[Photo Credit: Imaan Sheikh]

Okay, so he’s not that bad-looking. He looks fit. His beard is neatly trimmed, his paghri is on point and he has a decent enough smile. His style is interesting, to say the least. A blue blazer with a pink shirt? Bold. He’s also got some great shoe game with his grey Nikes. Thank God he didn’t show up in a kurta pajama.

So, Maya beta, I hear that you enjoy singing?

his mother asks me. I notice how her fingers, perfectly manicured in a glossy pink, have been clutching the plate of hot samosas ever since she sat down. Her matching pink dupatta falls on her lap, revealing a rose-gold floral necklace and earrings. The façade of class is almost shattered with her intermittent bites of a samosa. I can almost picture her snacking at a roadside stall in a simple beige sari and perhaps a cheeky rose-gold ring.

Yes, she is so talented! Last week, Sonu Aunty asked if she could perform a shabadh at the gurdwara,

my mom replies for me. She places her hand, adorned with deep purple nail polish, on mine—bare and unkempt. She gives me a giddy smile. I look at her baby blue salwar kameez that brightens her smile. Damn it—it suits her but I won’t tell her yet. I’m still angry about this set-up.

God, this black salwar kameez is so itchy. Apparently, according to mom, lace is ‘in’ now.  It allows for more scandalous areas, such as my clavicle, upper arm and a smidge of my upper torso to be seen in a ‘tasteful’ way. When I stand up to help my mom to play host, I feel his eyes lingering on me for just a second. I steal a glance, and he lowers his gaze almost immediately.

Oh my God, I just joined Zumba! The girls in the gym are so skinny, like twigs!

his mother yelps. I just don’t understand how the conversation went from singing to Zumba. Isn’t jet lag supposed to be over after five days? It must be 2 AM in LA right now. Oh, I miss the fresh smell of Mary Jane. And tacos! Not so much the smell of tears and sweat of exasperated college kids during final season but I’ll take it over this.

“Oh, let me get some more samosas,” my mother offers. Okay, I lied. All I want right now is to eat all the samosas.

“Oh no, I can’t eat more. What about my Zumba?!” his mother protests but after a few seconds of resistance, she finally gives in. Yas aunty! If only she didn’t comment on how chubby I looked from the moment she laid her eyes on me. Black salwar kameez, you failed me. Wait, is that why mom wanted me to wear black?

Why don’t we let the kids talk and get to know each other?

his mother asks. I shoot a look at my mother. Kids? I think. We’re talking about marriage here, for goodness sake. Where does she think babies come from? Holding hands?

“Good idea! Uh, Maya do you want to take Dilraj outside and maybe walk around the neighbourhood?” mom suggests. Okay… So his name is Dilraj. And, walk around the neighbourhood? What, so every aunty on this block can see us together? But also, I have to give her props, it’s the only way they’ll know I’m highly sought-after.

Sure, um, shall we?

I stand up awkwardly, waiting for him to follow. I give a shy smile and giggle. God, am I giddy already? How desperate am I for male attention? I think of the last guy who stayed over and how he almost made me pay for his Uber from Culver City to Burbank. Maybe I’m just looking for someone who can pay for his own damn ride.

“Um.. Maya?” he asks me. I quickly zone back into reality. I give a toothy smile and we make our way outside the house. We walk side-by-side as we pass the rows of uninspiring beige houses with blue doors and numerous stall vendors urging us to indulge in greasy heaven. The air smells of ice cream, choley, sweat and impulse perfume. I close my eyes and can almost hear the distant chatters and smell the salty waves crashing at the shore. I’m momentarily transported back to Santa Monica, strolling around the pier.

When I open my eyes I half expect to see a group of kids eating ice cream by the beach but instead, I see a hoard of aunties approaching us. I take a deep breath. It’s the same group of aunties who religiously go for their evening walks, with their 3-month-old Nikes and their plain-coloured salwar kameez without the dupattas. I glance at my Fitbit to see that it’s only 5:04 PM. A bit early for the group, I think. When I see them snicker amongst themselves, I realize that today is a special occasion: the inspection of boy #3. My favorite aunty, the only one who fashions leggings with a tank top, brushes past me and pinches my arm.

You can do better,

she whispers. I smile.

“So… How did you like studying in the US?” he asks me. I didn’t expect his voice to be so cheery, almost like this experience wasn’t painful for him. It catches me by surprise. I try to look at him to respond but at the same time try to not trip over while walking on the sidewalk. How do they make ‘going for a walk’ look so romantic in the movies? Ugh.

“Oh, it was wonderful!” I reply, my voice a bit too cheery as well. I talk about how I loved the freedom and independence I experienced while in the US, away from the control exerted from family. But I also tell him how I missed having a community that celebrated my desi-ness. He tells me about his experiences going to college while living at home, and how he craved for more freedom. We find that we both love traveling and pesto. Wow—finding common ground. I start thinking that maybe… Just maybe… He’s kind of cute?

So, um, have you had any boyfriends?

Ah, the dreaded question. Okay, I knew this was coming. He seems chill, though, so I guess I can be honest. But who knows.

“Uh, yeah!” my voice goes a pitch higher again. “I have, but nothing serious… You?”

“Oh, just few a dates here and there. None that my mom approved of.” I start laughing. How refreshing—a joke! I look over at him but his expression remains somber. I definitely misread that.

“Ummm…” I cough and try to find a way to salvage this mishap. “Anyone your mom liked?” I ask.

“No… I know it’s a bit old-fashioned but I guess I’m not too comfortable dating or casual dating yet,” he says. Fair enough, I think. “So what does that mean… ‘Nothing serious’?” he asks.

“Oh, not like a boyfriend/girlfriend type of thing,” I say. “I didn’t have the time! Or wasn’t really looking for anything.”

“So the relationships weren’t intimate?” he asks, hesitatingly. 

I pause. I decide to deflect the conversation. “Yeah, not emotionally at all. We didn’t connect.” Now he pauses. I feel us slowing down as he recollects his thoughts. I turn back to look at the group of aunties but they’re nowhere to be found. I try to distract myself by looking at the kids running around with a soccer ball but I’m aware of the sweat forming on my forehead and armpits. God, maybe wearing black wasn’t the best decision after all.

“I mean to say… Are you a virgin?” he finally asks. My jaw immediately drops.

“Um…” I look at him with panic and confusion. “Wait, what?”

I mean, my mom and I are looking for someone who is…you know.

“Who is what?” I ask.

“How do I say this?” he hesitates. 

“Say what?” I continue looking at him. He starts to squirm.

Sanskari… you know? 

he finally responds.

“So everyone else isn’t sanskari, you mean to say?” I quip back. 

“No, you know what I mean,”

he says. His quick dismissal of my question angers me, and I start feeling myself entering panic mode. However, we continue to walk while I try to calm myself down. Why is the word ‘sanskari’ only thrown around women? What about the men? Was he even a virgin?

“So is your mother looking to sleep with your wife as well?” I ask.

“Excuse me?!” he comes to a sudden halt and looks right at me.

“I mean you said you and your mom are looking for a virginal wife.” I feel the fury growing inside of me. I can’t help my tongue. 

“That’s very rude,” he says sternly. 

“And what you just said wasn’t?”

We end up in a stare-down. I sense the soccer kids hush as they pass by. I guess we must look pretty intense. I can even hear the birds chirping a little softer.

The rest of the walk home is awkward, to say the least. Dripped in silence, he doesn’t dare look at me until we enter the living room. Our moms are still going at it in their over-enthusiastic voices talking smack about some other aunty’s daughter—classic! I almost think they could be good friends. His mother looks over at me and then she turns her gaze to him, and her smile vanishes.

She glances back over at me with a fake smile, as if I hadn’t clocked what just happened. Did he have a coded expression on his face, I wonder? Does an eyebrow twitch mean ‘let’s-get-out-of-here-and-have-daal-chaal-at-home-ASAP-’? My mom notices the tension in the room and improvises by offering him another samosa. He politely declines.

“Oh, um, Dilraj you have your meeting tonight, right?” his mom asks. He nods and she quickly sets down her plate. She picks up her purse and rearranges her dupatta in haste. My mom walks them to the door and gives his mother a hug. Before I even have a chance to bid them farewell, they beeline to their car and drive away. Huh. I guess words can be a repellent for men?

My mom turns and pesters me,

what happened beta? Why did they leave so quickly?

I plop myself on the sofa and give her a shrug. I finally grab a samosa and devour it. I’d definitely choose samosas over men any day.

Well, let’s go back to the word Sanskar, which has its origins in Sanskrit. A very simplistic definition in the context of this story, and by no means the only definition, is the values, virtues, and behavioral traits that are deemed acceptable by family and the greater community. Someone sanskari, therefore, follows the sanskars or the ‘rules’ that conform to the norms of society, such as respecting and obeying elders, wearing appropriate clothing, embodying the virtues of chastity and retaining the family norms and traditions.

Unfortunately, the term sanskari has been used to undercut the value of individuals who choose to confront the more outdated, sexist and problematic virtues and values that are prevalent in society. It has come to mean someone who does not wear revealing clothing, has never had sexual experiences prior to marriage, never speaks back to elders, can run a household and does not indulge in profanity or unchaste behaviour. If you are not considered sanskari by the proverbial uncles and aunties, then you have somehow not preserved the sanctity of the greater culture and should, therefore, be banished.


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