I had never met Lalitha until last Thursday. When everyone around us was congratulating her, I did too. “Sooo… What are you celebrating, can I ask?!!” I asked her with a big smile on my face and my hand reaching out to shake hers.
“Oh yeah, sure! Jimmy and I got married.” She returned my smile as she strained her neck a little to glance over my head. I half turned around to my right to see a tall young man with slicked back hair and a small stubble smiling at me.
He was holding a plate full of Indian food in his hands. The plate, I later observed in detail, had 2 bajjis, 2 garlic naans, 2 balls of malai kofta, a spoon of raita and a small heap of rice in the middle. I have to say, I was impressed. How was a white guy managing such a neatly arranged ensemble of ethnic cuisine, I wondered.
I moved a little to accommodate him to squeeze through the little space between our tables. Ram was celebrating his 60th birthday and we were all here for the big party. This restaurant is a new one on this side of Atlanta, and I was excited to check it out.
There were quite a few folks I knew already and there were some new faces. I like to put myself near strangers, so you know, I can get their “stories”. It’s a writer’s life, and it’s our prerogative to hunt for them.
As the evening gathered momentum, the private room we were in turned bright and lively. On one side of the room was the bar, and two big screen TVs at both ends. And on the other side, the room was separated from the rest of the restaurant by a wall made by steel strands suspended from the ceiling. These steel strands had thick 4 inch rectangular glass pieces cascading in a waterfall pattern.
At the bottom of each strand they were bolted to the beautiful cushioned seats. These seats ran through the length of the separation. Across from these seats were our tables and chairs at which some of us were seated. The reflections of the bright colored party dresses and sarees in the mirrors on the wall brought a magical glow to the cozy setting. I promise you, it’s not my red wine talking.
As we tip toed back and forth between the buffet setting and to our tables for getting refills of food, I kept stopping to chat with those I knew.
Back at the tables, someone patted on my shoulder as I was deep in conversation with my husband. “Gauri, oh my God, how are you? It’s been such a long time!” I said, to which Gauri said, “I know, we only meet at Vani’s parties” referring to Ram’s wife. We both laughed and I asked her to join us. As she sat and said hello to my husband, Gauri moved a dirty napkin and I moved the glass in front of me to make space for her plate.
As we caught up, I saw Lalitha walk back to her table. “Hey, your phone rang when you left.” I told her. She thanked me and reached for her phone. “That’s my daughter, my mom’s watching her.” She told us before calling her back.
Gauri burst into laughter loudly as she said, “Daughter? She just got married! Did she just say she has a … “
“Gauri, tell me, how’s your dog? Yogi would love to hang out with him! You also have a dingo, right?” I almost screamed into her face as if to change the topic and praying that Lalitha didn’t hear Gauri’s sarcasm.
I could feel my face flush as Gauri attempted to finish her observation. Even though we were not at the same table as Lalitha’s we were all seated fairly close to one another. And thankfully, at the moment, Jimmy wasn’t there at his seat.
I interjected again. “Gauri, where’s your husband? Shas would love to meet him.” I said as I pretended to look around. I saw from the corner of my eye that Lalitha was just ending the call with her daughter.
Luckily for us, the crowd grew, other people joined us and the topics quickly went from dogs, to children and to all the summer vacations people were taking.
As we ate and drank, I saw how Lalitha and Jimmy were chatting. Jimmy was digging his fingers into the food, bringing it to his mouth without trouble and thoroughly enjoying it. 99% people of Indian origin here eating with forks and knives and one white guy unabashedly eating the “Indian” way. What a difference 8000 miles from the homeland can make?
An hour later, people started to say that it was time for a toast. As Raj stood at his table and others gathered around him to cheer him cut the cake, Lalitha and I found ourselves in the back of the group.
We were standing there staring at the floor for a few seconds. We were too far for our own cheers to matter and we were too strange to each other to start a conversation. Yet, when I could sense her gaze turn towards me, I met her eyes.
“Jimmy knew about my divorce and my 7 year old daughter before we started dating.” She said without any prompting from me. I think I hid my surprise at her candidness well as I didn’t miss a beat before asking, “That’s great, tell me how you met!” I was also eager to hide my frustration and sadness that she must have heard what Gauri had said about her daughter and her being a new bride.
Lalitha is 47 and Jimmy turns 40 next year. Lalitha is from Chicago (Imagine the courage of the Indian couple in Chicago who, almost half a century ago, decided to name their child Lalitha. On top of that, its a homophone to Nabokov’s Lolitha) and Jimmy from Nashville. They had both moved to ATL for work before one day in 2017, they both swiped right on OK Cupid. They decided to meet in Piedmont park and that’s the beginning to their story.
Lalitha and I exchanged numbers and called it a night at around midnight. The party was winding down as my husband and I stepped into our car.
During our drive back home, I stayed quiet while riding shot gun. So many people, and so many ways we find love. And what do we do with all those people who talk without a full comprehension of the diversity of lives around them?
Everyone can live life their way as long as they’re not encroaching on others’ civil liberties. Isn’t it?
NOTE: SHORT STORY Originally Written On: July 4th, 2023 at 6:30pm
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About The Article Author:
I see myself as an advocate for bringing social, emotional and character development to families, schools and communities. I never want to let this idea out of my sight – Our children are not just GPAs. I’m a Writer and a Certified Master Coach in NLP and CBT. Until 2017, I was also a Big Data Scientist. In December of 2044, I hope to win the Nobel. Namasté.
Write to me or call me. Tell me what support from me looks like.
Program Director & Essential Life Skills Coach for Kids and Busy Parents
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