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In 1992 I had just finished five years of education from a premier college of Delhi. The hostel stay had polished the rough edges of a simple small town girl. Though I continued to wear the traditional look with long hair and Indian attire, my language and mannerisms had changed.
On the face of it, I blended in the orthodox settings. Yet stuck out like a sore thumb, the moment I began to speak. Our chic college finishing was more than evident.
One day my father sat down for a heart to heart chit chat. "So what have you thought about future? Is there a boy in the picture?"
"Was that option open? I quipped.
He laughed and said, "Ok I get it. We'll make you meet a few and you choose what suits you. Your choice would be considered first."
On the first day of June 92, the prospective groom arrived with his parents and our common acquaintance. These occasions are strange. The go between guy draws attention to all positives and dissuades focus from likely mismatches. Me the square peg in a round hole, was fairly a misfit if one was willing to look.
Instead of gliding from my room like a delicate comely girl, I stormed in to the hall, as I would on a normal day. The brisk steps a bit mismatched with a lilac chiffon saree I had draped. But cupid struck his arrow and the prospective's eyes shone brightly. When I sat beside his mother, he grinned. Both of us wore near identical clothes- Lilac chiffons. He chose to take it as destiny's signal.
I decided to speak my mind. He should know that I was not as traditional as I looked. Nothing like acting coy or shy, I spoke with confidence looking directly into the eyes of anyone who asked me a question. Instead of withdrawing, he grinned ever more. Seems I had fulfilled all the requirements he had in his mind. He was a business family boy moving first generation in a corporate job. He wanted a bride who could blend. (Blend with their big extended family of sixty members living in adjacent households.) Also the girl had to be equipped to deal with his educated corporates colleagues. I was doomed.
We were given time alone. He told me about a very fascinating gang of sixty members of all age and sizes who were traditional and yet forward looking. How I would never feel alone with them and find friends in my SILs. He had made up his mind.
I waited for my father's 'we'll give your choice first priority'. He was too busy entertaining the guests. Only thing he asked me in a fleeting moment was, "Tell me if you found something terribly wrong."
"Nothing terribly wrong but this is too soon..."
He was gone before I finished. Next I was getting engaged. Everyone looked extremely happy and I had no reason to object.
Seven months later we got married. And I made two discoveries. First that sixty is a small word but a big crowd of people. It is as though you have an audience to every action.
Second that words have different meanings for different people. When used in negotiations, people agree on them without clarifying. Only later they find the gap in communication. The phrase 'forward looking' that my husband had used, turned out to be same.
The very first instruction I got from him was,"When in public, stick to speaking Hindi and NEVER call me by my name."
I stuck to keeping quiet and managing everything with a nod of my head. Every one was a related stranger. Why take risk. A fortnight of being helped, visit to parents and our honeymoon trip passed safely. Once we got back to normal life, the misfit finally made a comeback.
One morning I had just had a bath and wanted to hang my wet towel on the clothes line. None was in sight. It had been planned in a way that the drying laundry was not visible. I saw my husband standing on the terrace and I wanted to ask him where to hang the towel.
His name was on the tip of my tongue when I recalled, "Don't call me by name..." So calling by name was forbidden, we had no codes decided, traditional 'Suniye' was absurd. I stood there confused what to do. In the hostel if we did not know a person's name we whistled. I resorted to the same solution. Let out a loud whistle to my newly wed husband. He turned and I saw a shocked look on his face, followed by his palm thumping his forehead.
Confused, I kept wondering what had I done. His cousin peeped over his shoulder, he had a naughty smirk on his lips. He gesticulated where the line was. And when I hung the towel he whistled. Something told me a lover's tiff was on the anvil.
It has taken me a long time to acquire the socially acceptable behaviour of an Indian Bahurani. My husband has had his 'Oops!' moments and so have I. I still keep the awkward cat call girl alive when I write.
My brother-in-law teased me for a long time, over the episode. Whenever I entred a room, he let out a catcall exactly like mine. Thankfully he has forgotten it now. It sent me blushing then. It still brings a smile twenty-five years later.
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