Chocolate vs. Vanilla
It was a thursday morning. He remembered the day so vividly. "Was it really a thursday?" , he said to himself and went to a website to check. He could not believe it. It was indeed a thursday.
His father had told him that at precisely 10:27 AM on that fateful morning, his life was about to change. "Bah!" was his response, at least in thought, because he was so tongue tied at the moment. He had a million thoughts crossing his mind, and all at once he would erase them all and go into a deep silence, overwhelmed by what was happening to him, all around him.
God, Why did I come back? was the only question where all those thoughts settled.
Just a few days back, he had boarded a plane to India, in hopes of giving his old grandfather a last view of his face! His grandfather, the one person who he loved more than anyone else, was losing his eyesight. Grandpa was requesting that his grandson visit him once, before going into some surgery which had a small chance of success.
He was, in reality, being lured to come back to India, so they could all make him do their bidding. As a collective group his family had decided that the only way they don't loose their darling, was to bring him back home, at any pretext.
He landed in India only to find out that grandpas vision was not in any immediate danger. He was happy, and sad. He knew what that meant. They were going to cajole, convince, or in the event none of that worked, force him to get married!
He told all his relatives that his idea of marriage had changed. He had his own plans. His earlier attempts at trusting his family in finding him a girl ended with disastrous consequences. He had lost all faith in the arranged marriage system. Not to mention that there was this girl who was really getting into his head back in the States.
A year back he had visited India for two weeks. He was becoming more "Americanized" as they all put it! His grand father had come home jubilant one evening "Guess who I ran into at the Vethalai Kadai(Pan shop)? My old friend Ambi!! Apparently he is looking for a match for his grand daughter. He had her horoscope in his bag. I always have a copy of this horoscope in my bag. We went right to the astrologer and guess what the astrologer said? There are 10/10 matches. This IS the girl for our boy!". The whole house was celebrating, except for him.
The next day, the boy got to see a photograph of the girl. She was leaning back on a Maruthi 800 car. He instantly thought of Pythogoras, similar triangles etc. and figured that the girl must be at least 4 to 6 inches taller than him and ten to twenty pounds heavier too.. "This is my destiny?" he thought. The whole family backed the astrologer!!! The girls mom and uncle came to meet him later that day and told his dad, "Your son is extremely outgoing and intelligent. He has a great future. But our daughter looks a lot healthier than him by comparison. So this match will not work out". The family was dejected, more because their little lad was right, and he knew "similar triangles". "No fooling this boy!", they realized.
A week later, a real visit to another 10/10 match. He looked at the girl, the girl looked at him and they felt like they were auditioning for the roles of "long lost siblings". There was no "spark". There was an invisible wall between them with an unheard of dielectric constant. Definitely no chance of sparking!
Then out of the blue, his aunt told them of a colleagues daughter. He remembered that girl. She used to be cute. He told his mom, "why not that girl?".. the prompt response was "we showed both your horoscopes to the astrologer and he said she will go mad within 3 years of marrying you!".
He was thinking of finding and killing that astrologer and saving a few girls from going mad in the future!
More pictures followed in the last days of the trip. He figured out quickly that the higher the matching on the 10 point scale (Pathu poruththam), the more the prospective girl looked like....a boy! Maybe they were subliminally suggesting that he become gay? Was it that his mother rejected all the good looking ones? Was he destined to marry someone he did not like? Did these people who claimed to love him so dearly, even understand what his definition of a good looking, good natured girl was?
The trip came to an end. He went back to the USA. He put marriage out of his mind and started wrapping up his studies. There was no way that an arranged marriage was going to work. He better be open to "falling in love", he told himself! A year later, here he was, duped by a fake cataract operation. It was "Operation Marriage" that he had come to witness.
Two days of lectures, threats, yelling, screaming, not by his dad or mom but pretty much the entire extended family! Subtle threats alternated with blatant threats, brainwashing, his responsibility to the family, his siblings, pressure tactics that would make CIA interrogaters look like high school bullies, it was intolerable. At times he felt like he had come to a house where someone had died. The people sitting all around him with expressions of anger, denial, grief, made him realize that someone had indeed died. The older version of himself. The last three long years, had driven him so far away from his older self that he found himself at odds with his family on almost every view point.
It was decided though, that at 10:27 that morning, as all the stars had divined to his dad, that he would be in front of the Dakshinamoorthy statue in the Kapaleeshwar temple! He knew he was going to meet some girl that his parents had selected. He also knew that he was never leaving Indian soil without getting married. The only thought on his mind was to somehow buy some time! He needed to clear his head, drink lots of coffee, think it over, be ready to get married. Be mentally prepared to live with someone.. live with anyone for that matter. What was he going to do? Get married and take some girl back to the US with him to that one bedroom apartment of his? It was not ready for him to go back to that apartment, leave alone a stranger!
There was no point in thinking anymore. Time was running out. It was 10:15 already and instinctively he bent down and touched the foot stone at the entrance to the temple and touched his eyes. "What am I doing?" was his thought. Wasn't I angry at god just a few minutes ago in that auto-rickshaw on the way to the temple?
Kapaleeshwar temple was one of his favorite hangouts. A place that had only happy memories for him in his life so far. It was a place synonymous with Grandpa, Pradoshams, Chasing peacocks with his baby brother, elephant fights, festivals, ... a rush of memories. Would all those be wiped out with what was about to happen? He did not know.
His father guided him to the Dakshinamoorthy idol, put some sacred ash on his forehead and said "Come with me!". There was no threat in that voice. It was a man who was near tears, almost pleading in his tone. There was no "I am your dad and I said so" tone that had been so dominant in the last few days. It was more of a "Really hoping you will do me this courtesy son. After all that I have done for you..." tone.
He followed quietly. For some reason he remembers blanking out and stepping along the borders between the giant stones that made up the floor. He was stepping, not walking, just like he would when he was a small child visiting that temple..
It was still 10:27. Must have been. They walked towards the inner sanctum and were met with a small group of people who were sitting in a circle on the floor. A grandpa, a grandma, uncle, an adolescent brother, and a girl who was giving them a blank stare! They were introduced. He did not even know her name till then!
There were some background conversations. No. There were some conversations which for some strange reason were delegated to the background in his head. His father and the grandpa said in unision "If you kids want to talk it is okay with us!".
"Talk, you said?" he was thinking. Suddenly, it struck him! Talking came very naturally to him, especially in crisis situations. If ever there was a crisis, where he was required to talk, this was it! He said "yes" and surprisingly the girl said "I would like to talk".
It was not like they could go to the next room and talk. There were so many people there and the odds where that, if they bumped into Tom, Dick and Harry, Harry would have been a relative, friend or an aquaintance. It was a small world! They started walking around the temple in the hot sun. They had almost walked halfway around the temple when she said something for the first time. Earlier she had not said Hi or Hello or given a handshake. It was almost like she had refused to acknowledge his existance!
Her first words to him where:
"Are you also superstitious like your dad?"
!!!!!!!! he looked. !!!!!!!!! indeed. His eyes almost popped out. Mentally he was crossing his hands across his chest waving NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO in 24 point bold, but he was still tongue tied and mananged to blurt out a weak "no" in 8 point italized font. He was downright offended. Does this girl have a clue about what she is talking about? How dare she extrapolate me based on my dad? Just because a boy with a Ph.D. meekly follwed his dad to be in front of an idol at precisely 10:27AM on said thursday, allowed some ash to be applied on his forehead and continued on to meet a girl whose name he did not even know, doesn't mean he is superstitious! Far from it! Did she know anything about what they put him through to become so meek? Did she know that he had no idea where his passport or return tickets were?
For some strange reason, he poured his heart out to the girl over the next half hour. It was a huge temple and at the rate they were walking, would easily take 20 minutes to go around. He noticed that the girl was trying to walk with the side of her feet because the ground was too hot! He was used to it. "Looks like you are not used to walking in the hot sun" he told her, "do you want to go stand in the shade and talk?". "No! It is alright. I can keep walking" came the defiant reply.
They had already crossed the little group waiting for them once, without even acknowledging their presence. The second time, someone waved from the circle. "Need one more round of talks?" came the question. "Why should every family have an uncle who cracks such jokes?" he thought and said "Yes. Would like to talk some more".
Well, this was the deciding round of talks. He told the girl that he really had no plans to marry at this time and he had his own idea of who and how to get married, but things just weren't working out his way. "It happens" she had said. "Shit happens" he had heard. Such a simple view of things, he had thought!
So far he had talked sensibly. Not that he remembered much, except for the fact that the girl had some "keerai" stuck between her teeth and half the time his thought process would be interrupted by "Should I tell her about the greens stuck between her teeth?".
Suddenly, he asked her "What is your expectation in life?".. After those words came out of his mouth, he felt like sucking those words right back in, but it was too late. What the hell was he thinking. Did HE have expectations in life? Did they really matter? Then why the hell did he ask her something that stupid?
To his surprise, the girl actually answered! Did not think. Just answered in a matter of fact way. "I want to be happy!". At that precise moment, satan entered his tongue and he asked another equally ridiculous question "Can you elaborate?". The girl laughed for the first time. "I just want to be happy! There is nothing more to it. Be happy. That is all!"
They had reached the small group of relatives who were all standing up, ready to leave. His dad looked at him and said "Let's go". There was some strange pride in that voice which said "I knew I did right by you this time, boy!". They walked into the inner sanctum and his dad asked "Will you marry this girl?".
His brain did the "million thought juggle" again and he posed himself a quesiton. "You are against marriage at this point in your life. But that is not a choice you seem to have. If you HAD to get married, would you marry this girl?" and the answer inside his head was a resounding YES. This girl would be able to handle him. She believes in "Shit happens" and "Wants to be happy". What more can you ask for?
He looked at his dad and said "Yes".
They walked back in silence to the group that came out of the other sanctum. My grand daughter says "Yes", declared the grandpa.
His dad took it as though it was expected. Of course she was going to say "Yes" was his reaction. Was he so sure that his son would appeal to the girl? Was he so sure that the Dakshinamoorthy idol would do its job? The boy was for lack of a better word "stupefied"!
"She said "What?" to me?! This girl must really see something in me that I don't", he thought, as he walked out of the temple. He could see that the girls brother was double, triple checking with his sister "are you sure?".."he is not that tall?".."are you really sure?".. "can we call mom and dad to fly in to make the rest of the arrangements?" .. he overheard the boy asking his sister as she got into their auto-rickshaw. She must have said "YES" in 24 point bold, because the brother was grinning from ear to ear as he revved up his bike and follwed the auto.
The next thirteen days saw a whirlwind of activity. An engagement, a quick treat for her friends at Saravana Bhavan, where all her friends implored him in secret to get rid of his earring before the wedding (apparently she was embarrased by it!), a marriage ceremony, wedding reception, not to mention a registered wedding, a visa interview, flying arrangements and a trip back to the USA with a bride, all in under two weeks!
So many things could have gone wrong. Somehow, all the 321,515 ducks lined up in a row and a series of events fell along so smoothly that it was beating the odds, by a wide margin! There was definitely some help from the unknown, he thought, as they were walking around the Singapore airport. It was the first time they got to talk to each other, since their marriage, where they were by themselves and they had resolved themselves to what had just happened.
They walked past an ice-cream stand and she had a big smile on her face. She asked "Do you like Chocolate?".
YES, he replied. Finally we both like something ..the same thing.. he thought. "Let me buy two chocolate ice creams. You really like Chocolate?" he beamed.
"No" came the reply. "Actually I don't. I just guessed you must like chocolate because I don't. I like only Vanilla. So far we have nothing we both like! I was just testing to see if it was still true!"
It finally dawned on him that this girl had a 0/10 match with him, yet she was already married to him and they were going to spend a long long time together. This was going to be interesting! What the hell were those astrologers thinking? What was all that stuff about 10:27 and the Dakshinamoorthy idol? Bah! Bah! Bah!
They reached the apartment and settled in over the weekend. While they unpacked, he searched for their marriage certificate in the suitcases. He had to submit photocopies to his workplace to tell them he now had a dependent on his visa!
She stood over his shoulder and said "Show me that. I never got to see our marriage certificate!"
They opened it and the first thing that struck them was the flourishing big signature in green ink at the bottom of the page
Marriage Certified by the Sub-Registrar of Mylapore
So, it was true. Dakshinamoorthy, had indeed, got them married!