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Thursday, September 03, 2015

A suitable girl (flash fiction)

The mirth of Fate is strange-
She smiles upon you and makes you suffer.
Sometimes, She makes you suffer to see you smile.

My mother wanted to get me married ever since I completed my undergraduate degree. I think she wanted to get me married ever since I started ovulating at the age of thirteen. Freshly graduated, I started a job as an Associate in an e-publishing house. She thought it was of dire necessity that I followed the Laws of Nature, took a husband and bore a child as any proper Bengali girl should do at the ripe age of 22. Sometimes, I wondered how she managed to wait for so many years. Maybe because my father was sensible enough to prevent her from performing her maternal duties. He insisted: Let her finish her education first!

My education was far from complete. But I had a break-up with my long-distance boyfriend. It had meant nothing more than late night phone calls and an elephantine bill at the end of every month. Nevertheless, it gave my mother an excuse to pursue her sole purpose of existence: to get me married to an agreeable Bengali boy.

Surely enough, she used all her social contacts-  the woman who picked trash, our amused neighbors, her concerned colleagues. One of the interested parties was her junior at work. She had a nephew on the side of her in-laws, who was about four years senior to me in school. I knew him by name and vaguely remembered his face. My mother knew that I had only one demand- my husband should be socially presentable. He need not be handsome if he knew how to groom himself and how not to spit when he spoke. Fresh out of heartbreak, your expectations from yourself and your life is lowered dramatically.

My mother judiciously conveyed my secret desire to her colleague who promised to take it up with her in-laws. The guy was a Software Engineer, working in Bangalore, like most other good boys from our town. It was nothing exceptional, which was good. I wanted a man in my life whose goodness moved me. Not the size of the bacon he brought home. Plus, I always knew I’d be a working woman. Together we could always have enough. I found myself wondering- what if he were the one for me? Wouldn't it be a riot if it was someone I knew but had never thought of that way? I let myself dream a little. The kind of romantic thoughts only a girl in her early twenties can imagine: We would travel the world together. Have a charming little house. Maybe a dog- a Labrador preferably, chocolate-colored probably. We would call him Mr. Brown.

It was the little details that gave me joy. My chain of thoughts halted when I learned that they wanted an ‘Engineer girl.’ I wanted to ask why they hadn’t mentioned it before. Of course, it was a sham. I realized it when I heard he was getting married to a woman he was working with.

Fair enough, if it was what they wanted. It wasn’t a rejection in the real sense, but I felt it was a bit too much for me to handle in one year. I snubbed all my mother’s future efforts and started preparing to take GMAT for an MBA degree in the US. In the meantime, I started talking to someone who lived in the same city in East Coast where I applied for B-school in the fall semester of the following year.

My scores were decent, and I had a good feeling about my admission. For a while, at least, my mother was more excited about my prospect of going to the US than about my prospects of marriage. I always said to her, 'Let me get established, have a robust career. I will find someone to get married.'

This time she only said, 'Do not wait too long.' Then she lectured me about the various benefits of using contraception, the relative advantages and disadvantages of using the pill or prophylactics if I decided I couldn’t wait till marriage. I wanted to tell her they taught this stuff in Biology class in school. But her energy was so vigorous that I thought it was better to let her spend it talking than let her try something even more dangerous for my well-being.

I graduated a valedictorian. I have a job that pays me more than a lot of guys earn back home or even in this country. Though I never mention it, I am secretly proud of the fact. I feel I have done something I can be happy about, even though, by no means have I arrived.

The boy from my B-school town finished his doctorate. We dated for a few years before we decided to get married. My mother was beaming with joy on the day of our reception. Her fear that I was a lesbian bowed to celibacy or secretly married to my butch proved unfounded.

Before I suffered the horror of hearing about the birds and the bees and circle of life, my husband stole me away after the reception for our Subho Ratri. Our bed was a sculpture of flowers. God! Some people sure know how to make a big deal out of a wedding! All I wanted was a quiet ceremony with close friends and family. But thousands of invitations were sent out and accepted.  My jaw hurt from smiling at strangers I didn't know from Adam and would probably never see again in my life. After my mother-in-law had chased everyone out of our bedroom and my husband had bribed every distant cousin to stay away for the rest of the night, we retired to bed. We concurred, 'Thank God it is over!'

In a few days’ time, we were back in the US and had resumed work. We were happy together, and marriage didn't seem like such a bad idea after all. In fact, I would now recommend it to others. Fast forward a few years, someone messaged me on Facebook,"Humans of New York is a good page. I started following it from your likes." It was him! The-senior-I-was-supposed-to-marry-whom-I-didn't and was better off for it because I probably wouldn't have considered getting a professional degree if I had married too early.

I was not even sure if he knew about me.

P.S. A word of advice to all the Mrs. Bennet version of Bengali mothers: মেয়েকে ভাল পাত্রী নয়, ভাল ছাত্রী করুন।


amitabha said...

Very well articulated. The story flows so naturally and smoothly that one does not know when it has ended but the words linger like a good perfume. How about a novella in the same genre?

saikat said...

Brilliant write up. Last line actually summarises what ails the country.

Asha Konnur said...

Awesome writing !!

Srilekha Poddar said...

Strikes the right chord! Awesome..

Suryatapa Chakravarty said...

Always a fan of your writing, Aparna di

Raikishori Ganguly said...

Inspirational! A lot of girls will be a little less worried of rejections now! Rejections are good as they fuel determination... point well proven!

My dairy said...

buri..superb writing. Free flowing ,Smooth and reached to the point so beautifully. Loved it. Keep on writing
Lil writer.

Suchandra Chakraborty said...

Hi, I would applaud to the very echo of it but many did! So I better be a good critic! Moms Lecturing on contraceptive!!! Choice of a small quiet Bengali marriage!!! Wow! Like media coverage on Bollywood celebrity marriage. All I can say it is a bit cliché for those emotional creatures in Bengal!! Wake up, comrade!!