The arranged meeting
I picked up the phone and dialled Diya’s number. A few rings on, I heard her voice, "Hello, so how was he?"
I also cut out on unnecessary pleasantries and went straight to the point, "He was all right. I mean, from what I could see, he is not bad."
Diya sounded excited, "So when are you guys meeting alone?"
"He asked me whether I was free for dinner next Sunday."
"Great. Let’s meet tomorrow at your place to discuss the strategy. Bye."
When my mother saw Diya next day, she exclaimed, "So two friends are going to plan for the meeting, huh?" Diya hugged her and said, "Aunty, you are also most welcome to join in the planning of Project… What is his name?"
I rolled my eyes at her, speaking in a warning tone "Ashish. Mom, don’t you even think of coming in!"
Diya sat cross-legged on my bed and said in a serious tone, "Now tell me how was Ashish. What did he say and what are your gut feelings? We first have to understand him to be able to figure out whether he is the perfect guy for you."
I thought for a moment. "He was a little quiet throughout the evening. His brother and sister-in-law were chatting a lot with Didi and Jiju, but he was just smiling and nodding his head."
Diya interrupted me, "So, number one – he is quiet by nature, doesn’t speak much."
I continued, "But he did get along with my dad like a house on fire. Guess on what topic they kept on discussing? Trend in Stock Exchange! My professor father simply could not resist himself from testing Ashish’s knowledge."
Diya was thoughtful, "It shows he is smart, but then he is an investment banker. He is supposed to know his stuff. Its also a good sign that he could get along with your Hitler dad. Now tell me about his body language."
I had to admit that I did not remember to check out his body language during the evening. I was myself, far too nervous to notice all that.
Diya waved off this bit of failure on my part. "Now, let’s decide what all you will have to find out on the dinner date. Where is the questionnaire that we prepared?"
We both poured over the three page document, consisting of 25 questions. Diya started putting them in order of importance. "Don’t ask about his past right in the beginning. He might get defensive and tell lies. Remember to first put him at ease and then bombard."
I asked, "Do I have to ask him whether he is closet gay or not? It would be so uncomfortable."
Diya said, "Yes, of course, unless you want to end up like Monalisa. Thank god that she figured it out before marriage."
The next two hours were spent by us formulating strategy for what Diya named Project Ashish. I wondered whether he too was taking such preparations for the dinner date. I found out soon.
He called me that night. I was completely taken aback and ended up stammering a lot initially. It was not a long phone call, since I was replying in mono-syllables. He perhaps thought that either I was not interested in conversations or I was extremely nervous. Afterwards, I kept on cursing myself for making such a fool out of myself.
Diya almost banged her head on the wall when I told her the one reason behind why I was at loss for words – his voice sounded super sexy over the phone. "Do you even know what you have done to your image? He must now be laughing his head off."
May be she was right, since he did not call me for the rest of the week until Saturday. He confirmed the dinner plan and asked me whether he would pick me up from my residence. I panicked at the thought of meeting him in front of my family and immediately refused.
Project Ashish was not at all going as planned. On the d-day, I discovered a hole in my favourite dress at the last moment. I chipped my nail and failed to get the desired curls with the hot rollers. With Diya by my side, I frantically tried to make myself presentable.
Didi arrived in the evening and immediately started her tirade. "The base makeup is not blended properly, its looking blotchy in places. Diya, don’t try smoky eyes on her, it looks very smudgy after sometime."
At the end of it all, I realised I was late and hurriedly said goodbye to all. Diya mouthed "All the Best" and signalled me to sms her in case there was an emergency.
I spotted him at the entrance of the restaurant, scanning the surrounding for me. I took a deep breathe and walked up to him. Then I stopped mid-way. He was looking different! Before I could think of what the change was, he saw me and waved. After a cheerful "Hello", we went inside and took our places at the reserved table.
Then I figured out the change. "Where are your glasses?" The moment I asked it, I realised that I have gone off-script. He looked visibly embarrassed. I began to think how to control the damage.
"I am wearing contact lens."
My mouth literally fell open. He noticed it and squirmed even more. He attempted to cover up by mumbling something like "I wear les all the time" and then knocked off the glass on the table.
I felt my nervousness ebbing away. He looked more tensed than I was, which gave me courage to control the situation. I placed the order for food and after some polite conversations, decided to start my quizzing as per the questionnaire.
"Do you believe in this so-called arranged marriage system? Don’t you think it is strange to marry some one you hardly know?"
The question was mistimed. He had just put in a piece of kebab into his mouth and gagged on it. After a few uncomfortable moments of coughing, he managed to finally wash down the piece with water. I was myself embarrassed now that things have started to go horribly wrong. I decided to keep my mouth shut, as a result of which we both endured painfully long seconds of silence.
"For me, its more important to find the right girl and not the method of finding."
I took sometime to realise that he was answering my previous question. By now, I have forgotten the next question in the script but instead asked, "So, what kind of girl is "right" for you?"
He smiled, "I will let you know later. For now, I do not want to give you any ideas." I also realised my folly and we both cracked up. He said, "There is this colleague of mine, who laughs exactly like you. Once she starts, she simply cannot control and will go on laughing till tears roll down. Imagine what happens if some joke is cracked during any office meeting where she is present." And both of us started laughing again.
Then, I wondered whether it was a compliment or a joke at my expense. Unable to decide, I aimed my next arrow at him, "I have heard investment bankers are the boring types; they know only two things – work and money and have no spare time. Are you also like that?"
He raised his brow. "You seem to have the general notion about our ‘kind’. Well, I try to do my work sincerely, but also check Facebook in office once in a while. We are entitled to leaves and I took a long one last year and went to Ladakh with friends. I also try to find time for my weekly squash practice and all the movies. So I am not that bad with time management or am I?"
I countered, "You mean, you realise there’s more to life than just earning money?"
"Of course! Otherwise, where will you get the necessary oxygen?"
I decided he had passed that round with distinction and prepared to shoot the next one. "Hey, did you read about the recent news of how that mother-in-law hacked her daughter-in-law to death just because she gave birth to a girl child? How gruesome, isn’t it?"
He immediately responded, "I agree with you. To top it all, they were an educated, cultured family. There are families like my uncle’s who would do anything to have a girl child and there are families like these who are criminal! They should come to my office and see that almost 30% of the workforce are women." I was pleased with his outburst. So he was not those kind who might hack me to death if I bore a girl child.
The evening passed on pleasantly. The food was good and the company even better 😉 Both of us had overcome our initial awkwardness and were chatting like old friends. He was cracking some good jokes and some poor jokes, both of which cracked me up completely and I laughed till I had tears in my eyes. I also remembered to quiz him in between as per the questionnaire and got satisfactory answers.
Just after he paid the bill, he dropped the final bomb, "So what do you think of me?" I replied, "You are not the quiet, boring banker that I initially thought."
He cleared his throat and asked, "So, what are you thinking about the proposed marriage?"
Momentarily, I was thrown off-guard and didn’t know what to say. Seeing my discomfiture, he immediately said that there was no hurry and I could take my time to answer.
While driving me home, we both tried to make small conversations. Just after he dropped me in front of my house and drove away, I remembered that I had not asked the most crucial question. I called his number, "Hello, I had to ask you something, which I just thought of. Its very crucial for me to know." He sounded tensed. "Of course, what is it that you want to know?"
"Are you, by any chance, erm….umm…. gay? You know, the closet types?"
After a few seconds, his throaty laugh filled my ears. "Is this question due to the fact that I did not kiss you at the door step? Trust me, I thought that would be a little too soon!" He continued laughing.
My cheeks burned as I realised what my answer to his proposal would be.
Disclaimer: This is a pure work of fiction and any resemblance to any person, living or dead is plain and simple their good luck!