"Karthik, dinner's ready." My mom called out while I was listening to My Sacrifice by Creed on Radio City. She came near and in a low voice said, "I told your dad about it." I felt like a 10,000 volt stupor hit me! "What?" I was flabbergasted, "Ma, I wanted to tell him myself. I had it all planned out. You've just...god! You women kind can never keep secrets, can you? Ok, what did he say?" I asked anxiously. "He said nothing. Probably he wouldn't even talk to you about it until you start." I knew it was going to be a bad night. Heated arguments, sentimental issues, guilt pricking and unwanted tensions; we had had none of these in our house. But I saw it all coming down in one night.
At the dinner table
It took me sometime to come out of my bedroom, for the dinner table seemed like a battle ground to me! My hunger died with the very thought of talking to my dad. But I knew I couldn't escape it and I had to face this some day or the other. My dad sat next to me. I gulped the air that was stuck in my throat and with head bent down I had my eyes fixed on my plate. Even after five minutes, daddy spoke nothing! So I gathered up all my courage to break the ice, "Appa, I wanted to tell it myself. I was actually..." "What's her name?" he cut me without looking at my face. "Simi" I answered, "Simi Jacob Thomas." There was a smile on his face. "Bring her home tomorrow evening", he said. It made me smile too, for I felt glad to hear something like that while I expected a huge argument to spurt out. None of us spoke anything else that night. It turned out to be a total anti-climax of what I had imagined! I got back to my room after dinner, but couldn't sleep for most part of the night since I was dreaming with open eyes about the day that was to come the next morning!
The day did come
The day did come; probably one of the most important days of my life. I told Simi that my dad wanted to meet her and also that he wasn't fussed up or anything like that and instead smiled about it. Simi didn't know what to tell, she too was very happy I thought. A year and a half of our secret relationship, a secret known to the world but hidden to our parents, was about to pay off. So, on that day, we just didn't care about whether we had completed our work or not. We left office at 4.30 in the evening, just to make sure that we don't get stuck in that dreaded Hosur road traffic. Simi left her car parked in the office itself and we both went in my car. That wasn't the first time I had driven with Simi in my Honda City, but somehow, all along the way home, my dreaming about the car being decorated with flowers and a big "Just Married" sign on a heart shaped board, made that ride very special to me!
We reached home by quarter past five. Summer time; my dad was sitting on the swing in the lawn, reading a newspaper. He got up as he saw us coming. "Namaste Uncle", Simi said folding her hands. My dad smiled back. "Hello, nice to meet you", he greeted her, "come, let's go inside", he took us in. My mom was watching tv in the hall and as we entered she got up from the sofa and switched off the tv. "Get something", my dad said to my mom and within minutes a lot of things were ready on the tea table. "Please have it" my dad said and we both started munching. "Aunty, I really like this. Kaduburight? Karthik gives me every time you send it in his lunch box. In fact, I've eaten almost every dish that you cook. You really cook very nicely aunty." Simi said looking at my mom. My mom just smiled back as a thank youto Simi's compliments.
Setting the stage!
"Sorry child, I forgot your name." My dad said. Simi was busy eating, but she'd heard it. "Uh? Uncle? Simi. My name is Simi", she replied. "Aaah! Simi Jacob Thomas, right?" My dad asked. "Yes", Simi replied and looked at my face with her eyebrows slightly raised. I did nothing else but show my teeth. There was a wide smile on my dad's face too. "What?" I asked him. "Karthik Subramanya Shastry weds Simi Jacob Thomas, somehow sounds very funny to me", he said. The smile on my face slowly reduced in width and finally when I saw the expression on Simi's face change as she took a bite of the kadubu, my smile completely died out. My dad was quick to react. He looked at Simi and said, "Oh please don't feel offended. I don't mean to hurt you. But child, I'm going to ask you a few questions and also tell you some things over which you'll need to think calmly." Uh oh! Something's coming! I told myself. Simi seemed to have heard what I'd just said in silence. She kept the half bitten kadubu back on the plate.
"Simi. Since how long do you know Karthik?" My dad started shooting.
"About a year and a half" Simi replied.
"Do you think that's enough to know him?"
"I guess so. Yes. That's quite enough." Simi nodded her head up and down.
"Hmm...Tell me one thing, do your parents know about this?"
"No uncle. I was about to tell them; after we took your permission."
"And how did you assume that I will say 'yes'?" My dad was still smiling. But the expression on our faces had taken a U-turn from extreme bliss to total awe by now! Although both of us knew that we would have to face our parents' opposition, the way my dad had reacted since the night before had sprung up some positive thoughts in both of us. So this was a bit of a shock indeed.
"Simi, Simi. My dear child. I know most of what I tell you will make you feel like not listening to me. I just want you both to have the best and I know very well that it will not be so if you happen to marry." Our faces now looked like the sad emoticon that we use in our Office Communicator. But my dad continued :-(
"Where do your parents stay?"
"What does your father do?"
"He retired as a Branch Manager in SBI last month. Now he serves as an evangelist at a church nearby".
"How many siblings do you have?"
"We are four. I have a brother and two sisters."
"You must be the youngest", my dad was bang on!
"Yes", Simi replied, a little surprised. I knew, like me, she too wanted to know how on earth he got that!
"I pity your poor dad. He seems to be a pious man. If I, being the father of the boy, feel so sad about this whole thing, I can imagine how much pain that man will go through." My dad let out a long sigh. Somehow the things he spoke started to get on my nerves and I thought I had to do some talking.
"What's wrong with this dad? I don't understand why you people should be worried. Simi and I like each other, we understand each other very well, we both have good jobs in hand, what else do we need?"
"I was waiting for you to open your mouth", my dad said in a sarcastic tone. "See. You are talking only about you both; that you like each other, that you have good jobs. Then, tell me honestly, when you have decided about everything, why do you need my permission, or even her parents' permission? You can as well marry and later just inform us, right? If you feel that you will anyways go ahead no matter what, then I see no point in discussing this anymore." My dad stood up.
"No uncle", Simi interrupted, "I want to listen to you." I looked at Simi with an evident frown on my face. "Please, let us talk about it. I too want to know what you feel about this." She requested my dad. But I wasn't keen on listening. I just sat with my face turned away, staring at the door.
My dad sat down. "Simi, marriage is not a child's play dear. At least in our society, it's not centered just around two people. If you had, for at least once, thought practically about your relationship, you wouldn't have carried it so far. You both are in love and that will make you think you can get along anything that comes your way. Child, married life in itself has thousand and one problems. You have to make sure that you don't invite more problems just by taking a hasty decision.
"The first thing is, I'm more than a hundred percent sure that your family will not whole heartedly accept my son as their son-in-law and after this marriage, believe me, your relationship with your parents and siblings will never be the same. Even if they come to accept it at a later point of time, they will just be pretending. Some relationships if broken, take a long time to patch up and if they had been very close, it takes a lifetime. Coming out of home and living a life of your own sounds very good like in movies and stories, but the truth is, you cannot stay away from your parents forever; at least not until they are alive."
Simi was listening without blinking her eyes. "After that, come your individual dogmas. You know, his mother celebrates at home, almost every festival that's listed on the almanac. She will feel uncomfortable to let you around and get you involved. Even if she and you get along after sometime, I will guarantee, it will be limited to our house alone. You will never be invited to any function that will happen in our relatives' homes. At first, you might feel ok about it. But when Karthik will feel the pinch in his heart to know the fact that his wife is not welcomed in his relatives' places and because of that he too cannot attend those so very fun filled family gatherings that he was always a part of, he too will start to repent.
"Then there are your food habits. You are a meat eater and my son is a pure vegetarian, well at least I think so. But I don't know if he has started that too."
Simi was already feeling guilty I guess. "No, he doesn't eat. But I have stopped", she said.
"See. You have lost a part of yourself. You know, for your love to carry on with the same fervor forever, you should accept the person you love as he or she is, without being directly or indirectly forced to change for the sake of love. In my opinion, that's true love and everything else is just a compromise. You have given up eating meat, good; but every time you come across that, you'll always be tempted. It's perfectly ok and it's because you have been brought up in such a culture where it is almost compulsory to eat meat, whereas my son has grown up amongst people who dislike even the sight and smell of it.
"And then, you both are connected by English, a language that's not the mother tongue of either of you. I am not telling it's a bad language, but you know, it is always the mother tongue that gives you the personal touch, the closer-to-heart feeling while you talk to your, be it husband or any other person. Don't tell me that love knows no language; it is all theory and is only good for the books. The day you see a couple in love talking in your language and having those sweet little verbal fights or name-calling, in words that you can best express only in a language that is closer to your heart, you will know what you are missing.
Simi was static. "Next thing is about your kids. My mother used to tell me a proverb in Kannada - Appa amma eradu daari aadare, makkaLu naaku daari anthe, meaning If the father and mother go in two directions, their children will go in four. I don't know if I've put it correctly in English but I hope you've understood it. Forget your kids, you yourself will not be able to tell them whether they have to go to the church or the temple, to be a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian, to speak Malayalam or Kannada and many such things. Finally they end up growing in a big confusion about their language, their God, their culture and everything about themselves. They might even someday curse you for landing them in such a situation. You might say that they will choose the best of both cultures. But that can happen only after they have matured enough to take decisions on their own. But again, I bet they will not be able to do that too since they wouldn't have gained a complete understanding of either of those.
"Deep down inside, you feel that you are doing something wrong and that's what has kept you from telling your parents or else you would have told it on day one that you like this guy and might as well marry him. But you feel your parents might be hurt if you do that because you know very well that they can never see him as the right guy for you and from my point of view too, he's not. Trust me, even your parents wouldn't deny if you can prove it to them that he is the right person, but in this case, you'll not be able to do that! I just guessed that you must be the youngest because if you had somebody younger to you, a sense of guilt which makes you feel that you might just be setting a bad example to the younger ones, would have stopped you from thinking about Karthik as your life partner. But again good and bad depends entirely on your perspective and for youngsters like you, it is mostly influenced by your friends outside rather than the people at home.
Looks like he's not gonna stop until she walks out, I thought, still looking away. I did not interrupt only because Simi had stopped me from it. You asked for it Simi. Now you have it. I wasn't anymore interested in disturbing her.
"I too feel that I've slipped somewhere. If only I had talked about all such things to my son a long time back, he would have been more careful in choosing his life partner. But I never realized that he had grown up so much and today I feel I'm paying for my mistake. You know, you should make your children do what you feel is right until they turn 16. Then on, till 30, you should just tell them what they should do and let them do what they feel is right and after 30 there's no use of telling too. So now, I'll only have to give my suggestion and heeding to it or discarding it, is left to you both.
"I know that a lot of people of your age fear arranged marriages these days and that fear is because you feel you don't know that person properly. But then, why do you think we have the concept of engagement. Get engaged before at least six months of marriage and you can get to know each other fairly during that period. If you don't think it will work out, you have lost nothing, right? Now if it doesn't work out once, it's never that you will not find someone better. You'll always do and sometimes you will realize it after you get married to someone who you then thought was the best! In case you love somebody with whom everybody around you and especially your parents will be comfortable with, engagement is just a formality.
"Anyways, I can already see from his face that he is not very happy to listen to me. So let's finish it off. But a sincere request from my side - before you listen to what your heart says, just give a chance to your brain to think about it." My dad finally finished his lecture!
Nobody spoke for a moment. Finally Simi broke her silence, "Uncle, now I realize why it is important to discuss with elders. No doubt, I had never thought about many things that you told now. Please give me some time. I will definitely think about it. Thank you very much for letting me know your point of view", she said and stood up. Oh Mistress of assertiveness skills, you forgot to paraphrase - I wanted to tell loudly but somehow controlled myself.
"Sure dear. I know it's not easy. Take your time. And thanks. I'm happy that at least you said you will think about it. God bless you", my dad blessed her as Simi touched his feet before leaving.
"Karthik", he looked at me and said, "go drop her till home and come back."
Sigh! Don't worry. I'll not run away with her.
And then, it was evident..
Simi did not speak to me for some days in the office. I had sort of understood what she wanted to convey. My dad had brainwashed her. If only I had never let her talk to my dad I thought. But Simi was anytime more mature than me. She had taken time not only to think about it but also to speak with her parents; and the story on the other side was no different. Luckily, I did not get an invitation from her father to talk to him! Finally Simi told me, what is usually told by girls, that we would be better off as friends rather than being a husband and wife. But it was really difficult for me to look at her as "just a friend". Fortunately I got an onsite assignment at that time which kept me away from her for almost 10 months. I somehow managed to get over the gloom during that period. It was only after that I realized my dad too was right in a way. True. At least sometimes in life, you got to listen to your elders.
Today, Simi and I are married; to different people of course, and the best part is that we both have found very good friends as our life partners. Instead of whining over what could not happen, we have just moved on with so many other beautiful things that actually happened and of course, we are more than satisfied with whatever we have in our lives. It's like they say, if it had been any better, it would be a sin ;-)