Friday, April 19, 2013

Reflections...- Part III - "In The Room"

We walked slowly into the room - Designated Area For Boy Girl Talking, we would call it in our ISO 9000 compliant factory these days, with a large label - and sat as far apart as possible. Actually, I sat as far apart as possible because she chose a chair first. Then I realized we couldn't have a meaningful conversation without speaking really loudly, so I moved up two seats, feeling mildly like a chess pawn.

"Pawn to Queen Four" the voice inside my head said and another voice immediately said "Queen Takes Pawn", making me blush.

All this while, she was gazing at me intently with her limpid-pools-of-deep-green eyes. I realized this and also realized that my antics must be extremely suggestive of advanced nut-case-ness, which made me gulp and look at her like a terminally ill duck. (She later told me that this was when she decided she would marry me. No clown so supreme should be let out of one's life, she thought)

There was a couple of minutes of complete silence, like those meetings where people mourn the passing of important leaders. I gazed at a nearby chair but I could sense that she was looking keenly at me. My old bass drum heart went into another little fast paced solo.

Finally, I screwed up courage and looked directly at her and smiled weakly.

She smiled back.

Say something Say something, inner voice screamed. And here, I'm going to "plead the Fifth", as I believe the term is, because the missus has read earlier instalment and warned of dire consequences if I loose off the tater trap. Read this if you want to know the dark details (wrote it in 2008)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Reflections.. Part II

The uncle's house was in a four storied building off a sleepy road in Juhu. The watchman - I remember him still, a stocky guy with a large red tilak and a huge mustache that started from his nostrils and ended up at his ears, mingling freely with hair originating at both locations - seemed to stare at me sneeringly. "This? This is the best they could find for our gudiya? This?" his gaze seemed to say.

"Stop being paranoid, Naren" I told myself, and recited the "Out out brief candle" thing from Macbeth under my breath. But the old heart kept beating like a bass drum

We took the elevator up and entered uncle's flat. Uncle opened it and our procession marched in - my parents, followed by my sister and our maid who insisted on tagging along everywhere (and whom my mother dared not defy because she was Efficient. She reminded me of Wodehouse's Baxter and my mother Lord Emsworth, but that's another story), followed finally by me.

In the living room were about a dozen pairs of the bushy eyebrows that run in missus' family below which a dozen pairs of eyes gave me the scan in a sawtooth waveform pattern.

"Please, sit, sit" - Uncle

We sat down in a line on a sofa. I turned out to be in the soft spot, sinking in till my head was level with my sister's shoulder.  There was a silent what-to-do moment where everyone just stared at everyone else trying not to laugh, except me of course. My bass drum heart was keeping me busy.

"Sit here" Uncle pulled up one dining chair and placed it at the head of the two sofas which where parallel to each other. I sat there and found myself now the center of all attraction. Slight Raja in Darbar feel, except that, you guessed it, bass drum heart was beating louder than ever.

Uncle made some imperceptible gesture towards a half open door that seemed to lead into the kitchen, and then she emerged. With a tray full of teacups.

She started with my parents, then the maid, then my sister and finally me. I focused my gaze on the teacup, praying silently that I wouldn't spill it on my trousers. Luckily, nothing of the sort happened. My tea drinking, however, did attract the attention of everybody because, as missus has told me on many occasions subsequently, without mincing words, I was making loud slurping sounds.

"It was a lovely acoustic effect" the missus reminisces these days, whenever she manages to find an audience for this kind of thing, which is often, "with fine treble notes of the tea being slurped in syncopation with the bass notes of the gulping, enveloping the room in which Naren used to drink tea. Sadly, people of insufficient musical ability found it odd and raised eyebrows"

The teacup routine over, she went over to the other sofa and sat between her aunt and her mother. I slyly raised my eyes and looked at her. She was pretty.  I heaved a silent sigh of relief. I had been told that one did not reject girls because they did not look pretty, because if one did, word went around that the boy was picky. which meant no one would bring proposals to one and that would be that.

I looked at her again and found her looking at me. My heart gave an extra loud thump and I averted my gaze immediately. But not before I had noticed she has deep greenish brown eyes. The bass drum, which had stopped for a while after I saw her eyes, began thumping again at a rapid rate.

There was some traffic related banter  - which road did you take? Oh, that one, haan? This other one would have been better - and then the company descended into a contemplative silence.

Then Uncle cleared his throat. "The boy and girl can talk inside that room"

We both got up and walked in.

Reflections on twenty one years of matrimony

It’s twenty one years today. Twenty one!

Twenty one years since we were married, the missus and I.

I’m staring at this blank page thinking desperately of something clever or funny to write but the only thought that thrusts itself to the fore, rather in the manner of a seasoned commuter jumping into the 6.55 Bhayander at Churchgate station, is what a lucky chump I am to have married someone like the missus

I used to think rather highly of myself back then. Well versed in several passages from Julius Caesar and Hamlet, I was known and feared in the hallowed halls of my alma mater for my ability to collar random passing gents and recite the To be or not to be soliloquy, or Mark Antony’s Friends Romans Countrymen speech. Not unreasonably, I believed myself to be radiating an aura or magnetic field and nothing in my interactions with my fellow humans had done the slightest bit to alter that conviction.

Till I met her, that is.

We had the usual arranged match. I don't know if you know the procedure. In my little community, the protocol is for the girl’s father to approach the parents of a prospective 'boy' and ask for the boy’s horoscope, which would be freely given. (We had cyclostyled copies of this document, cyclostyling being the technique by which people who were sensible about money made mass copies of whatever they wanted to make mass copies of. Photocopying was expensive and reserved for Marks Cards, Degree Certificates and property papers)

This horoscope would be shown, along with the girl’s, to an astrologer who, using sophisticated mathematical calculations (which, curiously, despite their enormous complexity, the astrologer would carry out on on his fingers) would tell you how many points they, the horoscopes, matched on, on a scale of 0 to 36 (if memory serves right), 0 being a Rakhi Sawant marriage and 36 being Queen Elizabeth the second

Their other use was that horoscopes offered a dignified and face-saving way for the girl’s father to tell the boy’s family that he didn't want his daughter marrying that low-life, a frequent enough conclusion after the girl’s father made discreet inquiries about the boy’s qualifications, last salary drawn and whether he “took drinks”.

In my case, my dear father in law somehow slipped in his due diligence and ‘passed’ me. This information was ceremoniously communicated by him, in person, to my parents, along with a copy of her horoscope and a photograph.

Normally, that should have been that because I had resolutely informed my mother about my unshakable resolve not to marry ever, to which she listened sympathetically and asked “so when shall I ask them to bring the girl to show you”

After several reiterations of my refusal to even countenance marriage, the horoscopes were shown to our astrologer (a charmingly toothless old guy of whose speech no one I knew seemed to understand a word), confirmation of the 'matching' received (some 18 points, in case you were wondering) and a ‘program’ (euphemism for boy-see-girl) was fixed at her uncle’s house in Bombay.

At that time I had a motorcycle and I used to extensively traverse the streets of Bombay in its hot sun, resulting in my complexion, a darkish shade of brown to begin with, to turn into a hue that friends affectionately called Cherry Blossom. When my sisters were told about the 'program', copious quantities of Fair and Lovely were hastily applied every evening on to my mug, to my great mortification. After a week of the treatment, my sisters expressed their satisfaction and on the appointed day, we momentously proceeded to the uncle's house.

And me? My usual sang froid had deserted me and my heart beat like a bass drum. I entertained several thoughts of deftly opening the door of the car we were traveling in when it had stopped at a traffic light and decamping on foot but I found myself unequal to the task.

And presently, here we were.