“What are your thoughts on marriage? ” asked my mother, one abysmally humid morning. My mind went into an overdrive immediately. To an innocent bystander, if such a person exists and I have never understood why ever would such a person be around and would be eavesdropping if at all she/he is there, this would seem like an innocent question put by a mother aimed at making routine conversation with her daughter, maybe as an endeavor to know her more. But no, this question went much more deep than that, much more intricate were the intentions and it had a sinister connotation to it. It could be roughly translated as, “Right, so we plan to marry you off and we have option(s) but we roughly have the idea as to who we like the best”.
While the cold in my feet slowly began to make its way up, I tried to select an appropriate response among the many that popped up into my head instantly. “Well, it is an interesting concept, I have a good mind to experiment with it sometime in future… maybe”, or “Who have you been talking to? Who knows I am home?” or “I think it’s a horrid way to end your life with a lot of pomp and splendor aimed at feeding people most of whom I don’t even know while the same money could be put to much more sensible uses and I have no intention of going through the ordeal” or the loud and simple childhood claim, “I won’t get married!!!”
“What?” is what came out, with a laugh that faltered on my lips and cold that had now clamped my heart. Things are much better in one’s head are they not? All was not lost though; I would pretend to be tickled to death by the absurdity of such an idea even occurring to her. That should make it evident how preposterous the proposition would be to me if my mother decided to go explicit, or so I thought.
“When do you intend to get married?” There, straight to the point, there was no way around it. But I would be calm, take it easy.
“Is it time yet to talk about that? I am just a graduate! I have not completed my education if that is the news going around! I am yet to do masters in…err…something! Why do people have to assume so much! Why did you let them?!” I broke out vehemently and poof went my decision to take it in my stride. I had broken into a run right away! I am sure my face then bore the marks of being faced with an utmost horror. Well, you can’t blame me…I can at least leave the room when a lizard gets in, but this? There was no way out of this!
It was not entirely unexpected; ever since my elder sister got married I was getting a lot of “You-Are-Next”, accompanied by a grin supposed to convey I am not exactly sure what and a malicious glint in the eyes. To me it is a signal to grimace in return. Seriously what pleasure do relatives take in pointing this out? I was much happier with Arey-Kitni-Badi-Ho-Gayi-Hai! Though really, I have never quite understood the surprise there too, you meet a kid after ten years and if you still expect him/her to be of same size, that is evident lack of imagination and how cruel it would be to the kid if at the age of 20 she/he looks the same she/he did at 10, how unjust is this expectation!
At a wedding, a birthday party or any family gathering, I could see the throng of my married cousins slowly advancing, some of them holding their kids, the rest after handing over their kids to their respective husbands, and to me it seemed they actually grew taller, more menacing, their grins transformed into cackles of evil laughter, their faces suddenly alight with sadistic pleasure at the sight of one more facing the gallows! I cowered and before they could get me, I would get a sudden call on my cell and run for cover, get me an invisibility cloak someone please!
“I am just asking, what are your plans?” she was never the one to give up so easily.
“It does not figure in my plan. Who have you been talking to? Anyway, please do not go ahead with anything, can’t you just tell people I am too young?”
“You are not.”
“Fine. But do not take any move until and unless I express a wish to be slaughtered thus.”
I was waiting for Mum to strike back, she did not. Phew! Now the question, who? I was sure this was not the end of it, there would be more to come. I asked my eldest sister that evening.
A little investigation brought to light the entire matter. It was the random doctor we met in Vrindavan who generously offered my mother to contact him regarding my that-which-cannot-be-named, whenever she had a mind to, he knew an obviously-well-educated-and-rich family in Noida with an obviously-highly-eligible-bachelor son working in Bangalore (where else!). It was also my Sister’s-Father-in-law’s-Brother’s-wife who had an offer of a guy in wait-for-it Bangalore! Seriously, why is everyone in Bangalore!? That poor city will explode! It was also my Brother-in-law’s-Mother’s-Sister’s-Daughter’s-Husband who also exhibiting the highest consideration for the plight of my parents having an unmarried daughter on their hands offered to share his knowledge of an eligible bachelor in of course, Bangalore!
It took me a while to overcome my bewilderment at the mind boggling extent of this ever burgeoning marriage market! I mean, what does it thrive on? Surely it can’t be just the future prospect of a free dinner and a position of high prominence in the two affected families as The-One-Who-Made-It-All-Happen! What is it that makes them willing to accept the overwhelming responsibility of vouching for the decency of one family to the other, the daunting prospect of being the first to be blamed and taken to task lest the match does not work well, for again he/she is The-One-Who-Made-It-All-Happen! No, I am not against the whole system, far be it from me to say a word against these noble women and men working tirelessly for others' benefit, if only in this respect. It works largely well for those interested…interested being the keyword here.
I just wish there was some sign, you know, which signaled that the particular guy/girl was ready to tie the knot( what a depressing and ominous expression!) Maybe something like a particular candidate making a public appearance wearing a white handkerchief on her/his arm, a sign of surrender. But I understand that could be embarrassing; maybe something subtle then, like when the mother cleverly lets something slip. But this unasked for assault does little for the peace of mind of those who suddenly find themselves the unwilling centre of attention owing to nothing but the virtue of their being the Next-In-Line! Who formed this line in the first place?!
As I had anticipated, there was more to come, but that my sisters would betray me had not yet occurred to me, but well, they did. The week when both my sisters were home, there were moments when I was in physical pain! My mother, father and both my sisters (most appallingly) would sit in a room discussing the Rishte. I would run out of the room but not before registering my severe disapproval and utter disdain for the entire discussion, to no avail of course.
“Humour yourself. I will run away if you try to force me into something!” I know they do not take me seriously but well, they have been warned.
Anyway, I knew now I had to be cautious. Just the previous morning I went to this grocery store, Naval-Uncle-Ki-Dukaan, where I have been going since childhood.
“So you are at home now? Your studies are over?” inquired Naval Uncle with that all too familiar raised eyebrow.
I was pained. I am sure Caesar would have felt the same when Brutus stabbed him. But no, I won’t give up like Caesar did, besides, this was no Brutus!
“Nahin Uncle, of course not! I am home only for holidays! There is ample time for that!”
Seriously, maybe I should get all these people Idea 3G, you know, get them bijji! On a different note, brilliant Ad!