Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Single And Thriving - Piyali's Story

Piyali graduated from JNU at twenty two. Delhi had been her first taste of freedom from the cloistered ancestral home at Ballygunge, Calcutta. Her parents were readying to get her married and had already lined up a few prospects for her to meet. Piyali was soft-spoken, pretty, light-skinned and "slightly plump". In her Bengali milieu she would be considered perfect wife material. So when she announced that she wanted to take the GRE, the family was a little perplexed. Mother blamed father for letting her go to JNU when she could have just as easily gone to Jadavpur. Had she been home, they may have been able to find her a match by now.

She arrived in New York to attend an obscure school mainly so she could live in the city. When it came time to find room-mates her cheapest option turned out to be a man in his forties, who had recently gone back to school full time. Her parents did not learn of the rather unusual living arrangements but then neither did they know much about her life in Delhi. Knowing how easily they were shocked and outraged, Piyali had developed a parent and family friendly persona which had little in common with the person she really was.

The years flew by quickly. At twenty eight, Piyali was working on her PhD and had moved to Tennessee. On a trip home to India, her parents introduced her to Gautam , an IT professional who lived and worked in Memphis. Seeing more and more of her childhood friends getting married and becoming mothers made her feel left out - specially on these trips home. It did not help, that she had gone from being "slightly plump" to officially over-weight. That combined with her age and years spent alone in America had rendered her quite unacceptable in the middle class Bengali marriage market. She was almost relieved to find someone who wanted to talk to her about the possibility and potential of marriage.

Back in Tennessee, she and Gautam quickly got into a pattern of meeting at her place or his place every other weekend. He introduced her to his friends in Memphis as his fiancée though he had never formally proposed to her. The families back in Calcutta worked through the logistics of the wedding ceremony that could happen only six months later when they could both take two to three weeks off. It was a time of happiness and contentment. Shopping for housewares and furniture on the weekends with Gautam, Piyali sometimes forgot that they were not yet married. He had cleared half of his closet to make room for her things. They were proud of having found the perfect way to combine eastern and western traditions in this "arranged to date" situation that they had going. That it had the blessing of both families was wonderful.

The day they were supposed to go get their marriage license in Memphis, they had a small argument over breakfast at Gautam's apartment. It was about tea and coffee about how tea was the real Bengali deal whereas coffee was something acquired from living in America. Piyali disagreed. She always hated tea and loved coffee - and black coffee at that. It did not make her less Bengali. In an hour, the tiff had ballooned into something very serious. Gautam called home where both sets of parents were waiting to congratulate them. He explained to his mother that the differences between him and Piyali were of a magnitude that a marriage between them would never work out. He was wanting out with immediate effect.

It took Piyali months to reconcile with what had happened that morning. She remembered him loading her car with all of her belongings from the closet, them shaking hands as Gautam expressed regret at how things had ended and wished her good luck. It was an out of body experience, like he was speaking to someone who looked like her as she stood aside watching. She knew it would be a lifetime before she could trust anyone again or feel excited at the thought of marriage. Her parents were devastated and for once her mother admitted she was very glad Piyali was not in Calcutta, the social pressures would be too much to deal with after such a fiasco. The relatives would simply not quit asking uncomfortable questions.

At thirty two, Piyali had a PhD appended to her name and taught in a small state college in Oregon. Her tiny apartment was tastefully decorated with Ikea furniture , rugs and wall hangings from India. The Capresso coffee machine on her kitchen countertop was her pride and joy. Her circle of friends had grown over the years so there was always somewhere to visit on the long weekends and other vacations. Her place was the favored destination for impromptu potluck dinners with colleagues from the university. A lot of former students would drop in too.

She missed having a partner and children but she did not feel despair - life was full and happy just the way it was thought it could always get better. Coming to America had once been about a masters degree and a chance to live in NYC. Today, it is what allows Piyali to enjoy her singleness at thirty two and not feel like a social aberration. It makes not wanting to marry until she is emotionally ready for it perfectly acceptable. Gautam had been married and divorced. When he called her a few months ago to say "Hello" and talk about giving them a second chance, Piyali was proud of herself for being able to decline graciously and wishing him good luck in his search. She found it rather interesting that his ex-wife was Bengali and used to be a Starbucks junkie.

4 comments:

ggop said...

Wow - if this is based on a true story I am astounded as to the priorities people have when deciding compatibility! (Gautam)
Hats off to Piyali, I'm glad she has a good social life.satn6667
gg

Anonymous said...

Well.. good riddance to bad rubbish. I guess the coffee/tea pettiness was really a camouflage. He must have had some other insecurities..Anyways..she will be just fine and as and when she decides to marry...she will be happy because her decision will be a sound one with no external pressures.

Sharda

Heartcrossings said...

ggop - I'm afraid the facts are almost fully accurate. It's a pity what some people will do to get out of a relationship that no longer interests them.

Sharda - I agree.I have a lot of respect for Piyali.

Rahul said...

Umm I donno what to say except for the fact that life really pop's up some weird irony when it should have just sat back and enjoyed....I really cannot understand how people really calls of marriage on the morning of marriage day....I mean was gautum so immatured to understand after meeting her for so long that they had differeance of wide magnitude....//// man some people can really be snobs and Gautum was one such big example