Pop Goes the Question
‘Achha, I’ve been meaning to ask you,’ Vijay said casually over the phone. ‘When do you think we should get married?’
The question caught me off guard since the only build up to it had been our wishing each other a rather soppy, lovey-dovey good morning. I paused for a moment to give it a considered response.
I was never at my eloquent best when taken by surprise. I looked at my phone with raised eyebrows as though Vijay could see my questioning expression. Considering that we had been seeing each other for only three months and that I was in my early twenties and just out of management college, I was completely unprepared for even the mention of marriage. But here it was – an unmistakable, undeniable, definite mention.
‘Married?’ I choked out the words with some difficulty. ‘Ha ha! You’re joking, right? I’m only twenty-three – a mere child. You want to be held directly responsible for child marriage? No, na?’
I heard a by-now familiar stifled sigh at the other end of the line. ‘Honey, mujhe pata hain you’re twenty-three. But I’m thirty and I can only hold my parents off for so long. You know they’re starting to look for arranged marriage matches for me. Again.’
He sensed I was not amused and his voice became serious again. ‘Look, we are eventually getting married, right? So why not now?’
‘Vijay! We’ve only been going out for three months ...’
‘Arrey! I’m old-fashioned ... I don’t understand all this going-out, shoing-out stuff. I thought you were as serious about it as I am.’
‘Of course I am as serious about it as you are. I just didn’t know that you were so ... serious!’
This time, his sigh was not as stifled as the previous one. ‘Okay then. I guess we’ll talk about it some other time. See you in the evening.’
Exchanging goodbyes that were a little colder than usual, we hung up and I flopped my head back onto my pillow. I was definitely not prepared for a discussion like this. Besides, it was one of those beautiful chilly Saturday mornings in Bangalore which are best spent lazing in bed. So although it was already 9 a.m., I had still been in the process of waking up when Vijay called. He, on the other hand, had taken the early morning flight for a day-trip to Delhi and had already been up for about five hours before he called me. He thus had the unfair advantage of a fresh and alert mind.
I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to sleep now anyway and thought I might as well make some sort of an attempt to get out of bed. I looked around the sparse room of the company guest house in which I was staying and decided it wasn’t even worth trying to get the so-called caretaker to make me a nice refreshing cup of tea. That dude was even grumpier than I was in the mornings. Despite the severe handicap of no tea, I bravely managed to push myself out of bed and spread my arms wide and yawned, indulging in a long, slow stretch. It looked like it would be an empty sort of day – a Saturday without Vijay was no fun.
I briefly considered telling myself that perhaps I was actually very mature for my age, but then rejected that on the grounds that it was a blatant lie. I definitely wasn’t ready.
How did you know you were ready, anyway?
In any case, I wasn’t altogether convinced I was the marrying type at all. I’d always liked to think of myself as a bit of a wild, free spirit. And right now, I had most of that beautiful decade – my twenties – ahead of me. Full of possibilities for adventure, exploration, thrills and – who knew, I thought a bit fancifully, maybe even a spot of danger. All this, notwithstanding the fact that I had just finished my MBA and entered the corporate world, as an employee in a large, staid MNC. Still. There could be some form of danger while peddling soaps and detergents.
But the only danger now seemed to be of getting trapped in a domestic rut and becoming a house-minding, wifely Buntvinder myself. The self-image that this conjured up in my mind inspired me to immediately start the day with a workout. And so I lay down and began to practise some contortions I had seen on the Yoga DVD I had obtained about a month ago from my mother. Even while I struggled to breathe correctly – or rather, to just breathe – during the dhanurasana, sarvangasana and other assorted asanas, I couldn’t get our conversation out of my mind.
I had discovered that even before I had come into his life a few months ago, Vijay had found his own unique, rather intriguing way of getting his parents to ease up on the topic, if only temporarily.
He would simply get himself rejected.
It was quite a feat for him to get rejected – tall, good- looking, IIT-Delhi graduate from respectable brahmin family, working in large MNC and all that jazz. Still, he manfully rose to the task and achieved it through the simple means of being obnoxious.
During each of these meetings, there would inevitably come a point when he and the girl were left alone to get to know each other better. He would act normal enough to begin with. Then, at some stage, he would clear his throat, look deep into her eyes and say in a low, serious voice, ‘Look, Buntvinder (example of name). Before we think about whether we should take things any further, there is something I have to ask you.’
She would lower her eyes and reply breathlessly, ‘Go ahead.’
‘It’s something very deeply personal, and I’ll understand if you don’t want to answer it.’
‘It’s okay, you can ask me.’
‘It’s just that for me – and I hope for you – marriage is not a thing to be taken lightly. So I really need to know this ...’
‘I just need to know,’ he would lower his voice even further and after a dramatic pause for effect, say, ‘Who was the first Mughal emperor of India?’
The ensuing silence would only be broken by the sound of his loud guffaws at the look on her face. The responses ranged from huffy walk-outs to cushions thrown at his head. Either way, the girl would get the message that this wasn’t a suitable boy, although the parents involved were never sure exactly why.
Being an easygoing and open-minded sort of chap, Vijay was not opposed to introducing a variation once in a while. As in the case of the overly sweet and sensitive young girl that he met in Jaipur, whom he didn’t have the heart to try the usual Mughal emperor prank on.
Instead, after around twenty minutes of conversation – nervous and shy on her part, friendly and encouraging on his – he sidled up to her, making her back further into the sofa they were sitting on. He gazed into her eyes and murmured, ‘You are one of the sweetest girls I have ever met in my life.’ As she blushed in flustered confusion at this unexpected display of forwardness, he put his arm around her shoulders and whispered in her ear, ‘And don’t worry, I will personally find a nice boy for you.’
The poor girl was in tears by the time he left. Finally, his parents had eased up on the match-fixing efforts. Only temporarily, of course.
I was only a lowly management trainee, fresh out of IIM-Bangalore, and Vijay had been in the organization for several years. We both worked in the marketing department, and had been introduced by his boss Madhukar, who also happened to be my project guide. I was impressed by Vijay from the beginning – that is, I thought he was cute. I liked him even more when I got to know him better and found that he was a laid-back, down-to-earth young man, with an extremely quirky sense of humour. He stood out in the corporate environment – literally, because at six foot two, he also towered over most other people.
The office campus was a beautiful one. It was built over a very large area of land on the outskirts of Bangalore, with plenty of greenery around. The building itself was a quaint old structure and from the outside was more reminiscent of an ancient castle than a modern office. You would enter through large ornate doors into a spacious lobby, upon the walls of which hung some great works of art – priceless pieces by M.F. Hussain and the like. There was even an impressive bronze statue of a raging bull, bang in the centre of the lobby. The fact that it faced away from the lobby entrance, and therefore you had a bull’s backside greeting you every morning as you entered the office, did little to detract from the timeless charm of the building.
So, this was where we first met. Where our little romance started. Where we took many after-lunch strolls around the campus. Where I once caught a glimpse of Vijay sitting at the large window of his ground-floor room, gazing outside in deep thought, immersed in what was probably some important business problem. I had watched him admiringly for a few moments, thinking how picturesque the scene was, and trying to come up with an appropriate title for it in my head, something like ‘Long-legged Professional Contemplation’. Exactly at this point, the object of my scrutiny had coolly swung his legs over the sill and slipped out of the office in one smooth motion, presumably for a smoke. I was taken aback by his exiting in such a novel fashion and had thought for the first time – but certainly not the last, ‘Man. That dude is weird.’
I didn’t really know at the time what the term ‘jhalli’ meant, but I could sense it wasn’t anything very complimentary. Vijay never offered compliments unless they were double- edged – part of his charm, I supposed.
He had done his share of stretching the truth to try and impress me. When he learnt that I was into music and playing the guitar, he said casually, ‘Oh really? You know, I played the drums in college.’
This greatly raised him in my esteem. It was only later that I discovered that he had been referring to one specific occasion ten years ago when he had happened to pass by the auditorium, seen the IIT rock band members taking a break during practice and had banged about a bit on their drum set for a pleasant five minutes.
He also mentioned that he had been on the college volleyball and basketball teams – this was easy to believe,given his height, and later turned out to have the plus point of being true as well. When it finally hit me that he was giving me all this information in order to try and flirt with me in his own unique, subtle and slightly sardonic way, I was quite floored – here was a musical, athletic, handsome and nice older man who seemed intent on winning me over. It had seemed too good to be true.
The lad was already talking marriage. Talk about killing a perfectly good romance.
******* End of Chapter****
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Also read: Chapter 2 and Chapter 3