Mistakes Like Love and Sex by media professional Madhuri Banerjee is a follow-up to her 2011 bestseller Losing My Virginity and Other Dumb Ideas. The story finds her now 34-year-old protagonist Kaveri back in India from Barcelona.
Nursing a broken heart after her Spanish boyfriend cheats on her, Kaveri tries to start afresh in Mumbai. She wants to pursue a career in art, but circumstances lead back to her previous profession as interpreter and she gets mixed up with Bollywood, while trying to find some footing in her personal life as well.
By way of an excerpt, we bring you Chapter 15, The Arranged Marriage Meeting:
We reached Savitri auntie's house. After the initial greetings and exclamations about how wonderful we all looked, I reached for the homemade snacks that were kept on the table.
'Yum, what is this?' I asked, munching enthusiastically.
'Can you stop eating till the boy gets here?' my aunt demanded and then glared at my mother as if she had brought up the most uncouth person in the world. My mother just shrugged and went off to greet her brother-in-law. They had one son who was married and working in the USA in Silicon Valley. Why he couldn't work in the IT capital of India and be near his parents was a question the plagued my mother incessantly. Apparently, he was absolutely brilliant and had to be abroad. That just left two old people in Bangalore who had nothing better to do than try and get their nephews and nieces married off.
'When is the boy coming?' I asked grinning widely with food in my mouth.
'Is she going to be like this?' Savitri auntie asked my mom, already horrified with what I may do. My mother shook her head and lightly patted her sister, assuring her that I was just teasing and would be very well behaved. Then she shot me a pointed look. Parents can say so much with a look. A child, no matter how young or old, will understand exactly what their parents are saying with them.
Fifteen minutes later, the doorbell rang. My aunt who had been sitting down, shot up like an arrow and said, 'They're here. Quick. Go hide.'
'Huh? Why?' I asked, completely baffled.
'So you can make an entrance and he'll fall head over heels in love with you,' she said, rolling her eyes as if I had missed the obvious.
I burst out laughing. 'You've got to be kidding! Don't worry Aunty, he'll fall in love with me anyway, especially if I do the snake dance in front of him!' I mocked while going to open the door and swaying to a `nagin' song I was humming for them.
'Stop!' she screeched. And I really stopped in my tracks. 'What are you doing?' she asked.
'Opening the door, Aunty. Relax!' I said.
God, my family was weird! They were all acting as if I had never been with a man in my life. Oh, actually maybe they did think that I had never been with a man in my life. Okay then.
I opened the door and found a man standing there. He was short compared to the men I had been with; I immediately regretted wearing my heels since I really towered over him. If we became a couple I would look like Katie Holmes in heels to a short Tom Cruise. He had a thick mop of black hair and lovely olive skin like mine. He smiled at me, displaying a row of perfect white teeth. He was wearing Georgio Armani perfume, like someone else I knew. Someone who was probably married for the second time by now. Next to him stood his mom, as lightly older version of my aunt, but in a different sari and brighter lipstick and a tallish gentleman at the back with white hair and a pleasant face. My prospective in-laws!
I welcomed them in and sat down. The old people -- I was going to call them that since they were calling me 'girl' -- started discussing the traffic. This was the one thing that all Bangalore people liked talking about. The couple was most apologetic about being late. I thought they were early; being late by a mere fifteen minutes in a Mumbaikar's clock and he would be apologizing for being early to a party. All of them had a very strong accent and broke into Kannada quite frequently. My dad never understood the language so most people spoke English around him. The parents had made room for two seating arrangements close to each other so that the 'boy' and I could converse.
His name was Prashanth. Everything in Bangalore has an 'h' attached to the end. Even if it is never used. The conversation started with the usual -- what we did and where we stayed. He, like I had presumed, was born and brought up in Bangalore. And while he had travelled a little to meet his relatives abroad, he had never found the urge to live there citing it was too hard.
'Who wants to do all that laundry and cooking and everything da?' he asked, his speech heavy with the typical South Indian accent. He lived with his parents since they preferred it that way; he could look after them and they were happy to have someone around whom they could bully. He chuckled.
'Let's get something to drink,' I said and walked into the kitchen. He followed. I could see the glances the elders shot us and at each other. I didn't know if they were wondering why I wanted to drink on our 'first date' or if they had made up their minds what to wear for the wedding.
'What would you like to drink, Prashanth?' I asked, taking out two glasses and looking at the alcohol collection my uncle had laid out.
'Um...I don't drink.'
'Are you a teetotaler?'
'Yes, I only drink tea!' he said, grinning at his own joke.
I smiled in response while I poured myself a drink. A man who didn't drink was a first in my life. I thought it was a bit strange that a man who was in his thirties, single and living with his parents never drank alcohol. If it had been me, I would have been a loony drunk by now. But he seemed nice. He was definitely intelligent. I couldn't make out his sense of humour yet. Maybe if he had a drink he would have loosened up.
He declined my offer to make him tea, so we walked back to the living room. We decided not to sit next to the parents and listen to their rants about astronomical electricity bills and problematic servants. I took him to the balcony instead where my uncle kept a rocking chair and a small sofa. It had been my idea last time I was here and my uncle had completely loved it and got it for the house. Prashanth offered me the rocking chair but I decided to sit on one end of the sofa. He took the rocking chair and exclaimed he'd never sat on one before. I was surprised; there were so many things I had done that he hadn't experienced. I was well-travelled and learned in the arts than him and I had sat on a rocking chair. If he couldn't sustain my interest for one evening then how would I ever spend the rest of my life with him?
'Think like Aditi!' a little voice in my head said. 'You need him for one purpose right now. If he can live up to that, then you can take one day at a time.'
As we talked I learned that Prashanth was extremely good at his job and was, in fact, the group head of his company. Since most of his time was spent at work or in attending family functions he never got out much to date. And since he didn't drink going to a pub with friends to meet women was pointless. He had dated one or two women but it hadn't worked out; he didn't elaborate further. He was extremely shy. I could see why he was still single.
'So finally my mother pressured me into considering an arranged marriage and I agreed. I mean I do want to settle down with a nice wife and start a family...kids.'I gathered from the look on his face that I, he hoped, would be that nice wife. And then suddenly it hit me, he was probably judging me as much as I was judging him.
'Prashanth, what did you think of me when I opened the door?' I asked him with a smile.
He looked at me and tilted his head. I felt unexpectedly self-conscious. 'I thought you had very pretty eyes,' he said and I nodded and replied, 'Thank you.' 'And,' he continued, 'I thought you were probably a very spunky, outgoing girl who was doing this for her parents' sake.' He seemed pretty perceptive.
'Girl!' I teased.
'I meant woman!' he said with a laugh.
I decided it was time to have a bit of fun with him. 'How many women have you slept with?' I asked.
He started blushing. 'I don't think that's an appropriate topic for a first date.'
'Oh, come on! You can hardly call this a date!' I said, gesturing towards the parents in the other room.
'Most of my first dates are like this,' he said quite solemnly.
I was horrified. This was a first date? No wonder he hadn't found a woman. He needed to break out of this mould.
'Hey P,' I said familiarly, 'you need to take a woman out to know what a first date is. You need to woo her. Take her to a bookstore and buy her a really nice book you like. Or take her to a nice restaurant or to the races and give her money to bet on horses so she can have a real fun time. And then you can take her someplace nice and do her!'
'Do her?' he asked, confused.
'Have sex with her,' I explained. Damn! Instead of flirting with him, I had become his tutor.
I continued, 'It's fine to meet the woman with your parents, but you've got to make the effort to do more than that.'
'I have made the effort,' he said with a pause, 'sometimes. But I've never gone to someplace nice. It's not easy you know. We live in a very conservative society. My parents might not be as liberal as yours might be. It's not a done thing in our community to date or live in with someone or sleep with someone before you get married. It might be easy for you because you live in Mumbai. But most households in India are very conservative and it's not looked highly upon to go party with a girl you aren't betrothed to.'
He did have a point I thought. 'So how many times have you gone for this arranged match thing?' I asked suddenly feeling as if I was in a line of women he went through.
'This is the seventh time,' he replied. 'But only because I thought the first six women weren't good looking. I think you're really pretty!'
He had rejected six women before me because they weren't pretty? That was kind of shallow. I had to admit I was beginning to not like him all that much.
'Are you a virgin?' I asked incredulously even though I didn't believe it.
He shook his head, 'Not at all. I've had sex with one woman.'
I waited for him to continue and he did when I raised my eyebrows at him for more explanation. He said softly, 'But my friends got her for me.'
'You mean a prostitute?' I asked in disbelief.
'Shhh. Keep it down. Do you know how difficult it is for a guy like me to date and take it all the way? When I turned 21 and was still a virgin my friends decided to give me this gift. ' He was speaking in a terminology that was left behind in the 80s. I could see why he wouldn't get laid easily!
I could hear my mother calling my name and it seemed like a blessing in disguise. I had said all I could to this man who was truly a boy and I knew we didn't connect at all. The rest of the evening was spent in having dinner and making a conversation with his parents and discussing politics. A topic that could last for hours around a table full of intellectual people.
Most men knew what they wanted from a woman by this age just like most women knew what they wanted from a relationship. It was clear that Prashanth wanted a nice pretty wife who would look after his aging parents, settle in Bangalore with him, and have pretty babies since the wife would have to have good genes. And he was trying to find women who would fit into his mould. I guess that is the problem with arranged marriages. Everyone comes with preconceived notions of what they want and don't want to relinquish the ideal in the hope that the next match to would fit their criteria. It isn't as if they are willing to settle for less now. With love marriages, it's more of what you see is what you get. And since it is so difficult to find the correct person, fall in love and want to stay in it, one feels the need to work at it since you don't want to go through the entire process all over again.
There was no point in knowing why he had slept with a prostitute. But I did tell him one last thing before we went back to the parents, 'Hey Prashanth. A word of advice. Never ever tell a girl that you intend to marry that you've slept with a prostitute. It creeps women out.'
On the way home, while I was driving the car my mom asked me the inevitable question, 'Well, how was he?'
But before I could answer my father said softly, 'She didn't like him.' My mother looked from me to him and before she could ask either of us what that meant, he answered with, 'He was too short!'
And with that no more meetings with 'boys' were arranged for the remainder of my visit.
Excerpted from Mistakes Like Love and Sex (Rs 199) by Madhuri Banerjee, with the permission of publishers Penguin Books India.
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