Labor Day  Excerpt from: An Indian in Cowboy Country by Pradeep Anand © Pradeep Anand, 2006

Labor Day Excerpt from: An Indian in Cowboy Country by Pradeep Anand © Pradeep Anand, 2006

September 2, 2014

Come Labor Day, the Lunch Bunch and their spouses descended on Satish and Monica’s home in Sugar Land.

 

It was a single-story, ranch-style home on an outsized lot. The St. Augustine grass in the front yard was manicured, and several crepe myrtles with pinkish-red flowers blossomed in the summer heat. It also had four oak trees surrounded by bushes of Mexican heather, blooming begonias, and an assortment of heat-resistant perennials, such as blue Lily of the Nile and Day Lilies. All borders were lined with variegated monkey grass. At the entrance to the home, two large Hibiscus plants displayed giant, gloriously red flowers.

 

The greenery outside extended into the home. Bright green potted plants adorned almost every window of this well-lit, airy home with high cathedral ceilings. Several identical pots of African violets adorned the large French windowsills of the integrated kitchen and breakfast area that overlooked the backyard.

 

The formal dining area, adjacent to the front door, was dominated by an antique cherry dining table surrounded by ten New England ladder chairs. They matched the table, sideboard, buffet, and china cabinet. A plant peered through the window at the far corner, where the gold-gray curtain, topped by a valance, was drawn.

 

Elegantly framed prints of Monet’s Nympheas were neatly displayed on the walls of the formal living room, as if in a museum. The cushioned formal sofas, stationed across from them, and the curtains and valances, were understated and subdued. They complimented the colors of the pastoral paintings without overpowering them.

 

The Sharmas’ den was an informal room. Laminated Indian tourism posters, remnants from Satish’s bachelor days, and colorful Indian wall hangings and sofa cushions gave it an ethnic touch. A wall unit encased a large TV and a stereo system with two large speakers, carefully positioned to create a sweet spot, where Satish used to sit on the sofa to listen to music before Seeta was born.

 

The kitchen and breakfast areas, at the far end of the home, with open entrances to the dining room and den, were spotlessly clean. The white, tiled countertop displayed eight silver serving spoons neatly placed in front of eight serving bowls containing Indian dishes that a stressed-out Monica had toiled over during the weekend. Tandoori chicken was kept warm in the oven.

 

In all the rooms, ceiling fans were running violently fast, joining forces with the home’s two-zone central air-conditioners to cool the home and its inhabitants. They also distributed the aromas from the kitchen.

 

“Golly, this home sure smells like someone’s been cooking,” Clyde said when he and his wife, Pauline, stepped into the home. Dressed as if they were going to the rodeo—Wrangler jeans, open-collared western shirts, and boots —they made a beeline for the kitchen. They introduced themselves to Monica, and Pauline gave her a bouquet of the finest long-stemmed roses she had seen. Clyde also brought a six-pack of beer that his host preferred.

 

Monica accepted the gifts graciously and said, “You shouldn’t have; it wasn’t necessary.” Pauline replied, “We couldn’t come here empty handed, could we, darlin’?”

 

 

Clyde conceded that it was her idea to bring the roses, and his idea to bring the six-pack. “It’d look mighty strange if I brought Satish a bouquet of flowers, wouldn’t it?”

 

Clyde looked at the array of covered serving bowls that had been set on the kitchen counter and began opening each one of them, inhaling the steamy smells. “Hot dog, Monica. Next time I

 

 

 

Excerpt from An Indian in Cowboy Country by Pradeep Anand: Page 3 of 9                                    © Pradeep Anand

 

 

participate in a chili cook-off, I want you to be my partner. You gotta tell me how you create this bouquet of aromas!”

 

Pauline pulled him away. “I apologize, honey. He’s attracted to food like wasps to barbecue,” she said. Satish smiled at an amused Monica, who was getting her first taste of an authentic Texan couple in close quarters.

 

Just then, the bell rang. Dan arrived with his date, Miriam, and her two-year-old daughter, Liya. Like Clyde before him, Dan and Miriam searched out Monica, gave her a gift-wrapped package, and insisted that she open it immediately. It was a mahogany plaque with a silver plated inscription in Hebrew.

 

Dan said that it was a house blessing and translated the inscription: “In this place there shall dwell peace. Upon this residence shall rest tranquility. Upon this abode shall dwell brotherly love. Here shall they meet with satisfaction and happiness with blessing and success. Within these beams shall sing the voice of thanks. In this residence and in this corner shall dwell the holy presence.” He added that, in Hebrew, the words rhymed by stanza.

 

Miriam then gave another package to Liya and asked her to give it to Seeta, who did not need an invitation to open it. It was a large brown teddy bear, which she hugged immediately. She said,

 

“Thank you. This is the best teddy bear I ever had.” She hugged Liya, took her by her hand, and led her to her room to play with her toys.

 

“Where’s the beer?” Dan asked. Satish retrieved three bottles from a large cooler filled with ice and chilled beer. He handed one each to his friends, who were gathered around the breakfast table that was laden with hors d’oeuvres. The ladies preferred chilled white wine and iced tea.

 

The doorbell rang again, and when Satish opened the door, he saw Darrell and Sam, both with their wives. Darrell’s wife, Serena, was a tall, handsome, dark-haired woman. Satish thought she looked more Middle Eastern than Hispanic.

 

He was surprised to see Sam’s wife, Susan, who was a stunning Oriental. Satish did not let his astonishment show as he welcomed the quartet into his home. They joined the rest of the team in the kitchen.

 

“You have a beautiful home, Monica,” Susan said. She gave Monica a bottle of champagne, which she gave her husband. He untied its red ribbon, commented on the label and the vintage, and put it in the fridge to preserve it for a special occasion.

 

“Thank you, Susan,” Monica said, doing little to cover her amazement that Sam’s wife was of

 

Chinese origin.

 

Almost simultaneously, Darrell gave Satish a large, gift-wrapped box that he politely accepted and opened. It was a foot-and-a-half tall, gold- and silver-plated mariner’s constellation compass. It had four movable rings around a central compass, all encircled by two entwined dragons.

 

“It is beautiful. Thank you so much, Darrell and Serena,” Satish said. “You shouldn’t have,” Monica said.

 

Darrell raised the bottle of beer that Dan had just given him, turned to Satish and said, “May your True North always guide you, my friend.”

 

The rest of the Lunch Bunch and their spouses raised their glasses, said, “Cheers!” and took quick sips of their drinks.

 

“Enough of this stuff. When do we eat?” asked Clyde.

 

“Shush, Clyde. That ain’t polite, darlin’. Why don’t you and the boys go outside to the purty backyard and do some men talk while we set the table,” suggested Pauline.

 

Clyde opened the back door from the breakfast area and went outside, asking the rest of men to join him. “C’mon let’s get out of their way. Satish, bring some more beer.”

 

 

 

 

Excerpt from An Indian in Cowboy Country by Pradeep Anand: Page 3 of 9                                    © Pradeep Anand

 

 

There were ten lawn chairs set in a circle on the covered patio. The men sat on alternative chairs, and all were cooled by the ceiling fan that created a mild breeze.

 

“Thank God summer’s almost over and we can have an outdoor life again,” Sam said, breaking

 

the ice.

“Yup. I am looking forward to nine months of paradise on earth,” Clyde conceded.

 

Darrell said, “You know, when I came to Houston from New England, I thought it was nothing but hot, brown, and dry, filled with tall, rough-riding, impolite Texans. But once I started visiting the place, I realized how wrong I was. Yes, it’s hot, but only for three months. The rest of the year is like heaven on earth. It’s green, lush, and sunny, and I can sail all year round in the Gulf.”

 

“To the best coast of the U.S.A.,” Dan said, and raised his bottle.

 

Darrell half raised his bottle in acknowledgment and said, “Let me share something with you,

 

Clyde, you being the only native Houstonian here. Texans are the warmest people, friendly and straight. I agree with Dan. It’s the best place in America to live, work, and raise a family.” He then raised his bottle to a full toast and took a gulp.

 

“You got that right, Darrell,” Clyde concurred.

 

Sam, too, raised his bottle and added, “It’s the diversity that makes it so livable. You can find people from all over the world here.”

 

Dan turned to his host and said, “You’ve been awfully quiet. What do you think?”

 

Satish said, “Where could I have met such good friends? To good friends.” He raised his bottle and took a swig. Noticing that his bottle was almost empty, he went to the nearby cooler, retrieved five more bottles, and took away the nearly empty bottles from his friends. As they twisted the tops off, Pauline appeared at the doorway and announced, “C’mon y’all. Lunch is served.”

 

The men trooped in with their cold beers and sat down at the table next to their wives. Monica and Miriam told them that the children had already eaten, and had gone back to Seeta’s room to play. Then a hush fell over the table till Pauline asked, “Do y’all say Grace before eating?”

 

When Monica nodded yes, Clyde said, “Why don’t you say Grace over this food we are about to receive in your native tongue?”

 

Monica looked at her husband, who asked her to continue. The guests and hosts closed their eyes and bent their heads reverentially while she recited the Brahmarpanam in Sanskrit.

 

When she had finished, Miriam asked what it meant. Monica again looked at Satish, who encouraged her to translate it.

“Brahmarpanam literally means ‘offering to God,’ and the Sanskrit words mean:

 

The offering is God; the act of offering is God, Offered by God in the sacred fire that is God He alone attains God,

 

Who in all his actions is fully absorbed in God. I am the all-pervading cosmic energy,

Lodged in the bodies of living beings.

 

United with their ingoing and outgoing life breaths,

I consume all the various foods.”

 

Satish added, “Before the Brahmarpanam, what we had in front of us was food. After we say it, it becomes consecrated food.”

 

“We don’t need to say formal prayers, just a sincere prayer from our hearts, thanking God and asking God to bless the food,” she said.

 

Pauline said, “Honey, it is so deep, it brought tears to my eyes.” “Yes,” conceded Miriam, “It was beautiful.”

 

 

 

 

Excerpt from An Indian in Cowboy Country by Pradeep Anand: Page 3 of 9                                    © Pradeep Anand

 

 

Susan and Serena joined in to praise Monica’s rendition when Clyde jumped in and asked, “When are we going to eat?”

 

Satish stood up and described all the dishes on the table. Monica added, “I apologize if you find it too hot and spicy.”

 

“Don’t worry, honey,” Pauline said, “I’ll eat anything as long as I don’t have to cook!” “Bon appetit,” declared Darrell as he served Serena a spoonful of mutter paneer.

 

“This smells delicious. Can you pass me some naan bread?” Susan asked as she served herself some chicken curry, aloo gobi, and raita.

 

Miriam and Dan focused on the spicy vegetable biryani rice and the chicken curry combination

 

“This Tandoori chicken is delicious. Best barbecued chicken I’ve ever had,” Clyde said, as he bit off a mouthful.

 

“But, I thought you were a vegetarian, Monica,” Dan said.

“Yes, I am,” Monica confessed. “Satish made the meat dishes. I made the vegetarian ones.”

 

Instantly, all the wives turned on their husbands and began to reproach them for their lack of culinary skills.

 

For the next two hours, in an atmosphere of banter and camaraderie, these five couples sat at the table, enjoyed each other’s company, and learned about how each pair had met.

 

 

END

 

The book is available at  https://astore.amazon.com/pradeepanand

 

Excerpt from An Indian in Cowboy Country by Pradeep Anand: Page 3 of 9                                    © Pradeep Anand