By Suresh Pattali
Two years ago, when she came home for Christmas from her medical school, my daughter was a young woman in a hurry to get on with life.
I thought back many years. Her mother would leave home for work as the day cracked open. By default, I spent time bringing up our daughter, ensuring she was fed, her homework completed.
Over time, a bond of trust formed. She would come running to me and start with the conversation opener, “Acha, shall I tell you something?”
On that cool January day, she was lost in the world of music and I was lazing around nearby.
“Hmm, I am 22 years old this month,” she said, more like a soliloquy, as I cosied up to a paperback in a papasan chair. I pretended to be too immersed in reading to hear what she said.
“Hello, I am talking to you.” She tugged at my book. “Next year, I will be 23.” She removed the iPhone bud from one of her ears.
“If it’s about the birthday, I promise I will get you a 10-dirham gift,” I said.
“Be serious, dad. Your daughter has grown up. I have already attended the weddings of some of my friends.”
I was rudely shaken. I put the book down and looked at her. She has really grown up. She’s no more the little doll I was walking with in the Karama Shopping Complex. She could be a candidate for marriage. Why had I not noticed all this while that she’s grown up? Was I skirting the subject to buy time? Is she mentally ready to leave this family and live with a man? A thousand bees buzzed in my brain.
“Isn’t it too soon?” I asked.
“If not now, when?” She didn’t sound like my daughter. She was like Carol Anne in the movie Poltergeist, sounding strange and creepy. Or was I imagining it?
“But are you emotionally ready?”
“Dad, one has to marry in the prime of one’s youth and vigour. My question is, are YOU ready?”
“You are the one who wants to get on with it,” I feigned ignorance about what she meant.
“Dad, are you financially ready? Weddings cost a fortune. The clothes, the ceremony, the party. And, of course, the dowry.”
“Vava, you are frightening me. Marriage is bliss, not a nightmare.”
“Ha, don’t forget some pocket money for the honeymoon, you know what I mean?”
“Looks like you have done your homework.”
“The gold. An average family gives between 100 and 150 tolas (tola=10 gm). Say, around three million for gold. By the way, diamonds are in vogue now. My classmate Parijatham had most of her jewellery set with stones. It was so gorgeous!” Her eyes gleamed.
I was as silent as a stone at that point. In ’85, I never demanded dowry. Neither did her brother as recently as in 2015. “Do people really demand dowry?” I asked.
“When was the last time you came to India? Dad, boys and their dads fancy gold much more than the girls. They would say — it’s all about your daughter and her happiness, isn’t it? Will you ever say no? That’s how they close the deal.”
“But your dowry is your education.”
“They will say — the boy is also educated.”
“Are you on their side?”
“I am not frightening you. But it’s never too late to save if you haven’t so far. Remember what the Singaporeans do when a child is born? Go and sign up for a savings account and endowment.”
At that point, her friend Zahira called, a blessing in disguise.
Today, after two years, I am the one who brings up the subject. Ever since some of my old friends started to sound me out, I have been waiting to talk to my daughter. On a break for four days from college, she is leaving tomorrow. I woke her up (read steamrolled) at 10 in the morning and said: “We need to talk.”
“If it’s about marriage, do it for yourself,” she said, trying to empty a bowl of rice with spicy prawns curry for breakfast.
“Vava, be serious. I have a number of proposals for you. I know the people.”
“Let’s talk it out over a drink.”
“Not a bad idea,” I said, teleporting ourselves to The Pirates on Ajman beach. She was busy capturing my silhouette against the calm sea. Lying on the floor to get the right angle, she said, “You can start.”
“What am I supposed to do with all the proposals?”
“I can marry one if you say so. But that’s not the point. Should I do it now? Isn’t it a bit early?”
“You were in a hurry some time ago. What
“Dad, you lived in a modern world all your life. You are an educated parent. Show me the basic courtesy and ask me if I have someone in my mind before you look for a boy.”
“Oops, I should have asked.”
“Again, that’s not the point. I took a leap from high school to medical school. Those six years were pressure cooker days. It wasn’t fun. No time to eat, sleep, rest, it was all hard work. Now don’t bottle me up in another pressure cooker.”
“I am listening.”
“You wanted me to become a doctor. I am one now. Let me launch my career. Let me celebrate my career. Let me live my moments.”
I was listening.
“Marriage is hard work. Life is much more than marriage. I have some dreams to fulfill before I take that plunge. I want to travel all over India — Jaipur, Kanpur, Delhi, Cal etc. I want to take up photography seriously. Besides, let me sleep, let me wake up, let me dress of my own will. Let me catch up on reading. I also need to get back to my dance classes.”
“I understand. Didn’t you like any of the boys whose photos I had sent?”
“They are all good, Dad. As teens, we girls fancy biceps, sixpacks etc. But when it comes to marriage we might even fall in love with a lazy pug.”
“Have you found your pug?”
“Don’t get excited. Love can grow anywhere, but it needs a lot of time and energy to sustain. I’m not there yet. I will cross the bridge when I get to it. Acha, shall I tell you something?”
“Thank you for bringing me up as a responsible individual. For making me grow up as a strong woman. Fearless. I’m able to do all this only because you taught me to do things on my own from my Singapore days. I am thankful to you for teaching me to love unconditionally, selflessly. Be it a friend, a man or anyone else.”
“Vava, your glass is half empty,”’ I reminded her.
“‘No dad, it’s half full.”
Suresh is senior editor. His philosophy is influenced by Ulysses