I shifted as I sat on one of the cane chairs cushioned by uncomfortable tiny pillows and yet again declined an offer of samosas from Neetu aunty. All she had done since I entered her house half an hour back was to place various assortments of snacks and drinks in front of me and coerce me into taking a bite of each item.
“Vicky beta, you have not tasted these jalebis. I made them specially for you since you like sweets. I remember when you were small, and your parents were our neighbors in Jalandhar, you would come running to our house in your shorts, wearing nothing else, and you would ask for a jalebi. Oh! You were roly-poly then. Now you are not eating at all”
I smiled indulgently and took a small jalebi just to pacify Neetu aunty before she could burst into details of another of my embarrassing childhood episodes.
The truth was I really didn’t know what I was doing in this house with my parents who were now enjoying listening to my childhood anecdotes. The Badyals’ and our family had been neighbors many years back, when my dad’s posting was in Jalandhar. And all though we had moved to 5 different cities in the next 15 years of my father’s career as a bank manager, my mother and Neetu aunty had been in regular touch.
A few weeks back my mother started discussing the telephonic conversation that she had had with Neetu aunty.
“Vikram, do you remember Shefali? Neetu and Alok’s daughter? You know you used to play with her all the time?"
I vaguely remembered a girl with two pigtails and a permanently running nose, following me assiduously everywhere I went. I felt a dread knowing where this conversation was going.
“Several days back Neetu mentioned that they were searching a boy for their daughter. And I sent her your horoscope. You both were such good friends when you were kids. And guess what? The horoscopes are a perfect match”, my mom continued talking even after I got up from the table.
“Mom, you know that I am not interested in marriage. And you didn't even ask me before taking matters forward. What’s wrong with you? I need to concentrate on my career right now and I don’t want to marry, ok?”
Even as I morosely went to my room, I knew that my mom would be crying over my outburst.
“I know that you are working in a big corporate company and you have a high paying job. But this is the right age to settle down beta”, mom sniffed a few times to show how hurt she was.
“What’s the harm in just meeting the girl? If you don’t like her you can always say no”, my dad joined forces as I felt coerced by my parents.
It took a few more days for me to bow down to the pressure and this is how I found myself on a fine Sunday morning, in a house full of guests with keen eyes that watched my every move. I had my strategy in place. I would meet Shefali, talk with her for few minutes and then reject her by citing some reason. I was ruminating on what reason would sound legitimate to my parents when I heard the soft tinkling of bangles.
I looked up to see the most beautiful girl enter the room. She was dressed in a simple salwar suit that accentuated her curves. Her eyes, made up with kohl, twinkled as her gaze met mine. She seemed to wade gracefully through the room, without the awkwardness that I felt in my limbs.
Ah, Shefali beta, come sit here and let me introduce everyone”, Neetu aunty started the introductions as I stupidly gawked at the proceedings.
Shefali? This is Shefali? Where is the grimy, filthy girl with the pigtails? I couldn't believe my eyes. I rubbed my beard as I contemplated the change of events. I saw Shefali’s looking at me with a hint of disapproval. All through the evening my eyes never left her as she chatted with everyone effortlessly. My parents’ eyes were glazed with happiness. I was sure they were already visualizing their grandchildren.
Finally it was time for the boy and the girl to speak in private. I couldn’t think of one reason to reject Shefali. In my mind I had prepared a couple of questions to ask her but I already knew what I would say to my parents when they inquired if I liked her.
“So Vikram, the hot-shot executive, you looked a bit surprised when you saw me. Did you remember the ugly duckling story?” Shefali teased me. If Shefali could have seen my cheeks under my bristly beard, she would have seen them go red and understood my embarrassment.
“You do look beautiful. But I don’t give much importance for appearances. The outer beauty is nothing but a mirage. It fades away with time and age. What matters to me is the beauty that lies beneath, the beauty of the soul”, I tried to lie glibly, though my words sounded superficial even to my ears. The fact was that Shefali’s gorgeousness had blown away my mind and if she hadn’t been so beautiful, I would have probably been out of her house by now. I desperately needed to make a good impression on her.
“Ah, but I believe in first impressions, Vikram. I think it’s very vital to be well-groomed and to appear pleasing, especially when you are meeting a person for the first time. And if this person you are meeting is your potential spouse then it’s even more important to give attention to your appearance. First impressions do speak volumes about a person and it’s definitely hard to remedy a bad first impression. Don’t you think?”
I was dumbfounded. I had not expected this. I thought arranged marriage meetings where girls would simper and answer the questions asked by boys in monosyllabic replies. But Shefali was going on, not giving me a chance to speak my two cents worth of opinion.
“I mean how would you feel if I were to walk into the room with messed up hair, not having bathed or smelling like yesterday’s garbage? I took so much care to look good for you so that I can make a good impression and you show up without even caring to shave? Look at you, your scraggly beard and your smelly mustache. Tell me, did you not have enough courtesy to shave your facial hair before meeting your potential bride?”
I felt offended. I was furious. This was not how I had expected the whole meeting to go. But somehow I felt inclined to explain.
“Facial hair is a manifestation of one’s masculinity. And people tell me that it looks good on me. What do you know? “I asked scornfully.
“You need proof for your masculinity? By growing a beard and mustache you feel more macho? Don’t your actions and conduct determine your attitude? Good for you if others think that facial hair looks macho on you but I like my man to be well groomed and clean shaven. I like a man who wants to look good for me. I am sorry for speaking so honestly but it’s better to be forthright when your whole destiny depends on a single decision you make.”
|Picture says it all. Source- http://www.istockphoto.com/|
Shefali walked past me into the room where our parents waited with anticipation to hear our decisions. I realized that after all I needn't come up with a reason to reject Shefali. I repented not having shaved before coming here.
Maybe if I had paid some attention to my appearance and not looked like a callous ass everything would have gone right with Shefali and me. Was it too late to rectify my mistake? Would Shefali give me a second chance?
The next day, as the sun shone brightly above me, I walked towards the building where Shefali worked. Clean shaven and looking fresh, I clutched a bouquet of lilies, hoping to build a good second first impression and reclaim my opportunity that I had nearly missed yesterday.