(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, dated 21 August, 2010)
“Do you know we’re illegitimate?”
It was one of the times I’d loved to have had glasses I could adjust before I looked up at my little brother and asked the obvious question.
However, he was too thrilled at this scandalous twist to the boring inception of his hitherto mundane life to get annoyed.
“It’s like this, Akka,” he said, calmly, “Ma says she is not legally married.” He suddenly looked past me, mumbled “aiyo” and scuttled off to his room, looking much smaller than his eight inch height advantage over my father warranted.
“What’s all that nonsense?” my father demanded, “what have you been telling the children?”
“Is it true?” I looked at my mother severely, and she shrugged rather sheepishly. I sighed, “Ma, did you lose your marriage certificate or what? In the termite attack?”
“What marriage certificate?” she laughed.
“What’s all this nonsense? What are you telling her?” my father repeated, in a louder voice, “you know she’s going to go write about this somewhere.”
“Our marriage has been sanctified by agni sakshi,” my mother grinned, “and so many witnesses that my mouth began to ache with all the smiling and thanking. What are we going to do with a marriage certificate?”
“Ma, that idiot says we’re illegitimate,” my older younger brother walked in, and stopped when he saw my father, “oh, damn.” Then he decided the damage had been done anyway, and went on, “so if you get divorced, you’re not entitled to anything?” Then he paused. "Can you get divorced if you're not married?"
“Can you get me coffee first, please?” my father had sat down by now.
“Deepu, they’re so cool,” my little brother popped in again, sufficiently emboldened by the three-pronged attack, “we can tell everyone our parents are in a live-in relationship.”
“You come here, mister,” our father stood up, sending the boy running to my mother, who stands a foot shorter than he.
“Dei, you’ll spill the coffee!” my mother shouted out, her priorities right on track, as always, “a marriage certificate was unheard of in those days, unless you needed a visa to go abroad. It’s like your prenup.”
“Prenup?”my father asked, bewildered.
My mother made an impatient noise, “prenuptial agreement, pa.”
“That’s what they call it in your Desperate House, is it?”my father growled.
My little brother giggled. “They’re two different things. House is a doctor-based drama. Desperate Housewives is a…milf-based soap.” He high-fived my other brother.
“There’s a new milk-based soap?” my grandmother’s voice was always the first indication of her presence, “can you buy it? This Yardley really dries my skin.”
“The kizhams in our family are way too progressive,” the older of my brothers muttered, as the other one groaned.
“Whom are you calling old?” my grandmother demanded, “you know, our tenant thought your mother and I are sisters!”
“That’s an insult to Amma, not a compliment to you,” my brother said.
“Did you say milk-based or milf-based?”my grandmother asked, “what is ‘milf’?”
“I’ll look it up,” my father took out his BlackBerry.
“Aiyo. If you trusted each other enough to get married illegally, why can’t you trust us at all?” my younger brother mumbled.
“Who got married illegally?” my grandmother demanded, “go read the Hindu Marriage Act. I’m a lawyer, aren’t I? Do you know, I can get you married to someone before you turn eighteen and the police can’t touch me unless you register a complaint! It is still recognised as a marriage until annulment.”
Between blushes, he sulked, “I’m nineteen, Paatti.”