Once I had convinced my family that an arranged marriage was really what I wanted, the circus began, with me as the central acrobat act. Hard as my parents had tried to dissuade me, once they had the green light, getting me hitched became the clarion call of my entire universe. Every conversation inadvertently snaked its way back to my Husband Search. “Has the click happened yet?” my grandmother asked with her hawk-eyed accuracy. “Have you decided to get off your high horse and adjust your expectations?” random relatives asked without having any idea what my expectations even were. “Are you ready to give up this madness?” my most loyal friends asked. To be honest, I was close.
My idealistic view of what an arranged marriage entailed had been overly simplistic. I saw it as meeting men who were looking to find someone they wanted to spend the rest of their life with. I saw it as different from the dating scene in only so much that it would weed out those who might not have the same expectations from their relationships as I did.
Essentially, before the days of online matchmaking and matrimonial sites, I was preempting their convenience but with the advantage of my matches being set up by people I trusted. And like online matrimonial searches, the path was fraught with set-ups that looked good on paper but lacked whatever it is that makes the one The One.
Within months I had met twelve men, not one of whom came close to touching my heart. So, when my mother told me about Boy-Number-Thirteen, all I could do was groan. Thirteen was my last lucky number. I went running, mostly to torture my mother by being late. She’d taken to reading me my numbers every day. “It’s been ten boys. Eleven. Good Lord, is he the thirteenth one already?” Nothing like an arranged marriage to complicate a perfectly healthy mother-daughter relationship.
When I arrived at my parents’ club that day, I was not just on my last remaining lucky number, I was on the last dredges of hope. My knee throbbed from having fallen during my run-of-rebellion, and the bottom of the loose salwar pants I had pulled on in a hurry had slipped over my foot and tangled in my shoe. I saw my future husband for the first time with my leg kicked up, in the middle of yanking my pants off my shoe, not to mention the unbrushed hair and the absence of lipstick. To this day, he insists he didn’t notice. Which pretty much sums up why my soul is still snapped tight into his after close to two decades. Who can resist a man who sees none of the madness that is you?
So here was this ‘boy’ down from America in want of a wife, not yet in possession of a fortune per se but in possession of a couple Masters degrees, and the hint of a dimple in one cheek. And an appetite. As we talked into the wee hours of morning, he proceeded to eat everything on the menu without a hint of self-consciousness. And he laughed at everything I said. And he used an awful lot of the word ‘yes.’ As in, “Do you like to read?” “Yes.” “Do you like to travel?” “Yes.” “Movies?” “Yes.” “Music?” “Yes.” My future rose up to greet me.
I even remember the exact moment when I knew with absolute certainty that I was going to grow old with this man. The lamppost shone down on us as we sat leaning forward on our lawn chairs, empty plates strewn across our table and he said something about his nephew and smiled the kind of smile that screamed family-over-all-else, and that dimple made an appearance. And the question that had plagued me from every quarter for months, “What is it exactly that you’re looking for?” found its answer in a flash.
Mere days after that first meeting that felt serendipitous despite all the setting up that should have kept it from feeling that way, he showed up at my doorstep at five in the morning (very skillfully playing the jetlag card) and whisked me off to breakfast and then to lunch and then to dinner. Somewhere in the course of that day, he asked me to marry him. Amazingly enough, it wasn’t a hard decision, especially not after he went down on one knee on the concrete floor of a parking lot in the middle of a power outage, giving me my grand romance in one fell swoop.
Even armed with nineteen years of hindsight, I couldn’t tell you why the decision was that easy. Maybe it was the fact that from the first time we met, every time someone asked him for a decision, he assumed they had asked us both. Maybe it was the fact that our first act of intimacy was him resting his head on my lap, exhausted and overwhelmed from our whirlwind courtship. Or maybe it was the fact that he looked at me exactly the same way when I dressed up to go out as he did when I pulled on my oldest T-shirt. But whatever it was, there was never a moment of discomfort with him. Never a moment of being strangers. And today, two decades after the question “what are you looking for?” first plagued me, I finally figured out the answer when I wrote the dedication for my novel, THE BOLLYWOOD BRIDE. It’s dedicated to my husband and it says: “For Manoj, for seeing me with your heart and for steadfastly holding on to your vision.” As it turns out, I was searching for someone who never felt like a stranger and who saw permanency as important, a quest just as romantic as it was pragmatic.
Sonali Dev is an award-winning author of the widely acclaimed novels THE BOLLYWOOD BRIDE (September, 2015; Kensington) and A BOLLYWOOD AFFAIR (2014; Kensington), which was named one of Library Journal’s and NPR’s Best Books of 2014, received a Seal of Excellence from RT BookReviews, and was chosen as well as an RT Reader’s Choice. As an Indian-American author, Sonali combines her love of storytelling with her insights into Indian culture to capture modern-day Asian-American women’s lives.