shook his hand and said “We will take it”. The salesman went in to get the paperwork for our new car while I looked at Jamuna. We were both happy about our first new car, a Maroon 1998 Toyota Corolla. The salesman returned with a form and offered the extended warranty, which we took and the undercarriage treatment which we refused. Ten minutes later, we were driving out of the parking lot in our new car.
“Do you know the car is worth less now than it was a minute ago?” I said.
“No regrets, no worries… We’ve got our car now. What is the plan for the weekend?” remarked Jamuna.
“My schoolmate Meenakshisundaram is in Chicago. We can visit him this weekend.”
That evening I called Meenakshisundaram and told him we will be visiting him on Saturday. He was working for a telecommunications company and living in Naperville, Illinois.
* * *
It was a 5½ hour drive from Detroit. Meenakshisundaram was standing in the parking lot while we pulled in. It had been almost 8 years since we last met.
“That’s a nice new car. You haven’t let the Desi crowd down. You chose a Toyota!”
“Do you remember the farewell day at school when a bunch of guys dented your dad’s car?”
“Yes, that evening I just parked the car in our garage and did not tell anyone what happened. My dad was furious!” laughed Meenakshisundaram. “You guys freshen up. We’ll go bowling tonight!”
“I will make some Masala Dosas…” Jamuna exclaimed.
“Did you tell her about my first day in school and how all the boys were heartbroken?” asked Meenakshisundaram.
“What’s that?” smiled Jamuna.
“Well, my father had a transfer and we moved into Chennai. It was the 9th grade when I joined school. When the class name list was published, the school made a small mistake. They spelt my name as Meenakshi Sundaram. All the boys thought Meenakshi was a girl. Imagine their faces when I walked in!”
Jamuna laughed uncontrollably.
We talked about various things that evening ranging from Meenakshisundaram’s escapades in school to work and family. The conversation then turned to the experience in the United States.
“You know we get all these sales calls right at dinner time. Once I got a call from a credit card company and the sales rep had a tough time with my name. ‘It is Meenakshisundaram’, I say. She asks me to spell it for her and I go, ‘M – as in Meenakshisundaram, E – as in…’ and the phone went dead.”
“It has just been a couple of months for us since we moved to the United States from India and we found something very strange! It may just be a coincidence… Every time we went to a store for shopping, we would find a happy Indian couple. They would come to us, introduce themselves and invite us to their home to meet with them and their friends. They all ran businesses of their own! America, the Land of Opportunity!” Jamuna said.
“It was always Indian couples. Either the Indian diaspora is extremely friendly or there is some other strange phenomenon going on!” I said.
“You don’t have to look any further” he said opening a closet. There were two shelves full of household items – soaps, detergent cans, cologne, moisturizers etc., Jamuna and I looked at each other a little puzzled. That was way too much for a single guy!
“A similar Indian couple met me when I was shopping at a WalMart and invited me to their home for a ‘business meeting’. Later on I found out that these are products made by a direct selling company and these folks were business owners who are compensated for bringing in new clients/business owners into the direct selling network. What you see here is from the initial cost that I sunk into that after meeting them. I had never been able to line up even one person! So much for direct sales... The products are good, so I continue to use them… These will probably last me a couple of years!”
“Okay, so is that why all those couples approached us?” asked Jamuna with a petrified look.
“It is Divine Intervention!” I said.
Later that evening we went to the Diversey River Bowl for a fantastic bowling night with sound activated lights. The next day we toured downtown Chicago – Sears Towers, The Field Museum and other attractions. We then drove back to Detroit after a memorable weekend.
* * *
Jamuna and I were in Chidambaram to attend the marriage of my cousin Ganesh.
“Can we visit the Natarajar temple before we go to the wedding reception?”
“Sure, why not?”
The hotel where we stayed was just a few minutes away from the famous temple. We reached the temple around 4:15 PM. The door to the inner courtyard was closed and we were told it would be opened in another fifteen minutes.
“The last time I was in Chidambaram was in 1991 when I applied for engineering at the Annamalai University. I ended up staying in Chennai as I got admitted in a college there.”
We sat in the stairs in the hall that led to the doors. There were close to a hundred people waiting just like us. Children were playing in the huge corridors and the place was buzzing with chatter.
The door opened and the crowd moved in. We moved along with the crowd and had a good Darshan of the Lord. We walked around the temple and stopped at one of the shrines. The priest finished the Aarti and came to us.
“Where are you from?” he enquired.
“We are from Chennai” Jamuna replied.
He pulled out a receipt book and said, “For fifty rupees, we will do an Archana on every Pradhosham and every month we will send the Prasadam to your home address. You can make the booking right here!”
“Are you sure you want to do this?” I asked Jamuna taking a step away from that place.
“This is a matter of The Divine… and it is just fifty rupees. Do you have the cash?” asked Jamuna, slightly miffed at my hesitation.
“Okay. If you say so…” I pulled out my wallet.
“That’s six hundred rupees for the entire year. What did you say your name was?” said the priest.