Last year when T Anna came to India, he downloaded several applications and softwares into our computer. Out of reverence for his IIT education, we began to download updates and newer versions, that promised to enhance our experience in some manner.
So, it isn’t such a new thing that Appa has been asked to release a new version of my horoscope into the market. It means things will get better and move faster, T Anna offers in manner of analogy.
I think, it was sometime in August last year, when a daughter-in-law was acquired, Amma decided that it was time that I should be married off as well. A discussion with Mambalam Maama confirmed that, the stars were shining bright and all set to conspire with other stars. And an alliance shall be sealed before we can even complete saying J A A D A G A M, Mambalam Maama promised.
The experience of having gone through four hundred and twenty seven horoscopes and letters that came for T Anna (over a period of three years), had made Amma and Appa wise on things that they ought to include in my horoscope letter and more importantly, things that they needed to gloss over.
After a lot of debate and inputs from Madras Thatha, Trichy Thatha, Pichhu Maama Thaatha and Mambalam Maama, the same was ready. The final version had: a hand-written covering letter, the actual horoscope that showed the residence of various stars and a two-page description of me and the clan that I came from.
At the neighbourhood Xerox shop, Appa took ten copies and after Amma dotted the corners with turmeric, the same was placed in front of the idols of the god.
For a few days, Appa and Amma waited. They hoped that, between god’s blessings and the word-of-mouth of the T Nagar Maamis, there would be a heavy demand for ATP’s horoscope. But, nobody came. Amma spent an extra fifteen minutes in her morning Poojai after that. The first breakthrough came because of Ruku Maami, when she recommended her brother’s son as - perfect for me. The boy in question was an engineer, which got the parental approval. The boy was also tall, which was necessary. Ruku Maami said a million times, he is fair. As a family that doesn’t approve of male objectification, we were amused and annoyed. The boy’s family was from Mogappair.
Mogappair va, Amma asked a little suspiciously, even while she was searching her memory for some Maami she knew, who would do a character check. Not willing to let go of a tall, fair engineer as his prospective son-in-law, Appa chastised Amma for being a Geographist.
For the next few weeks, it was referred to as the Mogappair Case. Appa would climb up and down the three floors of stairs three times a day to see if anyone had dropped a letter into our mail-box. As he would huff and puff up into our house and walk in empty handed, Amma would tell him that the postal department had only twice a day delivery. This would start an argument and finally Amma would say something like, may be it is a postal holiday today.
At the mention of anything to do with the Indian Postal Service, Madras Thatha would perk up and announce with some pride that there were only fourteen Postal holidays this year. Since, Madras Thatha’s Appa was in the Indian Post and Telegraph Service and Madras Thatha is a philatelist, so anything to do with postal services appeals to him. Madras Thatha would collect stamps, both commemorative and definitive ones and has promised to give them to S – the only one to display sufficient enthusiasm for the hobby. All those horoscopes that came for T Anna, Madras Thatha would slowly and scientifically peel of the stamps and stick them in an old diary (1997) filled with simultaneous equations that I had tried to solve. So, even he was disappointed that, Mogappair Case wasn’t responding to us.
A week later, a thick envelope arrived, through a local courier. Madras Thatha was unimpressed, but Amma and Appa were relieved. Appa read the letter aloud to everyone, as superlatives after superlatives were used to describe the potential groom. I already didn’t like the Mogappair Boy and chose to maintain a stoic silence. A phone call later, a photograph of mine was demanded for. Please courier it, Mogappair Maama said.
Courier va, Madras Thatha said and shook his head in sadness.
Why are they in such a hurry, Paati asked suspiciously?
But the photo was sent and a response was waited for. Appa waited for a courier with a photograph of the “very attractive”, “very fair” and “athletic and fit” boy. None came. Two weeks later when I was coming back home, I saw a fat envelope in the mail-box. When I got it upstairs, Appa and Amma almost pounced on me. My photograph had been returned, with a short and curt note – wishing my parents good luck.
When I came out after having washed my face and feet, Appa told to Amma, I would never send my daughter to Mogappair anyway.
I couldn’t help smiling at that.
That was the start, after that several letters came. Some came through the courier while some others came through snail mail. Some came with adequate postage stamp while some others came with less than the amount of postage stamps that were needed. Some came from T Nagar and some from the world outside of T Nagar. Some very cryptically written and some that was meant to completely sweep you away with all the content. Some proudly proclaimed their pedigree and others sounded apologetic about the lack of one. Some traced the lineage back a few generations while others didn’t even talk about the parents. Some were self absorbed while others were self deprecatory. Appa and Amma would sort and resort them, and then put them into different plastic covers. An old diary was used to note down when letters were sent. Those who wanted us to email them, were viewed with suspicion.
Some came from places that would make Amma pull out the atlas and look for these places. Someone wrote from a place called Akhnoor, in Jammu, no less. Amma was shocked, it will be so cold for my ATP, she said mournfully. Someone wrote from Durgapur. At least it has a National Institute of Technology, Amma said after some help from Google. Some left us feeling conflicted, like a proud father writing about his super achiever son, but in an envelope that said - Bhaba Atomic Research Centre. Between our reverence for old world and cutting edge technology companies was also our dislike for people who stole office stationery.
And through all of this, Thatha collected a large number of stamps. First, cutting them out with a pair of scissors and then soaking them in a mug of water and rubbing away the envelope bits as well as the glue. It is a scientific process, he insisted.
Sometime back, Appa did some calculations. It seems that, the neighbourhood photocopier charges Re 1 for one page of photo-copying. That is four rupees for a set and forty rupees for the ten that Appa gets every month. Amma proclaimed that it equaled the price of one kilo of Vendakkai and one and a half litres of Aavin milk. The dramatic tone that Amma used made me feel guilty about this financial burden. S, offered to photocopy horoscopes at the Students Xerox store, where she gets her Chemistry notes done. At 25 paise a page, it was an offer Appa couldn’t refuse. And fifty copies of my horoscope were taken.
The ink is a little faint, Amma complained. Thatha took out his royal blue ink pen, cleaned it, filled it with black ink and highlighted in each of those copies that I was born at 8:32 am and not 8:32 pm, lest someone with a vision problem were to see my horoscope.
But now, T Anna wants it to be changed.
So, one hundred and fifteen rupees of postage stamps, fifty grams of turmeric powder, twenty three boys, nine cities and one heart-break later, a new horoscope would be released into the marriage "market".
Of course, I am the same, yet different. My skin shall be a few shades lighter, my hair shall be shinier, my height a little lesser, my voice shall be lovelier and my world a little larger and overall just a little less truthful.
Tomorrow we will go to the Vadaplani Kovil, to break coconuts in view of S’s upcoming big exam. We will also break an extra coconut for the Version 2.0 release as well.
Till then, Thatha is happy with the soaking envelopes and collecting stamps. He opens his stamp notebook and shows off with great pride, a 1987 stamp of Madras Christian College and a 2003 one of the lovely Government Museum in Egmore.
When I see my lovely city in all its glory, across sixteen years, I forgive all those twenty-three boys who didn’t fall in love with my brown skin.
I only wish that my Thatha lives long, and collects stamps forever.