I was 5 years into my relationship with my girlfriend when she decided that it was time I met her parents. Both of them knew about me, but we had neither met nor spoken.
So, I flew down to Mumbai, wore the white checked shirt she had bought me for this very meeting, wore formal black trousers and shoes.
“You’ve got to dress up human before meeting them,” she had told me. “Captain America and Batman just won’t do!”
Her father was a corporate heavyweight, the head of Indian operations for a multinational brand. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. Of course I was!
We’d already planned an elaborate future together – a simple wedding in our backyard, a reception by the river, going to the Bahamas for our honeymoon, me going to the US for my PhD, bringing her over in a few years, kids in 3 years, stuff like that. So yes, given what was at stake, I was seriously nervous.
I reached their place at 8 in the evening. They lived in a swanky high-rise in one of Mumbai’s plush suburbs. I took the elevator to their 19th floor apartment and rang the doorbell. My girlfriend opened the door. She was smiling nervously. I suppose the moment had got to her, too!
I took off my shoes and walked in. Her Dad was sitting on the sofa going through some office files. Her grandpa sat on the couch beside him, watching the Kolkata Knight Riders play an IPL match, and her mother was in the kitchen. The moment I walked in, her mother came out to greet me.
“Hello, Aunty,” I said, smiling as wide as I could. Her Mom was my only hope!
“Hello,” she replied. There were no smiles returned. F$%k!
Her father merely lifted his head from the bunch of papers he was scanning, and looked at me over his reading glasses. “Come and sit,” he said, shifting the papers around, making space for me beside him.
The moment I sat down, the interview began. It was not a social dialogue or conversation that we were having. It was a corporate interview for the post of a fresher in data entry.
“Where do you see yourself five years from now?” “Why do you want to be a physicist?” “Are you sure you want to be a scientist?” “Have you ever been abroad?” “How much are you paid now?” “Are you sure you can sustain the lifestyle my daughter has with that kind of money?” “Is this your true calling?” “Are you willing to change your profession?”
Well, needless to say, that meeting didn’t end well. Even an attempt to butter up her grandfather didn’t work. “I don’t know why KKR insists on keeping Yousuf Pathan! He’s a useless player,” I said, managing a chuckle. For a diehard KKR fan like me, that was as good as blasphemy! Her grandfather just glared back.
Half an hour later as I walked back to my hotel alone, my girlfriend called. Things hadn’t gone well (big shocker there). Her father had asked her what exactly it was that she saw in me the first time we met. It had even gone to the extent of him telling her that after 5 years, it was possible that I might have manipulated her into falling in love with me.
Her grandfather called me a madrasi and asked her what was so special about me. I should have been offended by that, but strangely, I wasn’t! I was more amused!
My only hope, her mother, also seemed to take her husband’s side and said that I was from a hi-fi family and an atheist while they were staunchly religious.
“Don’t worry, shona,” she told me before we ended the call, “It’s you I want to spend the rest of my life with. I don’t care what they think. Every night, it’s you I’m going to go to bed with and every morning it’s you I’m going to wake up to. Not them. I don’t care what they think. They’re just trying to rattle me here, but don’t worry hon, I’m not going anywhere!”
Well, she didn’t! At least initially, she didn’t. She did stand up to her parents and defended me. Her brother and I were also friends and he supported us too. Her parents weren’t happy with her decision. However, it did seem like they would accept it eventually.
But then, the next year, she got through a fancy B-school and her Dad ended up paying for her entire tuition (close to Rs 12 lakh). Now that’s a lot of money, and this had an effect on her.
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Suddenly, she felt obligated to her parents. Suddenly, she was not all that firm in her stance anymore. Suddenly, she was confused.
“I don’t know, Neil,” she told me one day when I decided to confront her. “My Dad has invested so much money here. It’s seriously a lot of money and I feel I owe him. I still want to be with you, but now there’s this big debt I feel hanging over my head.”
I understood her perspective and gave her time to think. I was in no hurry either. I was there to support her all the way.
But then, unfortunately, with time, this feeling of owing her father kept getting heavier and heavier until, one day, it was all over. One thing leads to another and yeah, we were done.
Six years of magic gone in one night of madness.
And now, she’s married to another MBA. Love marriage, actually – her senior from the B-school. This guy checked all their boxes. North Indian, religious, MBA with a more than decent salary, fair, whatnot.
So, when she said she loved me, was she lying? NO, she wasn’t.
When she said she loved me more than her parents, was she lying? In my experience, no she didn’t lie. Well, the way she stood up to them, I did feel she loved me, if not more than her parents, she loved me as much.
I don’t blame her for what happened. Could she have handled the situation differently? I doubt it. Honestly, not many people know how to handle a situation like that.
Perhaps neither do I…