The house had been bustling with non-stop activity for the past one week. The dusting, vacuum cleaning, changing of covers, and disposing off unnecessary things had made the house look squeaky clean and everything was smug in its place. The boy and his parents were to be arriving shortly. He was a Mechanical engineer, an only son and worked for a large multinational company. “This should click,” her father had predicted. “You see, there is perfect porutham -the horoscopes have matched ten on ten - a rarity - the astrologer said- like they say’ Marriages are made in Heaven.” Mangala wanted to tell her father she did not believe in horoscopes at all, but remained quiet.
Uninterestedly she picked up the chiffon sari and the matching accessories that her mother had selected for her for the girl-seeing occasion. She felt helpless and weepy as she listlessly went about the motions of draping the emerald blue sari around her slim waist. Momentarily her eyes fell on the person behind the full-length mirror in front of her. Hmmm….she was sensual no doubt, but what a waste! Today she needed to look her worst. No make-up, no kajal… nothing, just a bindi, which of course could not be waived. She would put on an act of indifference. ‘Whoever he is, let him know I am not interested’, she told herself. ‘And why would I have to adorn myself for, whoever this person is? ‘This is not a fashion parade’. She seethed with rage. She hated the idea per se - of ridiculously parading in front of a stranger and his clan but had reluctantly given in, only to please her old fashioned parents. She hoped the boy was intelligent enough to read her mind, comprehend and reject her.
As she fastened the clasp of the necklace around her neck and put on the earrings, for the umpteenth time the same lingering doubt crossed her mind–was she betraying ‘him’ in accepting this girl seeing nonsense? She was not sure. For that matter, she wasn’t sure whether he actually loved her at all. He had never expressly declared his love. It had only been a short time and they had not reached that level yet. But she believed, or liked to believe, that he cared for her. By ‘him’ she meant the dark handsome man who had been instrumental in driving her to insanity, to whom she was attracted like a moth to a flame from day one. From the very first day that she saw him –the day of her joining the company, she had been sure that this was her dream man. He was dark and handsome and well… vulnerable, exactly as she had dreamed. He had thrown her a frank open smile and she had noticed the mysterious quality about his eyes. And that was it. She couldn’t take her eyes off him after that. She learnt that his name was David Fernando. A trifle disappointed on hearing his name, because it signified he was a Christian, which meant they were poles apart. She was a chaste Hindu of the highest order, where the sacred thread held supreme and where even onions were prohibited on certain days. But so what? She thought, waiving away the unpleasant thought. These were trivialities that could be sorted out. ‘Nothing can and should come in the way of love’ –she believed staunchly.
She could not help thinking about him all the time. All day and all night her thoughts centered on him. Much as she willed against it, he continually invaded her mind. In her mind she fantasized conversations with him and spoke all that she wished to tell him. She pronounced his name on her lips, sometimes in a whisper, at other times with a sigh and loved the effect it had on her. She played it on her lips several times, and on different occasions – secretly, smiling to herself –and each time enjoyed the warmth it gave her. Ever so often, her eyes darted across searching for him, until her gaze caught and fastened on him. She found her heart thumping hard in her chest when he returned her gaze gently, steadily, as though it were that he too had been stealing glances at her- or so she thought.
She was drawn to him like a magnet and he seemed to like her company – ever the patient listener, welcoming her to his table with a broad smile. There was this time when she had contracted viral fever and couldn’t attend office for three days. On the day she reported back, he had told her that he had missed her immensely and hoped she would never fall ill again. Exactly the way she had wished him to react. Her desire to indulge her whim often made her do the most foolish things. She would go and sit opposite him and attempt a conversation. But the moment she sat there, her legs would feel weak, her heart would start pounding and she would become tongue-tied. And, finally when the words did come out, they sounded feeble, disjointed, in short, sharp gasps, hardly the way she had fancied them. And, not even a fraction as convincing as the words she had carefully conceived and formulated in her mind. He listened, a trifle perplexed, but nevertheless listened - patiently, deferentially, with total understanding, complementing now and then with a word or a nod or a smile. She blushed, turned crimson with embarrassment and hated herself for being unable to hide her inner conflict. Exhausted, she would return to her seat, hoping to make amends at the next opportunity.
She wondered why her emotions always overpowered her will - why her heart was in continual conflict with her mind. She would put an effort to regain her composure, but in a short while, her will power would have again conceded to her heart.
She never tired of admiring the way he dressed - immaculately- well-tailored full sleeved shirts neatly tucked in, with matching pants. His wardrobe must have consisted of only a dozen or so sets, since he was accustomed to rotating them. And in so predictable a fashion that it was easy for her to conjecture what he would be wearing the next day. In fact this guessing game had become quite a favorite of hers and she looked forward to it everyday.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
Appetizing smells wafting from the kitchen brought Mangala to the present. Her mother was in the final stages of preparing the sweet and sour duo – ‘the sojji* and bajji’** – for the girl seeing occasion. This combination besides being a treat for the palate also enjoyed a privileged place on girl seeing occasions.
The boy and his parents arrived in good time. Mangala had to admit that the boy though, according to her standards slightly short, wasn’t bad looking. He was even smartly dressed. The usual salutations and introductions were followed by an animated and lengthy session on a favorite subject - which state, province, village each belonged to and who is who between the two families. The elaborate discussion proved fruitful inasmuch as the families discovered that they were in fact distantly related to each other. The boy’s parents were broadminded and friendly and the boy himself had a pleasant demeanor. The boy’s father told her father that this was their first experience of seeing a girl and they too did not like the girl being paraded like a commodity. The boy, Deepak, even to her prejudiced mind, did not seem the bragging sort, for one who has passed out of the prestigious IIT. He asked her about her interests and hobbies and matter- of- factly told her about his interests, which were varied.
After partaking of and heaping praises on the ‘sojji’ ‘bajji’ and the aromatic steaming filter coffee, they fondly bid goodbye giving their consent wholeheartedly for the marriage. ‘There is no hurry. You let us know about your daughter’sdecision later’ Deepak’s father had said before he left.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
The next morning Mangala was entering the corridors of her office, when she saw David, the one person whose shadow even she would unfailingly recognize. He was accompanied by a gorgeous looking lady. “Meet my fiancée Cheryl” David introduced, “and Cheryl, this is Mangala, my office colleague,” and for Mangala’s benefit added, “We’ve been going steady for a year now, so we thought it was best to be engaged. Yesterday was the ceremony.” Mangala’s jaw dropped.
That evening when she returned home, her father was eager to have her answer on whether she liked the boy. She meekly replied yes. She would no longer live in a fool’s paradise. “Didn’t I say marriages are made in Heaven” quipped her father.
*Sojji – a sweet made with semolina, sugar,ghee,cashewnuts etc.
**Bajji – a savoury where a thin slice of potato, onion etc is dipped in gram flour batter and deep fried.