Home > When Dimple Met Rishi(2)

When Dimple Met Rishi(2)
Author: Sandhya Menon

Dimple groaned and clutched her head, feeling like that ancient pressure cooker Mamma still used when she made idli cakes. She was sure there was an actual chance she would explode. There was no way she and Mamma were related; they may as well have been two entirely different species. “Seriously? That’s what you think I should be relegating my brain space to? Looking nice? Like, if I don’t make the effort to look beautiful, my entire existence is nullified? Nothing else matters—not my intellect, not my personality or my accomplishments; my hopes and dreams mean nothing if I’m not wearing eyeliner ?” Her voice had risen incrementally until it echoed off the high ceilings.

Mamma, caught up in the moment, stood to meet her glare. “Hai Ram , Dimple! It is not eyeliner—it is kaajal !”

Dimple’s temper flashed, the heat tempered only slightly by the dampness of disappointment. This was an argument they’d had so many times, she and Mamma could probably say each other’s lines. It was like they were constantly speaking two different languages, each trying to convince the other in an alien lexicon. Why couldn’t Mamma make the smallest effort to understand where Dimple was coming from? Did she really think Dimple had nothing valuable to contribute besides her looks? The thought made Dimple’s pulse skyrocket. She leaned forward, face flaming, ready to speak her mind about how she really felt—

The doorbell chime echoed through the house, bringing them to a standstill. Dimple’s heart still raced, but she felt all the million old arguments stall, unspoken behind her lips.

Mamma adjusted her dupatta , which had begun to fall off during the argument, and took a deep breath. “We have guests,” she said demurely, patting her hair. “I trust you will behave for them, Dimple?”

Papa looked at her with big, pleading eyes.

Dimple managed a curt nod, thinking, Saved by the bell, Mamma. You don’t know how lucky you are.

CHAPTER 2

Mamma bustled out of the room in a cloud of sandalwood perfume to open the door. Dimple tried to take deep, calming breaths. Stanford was only a few months away, she reminded herself. And if she could swing Insomnia Con, freedom would be hers very, very soon.

“Helloooo!” Dimple heard after a moment. The word trilled and echoed like a small, annoying bird’s song.

Papa grimaced. “Ritu auntie,” he said, half resigned, half annoyed. He reached over and grabbed the phone. “Important phone call,” he murmured as he disappeared around the corner.

“Traitor,” Dimple called softly at his retreating back. She stood and pressed her palms together just as Ritu auntie rounded the corner in her wheelchair, pushed, as usual, by her silent, watchful new daughter-in-law, Seema. “Namaste , Ritu auntie, Seema didi .”

Technically, Ritu wasn’t her aunt, and Seema wasn’t her didi —older sister. But it was customary to always be respectful of your elders, a lesson that had been drilled into her since she was a baby. And yet, somehow, Dimple found herself questioning them—and really, everything—all the time. Mamma often lamented that her first word had been “why.”

“Namaste!” Ritu auntie said, beaming up at her. Behind her, Seema watched unsmilingly through a curtain of long, sleek black hair.

“Please sit, Seema,” Mamma said. “Can I get you some chai? Biscuits? I have ParleG, bought specially for you from the Indian market.” Mamma was constantly on a mission to make Seema feel at home. It was her opinion that the reason Seema was as withdrawn as she was, was because Ritu auntie hadn’t done a good enough job making her feel welcome in her sasural —bridal home. This had created a strange rivalry between Ritu auntie and Mamma. Dimple pitied Seema, caught like a helpless fly in the web of their crazy.

“Oh, Seema and I found something she likes better,” Ritu auntie said. “Milanos. Isn’t that right, Seema? Tell her how much you like those.”

“They’re delicious,” Seema said dutifully. After a pause—perhaps awaiting another directive—Seema sat in the empty armchair next to Ritu auntie. Dimple sat down too.

“Oh, we have those also!” Mamma announced triumphantly. “Let me go and get. And some chai for everyone.”

Left alone with the visitors, Dimple pushed her glasses up and attempted to rack her brain for something to say. Thankfully, Ritu auntie had majored in small talk in college. “So! All ready for Stanford, Dimple? Your mamma can’t stop talking about it!”

“Really?” Dimple smiled, touched. She hadn’t heard Mamma say much about Stanford besides to lament the price tag of a private school education. It just went to show, Mamma was proud of her only daughter’s intellect, deep down. Maybe, in spite of Dimple’s doubts, Mamma really did want her to get the best education, even if she pretended to be—

“Yes! So many boys go there for engineering. You’ll have the pick of the litter.” Ritu auntie looked at her with an expectant gleam in her eyes.

Of course. Dimple should’ve guessed. It was the I.I.H. nonsense again. She suspected the entire community of aunties was in on it. It was like some bizarre version of a geocaching club; the minute somebody’s daughter turned eighteen, all the aunties began to scheme the shortest route from her parents’ home to the ultimate prize—her sasural .

“Right . . . but I’m really more interested in their technology program,” Dimple said, forcing herself to stay polite.

Seema shifted in her seat, uncomfortable with this show of assertiveness, but Ritu auntie only waved her off, as if she thought Dimple was being demure—who on earth went to college with anything but the aspiration of landing a marriageable partner? Dimple thought of Insomnia Con, of Jenny Lindt, of SFSU , of Stanford. Of all the things she’d jeopardize if she called Ritu auntie a backward, antifeminist blight on democratic society.

Thankfully, Mamma returned then, arms trembling from holding a heavy silver tray laden with a teapot, teacups, and cookies and plates. “Chalo, chai aur snacks ho jayen ! And, Seema, I brought you extra shakkar for your sweet tooth!” She guffawed overjovially, and Dimple had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing at Seema’s frozen expression. The woman was so uncomfortable with Mamma’s interest in her, and yet she had no idea how to put a stop to it. Dimple felt bad for the other girl, but not bad enough to say anything—attention on Seema just meant less on her.

Mamma set the tray down on the coffee table, and everyone helped themselves.

“So, where is Stanford, exactly?” Ritu auntie said between bites. “San Francisco?”

There was a strange sort of stillness from Mamma’s side of the couch, which Dimple tried, and failed, to decipher. “Um, not quite,” she said, turning back to Ritu auntie. “It’s about forty minutes south of San Francisco proper.”

“Pity,” Ritu auntie replied, grabbing another cookie just as Seema was reaching for the same one. Seema’s hand seemed to shrivel, and she straightened up, giving up on cookie retrieval completely. Mamma, smiling smugly, put two cookies on a plate and handed them to Seema. Ritu auntie, oblivious to the entire exchange, went on. “San Francisco is supposed to be such a beautiful city. Full of opportunities for the young.”

Okay, Dimple could not have asked for a more perfect opportunity if she’d crafted it from rainbows and sunbeams herself. She cleared her throat. Perhaps with Seema in the room, Mamma might want to appear more magnanimous. “Actually, it’s interesting you bring that up,” Dimple said. She took a sip of hot tea to bolster herself. “There is an opportunity in San Francisco this summer I’m interested in. Do you remember me telling you about it, Mamma?” She forced herself to keep her face calm and slack, like asking her parents to drop a grand on this sort of thing was something she routinely did, NBD .

“Mmm?” Mamma looked distracted, blowing on her tea. “Oh, something about . . . web development?”

Wow. Dimple had underestimated Mamma—maybe she really did pay attention. “Haan , that’s right!” She smiled encouragingly. “Insomnia Con at the SFSU campus. It starts in three weeks, and it’s such a fantastic program. Some of the greatest minds in technology have been through it. It’s six weeks long, and you learn so much. It would really help me prepare for Stanford. But it’s pretty expensive . . .” She trailed off, reddening when she noticed Ritu auntie watching with interest. Even Silent Seema seemed to be studying Dimple’s reflection in the silver tray.

   
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