You know what? The toughest part of a Love marriage is not convincing your parents. Oh no, that can still be managed at a later point, by emotional blackmailing, silence treatment, hunger strike or perhaps any other method that Indian Cinema has unleashed upon us. The toughest part is breaking the truth about your love story to them. Telling them on their face and watching their reaction. Guessing if its going to be an Alaipayuthey type of “Veliya po di” (Get out of here) sort of a reaction or a Sooraj Barjatya type of smiling, “ask him to come and see us tomorrow” kind of a reaction. It is harrowing. Especially if you are a girl, from a strict, middle class family in Chennai. Especially like the one I was from. And I was going through the tremors as I stood there before a very nervous Amma and Appa, who thought I was going to tell them that I did not get promoted.
My name is Aarthi… Aarthi Chandrasekar. Or AC as my friends call me. A regular 26 year old, free thinking, salary hike and promotion seeking, deeply in love, software engineer, who’S like anyone you would have seen on the busy OMR working in one of the many IT companies in Chennai. I earn a decent buck, fight with my brother, love my parents and most importantly to this story, had fallen in love with a guy of my dreams. Well… sort of.
Ok. The hero’s name is Atul Kumar Rajendran. Smart, geeky looking, B.Tech Chemical guy who found his calling in dotNet programming in another IT company a few minutes drive from mine. Curly hair, thin rimmed glasses on an oval face, almost 6 feet in height on Fridays when he is wearing his thick Woodland shoes :), shy, not really a social butterfly, but a voracious reader and a wonderful human being. It was surprising that I had grown so fond of him, considering that we had met each other, through a common friend, less than 2 years ago. There was no official ‘proposal’ from the either of us, but we grew so deeply in ‘love’ with each other, that we decided that it was time to tie the knot. Apparently his family were ok with his decision, which left me with a scary thought of breaking the news to my parents. And it was on a cold, January morning, that I belted out my well researched, well practiced, but poorly executed, “I am in love” dialog to my parents.
“Hmmm… What did you say his name was again? Amul Ramarajan?” Appa shouted after a long spell of silence, after I told them about Atul. Silence that was punctuated by hushed up giggles from my younger brother in his nearby room who was now contemplating about taking over my room after I was kicked out of the house.
“Atul pa…” I corrected him. “Atul Kumar Rajendran. From Alwarpet. Software Engineer pa… Good Family… Monthly Salary is…”
Appa raised his hand and asked me to stop. I faithfully agreed. My throat went dry. Amma stared at me as if I had just tasted her delicious Sambar and said it was horrible. Paati in the nearby room came in, wanting to know what was happening. Appa and Amma spoke to each other in hushed voices, while I began to make a mental plan of action on what to do if I was thrown out of the house. I was trying to remember a few hostels in the area, and if I would be allowed to pack my bags before leaving, when Appa cleared his throat…
“Aarti ma. Tomorrow evening 5pm sharp. Ask him to come here. I want to meet him. I am not saying anything at all until I meet him. Tell him not to bring anything with him, just ask him to be here at 5 on the dot. I’ve got something else to take care after that. Clear? Go to your room.” Appa said.
I smiled and in true filmy style wanted to hug him tight, yelling “Appa!” with the veena playing a happy tune in the background… But better sense prevailed, and I marched up to my room, content that the worse was over without major damage. It was all in Atul’s hands now.
And true to his word, Atul’s bike growled to a stop before our gate at 4.45pm. I sneaked a look through the window, only to find him, wiping his face with a tissue paper, combing his hair, and praying like a 12th student about to enter his exam hall, before opening the gate and stepping in. I told Amma that he was here, and she went with Appa to answer the door. I tried to peek at the proceedings from the adjacent room. Amma and Appa welcomed Atul in with a smile. Amma dropped the tumbler in her hand which made a funny noise as it rolled over on the floor, providing some situational background music to enliven the proceeding. Appa invited Atul to the sofa, while Amma walked back towards me, tumbler in hand, sweating profusely, and with a very very serious look on her face.
“Come inside di…” Amma signaled to me as she walked past me towards the kitchen. I saw Appa examining Atul as if he was an alien species that had just knocked at a scientist’s door. Atul was clearly uncomfortable and sat there twitching in his seat.
“So what do you do pa…?” I could here Appa asking Atul, before Amma yelled at me to come in.
I rushed in to Amma in the kitchen as she was preparing tea there, and stood there silently.
“SO…?” I asked quietly.
“GO get the new saucer set from the cupboard.” Amma replied, almost expressionlessly.
I obeyed quietly, hoping she hadn’t heard my question. I brought out two beautiful cups from the cupboard, washed it, dried it clean and placed it on the table.
“So… How do you like him?” I asked again.
Mom did not utter a single word, as she removed the milk from the stove and banged it on the table. I kept watching her lips expecting her to utter at least a “hmm” of acceptance… Nothing came. I waited for a few minutes till she poured the hot tea to the tea cups.
“Amma!” I screamed, clearly frustrated.
“What?” She shouted back, equally frustrated, only to make me realize that after all ‘screaming’ was in our gene pool.
“Atul ma…? How is he?” I almost pleaded for a reply.
Amma looked at me straight in the eye for a few minutes, before she continued with her work, and muttered – “I don’t like him.”
I was confused, and hoped that I did not listen to her properly, before Amma gave me that tray with two cups of piping hot tea, to be served to Appa and Atul.
“But why?” I asked her, almost crying, like a little girl who was told that she can’t have that doll that she had wanted at a toy store.
“Now go, give this and come back” she ordered.
I walked slowly towards the living room, the tray in hand, slowly thinking that Atul was going out of my life for good, when I heard Appa laughing out loud in the living room. And that too, with a stranger he had just met. Suddenly the future did not seem that dark at all. My pace quickened as I almost spilled the tea before I reached them. Clearly Appa was impressed with Atul.
“I trust my daughter pa. I always have. I trust her enough to make the right decisions. So when will your parents….” Appa stopped as I approached them. There were smiles all around. A stark contrast from the situation in the kitchen. 🙂
“Aarthi ma, I’m just stepping out with Atul thambi. He has offered to drop me till the 3rd street. Tell Amma that we are leaving.”
This was huge. Atul ‘thambi’? Atul had seriously impressed Appa. I couldn’t stop giggling. Things were looking up and how. I went in and called Amma, and she put on her ‘difficult smile’ to come outside and see off Atul and Appa. I was happy that Appa looked happy, as he sat behind Atul’s Pulsar and sped off down the road.
But when I turned back to Amma, that ‘difficult’ smile had disappeared completely, only to be replaced, with an expression of angst, a mild touch of dejection, and a good measure of disappointment thrown in.
“What the hell is wrong with you ma?” I pleaded.
She turned to go in quietly, unmoved, untouched.
“Aiyo. Amma!!!” I screamed, standing in front of her now.
“Stop it now… I told you right. I don’t like him… Now move.” She pushed me aside coming inside the house..
“But whyyy?” I said in the tone that I had forgotten to use after my class 10th exams.
“See, I can’t give you explanations for everything. I don’t like him, and I won’t let you marry him.”
This was now officially, War. I mean I could have argued with her, if there was a reason for her to not like him. But clearly, she had none. And I wasn’t going to give up this easy.
“What? Don’t you see Appa likes him totally. I’m sure he’ll agree.” I argued.
“I can see that… Your father looks unusually happy. Not sure if age has damaged his brain or something. But whatever he says, this marriage is not happening. I will never agree to this.” My mom declared. I began crying.
Filmy dialogs ensued, suicide threats were followed up by ‘I’ll run away from home’ threats, tears flowed in abundance, but my mom was unmoved. My dear old Paati, with her ears that were now being used only to support her glasses, sat patiently in the pooja room, unmindful of the commotion created in the living room. After I had cried my eyes red, I crawled to my mother’s lap, hug her tightly and pleaded.
“Please ma. He’s a good guy. He loves me a lot. He’ll take care of me well.”
My mom began crying now. But moments later, she regain her composure and looked at me.
“I know di. But… But there is something that you should know.” She peeked to see if her mother was still in the pooja room. Satisfied, she took me by my arm and dragged me to the store room.
“Come with me. I have a secret to tell you…”
We reached the store room and moved a few broken chairs, old photo frames, and cleared the cobwebs, to reveal a small loft in the end of the room. A loft that had a few brown coloured, iron trunks, neatly arranged on top of the other.
“That one…” Amma pointed to a green coloured trunk in that loft. “Help me get that one down.”
We slowly managed to drag the big old trunk from the loft, to the floor. It was surprisingly light for its size. Amma sat there, feeling her initials on it, and tried to clear years of dust that had formed its surface now.
“Now listen to me carefully. Not many people know this, but I trust you di.” She started. I was confused like an insect in a glass box. “Back in the late 1970s, when I was studying BA in Rajaji College… I… Well… I really used to like a guy. He was my senior. He helped me a lot with my English in college and I used to do his accounts assignment. We met very often and slowly it developed into friendship. We used to like each other a lot and were in absolute awe of each other.” I saw a trace of smile on her lips as she narrated this to me. I was now giggling like silly.
“Ammma… :D” I teased her, surprised out of my senses, that this was my mother I was talking to. I had nothing else to say. “So what was his name?” I asked.
Amma’s smile slowly faded away, she opened the trunk, went through a a few books that had pages almost disintegrating when they were touched. She looked deep, searched hard and finally found what she was searching for. She took a little, old, black & white photo, saw it for a couple of minutes, and then passed it on to me. “We wanted to marry each other. His name was Anand..” She began, around the same time I turned the photo passed on to me. I was not prepared to see what I saw.
Out of the photo, peeked a geeky looking, young man, Wearing a floral printed shirt, straight out of the seventy’s, with a curly mop of unkempt hair on his oval face. A big framed spectacle adorned his face. He looked like any young man from the seventies, except… Well… Except that it was the face that I had come to love the last couple of years.
“…Anand Kumar Rajendran.” Amma completed. “Now you see what I meant?” Amma added sobbing “I bet that’s Atul’s father’s name.”
I was blown away. I was hoping that this was some Photoshop trick that my totally computer ignorant Amma was playing with me. It was undoubtedly Atul’s face on the photo, only with a very seventies, funny, hairdo and printed shirts. But it was Atul no doubt. I had seen Atul’s father earlier, but the resemblance never struck me at all. But now that Amma mentioned, they did infact look similar. Oh come on, that can’t be. These things happen only in movies. For God’s sake – ‘double role’?? Father and Son?? You’ve got to be kidding me. And Amma? In love during her college days. Man, that was even bigger. That innocuous little trunk stood there, apparently as a testament to a beautiful little love story. It was as if I was being bombarded by a hundred questions from every side. I stood there for a long time, trying to breath everything in. A few minutes later I asked Amma.
“So Appa knows?”
She nodded in agreement saying – “I told him before the wedding itself. Your Appa was a gentleman, he said he didn’t care about my past at all. And true to his word, he has never spoken a word about this, these 28 years.”
My Appa was the dude. I soon began seeing the funny part of it. I had enough material to pull Amma’s leg to eternity. A smile returned and I felt light. But then I suddenly realized that I had skipped to ask the most fundamental of the questions.
“Amma! But why didn’t you marry this guy?” I asked inquisitively.
Tears trickled down her eyes. She waited for a while to gain composure.
“Your Thatha and Paati didn’t agree di..” she explained.
Well that figures. Parents are parents after all.
“But why!!!” I asked her again.
Amma wiped her tears, looked to the floor, and slowly raised her hands, pointing her fingers at something in the distance.
I followed her finger, and realized that she was pointing at another innocent looking, slightly bigger, even dustier trunk in the loft, nestled between a few boxes and some old utensils. I walked to it, and used my fingers to wipe the dust off the initials carved on it, and shrieked.
Amma looked up to me with her red eyes, said nothing and smiled. Everything went silent. I could only hear my Paati doing pooja in the nearby room. I smiled back.
P.S. – Story idea based on a tamil short film seen on TV. Was so impressed, that I thought it deserved a short story.