Anandhi sat down at her dressing table, sighing in contentment after her hot bath which soothed all her aching muscles and bones. She had over exerted herself yet again, throwing a party for a whole bunch of friends and family, cooking almost everything herself. After all everyone loved and waited for this annual event. She wouldn’t disappoint even if she would groan at night and count every aching muscle from all the strain of the last few days leading up to the event. It was all well worth it.

Days like this were like a calm after a storm. Relax, unwind, let your thoughts wander where they may and just enjoy the day after the culmination of a successful event. Though they were expecting another couple over for dinner tonight, she wasn’t worried after yesterday’s stellar performance. Dinner was ready and she was just putting the finishing touches to her make up.

She recalled how she met Subbu, her husband of over twenty years now in an arranged meeting between the two families. Not much was said by either of them, but somehow they knew after the string of alliances they both had met, that they were meant for each other. A few other meetings followed and the rest was history.

Now they were blessed with a daughter, and Anandhi knew it would soon be time for her to start looking at alliances for her own daughter. She laughed to herself at the first memory that came to mind as soon as she thought of the whole traditional process of spouse selection. Abruptly the laughter died on her lips as she recalled that one strange man she met as part of this process.

It happened nearly twenty five years ago and she was young and impressionable. A common friend suggested to Anandhi’s parents that she should meet this boy Karthik, another TamBrahm, well settled and in a good position with one of the leading corporate giants of those days. And so a meeting was arranged.

On the face of it, Anandhi actually liked Karthik and the respectful way in which he conversed with her parents and herself. He then requested her parents if he could take her out for dinner one night and talk things out. By then he had formed such a wonderful impression that her parents, otherwise orthodox and conservative people, readily agreed.

She dressed modestly but looked beautiful in a simple handloom saree with jewellery that accentuated the colors of the saree. She felt happy and very hopeful as she got dropped off at the restaurant of his suggestion.

She walked in to find this was a restaurant with a bar, but shrugged it off as she was escorted to the table where Karthik sat waiting. A cigarette in one hand, and a half drunk pint of beer cooling on the table. She was a little taken aback, but decided to see the evening through and sat down opposite him, smiling as if she wasn’t surprised or confused.

He was looking at her carefully, for a crack in that demeanor, for a chink in the armour. But found none. And then he began:

“See, I smoke and I drink. And I have no intention of stopping once we are married.”

Anandhi countered, “Everything should have its limits, as long as you know yours this will not be a show stopper for me.” She had seen so much goodness in Karthik, that she wanted to test the waters, see what exactly was on his mind, and try to meet him halfway.

Now it was his turn to be surprised. He fully expected her to get up and walk out at the first mention of cigarettes or alcohol. But here she was negotiating. Hmm.. onto round two then!

“OK, let’s order dinner.” And with that he beckoned to the waiter for the menu. She decided to order a roti and some palak paneer to go with it. He called the waiter and without missing a beat, steadily looking at her rather than at the waiter placed her order, and his – a chicken curry to go with his rotis.

Anandhi was now into act two of this bizarre performance. Once the order was placed, he began once again to test her, “So you see I even eat non-veg, even though I am a TamBrahm”. She looked at him, kohl filled eyes blazing but her tone that of someone discussing the weather, “As long as you don’t eat this at home, or expect me to cook it for you, I believe we shall get along just fine.”

He would have choked on the chicken bone at that, but since it hadn’t arrived he just looked like he was choking on one. Trump card time… he thought. But waited for the food to arrive so he could at least show the decency of treating her to a meal.

Once food was served and consumed, neither opted for dessert. And as he asked for the bill, Karthik told her, “I don’t get along with my family. If we agree that we can make this work, I will have nothing to do with my family or yours. And would prefer you have nothing to do with yours either. I don’t get along with my brother or his wife. Neither do I have great regard for my parents. I would rather start an independent family of my own.”

At this, Anandhi countered, “I could have adjusted to just about anything, but I cannot compromise on family, yours or mine. I love my parents, and I know in time I will grow to love your parents and your family. I wish you a happy life with whoever you are meant to be. It’s clear to me now that’s not me.”

And she stood up and left without a backward glance. In her heart she felt pity for this boy, who seemed to be determined to make a villain of himself, and seemed to be filled with so much self-loathing that he simply had nothing good to say about himself. How would anyone be able to start a relationship based on so much negativity?

“Anandhi, you ready?”, a voice called at her bedroom door. She dragged her mind back to the present and turned to see Subbu, smiling at her just as he had all those years back. Clad in yet another handloom saree, but looking as beautiful as the day they met, atleast in Subbu’s eyes she got up and rushed to him. To remind herself of the choice she made all those years back. Sometimes she thought of that boy, wondering if he ever managed to find a soul mate who met all his requirements. Life had moved on for her from that strange encounter, to Subbu, to marriage and to a wonderful extended family whom she loved and adored just as she had hoped and wanted to.

“Come, our guests have just arrived”, said Subbu. She arranged herself and walked to the living room just in time to usher in their guests, a new acquaintance of Subbu. She was about to welcome them with her usual exuberance when her eyes met the blazing, rebellious eyes she remembered so well. “Anandhi, meet Karthik”, said Subbu.

Author’s Note: Want to know what happens next? Read the rest of the story here.