When Dimple Met Rishi
Dimple couldn’t stop smiling. It was like two invisible puppeteers, standing stage left and stage right, were yanking on strings to lift up the corners of her mouth.
Okay, or maybe something less creepy. The point was, the urge to grin felt irresistible.
Dimple clicked on the e-mail again and read it. Stanford. She was going to Stanford. Even though the acceptance letter had come in the mail weeks ago, she hadn’t allowed herself to really, fully believe it until her student log-in details had come via e-mail. She’d thought that, at the last minute, Papa would have second thoughts and renege on the deposit. Or that Mamma would call and tell them Dimple had changed her mind (and if you didn’t think Mamma would do something like that, you’d never met her).
But no, it had all actually worked out. Everything was settled. She was officially enrolled.
Now, if only . . .
Dimple clicked over to the other window she had open, her smile fading just a tad.
Insomnia Con 2017:
A fabulous opportunity for rising high school seniors or recent grads! Come learn the basics of web development on the sunny SFSU campus this summer!
Just shut up and take my money, Dimple thought.
But it wasn’t that easy. It would be an incredible opportunity—this was true. She’d have a leg up on everyone else when she started Stanford in the fall. And think of the contacts she’d make! Some of the biggest names in web development had gone through Insomnia Con: Jenny Lindt, for instance. The woman was a genius. She’d basically designed and coded the billion-dollar Meeting Space app and website from the ground up. It made Dimple salivate just to think of sitting through the same classes, participating in the same activities, walking the same campus as she had.
But she didn’t know if she could push her luck with the parental unit.
The summer program cost a thousand dollars. And while Papa and Mamma were solidly middle class, they weren’t exactly flush. Not to mention she’d already stretched her luck about as far as it could go, she was sure, by asking—nay, haranguing—them to let her go to Stanford. She was sure the only reason they had agreed was because they were secretly hoping she’d meet the I.I.H. of her—no, their—dreams at the prestigious school.
I.I.H., for the uninitiated, stood for Ideal Indian Husband.
Uggghh. Just thinking about it made her want to banshee-scream into a pillow.
“Diiiiimpllllle?” Mamma sounded screechy and frantic as usual.
When Dimple was younger, she’d go running downstairs, heart pounding every single time, terrified something awful had happened. And every single time Mamma would be doing something mundane like rummaging in the kitchen cupboard, greeting her casually with, “Have you seen my saffron?” Mamma never understood why it made Dimple so livid.
“Just a minute, Mamma!” she shouted back, knowing full well it would be more than a minute. Dimple now knew better than to rush when she heard her Mamma call. They’d arrived at an uneasy truce—Mamma didn’t have to modulate her tone if Dimple didn’t have to drop everything and rush to her aid for saffron emergencies.
She clicked through the photo gallery on the Insomnia Con website for another five minutes, sighing at the building’s giant glass and chrome structure, at the tech nerds grouped together in inviting clusters, at the pictures of previous, jubilant winners of the legendary talent contest that gave them extra seed money for their apps or websites. Dimple would kill to be one of them someday.
Participants of Insomnia Con were tasked to come up with a concept for the most groundbreaking app they could conceive during their month and a half at the SFSU campus. Although no one could actually code an entire app in that time frame, the idea was to get as close as possible by the judging round. There were rumors that, this year, the winners would get the chance to have their concept critiqued by Jenny Lindt herself. Now that would be epic.
Dimple said a little prayer that she’d win a thousand-dollar lottery, turned off her monitor, adjusted her ratty gray salwar kameez, and made her way downstairs.
• • •
“Woh kuch iske baare mein keh rahi thi na?” Papa was saying. Didn’t she mention this?
Dimple stopped, ears perked. Were they talking about her? She strained to hear more, but Mamma pitched her voice too low, and Dimple couldn’t make out anything else. Of course. When she actually wanted to listen, Mamma decided to be quiet and reserved. Sighing, she walked into the living room.
Was it her imagination or did her parents look a little flushed? Almost . . . guilty? She raised her eyebrows. “Mamma, Papa. Did you need something?”
“Dimple, tell me again about—oh.” The guilty look disappeared as Mamma pursed her magenta lipsticked mouth, taking Dimple’s appearance in. “Wearing specs?” She pointed to Dimple’s glasses, perched on the end of her nose like usual. Mamma’s eyes roamed, squinting with disapproval at Dimple’s unruly black curly hair (which she refused to let grow past her shoulders), her face so completely unadorned with makeup, and sadly, in spite of Mamma’s optimistic naming, nary a dimple in sight.
She should be thankful I brushed my teeth this morning, Dimple thought. But Mamma would never understand Dimple’s aversion to makeup and fashion. Every other week one of the aunties from the Indian Association came over to help Mamma dye her roots black while Papa was at work. He was under the impression she still had her youthful color.
“Where are your contacts? And remember when I showed you how to do kaajal?” Kaajal was the potted eyeliner that was hugely popular in Mamma’s youth, a trend which she apparently hadn’t noticed had died away sometime in the ’70s.
“Vividly,” Dimple muttered, trying to tamp down the annoyance in her voice. From beside Mamma, Papa, ever the peacemaker, was making a surreptitious please let it go face. “I just graduated three days ago, Mamma. Can’t I have this week to relax and be lazy?”
Papa’s face now resembled a roti that had been left in the pan too long.
“Relax and be lazy!” Mamma thundered. Her glass bangles jangled in synchrony. “Do you think you’re going to find a husband by being lazy? Do you think, for the past twenty-two years since marrying your father, I’ve had a minute to myself to be lazy?”
Of course not, Dimple thought. Because you’ve been too busy hovering. She bit her tongue and sank down on the sofa, knowing that once Mamma got started, she’d be at it for a while. It was better to let her talk until the words petered out, like those windup chattering teeth you could buy at the joke store. There were a million things she could say in acerbic response, of course, but Dimple still hadn’t ruled out asking to enroll in Insomnia Con if the opportunity presented itself. It was in her best interest to hold back.
“No, I haven’t,” Mamma continued. “?‘Lazy’ shouldn’t be in a woman’s vocabulary.” Adjusting the violet dupatta on her gold and pink salwar kameez, Mamma settled against the couch. She looked like the brilliant Indian flower Dimple knew she herself would never be. “You know, Dimple, a grown daughter is a reflection of her mother. What do you think others in our community will think of me if they see you . . . like this?” She made a vague gesture at Dimple’s person. “Not that you aren’t beautiful, beti, you are, which is what makes it even more tragic—”
Dimple knew she shouldn’t. But the flare of temper that overtook
her made it all but impossible to stop the flood of words leaving her mouth. “That is such a misogynistic view, Mamma!” she said, jumping up, pushing her glasses up on her nose. Papa was muttering something under his breath now. He might’ve been praying.
Mamma looked like she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Misogynistic! You call your own mother misogynistic?” Mamma darted an indignant look at Papa, who appeared to be extremely invested in a loose thread on his kurta. Turning back to Dimple, Mamma snapped, “This is what I’m worried about! You lose sight of the important things, Dimple. Looking nice, making an effort . . . these are the things girls value in our culture. Not this”—she made air quotes, which up until now Dimple hadn’t realized she knew how to use—“?‘misogyny’ business.”
Dimple groaned and clutched her head, feeling like that ancient pressure cooker Mamma still used when she made idli cakes. She was sure there was an actual chance she would explode. There was no way she and Mamma were related; they may as well have been two entirely different species. “Seriously? That’s what you think I should be relegating my brain space to? Looking nice? Like, if I don’t make the effort to look beautiful, my entire existence is nullified? Nothing else matters—not my intellect, not my personality or my accomplishments; my hopes and dreams mean nothing if I’m not wearing eyeliner?” Her voice had risen incrementally until it echoed off the high ceilings.
Mamma, caught up in the moment, stood to meet her glare. “Hai Ram, Dimple! It is not eyeliner—it is kaajal!”
Dimple’s temper flashed, the heat tempered only slightly by the dampness of disappointment. This was an argument they’d had so
many times, she and Mamma could probably say each other’s lines. It was like they were constantly speaking two different languages, each trying to convince the other in an alien lexicon. Why couldn’t Mamma make the smallest effort to understand where Dimple was coming from? Did she really think Dimple had nothing valuable to contribute besides her looks? The thought made Dimple’s pulse skyrocket. She leaned forward, face flaming, ready to speak her mind about how she really felt—
The doorbell chime echoed through the house, bringing them to a standstill. Dimple’s heart still raced, but she felt all the million old arguments stall, unspoken behind her lips.
Mamma adjusted her dupatta, which had begun to fall off during the argument, and took a deep breath. “We have guests,” she said demurely, patting her hair. “I trust you will behave for them, Dimple?”
Papa looked at her with big, pleading eyes.
Dimple managed a curt nod, thinking, Saved by the bell, Mamma. You don’t know how lucky you are.