She does not have the full scoop about him; but if she did, would she still want to marry him?
Abhinav’s dad had taken her profile, bio-data as he called it, from a matrimony site and sent it to him. It was their parents who arranged a date for them. Their respective dads had seen each other’s kid’s profiles. The families spoke to each other.
The formulation of a lot of modern-day arranged marriages involves the meet-and-greet of the would-be-groom and the would-be-bride, who convey their final decision after meeting in strategically decided venues, going through a crash course in getting to know each other. If the so-called love marriages of the 80s’ and 90s’ were nothing but self-selection of life partners and arranged marriages were a result of selection of life partners by the family, the modern-day marriage happily evolved as an amalgamation of these two. They could be called loveranged marriages. An important reason for this innovative way is that young men and women are now migrating to metropolitans and cosmopolitans, away from their home-towns, in search of lucrative opportunities.
Abhinav is a software engineer and Suvarna is a journalist. He works in InCoTys and she, in a media group of repute. He has four years of work experience and she, two. His family lives in Rajole and hers in Kadapa. He was 5’ 9’’ and she, 5’ 4’’. He has an engineering degree and she, a journalism degree. He loves to watch action flicks and her inclination was towards family-drama. They couldn’t be more different.
If Suvarna’s father had informed that she is to meet Abhinav, it meant that all the factors like caste, gothra, status and several other such key criteria for marriage were found to be compatible. Yet, in the loveranged marriages, the final decision was announced after the one-on-one meeting and truth better be told in those meetings.
Marriages are made in heaven; Abhinav thought it would be a humorous coincidence to meet in Paradise Restaurant. He discussed with Suvarna and decided to meet there on a Thursday evening. Both of them arrived at the agreed time and since it was a weekday, the Gachibowli outlet was sparsely occupied.
After the first few minutes, Abhinav was sure of one thing—Suvarna was not a vegetarian. These days, it is daft to assume correlation of food with caste. One could not also conclude that if a person agreed to meet in Paradise Restaurant, then the person was a vegetarian. Abhinav had Brahmin friends who binged on chicken and mutton and Kshatriya friends, who were hard-core vegetarians. He was habituated to eating mutton on Sundays, so a point of contention about continuing the habit was put to rest.
With her agreement, he happily ordered some chicken starters. They slipped into easy conversation that began with pleasantries and rehashing what they had read in each other’s profiles. They appreciated and applauded certain aspects that they liked or found interesting in each other’s attributes.
Suvarna liked the gentle and slow-paced conversation. Abhinav seemed to be a thoughtful person. He did not once rattle or ramble. Young men do that while talking to a strong, confident woman. Some try to show off how cool they are, some do it as a habit, and some, when their opinion has disagreed. She particularly liked the fact that he never threw one word of computer jargon in their hour-long chit-chat.
This guy will take a quick decision, probably in this meeting itself, whether he wants to marry me or not, she thought.
But, as they finished their meal, he said, “Let’s meet once more.”
Suvarna chose the venue for the second meeting.
They met on a Friday evening at Cafe Coffee Day in Madhapur. Though Abhinav reached five minutes before the agreed time, Suvarna was already there. They shook hands and entered inside.
As they seated themselves, he said, “I thought the cafe would be smaller.”
“CCD has different formats and this is the Lounge version. It’s bigger, you can order and get served at the tables. I like this better,” she said.
“Let’s order the food first,” he said. “What would you like?”
“Oh, I will take cookies and a cappuccino,” she said pointing to the cookie jars at the counter.
“One tin of chocolate cookies, a chicken sandwich, one cappuccino and one mocha latte,” he rattled to the waiter.
After the waiter walked away, she asked: “Do you have something on your mind?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Your face is like an open book. Your expressions are different from how they were the last time we met,” she said.
“Oh, no, no! Nothing like that, I am here totally,” he said.
“How is your job going on?” she asked. Suvarna did not want to know anything specific, she just wanted to get the conversation going.
“Yeah, good. I want to ask you one thing. What do you think about software engineers?” he asked hesitantly.
“They make a good amount of money,” she broke into a broad smile. “My parents had shortlisted you, so there must be criteria other than money that that was good in you.”
“Is having a software engineer as your life partner a high priority to you?” Abhinav asked.
She found the question strange but answered anyway. “I like the idea. Of course, yes. If not, why would I have even come here? But I am not particularly obsessed that my husband should be a software engineer,” she said very softly.
He changed the topic and they talked about movies and houses in Hyderabad. It was a happy and cheerful conversation. He cracked jokes freely and they laughed heartily. They finished their snacks and beverages.
Suvarna felt good with the way the evening was turning out. She mused, the guy felt I was obsessed with marrying software engineers overlooking other factors. Now that he knows my opinion, he probably feels like a burden is lifted. I think he will make a decision now and either tell here itself or convey it by tonight. If I read him correctly, he won’t dither.
Yet again, she was wrong. As they walked out, Abhinav said, “Let’s meet one more time after a few days.”
“Oh, sure,” she said. Suvarna did not let her disappointment show on her face.
“But not in a restaurant. Why don’t you come to my office in Ameerpet?” Abhinav said.
She agreed immediately. With the anxiousness of one more meeting at the back of her mind, she did not realize that InCoTys does not have an office in Ameerpet.
Abhinav had texted his office address to Suvarna and provided detailed instructions on how to reach there. It was on the fifth floor of a big building. She entered the building and in the ground floor were shops selling computers, electronic goods, and accessories. She went to the elevators. It took five minutes before an elevator door opened.
She disembarked on the fifth floor. It was very noisy and chaotic, with people milling around in every direction. She went past the coffee shops and training institutes. There were a couple of signboards of software companies too.
She reached Abhinav’s office and opened the door. The reception area was small and empty. She entered and waited for a couple of minutes before she decided to call Abhinav.
“I’m here,” she announced.
“Oh sorry, let me get you,” he said.
A few seconds later, Abhinav opened the door at the far end on the left side and stepped out. He invited her to his office, “Come in, come in.”
She entered and took a look around. It was a very ordinary-looking office. There was no swanky furniture. He sat at a desk on which there was a laptop. There was one more desk with a desktop. The third desk had no computer, but there was a stack of spiral-bound books.
As she sat on a chair, he said awkwardly, “I am not a software engineer.”
She was taken aback. “Then what do you do?”
He paused for a minute. “What do you think I do?”
“I have absolutely no idea. You tell me,” she said, maintaining an even tone.
“I am a project doer,” he announced with a poker face.
“What..! What is a project doer?”
“I help final-year engineering and post-graduate students with their academic projects. I help them with the concept, topic and design of the project, the coding and even documentation,” he explained crisply.
There was silence for a couple of minutes. She was staring at the floor. Without lifting her eyes, she asked, “You have never worked as a software engineer?”
“Have you watched the movie Kick?” he asked.
“Ravi Teja’s movie, right? Yes, I did,” she said.
“Kinda have the same sentiments; my opinions resonate with that character. Couldn’t fathom myself sitting alone and maintaining some foreign company’s software, spending years in a silo for the sake of money,” he opened up.
Abhinav looked at her, wondering what she was thinking. He continued, “I did have a good job at InCoTys. I did not fancy myself slogging in front of a screen to add value to a European or North American company, just for the sake of earning more money.”
Abhinav noticed her getting a bit restless now. He asked her, “Have you heard about their Uppal campus?”
“No, what about it?” she asked.
“That campus is a disaster.”
“What do you mean?”
“They recruit people only to increase the headcount of a team and bill the clients for all the team members. In a ten-member team, the actual work is done only by 3 or 4 members,” he explained.
“Really? What do the rest do then?” she asked, surprised at the revelation.
“Nothing. They go there on the company bus, have breakfast, play, lie down, relax, have lunch, kill time and take the company bus back to the city.”
“Is it that bad?”
“Yes, many new recruits do not even get a desk or a computer. They sit in common rooms and watch TV.”
“Shocking, can’t believe it,” she agreed.
“The so-called great doyen of Indian software industry made a lot of wealth, but part of it is unethically earned.”
Abhinav noticed that she became less attentive as the conversation proceeded. So, he changed the topic to freelance work. He said with calm conviction, “There are many advantages. I have control over my future, destiny, income, and schedule. Second, there will be a work-life balance that is hard to achieve in the software industry. Flexibility in terms of working hours and work locations will get me more time and freedom.”
That was it. He told her what she hadn’t known till now.
His mind was racing and heart pounding. Will she be upset? Angry? Seconds felt like hours.
Suvarna’s inscrutable face broke into a smile. She said, “This is really good.”
He felt mighty relieved as she continued, “The choice you made is excellent. You have the courage of your convictions and told me the truth.”
“Thank you so much for understanding,” he said. And then he said what Suvarna had been expecting since the first meeting. “Regardless of what your decision is, I am gonna tell my parents that I am willing to marry you.”
In Abhinav’s mind, the meeting and decision were finalised. But it turned out not to be.
She put a hand on his wrist, “No, could you wait before calling them?”
He was surprised. “Wait? How many days? And for what?”
“Just a day or two. Until you visit my office.”
“Do you want me to come to your office? Sure, I can come tomorrow.”
“Great,” she said and took leave after chit-chatting for a couple of more minutes.
Abhinav reached Secunderabad the next day in the evening. Finding Suvarna’s office was quite easy. But the building was a residential complex.
He called her on the phone. “I have reached and am standing at the gate.”
On the first floor, a door opened on the balcony and Suvarna stepped out and waved to him. “Come on up, take the stairs at the right corner.”
Suvarna let him inside the house and showed her room. There were two desks with chairs, laptops and a sofa. He sat on the sofa.
“Shall I get you some water?” she asked.
He nodded. A minute later, she was seated on a chair as he drank the water.
“Okay, if this is your office, then it means, you…”
She interrupted. “Am not a journalist. I am a freelance writer.”
“How does it work?” he asked.
“I advertise writing services on LinkedIn and freelancing sites,” she said.
“So, what exactly are those services?”
“Content writing, ghostwriting and editing,” she answered.
“Wow, good to know. How do you charge?” he asked curiously.
“Mostly on word count, rates differ on a niche.”
“Why not work as a journalist?”
“Reasons similar to yours,” she answered with a smile.
“Is it lucrative?”
“Not high paying, but I make decent money. More importantly, I get plenty of time. In the evenings, my friend and I give private tuitions to school children. It’s so satisfying.”
“A writer-teacher huh?”
“Are you okay with what I do?” she asked.
“Of course, I am. In addition, I am extremely happy that you too told the truth upfront,” he said.
“You gave me the courage. It was extremely valorous of you to tell me the real nature of your work. I admire honesty in a person. In fact, it’s great that we think alike about work,” she said.
“Do you know that last year, in the USA, freelancers contributed approximately $1.4 trillion to the annual economy? One in three workers freelance, either as a part-time or a full-time activity, and almost half of millennials freelance, more than any other generation.”
“That trend is catching up here in India, in our city and happily, outside of the I.T. industry too.”
“The nature of work is changing and God knows what will happen when robots take over every industry,” he said.
“Well, that’s too far maybe. We have other issues to tackle in our society,” she said.
He was tempted to ask what her decision about their marriage was. But he did not have to ask. She said, “Know what, I don’t have anyone in my friends or acquaintances where the couple is working as freelances. We would probably be pioneers in that aspect.”
“That’s worth something. Let’s go out. A candle-light dinner would be befitting.