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by sujaya mohan

It was my birthday and I woke up to the incessant ringing of my mobile. I checked the time and it was just a couple of minutes after 5.  A huge smile appeared on my face as I saw the name displayed on my phone. How typical of Suri mama. He was always the first one to wish me on my birthday for as long as I could remember. I picked up the phone and even before I started to speak, he broke into a Happy Birthday song followed by lots of blessings.

 I remarked, “I am about to be a father now, I hope you remember that”.  “Well, you may become a father, grandfather or a great grandfather, I don’t care.  To me, you will always remain as my little Ani”. My smile broadened at this statement. We spoke about other mundane things and before he hung up, he excitedly reminded me that his son Rohan would be back from states after a couple of months and they were planning to get him married this time before he was packed and sent again. “Please help us in finding a suitable girl” he requested. “Could you please be more specific about the “suitable”part?” I reverted sarcastically knowing full well of all the adjectives that he would use. “Well, the usual stuff…she should be well educated, from a good family, tall, slim, fair and beautiful”. I cringed at the last two words “Fair and Beautiful”.  Some things never change…
Those two words had ruined my life…well almost!!

My wife Radhika was pregnant and almost due, but her cravings had never stopped.  She had always been a health conscious lady. But during her pregnancy, I don’t know what possessed her hormones; she was always craving for the North Indian food.  Being my birthday, I had promised to take the day off and spend time with her. We used to frequent one fine dining north Indian restaurant in the neighbourhood which had been her current favourite hangout.

As we entered the restaurant, the maitre de greeted us as though we were some old family friends and helped us get our usual seats.  This fine dining restaurant had a special area which hosted small family get –to- gethers. Today, for the first time in our 9 month visit, there seemed to be a party.  It seemed to be an anniversary party and the whole area was decorated with chrysanthemums and lilies.

I was checking the menu, when I noticed some activity out of the corner of my eye. I turned towards my left and saw the anniversary couple who were hosting the party talking to the restaurant’s manger.  I could see the husband very clearly. He was a very handsome and a distinguished looking man which was evident from his mannerisms and the way he dressed. He seemed to be very much in love with his wife and he had his arm around her waist throughout the conversation.  And then suddenly on an impulse the wife turned towards her side and my heart almost stopped for a second.  Could it be her? No..way…But the twinkle in her big bright eyes and the million dollar smile…It couldn’t belong to anyone else…but her. It had to be Suhasini……

10 years ago……
“Ani, look who’s here to meet you” my mother exclaimed from the ground floor. “It must be Pushpa aunty”, I thought. My mom and Pushpa aunty were childhood friends. They lived close by and went to the same school. After 12th, Pushpa aunty was married off and my mother was allowed to continue with her studies.  She completed her engineering and then got married to my father who was a doctor. Pushpa aunty’s husband was working in a bank and being a transferable job, they hardly got a chance to meet up one another. Just a couple of months back, my mother got to know that her husband was now being transferred to the same city we lived in and she ensured that they got a house in our locality so that the friendship could be rekindled. Nevertheless, both the friends were delighted to have re-discovered each other’s company again and not a day would go by without them meeting each other.

I was posted in Delhi then and was here on a short break. My mother couldn’t stop telling about her long lost friend. And I couldn’t wait to meet her. I was leaving the next day and had just started packing.

I went downstairs and saw Pushpa aunty’s eyes widen with disbelief after looking at me.”My god, Anju, look at him. He has grown to be so handsome, apt to be a hero in the movies. In fact your entire family is apt to be in the movies” She remarked fondly. My mother’s eyes gleamed with pride. “Yes he is” She remarked, “He was a hero in his college”.  “Ma, please” I couldn’t take it anymore.

Well, I must admit that I was very proud of my looks. In fact, my whole family prided on its fair, flawless complexion and attractive features.  As my mother had remarked, I was quite popular in my school and college and had a huge female fan following.  At that point in time, I was determined to be a doctor and wanted to get married to a girl my parents chose for me.  I was confident that they would choose the best one for me (tall, slim, fair and beautiful should be read between the lines). I felt quite weird when girls used to come to me and tell me that it was love at first sight for them.  With all my respects to them, I never understood this. How can somebody fall in love at first sight? Love is supposed to develop gradually, over a period of time. It is not an instant two minutes noodle.  When I explained this to one of the girls, she simply remarked that it was something that couldn’t be explained. “You will know when you are in it”, was all she could say.

Even though Pushpa aunty had recently become a grandmother, the childishness in her was still there. She then started teasing me and asking if I had found a heroine somewhere. My mother somewhat defensive remarked, “Ani has always been keen to marry a girl of our choice”.

Puspha aunty was mighty impressed and started probing the matter further. “Anju, have you started looking out for him? Do you have any one in mind”.  “Yes Pushpi, we have met around 7-8 girls, but have not found any one suitable.  If you know of any suitable girl within your networks, then please do let me know” confessed my mother.

Pushpa aunty beamed and as though waiting for this opportunity remarked, “Why go anywhere else? I hope you remember my cousin Dr. Suhas? His daughter Suhasini has just completed her MD. They have not yet started looking out for her, but if a good proposal comes by, then I don’t think they would give it a miss. Should I speak to them about Ani”?

I could see the excitement mounting in my mother.  Dr.Suhas and his wife Dr. Medhini were considered to be noble doctors in their town. Though they were doctors by profession, they were extremely benevolent and had changed the fortunes of their town by their generous monetary contributions and moral guidance.  My father was an ophthalmologist and a remarkable one in his own right. With all these forces looking positive, my mother did not want to let go of such a good proposal. She immediately agreed and requested Pushpa aunty to speak to them.

Pushpa aunty squeaked in delight. To my mother’s utter amazement, she confessed that her cousin’s family was in town to attend a medical conference and her daughter also had come along.  They were put up at her house and she would speak to them about this as soon as they would be back. She admitted that this would surprise them as they had come here for quite a different purpose.  If they agreed, then a meeting would be arranged in the evening. Both the ladies hugged each other and Pushpa aunty left hurriedly to prepare her guests for the big news.

Normally, the procedure of bride hunting went like this. Anyone who heard about my prospect would call my mother and if she was ok with the family details would ask them to send the horoscope and the latest photo of the bride to be. Most of the girls would be filtered out at this stage.  My mother was equally proud of her and her family’s looks and wanted her daughter in law to look no less than a Miss Universe or a Miss World. My sister Khyati too was quite a looker. She was popularly called as Beauty with Brains. She was even shortlisted for the Miss India Paegent, but by then she developed typhoid and had to opt out at the last minute. If my mother was ok with the Girl in the photo and additionally if the horoscopes matched, then she would call her parents and ask them to meet up. My father hardly bothered about all this, but made it a point to be present in all the meetings.

In all the excitement, Pushpa aunty failed to mention one fact. Maybe, with all the positive points that she brought about, she might have either forgotten about it or considered it irrelevant in these modern times.

After a couple of hours, Pushpa aunty called and told my mother that her cousin’s family were equally thrilled to get this proposal and couldn’t wait to meet me. Both of them agreed that this was indeed a match made in heaven. They agreed to come home at 6 in the evening.

My mother excitedly called my father and informed him about this divine match. She demanded that he cancel all this appointments for the day and come home and be a part of this magical phenomenon.  I, on the other hand had mixed feelings. I was excited and tensed.  Out of shyness, I hadn’t fully heard what discussions my mother had with Pushpa aunty but only knew that her niece’s name was Suhasini and she was a gynaecologist.

Coming from an illustrious family with so many academic achievements, I imagined her to be snobbish and arrogant.  Looking at my mother, I felt that she had already accepted the proposal and I was wondering that if I did not like the girl, then how I would convince her.

At sharp 6, I could hear excited voices in my living room and I was all the more tensed. I felt that I was appearing for my viva and was waiting for my name to be called. “Come on bro, you are a pro in this field now. You should be the one giving tensions and not the one taking them”, my sister teased.

Suddenly, there was a pin drop silence and I found myself walking towards the living room. I could hear my father introducing me to them. I raised my eyes slowly and suddenly met hers. And in that moment…yes..exactly in that moment I realised what love at first sight meant.  I was determined that she was the one I wanted to spend my entire life with. They say that if you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, then you want that rest of your life to come as soon as possible. If I had it my way, I would have got married to her right then and there.  There she was, draped in a pink colour saree, a perfect picture of elegance and poise.  One couldn’t miss the twinkle in those big bright eyes and the smile…It was one of the most genuine smiles I had ever seen. It was straight from the heart and reached her eyes through her lips. I am sure her parents would have guessed that she would grow up to have the most infectious smile and aptly named her Suhasini. She had inherited the best qualities from her parents. Brains from both of them, eyes from her father and the million dollar smile from her mother. I was confident that their patients did not need any medicines to get cured. I guessed that their eyes and smile did all the tricks.

But wait..what was happening? Why was I not completely happy? What was this small trace of doubt lingering in my mind? One look at my mother and I could see the faint lines of disappointment and disproval forming in her mind.

Suhasini was everything that we hoped for in a girl. She was well bred and educated, tall, slim, beautiful….but not fair. Suhasini was on the darker side and this was strong enough reason to get my mother’s disapproval. I was already head over heels in love with her and though I hate to admit it, realised for the first time in my life that dark could be beautiful too.

I have to give it to their family that inspite of such a short notice, they made themselves quite comfortable, especially Suhasini. She and my sister got along like a house on fire. She genuinely enjoyed the antics of my nephew, who was equally thrilled to have found a new friend. I was amazed to see that she treated everyone equally. We finally got some quiet time to ourselves and found that just like me she too was determined to marry the guy chosen by her parents. We discussed on myriad of topics and found that she was very well informed and opinionated.  She had her head firmly on her shoulders. Her illustrious family, her own academic achievements, nothing had gone to her head. I just couldn’t believe my luck. This was too good to be true. Our discussion lasted for almost 2 hours and at the end of it, I did not want anything more in life.

My mother finally intervened and announced that it was time for them to go. Reluctantly, I led Suhasini to our living room and watched her as she made her way to her parent’s car. The disapproving look was already evident on my mother’s face by now and I could also make out that Pushpa aunty had noticed this and was quite confused as the evening couldn’t have gone better for all of us.

No sooner did they leave than I announced that Suhasini was the one and only and I just couldn’t wait to marry her.  My father gave an imaginary punch in the air and hugged me. My mother looked utterly shocked and I could see the big tears rolling down her eyes.”But she is so dark. How can you even think of this?” my mother said amidst her tears.  My father, shocked by her reaction tried to explain that beauty was only skin deep. “Look at her, how well she gelled with all of us.  She is a true example of how a daughter in law should be”. “Nonsense” my mother snapped.  “She knows that she doesn’t deserve my son, so maybe she is trying to sell her other skills. I am miffed with Pushpa. How could she even dream of getting such a proposal to my son”.

I just could not believe what my mother was talking about. She was a proud woman no doubt and had every right to be. She was the only lady engineer in her batch. She wanted to become an industrialist and my grandfather was about to get a small factory built for her when she got married to my father.  After a year my sister was born and I followed three years later.  My father’s reputation and practise was building up and considering his erratic schedules, she decided to put her own career in the back seat and concentrate on the three most important projects in her life…her husband, her daughter and her son. She was always known for her cordial behaviour. And it shocked me that she was fixated with colour to such heights that she failed to see the other positive aspects. She went on explaining that this girl would soon find out that she would be a misfit in our family and that her grandchildren also would be born dark and feel outlandish. I found this quite ridiculous. How can my mother talk like this? How could my own children feel outlandish in their own family? For the few hours that I knew Suhasini, I didn’t think that she ever considered her skin colour to be an issue even for a single moment in her life.

My father and me tried to reason it out with her explaining why a person was born dark or fair and that the skin colour had nothing to do with an individual’s persona. She grew all the more agitated and made another ridiculous comment. “Just a single entry of that girl has resulted in such a fight between us. Now I don’t know what all she will bring if she comes permanently here. I am not going to approve of this proposal and this will be the last time this topic will be discussed with me”.

I cancelled my tickets for the next day hoping that I would able to convince her if I stay for a couple of days. But it all went in vain. My father even took her out and tried to explain, but she was adamant with her decision. Pushpa aunty visited us after a couple of days and was quite shocked to know the reason for rejection. “Anju, being an educated woman, how you can reject somebody just because they are dark”. “Pushpi, how could you hide such a big fact to your best friend” was all my mother could say. “HIDE”? I didn’t even consider that the skin colour was so important to you. You should feel blessed that you got this proposal and most importantly you son has agreed. It was all over his face. My cousin’s family too are over the moon and are just not able to stop thanking their stars for such an alliance. Stop acting like a villain and bless them. I am sure that few years down the line; we will remember this episode and have a hearty laugh together. I will assure you that you will not regret making Suhasini as your daughter in law.  You will be the object of envy among your circles”. No matter what Pushpa aunty, my father or I said, she did not budge. I don’t know why, but she failed to see that love was above all this- colour, good looks, caste, creed, status…

I even went to meet her parents and explained the situation to them. They were polite but firm that until my mother agreed with all her heart, they wouldn’t proceed with the alliance. I was just not able to get Suhasini out of my mind. Although I loved my mother dearly, I was unable to comprehend her fixation for the colour. I waited for almost a year, but my mother was as firm as ever.

Suhasini was married by then to a doctor. Just like ours, he too was from a family of doctors and certainly saw the true worth of Suhasini.

I completely lost interest in my marriage alliances and told my mother that she was free to choose whomever she wanted. I would come and meet the girl when everything else was fixed.

During this time, we used to keep reading about Suhasini’s achievements in the medical journals and newspapers.  She had won several prestigious state awards and was graceful enough to attribute her success to her supportive spouse, her parents and her in-laws.  In one of the interviews, her family photo was printed and I could see that she was blessed with two daughters and both of them were fair like their father and beautiful like their mother. Though this was of no relevance to me, I showed this to my mother just to prove the point that dark complexioned people are human beings too and they can get just as successful or happy as they want to be. I could somewhere see a small trace of regret on my mother’s face.

The Short Story continues here ....