Lights were flashing and cameras rolling as Ramchandra Malekar married Rosie Wolff in the old Baltimore Court House yesterday morning.
It had been less than five years since Malekar was brought from Bombay, India to Potomac, Md., an illiterate houseboy for the family of Mohan and Lalita Khambadkone. It has been only two days since Maryland's Acting Gov. Blair Lee pardoned Malekar for the crime of manslaughter in the death of Lalita Khambadkone.
Yet throughout the ceremony in the court clerks office (the usual marriage room could not hold the crowd), there was a sense that the last act of Malekar's story was being played out, and, to almost everyone's surprise, it was going to have a happy ending for the couple.
"And they said it couldn't be done!" crowed the best man, Robert Charlesworth. Charlesworth had employed Malekar at the Fountain Head Country Club while the Indian was on work-release from prison, where he was serving his manslaughter sentence. And it was Charlesworth who had led the efforts to keep him from being deported after his jail term was completed.
Jiva Thadani took off her Indian shawl and draped it over Rosie's shoulders. She had first met Malekar soon after his arrest, and had acted as one of his interpreters.
"He was a broken human being." Thadani recalls. "He couldn't remember anything. He was crying all the time."
Malekar had been emaciated when he was arrested. He had been fed meager rations by the Khambadkones, made to sleep on the floor, and the $30 he had earned in the seven months he worked for the Khambadkones had all been paid to his parents in India.
To this day he maintains that he cannot remember what happened exactly on the day Lalita Kahambadkone's badly battered body was found at the bottom of the stairs in her house. A private investigator's report, circulated at Gov. Lee's press conference Tuesday, said another person had been in the house. Malekar says it may have been an accident. The jury believed that he flew into a rage and killed her.
People who met him while he served his prison term, however, had no doubt that he was making a new life for himself there, and he learned English and basic job skills.
"He has come from nothing to where he is in two years," said one prison official at the wedding. The ceremony was about to start. "I'm going to bawl," laughed the officer.
Malekar met Wolff last September when she went to work part time in the Fountain Head's kitchen. They say they fell in love around October, and were planning marriage by November. They hoped a wedding to an American citizen would help Malekar avoid deportation. Instead, when they announced their plans, he was taken off work release and returned to the Maryland Correctional Training Center.
Charlesworth and others, meanwhile, worked to get a private bill introduced in Congress allowing Malekar to stay, but that eventually failed. The plea to Blair Lee was a last ditch effort that worked, and by then, there was extensive media coverage of Malekar's case.
After the wedding Malekar's lawyer, Marvin Polikoff, filed papers requesting a change in his status from illegal alien to permanent resident, based on his pardon and his marriage to an American.
There are still many administrative procedures and hearings to go through before Malekar can be absolutely certain of his stay in the United States, though he has what many aliens do not -- an American wife, a home, a job, and many American friends.
"Well, congratulations to Malekar," said Alfred Petersam, deputy district director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Baltimore. "As of this moment there's no change in his illegal alien status. He's deportable and we have a final order for his deportation."
On the other hand, said Petersam, "He's not a convicted felon anymore. The governor said so and the governor has a right to do that . . . Practically, in this situation, we're not going to break up the wedding reception so an airline can get a round trip ticket out of it."