Dr. Achyuta Menon looked up from the book he was reading as he saw the autorickshaw stop outside his gate.. When he saw who it was he got up from his chair, switched on the porch lights and opened the door in readiness for her to get in.
“ My God, you are completely drenched ! . Go and change or you will fall sick” he told her.
“Uncle, where is Aunty?” she asked ignoring his suggestion of a change of clothes.
“ I am here. What happened ” said Indrani coming in from inside the house
“Oh Aunty… I saw him!” she said throwing herself into Indrani’s arms
“Come on now, calm down. Lets go upstairs and I will hear your story after you have changed into dry clothes” said Indrani.
Dr. Menon, had never understood this ability of his wife’s to get anyone to do as she wished.. Imagine, he had just explained to the girl about the consequences of being in wet clothes and she had ignored him! Now all Indrani had said was that she would hear some “story” after a change of clothes and the girl had agreed.
Both Indrani and the girl seemed to share some sort of a special bond. Her best friend’s daughter, she was to his wife the child they never had. He had never been very much bothered about not having any children. His work, his books and his conversations with his wife kept him content But he knew that to Indrani it mattered. Hers was a life meant for motherhood! She had tried to compensate by showering her love on their two dogs and three cats. A natural extrovert, she was the most popular person in the neighbourhood. All the kids living nearby kept dropping in to talk to “Indrani Aunty”. She probably knew more about their lives than their parents! She had the ability to relate to any person at their level. No wonder all her former students still kept in touch with her.
As he looked out of the window again, he saw someone else at the gate. A young man, standing next to a motorbike unmindful of the rain that was drenching him. “What is wrong with young people these days” wondered Dr. Menon as he opened an umbrella and walked towards the gate.
“Yes.. what do you want?” he asked the young man.
“I .. … nothing!” he said keeping his eyes riveted on the upstairs window.
Dr. Menon followed his gaze. He could see his wife and the girl’s silhouette against the dim light upstairs. He looked at the young man again. He looked decent enough. But why was he standing like this here completely exposed to the rain? He would have been better off had he stood under the bus shelter a few yards away!
“Achuyta, call him inside” shouted Indrani opening the upstairs window. Dr. Menon, was surprised ! Did his wife know this young man? He followed his wife’s instructions and brought the boy inside! Indrani was waiting in the living room with a towel. “Here dry your hair. Then go upstairs- first room to the left. I will get both of you some coffee” she said with a smile! The young man smiled gratefully as he took off his wet shoes and socks and dried himself.
Dr. Menon was now totally puzzled! He was a retired Professor of Mathematics from the University – a person who was reputed to have an IQ in the genius category. But sometimes, or may be often, he did not understand people like his wife.
“Don’t stand like that with your mouth open. Come and help me make some coffee” she said pulling him towards the kitchen.
“Indu, what is this all about. Who is this fellow? Why have you sent him upstairs like this?” he asked her.
“Patience dear Watson” she said with a laugh, switching on the stove to heat milk.
“Do you remember how you tutored me in maths?” she asked him.
Dr. Achyuta Menon smiled. It was nearly thirty five years ago. He was a research scholar at the university. A shy young man from a small town, he never spoke to any girls. So it was surprising when this Bengali girl Indrani Mukherjee suddenly approached him at the canteen one day and requested his help with her statistics assignment. She was doing her masters in econometrics and was reportedly having a lot of trouble with her statistics concepts. She pleaded with him to help her pass the course. He could not refuse.
Thus began their sessions together. Initially it was at the library. He had come armed with a lot of books but she seemed to have come with just one small notebook. She seemed to be more interested in him and his views on things rather than on the subject in which she was reportedly worried about failing! He found it difficult to concentrate as she kept up a constant chatter about this and that. Soon, others in the library began to complain about it too and they had to go somewhere else for their classes.
She invited him for a movie. It was some kind of a ghost film. Rather silly, the way Indrani was getting scared of the ghost in the film- a woman in a white sari holding a candle and singing a soulful song. But of course he was thankful for this fear because hadn’t it been the reason for her to hold his hand tightly and then hide her face on his chest! He remembered even today the first smell of her hair when it had got caught in one of the buttons on his shirt!
He also remembered being accosted one day by a burly young man who claimed to be Indrani’s cousin asking him why he was roaming around like this with his sister. He had been threatened with dire consequences and asked to stay away from her. He was a bit intimidated by this incident. However, what he was not prepared for was the sudden disappearance of Indrani from the campus for nearly a month after the first year examinations. He later heard from her close friend Lakshmi that Indrani’s family was planning to get her married.
He did not know what had happened to him at that moment. But within two days he found himself sitting in Indrani’s parents house with his mother at his side, asking her father for his daughter’s hand in marriage. For a family that was supposedly planning to get their daughter married forcibly to some Bengali boy, they agreed quite easily and Indrani Mukherjee had become Indrani Menon! She had also passed her master’s degree with flying colours getting a gold medal and going on to do her Ph. D in Econometrics! She was reported to be the best professor dealing with the statistics course in her department until the time she had retired! He also realized later that she seemed to have mastered her fear of darkness and ghosts.
But he was wondering why she was bringing that up now?
“Achyuta, you are fool” she told him with a laugh!
“Thank you. But may I know how you discovered this suddenly today after thirty five years of marriage?”
“Oh, I knew it within those first few days in the library. Do you seriously think I was impressed by your mastery over maths? I just wanted opportunities to spend time with you..” she said
“Well whatever, it helped you secure good marks in your exams” he said pompously
“Have you ever spoken to anyone who knows about my maths abilities my dear? Even Lakshmi’s daughter sitting upstairs knows about my phenomenal abilities in the subject. I have never ever secured lower than 100% in it right from my school days” she said giggling.
“You mean….” Dr. Menon asked his mouth falling open!
“Close your mouth. It is an awful habit” she said scolding him.
“But why…how?” asked her husband disbelievingly
“ It is all about strategy my dearest. As a woman, I knew that I had to get an opportunity to be close to you. Since you were so shy with girls, I could only use the story about getting poor marks as the excuse. I wanted to break the stereotype of a girl who waits to be courted .I knew that unless I made some moves, none would be made. But ofcourse, those days it was difficult to come completely out of stereotypes without causing a scandal. So, I had to also behave like a timid girls getting scared of the darkness and ghosts.. My God what a silly film it was remember” she asked laughing!
Dr. Menon also joined in the laughter…! Really, this woman was a schemer..!
“But what does all this have to do with Lakshmi’s daughter and that fellow” he asked still confused.
“ Oh, everything! She had fallen in love with this young man who was used to having girls fall for him. But she was different from the girls such men usually go out with- she is simple, honest and innocent. All I told her was to capitalize on it. You see, most men have their brains partitioned into compartments- there is physical attraction, traditional relationships like marriage and ordinary interactions like friendships. But then you cannot separate them into groups like this..!” said Indrani, pouring out the coffee into the cups.
“But wasn’t it dangerous exposing her to someone like this? What if she had been hurt in the process” asked Dr Menon passing a tray to his wife to put the cups on..
“No Achyuta he would not have. She had told me enough about this boy for me to know that he is basically honest. Honest young men do not assault girls. They also respect real emotion when they see it. Yes, it may worry those who may never have been exposed to it or experienced it before. I just asked her to show him a glimpse of it. The fellow was thrown out of gear.. so he ran away. He has obviously had time to reflect and is now back” she said placing the cups on the tray and getting ready to move upstairs
“No.. I don’t think you should go up now. What if … you know you walk into something..” he said nervously
“Don’t be silly Achyuta.. All that must be over by now. In all probability he is on his knees now proposing to her” she said laughing loudly controlling herself just in time as she saw the young couple walk down the steps holding hands.
“Aunty.. Uncle we have decided to get married” she said her eyes shining with happiness.
“ But isn’t it sort of sudden” asked Dr. Menon
“No, Uncle I have had almost twelve months to think about it. I am overwhelmed by her complete trust in me. These twelve months, I have missed her like nothing else ! I was a fool, I did not realize what she was offering me. Girls like her are rare to come by” said the young man
“ Good.. ! But you know when I decided to get married to Aunty it was a sudden decision. I had to act fast or she would have been married to someone else” said Dr. Menon smiling.
“Really Uncle? But Aunty, mummy had told me how you had asked her to tell him a story about being forced to get married to someone else” asked the girl surprised.
“Whattt…?” asked Dr. Menon him mouth popping open once again
“All is fair in love and war” said Indrani with a wink
( Note to readers: I wanted to begin the new year with a “feel good” story. Hope you liked it :-))