4: They Like You
Mita’s wedding entailed a long weekend in Pune. It panned out to be quite a pleasant waste of time rather than the embarrassing ordeal I’d anticipated. The foremost reason being that I was saved from an inevitable run in with Suraj.
“He had to fly back to the States since he had used up his paltry two weeks of vacation,” Mita informed me with a morose droop of her pristine painted lips. “I begged him to stay, after all I’m like a sister to him, but he wouldn’t. He said his job was at stake. He has a tough boss.”
Thank heavens for ruthless capitalism; I thought trying to maintain a straight face. But then another provoked renewed anxiety. “How about his mother. Is she still here?”
My almost cousin shook her head. “She too had to leave. Kokila aunty dreads flying alone.”
I engulfed Mita in a bear hug and bid Suraj and his mother a gleeful goodbye.
Now, feeling slightly more in control of my future, I settled down to entertain myself. The birds of paradise were out in full plumage, each one more resplendent than the next. The carnival that was the marriage venue was a perfect setting for them. I floated by with a chilled glass of kokum sherbet in my hand, and watched from what appeared like a safe distance. I caught snatches of conversation, exchange of news and gossip, punctuated by the tinkle of merry laughter. But when I attempted to look closer, I witnessed a different scene altogether. It was filled with envious, lonely and unhappy hearts that yearned forever in silence. I turned away disgusted with myself. My profession was making me feel like an intruder.
I headed in search of my cousin and her new family determined to silence my mind and reign in my judgment. To my surprise I didn’t have to. Mita’s in-laws looked like simple folk of a benign disposition who professed to look upon her as their own daughter and for her sake I hoped it was true. But her groom proved to be something else altogether. Standing at a mere 5’5” (so Mita had informed me) Anshuman was a spark plug of cheer with a voice that could summon angels from heaven and to top it all obviously devoted to his wife. I was charmed and so were the rest of the guests. The experience helped wind down my cynicism by several degrees so that when I returned home, I was raring to go, keen to rid the earth of its troubles, or at the least make the life of its inhabitants a tad more bearable. I had found my purpose or maybe it had found me.
But alas this is kalyug. Good intentions foster detractors more than backers. I gleaned so when mom accosted me one evening with a look she and her kind specialize in. Her tired eyes glowed with an otherworldly backlight. I have encountered it many times. It is what has made our usually sly doodhwala the most honest one on the block and has regularly forced our kabadiwala to part with an extra rupee or two rather than waste his breath haggling over the value of our trash. My sister-in-law fled the first time she encountered it thereby providing my elder and only brother Abhi, a fine excuse to make a break too. As for myself, I have chosen to defy it most times while Dad suffers silently.
“They like you,” she said or something to that effect as soon as I entered the house after a long tiring day of interviews. I disencumbered myself of my shoes, purse and scarf then collapsed on the living room sofa after revving the ceiling fan up to full speed. The rhythmic click clack lent a calming effect. I gave Mom an expectant look. Like any good mother she was supposed to interpret it, go into the kitchen, and fetch me a piping hot cup of chai then ask me about my day. She didn’t. Instead she repeated what she had said earlier and I was forced to listen.
“Who’s they?” I mumbled letting weariness hood my eyes and take over my entire body. The sweat evaporated from my skin leaving behind crystals of stinking salt.
“Suraj… Suraj Patel and his mother.” She elaborated with a bright smile when I subjected her to a blank look.
I refused to react.“But he left and so did his mother.”
“He left because he had to.”
I made a desperate bid to hold onto to my composure.“But he has only met me once. As for his mother, she hasn’t seen me at all.”
Mom shook her head and spoke in a tone she always used when she wanted to let me know her knowledge was more vast than a few years of college had got me. “Sometimes a single meeting is enough to make your decision, like your father did when he met me and we didn’t even have the opportunity to talk…” she said and her cheeks bloomed like a rosebud at the first touch of the sun. It was a phenomenon that never failed to amaze me. More than thirty years had passed since my parents got together and she still managed to blush like a newlywed. She went on. “As for his mother, of course she supports her son’s choice.”
Now that she had found her opening, there was no stopping her, “The only thing left is matching your horoscopes which shouldn’t be a problem at all. I’m sure you’ll be a perfect fit. Shall we plan for December then? That will give us enough time to make arrangements and your brother to apply for leave.”
“What if I tell you I don’t like him?”
“Don’t you?” Mom frowned. “What’s wrong with him.. There couldn’t be a more perfect groom.”
I’d had enough. “He could be a ‘perfect groom’ but that doesn’t mean he is perfect for me. Besides, I don’t want to get married right now. I have my career to think about. Maybe in a few years, I might consider it. But then I may decide not to marry at all.”
I got up and walked away before Mom had recovered enough to react.