Darcy Comes to India
The journey cascades along with insightful takes on people’s personalities and social interactions, amidst the desperate attempts by her granny and mother to get her married before she leaves India.
C H A P T E R 1
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single Indian woman needs a husband. Irrespective of her feelings, her marriage becomes the sole aim of her parents, as well as of every relative around her. Every eligible bachelor she dares to interact with considers her an applicant in his zone of consideration, for the role of his wife. The dilemma of the present-day woman is that, while her perception of herself has drastically changed, there’s been no change in how the other gender perceives her.
Neeli Shastri looked at the bright sun above and smiled at the shimmering silver waters of the Hooghly under it. The mighty Ganga herself, cutting through the heart of Kolkata. The locals call her Hooghly. The longest cable-stayed bridge of the country—Vidhya Sagar Setu—runs over it, like a ribbon attempting to braid the majestic flow. The river has witnessed the history of India, and Neeli felt she was part of it.
History was entwined in her being, her childhood was steeped in it. She had grown up on stories of bravery and valor of the Bhurishrestha queen “Roy Baghini,”1 Hari Chand Thakur, Naiki Devi, Mulla Gabharu, Queen Abbakka, Subhash Chandra Bose, and many others. Her childhood memories were heavily populated with fantasies of participating in their quests and wars.
She had always been awed by the magnanimity of her motherland, where anyone in trouble was embraced with open arms. Kolkata itself was bursting with a vibrant conundrum of diversity—Armenians, Jews, Parsis, Iraqis, Afghans, Chinese and Greeks alike, along with our very own indigenous bhadraloks. Yet the city had the aroma of the bhog of Durga Puja. A true land of Vivekananda, rooted in Vedanta.
Neeli was an atheist and proud of her logical thinking. She questioned everything told to her, including the religious practices at home, which had often driven her grandmother to the edge; but the patient old woman would always hug her and conclude the argument by saying, “Questioning is the true spirit of Hinduism.”
Neeli took a deep breath. She would miss it all. This place was unparalleled, always had been, but today, everything was extra special. Was the sun shining brighter, or was it her admission to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that had dilated her pupil? Neeli had nurtured the dream of landing in the MIT as an undergraduate, but she had been denied the opportunity to apply for the same; her mother was not convinced that her only child would be safe, moving to the other side of the globe at the tender age of seventeen.
Neeli smiled, remembering the series of futile “teenage hormone-charged discussions” she had had with her mother on the subject then. However, her former-civil-servant mother, like a true bureaucrat, had blocked it with her dissent, which even her father could not overrule. Putting an effective spoke in any idea she wasn’t comfortable with was part of her training, mastered by practice.
Indian moms! No education or position can change them, she thought.
Not much was lost though, as after completing her graduation from the premier engineering institute of India—the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)—she had secured admission into none other than the MIT. Four additional years to seventeen had made her mother more comfortable with the idea, but not completely at peace.
An Indian mother is never comfortable with the procrastination of the idea of marriage of her young daughter. Being an only child did not help matters much either. She had always missed siblings; not for their company, but to provide some distraction, to take her parents’ attention away from herself. All through her childhood, she had felt like a plant growing under floodlights, with a camera and microscope watching over her 24/7. The only breathing space she had was around her father, who too was a former civil servant, and had retired to his library long before she passed out of school. Her admission to the IIT allowed him to retire from his family responsibilities too. Getting his daughter married was not his concern.
“She is a capable woman, she will marry when she wants, and if she doesn’t want to marry, that’s even better. She can enjoy life without any liabilities,” he would often reply to Mrs. Shastri during her attempts to corner her ever-elusive husband on the topic.
Neeli had no intention of marrying yet; she was too occupied in completing her bucket list before flying off to the US to live out her dream. She wanted to spend this time all by herself, enjoying the city she grew up in— Kolkata.
So, here she was, standing at Princep Ghat, where it was hard to tell if the sky was engulfing the river, or if it was the river that was melting the sky. Neeli was undecided between venturing for a boat ride and sitting on the steps of the ghat. Finally, she decided to ride a boat. She loved spending hours on the boat, singing to herself. This might be her last occasion to do that, before moving out.
She looked at her watch, it was ten minutes to five; the sun would set soon and the boatmen would wind up for the day. She hoped to catch the last boat. She got the ticket from the counter and moved to the narrow cemented strip where the boat would anchor. There was no boat, but she enjoyed the breeze brushing her face. Her cream-colored muslin dupatta flew with the breeze. She rarely wore an Indian salwar suit but nevertheless loved the way they made her feel so feminine. The soft muslin flowed like the tidal bore of Ganga. Ganga matured in this stretch and moved with grace and finesse. The yellow-brown water with a green tinge was calm, ready to meet the higher goal.
Suddenly, she felt her nape hair rise, and a shiver ran down her spine. A soft smell of cologne was in the air. She turned and saw a tall man with well-trimmed dark- blond hair and stubble gazing down with his cold, blue eyes. He was wearing a handloom shirt dyed in blue, which matched the color of his eyes. He looked very strong. He was certainly tall, but towering over a barely five feet and two inches tall Neeli was no real achievement. A very handsome man, Neeli could not miss that, but the cold look in his eyes made her shudder.