I spent the weekend in Vancouver, as part of round one of my sister's wedding celebrations. Several friends told me they've been reading the blog, which was so nice to hear. Some complained they're too long, which is too bad for you because I've decided to embrace my verbosity. If you did read the entirety of last week's Bollywood blog, here's your reward. As promised, an excerpt from the novel.
After the news, the uncles went to the backyard with their drinks and the aunts sat on the sofas planning Cyrus’s sixth birthday party. Laila and Rashna, I noticed, kept glancing at Grandmother, whose eyes had begun to droop. As soon as her head fell to one side, Laila was at the TV, changing channels and lowering the volume while the boys slithered out of the parlor to go play chor-police in the large foyer, whose marbled floors were perfect for sliding around catching bad guys on. As the angst ridden faces of American teens fill the screen, the girls smiled contentedly. Every emotion of the characters played out on Laila’s face and even Rashna sat up straight, leaning slightly forward. Back home this show had been our guilty pleasure; Roop, Sara and I watched it every Wednesday night. Tonight, though, watching my cousins watch the show, I was suddenly hyper aware of little nuances; the clothes the characters wore, the things they said and did. It was all exaggerated, I knew that. But did these girls? I grimaced, recognizing this episode. The father was having an affair, the mother was hitting the bottle, and one of the emaciated teens was going to OD on prescription drugs by the end of the episode. A teenaged couple stared at the bed they were being forced to share for the night.
Laila glanced at me and looked quickly away. Oh God, were they thinking this was what my life was like? I laughed under my breath at the irony. Mum had made it plenty clear that dating wasn’t an option. Once, Dad stopped at a traffic light right beside a teenaged couple making out at a bus stop.
“Chee,” Mum had said, “No sharam these ghoras have. That girl will be pregnant by dinnertime.” She turned to me. “Katayoon, remember, you must marry a Nice Parsi Boy.”
I shuddered at the sound of my full name. “Those two are dating, not getting married.”
“We don’t date. We marry. And when you marry, it’ll be to a Nice Parsi Boy.”
“If I marry, it’ll be to someone I love. We’re not some backward villagers, Mum. This isn’t the sixteenth century that you can barter me off to whoever offers you the most goats.”
“Goats? Who’s talking about goats? See, Freddy, didn’t I tell you? Bring them here and they lose all respect for our ways.”
The show cut to commercial and Laila whipped around. “Do you have a boyfriend, Katya?”
My cheeks burned as I thought of Phil – could I even call him my ex after only three months? “No.”
Dilshad Aunty’s ears had perked up. “Chalo chalo, Katya, time to get serious soon, haan? What are you, 22, 23?”
“25 in a few months.”
She bit her tongue between her front teeth, a worried look on her face.
“Knowing her mother, Dilshad, I’m sure she’s had an eye out for years.” We hadn’t realized Grandmother had awoken and Laila glanced nervously at the TV. “That woman knows how to marry well.”
“Oh, this is a great movie,” Coomie Aunty said loudly, preventing Grandmother from dropping the next bombshell. She had already changed the channel, and Laila breathed a sigh of relief.
Toned, tanned bodies filled the screen, wearing even less clothing than the American teens we’d just seen traipsing around Southern California. As a child, I had watched Hindi movies most afternoons, my head in my favorite ayah's lap. But those had looked nothing like this. Two guys broke into a song, the actress between them pretending at first to be irritated but soon breaking into a perfectly synchronized dance with them.
“Wait, what’s going on?” I whispered to Laila. Instead of the two men hitting on the girl, they seemed to be dancing with each other.
“These two are pretending to be,” she paused, leaned on my leg and whispered, “Gays.” Giggling she continued, “They have to pretend so that that girl that they both like would stay with them in their apartment.”
“Why is she wearing a bikini top under her sari?” I asked.
Laila laughed, “It’s the style, silly. Isn’t she gorgeous. I wish I had her body.”
Rashna said, “Well, you have to work at it, you know.”
Laila’s face fell. Her yellow t-shirt was snug across her waist, and her hair was in a side ponytail, a look she couldn’t pull off with her short hair. Her mouth tugged downwards, and I couldn’t stand it.
Putting an arm around her shoulder, I asked, “Tell me, why are there so many white people behind her?”
“They’re in Miami.”
“Why? I thought this was an Indian movie.”
Her eyes sparkled. “Bollywood has gone Hollywood. They film in UK, US, Australia. Don’t you remember Salaam Namaste from a few years ago? It was shot completely in Australia. Kal Ho Na Ho was set in New York. DDLJ was shot partly in UK and Switzerland. K3G was shot partly in UK.” She counted the titles on her fingers, oblivious to my oblivion of all the acronyms she stated. She trailed off and was soon glued back to the movie, her arm remaining on my leg.
“Coomie, Dilshad, this is really inappropriate for the children,” Grandmother said as the two guys sandwiched the bikini-sari girl and air-humped her.
Her daughters didn’t hear her. “God, Dil, isn’t John Abraham yummy?” Coomie Aunty was saying.
“Nayee, yaar, Coomie, I like Abhishek. Tall like his father he is.”
Grandmother grunted. “His father had class, this boy is soiling the Bachchan family name with this behavior. What…what is he doing with his hips? How vulgar.”
“It’s called gyrating,” Laila said.
“Filthy,” the OC said. “I did not approve it on that Elvis Presley and I do not approve it on our men.”
No one heard her; they all stared at the TV. The uncles came in from the balcony as the song ended and Rohinton Uncle bounced his shoulders and swiveled his hips. Even Grandmother cracked the tiniest of smiles.