Nefarious Deliberations,  Sonder

This is a love story… – Part 1

“Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps.” – William Shakespeare, Much Ado about Nothing

Shri was angry. Sitting inside her brand new hatchback, that she’d bought with her hard earned money, she was fuming. “How is this my life?”, she asked no one in particular. The reason for her consternation? The ill-fated call from her father. She should’ve let it go to the voice mail as soon as she’d heard the dramatic/ominous first notes of Beethoven’s 5th symphony (the ringtone she’d secretly assigned to her father’s number) emanating from her phone. But curiosity got the best of her. It was unusual of him to call! She should’ve known better.

“You have a date!” he’d said, as if announcing a death sentence. “Our friends are coming over with their youngest son and I want you to be here on time, ready and at your best behavior. He comes from a very good family and is a good match for you. Do not blow it up!” Her father had chewed out the instructions to her on the phone, and she could almost feel the weight of his condescension like sticky oil dripping through the mouthpiece, all the way from 50 kms away. It was a rare talent that he possessed. As usual he left absolutely no room for argument. So, she made some excuse for herself, got her butt out of her office and drove her car at breakneck speed (which was absolutely required if someone asks), while listening to her “angry woman playlist” and reached home before time. She sat in her car now, trying to calm herself down, before she met the man who would be, undoubtedly added to the list of potential grooms, and this was so not how she had pictured her life.

Nobody knew this about her, but she had an unhealthy addiction towards fairy tales and romance novels. Her father was to be blamed for that as well, after all he was the one who’d cultivated this reading habit in her. Now when she looks back, she can clearly see what that was all about. He wanted his kids to have qualities that will set them apart from the other children so that he had something to brag about in his fancy Army circle. He wanted them to be special and according to him she was far from it, even though she had shown signs of above average intelligence and memory from the age of 2. So, he thrust a copy of Crime and Punishment into her hands when she was barely 10 years old and ordered her to read it. She was used to reading Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella and the scariest book she had read until then was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, so Crime and Punishment was a bit of shock to her. But she did read it and even though it opened up a whole new world of books for her, she always felt that she’s reading such books to please her Papa, just like her older brothers did by trying to excel in sports that they weren’t very keen on. The one good thing about her father was that he was equally overbearing and impassive towards all of his children.

After that it was one book after another, ranging from the ones written by deranged philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche (for whom she had a certain soft corner despite of all the misogyny) to homegrown feminists like Arundhati Roy. But in every book she’d read she would look for the romance, because it was the only thing that was wholly hers, untouched by her father’s intense scrutiny. That’s why, if anyone asks, her favorite book is The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, when it actually is We the living by the same author (yes its not much too different but at least it has a love story and is devoid of sexual assault).

Of course, she wasn’t foolish enough to fantasize about a Prince, charming or otherwise, she was above all of that. What she actually craved for was that ever elusive feeling of butterflies in the belly, the racing of heart, the goosebumps, and hot flashes and slight tremor in your body that came along when you feel the first affects of attraction as you lock eyes with that one stranger across the room and you just know that your life will never be the same. Okay fine, granted that all the aforementioned symptoms happen due to dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, driven by the usual suspects, estrogen and testosterone, but can’t a girl catch a break? It’s bad enough that she had never even come close to feeling any of these emotions.

So, she sat in a chair, like a grumpy child, in front of her full length mirror, her mum chattering on and on why this union was best for her while trying to tame her unruly curly hair into a plait. When it was evident that she was appropriately mellowed down and wouldn’t suffer from an outburst of any kind in front of the unsuspecting would-be groom and his family, her mum carefully handed over a tray full of tea-cups, filled to the brim with hot tea. She kept thinking, “What are we trying to prove by keeping up with this archaic tradition? That I am here to serve you? Way to set low expectations right in the beginning of the relationship mom and dad. Or perhaps they expect me do a juggling trick with the cups.” She walked slowly into the living room, keeping her eyes downcast, not because she was shy. Oh no no! It was for the benefit of the guests and mostly the guest of honor, because she knew as soon as she’d make eye contact with him, she will turn him to ash. Ooooh she was not feeling calm. She kept repeating “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” in her mind like a mantra, effectively blocking out all conversation, to find her happy place which was somewhere in Austria. “Phew! I think its working.”, she thought to herself.

And that’s when she heard her father, “Shri. Give Hari a tour of the house.”, with his signature “teeth-clenched” tone and expression, which usually meant that he was either displeased or disappointed, or maybe a little constipated (?). To be honest “the look” was losing its edge. She was this close to rolling her eyes.

But she did as she was told. She took this guy for a tour of the house. “Why does he need a tour?”, she mused, “He is not a real estate agent. And this is not Narnia!” She pointed out all the rooms, “This is the kitchen. That is the study. This is my parents’ room.”, in a bored unimpressed tone.

They reached her room. She opened the door, and stood at the threshold facing him, with her arms crossed over her chest, in a gesture that made it clear he was not welcome in there and gave him her most intimidating look (which she had reserved only to terrify men who didn’t take the hint). For a minute they made eye contact. And she felt it all. The butterflies and palpitation, the hot flash and goosebumps, the tremor and aftershocks of attraction as her breathe caught in her lungs. She exhaled sharply, reminding herself to breathe, as she looked into his warm dark brown eyes, which were amused and held a hint of laughter.

“Huh! This is confusing.”, she thought in a rush, “No way! I cannot feel this way for him. Nope! This is not happening.” He took advantage of the lapse in her judgement and pushed his way into her room.

“Wow! Quite a bookcase you’ve got here.”, he said while looking at the bookshelves that spanned an entire wall, from floor to ceiling, a few even sagging beneath the weight of her most treasured possessions, her books.

“Ugghh! I like his voice too.”, she mumbled.

“What?”, he asked.

“Oh! I was just wondering if you read too.”, she said with a sugary sweet smile.

“I do read. I AM an engineer.”, he said, holding back laughter at her expression.

“Oh ha ha! A joke.”, she said surreptitiously rolling her eyes. “But I am asking about the books. Do you read? Like for leisure or otherwise.” Suddenly, knowing this was imperative.

“Oh okay. I used to read for leisure, when I was a kid, mostly comics.”

“Of course you did.”, she said patronizingly, adding a little smile hoping to lessen the effect of the blow she delivered.

“But I don’t think that reading books is a mere hobby to you. Is it?”, he added. He was too prudent to take the bait.

“God his eyes! Why does it feel like he is always on the verge of laughing?”, she thought.

“Which one is your favorite?”, he asked glancing back towards her books.

“A mother doesn’t have a favorite child. That’s what my father would expect me to say. But when I’ll have children I would definitely have a favorite. So The Fountainhead. This one here is the book I like the most.”, she picked it out for him. He took it from her hands, their fingers brushing.

“WTF!”, she screamed inside her head. “What was that shiver about? What sorcery is this? There is something seriously wrong with me!”

He read the summary on the back cover of the book. Looked at her and smiled kindly. “I am sorry but I just don’t feel that this one is your favorite book.”, his eyes roaming all over her face. It was unnerving and completely disconcerting. Because how would he know?

As if in a trance, she reached for her old and worn out copy of We the living from its hiding place at the shelf second up from the bottom. He took it from her. She couldn’t look at him this time, feeling entirely discombobulated.

He read the back cover again. “It tells of a young woman’s passionate love, held like a fortress against the corrupting evil of a totalitarian state…”, he read. “Oh yes I see it now! And it feels like you have read it many times. It looks well-loved.”, he said with a brilliant smile which held no malice whatsoever. She smiled back and for a moment they both just stood there, smiling at each other. It was her mother’s timid knocking on the open door that burst their bubble. Her mother held a private smile of her own when she told them that they were expected to be back in the living room.

She walked back trailing behind her mother and him. Dazed and confused. She had no idea what happened back there. She was contemplative when they got back and everyone started chit-chatting once again. As if her whole world didn’t just screech to a halt. As if everything she had built up in her mind about true love and romance didn’t just shatter into a million tiny pieces. But then it was time for them to go. She felt strangely panicked at the idea of saying goodbye to this man she had just met. They stood awkwardly in front of each other. “What does one do in such situations?” she thought. She held out her hand on a whim, “A handshake! Yes. That would do.”, she said in her mind. His eyebrows rose up to his hairline, and he once again regarded her with those astute laughing eyes. He chuckled lightly, and gave her a firm handshake. He held her hand and her eyes for a minute too long, until his lost all humor and were now shining with a different kind of intensity. And then… just like that he left.

As soon as the dust settled from their speeding car, her whole family started an animated discussion about them, as she stood back in the periphery trying to come to terms with all that she was feeling. She suddenly wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. “So strange.”, she mumbled.

Unsurprisingly all of her family loved him and his family. Her mother was going on and on about his qualities, while her brothers and uncles and aunts were nodding along, now and then adding their two cents. Her father was quietly observing her and the first words out of his mouth were, “I don’t like the boy. He is too plain for Shri.” There was a moment of shocked silence, followed by her whole household descending into chaos, with everyone chiming in to say why that wasn’t true. She looked at him sharply. And for a moment she thought she caught an expression of utter smugness cross his face, but it was so fleeting that she felt that she must’ve imagined it. Huh! “Well! I like him.”, she proclaimed a little too loudly in an attempt to be heard over the cacophony of all the voices of her family members. There was an uncomfortable hush that followed her defiance. Father and daughter were caught in a fierce stare-off, as if they might draw out their pistols any second, like in the old western movies that he had forced his children to watch.

Right at that moment, the house phone rang. Her mother slowly got up from her chair, regarding father and daughter suspiciously and picked it up. She glanced nervously at her father, told him that it was the boy’s family. Her father took the receiver and spoke, with an occasional “Yes.” and “No.” and “Of course.” Everyone seemed to be confused by the exchange because at the end of it, he smiled widely and said “Congratulations. Because Shri just said yes too.”

To be continued…


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