It was 11PM when the call came through. A rather unusual time for Raj to be calling, thought Priya as she picked up the phone with a hundred thoughts running through her head. Was someone in the family seriously ill? Was there an emergency? It’s strange how late night calls often scare a person that something may not be right, as if falling sick had a time zone of the darkness. ‘Everything okay?’ were thus the first two words that Priya blurted as she picked up her brother’s call. Their relationship did not need the formal hellos and how do you do’s and formalities like, ‘is it a good time to call?’ It had also moved beyond ‘Sorry I woke you up’, because the first few words Raj spoke were, ‘No, not okay’. After half a minute of uncomfortable silence he added,
‘She’s stopped talking to me or her mother. Can you please call and drill some sense into her head?’
It was more of a command than a question. Despite just the two year difference, Raj had a natural tendency of bossing his little sister around. So what if they were now 47 and 45 years old respectively. Priya had the feeling that she knew what this was all about, though formally she wasn’t on the tell-me-all list. Rather, she often thought that she was on the need to know basis list. Jyoti, the only daughter of Raj and Swati, was a firebrand child, always stubborn, impulsive and wanting to do her own thing. In many ways, though she did not agree with the comparison too much, she was like Priya. But then how was that going to help.
‘Is it about that boy, what’s-his-name Hemanth?’
It was Raj’s turn to sigh. No more. The ace-student-in-class Jo, had now fallen for Dhruv, and he is the guy she wanted to marry. ‘Two days, that’s all they’ve dated. How can you decide to marry in two days?’ After filling her on all the details that come along with the need to know basis he added, ‘I can’t do this anymore Priya, you’re close to her, perhaps she’ll listen to you’.
Close to her. That was ironically far from true. Yes, she had spent some years in that house, before she was married, but Jyoti was a school going child then. And it had been a long time of 20 years. Also why would Jyoti listen to Priya, if she hadn’t bothered to listen to her parents. And when had her own brother Raj listened to her. There had been many occasions that she could think of. Priya wanted to say all this, but the thing with the past is that little can be done about it. And so Priya let it be. ‘Sure, I’ll call her. But I don’t know how much it will help.’
After taking Jyoti’s current phone number Priya disconnected. Her niece and she weren’t keeping much in touch. True, they had been close while in India, but she had now been too far away for too long. Priya also didn’t know if her archaic views really mattered anymore. But she had promised her brother that she’d call. And as a duty she did. The phone rang for the complete minute before it disconnected. It was clear that Jyoti was either too busy or not taking any calls. Or worse. She was perhaps taking no calls from the familiar numbers.
The life Jyoti lived was one that Priya had lived before. Hostel life really changes you, in fact it transforms you. It makes you more self-reliant and independent. It gives you a network of friends. But then it also distances you from family. It teaches you to trust in friends, people often as inexperienced as you are. It seemed like Priya had been where Jyoti stood just yesterday, and she hoped that her niece would not make the same mistakes she once did. So when the call didn’t go, even on the next morning, Priya thought of a different route. Perhaps she should send an email. This would be worse than making a phonecall, she fretted. What would she write?
Don’t be angry with your father. He is more experienced in years than you are. And importantly, he’s the one who brought you into the world.
She looked at what she had typed out. Advice, advice. Jyoti would never read beyond the first line. Priya deleted everything she had written and started again. The process was painstakingly time-taking, more so because she was doing this along with balancing her work as an interior designer and readying the meal for the evening. And then the questions would build her self-doubt.
Wasn’t it better to marry someone you loved rather than a stranger? Was Priya herself happy in her marriage? As if in answer, the phone rang. It was Pratap calling, asking if she wanted to catch a movie tomorrow, the new one with Mahesh Babu in it. Yes Priya was happy with her life, for happiness came with the little things, like watching a film together. Priya began to write.
The point at which you stand today is more than familiar to me for this is the place where I once stood as well. His name was Rajiv and I had met him at college. Did you know that my brother, that is – your father, actually scared him away?
There that should make her want to read the letter. Rajiv, ah memories she had hidden at the back of her mind tumbled back, the colours now blurred. Her memories of him were now dusty, like those favourite childhood clothes hidden at the back of the cupboard. What was the colour of his eyes? She thought to herself how she had forgotten all those things that once seemed so important. He could charm her, was all she remembered, his smile twinkling in his eyes.
It’s a long story, the memories now faded, and I can’t even remember what was so special about him anymore. What was it that made me rebel with the woman who had brought me up – my mother, and the father who had carried me on his shoulders when I couldn’t walk up the steep steps of the temple long ago. Such pain I gave them, and that too for a stranger? Why?
The day seemed to quickly pass and when the doorbell rang Priya kept the half-written letter aside. There stood Pratap, her husband, a man her parents had so carefully chosen for her. ‘Hi dear, I got you paan from the corner shop you love so much.’ Priya took the packet from him. ‘So many!’ she exclaimed.
‘Ya, I got ten, so you can have whenever you want. Or you’ll have sudden paan cravings at 10 in the night, and the shop won’t be open.
When Priya kept the paan in the fridge, she remembered the contrasts. With Rajiv it was all about novelty and chivalry. It was about midnight phonecalls and surprise dinners at fancy hotels. It was the smell of adventure that had excited her back then. She smiled to herself as she headed to ready their dinner.
It was late in the night, when Pratap finally fell asleep. Priya took out the half written letter from her cupboard. Memories of Rajiv were banging against her head once again, wanting to come out. Perhaps it was time to put them to rest. Priya returned to the letter.
Ah, but I’m telling this backwards. So let me start from the beginning.
The first meeting with Rajiv was accidental. They had met at a friend’s party, and had liked each other instantly. They hung out together on some pretext the next day as well, and finally on the third day, he had proposed. It had been quick, adventurous and all enveloping. She had said yes, because Rajiv was handsome and charming. But soon one day someone from the family spotted the two and the matter had been reported to people at home. Her mom had been upset and her father livid. Raj had been her silent pillar of support for everything, but this. He refused to even meet Rajiv. in fact there also came a point when she decided to run away with Rajiv, but it was Raj who forcibly brought her back. Why was it then that he asked her to talk to Jo? Now she knew.
I was crazy about Rajiv. He was wonderful, the man who adored me and loved me entirely. He was handsome and charming, and girls around me adored him. Every minute of life was exciting with him. I would sneak out of home at 2AM to go for outings. He would buy me wonderful gifts. But my family didn’t see it that way. They told me he was unstable, they said if he can fall in love in a day, he can fall out of it another. Worse still, he wasn’t from the community, so his life would be different, they said. We tried to elope and Raj found out. He literally scared Rajiv away and brought me home. I was mad at him. But today, in retrospect, I’m happy with what he did.
After that, her family became more careful. They double-locked the doors, and stayed by her. They ensured that someone would drop Priya to college and accompany her back. Yes, she did chance meeting Rajiv occasionally, but the doom of the relationship had begun. He was mad at his brother and her family.
After finishing undergraduation, one day Rajiv left. He got a seat in a university out of the country, and he didn’t even tell me. I tried to write to him and convince him that once we had jobs we could figure a way out. He said, he loved the idea, but the distance had driven a wedge between us. First the letters were regular and soon they stopped completely. After a couple of years, Pratap, a boy carefully chosen, came into my life.
Truth be told, I never fell for him instantly. In fact, it was more out of anger over my parents that I married this stranger. But the beauty of my marriage started showing up after we tied the knot. We discovered each other’s likes and dislikes. And I realized that happiness isn’t about adventure all the time. It is about balance, knowing each other, respecting their choices and giving them the space to grow. It is about a Mahesh Babu movie out of the blue.
Life had been like a whirlwind tour with Rajiv, and is a joyful cruise with Pratap, I soon learned. Rajiv had strong likes and dislikes on how I carried myself, Pratap has more acceptance. To tell the truth Jo, it didn’t matter if Rajiv forgot anything, but it matters a lot when Pratap remembers to buy me something as simple as paan, because I like it, from the corner shop that I love.
So Jo, I’ve been where you were before and I’ve learnt one thing. True love isn’t about making someone feel special at the prime of their lives. It’s about accepting someone at their best and at their worst. And let me tell you it’s worth waiting for.
Priya re-read the lines she had written. Yes, things were good in her life, but each has their own battles. Perhaps that guy Jo chose was perfect for her after all. But how far was that decision driven by reason? Priya took out the picture album and a little girl aged ten wearing a pink floral dress and riding the cycle stared back. Jo had been riding it and fell because she didn’t know how to stop! If only Priya had taught her to use the brake, she wouldn’t have scraped her knee so badly. Perhaps this letter was just that.
Jo, do you remember that cycle accident where you fell because you didn’t know how to use the brakes? Well life too is like that. But it doesn’t end there, for you need to know how to put the brakes. Life needs stability, love, understanding and companionship. And these are the things that take you through the long run. If not, it will be that one cycle ride where the fun lasts till you have to put the brakes and you don’t know how to stop.
Remember you don’t just marry the guy, you marry the family too. The boy you marry will carry his family’s values. And those will be crucial factors for your happiness after you’re married.
The choice you make for yourself can be yours alone. And I will stand by that. But remember that when your family chooses, they only look for the best. Give them the benefit of doubt and consider the matches they put forth. Stand in your father’s shoes and see Dhruv as he would. Stand in your mother’s place and assess him again. Would you marry your daughter to a boy like that? And if what you see is wonderful and promising, then bring him home. Convince your parents and tie the knot.
She had said all that she wanted to and felt better having done it. Before Priya headed to bed, there was one last point to add.
Keep your mind open. Find true love, whether it comes through a love marriage or an arranged one, both have merit and value. But whatever you do, do it with your mind and heart. And learn to use the brakes.
May you find love.