(This was first published in The Writer’s Eye magazine.)
“What? Arranged marriage? Me? No way!”
From surprise and shock, my facial expressions made a sea change to you-gotta-be-kidding-me and forget-about-it.
“What do you mean by no way? You’re never going to marry?” My mother asked me.
“Of course I will marry,” I replied. “I’ll marry someone I love, not someone I am arranged to love.”
“You’re 25 and you still haven’t found a steady love, how much longer do you expect everyone to wait?”
Before I could say something intelligent and rebellious about this being my life and not having anything to do with everyone else, my mother had walked out of my room. But her sarcasm didn’t go unnoticed.
I could understand what my mother felt; in India, questions start getting raised when a 25 years old man is unmarried (for women, the age is 23). Getting their sons and daughters married is the one thing that most parents live for. A big burden gets lifted from their shoulders once their children are ‘settled’. Having seen this situation a number of times in a number of households, I could relate to my mother’s concerns. I myself wanted to marry, but was it my fault that I had been unlucky in love? Every time I went out, cuddling and romancing couples reminded me that I had no one to hold hands with. Heck, I wanted to settle down as well, but an arranged marriage, hell no! I was a copywriter; I was just too cool to get into something uncool like an arranged marriage.
My mother however, and obviously, didn’t feel the same way. Her logic was simple: if by the age of 25 I didn’t have a girlfriend I was going to marry, then I had to start looking at arranged matches. “Let’s at least go and see the girl, you can say no if you don’t like her. If you come to see this girl, I’ll even buy you a packet of Toblerone.” What could I say; I would have done anything for Toblerones. And so, my mother enticed me to see a girl for marriage with chocolates, an irony she didn’t seem to notice.
The date was fixed, the time was decided upon and even before I had polished off the packet of Toblerones, I found myself driving to my prospective wife’s house. My mother was omnipresent by my side and this occasion was one of such high importance that my father had also accompanied us.
The minute we parked outside her building and go out of the car, I felt like a spotlight had been trained on me. Apparently, everyone in the building knew that some guy was coming to see one of their girls. And as that guy walked up to the building entrance, he was scrutinized by at least a couple of dozen heads peeking from balconies and windows.
We were greeted amiably. The girl’s parents and what seemed like her entire family encompassing brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts and of course, the elderly, smiled at me in unison as I got (un)comfortable on the couch. The spotlight had just gotten brighter. Pleasantries were exchanged as the women made their way to the insides of the house and the men sat down with us. I tried my best to look unfazed by the sudden attention while my body started to perspire under everybody’s steady gaze.
“So, son, what do you do?” I realized with a jolt that the question was targeted at me. It had come from the girl’s father.
“Umm… I… I am a copywriter,” I managed to stutter.
“Hmm OK.” The girl’s father said. I assumed that like most people he didn’t have a clue as to what a copywriter did, and thankfully he let it past. Unfortunately, an uncle was more curious.
“Copywriter? What does that mean? Something to do with copyrights and patents and all that?”
In my career as a copywriter, I had found that the hardest thing about the work was explaining it to someone who didn’t belong to advertising. But fortunately, that day I was spared. Our conversation, what little there was of it, was suddenly halted by the presence of the girl I had come to see.
For a moment, the spotlight turned away from me and concentrated on her. But for a moment only. Her family had seen her since childhood; they were more interesting in seeing my reactions after I had seen her, as if I was going to open my mouth and gape or cringe in repulsion. I somehow managed to disappoint them by keeping a straight face with a neutral expression.
She was wearing a beautiful pink salwaar suit, the one Indian outfit that is both traditional and modern. She sat down across me and placed a tray of Cola and dry fruits on a table between us. Her smile was sweet and for the first time in my life I experienced eyes speaking more than words. I suddenly realized then that the room was unbelievably quiet. Everyone seemed to be waiting for someone else to say something.
Finally, the girl’s mother spoke. “Why don’t the two of you go to a room and talk.” In normal circumstances, no parent would have allowed a hot-blooded male to be alone with their daughter in her bedroom. But obviously, this was different. We were supposed to share a few minutes together, talk what little we could and somehow make a decision. As I followed her to her room, with what seemed like a million eyes on me, I was again reminded why arranged marriages are so stupid.
But then, I was wrong. We talked for about half an hour. “What were you talking for such a long time,” my mother asked me when we were driving back home. I didn’t have an answer for her. I didn’t remember what we had talked about. All I remembered was that I had loved talking to her and I knew that I was wrong about arranged marriages. It doesn’t really matter how you meet the person you love. Some meet through friends and some meet through parents. The important thing is that you have met.
And when you meet through parents, you get a packet of Toblerone as well. Not a bad deal, if you ask me.