“Do you like the boy?” my Dad asked me.
I was standing in front of a guy, who was seated along with his parents and a few other relatives. After confirming with the astrologers about the horoscope match between me and that guy, they had now come to accept our matrimonial alliance.
As usual all the older ones of the household looked at me bemusedly. Now, the decision lay upon me to finalize my (as what they call) life partner.
I gave a blushing glance at the boy and before I could ask permission to talk with him, he blurted out, “Can I have a word with the girl privately?”
All the elder ones were taken aback and that’s when I realized they were all obsolete. Sorry, no offence! 😉
I tried to mask my happiness when my Dad relented and ordered, “Be quick.”
I led the way upstairs to my room, while he followed me silently. Upon reaching the room, I shut the door closed, while he admired my paintings on the walls.
“You painted all these?” he asked stupefied, pointing out to my masterpieces, especially the picture of Eiffel Tower.
I nodded my head, saying, “I love Paris.”
“Awesome!” he praised.
I accepted it with a short smile.
“Have your seat,” I said, placing a chair.
“You too, please,” he requested.
“No, am fine,” I said.
He saw me standing, elegantly draped in a sari, with jewellery adorning and glistening with my every move. He couldn’t take his eyes off me and I couldn’t help blushing. I grinned and raised my eyebrows implying ‘What? You look astounded!’
He shook his head and smiled. I guess he must have read my thoughts. I knew from the beginning that some sort of telepathy worked between us.
“Hmm.. I dunno if we really need any formal introductions. But still, I’m Nikhil,” he said holding out his hand.
“Pooja,” I said, shaking his hand.
“Passionate about painting?” he enquired.
“Yes, since my seventh grade. What about you?”
“Nah, there’s nothing interesting about me. I play the guitar. Just that.”
Silence reigned as we both wondered what to ask each other next. I had earlier thought of a few questions, but now my mind is all blank. I’m just super-excited. It’s not every day you get to meet a guy who might become your life.
“So…” Nikhil dragged.
“You wanna ask me anything? I had nothing to talk with you, but then I guessed you might be scared to ask in front of everyone to talk with me. That’s the reason I obtained permission.”
I was flabbergasted.
“So, you’ve got nothing to question me?” I asked.
He shook his head.
“Whoa!” I exclaimed, “Thanks but I’m completely blank right now.”
I sank in deep thoughts as I tried to figure out what I had planned to ask him. In fact, I had a questionnaire prepared in my mind.
He laughed when I hadn’t responded and his laugh brought me back to my senses.
“So are you ready to marry me?” he asked.
I grinned sheepishly.
“If you wish, you can tell your decision later,” he suggested.
There was a sudden murmur on the other side of the door and we realized that there were listening ears outside, eavesdropping to our conversations. I became aware that my little cousins were behind this.
Nikhil looked at me with wide eyes.
“My cousins,” I said pointing out to the door.
He nodded understandingly. He was about to speak something when I heard my mom call, “Pooja! Finished speaking?”
I quickly tore a tiny piece of paper from a bundle of A4 sheets, scribbled my mobile number on it, unbolted the door and thrust the paper in his hand.
My mom saw him pocketing the piece of paper and looked at me suspiciously.
“Everyone’s waiting for you both,” she said.
Nikhil descended the stairs immediately.
“Did you give your phone number to him? I told you not to,” my mom whispered in my ear.
I shook my head, as I had been forewarned not to give him my number till our engagement. But then, how will we get to know each other before that? Simply marrying the person our parents point out is a bitter trend nowadays. Arranged marriage is a complete no-no. And if Nikhil and I agree, then, at least we need some spicy life before marriage.
Though my mom knew I was lying, she didn’t react.
When I entered the hall again, I sighted eager faces anticipating my response to my Dad’s earlier question. Though Nikhil had offered me some time to think it over, I knew I had reached my deadline from my Dad’s stern face.
“So, do you like him?” this time it was Nikhil’s mom who questioned me.
I raised my head and looked at him, though I knew that everyone in the room were looking at me. His face was composed and he showed no nervousness. He was dead calm.
“Pidichirukku,” I said shyly. (I like him) 😛
Nikhil couldn’t help controlling his lips from spreading into a wide grin.
“What about you?” his mom asked him.
Now, it was his turn to look at me.
“Shall we go to Paris for honeymoon?” he asked me without an after-thought and I stood perplexed, while the others laughed loudly. Then I giggled silently and bowed down my head bashfully.
“Is Paris ok?” I heard my sister’s voice behind me and I flushed.
After the elders had discussed on a few other matters, Nikhil’s family got ready to leave. I went and stood near the entrance, to wave them goodbye, when Nikhil turned to me suddenly and whispered, “Take care sweetheart.”
Costa Coffee, today evening around 6 – the whatsapp message I got from Nikhil. This is the third time we’re meeting up after we announced our acceptance for marriage and second time meet in Costa Coffee.
My smartphone showed 4.20 p.m. I tried to finish my work as soon as possible. Being a Chartered Accountant, we have certain last minute tallying to be done too. However I managed to scrap through by 6.30 and took an auto from my office in Adyar to Costa Coffee located in Besant Nagar, facing the Elliot’s beach.
Nikhil had a place reserved for us and I mumbled an apology as I sat down opposite him.
“Sorry, had a great deal of work to be finished.”
“No probs. By the way…”
Before he could complete, the server arrived with the menu card.
“Sir, your order please.”
Without even flipping the pages I was about to order Mocha & Hot chocolate, when the server apologized, “Oops, sorry sir,” and left the place in a hurry.
I looked puzzled, while he returned with a Caffé Latte and a cold coffee and placed the cold coffee before me. Though I wanted to order something else, I was overjoyed as cold coffee is my favourite and it tasted best in Costa Coffee. (P.S. More than thirty eight times, I’ve been here, tasting the cold coffee again and again)
“Had pre-ordered huh?” I said, tasting the coffee.
“You love cold coffee right. Anyway you would’ve ordered the same, so I just gave a surprise.”
“Sorry if that hurts you, but I had thought of ordering Hot Chocolate today.”
“Do you want me to exchange it?” he asked concerned, “I’m sorry; I just guessed you might order the same today too.”
“No, that’s fine. Which idiot will deny cold coffee? Not me, definitely,” I said throwing my hands up.
“Fine then, as you wish.”
As I slurped my coffee, he began conversing, “So, is Paris OK?”
I was shocked.
“Seriously? I thought you were joking the other day.”
“Yea, am damn serious.”
“Nothing,” I said smiling.
“No there’s something behind that meditative smile, c’mon out with it.”
“Pooja,” he called out, sliding his hand across the table and placing it over my left hand.
I looked at him, while he caressed my fingers. I stopped drinking.
“Our parents relented and that’s what matters to us the most now,” he commented.
“All our hard work has paid off. Next is the engagement in two weeks time and then marriage after three months. Then, you and I are gonna remain together forever. So, don’t falter in voicing out your thoughts.”
I glanced away to look at the beach where people were still enjoying the waves despite the time being 7 o’clock.
“I honestly thought you were kidding about Paris. But is this all really necessary?”
“Didn’t you say you love Paris?”
“Yea, but just for that we needn’t go abroad for honeymoon.”
“Bothered about money?” he asked.
“Of course not,” I said hurt.
I knew Nikhil was paid well above one lakh a month and so was I. A Chartered Accountant gets the high salary of above 80,000 bucks right in the first year of joining and I’ve got three years of experience, so money isn’t my concern.
“Then, what is bothering you?”
“Nothing, I’m just simply stating, a honeymoon to Paris was a dream for me. And now it’s hard for me to really digest my dream turning true.”
“What about our marriage?” he asked, winking.
“Yup, that too.”
“It’s Paris. Final destination. Dot.”
“Okay, I surrender.”
He let go off my hand and drank his Caffé Latte.
“Shall I drop you home?” he asked half an hour later when we had settled the bill.
“Don’t ever dream of that till our wedding. Giving my phone number itself was a strict NO in my house and if they come to know I’ve been meeting you alone, I’ll be dead,” I said, taking my handbag.
“Fine,” he said, getting up to leave.
We exited the café together and he bid me goodbye.
“Catch you later. Text me on reaching home,” I said.
He smiled before whispering, “You too sweetheart,” in the salty beach air.
‘Pooja stay steady Pooja,’ – my mind ordered.
I exhaled harshly. I was getting ready to be presented before a small crowd of friends and family and exchange rings with Nikhil to officially announce that we’re engaged. Yea, our engagement is bound to happen today.
After a few nervous attempts to hide my anxiety, I finally stepped onto the stage and addressed the known and the unknown faces. I was made to sit on my parent’s side, while Nikhil and his parents were seated facing us.
When the formal ceremonies were over, it was time for me and Nikhil to exchange rings. We stood up, still facing each other.
He was offered the ring first.
I raised my left hand and he held it. When the entire crowd’s attention was on our hands, our attention was on each other’s eyes.
From the day we met, we knew our eyes spoke volumes in silence. His eyes had that confidence now, that he’d stand by my side till death.
I inhaled deeply and he pushed the ring slowly in the ring finger, while I was still gazing deep into his eyes.
Then came my turn.
I had a brief look at the heart-shaped platinum ring which had the letter ‘P’ inscribed on it, with a small diamond stone, while mine had the letter ‘N’ on it.
I lifted his hand tenderly and pushed the ring. Before he could withdraw his hand from mine, I gave a gentle press and he understood what I implied.
It is a dream come true.
I need to talk to you. Urgent. – My phone blinked as I received this whatsapp message.
Place – the same Costa Coffee, but no, not the same table.
“What’s the matter?” I asked, worried.
“We should’ve told them earlier itself…”
“No, I simply won’t,” I interrupted.
“I’m not talking about that, Pooja,” he said emphatically.
“Oh, then?” I asked confused.
“You remember when I had told you before, that I wanted our marriage to be simple, so simple as to take place in a Register Office?”
“Ah, yes, I remember you mentioning that,” I said, refreshing my memory.
“And you accepted right?”
“But we never conveyed that to our parents and they’re busy listing all the people to whom the marriage invitations ought to be sent.”
“Oh, I get it now. Hmm, I’ll talk about it with Dad today.”
“Cold coffee, Ma’am,” the server said, placing it on the table.
He then looked at us and smiled as he recognized his regular customers.
“I guess, you’ll not see us again like this before,” I informed the server, searching my handbag.
When I had found out what I needed, I turned, only to be faced with a stunned and a sad waiter.
“Why? What happened?” he asked, beside himself.
“Here,” I said, handing over the sample wedding invitation to him and he grinned, heaving a sigh of relief.
“She meant that the next time you meet us, you’ll see us as a newly wed couple,” Nikhil explained.
He nodded his head understandingly.
“Please do come for our wedding,” I requested.
“What? Me?” he asked dazed.
“Yea, we are inviting only the ones whom we value. But the venue is not the one mentioned in the invitation. It’s in a register office.”
“Register Office?” he enquired, confused, “Didn’t your parents accept for the marriage?”
“They did. But, we’ve decided only to invite our close friends, a few relatives and a few others whom we cherish and who will bless us unconditionally rather than the all-time complaining and grumbling relatives and others. What say?” I concluded.
“That’s the best. A few people with a good heart are better than a huge crowd who only complain, as you say.”
Nikhil and I gave a satisfactory smile as we knew that our decision wasn’t a bad one.
“Please do come,” I said once more to him, before deserting.
“Where should I sign?” Nikhil asked the Registrar.
Yea, it’s the day of our wedding ceremony and after a great deal of coaxing and cajoling, we succeeded in making our parents accept to this simple marriage, in contrast to the one where they had planned elaborately and expensively.
“Sign here,” Nikhil said, handing over the pen to me.
I quickly signed. All our invitees had arrived and the time came, when Nikhil finally tied the three knots around my neck, while my close friends counted one, two, three for every knot he tied.
I smiled victoriously and when he saw my happy tears, he hugged me, uncaring about the presence of others. Everyone laughed in chorus and he let go off me embarrassingly.
After his parents and mine blessed us, Nikhil held my hand strongly and raised his eyebrows at me, enquiring, “Right time to tell?”
I nodded, saying, “Let’s reveal the truth.”
“Pa,” I called out to my Dad, while he called his parents, “We want to tell you something.”
“The honeymoon is confirmed. Is that what you wanted to know?” his Dad joked.
“No, it’s about something else,” he said.
Everyone in the room turned silent.
“Papa, you all think that Nikhil and I had an arranged marriage. But that’s not the truth.”
Everyone in the room stood puzzled.
“We were lovers long before both the houses decided to get us married.”
“What?” his mom asked.
“But how?” my mom asked.
“We had a chance meeting two years back through a friend of my friend,” Nikhil briefed, “and we instantly liked each other. But only after dating for those two years and after knowing that you were looking for an alliance for Pooja, we decided to take the matter in our hands.”
“Somehow,” I resumed, “we manipulated in both the houses to consider our horoscopes and the most relieved moment came when the astrologer commented positively to the result.”
“Didn’t you give him your phone number, the first time he came to our house?” my mom questioned.
“Yea, I did, but that was to make you believe that we met for the first time. And there was no phone number written on it, just the name Pooja Nikhil. Besides we knew, you were all listening intently from the other side of the door”
“We mostly met in Costa Coffee over the two years,” Nikhil butted in.
“And I’m the witness to that,” the server whose name we discovered is Michael, volunteered to vouch us, “They were one among the few couples who came with the same pair and were resolute to remain together.”
“We knew that Pooja’s parents won’t accept our love. And we had dreamt of our marriage to take place only with the proper consent from both the sides. So, we had no other go but to act this way. We’re extremely sorry. Not everything we told before our wedding was false. The reason behind the wedding being simple is genuine,” Nikhil concluded.
I pressed hard Nikhil’s hand, as I saw anger ascend and subside on my Dad’s face. But he didn’t burst out.
“I’m sorry Papa,” I said ashamed.
“We can do nothing now but to forgive,” Nikhil’s Dad said, “I’m pleased to have someone like Pooja as my daughter-in-law, who loves my son more and also her parents, that she doesn’t wish to hurt anyone.”
My Dad looked at me and spoke, “If you had uttered one word about this, before marriage, I would’ve cancelled the entire thing.”
Nikhil squeezed my hand soothingly when he sensed tears in my eyes.
“But,” my Dad continued, “I’m so glad to know that you hid the secret from me as I’m even more joyous when I know my daughter is gonna live happily with the guy she loved. You both aren’t like other couples,” he patted Nikhil, “you are gifted with hearts to sacrifice and not-to-hurt-others nature. May you both live long.”
“Phew!” my sister sighed, “I’m sooooo glad to know, I needn’t hide the secret that I knew the entire affair, right from the beginning, when Pooja met Nikhil and always blabbered about him.”
Everyone giggled, while I buried my face in Nikhil’s chest and hugged him, crying happily.
It is a dream come true. 🙂