It was a Friday and the day for a review of that week’s work. The reviewer was a perfectionist and their last week’s review did not quite go well. So M decided to catch up with some revision and took out some printed material to go through. She had twenty minutes of her half hour bus travel from LA to Santa Monica Boulevard. She had a sheet of paper that has some of the most fancied lingo of the week—swim lane diagram. M's mind was trying to grapple with the apparently new terms such as swim-lane and her heart with the implicit infra digs that the people of the host(ile) country was throwing at her.
The bus stops, and an old man sits next to her. And as usual, the old man starts a conversation by saying, 'It has been a long time since I studied such diagrams.' I use the word usual because in these parts of the world, it is pretty easy to pick a conversation with a stranger rather than the person you know and a smile accompanies almost every face that you would want to smile at.
M smiles and gives a rapid and warm longitudinal nod to the gentle old man.
O: So, are you studying at UCLA?
M: No. I am working here.
O: Are you from India?
M: Yeah, I am from India... From a place called Chennai.
M knew that he didn’t quite catch the name of the place, even though she was sure that he knew India much than the others she has met in this country. People have never till now approached her with facts about her nativity as yet—she probably didn’t know anybody that far as yet.
O: Oh... ok. I have been to Cochin, long long time ago! It is a very nice place and I liked it a lot.
M: My place, also known as Madras is also close to Cochin.
O, with a smile: Oh yeah! Madras? I know Madras. I have been to that place once or twice.
By now, M would have looked at the old man for quite sometime and noticed that he has a real cute smile and he had just two of his premolars that were discolored. But the beauty revealed only when he smiled heartily. It must have been two days since he last shaved and the white stub that was merging with his thick left and right sideburns looked pretty much like mown grass.
Silence prevailed for about ten to fifteen seconds.
O: So, you are married?
M: Yes, I am—for about three months now.
O: Oh, so your husband is also here?
M: No, he is back in India.
O: Oh!! That must be pretty tough, I guess.
M nodded and pouted in accord.
O: There was a nice story that I now remember and would want to tell you. This is of an Indian girl who studied in the same college as my daughter and her good friend. She was really intelligent and beautiful with dark hair and eyes. She fell in love with an Indian but of a different sect I believe. But it certainly was a point that her father could harp on and say no to her love. The man was handsome, and smart and brilliant too. He was employed and well paid and had his head where it ought to be. Her parents were back in India and her father was vehemently against her choice and did not relent to his daughter's wishes. She tried her best but he would not approve their union. They waited for five long years and the father finally agreed to the marriage. In fact, when her dad met the boy, he was very impressed and happy about his daughter's choice. Recently, she had invited me and my daughter for her daughter's first birthday and I was cracking jokes on how it was during those days. I could see my own daughter in her. She was so respectful and never forgot to invite me.
M nodded in awe and happiness to be the recipient of such a nice open conversation with a harmless company in a strange and foreign country—a nice old man sharing a nice experience with her.
I mean, what on earth made them wait for five long years and that too in the peak of their youth. I guess, he would have probably kissed her maybe—that is all about to it, until they got married.
In India, when you marry a woman, you owe so much to her family too. It is not just her that you are marrying; you get wedded to the whole family. My first marriage was with an Indian lady. That is when I realised this. It was so much trouble, because she didn’t want to stay here and I didn’t want to stay there. Anyway, I feel that the dark women are much better than the blondes. They think their way through a problem and act decisively and sensibly. You know, both my marriages were with dark women. And I was really happy!
Nowadays, people do not wait for that long. They are really fast. In my age, divorces were far from reality. But now that seems to be the only thing that is real. Rest everything, including marriages, seem like lighter scenes in a person's life. You know, you’ve got to like the person who you want to marry. You must not love the person. Or rather you will not be able to love the person for a longer period; but you certainly can like a person for years together. When you marry the person you like, you will want to wake up with a smile morning after morning and there is no question of divorce.
In fact, I wouldn’t have waited for so long for a person—may be for the person, but not for her parents. Do you think your husband would have waited for you?
M was completely engrossed with the way the old man emoted when he was describing all of this. And when the question was asked, she was so overwhelmed. After a few seconds of pause and a mischievous smile she then replied,
I don't think so. But then, you see, most of the marriages in India are arranged by parents and the bride and the groom have a lot other different problems to cope with—new person, new family etcetera.
O: So, is your husband older than you?
M: Yeah, he is four and a half years older. It is one of the prime factors in a marriage in India. And three to five years is a pretty common figure.
The old man nodded and immediately asked the question as if he was ready with them beforehand, 'Do you know that women mature faster than men?'
M: Yeah, I do know that. But then, the only problem is that men do not realise the fact, until it is too late.
Both giggle and accept the fact. By now the bus had reached Santa Monica Boulevard and M was getting ready with her stuff.
The old man realised the same and nodded saying, 'So, Santa Monica is round the corner...'
M: Yep. Another bus straight down onto my left and I am all ready for today's work.
Both smile and M pulls the wire that promptly brings up the indicator 'Stop Requested' to glow and is as ever, backed by a voice that uttered the same with an exclamation.
M rises and says, 'Wish you a good day and a merry Christmas!'
O: You too beautiful lady!