As the old man was burnt in the church courtyard, after the New Years mass, from the corner of my eye, I could see Eddie uncle reminiscing about some older memories and looking forward to some new ones. His eyes were clearly emanating a hope and were happy. It was pleasing to see such a sight, when someone of his age has the ability to let the past go by and look forward to the future.
“Happy New Year Eddie uncle” I guess he did not realize I was by his side, all this while, while he was busy in his thoughts.
“Happy New Year Neil” He reciprocated with a broad smile. “I did not realize it was you”
“So are you ready for next Sunday?”
“Uncle. Do you really want me to come? I think, it is enough if you and Jason go”
Eddie uncle had got an alliance for his son Jason and wanted me to come along, just for support. I was hesitant as I considered myself too young for such an adventure. Jason, on the other hand was doing well in life and Eddie uncle had made all plans for him to get settled or unsettled, whatever word you fancy.
“Neil. You are coming”. That was an order.
“Ok. Do I have a choice” I replied “Anyways Happy New year” It was a groggy greeting, not the one, meant for the new year.
Sunday arrived. I wasn’t the only person nervous. As I entered Eddie uncles home, Jason greeted me with a nervous smile and whispered “I have no idea, what my old man wants me to do. I already have plans”.
Eddie uncle came out to the porch, all set to go to Sastan. Cecila aunty stayed back. The alliance was brokered by an agent, who had taken some percentage for letting the information. If the alliance was strengthened, he was standing to gain more and there was no doubt that he would give his best shot to get this match fixed. Jason was in a well earning job in an Oil and Gas company in Saudi and was soon to be flying off to the US of A for a plum role in the same industry there.
Sastan is a beautiful place on the coast of the Arabian sea. The town is sandwiched between a river and the mighty sea. The river flows parallel to the sea, as if competing in a race, eventually giving in and meeting its older and stronger cousin, giving birth to one of the most spellbinding places in the village- the place where the river meets the sea. Majority of the population rely on the waters for their livelihood. It is a peaceful tiny village, which recently was in news for staging a protest against the unruly taxes being collected at the massive toll gate on the national highway, which divides Sastan into two. The toll gate seems to have united the two parts into one common force against the oppression of the govt backed private enterprize.
Anyways, we were on our way. The match maker was with us. He blurted out instructions
“Look. I will handle the talking. All you have to do is nod, smile”
“What if we don’t like the girl?” Jason was upfront.
“You will like her” came the blunt reply. Jason was smart enough to know that there was no point speaking or arguing to people, who are not openminded for thoughts.
Eddie uncle stepped in “Jason. Be honest and keep an open mind. Let us see how it will pan out”. The experience of all these years was showing perfectly on his strong head on a little wary and weak shoulders.
The match maker was aggressive in his approach and god alone knew what proposition he had given to the other side.
As we reached the huge mansion, Eddie uncle and I were pleased to see the surroundings. Jason was least impressed and I was looking out if the owners had any dogs in the house as they scare the hell out of me.
Just then two huge buffalo sized dogs barked at the incoming car. I was petrified. A young pretty girl, probably in her mid-twenties, came running hoping to get the beasts under control. For a while, I thought Jason wavered in his thoughts and plans. All his plans of not marrying this year were up in the smoke for a second or two. One look at her, and I had realized that this dame is way out of my league, so why bother even trying.
“Pluto, Bruno. Shut up and come here” The girl ordered the dogs and the mighty dogs surrendered to the pretty girls command, with their tails between their legs.
“Dude, don’t even think about marrying her. Look at the dogs. Imagine your plight after marrying her” I whispered my little joke into Jason’s ears.
“Shut up re. She is pretty” He whispered back. “As dad said, I am keeping an open mind” He winked.
As our rented car screeched to a halt, the match maker smoothened his rented tie, wore his rented suit and got out of the car, with fake, gathered confidence “Mr. Pinto. How are you?” I was a little annoyed by his fake mannerisms, but I guess sometimes, in some professions, fake works- on the short run. I was sure, even his shoes and his damn underwear was rented.
“Let me introduce you to Eddie Mascarenhas and his son- Jason”. The introductions were muttered to utmost perfection, even as the three of them were on the process of alighting from the cramped car. The basket had completely ignored me, which completely took me out of the equation in the match making process.
Mr. Pinto and Mrs. Pinto seemed to be nice, polite people, who exchanged pleasantries, after the gregarious introduction by the match maker.
“Welcome Mr. Mascarenhas”. Mr. Pinto was sophisticated. He was an ex service man and his mannerisms reflected his former profession.
Comfortably seated, in their plush living room, the match maker began the dreaded conversation. I had my eye still fixed at the young girl, who had just locked the beasts in the cage and joined us.
Mr. Pinto introduced his family “This is my wife Suzanne and this is my younger daughter Megan. The elder one is on her way from the church. She teaches catechism in the church”.
“Wow”. Words slipped out of Jason’s mouth a bit too soon. “If the younger one is this pretty, imagine the older” he quietly whispered in my ears again. I managed a smile, still my eyes firmly fixed on Megan.
“I hope we become co brothers, brother”. My intentions were wavering too.
“Well who is this gentleman?” Mr. Pinto pointed at me. The match maker had completely ignored me.
“Oh sorry. He is Neil. He is my friend and neighbor” Eddie uncle was generous in his introduction.
Mrs. Pinto and Megan served us some tang along with a tray of biscuits, laddus and some savouries. This wonderful gesture might have pissed the match maker as he had meticulously planned his meeting at 11:30 am on a Sunday morning, just to gulp a couple of pegs of scotch and have some nice lunch.
“Jason took an off today from his catechism classes. He too teaches in the church”. Jason couldn’t control his expression of shock, but managed an awry smile. If probed further by Mr. Pinto, Jason would not even stand a chance. From what I know, the last time he recited “I confess” was in the communion classes millions of years ago.
Eddie uncle also shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
The Pinto’s turned their focus on Jason. Jason was perspiring, which luckily for him, only I noticed.
“Jason, what do you do”? Mrs. Pinto was blunt.
“Well, I work in an oil and gas company in Riyadh and…” the match maker stepped in even before Jason could complete his sentence.
“He is moving to America as a Vice President of a big corporation”. The anger of being denied scotch was fully evident.
Jason quickly picked up the glass of juice kept in front of him and gulped down half the glass. I too braced for impact, by picking two laddus- one for me, one for Jason, just in case.
“Wow. That is nice” replied Mrs. Pinto.
“How much do you earn”. No one expected this question. I somehow felt every man hates this question just like how every woman hates being asked about age.
Mrs. Pinto continued “I hate to ask, but I feel it is important.
Match maker came to the rescue again “From what I know, his package in Riyadh is close to 1 cr INR and the package in US is triple of that”. We were wondering where he got his numbers from. Even Eddie uncle , who was shaken but composed till now, sipped the juice nervously.
Jason,had fisinshed his juice, snatched the laddu and swallowed it , as a whole and was looking at the tray to pick up something , just in case the match maker put him in a spot yet again.
The conversation was going bad and there was tension in our camp. The match maker seemed comfortable in this game. He began his cross questioning.
“What does your daughter do?”
“She is a dentist and works in Dubai”. The match maker was not impressed.
“Oh. A dentist” came the disappointed reply. “I heard it is not great for dentists in Dubai. Is it true? After the wedding, she will have to move to America, with Jason. Will she be ok with it?” The plans were already being put into action by the match maker.
“Well. She should be” replied Mrs. Pinto uneasily. The conclusion was being drawn a bit too early she felt “and by the way, dentists are doing well in Dubai. I think you are misinformed. There are plenty of people with toothaches in Dubai, just like in India”. Mrs. Pinto defended her daughter strongly.
“You seem to be nervous” Megan was observing her would be brother in law.
“Not really. But yes”. Jason was confused and had dry lips, even after one glass of juice. His ambiguous answer said it all.
Megan was bold “You too” She turned her attention on me.
“Well. Yes. This is the first time I am witnessing match making at its finest”. I replied boldly, hoping to impress her. The idea of co brothers was strongly getting etched in my mind and my sub conscious mind was planning for it.
Eddie uncle, who, no longer wanted to base a marriage on false information spoke out “Well. Mr. Pinto. Jason will be going to the US, no doubt, but the salary packages mentioned by the matchmaker are not true. He is comfortable in Riyadh and I am sure will be more than comfortable in the states”.
“I realized this Mr. Mascarenhas and it so great of you to tell this upfront. You were so uncomfortable when this man was blurting out lies” Mr. Pinto looked at the match maker and so did Eddie uncle and Jason.
“Well. Everything goes well after the marriage” The match maker had his reasons.
The ex-military man calmly responded “Please leave”.
“Not without my commission” The match maker showed his intentions.
“Megan. Get my gun please. As a civilian, I am allowed to defend myself against burglars and thieves”. Mr. Pinto looked serious and Megan got up from the seat.
I was actually scared now. Even before Megan could reach the edge of the living room, the match maker had made a dash without his rented shoes.
We got to talking and Jason explained his plans to his prospective in laws. Rachel, who was in the church returned from her church duties and she was pleasantly surprised to see me along with Jason and Eddie uncle.
“Hey, Neil. How come you are here?”. Rachel and I knew each other from our college days. Her cousin was my classmate and we used to travel to college on Monday mornings together. I narrated the whole incident and we all had a hearty laugh.
Jason, all the while was working out plans to adjust his plans as he had found the dentist, incredibly pretty.
I am hoping Jason and the dentist formalize their wedding dates soon. That will be a day, I can’t wait to see. In the bottom of my heart, I also have my vested interests.