Shiva's bull, Nandi, waiting to be conveyed to the holy river Bagmati
As Frank was sitting at his desk trying to convert into readable English a tedious draft report on fish farming written by a German expert, a plump middle-aged Indian memsahib
swept in without knocking, with her reasonably attractive, if meaty, daughter in tow. They were dressed in expensive saris, and the overpowering aroma they brought in with them smelled expensive too. Jenny was not there, and so his visitor commandeered her chair and placed it in front of his desk. Her daughter seated herself a little further back on the visitor’s chair.
She introduced herself and her daughter, imperiously stressing the fact that their family name was Shahanshah, the Persian name for King of Kings, the implication being that they were of ancient royal Persian stock. She then proceeded to tell him about her daughter’s qualifications and accomplishments. She had her school leaving certificate and could play the piano, and was excellent at embroidery. The daughter, who was past her first flush of youth and therefore in serious need of a husband, simpered in the background, but said nothing. Having laid out her daughter’s stall, the mother then proceeded to find out what Frank could offer in return. She asked him his age, and probed his family background. His father’s military background was well received, as was the news that his maternal grandfather had been a doctor. She moved on to his own brief history, and did her best to winkle out of him what his prospects in the UN were. He was beginning to enjoy the experience and took perverse pleasure in letting the air out of the memsahib
’s plans as he informed her that he was nothing more than a lowly volunteer, on a meagre Nepalese salary, with no career prospects in the UN whatsoever. The daughter seemed to find this funny, if her nervous giggles meant more than just nerves.
At this point Jegan entered, and introduced himself to his visitors. There was no chair for him, so he stood impressively before them. He revealed to the Shahanshahs, that his Daddy, as he put it, had been a Sinhalese Ambassador in various countries. The memsahib
showed some interest in this. She asked him some polite follow-up questions about his family and Jegan readily answered with endearing modesty, and when the questions petered out, he volunteered to tell their visitors about his career. The daughter had stopped simpering and giggling, and showed sign of discomfiture, and the mother’s interest in Jegan seemed limited to that of polite chit-chat between equals in the social pecking order. She told him nothing about her daughter’s accomplishments. On the surface of it, Jegan was a far better prospect for her daughter than Frank was. He was middle-aged, but had an established career in the UN. In contrast, although Frank had the advantage of youth, he had absolutely nothing to offer in the way of financial security, or social status. Jegan had put on a good show, but Frank guessed he suffered from a disadvantage he could do nothing about. No Nepalese mother from a high caste would want her ‘wheatish-complexioned’ daughter to marry a black Ravanna or Bhairab.
The unplanned interview broke up when Jenny returned and reclaimed her chair. Mrs Shahanshah’s daughter seemed relieved that her ordeal was over. After they had departed, Jenny and Frank had some fun speculating about Jegan’s marital prospects.
“You could do worse yourself,” Frank suggested mischievously after they had exhausted other outrageous possibilities.
“Heaven forbid!” she said.
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