[Published on the day of the first anniversary of my engagement. Readers are free to make their own interpretations] :=)
"Abhey Venkee, Facial kar le... That is when Meghna's Dad will like you..." said Kapil as he left the salon.
"HaHa no yaar... Bas hair cutting will do"
The salon guy got interested.
"Going to see girl, Sir?"
I did not like it but cannot help. Most hairdressers in Bangalore are Telugu people. And are talkative.
"Sir, facial will be good for you... See lot of blackheads on nose..."
"That is OK yaar... Just hair-cutting... I am getting late..."
"I will finish in 15 minutes Sir"
I yielded. For the first time in my life. Was I really worried that Meghna's dad would reject me? If the question on your mind is - "Why the Dad and not the girl would reject" - it is not entirely a wrong question. Read the story and you will know.
As he started applying some Goddamned cream on my face
"I am surprised yours is arranged marriage, Sir. These days all IT peeppul only love marriage"
"Who told you mine is an arranged marriage?"
"Love marriage Sir?"
"Actually both... What is this that you are applying? I get a burning sensation"
"Sir this is bleaching... will do this first and then facial..."
"My God, you said 15 minutes..."
"That is for facial Sir.. This will take only 30 minutes..."
Shit man. Got fooled.
"Total how much time"
"About one and a half hour Sir"
A Telugu movie starring the great (d)Rama Rao was playing in the TV there.
After 5 minutes, "Bored Sir?"
"Tell me your marriage story Sir... Is this love and then arranged Sir?"
God, he will not leave me. So my dear readers, as I narrate the story to him, you too get to hear.
Momentous day #1
'But this is NOT what I wanted...' shouted that girl who in the opinion of my trained eyes (!) was about to be twenty.
'Ma'am... I remember hearing it well... You wanted it crispy.... May be, may be you forgot...' mumbled the hapless waiter.
'You are trying to ARGUE with me? I want to talk to the manager RIGHT now!!' she screamed.
'Calm down, Riddi... That is OK....' said an early-twenties-thing who had come along with her. They were about 5-6 of them, all kids (kids = college going chicks). Should be from Hill Caramel I thought. They frequent this Chinese joint in Cunningham Road as much as we do. Not that we visit the place for that purpose though :-) But I should say it is indeed refreshing to be in Cunningham mid-way through work.
The waiter started sweating. Poor guy. I felt bad for him. I got very angry at this girl. This is not the way to behave - not at least when some people are discussing something serious in the next table! Yeah you guessed it, I was there with my friends having lunch, discussing about our planned venture. All of us were at an MNC in Millers Road with 'an itch in you-know-where'. It was boom-time in the Indian economy and quitting a high-paying job at an MNC to 'follow the heart' (as it was called then) was in vogue.
The poor guy went to bring his manager.
And to my surprise, these things started giggling.
'Bechara, aisa kyon karti ho... You ordered it crispy na? Tum to choupsey ho to hamesha crispy lete ho'
'Arey.. He deserves it... Bahut flirt karne ki koshish karta hai na...'
'Oh Common... Woh to sab karte hain...'
I know that the HC (as the Hill Caramel people called it) girls have this 'attitude' in them. The one who shouted had loads of them. The one who pacified her was also no less. I was continuously staring at her with a frown. We were all silent. First, I hate girls with attitude. If there is something that can cause me more anger than the sight of a girl with attitude, it is when I see her giggling. And it was happening here. My friends realized that I was about to lose temper and were signaling our waiter to get the bill soon. But they could not stop what was a life-changing event for me.
The manager and the waiter came.
'Ma'am, any problems?'
'Your waiter did not tell you?'
'...' he turned towards the waiter. I knew that he knew - It was part of their protocol for the manager to get angry at the waiter. Customer is always King. The manager would have been taught this in his Services Management course!!
'See... I wanted American Choupsey non-crispy... And he brought me a crispy one...'
'I am so sorry Ma'am... We will just replace it...'
'I do not want anything... It is too late now... But I will not pay for it...'
'That is OK ma'am... But please accept our apologies and let us serve you what you wanted...'
'I said I do not want...' she screamed again.
That is when I lost whatever little patience was left in me!
'Hey listen... I overheard whatever you guys were talking when that guy was away... Why do you do this? Don't you understand there are others here? Don't you know how to behave in a public place?'
'What is YOUR problem???' said that early-twenties-thing (ETT).
'My problem is that you guys are creating a mess and spoiling my lunch. Now, just shut up and get out of here!'
There was a bit of commotion among them. And they slowly went away. ETT alone waited to pay the bills. We both were staring at each other with all contempt in the world. My friends had finished paying our bills and they dragged me out.
'Venkee, these Hill Caramel girls are dangerous. The children of all big-shots in Bangalore study here.'
'God knows whose daughter you just insulted'.
'Don't be surprised if a tempo full of goondas reach your place tonight'
were all some of the comments my friends (especially Kapil) gave. But my thoughts were all fixated at the girl who looked into my eyes and asked 'What is YOUR problem?'. I was thoroughly pissed off with her now, more than the girl who screamed at the waiter. Or so I thought.
"Looks like Junior NTR story Sir...". I was not sure if he was complimenting me or ridiculing Junior NTR. I smiled.
He removed the bleaching thing (they use it to clean toilets, no?) and started blowing hot air from a small hand fan onto my face. It was so hot that I almost wept.
"Thinking about Madam, Sir?"
"Hell with you, take the fan out man"
"That is OK Sir".
I got to say if it was OK or not, bloody hell.
He started applying something else on my face now. It was stinking.
"Okay, continue the story Sir"
Momentous day #2
If your expectation is that it was not our last meeting, you are correct. In the next couple of weeks, we happened to meet at Infinitea, Pizza Hut, Cafe Coffee Day and even outside Chandrika (Sagar style restaurant) where I used to puff my stress out every evening. Almost all the times, when they would look at us, they would all giggle. I was pretty sure that they were making fun of me/us. But my friends would restrain me from getting into an altercation with them. Even I felt it was not wise to go fight with some immature college-kids. But that was not to continue for long. My anger at the ETT only multiplied every time I saw her.
One day when Kapil and I were on our way back from an after-lunch walk, the girls were standing at the Baskin-Robbins take-away shop. And as usual they started giggling. Kapil was in a hurry to reach office, his boss had called him up asking for a useless report. He advised me not to react but I could not. I told him to leave. He told me to close this issue once for all and then come to the office. I stood there. And gave a complete minute-long stare without saying a word. The girls were obviously taken aback. They fell silent and were looked very uneasy.
Content that my ploy worked, I started walking towards the office. After I took a few steps,
I turned back. It was the ETT. The group behind was still giggling.
'Can I have a minute of yours?'
I stood silent. Is it not 'May I have..', I thought Hill Caramel imparted good English knowledge.
'I am extremely sorry...'
I wore a confused look.
'Er... I said I am sorry.... It was our fault that day... We should not have behaved like that... But you know, when we are in a group, we tend to lose some decency'.
'That is OK... In fact.. In fact I should not have shouted at you guys too... It was none of my business'
What was happening to me? I was supposed to be angry with this girl and I am talking so softly. Luckily, Kapil went away, else my 'hardliner' image would have taken a beating.
'Hey no... There was no mistake at your end.... Actually I have been wanting to apologize to you for long... But my friends would make fun and not let me...' Indeed, they were still giggling there.
Why was I getting suddenly conscious about my looks! She was certainly not the first girl to talk to me. I have frowned upon so many girls before that have tried to be 'friends' with me. But now? Am I actually flirting?? I was really confused.
'Well, good we talked it out today... By the way, I am Venkee"
"I am Meghna"
"Meghna! Nice name. Alright Meghna, I got to go now... See you then'
'Oh... yeah... we are jobless.. I know you would be busy... See you then... But when & where?'
I should say I was indeed stumped.
'Tomorrow evening at the Coffee Day in MG Road?' How the mind works overtime in times like these. I knew that Cunningham Road Coffee Day is not the best place with a lot of my friends and colleagues passing by.
'Sure... My classes get over by 4-30... Is 5 OK?'
'Oh no problem... By the way I can pick you up from your college if needed...'
'That would be great...'
I could just not believe what I had done. I was not a 'girls-guy' at all. And in a matter of minutes, I have fixed the time for my first date! God, is this true??
"Oh super love story Sir, first fight and then love-ahhhhhh..." What an horrible slur these people have.
He had finished applying the cream now. And put on those cucumber pieces on my eyes. I had only seen them on top of women's eyes in TVs and films. Do they put in on men too? Is he cheating?
He chose a comfortable seat and thankfully switched off the TV. My story was better than old NTR movies I believe.
"Then what happened Sir?"
The Next Day & What happened after!
I told my friends that I had an appointment with an angel and left office early. It was not my mistake if they thought it was an angel investor!
Riding an Avenger itself is fun. With a girl sitting behind you, it is even better! Applied the 'longest-path' algorithm and took her to MG Road. She spoke. And spoke. And spoke. And spoke. And spoke. Yeah she spoke so much that it was 4 hours before we realized. It was time for her "special classes" to get over so had to get back home. Of course, I dropped her off near her home at Ulsoor.
This one day should stand as one of the most important days in my life. I do not have sisters, nor any close enough she-cousins. My schooling was in an all-boys school and in engineering, you know the ratio of boys to girls. Even the few ones that are around are usually 'already taken'. That left me with a life that had been spent entirely without any interaction with members of a group that comprised half of the world population! (Forget mothers, they are 'mothers', more than women, no?). I was fully immersed in what you may like to call 'love'. I was really not sure if she shared the same feelings. After all, she had been brought up in a 'city' all through - with boys-voys in every school/tuition she had attended. And I was a small-town boy trying to establish myself in the big-bad city (just feels good to write this way, don't mind!)
She was so open and cheerful. We had several common interests ranging from psychology to epistemology. [See, writing words like epistemology gives an author some ego boost. And it also gives the reader an impression that s/he is reading something worthwhile & important. So it is essential for such words to be sprinkled across]
Among so many things she said, I remembered only the last thing. They 'played' something called 'Secret Angel' in her college and the game was about to start the next day - so she was all excited about it. It was amusing to know that people can get excited about such things - I thought only 'productive good-to-the-society' kind of things should excite someone, not something as simple as secret angel or who will win Indian Idol. In my opinion, reading newspapers was a low-value activity. Watching TV was actually a crime - Then!
I owe the reader an explanation here on what "secret angel" is. In short, here it is - Every girl in the class is told to 'gift' another girl (chosen by lot) everyday for the next 7 days without revealing her identity. After receiving gifts for 7 days, you get to know who the 'angel' who gifted you was. Nothing more. Sounds childish, no?
I went back and told my partners that this angel (investor as they thought) was no good and we should look for another. In my mind though, I was clear that this was THE angel.
The next week was fully spent in actually creating our business plan - marketing plans, customer acquisition strategy, partners acquisition strategy, cash flow analysis and what not! In case you are interested, our business plan was simple - To aggregate bus tickets from all private bus operators in Bangalore and sell it over the Internet. This actually was an issue that each one of us suffered from – Every time we needed to go home (as in - to our native towns), we should go stand in queues of the bus operators in Madiwala, Kalasipalayam etc and if we were lucky, we would get a ticket. Only a few had online ticket booking facility but there was no one to aggregate all of it. So our plan was to aggregate tickets and sell it at 50 bucks more. A customer problem is solved, dynamic ticketing mechanism for suppliers (bus operators) provided and the extraneous middlemen cut off (travel agents). Oh yeah, we were the new middlemen but 'good' ones - if such middlemen exist :) We had even named our company as 'Orange Bus'.
I do understand here that the reader is bored with this and wants to read the love story further. So let us continue with that.
Over that week, I would receive SMS-es and emails from my 'angel' about the gifts she received that day and how it was something 'exactly' what she liked or wanted. ((Well I got to know during this time that something called 'nail polish remover' existed and someone can actually be happy getting that as a gift!!)) There was no time to meet up so I had told her that we would meet up a week later. If I remember well, during the first six days, she had received a cosmetics-kit (including nail polish & its remover), a CD with all her favorite songs, a pair of salwar kameez, a necklace with a pendant, a box full of chocolates and a pair of footwear (that lifts you 5 inches above the ground).
On the seventh day, I got a call from her.
"Was that you all along?"
"..." The tone was not harsh, so she should have indeed liked it.
"Venkee... Thank you so much... I never expected this... You made the 7 happiest days in my life" (So friends, see above the list of things that can make someone's 'happiest' day!)
"Thank you, Meghna... I am glad you liked those gifts... And... and... is my invite to Tandoor this evening accepted?"
"Indeed Venkee... I have no words to thank you... I... I... love you so much"
Do I need to further elaborate about what happened at Tandoor? She was as gorgeous as ever - stunningly beautiful (bolna padta hai bhai) and was the cynosure of all eyes (this because I like using complex words!). We got a wonderful corner table where we could express our love to each other as only we could - A perfect romantic date it was!
For the alert reader who sees something missing - I had bribed the real 'secret angel' who was supposed to gift her. And I gifted her all those things by asking her friends what she liked. On the seventh day, she received a letter signed by me that said - The final gift I would like to give is just myself. Please come to Tandoor at 730 pm if you like this gift.
"Sir one minute..." he said and went out. I could hear him talk outside. He was driving out other customers.
"Today holiday... No, that is urgent customer... Please come tomorrow" He came back.
"Hey why did you send off someone?"
"Good story Sir... I can't listen if I start working"
"Foolish of you man..."
"Sir, you impressed Madam so well Sir... And then full duet only Sir?" he chuckled as if he saw a porn actress with clothes on.
The days thereafter.
We continued to talk to angels (investors) and VCs with no success. Meanwhile, Meghna completed her masters and stopped going to Hill Caramel. Which means, our meetings became restricted. Her family moved from Ulsoor to Tippasandra. She joined a school in Indira Nagar as a teacher. I quit my job to focus on the venture - moonlighting was taking us nowhere. For the convenience of meeting up with her often, I moved my residence to Indira Nagar too - with the pretext of staying close to my other partners. To my parents, it was because I could go to 'Uncle's place' often. How this sudden love for Uncles erupted, nobody questioned. They were anyways already worried about my life (how can someone with no background in business succeed in business - was their refrain) that this was not high on their mind.
So it was all about website development, talking to bus operators, talking to VCs, meeting up with her - all the way till our dreams came crashing one day! Someone had already done 'Red Bus' - They too had a similar issue with going to their native towns, they too thought of the same solution - but they found the VC earlier. We were devastated - not that two players cannot exist in this business - but no VC was anymore going to think of our idea as original. We did not want to tweak our model anymore - in our opinion, that was the optimal. We just wished the Red Bus guys good luck and started thinking about a new idea. But we were so engrossed by our original idea that we all had big blocks to think of anything new. We did think of a few but there was no consensus on any. All of us started blaming each other for the failure - I was singled out more often because I was not doing a good job of finding out VCs, I was behind a girl, after all. As they say, success has many fathers while failure has none. We fell apart in a few months and each of us found jobs in MNCs again - I chose one at Bagmane Tech Park, near to Tippasandra.
To the by-now-bored reader that needs juicy stuff - sorry, I have promised Meghna that I will never reveal anything about our smooch sessions at Old Madras Road (and getting scolded by Army men) and our stealth trip to Goa (she went on a school excursion to a hydro-electric power generation site at a nondescript town called Sileru and I went to a business meeting in Delhi - as far our parents were concerned).
My parents were a happy lot - I was back to being a spineless guy bending over backwards to please my MNC bosses. I again made business plans and proposals for the Indian arm of the MNC - but without any passion as I had before. Needless to say, most of them got rejected without a reason - but this time it did not hurt me too as much.
Her parents were also happy - their daughter had successfully completed studies and was standing on her own legs, whatever that means! Her brother was also completing studies soon and was planning to fly off to some other country.
What do happy parents do? Yes you guessed it right - they wish to ruin the happiness of their children - by getting them married. So did these two sets of parents from our story also.
Both of our parents were so traditional that they were going to be dead against love - even if both of us spoke the same language, followed (or did not follow!) the same religion and belonged to the same caste & sub-caste too (& different gothras if I may add - this is one of the important criteria - you should be from different gothras). To them, love is just love and love marriage simply means illicit marriage.
So we decided that we better never talk about love to our parents and just follow what they said. Yes you read it right - we decided to marry whoever our parents chose.
There was a call on my mobile. I asked him to disconnect the call. I was in no position to answer then.
"Man, it is itching, please remove this... I think it is more than an hour now..."
"No Sir, only 10 minutes..."
"Hey no for sure... Please..."
"Very interesting point in the story Sir... You left Madam? She dint cry? How can you do this Sir"
"Dude, I cant bear this... Please take this off" and I threw those cucumber pieces.
"You finish story soon Sir"
He was blackmailing. I had to continue.
The 'Arranged' Love Marriage
After a lot of usual natak that all eligible boys do, I agreed to get married. But I did irritate my parents by continuously narrating how outdated their system was - to float around the horoscope, wait for one of the relatives/acquaintance to respond about a girl in some crazy village and decide about marriage without ever doing any background check on the person. I compared that with the hiring process of a company - how efficiently it is done and how they do background check - to someone who will work only for a few years. But before marriage, these people were not doing any background checks.
Fed up by my arguments, my parents agreed to my ideas. I was at least agreeing to get married. No floating around horoscopes with relatives but do it online - register at the popular matrimony site! Needless to say, she did the same thing at her place.
Here is where, ladies & gentlemen, the genius of our idea resides. We both had become 'profiles' in the same matrimony site. Now, is it not just a question of making the parents 'like' our profiles? Post that, we WOULD listen to our parents, wouldn't we?
To start with, I gave my parents the exact set of requirements I had - The girl should be from Bangalore, should be a teacher and should have a brother. I had a few more rules so that they do not get any doubts but these were enough for them to reject a lot of profiles. Believe me, there are not so many 'teachers' in Bangalore who are from my caste and speak my language! I stopped short of saying - The girl should be called Meghna and should be living at Tippasandra.
Slowly but steadily, other profiles were getting rejected. I added more and more details to my profile that would attract fathers with beautiful daughters. My education, my (actually non-existent) “teetotalling” characteristic and the high salary the MNC paid me were all added. My parents were not too happy, they wanted the girls' side to approach first and then ask for details like salary. But I was in a hurry - after all, several of my competitors were from the US and fathers of beautiful girls naturally liked them more. One of Meghna's requirement was that she would continue to live in India - but still her father was not very convinced.
Whatever SEO (Search-Engine Optimization) techniques I employed at my venture were nothing compared to the Profile-Search-Optimizations I did for this. Profiles were updated everyday (to be on top), maximum money paid (paid profiles appear in a box and are more visible) and in fact I wrote HTML tags to show some fields in BOLD. (Talk to me if you want more tips on this)
In a couple of weeks, her father spotted my profile. But he just bookmarked it but did not act on it. We were pissed off. After another week, in an uninterested manner, he showed my profile to her. Very happy deep inside but showing an uninterested face, she too said - Okkkay... And they 'Expressed Interest'. Boy, then my father took his own time to show her profile to me - after all, it had everything I wanted - what was holding him back, I do not know! Fathers and their forgetful ways, my God! After my 'reluctant' approval, the fathers exchanged mails and phone calls. My parents flew down to Bangalore to visit them - after all, according to our family tradition, I was supposed to see the girl only after the parents approved. ;-)
"Wow Sir... You are criminal..." What a certificate I earned from a salon guy!
"HaHaHa, chalo yaar, ab chodo mujhe... I got to go... My face is itching like hell..."
He started cleaning my face.
"Then what happened Sir?"
"Kahani katam yaar... My parents visited her yesterday... They liked... and they want me to visit her today... Imagine, they introducing her to me! HaHaHa..."
My first facial was finally done. I decided against the hair-cut. It was already very late.
"Sir, this should be made a movie..." he said as he collected money from me.
Bloody hell, he charged 1500 bucks for hearing my story and wasting my 2 hours.
When it all backfired
As I moved out of the salon, I noticed that there were 5 missed calls from my father. The moron had put it on silent mode when he disconnected the call earlier. I immediately called my Dad.
"Venkee... Some bad news..."
"Since you were cribbing about our process of finding a girl with no background check, I did some background checking through your uncle" (the one in Tippasandra).
"He spoke to a few people in the marketplace and found that this girl actually had a boy-friend... A lot of people have spotted them in different places..."
"I asked the girl's father politely if there was anything like that but he outright denies it..."
"You stand vindicated Venkee... Our process indeed sucks... Background check SHOULD be done... I feel we should cancel this alliance, what do you say?"