It was a pleasant evening when Rachana emerged from the office building. Nandita was already there, waiting for her. They walked towards the Auto stand together, but Rachana was feeling reluctant to open up. Suddenly it did not seem such a good idea to confide her innermost doubts to somebody whom she did not know very well. Suddenly, Nandita tugged at her arm. Rachana was startled out of her thoughts; Nandita pointed to a vendor selling cool lemon water.
“Those will give you horrible stomach ache.”
“Come on,” Nandita urged, “ I have always had them and nothing has ever happened to me. It will be delicious and cool.”
Laughing, Rachana followed her, shaking her head at Nandita’s enthusiasm.
“So,” Nandita said, taking an appreciate sip of their cool drink, “tell me.”
“My parents want me to marry.”
“Really? How come I never knew. You sly woman, you. Who is it? Somebody from our office? Somebody you knew before? Oh my God, is it Sudesh?”
“Stop! It is nothing like that! And for records, I am not with Sudesh Singh, ok?”
“You mean, you have not noticed that the guy likes you?”
“Of course I have noticed. But that does not mean that I am going to encourage him.”
“Why not? Don’t you like him? How can you not like him? He is handsome, witty and everything.”
“Well, I do not. I mean I do like him, but not in a romantic way. And I do not believe in romance anyway.”
“What? How can you say that?” Nandita wailed.
“Very easy. I think marriage should be undertaken only after careful consideration. It should involve the whole family, in more ways than one. And romantic alliances are not very sound in foundation, you see.”
“Well, I think Sudesh is gorgeous.” Nandita tipped the glass upside down, found out there was not one drop left and with a sigh put it back on the rack for used glasses. They started walking again.
“The breeze feels wonderful. You know, I like this time of the year best.”
“It is spring!” said Nandita.
“What of it? I like spring the best. It is my favourite season.”
“And you say you are not romantic.” Nandita made a face.
Rachana laughed. “I like spring because it is just right. The temperature is right, not too cold or too hot. The evenings are beautiful I have even noticed that people are somehow more mellow during this time. Not because I am in love with some concept of the ideal, but because of all these practical reasons.”
“Whatever. So who is this guy?”
“I don’t know. I am not concerned about that, really. I am sure my father will find somebody who is good enough for me. No, the question is I am not sure if I am ready for marriage.”
“That part is easy. Just close your eyes and imagine you are a homemaker. Do you see yourself washing dishes, bathing the kid, cooking and cleaning? Or do you see yourself at a desk, people at your beck and call, smart and powerful? Whichever picture you see first, that is your choice.” Nandita shrugged.
“I wish it were that simple, you know.” Rachana sighed.
Rachana’s mother was not at home when she returned, but her father was. Rachana could tell that because his shoes were on the top of the shoe rack. She took off her sandals and put on her slippers before going to her room and putting down her purse. Then she went to the kitchen. She was hungry; she had thrown away the lunch at office.
“Is that you, Rachana?” her father called out from the other room.
“Yes, Papa. Where is Ma?”
“She has gone to the neighbours; there is some puja there.”
“I am fixing some roti, want any?”
“No. Rather, make me a cup of tea.”
Rachana prepared some rotis and two cups of tea. She went to her parents’ room and put down the cups beside the bed. Her father was sitting on the bed, reading the newspaper. Seeing Rachana, he folded the paper and smiled up at her.
“Have you had any food?”
Yes, Papa.” Rachana sat down beside the bed and sipped her tea.
“Have you given any thought to what I said yesterday?”
“Yes. I am not sure I want to marry at this stage..”
“I think you should.” Her father put in. “You are just the right age to get married. I think I shall give the boy’s parents a call.”
“Ok.” Rachana sighed. “But I would want to continue to work after marriage.”
“I shall mention that to the boy’s family. But it is not in my hands, you know.”
Rachana gathered the empty cups and got up to leave.
“Don’t look so sad. If you do not like the boy, I will not force you to marry him. I promise. Just – meet them once. Then take a decision.”
“Yes, of course, Papa.” Rachana left the room.
Back in her room, Rachana pulled her hair loose. She felt the beginning of a headache. Running her hand through her long hair, she went to the single window of her tiny room and stood there, looking out. People were on their way home from work; the street below was busy with cycles, auto-rickshaws, buses and pedestrians. A balloon vendor was selling coloured balloons, children thronging around him. The sight brought a small smile to her face.
She came away from the window and sat down on her cot. The wind brought in a mixture of scents from outside, mostly of fried food and diesel fumes. Rachana tried to imagine herself as a married woman. She put herself in her mother’s place and pictured herself getting up at the crack of dawn, starting breakfast, then cooking for the rest of the family. After that, washing the clothes, drying them, cleaning the house. “And I have to go to office on top of that.” She suddenly felt less confident about her idea of continuing with her office job.
“Rachana?” her mother had come back. “I have brought some Prasad from the puja.”
“Have you taken a bath after coming home?”
“The shower first. You cannot have the Prasad without a bath first.”
Rachana dutifully gathered her home clothes and headed towards the bathroom.
“They will be coming to our house this Sunday afternoon.”
It was morning and Rachana was on her way to office, while her brother was still finishing his breakfast before leaving for college. Rachana’s mother looked up from the table where she was serving breakfast.
“Who are coming?”
“The groom and his parents. They want to meet us.” Rachana’s father looked at her. “I believe you will like the boy.”
“See you later,” Rachana put on her sandals and came out of the house. She did not know how she felt. There were more than one emotions running through her. On the one hand she felt scared, on the other she could not help feel a twinge of excitement at the idea of getting married. Adding to this confusion was a slight feeling of degradation at the concept of being ‘looked at’ by the groom and his family. “Am I an animal to be auctioned.” She was definitely angry now.