Thursday, 11 September 2008


There are two kinds of mothers in this world. One kind insists that they have the last word about everything in your life no matter how old you are, gets into big noisy brawls with you for not doing your laundry and makes loud crass remarks in front of your friends about how your grunge dressing is meant for losers. The best part about this kind is that you can fight with them with all your might and wit knowing that they will get worried only if they want to.

The other kind is soft and emotionally fragile and has and speaks in a tone so soft and weightless that you think that an impromptu gasp would throw them off balance. Chances are your dad treats them like a free falling feather and you are constantly reminded to do the same after his time. Their entire life revolves around your existence, movements, responses and reactions. They worry incessantly when you are sick and at least manage a sniffle when you tell her that you would rather cook than have her send three course packed meals of heart and animal shaped nuggets to your office every day.

My mother belongs in the latter group and I hate it that she is there among them, for people in this group can get away with murder and can stab at your conscience with their huge drops of bulbous tears and big-eyes-looks till out of the sheer frustration of dealing with them you give in feeling like the biggest loser in town.

Waiting for a stranger in a Café on what would have been a fun Saturday night, I was fuming for being a prey to my mother’s whims and finding my way into a proposal from a ‘shady’ community wedding site. Yes, the ones whose ads slide in from the sides onto your hotmail page showing initially a girl with a forlorn look and then POOF… a good looking boy appears next to her and the couple beams with ‘commercial joy’ while the site id repeatedly flashes before your eyes till you decide picking fleas from your dog’s back is a better option than checking mails.

I now looked forlorn and a little lost in the pastel walls of the café that seemed to echo an emptiness within me, so much so that I didn’t notice stereotype IT engineer from ‘a reputed college’, hands in pocket and complete with a pseudo confident ‘Meet-your-hubby’ look, by my table. Handpicked from a similar website, his face beamed in the divine bliss of finding a cook after having lonely microwave dinners for a really long time. My constipated smile would have given my thoughts away for his confidence dissipated for a second before he stopped and asked me, “Ms.Indu? (faking deep baritone voice). A guttural sigh matured into a groan somewhere from the deepest recesses of my soul. The familiar walls of the café immediately seemed to lose its allure and I even forgot my customary smile kept aside for such occasions where my thoughts would freeze my actions.
A childhood crush on Ned- Nancy Drew’s all time love, an adolescent diet of Shelley and Keats, it was not long before I felt Marquez understood me better than any man worth his stubbles. Kamasutra and Indulekha (the book) gave an expressive ornate finesse that perfectly complimented Gibran’s seductively deep thinking.

Yet, I did not even hear the picture crash into a thousand smithereens until I was unblinkingly told by IT engineer, “I am looking for a mother in my wife”. I almost blanched as my mind scanned for a response or at least to acknowledge a complete comprehension of the statement. After murmuring something on ‘incompatibility’, my pale face and I left the café.

Now, am not an overly critical human being and am a huge fan of the ‘Accept people as they are’ philosophy but when the umpteenth guy you are set up with by your mother turns out to look more or less like the perfect ‘Family photograph’ addition, you are exasperated beyond words. Trying to capture character beyond thick glasses, floaty trousers, unkempt looks, boring conversations and humour that invariably reduces me to tears, I have completely forgotten what I am looking for in a guy or better still, what a normal guy looks like. Well, that is if you can think clearly what with all the voices in your head.

‘Don’t scare him away’
‘Don’t ask too many questions’
‘Demure and bashful that’s the way to be’
‘Wear a salwar’
‘Wry sense of humour is a put-off’
‘You are not getting any younger so don’t’ get any choosier’

The ‘See-a-boy-a-day’ strategy was the worst attempt of the lot, a clandestine attempt by some freaky relative who promptly subscribed me to some tiresome wedding matchmaking site after which I would start my day sipping coffee and staring at big moustaches, chests that can only be blown up by air, arrogant eyes, flared up nostrils and propped up legs on tables in the background of those hideously ‘scenic’ explosion of flowers and mountains that can only be part of the décor and idea of one of those sleazy photographers who have made a career out of honeymooning couples and joint family portraits- yes, the ones with the sad looking children and hostile looking parents.

Of course, I was naïve to assume I was done for a while with my uncomfortable tete å tete in that tiny French café. Little did I know that I had already entered the most infamous but very much Desi industry of ‘The Great Indian Arranged Marriages’ which would mark the beginning of a series of well orchestrated meetings where people of two homes (or more) would escape into a pious aura with their eyes steadfastly fixed high above them into the vast nothingness of hope all for their fledglings who would try to catch fleeting glimpses of each other in some crowded restaurant desperately trying to look for an act or habit that would help them reach the decisive answer .

The fervour of faith among these families is a tad puzzling. It would seem that opportune occasions such as these would raise God’s TRP’s on an all time high note on its own threatening to put a lot of people in the divine industry out of employment. Superstitions suddenly make sense and a falling leaf, rain or anything out of the ordinary is auspicious and anything auspicious immediately is thought to be holy. Offerings are promised, powders and oils suddenly come out of their sacred positions and are generously smeared on every non-perspiring forehead. Once the evil eye is warded off, the critical eye takes its place. If you are a girl, it is worse as suddenly there is something definitely wrong with the clothes you are wearing, you are anaemic, you have an unappealing posture, your language is too crass and your front teeth, well they are way out in the front.

Try making the mistake of saying that you cannot decide on spending the rest of your life with a person you met for a little above 5 minutes and you are immediately ushered into the Hall of Great Photographs where your garlanded ancestors look down soberly at you and are told of all the women who did not even get a chance to meet their spouses yet maintained an impressive quantity (14 children) and quality (well known cook, obedient wife, loving mother, doting grandmother) to life.
“Hey, but Grandma wasn’t a travel writer,” you protest but in the already etched out aristocratic role of a Syrian Christian Marthomite woman, your voice sounds, well, a little less than a whimper.

When in discussion about Indian marriages how can we ever forget the dogmatists and their dog-eared narrations about the big M. Model cousins, respected uncles and reputed aunties step forward all having the common thread of ‘ideal marriage’ in their resume, brows narrowed and worried as you climb the ladder, apparently present to ‘clear the air’ and invariably fill your breathing space with columns of ‘real life examples’ and the only words you hear are ‘adjustment’, ‘compromise’ and ‘servility’. What happened to good old love, laughter and cheers to a great life?

Like one friend piped in, “Married people in India have nothing nice to say about marriage but in the same breath would urge us to get into it ‘before it is too late.” One of the classic metaphors of all times was given by a colleague in the smoking hall as he took a long shot at his cigar, “Marriage is like what happens with the Rajdhani Express, those who are inside the train are dying to get out and those on the platform yearn to get in.”

After you are sufficiently fed with the stories of all the successful marriages you are again pushed into the prospect of searching for your better half in what would by now be a very numb attempt from your side.

An occasional Starbucks reunion is the only relief to the whole train of events bringing a pluralistic meaning to the condition over steaming cups of coffee as friends cite different stories from the same book.

“Ma, I need to feel a wavelength with the girl,” pleaded a friend to his mother. Friend’s mother threw him a cold look and said, “When I was of marriageable age, your father’s father and my father met each other and decided matters. That was about the only wavelength your father and I got with each other.

One can just wonder in the Indian context whether the society would ever take a breather on things like age, caste, creed and realise that these are mere numbers in the greater plan of things or ancient ritualistic observations long devoid of any logic. Of course then we would be missing out on a lot of nudging and whispering scenes among housewives who meet each other at the town’s watering hole. A change of thinking also means losing out on the great Indian twist to Bollywood movies-the ones which ooze with pseudo-sacrificial qualities of men and women torn between parents and their lovers in the name of caste.

“If I announced that I was gay, I would probably be thought crazy or disrespectful but if I was to say that I loved a girl from another caste, I would be piled with emotionally draining scenes and dialogues cleverly stashed away from movies for such occasions,” says Zac, a friend and team leader for our coffee sessions.

Some of us Yo-Yo between their past and present wishing they had never in a fit of anger broken up their college affairs, the others who have been on and off relationships are getting used to now accepting their situation and use their remote sensing perceptions to decide if a single photograph is strong enough to seal their future.

And then there are people like me, who would suddenly see a strange number blinking nonchalantly on my mobile mid-way during my jogging session. My available timings are now well known among the ‘Get Indu Married Club’ so every time I grab a coffee or sing a song, the mobile breaks into a Marley I have exclusively kept aside for all ‘other’ numbers. I know what I’ll hear-a well-rehearsed introduction or the occasional prejudiced aspirant. Am weary of both. So, somedays when the sun has risen well above me, I look at the numbers and don’t pick up the calls but continue jogging down the road quietly agreeing with a disgruntled Phoebe from FRIENDS, “Maybe I am destined to take long walking tours with widows and lesbians in foreign countries but am NOT trading my last living blissful single moments for some wannabe over the internet.”

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