“Bina! Come downstairs! They’re here!” My grandmother yells to me, frantically trying to fix the dupatta which keeps falling away from my face. Could you be more Indian?
I swat my grandmother’s hands away from my face. My grandfather stands in the corner of the foyer, leaning against the shoe closet, amused by my grandmother.
“Remember Bina, do not look up. Don’t speak unless they ask you a question and keep your head down all the time. And no jokes this time. That’s why Raul’s family didn’t want to finalize the union.”
My grandmother goes on and on.
“No nanima, the family didn’t want us married because Raul’s ego couldn’t take being married to a girl who makes more money than him.” I can’t help but defend myself.
My grandmother gives me a hard look and points her finger at me angrily as a warning before opening the door and putting up an inauthentic smile. She perfected this change of attitude. I call it the granny face-flip.
When she opens the door, I make sure to keep my head down like she says. The sparkly dupatta is in the way of my eyes again, and my sari is much too long; I’m suddenly very aware of my lack of height and the very real possibility that I could trip on my sari in front of this family. Looking down, there are some ruby red painted nails in some white heels and two pairs of men’s shoes as well. A beaten pair of white sneakers peak out of some khaki pants and classic Indian uncle sandals are paired with jeans.
Obviously, an Indian male wouldn’t have the decency to dress up. He must’ve been too busy being taught that having a penis made him the center of the universe. Like my grandmother always tells me, Pathi Parameshwar.
“Mina, it’s so nice to see you again! How are you? You’re looking very thin.” Naina aunty’s white heels step forward to hug my grandmother.
I know my grandmother too well. I’m sure she’s hiding her excitement and her big grin is purposefully suppressed into a shy smile. I call this the reverse granny face-flop. I’m sure she’s looking towards the ground, like the Indian actresses would in old movies whenever they were complimented. After all, why wouldn’t she be pleased? We must be the model minority.
“Oh yeah Naina. I walk an hour a day. Mahesh put in the walkway in our 3-acre backyard so I put on my headphones and walk at 5am in the mornings, except on Sundays. I get tired, you know, at 65. I walk a lot.” Nanima lives for compliments.
She was 300 hundred pounds when she was younger, which was not the ideal daughter for her parents to have. If Indian parents raised their daughter correctly, they get married. That’s the one defining factor of good parenting when it comes to a desi daughter. To be ideal for marriage, a girl must be thin with fair skin, have the ability to cook and clean, and be well educated but not ambitious. Everyone doubted she’d get married, and in a society where a lack of a husband is a lack of success, many Indian girls have low self-esteem. It’s their trademark. They just hide it well. After a stomach tuck, Nanima was able to bag a man.
“Oh wow. You should give yourself a break, Mina. You do more than a lot of young people, definitely more than Nithin.” Naina aunty gently elbows the boy in the white sneakers and khakis.
I guess Nithin’s white active footwear doesn’t indicate his athletic capabilities. That’s fantastic. Our kids will be couch potatoes.
“We saw the walkway when we were parking the car, and it looks so nice. Mahesh, you did a great job. I loved the gazebos and meditation centers you put in as well.” Naina knows the protocol well.
My grandfather stops leaning on the foyer wall and greets Naina aunty as well as her husband and son. Grandfather bows a bit, bringing his palms together from his sides to the center of his chest.
“Oh thank you Naina. I put those in and painted the gazebos in India’s colors. Did you like the paint? I was thinking about putting a fountain in the front.” My dear grandfather laughs. Of course his house would be decked out. He’s been flipping hotels his entire life after having fixed and flipped basements. He appreciates the rewards of living the American Dream.
My grandmother, being literally bred as the kind of wife to cook and host parties and gatherings, smoothly moves the group to the living room. This is a challenge for me. My sari makes me feel overdressed compared to Nithin’s khakis and sneakers. The struggle to not trip on my dress and fall flat on my face is very real.
I stay standing and wait for the elders to sit first. As they shuffle into the living room and sit on the brown leather couches, my grandmother tells me privately to go microwave the chai and appetizers on the counter and serve it to everyone.
I look for the ending of the red rug on the floor to lead me to the kitchen. When I finally finish microwaving and plating the food, I readjust my headscarf and re-enter the living room. Carrying a tray full of hot food and chai is not so easy when looking down, especially since I can feel my phone vibrating on my hip. It’s probably my tinder date for later tonight. My grandmother is so lucky that my horoscope said I’m more obedient when Mercury is in retrograde. Otherwise, I’d look up and check my phone in a heartbeat. Plus, if I can get through this meeting with Nithin’s family, it’ll get my grandmother off of my back for a few hours so I can actually go on my tinder date.
Paying attention to the elevation of the tray in my hands as well as the pattern of the rug on the floor, eventually, I reach the coffee table and place some appetizers my grandmother cooked earlier on the coffee table.
I hear footsteps behind me. My grandmother murmurs to me in Hindi, her mother tongue, telling me to serve everybody a glass of chai. Trying my best to portray the typical good Indian daughter, I look down and make sure to be submissive in every respect, even my posture. I hand a glass to the brown shoes, the heels, and the sneakers. When Naina and my grandmother seem deep in conversation, I sneak a peek at the boy. He’s looking down and inspecting the chai; he probably doesn’t want to be here either.
Nithin’s got brown eyes, dark hair, a strong build, and broad shoulders. His face screams fuckboy, but he looks so familiar. Maybe it’s just that most Indian guys I know through my family are fuckboys, too much of daddy’s money and not enough responsibility. Maybe I’ve seen him on Tinder? I can’t really put my finger on it though. I quickly look down again before anyone notices. Well, except my grandpa, but he’s a ride or die. He doesn’t snitch like that. He’s got too much of a soft spot for me.
My grandfather’s sits on the couch opposite of the wall I’m standing by. As a young female, I have to help host and do the serving for gatherings like this. I must act domestic. Any faux pau on my part would embarrass my grandmother; she would hit me with “what will people think?” I can’t disappoint her. The stockpile is getting low. There are not many boys that the family knows who haven’t already rejected me.
My grandmother and Naina aunty begin the classic Indian lady contest of who has the hardest life and who does the most housework. My grandmother is a professional at this game, though. She’s had twenty more years of experience at this game than Naina aunty. Is this my future if I agree to an arranged marriage into this family? Hell, is this my future if I agree to an arranged marriage into any Indian family? I’m much too white-washed for this.
I can feel my grandfather’s boredom just from standing near him. He hates this game because he knows none of it is true.
He’s employed a housekeeper since my mom was a teenager.
“Okay Mina. Your girl looks so beautiful. She takes after her dad.” Naina aunty’s long fingernails tap against her glass of chai. No, I don’t. I look exactly like my mom, but hell would freeze over before they gave any credit to Mom. Other Indians can’t acknowledge that divorced Indian women exist. Mom’s no longer accepted as part of the Indian community since her divorce. She’s not accepted into the Indian community but she’ll also never fully be accepted into the western community. She’s stuck in limbo.
“Oh yes, yes. She cooks well too. She made the appetizers and the chai.” Liar.
I was raised on take out.
Vibi Sarina is a first-generation Indian American born in Long Island, New York. She has always had an affinity towards expressing herself creatively and pushing boundaries. She grew up with strong exposure to Southern American and traditional Indian roots. Vibi Sarina obtained her undergraduate degree in Philosophy and English from Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. She is currently pursuing her master’s in Environmental Philosophy at the University of Montana, with emphasis in Animal Ethics.