"You get one call. Make it quick." The constable gave me a malicious grin as he pointed to the telephone on the desk in front of me. He was probably too happy to have a woman sitting in the police station so late in the night. I drew in a deep breath and dialed the phone.
"Hello?" Tanu's tense voice came through the phone.
"Meetu?!" Her voice rose in alarm "Where the hell are you? It's almost midnight! The groom's family has already arrived. Everyone's asking for you!"
"What?!" I bit my nails nervously. The groom's family weren't expected until much later. Why did everything have to become worse when I was already in the middle of a gargantuan crisis? Why?!
"Well, they are early. But where are you?!" I could feel Tanu's frustration and rising panic. I wasn't the sort to stay out so late ever. Least of all today.
I hesitated. "Ummmm . . . police station . . ."
"Th-th-there . . . there was . . ." I could feel my hands beginning to shake.
"There was what?" Tanu demanded.
"There's been a misunderstanding. Can you please just come here? I will explain everything later. Please . . ."
"Fine. I will be there. Are you alone?" I decided to be vague. "No . . ."
"I'll be there soon," Tanu said after a fraction of a pause and hung up. I knew she wanted the full story right then and there. But we were racing against time. Why? Because I was supposed to be married in two days' time and here I was in the middle of a nightmare, with my head buried in my hands, sitting on a wooden bench in a police station at twelve in the night, guilty of doing something so morally wrong that my fiancée would never forgive me for it. That is if I could still call him my fiancée.
"Rs. 1500-crore market share and growing still . . ." An online search about the world of matrimonial websites showed an upward business graph. Were there really so many millions and billions of people desperate to get married? Shaadi.com, bharatmatrimony. com, simply marry.com, jeevansathi.com— the list was endless, but they all seemed pretty darn confident about hunting down your dream partner for you. With complex algorithms running behind each trivial question to filter out your ideal match, I often wondered, if these websites ever ended up pairing a brother and a sister together! After all, they target to match you up with a person of similar, if not exactly the same interests and backgrounds.
Anyway, at 24, with no marriage proposal coming my way via the traditional routes of familial connections and with no boyfriend to flaunt in front of my parents, I was beginning to make peace with the reality and get acquainted with the cyber world of matrimonial websites. Dad, in a very earnest bid to secure my eternal happiness, had created a profile for me, under his name, on almost each of the gazillion matrimony site that existed. I could have made my own profile under my name, but it would've looked rather 'forward' for a girl from a middle-class family from small-town India to do such a thing. It was also a subtle way to hint that said girl is still under parental guidance and control—a much-appreciated fact in Indian society! But my darling Dad had given me the selective freedom to enter my details in the profile, while they retained the right to specify what type of groom I (essentially they) wanted.
I got some comfort though, in knowing that all my office colleagues were in the same boat as me. Every now and then, we would huddle over cups of tepid coffee in the office cafeteria and vent out our frustration over the whole goddamn process. One would think that for a group of
young IT engineers living in the cyber hub of the country, we would come up with exciting and electrifying topics of discussion. But we'd all hit that sacred mark of being of marriageable age, and this was all we could talk about, men and women alike. Pretending to be proactive IT engineers, we had appointed each other as our backups if we failed to find anybody to marry. But who were we kidding? With Indian parents around, you don't need back up, ever. You will be appointed a partner in due time. So here I was, sitting with my laptop at twelve in the night, filling up yet another ridiculously intrusive form on a matrimony website with minuscule details about me.
I had targeted to complete it by today, mostly to avoid Mummy's daily calls with endless tales of my child-bearing cousins. Thank God I was not living with my parents!
It wasn't that I did not want to get married, I did. But I wanted to fall in love first, like Tanu, my elder sister. She had created quite a stir in our family with her love marriage. Although I could tell my parents were secretly relieved—she wasn't the arranged marriage type material anyway. An intelligent and strong-headed girl is hard to sell in the marriage market.
As for me, I was yet to fall in love. Even though there had been a few who had professed their love for me, I had never been able to bring myself to commit to any of them. I wasn't really the type to fall in love at first sight. The only exception to this was my first crush in high school, Nitin. It's wasn't like we were in a relationship (he had effectively friend-zoned me before he left for college), but that boy had made my heart go pitter-patter at the very sight of him. The high point of our relationship was when we held hands on the night of our school farewell and walked under a star-studded sky. We had made fervent promises to stay in touch. But time has a tendency of wrapping up people in their own worlds, and so were we, consumed in ours. After writing to him a few times, when my letters went unanswered, I simply stopped writing. We lost touch and everything kind of just faded . . .
"Holding hands doesn't mean you guys were in love, okay?" my roommate Kriti would chide me every time I got nostalgic and repeated the story. She was right, I knew that.
I had to close all the old chapters in my life, get rid of my naiveté, and start a new life by falling in love with the right guy and then getting married. And the target was to achieve all this before I touched 29, my potential expiry date. So I quickly punched in all the details on the site, reduced my whole self into some numbers and labels, and hit 'Enter'.