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I stared at the signboard at the bank. Please stand in a Q.
Whenever I see this letter Q, I assume it stands for a question. It has mocked at me from blackboards, notebooks and question papers. This single letter has the power to transport me to a mental state of self-doubt and uncertainty, “Would I be able to do this?”
I am currently going through a phase in life when the current Q is, whom shall I marry? I am one of those ordinary girls who do not consciously seek out romance. We remain in the friend zone with good boys and ‘avoid zone’ with the adventurous ones. I have never had a boyfriend. My parents feel it is the right time to marry and since I haven’t got anybody in mind, arranged marriage is the route for finding a mate. The relatives have been in an overdrive suggesting prospective grooms, that come in a typical ‘conditions apply’ clause.
These prospective grooms I meet, are very eloquent about my terms of reference. Cooking, looking after their home, parents, relatives, friends and even future children are mentioned. The moment I ask about how shall we divide the family money between us, the eloquence is replaced by shock and horror. It seems, a wife is never meant to discuss money- she is just to serve. All responsibilities belong to her and the money to the husband. Isn’t that a fair division?
I was lost in my thoughts. Someone behind me tapped on my shoulder, the queue had moved forward. I had forgotten I had come to the bank to deposit the few demonitised notes, my family had. I was also to withdraw 'the four thousand a day' in valid currency. Tomorrow another prospective groom was coming for a ‘dekho’. My mother was going berserk giving our house a facelift. We needed cash.
The clerk was checking the documents and those with incomplete ones were being asked to stand aside. They were all confused. Few had read the instructions but had questions to ask. The step-aside group was growing in number, with no one to guide. “Hamara paisa hai fir itna kanoon kyon? Form kaise bharna hai? Aur kya papers chahiye? Mere paas original hai, wo dikha ke nahi chalega? Xerox bhi lana padega?” I could hear them mutter. Clueless, how to withdraw or deposit money.
The bank staff had no time, they were checking the papers by dozen. Only if one was thoroughly ready, you heard the thud of their stamp machine and the buzz of the note counter, followed by an audible gasp of the receiver. They got jealous glares from the confused ones. Then I saw a young man in his late twenties approach the 'in trouble' group. He surveyed their papers and explained what more was required. He filled a few forms and wrote a couple of cover letters too. The crowd as though found a Messiah. They thronged him from all sides.
I could see he was patiently talking to each one. Few went out and got the Xeroxes, he asked them to. They were able to get their money and thanked him. Single handedly he began to control the chaos and begin a ripple of assurance. A lot many aspirants were requesting him to just check their papers before joining the queue, to avoid being rejected. There were more crowds near his bench than the bank counter. I noticed he was getting over worked.
I picked my phone and rang my mother, informed her that the queue was too long. I would come late. Then I went and sat on the bench. Offered to help in the massive task he had taked upon himself. He patiently explained what I had to do. By lunchtime we had scanned thousands of papers, sorted the required ones and stapled the sets. People looked at us with respect and gratitude. Some returned with refreshments along with Xeroxes. The bank staff ordered tea. The old people touched our heads and blessed us. It was healing me inside. I didn’t feel tired at all.
We left the bank at eight p.m. After a long time I was feeling so good.
He offered his hand and introduced himself, “Hi! I am Amit.”
“Paromita.” I shook his hand.
“Can I drop you home, you have helped me all day.” He pointed to his motorbike.
“You don’t need to, I live just two blocks away.” I declined.
“Can I offer you coffee?”
We sat in the coffee house, he told me he worked for a MNC and was visiting his parents here. I told him about my possible engagement next day. He asked me if I liked the boy, and I ended up describing all the cartoons I had met till date. We laughed at the way marriages were arranged in our country. After an hour he dropped me home.
Next day my mother woke me up, snarling like a tigress. The whole house was in a state of commotion. It looked like a fifty-year-old woman dressed up in garish outfits for karwachauth. The ravages of time were visible between the bright decorations. In the evening, the prospective in-laws and groom reached our house.
The toughest part of the exercise approached. I was given time alone with the boy. It was apparent from his gloating that he liked what he saw.
“My parents are everything to me. They are respected a lot by friends and relatives. I would expect you to keep them happy. As a wife you will take care of everyone. You can do your job for some time but to give attention to family and children, I think you should consider staying a housewife. I earn well.”
It was going down the same alley again, I needed time to think. I excused my self to use the toilet. Once inside, I took several deep breaths. My cell phone buzzed.
It was Amit’s message. “How is it going? Do you like the boy? Say yes only if you like him.”
“He is like all others.” I typed.
“If it’s not already too late, can you consider marrying me?”
I was stunned. We had met just a day ago. Who proposes so soon? The scene at the bank flashed in my mind. Hadn’t I seen a lot of Amit in those few hours? He was considerate, intelligent, organized, and patient. I had seen him smile to the kids and courteous to the ladies. He had no business or duty to help those people. In his company I had felt free to talk about my fears and hopes alike. What more did I need to know? Weren’t these the qualities I looked for in my future husband? I made my decision.
This is my third day of volunteer work in the bank. Amit and I have been busy all day. There is a twinkle in his eyes. He knows I ditched my impending engagement for him. After the bank shuts, his parents are coming over to meet mine. They can’t digest the fact how soon we both made up our mind. They are suspectful that we had a ‘chakkar’ going on for some time and have kept it a secret. After all it takes time to feel so confidently about a person.
While there are thousands of people are cursing demonetization, it is a boon for me. The chaos and the queues gave me a chance to meet an exceptional man.
I read the sign board again. Please stand in a Q. The Q is no more a question for me. Whenever I look at it now I will remember the queue, from which I saw Amit the first time.