It was the 25th of January 1996. I was in the midst of a gruelling course, pursuing my MD in Pathology- and I had nothing but microscopic images in my head. I loved the challenge of the subject and didn’t want any other distractions. Unannounced, my father turned up at my hostel that evening with a few relatives. A thunderbolt fell on my head. He had decided to hunt for a groom for me, and in this regard, I was expected to accompany him to Jabalpur where some unfamiliar family wanted to ‘see’ me.
My face turned dark with fury. But in the presence of my relatives I could not create a scene at the hostel. My father knew that all this business was exactly opposite to everything I believe in. And I had made it clear umpteen times earlier that I was not even considering getting married before I completed my post-graduation. Yet, I could see that he was pressurized to get on to the arranged marriage bandwagon by pushy relatives, who with their herd mentality, were telling him to get his ‘over-age’ daughter settled in life. As politely as I can, I told him that I was very busy and could not leave the hostel.
“The whole of India has leave on 26th January. It is a national holiday,” a well-meaning relative butted his head in unnecessarily. I wish I could tell him to stay out of my affairs, but he was too senior for me to misbehave with. I had no more excuses left to say I couldn’t go.
That night, I sought the support of my brother and we both reached the hotel where my Dad was staying, to speak in privacy, without other people interfering. For the first time in my life I opposed something my Dad said. Why was he putting me through this discomfort and humiliation? I had been his favourite child all along. He looked extremely hurt and aghast by my disobedience. And resorted to emotional film style dialogues- about his failing health, about life spans being unpredictable. He went on to say it was the way of the world- every girl had to go through this. We argued non-stop and my brother said something nasty which made things uglier than they already were. Tears were now rolling down my eyes. But then, things ended in status quo. My father had already given his word to the interested family. So Jabalpur it was- to honour his commitment.
The next morning, I sat in the car to Jabalpur, sullen and silent. Tears were flowing down my cheeks non-stop. I hardly ate or drank. I didn’t even enjoy the view. When we reached Jabalpur my eyes were red and swollen. One of my relatives helpfully suggested that I needed to apply some make up and I gave her the dirtiest glare I could manage. The rest of the day passed in a whiz. I was taken to meet the family. I can’t remember how the guy was, what I discussed with him or the details of the conversation. Except that he was an amiable engineer of some sort. All I remember in vivid detail, is the boy’s father.
He was a stern man, with a thin moustache. Extremely dominating. Turns out that he was a pathologist. So this matrimony was being planned so that I could take over the family business and run his Pathology laboratory. Crash landing of all my dreams. I told him I had no dreams of getting into private practice, and academics it was going to be for me. I got a earful about the money one makes in private practice, and how real life would demolish all my romanticism. All I now saw was a caricature of a villain I could write about in my book, whenever I wrote one.
In the middle of all the awkward conversations, this gentleman told me to go and try the rossogullas on the table. I demurely refused, but he insisted I sample them. I walked across the room to the dining table, only to be acutely conscious in a few seconds, that this was a ploy to examine my gait. Did I limp like my aunt who is afflicted by polio? I was disgusted by the ghastliness of this entire exercise and wanted to explode that very minute. But then one of my relatives bent backwards to explain that I had been sitting in the cramped car for too long so my walk was not perfect at this minute. I really wanted to wring his neck then.
But the whammy was yet to come. “Which volume of the Recent Advances in Histopathology have you read lately?”, the commander-in-chief thundered.
What? Was this a Pathology viva or a pre-wedding discussion? But this was right up my territory. I quoted the number and gave him some more opinion on pathological facts and figures. All the while, my mind whirring away, thinking what a pathological alliance this was going to be. This chap didn’t want a wife for his son. He wanted an assistant for his lab.
Thankfully, and very expectedly, the alliance didn’t come through. Two years later, just after I passed my MD examinations, an arranged match was suggested for me again. This time, I was on the offensive, and said no even before the guy had a chance to convince me. So if Subodh found me rude or impulsive, he now knows the background to it. But then, this time it was a one-on-one balanced conversation. No relatives involved. Long mature discussions. No Pathology. Only Community Medicine! And we have lasted two decades minus the humiliation and discomfiture.
Not all arranged marriages are pathological alliances.