Friday, March 29, 2013

Arrangement - Part Five

Several days flew with one rendezvous after another appointment, with one hope after another disappointment.  Some girls he met twice, only to be disillusioned with either them or himself.  The lunches and dinners began to weigh him down and he woke early every morning with gloom.  The sun continued to rise at its scheduled hour, the woman in the garden showed up like clockwork saluting the sun on her mat, the vendors crowded under the tree in preparation for a day’s sales.
One morning, Arun decided to skip his second cup of tea with his parents and went down for a walk.  He walked outside the garden on a muddy path, his head bent low as he watched the ground ahead of him before taking each step.  Outside the main entrance to the park, right by the tiny, swinging gate, he spotted a shiny object, partially submerged in a pile of mud.  He picked it up, polished off the dirt and admired an exquisite and a unique piece of jewelry.  It had tiny diamond studs around an amber star with one corner broken off.  He looked around and spotted children in uniforms skipping their way to school and a group of elderly men walking slowly inside the park.  Arun decided to put the little treasure in his pocket.
That evening, for dinner, he met his last appointment from the girls he had shortlisted from the binder.  They met in a café style restaurant with self-service that offered a variety of eastern and western food choices.  As Arun followed the girl towards an empty table in the corner while they balanced their trays, he admired her long, dark hair flowing down to her waist.  They made themselves comfortable across from each other and the girl timidly ran a finger to guide her hair behind her right ear.
A sparkle attracted Arun’s attention and he almost dropped his tray.  The star, unique as the one on his table at home, hung from his dinner companion’s ear. Few seconds of awkward pause later, he asked her about her earring.  She looked at him quizzically, but simply said that she’d had them for years.  Her hand went up to reveal her other ear and Arun noticed two stars in the second one of the pair.  He pointed out to her about the missing piece in the first one and observed her face change at the realization of her loss.   Visibly distressed, she blurted calmly how special these earrings were to her, a parting gift from her grandmother, a good luck charm, how her mother will never forgive her for being so careless.  Arun watched her and admired her button nose, flushed cheeks, round eyes while she struggled with her controlled anguish.  Noticing his amusement, she recollected herself and apologized for her conduct. 
Arun smiled and told her that he had the missing piece.  Relieved, she put her hand out to him to claim his find.  He shook his head and told her that it was sitting at his home and she looked at him, confused.  He related to her the events of the morning when he had found the piece outside the park and declared, “Looks like the stars are finding their way home...”

to be continued...

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Arrangement - Part Four

After a quick nap in the back of the car as the driver headed home to pick up his parents, Arun went to his teatime appointment.  They drove through narrow streets skirting playing children, braking for stray puppies or dodging lounging cows idly chewing cud.  Arriving at the main gate, Arun and his parents were welcomed by a contingent of an extended family.  In a tightly packed living room, Arun sat next to his parents on a rattan sofa with floral cushions.  Fritters and samosas crowded the center table dotted with tea cups along the edges filled to the rim with sweet, creamy tea.

Conversations spilled over and around them as Arun and the “girl” sat quietly at great distance from each other, while all Arun could think of was his lunch making its way back up his throat.  He fought off many attempts by their hosts to feed him the fried food, giving in by nibbling on one fritter over the length of the stay.  His parents, though immersed in conversation with the family, felt his discomfort.  Feigning jetlag on their son’s behalf, they excused an early departure.

By the dinner date, thankfully his lunch had time to digest and he felt a little hopeful.  He accompanied his parents to another neighborhood with narrow streets but not as crowded.  A couple, his parent’s age, invited them in and called their daughter to serve the soft drinks with some munchies. After a few polite conversations, her parents offered his parents to show them their garden, leaving Arun and the girl alone.  After a few awkward silences and questions, they talked about their careers.  She showed great interest in his goals and talked of her experience in the IT field.  They conversed at length of the future of the IT industry in America and India and did not even notice when the parents came in.  Throughout and after a simple dinner of daal lentils, mixed vegetables, and panir cheese cutlets, the two continued their conversation like old friends.  Arun savored the rice pudding to complete a perfect meal and to bring a closure to a very interesting day.
On the drive home his parents turned to him and smiled, their eyes twinkling.  He looked back at them questioningly.  They excitedly wanted to know all about his feelings and analysis and thoughts about the girl he was completely engaged with all evening in deep conversation.  He shook his head and raised up his palms before spilling the disappointing beans on them.  He had truly enjoyed talking to this girl and had a wonderful time at their place, but that was it.  He can see her as a good friend, but beyond that, there just was no spark.
to be continued....

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Arrangement - Part Three

A party of swallows perched on the balcony railing created such a racket that Arun sat up on his bed before quite waking up.  He rubbed his eyes and scratched through his ruffled hair before jumping off the bed.  He had a hectic day ahead of him with three appointments spread throughout time and space.  He could already see himself sitting in the backseat of his parents’ Nissan, the driver honking his way through one traffic jam after another.

The first meeting was over lunch in a Mughlai restaurant in the heart of the city.  He walked into a darkened restaurant with soft candle lights throwing flickering shadows onto the miniature artwork on the walls.  Scanning the room with squinted eyes, he matched a face from his portfolio sitting under a miniature painting of Jodha bai, the beautiful wife of Akbar, the great Mughal king.  The girl, a complete contrast to the miniature painting, sat with a straight back, her elbows casually resting on the table as her thumb scrolled on the miniature screen of her smart phone.  Her smartly tailored business suit boasted stiff, square shoulders as its dark gray camouflaged in the dimly lit restaurant.  Arun approached her table, and she looked up with sharp eyes through her dark rimmed, trendy glasses.
Obligatory introductions completed, they stumbled through the awkward questions they already knew answers to through their respective resumes.  As aromatic smoke of their sizzling kababs tingled their noses and brought water their eyes, their conversation had turned into dreams and aspiration.  Arun had become quite charmed with this young, well-spoken, direct girl and was eager to get to know her more.  He began to become secretly ecstatic about cancelling all the other “appointments”.
The girl further impressed him by passionately talking about her career goals, her ambitions, further delving into her need to be part of Corporate America.  As a woman she claimed her career aspirations were stunted even as part of a multi-national corporation, and she needed to be in the West.  Arun listened, nodding at intervals as slowly his smile began to curve into a frown as he realized that she was not looking for a husband, just a vehicle to fulfill her ambition.  She didn’t seem to care about him or his dreams, only his place of residence.
They skipped dessert as she had to rush back to a very important meeting.  Shaking a very professional handshake, they parted ways with a quick, “will be in touch.”
to be continued...

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Arrangement - Part Two

After breakfast dishes were cleared away, Arun’s mother brought out a binder and sat next to him on the living room sofa.  He flipped open the cover and a wide eyed young girl stared back at him.  The girl’s eyeballs seemed to pop out of the picture and he turned the page over.  A sweet looking girl with a rather large beauty spot on her upper lip greeted him.  He observed this picture a while, and leafed the sheet over and over and over for several pages.  Before reaching the end of the binder, he had narrowed down about ten girls based on just their looks.
After lunch, as his parents took in their afternoon siesta, Arun scanned through the resumes of the selected girls.  He narrowed down his choices to seven girls and later as they drank the evening tea, he handed the chosen names to his parents.  This proved to be too many since his time was very limited, so his parents got to work, making appointments.
Some families were comfortable letting their daughters meet the stranger alone, in a coffee shop or restaurant, others insisted having Arun and his parents over for dinner or tea.  Before the day was over, Arun’s calendar filled up for the rest of the week, with lunch or dinner or evening tea, and one even insisted on meeting for breakfast at a newly opened crepes and omelet place.
As his eyelids became heavier before dinner was served, Arun also was aware of the slight flutter in his heart.  He couldn’t quite discern whether it was excitement or anxiety or just plain fatigue from the 24 hour long journey.  His sleep was deep at first, gradually forging into restlessness as images of dark eyes, black beauty spots, round high cheeks, a shy sly smile flew around him as if tiny robotic birds, fluttering their little wings, and buzzing up and over his head.  He woke with a start, beads of sweat settling on his forehead like little jewels.  Re-orienting himself and remembering the yoga woman from the park, he began to take steady breaths as he inhaled deeply and exhaled completely.  Calmed down enough he slowly reclined back and eventually fell into a deep, peaceful slumber.
to be continued...

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Arrangement - Part One

Arun inhaled the cool, delicious air as he watched the sun slowly rise above the haze.  Standing on the balcony, the smell of cardamom teased his nose from the sweet creamy tea in his hand.  He took a sip and leaned over to observe the city three stories below as it slowly woke up.  In the community park he watched a middle-aged woman walk to a quiet corner with a rolled mat tucked under her arm.  She unrolled her mat and began her suriya namaskar gently flowing into various other aasans.  Outside the park, Arun watched a man balance multiple large containers on either side of his rickety old bicycle as he made his rounds in the neighborhood delivering milk.  A crow perched on a branch of an ancient tree nearby cawed out in its shrill call, drawing Arun’s attention to the vendors setting up their stalls under it or spraying water on the vegetables ready to be hawked to doorsteps of all the houses.  He sipped his tea and reveled in the feeling of being home again.

He remembered the comforting feeling he got just the night before when he walked out of customs at the airport into the open air to his waiting parents.  A blast of warm air greeted him even in the wee hours when it is neither night nor day.  The stench of car fumes and blasting horns hit him like a slap but then settled into his being as sounds of comforting familiarity.  He saw his parents in the midst of the waiting crowd looking tired and much older than he last saw them several years ago.  A rush of guilt engulfed him for not having visited more often, but looking into their warm, forgiving eyes he melted into their embrace.

Having caught three good hours of sleep, he was up before the city and enjoyed these tranquil moments as he watched the day unfold.  When his parents woke, he enjoyed a second cup with them, sitting comfortably on their large bed as he had always done, dipping Marie biscuits in his tea before each bite.  They spoke of plans for the two weeks he was to be with them, the list they had prepared, even pictures and resumes they wanted him to peruse.  He nodded uncertainly thinking of the gentleness of the woman in the park, her flowing movement from one pose to another.  He hoped his transition would be just as smooth and effortless.