There is always a pattern. As the evening inches ahead, a few more empty glasses find their way to the sink, and the question pops up.
'So how did you guys meet? Love or arranged?' Expectant pairs of eyes focus on our faces, darting from mine to his.
Every time, I am tempted to cook up a larger than life story involving kingdoms, bloody battles, and even a dragon for good measure. Every time, I blurt the truth. And invariably, every time, a look of horror flashes across their faces. After all I come from the land of Khap. For the wide-eyed guests, arranged marriage means that I was gagged and packed off. The incongruence of the situation baffles them more. Each time the conversation ends in, "You guys do not look like an arranged couple." Of course we do not. We are a deranged couple. At least the boys think fifty per cent of the couple is definitely in that category. The other half has resigned to his fate of being arranged to spend his life with yours truly.
Most of the times I smile and ignore. At others I ask, "what is an 'arranged couple' supposed to look like?"
"You know..." At this point they usually go in a loop.
"No I do not. Pray tell."
"Well, they are not as much fun and do not appear to be so much in sync."
I let go. It isn't nice to clobber a guest. I am a part of a properly arranged marriage, after all. Over the years, there have been these constants across conversations:
1. If it was arranged, it must have been forced.
Yes, it was arranged, and no, I wasn't tied up. It wasn't like the movies either, where in a parallel world, Simran's father succeeds in getting her to marry the jerk, rather than let her run after the train in full wedding regalia, or where she still manages to get on without falling off the platform or tripping over the lehnga. My father actually dealt with my fears the way a father should. And my worst fear was tripping over the damn 30-kilo lehnga.
2. Were there guns?
"You are a Jat?"
"That explains it." There is usually an understanding pause. "But you do not look like one? And the man doesn't sound like one."
I must exist in a permanent state of Zen. That must be it or else there would have been a lot of heads rolling around, torso-less.
What explains it? Being a Jat doesn't involve guns trained at the bride and the groom. Hell, I hate guns. Does that make me a lesser Jat? And the 'look' bit has always baffled me. I usually seek no clarification on that count. True Jats probably should have horns on their heads. Mine aren't visible. As for sound, I'll give you that. The man has never stayed in Haryana, and hence cannot speak the dialect if his life depended on it.
3. 'Your parents fixed it for you?'
The eyes usually get wider at this point. We sort of trusted our parents. Yup, deranged enough to do that. Parents are good people, you know. And the fact that they managed to keep me alive for a considerably long time, works in favour of their credibility. So yes, they picked him for me, and so far it has worked out wonderfully well.
4. 'Sigh. No romance?'
The eyes are dripping with pity now. Of course, the darned romance was there! We endlessly talked over the phone. It was the pre-cellphone era. So I being the true technician that my father made sure I was, had laid a separate phone line, and fixed an old handset. Dad had put a curfew on phone usage. Something about mounting bills. So, the phone line came alive after the entire household had gone to sleep. We mostly talked through the night and I hung up when my dog warned me about mum being awake. And we stole whatever few dates we could. So yes, there was romance. Maybe not text-bookish. But definitely there. That bit usually bewilders the interviewers further. They were expecting a tale of me, half-hidden behind the curtain, covering my head, with a corner of the quintessential pallu delicately held in place by a quivering hand. Yeah, that didn't happen.
5. 'But you are pretty interesting!'
Come on. Arranged marriage is not a natural choice for boring people only. I have rights too. I have never known whether to thank them for this, or yes, you guessed it, clobber them. Was that a compliment? Or another feather in their stereotype-filled blockhead? Probably my limited intellect, which of course is related to my choice of marriage, prevents me from understanding that. How does one's charm relate to the type of marriage they are in? Of course I am charming, in my own somewhat twisted way. And my marriage has no bearing on that. That is entirely mine. Probably genetic too. And yeah, modesty isn't my forte either.
6. 'So you were a good kid.'
The fact that mine was an arranged marriage does not make me a good girl. Ask mom. I was as rotten as they come. It doesn't make me a docile cow either. As a child, I had once stepped into a corral at my grandparents' farm. To be specific, we had been chased by a swarm of bees, and that was the closest escape route. To be more specific, we had upset the bees by disturbing the hive. Anyway, we stepped in and there was a herd of seemingly docile cows at the far end. One of them turned to look at us and within seconds, there was a herd of half-mad cows running at a not-so-docile speed towards us. The caretaker shoved us out in time.
"They could have killed you!" He screamed, "you are a stranger to them!" So, there. I might be a cow and you better hope that I recognise you.
7. 'So you studied at some of the best places and yet decided to go in for arranged marriage?'
See? Still not killed anyone! My education is mine and so is my choice; that very choice which has been extensively talked about recently. It wasn't bonded labour. It was a marriage, for heaven's sake. None of my text books said that agreeing to this format would make me a lesser of a feminist, or take away an education degree. I consider myself fairly educated, and to be still learning.
8. 'So, all that we read about honour killing? It is true then?'
At this juncture, the voices usually drop to a whisper. I am tempted again. To make up a story involving me, a grave, a couple of guns, and a mandap, bang in the middle of some remote wheat field. Or sugarcane, perhaps. Yes, honour killings are real. But, they are not everyone's reality. And I do not believe in any killing. Neither does the family. Had that been real for us, a considerable portion of both sides would have been wiped off.
It has been nearly seventeen years, yet the questions always crop up. Though I have never understood the strong urge to box everything in neat packages of pre-decided categories. Why assume that arranged marriages are forced existences? That we are here because we have resigned to our fate? That, had we been in love before our parents decided to get us hooked, ours would have been a 'better' marriage? Better, of course, than the assumed standards of an arranged one.
Bad marriages are simply that. Bad. Even unfortunate. They do not have a pattern. I have seen love marriages going into splinters, arranged marriages being betrayed, and many more seeing life right to the end of the tunnel, where the couple cannot decide whether it was a love marriage or arranged. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they do not. Why not leave it at that?
Yes, our parents arranged our marriage. No, there are no regrets. Yes, he is my best friend. And I am his. Umm, actually he doesn't have much of an option but to agree with the last statement. I am a Jat after all. And then there is Khap. And of course the two boys jump to my side the moment the man decides to disagree. So, for now, he is stuck in a deranged arranged marriage.