the worst part about this whole arranged marriage business is not the fact that i don’t even remotely know the person who i’m being hitched off to, but rather the fact that there seem to be no opportunities to do the same.
it’s been two weeks since my relatives hatched this scheme, and, until recently, the only form of contact that i had with her was the resume that my aunts initially paraded in front of my face non-stop. while it’s greatly assuring to know that my betrothed enjoys listening to music and had a 4.0 gpa in high school, in addition to boasting a veritable who’s who of bangladeshi business and politics in her family tree, it really doesn’t add much to the falling-in-love angle, if, in fact, that is what is expected of me.
seeing as this girl was most probably making a huge mistake in wanting to get married to me, i figured that the best thing to do would be to find out exactly what she wanted from this impromptu betrothal. and so i asked my relatives for her phone number. not unreasonable, right? but no. apparently her parents were extremely conservative and forbade all contact with any creatures that a had a y-chromosome floating around anywhere in their bloodstream.
fortunately, through the cousin of a friend’s friend, i finally managed to get said phone number, and, when i gave her a call, she asked me what took me so long to do so. and when my family found that i had talked to her, they breathed a collective sigh of relief.
now, theoretically, if calling this person were to be such an important prerequisite of the marriage process, wouldn’t it have been much easier for all concerned to just give me the phone number so we could have gotten it out of the way much earlier? but no. my aunts told me that half the battle of falling in love was finding things out about the person by myself.
i swear, there is no nuthouse in the world appropriate enough for my relatives.
now that i had procured the famous phone number, i came upon yet another quandary: what to talk about. with one week left till a horde of smiling aunts would descend upon this person in order to put a ring on her finger, i had to summarize my entire life in the span of a few minutes, so that she could figure out what a huge mistake she was making.
unfortunately, though, when it comes to talking to strange females, i am at a complete loss. i can barely get beyond the general hi-hello-how-are-you when this dreadful pall descends upon the conversation in the form of the nothing-left-to-say demon. there’s only so much that i can say about how much i hate my job and how much i hate my boss and how much i hate everything before i run out of things to say. and there’s only so much of the above that can be said in any given conversation, and therefore i like talking with relatively talkative people who can guide the conversation in various interesting directions. but when i’m left to do the talking, it’s usually a disaster. true story: with one of my ex-girlfriends, i was at such a complete loss for things to talk about that a major portion of our daily phone conversations involved me reading to her from the newspaper. thankfully, though, such a cruel exercise was not necessary in this case.
two days after our first conversation, my aunts descended en masse upon me to find out if i was in love with the girl yet. now, even though it’s often taken me less than two days to fall head over heels for someone, those previous circumstances were not as binding as marriage. therefore, for this purpose, i decided to take it nice and slow before falling head over heels in love with this person, in case she turned out not to be the wonderful person her resume claimed, and instead morphed into my worst nightmare. my aunts, needless to say, were disappointed, and regaled me with stories about how they knew after three conversations with their spouses that they were meant to be together for eternity. the only ammunition that i had to counter this argument was that said three conversations had taken place over forty years ago, and therefore held no relevance to present times, and i used this argument fervently.
if you’re thinking that my aunts have been doing a lot of descending upon people, let me be the first to say that they are experts at this descending business. they seem to live for the opportunity to descend upon people. without the planning of the weddings of their own children, then their nephews and nieces, and finally their grandchildren, i fear that they would soon lose all hope and meaning in their lives. the engagement ring that will be placed upon the finger of ms. sarah quayyum in five days was purchased twelve years ago, and the saris that will be worn to the engagement ceremony were purchased at least five years ago on one of their frequent jaunts to calcutta. in fact, they have already purchased all the clothes and jewelry that they will wear to the weddings of all their children. however, i am the last in line, and therefore there is much urgency to get me married off, not so that they can wear all their saris and jewelry, but rather so that they can start planning and buying for the grandchildren.
but enough of the aunt-erlude. back to ms. quayyum, who will, in five days time, be engaged to me.
after our first such conversation on the phone, i realized that it was expected of me to call her approximately every hour on the hour and get the latest update and brief on the state of her mental/physical/emotional health. now, i don’t even keep track of my own mental/physical/emotional health on an hourly basis, but, apparently for this marriage to be a success, i have to ensure that i create an hourly chart of her slightest concerns. unfortunately this arranged marriage deal does not come with a contract, otherwise i’m certain that this would be in violation of several clauses and articles.
upto this point, i still had no idea what this person looked like. true, there were two pictures affixed to the resume – one of her during a visit to the zoo, and the other of her giving a speech at some occasion or the other – i felt that it was imperative for us to meet. when i communicated this desire, she laughed in my face and asked why i was in such a hurry. well, excuse me, but clearly i was the only person on the face of the planet who realized that, in less than a week, she would be engaged to marry me, and that i wanted to know what the hell i was getting into before the fact. in response, she told me about her parents, who hadn’t met till the night of the wedding.
clearly, then, i was the only person in this country who was not stuck in what seemed like a perpetual time warp, and actually realized that the events of decades ago possibly did not pertain to the present day. but she was not to be fazed. instead, she insisted that her young cousins all should meet me first, because she was the eldest in the family, and they would, due to some hidden skill that i wasn’t aware existed in pre-teens, be able to deduce whether i would be a good husband for her. and therefore it was decided by the council of elders that the next appropriate step in the marriage step was the treating of all 24 cousins, aged between 4 and 17, to ice cream at the trendiest joint in town, at my expense.
now this wouldn’t bother me much except for the fact that:
- i am allergic to ice cream
- if i’m clueless about what to talk to girls my age, i’m even more clueless as to what to talk about to a menagerie of strange children
- none of my so-called “friends” agreed to come with me as backup for the occasion, leaving me alone with a group of children, looking suspiciously like a child molester/kidnapper.
my worst fears, however, came nowhere close to the reality. no sooner than their arrival than the youngest, a four-year-old was plopped in my lap, to remain there for the duration of the festival. and clearly these kids had no problems in terms of stomach capacity, or in throwing ice cream at whichever of their cousins they happened to disagree with at any given moment. and, while i was slowly adjusting to sitting amid flying ice cream, dropped spoons and the glares of the owners of the establishment, the kid in my lap started pulling my nose.
now, if you’ve ever seen me, you know that my nose is a very prominent part of my face, and not something i’m proud of. having a toddler pulling on it with the equivalent ferocity of a rabid dog did not help matters much. to add insult to injury, one of the fourteen year olds decided to ask me if i was in love with their cousin. since the pain associated with vigorous nose-pulling was bringing tears to my eyes, i was unable to compose a reply. unfortunately, the kids took this as a sign of my undying affection for their cousin, and the whole host of them started chanting, “he loves sarah apu” at the top of their voices. if the flying ice cream and the yelling had not attracted enough attention already, this sure did. in fact, out of the corner of my eye, i noticed people lining up outside the plate glass window of the store to laugh at the spectacle.
alas, all good things must come to an end, and when the kids had departed and i had paid an exorbitantly high bill, which i’m sure included the cost of cleaning up the mess, i finally managed to head home, albeit covered in five different flavors of ice cream, chocolate sauce and a whitish substance that i was convinced was snot.
that evening, ms. quayyum called to inform me that i had been a hit with the cousins. i wasn’t exactly sure how that conclusion had been arrived at, but i wondered whether, now that i had passed the cousin-acid test, it would be possible for me to meet her.
to which she laughed again – a sign that i have learnt is anything but positive in nature. and said that she would meet me once the engagement was over, if i was lucky.
sigh. i don’t understand women.