A short time ago, in what might well be the exact center of India, if such a place exists, lived a handsome, albeit slightly lazy and extremely spoiled, prince. Prince Prithviraj, or Raj to his friends, or more often, Prithviraj Anuj Reddy to his mother, whom he referred to as Mother, and who, wielding Indian guilt like a batsman protecting the wickets at the Ranji Trophy cricket championship, was constantly chiding him about getting married and providing her with grandchildren, even though I, um, he, already told her, time and again that he, a modern accomplished Indian Prince, would not stand for an arranged marriage.
…wielding Indian guilt like a batsman protecting the wickets at the Ranji Trophy cricket championship,
Where was I, oh yes, Raj, or rather Mother, tired of a life without a legacy, decided it was time for marriage, and more importantly, grandchildren, and presented Raj with an offer. Rather than a traditional arranged marriage, Raj could choose three women who would compete, through a series of tests, for the honor of being Princess FNU (first name unknown, prounounced fenew)—unless FNU shared the same name as one of the maids, in which case, Princess FNU would become Princess New FNU, because Ganesh forbid we should allow a princess to share the same name as a maid—we saw how that worked out for cousin Akash’s wife, everyone mistaking her for a housekeeper, all the while Mother berating him to change the wife’s name, riding him like a rented Manipuro polo pony until he finally relented. Half the family still doesn’t know her name.
…riding him like a rented Manipuro polo pony until he finally relented. Half the family still doesn’t know her name.
Raj, having ruminated on the idea for a time, thought perhaps he might actually beat Mother at her own game. “I think this might work in my favor,” said Raj aloud; however, a practical prince, Raj knew the consequences if one of the women passed all of the challenges—he would be trapped like the once great Indian tiger in a pit, circling, clawing at the walls of marriage until his nails were ripped away. “No, that will not do at all,” Raj thought. “I must stack the Ganjifa by selecting suitable women.”
“I am quite brilliant,” thought Raj, “quite brilliant indeed.”
The first woman, Tapira, was from Hyderabad, the daughter of a scooter repairman cum part-time Uber driver. Plain of face and short in stature, she would bare many round, plump children, if Raj could see past her crossed eyes (pun totally intended). Reportedly the result of being kicked in the head several years ago as she bent down to tighten her sandal behind a water buffalo, her lack of common sense thusly demonstrated, she fit perfectly into Raj’s plan.
The second woman, Bottlema, hailed from Mahabubnagar, an economically and industrially backward district, where she worked in a Gadwal silk shop making sari’s for export. Although quite lovely, she sported no discernible mane. Bottlema dreamt of becoming an internationally renowned hair stylist, a lofty goal, considering she partook of no formal training on the subject and had thus far only one client, Bottlema. Lacking willing test subjects, she took to dying her own hair, employing a mix of chemicals and a dash of local lore to create for herself the most beautiful blonde hair, nay, the only blonde hair in all of Mahabubnagar. When she awoke the following morning, it was to a snoot full of wool, which to date had shown no sign of returning, earning her the privilege of participating as candidate number two.
Finally, there was the woman from Warangal, ROchi. Spelled here as it appeared in the tattoo on her forearm, she was a solidly poor student throughout her formative years, placing near the bottom on virtually every standardized test. Had she studied even a little, she might have given more thought to the self-application of a black henna tattoo. Within minutes of painting the “R” and “O”, she realized her upper forearm had considerably more real-estate than did the lower, hence the last three letters small enough to fit on her wrist. “No worries,” she thought, “it will fade in a few weeks.” Unfortunately, her adverse reaction to the paraphenylenediamine in the mixture caused severe burns, effectively branding her for life and ensuring her position as Raj’s third candidate.
A full week passed before the three women were assembled and moved into a villa, MTV Jersey Shore style, in the Clear Heavens community—successfully negotiating Mother’s trials would earn them the right to be named Princess FNU, or New FNU, as the case may be.
Let the Games Begin
There were five challenges designed to evaluate the would-be brides suitability. First, there was lead, a test of each woman’s constitution. The second test, the nitrate challenge, forced each woman to demonstrate her grit by working the farm. Third was pesticide, meant to determine each woman’s willingness to sacrifice of herself. The fourth exam, known as the pH–Hardness test, would find each candidate’s toughness tested by Mother’s acid-like questioning—Mother preferred easily-influenced daughters-in-law, so a soft, weak-willed candidate would excel at this stage. Finally, during the fifth and final assessment, the princess hopefuls would ingest wine from the family label to determine their ability to party without embarrassing themselves—as reputation is foremost to Mother, failure at this point meant elimination.
During the first test, Bottlema, ROchi and Tapira were each placed in a room filled with lead paint for eight hours, after which a blood sample would reveal whether the substance impacted their body chemistry, thus eliminating them from princess-ly consideration. Fortunately for each, but not so much for Raj, all of the women being of strong stock found their tests negative for lead, bringing them into the second round.
During the second test, each candidate worked the royal farm for eight hours, shoveling manure, fertilizing the fields, and rotating the compost. Not only need they survive the grueling labor, they could not succumb to the problems of the environment, namely the nitrates in the food and water. Although each princess-idate performed admirably in the field, ROchi beamed with excitement as the results were announced—she had zero nitrates. While each candidate passed, ROchi’s results gave her a slight edge over Bottlema and Tapira going into round three.
The third test was meant to determine each woman’s willingness to risk her own health for the sake of her husband. Each night at dusk the palace was sprayed with a pesticide to kill mosquitos. Raj, having what he surmised was a quite natural tendency to become lost in reflective thought, occasionally was caught outside when the fog rolled upon the grounds. Each princess-to-be dashed 300 meters through the mosquito-killing, cancer-causing mist, holding her breath for as long as possible. Again, Bottlema, ROchi and Tapira completed the task and, having submitted to another blood test, which was negative in each case for the pesticide, moved on to the third challenge.
Test four, the pH–Hardness test, evaluated each woman’s grit. They sat before Mother for hours, the matriarch interrogating them about their families (hopefully they lived far away), views on religion (or rather, conversion, if there might be issues on that front), use of butter in cooking (more is better), amount of time spent getting ready in the morning (Bottlema being the quickest, owed in large part to her naked scalp), and thoughts about children (quantity valued over quality). When the results were tallied, ROchi again showed the most promise, demonstrating a softness and mold-ability only a mother-in-law could love. Tapira performed the worst, her solid resiliency and minerally personality putting her at the extreme, earning Mother’s ire and resentment.
The final challenge evaluated the princess hopefuls and their social graces, including manners, etiquette, fashion, and refinement. A princess should not embarrass the family. While Bottlema, ROchi and Tapira were plied with tea and scones in the final round, mother kept a watchful eye for any indication of sloppiness.
Mother is a hardliner when it comes to social graces and she spotted problems early in the final round. It was obvious Tapira could not hold her stature, crumbs flying from her mouth as she babbled on and on about her being the best from Hyderabad, “I’m all Tap and a bag of chips!” she yelled loud enough for Raj’s ancestors to hear. You could tell she was jealous and cowardly, her skin turning yellow as she watched the other hopefuls butter up Mother.
While Bottlema and ROchi remained happily in the running, beaming with purple cheeks, weaving splendidly amusing yarns about their innocent and unspoiled childhoods, Tapira continued to turn a putrid yellow, her indigestible, highly toxic personality threatening to infect Clear Heavens.
How did things end for Raj? ROchi being slightly more malleable in the hardness test, edged out Bottlema to become the next princess. ROchi and Bottlema, sharing much in common, remained friends. Princess ROchi—the staff all have different names, so she got to keep hers—and Raj lived happily ever after…having as little contact with Tapira as possible.
All images included herein are the author’s own work. He acknowledges his lack of drawing ability and hopes readers are not offended by what one might term an embarrassing attempt to add some color to this missive. The author will consider any images submitted by readers for replacement of the aforementioned embarrassing ones.
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Also posted on Medium.