Shalini knew that she would be doing the right thing, continuing the course and working with senior faculty in designing projects, would get her the adequate extra exposure and experience that such a partnership afforded. She signed up with two lady Professors, and her time and days were full of work, work and more work. Hungry for more knowledge and ready to cut corners with mealtimes and family times; as for friends that was almost a non-existent factor. Friendships have to be nurtured, and it takes time and dedication to keep friends, a luxury she had long ago blocked off. She gradually cocooned herself into becoming the proverbial bookworm. But as we all know, all work and no play makes Jack or Jill a dull boy or girl, the same thing was happening here only Shalini was oblivious to everything except getting to where she dream’t to be, at the top in her profession.
Like a flash she was in her final year, and the family decided that it was high time she got married and started looking for a suitable groom. Many were the prospective suitor profiles given to her by mother once it was approved by father and Shalini diligently kept filing them, without even glancing at the faces or their details lest she be tempted into daydreaming about her future life with any of the selected few, chosen by her parents. Then one fine day, her mother asked her to take a few days off from college as some of the shortlisted suitors would be coming over to see her. Unlike most girls, who immediately demure and shy away from the elders to preen and prime herself before the mirror in sweet imaginings, Shalini was most matter of fact about the matter, as if it happened to be of little or no significance. For her it was like having to decide what clothes or shoes to wear. Exasperated, her mother started phoning a couple of her school friends, only to find no one available.
An assortment of ethnic outfits were brought and kept in her room by her mother for the, traditional custom of appearing before the boy and his family for the first view of their prospective daughter-in-law. Shalini preferred to choose an outfit from her everyday apparel rather than the party wear chosen by her mother. Her philosophy behind this was that if they wanted to see her, it would be better for them to have the true and unfussy look, the kind that should be portrayed in everyday living, rather than the glamour girl, as shown in television serials. Again it was that her thought processes that dictated her choice. According to the traditional “ seeing of the girl,” which demanded that she doll up and be at her best, meant putting on a charade, a false illusion which, when after wedding reality revealed her actual self without the frills and fancies, the boy and his people would feel cheated. It was in fact a protest against the entire system that made her appear in a casual outfit.
There was an immediate shocked silence, at her appearance. Shalini’s parents sensed a revolt and suspected that she was trying to put them down publicly. While the boy’s parents were affronted with the idea that this match was against her wishes and that she may have affections for someone else. Shalini as usual, oblivious to the consternation and disapproval, she had aroused, set about being the perfect hostess, offering the visiting parents the usual dainties and since silence seemed to be too awkward, made some mundane remark about the weather having changed and went over to the air conditioner to turn down the temperature. The visiting eligible groom however, was intrigued by Shalini and made an effort to rescue the frayed edges of collective nerves by helping himself to some tea on the table. He then got everyone involved in pleasantries and smiled in assurance at Shalini’s responses to his mother’s queries.
He then asked permission that he and Shalini adjourn to the terrace garden alongside the room, in order to be better acquainted with her, away from the conversation of stilted and guarded replies that the parents were fencing with each other. “I’m Karan”, he smiled deprecatingly and I know you’re Shalini, and I like your casual simplicity more than everything else about you.” He had a leisurely stride and a calming presence, this was the best part of him which she liked and from there started what in the coming days was a blissful blur. They had exchanged contact numbers and he kept phoning and arranging small things they could do together. They window shopped in malls, watched films, walked in the park. All after office hours for both of them. It had been decided that after a fortnight, of such safe non committal getting to know each other they would let the parents know if they still really liked each other well enough to consider getting married. All too soon, it seemed that time had flown and it was time to let their parents know. But Shalini wanted more time and more knowledge of Karan before giving her all important answer -“Yes, this is the person I want to spend the rest of my life with.” She told her mother how she felt and mother in turn told father and he in turn told Karan’s parents.
Karan stopped phoning, two days went by and no call. Surely he had received her request to increase the time of getting to know each other and of course he would agree. Two more days and Shalini checked with her father, just in case he had not given the message properly. “Sugar, the guy does not seem to be interested, leave it.” Shalini could not believe it. Karan was very supportive of all her views so far and she had been sure a request for more time would be received with equal enthusiasm from his side. Instead this freeze over of calls, was not good and she still wanted to be with him hearing his voice, his shoulder brushing against her’s while walking, the way had of throwing his head back and laughing. How he gazed off into the distance while reminiscing about his childhood. How he focused on her only when he was talking, it had made her feel special. How his aftershave smelt, wafting on the breeze. Walking along beside him listening to the things he said, it had felt so familiar as if she had known him in a previous life. Twin souls, sharing glimpses of their past in the present moments. Shalini reached for her mobile and dialed his number, a slight smile on her face, now she would hear his voice and things would be back to normal between them, only to hear the recorded message, please stay on the line or call later. She waited, and after a reasonable pause, dialed again, to find calls diverted and after few rings it rang off.
That night Shalini could not sleep. Surely by now he had seen her call and deliberately did not call back, he had then placed his calls on divert. In her young life she had never given room for anyone to occupy her thoughts, nor had she thought anyone special enough to allow them the power to distract or attract her and now, in all good faith, at her parents bidding, she had agreed to meet this person and try to find out whether she wished to spend the rest of her life with him. She had maintained all the parameters of psychical distance from him as was appropriate, and just, only just because she wished for more time to get to know him he was being so irrational.
He had not called back and a week had passed. Shalini felt jilted a new experience for her. She was easy-going and friendly and though not intimate with anyone in particular she was not aloof in general. At night, time for introspection and she went over all the details in her mind of their “we time together”, was it all in her head alone? Had she been too trusting, to analyze, his well chosen answers. Were they the kind men rehearsed, hoping to please the listener, but not honest in the least. Was the time they spent together part of a well rehearsed charade? Even if he loved me a wee little bit, would this behavior be an indication of the days to come. Was he this way with all the other prospective girls he met? Oh this was not easy, it was so painful, maybe, and she was in love with the idea of being in love with him rather than him being even remotely interested in her. Was all and everything he said just an imaginary experience that she in her naivety had mistaken for love? Was this what was called infatuation? A word she thought she knew the meaning of . Now its connation’s were too hurtful, she didn’t want to deal with the fact that it might just be infatuation. Shalini cried herself to sleep in a teary pillow.
Dreams are the phantom grounds for might-have beens, maybes, and the questions are endless. Why do people break hearts? Why did he have to pretend when she was being honest all the time. Was it foolhardiness to be honest? And then came the answer, “ You are too good for him. Good you found out now before getting married. What else may he have been hiding? Would he have done the same thing after getting married? Going out late nights and then keeping the phone on divert or other settings to avoid being honest about his whereabouts? Maybe there are other women. Maybe he was laughing about her with his friends or worse still with his other female friends. The considerations became a nightmare of no escape her big- young heart broke in the stillness of the night.
That night, as it had been for the past week, the doorknob to her room turned, and revealed both mother and father in dressing gowns, eyes awash with tears, looking at their baby, now all grown-up but still their tiny toddler, was taking her first steps to adulthood and heartbreak. If he could father would have punched Karan until he had doubled up in pain, for hurting his little princess, whom he had kept wrapped up in safe cotton wool, waiting for her prince charming. Mother cradled the sleeping head of her child wondering why kids had to grow up. Why did they have to face the cruelty of the world, when all the time they had been taught to love and be good? Is there an easy way to discover the love of your life? Is there such a thing as perfect love? Looking at the man of her life before her, struggling with his emotions, for the man that had caused his baby such pain. Mother discovered the answer to the myriad questions, storming her soul. That life is a struggle we must face it, the love of life has to face struggles, overcome them and prove itself with time. Just as the two of them now silvered at the temples, were discovering that their own road was not strewn with roses. Love makes stumbling blocks steps, those truly in love, hold hands over the rough patches and emerge parents to some amazing offspring who must walk their respective paths in faith, supported with loving family at all times. They together covered their sleeping child, and left the room confident that their child was ready to face the world again.