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Goddess for Hire
by Sonia Singh
Avon, 2004

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Chapter One

I never believed in dharma, karma, reincarnation, or any of that spiritual crap, which caused sort of a problem growing up because my parents are devout Hindus. Dharma, by the way, means life purpose in Sanskrit. By the time my thirtieth birthday rolled around, I still hadn't found my dharma, which caused my parents some worry, [read: anxiety, loss of sleep, despair, handwringing, tears, dizzy spells and a constant mumbling of nasty things about me in Hindi under their breath].

My birthday fell on the second Saturday of January, and as I zipped down Pacific Coast Highway in my canary yellow Hummer H2, I thought about upgrading to a bigger car.

Newport Beach, where we live, is a nice-looking beach city. Streets are wide, cars are expensive, bodies are beautiful, and neighborhoods are well tended. A French Colonial–style roof is not allowed when the zoning laws call for Spanish. For your coffee-drinking pleasure there is a Starbucks on every corner.

I like living in a place where the air is clean and neighbors hide their trash in discreet garbage cans made to blend in with the shrubbery. I am, however, tired of the impression that blond, blue-eyed families are the sole inhabitants of Newport Beach. This isn't Sweden for God's sake.

Indian people like to bitch about the big bad British ruling India for two hundred years. Big deal. Try growing up in Orange County. Most of my cousins sport blue contact lenses and dye their hair ash-blond. How's that for colonial impact?

For the record, I do not dye my dark tresses. I do, however, highlight.

I'd spent the afternoon enjoying a manicure and pedicure at the Bella Salon and Spa, followed by shopping at South Coast Plaza. My birthday happened to fall on a Saturday, but even if it hadn't, my plan would have been the same, one of the benefits to being unemployed.

Eight shopping bags later I was back in my SUV slurping on a Mocha Frappuccino. I'm not into meditation, and I don't do yoga. I don't blast sitar music in my car either. I prefer Madonna. I turned up the volume and felt my spirits rise.

As if it hadn't been bad enough rolling out of bed this morning knowing it was the start of my third decade, the night before my aunt Gayatri, a gynecologist, had come over to the house lugging an enormous chart of the female reproductive system.

By the time she was done I knew more about my vulva than I ever wanted to, and that I was fast on my way to acquiring the shriveled ovaries of a crone. Basically my dear aunt was hinting I'd better find a man and reproduce then and there. Well duh! She couldn't have been less subtle if she'd hit me over the head with the pink plastic vagina she kept in the car.

In traditional Indian culture, a woman is supposed to get married and have children -- strictly in that order -- by the time she's twenty-five. My female cousins and I, having been born and raised in America, have it considerably harder, not easier. We're all supposed to get married, have children, and be either a doctor, lawyer, or engineer, all by the time we're twenty-five.

My female cousins all found proper careers, married proper Indian boys, had proper Indian weddings, and properly lavish wedding receptions. If I ever get married, I definitely will not have some decrepit Hindu priest muttering in Sanskrit while pouring clarified butter over a fire, as I struggle not to inhale great quantities of smoke, praying frantically that my sari doesn't unravel, fall off, or burst into flames.

Now instead of spending my birthday with people whose company I enjoyed, I was on my way home to have dinner with my family. The last thing I wanted to do was eat Indian food and discuss recent advances in medical science. Hobnobbing with doctors wasn't my idea of fun. If it were, I'd be crashing AMA conferences across the state.

My mom's a pediatrician in private practice, my dad, a renowned urologist, and I mean the man gets absolutely giddy over bladder infections. My younger brother, Samir, is in his final year at Stanford Medical School. In fact, of all the ninety-seven adult members of the Mehra clan spread throughout the United States, ninety-six are doctors, the sole exception being yours truly.

Thereby proving, that contrary to popular belief India produces far more doctors than snake charmers. I would put engineers at a close second and, okay, maybe snake charmers at third.

Thereby also proving, that if life were a vegetarian Indian buffet, I'd be one, big, steaming plate of haggis.

I thought fleetingly of avoiding the dinner tonight, but with my mom it wasn't a request, it was an order. God, just because I live at home and spend their money, my parents think they can tell me what to do.

Maybe it was the fact I was consuming a beverage, conversing on my cell phone, and steering my behemoth of a car, but I failed to notice the dark blue Mercedes S600 parked on the curb in front of our Mediterranean-style house. I pulled into the three-car garage, left the bags in the back for later, and stepped inside.

"Maya!" I was nearly knocked over as my aunt barreled into me. Now I'm not that tall, about five-three. Aunt Dimple, a dermatologist, barely comes up to my chin. In a detail that greatly puzzled me as a child, Aunt Dimple did not have a single dimple on her face. "Happy birthday! I can't wait to tell you my surprise!" As I stared down at her, I felt a sick malignant tumor of dread take form in my stomach.

"Tell her the news, Dimpy," my dad smiled.

The Queen of Retin-A, who cleared up my adolescent outbreak of acne, and was responsible for the glowing complexion I possess today, now stood in front of me, and I wanted nothing more than for the Earth to open up and swallow her plump, perky form.

It’s hard to find an Indian family without an aunt Dimple. Aunt Dimples have one hobby and one hobby only.


At that moment, pink plastic vagina or not, I’d have given anything for my aunt Gayatri.

Excerpted from Goddess for Hire by Sonia Singh. Copyright © 2004 by Sonia Singh. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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