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Ramona's Ramblings

Ramona Maharaj

Ramona Jan
Posted 1/16/24

There once was a delivery boy named Neil who worked at a small health food store on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where I used to live. The best thing about this store, the name of which …

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Ramona's Ramblings

Ramona Maharaj


There once was a delivery boy named Neil who worked at a small health food store on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where I used to live. The best thing about this store, the name of which I’ve totally forgotten (it wasn’t Whole Foods), was that they delivered; therefore…Neil. He always brought my groceries along with a wide gleaming smile that proclaimed the whitest most perfectly aligned teeth. We’d chat a bit and then I’d give him a good tip and see him a week later when grocery shopping happened again. This went on for many months.

Neil was from India and younger than me by maybe ten years or so. He spoke perfect English and was gracious and polite. Eventually, we got into some deep conversations mostly about the difference between life in India and America. Mostly about the caste system. 

According to the Pew Research Center, “The caste system has existed in some form in India for at least 3,000 years. It is a social hierarchy passed down through families, and it can dictate the professions a person can work in as well as aspects of their social lives, including whom they can marry.”

Even though it was the 1990’s and the caste system had been seriously challenged in India since the ‘70’s, Neil’s marriage had been arranged. There was, however, one problem. Something happened to his future wife that made it impossible for the marriage to take place. I didn’t ask for details because I sensed that what this young man really wanted was to stay in NYC by hook or by crook. His plan was to hook into marriage a US citizen; me. 

One day, Neil delivered my groceries along with a marriage proposal. He whipped out his wallet, specifically his ID, which boasted the surname Maharaj. With great pride he explained that the name Maharaj was derived from the Sanskrit word Maharaja meaning “great leader”, “great ruler”, or “great king”. Basically, Neil claimed to be a royal. And to prove it, he showed me his address; a doorman building on Riverside Drive. I was duly impressed.

“We’ll get married downtown at the Justice of the Peace,” he explained. “And just for show I’ll take you to India all expenses paid. My family won’t like you, but they’ll have to put up with it. We’ll stay married for two years and after that, we’ll get divorced. In this way, I’ll get my US citizenship and you’ll get to see India.” The plan sounded as smooth as the name Ramona Maharaj.   

I quite liked the name. I still like the name. I had to think this over carefully. I was pushing forty. I had no prospects. I had never been to India. Did I want to go to India and maybe ride an elephant? Hang with the Maharaj family despite their wrath? 

I unpacked my groceries along with my conscience. Carrots, celery, yogurt, dried beans, rice, and some savory food for thought. I wondered what I’d eat in India. What I might do while I was there. Where I would sleep? Would they murder me? What happened, after all, to his betrothed? What if the love of my life were to come along the day after we married and I’d have to wait two years for a divorce? Would that person wait for me? 

The next day, I asked Neil if instead of going to India, how about compensating me with the cost of the trip? In this way, we would avoid the family flap and just get on with our married life in NYC apart from each other. I don’t know why, but Neil delivered a flat ‘no’ along with two bags of groceries. Afterwards, I never saw him again.

A few short weeks later, I met Andre and we’re still married today. Once in a while I ponder the name Ramona Maharaj. It still sounds good. Just rolls off the tongue, but in the end would probably take too much explaining.

RAMONA JAN is the Founder and Director of Yarnslingers, a storytelling group that tells tales both fantastic and true. She is also the roving historian for Callicoon, NY and is often seen giving tours around town. You can email her at callicoonwalkingtours@gmail.com.


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