I slept for a few hours and woke up feeling tired. I lay in bed for some time, but sleep didn’t seem about to return, so I got up and tried to splash the drowsiness out of my eyes. Divya was making lunch and looked up when I stood at the kitchen door.
“Hey, you’re up! How are you feeling? What time did you come in last night?”
“I didn’t. I got in around eight this morning.”
“Oh! They worked you that hard?”
“Some issue with the project.” I stepped closer to see what she was cooking. “What’s that?”
“Curry with pakora. And rice is cooking in the pressure cooker.”
“That’s wonderful! I’ve been longing for home-made curry… How come you’re here this weekend?”
“For one, I was feeling too lazy to drive all that way last night. Besides, I thought I should do some wedding shopping in Gurgaon too, seeing as I’ve been shopping all over Delhi already…. I’m thinking of checking out the malls later. Want to come?”
“Sure. What are you gonna buy?”
I spent the day – what was left of it – with Divya. We looked at shoes, bags, saris, lingerie, even skirts and tops (which, Divya insisted, was part of wedding shopping as she could wear them on her honeymoon). Divya had great fun spending money on bagfuls of things, and I had great fun helping her pick out things and window shopping. All in all, we both enjoyed ourselves immensely. She even treated me to a nice Chinese dinner.
Divya and I got on well together, mostly due to the fact that we respected each other’s space and led separate lives. We worked at the same office – that was how she had found me when I had just joined and was looking for a flat and she was looking for a roommate because her last one had just moved out – but in different departments, so we rarely saw each other at work. She was polite, quiet and neat. She rarely ate at home and usually went away on weekends, so we pretty much stayed out of each other’s hair.
Throughout the evening, Divya chatted about her impending marriage. She was getting married in January. Her fiancé lived in Hyderabad and she would move to be with him, so she planned to quit her job in a month and go stay with her parents and prepare for the wedding. Her parents lived in Ghaziabad: near enough for her to go home every weekend but too far to comfortably commute every day.
It was an arranged marriage. Divya was trained as an engineer; was financially independent; she drove a car and paid for it herself in EMIs; she sometimes took a drink or two at parties; she mostly wore western clothes; she was very pretty and took care of her appearance – she went to the gym nearly every day and had just got red highlights in her straight shiny hair. Yet she had agreed to marry this guy after meeting him twice. I just couldn’t get my head around this.
Sunny had been in Hyderabad for the past year, but he had lived in Seattle for some years before that, and he expected to go back soon. They were friends now, she and Sunny, and he had come down once to meet her and they had spent a couple of days in Gurgaon without either of their parents knowing about it. They spoke on the phone often. But still… how had she agreed to marry someone she wasn’t in love with?
“Are you nervous?” I asked her. “About the wedding?”
“Very,” she confessed. “After all, I’ve only known him six…seven months. I like him very much now, but who knows what he’ll be like after the wedding?”
“You didn’t consider waiting until you knew him better?”
“Well, he has to go back to Seattle in a few months. He doesn’t think he can put off his employers much longer… Besides, what difference would it make? Men change after they get married anyway.”
I was quiet. I didn’t want to quarrel with her, to show her that I disapproved of her choices.
“No husband is perfect, right? I just pray mine is good enough.”
“I hope so too,” I said.
“It’s no point thinking too much about it, is there? What’s fated will happen.”
I wanted to tell her to stop trusting in fate and in her parents and in everyone else except herself, to take her life into her own hands, to refuse to get married if she was not ready. But I merely said, “That colour looks lovely on you. I think you should buy this.”
At dinner, she talked of how her parents were going overboard with wedding plans, while she tried – unsuccessfully – to talk them into a simple wedding. Her large extended family was coming down for the wedding; she was her parents’ only daughter and eldest child (she had two younger brothers, both of whom were in college); and basically, her parents were throwing every excuse at her that they could think of to justify their whim for a lavish spectacle.
I thought of the whole thing as rather an absurd waste of money, but I was careful not to say so. We all complained of how unreasonable our parents were, but someone else’s criticism of your parents was never welcome.
“What does Sunny think of it?” I asked. Sunny’s actual name was Surinder: I didn’t wonder that he preferred to be known as Sunny.
“Oh, he’s okay with whatever. In fact, he tells me to let my parents do as they wish, to make them happy. But don’t you think it’s a waste of money?”
I couldn’t refuse to answer a direct question, so I nodded. “Indeed. It would be much more sensible to… um, give you the money instead. It would be enough for the down payment of a new flat in Hyderabad or for a nice new car.”
Divya seemed struck by this. And, I suspected, tempted. After a moment, however, she said, “Oh well, I don’t think it’s any point trying to explain that to my father. He’ll offer to buy us a flat too, on top of everything he’s spending.”
She paid the bill, and then we shopped for bangles until the stores closed.
The next day, we went to watch the latest Harry Potter movie. (Divya had suddenly realised she wanted to spend time with me before she moved away.) The movie was okay, and Divya introduced me to the amazing cheese popcorn they sold at the theatre, of which we devoured two large bags.
Afterwards, we went shopping again. This time, I insisted on treating us to pizza. Divya seemed to have forgotten her lingering doubts about marriage and was very cheerful.
She told me more about Sunny. “When I met him the first time, I noticed how respectful he was, unlike the other guys I had met. He was polite, he seemed interested in me, he asked me about my work and what I liked. He told me about life in Seattle – he had just moved back to India – about his work, his friends.”
“When was this?” I asked.
“April. You moved in with me last June, didn’t you? Yeah, we were already engaged by then.
“You know, he was the first guy I didn’t reject right after the first meeting. Afterwards, he gave me a call and said he had enjoyed meeting me. He asked whether I would like to meet him privately. He was in town only for a few days and thought we should meet and talk, just the two of us, before arriving at any decision.
“So I did. I didn’t tell my parents then. I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out, you see. He came down to Gurgaon and I met him for coffee after work. I liked talking to him so much I ended up spending three hours with him.”
I made an appropriate gesture of surprise at the fact , and shut up Miki before she could begin.
“He went back to Hyderabad after that, but we kept in touch over the phone. My parents had also liked him a lot, and his parents liked me too. So when Mama asked if we could take it forward, I said yes. I had already been speaking to him for a few weeks, and we had become good friends. If I am to get married, I should marry someone I know and like, don’t you think?”
“I had a boyfriend in college, you know. We were planning to get married. But somehow, soon after college ended, we… well, we couldn’t get along. There were too many fights. We finally broke it off.
“He was so immature. He was possessive. He couldn’t handle my being in a different city, working late, having other men friends.
“Sunny is so much more mature.”
“He should be,” whispered Miki, refusing to be quiet any longer. “He’s much older.”
“He is so understanding,” continued Divya. “And he seems to care for me and respect my opinion.”
“He definitely does,” I agreed. I had met Sunny when he had visited in August. He had seemed devoted to the point of being servile.
“We have differences of opinion sometimes. Who doesn’t?”
I nodded, feeling rather glum. If unexacting Divya was worried about differences of opinion with obligingly amiable Sunny, my prospects of finding a soulmate seemed grim.
“On top of all that, he’s so attractive. I feel proud when I walk into a room on his arm.”
I was dubious about whether this was a more solid basis for a relationship than mutual agreement and compatibility. I almost opened my mouth to point this out to her, afraid she might regret things too late.
“No, don’t tell her what you think,” advised Mandakini. “She has made her decision, and seems to have thought over it before she did. She’s not you: she wants different things from life. Why spoil your amicable relationship with her by trying to estrange her from her fiancé?”
I shut my mouth firmly.
The highlight of my day was when Vikram called. I spoke to him while Divya tried on more clothes. He sounded rather bored. His cousin was in town and he had spent the day ferrying her around. I told him how I had spent the weekend and he seemed envious.
“Maybe he is wishing he was with me,” said Mandakini wistfully.
Vikram casually suggested that the two of us catch a movie next weekend.
“That might be fun,” I replied, just as casually. “Let’s see what’s up by then.”