By Ranjit Kulkarni
Ten Thousand rupees for every boy she evaluated as her prospective groom was not bad. Six months back, Sanjana’s father had relented to this arrangement. It was a nice new source of income for her. She had never planned to get married. If possible she would never marry, but, in any case, she didn’t plan to marry so soon. And definitely not through this arranged marriage route. And for sure not till she found a true soulmate. About that, she was certain.
But it was tough to convince her parents about it. It was impossible to have a rational argument with them on it. So, this was a compromise, incentive arrangement that her father came up with. And which she accepted with glee. She had to, at least, see some boys with no commitment that she will actually choose someone. For every such evaluation, her father paid her ten thousand. It was like getting paid for visiting the shopping mall though you had no plans to shop. She had already made close to two lakhs this way and was happy about it. After a few months, her father wondered if his ploy had failed. With no plans of marriage anytime soon, it looked like a sustainable source of income for Sanjana.
Till this guy came along a month or so back. Out of the blue, her newfound income seemed to be in jeopardy. She asked herself if she was nudging herself to go down this path. Was she actually tending towards choosing this guy and putting an end to her newfound source of income? she wondered. Her father would be happy, she felt, and not only because he was going to save more expenses. But because of genuine satisfaction of seeing his daughter find someone.
So she tried to tell herself to stop going down that path. But as much as she tried to, she couldn’t stop herself from going down that path. The reality was that she actually felt, from deep within her heart, that she had found her soulmate in him.
Was there anything like being made for each other? she often wondered after chatting with him. If there was anything like that, I have found it, she convinced herself.
It was only about two months since she had registered at a matrimonial site and this guy had popped up from there. Looks, build, personality and all those physical attributes didn’t matter much to Sanjana. So she didn’t check all that in detail. What she had been looking for, was a true meeting of hearts. A union of souls, so to speak, that had, so far, been alien to her.
In the twenty odd prospective grooms that she had rejected, some of them fairly good-looking, there was no question of that happening. In fact, nothing even anywhere close to that had happened. It doesn’t take long for a girl to get it. Sanjana didn’t even have to meet most of them in person. On every occasion, she knew in a couple of chats or phone calls that this guy wasn’t the one. Ten thousand rupees wasn’t a bad amount for a couple of chats or calls, she told herself after rejecting them.
But with this particular guy Aryan, it was something else. She wasn’t able to get away from him. They kept chatting for hours discussing the books they read. And then the movies they loved and the food they adored and then what not. It seemed like they were reading each other’s minds. Her adulation for books was more than matched by his worship of her favourite writers. Her love for the outdoors found an echo in all his treks to the Himalayas. Her penchant for Italian food reverberated in his fascination for cooking Tuscan dishes.
Not only did their likes meet but it seemed like their disdain had common targets. They found common ground in a shared, general haughtiness towards politicians. He cringed as much as she did when it came to posting anything on social media. Loud socialising or parties were a strict no-no for him as much as they were for her. They even agreed on how they would, if they did, like to get married. Both of them had no second thoughts that it would be a simple, friends and family only type function.
She had made up her mind. This guy was worth sacrificing her annuity income for. Enough of these chats which were going on for more than a month. It was time to meet in person, she decided, and he agreed in an instant. She went through the matrimonial site and fixed a date with him. Sanjana – Aryan lunch date at 12 noon, it said. And today was that day.
She had dressed up well for the occasion. Blue jeans and a pink spaghetti top suited the bright sunny day. Though knowing her and Aryan, clothes weren’t such a big deal, she knew. Their approach was always more about finding common ground to live and love together. They would rather not bother about all these superficial things, she told herself. She had decided to meet at a popular restaurant that served, what else but, Italian cuisine. Sanjana reached the place well in time before 12 noon. She waited for Aryan to turn up.
When Sanjana saw a short, stocky guy in a tight black t-shirt that barely hid his paunch, walk in five minutes before noon, one part of her mind pleaded that he wasn’t Aryan. But he was. He walked towards her wearing a stubble from a few unshaven days in a confident stride without any hesitation, and asked, “Aren’t you.. aah.. umm.. Sss.. ..Sa…Sanjana?”
She looked at him and asked, “Aryan?”
“Yyy…Yes,” he said, and sat on the chair opposite her.
She noticed a few drops of sweat on his forehead. He was nervous, Sanjana thought. She smiled within at that realisation. It felt good to her that the man, who she thought was her soulmate, was as nervous as her to meet in person. She sneaked a secret glance at him and saw that he was looking elsewhere, scratching his half-grown unkempt beard.
She had a smile on her face.
“Some water?” she asked.
That shook him out of his thoughts, and he turned his gaze towards her. He removed his sunglasses. Then he started speaking but no words came out of his mouth for a while.
Finally after a few seconds, he stuttered, “Aahh.. Yyess. And some ww..wine?”
He was nervous to the hilt, she thought, again smiling to herself. For all his confidence in the chat, here was a nervous bloke in person. She giggled within but had a plain face outside.
She called the waiter and asked for some wine. “Anything to start?” she asked him.
Aryan gave the waiter a blank look, who stared back waiting for him to say something. After a few awkward seconds, Aryan stuttered again, “vvv Vene.. ..tian.. .ss.Ciche….,”
“Venetian Cicchetti, Yes Sir,” the waiter completed the name of the dish, with eyebrows raised in surprise. It wasn’t a dish ordered commonly. “Anything else?”
Aryan looked at Sanjana. He bent forward as if to let the words from his mouth come out quickly. After a few awkward seconds, he asked her, “Are yy.. you…vvv .. vege.. tarian?”
“Yes,” Sanjana replied.
Aryan looked back at waiter and started stuttering again. “Parmi…gia.. aa..”
“Parmigiana?” the waiter cut him short again.
“Mela..n..za…,” Aryan tried to complete the order. He gave Sanjana an embarrassed look with a pale face and falling eyes.
“Parmigiana Melan Zane, Sir?” the waiter completed the name of the dish, impressed with the choice again. This man was a connoisseur, he thought. Only an expert could order such exotic, rare dishes without even checking the menu card.
“Yes,” Aryan sighed a heave of relief. He wiped his forehead.
“Ok Sir. One Venetian Cicchetti and one Parmigiana Melan Zane. Anything else?”
Aryan shook his head and the waiter went away. Sanjana looked at Aryan and wondered if he was still nervous.
Over the course of the next hour or two, they discussed all sorts of things that they had chatted about. Sanjana had to take long pauses often to wait for Aryan to complete. But Aryan often moved closer to her as if she would not hear him otherwise. Sanjana liked the smell of his perfume. She loved the nervous movements he made while talking to her. She stared at him while waiting for words to come out.
Aryan ordered exotic desserts for them after the lunch that Sanjana had only read about. He spoke about his latest trek to the Himalayas. He showed her some amazing photographs he had taken on his phone. He even caught her once glaring at his face while he was showing her the snaps. They even discussed their favourite Wodehouse characters. Aryan rooted for Emsworth and Sanjana pitched for Bertie Wooster. After about a couple of hours, it was time to leave.
On her way home, Sanjana seemed to have some disconnect. Despite the wonderful connection they shared, her steps slowed down on her way back, as doubts occupied her mind.
It didn’t escape her mind that Aryan had a heavy stammer that was embarrassing. It didn’t quite fit in with her idea of her soulmate. The soul level connection that she had before the lunch date seemed a bit tenuous now.
She had also noticed that his hand had large patches of white. They had caught her attention when he showed her the Himalayan photos. She had also noticed some patches on his neck in a stolen glance under his t-shirt collar. They indicated that he had a pigment disorder. It might be vitiligo, she wondered, though she didn’t ask. These didn’t match her ideas of her soulmate.
She had sweat on her brow when these realities hit her. Her lips quivered at the thought of spending her life with a man with a stammer. Her hands shivered at the recollection of the vivid white patches on his body. Were there more beyond what she saw? She wondered.
She urgently googled the causes of stammering. They varied from low self-esteem to psychological trauma to brain disorders. She wondered if Aryan had any of these. She made impatient searches for the cures for it. It relieved her to read that a doctor could cure it. It starts with slow speaking, it said. No wonder he spoke at a slow pace, she reassured herself. We can see a doctor after marriage, she affirmed and dispelled her own fears. She heaved a sigh of relief. Some energy returned to the pace in her step.
But then she started her google research on vitiligo. It wasn’t very encouraging. There weren’t any known, sure shot causes. Some said it was genetics, others said it was an unknown virus. Her desperate search for a cure only landed her to some steroids to improve appearance. But she found no long-lasting treatment for it. Vitiligo had no permanent cure. And it could get worse. She was disconsolate. It didn’t fit in with her expectations.
Tears flowed down her cheeks. Her eyes and nose turned red due to the soft sobs. Her dreams seemed to be in jeopardy.
She felt wrong about herself for such thoughts, though.
She questioned herself. How can she be so mean? What if he had developed these later? What if she discovered them after marriage? And what about their soul connection, which was at a different level altogether?
What about the fact that her heart said that Aryan was her soulmate? She felt ashamed of herself. She decided that the stammering and vitiligo weren’t important. What she desired from the bottom of her hearts was a true meeting of minds. A true soulmate. And that is what she had got, she told herself.
And she opened her chat and pinged him.
Like earlier, when she started chatting with Aryan, minutes turned into hours. Sanjana was back to her cheerful self. The tears went away. She was smiling again typing away to glory on her phone. The smileys and emoticons conveyed her sentiments to Aryan. It wasn’t a surprise that very soon, after a few more chats, Sanjana had forgotten about the ailments. The stammering and the vitiligo went into the background.
Aryan soon popped the proposal and she said yes without much ado. She had found her soulmate.
Sanjana had decided, out of her own free will, to give up her easy source of income after a good twenty rejects. Her father was the happiest man in the world. She told him about the stammering and the vitiligo, and he raised a frown. He sulked a bit and felt that she should reconsider. He asked her to have a rethink but Sanjana insisted. She said she had found her soulmate and such mundane things didn’t matter. Her father relented. His daughter had herself chosen him.
At the back of his mind, it was a relief for him that, at least, she had chosen someone finally. Those thoughts were enough for the father. After all, Aryan had a good career. He was an intelligent man.
Aryan thanked this career and intelligence in secret, when Sanjana said yes. They had come to his rescue. Without them, for a man with a stammer and vitiligo to win over a beautiful, headstrong woman was unlikely. He had fallen in love with her many months back at first sight while he was loitering around near her office. And at that point he had decided that this was the girl for him. But he knew that he stood no chance if he met her in person with his stammer and vitiligo. For a few tense moments after the lunch date he had his doubts again.
But all that was in the past. The date of the wedding was fixed. Aryan got ready, so did Sanjana. Despite their insistence on a simple event, her father made lavish arrangements for the wedding. It went off smoothly. All Aryan had to do was to turn up and sweep the bride off her feet. And he did it in style, like all other things he did.
It was on the night after the wedding that Aryan opened his work laptop surreptitiously when Sanjana was fast asleep.
There was a plethora of messages waiting for him. He saw the most important ones. There was one from the Intelligence Bureau of India, another from the Federal Intelligence Agency of Argentina, and another one from the National Intelligence Service of Kenya. As usual they were all encrypted.
“Lord XKDC is on the hunt,” he typed after logging in.
The Federal Intelligence Agency of Argentina was the first to respond.
“Mission: Capture cybercriminal suspected of insurance fraud. Set cyber trap and report details,” Aryan decrypted and read the message.
“Lord XKDC on board. Mission accepted,” he typed and closed his mailbox.
He checked if Sanjana was still sleeping. Then before he shut down his laptop, he quickly went to the matrimonial site and uninstalled all traces of the chatbot that he had written. Lord XKDC did not need the chatbot anymore. He shut down his laptop, embraced his soulmate in a tight hug, and whispered in her ear, “Ggg…Good…nnn..night.”
Ranjit Kulkarni is a writer of short stories, novellas and articles, many of which he is told have made readers think and smile. His writing style is anecdotal, often peppered with humour and wisdom. He loves ice-cream and chocolate as all right-thinking people should. He lives in Bangalore, India.