So you know how a marriage can turn sour over the littlest things? That's pretty much what happens at the beginning of the story. We've got a couple—Sanjeev and Twinkle (yes, as in Little Star, go ahead and hum away)—who are moving into their new house when Twinkle finds a little statue of Jesus.
Okay, not a big deal. Only 2 things: first, Sanjeev and Twinkle aren't even Christian—they're Hindus; second, Twinkle ends up finding a lot of Christian stuff.
And when we say "a lot," we really mean it. Twinkle finds things everywhere. She takes a liking to these little figurines and has placed the growing collection on the mantle for everyone to see, especially Sanjeev, who can't stand them.
Twinkle, on the other hand, starts to wonder about the story behind these knick-knacks. Like maybe the previous owners were born-agains? Or they wanted to convert people?
As Twinkle is wondering about these things, we find out that Sanjeev is basically your classic overachiever who makes good. He was an engineering major at MIT and then moved from Boston to Hartford, Connecticut to work at a firm. He's just found out that he might be tapped for the VP position at his firm.
The very grown-up (and uptight) Sanjeev just doesn't understand what Twinkle sees in these Christ figurines. He thinks that since there are so many just lying around, they aren't particularly sacred and therefore just silly. He tells Twinkle they should get the realtor to dump them.
Twinkle, however, feels bad about dumping this stuff since it's kind of sacrilegious and convinces Sanjeev to at least keep the little collection on the mantle.
She also finds a huge poster of Christ weeping. Sanjeev puts his foot down with the poster and tells her not to display it.
Twinkle compromises and says she'll put it in her study, which makes Sanjeev worry about the guests they'll be having at their housewarming. What if they see the poster and think that they're Christians?
Twinkle thinks Sanjeev's a killjoy who worries too much about what others think, but she agrees to put the poster behind her study door so no one will see it.
Okay, now for Lahiri's version of a musical interlude: we find out that Mahler's Fifth Symphony has been playing in the background and that Sanjeev read the liner notes to the classical piece. He learns that the symphony was Mahler's version of a marriage proposal so it's supposed to be a romantic piece.
But the next thing he hears is Twinkle flushing the toilet. And her yelling that the music puts her to sleep. Okay, these are small details but probably pretty significant if you're—hint!—looking to write, oh say, an essay or something on romance and marriages. Just saying…
Lahiri also gives us a mental picture of what Sanjeev looks like. He's shorter than Twinkle and doesn't like her wearing heels. He also has delicate features, especially really lovely long lashes.
While we're getting this portrait of Sanjeev, Sanjeev is remembering the way Twinkle acted on a night soon after they moved in. They were in NYC; Twinkle was drunk and dancing with him in the streets.
Sanjeev's really uncomfortable with Twinkle's free-wheeling ways. In fact, they're kind of like the Odd Couple. Sanjeev's the conscientious, high-strung neat freak who can't understand why Twinkle can't get her butt off the couch and clean up around the house. Twinkle does have a job, by the way; she's supposed to be writing (you'll find out later that it's her master's thesis), but well, you know how that can be. Suffice it to say, she doesn't seem to get much of anything done.
Anyway, Twinkle basically bugs Sanjeev. She does things like call long-distance during peak hours just to gab with her friend and she doesn't really cook (she buys pre-made stuff and adds her own spin).
She also makes Sanjeev feel stupid because she's so bright, curious and breezy about everything (she's nicknamed after "Twinkle, twinkle, little star" for a reason).
Why are they even married? Good question. Apparently, they only met four months prior, at a birthday party. She had just been dumped; he was well-off but single and lonely. And their parents got them to see an Indian matchmaker who convinced them to marry. Now they're in their second month of marriage and, clearly, Sanjeev's got second thoughts.
Cut to the present moment: we're back to the present and the fish stew Twinkle half-bought/half-prepared. Sanjeev can't help but pump her for details on how she came up with the stew. As you can guess, her answers are totally unhelpful. But you know what? She's kind of like a natural born chef even if she is completely lazy about cooking. Throwing random stuff together takes some skill and even Sanjeev has to admire that.
Another in-Sanjeev's-head moment: Sanjeev's now thinking about the party, how they've invited 30 people, most of whom he's not close to and can't really connect with.
None of these people have met Twinkle yet either. Twinkle, by the way, happens to be a grad student at Stanford who's writing her master's thesis on an Irish poet.
Sanjeev's one of those guys on the fast track to adulthood. Before he even met Twinkle, he'd bought the house in Connecticut and was completely impressed with details like the wainscoting, the solarium, the brass finishes.
But somehow he missed all the other details that showed the previous owners were serious Christians.
And wow, he must have been blind not to have seen some of these objects. Like the weekend before the party, Twinkle found a huge statue of the Virgin Mary hidden among the leaves in front of the house and of course she wanted to prop it up for everyone to see.
You can imagine how Sanjeev reacted: not well, especially considering the housewarming party. What would people from work think of him? He especially doesn't want his Indian co-workers to wonder what was going on with the statue.
Of course, Twinkle isn't very sympathetic (she implied he was too self-conscious).
Sanjeev's takeaway from that little incident—he's just not sure that he loves her. He told her he loved her on one of those weekends when he flew to Palo Alto (where Stanford is) to woo her, and she seemed delighted, but she never said those words back to him. So he's not even sure she loves him either.
In fact, he's regretting the fact that he never accepted one of the other potential brides his mother suggested (via airmailed photos), women who could cook, clean, sew…in other words, your traditional 1950s housewife.
But of course, he met Twinkle—the opposite of these women—and the rest is history.
He and Twinkle fight over the Virgin Mary statue. He wants to throw it out and Twinkle refuses to give in. They finally compromise and place the statue out of sight of passersby, but in sight of anyone entering the house.
On the night of the party, everything's in order. Sanjeev has slaved over the food, Indian fare that he took all morning to prep. Guests are arriving. Everyone's chatting and meeting Twinkle, who, no surprise, becomes the life of the party.
In fact, she turns her obsession with the Christ figurines into a treasure hunt of sorts; everyone at the party joins her on the hunt for more objects. Everyone, that is, except her husband.
He's heading off to their bedroom because the party's become too much for him when he sees Twinkle's shoes outside their doorway.
For some reason, when he sees those shoes, instead of feeling annoyed as he usually does, he actually starts to feel a tender kind of anxiety. He imagines Twinkle putting them on and rushing everywhere in order to tend to their guests. It's the feeling he used to get before they were married, full of anticipation and excitement.
A turning point, you're thinking? Maybe. Soon after this moment, Twinkle appears with a silver bust of Christ and asks Sanjeev if they can display it on the mantle.
Instead of arguing with her, Sanjeev goes with her back to the party and—we're guessing—back to the mantle where they'll place that huge bust.