Part 1 – The autorickshaw proposal

I have been thinking over the last two weeks – how do I tell the next part of the story – without making it  a STAR TV soap which it  can very well be . Obviously, this thought is far more interesting than the thought of making  extremely boring NRR or WORR files at work . What does NRR stand for, you may ask  ? Net Run Rate.

 But no, please make no mistake – its not a file meant to illustrate interesting cricket stats of Tendulkars and Sehwags of the world . It’s a file calculating the inventory on a daily basis , based on the previous week sales . Sounds dizzying exciting , no ? I am sure half of you are already asleep 😊The file name made you think of something else only to dump you in a heap of disappointment . Sometimes , is the glitter of the name that makes us blind to the obvious and that is something , I do want to share . However , out of my rumination now and back to the story .

After I recovered from the mini heart attack in the auto (btw the auto guy playing cupid -waited for us to complete the ticket exchange at the airport lest I get another heart attack) I could barely utter- “This is way too fast. I need time to think about it.” While I liked him , I totally chickened out at the way he put it across . You have to understand – I was a nerd lost in my books – and never had such “extra curricular” interests in life and so this was straight out of a movie experience .This line however was enough to make him ecstatic – as he was expecting a volley of abuses if not a few tight slaps 😊 and like a gentleman he was willing to wait gallantly while I made up my mind.

Mind is very fickle though as Swami ji keeps saying . As the waves of Arabian sea washed my feet (or made them dirtier-God knows), I narrated the story to my closest friend,  Priti.  Priti’s jumps and squeals made her more visible than Amitabh Bachchan on Juhu beach that day with every single spectator staring weirdly at us . I really liked him but I wanted to do my PhD , I was worried what my mother would think . How would things work with him in IIM Bangalore and me stuck in Delhi? Priti’s simple advice was to get to know him better before thinking any further and that’s what I told Piyush , eventually . The high of romance had worn off a bit off him too. But we decided to keep talking .

Now this was a bigger logistical issue than you can imagine . While Piyush had the latest Nokia mobile phone – I clearly didn’t have any . And with 16 Rs/ min call rate – talking was prohibitively expensive . Whatever stipend I earned during the internship had to go to the bank like my scholarship . So if I wanted to talk to him , I had to tell my mother – who I thought will freak out at the very thought and imprison me in my room .  She had a Reliance phone which was just launched at that time which had a lower price per call . Otherwise, there was the landline like in 80s Hindi movies

Pyaar kiya to darna kya ! I gathered all my courage and confessed to her that I found someone interesting in Mumbai and would want to keep in touch with him . Surprise !Surprise ! My mother didn’t scream at me or punish me – but instead jumped to the unthinkable – and asked me if I would be willing to marry him. Dear God ! the guy was talking kids and my mum- marriage . Why were they driving in such a fast lane !

The chemical reactions in my Chemistry prof mother’s brain altered magically and made her respond like she was hallucinated – with the catalyst of THE NAME  . Not his name but the name of the institutions he studied in – IIT Delhi and IIM Bangalore . The pedigree was like a character certificate , net  worth certificate and back ground certificate all rolled into one .SO while she kept a strict vigilance I got her blessings and her phone to stay in touch with my yet to be boyfriend .

Love blossomed over airtel and reliance networks inflating the ARPU( Average Revenue Per User) of the operators . My brother also studying at IIT , got suspicious . He came home only on weekends but seeing me talk on Mummy’s mobile for too long he kept telling my mother with a wink “ aap dekho , daal mein kuch kaala hai “ He checked the call log and surreptitiously tried telling my mother – “Mummy , she is talking to someone in Bangalore very frequently. She definitely has a boyfriend  !.”

Piyush went on an exchange program to Seattle in a few months .Increased distance was directly correlated with increased fondness and inversely correlated with patience . Feeling lonely in USA and suffering the ignominy of cooking his own food and cleaning his room which he had never done in life  , he wanted to get married ASAP. But I wanted to do my PhD and become an academic . He argued with me that I should come out of the nerdy world and look at corporate glitz and glamour . I could ofcourse go back to my books any time . I fell into that  trap and declined the admission offer of Yale .

When he returned from Seattle , my mother insisted on meeting him . We met at a Nirulas – with my mother , a fiery professor , more nervous than a scaredy cat . But once again his pedigree and his cute, innocent face carried the day and my difficult to impress mother was just fawning over him .

He introduced me to his dad . The reaction there was the opposite however was the opposite. I was no Aishwarya Rai .And nor did I have crores in the bank . And this wasn’t the dream bahu they had imagined .Let me for a few moments take you back to the social conditioning thought , I wrote about in my first post.

In their family , the normal course of affairs was that the parents decided on the match. Love marriage was a blasphemy . There was always a matchmaker in between ( much like Seema aunty of the Netflix series). The matchmaker was supposed to set the appropriate dowry . For example – he would say – inka 2 ka vichar hai ( translation -they are thinking of spending 2cr on the marriage ). This dowry would be based on the qualifications of the girl and the boy and the status of the families . If the price was agreeable – the family agreed to the match .

This is how things had always been and to go against that and marry a Punjabi was the stuff of their worst nightmares .This was their conditioning as it was their normal. The further possibility of a daughter in law working outside was worse than begging on the streets  for them.

Also their biggest worry was that Piyush’s younger sister Parul was engaged to a CA topper and IIM Ahemdabad student .They had never met before . The match was finalized by the parents . Woh ladka dekho gau hai gau, Jahan bola wahin shaadi kar raha hai  ( the guy is like an obedient cow, he is getting married wherever he is told  ), Piyush’s father told him, why are you putting in peril , your sister’s future  ? And that permission needs to be sought from her sister’s future in laws if anything were to ever happen between the two of us . Plus he reasoned , Piyush had many marriage proposals , 5 cr and more being offered . Why would he a Jain and a baniya let go of so much seed capital? What else had they raised him for ?That  was his core belief

This idea repulsed the latent  feminist in me . It sounded like the cattle market to me -where you try and sell an animal based on their features  and rate card . This cow is white – it will fetch 25000 – This buffalo looks sturdy – she will fetch 50000 . Not only did I find it backward , I already concluded in my head that they were  the greedy heartless and extortionist variety. The ones who deserve to be jailed under IPC section 498A . This was my belief coming from my education and the melodramatic history of marriages in the family.

When I mentioned this to my mum ( compounding my errors) she immediately jumped on it . Her conditioning about the community was that they were commercially savvy but very money minded and treated women badly ( God knows where that came from !)

To cut the soap opera short – this drove a wedge between us . While we were aligned on our principles against dowry , we vociferously defended our parents positions- because that was a part of our core belief system , our conditioning . No institution or education made a cinch of difference. Economics or Engineering didn’t make our thoughts more progressive , more compassionate , more understanding or more tolerant . We stuck to our view point like it was the ultimate truth. Conditioning transcends all .

My final exams approached . I had a heavy heart . The guy I had given up my PhD dream for – was clearly more interested in a fat dowry than an erudite wife . My mother feared that he had played with my emotions too and she forbade me from even touching the Ralph Lauren perfume he had got for me from Seattle . In the midst of this drama, what came as a whiff of good news bringing tides of joy, was a pre-placement offer from Procter and Gamble . They loved my internship project and offered me a managerial position alongside the brightest 11 minds they had picked from IIMs. Piyush however didn’t get a PPO . This made him go into a sulk mode. How can a non IIM girlfriend get a PPO when he couldn’t?

First, my mother was very happy . My starting salary nearly equalled what she was earning at that time – after 30 years of teaching . But immediately the family pinched her bubble of happiness asking who would marry such a highly paid girl . How will you find a boy who earns better than this ? This was again coming from conditioning and core beliefs. Men earned higher than women. If women earned well they became “unmarriagable” . Customer Development wasn’t the right profession for women. When our  core beliefs  and happiness swing on such ephemeral things as social approval and are invisibly shaped by the social  conditioning – then there is very little of our own self in our selves .

Just do a small exercise – look at your core beliefs about the world and think about why you think believe them to be true .Where do these beliefs come from ? And you will realize how much they have been moulded by  invisible influences.

So ,what happened next ? Stay tuned for more .