“ I´m telling Papa and you for the umpteenth time that I am not interested in getting married. So, please stop looking for any alliances for me, okay? ”
“ Are you seeing someone, Sofia? ”
“ No! I told you I am not interested in marriage. ”
“ Everyone tells that in the beginning, beta! But, it´s not good to live alone, you know. ”
“ Alone but not lonely, Ma! Does everyone have to get married? I don´t see any fruitful purpose in it. ”
“ Sofia, there is no point in simply rebelling without a cause. Marriage brings stability, structure and civility in relationships and the society as a whole. ”
“ I´m moving to Mumbai in a week and taking up that Financial Analyst´s role in that big MNC, I was telling you about. I am fed up with all this marriage talk now. I am not interested in marriage or having babies. Marriage is so last century! ”
“ What are you interested in, then? ”
“ My life and my peace of mind! ”
“ Today´s generation is all about Í, Me, Myself´. I love myself! ”
“ Bang on, Mama! ”
It was a frustrating ordeal for Sofia every other day duelling with her parents over marriage. The truth was that she never felt any excitement towards the institution. Love stories were fascinating but marriage was a big dampener. Cold water on fire! Like her parent´s marriage. Not that her parents had any exciting love story to begin with in the first place. They met courtesy the dinosaur style of dating – Arranged Marriages. Her mother was the lucky 19th girl that her surgeon father had met. And since the families approved of each other, the nikah was done six months later.
Sofia was a life-long witness to her parent´s bland marriage. Her mother´s sole purpose in life, it seemed, was to slog in the kitchen and win her father´s heart through his stomach. Her mother meekly listened to her father´s instructions at home like a robot. Her father´s idea of romance was listening to Jagjit Singh´s ghazals over a cup of Assam chai and poring himself in the newspapers. She never understood what joy the two of them got in being stuck together for life in such mundane existence.
Sofia didn´t want lead a boring life waking up to one person her entire life. No! Marriage had no place in her life. Anyway, it was only a matter of few days before she would be out of Aligarh and leading her own life in Mumbai.
Mumbai was a liberating experience. A true melting pot of cultures! If she worked hard during the weekdays, she partied even harder during the weekends. Sofia loved the feeling of balancing responsibility and fun. At the end of the day, she felt good sending some money home for her parent´s sustenance and being able to save after all her financial commitments and luxurious splurges. There was no one to dictate terms to her. It felt so good to finally be an independent adult.
A single woman in a free-spirited city attracts men like a moth to the flames. Of course, Sofia played along to the gallery going from one ´no-strings attached´ relationship to the another. Any love story was acceptable to her than a stable and boring relationship like her parents. And so, she hopped from one relationship to another, quickly losing count of when it all started or ended.
However, the comedy of errors was that marriage was still hot on Sofia´s heels. In the form of one man or the other. Every other day was Valentine´s Day for her. The latest Romeo professing his undying love and commitment for her was Kabir. Now, Kabir was a popular slam poet who literally had girls flinging themselves at him.
“ What was wrong with the men of Mumbai?,” she wondered.“ Rather, what was wrong with men in general? They get commitment phobic in relationships with women who want to to get hitched. And they go to the ends of the earth to woo women like her who are least interested in the institution.”
“ Sweetheart! How many times do I tell you that we have no future together? ”
“ Sofia, I cannot be friends forever anymore. ” Kabir gave her a bunch of fresh red roses and bent down on his knees. In true-blue movie style, he asked her in all earnestness –
“ Will you marry me, Sofia Maryam? You are special to me. I want to make babies with you and grow old with you. ”
“ Eesssh! Is that how you propose to me? Babies and growing old together? How boring, dude! Get a life! ”
“ Sofia, there is something special between us. Please don´t deny that else we would not have broken up five times to only come back to each other. ”
“ Yeah! We broke up FIVE times. Doesn´t that tell you something? We are complicated creatures who cannot make up our minds and getting married will screw us royally for life. A bad idea! ”
“ I think it´s a perfect idea. We can end this breaking up and coming back business for good. Get married and annoy each other for life. Please! ”
“ No! Now, please get out! ”
Sofia loved Kabir. A lot. Sadly for him, she didn´t believe in the concept of lasting love or marriage. Besides C´Mon! Who are we kidding here? All marriages are a scam. Life changes. People change. Why be conned into a marriage and spoil all the fun?
Since Kabir was hot on marriage and she was cold on it, they finally broke up for good. But her rishta with marriage never seemed to come to an end. And the more the guys pursued her, the harder she guarded her single status.
Sofia had it all. She lived in a swanky apartment in Mumbai which housed one steady male companion – Fawad, her dog. Yet, Sofia couldn´t call this city her home. Strangely, all the excitement that Mumbai had to offer her paled in comparison to her parent´s company in Aligarh. She could´t place a finger on it. After all, she came all the way to Mumbai to escape from their lacklustre company. But here she was, missing the warm jalebis made by her mother or her long evening walks with her father. It had been such a long time since she called home and spoke to her parents. Mumbai consumed all of her being. After a while, even Mumbai´s fast paced life became a monotonous drab.
That night kept her awake. It was unusual of her as she fell into deep sleep the minute she closed her eyes. She kept tossing and turning in her bed with an inexplicable uneasy feeling. She woke up and checked the clock. It was only 2.00 am but sleep evaded her. Around three hours later, she got a call from her father informing her of her mother´s death. Sofia rushed immediately to Aligarh with a heavy heart.
Her father was stoic all through her mother´s funeral proceedings. Did he miss her now that her mother was gone? Meanwhile, Sofia planned to bring her father to stay with her in Mumbai as long as he pleased.
While rummaging her mother´s personal belongings. Sofia discovered a chest safely tucked in-between her mother´s expensive silk lehengas. Inside the chest was a hard bound book of handwritten letters and dried roses.
“ Dear Zohra, I know we met through the arranged marriage way. But, my darling, you stole my heart the minute you walked into the room in that peach salwar. The way you looked at me and blushed immediately will forever be etched in my heart. I love you, sweet cheeks! ”
“ Dear Hussain, Today is the happiest day of my life. I am so relieved that our families approved of our alliance. I cannot wait to get married and live with you, my love. Six months is such a long wait. How about we meet at the Aligarh Fort every Tuesday morning? I´ll bunk my college that day for you and you can go later in the day to the hospital. ”
“Dear Zohra, It is killing me to be away from you even for a few days. All I want to do is to keep rediscovering the lovely shape of you. When we kissed last Friday,….. ”
She stared at these steamy letters of passion in shock. Were these really written by her father and mother?
“ Dear Zohra, I cannot take my eyes off Sofia. She is a living doll and thankfully, looks like her father. ”
“ Dear Hussain, The best decision of my life was marrying you. Thank you for being such a kind, loving and attentive husband. You satisfy my soul. Happy 25th Anniversary to us, my darling! ”
“ Eh Meri Zohrajabeen! You still light my fire, babe! Happy 25th Anniversary! ”
There were numerous letters of undying love and commitment written over the course of their marriage.
Sofia decided to keep this chest as keep-sake along with some of her mother´s best outfits. As she held a dried rose bookmark in her hand and inhaled the scent of the pages, her mother rose to life. These dried roses will perennially remain fresh with the eternal flame of romance. Sofia knew what she had to do next.
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