On the seventh day Subji-Auntie breaks down and presents the ad, one among an extraplentiful puzzle. Minda studies the riches carefully, oh no, not giving anything away. She doesn't hurry. Maybe, she thinks, she will not even notice today. The ad, if we are patient, will surely show up again. It will throw Auntie off the scent of scandal. But no, Minda finally taps her finger on the gray little scrap. "Hmmm," she says, tapping. "This one is interesting. What do you think, Mummy?"
One father writes to the other. A photo of my Minda is included. Yes, she is beautiful. She had no need to remind me. Her ears are not quite in alignment, it is true, and in this photo her chin seems very sharp. But Babu studies it seriously, one among several, and passes Minda to Alok. "And this one?" he asks.
"Bit of a dog, she seems to me," he says, with a bite of toast. He is heading out the door to his new scooter dealership. The suit he wears cost more than a college lecturer earns in a term. "But you are being so choosy already, Babuji--might as well have a look."
I hate my brother.
I have spent my life invisible, my brother's shadow. No, too small even to be his shadow--it would fit him only at midday. Cricket he played and soccer. So fast, such a star, so stupid--in school he did nothing. No, not true--he smoked, he smuggled bottles of beer with his friends.
School I could make my own. The life of the mind! The life of a writer--someday!
Babu arranges the visit for Thursday. Minda will come with her father for inspection. My mother spends Wednesday cooking and cleaning, harassing Subji-Auntie, who in turn harasses our servant. The house reeks of mango pickle, of ginger and peppers, of bathroom disinfectant and fresh mosquito coils. Mama will work herself up, exhaust herself, annoy herself at universal imperfection, all the better to be severe--a serene, dispassionate judge. As she picks clean the rice--this, only she can do--yet another notion occurs to her, and she raises her head. "Vijay, you will come too and see what you think," she calls
loudly, a generous afterthought.
Astonished, I manage not to snort through my nose. Then I do not want to laugh at all.
I grab Alok when he comes home for lunch, smug with selling still more, ever more scooters. "For you they are matchmaking," I tug at his arm. "You don't want a wife, Brother. You always say so. Tell them the match is for me," I demand angrily. "Tell them it was your idea. My Minda is coming."
"But this isn't you, Vijay Brother. Read the ad you wrote. Twenty-four it says. Five foot eleven, yes? Who is this if not me? It is your ad--you wrote it--but this is me you describe. Am I not right? Everything will be ruined without some care. Her father will be furious to find deceit. He will cancel everything. No, my advice--we must carry this through a little while."
Minda arrives with her father. She is all shyness and blushes, her dupatta spread modestly over her hair. Its tail, clutched in her fingers, conceals her sharp chin. I signal her, I wave and bob, but she does not see.
A match made in the stars they all agree. Mama is put out only that she cannot find more fault. Alok is casual, condescending. He sits on a cushion and smokes, gazing in appraisal at Minda through haze and half-closed eyes. Minda squirms self-consciously and says nothing.
I am invisible again. I tear at my hair. I stomp along the walls of the room and no one sees. "This is impossible," I say aloud--I think I say aloud--but no one hears.
Outside her classroom at Shri Krishna next day I catch Minda by the arm. Other students look on in alarm as she snatches herself free. "Stop it," she cries.
"But Minda--this is crazy. All of it. Crazy."
"What can I do?" she pleads with a stubborn shake of her head. "There is nothing for me to do. It is arranged. Settled. For once I graduate."
"But this is all craziness," I cry again. "This was to be for us, for you and me."
She shrugs. Nothing to be done, she says without saying.
Suddenly I stop short and peer at my Minda, disbelief and horror rising like a crashing surf about me. Shame, too--that I did not suspect before, that I was too slow. I snatch at her arm again but she tears free. "Did he do this? Was this arranged all along with his idea? And you? You and Alok?"
She is looking over my shoulder. "It was all in the stars," she says firmly and turns away.
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