She was pretty but poor. He was attracted to her, he knew that. Her calm, efficient and friendly manner were added charms. But what pleased him most was the way she held herself with quiet dignity. Only her sense of dressing betrayed her poverty.
Poornima was a data entry operator in Suresh’s office, but showed a willingness to learn and assume greater responsibilities. Her friendliness had won her many admirers in the office, not the least of them being Suresh. She was the only one who teased him despite the layers that separated them. Truth be told, she made him laugh like no one else did.
But he could not ignore the chasm that separated them; and he could not ignore how the more he thought of the chasm, the more he thought of her so that he was losing sleep.
When his mother placed photos of prospective brides, it was her face that stood before him. This was madness! He called her to his room one day on the pretext of some work and slowly extracted her story – he expected it would be abhorrent and it would cure him of this infatuation. It was just as he expected – drunk father, frequent fights between parents, wayward siblings. But she shone through it like gold treated in fire. Her maturity in realising the degradation her situation could bring and her courage in breaking free…
What was the chasm on the face of such vision? He would fill up the gap, he decided. He would make her worthy of his status in life.
When he proposed, he expected her to jump with joy. What he saw was surprise, hesitation, and withdrawal. He wooed her gently, persuaded her to consider the offer and when she accepted, treated her royally. When she resisted being pampered, he laughed, pitying her for having grown up in deprivation. She smiled, and he thought he detected pity there. He brushed it off.
Their engagement date was fixed and he assured her he meant business. He assumed her scepticism was because she did not believe her good luck to last.
“I want to get you a ring for the engagement,” she said and took the measurement of his ring finger.
He chuckled. “It’s okay darling. You select and send the bill to me,” he told her, sure that he would have to change it. She merely smiled and left.
No bill came and he wondered what she was getting him. His friends’ surprise at his choice of such a bride, his mother’s silent protest, his father’s open criticism… he wondered if he was making a mistake. All such doubts vanished when he saw her. But when away from her, he wondered if he should give a long gap before the wedding happened.
The engagement day dawned bright and sunny. He felt elated as he got ready for the event. The event was not as bad as he had expected – her family was uncouth but maybe for her sake, better behaved than he would have hoped for. Still, they were an embarrassment – loud and flashy.
When, after the religious rites, it was time for the rings to be exchanged as per modern diktat, Suresh took the one he had bought for her out. She demurely showed her finger and their colleagues clapped as the golden petal slipped easily on her finger.
He waited apprehensively as she took out his ring. His heart sank. Was it silver or some plain white metal? He covered her hand with his. She was surprised as she looked at him. He leaned towards her and whispered, “Take the ring I got just in case.”
She was holding two rings now – a golden one and the white one she had got. She clutched the two in her hand and paused. Then slowly she slipped the golden one on his finger.
She fell silent after that.
When they met alone the next time, she was playing with the white ring. “Why did you not want this?” she asked.
He picked it up and laid it on the table, between them. “I didn’t want people laughing at you, Poorni.”
“I picked it up with great love, because you mean so much to me…”
“Then it is better that you leave this cheappiece out of the equation!” he snapped, pushing it away. The ring bounced and fell on the floor below the nearby table.
She looked shocked. She got up, picked it up and came back to the table. “This is my lifetime’s savings. A platinum ring for the unique man who loved me despite my shortcomings, I thought.” His jaw dropped. “Even if it was cheap, as you think it is, if you had treated it with respect, I would have believed you truly love me. But I think you only truly love yourself, the image you have built of yourself – a magnanimous man marrying a poor girl,” she said coldly.
She removed the gold ring. “It is not the gold you gave that I care for, but that it was you who gave it.”
She turned and walked away, spurning the gold and the riches. They were no price for her dignity and self-respect.