I ring the doorbell and it’s opened by my friend Salim, bouncing up with all the energy of his 21-year-old self. It is his birthday and the gift I am carrying is a book I know that he’ll enjoy. Salim and I have been classmates and bonded over a common love of stories. We’re buddies and we spar in the way good friends do. The ace in my sleeve is the two month headstart I have over him, in life. He introduces me to his other guests as the girl who gave him his personal Bible – Mario Puzo’s GODFATHER.
In a little while, his mother arrives, wiping her hands on a towel and we strike up a conversation. Grinning, I tell her that her son promised to marry me the day he turned 21 but that he has jilted me that very morning. She grins back and says,
“Yes, I heard. I told him he’s being a fool and that he won’t get such a great girl again!”
And we laugh together. The birthday boy comes back and starts to tell us a story.
“Irfan was 24 when he left home with Rs.200 in his pocket to make a career in the film industry. Vijaya was studying for her masters in law, living as a paying guest till the day she could return home to Mangalore and follow in the footsteps of a her father, a respected judge. Anybody seeing these two would imagine that they had nothing in common. They did, actually, have something in common – they were both in Mumbai, living in the same building.
They’d smile at each other, then they got to talking. It wasn’t until Vijaya went home for her vacations that Irfan realized how much he missed her. Then she came back and they began a whirlwind romance, movie theatres and beach dates.
Vijaya knew her family would never agree to a love match, with a North-Indian, with a boy who didn’t have an impressive degree and most importantly, a Muslim. And yet, they persisted. The couple endured the backlash, even the death of Vijaya’s father and managed to get married. They say that time heals all breaches after all. And the parents usually come around, once they hear the word ‘grandchild’.
A few blissful months later, Vijaya was pregnant. In the time-honoured tradition of South-Indian mothers-to-be, she left for her own mother’s house to go through the pregnancy. What she was completely unprepared for, was the family’s continued resistance to the union.
“Don’t worry” her mother assured her, “We’ll take care of everything.”
“Abortions are possible.” her sister chimed in, “ And there are still boys lining up to marry you.”
“We can just forget everything and put it all behind us like a bad mistake.” finished her mother.
Vijaya was trapped, a prisoner in the house she had grown up in, the place that she once called home. Frantic, she managed to send off a letter to Irfan, back in Mumbai.
A few days later VIjaya’s mother received a letter. She opened it and something fell out.
“A plane ticket” said Vijaya’s sister, picking it up.
It was from Irfan and was accompanied by a note.
‘My wife is over eighteen years old and a legal adult. She married me of her own free will. I will be waiting to collect her from the airport. If she doesn’t arrive, I’m filing a police complaint for kidnap and unlawful detention of an adult.’
Salim stops his account suddenly and gives me a huge grin.
I cry, caught up in his story.
His mother comes back into the room with a tray balanced with snacks and juice for all of us. She smoothly flows back into the discussion, weaving in and out of conversations about books, our futures and our jokes. I look at her, deep admiration. She’s a cool lady, the modern mum, a real role model for my generation.
Then uncle comes by to pick up a magazine. Salim introduces me and he turns to me, a slow smile forming on his face as he says in Hindi,
”Yes, beta, I remember. We have spoken on the phone a few times. You are Salim’s friend.”
I smile back at him. He’s the traditional papa, warm but reserved with women, even his kids’ friends. And I wonder just how two people, so different from each other could get along, what they would find to say to each other.
I turn back to Salim, willing him to complete his story. He smiles again and says,
“And that is how I was saved, in the nick of time. That baby was me.”
And I think to myself, there’s no doubt from where he gets his flair for drama.
*Based on a true story