looked back from the threshold.

One week passed. Som was on his way to his parent’s house that Sunday evening. Mahi had complained several times about his missed Sunday visits. He parked his car in the driveway and walked up to the door. He had the key, but he liked to catch a glimpse of joy on his mother’s face. He rang the bell and waited. The door opened and he was totally taken aback to see Anjali there.

“What in the world are you doing here?” Som asked.

“I am an intruder in your parents’ home,” she replied.

“Mrs. Pandya had to go to India due to some emergency. So, we are the new hosts for Anjali. She just moved in yesterday.” Mahi explained.

Anjali was standing next to Mahi near the stove and was observing closely Mahi’s cooking method. The exotic fragrance of spices and upbeat voices filled the house. No one could tell that there was a stranger in the house.

After dinner, Som and Anjali were sitting by the pool engrossed in some conversation. Mahi and Ramesh came out and sat quietly.

“Oh! There you are,” Anjali exclaimed as she noticed, and they both pulled chairs near the elders.

“Auntie and uncle, I have one request. I call my mother twice a week in India. I do try to keep it short and I insist that I will pay the telephone bill.” Anjali said.

“That’s fine, but no need to pay the bill. Where in India?”  Ramesh asked.

“My mother is originally from Mumbai. After marriage, they moved to Pondicherry, a beautiful town by the ocean side,”

Anjali said. “My parents were teachers over there. After my father passed, my mother continued her teaching job there.

The conversation continued and Som did not seem to be in any hurry to leave. For Mahi, it was charming to notice her son’s attention toward the young lady.

From then on, Som and Anjali had at least one occasion to meet during the week. One day the discussions about patients’ medicine, diet, and cures, initiated some intense arguments.

“You are too sure of yourself, but I have confirmed records that certain Ayurveda drugs need to be taken with specific food. You are telling your patients to eat whatever they want. So, they ignore our instructions,” Anjali said angrily. Distracted by her rosy cheeks and flashing eyes, Som just looked on with a flicker of smile.

         “Hey doctor! I am talking to you . . .”

         “Yes, I am listening. You give me the exact list of instructions, and I will make sure that the patients follow them.” Som replied.

“Here it is,” and Anjali pulled out papers and extended towards him. The exchange caused their fingers to touch. Anjali paused and looked into Som’s eyes. A long moment passed and no one moved. Then slowly Som took the papers and they both turned in the different directions to deal with their fast beating hearts. He heard a faint “see you.”

Som took a few steps to exit, but turned his head to see her go and wondered, “Is she walking or flying?” Anjali stopped at the top of the stairs, smiled at him and disappeared. A cool flare of a lovely thought delighted him—she likes me too!

One Sunday, the Joshi family and Anjali were celebrating her two months stay in Houston. Anjali said, “Auntie and Uncle, I appreciate you opening your home to me. If I am causing you any annoyance, please tell me so I can correct myself.”

“No, Sweetie, we love having you with us.” Mahi said, as Ramesh nodded in agreement. Som twisted her arm playfully and teased, “Why don’t you ask me how annoying you are? I will tell you.”

“Not a chance, Mister.”” They glanced at each other mischievously.

The father and son came to the family room and Som talked about looking for a house near the Medical Center.

Mahi asked, “Listen Anjali, in two weeks Nina and her family are coming. Can I count on you to help me to organize a birthday party for the twins?”

“Sure auntie, my pleasure.” Anjali said.

Som said, “Anjali! I have started an article for a medical journal about the Alternative Medicine for cancer patients. I want you and Rakesh to be the co-authors.” They both continued talking about the paper and hardly noticed when Ramesh and Mahi slipped away.

Later that night Mahi was talking to Ramesh. “Did you notice when Som took Anjali’s hand at the table, she did not pull it away for quite a while? It looks like something is going on.”

“That may be, but why are you smiling?” Ramesh asked with a grin on his face.

“For the same reason, you are, my Love.” Mahi replied. “They remind me of a romantic raga, melody, from home.”

   They both wished silently for a gracious saga,
And hoped it would sing like a romantic raga.
The melody of minds, the beating of two hearts,

 The flutter of their wings, may give a good start.

        Som started working on the paper. The results were very positive which added excitement to the entire team. However, at times, Som felt that the results seemed too good. As a researcher, he had a tendency to check and recheck. Som had not much interaction with Rakesh who seemed to be doing his work well enough. One day, Som asked Anjali, “How long have you known Rakesh?”

“I met him in Goa couple of weeks before we came to the USA. He seems to be quite ambitious. He did not talk much when we travelled together; he is a little bit secretive.” Anjali replied.

“So, you always had to find someone else to babble with, right?” Anjali picked up a pillow and threw at him as hard as she could.

“Don’t you dare to call our Anjali a chatter box,” Mahi defended her.

Nina, Rick and twins arrived and the joyful noise filled the Joshis’ house. Nina could not believe the way Anjali had made her place with Mahi and Ramesh. Around lunchtime, Anjali was helping Mahi in the kitchen.

Nina pulled Som aside, “Looks like my brother is gaga over someone . . .”

“Yes. But I don’t know what I mean to her!”

        “Do you want me to ask her?” Nina started to walk toward the kitchen. Som hurriedly caught her hair to stop her and said, “Don’t you dare ask her, that would embarrass her.”

         “Oh! You are worried about her. Okay, I will be kind to you and give you some time. But I have to know before I leave Houston—deal?” Som agreed. At the end of the discussion, Nina offered to help clear the way for her brother. When she found Anjali alone, Nina started casual talks, which lead to the final question.

“Hey Anjali, you are so pretty and outgoing. You must have left some boyfriend waiting for you in India.” Nina teased.

“No, Nina! I am very strong headed and do not want to get tangled in any relationship until I finish my studies, or until I meet the right person,” and she stole a glance in Som’s direction, who was crawling around like a horse carrying the twins on his back.

The twins’ birthday party was a success and Som took many pictures with his new camera. “Som please give me some copies so I can mail them to my mother. She should know whom I am getting involved with!” Anjali said it with a smile. Nina noticed that among a houseful of people and kids’ pandemonium, Som and Anjali found time to talk quietly with each other. Nina and Mahi exchanged a happy meaningful look and pretended to be oblivious.

“Som,” said Rick, “are you giving Anjali any positive signals or not? I think girls wait for the guys to make the first move. Some of them are so stubborn that they will roil inside but will not say anything. I remember you helped me to pop the big question to Nina. Now do you want me to help you?”

“Good to know I have a support system behind me. Do you think she is right for me? I have lost confidence after that fiasco with Maya.” Som resolutely said.

“Yes, I think so. The aura around her reflects her inner beauty.” Nina heard Rick’s last sentence and said, “Wow! Here is my learned husband evaluating somebody precisely.  I know who you are talking about and I am impressed.”

Nina and the children were gone and the house was very quiet again. In the evenings, Anjali’s presence made a pleasant difference.

 One Saturday, Som picked up Anjali very early in the morning and headed to Galveston with Aari, Steve, and their girlfriends. They wanted to reach the shoreline before sunrise.

When Som pulled the car onto the beach, the sun was rising on the horizon. The sunrays lifted a blue edge and showed its pink glow followed by the yellow radiance. Som stood behind in such a way where he could secretly watch Anjali’s face in the sunrise. He followed her eyes and he noticed sadness mixed with her delight.

“Do you mind if I sit here for a while?” Anjali asked when the group began to walk. Som sensed that she wanted to be alone so he joined them, but kept on looking back at her. When he saw her wiping tears, he excused himself and came back to her.

“What is the matter? Do you miss your Mom?” Som put his arm around her and asked.

“Yes, this view makes me nostalgic and my heart longs to be near my mom in Pondicherry. There at the beach, I used to chase my father, while my mother would follow us, laughing all the way. Through these tear drops; I see my childhood running away. Why am I here—so far – far away?” Anjali looked at Som as if he knew the answer.

“I feel that you are here because we were supposed to meet in this life time. I have not told you this, but you are constantly in my thoughts and you are a part of my heartbeat.

“Like a whisper in the wind you stay in my mind.
Like the light in the stars you shine in my heart.”

Anjali seemed in a daze. Several expressions touched her pretty face and passed. The deep surrounding sound of the ocean continued . . . and above all that, Som heard, “I know, the hand of destiny has guided me to you. I am effortlessly drifting with the flow of my emotions and I see you welcoming me into your arms.”

Som held her hand and they sat there quietly until their friends returned. Aari and Steve were pleased to see their friend happy.

                      ——–

  1. Poetry and Presents

          Som filled up the blank pages of the medical report quickly. The cancer patients’ alternative treatment results, provided by Dr. Anjali and Dr. Rakesh, were better than expected. Som had not decided whether to present the paper at the next medical conference or to send it to a medical Journal. Every day hummed with new energy. Som and Anjali often talked on the phone or created reasons to meet each other.

“Nina, I am thinking taking Anjali on a date this Friday.” Som wanted some suggestions from his sister.

“It’s a good idea. Take her to a restaurant with a view in a natural setting and good vegetarian food–a must.” Nina would have lectured more, but the twins were competing to grab the phone from their mother. In exasperation, she handed the phone to the kids. The twins spoke at the same time. They were babbling, but the sweet baby talk warmed their uncle’s heart. Nina took the phone back and said,

“Okay Som! Love, you. I will call you later when they are in bed,” and Nina hung up. Before calling Anjali, Som spent several minutes formatting, deleting and rearranging his words. Finally, he felt calm enough to call her.

“Anjali, I want to invite you to have dinner with me on this Saturday. Would you like to go?” he tried his best voice.

“So, is this an official . . . date?” she asked with a gentle laugh.

“You may think so.” There was a pause.

“Okay, I cannot say no to my boss,” Anjali replied.

“But, then do not charge me with professional harassment. Do you agree?” Som said.

“Maybe. I hope you are not recording this conversation in case I want to change my mind,” Anjali teased.

“Hey, I was thinking, can you meet me outside? I do not want my parents to know yet. They will ask too many questions.” Som said.

“Don’t worry. Auntie and uncle have plans to go out with Aari’s parents on Saturday. We are home free.” Anjali said in a mischievous tone.

Som washed and cleaned his car. The palpable excitement filled his every move. He pulled out his favorite shirt and gold cufflinks. He looked in the mirror and thought – not bad. While driving to pick up Anjali, the lights reminded him of Disney World and his joyful, tender heart filled with anticipation. He realized that he was still capable of feeling childlike exhilaration.

He rang the bell of his own house nervously. The few moments of waiting quickened his heartbeat. Anjali opened the door. Her silent glance conveyed a welcoming message and Som closed the door behind him. They stared at each other admiringly. The veil of control over their discreet attraction slid off. They softly embraced each other and kissed. The gentle force of his lips made Anjali breathless. Her cheeks turned red and her dimples deepened as she smiled.

“My first erotic kiss,” she murmured.

“Mine too,” Som said in a low voice. “Let me look at you . . . This long black dress, the delicate diamond jewels, and your brown eyes–exquisite. You never looked so beautiful. I am not hungry any more, let’s stay in.”

“Doctor! You promised me a meal. You better take me out; otherwise, I will complain to the higher authorities of this household.”

“Oh, that scares me, because I know that you have already lured those people to your side. Allow me to escort you.” Som ceremoniously took her arm and escorted her to the car.

As soon as they sat in the car he handed a package of photos, “I finally got copies made of the pictures of the twins’ birthday pictures.”

“Thanks. Now I can mail some pictures to my mom. And also, I have to write about a certain gentleman interfering in my life,” Anjali said.

“Please write a glowing report about that certain gentleman. Will you?”

“I will decide after the end of this date-night,” Anjali teasingly said.

Som and Anjali arrived at the Penthouse restaurant, and the city views from the top floor mesmerized them. The blanket of the lights spread over the buildings and the tall buildings majestically showed off the wealth of the western world. They stood there holding hands to witness the magical, unforgettable view.

They ordered the food and ate leisurely as if they had all the time in the world. They talked about many things of sweet nothing. The restaurant was full of people, but they did not notice any one. Som gave her a book of romantic poems tied with red ribbon . . . Time, and again their fingers touched and intertwined, their eyes locked and nerves tremored.

“We have known each other only a few months, but I feel that you were always with me.” Anjali said.

“Now I know the meaning of longing —one of the strongest forces of nature. I met you three months ago, but it feels like yesterday – and also forever!” Every inch of his face was smiling.

The dreamy hours passed, and finally they returned home. Only the porch light was on, which indicated that Som’s parents had not returned. Anjali silently unlocked the door. Som was standing at the door, not sure what to do.

Anjali turned around, took his hand and pulled him inside. She circled her arms around his neck and they hugged each other. The heart touched the heart as if there were no barriers between them. The tight embrace and pulsating body erupted into enchanting music. Anjali lifted her face, and Som kissed her lips. She closed her eyes and opened them again and whispered,

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”  Som kissed her beaming face. They stood there looking into each other’s eyes until they heard the garage door opening. Som kissed her silken cheeks before he let her go, and turned the lights on.

“Oops! Lipstick! Som, wipe the red from your lips,” Anjali laughed.

Mahi entered and said, “Oh, what a pleasant surprise to see our prince here tonight.”

          Ramesh asked, “We saw your car in the drive way and wondered. Did you go somewhere?”

          “Yes, we went out for dinner,” Som said.

His parents noticed a gift, tied with the red ribbon, in Anjali’s hand. “Where did he take you Anjali?” Mahi fondly inquired.

“Som took me to the Penthouse tonight,” Anjali shyly said.

“And . . . do you have anything to share with us?” Mahi continued the inquiry.

Som and Anjali smiled and could not hide their joy any longer.

“Yes Mom, I like her.”

“What about you, Miss Anjali? Do you like my son?” Mahi asked as if she was talking to a friend.

Anjali nodded her pretty head and went to the kitchen to hide her blushing face. She took a long time to return to the living room. The parents were obviously delighted, and the pleasant conversations continued late into the night. Som decided not to return to his apartment. Everyone retired to their rooms. It was close to midnight in Houston when Som called Nina.

“Hello Sis! I decided to call you at this hour because the twins must be sleeping, so you can talk,” he said.

“Oh, I am dying to hear about your dinner date.

How did it go? Did you tell her?” Before Nina could ask any more questions, Rick picked up another phone and said, “Let your little brother speak, darling!”

 Som happily shared the scenario of that evening. “I hope Anjali’s mother does not have any objection,” Rick expressed his concern.

“I am sure her mom will love Som.” Nina assured.

“Anjali is going to mail her mom a letter tomorrow. We will find out soon. Okay, it is very late here. Good night.” He disconnected, but cradled the phone with a lingering grin on his face.

They spent the cold winter morning in the warmth of his loving home, listening to the enchanting instrumental music of Santoor, which matched with their beating hearts.

Som picked up the cover of the album and read what the artist, Pundit Shivkumar Sharma had written, — “According to me Indian Classical Music is not only for Entertainment, it is much more beyond that. Spirituality and Indian Classical Music are two sides of the same coin. In India, the origin of Indian Classical Music was in the spiritual traditions of the Country. Music that creates Spiritual Bliss for the Performer, and shared by the listeners is the essence of this Art Form even today. It was my lifelong dream to play such music which will make the listeners forget to clap; which will make them silence ….”

Mahi came and sat next to Anjali and said, “Anjali, give me your wrist, I have a gift for you.” She put a 22-carat gold bracelet on her wrist.

“Oh, Aunty, this is so beautiful, look at the delicate designs . . . This is too precious. I am hesitant to accept,” Anjali was overwhelmed.

“It is our pleasure. This gift is for staying with us.” Mahi said.

Anjali laughed, “It should be the other way around, shouldn’t it? Thank you both. I will cherish this forever.”

Sometimes the conversation between Som and Anjali ended up in some serious discussions about their work. Anjali had very clear thinking, and made her opinion known without hesitation. Occasionally she would argue until Som gave in. “You have a point. Well, I don’t like to admit it, but you compel me to look at the situation from a different perspective.” Som would agree like an aficionado. Anjali knew that Som was far superior in his subject, but she wanted to make sure that his over-confidence did not make him careless.

Som had to finish some work at the hospital so he left his parents’ home after a scrumptious lunch. He stopped by to see Aari on his way.

“How are you my friend? And where is your sweetie pie? —that’s what she wants you to call her,

right?” Som asked.

          “Yar, I am so disgusted with people. I meet someone; everything looks rosy in the beginning. Then . . . the demands and whining begin. Sometime I feel that I am not fit to live in this society. I should just go away.” Aari had hit the rock bottom.

             “Hey, don’t think like that. I need you here. Your parents need you.” Som said.

“Ya, like an arrow needs a target,” Aari said bitterly. The present disappointment awakened every other dormant sore sight of his mind. “My parents do not miss a chance to let me know how many more things I could have accomplished, or how much money they have spent on my education. My father brags about himself, ‘I did not spend any money for my education. Instead I earned a scholarship and helped my family in India.’ How many times does one have to repeat that kind of self-praise?”

“Come now, it is not that bad. I will tell you a trick. Every time your dad starts that kind of story, you agree right away and say a few good words to pamper his ego. And you will see how happy and accommodating he becomes.”  Som laughed.

“But they still treat me like a child—no confidence and no trust. How many times do I have to prove that I am an independent, grown man?” Aari’s said.

“Every individual has a mental image of himself. It could be delusory, but he tries to convince the world to see that image. The conflicts arise when people do not have the same opinion. We have to examine that image in three dimensions. One is introspection – to admit who I really am! What is the purpose behind my every word and action? Second is our family’s point of view. The image is built on our past innumerable action-reaction events. We cannot force our family to perceive us in a certain way.”

Som kindly looked at Aari who was listening quietly. “Aari! It also depends on your conduct to make your parents accept you as an individual and not as a child. They will accept and agree with your image when your behavior reflects your maturity. Moreover, the third angle is the society – a volatile bunch. Their opinions will follow wherever you will direct them – like a bunch of honeybees. They would give you various estimations depending on their advantage. If we can learn from them before shrugging their opinions off, that will be our gain.” Som’s narration made Aari smile.

“O, My wise Solomon! I agree with your prudence. Do you think this approach will work with my father?  It may not, because his brain scans for a negative counter-argument every time I say anything.”

“But he does that with most of us, don’t you think so? Try to let it slide off your back as your brother does. Bhanji calls it acceptance with awareness and compassion. I admit that Uncle is tough and intimidating . . . I think this comes from his deep-down insecurities that transpired from an impoverished childhood.”

Som paused for a few minutes and said, “I’ll tell you about my Dad. His father was an uptight strict disciplinarian. To defy his own childrearing, my father has been too liberal. So much so that when Nina or I needed a strong leadership – he was not there.  I make all of my own decisions. They may be wrong or right, but I do not expect any objection from him. Some of the things between child and parents

are so subtle that they are hard to understand. We see only the side effects of hurt feelings, expressed as resentments.”

“It is so nice of you to come by today, when I needed you the most. I know you are very busy, so I will not detain you any longer. Should we meet on Tuesday as usual? Let me know.” Aari hugged his friend and waved goodbye.

Som left, but he was still worried about his friend. He called Steve and suggested he get in touch with Aari.

Two weeks had passed since their first kiss. Som and Anjali’s love lines had become stronger and deeper. One Sunday afternoon they were on their way to Austin to attend a conference accompanied by Rakesh and his fiancé. It seemed a bit odd to Som when Rakesh had requested he bring along his fiancé to Austin. Som had hesitantly consented.

The three hours’ drive gave them enough opportunity to share their younger adventures. When Som asked Anjali about Pondicherry, she gushed, “Oh, it is so lovely. Pondicherry is also a city with a dual personality, half-Indian seaside city, and half-French town. I used to roam on my bike exploring every corner of the city. Mahatma Gandhi’s magnificent statue on the Promenade is a major tourist attraction and landmark.”

“Do you speak French?” Som asked.

         “Yes, very well.”

“I am impressed. What else? Tell me more about your life there. Did you follow Aurobindo’s teaching? I know that his concept of integral yoga doesn’t have obligatory practices, rituals, compulsory meditations or systematic instructions.” Som said.

“Sri Aurobindo Ashram was founded in 1926 and is one of India’s most popular ashrams. While Auroville is, an experimental community dedicated to human unity. Sri Aurobindo Ashram is where people have come to dedicate themselves to the practice of integral yoga. My parents have been a part of that community and I consider them my family.” Anjali genially said.

“Did your family have to follow strict rules?” Som asked.

“Yes, there are some regulations, but generally the devotees are free to determine their own paths. To put it simply, they only need to open and surrender themselves to a higher consciousness and allow it to transform them.” Anjali said.

“I can see why your attitude towards life, and your work ethic are so unique.” Som said lovingly.

“Oh, Thanks.” Anjali’s pearly teeth and cute dimples adorned with a smile. Som wished that they were alone so he could have stopped his car to kiss that enticing face.

“Rakesh! Where did you meet Katrina?” Anjali asked to include them in their conversations.

         Before Rakesh could open his mouth, Katrina, his fiancé provided the details, “I am born and raised in California. Rakesh’ aunt introduced us three months ago, via mail. We saw each other’s photograph and then we met last month in person. I came to Houston as soon as I could arrange to take a leave of absence from my office. We got engaged just last week. It works well—I was looking for a husband and he needed to get a Green card!” Anjali cringed as Katrina laughed. In the rearview mirror, Som saw Rakesh give Katrina an angry look.

“I don’t believe in hiding anything,” Katrina brashly murmured.

They checked into their separate rooms. The dinner with the medical community was quite special for Som. Many senior doctors recognized him. Anjali did not know that Som was such an important professional. She was impressed.

They decided to retire early to their rooms for much needed rest. Som could not fall asleep. His thoughts drifted back to Mumbai and to Maya. He thought, “How strange! Those days seem like frozen stones covered with snow. There was no movement of feelings. I looked at that woman as if I was looking at an object. . .. Now, every cell in my body is buzzing like a chime. Wow! I didn’t know how exhilarating love could be!” The angels of sleep sprinkled petals of poems, and he drifted away in a dreamland.

         In the quiet of dawn, Som was sitting by the hotel pool in meditation. Anjali came and passed near him to get into the swimming pool. The romantic vibrations and the gentle plunge in the water made him open his eyes. With a happy notion, Som removed the towel from his shoulder and followed her into the water. He caught up with her and they began to race with each other.

         After a couple of laps, Som swam ahead and sat on the steps of the pool. Anjali came near and was about to turn, but before she could get away Som lifted her up and brought her next to him. The pressure of his fingers on the side of her bikini-top gave her shivers. Anjali softly shifted her body to be closer to his. Som swept her wet hair aside and whispered in her ear . . .

 I’m lost in the whirls of those dimples in your cheeks,
and rapt desperately in those pearly white beads.
I am willing to dive and desire to survive
to get one glimpse of your amazing smile.

The first rays of the rising sun teased Anjali’s bashful smile. She raised her hand to touch his face, but stopped when she heard some voices. A family walked into the pool area. It was time to go.

“I will see you at Breakfast around eight,” Anjali said.

“Yes. After that we have to register at the conference desk.” Som reminded.

At breakfast Som said, “Rakesh and Anjali, please remember that, we are not going to talk about our project just yet.” The first day of conference went as planned. The presentation by Som was well received. At the end of the day, Anjali was sitting in the reception area looking at her notes.

“Hey, I am back!” Katrina startled her. “How come you are alone? Where are those two doctors?

“Rakesh is at the bar and Som is in some discussion with other doctors. So, where did you go?” Anjali inquired.

“Oh, I had a blast. I took a tour of the Texas State Capitol Complex. It was quite educational and inspirational. I am a History buff.” Katrina said and changed the subject. “I see that you and Dr. Joshi are . . . smitten. How come you took separate rooms?”

Anjali was aghast by that question. She opened her mouth to say something but words did not come out so she closed her lips tight and stared at her.

When she saw only expression of curious ignorance on Katrina’s face, Anjali relaxed and replied. “Dr. Joshi and I have a different set of rules of propriety.” Soon Rakesh and Som joined them. Katrina stepped away to get a drink,

 “We are getting married soon and you are invited.” Rakesh staggered as he continued, “I have one request – please, do not mention to my family that Katrina and I shared a room.”

“We wouldn’t. Don’t worry,” Som assured. Anjali found some excuse and prompted Som to go with her.

“Wow! What a pretender!” Anjali said angrily. “I believe that when I am doing something wrong, I am the witness. It doesn’t matter whether anyone else has seen me or not.”

“Oh, Madam! Take it easy. Live and let live,” Som laughed.

“For me, it is not a laughing matter,” Anjali retorted. Som was surprised to see her so riled up.

In the dining hall, they were sitting at different tables. After dinner, Anjali signaled to Som that she was going to her room. After a quick shower, she readily changed into her soft cotton ethnic outfit, a knee length top and matching bottom. She left the silk smooth dupatta on the chair. She felt that ‘haash’ relaxation. The knocking at the door quickened her pulse.

She asked, “Who is there?”

“It’s me … Som.”

Anjali eagerly opened the door and stepped back. Som closed the door, and just one look lured her into his arms. Their passionate embrace emanated enough energy to swallow each other. Som bent down to kiss her neck and down. But the gentle pressure of Anjali’s palm on his back stopped him. They slowly freed themselves.

“We’d better talk before our fervor blurs our moral values.” Anjali nervously said.

Som took a deep breath and said, “Yes. I agree.”

“My mother says, ‘Don’t put yourself in a situation where you lose control and later regret it.

May I suggest we go for a walk? I do not trust us in the privacy of this room.” Anjali picked up her silk dupatta, arranged it on her shoulder, and headed for the door.

They held hands and walked in the shadows of the bushes, engrossed in their discussion. “I strongly believe that the physical attraction is an expression of in-tuned emotions, but to be sure about inner harmony requires time. When the right moment comes, we know that we are ready to surrender to each other. The rituals of giving promises at the wedding, brings stability to our actions and awareness about our responsibilities.” Anjali turned and looked into Som’s eyes. “This mind is like a bouncing ball – if it does not find a solid path, it will jump erratically. Therefore, the first step is to give a name to our love. There are many arguments against this system, but I do believe in a structured life style. As for me, there will be only one marriage and one man in my life. And also . . . I cannot accept anything less from my partner.”

“I have not analyzed my virtues in this order, but I have been always against premarital sex. I consider that intimacy to be a sacred act and not casually or carelessly taken. Still, we have a few hurdles to clear.  I suppose you must have written to your mom about my mother, that she is a Muslim.” Som said.

“Yes, I have. I think it should be okay with her. However, I would rather wait to hear from her. My mother eloped when she was only twenty years old. She loved my father, but she had to go through a lot of hardship and the hardest of all, the complete cut off from her own family. Therefore, I have no connection with my maternal side. Only lately has she started visiting her brother.” Anjali said.

“There is one thing I need to tell you about my past. It happened more than two years ago, . . .” a voice interrupted Som.

“Hello, Dr. Joshi, fancy meeting you here. Meet my wife, Jennifer.” Dr. Davis, a senior oncologist came up to them with his wife.

Som shook his hand and said, “What a pleasant surprise! This is my friend Dr. Anjali Maru. We are looking forward to hearing your presentation in the morning session tomorrow.” The four of them talked for a while and then returned to their rooms.

When the conference was over and they were on their way home, the backseat recorder of Katrina played nonstop, but Anjali and Som did not mind. Psyched with their own sweet love music, they tuned out all other sounds.

                      ———-

  1.   Blurred Vision

          The pressure of work and the research paper left very little time for romance for Anjali and Som. One Saturday, Anjali had time to paint her nails and Mahi was keeping her company.

“Auntie, Mrs. Pandya called me yesterday and invited me to move back to her house.” Anjali said.

“Yes, I heard that she has come back from India. You wouldn’t go back, right?” Mahi asked.

Ramesh entered and said, “Anjali, here is a letter for you.” He handed her the letter.

         “This is my mother’s reply. I had sent her the family pictures. Let’s see what my mom says,” Anjali started to read her mom’s letter aloud and Ramesh and Mahi listened. She gasped as she started the second paragraph. “‘I recognize from the picture that I had gone to see this Joshi family with my brother in Mumbai. It has been about two years. At that time, you were at a camp in Goa. They declined my proposal of you, because they were not willing to wait until you finished your studies. So, I did not ask for any more details, and went quickly. I am sure that this was the young man. Before I left Mumbai, my brother had told me that he would try for your cousin, Maya. …Later my brother told me that it had worked out for Maya. She and Som had signed a quick legal contract of marriage. However, after some time, when I asked of Maya’s whereabouts, my brother said bitterly, ‘Never ask me about her. She is dead to me.’

I do not know what the situation was, but the fact is your cousin Maya was married to Som Joshi.” Anjali’s lips quivered and her eyes filled with tears. She looked at Mahi and Ramesh.

Mahi softly held Anjali’s hand and said, “Dear! Yes, it is true that Som was married to Maya. But we are shocked to hear that, this manipulative person, Maya, is your cousin!” Anjali could not speak; grief chocked her throat. She just waited for Mahi to tell her the truth.

“Som married Maya in good faith. It happened in the last four days of our stay in Mumbai. They did not have much closeness and they did not spend any night under the same roof. We applied for her green card, which she got in about three months. We were excited to welcome her here in Houston . . .” Mahi’s sadness swallowed her words.

“Mahi had to go to LA for Nina’s delivery when Maya arrived here. Som picked up Maya from the airport and we three spent a few hours in the evening in this house. She chose to sleep in the guest room. After I went to work, Maya showed her real colors. After breakfast, as soon she got a phone call, Maya told Som that she had married him to get the green card. Maya said she was secretly married to a man who could not bring her to the USA, so she used Som to get an immigration visa,” Ramesh gravely said.

All the pain surfaced on Anjali’s face. A double-edged sword severed her heart. “Oh! My own kin did such a horrible deception!!! How will I ever be able to face Som?”

They sat there dazed until the dark shadows of the evening mixed with their bleak feelings. Ramesh and Mahi clearly realized that Anjali was an innocent victim dragged into the center of the abyss. The wave of her compassion and concern touched their aching hearts. They grieved with her as if she was their own child . . . not a stranger.

Finally, she said with a hint of anger in her voice, “I wish Som had shared this incident with me sooner. . .” They were surprised to hear the key turning in the front door. “Why is Som here? It is Saturday.”

Anjali quickly gathered her letter and disappeared into her room. Som walked in, greeted his parents, and looked around for Anjali. He noticed the nail polish on the coffee table. He turned to Mahi with a question.

“Anjali is in her room.” Mahi said, and threw a meaningful glance at Ramesh, “I better get busy in the kitchen. Som! Will you stay for dinner?”

“No Ma. I have several things to take care.” He asked his father, “Papa! Can we talk in your bedroom?” Som’s parents were puzzled because they thought that they were the ones with a secret to reveal. As soon they were in the bedroom, he locked the door and breathlessly spoke,

“Father! My reputation is on line. The results ofthe alternative medical treatments are false.” He was obviously perturbed.”

“What are you saying, Som? Sit down and tell me what has happened?” His professional, calm voice had a positive effect on Som. He sat down and composed himself.

“Let me start from the beginning. I took this job to lead the research project of alternative medicine treatment on cancer patients. My staff is responsible for managing pretreatment procedures, and the core responsibilities of treatment and effect of the Ayurveda drugs are managed by Dr. Rakesh Roy and Anjali.  They take initial measurements of the tumors and compare them with the post-treatment results. I have been receiving the results of those measurements.” Som paused.

          “I know that your entire team was very encouraged by the excellent results. What’s wrong?” Ramesh was worried.

“Today I was rechecking my papers and one patient’s result seemed too good to believe. So, I looked at the numbers noted at our hospital the day before he had gone to the lab. The first measurement recorded by Dr. Rakesh and Anjali’s team as 30% larger than the number from my hospital. Therefore, the gradual reduction of the tumor by the alternative medicine treatment was significant. Then I looked some more and found discrepancies in more patients’ results.”

“So, it looks like Rakesh and Anjali have changed the first measurement in some patients.” Ramesh said.

“I am horribly shaken up inside. My soul has been screaming . . . not again. If Anjali is a part of this fraud, I will never trust any other woman in my life. I am finished. I will have to find the underlying cause of this and find the real culprit–or culprits. After that I will approach Rakesh and Anjali face to face.” Som said.

“But before you jump to any conclusion about Anjali, make sure . . .” They heard the phone ringing. A knock on the door followed.

“Ramesh, this phone call is for you,” Mahi said and handed him the phone. Som mouthed to his father – talk to you later.

Som came out and stood next to his mother in the kitchen.  “Did your father tell you about Anjali and Maya?” Mahi asked.

“What? What about them?” Som’s irritated voice turned louder.

“Anjali’s mother recognized us from our pictures. She wrote in the letter that she had come to see us in Mumbai with her brother – who is Maya’s father. Anjali just found out that you were married to her cousin Maya.”

“So . . . now I see that a cheating streak runs in the family,” Som said cynically.

“What do you mean by that?” Anjali’s voice struck like a lightening. Som turned around with a jerk. They stared at each other with blazing eyes. Mahi felt weak in her knees and found a chair to sit down.

“Tell me why are you saying this?” Anjali demanded.

Som stood there fuming—not sure whether to say anything now or not. He controlled himself and deliberately said, “I will answer your question, but not now.” Then he turned to his mother and said, “I have to go.” He angrily looked at Anjali and walked away.

When ashes of anger smother the flame
and the mind fumes within,
Imprudence covers all your senses
and the pain crushes your conscience.

        On Monday, Som contacted one trustworthy senior nurse in his hospital and sent her to the lab as an undercover investigator. That day seemed very long to him. The nurse returned with some good information. Som rechecked all the results. The next day, Som asked an independent physician to observe and report to him the exact procedures in the alternative medicine treatment lab. The physician observed that after a patient’s registration, one nurse prepped a patient for the measurement of the tumor.

Dr. Rakesh Roy collected all the data and recorded the numbers. After that, the nurse took the patient to Dr. Anjali. She administered the Ayurveda drug and gave instructions about the drug and diet plan. Dr. Anjali took measurements of the returning patients.

“Are you sure that the initial numbers written here are by Dr. Rakesh alone?” Som asked.

“Yes Sir, I asked the charge nurse to confirm the routine.” Som was in a dilemma regarding how and when to inform his senior advisor. He called his father who suggested talking to Bhanaji in Goa. Som said he was also thinking about calling him.

“Your mom wants to talk to you – here she is.” Ramesh handed the phone to Mahi

         “Som! Sunday afternoon Anjali moved back to Mrs. Pandya’s home. She was quite disturbed on Saturday, and your reaction made her feel worse. I sincerely hope that you will not let the matter blow out of proportion. I miss her . . .,” Mahi said.

“Yes, Ma, I will try.” Som indecisively said.

Tuesday night Som dialed the number to Goa and requested to talk to Bhanji. Som knew that Bhanji would be busy in his morning sadhana, but he came to the phone immediately.

“Baba! Namaste. Do you have some time? I need to talk to you.” Som asked politely.

“Yes, you have my full attention.” Bhanji said. The serious tone in his voice surprised Som.

“This is about our two internists, Rakesh and Anjali. There is a grave problem.” Som said.

“Why Rakesh? Anjali told me about her cousin Maya and your marriage. Anjali couldn’t understand your anger toward her.” Bhanji was puzzled.

“I have called you for two reasons. Last Saturday, I found out that Rakesh and Anjali’s team provided manipulated data. When I went to talk to my father on Saturday, I was already upset thinking that Anjali was a part of this deceitful work. Then the other bombshell dropped on me about her cousin Maya. I was engulfed in a storm of broken trust.” Som paused. “Today I know that Anjali may not be aware of the falsified lab results which were recorded by Rakesh.”

 “What are you saying? This is hard to believe. I am extremely disappointed in Rakesh. How can someone who chose his line of work to help the human race be dishonest?” Bhanji said, “I completely trust Anjali. She could not be any part of this dishonest scheme. Now you will have to figure out how you can salvage this mess. We cannot bury the facts. This is your test young doctor; how you handle it depends upon your enlightened mind. Tell me if I can be of any help.” Bhanji silently waited.

“Did Anjali tell you about my angry words? I told her one sentence in anger that was sharp enough to break her heart. I do not know how to reconnect with her. . . I cannot live without her.” Emotions overwhelmed Som.

“You had two reasons to be angry, but Anjali did not know your other reason and that’s why she might have felt more hurt.”

“I regret my impulsive reaction,” Som said.

          ” We have to understand the truth about this fiercely powerful emotion, Anger. Anger is not a bad thing when there is awareness about it. The scriptures call it, punyaprakop – righteous anger. You will do the right thing if anger is not controlling your senses. Your senses should be holding the harness of anger. Wisdom and indignation will balance your judgment and will help to convey your message properly without burning you inside,” Bhanji said in a soothing voice.

 “I also wonder how I will know what to do about this complication with Rakesh. I will have to be the judge and jury.” Som said.

“You contemplate and listen to your innate voice – understand the power of your clear vision. That will give you confidence. You do whatever you need to do there, and the rest we will do here. Rakesh has brought dishonor to the project which we have worked so hard to start.”

    Anger is good if you are aware
and it does not control your senses

  When your senses are holding the reins of anger
and wisdom rides beside.
The fire of anger illumines the path of others
and spreads the peace within.

The next morning, Som asked his secretary to set up a meeting with Rakesh and Anjali. Som had briefed the Chief of Staff, Dr. Smith. He was also present in the conference room when both internists arrived. Rakesh seemed very nervous. Anjali avoided looking at Som because she wasn’t sure which hidden emotion might jump out.

As they sat down, Som looked directly at Rakesh and asked, “Doctor Roy! Will you brief us on how you carried out the procedure in your lab? Who sees the patient first and records data?” Anjali was surprised to hear that kind of basic questions. Som’s gaze made Rakesh sweat and stammer as he mumbled some inaudible reply.

“Do you mean to say that you record the initial measurements?” Dr. Smith firmly asked.

“Yes Sir.” Rakesh replied.

“Dr. Maru, do you agree with his answer?” Dr. Smith asked.

“Yes sir. I take subsequent measurements of the tumor and record the results following the administration of the alternative medicine.” Anjali realized that these simple questions were leading to some serious matter.

“Please explain this to me,” Som displayed the papers so Rakesh could look at the numbers.

“Dr. Roy, look at the size of the tumor you have recorded and compare them with the hospital lab results. Check the list and tell me how there can be so much difference in just 1 or 2 days?”  Som patiently asked.

Rakesh did not have any answer for that. His face turned red and he was shaking. Anjali looked at the papers and understood what Rakesh had done. Rakesh had put larger numbers so the subsequent shrinking numbers would show some exceptional effect of their treatment.

“We are waiting doctor!” Dr. Smith sounded extremely annoyed.

“The Ayurveda medicines work slowly. I have heard that fast results impress the American people. I did this to boost our research project. My intentions were good.” Rakesh spoke hoping to get some support from Anjali.

“There is nothing good about research work when you cheat,” she told Rakesh with fury.

“Have you saved the correct results?” Som inquired.

“Yes, I have original print-outs in my desk drawer.” Rakesh nervously answered.

“Let’s go right now and bring them here to submit them to Dr. Joshi.” Dr. Smith said and hurriedly left with Rakesh.

Anjali looked up with her sorrowful eyes and said, “This is a worst day of my life. How embarrassing that my name is attached with his name on this project?  . . . Baba will be shocked.”

“I talked to Bhanji last night. Yes, he is pretty upset . . . Anjali! Will you forgive me?” Som asked.

“For what?”

“For my thoughtless remark, last Saturday,” Som said.

“I don’t know how I feel. We will talk about it later.” Anjali said. After that, they remained silent until Dr. Smith and Rakesh returned.

“This is all from the beginning to today, correct?” Som authoritatively asked, and Rakesh said yes.

“Dr. Maru, we appreciate your cooperation. You may go now. We have to finish up with Dr. Roy.” Dr. Smith told Anjali.

Dr. Smith turned toward Rakesh and said, “Do you understand the seriousness of this deception? I will not take any legal action because you are not our employee. Your contact is terminated as of today for professional misconduct and the last installment of the grant money not be paid to you. You may pack your things and leave.” Dr. Smith stated.

“And one more thing . . . Your name will not be on the final medical report when we publish it,” Som said. “When you go back to Goa, Bhanji will take appropriate steps to inform the medical authorities in India.

Dr. Smith put some standard release forms on the table, which Rakesh bleakly signed. He repeatedly apologized and left like a broken man.

Anjali had to carry the burden of extra work of training new physicians all by herself. On Friday evening, there was a big fund-raising function organized by the hospital. One of the items on the agenda was to recognize the outgoing physicians Dr. Anjali Maru and Dr. Rakesh Roy, although the second name was deleted the day before. Anjali came to the banquet with Mr. and Mrs. Pandya. Som and his parents came and joined them at their table.

Anjali was wearing the gold bracelet. She whispered to Mahi, “Thanks auntie. See I am wearing it. I like it – one more thing to remember you by.”

“I am glad. It looks lovely on your wrist, dear.” Mahi said with a forlorn smile. During the function, Anjali and Som seemed distracted and uninterested. As soon as the main event was over, Som leaned over and asked Anjali, “Will you come with me?” and Anjali said yes.

“Pandya uncle, I am taking Anjali with me and I will drop her off at your house later.” Som informed Anjali’s host and said good-bye to his parents. They got into Som’s car, and he began to drive without any particular destination.

It was a full moon. There was only the sound of a symphony playing on the radio. They both were struggling to analyze their own feelings. Som drove toward his familiar sight of the medical center and stopped his car near Hermann Park.

“Is it okay to stop here?” he asked Anjali.

“Yes. We can take a walk near the lake.”

It was a breezy night and the moonlight made the lake look like a ridged mirror. Anjali’s eyes sparkled as she saw the shimmering waves playfully slapping the edge of the lake.

“Tell me what are you thinking?  Som said. “I know you had lot to deal with in the last few days.”

“It is not only me. You got much worse of a jolt than I did. I cannot imagine how you perceive me after you came to know that I am the first cousin of your cheating ex! I do not know the whole story so I am also confused.” Anjali stopped walking and turned to face Som. “But why didn’t you tell me sooner about your first marriage?”

The moonlight revealed a gloomy shadow on Som’s face. “Remember, I started to tell you that night in Austin, when I was interrupted by Dr. and Mrs. Davis? We never found alone time after that night.” He looked at her intently and continued, “It has been a long time since we have looked into each other’s eyes. I have missed you so . . . Right now, my vision is like a dusty mirror, and I am unable to lift my hand to wipe it clean. With deception, you are robbed of innocence and trust. It becomes harder to trust again. With time, I may forget, but whenever the act is repeated, the old experience reignites like a wild fire.”

“I do understand now why you were so upset. It must have been awful for you to find out that I was the partner of a cheating doctor and soon after that I was Maya’s cousin.” Anjali gave him a sympathetic look.

Som thoughtfully said. “Though, I do not want to invest my precious time in self-pity but at the same time, I do not know how to deal with my doubting mind.” They sat on a bench near the lake.

“I think when you feel that you are in the middle of turmoil; it is wise to step back. Then observe from a distance to re-evaluate the situation. You see that lotus . . . When our hearts will feel as pure and spotless as these white petals, no ghosts of the past will be able to keep us apart. At present, neither of us is certain about our true feelings.” Anjali slowly said, “At least I cannot make any commitment.”

Som just stared at her. He could not find any words to express his feelings.

“I will have to return to India soon. You will be here; I will be there . . .” Anjali could not finish her sentence.

“I don’t know what to say, even though every fiber of my body wants to urge you to stay here forever.” Som said.

“You say ‘I don’t know’ and that is the status of our minds. Given all this, it is a good time for me to go away.” With that, Anjali got up and they both returned to his car.

When they reached Pandyas’ house, Som stepped out and opened the car door for Anjali. They hugged and Anjali rested her head on his chest for a few moments. The owl on the oak tree wondered, “Is this a final good-bye!”

Life means change, movement and growth. Our love and longing may be as true as breath and life. However, when the doubts and qualms are swirling around, we need to step back and give space to open the inner eye of stillness.

Som somehow convinced himself to let her go.
——–

  1.   Rising in Love

That weekend Som was very busy. He called his mother to tell her that he would not be able to come home that Sunday evening.

“Listen Som! A couple of hours ago, Anjali came to say good-bye. She is flying back to India on Wednesday. I invited her for lunch tomorrow, but she has some work to finish up in the lab. Rakesh’s action has disturbed her. Now, many people in our community know about his conspiracy and that splatters on Anjali too. We never know whom to trust! Well, I hope to see you next week.” Mahi said. “And one more thing – Anjali left a small bag with your poetry book in it.”

Som felt numb. He sat there staring at the wall. The papers in front of him became hazy as the twilight stretched its shadow. He considered calling Anjali, but could not move. Finally, he he turned off his thinking cap and left any action for the next morning.

The next day, Som went to his office early and kept busy until afternoon. Just like a dull pain, the knowledge of Anjali leaving stayed in the back of his mind. In the early afternoon when he was about to call her, the phone rang.

“Hello Dr. Joshi, this is Katrina. Do you know where Rakesh is?” and before Som could reply Katrina continued, “I am sure he has skipped town or who knows – he might have left the country.”

“What is the matter? Why?” Som asked.

“Sorry, I have to go.” She hung up.

“Crazy,” thought Som, and dialed Anjali’s number. The phone rang and rang . . . and finally she picked up. Som nervously said, “Hello, if you are busy then I will call you later.”

“No, not busy. How are you?” Anjali had to compose herself to hide her unsteady voice. “Did Katrina call you? She called here and inquired about Rakesh. When I told her that I did not know, she didn’t believe me and insisted I give her your phone number. Her real reason to look for Rakesh is serious. Last night Katrina and Rakesh had a fight and Rakesh hit her. When Katrina threatened to call the police, he disappeared.” Anjali said.

“Oh, Rakesh is getting into deeper trouble.” Som said. “I want to forget that name.”

“Som, I have booked my flight for Wednesday . . .” Anjali’s voice trailed off.

“My mom told me. May I take you to the airport?” Som offered.

“No thanks. Mr. Pandya is taking me.”

The telephone line was becoming very heavy due to the sadness on both ends. Som talked a little more about their work and gradually terminated their conversation. The silence spoke, “Where ever you go, you will be in my heart.” Anjali was determined to  leave the country, but her mind was pleading.

 My love, help me remove the dew from my rose,
bring the sun to my window.
I hear you play the harp of my heart.
I want to wake and walk to you,
but I can’t take a step.

         The hours passed without any action. Som questioned repeatedly, “Why am I letting her go?  I already miss her even though she is still reachable. Why don’t I go right this minute and plead her to stay?”

Tuesday evening, around six o’clock, Aari and Steve were waiting in Som’s office to go to dinner. His friends had secretly planned to take Som to meet Anjali. It was their only chance to bring them together as it was her last evening in Houston. Som was quickly finishing the chart of the last patient when the phone rang. He mouthed sorry to his friends and reluctantly picked it up.

“Som! Your mother had a seizure, she fell on the kitchen floor,” Ramesh’s panic-stricken voice said.

“What seems to be the problem? Is she breathing okay? Did you call an ambulance?” Som urgently got up from his chair and his friends saw the fear on his face.

“Wait . . . She is opening her eyes. She looks better. She is breathing okay and her pulse is normal. I will bring her to the hospital, you wait there.” Som

told Aari and Steve what had happened and they proceeded toward the emergency room. I wish Anjali were here flashed through Som’s mind.

Ramesh arrived with Mahi at the hospital within fifteen minutes. Som had hospital staff ready, so her preliminary evaluation started immediately. Most of the tests turned out negative. So, for further investigation, the doctor ordered a computed tomography. Som and his father were with the senior Neurosurgeon when they looked at the CT scan results. Som was shocked to see a tumor in the frontal lobe of Mahi’s brain.

“The tumor is in the meninges trapped between the skull and cerebral cortex. The tumor could be benign, but the pressure builds up and that results in seizures.” The neurosurgeon stated. Som stayed back while Ramesh went on to explain the situation to Mahi in layman’s terminology. Mahi was not in any immediate peril, so Ramesh took her home. Som and his friends ate at the hospital cafeteria and afterward Som chose to go to his apartment.

The hallway light dimly lit his bedroom. He went to his special corner without turning the switch on. Som sat on a spherical cushion and held a pillow close to feel the softness of those fingers that had made it for him. His beautiful mother was only fifty-nine years old. She was the center of their nuclear family. Her presence made a house of bricks a pulsating home. Som was more troubled because, as an oncologist, he knew too much, about how things could go wrong. What if, the tumor grows too fast or

turns malignant! She could have a stroke. . .. And no one was there to refute his wild assumptions. At the hospital, his friends had listened to his expert suppositions, but they did not know how to argue against a talented oncologist like Som.

He forcibly closed his eyes and pulled in his senses to stabilize. Som experienced a throbbing pain as if he had lost his precious one already. The depression engulfed him and he slipped into a dark endless space. The turmoil of thoughts loomed above him and he could not see anything beyond. Then suddenly he saw Mahi’s face and her flailing arms. Som extended his hand to pull her up. Her hand slipped . . . and he saw Anjali’s face disappearing. Anjali! His eyes flew open.

         The sound of the alarm woke Som up from a fitful sleep. He had fallen asleep right where he was sitting last night. He got ready quickly because he had to finish up with his patients before the 11 o’clock appointment with the neurosurgeon to discuss Mahi’s treatment. He questioned himself again, “Why can I not decide about how to treat my own mother? I have seen a few patients with similar or more serious problems, but today I am totally blank.”

He called home to talk to his father about his confusion. “I know exactly how you feel, Som. When things are, too close to your eyes, you cannot see clearly. Whenever anything happened to you or your sister, I used to get panic-stricken and paralyzed! In those times your mother reminded me that I am a doctor and made me look at the situations objectively,” Ramesh said. “Give yourself some time. Your instincts and knowledge will not fail you. I will see you later. Now talk to your mom.”

Som asked his mother about the alternative medicine. “Mom, it is still at the experimental level. However, during the discussion I may propose to try it. How do you feel about that?”

“I am scared hearing the word “tumor.” I don’t know what to say . . . If someone can explain it to me then I can give my input.”  Mahi nervously said.

Som heard between the words that ‘someone’ could be Anjali. “Well, we will have to fight this battle on our own.” They both were thinking the same thing—Anjali would be on her way to the airport.

“Som! We told Nina about the tumor. She wanted to fly out here, but I convinced her not to right now. She may come next month. She told me that you had talked to her about Anjali’s departure.” Mahi said.

As soon Som went to the neurosurgeon’s office, the discussion started. He could not wait for his father and went on to set forth his ideas.

          “May we come in?”

          That voice stunned Som! ‘She can’t be here!’ his heart fluttered unexpectedly. He slowly turned his head and saw Anjali and his father at the door. Anjali came and sat on a chair leaving the middle chair for Ramesh.

“Anjali has postponed her trip,” Ramesh informed his mystified son. His look told Som to pull himself together. For rest of the time, Som’s assertive self was lost in a quiet demeanor and he listened carefully. Anjali outlined the subject of the alternative medical treatment for Mahi and the neurosurgeon agreed to try it.

“Now someone has to explain this to the patient and have these consent forms signed by her. After that, we can move forward. Would you like Mrs. Joshi to come to my office and talk there, or do you want to talk to her at home?” The neurosurgeon asked.

Ramesh looked at Anjali. “I am going to see auntie after this meeting. Do you want me to talk to her?” Anjali asked.

“Yes. I am also going home, so we will take care of this formality,” Ramesh picked up the papers. “What do you think, son?”

“Anjali, you may not hide any consequence of treatment from my mom. She will handle it better if she has clear view of the situation.” Som said.

“I understand,” Anjali replied.

When Anjali and Ramesh came home, the morning cup of chai-tea was untouched and Mahi was still in her bed.

“Dear! You did not get up to drink your tea. You will get a headache.” Ramesh said.

“I didn’t want to . . . What if I fell? I will lay here until the day I die. I want my ammi.” Mahi said in her weepy voice.

That brought tears to her husband’s eyes. “She is watching over you from heaven, Honey! Please get up. Look who is here.” Ramesh said.

Anjali was waiting near the door. “Auntie, I am hungry; can I have something to eat?” Anjali’s voice made Mahi remove her covers and a smile touched her lips. Mahi slowly sat up and extended her hand. Anjali warmly clasped her hand in both of her palms and sat down on the bed.

“Auntie, I have extended my stay for five days. When you are ready, we will explain to you what is going on and what the solution is!”

“Okay, I’ll get ready soon. Meanwhile see if you can find something to eat in the kitchen,” Mahi said.

“Don’t worry,” said Ramesh. “We have enough food for lunch in the fridge. Mahi, you be careful and call me if you need help.”

During the lunch, Mahi happily talked with Anjali and seemed to have forgotten about her illness. Mahi shared that her sister would come and stay with her. “My sister lives with her son’s family in Dallas. Her son will drop her off tomorrow. I feel so fortunate to have her here.” Ramesh was pleased to see Mahi’s changed mood. After lunch, they had to talk about that agonizing subject.

“Auntie, I understand that you must be scared hearing the words “brain tumor.” The name of this tumor is “Meningioma,” which grows from the meninges. Three thin membranes surround the brain and spinal cord. The good news is your tumor is benign, non-cancerous. Because these tumors tend to grow very slowly, the brain may be able to adjust to their presence. But in your case, the tumor has grown quite large, which caused the seizure yesterday.” Anjali said.

“And it is treatable,” Ramesh said.

“So how are you going treat it? What did Som say?” Mahi held her husband’s hand for courage.

“Som and your doctor have agreed to try the alternate medicine treatment,” Anjali assured.

Anjali outlined the procedure. “There are always uncertainties in any medical treatment, especially in Ayurveda. It depends on how each patient responds to the natural drugs. In your case, it may take some time to see the effects of these drugs. I can assure you that there will not be any adverse side effects.” Mahi listened carefully and then anxiously looked at her husband.

Anjali got up and said, “You both take your time. If you decide to go ahead with this treatment, we will meet at my lab around three o’clock. After consulting with Bhanji and Som, I will prepare your chart and diet plan. I have to make a couple of calls. I will be in my room . . . funny, I still think of it as mine.” She laughed and went to the guest room.

Mahi had faith in her husband and son, and now in Anjali too. “Do you think this is the right thing to do?” Mahi nervously asked.

“I think so.” Ramesh said, but the worry lines deepened on his face. Mahi felt that one way to quiet her nervously fluttering heart was to put her life in her loved ones’ hands. She signed the consent papers.

Anjali came out of the guestroom and said, “My friends were surprised to get my phone call. Oh, you have already signed the papers!”

“Anjali! You postponed your trip to India just for me! I don’t know how to thank you.”  Her thoughtfulness touched Mahi.

“Auntie, you are very special to me. Once I heard about your illness, I couldn’t leave.” Anjali said, “So we’ll meet at my lab around three?”

“Yes, we will be there. Do you want me to drop you off?” Ramesh asked.

“No thanks. My friend Suzie is coming to pick me up. I will be staying with her for the next few days. I hear a car. Bye, see you later.” Anjali opened the door to leave, but she stumbled and fell into Som’s arms.

 Oops! Pardon me.” Som steadied his feet and gently helped Anjali to find her balance.  “Are you leaving?”  Som asked.

“Yes,” a flustered Anjali replied.

“I was wondering how you knew about my mom’s sickness. Then Aari told me that he had called you.”

“Yes. He called me yesterday evening from the hospital. So, I called my travel agent and changed my booking.”

“Thanks . . . and see you soon,” Som said.

“Please call me at my lab, after an hour or so, to discuss a few things.” Anjali said and walked to the waiting car.

Som entered the living room. He had not seen his mother since last night, and it seemed like ages. Mahi came up to him and found solace in his arms.

         She swallowed a sob and hugged her son.
She mournfully asked, “why me, why me?”
As the wise ones say, there are always reasons,
and that’s why you are specially chosen.

“Mom! Don’t worry. You will be fine.” Som’s deep voice gave her assurance, but the tears escaped and rested on her cheeks. Ramesh wiped her tears while Som held her warmly. Som lead her to the sofa to sit down. He offered her some water and started to share the rest of his discussion with the surgeon.

“Ma and Papa, we talked some more and tried to examine the problem from every angle. As per the final discussion, we will try the alternate medicine for five weeks. We do not want to wait too long. We expect that the size of the tumor should reduce with the Ayurveda medicine and a proper diet. Moreover, that will facilitate the surgery.” Som said, “Now you may not have another seizure, but just in case, you need to be alert. If it is coming on, you yell and lie down.”

“I agree. We will not leave you alone in the house or anywhere else.” Ramesh said.

“I am home for the rest of the afternoon, so I will take mother to Anjali’s lab. Papa, if you need to do anything you may go, but come back soon, because we are going to cook dinner for mom.” Som said, “And Ma! You rest and remember all the good events of your life. From time to time I want to see a smile on your lovely face, okay?”

“Yes sir, I will try.” Mahi stretched out on the sofa and closed her eyes.

Som was putting up a facade in front of his parents, but he was crumbling inside. He went to his room and fell on his bed. He laid there feeling helpless. After napping for ten minutes, he felt a little better. When he opened his eyes, he noticed a paper bag and remembered about the returned poetry book.

He closed his eyes in desperation. He realized that he was distracted too quickly and lost sight of the big picture of his life. He started a dialogue with his weakened mind. “To be a rock for others; I myself need to remain on solid ground. I need to know who I am and what I can count on. This kind of constancy only develops when I follow the discipline of recharging my spiritual batteries. When I can draw the peace and love from God in meditation – I can be there for others in their moment of need. I cannot let down my mother or my patients.”

He was lost in his thoughts, unsure of how long. He heard a faint voice calling his name. He immediately rushed out worried.  “What happened?”

Mahi laughed, “Oh, nothing, dear. Soon we have to leave. That’s all.”

Som took Mahi to Anjali’s lab and helped her to complete the procedure. Anjali and Som worked together in a professional manner and avoided any closeness. Mahi was going through the motions without much emotion. When they were leaving, Anjali said. “Aunty, we hope and pray that this treatment will work. Tonight, I will call Bhanji to ask if he has any other suggestions. I know what he will say – ‘Puzzle it over, think it through.’”

After a couple of days, Som was relaxing with his friends. “So, what do you think, Som? Anjali’s departure day is coming up. Have these five days stay made any difference in your relationship?” Steve asked.

“Not much, but my mother is praying day and night that Anjali does not disappear from my life. I think I am neutral . . . I will be okay without her.” Som said, but Aari shook his head.

“Aari thinks you don’t mean what you are saying,” Steve said.

“Does he think that he knows me more than I do? I told you, I will be fine without her.” Som raised his voice. Steve could not figure out whether he was angry with himself or with Aari! After that, they ended the evening early.

The next day Mahi’s sister arrived near noontime. The two sisters were like two flowers of one branch. They embraced and Mahi felt she was at home, in the bosom of her loving childhood. The tears stopped at the edge of their eyes to see their smiles.

Som’s cousin just dropped off his mother to their house and returned to Dallas. “Why did he not even wait until Dad and I came home?” Mahi explained to him when they were alone. Last year Som’s cousin married the daughter of an orthodox Muslim leader, which helped him to come to this country. His bride strictly followed Islam rules and that included not visiting Joshi-home. No one could explain any logic behind that kind of thinking.

“What a loss! My cousin could be my best ally. How can he obey and promote this kind of mistaken belief? I hope next time I get to meet him,” Som said. For the first time in his life, Som witnessed her devout aunt praying five times a day. Her prayer time got the top priority in her aunt’s daily activities and sometime interfered with other events. Som respected the discipline. On the other hand, he knew that his mother was a worshiper, but she always put the people’s need first, not the act of sitting down at the particular time. Som always remembered one thing she had told him when he was young.

“Som, our entire day should be a prayer. The meditation and worshiping should become our second nature and that will permeate peace and joy,” and that is what she preached and practiced. Som liked her simple uncomplicated system.

Every day Anjali worked with Mahi rigorously on the proper way of taking the drugs and about the strict diet plan. Mahi’s sister helped her to prepare a logbook and arranged her schedule. That Friday Anjali spent several hours listening Som’s childhood stories.

When Ramesh and Som came home, Anjali was gone, but the air in their home held her gentle vibrations. Mahi repeated Anjali’s name in every other sentence.

“Her manners are so good.” Mahi’s sister said.

“Anjali is a person of wisdom and spirituality who has very beautiful manners that have grown from genuine respect and love for others. I admire her humility,” Ramesh said.

“When we are at the receiving end of such manners, we feel that some deeper part of us has been honored,” Mahi said. “Anjali plans to go to her lab tomorrow and prepare some extra supplies of the medicine.” Som pretended to look busy scanning through the mail, but he was all ears.

On Saturday morning Anjali arrived at the lab around ten o’clock. The guard said good morning and went to open the entrance to the third floor. He was very talkative, but preoccupied Anjali did not pay much attention, and proceeded to her lab. She set up her instruments and got busy with her work of hand grinding the Ayurveda medicine in the mortar. The lab door opened slightly and she noticed somebody peeping in through the narrow opening. She tightened her grip on the heavy pestle and asked,

“Who is there?” The intruder made sure that no one else was there and swung open the door.

“Rakesh? What are you doing here?” . . . The chatter of the guard flashed in Anjali’s head. He had said, “Dr. Maru, I know that Dr. Roy doesn’t work here anymore. I was surprised to see him here yesterday evening just before my shift was over. He said he was here to pick up something, so I opened his office and left.”

“So, you have been here since last night!” Anjali angrily said.

Rakesh put his finger on his lips, ordering her to be quiet. He closed and locked the door.

“I will explain,” Rakesh said and took a few steps toward her – too quickly. His bearded face and red eyes scared Anjali. She froze and lost the grip of the pestle. It fell on her toe and she screamed. The pain brought tears to her eyes.

“Keep quiet!” Rakesh ordered, “I am hiding from that crazy Katrina. She is determined to put me in jail. That witch doesn’t know whom she is dealing with.” It seemed like he still had faith that Anjali would be on his side.

“How did you get in here?” Anjali asked, sitting down and softly stroking her hurting toe.

“I was at my relative’s house. I always kept my suitcase ready, and anyway my flight is booked for today to go back to India. When I heard some commotion, I called a taxi and slipped into the back alley from the back door. I escaped in a nick of time. I could not think of any other safer place so decided to come here. I hid my suitcase in the first washroom I found in this building, and the guard helped me to get into my office. As soon as the front doors were locked, I got comfortable in my office and spent the night here. I am starved, but I will live.” Rakesh slumped into a chair.

“But how long will you hide here? I am leaving, and I want you gone when I come back,” Anjali turned toward the door.

Rakesh suddenly got up and opened his briefcase. “If you take one more step, I will kill myself. I have poison pills right here.” Rakesh pleaded. “Please Anjali, help me – you are my last hope. I didn’t expect you to be here. I believe, you are Godsend.”

Anjali was getting frightened by the minute, and she felt dizzy with the throbbing pain in her toe. She collapsed in a chair and took a deep breath. She poured water in a glass and took a sip.  “I don’t know what you want from me. You know that I despise dishonest people. I will call the police . . .,” Rakesh abruptly interrupted her.

“I don’t have much time. You have to do just one thing—call your friend Dr. Joshi and ask him to drive me to the airport safely.” Rakesh sounded desperate.

“I am not going to call anybody. You get a taxi and go.” Anjali tried to get up and walk to the door. Rakesh blocked the door and said, “I am scared that I’ll get trapped at the airport by Katrina. So, I want you as a shield or something.”

“I am not going to do any such thing.” Anjali firmly said. “You should have thought about it before hitting her.”

“Oh, she told you about that? Actually, Katrina was bad-mouthing my parents. I told her that they are better than her mother, who makes passes at me. She went crazy and slapped, and I slapped her back. I pulled off my ring, threw it at her and ran.” Rakesh

said with his black eyes blazing bright, “Katrina is after me for vengeance, not for justice.”

“Why should I believe you? I do not want to call anybody to help you.” Anjali said and tried to go around him to open the door.

“Okay. These poison pills are ready. You can stick to your honest mumbo-jumbo, and I will stick to my plans.” He was reckless.

“Don’t you dare to try your emotional blackmail on me?” Anjali said.

Rakesh stared at her with pitiful eyes. With unsteady steps, he moved and picked the glass of water. “Do me a favor. When you go to India, go and meet my mother to tell her that I died peacefully.” Rakesh poured several pills in his hand and lifted his hand to his mouth.

“Just stop it, you fool!” Anjali screamed. “I don’t want your death on my hands to ruin my life with guilt. I will call Som.”

She angrily dialed Som’s apartment number, but no answer. Then she dialed his office number. When he answered, Anjali’s heart skipped a beat. She was hesitant to involve him, but Rakesh was standing there holding the pills in one hand and water in the other. “Som! Sorry to bother you but can you come to my lab?” Anjali asked.

“Yes. But it will take a couple of hours before I

can get out of here . . .” Som said.

“No. You must come right now, because …” Rakesh snatched the phone from her and whispered, “Not my name. Just get him here.”

“Som, please come right now, it is an emergency.” Anjali said.

Som heard the shuffle and her painful voice. “Are you okay?” he asked. In response, Som heard just a muffled ‘hum’ from Anjali; he hung up and rushed toward the parking garage.

Many fearful thoughts raced across his mind, ‘maybe some crazy patient has attacked her! Or someone who works over there! Should I go with the security’s help . . .’ the imagination is greater than the fear itself.  His calm veneer of indifference toward Anjali had blown away and the lines of pure panic had set in.

“Oh! Dr. Joshi!” The guard was going to say something, but Som passed hurriedly. Then, he suddenly stopped at the bottom of the stairs and said, “If I don’t come back soon, please come up to Dr. Maru’s lab,” and then quickly he took two steps at a time to reach the third floor without waiting for the elevator.

He tried the door to enter the lab, but found it locked. He urgently knocked on the door and called out Anjali’s name.

          “Som! Are you alone?” Anjali asked.

           “Yes. What’s the matter?” Som anxiously asked. Anjali slowly open the door and let him in. Rakesh came near and closed the door behind them.

“Rakesh! I presumed that you were long gone. This is very alarming. Why does Anjali look so scared? What have you done to her?” Som went up to him and stared at his face.

“I haven’t done anything, believe me. I want your help to get to the airport. My flight to India leaves in four hours and I will kill myself if I miss it.” Rakesh said.

“Som! Please do whatever he asks.” Anjali’s pain stricken voice came from behind. Som turned to look at her. She was sitting in a chair, and he noticed that her swollen big toe had turned red.

Som rushed to her and sat down on the floor to examine her toe. “This must be treated immediately. I will get some ice and then take you to the hospital.”

“Nothing doing! You first take me to the airport, otherwise I will kill myself.”

“Now stop saying that!” Anjali stood up holding Som’s hand. “Let us take him to the airport and later you can take me where you want. I will not fight you.”

“This is the plan.” Rakesh said, “Anjali, you go downstairs and distract the guard and make sure that he steps away from the entrance. Som and I will come down, collect my hidden suitcase from the washroom, and get out through the backdoor to the parking garage . . . Anjali! You come out and wait for us near the main entrance. We will bring the car there. I will hide in the back seat.”

Anjali took the elevator to go down and Rakesh and Som took the stairs. Anjali came out of the elevator door and started to talk with the guard. He noticed Anjali’s toe and sympathized with her about her injury. “Please, can you do me a favor? Will you take my hankie and wet it at the water fountain, so I can tie up my toe? It hurts when I walk,” Anjali requested.

Rakesh and Som slipped out to the other side when the guard turned into the hallway. The guard returned with the wet hankie and said, “Some woman called here twice to ask about Dr. Roy. I told her about yesterday evening when I had seen him. That was the last time I saw him, but that lady rudely refused to believe me.”

“Thank you so much,” said Anjali and she went out the front door.

On the way to the airport, Rakesh repeated that he was innocent. When they reached the airport, he asked Som to go on the Arrival side to drop him off. From the back seat, Rakesh looked around and then quickly got out and disappeared into the building. “Well, I guess he doesn’t like long good-byes.” Som laughed and pulled away. Anjali tried to smile, but tears rolled down her face. She felt drained.

“Is your toe too painful?” Som was concerned.

“Yes, a throbbing pain.” She said and rested her head back and closed her eyes. Silently he drove toward the hospital and parked his car at the Emergency entrance. Som went to Anjali’s side and opened the door. When she did not move, Som bent down and lifted her out. Anjali woke up and realized that she was in Som’s arms.

“Oh! I can walk – you can put me down.” She was embarrassed.

“Keep quiet,” Som ordered her.

He put Anjali on a chair and went to look for an empty treatment room.  He ran into the chief Resident who exclaimed, “Dr. Joshi, I am glad to see you. I need to consult with you about a patient.”

“Yes . . . sure.” Som instructed swiftly, “First, find an empty room and take Dr. Maru in. Her right toe is smashed.”

Anjali was overwhelmed with the attention. She had always been on the other side. From a young age, she had taken the role of caregiver; her innate nature. No one ever had cared for her in such a manner. Her heart felt rejuvenated like a flower touched by the first rain. Her joyful mind forgot why she was there. When Som asked, “Does it hurt a lot?”

        “What hurts?” Anjali dreamily replied. He read her emotions in her eyes and smiled.

Anjali easily surrendered when he lifted her to put her in a wheel chair. Som examined her toe and after making sure that no bones were broken, he went with the Resident while the nurse wrapped up Anjali’s toe.

Back in the car, Anjali thankfully looked at him, but it did not feel appropriate to utter those formal words. Sometimes the formal words undermined the real feelings of gratitude.

“I called my mom and told her about your injury. She insisted that I bring you home. I am starved. We will have a good meal at home. Shall we?” Som asked.

Anjali seemed pleased with the idea. She thought ‘destiny is bringing me back to this house again. Is it because of the draw of my desires or the force of the universe! Whatever it maybe, but I feel serenely hopeful within.’

When they arrived, the front door was open. Anjali slowly got out of the car with Som’s help and walked, but stopped at the steps. She was thinking how would she climb those five steps! Without much hesitation, Som picked her up and brought her in, passing the threshold; a symbolic gesture.

          Wide-eyed Mahi looked at them while her sister’s jaw dropped. Only Ramesh looked at his action as nothing more than helping an injured girl.

Anjali had to tell the whole story to the family. Immediately after lunch, Anjali said, “I need to go back to my lab and finish up. Suzie will pick me up – no later than seven o’clock. She has planned a small gathering tonight at her place.”

“I will drop you off on my way to my office,” Ramesh suggested. Mahi did not like that idea because she wanted more time for Som and Anjali to be together.  However, it was practical and Ramesh was all about practicality.

“Because of this injury, shouldn’t you extend your stay? We will take care of your airline ticket,” Mahi showed her concern.

Anjali hugged Mahi and said, “Aunty, I have to go tomorrow. My mom has been waiting in Mumbai since last week. For the first time, I will stay at my uncle’s house for a couple of days. And I will go and deliver your gift package to Joshi uncle’s house while I am in Mumbai.”

“Uncle, I will be ready in fifteen minutes. May I use your office?” Anjali asked and disappeared for some time.

At the door Som asked. “Anjali! I will take you to the airport. What time do you have to leave?”

“Around 3 o’clock,” she replied. A satisfying smile flickered on Mahi’s face.

On Sunday, Som was on his way to pick up Anjali with his aunt in the car. At the last minute, she had hesitantly made a request to Som. “My daughter-in-law’s parents live near the airport. I have to pay them a courtesy visit. Do you mind dropping me off on your way to the airport?”

When they arrived to pick up Anjali, good naturedly she greeted his aunt. “Oh! What a pleasant surprise auntie. Glad to see you.” Som noticed that her expression was genuine which instantly set the pleasant mood. Anjali’s ability to make people feel welcome, her positive attitude, and acceptance of any situation were unique. At that moment, he fell in love with her all over again.

Som opened the trunk of the car. When he took the suitcase from her, the touch of her fingers sent an electric thrill inside.

“Are you up to the journey with this bandaged foot?” Som asked.

“Yes. It is just an annoying inconvenience.”

When Som dropped off his aunt, he said, “I will come back to pick you up in an hour.”

Then they were alone. They had been longing to be alone for some time, but when it happened, it was awkward. Som was playing the same music tape

that he had played when they had gone on their first date. The romantic lyrics were tying them in a nostalgic thread. At one-point Som grasped her hand and squeezed it, giving her sweet pain.

“Why did you return my poetry book?” Som asked.

“As one chapter of my life was closing, I could not hang on to those words. At that time, it seemed like the right thing to do. But later . . .” Anjali was not sure what to say.

“I know many things have happened between then and now. Under the circumstances, I hope we carried the constant flow of love and trust for each other. You go away and sort out your feelings–I will wait,” he said solemnly.

“Yes, we need to. We cannot rush to conclude without clearing the cobweb of our doubts. You may be worried of cheated on again, because I am from Maya’s family. And on the other hand, I have to know that there wasn’t any dishonest motive on your side.” Anjali said, “Due to your mom’s illness, we were thrown together into another whirl, and that helped me to know you a little more. At the end of my soul search, I want to listen to my heart not through my thoughts or my prejudices, but through the sacred sound of om – ॐ . . .  I am yearning to hear the gentle bells of love resonate across the seven seas.” The tears glistened in her eyes as she tried to read his face.

“Yes, I hear you.” Som said keeping his eyes on the road. Som stopped the car at the airport. They briefly held hands saying good-bye. Anjali looked at Som before stepping out. Their eyes locked and exchanged many subtle messages. There were some unanswered questions and unfulfilled aspirations. He stepped out of his car to help her.

An unfinished story of yours and mine.
I don’t remember ever telling you that,
the eyes of my mind look for you.
I don’t remember ever telling you that,
my unruly heart beats for you.
It’s an unfinished story of yours and mine.

——-

  1. The Seven Seas

Anjali had disappeared behind the glass doors. Som came back to his car and absent-mindedly sat there holding her scarf. His mind repeated the scenario. After collecting her boarding pass, Anjali slightly bent down to grab the handle of her small suitcase from Som. At that time, her scarf slipped off and fell on Som’s hand. He gathered it in his palm and held it out, but Anjali did not make any move to take it back.

The emptiness was overwhelming. Som delicately wrapped the scarf around his fingers remembering a song.

       These threads of love intertwined in my fingers.
A thought is tangled and doubtfully lingers.
What should I hold and what let go?
How would I know, I am right or wrong?

He dreamily reflected upon her charming face, the dimples in her cheeks, those loving eyes and her beautiful smile. Som longed to touch her silky hair. He wondered if he would ever hold her again!

After taking his aunt home, Som went to Steve’s apartment and spent the evening with Aari and Steve. Hearing Elvis Presley’s song on the radio – “I have been so lonely, I could die” – pushed him up to another emotional height. Steve asked a question about Anjali and Som begun to talk like a lovesick teenager. While talking, he touched his over-stuffed pocket a couple of times.

“O . . . I see a pink scarf.” Aari pulled out the scarf from his pocket and ran away with it. Som ran after him intent to get it back. Realizing his own silliness, he laughed with his friends when they mercilessly teased him.

“I don’t think you would say today that you would be okay without her, right?” Steve asked and Som nodded in agreement.

The next day Mahi conveyed the message to Som about Anjali’s safe arrival in Mumbai. That was

a crucial day for Mahi. She had followed the alternate medicine regimen religiously for two weeks. They were hoping for good results because Mahi had not had any seizures in the past week. Ramesh took her to the clinic. While the neurosurgeon was to take the measurement of the tumor, Som was nervously biting his nails.

“The size of the tumor is the same. I do not know whether to consider this the good news or not. The two positive things are that Mrs. Joshi has lost six pounds, and her blood work is much better. I will examine the results in detail and send you the report with my opinion.” The neurosurgeon concluded.

Som listened to those words with disappointment. Maybe he was hoping for a miracle.
He dialed Nina’s number, as soon he was alone. “Nina, there is not any improvement in mom’s condition. I am confused. Fifteen days have gone by, and I have not done anything to help our mother. I feel guilty making her a guinea pig for my experimental project. Should I keep out and let the neurosurgeon do his job?”

“Som, I don’t know what to say. I feel so far away and entangled in my daily routine. I have made a flight reservation. I am coming home in less than two weeks. I will come alone and stay for five days. Rick’s mom has agreed to come and stay here. What about Anjali? Is she there? Any decision made?” Nina asked.

“No, she left yesterday, but I feel her presence. I do not know what she wants. At times, I feel that she loves me, but she went away without telling me anything.” Som said.

“Mom told me that she left a bag in your room. Look in it – there may be some clue.” Nina encouragingly said.

“Oh, she just left a poetry book. Anyway, I need to concentrate on mom’s treatment. I will keep you posted. Love, you,” and Som hung up the phone.

Som was having dinner at his parents’ house and he was praising his aunts cooking. “Thanks for the compliments. I don’t want to go back before Mahi is perfectly alright, but after ten days they need me in Dallas.” She was concerned about leaving Mahi alone.

“I can manage on my own,” Mahi reassured her sister. “And you know Nina will be here for five days. So, don’t worry, Sis.”

“Som,” said Ramesh, “Yesterday I had called Mumbai. They told me that Anjali went to meet the family and delivered the package.”

“The family liked her so much that they insisted she come back the next day to spend the entire day with them – and she did.” Overzealous Mahi interrupted.

“Wow! That’s a surprise.” Som did not hide his pleasure. Two more weeks passed. They were waiting for the next report about Mahi. That Sunday evening Som was home worrying about Mahi’s health. It was raining nonstop. Som could not decide what to do. He was not sure if it was the dismal weather or the sadness in his heart that was defining his mood.

In his dark room, a sudden flash of lightening revealed the paper-bag on the table. He turned the lights on and nonchalantly looked into the bag. The book, neatly tied with the same red ribbon, laid there. On top of it, he saw a folded blue paper. Som reached in and pulled it out. He noticed a recent date, to be exact; the day he had brought Anjali to the house after her injury. He hesitantly opened the folded paper and read . . ..
My dearest,

I was lost between the reality and pretense, and grappled in the dark. But today I know what I want. I want to remove the covers of doubts and open my heart to confess that I love you. I am secretly leaving you this letter to give you enough time and freedom to choose your reply. 

The feeling of discord between us has brought many days of turmoil. I could not see any light at the end of my gloom. The days which passed without you were empty.

Today I recognized your value in my life with a flutter in my soul, with a whisper in the wind, with a breathtaking glance. It was sudden and subtle. I clearly remember the moment when I knew that I was

in love with you and then nothing else mattered. When you carried me in your arms, I wanted to put my arms around you and never let go.

 I realized – the love I feel for you is my very core: it is my being. It is not something that I can put on and take off. 

Someone was explaining to me about enlightenment, but my heart echoed . . . LOVE. As long as the path to the truth was foggy, I went on behaving in a vagabond way. After this revelation, there is not any other way to think. Once I have known, I have known.

I do not know what is going to happen, but I cannot imagine my life without you. You have come into my life for some reason and the reason will reveal itself in time.

        My trust and insight impel me to foresee a good future.
You are the one.
Love always, Anjali.

Som reread the letter and gave out a shout. Mahi was startled, but then she saw him run out of his room.

“She loves me!” he said and ran out in the backyard. All of a sudden, the enchanting rain and the wind made the leaves swing in merriment. He smiled and braced himself under the falling rain. He lifted his eyes toward the sky and let drops of water dance on his face.

Mahi was looking through the glass door. She called Ramesh to witness their son’s joy.

“What’s the matter?” Ramesh asked.

“I’m not sure. He just shouted ‘she loves me’ and ran out in the rain,” Mahi giggled.

He was drenched when he snuck back into his room. Som was in his room for a long time, so Mahi assumed that he might be writing a letter. They left him alone until dinner time. He took his sweet time coming to the table.

“So, what is the reason for this unusual behavior?” Ramesh humorously asked as Mahi looked on.

“I found a surprise letter. Ma! Do you remember Anjali had left a bag in my room? She had added a letter in that bag on her last day here. By chance I looked in the bag today and found the letter which says . . . what you wanted to hear for a long time.” Som somewhat diffidently said.

“Oh, really? What I wanted to hear? What about you, Mr. Secretive?” His mother laughed.

“Yes Mahi, Som is right. We know how anxious you were. I have noticed your subtle messages and tricky actions to bring Som and Anjali closer. Do you think I am not aware of that?” Ramesh sounded self-assured.

“O, my clever husband, I thought you were so oblivious to my efforts. You turned out to be smarter than I thought.” Mahi was in the mood to tease him.

“You better believe it!” Ramesh smugly said and turned to Som, “Son, what are you going to do? How are you going to respond? Very soon you should clarify with Anjali where your future home will be, in India or the USA!”

“Oh, my practical, wise one has spoken!” Mahi annoyingly said. “Som may be thinking of two love birds, a blue sky, love letters and phone calls, and you are trying to make him think about where to build a nest?”

“No, no.” Som said, “I understand Dad’s point. Yes, I have written about it in my letter. I will call her at India’s daybreak. She would be in Goa, and I dare not call Bhanji’s office too early.”

“In this excitement, don’t forget to pick up Nina from the airport tomorrow,” Ramesh laughed. They felt that a wave of joy had visited their home after several months.

“No, I won’t.” Som turned to his mother and asked, “Mom, how are you feeling? Any dizziness? We’ll have to make some decisions very soon.” Mahi quietly agreed.

Som waited anxiously for the proper time to call India. Every time he looked at the paper bag, a spark of joy touched his heart. He remembered how lonesome he was. He wondered why he didn’t look into the bag sooner. Then he recalled a devotional poem his grandfather uses to recite. It was like this

Whatever is written in one’s fate is what one receives at that exact time and not before. Som smiled when that poem of fate popped up in his mind. He remembered how he always protested declaring that ‘I make my own destiny.’

“Yes Grandpa, you win this time.” He looked up and said.

It was after 8 o’clock morning time in Goa. Som took a deep breath and dialed the number. Bhanji answered and was pleasantly surprised to find Som on the other end. An alarming thought might have followed, so he asked, “Is everything alright? How is Mrs. Joshi doing?”

“Yes Baba! She is stable but there is not any significant improvement. I will let you know more next week . . .  Is Anjali there?” Som asked.

“No, but I will tell her mom to summon Anjali immediately,” and Bhanji laughed.

Som heard him saying ‘Suman, will you find Anjali? Som wants her . . .Here she is,” Bhanji handed Anjali the phone and stepped out of the room.

“Som! Is that you?” Som heard her gentle sweet voice and a wave of thrill went through his heart.

“Hello,” . . .  he wanted to say something profound, but the words got caught in his throat after his brain went numb.

“I was anxiously waiting for your call. . . Oh! It has been a long two weeks.” Anjali sounded unsure about the purpose of Som’s call. “Are auntie and uncle okay . . .?”

“Listen to me, Sweetheart!” Som intentionally paused.

“What did you say? Sweetheart?” Anjali asked.

“Yes, that’s what I said.”

“Then what took you so long to call me?” Anjali asked impatiently. “I had almost lost hope that I would hear from you. I just wondered what your answer to my letter would be.”

“I believe that this was the day chosen for me to find my way back to you. This alone-time really helped me to search into the deep corners of my mind. I found my future intertwined with yours in my every thought. I was wandering alone as a cloud, and then accidently, I found your letter.”

Som’s earnestly continued, “And after that, the rainbow colors burst out in the open. The rain felt like the precious drops of nectar from heaven and the earth moved away from under my feet. With the flutter of wings, I was flying in the air, and the words from your letter kept me afloat. . . I wish I could see your face while I am sharing my innermost feelings with you, but alas, you are beyond the seven seas,” Som’s gentle voice faded into her fast breathing on the other end.

“I have become an emotional basket case in anticipation of your reply. My silly heart was charmed by the events of the past few months. In addition to that, when I met your extended family in Mumbai, my desire to be a part of your family became stronger.” Anjali was laughing and crying at the same time…

“My world has turned upside down, and I spend my days in anxiety and my nights in dreams – some ending with nightmares . . . But a love-song has been following me mercilessly, driving me insane. This wise doctor has become an absent-minded goof ball. ‘Why is Som not calling?’ – has flashed across the sky several times,”

Her mother and Bhanji were outside the room near the window. They curiously looked in as she wiped her tears, laughed and talked. They could not hear them; but they could guess what was being said. The phone call lasted for a good fifty-five minutes. After she hung up, Anjali came out of the room and happily fell into her mother’s arms and said, “He just saw my letter.” Her mother held her warmly and stroked her hair.

Bhanji delightfully whispered a prayer. Thank you, Lord, for bringing your light to their paths, so they could find each other.

Som went to sleep imagining Anjali’s face with teardrops – like a white jasmine holding the dews. He woke up and heard ahir bhairav, the morning raga that he perceived as a romantic rendition. The excitement invigorated his mind and soul. He got

dressed happily humming a song. His mind raced to finish several things before going to the airport. However, the first thing he needed to do was to let his parents know what was going on in his spiraling world.

When Som entered the living room, he saw his mother listening to music with closed eyes as if she was in a therapy session. Ramesh was in his usual deep trance at one with the notes. There were two empty teacups by the sink and one cup of tea was waiting for him. Som picked up his cup and came quietly to sit with them in the living room. When the music was over, they sat there in silence to hum with the vibrations for some time.

Mahi opened her eyes and said, “Oh, I am surprised to see you up and about so early on your day off!”

“I see your bright face and can guess that you have talked to Anjali last night.” Ramesh said.

“Yes, I did.” Som simply replied but his beaming face implied many things. “We talked for a long time . . . you will have a large telephone bill.”

“Was her mother there?” Mahi asked.

“Yes. I have to tell you two important things that Anjali and I discussed. One was her mother’s opinion about me. They both spent three days with Maya’s family and gathered all the facts about my intentions and Maya’s behavior. Anjali’s mother has

totally accepted me and conveyed her apologies on behalf of her brother and her niece, Maya.

“The second thing we discussed was religion. Anjali confronted her mother with the question of how she felt about me being half-Muslim. Her mother’s exact words Anjali quoted. She had said, ‘Your father and I always believed that no religion is better that the other and the true meaning of religion is expressed in every individual’s way of life. When we give total importance to certain things like, where he was born and which rituals he follows, called prejudices. Prejudice, a dark veil, covers the real person. My daughter! As you have described Som, I like him as a person and that’s what matters the most.’”

How refreshing it is to hear this kind of philosophy!” Mahi said.

“Now we know what kind of parents has raised Anjali.” Ramesh concurred.

“And Dad! Anjali has agreed to come and stay in America. Later we will see where our work takes us. Goa is a very possible place for the future.” Som’s talk filled his parents’ hearts to the brim.

“Mom, I have some clearer vision for your treatment and that’s why I am going to the hospital to prepare a schedule for you.”  He picked up his keys and said, “I will be back with Nina around one o’clock.” He closed the door behind him.

“After my sickness, this is the first time I have seen him confident about my treatment.” Mahi said.

“Yes . . . when the dreams, determination and destiny are aligned, the life’s energy flows like the River Ganges flowing from its origin, Gangotri. The destination is clear and he will find his way.” Ramesh cheerfully said. “I am impressed by his mindfulness and compassion. He is not forgetting about your treatment even when he is in the seventh heaven. . . I am so proud of him.”

Som took a longer, more leisurely route to the hospital. The carpet of wild flowers was covering the earth to welcome a new season. On the both sides of the road, the bluebonnets, scarlet paintbrush and yellow sunflowers lined up to cheer him.

The butterflies hover over the bluebonnets
and fly away.

A moment . . . such as this . . . takes my breath away,

When my love says yes, and sets my heart in a sway,
A moment . . . such as this . . . takes my breath away.

Just for me, a star shines from far away
A moment like this . . . takes my breath away.

 ———

            

  1. The Love Song

“Mom we are here!” Nina called out as soon she entered their home. Mahi came out to welcome her. Nina was shocked to see her mother. She noticed how thin she looked! Moreover, an unexpected change – her thinned hair. Nina took a few steps forward to hug her and started sobbing. Ramesh and Som were surprised to hear her cry. They realized that the gradual change in Mahi they had not noticed, but Nina was disturbed. Som regretted not preparing Nina for their mother’s appearance.

“Oh, Honey, why are you crying? See I am standing in front you. I am okay,” Mahi consoled her.

“Okay? You have lost weight and . . .” subtlety was not Nina’s strongest virtue.

“That is good, isn’t it? Come Sis, don’t scare mom by crying.” Som pulled Nina away before she became overly emotional.

“I miss being here. You don’t know how it feels to see my sick mother after so many months,” Nina whined.

“Oh! How sad . . . I see my mother almost every day,” Som teased. Nina laughed wiping her tears. Mahi came and sat next to Som. As soon as she put her arm around Som, Nina protested, “Ma! No hugs for him for the next five days. I am making reservations for each one.”

Ramesh was listening to them while setting up the table for lunch. Nina got up and hugged her father. “My dear papa has learned to help out in the kitchen! I am impressed. Mom! Let your boy also help in the kitchen. I don’t see him doing anything,” she said.

“Don’t tell him that. He will submit a long list of the things he does,” Ramesh defended Som.

“You are on his side too Papa! I will have to call Rick and my kids as my back-up,” Nina said.

At the table, Nina was talking about her daily routine – her life with children on a fast track. “The day goes by like a whirl wind and yet, at the end of the day, I do not have much to show for it. The only consolation I have is that I am told very often that I am doing the most important thing of raising my children.” She chuckled, “The funny thing is Rick has recorded the quotations about motherhood, and whenever I am down, he plays it for me . . . he is so crafty. Yeah, that reminds me–Rick won an award for a song he wrote and composed,” she said.

“I see a lack of enthusiasm there. What is the matter?  Jealous?” Som mocked her.

“I think I am. I had to stay home with a sick kid that week. Therefore, Rick had to finish that project alone. He included my name with his on the track, but I do not deserve the credit. I simply refuse to accept that kind of charity.” Nina’s combative attitude was still keeping Rick on his toes.

“Poor guy, whether he puts your name on it or not, he is in trouble,” Ramesh laughed out loud as Nina gave him an angry nudge, “Not you too, Papa. I want you to be on my side, you have promised.”

“Oh, Yes dear! How can I forget? Let us see, what can I do? . . . I can help you to scold Rick for winning that award,” Ramesh said. Nina gave her father an annoyed look but could not stop a giggle. “You are impossible,” she said and turned to her mother. “Mom, you are happy to see me, right?”

“Yes, of course. But you shouldn’t have left those sweet babies alone for so many days,” Mahi said.

“They are not babies anymore; sweet – yes. I needed some time away from those little monsters. Okay, I admit that these many hours away from them were long enough . . .  I miss them already.” Nina was in tears. Som was surprised to see his rough-tough sister so sappy. He made up his mind to call Rick.

The next day, Nina and Mahi were waiting in the Neurosurgeon’s office to find out about the latest test results. Ramesh and Som walked in at the last minute. The doctor informed them that there was about a twenty percent reduction in the size of the tumor.

“That is something, but I think this is really slow progress. I recommend surgery.” The neurosurgeon was clearly not impressed with the

alternative medicine.  “If you decide to have surgery, it will be two weeks’ recovery time after the procedure is done.”

Mahi looked at her family and then held her blank gaze at Som. “Mom, it is up to you to decide. It has been a long month,” Som said.

“I have a question. . .  Will you shave off my hair?” sheepishly Mahi asked.

The surgeon smiled, ‘A crucial question for a woman.’ He explained the procedure in detail. The surgeon said he would remove only a small part of her hair, which would grow back in a short time. Eventually, a satisfied Mahi agreed to have surgery. In ten days, it was scheduled. Once the decision was made, the grip of tension relaxed. The core family was ready to enjoy those few precious days of togetherness.

On the fourth day of Nina’s visit, mother and daughter were fretting about her departure the next day. In the middle of the afternoon, they heard the doorbell chime. Nina looked through the peephole and saw two little heads close to the door. She opened the door quickly and yelled out, “Oh my stars! How did you come here?” She fell on her knees and held her children. Then she saw Rick and his mother, Lisa, getting the suitcases from Som’s car.

Over the loud fired up questions and laughter, many things were said, but no one was listening. Among the ripples of affection, there were rounds of hugs. After a while, the adults settled down and the hungry children were brought to the kitchen.

“This was a good surprise for us. Som! When did you plan this?” Ramesh asked.

“This little mother was missing her children and her hubby too. I called Rick and he made all the bookings, including Nina’s new return date. Therefore, they are here until Monday afternoon! Mom, are you proud of me?” Som asked his mother who was too busy feeding the twins. “Yes, Dear,” she replied without taking her eyes off her grandchildren.

“Forget it Som! You are invisible for the next few hours. My sweet revenge,” Nina said and went to the kitchen. Nina brought three cups of tea to the patio where Rick and Som were catching up.

“Oh, I feel so…. good. I hope our parents are always present in our children’s lives. The joy is glistening on the faces of the grandparents.”

“And did you see the sparkle in our kids’ eyes?” Rick happily said. The verse slipped out from Nina’s heart… The rejoicing beam dazzles and darts,
Marvelous mischief steals our hearts.
The giggles and laughter catchy and gold,
Pure and bright reflection of soul.

“Oh, Sis! I am impressed. You will have to add a few more lines, so Rick can compose a melody.” Som encouraged his sister.

“Okay, I will,” Nina smiled. Som could see that the show-biz bug beat his sister while recognition and praise controlled her volatile mood swings.

“Som, when are you proposing to Anjali and when is the wedding?” Rick asked.

“Propose? How can I—Anjali is over there and I am here . . .,” Som stammered.

“You can surprise her in some nontraditional way,” Nina said.

“Let me think about it.” Som said.

Mahi had called her regular helper, an Indian woman, to cook dinner. Mahi was left to do only two things: to either rest or play with her grandchildren. Lisa, an avid reader, was exploring the bookshelves.

Mahi asked when she found Som alone. “Son, I received this new medicine package from Anjali. Will you read the instructions and help me start taking it tomorrow?”

“Why wait until tomorrow? I will check now so you can start the medication tonight,” Som said, and Mahi agreed.

After dinner, the twins insisted that Mahi read them a bedtime story. She snuggled between them and read them the bedtime story while they both cuddled with her lovingly. Nina and Rick were called in to give goodnight kisses to the twins. At last, the tired children were peacefully sleeping in the lap of slumber, and the adults, including Lisa, got together to reiterate the sweet events of their lives.

It was not too long before Som delightedly shared his plan. “Today is Thursday. I have decided to propose to Anjali on Saturday evening – India time. Thanks for getting me started in this direction. Now my brainwaves are electrified,” Som said. “Nina, you may remember this–before grandmother died, she divided her jewelry and sent me a special message. She was aware of my broken marriage, so she had specifically said, ‘I am leaving you this precious ring which your grandfather had made for me on our fiftieth wedding anniversary. Your grandpa and my spirits will be at peace when you give this diamond ring to your soul mate.’”

“But how will you deliver the ring to Anjali in Goa?” Nina asked.

“I think that can be arranged. Som you call Bhai in Mumbai and ask . . .” Ramesh suggested.

“Good idea,” Som said and rushed inside the house to call his uncle in Mumbai. After about fifteen minutes, he came out of the house smiling.

“It is all arranged. Uncle said that the whole family would go to Goa and will standby with the ring until I call and propose to Anjali. Now I will have to arrange this surprise with Anjali’s mom and Bhanji.

I will call them after a while.” Som spoke excitedly. “And Ma, Uncle said that he will ask your side of the family if they also want to go to Goa with them.”

“That’s nice. I will call my brother in Mumbai soon and, inform him about your good news,”

“Ma, why have you not told Mamu about Som and Anjali until now?” Nina asked.

“There are several reasons. I do not feel close to him. I am not sure about his reaction. There is suppressed resentment on his part due to my marrying into a Hindu family. He does not want to open his eyes to see the real people behind the wall of different religions. On the other hand, you see the relation between us sisters. My sister’s love surpasses her conventional beliefs, and for that reason, our connection is intact.” Mahi bemoaned, “I am not sure if my brother knows about my sickness – I just cannot bring myself to tell him. I fear that he may conclude; Allah has punished me for disobeying His laws.” Everyone quietly listened.

Lisa gently spoke, “I wonder who decided God’s laws, and who defined the difference between God’s laws and society’s laws? As I was reading in Mahatma Gandhi’s biography, he stated something like this, “I have no special revelation of God’s will. My firm belief is that He reveals Himself daily to every human being. If we do not shut our eyes or mind, we can see the “pillar of fire” in front of us…. I realize His Omnipresence.”

“Mother, tell them how you met my Dad. I think it is interesting,” Rick said.

“Lisa, tell us from the very beginning. How was he? I have seen your younger pictures, and I’m very curious.” Mahi said.

“You might have wondered about us – a strange looking couple, right?” Lisa heartily laughed. “Oh, it was a crazy time. The word, artist and hippie, had become synonymous. It was a revolutionary movement. I would say it was essentially a striving for realization of one’s relationship to life and other people. In July 1968, Time magazine did a study on hippie philosophy and credited the foundation of the hippie movement to a historical precedent as far back as the “Sadhu,” the spiritual seekers of India.”

They all listened attentively, so Lisa continued.  “Anyway, Rick’s father was a student at San Francisco State College. He became intrigued by the developing psychedelic hippie music scene. Linked with a band, he transformed into a hipster – as my father used to refer him, with some augmented dislikes. During this period, Greenwich Village in New York City and Berkley, California anchored the American folk music circuit.

“My family lived in Greenwich Village, a neighborhood on the west side of Lower Manhattan, New York City. Known as an artists’ haven, Greenwich Village is the East Coast birthplace of both the Beat, and ’60s counter culture movements. The neighborhood known for its colorful, artistic residents and the alternative culture they propagate. Due in part to the progressive attitudes of many of its residents, the Village has traditionally been a focal point of new movements and ideas, whether political, artistic, or cultural.

“I was raised like a princess in a fairy land and grew up dreaming about the faraway lands. I had become a Flower Child even when I was not sure where San Francisco was. What did I use to sing?” Lisa pondered for a few moments. “Yes, I remember the lyrics. It goes, “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.” Many other songs like that inspired thousands of young people from all over the world.

“I was standing in the audience close to the stage while Rick’s father’s band was performing. He somehow noticed me among the pool of crazy kids. After his part was finished, he sneaked through the crowd and stood next to me. We jumped and danced side by side for the rest of the night. Moreover, in a very short time we realized that this flower girl had found her butterfly.”

They all were listening quietly, so Lisa continued, “Finally, the day arrived when I had to introduce Rick’s Dad to my family. There came a lanky young man in his torn jeans and untidy facial hair. He shook hands with my mother who was wearing a pretty dress and not a hair out of place. As usual, my father arrived in his three-piece suit from work. He took one long look at both of us, sat down at the dinner table, and ate his meal in silence.

“When we were alone, my mother said, ‘Look at you – pretty like a marble statue. How can you like him? What do you see in him?'”

Lisa emotionally narrated, “’Mother! I see a creative genius in him. I see the light in his eyes and the hidden smile behind his untamed facial hair.’” Lisa said, “I laugh now, but at that time I was devastated to see the abhorrence in my parents’ eyes.”

“But, eventually my grandparents had to give in and my parents had a traditional church wedding,” Rick said.

“Here we are talking about each individual’s perception. What Lisa saw in that young man, her parents could not envisage.  Each person believes what he wants to, and holds on to his beliefs no matter what explanation or arguments are given,” Ramesh said. “For example, if Mahi’s brother tries to convince me to discriminate between Hindu and Muslim, will I listen to any of his arguments? No. The change comes from inside out. That person has to have a spark initiated within. But until then, any good speech slips out like sand through the fingers.”

He turned to Mahi and said, “So, Dear, don’t be too hard on your brother. Maybe from his point of view, he has suffered a double loss. He lost a sister to a foreign land, and he could not find a brother in me.

You have to be objective to bring back stability to your relationships.”

“You are absolutely right. Yes, the change begins with me,” Mahi said.

“Although I am not able to fully follow this, I believe that maintaining a state of inner calmness, protects me from becoming a slave to my emotions,” Lisa said.

“Well, I am glad that we are together to share our grief and joy. Our care and concern are sincere for each other–a true definition of a family,” Nina said.

“Daddy’s older brother, my uncle in India, is a prime example of an unconditional love. His borderless love is like a living tree, which gives cool shade to everyone without any discrimination,” Som said. “Mom! Let us go in and after you finish calling Mamu, I will give you your new medicine.”

Though the Ayurveda medicine seemed to be working slowly, Mahi did not have to worry about any side effects. She was able to do light work around the house. She took the new medicine without much expectation. She thought that she would just take ten more days of this trial medicine, and then the surgery would bring her problems to a halt.

Som was thinking about the penetrating conversation he had had with Bhanji. He had said, “I am glad that you want to move ahead in this relationship. Have you and Anjali talked about important issues of your future life? Som, when two

individuals join in a marriage they bring energy into their space called home. However, they also bring the baggage of their past relations that naively are dumped right in the middle of their new life. That negativity can have adverse effects on the new tender love link. I am not discouraging you, but you both should be aware of this.”

Som had a long talk with Anjali on Friday without revealing his plans. During the conversation Som had asked, “You lost your father several years ago, were you very close?”

“Yes, he was my hero. I idolized him. Unknowingly, I look for his benevolent nature in men. At times, I have difficulty managing my expectations and disappointments. Please, will you help me to handle my sentiments? His absence has left a hole in my heart.” Anjali revealed her agony.

“Do you think your father would have approved of me as your choice?” Som asked.

“Yes. May I ask you a question? . . . Do you like children? I mean, do you plan your future with children in it?” Her awkwardness made Som laugh.

“Yes. Definitely.”

“I am glad,” Anjali sounded elated. The talk continued and reluctantly Anjali had to bring up Maya’s name.

“Som, I have to tell you one thing. When I was in Mumbai, I had convinced my uncle to talk to Maya. Later I was told that they have reconciled, and she may come to meet her family soon.” Anjali said.

Som was silent for a few seconds and then he said, “Good.” He pushed away the rising downbeat thoughts, and cheerfully continued some other topic. There was no point saying more yet, because he could not detect his own feelings clearly through the clutter of negativity.

Som and his family gathered around the phone early Saturday morning in Houston. Before going ahead with his plans, Som had politely asked, Anjali’s mother, Suman, for her blessing. Therefore, he was quite confident.  Som had written down what he was going to say to Anjali. Nina had swiftly taken away the paper from his hand and made some cute changes.

The stage was set in Goa on Saturday. Anjali’s mom, Suman and Bhanji welcomed Som’s uncle and other family members in the afternoon. They invited some friends to the Lotus Hall at six o’clock. Suman had selected a nice outfit for Anjali and had figured out some excuses to tell her so she would need to wear it. It was after five thirty, her usual time to come to her mother. Nevertheless, there was no sign of Anjali, so she urgently started to look for her. A girl came to tell Suman that a patient needed a ride home. So, Anjali has gone to drop her off.

“Oh, no. Did she say when she will come back?” Suman asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe a couple of hours,” the unsure reply made the mother worried. Suman went back to the Lotus Hall and let everyone know the situation.

“Instead of us giving her a surprise, Anjali has given us a surprise. Now we will wait for Som’s call and see what happens,” Bhanji turned to the Joshi family and said, “It is a good thing that you are staying here tonight. We will have a good time teasing the young people about their surprises.”

The phone rang fifteen minutes past six. Bhanji pressed on the speaker button, and signaled Som’s uncle to answer because he wanted to enjoy the reaction of the nervous young man. Som cleared his throat and said, “Hello,” and waited for Anjali’s melodious voice. Instead he heard, “Som, talk to me.” His uncle’s husky voice baffled him.

He had imagined that a small group might have gathered in Bhanji’s office, and they would let Anjali pick up the phone. The family in Houston kept on looking at Som’s face and assumed the worse. Finally, Som said with a smile in the phone, “Okay, I will call tomorrow morning,” and he hung up.

“What happened? Why wasn’t Anjali there?” Mahi anxiously asked. Som explained the situation, and everyone took a breath of relief.

Anjali returned late and warmly met the Joshi family. She easily accepted their reason for visiting: to explore Goa. Like every Sunday morning, the large assembly for prayer was buzzing with excitements. Anjali put on her best salwar-kamiz with a chiffon dupatta and jewelry.

“Wow! I suppose this adornment is to impress the Joshi family! I didn’t even have to coax you into wearing something extra special. You look pretty….and what a nice color,” her mother complemented. . .. Anjali wanted to say that she was wearing Som’s favorite color, but her shy lips could manage only a rosy smile.

On the way to the Lotus Hall, Anjali wondered why was she in such a nostalgic mood! The wind brought sweet sound waves, and a patch of cloud seemed to give her a romantic message, creating the image of the love poem Meghadut, written by the great Sanskrit poet, Kalidas. Anjali murmured a Sanskrit stanza fromthe narrative of lovesick Yaksha to the Cloud Messenger.

Seeing that beautiful cloud high on the mountaintop,
filled with desires, the tearful Yaksha,
plunged into deep sorrow and cried, O’ Cloud!
look at me — how I crave to caress my beloved.

The Joshi family from Mumbai was in the front row. She went to greet them and she felt an ocean of affection in their eyes. Anjali wondered why people were staring at her! The hall was quiet except for some murmurs.“Baba, why is there no music? It is time to sing bhajan, isn’t it?” Anjali asked.

“There must be some reason . . . Child, why don’t you go and sit next to the telephone in case it rings,” Bhanji said. Sure-enough, it rang. Anjali picked up the receiver quickly to prevent any disturbance in the assembly.

“Hello Anjali!” Som’s voice made her forget where she was.

“Oh, I wanted to hear your voice, I am so… glad you called,” Anjali whispered, “I can’t talk. I am in the Lotus Hall with other people.”

“I am sure they wouldn’t mind today,” Som laughed. “They love me there.”

“Well, you sound too sure of yourself, Doctor.” Anjali giggled. “But, anyway, I have to hang up now.”

“Wait. First, I have a very important question for you . . . Will you marry me?”

There was complete silence in the room. Anjali’s hand trembled, and joy, nervousness and loads of other emotions brought tears to the edge of her dazzling eyes. She looked at her mother through the veil of her tears. Her mother gave a big smile encouraging her to reply. Anjali looked at Bhanaji and the Joshi family, and realized that this was a set up.
She was overwhelmed. The phone crackled, “Anjali, are you there? Say something . . .”

“Yes. A hundred times yes,” Anjali eagerly said. Som’s uncle came near her so she put down the phone and bent down to do pranam. He blessed her and pushed the speaker button of the phone, and said, “Beta Som, here we are, and as per your instructions, we are presenting this ring to Anjali, as a symbol of betrothal.” Som’s auntie came to Anjali and put the ring on her left hand and a sudden clapping sound filled the room. Anjali lifted the phone again.

“Auntie and Uncle, are you there? And Nina and Rick and the children. . .?” tenderly Anjali asked.

“Oh, Yes! We all are here, my lovely bhabhi!” Nina excitedly responded.

Anjali, Dear, you and Som made us so happy. God, bless you.” Mahi said.

“Now say all together – congratulations.” Ramesh said. Rick and Nina’s voices drowned under the high pitch sound of giggling twins.

“I’ll call you later. Anjali, je t’aime!” Som said and Anjali bashfully answered, “Moi aussi, je t’aime.” Hearing those words mystified everyone, except her mom, who grinned ear-to-ear understanding the French words.

The adoration began and the expectant space filled with an enchanting sound. Anjali was sailing far away over the blue ocean into the unending horizon with her own prayer.

Love song I sing, with this promise ring.
I feel his touch in the whirling wind.
On the rays of sun he walks toward me.
His amazing grace embraces me.

———–

  1. Walk with Me

“Aari’s parents were asking about you. Nina, would you like to stop-by to say hello to them?” Mahi asked.

“Oh, Seema auntie? Sure, I would love to meet them, if possible.” Nina replied, as her family was getting ready to go back to Los Angeles.

“If it’s okay with Rick, Som can take Nina and you to meet them. I will take every one else to the airport. We will wait for you near the ticket counter,” Ramesh suggested.

“No problem . . .” Rick consented.

Ramesh’s Buick Regal was fitted with the car seats for the twins.

“We are leaving all this upheaval behind – An example of what two children can do!” Lisa said.

“I will come back to this quiet home and will cherish looking at this mess for as long as I can,” Mahi sadly said.

On their way to Aari’s home, Nina asked, “Som, I noticed earlier that you were freely discussing the philosophy of other religions. But you were hesitant to reply when Rick asked you why you didn’t study the Quran?”

“I did not think about that until last night. The reason became clear to me in the middle of the night. As a little boy, I started exploring the Bagavat Gita under the guidance of grandfather in Mumbai. One day the subject came up and I asked him about the Quran. Dadaji had said, ‘yes, it is a good book.’ So, I asked if I should study that too! He had replied, ‘maybe later.’ However, something in his tone of voice left such an impression on me that I never picked up the Quran or any other Muslim literature to read. And with time, though unintentionally, the Quran study remained an unspoken topic.” Som said, “Now I think is the time to understand the Islam religion, people’s deep loyalty and devotion to the Muslim Faith.”

“We have a copy of the Quran in our book collection. I will be happy to read with you and I may understand the real message of the Holy book. In my younger age, it was just a book, which told me what is right or wrong. I accepted it as a rule book and some of the messages planted fear in me,” Mahi said.

“Yes. Knowledge is like a flower. The meanings of the messages open petal by petal at different stages of our lives, even though we are reading the same words.” Som said, “It will be interesting for us to read the Quran. I will work out some time schedule for Sundays.”

When they arrived at Aari’s home, they noticed an unfamiliar car. “Debby’s car is in their driveway,” Som said.

“And who is she?” Nina asked.

“Aari’s new girlfriend. Oops! Fiancé, they were engaged on Friday night. They informed both sides of the family yesterday.”

They walked up to the front door and heard a woman’s voice through the door which was standing ajar. “Ajit, you damaged my car two weeks ago, and you should pay for the damage. Aari! Why aren’t you saying something to your Dad?”

“Debra, we do not talk like that with our elders, especially with the parents-in-laws,” they heard Aari’s mother, Seema’s angry voice.

“I don’t see any impropriety . . . Do you Aari? It was your mistake and you should pay us. We are not going to take any loss.” Debby said without any qualm. Mahi froze. She could not believe that any girl could be so rude. Those words were coming from a woman who was going to be a member of

Aari’s family! She said, “I would die before I said those cruel words to the parents, who raised their child with their blood and sweat. They absolutely do not deserve this, especially if the girl claims that she loves their son.”

“I was pulling out from my garage and I did not see your car. You shouldn’t have parked there,” they heard Ajit’s voice.

“Here is the bill . . .”

“Debby, that’s enough. Let’s go. . . Sorry,” Aari said, and they walked out through the garage door to her car. Aari might have noticed Som’s car by the curb, but he was not in the mood to face him.

“At least, Aari has some decency left in him,” Nina said, and she knocked on the door. Seema opened the door and fell into Mahi’s arms. The tears told the story of how deeply a child could break a mother’s heart.

“Can you believe this American girl? It may be acceptable in their culture, but not in our house,” Ajit was furious. “But I hold our son responsible for allowing this rudeness. I don’t want to see him again as long as he is with her.”

“To give money is never a question, but how she was asking, that was horrible,” Seema cried helplessly.

“Well, forgive and forget for your own peace of mind,” Mahi said. “Look, Nina has stopped by to see you. She is on her way to the airport.”

Seema hugged Nina warmly. As Ajit greeted her, expressed gratitude for their friendship and support. By the time they left, Seema was out of her gloom, and seemed ready to cross the ditch called the generation gap.

“Mom, all Indian daughter-in-law are not as good as you are, don’t you agree?” Nina asked when they were in the car.

“That’s right. But I am talking about our social trend in general, where the lack of care and rudeness toward their elders would not be accepted, encouraged or admired by society,” Mahi said.

“I think society puts out their traditions and rules, which individuals follow according to their own capabilities,” Som said. “I have seen many sweet devoted families in this country and all around the world. And don’t forget my dear sister Nina and her mother-in-law, Lisa, who are gaga over each other.”

“That’s true.” Mahi continued as if she was talking to herself, “After all these years, I cannot get used to addressing one’s in-laws – the elders – by their first names. In India, addressing any elder by his or her first name is considered disrespectful. It takes an effort on my part to adjust to this system here.”

At the airport, Nina turned to her mother. “Ma, you take very good care of yourself. And call me whenever you need me, I will come . . .” Mother and daughter tearfully looked at each other while Som pressed his lips under his teeth to control his emotions. For them, good-byes were always difficult, but this time it was very painful.

Nina had a hard time putting one foot in front of the other. She turned back to look at her family. A scary thought crossed her mind, ‘Next time, will I see only two of the three?’ She could not help herself. She turned and ran back to hug her mother.

“I don’t want to leave here . . .  You promise me that you will not go away, not for a long – long time.” Nina’s anguish brought tears to everyone’s eyes, and Mahi choked on a sob. Ramesh gently held Nina’s shoulder and guided her back to her children. Rick stepped forward and lovingly took her away.  Som seemed quiet, but intense emotions suffocated him. He could not bear to see the sad faces of his mother and sister, so he slowly took steps toward the exit to escape.

A mother and her children;
It is hard to describe the strength of their ties.
All the laws of this world, this relation defies.
The least expectation and extreme devotion
to understand the depth, one has to give birth.

Som was riding on a fast wagon of his life where both the wheels were turning at high speed, but the force behind each wheel was frighteningly distinct. The one, decorated with fragrant flowers and melodious music, and on each turn, the dreams and realities were knitting an amazing quilt. The unexpected, unimagined new floral designs were developing. The promising knots implied that he and his love would cover their lives with that warm quilt forever. The enchanting energy was taking him to the mountaintop, to hear the echo, “I am in love . . .

The second wheel was repeating a melancholy tune giving challenge to the fighter in him. The burning energy wanted to defeat the demon that had gotten hold of his mother. Som had no idea that his passion for finding a cure for cancer would become so delicately personal. His inner helpless ache had always asked one question, “What can I do to stop the cancer?”

Som contemplated, “I have to break the fences of fear.” One time when Som was reading a book of the Enlightened Master Osho, he liked a paragraph, and he had memorized it. “Life is so vast; logic cannot contain it. Don’t be afraid. Become a fool, and a totally new kind of wisdom will arise out of it that comes only to fools. Logic in itself is not very logical; reason alone is not very reasonable. Reason must have some space for unreason, and logic must have some space for love. And your seriousness must be colored by playfulness. Then you have your total being. Then you are dark and light and summer and winter, life and death. That totality brings joy.”  Osho…This very body THE BUDDHA.

After the long weekend, he had finally caught up with his pending workload on Wednesday. After a good dinner, he was relaxing in his apartment and found himself in the perfect mood to talk to his girl, Anjali.

“Hello my lovely fiancé. How are you?” Som said when she answered the phone.

“Well, I am still in a fairy land – where day- dreaming distracts me from my work and the night stars keep me awake. I see rainbows and hovering butterflies . . .”

“And don’t forget a valiant prince riding on a white horse,” Som said.

“How did you know? That’s exactly what I saw,” Anjali heartily laughed. “I can re-live that Sunday morning forever.”

“My niece told me how cute you looked. They called after reaching Mumbai, and described the event in detail. What color of the outfit were you wearing? My niece said aqua cyan! I never heard of such a color.” Som said.

“It is a shade of aquamarine, embroidered with an antique style gold paisley design. In addition, I was wearing matching infinity loop earrings and necklace.” She took a deep breath and changed the subject, “Okay, enough about me. How are you?”

“I am okay. Mom’s surgery is next week. I have unsettled feelings about that. On one hand, I agree with her decision, but it is pinching me like a personal defeat. If our treatment is not effective

on my mom, then what right do we have to use other patients as the guinea pigs?” Som passionately said.

“Som, one thing we have to remember is that we are new to this work. Think about it, we are trying to control a few revolting cells in the human body—the mysterious creation of God. In any experimental

work, patience and perseverance are mandatory,” Anjali said.

“I agree. There are some positive results in our patients.” Som said.

“That reminds me… Do you have anything more

about that young patient, Julie, we talked about?”

“Oh, Yes. She is feeling so good that she has resumed her regular school routine.” Som excitedly said. Anjali’s gentle encouragement enabled him to believe in his abilities again. He regained his optimism and enthusiasm.

“I can’t wait to work with you in a small lab, just you and me,” Som said.

“Me too . . . My mom was asking about setting the wedding date, but I said that we do not want to decide anything until after auntie’s surgery,”

“I agree. We have to wait and see how it goes. Thanks for taking the pressure off me. Mom’s sickness has changed the landscape of my life. Every time I have to think about other people before I can make a decision, which is cumbersome for me,” Som said.

“That is the signature of adulthood, my love. There is more to come, so be ready.” Anjali said.

“Oh, I miss those juvenile days—just the tunnel vision and the self-centered focus. How easy it was! I refuse this promotion to sensibleness.”  Som laughed.

“Yeah, as if you have a choice, mister,” Anjali laughed with him.

The day before surgery, Mahi checked into the hospital for the tests. The evening shift technicians collected the blood samples, and took the tumor measurements. Som and Ramesh stayed with her for a while and then left for the night with plans to return early in the morning.

The doctor entered into Mahi’s room when she was finishing her meal.

“Mrs. Joshi, your lab tests are normal and an oncologist will bring your test results very soon. Today I see some distinct improvement in your profile. What brought about this change? Have you started any new drug?” The doctor inquired.

“Dr. Anjali Maru had explained me the holistic lifestyle when I initially agreed to take Ayurveda treatment for my cancer. You may know that she had stayed at our house for a couple of months during her fellowship here. Therefore, she was able to evaluate my lifestyle first-hand. She offered me a specific plan of treatment including, diet, herbal remedies, exercise, spiritual practice, and various healing modalities to bring my health into balance.” Mahi paused with the fear of talking too much.

“It must be difficult to stick to the regimen,” the doctor said.

“I was convinced that the best results from Ayurveda come to those who are patient and persistent, who would diligently adopt the associated dietary and lifestyle changes needed. I made a

commitment and took responsibility for my own well-being.” Mahi smiled, “And sir, good news to share with you, Anjali and my son Som got engaged last week. That might have helped me to feel better – the cumulative health benefits.”

“I am glad to hear it,” the doctor said, and turned to look at the results brought in by a junior doctor.

“Mrs. Joshi, you will be pleased to know that the tumor has shrunk forty six percent. The rate of reduction is quite significant,” the neurosurgeon seemed impressed.

“Wow! Within ten days, it has jumped from twenty to forty six percent! Are you sure?” Mahi could not believe.

“Yes, that’s what this result shows. Now, if you want to rethink surgery and continue this alternative treatment, I understand,” the doctor said.

“This gives me hope. May I think for a few minutes? I will call you soon,” Mahi said. The doctor had never seen such a happy resonance on her face before.

“I will be in my office for the next fifteen minutes,” he smiled and walked out of her room.

Mahi’s first instinct was to pick up the phone and call home. She extended her hand, but then slowly pulled it back. She remembered Som’s words, “It is your decision, mom.” She quietly began to

search every part of her body. She wanted to understand how each cell of her body felt. She realized that no one else could know her body better. She examined her inner thoughts and asked, “Am I really healing or just convincing myself? If I refuse to have surgery now, what if the tumor doesn’t go away?” Time was ticking away.

“Allah, show me the way. I put my faith in you,” Mahi climbed down from the bed and got on her knees to pray. She repeated a prayer from the Quran, and then, involuntarily, started God Krisna’s bhajan, a devotional song. A feeling to surrender, to put her life in God’s hands, overwhelmed her. Her deep faith gave her a surge of energy and at the same time, Mahi peacefully relaxed embracing a gleam of bliss . . .

She heard a knock on the door. Mahi quickly got up and said, “Come in.”

“I am going home and wanted to know about your decision,” the neurosurgeon said.

“Oh, I am sorry you had to take the trouble to come to my room. I have made the decision – not to have surgery tomorrow,” Mahi nervously said. “Please, tell me if it is a foolish decision!”

“It is okay. I think we can wait and see. The nurse will come with some papers to sign.” The doctor said.

“Yes sir, and I will make an office visit appointment after two weeks with your nurse.” Mahi sincerely said, “Doctor! I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being so kind and compassionate.”

“Your decision makes perfect sense. How can I not agree? Good luck, and ask Som to come see me tomorrow. Good night.” The surgeon closed the door behind him.

It was late, so Mahi turned off the light and went to sleep. The morning came, but the rising sun could not wake up Mahi. The darkness of the room lingered inside by the drawn curtains. No nurse came into her room to disturb her since her doctor had deleted her name from the surgery list.

At seven thirty, a knock on the door woke up Mahi from her beauty sleep. “Good morning, mom. Did you sleep well?” Som asked.

“You will be taken in very soon,” Ramesh worriedly said.

“I am not going for the surgery.” Mahi said. Both men, mystified, stared at her. Surprised Som opened his mouth to ask a question . . . “You can close your mouth, my love. I will come back and tell you what has happened.” Mahi disappeared into the bathroom.

“She is in a carefree mood! I wonder what’s going on!” Ramesh commented. When Mahi told them about the results and her canceled surgery, Som jubilantly lifted her up and twirled her around.

“Oh, Mom! This is wonderful news – twice-over – good news for me. Your confidence in this method adds the much-needed vigor to our research mission. Now I can really concentrate on the project of the alternative medicine treatment for the cancer patients. Ma! You are my hero.  I am so proud of you,” and Som kissed his mother. “Daddy, can you believe this? This is just great.”

“It is good news, but still more than fifty percent of the tumor is present, and it will interfere with the normal balance of her body. Mahi has to keep up with the exact regimen and proceed with caution.” As a seasoned doctor, Ramesh was still concerned, “Honey! Are you ready to go home?”

“You are taking mom home, right?” Som asked. “Then I will go to my office and get busy with my work.”

“Som, my doctor wants to talk to you today, so find time to meet him . . . and come home for dinner this evening.” Mahi called out after him as he left the hospital room at a quick pace.

It was not too late to call Goa, Som thought. First, he excitedly shared the good news of Mahi’s improved health with Bhanji, and then continued a detailed discussion with Anjali. They talked about how to further their research work methodically. All of a sudden, he laughed which startled Anjali, “What happened? Did I say something funny?”

“Oh, no. I heard a whistling song ‘see-you-see-yay.’ I looked up and saw an Eastern Meadowlark staring at me through the window . . . Now that silly bird feverishly started kissing its own reflection on my window.” Som said.

“I am not familiar with that bird. What color is it?” Anjali asked.

“It has a very bright yellow breast with a black V and a brown streaked back. It must be a male, singing to attract a girl birdie. That’s what made me laugh,” Som said.

“You call it kissing. Actually, the poor bird is hitting the glass with its beak. Am I right or am I, right?” Anjali laughed.

“My bird-friend agrees with my observation. Yup, he is kissing. So, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it,” Som said. “By the way, my mother brought up the subject of our wedding. I told her that your mother was inquiring about setting the date. And my parents suggested planning the wedding to take place in two months or so. You may go ahead and talk to your mom about it. Preparation of our wedding has become an all-encompassing joy for our mothers.”

“Give a hug to auntie for me. Next time when we talk, please tell me what kind of wedding you want. Okay, good-bye and good morning to you.” Anjali said.

“Good night, love you.”  Som unwillingly turned off the phone.
The world is sassy when my little heart is happy.
The access to success seems easy to my reach.
But sorrow and delight keep rolling with the time,
like the light and dark, subtle similes of life.

            When they talked again, Som simply told Anjali that any arrangement by the ocean side would make him happy. Day by day Mahi’s chance of a full recovery increased. The shrinkage of the tumor continued. She habitually adapted to the life style that included regular exercise and yoga. Her cooking habits were oriented around whole foods and organic vegetables and fruit. Whenever Ramesh craved spicy, fried, Indian cuisine, they went out to eat. He enjoyed mouth-burning spicy food that made his partially baldhead sweat. Moreover, on those occasions, when Mahi would ask, “Is it too hot?” Satisfied Ramesh would reply,

“Even though my mouth doesn’t know . . . these sweat drops on my scalp declare that it must be hot,”

—–

  1. The Butterfly Beach

“Nina! Can you believe it? Our delicate, dutiful, mom, made a big decision all by herself! Papa and I went early in the morning to the hospital with our glum faces, prepared to worry about mom’s surgery; but cheerfully she surprised us.” Som was having a comical exchange with his sibling.

“Yes, I was thrilled to get that call from Mom. So . . ., any progress in your wedding plans?” Nina asked.

“From our side, I have suggested that the wedding take place in a couple of months. It could be November. Will that be okay for you and Rick? Because, I’m not going anywhere without you,” Som said.

“O’ my little brother, I will not let you go without me either. My only concern is the kids’ health. I hope they don’t get sick in India,” Nina’s old memories crowded her mind.

“I know you dread staying in Mumbai with the kids, but Goa will be safer. In addition, Bhanji’s resort is like a health spa. This doctor assures you of your children’s good health,” Som said.

Anjali and her mother, Suman, had given him some possible dates, but Som chose November 25. “We will celebrate Thanksgiving in our style,” Som thought. Some time ago, Anjali’s mother had taken early retirement from her teaching job in Pondicherry and had permanently moved to Goa. For the time

being, she was helping in the bookstore for a few hours per day, and yes, she was planning a wedding for her only daughter.

Between Anjali, her mother and Som’s parents, the wedding plans were being discussed. Ramesh and Mahi offered to pay for the wedding expenses, but Anjali’s mother kindly declined saying that she wanted to do this much for her daughter. Gradually the goodwill between two new families grew stronger. Bhanji was the honorary consultant after he had agreed to have Anjali and Som’s wedding at his Resort.

Som wanted to do something special for Anjali. “I would gather all the joys of the world and bring it to her, only if I could . . .,” he thought. He began to search the vicinity of Goa and came to a halt when he saw the name Butterfly Beach – a beach of butterflies! It seemed like an enchanting place, described as one of the most photogenic places on the whole Arabian Sea coastline and a real natural wonder. The beach occupied a tiny semicircular bay on the high northern end of Palolem beach – not too far from Bhanji’s place.

He excitedly continued to read the details about the Butterfly Beach. “In a perfect and amazing world of South Goa paradise beaches this nice piece of coast is single, lonely and solitary. Golden sand at the foot of high rocks, which surround the Beach with a dense ring from the land, will easily make you feel yourself in heaven. The warm blue water with clean and shallow sea bottom attracts with its beauty and gives a  great  pleasure. Palm trees  are  jiggling  their

delicate stems whispering the melody of comfort and coziness. When trees are in bloom, you can see many different beautiful butterflies flitting here and there. Presumably, such a variety and a large number of butterflies gave the name to the Beach.”

Som wanted to find out more about it. He dialed a number written on the paper, and after two transfers, he got a good response from a man named, Jacob.

As he said hello, a thought sprang to his mind, “Maybe, we can have the wedding ceremony there.” So, Som asked Jacob.

“No sir, many people have asked me this before, but the beach has no touristic infrastructure at all.” Jacob replied in his British English accent. “Now, probably, you want to know how to reach this little piece of paradise, correct? I will share this small “secret” with you. . .. The only way to get to Butterfly Beach is by water. You can rent a boat on Agonda or Palolem.”

“I am considering visiting this place soon. What more can you tell me?” Som asked.

“Here you can see the crystal clear blue water and miles and miles of quiet beauty. Butterfly Beach is a favorite place for dolphins playing. But also, here you will have a chance to watch breathtakingly beautiful and magical sunsets!” Jacob eagerly replied. He might have heard the Dollar sound intone.

“Jacob, do you think you can help me plan a spectacular day event in the month of November?  Exactly what, I am not sure yet.” Som said.

“Yes Sir. You tell me what you want and I will quote my price. The Butterfly Beach is like nature’s maiden. I have to bring here everything you will need by my boat. But it can be done, just give me two weeks’ advance notice and a deposit,” Jacob said.

“Okay. I will call you soon. Give me your direct number,” Som said.

Soon the wedding date finalized and tickets were booked. Som and his parents arrived in Mumbai two weeks before the wedding date. They wanted to stay in Mumbai for three days to meet with relatives, and Mahi wanted to do some shopping at her familiar shops. After a few hours of sleep, Mahi was ready to start her day.

“I am going to go alone to meet my brother, Yusuf. I’ll be back in an hour.” Mahi told Ramesh and took a taxi to her brother’s house. Yusuf and his wife welcomed Mahi warmly. Their small talk eventually turned into some serious accusations.

“You do not feel it necessary to let us know about the important things happening in your life. I feel totally cut out. Your daughter’s wedding or Som’s breakup, or even you having cancer – I have to hear about it all from a third party?” Her brother was emotional.

“I realize it now more than ever before. I have come here to apologize. Unintentionally, we let things happen without realizing how much it can hurt others. How close we were!” Mahi reflected on her childhood, “I remember those days when we shared and cared for each other every hour of the day. We went to school together and did our homework in that cozy corner of our house.”

“And those silly secrets! You had quite a few over me to keep me under your thumb,” her brother laughed.

“Oh, Yusuf! I have yearned to hear your gleeful laugh for ages.” Mahi got up and gave her brother a hug, and her sister-in-law looked at them with happy tears in her eyes. The differences melted away; Mahi felt as if an elephant got off her chest.
A simple gesture of gently listening,
A kind confession of unwary hurting,
A frank acknowledgment of earnest feelings,
The relationship could heal between two siblings.

According to the custom, in addition to the mailed-out invitations, the Joshi family had to go in person and invite their close relatives. The monstrous word ‘cancer’ preceded Mahi among the relatives. When some ignorant relative asked, “Mahi, I heard that you have a cancer. It is not contagious, right?” Mahi did not know what to say, or whether to laugh or to be angry.

“No.” Mahi replied. She was sure that no explanation would change a boorish skepticism.

Som had patiently accompanied his parents in Mumbai, but once they arrived in Goa, he had disappeared somewhere. His parents amusingly tried to give reasons for his absence.

Anjali had just finished her work and rushed to her bungalow to get ready before Som came. She laid down the change of clothing and jumped into the shower. As she turned off the water, she heard the doorbell and two swift raps followed. Anjali quickly dried herself and threw on a silk gown. There was no time to put her dress on, because this caller would not want to wait.

She ran to open the door. Her handsome prince was standing at the door. Som hurriedly stepped inside and promptly closed the door. Som gently grabbed Anjali and embraced her tightly. Draped behind the flimsy gown, her sensuous body crushed in his firm hold. The sweet joyful serge of pain electrified their every cell. The moments turned into minutes in caresses and kisses. With a delightful smile, Som looked into her eyes. Her rosy face bloomed in the center of her silky hair curls. His hand moved touching her lips and rested on her shoulder. A gentle push made her gown to slip revealing her youth. Anjali shyly held her gown and hid her face in his chest.

“I can’t wait for your touch, but I . . .,” Anjali whispered. “Oh, I have missed you so.” She held Som’s face in the palm of her hands and gave him a luscious kiss. The waiting was over and their time together was beginning.

“Come – sit here and relax, while I change into some presentable attire.” She stepped into her bedroom and asked, “How is auntie managing so far?”

“So far so good – she just gets tired quickly.” Som said.

“I am excited about the wedding celebration. My mom has not left anything without her creative touch. For her sake, I pray that everything goes as she has artistically planned,” Anjali came out and extended her hand to pull him up. “Shall we go?” Som hugged her one more time before he opened the door for her.

“Anjali! You have to inform your mom that next Tuesday you are going away with me. Will you?” Som asked.

“Yes, I will . . . But where are we going?” Anjali inquired.

“I will whisk you away to a magical, mystical place.” Som said.

“I heard that Nina and her family are coming on Wednesday. I hope they have a safe journey.” Anjali said, “My grandfather will come on Friday with a relative who takes care of him. I am not sure when

others are coming.” She swallowed ‘my mom’s brother from Mumbai.’ She did not want to remind Som of his ex-father-in-law.

“Aari and Steve will be arriving at almost the same time as Nina’s arrival time.” Looking at Anjali’s ring, Som said, “My grandmother had shown me this ring, but I had not paid much attention to its beauty…or is it your hand that makes it look like that?”

“I love it, and I admire the sentiment behind it. I will treasure it forever.”

Bhanji had never experienced before this kind of sparkling joy spread among so many people and the source of the fountain was two harmoniously singing souls. Anjali and Som had an engaging aura that enveloped all the people there. His ashram was humming with excitement.

Som and Bhanji came to sit on the deck after the morning rounds at the hospital. The ocean was rumbling, providing background music.

“I can see the difference in you from your previous visit almost three years ago,” Bhanji said and smiled at Anjali as she quietly came and sat next to Som. Bhanji continued, “You have reached the noteworthy level of knowledge to take the holistic treatment of cancer to its final stages. Now is the time to focus on your work, with Anjali by your side. There is no room for doubt or delay.”

Som looked at Anjali and she slipped her hand in his hand. “I think we are ready,” Som said.

“Each person has God-given internal energy. If invested in frivolous talks, useless causes and in self-interest, that ensuing person will be an ordinary individual who will drag through life looking for fulfillment outside in the world.” Bhanji said, “On the other hand, an enlightened soul focuses and listens to his instincts. He would remain steadfast in his vision. At the same time, he will be open to recognize the greatness in others. An illuminated mind is open like a fresh flower that permeates the fragrance and also readily receives the pervading aura around him.”

“Baba! Our marriage, our work, and our future reflect love and support from people like you. Your guidance brings us closer to that indivisible Spirit urging great life and wisdom.” Anjali put her feelings into the words.

“Unity is harmony within and with each other; built with a shared vision for the good of all and a common goal. I wish the peace in you rise above to heal the souls. God is great,” said Bhanji and he slipped into a blissful silence. He closed his eyes. His healthy glowing skin partially covered in his white beard and mustache–Som and Anjali gratefully witnessed the dignified serenity on his face.

Finally, it was Tuesday, and Som was waiting in his rental car. Anjali came with a good-sized picnic basket. Anjali was wearing a sleeveless, free flowing silk maxi with sea-ferns print stretched across the watery blue hues. She was wearing a beautiful one-of-a-kind blue bracelet. The matching purse and the black sandals accentuated her appearance. As she put away the basket in the trunk, Som told her,

“You just stand there for a minute and let me take a picture. You look astonishingly lovely in this dress. You are dressed perfectly for the place I am taking you.” He clicked his camera and then she came and sat next to him in the car. Som and Anjali were on their way to spend the entire day alone with each other.

When they arrived at the Palolem beach where the travel agent, Jacob, was ready and waiting with a boat. They sailed away on the gentle ripples of water under the delicately shining sun.

“Today is a perfect day for your outing, Sir.” Jacob was playing along with Som to keep the secret from his lady.

“Do you think we will see some of them to justify the name of the beach?” Som said.

“I’m sure . . .”

“Okay, that’s enough. Tell me, where are we going?” Anjali was impetuous.

“Nope. I am not telling.” Som grinned, “I will give you some hints. Let us see if you can figure it out. The name suggests that they are good flyers. They undergo complete metamorphosis in which they go through four different life stages.” A puzzled look came across Anjali’s face, so Som continued. “A full-grown insect can only sip liquid food. They live on nectar from flowers . . . Their fossils are from the early Cretaceous period, about 130 million years back.”

“Butterfly! Are you taking me to the Butterfly Beach?” Anjali exclaimed. “I have heard about it but never went there. Wow! What an incredible excursion!” She swiftly moved closer to Som and put her arms around his neck. Jacob looked away towards the shore and began to sing a folk song.

O’ mighty ocean I trust you.
Let me sail to the other part of the world,
I have to go where she is longingly waiting,
I have to go and take care of my beloved . . .

It seemed that the blue water was giving the sky a deep blue color, or was it other way around. Som and Anjali enjoyed the green backdrop of lush greenery as they came closer to the Butterfly Beach.

“What do I see over there? A canopy draped with white swathe and decorated with colorful local flowers,” Anjali delightfully said.

“Yes, keep on looking, there are a few more surprises,” Som happily announced.

Jacob helped them to get off from the boat and whispered to Som, “Sir, everything is arranged as per your instructions. If you need me, call me. I am nearby.”

Anjali excitedly ran ahead toward the inviting pergola and Som followed carrying the picnic basket. She was giggling with joy to see the impromptu marquee. She turned around and gave Som a kiss of appreciation. She fondly looked at the arrangements and then picked up a white lily from the bunch.

“This is wonderful. You must have gone through so much trouble to arrange this.” Anjali said.

“It is all worth it for the glow I can see on your face. And one more thing.” Som pointed at a chair and said, “My lady, will you adorn this throne?”

Anjali ceremoniously sat in the chair and laughed. Som pulled out a box from his pocket. He got on his one knee and held out a solitaire diamond ring. In his deep, gentle voice Som asked, “Doctor Anjali, will you marry me?”

Anjali’s laugh turned into an earnest emotional tremor. Her face redrew the lovely lines of desires. Her amorous eyes shone with love and passion. She extended her left hand and Som put the second ring on her third finger.

“Delicate rings for the artistic fingers,” Som said.

“The radiant diamond is exquisite. I am fortunate to get it and thrilled to wear it.” Anjali grasped his hand and they strolled toward the inviting beach.

“This seems like our own private beach, doesn’t it?” Anjali asked.

Som said, “Jacob had mentioned that there are no buses that travel to this beach. Since there is no access by road, not many people visit this beachand visitors who make it here can enjoy the beach all by themselves!”

They had many things to talk about and to make plans for the next few months. The breeze fluttered her flowing chiffon skirt playfully. They were walking on air reaching up to cloud nine. After a long stroll, they climbed on a rock, looking over the limitless shimmering water into the horizon. They sat there holding hands, losing themselves in a blissful tranquility.

“One of the most beautiful ocean views I have ever seen in my life,” Anjali said.

“I feel at one with this amazing vista,” Som responded. When Anjali turned to look at him, he was staring at her. “Now you have to figure out whether truthfully I am talking about the view or something else?”

“I am satisfied both ways . . . the surrounding nature or me.” she got up and ran on the white sand to the ocean. Anjali splashed the water on Som as he came closer to her. A strong wave rushed to the shore and she started to fall. Som caught her before she fell and held her closer to his heart. The wild waves and slippery sand made her delirious so she held on tight to Som. Anjali whispered and Som echoed…

      I found you, and my aspiration seems near,
Incredulous longing just ends right here.  

When I merge into you, there is an acquiescence tie,
I have arrived . . . I don’t worry now . . .even if I die.          

         My love will stay even if you drift away.

 Because this glow doesn’t know how to fade away.

Hours passed and finally they returned to the pergola. Anjali invited Jacob to share their picnic. After lunch, Jacob led them away from the beach. The hills were full of dense vegetation and gentle butterflies were flying around, often closely fluttering by. Anjali ran after some of the butterflies to catch them. When she caught an amazingly beautiful creation of Nature and then let it go, she was delighted to find colorful imprints of the wings on her fingertips.

They did not stay on the Butterfly Beach to watch the sunset, because they were needed to help with wedding preparations and to welcome the coming days.

The next day, Nina’s family and Som’s friends, Aari and Steve arrived in Goa. This was a first visit for Rick and he was looking forward to learning about Nina’s roots. The twins were shy for a few minutes, but as soon as they saw the familiar faces of their grandparents, their ceaseless squirming resumed. The language barrier did not stop them from playing with the local children and the little team took over the large courtyard as their playground.

Since Som had come to Goa, he had secretly arranged with Anjali to meet on the beach every morning. That day as usual, he took the back hallway and arrived at the door leading to the garden. He noticed a couple was sitting in the corner on a bench, and a toddler was exploring the garden. Som took the side trail to the gate to go to the beach. As he opened the gate, the toddler waddled and tried to get out of the gate. That made Som laugh and he gently held the toddler’s arm. His parents got up and came from behind. Som turned around to hand the child to his parents.

“Hello, Som.” Som was stunned to hear that voice.

“Maya? I didn’t know . . .” and Som turned to walk away.

“Please wait. I – we have specially come to Goa to apologize.” Maya said. “Can we talk to you for two minutes? This is my husband Mukesh.”

Som reluctantly said ‘Hi,’ and her husband somberly returned the greeting. It was obvious that they were waiting for Som to come out.

At that moment, Anjali opened the door, lifted her foot, and froze. Slowly she stepped back and partially hid behind the door so she could witness the reunion.

Maya pleadingly looked at Som. Unwillingly; he walked toward the bougainvillea shade. Mukesh picked up their child and they followed Som. “My parents invited us, so we have been in Mumbai for the last three weeks. Our flight is booked for this Saturday, so we are not attending your wedding. Before we leave, I wanted to come here and ask for your forgiveness. We had very selfishly used you to get my entry to the USA. I have done wrong and in the process, I crushed your gentle, innocent trust.”

Maya paused to see his changing expressions. Then she glanced at her husband and asked Som, “Will you please forgive us?”

“Yes. It took me a long time to recover, but now, I feel eternally thankful to you for making room for your cousin Anjali in my life. All’s well that ends well. I appreciate your effort to come all the way to Goa to apologize . . . We can start a new day, leaving yesterday behind.” Som calmly said. Then he gently touched the child’s cheek, and walked toward the gate.

Anjali hurriedly came and hugged her cousin. “I am so glad that you resolved that unpleasant issue. As Som said, we will start fresh. I hope to get to know you better. Sorry, you are unable to stay for the wedding.”

“This is for the best. We all need more time to put our thoughts into the right perspective.” Maya solemnly said, “I wish you and Som all the best.”

No none can explain human mind and emotion,
strange, subtle sources keep world in motion.

The wedding festivities started early on Friday evening, with henna painting and dinner. The sound of the clarion, drums and tambourine blended with country songs and filled up the delightful night. The young and not so young, they all sang and danced to their hearts’ content. Som had grown up in America, but he could compete with any folk-dancer in the group in style and speed. Som’s friends learned new steps and joined with Rick, Nina and other young relatives to challenge the soon to be bride and groom, who danced nonstop with an ardent exuberance. The twins stayed up until late, but eventually fell asleep on their grandparents’ laps in the middle of the blaring noise. The party ended past midnight.

There was turmoil, but Anjali and Som did not know about what had happened until later. After dinner, Mahi had walked over to Anjali’s grandfather to introduce her brother who had just arrived. The old man and Yusuf began to chat and seemed to be interested in continuing the conversation, so Mahi left.

“I spent some time with Som, what a great young man! My granddaughter is fortunate to find a man like your nephew. Tell me what do you do in Mumbai?” Her grandfather inquired, and Som’s uncle talked about his work and hobbies.

“You are a very interesting chap. I enjoyed talking with you.” After a while Anjali’s grandfather said, “Sorry, I didn’t get your name . . .”

“My name is Yusuf.” Som’s uncle replied.

“Oh, so Som’s maternal family is Muslim?” Anjali’s grandfather said as his thought took the form of words and slipped out of his mouth. He pushed his fragile body to get up, and without waiting to hear his answer, slowly began to walk. He went to a far corner and summoned his daughter-in-law urgently. Suman was dancing and laughing among the immature dancers with loud music. She reluctantly came.

“You kept this fact hidden from me? My granddaughter is marrying into an impure clan? She

could find any Hindu to marry?” He looked up at the sky and bitterly said, “What would my son think? He is not here to stop this.”

Anjali’s mother, Suman, was flabbergasted. She searched for the words, but nothing came to her that would not offend the stubborn old man. So, she remained silent.

“Where is Anjali. Call her.” The grandfather ordered.

“Not now, father,” Anjali’s mother, said firmly.

“I am going to my room, and if I cannot stop this dreadful event in the morning, I will go away . . .” He was shaking with anger.

Suman held back her tears, took a deep breath and walked back to join the happy couple. The music and dancing had livened up the whole resort. Anjali noticed the subtle lines of worries on her mother’s face. As soon as the festivity ended, Anjali went with Som to talk to her mother.

“Ma! The evening was amazing. I am so proud of you for making this possible.” Anjali put her arm around her mother’s shoulder, and said, “Now tell me, what is bothering you? I saw the tension built up over the last hour.”

“I cannot hide anything from you, my dear daughter.” Then hesitantly, she spoke, “Som, you may find this offensive, but Anjali’s grandfather just found out that your mother is a Muslim, and he is furious. I am sad because he thinks that Anjali’s father would have disapproved of this relationship. Alas, he did not know what his son thought when he was alive, so how do we expect him to know when he is gone! It hurts me deeply that Anjali’s grandfather thinks that I am consenting against her father’s wishes. Can you imagine that I would ever ignore my beloved husband’s doctrines?”

“Ma, you don’t worry. Som and I will go and talk to him, now,” Anjali said.

“Now? It is after midnight, he would be sleeping,” Som said.

“If he can rob my mother’s sleep, he can stay awake too,” Anjali said and grabbed Som’s wrist and gently pulled him toward the guest cottages. On the way, she said,

“I have witnessed resentment between my father and grandfather from childhood. My father never supported his religious fanaticism, and my grandfather did not respect my father’s radical views.

My father left his small village in Gujarat at an early age with the clothes on his back and went to Pondicherry.”

“How courageous of him!” Som said.

“My grandfather tried to make him feel ashamed, unworthy of love and respect. My father recognized that shame is lethal. He left his home; right after my grandmother died.” Tears glistened in

her eyes as Anjali spoke, “The father and son reconciled when my mother insisted that she would not marry my father without his family’s blessings. Mom misses my father terribly. And on top of that, she has to face my grandfather’s anger! That’s not fair, and I cannot allow that.”

“I can understand.” They made their way through the dark path, and Som knocked on the door. The helper opened the door.

Anjali’s grandfather was surprised to see them at that hour. He needed assistance to sit up in his bed. The conversation started, but within a few minutes, concluded.

“If you have any objection against Som, I am ready to listen.” Anjali was losing her patience, “I do not think you have any . . .”

“Dadaji, I am not raised to be only a good Hindu or a good Muslim, but I’m nurtured to be a good human being,” Som respectfully said.

“No matter what you say, I cannot accept this marriage,” her grandfather’s aura became ice-cold.

“Is this your final decision?” Anjali disinterestedly asked.

“Yes. I will leave tomorrow morning,” her grandfather announced.

“Okay, Grandpa, as you wish.” She turned to his helper and said, “Please take care of him, and if he needs anything, please contact us.” Anjali and Som bowed their heads to her grandfather, but he looked away.

At the door, Som pulled out a stack of bills from his pocket and handed the Rupees to the helper. Anjali opened the door, then stopped and went back to give him a hug. “Grandpa, I may not see you again. I wish you peace.” His wrinkled face softened, and his moistened eyes saw them leave.

The next morning, after requesting him several times to stay, Anjali’s mother and Bhanji respectfully bid the indignant grandfather good-bye. When the daughter-in-law felt guilty, Bhanji advised her, “The average person is not aware of the moments. The cloudy memory begins to exert its influence and he lets the moment slip away. Human relations, based on expectations, actions and reactions are unpredictable and unstable. You have tried your best, so he could share his granddaughter’s special day; but his belief has defeated his affection.”

Life is too short to waste and too long to ignore.
So accept others’ peculiarities and insist no more.
Let’s understand . . . The real rules of the religion,
Without any band, extend a helping hand.

———-

  1. The Midnight Sun

The colorful golden sand and serene palm fringed beach had come alive with the prancing feet of many Joshi, and Maru family members and their friends. The elegant pavilion with seven double-column arches supported a dome canopy of delicate blossoms. Every inch of the mandap was covered with red and white flowers – Anjali’s chosen theme colors. The carefully planned picturesque setting for the wedding ceremony was stunning. The traditional, colorful hand-painted pots were stacked in the four corners of the mandap, wrapped with the coconut and banana leaves. The garlands, made with mango and ashoka leaves, which have many folkloric, religious and literary associations in the region, adorned the entire pavilion and the both sides of the isle. Som and his friends were taking a morning stroll on the beach.

“Wedding on a beach! Wow, what a wonderful venue?” Steve exclaimed, “Som, my friend! You are so lucky. I know that this is one of the most important days of your life, but at the same time, it is surely a memorable and fascinating experience for all of us.”

“Yes, you can feel the carefree spirit of Goa, surrounded by the blue waters of the Arabian Sea and the swaying palms makes it an ideal destination for these two love birds,” Aari said.

“It gives me hope I’ll find a right girl.” Steve said.

“I have an idea . . . when you find her, you have your wedding here, and we all will come back. Deal?” Som said.

“Yes, if you help me find a girl,” Aari shook hands with his friend. “And you Steve?”

“If I plan a destination wedding to India, my family would disown me. They cannot afford to fly ten thousand miles to attend my wedding,” Steve laughed. “So, where is Anjali? Why she did not come this morning?”

“Their meeting is interrupted today by the traditional taboo. The bride and groom are not allowed to see each other on their wedding day . . . until the right time.” Aari explained.

The auspicious time was after six o’clock in the evening. The white chairs lined up facing the pavilion with the ocean as a backdrop. In the early afternoon, the place was buzzing with the wedding party guests. Mahi, Ramesh, and his older brother’s family, were mingling with them. Many of the relatives were meeting after a long time. When they met, no matter how many years had passed, their affection flowed like an enthralling stream – a marvel of human nature.

   The most needed sensation for every human heart,
A loving recognition from another loving heart.
The consoling consent, merits mere existence;
only human intervention, brightens dark depression.

Nina remembered some aunts and uncles; however, many others needed introductions. The shower of their love amazed Nina and Rick. Overwhelmed by the attention, the twins ran away and started to build sand castles. Ramesh came and inquired about them.

“Look over there, playing in the sand,” Rick said, “And this little mama is whining because they are ruining their fancy clothes.”

An older relative came and asked, “Oh, you are Mahi’s daughter, right?” Nina greeted the lady.

“I remember your mother vividly, so neat and pretty, not a hair out of place,” she said.

“Oh, thank you. I will tell my mom . . .”

“You take after your father,” she said and scurried away.

Rick and Ramesh burst out laughing as Nina sulked, “What do you know? That woman knows how to give me a message about how I look. Papa, don’t feel bad. We are just beautiful people, right?” Ramesh cackled, “Yes dear.”

The music signaled the groom’s arrival. All eyes lingered on Som in awe. He was wearing raw silk ivory Sherwani with gold pippin, red cravat and matching ivory English trousers. His pinkish white bare feet seemed like Magnolia flowers on the sand. A red rose was pinned on his lapel. Som walked up the aisle with his friends, who took their seats. Som approached the pavilion and stood where his two cousins were waiting.

“Look at his dark curly hair and his handsome glowing face! Oh! He looks like a prince,” the young girls whispered. “We would have fought for him, but too late. Do you notice that he is anxiously staring at the gate? He doesn’t even know that we exist.”

In the most melodious rhythm, the sound of shlokas’ chanting began. Everyone stood up as the bride came and stood at the gate. Anjali’s mother whispered some words of blessings in her ear. Anjali hugged her, held her hand firmly and took a step toward the pavilion. The gold anklets tinkled as her red painted feet, marched over the silky sand. Her red silk sari fluttered in the wind. She seemed too nervous to look up, and when she did, she shyly glanced to both sides to greet the guests. The audience responded with a welcome applause, which helped her to regain her joyful awareness. She loosened her grip on her mother’s hand and proceeded forward.

Anjali turned her eyes toward her waiting groom and gave him a radiant smile. Som stepped forward and extended his hand. Anjali’s mother put the bride’s hand in the groom’s hand. He led her under the dome. Nina helped them with the varamala, a garland made with jasmine and red roses. Nina explained,

“There is a deep significance behind this garland marking the union of a bride and a groom. Flowers are a symbol of happiness, excitement, color and beauty while the thread is a way to bind together all the emotions and feelings. The thread would never leave the flowers even when they lose their beauty and color. This is what a marriage is about- for better or worse.”

Anjali was supposed to put first the garland around Som’s neck. The beautiful bride lifted her arms with the garland. Oops! Som’s cousins lifted him up at that instance, so it became difficult for her to put the garland over his head. A wave of laughter from the audience sailed over the deep sound of the ocean. Anjali was surprised for a moment, but she knew about this traditional tease, so she signaled her cousins who hoisted her up. She dropped the garland around Som’s neck. Her eyes twinkled with excitement for winning that amusing competition. The hoots and howls filled the air. Som and Anjali composed themselves and faced each other. Som graciously put the garland around her neck.

The bride and groom then sat side-by-side on the decorative chairs. Nina, the sister of the groom, tied the groom’s stole to the bride’s sari. The knot represents that they are bound to each other in mind, body and soul for the rest of their lives. The priest lit a small fire in a copper vessel known as an agnikund. The fire, pure and sacred, acts as witness to the vows taken by the couple. Anjali and Som followed each sacrament with earnest mindfulness.

The couple circled the fire four times. Each round represents one of the four ultimate goals of life:

dharma (righteousness), artha (wealth), Kama (desire) and moksha (salvation).  Som placed the mangalsutra, a necklace made of gold with small black beads, around Anjali’s neck. Then he applied sindoor (vermillion) to the parting of her hair. These are both physical symbols that make her recognizable to the world as a married woman.

The soul mates gave promises of virtuous faithfulness and devotion. Anjali read, “Today I remember my father and understand his last message. He wrote, ‘You will learn all about love from your mother. A rich blend of affirmations, inspiration, and virtue will be your true asset in life. Being virtuous is not about a stern religious experience, but doing better in day-to-day life – it is simply about being who we are.’ So, let us build a bridge to step in wonderland, let us make it more so by giving and receiving the miracles of each day.”

The married couple took blessings from their parents and every family elder by touching their feet. Som’s parents stood by Anjali’s mother as she bestowed her blessings, “O’ my precious daughter! There is a wealth of love in your new family, and I am glad that you are able to accept and replenish this treasure. Stay in touch with your soul and simply recharge. Your father and I are ever so grateful to have you as our daughter.”

The gleeful music filled the ocean’s edge. The hungry crowd turned toward the luring cuisine.

Anjali’s mom took a deep breath and told Mahi, “Oh, everything went so well. Now I feel light as a feather.”

“Yes, Suman. Your wonderful planning was perfect. Would you help me to recreate this kind of artistic event next month for their reception in Houston?” Mahi asked, “Som told me that you will be coming there soon. I am so glad.”

“Sure. It will be my pleasure,” Suman said. “Please sit down. I can see that you are tired.”

“We are thankful for Mahi’s improved health. And now I am less worried since we have Anjali with us to take care of her,” Ramesh said.

“I will rest for a few minutes; however, I can’t wait to see the dining room arrangement.” Mahi excitedly said, “Ramesh you will be surprised to see the flowers I have chosen.”

After some time, the bride and groom arrived to the patio, flanked by their parents where the guests were enjoying the appetizers of fresh fruit and sugarcane juice. The door to the dining hall opened to reveal a spectacular arrangement. Suman’s hand-made batik designed tablecloths covered each table.

“How lovely . . .” Som said.

“Thanks. But look at your mother’s work.” Suman said. The center piece arranged with the crimson Amaryllis paired with the white Amaryllis, named, first-love, looked wonderful.

“Mahi, your choice of flowers and their colors are great,” Ramesh said.

“Both you mothers have outdone yourselves, I am very proud of you,” Anjali hugged them. They proceeded toward the buffet table. “I see that the colorful buffet has one deep-fried item –samosas. We have to have it, right Som?”

“Yes, go ahead and please pick up those two silver plates. You start with samosas and we will bring more food to your table. Today it is your special day, and we plan to pamper you.” Mahi said.

Nina came from behind, “Remember, I am at your service . . . but only for one day. I will bring you the exotic rice dish – biryani.”

Anjali and Som came to sit at Bhanji’s table. He was quietly enjoying the celebration. One student brought his plate piled with green vegetables and a small portion of rice. Five teenaged-girls, dressed in green dresses, served food with proper etiquette and friendly smiles. After the prayer, a hush spread as the group devoured the tasty servings.

“Baba, you must try this samosa today. I know you say that when you are really hungry, you can burn up any food,” and she put one in his plate, which he ate without any protest.

“You are right, Dear. I hear that there will be a cake also.” Bhanji said.

“Oh, really? I did not know about it, because it is not our normal custom,” she whispered. “We   will not tell Som – he will be so surprised,” Rick and Nina rolled in a trolley bearing the cake. Anjali observed that the three-tiered cake brought a boyish joy on Som’s face. The delighted couple cut the cake and served a piece to everyone. An eager silence stretched when Bhanji stood up to say something.

“My children, learn to receive love and everything else which comes with it. No one can give, if your heart is not open to receive. Today you have experienced the peace and harmony touching and rejuvenating each soul. Just hold on to the good vibrations and fly above the miseries of the world to touch the divine consciousness.”

He turned to the newlyweds, “I want to present this ancient volume of Ayurveda, along with my blessings. It has been in my family for many generations. I bestow this treasure to my disciples and devout scholars, Anjali and Som.”

He brought forth a book wrapped in a hand-woven cloth. Everyone realized in that moment what Anjali and Som meant to Bhanji. “I feel fortunate to be a part of the mission, and to witness them carry on the work that will benefit humanity.” Som and Anjali stood up and carefully held the book. They humbly bowed their heads to the warm applause.

Since there was no sign of wrapping up the party, Anjali and Som lingered at the dining hall with their loved ones. When they went to the beach with friends, it was close to midnight. Occupied in their efforts to impress Anjali’s friends, Aari and Steve failed to notice when Anjali and Som escaped in a different direction. Hand in hand, the newlyweds walked with a fast pace, then almost ran to disappear into the shimmering mist. Anjali ran ahead and heard a new song in Som’s romantic voice . . .

And I’ll always know how to find you,
because you shine like the midnight sun.
Yes, I’ll always be near you
like the glow of the midnight sun.
O’ my Anjali, I’ll follow you.

She turned around and fell into his arms. Love enveloped them, and they melted into each other. Only the midnight sun witnessed their alluring affair from somewhere above….

The day of departure distressed Anjali and her mother. Som consoled them by handing Suman all the necessary immigration papers and her ticket to travel to the USA after three weeks. Nina and her family had already left three days before. Ramesh and Mahi were excited to take their precious son and his bride home.

“What a twist of luck! A few months ago, I thought that my life was over, and I had started a backward count in desperation.  I did not see any ray of hope for Som’s marriage or my survival.” Mahi reminisced, “Look today! I cannot see any cloud blocking my sunshine. Oh, I am overwhelmed with God’s grace.” Ramesh joyfully squeezed her hand.

When they arrived home in Houston, a banner and some of their friends were waiting to welcome them. Seema had the house key, so she and Aari had decorated the Joshis’ house. As soon as the welcome group departed, the travelers went to bed to catch up on their lost sleep from the last twenty-four hours.

“Oh . . ., Ramesh wake up. It is already ten o’clock in the morning,” bewildered Mahi shook Ramesh. “It is Anjali’s first day here as a bride. I wanted to have things ready before they both wake up.” She quickly got ready and stepped out of her room into an echo of gentle music and a fragrance of hot tea and a spicy breakfast. Som and Anjali were working as a team – Anjali worked in the kitchen while Som did vacuumed around the house.

“Good morning, Auntie,” Anjali hugged Mahi.

“Bless your heart. My new bahu, I am impressed,” Mahi kissed Anjali’s blushing cheek. “You can call me ma, ammi, or whatever you like. I am eager to hear it from you.”

“Yes, I have a similar request for our daughter-in-law,” Ramesh walked behind. Som joined them, and they all embraced; a few quiet moments passed in silent prayer of gratification. Anjali’s heart thumped with a sweet feeling of belonging – an essential yearning of human consciousness.

“Let’s eat, we all are starved.” Som said.

A habitual planner, Ramesh initiated the subject of the reception. Anjali grabbed a paper and pen to jot down the points. The ideas poured in and continued for several minutes. Finally, Som had to interrupt the enthusiastic plotters . . . “Let us have more discussion tomorrow,” Som said. “We have to take care of two things that are more important. One is mom’s treatment, and the second is Anjali’s appointment in the research lab as a full-fledged doctor.”

“For mom’s treatment . . .” Anjali smiled at Mahi as she referred her as ‘Mom’ and then continued. “Bhanji has given me specific guidelines and some new drugs, which I will show you and Papa today.”

“We will leave very soon to go and meet with some of the top officials in the hospitals. Anjali, can you be ready in half an hour?” Som asked.

“Sure, I’ll be ready.” She turned to Mahi and said. “I will come back before you start dinner . . . please wait for me so I can help.”

“I do not plan to go to my office today, so I will take Mahi for grocery shopping,” Ramesh said.

“Wow! What an efficient bunch of doctors. I am glad I don’t need to strain my brain,” Mahi laughed.

“Ma! You will have to use plenty of your brainpower, starting with today’s menu. I have missed your cooking for too long.” Som said.

“Shall we?” and secretly, he winked at his bride as he pushed back his chair to get up. Anjali followed him, and they disappeared to their room.

Anjali and Som left home and returned very hopeful that Anjali would join the Alternative Medicine research group. No other qualified doctor had filled her position. Anjali knew almost everyone in the group. She soon received the necessary paperwork, appointing her as the leading doctor of the group.

The routine was set, and the two young birds began to fly from Mahi’s nest early in the morning and returned late at night just to eat and sleep at home. They soared toward their goals, cloud over cloud, and spent short but sweet periods of time at home. That was enough to make Mahi feel like the luckiest mother in the neighborhood. Anjali’s mother came for a month along with other relatives, and the reception event was completed.

Several months flew by. One-day Ramesh asked Som when they were alone, “Son, it is great to have you and Anjali with us. However, as a new bride, Anjali must have some dreams to set up her own place. Have you asked her?”

“Yes, father. I was hesitant to mention it, but we have seen a big lot, not too far from here, near the Medical Center.” Som said. “I don’t know how Mom will react. The idea is to build a big house so we all can live together.”

“Let me talk to your mother. She may not like you moving out, but she will understand and respect your decision.” Ramesh assured.

When Mahi first heard of the plan, she could not hide her separation anxiety. “Please give me some time to adjust to this idea. It is a good thing that you told me after they left for the day. I will be all right by the time they come home in the evening,” her lips pursed in disapproval. A flicker of determination crossed her face as she said, “I agree that they should have their own place, but we will not move with them, at least not now.”

Ramesh was relieved to hear her decision. Ramesh liked the children in the house, but he preferred to have his privacy and his favorite alone-time.

“Why wouldn’t you move with us?” Anjali was disappointed. Som knew his parents well and took their answer nonchalantly and listened quietly.

“Not yet, Dear. I will know when it is the right time . . .,” Mahi left it there. She did not want to initiate any pressure by mentioning “babies.” Buildings of their dream home began.

        First the feelings are sketched on the paper
The images silhouetted stacking stones and bricks
A lovely monument and a good-looking place
A house is a home when love breathes in
. . .

——–

  1.      Whirls of The World

“…A yogi works with a balanced mind and a poised heart, and from his teachers he may obtain guidance and inspiration to further his discipline in pursuit of a goal. . .” Like many other evenings, Som was reading a book to his wife.

“Our child is also listening,” Anjali said and caressed her belly. Leaning on Som’s strong shoulder, she stretched out comfortably on the sofa after a full day’s work. Her mother, Suman, was finishing up in the kitchen after dinner. She had come to be with Anjali for her delivery.

“I hope so. Now just two more months, and he or she will be here,” Som said.

The last two years had been unbelievably challenging, and at the same time, rewarding for them. It had been especially rewarding for Anjali who beautifully balanced her life in the new country as a bride, a daughter-in-law, and a research project head. Treated with their alternative medicine and a healthy diet, a large number of patients showed positive results. The medical community as well as the common public recognized the need for natural healing.

Anjali and Som had attended an international symposium in Goa previously. Bhanji cautiously applauded their success. “The human body is very complicated, and we are fighting against a prolific, unruly combatant – CANCER. We will have to wait a few more years to see the long-term effects.”

“I cannot wait to publish Mom’s case history, including her successful treatment with Alternative Medicine,” Som excitedly said.

“Mahi’s case is of prime importance to your research, because you can closely observe changes in her.” Bhanji kindly said, “However, it has been only a few months since her recovery. As wise men say, do not take your unseasoned success or yourself too seriously. The wakefulness will keep you grounded in genuine honesty,” A short but weighty message had made Anjali and Som acutely attentive about the depth and length of their research project.

Som put the book on the coffee table and nostalgically said, “Do you remember six months ago, when I told my mother about our baby?” Som reminisced about that evening when Mahi had walked from her house to Som’s house. Even though it was a long walk, she had accomplished her goal.

“Oh, yes, I remember every word of it. You had said, ‘Mom, we are giving you a good reason to move in with us. Guess what is it?’” Som had quizzed his mother while Anjali was preparing tea in the kitchen.

“Mom had said, “I can tell looking at Anjali’s face; a baby is on its way . . .  correct? Wow! I am going to be a grandmother again! Nina’s twins need a cousin to play with. Congratulations.” Mahi had regained her energy and was back to her pleasant demeanor. That evening, Ramesh had come straight from his clinic, and they had clanked their mugs of tea for the safe arrival of the baby.

Anjali gave birth to a healthy baby boy they named Vikram, and within two years their joy doubled with another boy, Niru. Mahi and Ramesh sold their home and moved in with Som and Anjali. They had their separate living area with a small kitchen. A nanny and the grandparents took care of the babies so that Anjali could continue to work part-time. The Joshies organized their lives the best way they could to enjoy and appreciate their precious gifts. The synergic energy of a family brings heaven on earth.

Another three years passed and a pink bundle of joy arrived to fulfill grandma Mahi’s wish, who kept on saying, “These brothers have to have a sister! A girl is a binding thread in the family.” They took the first letter from grandma Mahi, the last from her mother Anjali, and named their baby girl, Milli.

Ramesh retired and spent his time racing around with his precious grandchildren. Many of his friends heard him saying, “I did not spend half as much time with my own children as I am spending with my grandchildren.”

“I haven’t heard Ramesh laugh so much in my entire life as much as I hear him laugh with the grandbabies,” Mahi spoke of her observation. Years passed. Mahi’s heart was failing. The old age was cherished with their children and grandchildren.

She said, “I do not want to torture myself by patching up my weak heart to hold on to this fragile body for a few more months.” She stayed home in her last days.

One evening, Mahi lovingly asked her grandson, Vikram, a senior in High school, to bring the Quran and read her favorite paragraph. Vikram, aware of his grandma’s choice, read her favorite section in the Quran, followed by the prayer, “O Allah! In my grave, change my fear into love . . .” Mahi murmured the prayer soundlessly and then continued with a mantra in Sanskrit from the Hindu scripture.

ॐ त्रियम्बकं यजामहे, सुगन्धिं पुष्टिवर्धनं
उर्वारुकमिव बन्धनान् मृत्योर्मोक्षिय मामृतात्
OM triyambakam yajāmahe sugandhim pushTivardhanam, urvārukamiva bandhanān mrityormokshiya māmritāt.

The natural consequence of this awakening is that we will be led towards spiritual liberation or moksha, and attain freedom from the cycles of death and rebirth . . . Lord Shiva can free us from our bondage to all the material things that bind us!

The whole family gently chanted the mantra three times. Mahi closed her eyes. A tear rolled down her cheek, leaving a smile on her serene face.

According to her wishes, Mahi was cremated in a red sari, with a bindi on her forehead, as a Hindu bride. Ramesh followed the love of his life within two years, content and calm, just as his wife.

Nurtured in a castle where three generations nestled.
When the soul left the cage, they readily accepted.
They both had it all, because they had each other.
He was her light, and she his delight.

And . . . Anjali missed her parents-in-law probably more than anyone else around.

Som and Anjali pursued their work in alternative medicine and received the recognition they deserved. Nina’s family in California and Som’s family in Texas, flourished separately, but the flow of love kept them connected, like water of a river links two shores.

One day the phone rang and Anjali said, “Baba!  Pranam,” recognizing the call was from Goa.

“Anjali, bless you on your fiftieth birthday,” Bhanji said.

“Baba, bless her that she can be as energetic as you are at ninety,” Som picked up other extension.

“Oh, she has a long way to go. I can tell, she would surpass me,” and they heard his jolly good laugh. “How are the children?”

“Baba, our eldest, Vikram, is on his way to Nepal on a mission. He has one more year to go at

Harvard Medical School. . . I am sure he will come back to finish as he had promised his grandmother, my mom, when she was on her death bed.” Anjali choked with the mention of her mother.

“Niru is finishing his second year, but has not selected a major,” Som said.

“I am sure he will be good at whatever he chooses. For your bright children, there are ample opportunities,” Bhanji said.

“Thanks Baba. Please continue your talk with Som. I have to go shopping with Milli. She is going to Yale University next month. I hope she can tolerate the cold weather. I will call you. . .  Pranam.” Anjali said and hung up the phone.

Som initiated a topic with some hesitation, “Baba, we lost a seventy-four-year-old patient. She had chosen the alternative medical treatment. We heard that her son is threatening to sue us. There are signed consent papers by the patient, but you know how manipulative some people can be!”

“That is a worrisome problem. Hope it fizzles out. Keep me posted. Let me know if I can do anything from this end . . . Truth and courage be with you. Good-bye.” Bhanji said.

When Som and Anjali received an official letter from the deceased patient’s son, Mr. Jack Keats, they were shocked. They checked back and learned that the cancer patient, Mrs. Alley Keats, addressed, as Miss Alley as per her request, was a smoker. She had come with her son for the first visit to Som’s office. Afterward, for the subsequent visits, she had come with a caretaker. On her second visit, Som had explained to Miss Alley about the alternate treatment, and she had enthusiastically decided to go for it.

Anjali had started Miss Alley on a specific course of therapy, which she followed for about four months – until the day she died. Within three weeks of her death, the legal papers served to Som and Anjali–stated, ‘Dr. Som Joshi and Dr. Anjali Joshi misguided and influenced the patient, Mrs. Alley Keats, for an unproven, unknown medical treatment. The herbal drugs impelled her death.’

The repercussion of the lawsuit could be profound. It implied that the husband-wife team was running a fraudulent business and misleading cancer patients.

“Her son did not have time to come with his mother to understand the course of her treatment, but now, he has all the time in the world to make us miserable – it must be for the money,” Anjali was furious.

“Calm down, Sweetheart. We have done nothing wrong. The cause of her death is clearly stated as – Pneumonia. Just brace yourself, because the lawyers will drag it out for a long time,” Som held her hand and said, “Our insurance company will provide us a lawyer. The drawback is we will have to provide all the past case histories.”

“What a waste of time . . .” Anjali sighed regretfully.

The legal network pushed the hardworking, sincere doctors into the new world of the word game. After several months of preparation, the case was tried in a small court, comprised of a few medical experts. The dead patient’s son walked in with his intimidating attorney. Throughout the process, many of the allegations and interpretations made by the opponent’s lawyer flabbergasted the doctors.

“Dr. Som Joshi, you brainwashed my client’s mother,” his lawyer stated in his heavy voice. “How did she end up in your wife’s care?”

“Sir, you may refer my wife as Doctor Anjali Joshi,” Som firmly said. “When a cancer patient comes to me, I evaluate the patient’s condition. If I decide that the alternative medical treatment would benefit the patient, I consult with other doctors in my hospital and then refer the patient to Dr. Anjali Joshi. On the second visit, we explain options to the patient. Like any other patient, the final decision was made by Mrs. Alley Keats and furthermore, the patient was aware that she was free to change her mind in the middle of the treatment, if she wanted.”

The lawyer asked Anjali about the procedure and systemic structure. She explained as simply as she could. The lawyer ruthlessly repeated his accusations even after Som and Anjali precisely explained the situation. The lawyers went on arguing about everything and nothing. At one point the claimant, Mr. Keats, whispered in his lawyer’s ear. His attorney got up and turned to Som, planted his feet in front of him, and stared at him.

Your mother had a cancer. You and little wife treated her with this mumbo-jumbo alternative medicine, and she is no more, isn’t that, right?” He tried to bully Som in his Texan tone.

Som stared back. He felt Anjali’s hand shaking with anger. He gently squeezed Anjali’s hand, composed himself, and smiled.

“Sir, you are right that my dear mother had a cancer when she was fifty-five years old. I am proud to say that she was cancer free within two years. She lived her blessed life until the age of seventy-eight and passed away peacefully of heart failure,” Som said.

“Our mother was a testimonial for this program.” Anjali could not restrain herself, “Sir, I may remind you that . . . each birth comes with a written warranty of death. We are trying to find a way to fight the demon, named cancer, and to live a healthy life.”

The irritated lawyer did not say anything, but his rude body language was noticeable as he sat down.

“Please, stay on the track of Mrs. Keats’ case,” the judge reminded.

“Mr. Keats, do you know what stage your mother’s cancer was in?” The defendants’ lawyer asked.

“No, but I do not understand why my mother
was not just left in the care of conventional treatment. Who gave you the right?” Anger resonated as he asked a direct question to Som and Anjali.

Joshi’s lawyer intervened, “Mr. Keats, was your mother mentally sound? Did she make decisions concerning her own affairs independently?”

“But she was influenced . . .”

“Just answer yes or no,” the judge instructed.

“Yes.”

“Did she tell you what was discussed with Dr. Joshi?”

“I was out of the country and did not have time to talk to her for ten days,” the plaintiff declared. “When she told me, it was too late to change her mind.”

“Wow! A concerned son could not find time when his mother was fighting the toughest battle of her life.” The lawyer said sarcastically. That was cruel – Anjali thought, but he deserved it.

At the end of the day, the plaintiff’s lawyer repeated, “We stand our ground. We believe that this new treatment killed my client’s mother.”

“We will meet again on Monday at 9 am.” The judge said.

Som silently drove the car while a subdued Anjali sat in the passenger seat with a worried look. Suddenly she spoke . . .

“You know, some reporters were present there. The controversial news, splashed all over the newspapers and television, will surely create doubts in people’s minds.” Anjali nervously asked, “Do you think this law suit will destroy our reputation?”

“It is hard to say.” Som’s confidence seemed shaken. “It takes years, especially in a new medical field to build trust. However, it takes one skeptic to destroy it in no time. Granted, it is an informal court trial, but if this case is not cleared beyond a shadow of a doubt, it could ruin our reputation for good.”

The sluggish Saturday morning passed with a few phone calls to their children. The mere pretext of keeping busy did not help their nervously aching minds. Their entire lifework dangled on a shaky ground. Anjali felt like a big ditch was opening to swallow her existence. After a long nap in each other’s arms, the dull evening dragged on. Som stretched out in a lounge chair by the pool, gazing out into space aimlessly. He sadly looked at the wisp of a white cloud left behind in the blue sky. Not a leaf moved or a bird stirred, just like his motionless emotions, the gloomy twilight stood still.

Anjali noiselessly opened the back door and sullenly said, “This is no good. Let’s go out,”

Som shook himself to get rid of his lethargy and guiltily smiled at her. He thought for a moment and said, “I will take you to our special place, the Penthouse restaurant.”

“Our first date place,” Anjali’s eyes brightened. Som reached for her hand and pulled himself out of the chair. They went inside to get ready to go out.

The dinner and outing helped pass the time. Nevertheless, they dreaded coming home and facing the long hours of the dark night. They took a long way home. When they entered into the house, they saw they had a phone message.

“I wonder who left the message!” Anjali pressed the button to listen.

“Hello, Doctor Joshi, I am Julie, your former patient. Today, in the news I came across two surprises. One surprise made me very happy – that Dr. Som Joshi is married to Dr. Anjali. Wow! So . . . sweet.” Anjali and Som looked at each other and smiled. The message continued, “I heard about the lawsuit against you. That is unbelievable! Please, call me as soon you can.”

“Oh, I remember that young patient. I am glad to hear from her. Anjali, will you please call her . . . and put it on the speakerphone.”

Anjali dialed her number. They heard, “Hello, Julie speaking,”

“Hello, this is Dr. Anjali Joshi, returning your call.”

As soon as she heard her name, Julie excitedly asked about Som and the three of them began to talk.

“I can certainly tell you that after the holistic treatment under your guidance, my health, as well as my life, have taken a turn for the better. When the newscaster stated, ‘If it is not proven safe, the alternate medicine program could be shut down.’ I could not contain myself. I found your number and called.”

“Oh, really? Do the reporters talk about stopping the program?” an agitated Anjali said, “As always, the media is a step ahead. Anyways . . ., Julie, we are delighted by your call.”

“How is the trial going and what can I do to help? I am not too far from Houston.” Julie said.

Som thoughtfully said, “The trial is still going, but we are not sure if it’s going well or not! We are leery about the laws and their interpretations. At one point, our lawyer advised us to settle and pay him off to prevent bad publicity. This shows that even our defender doesn’t know what we are trying to accomplish for our cancer patients.”

“I have kept in touch with four to five patients from your clinic. Each one of us can honestly talk about his or her personal experience of recovery. . .”

“Julie! That is a great idea. Do you mind if I give your phone number to our lawyer? He would know how to present your opinion about our treatment.” Anjali was elated.

After giving Julie’s phone number to their lawyer, they anxiously awaited. The silence was prickly. Anjali called one time, but hung up the phone when she heard the annoying recording. Anjali had to keep busy. She thought it was a time to clean her closets, then do some mending and ironing. She moved about in rhythm, finishing her tasks, settling her scattered brain waves. Her calm mind cleared the vision of the faith in her heart. Anjali was ready to face the problem head on.

The following Monday, Som and Anjali walked into the courtroom in a somber but hopeful mood. Their attorney greeted them and in a quiet tone said, “Julie has assured me that she will come here today. Still I am skeptical . . . let’s hope and pray that she shows up.”

They impatiently stared at the entrance. The small courtroom filled up. The clock on the wall showed twenty minutes past nine. The judge and other lawyer were ready to start the session. Nevertheless, there was no sign of Julie. Anjali’s disappointment emerged in her teary eyes. The judge reviewed the Friday’s discussion. Som noticed that a group of three people took their seats in the back row and listened to the judge’s statement intently.

The judge looked in Anjali and Som’s direction, expecting their lawyer to start the proceeding. He slowly stood up, but was not sure what to say. At that moment, a woman entered, waved at those three people and confidently proceeded toward the front bench.

The lawyer asked, “Your Honor, may I have two minutes of the court’s time to confer with a witness?” The permission was granted.

Julie introduced herself and showed a stack of papers. Both the doctors looked over the complete record of her cancer treatment. She pointed in the direction of the three strangers and added some more papers to the pile.

Anjali whispered, “Yes, this is an authentic record of our treatment,” and Som nodded in an agreement. The lawyer smiled and turned to the judge,

“Your Honor, may I approach the bench for a sidebar conference?” The judge said yes, and signaled the plaintiff’s lawyer to come to the bench.

“My clients, Dr. and Mrs. Joshi received a phone call on Saturday night from a former patient. This cancer-survivor has voluntarily travelled from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to come to this court. May I present this witness?” The attorney asked. The judge looked at the other lawyer who consented. Julie took the witness stand.

“Please state your name and purpose of your presence here,” the lawyer said.

“My name is Julie Lucas-Koons, and I am forty years old. Twenty-five years ago, I had a cancer. My parents took me to the Cancer Center in Houston and I met this young doctor, Dr. Som Joshi. On our next

visit, he talked about an option – their alternative medical treatment. He explained it to my parents and me.

“He had said, ‘We have recently started Ayurveda treatment in Houston. It is my responsibility to present you with options available to treat your cancer.’ Dr. Joshi candidly talked about the herbal medicine, its slow, but systematic effect, and side effects in parallel to the conventional treatments. We were given ample time to decide. When we decided to treat my cancer with this natural way of healing, we met with Dr. Anjali Maru. Years ago, she was Maru and I was Lucas.” Julie chuckled, and that made the assembly smile.

“Please tell us briefly about your treatment and the end result,”

Julie looked at Anjali and began, “Dr. Maru-Joshi adjusted my therapy specific to my needs with herbal medicine, my diet, and a daily routine that included calming each cell of my body through meditation. I felt the difference in about two months, and within nineteen months, I was cancer free. The important lesson I learned during the treatment was how to maintain a healthy lifestyle to remain cancer-free,” She concluded.

“Maybe you are an exceptional case. It does not prove that it is safe,” the opponent’s lawyer aggressively said. Julie started to reply, but she stopped when she heard their lawyer’s statement.

He said, “Your Honor, there are five other case-

reports submitted and three more cancer survivors are present in this court. They have come here by their own aspiration. My clients did not go looking for them. Here are the statements from these former patients of Dr. Som Joshi and Dr. Anjali Joshi.”

There was a curious murmur in the court while the judge looked over the papers. Mr. Keats anxiously looked on. The judge finished reading. He straightened in his chair and habitually banged the hammer and said,

“Silence. . . This case has emerged from the grief of losing a loved one. Mr. Keats, I have reviewed your allegations carefully. I have discussed this case with the experts. The added evidence as of today, confirms my judgment. This treatment has been in practice for more than twenty years and has proven to be beneficial to many cancer patients. There is no indication of any contribution of the herbal medicine to your mother’s demise. The case is dismissed.”

Anjali and Som hugged happily and kindly held Julie close. Som looked around, waved at the other patients, and he saw a son’s sad face – experiencing the loss of his mother all over again. He went and compassionately shook his hand and Anjali followed.

“Mr. Keats, I grieve with you for your loss.” Som gently said. Embarrassed, Jack Keats mumbled, ‘thanks’ and ‘sorry’ under his breath.

Anjali overheard them and impassively said, “On every visit, Miss Alley made our staff smile. We cherish her memory and cherish her kindness.” The rest of the harsh words about his lawsuit, she swallowed.

Any trace of doubt about their alternative medicine treatment was gone and the judge’s declaration propelled Som and Anjali’s reputation to another level. Several Universities showed interest in starting the program. However wrongfully scrutinized, eventually the trial turned out to be a test, and the result was excellent.

Bad thing happens for a good reason,
there comes a thunder for a good season.
A seed under dirt, a man under hurt,
can reach beyond his expectations if he is alert.
———-

18    A Man – A Yogi

“Come quickly, or you’ll miss this gorgeous sunrise!” Som called Anjali from the backyard. She stepped out on the deck holding a tray. She stood next to him to admire the rising sun. The morning tranquility soaked her spirit warmly. The silence lingered in the air laden with dew, over the resonance of the rays of the pink sun. The overwhelming feeling of joy and gratitude warmed her heart. The cool, supple air touched the pink hue of the water in the swimming pool, and they sat there drinking the tea, sipping the unconditional beauty of nature.

A curious question surfaced in his calm mind, ‘Why am I here?’ He began to find answers from various angles. Before the thoughts could form into the words, Som heard . . .

“I count my blessings and thank the Lord. . . After so many days since the court case, today I can say that I have no qualms against anyone.” Anjali said, “You were able to forgive Jack Keats very quickly. How could you do that? I just wondered even though I admire your kindness.”

“I accepted the reasons behind his actions. I also thought about which attitude would make it easier for me to handle the situation. Anger robs me of my peace. If I pamper my ego to build a wall around me, I would be lonely and miserable.” Som continued with a chuckle, “I told my ego, ‘Deep down, I am a humble soul . . . so you better cooperate with me.’ And then, I impelled myself to extend my hand toward Jack Keats.”

“No matter how we handled this incident, it shook us to our cores. This opened my eyes at the possibility of some people’s odd perceptions about our intentions,” Anjali said.

“Yes. I am also thinking the same way. How people would evaluate you is not in your control. This experience has forced me to rethink the direction of our lives. I remember my first visit to Goa and meeting Baba. Recently, my forgotten passion and dreams unfolded, which were hidden in the layers of many years. I have gotten used the easy life style.

This trouble-free, happy life has forget my calling. I turned a deaf ear to the unrest inside me.” Som looked eagerly at Anjali.

“I know what you mean. There are so many things we can do in India. We have gotten used to this comfortable life. So far, we’ve had a good excuse, our children, to stay in this country. But now is the time to be mindful and make the next move with some unselfish motives,” Anjali said.

“Why don’t we move to The Yoga and Ayurveda Resort, in Goa?”

Anjali leaned to kiss Som and excitedly said, “Oh, what a wonderful idea! Baba will be thrilled to hear that. He is barely managing the place. May I call him? You won’t change your mind, right?” She was ready to go into the house to get the phone.

“O’ Darling! Wait. He must have gone to bed,” Som laughed, “And besides, we need to think about so many other things.”

“Okay. Let’s go inside and start planning,” Anjali picked up the tray, and Som opened the door to go inside the house.

Days later in November, the table was set for the Thanksgiving meal. Som’s friends, Steve and Aari, had come with their families. Their children had grown up together. Milli and Niru were sharing their college stories with Aari and Steve’s children.

“Vikram called from Nepal last week. He has a hard time finding a phone nearby. I worry less since he is there with a group of students,” Anjali said. They all listened to the heartache behind her casual talk.

The next day, Anjali and Som decided to talk about their decision. They were not sure how the children would react. They initiated the conversation as gently and convincingly as they could . . .

“No way. Vikrambhai is gone and now you – how can you think of moving to India? How selfish and inconsiderate . . .” Milli said in a high pitched weepy voice and stomped out of the room.

“She is right,” Niru nervously said, and went to console his sister.

Wide-eyed, Anjali and Som looked at each other. “We didn’t expect this. We thought that they are all grown up and do not need us.” It was ironic that the irate reaction brought such smiles to their parents’ faces!

“Well, that takes care of our grand decision. We will have to wait and see.” Som said. “I am glad that we did not announce our plan to Baba or anyone else. Now let’s go and talk to our needy children.”

That was the children’s last evening at home. After dinner, they sat on the patio in the twilight. The sun had gone down, but no one got up to turn the lights on.

“Ma, do you know that many students are so depressed on a new campus? Some of the students do not even get up to go to attend their classes. Their new environment turns out to be quite different than their expectations. Sometime the pressure is overwhelming. All of a sudden, it feels like we are thrown among all different levels of students, and insecurities kick in. The behaviors usually tolerated at home are no longer allowed.” Milli had not spoken like this about her feelings before.

“Being away from home is not as easy as we thought,” Niru said. “And Milli has to deal with a new roommate this semester.” Anjali and Som could see how vulnerable their children were being at the transitional passage of childhood to adulthood.

The youngsters took time to sit with them and talk, which made Anjali giddy. She asked for a family hug before they dispersed.

“What is the most important thing?” Niru mimicked Anjali.

“Safety,” Milli giggled.

The holidays were over, and the pressure of the second semester minimized phone calls from their children. That evening, they had just finished supper, and Anjali was drinking water in the kitchen. Som turned on the TV in the living room. The phone rang.

“Hello, Niru. How …?” stopped in mid-sentence, Som listened seriously and then said, “Yes, we talked with Milli yesterday.”

“What? Committed suicide?” Som exclaimed. Anjali lost the grip of her glass from her hand,

and it shattered to pieces on the floor. She rushed to pick up the phone on the kitchen wall.

She heard Niru saying, “Milli came back in the evening and found her roommate hanging. I am on my way to be with her – she is very distraught. Though, I have to return soon to my campus to finish my paper.”

“Don’t worry, Son! We will take the earliest flight to be with Milli. I am so relieved that you are going there tonight,” Som said.

“And Son! Drive carefully . . . God bless.” Anjali’s muffled voice was heard from the other phone. Anjali and Som took a night flight to New Haven, Connecticut.  When they arrived, two detectives were interviewing Milli. The woman detective’s aggressive questions brought Milli to tears. She turned her head toward the window and saw her parents outside. She jumped out of her chair and dashed toward the door. The man detective extended his arm to stop her. At that moment, Som pushed open the door, and Milli fell into his arms, crying.

“Officer, we are told that you have been questioning our daughter for an hour. May I know why? My daughter knew the young lady for only a few weeks, and she had to witness the horrible scene of her death. You have no right to torture our daughter like this.” Som said in a controlled voice while Anjali stared at them with blazing eyes.

The campus administrator intervened and requested the detectives let Millie leave campus. In their hotel room, Milli calmed down and fell asleep.

After a couple of hours, Anjali nudged Milli to wake up. “Honey! Wake up. I have ordered some snacks and coffee.”

Refreshed, Milli sat cross-legged in one bed and talked about her painful experience. “She was a quiet, aloof, and unfriendly person. She hardly spoke more than two sentences at a time. One time her mother, a strange woman, came to visit, but left abruptly. . . Anyway, I do not know why she killed herself. I will never forget her lifeless body hanging on a rope. I hope they don’t make me stay in that room.”

Som was overwhelmed seeing his little girl so anxious and distressed. He said, “Nobody will make you do anything as long as we are around, Dear!”

“Milli, I understand, it was a shocking experience. Pain brings darkness. You may feel directionless. You may be asking ‘why did this happen to me?’” Anjali said.

“Yes. Your mom and I believe that everything in your life happens for a reason. Now you have seen what happens when a person feels unloved! Focus on the bright light beyond the darkness of the pain.”

“But Dad, I feel guilty for not helping her, and many times, ignoring her.”

“I understand. You cannot go back and fix the past.” Som looked into his daughter’s eyes and said, “You had this extraordinary experience that you think you will never forget. Now you have to figure out what you want out of it. When you are calm enough to listen to your conscience and focus your mind, you will be able to see clearly in this darkness. Mindfully, you have to decide whether you want to hunker down and go through this experience with self-pity or if you want to lift your head and examine the circumstances.”

Their discussion continued the next day when Anjali said, “With every encounter, your inner potential will unfold. After some time, you will be surprised to see the changes in yourself. You will look back and say, ‘Was that me? Now I am different, still this is not me.’ It is called growing up.”

“You have studied Biology. From each cell of our body to the universe, everything is vibrating with energy. In this constantly changing life-flow, try not to be drowned or submerged, but float by becoming an observer,” Som said.

Milli listened attentively and then said, “I should learn to look at this situation objectively.”

“When we accept, what is thrown at us with understanding, every experience becomes a learning lesson,” Anjali said. After two days, Milli calmly waved good-by to her parents.

On the return flight to Houston Anjali asked Som, “I still feel uneasy leaving Milli alone. Do you think we should have stayed longer?”

“She seemed okay. Her friends are amazing. It is about time that Milli learns how to handle the various situations. We are only a phone call away. Now get rid of these worry lines, little mama!” Som made Anjali smile.

“We would have felt guilty if we had not been in this country at a time like this.” Anjali turned her head and asked, “Can you imagine our little girl – all alone in this kind of grave condition?” She saw Som’s eyes well up. She gently held his hand and changed the topic.

At the end of the year, Vikram returned from Nepal and earned his medical degree with honors. He decided to do his residency at Baylor Medical Center in Houston.

During a hot summer afternoon, an ice-cream party was organized by the three vivacious siblings. They churned the ice-cream in the backyard where the grand oak trees were fanning a velvety warm breeze.

“From where did you get this old-fashioned wood bucket ice-cream maker? The churning must be interesting. I see you are taking turns without being nagged!” Som said as he stepped out onto the patio.

“I borrowed it from Uncle Aari.” Vikram stood up and said, “The ice cream is almost ready. Please call Ma.” The family gathered and ice-cream was served in big bowls.

“Mom you look cool in this white dress,” Milli admired Anjali’s frilly linen summer dress. After a pause, she spoke again, “Dad, a few years back you had talked about shifting to India. At that time, I wasn’t prepared, but now Vikrambhai is here, and I have been through some worldly training sessions in the last three years. . . I think, I am open to hearing about your ideas.”

“Are you sure? Have you been able to accept your roommate’s suicide in a proper, guiltless perspective? At that time, you were utterly rattled,” Anjali said.

Niru said, “I remember Milli telling me what had happened when she went back to her room. As soon as she came near the door, she was scared and wanted to run away. With great difficulty, Mom and Dad convinced her to go in and collect her belongings.”

“Oh, my brave little sister!” Vikram put his protective arm around her shoulders.

“Before we start planning again, let’s talk about our values and virtues. And what we expect from our children,” Som said.

“Oh! No! Not more serious talk,” Niru joked.

“Dear, this is important. We also want to know what is really going on here . . .,” and Anjali gently nudged his head.

“When we saw Milli in that situation, we realized that as a family we should be prepared to face any calamity,” Som said. “We should never ignore our loyalty and responsibility toward our family and friends.”

“Another good point I would stress is to be

generous. Generosity is connected with compassion and acceptance of weaknesses of others as well as your own,” Anjali said.

“Moreover, an equally important quality is to be honest and truthful to the core of your heart,” Som said. “With practice, these virtues become part of your nature and will influence every other relation.

“Now the question is . . .,” Vikram seriously said. “How to find the right partner and how to make the relationship everlasting!”

“Oh, Brother, you have already found Lucifer. Do you plan to look for another one?” Niru laughed.

“Silly boy, I am worried about you and Milli,” said Vikram, and after that, in quibbles, the words of wisdom were drowned out. The parents reached for more ice cream as the joyful dialogue continued.

Within six months, Som and Anjali managed to put their plan in practice.

 I do hear my call, Sweetheart! Do you hear it, too?
We were privileged to be here,
but my soul wanders there.
Yes, my heart is overwhelmed,
I can’t wait to go back there.
I will go and I’ll come back
to share the best of whatever I have.

Finally, the waiting was over for Bhanji. Anjali and Som landed in India, and arrived in Goa and felt that they had never left.

Six months later in Houston….

“It is our great honor to introduce Doctor Som Ramesh Joshi, for a lifetime achievement award and Doctor Anjali Maru-Joshi for her exceptional contributions to alternative medicine at the Cancer Center.” They were welcomed onto the stage with thunderous applause.

Half of the first row of the auditorium was occupied by their three children, Nina’s family and their lifelong friends.

“My little brother – I am grateful to have him in my life. Oh, he still looks so handsome,” she whispered in Rick’s ear.

Som had worked for the hospital for more than three decades and today was the day when he was whole-heartedly appreciated by his collogues, nurses and patients. Som’s life’s work was flashed on a big screen. He came to the podium. . .

“Today I am standing here with a reminiscent feeling. I am standing on the shoulders of my parents. Many years ago, when they wanted to come to this country, my honorable grandfather, a patriotic poet in India, could not fathom his son’s choice. But my father, Doctor Ramesh and mother Mahi, saw the entire world as one home.

They came here to share their knowledge, friendship, respect and loyalty. And in return, that is what we have received from all of you. Being born and raised in America to Indian parents, I was privileged to have a connection to both countries.”

Som admirably looked at Anjali for a few moments and said, “I was blessed to learn about India’s ancient know-how of herbal medicines. And on one lucky day, my wife, Anjali, walked into my life to give a perfect shape to a hazy dream. The flutter of my wings got the support of a graceful, steady, wind. We are abundantly grateful for this appreciation and honor.….

“Dear friends, I would like to conclude with this message. Our lives should be such that others receive light through coming into connection with us. Our ability to create an elevated life depends on our karma. Our fortune is in our own hands. Never lose your courage in any aspect of life. Never give up. Thank you.”

                             ———-

Saryu Dilip Parikh.

 સરયૂ દિલીપ પરીખ   
born and raised in Bhavnagar, Gujarat State, India.
Saryu’s poetry reflects deep spiritual meaning embedded with artistic, emotional feelings. Saryu has been a volunteer for domestic violence victims, and a tutor at the Literacy Council. She has written many inspiring stories in words and verse. Saryu and her husband, Dilip, a physicist and artist, have their home in Austin, Texas. They have two children and four grandchildren. Published books:
1. “Essence of Eve
નીતરતી સાંજ”  Poems and true stories in Gujarati and English by Saryu, with paintings by her husband, Dilip Parikh. 2011
2. “Smile in Tears
આંસુમાં સ્મિત“ True Stories in prose,

verse and poems in English and Gujarati by Saryu. 2013
3. A poetic novel “Moist Petals” by Saryu Parikh 2015. Available: Barns & Noble, AMAZON.
4. “Flutter of Wings” a poetic novel in English.
5. “MANTRA” Poems in English and Gujarati.
6. “
મંત્રકાવ્યસંગ્રહ in Gujarati, book available in India,

Saryu is three times invited panelist at the Poetry Festival, Gainesville and Orlando.
Her many poems and stories are published in many magazines.
Master in Science in Botany/college Bhavnagar and Vadodara.

You are welcome to visit her website: http://www.saryu.wordpress.com
www.gujaratisahityasarita.org      saryuparikh@yahoo.com

                                                      ———-

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