Late on Sunday night, Silk messaged asking us to lunch the next day. She is leaving on the 24th to Shenzhen to begin a new phase of her life – her first job! Don’t we know it all!
So, just after class, we arrange to meet her at the university’s South Gate. Silk is already there. Jorg has to meet some German friend, and is not coming. Dressed in a blue silk gown, Silk looks like she has lost a little bit of that weight she desperately wanted to lose. She protests though when I tell her that. “But I have been eating so much! And drinking!” she laughs. “Perhaps, that’s the way,” I say, laughing in turn. She has a surprise. Apparently, her Dad and Mom are also coming for lunch – and a good friend of her Dad. This man, she tells us, is married to an Indian. Intriguing, I thought.
Entering the swanky restaurant, we go immediately to a private room. There sits a man, dark, swarthy and with a moustache – he looks Indian. For a moment, I am confused. Did Silk say the man was Indian or the wife? The Chinese have no separate word for male or female in spoken form – Tā – and as a result, they get confused when using English with its different words for male and female. We get introduced, and my doubts are immediately put to rest. He is Lawrence, and the accent gives him away as an American. His wife though is definitely Indian – she is in the U.S. Photos are passed around. Sujata, his wife, and his daughter. Sujata comes from a mixed Malayalam-Tamil family. Originally from Kerala, her parents settled down in Ooty. “How did you two meet?” we ask, curious as ever. “When I saw her the first time, I told her I want to marry her,” Lawrence laughs. Sujata was apparently not amused, giving him a “are you crazy?” look. Her family were aghast though when she eventually gave in. Lawrence was a divorcee, and he looks to be at least 20 years older than her. She was 26 at the time. I can imagine the furor at home! Lawrence though had plenty of things going for him – he was an American, and the lure of the green devil swayed Sujata’s parents. Money was not going to be an issue. Lawrence and Sujata got married according to Hindu tradition – only after Sujata insisted that their kids if any, would be raised according to Indian values.
And now, 10 years later, all seems fine. Lawrence is retired now – he has a home in the woods in New Jersey complete with ducks and wolves. He occasionally needs to make business visits – Silk’s father is his business partner. But life seems to be placid. Sujata’s Mom keeps coming over to visit – their daughter is now 9, and she is already thinking of pedicures and manicures. “Oooh Mamma is lovely,” Lawrence gushes. “You know what her favorite food is? Sausages!” he laughs. Lawrence is easy to talk to – he has an evident understanding of Indian culture – more than any other foreigner I have come across. And he is fun. “Oh, my wife and daughter, they are having a ball now!” he says when asked how they are coping in his absence. “Women, you know, don’t need a man,” he adds, to uproarious laughter. “We need them. Desperately,” he winks. Lawrence also dotes on his daughter. “She shouldn’t get married ever,” he states, with the possessive grimness that devoted Dads often profess. It reminds me of this Kannada movie I watched called nanna kanasu or my dream where the father is desperately trying to scuttle his own daughter’s wedding.
The food though was a little bit sparse. I was a bit surprised that Silk’s Mom under-ordered. Usually, the Chinese are petrified that food may run out, causing them to lose face, so they usually order more than what anyone can eat. Here, the food was just right. In fact, I could have done with a little bit more, although the mushroom noodle soup we ordered was brilliant. It tasted a little bit like the Indian green chilly spice I am used to – and the noodles were flower noodles – just pulled little balls of dough, twisted into tiny pieces. Delicious. All too soon, it was time to leave. And I said good bye to Silk – not sure of course, when we will meet – but in the short time we were here, she became one of the few really good Chinese friends we had.