We'd been seeing the each other for six months now, and things were going well. It wasn't marriage-right-away serious yet, but we both acknowledged that the end game was long-term. My parents were completely chilled out, so him meeting them had been a breeze - I'd just walked home one day, Arjun in tow, and simply introduced him to my mom and dad. The word "boyfriend" hadn't had to be mentioned for them to figure out the situation.
One day, while Arjun and I were sitting at my place and snuggling in front of the TV (the house was empty, and while they might be all cool, they were still my parents - I wasn't going to be caught making out by them), he told me it was time for me to meet his folks.
"They will need time to get used to you. They're very nice, but also a bit conservative."
I gulped and nodded. What if they hated me? My short-haired, short-tempered, shorts-wearing self was probably the antithesis of their dream dulhan for their son.
"Um, what should I wear?" I asked, my brain feverishly scanning through my wardrobe. Everything seemed to have too much print and too little fabric to endear myself to his mummy and papa.
"Uff, doofus," he said. "Relax, na. Jeans should be fine."
Should be? I wasn't going to risk my future with this boy on shoulds! I went shopping the next day. I wasn't going to change myself, but I sure could change into "appropriate" attire for the occasion. Several hours of hunting later - I was CLUELESS about Indian wear, I owned zero numbers of salwar suits, and had always depended on my mom to bundle me into saris for shaadi - I finally hit upon the perfect outfit. FabIndia had yielded a red kurta that looked sufficiently formal, and I was going to pair it with a white salwar. Bonus: it was a full-sleeved number, so I wouldn't have to bother with a dupatta at least. And red was the colour of power - so bring it on, parents-of-boyfriend!
When Arjun opened the door that evening, he looked astounded by my ensemble. But smart boy that he was, he made no comment other than saying that I looked very pretty.
I was introduced to the parents. Mr Ranjan Sharma and Mrs Shraddha Sharma seemed like nice enough people. Not as outgoing as my parents, for sure, but not quite the Bollywood style ogres I'd imagine either. I can't say they were impressed by my credentials as a video editor, but they seemed to take it in their stride at least. Dinner would be in an hour; until then, we were going to chitter-chatter.
After half an hour or so, Arjun went off to take a call, and his mom said she’d go make tea. I excused myself, and went to the kitchen to ask her directions to a bathroom. She pointed me towards her bedroom and told me to use the attached one.
Inside the loo, I discovered I was in trouble. I had managed to turn the loop of my salwar ka naara into a tight little knot. I tried for a good five minutes to undo it, but no success. I texted Arjun. “Listeeen, I need your help…”
Two minutes later, he was in the bedroom. I stood at the door to the loo and explained my problem.
“What are you doing?” he growled. “Why are you such a clutz?!” I couldn’t blame him - God alone knows what the hell my fingers were thinking. The more I tried, the tighter the stupid knot got. Eventually, he lost his patience and told me that HE would undo it for me. It was, I confess, a singularly disenchanting moment - being undressed by my boyfriend not because he was dying of lust but so that I could...go pee. I stared sadly down at his head as he leaned in, squinting at the damned naara and trying to disentangle the knot. I wondered if this was it. If his next move, after allowing me to use the loo, was going to be to dump me because evolution had clearly skipped a few generations and I hadn’t yet figured out how to correctly use opposable thumbs.
“Yes!” he finally said. “I think I’ve got it!”
The next thing I heard was: “Aaaaieeeeee!!!”
We both jumped and turned. His mom stood at the bedroom door, tea tray in her hand, the cups rattling as her hands shook and her eyes took in the sight. Me, leaning against the wall, my kurta held up and tucked underneath my chin. Her son, bending down, his hands apparently exploring my pelvic region.
It was, I think, the worst moment of my life. The WORST.
We stood in silence, three people in a frozen tableau. I could feel my ears turn red as blood rushed to my head. My heart was beating so loudly that it could probably have been used as a subwoofer for that fancy home theatre system in the living room.
WHAT THE F*** WAS I SUPPOSED TO DO NOW???
He was first one to recover. He straightened up, adjusted his glasses on his nose, and said: “Hi, Maa.” Not a hint of a quaver in his voice. I was impressed, even as I waited for the earth to open up and swallow me whole a la Sita. Those mythological queens and princesses - they sure knew how to escape embarrassing situations.
“Whaaa… What is happening?” his mom said, her eyes fairly goggling out of her head.
“Ishika was having some trouble with her naara,” he said. “I was just helping her out.” Brave, brave boy. I would have felt positively turned on by his staunch determination to brazen it, were it not, of course, for the present situation.
“But… But... Why is she taking off her clothes?” she said.
I could not take it any more. Grabbing my now-slipping-down salwar - he had succeeded - I fled into the bathroom and slammed the door shut.
I used the facilities - relief! - then washed my face. I was still blushing a fiery red - almost the exact shade as the stupid salwar suit. Oh, great. Head-to-toe matching-matching, the tomato bahu look. I took a few deep breaths, told myself it wasn’t the end of the world, and stepped out of the loo.
The tea tray had disappeared from the room. Along with Arjun and his mom. I ventured back to the living room. I don’t know what Arjun had said to her, but his mom seemed to be ignoring me. His dad asked me to sit down and watch the match - football, yuck - and tell him about my work. I talked to him, completely keyed up with nervousness, aware that mother and son were having a low-voiced, murmured conversation in the background all through. Finally, dinner was served.
Since I wanted to get the evening over with as quickly as possible, I ate as fast as I could. And then had to wait like a moron for Arjun and his parents to finish - the food was delicious, so I could hardly complain about the time they were taking. But as soon as I could decently leave the table, I sprang up and announced it was getting late, I had to leave.
“Sure,” said Arjun. “I’ll just get the car out.”
“No, don’t worry, I can take a cab,” I said. I wanted to get out of there, like, yesterday!
“No, no. Arjun will drop you,” his mom said. “It is not good to travel at night.”
What? She still trusted me to be alone with her son? Wow.
Arjun picked up his keys and headed down the stairs. On the verge of following him, his dad’s phone rang. I stopped to say goodbye - seemed kind of rude to just walk off, given that it would take at least a couple of minutes for the car to back out of the garage. The call ended, I said “Thank you for the lovely dinner”, blah blah blah, and turned to leave.
His mom walked up to shut the door behind me. “Beta, next time just ask for scissors,” she said to me. “I could have given you safety pin also.”
“Thanks, Aunty. That’s very nice of you,” I said as politely as possible, and ran down the stairs.
When I got into the car, I burst into tears. Arjun reached across the gear shaft and pulled me awkwardly into his arms. “Shhh, it’s okay,” he whispered. “I told mom what happened. She was a good sport about it.” That wasn’t really a comforting thought, but I suppose his mom thinking I was possibly the dumbest girlfriend her son could have was an improvement on her thinking I was a skank trying to seduce her son in her bedroom.
“Acchha, listen,” Arjun said as I burbled into his shirt, “this spot is quite visible from the balcony. And Maa sometimes comes out in the evening to…”
“OMG, just DRIVE!” I shrieked.
Three years later, Arjun and I got married. We’d had our ups and downs through the course of our relationship, and it wasn’t so easy to convince my parents. My dad had for some reason taken a dislike to him - he wasn’t sure Arjun truly loved me. But it was eventually sorted out, with my cousins intervening and smoothing things over with my mom and, step by step, with my dad. The date was set.
I hadn’t really spent too much time with his family since That Naara Incident (I will forever think of it with caps), and had not spoken a word to his mom apart from saying hi-hello-how-are-you-bye. While my dad’s issues I knew, I’d never dared to try figure out what she thought of me. All I knew was that when he’d told his parents he wanted to marry me, they’d said they were happy for him and thrown themselves into the wedding planning with apparent enthusiasm. I didn’t know whether his mom had told his dad about The Incident - I hoped not.
When the shagun arrived before the wedding, there was, I saw, along with the regular gifts, a separate, neatly ribboned parcel from his mom. “From Shraddha Aunty, for you,” said Arjun’s cousin as she handed it to me. My hands shaking with trepidation, I opened it. It was a fire-engine-red anarkali suit with exquisite zardosi work. The churidaar had an elastic waist.
I loved Arjun with all my heart - I knew that already. But that day I fell a little in love with his mother too. :-)