It's that time of the year when we wake up at 2.00 a.m. and head for the airport.
The U.S. invasion of India has begun. Wait! Don't panic and call up A.K. Antony, as many of these American invaders are my own kin. They always arrive (around 3.00 a.m.) in August in my city, Chennai, either because there are four weddings and a poonal to attend, or it's time for another root canal, and there's no better place than India for these important annual events.
So off we go to the airport and wave with excitement as we spot them: Look! There's Karthik anna with Baby Alankritha ! And how tall Agasthya and Annirudha have grown! But our cousin Mythili hasn't caught our eye yet as her vision is blocked by 2000 Pampers diapers that's she's wheeling out.
It's 5.00 a.m. and we're home! While our cousins exclaim how totally cool it is that our maid has turned up so early to make rangolis for their arrival, the older brats exclaim, 'Why is it SO HOT here, Mom?' And shortly after, 'WHY are their bathrooms so WET, Mom?' Two things we'll hear about 125 times more in the next two weeks.
They're opening their boxes! How wonderful that they have again got us Aunt Jemima's Maple Syrup (quick, run to the fridge and remove last year's bottle, which we still haven't opened and make room for this one), and Trader Joes pizza topping, and hey, there's even a just-heat-and eat malai kofta they've brought us all the way from America as it's 'simply awesome' and has the authentic north Indian flavour we south Indians somehow can't get. And how thoughtful! There's chocolates, or rather, candy for our maid's son, and sugar-free cookies for our diabetic elderly aunt, who is hastily assured that cookies are just another word for biscuits, and contain no eggs.
(Perhaps we shouldn't have ungraciously exclaimed. "But we get all these in Amma Nana store these days")
But here's what we love most of all: LG Asafoetida (export quality) bought at the Dallas Indian Store, which is way more superior than what we get here at Avenue Store.
Time to give them our traditional south Indian breakfast! Even though Baby Alankritha has come with her own food supply of 200 tiny bottles of Gerbers apple stew, but surely the two boys can try some idlis with chutney? Sorry, what we meant to say was, white steamed rice balls with coconut sauce
Ok, now forget about jet lag, as we all have to rush off shopping at Nalli's and Sundari's or else Latha Tailors will never give the blouses on time before the wedding. So off we go, as our U.S.-returns scream "oh my gawd, T. Nagar traffic has become even more insane" But how attentive the staff are, as they easily spot an NRI shopper, and the male salesmen even pleat and drape the saris perfectly around themselves to help us make decisions. And since we are in the Mambalam area, says someone, why not finish a couple of relative visits? Even though the two older brats complain on the way home, 'Why do all your relatives keep asking us if we want to drink Bournvita or Horlicks, Mom?'
Time to dress up for the weddings! Off we go in our resplendent silks, even though the stubborn boys have refused to wear the FabIndia kurtas bought just for the occasion, and come in their usual oversized Tees, sneakers and cap worn backwards.
And then we scream above the din of the nadaswaram music in the crowded wedding hall: "Do you know who this is? This is your Ambi mama who is Cheelu athai's son-in-law Gopi's cousin, who is married to Ramani athimber's daughter, who is also the co-sister of Lavanya Aunty who visited us all from San Jose and gave you Amar Chitra Katha comics, remember?"
Our threatening whisper, "Remember! Do namaskaram!" can hardly be heard in all noise, as we approach the front row with several 90-year-old relatives, and the boys are wishing they were playing touch-football in West Virginia rather than touch-the-relative's-feet in West Mambalam. Anyway, we proudly tell the elders that these boys can easily spell hydrargyrum and ecossaise which helped them reach the finals of the Spelling Bee in the Houston county championships, this year.
And then it's time to break our heads over what gifts to give the kids before they leave. Something from our own culture, of course. So we eagerly hand over Panchatantra and Illustrated Folk Tales of India and The Children's Mahabharata and My Little Autorickshaw. And the boys immediately exclaim, "But this is exactly what you gave us last year!" and back they go to playing a video game called "The Return of Skull Smasher" all the way to the airport.
Time to say our fond goodbyes! Oh no, there's an argument breaking out between our cousin and her husband, who is asking her to abandon the heavy box of sweets and savouries from Grand Sweets, rather than pay excess baggage, but our cousin firmly gets her way, and off they go through the gate, and even the baby says Ta Ta Bye Bye, which our maids have taught her. And we say, don't forget to put all the home-made chutney in the fridge the minute you reach home or else they may spoil. And we'll start looking for a nice AC hall, don't worry, for the boys' thread ceremony next year. And do remember to bring us more badams.