Thursday, July 29, 2010

My Big Day!

It was going to be the biggest day of my life. I had everything planned to the last detail and had spent the better part of 2 weeks planning this day. What was I going to do? I was going to propose Sylvia, my girl-friend of the past 5 months.

A Brief about Syliva: We met each other at an acquaintance’s place. She was new to Chennai (and smoking hot!) and so I offered to be her guide around the place. It was clear to her that there was a romantic side to this overture and she seemed to consent. We soon started dating.
Our first kiss was on the sofa in her apartment after our 3rd date (she lives alone which is very convenient). We made love for the first time at the end of the 4th date (also on the sofa in her apartment). And it’s been bliss ever since!

Sylvia is a language instructor. She is hot! She teaches French at the Alliance Francais. She is hot! She’s actually from Mauritius. She left her folks because of some problems and decided to move to some place else and be on her own. Luckily for me she decided on Chennai. And she is hot!

Sylvia is the first woman I’ve ever made love to. I was a virgin till 137 days ago.

Most people think that 25 is too old to be losing your virginity. But I didn’t think I was the pre-marital sex type. In fact the guys tease me about how I used to lecture them when they ‘enlightened’ me of their affairs. I don’t feel bad about it. I realize now that my virginity wasn’t a matter of principles but was actually a lack of opportunity. In fact I kind of feel ‘cool’ and 'with it' for once in my life. Now guys are talking about me like how I used to talk about them. They must be envious of me like how I used to envy them. Life has come a full circle.

Sylvia- you’ve made me cool. Sylvia- you’ve made me a man. Sylvia- you’ve given me confidence. Sylvia- you’ve showed me the light. Sylvia-you’re sweet. Sylvia- you’re intelligent. Sylvia- you’re funny. Sylvia- you’re hot! Sylvia- you’re all that a man could ask for. Sylvia- you deserve only the best. Sylvia- I love you!

A girl like this comes once in your life guys. So when she comes… you better do everything possible to keep her with you forever. I decided that I wanted to marry Sylvia and I spent 2 weeks planning the perfect proposal.

Now you don’t know me too well. But if you did, then you would know that I’m thrifty (almost stingy actually!). One needs to be conscious of how much one spends (not around women of course!). I don’t make much and have to do with what I have. I used to balk at the way guys used to blow money on girls. But experience has taught me that when you are in a relationship your wallet is in the relationship too(and it better be loaded!).  

First of course I needed to purchase a ring. I’d done some research with friends and the consensus was that I should go in for a ‘diamond studded platinum ring. This was supposed to be the ‘flavor’ of the season and a guy just ‘had to’ go for it.

It was kind of intimidating as well as embarrassing for me to walk in to a jewelry shop. A guy doesn't know what he can/can't afford to look at. It's awfully emabarrassing to ask for something that looks nice and then realize later that you can't afford it. I don’t remember buying a ring(or any sort of jewelery) ever before and had absolutely no expertise in the subject. The ring was going to be(or has to be!) a very expensive affair, of that there was no doubt. But, it’s a tradition-‘A guy always proposes with a ring.

So I went in to the showroom and the sales-lady there greeted me with a fake-smile. I asked for diamond-platinum engagement rings and she showed me the whole collection.

“This is in the Rs 15,000/- to Rs 25,000 range”- she said.

Platinum looked like silver to me. In fact out of curiosity I took some silver ear-rings that were nearby and placed a ring beside it. You couldn’t tell the 2 were made from different metals (is there a conspiracy here?). Also the diamonds on the rings were very very tiny. This was going to cost me my month’s pay and I definitely deserved more.

I decided to ignore that it looked so much like silver and settled for a ring that had 4.660 g of Platinum and a single diamond- 0.095 carat (That doesn’t read like much but trust me- it is). It was a very pretty ring and I was very pleased with it. It cost me Rs 22,386/-. (I consoled myself saying-“Hell, it’s only this one time, it’s going to be worth it”)

This was my first expense for the event and I was a little hesitant at first. But once that ring was in my pocket it was like the dam had been breached. I went on a spending spree.

I didn’t want to compromise on anything and wanted it to be the perfect proposal. I was willing to do anything to get her to say “yes”.

Now I had to choose the right place to propose. After considering many places I finally settled on Bella Ciao- An Italian restaurant. I’d never taken her there before (too expensive!). It was by the beach and from the terrace you had this amazing view of the sea. Sylvia loved Italian food and so the place was a perfect choice. I’d arranged for a corner table and a private waiter for the night, and also arranged for the band to play her favorite music (Elton John, Lionel Ritchie and George Michael).

I bought Sylvia a very sexy black dress from an up-market boutique. This was going to be my present to her on the big night. I went and bought myself an expensive suit piece, shirt, tie and also a pair of shoes.

The day before the big day I went to a posh saloon and got myself a hair-cut, a facial, a manicure and a massage. I went to the florists on the day of the big date and ordered a huge bouquet to be delivered at the restaurant.

I’d exceeded the credit limit on my card and was now paying from my savings. This relationship had placed considerable strain on my financial resources- past, present and future. Well, like they say- a man has to be generous in love.

Finally, I hired a Merc E-Series taxi for the night. The driver came complete with white uniform, cap and gloves. Yes, this was going to be the night.

The taxi picked me up from my place and we went to her apartment. I went up there with a box of chocolates, a small bouquet and the dress gift-wrapped. She opened the door and was visibly surprised with the whole get up. I gave her the gifts and told her that we were going out ‘somewhere special’ and that I wanted her to wear that particular dress. She hugged me and went in to change. She took forever to get ready and I was sure we were going to miss our reservation. But when she came out looking like a billion dollars I was smiling.

We went to the restaurant. All the waiters were extremely courteous to us (no doubt expecting a huge tip at the end of the night). The flowers adorned our table. Our personal waiter adjusted our chairs for us and placed napkins on our laps. He also enquired after ‘the Madame’ and went about suggesting things from the menu and setting things up. A bottle of champagne came to our table in an ice-bucket. The band was playing ‘Hello’- by Lionel Ritchie. Everything was going perfectly according to plan.

We went about our meal very quietly making only the occasional small-talk. This was slightly unnatural. Maybe she was too surprised by everything. She hadn’t the slightest inkling of what was happening and maybe there was a sense of nervousness, I suppose, about what to expect next.

I decided to propose after dessert. So once our ‘Panetonne’ was over I whispered in the waiter’s ear to get the band to stop playing.  Lot of attention was turned to us because the waiters kept looking our way anxiously. I could have done without the attention, but you don’t always get what you want. In a way all the attention made it even more romantic.

So I took the ring from my pocket got down on one knee and said,

“Sweetheart… I know these lines are corny. But this is the best I could come up with.”

I cleared my throat and started-

“The moment I met you,
I knew my dreams could come true.
You’ve turned my life for ever,
And I want to return the favour.
I want to be beside you for life,
So will you please agree to be my wife!”

There were tears in her eyes. I took out the ring and placed it on her finger. She looked at me and she was still crying. She was crying harder and harder and then I realized that something was going wrong. This was not the ‘happy- crying’. This was the ‘sad-crying’ and my heart began to fall.

She kept saying –“Oh God! Oh God!”, and continued with her sobbing. It was quiet a scene there. Our waiter looked visibly upset. The band decided to move on and started playing some songs again. In the meanwhile, I was trying to calm her down and get some clue as to what was happening.

I caught her shoulders and said- “Darling, please stop! Tell me what is happening”.

She looked at me and she was almost choking. This wasn’t anything like I had envisaged. This was crazy.

I said- “Darling I know you’re Catholic and I’m Hindu. It doesn’t matter, we’ll find a way. I’m sure my folks will understand and even if they don’t, don’t worry. I love you. We’ll find a way.”

She kept crying. This was really crazy.

“Darling if you want we’ll go and meet your folks in Mauritius you know. I’ll tell them I love you. We’ll try and convince them. We’ll settle all the family issues. Don’t worry. We’ll handle everything”.

It didn’t stop.

“Darling, any, any problem I will solve. Baby I’m sure I can. I’ll do anything for you love. You know that.”

She went on and on. I was getting a little frustrated. It was already very embarrassing.

“Darling- is it that you don’t love me? Can you please stop crying and give me an answer. I think I deserve an answer”.

In between heavy sobs she looked at me and said- “I’ve lied to you”.

“About what? Are you already married?”

“No Ash, I’m not normal.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I mean I can’t bare children.

This was a big jolt to me. All along I had dreams of a little Ashwin and a little Sylvia that would complete our small family. So when she said this a small portion of my world collapsed.

“Why can’t you bare children? Is it a medical problem? Can it be corrected?”

“No, it can’t be corrected.”

“Look, we’ll find a way. We’ll adopt maybe and...”

She cut me mid-sentence and said-“you don’t understand Ashwin. I was not born a woman. I was born Sylvester. I had a sex-change operation and that’s how I’ve become Sylvia.”

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Lesson from History

I consider myself fortunate in that I still have some link with the village in which my ancestors lived. My grandfather built his house there, and my grandma and uncle's family still stay in the same place.

It's a beautiful place that still retains it's historical charm. Now this is more like personal history. Stuff like- where my grand-father used to sit after his walk- or where my grandmother's family lived- the small rivulet which, back in the old days, they had to cross by swimming (back then there was no bridge as there is now). There is a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the village school which was donated by my great-grandfather. Small stuff which make me feel very connected to this little village, though I've hardly spent any time at all there.

Like all good villages my village too has it's own history and folklore. The Shivan Temple in the village is supposed to be over 800 years old! But the most eventful and interesting bit of common history(as different from personal!) for all you folks out there will be this: Tipu Sultan had come to my village!

Yes, the story goes that the great- 'Tiger Tipu' had set foot in my little village all those many centuries back. Now Tipu Sultan, for those of you who don't know, is one of the most famous Kings from Indian History. He ruled over the state of Mysore in the late 18th century, and for long was the British's most feared enemy in India. He fought many battles with the Brits, but he lost the war and had to surrender his kingdom. And with that, the last whiff of resistance to British rule was put out.

For this reason many consider Tipu to be a great hero. There was even a television series on him that used to play on National TV. He's part of Indian Legend. But the story coming out of my village was very different.

According to folks in the village, Tipu was a ruthless plunderer who cut down/grabbed anything that came his way. He was responsible for some savage acts of brutality and one of these has actually to do with my village.

One peculiar thing about my village is that there are no Brahmins. For those of you wondering what's so peculiar about that- let me explain.  Most villages in India are organized along caste. Each caste will be represented in each village. You don't have a village of only high-caste or only low-caste people. Each caste fulfilled a particular role or duty to fit in the larger scheme of things. That's why in most villages you find that each caste will be represented.

But there are no Brahmins in my village(which hopefully now, after my explanation, you will find peculiar!). The story was that Tipu came to the village and ordered the Brahmins to convert. The Brahmins refused and, in an act of most savage brutality, he killed the whole lot of them and destroyed the main temple.

Proof that this temple existed has been found. It's on top of a hill right next to my village. It is said that in the olden days it was as famous and sacred as Sabarimala. Sabarimala has only 18 steps to climb. But this hill has 200 steps. The villagers have got together recently(recently in my village is 50 years back) and re-built the temple.

So reading the above story you will understand why I didn't admire Tipu like most others did. To me- he fit the perfect stereotype of Muslim ruler and I hated him for that. Stories and legends like that make you believe in what many of our Hindutva brigade are saying. They make your blood boil.

But this last time when I went to my village I decided to do a bit of research on the topic. I found an old book that was titled -" The History of Kakkayur". Kakkayur is incidentally my village's name. The book was in Malayalam(which I can't read) and was supposed to be very well researched. I got my 2 younger cousins to sit with me and we went through  the whole thing.

Finally we reached the legend of Tipu in Kakkayur. According to the book- Tipu never asked the Brahmins to convert. It was a devious scheme of the erstwhile Nair community(which I belong to!) to use Tipu's services and drive out the Brahmins from the village and become the most important caste. The book doesn't go in to the details of what exactly happened but just gives the brief. Oh... and the Brahmins... they didn't die... they just shifted base to a nearby place and started a village out there all on their own. This village still exists!

Oh... and the temple... it wasn't destoyed by Tipu. It was destroyed in a great fire.

So you see... everyone has their own little version of history. People bend history to suit their needs. My ancestors must have known that they were complicit in driving the Brahmins out of Kakkayur and thus decided to villify Tipu Sultan to save themselves. And that legend just passed on and on and on.

What did I learn from the whole thing? Don't jump to conclusions on history. Do your own research. Usually people are hiding something somewhere. It's for you to dig and find out.

And I'm not singling out my ancestors here, or my caste. Everyone's guilty of the same thing. At a personal/ group level we all make up stories along the way- and finally we end up believing those stories. And that's an important lesson for us to learn from history!