Writer Ravinder Singh met his first love on a matrimonial website
Excerpt from Ravinder Singh's I too had a Love Story
Bestselling author Ravinder Singh met his first love on a matrimonial website.
Singh adapted the story into what would be his first novel I too had a Love Story.
As part of our Valentine's Day series, we are bringing you an excerpt from the chapter in which Singh introduces his heroine, Khushi.
Three weeks later. I was in my office, just like on any other weekday. I was checking out the photos that MP had shot of us all, during the reunion trip. He emailed them to us and while I was looking at them, in my Yahoo! inbox, I noticed an ad flashing in the top-left corner.
It was an ad for a matrimonial site -- Shaadi.com -- with a beautiful girl, smiling and looking for her perfect match.
Recalling our reunion discussion, I clicked the hyperlink on this ad, which took me to the website.
With the default filters enabled, I clicked the search button and, in no time, I was on the result page with many feminine pics.
Wow! Some among them were damn pretty, and I wanted to check them all out.
But before I could visit the sixth one, I was prompted to register at the website, without which I couldn't browse through more profiles.
The trailer was over and to watch the whole movie you had to register yourself.
'I didn't have much work that day, so I thought I'd register myself and create my profile on the site.' This is what I kept saying to Happy, Amardeep and MP. Whereas, it was actually the other way round.
Those pretty faces on the results page forced me to make time in my hectic schedule -- which involved project delivery to a client, the very next day.
Someone rightly said, 'Three things -- wealth, women and . . .' (I always forget the third one) '. . . can make anything happen in this world.'
So, finally, my profile was on the website. I uploaded a nice photograph and unchecked any checkbox which asked to hide my whereabouts from girls who might be searching for me.
I did not forget to mention my professional trips to the US and Europe either.
After an hour or so, I was all set to check out those pretty faces again. I set my filters to check out all the Punjabi girls on the website and hit the 'search' button.
The results page displayed some three-digit number -- the total number of profiles that matched my search criteria.
This was exciting! But I could only check out some fifty of them before my eyes grew tired. Still, among those fifty or so, there were a few whom I wanted to contact.
But before I could do so, there came a heartbreaking moment. To talk to those pretty faces I had to make a payment to the site.
There is no such thing as a free lunch. Damn!
The only cost-free part was a way to express my interest in them by clicking a button on their respective pages.
This would send a message from me to their inbox. But even if they gave me an affirmation to interact, I still wouldn't get their email ids unless I made the payment. I checked the amount they were asking for. '3000 bucks for the yearly plan! No way,' I said to myself.
Then I thought, 'I will only pay up if I happen to get good, affirmative responses from those beauties.'
Till then, whenever I felt like it, I could ping any girl on the website to show my interest in her profile.
This was the beginning of my experience with Shaadi.com -- at the cost of my project delivery, which I almost screwed up.
Apart from Happy, Amardeep and MP, nobody else knew about my profile on the site, not even my parents.
Because telling them that I was thinking of getting married meant stirring a hornet's nest. The moment they found out, they would bring inputs from their acquaintances all over the planet -- and, Jesus! How I hated that!
For the next few days, I got responses to my requests. Every time I opened my inbox there was this strange excitement. But, most of the time, it didn't last long. The best ones had declined me.
In fact, most of them had ignored me. Only a handful accepted my request but, unfortunately, they didn't appear that good. 'Ah! This website is good for nothing,' I told myself.
As if I was James Bond and all girls in the world would throw themselves at me, the moment I approached them.
And this is how Shaadi.com went from high-priority to the lowest-priority. Time passed by and I visited the site once in two or three weeks, clicking buttons on profiles that interested me, but without much expectation.
Some more girls declined me; some girls, I declined. A few wanted to interact, but their education was not impressive. Some called me up on my cell; to some I wrote a few SMSs. A couple of them wanted me to move abroad but I was not game; some others, I could not convince that India was a better place to live in.
During one of my short, official trips to the US, I also happened to buy the yearly plan for a girl who badly wanted to talk to me.
Damn! Out of the three things (wealth, women and… the last one which I always forget) that could make anything happen in this world, the second was already making me do things.
The irony being that the girl, whom I coughed up 3000 bucks for, never got in touch. I lost all interest in the website.
Then, one evening, I received an SMS on my cellphone.
Hi I m Khushi I received ur msgs on my other cell can u pls call me now
That was 20-July-2006 18:58:19.
My cellphone's inbox still shows the date and time.
When I got this SMS, I was in a conference call with a client in the US. I quickly recalled the name of the profile from which I had got an acceptance the week before, along with the contact mobile number and an email id. I wrote an SMS in reply:
M in mid of a conf call.
wll ring you in another
hlf n hr.
The very next minute, my cell flashed the arrival of a new message.
I too hv cmpltd my conf cal few min bck. U cmplete urs and I can wait till then.
After finishing my call, I dialed her number but only after I had quickly browsed through her profile.
'Hello!' said a beautiful voice from the other end.
'Hi! This is Ravin.'
'And I am Khushi,' she said in a pleasing and confident voice.
'Yup, I learnt that in your SMS. Sorry I kept you waiting but I was in the middle of an important conference call with a client.'
'No problem. Even I had some stuff to complete.'
Our conversation began formally but, in no time, it became quite relaxed and informal when we found out some amusing things.
'I learnt that you were born in the month of February 1982,' she said.
'Yes. 4th February. Anything specific?' I wondered if I was supposed to recall something from her profile.
But the only thing I remembered, then, was that she looked beautiful in her picture.
'You might have noticed that my year and month of birth are the same.'
'Oh yes! 22nd February. I had seen that,' I said, quickly rushing to my computer and scrolling through her profile. 'And you were born in Faridabad . . .'
'No. I was born in Kolkata. My dad was in the defence services and, when I was born, he was posted in Kolkata and was staying there with family.'
'Really . . . ? You won't believe this!' I shouted, attracting my coworkers' attention.
'You guess!' I said, heading towards the staircase area, where I could talk to her without disturbing the others.
'Don't tell me you were also born in . . .'
But before she could complete her sentence, I shouted again, 'Yes!'
'But, how come?'
'That's my mother's native place.'
And I don't know why we screamed and laughed at this fact.
Thousands of people must have been born in the same year, the same month and the same place, given our country's track record.
But the way we reacted!
'You know, there is something else we have in common -- the classical music thing. I learnt that you hold a degree in playing the sitar,' I said.
'Yes. And you hold one in playing the tabla, right?'
'Indeed. I learnt to play it for four years. In fact, I was never interested, but my dad forced me to . . .'
'Well, you know what? That's the only reason why I felt like contacting you.'
'I'm not sure I understand,' I said slowly.
'The hobby section in your profile said that you play the tabla. And your interest in classical music was the only thing that differentiated you from the others and made me feel like talking to you,' she clarified.
So that was it! A tabla makes a girl want to talk to a guy! It was impossible to understand girls, but I felt like hugging my dad and thanking him for forcing me to learn the tabla.
'Even I got my degree after four years at Prayaag University.
And we both are in the IT industry,' she pointed out more things we had in common.
'Oh yes! You work with CSC Noida, if I am not wrong?' I asked, knowing that I wasn't wrong. And how could I be, when her profile was in front of me?
'Yes. I work with CSC … Tell me something. My friends say that Infosys people are studious and good rank-holders. Is that true?'
'Are you expecting me to say 'no' to that?'
That was my first ever candid talk with a girl I hadn't seen yet. On that call, we touched base on various things: the latest movies we had seen, our best friends, her family, my family, our college days, music and other areas of interest.
'So is your family in Bhubaneswar too?'
'No, my native place is a very small town called Burla, near Sambalpur. Mom and dad live there.
My brother and I are in Bhubaneswar, and we both work with Infosys. We stay in a rented flat with two other roommates, and visit our parents on alternate weekends.
Burla is just a night's ride from Bhubaneswar.' We talked for nearly an hour.
Photographs: John Schults/Reuters
'Should I listen to my heart or my brain?'
I could feel my cellphone burning my ear, and the cell's battery was on its last legs.
And even though I wanted to keep talking to her, I had to say, 'Listen! My battery is going to give up soon. But I hope we are going to stay in touch.'
'Your battery?' she said, laughing.
'I mean, my mobile's.' I started laughing too.
'Just kidding. But I believe we'll talk again.' Then she added, suddenly, 'But before you hang up, you have to say one good thing.'
One good thing? Now where on earth would I find one good thing to say? But I'd watched a movie the day before and, thanking god, I repeated a line from it. 'Bismil ka sandesh hai ki
kal Lahore jaane wali gaadi hum Kakori pe lootenge, aur un paison se hathiyar kharidenge.'
Then, I took a deep breath, and waited… And she burst into a big laugh.
I still think it was a good line. But I don't know what made her laugh. Anyhow, I too joined in her laughter, so that she would not think me stupid or lacking a sense of humor.
'OK! I'm hearing the final beeps from my cell. It was really nice talking to you, Khushi. But we won't be able to talk more, though I want to.'
'Same here. I liked talking to you very much. See you.'
'Instead of bye, you should say 'see you'. It's nicer. It means we'll interact again . . .' she said, and touched my heart, somewhere.
Her innocence and the candid way in which she talked to me had left its mark on my mind.
'See you,' I said, before I hung up.
That night, lying on my bed, I went over the conversation again and again. And I wondered: Could I have been more humorous, just to impress her further?
Or was the call just perfect, the way it should have been? And was she thinking about the conversation too, at that very moment, sitting somewhere in her room.
I don't know why, but I felt like calling her up again and it was hard to curb that urge. But I had to control it, because I did not want to mess things up, right in the beginning, by becoming a guy who bothers her at 11.30 in the night.
'No,' I said to myself, loudly, switched off the light and jumped into bed.
Alone in my room, I was smiling, talking to nobody and there was this different sort of feeling within me.
I slept, just so that the night would pass, and a new day would come when I could hear her beautiful voice once again.
The next day, I waited for her call. Though we'd not decided that she was supposed to call me, still I had this gut-feeling that she would.
By 10, in the office I was getting restless. I wanted to hear her voice but, at the same time, I wanted her to call me up.
Happy had given me this success funda in the matter of girls:
Don't make them feel that you are going crazy after them; just give some time and they will come to you.
At 11, I realized that Happy was a fool and I went ahead and SMSed her a 'good morning', even though it was a little late for that. But I didn't receive any reply to my SMS and began wondering who the real fool was…
And, that day, I was also uncertain. Should I listen to my heart or my brain? Both of them were pointing in opposite directions.
My brain was telling my ego, 'What does she think of herself?'
Whereas, my heart still wished to hear her voice.
Call it my weakness or my effort to curb my ego -- a little later
I did what my heart told me to do and I dialed her number.
'Hey! Hi, how are you?' Khushi picked up the phone.
'When wishing you a good morning, the sender also expects a similar response. I am fine.'
'I was going to reply on the way to the office.'
'You mean you're still at home?'
'Yeah. Actually, we work in the afternoon shift as we have
to be in sync with our UK-based clients. Hey, my cab's outside,' she said rushing and saying 'bye' to her mom.
I could hear the door being closed and her 'hi' to her friends in the cab. After she got in, we resumed our talk.
'So what's up?' I asked her.
'Ami di was here this morning,' she said. I remembered her mentioning a couple of names during our previous call, but I could hardly remember who was who among them.
'Ami di…?' I murmured, trying to recall the name.
'I have three sisters and one brother. Misha di is the eldest and lives in Ludhiana. She has a very sweet kid, Daan, who is studying in nursery. Ami di is the second, and she too is married.
She lives in Noida, an hour's drive from our place, and works with a BPO. Deepu, my brother, is two years younger than me and is working with an MNC in Assam. They deal with oil wells and stuff.
And Neeru is the youngest, my sweet little sis,' she told me about her siblings again, with no complaints or questions as to how I forgot about them so soon.
She continued, 'And apart from this, mum and dad are with us. And in your family, it's your mom and dad, you and your younger brother, Tinku, who is also a software engineer with Infosys, and his office is in the same building as yours, except he is on the first floor and you on the second. Right?'
And that was a silent slap to my memory. She remembered everything about my family. All I could do was say, 'Hmm… 10 on 10,' and laugh. But I laughed alone.
'So, I was saying, Ami di was here this morning. After completing her night-shift she came to Faridabad. She visits us once in a week or two.'
This call was all about her family. I came to know about two more people -- Davinder Jiju, Misha di's husband, and Pushkar, Ami di's husband. Pushkar and Ami di used to work in the same company and they happened to fall in love, which was not a good idea according to Khushi's dad.
The hurdles they had to face were no different from any love story in Bollywood movies.
Pushkar comes from a Hindu family whereas Ami di belongs to a Sikh family. Pushkar is cool with boozing and non-veg while these things are taboo in Khushi's family. But then, as we learn from those same movies, Love, in the end, wins all the battles.
And, that is what happened here as well. All the youngsters in Khushi's family successfully convinced their dad to give his approval for the marriage.
In that call, Khushi also mentioned that she used to leave her office around 9.30 at night and reach her home by 11.
Which meant that she would be awake for quite a while and I could call her late at night in case I felt the way I had the night before.
So that was how we started calling each other, writing messages, even wishing each other goodnight. But, in our initial calls, we never touched upon the purpose for which we had started interacting -- marriage.
But she initiated this, one day, when I forwarded her an e-album of my pictures, with my friends, in Belgium.
'I noticed one pic with the description -- enjoying red wine in a pub,' she said.
'Oh yes, that was one of the happening evenings in Belgium.'
'So you booze?'
'Hmm . . . yeah. But very rarely. Once in two or three months, or at times six. Only on some occasions when I am with friends and they insist I give them company,' I answered coolly.
'Well, I don't know how you are going to react on this, but I always wanted a life-partner who abstains from this.'
And I asked myself, 'So, is she saying that she is going to look for somebody else?' I wasn't sure.
But the one thing I was sure about was that, finally, we were discussing marriage.
She continued, 'See, every person has some likes and dislikes.
When we talk about marriage, it's about respecting each other's feelings; it's about trust, a few compromises and much more.
And if you are going to be my life-partner, I sincerely urge you to choose a life without alcohol.'
She was the first among us to say: if you are going to be my life-partner. And in her voice those words sounded so different, so magical.
And, of course, it was the magic of those words which overrode my consciousness and made me say, 'It's a gentleman's promise. If you are going to be my life-partner, I will not booze unless you are comfortable about it. And I mean it.'
I didn't stop there but continued, 'The reason I can do this is because alcohol is not something I am addicted to.
At the same time, I don't think it's bad to booze once in hundred days, just to give company to your best friends.
Even then, I have never crossed my limits and got drunk completely.
Still, if this becomes a problem between me and my life-partner, I will gladly abstain.'
'And promises are meant to be kept . . .' she reiterated. And, probably, she smiled too.
'Absolutely!' The gentleman within me was still talking.
'But the day you get to know me completely -- after six months, or ten, or maybe a year, or maybe more than that.
Then, if you think that boozing is not at all a bad case with me, you will have to allow me to have a drink with my best friends. But, again, I will never force you to say that.'
This was another landmark in our saga and, henceforth, she felt much better talking to me. And I felt good, just because she felt good.
Was the second, out of the three things (wealth, women, and I still can't remember the third) that could make anything happen in this world, making me do this? I didn't know then, and I don't know now. The only thing bothering me was, what would I say to Happy and MP when we sat together with red wine, at our next reunion?
'Guys, please bear with me as I've stopped boozing because of a promise I made to a girl, whom I've only talked to on the phone for a week. Yes, only a week. Far lesser time than the years which we all have spent together.'
I didn't know, then, if that promise was good or bad for me. But what was definitely good was the trust and understanding we gained. And this was just beginning. It was a tough call… But then, something within me wanted her for a long, long time . . . Forever.
Have questions about matters of the heart? On Thursday, February 13, Ravinder Singh will play Love Guru and take your questions from 3pm to 4pm.
Photographs: Cover of I too had a Love Story