edited: Saturday, January 26, 2002
By Poornima Shankar
Posted: Saturday, January 26, 2002
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Vibha was scheduled to meet her prospective groom...her 'arranged marriage' proposal. Will she meet? What happens? find out.
Vibha was sitting at the dresser brushing her long hip
length silky black hair, carassing it with her fingertips and
shutting her eyes, sighing under the gentle ramble of
There he stood, her knight in shining armor, her symbol of
what her man should be like. There he was in the corner
shop buying soda while she constantly shifted on her feet
to get a better view of him from where she stood, way back
in the snaking line. Then, there was this other time when
she saw him pass by on his motorcycle, zooming with self
assurance and confidence. She smiled that small smile and
then, her face contorted in harsh realization.
Their union would never happen. But for the first time, she
watched her full transition of emotions so clearly pass in
front of her, in the mirror. Those were the sad thoughts she
had always felt when she thought of her dear Mr X, as he
liked to call him, as she didn't know his name. But this was
the first time she had actually seen her face when she had
been thinking about him. And she sat perplexed! There was
no way out, she thought. She shivered lightly and woke
herself up from the trance she had let herself into, to hear
her mother call out to her.
"Vibha, please come home straight from college dear. There
are going to be guests this evening. And I want you to
Vibha thought, 'Guests, my foot! It must be some marriage
proposal that Uncle Sethi must have come up with. Oh!
can't they ever stop?! I hate it...' He mother entered her
room with a cup of tea and sat it beside her as she spoke,"
Vibha cut her mother of in irritation, "Why Ma? Can't you all
ever stop? Why don't you give up? I am tired of dressing up
like a traditional Indian doll and sitting in front of them,
making a show piece out of myself. I should look like a
complete fool, Ma. A mute, beautiful sacrificial
goat...waiting to be slaughtered!"
Her mother interrupted, "Vibha! stop that. You know that it
not the way you are making it out to be! All girls who opt
to have an arranged marriage have to go through this. This
is the norm. There is no shame in what we are all doing.
You don't have to behave like a mute goat...you could talk
and spell your thoughts...but, for heaven's sake, don't be
outright rude! That would be shameful. Everyone comes
from well placed, educated, cultured families. And they
don't need you to speak down to them. So, please watch
your tongue. And this time, you could dress the way you
want. But, no western clothes, please. I don't want your
thighs, navel or cleavage showing. It would look obcene.
Vibha was struck...and she could only nod in quiet
obedience. She had just realized that what her mother had
said was absolutely right. All girls went through it. Then
she spoke, this time more tenderly and in a voice filled
with panic hurt, " But, Ma, I feel really sad when all our
efforts to please and accomodate goes in vain. I mean,
they all come in, eat our goodies, drink, praise their
children, ask me some really embarassing questions, look
me up and down and then, go home, only to send word the
next day that our horoscopes didn't match or that they
were ok with me but the boy didn't want me as his wife.
That really makes me feel like I am some animal in the
market for some one to put a price on...and then, be taken
away by the best bidding party. That feels awful, Ma".
He mother's eyes welled up as she gently touched her
daughter's head and thought, 'Oh! God. Please have
sympathy on her. She is so vulnerable. She is so
naive...please give us all the courage to go through
another trying time...of the boy's 'seeing' ritual'. Then, she
spoke, her voice shaking, soft, " I know my child. I know
how you feel. But, that is the order of the day. They are a
nice family. Very cultured and the boy is an engineer. He
earns well, and if this proposal clicks, then, I assure you,
you will be a happy girl. Please do it just this once, for my
sake. You know that, if your father was here, then, that is
what he would have wanted too, isn't it?"
Vibha wiped her eyes with the edge of her mother's sari
and thought about her father who had passed away a few
years ago. Her mother had a huge responsibility to
shoulder. Vibha's marriage. She would be happy to get her
married into a good family and be relieved, a little. The
assurance of being a good parent by being able to
successfully get their children well settled into other
familes through matrimony and see them thrive in different
households, where they took responsibilities of their own,
was the biggest most important achievement of parents.
To be able to watch them from afar and be around to help
when they needed you was her mother's goal, just like any
other Indian parent.
On Vibha's side, she was expected to get married to the
boy by mutual consent from both families. Marriage was a
family affair and both families needed to be happy and in
sync. Unlike the days of her grandmother's time, where the
bride and groom saw each other's face only on the first
night after marriage, this was a totally different situation.
With time, rituals had become more reasonable and well
thought out. The girl had the option to say "NO' to the boy,
if she didn't feel comfortable on the first meet, just like the
boy's family had had the choice. It was now, in modern
days, more understanding and less demanding, unlike the
days of her parents when the boy's side had the upper
hand. They could either reject or accept a girl for their
daughter in law...and less the opposite.
'The girls are more educated and independant on their
feet,these days. They earn well too. They are more
responsible and well placed in society. They have an
opinion and they have a say too. That has brought the
scales to a balance. That is the good part' argued Vibha
That thought put her more at ease. Well, she had already
made up her mind. She would say 'NO'. The picture of her
man floated in front of her eyes...and she decided that it
would only be him or none at all! She said, to her mother,
"Ok Ma. I will be home soon. Please don't worry. I will not
let you down." With that said, she pulled out her scooter
from the front of the house and drove away to college.
She lowered her eyes as was expected of her, but felt a strange familiar
Vibha had come home on time as she had promised. She
could only see the relief on her mother's face as she
entered her house. He mother had hugged her and smiled
saying, " thanks Beti. I am glad that you listened. I am
sure that all will turn well and then, let's leave it to God.
Let's then, take it from there. Don't you worry". Vibha had
only smiled wanly in response to her mother's enthusiasm.
It did not matter to her anymore. She had made up her
mind already. And that was a 'NO'. But, of course, her
mother didn't notice her steel eyes and firm mouth. She
was much too excited to notice subtleties.
Vibha heard her mother and Uncle Sethi speaking in hushed
voices, nervous and intimidated. Uncle Sethi said, "Well,
Leela...I see the White Contessa. I think, they are here".
Her mother had said, " Arun, please stand by the door. I
am sure that there are at least 4 people coming today."
Vibha sat at her dresser smugly, putting on the eyeliner.
She pouted her red lips and smiled a nonchalant smile. She
said to herself,
'Well folks, you can only sit there and stare at me,
probably appreciate...but, you can't have me. Nah nah!"
There were welcome voices and greetings being said...and
Vibha stood at the top of the stairs peeking to see if she
could catch a glimpse of the prospective groom. But, she
couldn't. She went back to her room cursing the large
column that stood dutifully holding up the stairs. She
sharpened her ears to catch the flow of conversation...and
specifically to try and catch the voice of the 'groom'. There
seemed to be just old, sagging, heavy voices...no young,
strong and enrapturing one. She felt dejected. Then she
thought, "Why do I even care? I am not going to marry this
jerk anyway. How does it matter to me how he looks or his
voice sounds? Why am I getting so curious? To hell with all
She adjusted the beautiful silk 'Salwar Kameez' with
intricate Zardozi embroidery that her father had presented
to her on birthday three years ago, and plunked herself on
the bed resting her head on the pillow waiting for her
mother's entry to escort the wonderful piece of art to the
dealer for display and bidding. She had decided to show her
disinterest in the whole affair by not wearing the
traditional sari that she had worn so many times before.
She had still not been married and she didn't care for it
anymore. She had not even put on proper makeup. Just the
regular lipstick that she wore to college and the eyeliner,
which she had always used. Nothing really special. She
sighed as she opened her Stephen King book, 'The Shining'
and soon her mind muted out the conversations in the hall
below as she buried herself into the chilling story of Danny,
the child hero.
Suddenly the door to her room opened and she started. Her
mother entered with a smile and said, "Oh! Vibha. They are
such wonderful people. The boy's father is a retired Army
Officer and his mother is a school teacher. He has one
brother studying Medicine in Poona." Vibha said icily, "
That's fine Ma. But they are not important. What does the
boy do?" She added sarcastically, " And does he have a
Her mother looked hurt. She said, "Vibha, for heaven's sake
cut out the sarcasm. His name is Vinod. He is a computer
engineer working for Seimens in Delhi. He is tall. About 6
feet, I think. Fair and very amicable and polite. He's
dressed well too."
Vibha was almost ready with one of her retorts but was cut
short voicing it. She was stumped. Here was this guy, who
had won over her mother already. And from what he
described of him, he seemed to be charming. She already
began to feel herself melt in her resolution. Her mother
said, "Are you ready? We have to go down now. They are
waiting for you."
Vibha just nodded and said, "Ma, I am nervous. I think, I
need to go to the bathroom. I will be back". Her mother
had only smiled, in amusement. Vibha was soon back and
she grabbed her mother's hand and her mother squeezed it
in reassurance. She glanced weakly at her mother who only
winked and suppressed a guffaw. Vibha made a mock
protest and giggled with her palm to her mouth to smother
Vibha held her mother's hand. She felt it warm and
confident against her own freezing cold palm. She lowered
her eyes to a lower level as her mother had taught her to.
She called it the '45 degree angle' as it was considered
respectful to not to stare boldly into the eyes of the
prospective husband and in-laws eyes. It was believed to
show disrespect if that was done by the girl. She didn't
care for those little things...but, she had to follow it
nevertheless, to save her mother embarrassment.
She walked into the hall and noticed the immediate
silence. She looked up slightly, smiled weakly, a small
glance and nodded her head with folded palms. A sign of
greeting with respect in the traditional Indian way. But she
realized, in a moment of frustration that she had failed to
notice the boy. She was shy to make a sweep of her eyes
and just the momentary glance was not enough for her to
notice the faces...especially of the 'boy' who was important
yet the most difficult to make contact with, with so many
eyes on her.
But she felt a rise in her pulse as she felt a familiar sense.
A sense of smell that had often haunted her in her dreams,
in her days and in her nights! She felt an inner panic...and
knot in her stomach, yet a sense of elation...as she stared
mutely at the wine colored Kashmiri carpet that adorned
her floor for years now, like it was absolutely new. This
aroma captured her senses...her whole being. It was not
alien to her. She had felt it arouse her senses whenever
her Mr. X had been close to her. She even remembered how
she had poured for hours in the Mens's Perfume section of
the famous 'Scents in Town' store to put a name to the one
that had captured her heart and mind, but had failed. It
was the one that belonged to the man of her dreams.
But, she shook herself up from the enchantment. She
thought, 'It cannot be him! How could it? After all, it is just
a perfume...and anyone one could buy and use it! Besides,
he hasn't even noticed me. How would he know where I
lived?' She felt herself being guided to a sofa and she
tagged..allowing herself to follow. She sat down and heard
someone ask, "Beti...so, how are you?" She realized with a
jolt that she was being addressed and looked up at her
prospective father in-law and said,
" I am fine. Shukriya". She had tried in vain to put a face to
the pure, blinding white shirt that sat beside, but could not
just do it. She decided to wait for the 'boy' to speak up so
that she could then grab her chance to look. Next her
prospective mother in law spoke up,
"So, Vibha, this is my son, Vinod. And we are happy to
meet you." With her eyes she pointed to her son sitting on
the other side of the sofa next to his dad. She followed his
mother's gaze upto him and made a double somersault. Her
eyes widened in disbelief and her jaw dropped!
Sure enough it was HIM. Her Mr X!! She now knew his
name. And she didn't realize that she had blushed blood
red. She felt butterflies fluttering frantically in her stomach
and her mouth turned dry. She made a very general gesture
of wiping her eyes with her hand to make sure she wasn't
dreaming. And she wasn't!! It was him alright!
The panic subsided and she felt her whole body shiver with
excitement. All this while Vinod had been watching
her..with a smile dancing on the corners of his mouth. Their
eyes met, finally, and she found herself lowering her eyes
immediately...she was shy and she was in pure
ecstasy..like in a dream...a fantasy world..too good to be
true ! Her dream man was finally, in all probability going to
be her husband!! She looked at herself and chided in her
thoughts, 'I should have not been so careless about my
dressing, but, how would I know?' What if they don't think
I am dressed well enough or am negligent? Oh God, please
make it work. I don't want to lose, Mr X...Oh, I mean
Vinod's father spoke up and she was awakened from the
reverie. He said, "Well, Vibha, Vinod has taken a liking to
you and asked us to make the formal proposal. He thought
that your mother would appreciate that much better...than
his trying to woo you directly. And he knew, he said that
you liked him too. Isn't it true , Beti?" Vibha could only nod
in approval as she thought, 'How did he know? How could
he have known that I liked him? And why didn't he tell me
that he liked me? And I never knew...all this while. .Oh, my
God! How dumb of me. I must have had my infatuation
written all over my face, then!'
Vibha finally mustered up her guts to look straight at the
man of her dreams...and smile and blush...The sweet boxes
were out the next instant and the future in-laws hugged
Vibha and kissed her on her forehead, while she bent down
to touch their feet, in reverence.
Vinod walked up to Vibha's mother and bent down low to
touch her feet as she pulled him up to her and with
moistened eyes said, "Well, Beta...My blessings are always
with you both. I am sure that you will have a happy life
together. My God Bless you".
The 'guests' left Vibha's home as 'relatives'...and that
warmed the hearts of the mother and daughter...and Vibha
was glad that she decided to come back on time from
college and that she had held her tongue.
She didn't miss Vinod's wink as he got into the car, smiling.
'He has won the battle and the war...my knight in shining
armor. He has rescued me from further display. Thank you
God. You have indeed heard my prayers', she thought
Story ã Poornima Shankar