The Mango Season

Prologue

Happiness Is a Mango

Don’t kill yourself if you get pregnant, was my mother’s advice to me when I was fifteen years old and a classmate of mine was rumored to have committed suicide because she was with child.

Along with the firm advice that I shouldn’t commit suicide was the advice—or rather the order—that I shouldn’t have sex until I was married and that I should marry the man of her choice, not mine.

Even though I was raised in a society where arranged marriage was the norm, I always thought it was barbaric to expect a girl of maybe twenty-one years to marry a man she knew even less than the milkman who, for the past decade, had been mixing water with the milk he sold her family.

I had escaped arranged marriage by coming to the United States to do a master’s in Computer Sciences at Texas A&M, by conveniently finding a job in Silicon Valley, and then by inventing several excuses to not go to India.

Now, seven years later, I had run out of excuses.

“What are you looking forward to the most?” Nick asked, as we were parked on the 101-South carpool lane on our way to the San Francisco International Airport.

“HAPPINESS,” I said without hesitation.

Summer, while I was growing up, was all about mangoes. Ripe, sweet mangoes that dripped juices down your throat, down your neck. The smell of a ripe mango would still evoke my taste buds, my memories, and for a while I would be a child again and it would be a hot summer day in India.

There was more to a mango than taste. My brother Natarajan, whom we all called Nate because it was faster to pronounce, and I, would always fight over the sticky stone at the center of the mango. If Ma was planning to chop one mango for lunch, the battle for the stone would begin at breakfast. Sucking on the sticky stone while holding it with bare hands was the most pleasurable thing one could do with a mango. Nate and I called the mango stone HAPPINESS.

HAPPINESS was a concept. A feeling. Triumph over a sibling. I had forgotten all about HAPPINESS until Nick’s rather pertinent question.

“It’s like drinking a pint of Guinness in the office after tax season,” I said in explanation when he didn’t seem to grasp the fundamentals of HAPPINESS.

Nick the accountant nodded his head in total understanding. “But there isn’t going to be much HAPPINESS in your trip once you tell the family about the handsome and humble American you’re involved with.”

When I first came to the United States, if anyone had told me I would be dating, living with, engaged to an American, I would have scoffed. Seven years later, I wore a pretty little diamond on my ring finger and carried in my heart the security only a good relationship could provide.

When Nick dropped me off at the international terminal he made sure I had my papers and passport. Careful, caring Accountant Nick!

“Off you go,” he said with a broad smile. “And call me once you get there.”

He wanted to come with me to India. “To meet your family, see your country,” he had said, and I gave him a look reserved for the retarded. He must be joking, I thought. How could he be serious? Hadn’t I told him time and again that my family was as conservative as his was liberal and that he would be lynched and I would be burned alive for bringing him, a foreigner, my lover, to my parents’ home?

“Off I go,” I said reluctantly, and leaned against him, my