Last weekend, The Mrs and I were invited to the Lee’s for a scrumptious lunch. We have known Lee and his wife Suzie ever since our kids were very small. I think we met them at the Eisteddfods – their daughter, Anne, excelled in the piano from an early age. I could not believe it when Lee showed me his family photo. Anne is already a mother of two gorgeous kids. Words aren’t necessary to tell me I have become an old man since I last saw her. Lee and Suzie are fantastic cooks. Well, chefs, actually. They aren’t only amazing at producing great meals from time-tested recipes and exotic ingredients, but they are both adept at creating their own unique flavours and new recipes. Lee is well-respected as a goumand with his Swiss patisserie and French gourmet foods and his deep knowledge of wines, whereas Suzie enjoys high accolades for her Malaysian and Nonya cuisine. It is no surprise therefore that we were greatly excited when their invitation arrived. What will it be? His to-die-for duck confit paired with a bold Aussie red or a refreshing Chardonnay to match some scalloped Portobello mushrooms and melted blue cheese with udon noodles? Lee has a soft spot for Pinot Noir, his new-found favourites are those from Rippon in New Zealand. Their dessert will be spectacular. They always are! It would not surprise me if it is something money can’t buy as I have had the privilege to enjoy some delicacies in the past that the shops here do not sell.
Suzie is amazing – a devout Buddhist and therefore a strict vegetarian, she has no qualms about cooking meat dishes for her guests. Only a self-respecting person would respect others with not only different beliefs from hers but opposing ones. Well, maybe she knows we do agree with her about not killing animals for food. It’s just that we have much less self-control. The Mrs and I are both failed vegetarians. To be honest, we didn’t even get far up the ethical chart. We were merely pescatarians. I was a scrawny teenager then and decided from a consequentialist standpoint, a beefed up body was better than abstaining from beef after three years. At the time, my argument with myself did not extend to factors such as global warming caused by cow farts and cow burps. It still seems far-fetched to me that bovine methane gases can have such impact on greenhouse gases in our atmosphere! Decision-making is a lot easier when we are less knowledgeable. The Mrs tried valiantly to be a vegetarian about three years ago when some of our chooks got taken by a fox. The consequence of loving our chooks meant she had to stop eating meat. We can’t love something yet love eating it. Our chooks were undemanding and their love for us was unconditional. I mean, they didn’t ever complain about being fed the same food twice a day every day and leftovers headed for the rubbish bin were as exciting for them as freshly plucked vegetables and grass. Furthermore, they never ever argued with us. How not to have loved them?! But, The Mrs needed both her hips replaced, and her doctor advised her she needed to boost up her protein intake and build up her muscles for a quicker recovery. As a consequence, she went back to loving eating chooks again.
Lee and Suzie live quite far from us, by Adelaide standards anyway. Anywhere that requires more than half an hour to get to is far, by definition. Their single-storey house is in a north-eastern suburb. Somehow, we were able to find it even though the exact street name still escapes me. Maybe this ability to zone in on a place without knowing its precise address is inherited from the birds. After all, they were here over 160 million years before us. The suburb greeted us as it did some twenty odd years ago. Not much has changed – this is the beauty about Adelaide – except their driveway is now paved which made me miss the crunching sound that my car tyres used to make on their white pebbles. As I let my car rolled silently towards the shade provided by a kind old tree in the middle of the garden, I told myself the deeply etched crow’s feet around my eyes would have been thankful they were spared more damage without the harsh glare from the whiteness of the pebbles.
At the door, we were greeted by a rather excited Greyhound that wasn’t grey. Once I had convinced myself their dog wasn’t going to leave its teeth marks on me, a quick scan with my inquisitive eyes informed me they were still as house-proud as they were all those years ago. Everything is in its rightful place, and why not? Saves them from looking for things, right? Their house isn’t sterile like a showroom; comfortably lived in, it is neat and cosy, the absence of pretence most gratifying. Rooms with palatial dimensions to me are grotesque and only show off their pretentious owners. I like these guys, they are as honest as my mirror. What you see is what you get, and it is real. They are really honest people. They call a spade a spade. Lee is still a proud owner of a baby grand and he is still taking lessons from one of the most respected piano teachers in Adelaide! I realised now I have no more excuses about not picking up my violin again. The excuse about my frozen shoulder has been done to death. A perceptive niece said last week there is absolutely no need to lift my violin over my shoulders. That is not how I hold my violin. I will need to rethink my reasons for failing to front up at the local orchestra. It cannot be because of my fear of embarrassing myself in front of the bad players there.
Our hosts showed us to their new entertainment area. Even before I reached the kitchen which was situated in the middle of their house, my nostrils were seduced by the complex fragrances of our lunch. Nasi Lemak! Suzie was quick to confirm as she stopped to show us the wok of curry chicken. I would have been happy just to stay in the kitchen and absorb all the familiar smells of a Malaysian curry. But, The Mrs was already wowing loudly in the next room. She was going ape over their new entertainment room. It had replaced a humble patch of neglected lawn in the backyard behind their garage. Remove the unsightly lawn, add a 18-foot roof and two commercial ceiling-to-floor blinds, and it becomes a beautiful room that can accommodate fifty guests easily. Over hors d’oeuvres and a bottle of Croser Chardonnay, I learned Kuai, their dog, could easily run 60 km/h or was it 0-100 km/h in 6 seconds? Anyway, it was impressive and I remember telling myself not to upset Kuai. It would take me 6 seconds just to get up from bed and walk to the ensuite bathroom a few steps away. No wonder they named him fast in Chinese!
My punctilious host made sure my wine glass was never empty as I busily examined the array of appetisers on the table. As I was pushing another smoked salmon bite into my full mouth, swelling my cheeks, more guests arrived. How do you eat cracker biscuits without making a mess? And how do you hold one with loose toppings without looking overly feminine? As we were being introduced to the young couple, I looked at them through my Von Arkel (Switzerland) glasses that were made in France. I had always wanted to own something chic that is French, and these plain glasses were the only ones within my budget. My busy mouth was still madly pushing the last slivers of salmon and dried cracker biscuit down my throat when Arjun extended his hand to shake mine. I politely smiled at him, unaware that the upward movement of my lips were about to cause some cracker crumbs to drop off onto the clean floor.
Arjun introduced me to his wife, Teena. He is a supremely confident young man, with an intelligent face, a square jaw and a physique that is perfectly enhanced by his black well-ironed Nehru suit. His alert shining eyes miss nothing, and would have zeroed in on the crumbs next to my chair. His occiput is nothing like what I have been seeing lately in my friends, there is no unsightly baldness there. Teena can easily be a leading lady in any Bollywood movie, such is her dazzling beauty. Her oval shaped face is decorated with a matching pair of healthy eyebrows that complement the most stunning almond eyes, a slender nose that is sandwiched by high cheekbones and a voluptuous pair of lips that beamed teeth so white I can guarantee she has never tasted coffee, tea and red wine. Her long earlobes are reminiscent of Buddha’s, a strong hint of her wisdom and intellect. She came across to me as bright, gentle and sonsy. “We lived in Argentina for a few years,” Arjun continued to tell his story. A hundred years ago, it was one of the richest countries in the world, famous for its beef from the pampas. But, their reliance on agriculture over industrialisation during the Peron years in mid 1900’s eventually led to stagnation and inflation, thus the song, ‘Don’t cry for me, Argentina’. Since 2015, loose money supply policies have seen many rounds of currency devaluations and rampant inflation as a result. Their monthly inflation rate of over 50% has seen their stock market doubled since March this year. I used to think surging asset prices means the economy is going gangbusters. Now, I know it is merely proof that money is becoming worthless and we need more and more cash to buy less and less, hence prices go up, even asset prices such as real estate. The acerbity in The Mrs’ voice had warned me not to talk about cryptocurrencies on our way there, so, the opportunity to add to Arjun’s story was missed.
Instead, I asked Arjun how they met. I wanted to find out about their love story. He hails from Mumbai, briefly known as Bombay in their history when they were occupied by the British. I had to be the predictably boring listener and asked if that was because they were gin drinkers in that part of India. Why else would they name the popular brand of gin after a city? Teena told us she was born in a county named something-Pradesh. No, it wasn’t because she had a heavy Indian accent that I didn’t catch the full name of her town but rather, it was due to my ignorance of Indian geography. In fact she spoke clearly and in perfect English. “And how did you guys meet?” I pressed them again for their love story. “Careful, don’t tell him! He will write about it, ” my sister said. “I didn’t set my eyes on him until our wedding day,” Teena ignored my sister and dropped the bombshell. “You didn’t know what he looked like at all until the wedding ceremony?” I asked in a calm manner like I was asking about the weather whilst in actual fact, my mind was buzzing like it was about to go haywire. “My parents met him once, so they were able to describe him to me,” she added. I knew she wasn’t blind; so it had to be an arranged marriage. “They told me he’s very handsome and very smart. Well educated, kind and gentle and from the same caste,” she listed all the important credentials that he needed to have. “And you didn’t mind that your parents made the decision for you?” I asked. The most important decision in anyone’s life, in fact. “No, I trust my parents. Besides, they discussed it with the other elders in my family,” Teena smiled, expecting that all of us in the room would understand and agree. Well, maybe not expecting, I mean, why would she care if we understood and agreed or not. She wouldn’t. Just like Arjun, she is smart and educated too. A modern woman who now lives in Australia but with a set of very different values and beliefs. I was in awe, actually. That these traditions can not only survive over many thousands of years but still thrive in an era where blockchain technology and the internet of things are about to explode and become the way of life here on earth and in other metaverses. These old ways of picking a partner for life is arcane in our modern societies, but are they necessarily wrong? Looking at the divorce rates today, who are we to judge what is right or wrong? In front of me were two beautiful people, obviously in love and happy in each other’s company. Their insouciance about what others think of their arcane customs and their cheerful demeanour when sharing their experiences only made it more admirable and more believable.
In their world, the male still has some advantages. That made me envious. Why did Pa relinquish his? Why did we give it up? Arjun had the ‘privilege’ to look at the photos of all the ‘candidates’ recommended to him by his parents. Although he also had no say in who they picked for him, I suspected his mother would have considered his feelings in the matter. If a son violently dislikes a photo of the chosen bride shoved in his face, any mother would reconsider, right? Arjun had the benefit of at least knowing what his bride looked like. He went into the contract with eyes wide open. But, I suppose she did too, despite not knowing what he looked like. Her eyes too were wide open. She knew what she was getting into, because there is trust. There is respect for her elders. There is love; love for her parents. Therefore, she knew their decision would be wise, well-considered and right, for her. As long as she is happy, right? And she is! My own parents were match-made too, although for them it was love at first sight, well, at least for my mother. My father, being a man of his era, did not tell me. Men of his era did not confide in their children about their feelings, love life or personal problems. Ma “didn’t mind” being asked to marry that tall handsome man. Yes, she was asked. Her elders said the two of them were compatible, from similar backgrounds and spoke the same dialect, and they could see the man was ‘going places’, someone who was going to be successful or at least give his best. They were not well educated, poverty being a powerful barrier to luxuries such as education. Arjun and Teena are both exceptionally intelligent and highly educated. They are blessed with the right choices their elders made for them (lucky, some may say) and truly, the world is their oyster. The Mrs perhaps said it accurately, “Your marriage is made in Heaven.” Match-made by the gods, actually.