Rajni was worried about her granddaughter Riya’s marriage. Riya was her son Raghu’s daughter. Unfortunately Raghu and his wife Uma had met with a fatal accident and Riya who was then a mere toddler became her responsibility. She was now professionally qualified and ran a consultancy service of her own. Marriage negotiations were tedious and eligible bachelors had a price tag to their names. The more they earned, the greater was their demand! It did not matter if the girl had a career of her own, professional or otherwise. Girls were not to be left behind. Compromises and adjustments were considered outdated concepts. The very suggestion appalled the Gen X kids. Difficult it was but as her guardians they had to do whatever it was in her best interest. Her husband Rajan was in touch with a suitable family and wanted to invite them to ‘see’ his granddaughter.
“NO WAY!” protested Riya, “ I’m NOT a cow to be inspected by strangers! At best the boy and I could meet at a restaurant for coffee and get to know each other with no commitments from my side. I reserve the right to reject him if I don’t take to him. Is that clear?”
Rajni sighed. Times had changed and education had made girls vocal and bold. Yet there was something missing. Her mind raced back to the time when Rajan had come to ‘see’ her from Bangalore. The memory brought a smile to her face. How very different was her own experience! The episode flashed back as she thought of the D-day….
Rajni was hardly able to suppress a smile. The ‘boy’ looked so serious. He had accompanied his parents to ‘see’ her. His mother seemed okay. She had a kind face and gentle eyes. She seemed to be of a friendly disposition. The father hardly spoke. Rajni was thirteen years of age and the oldest among five sisters. Her father had negotiated with a magistrate in far off Bangalore and had invited him over along with his wife and son to approve of his daughter. Rajan was a civil engineer about thirteen years her senior and had a government job. Those were days when dowry was neither offered nor accepted. A family’s status was determined according to the recommendations of friends and well wishers rather than their bank balance and a girl was ‘shown’ and ‘seen’ only after careful consideration by both families and rejection of the girl was very rare.
The ‘girl seeing’ ritual was carefully planned and she was given appropriate instructions.
“Don’t look up straight into the boy’s eyes,” her mother said, “elders will do the talking. You may answer questions but only to the point.”
They may ask you to sing,” her grand mother added “practice singing a few bhajans and don’t you start off on your own. Wait for your father to grant you permission.”
You may be asked to serve tea and snacks,” said her aunt “ that would be their way of judging your housekeeping skills. Be careful not to make a mess of it. Of course I’ll be there to assist you but it should appear as if you are used to doing it.”
“ If you are asked about your culinary skills tell them that you are in the learning process and assure them that you would willingly pick up their methods after marriage”
There had been so many instructions that Rajni got confused. She wanted the whole process to get over as soon as possible. The D-day finally arrived and the groom accompanied by his parents knocked at their door a whole week before the scheduled time! It was Rajni who had opened the door. Her father, accompanied by her siblings had gone to attend a marriage ceremony in a neighboring village. She had to stay back due to a cold and her mother had remained with her. The visiting trio introduced themselves and asked for her father.
Her mother came rushing out and invited them inside. She hurriedly sent for her aunt and directed her to get Rajni ready. She sent a boy from the neighborhood to inform her father.
“Please do not panic” the boy’s mother said “ and no formalities please. We came for wedding in these parts and suddenly decided to come over to your place. It was not possible for my son to avail leave next week. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Not at all” her mother said “please make yourself comfortable”
“Ma’am” said the boy “ Do I have your permission to speak to your daughter?”
Now this was unexpected and her mother did not know how to respond. She turned to her mother in law who was quick to intervene.
“We normally don’t allow our girls to talk to the groom before marriage. Such things may be okay in Bangalore but we belong to a more conservative society. Moreover you have not yet conveyed your approval of the match.”
The boy’s father spoke for the first time.
“We would not have come all the way from Bangalore unless we were pleased with your proposal,” he said “With your permission my son would like to talk to your grand daughter right here in the presence of elders.”
“ In that case it seems alright.” Grandma grudgingly agreed, “Though I don’t understand what he would want to ask her. She is only a child and may not be able to respond. Let him ask me and I will clarify his doubts.”
“I will get to you later grandma” laughed Rajan, “ let me talk to my future wife first”
Without bothering to wait for the old lady’s response he directed his question to Rajni.
“Do you go to school?” he asked.
‘How unromantic’ thought Rajni ‘hardly like the hero in a movie she had watched a few months ago.’
She looked up straight into his eyes but remembering her mother’s instruction stared into a wall clock right above his head.
“I used to go to school but I dropped out last year” she replied.
“Why? Did you fail your exams?” Rajan meant to tease her. But Rajni felt insulted.
“Of course not. I was among the toppers in my class. There was this silly boy in my class who gave me a letter……..” she stopped in the middle of the sentence on seeing her mother’s expression of disapproval.
Rajan’s father laughed heartily while his mother tried to suppress a smile.
“Did you read the letter?” Rajan was beginning to enjoy himself.
“Oh! No!” Rajni was quick to reply, “I gave it to my class teacher who sent the boy to be caned by the principal.”
“How sad!” said Rajan in a tone of mock sympathy, “didn’t you feel sorry for him? Tell me what do you do at home all day?”
“I read story books and play indoor games like chess and ludo. I’m pretty good at these two games.”
Rajni’s grandmother started to get worried. This smart boy was cornering her grand daughter with all kinds of questions and this silly girl was talking a little too much. Her mother started serving coffee and snacks in an effort to distract them.
“Don’t tease the poor girl son” the boy’s mother who wanted to put the worried grandmother at ease, “do not worry about him child. Tell me, would you like to study further when you come over to Bangalore?”
“I’d love to if I’m allowed” Rajni jumped at the suggestion. “I love reading books!”
“I’ll arrange for a private tutor to teach you English and Maths” said the magistrate “my daughters could teach you to read and write Kannada.”
“And my mother would teach you to cook and keep the house” said Rajan “I will perhaps have nothing to do!”
“You will be going to your office so when will you have time?” said his mother. Then turning to his father she indicated her approval.
Everything had been so simple then. Girls got married at a tender age and easily adapted to the ways of their new homes. They were willing learners and the transition from bubbly teenagers to responsible homemakers was smooth. She could only hope that her granddaughter would settle down soon. Riya had set so many conditions that she was getting apprehensive. Just then the telephone rang.
“May I speak to Mrs. Rajan?” a voice enquired.
“Yes it is Rajni here” said Rajni “may I know who is calling?”
“Rajniji this is Preeta here. I’m Ravi’s mom. Does the name suggest anything?”
Of course it did! Ravi was the boy they had in mind for Riya. Why on earth was the lady calling her?
“How do you do Preetaji? I was looking forward to meeting you. I hope everything is fine with you” Rajni tried to remain calm.
“Would it be alright if my son met your daughter over coffee tomorrow?” Preeta almost sounded apologetic. “ Let them approve of each other first. We could perhaps meet later.”
“Times have changed” Preeta continued “ my daughter Shoba refused to subject herself to the ritual of ‘girl seeing’ and I don’t expect Riya to be different. Our children are mature enough to decide for themselves. I do hope they take to each other.”
“Of course it is fine with us. Negotiations are held directly between the children these days. We cannot do much about it” said Rajni.
“Our children live in more competitive times so their dealings are different.” Said Preeta “Let us remain relaxed. They are both quite capable of arriving at an appropriate decision. We can sit back and enjoy the day and if our children decide to marry all we have to do is to bless them and wish them well.”
“We have the best of both worlds. Our parents took care of our marriage arrangements while our children deal with theirs. Aren’t we lucky?” the two women laughed heartily.