I was in the fifth grade when Mother purchased the first item for my trousseau: a lace tablecloth.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” she asked, running her fingers reverently over the cloth.
I looked at her in disbelief. Did she expect me to have an opinion on a tablecloth? Huh! I pulled a face and ran off to play.
As I grew older, trousseau shopping acquired greater consequence. Trips to jewellery or sari shops increased in frequency, and I brimmed with importance as attendants fussed over me. By the time I turned twenty, my trousseau was ready. I was set to wed. All that was missing was the groom.
The first boy I met was good-looking enough, which was all I wanted in a husband. I was twenty-one, what did I know? But I had forgotten to factor in one vital consideration: Panditji. He took one look at the horoscopes and gravely shook his head.
The next boy was even better looking than the first, but Panditji shot him down too. I tried to reason with him. “He has dimples!” I wailed, but the planets refused to budge.
By the time Mother realised she should first compare horoscopes, the bar had been set too high and others paled in comparison to the dimples. Between my mother and myself, we managed to shoot down a commendable number of proposals, and mother placed the blame for being unable to find a suitable match squarely on my shoulders, for I refused to wear the pearl or emerald or other random stone possessing magical powers, which would ‘clear the path’ for me.
“Why aren’t you wearing the ring?” Mother would ask. “Where is it?”
I’d shrug in response, not wanting to tell her it was probably in the dustbin.
And then, as a last straw, Panditji proclaimed I fast on Mondays. I burst out laughing. Me? Fast? I could do without marriage, not without food, and asked Panditji to give me an auspicious date to book my ticket out of Bombay instead.
Apparently Panditji didn’t find my request as hilarious as I had found his. Nevertheless, I moved out, and before long, started seeing someone, a feat that had hitherto been impossible under Mother’s watchful eye. But news travels fast, and Mother confronted me as soon as she heard about my shameless romping.
“Find. Out. If. He. Wants. To. Get. Married.” she snarled. He didn’t, at least, not at the moment – or so he said. It was Karma. Mother tried to fix me up with someone else but my heart was running houseful, and not accepting any bookings.
Eventually we broke up. I was now older, and every time I received a proposal, I was told I should be thankful someone still wanted to marry me considering how ancient I was. If I rejected someone, they said, “Who do you think you are?” And if someone rejected me, they said, “What did you say to him?” Either way, it was my fault. I was pronounced as being difficult and argumentative. Every time I had an opinion and had the temerity to express it, they shook their heads in exasperation.
“This is why families want younger women, because when girls get married so late, they are set in their ways and cannot be moulded.” I offered to clear their misconceptions by telling them about various friends who got married at very mouldable ages and were divorced or heading towards it. In answer, they would look at each other and exhale, hard, knocking me over with the force of their wind. “No wonder her relationship didn’t last. Is this how you argued with him?”
That shut me up.
Then one night, much, much later, I went for an enjoyable dinner with a charming man, introduced to me by an uncle. He dropped me home, and when I thanked him and turned to enter my gate, he stopped me.
“Let me give you a hug.”
My future husband enclosed me in his bear arms for an eternity, until the ice inside thawed. The stars started gently glowing again, and at this point, Mother didn’t care if they were perfectly aligned. She finally got to host the grand wedding she had been dreaming of since they day I was born.
And the first thing I saw when I opened my suitcase in my new home, was the tablecloth.
Mother had been right all along. It was beautiful indeed.