100 days: Stories of immigrants and engagements #54

Rahul’s mum has organised an engagement ceremony for him. His future fiance knows about it, her parents know about it, even Manu kaki in North Carolina knows about it. Why it’s a complete surprise to him when he meets me at the station is anyone’s guess. We arrive at his mum’s house and everyone is dressed in saris. I had come for moral support while he brought his girlfriend home for the first time. What he wasn’t planning was for her parents and sister and sister’s family to all dress up and make the journey from Luton as well.

We enter the house and you can see that much as Rahul is keeping it together with the thinnest of tethers, he has plenty of ammunition for explosion. There are two chairs in the middle of the room. Aunties and old people he only sees at family gatherings are treating this like a family gatherine, not the breezy meet’n’greet he’d planned. We were supposed to go to see Vampire Weekend afterwards. This looks like it might cut into opening song time.

I’m perturbed at the vat of garam sweet spicy masala tea on the stove, an occurrence only at family times. I’m concerned at the garland of flowers adorning deceased grandparents photos in the corridor. And I’m slightly uneasy by the site of a guru, a priest arriving, drawing an AUM and a swastika sign on the doorstep as a blessing and setting himself up at the base of the two middle-of-room chairs, seating himself on a white sheet stained with red blotches from previous auspicious occasions.

The phone rings: it’s an auntie in India. She sobs over the phone and tells Rahul how pleased she is he has finally found someone so close to his 33rd birthday when he was definitely headed for marital scrapheap. You can hear the tears across the room. Rahul, to his credit, takes it all in his stride. He doesn’t flip out at the overreaction, he doesn’t correct his mum when someone slips her £20 as a congratulations on her son’s engagement. He doesn’t even mind being fed sweets as a blessing by various well-wishers. But when the doorbell rings and you see the procession of her family lining up the dainty suburban driveway, he pushes through the throng, runs upstairs and locks himself in his childhood room, puts on The Bends by Radiohead, lies in his teenage single bed and cries, while downstairs she is greeted as a princess.

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