My Minda returned home from her first day at Shri Krishna College and discovered that Subji-Auntie had spent the day with the newspapers, with The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, even The Delhi Times, scouring matrimonial ads. She had snipped them, Subji-Auntie did, the ones she found most promising, and arranged them in a delicate jigsaw puzzle on the dining table for Minda's parents to review.
The puzzle puzzled my Minda as she entered from the street, flushed with the excitement of her initiation into college life, and went to the kitchen for a glass of water. The little scraps of newsprint made a pattern on the table. She bent over and discovered what they contained and understood at once. She was surprised only that there were so many eligible ones--not ideal, not really possible, many of them, but eligible.
By that evening the puzzle had disappeared, but Minda's mother looked at her over the dinner table, worried and silent. Subji-Auntie did not look at Minda at all during the meal, but she ate a great deal of dal and purred at her fingers, licking them clean like a satisfied cat.
Every day for two years Minda returned home to discover a fresh puzzle spread accusingly across the table. "Some very nice boys are looking for young brides," Subji-Auntie says, not every day and not to Minda, but to Minda's mother. "Young brides."
"I am a writer," I say to Minda, "and you are studying history. Together we can create the solution."
I have a plan.
My brother Alok suggested it.
Even so, it is a brilliant plan.
Minda and I met at a poetry reading, students from different colleges gathering at the South Campus of the University. What matters is not that we talked and we had coffee, that we walked together and met, when we could, when we dared, every week for more than a year. It does not matter that we fell in love, or it matters only to us. What matters is that her family are Brahman, Maithili Brahman, not terribly wealthy or ambitious, but Brahman nonetheless and they will marry her only to an auspicious candidate.
I am that candidate. My family is also from Mithila. We are Brahman as well. My family has known her family since Prince Rama came to fetch his bride Sita. Our family name, Misra, is the same name; we are even related, cousins, but not for more than seven generations and that is all that matters. It is not chance that Minda and I met at the poetry reading; it is chance that we did not know each other all of our lives. I am the auspicious candidate.
Even so, we must make it seem not a love match but a match arranged in the stars. And so it is in truth. If our parents, hers and mine, had known each other, if it had occurred to them, they would have made the match without our--assistance. But, but. If we approach through a matchmaker now it will be impossible. Family honor would sniff out the taint of our affection, our planning. There is another way. Subji-Auntie's way.
Alliance invited for educated young man with great prospects as writer. Age 21, 5'7", 60 kg. Looking for educated girl with creative abilities, modern views. No dowry. Must be Maithil Brahman. Write Box 4777.
Minda shakes her head, bites her lip as I smooth the sheet of paper before her with my hand. She is already ahead of me, knows at once what I am suggesting. No pleasure allowed me: no surprise, delight, admiration for my craft. "Educated girl," she says. "That's all? My family will be offended--your family must insist on more. Beautiful. Definitely must include beautiful." She winds her dupatta disdainfully around her throat--a beautiful throat.
"Sure," I say. "Naturally."
"And you don't seem much of a catch. Great prospects. What are they?" Flicking her hand, she glances away, annoyed with me. "Great prospects mean nothing. What about the salary you must have? And you mustn't tell them you're a writer--that will kill it right off, Misra or no Misra." She gives a quick, dismissive shake of her head.
"Great--see what a team we are? You helping me be more creative this way."
But she isn't through yet. "You must impress them, Vijay. Let them expect you to be bigger--they will not realize when they see you. Make it five eleven and seventy kilos."
"Make him a real dreamboat, why not?"
She snaps me a quick look, blushes.
Alliance invited for educated, affluent young man with career. Age 24, 5'11", 70 kg. Looking for beautiful, educated, talented girl. No dowry. Must be Maithil Brahman. Contact Box 4777.
Even so, it doesn't happen right away. Hawklike Subji-Auntie, Subji-Auntie who doesn't miss anything, she misses the ad. Three days in a row Minda comes home and studies the puzzle of the day and it isn't there. Her third year of college, and to make Mummy and Daddy happy, to keep Subji-Auntie at bay, she pretends closer attention. She considers the puzzle as if everything is now possible. They are waiting, her family. I am waiting, too. The stars must come together.
What I have not anticipated is that other letters will arrive. The box I gave--this, was I thinking?--is my parents' post box. Every day now, beginning with one, then two or three, each day more, the letters arrive. Mama is puzzled. "Alok--what is this about?" she asks my brother.
He shrugs. "Must be wrong box, wrong advert, Mama. You don't find me putting ad in paper."
But Babu, he has been searching and now finds it in the paper. "Look at this ad. If if isn't you, it seems to be you. Right height, right post box, right family even. Alok, what are you not telling us?"
Again my smooth brother shrugs innocently. "Maybe you placed ad for me, Babuji? Trying to trap me at last, are you?" He laughs, delighted with his joke, prying a toothpick between his teeth. Back in his chair he leans, laughing, flashing his brilliant teeth for all the world to see, even if it is only the family to see. He is practicing.
So many Maithili girls. I had no idea. Even so many Misras, cousins beyond cousins I never heard of. They must think I'm the Maharaja of Darbhanga, they're so many, they're so eager.
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